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Monday, June 30, 2008


It's Me!

Hi Everyone,
It's me Bear.

Not much to say, but a picture is worth a thousand barks.
Bear waiting for the ball

Now, can you find me in my baby picture? This is a picture of me and my litter mates. The trouble is, I don't know which one I am. Daddy says I am probably one of the black puppies. He thinks I am on the far left. What do you think?
Bear's Baby Picture

I've got to go now so I can help Daddy take the trash out. Then it is bedtime.

Bye for now,


Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Digital Books

Last October I downloaded my first audio book from iTunes. I had always resisted this, because deep down, I felt like it was cheating. I guess I believed that, for it to count, you had to hold the book and actually read the words - hopefully without moving your lips. Getting the information into your head was not the main point. The method was important.

Well, I was wrong.

Sure, reading a book is perhaps preferred. One learns a lot by looking at the words. It helps you with your spelling and word recognition. Audio books have some advantages over regular books. With an audio book you can listen anytime and anywhere. You do not need light or even a quiet place. I do not think people have to choose one over the other. Using audio books is a way to increase your exposure to books. Books convey information and entertainment.

For me, reading is a bit difficult. I need good lighting and since I have to hold a magnifying glass, my arms get tired of being all twisted up. If the book is heavy, it is even more difficult to manage. The end result is it takes me a long time to read a book, because I take so many breaks to rest my arms and eyes. Audio books have really been a find for me.

Here is my routine. I get up in the morning and grab my iPod loaded with the book du jour. I listen as I am making the coffee. When I take Bear out for his walk, I am listening as I plod around the quiet predawn streets. When I run, the iPod is with me and I extend the runs so I can keep listening. I make sure I have the iPod with me if I may have to wait somewhere, like a doctor's office.

The best place to download your audio books is Audible Dot Com

Here is a list of the books I have read thus far:
1776, David McCullough
Pulp Physics: Astronomy: Humankind in Space and Time, Dr. Richard Berendzen
Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathaniel Philbrick
Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh
The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin
Opening Day, Jonathan Eig

The Complete Aubrey, Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian
Master and Commander (1970)
Post Captain (1972)
HMS Surprise (1973)
The Mauritius Command (1977)
Desolation Island (1978)
The Fortune of War (1979)
The Surgeon's Mate (1980)
The Ionian Mission (1981)
Treason's Harbour (1983)
The Far Side of the World (1984)
The Reverse of the Medal (1986)
The Letter of Marque (1988)
The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)
The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)
Clarissa Oakes (1992) - (The Truelove in the USA)
The Wine-Dark Sea (1993)
The Commodore (1995)
The Yellow Admiral (1996)
The Hundred Days (1998)
Blue at the Mizzen (1999)
The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004) - (21 in the USA)

I liked this series so much, I am reading it again. Currently, I am about to finish Desolation Island.

It would be difficult to put into words how much I have enjoyed listening to the Patrick O'Brian books about Lucky Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin in the Royal Navy. They are set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, early 1800's. The books just flow, and the narrator, Patrick Tull does a masterful job. He reads semi-dramatically and has a voice for each character true to that individual's nationality. There are different English accents, French, Irish, Scotch, and others.

The books are at times very exciting, frequently funny, and certainly addicting. I feel like I am part of the adventures and I find myself taking Bear on extra walks to find out what is going to happen next.

A lot of the days I did not post, I was at sea with Captain Aubrey, eating ship's biscuit, drinking capital port, and having the most prodigious of times.

So here's to not being laid by the lee.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, June 23, 2008


On your mark . . .

It is Monday morning; a beginning of sorts. They say it increases your chances of success to make a goal public. I have gained weight in the last year and a half that I have been injured and unable to run as I would like. The "catch 22" is the weight stresses the offending knee, but the exercise is a major part of my way of managing weight.

The problem I have is I only eat right part of the day. Something happens when I get home. I open the pantry door and start eating chips. Not a handful, but the majority of the bag. The good news is the problem is my own behavior. I can control that.

That is my old behavior. The new behavior is going to be whey protein shakes during the day and the old cottage cheese and peaches at night. I have done it before and if adhered to strictly, the weight melts off. I am ready to pay the price of delaying gratification. Isn't that what most successful goals require?

I need to get the weight to 180 or 179. I am starting from about 200. Let's see; 20 lbs; that should take about 2 months if I stick to the plan.

As for the knee, I am heading back to the doctor mid July.

Now it is public. I have to produce results or I will be ashamed of myself.

Until the next time.
John Strain


Thursday, June 19, 2008



Bear with his stuffed footballHi Everyone, It's me Bear.

It has been a long time since these paws have graced this keyboard. I wanted to write since Daddy wasn't, but I kept getting distracted. I lay around a lot being a dog, and I'll have a good idea to post about, but just before I get it all figured out, I hear the refrigerator door open. Well, I have to go in and see what is going on. Daddy may be getting out the cheese or something like that. He likes to eat cheese and he always flips me pieces of it, yum.

How do you like my stuffed football? It is real big, but it squishes so I am able to bite it. Mommy and Daddy always laugh when I carry it around, because I hold my head up and prance. I don't know why I prance when I play with this ball. Maybe it is because it makes me so happy.

Right now, Daddy is making the coffee and when it is ready, he gives me my breakfast. That is almost my most favorite part of the day. I love to hear those biscuits hitting that metal bowl. A lot of times I eat them so fast, I am done and waiting for Daddy to take me on my walk, before his water is drawn in the sink for him to shave.

Did you see Daddy's picture without his beard? About a year ago, he shaved it off. It took Mommy and me a while to get used to it. I am glad my hair stays the same. I would have a hard time wielding a razor. It is hard enough typing without thumbs.

I sure like the summer time. I spend more time in the yard with Daddy. He mowed the grass last night and I watched him. If it gets too hot, I go under the azalea bushes and scratch out a cool hool to lie down in. I get carried away sometimes and Daddy has to yell at me because I am scratching all of his mulch out of the bed into the grass. Ooops. He doesn't get that mad though. No physical abuse, so don't feel like you need to call in an anonymous tip to the St. Tammany Parish Humane Society.

I'd better go, my leash is waiting and there are lots of weeds on which to pee and if I am lucky, I will find some fast food some construction workers threw away. I don't know why Daddy pulls me off of the good stuff when I find it. Just the other day, I was sniffing some dog doo and he told me that it was nasty. I don't criticize his poop. Oh well, humans, you can't live with them and you can't live without them. No offense folks.

Life is good. It's a dogs life you might say. I know you don't have tails, but if you did, I could wish they'd be wagging all day.

Bye for now,


Monday, June 16, 2008


The job

For 21 years I worked at inpatient psychiatric hospitals. The business of inpatient psychiatric care went through many changes during those years. I could write a lot about what is wrong with the state of inpatient treatment. I could write a lot about why I decided to change jobs. It is sufficient to say that I just needed a change.

Now I work at a mental health clinic. My particular job is to meet with people walking in asking for help. It is my task to evaluate their problem and make recommendations for help. Sometimes people need referred, sometimes they need to see a psychiatrist, and sometimes they need ongoing counseling. I usually try to see them for counseling until the doctor can see them or until there issue is under control.

I love the variety. I see all kinds of people with all sorts of problems. This is a refreshing change from what I was doing. I feel much more fulfilled, I am making more money, and like the last place I worked, I enjoy my coworkers.

A lot of people do not like themselves. Their childhoods were lousy, their parents were abusive or absent, and their hope, purpose, meaning, and joy of life is nonexistent. My job is to infuse hope. I try to show them that things can change drastically if they would just let go of some beliefs and grasp some other ones. What is good about many problems is that they are self-inflicted. The good thing about that is, if your thinking and choices made the mess, then they can clean it up.

A lot of people are in unfulfilling relationships and feel there is no way out. Others do not have the confidence to take a risk for change, yet they live in a perpetual hell.

My heart often goes out to these folks. As they tell their story I feel saddened that their life is such a drudgery and disappointment. God intended for us to be happy and fulfilled. Sometimes, I get to be a part of turning someone around. I help them to believe, to hope, to try, and to expect success. I help them laugh and let go of anger and bitterness.

I have always treasured connecting with people. It could be a glance, a handshake, a comment that lets one know you are together on something. In counseling it is more like the other acknowledging that you understand them and they are relieved because you do. They trust you and try your suggestion. You keep them in mind and share in the joy of their successes. You also go back to the drawing board with them to tweak the plan that did not work.

I am happy and fulfilled. To do what I do is a great responsibility, but an even greater privilege and blessing.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, June 14, 2008


The last post title was too ambitious

Routine and habit, once established are tough nuts to crack. I have been struggling to regain my mojo for a while. Unfortunately, when you battle yourself, you wind up getting your ass kicked either way.

If I can keep writing the next few days, I will address a few personal issues.

On Writing: I know I have told this story before. It is of the time I was browsing the self-help section of a book store. Barbara and I routinely went to the French Quarter on Sunday afternoons to find treasures of books and CD's. We rarely returned empty handed. At the time, I was about 30. Up to that point in my life, I had done little more than go to school. Sure I had worked and had gained some experience about how the world works and how people are, but I was still in student mode. Learning never stops if you have an open mind, but at some point, you have to get out of the classroom and put all of that knowledge to work.

Sooooo, there I was browsing the section. I was so familiar with the books, and the writer's points of view, nothing was moving me. Sometimes in life thoughts are so vivid and clear that they stand out. The thought I had was, "You don't need to be reading these books anymore; you need to be writing one of them." I can't swear to the exact wording, but the general message was that I needed to make a shift.

I got right on it. I created a blog 15 years later.

OK the last line was for comedic affect.

I did write, but mostly bits of prose, a few pages about something on my mind, or a poem of some kind.

I lived. Working, raising a son.

Then in July of 2003, I began writing almost daily on this blog. I was killing three birds with one blog. I wanted to leave a record. Maybe someday my son would want more details about his father. I wanted to better understand how web design and HTML worked, and I learned some of that. Then the last thing, I wanted to discipline myself to write. As they say, "Writers write."

Writing is a discipline. You have to allocate time to it. I did not always just sit down and whip out a post, though a writing professor might think so. Many a day my burning question was, "What can I blog about today?" Maintaining a blog must be what it is like running a newspaper or a column. Before I started the blog, I wrote things and polished them up for a few weeks until I left them alone. Blog posts do not afford that luxury. You have to give a topic or a thought your best effort in the time you have and leave it at that.

For awhile, I wrote my post at night. In the morning, I would read over it making a few edits, and then posting. Life, responsibilities, priorities, and the limits of self-discipline did not always allow this, so many posts were quickly written snapshots of my mind and mood at the time.

During Hurricane Katrina, the blog took on another function. I was a reporter. I was a link to people trying to find out about property and loved ones. I wanted to share the experience as it affected me. It amazed me that all of a sudden I could be an important link to the outside world. I felt the responsibility and I also felt privileged for the opportunity.

I am not trying to say that my blog was any great source of news or anything people paid that much attention too during the storm. I am saying that my efforts were as if they were, but I did it out of a sense of duty. I could do it so I did do it.

So what happened? Why did the posts grind to a halt on March 8th 2008?

Like eating right, exercising, reading your Bible, and brushing the dog weekly, I didn't want to stop writing, but I suppose I allowed other things to push it out. The good thing about stopping things you really want to do is guilt. Guilt grows like a bubble until it pops. I am not sure my guilt bubble popped or not, but I am writing a post right now. The point is, life feels a little out of whack until you do the things you feel are important and do them consistently.

In September 2007, I changed jobs. I am very happy at the new job. However, I am required to be there earlier than the other job. I have less time in the morning to run, water plants, write, and other things I did before. I am a morning person. By the afternoon, I have a lot less drive. To illustrate this point, note the absence of posts since September 2007.

Perhaps even more than that, I needed some time to refill. I think I wrote myself out. It was becoming a chore more than a passion. There is a time to read and a time to write. Now that I have had a break from writing and maintaining this blog, it is time to get back at it. I thought I was there in March, but that was obviously wishful thinking.

I never once thought about stopping. I am a writer and I will write, though there may be breaks and gaps.

Now, I need to catch you up with things. My job, Bear, my running, and the family. I have a few thoughts about the election and the price of oil. There is all kinds of things to write about. Let's see if I can get back in there.

Until the next time
John Strain