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Sunday, February 27, 2005


Nokia Sugar Bowl Mardi Gras Marathon

After the race

When I awoke this morning at 4:00 AM, a cold rain was falling. Fortunately, when we got to New Orleans at 6:30 AM, the rain was lighter and the temperature was a few degrees warmer. I stood about 10 minutes at the start shivering, but all of that went away when the race started.

We had some light rain and some sunshine, but overall, the weather was pretty good for running. I ran well until I took another wrong turn between mile 25 and mile 26. A cop pointed and I followed the point. He did not yell at me like they usually do if you go the wrong way. I wound up about 2 minutes and 18 seconds off course. The kicker was, I was running in busy New Orleans traffic without police to stop it for me.

This marathon was easier than my last one. I did not have the psychological struggle. I was getting tired around mile 23, but I was able to maintain my pace. My official time is 3:26:54, but if you correct for the detour, my time was 3:24:36. That figures to 7:48.6 per mile.

I am happy with the time, but not so happy about the wrong turn. Sometimes I really hate being a blind guy. I am going to have to get a seeing eye dog or a bicycle escort the next time. Still, I beat my December 4, 2004 time in Baton Rouge by 5 minutes and 8 seconds.

The finish line of this marathon is the beginning of training for the Boston Marathon, April 18, 2005. I can't believe I will be running at Boston. It has been a dream for so long and now it is going to happen - good Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

Thanks everyone for your support, prayers, and cyber wings.

UPDATE: The results are in. Out of 1963 runners I placed 102, 91 if you adjust for the detour. In my age group, I placed 15 or 12 if adjusted for the detour. Overall, I was in the top 4% and top 7% of my age group. I am very pleased with the results both with and without the wrong turn.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, February 25, 2005


Bring It On

Ancient RunnerSunday is the Mardi Gras Marathon. My training lies behind me and the 26.2 final exam awaits me at 7:00 AM on what is forecast to be a rainy day. Marathons contain elements of mystery. I signed up for this race officially in December, but had set my mind on running it earlier. All of the training winds down to that day and time. The mystery is, weather conditions and how will I feel. Little injuries and aches and pains are common in marathon training, but one hopes to be feeling strong and healthy when toeing the starting line of the race. Weather can be a help or a tormenter. It is still too early to tell, but presently, a 50% chance of rain is the forecast.

Fortunately, when I was training for my last marathon, the one I qualified for Boston in, I had ran a 20 mile training run in a driving rain storm. It could not have rained harder and I could not have been more wet. My shoes were water logged and the streets were at times more streams to ford than paths to run over. I am drawing from the knowledge and experience of that day to psych myself up for possibly 26.2 miles in the rain this Sunday. I mean how bad can it be? Bring it on? Bravado? Maybe, but the alternative is doubt and I cannot let that creep into my thinking. I am going to run no matter what and weather will not be an excuse.

I still have two days to deal with my mind. No more running until the marathon, but there is psychological preparation. I work to stay positive. I go over strategy in my mind. I memorize target split times and imagine running strong, effortless, and finishing feeling good. I prepare for the time that comes in the marathon when questioning begins and when you are tempted to stop, walk, or even quit. So much of the race is a battle within one's own mind.

Why put myself through this? Because it feels so good when I stop running. I feel a sense of accomplishment beyond words. My life has been building to this point and crossing the finish line is the culmination. For a few hours, I am totally fulfilled. If I run a good time, the feeling is even better. I realize that outside of my own heart and mind, the whole process and accomplishment is not much in the eyes of the world. I do not run for the latter, but the former. The result is a strengthened self. I battled and overcame the task. Today the task was a marathon, but tomorrow who knows? I learn things about myself and I become stronger and tougher. Here is another way to say it: The marathon does a whole bunch of guy stuff for me.

So, check back Sunday afternoon and I will tell you how I did. As soon as I cross the finish line in New Orleans, I will set my sights for the 109th running of the Boston Marathon April 18, 2005. It feels really cool to say that.

Here are a couple of things I found from Michelle Malkin which describe what it is like living with a runner. Michelle is a newspaper columnist and she was writing about John Kerry's claim he had run the Boston Marathon. The post was from October 04. Read it.

The next item is a story she wrote about ESPN leaving Jim Ryun out of a list of top congressional athletes. If you don't know anything about Jim Ryun, the miler from Kansas, read this brief story. He is an ideal to which many runners strive. Read it.

Did you know President Bush ran a marathon in 3:44:52. That's pretty good. Check it out. This link was also swiped from Michelle's site.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, February 24, 2005


Gators on the Loose

Slidell, Louisiana is a town 30 miles west of where I live and they have a 12 foot long alligator loose in the middle of town:
Crikey! Alligator hunters have Slidell wide-eyed
Crowds gather to watch crews plumb canal
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
By Paul Rioux
St. Tammany bureau

Evan Goodson, 6, squeezed through the crowd and pressed against a police barricade to get a better view of the spectacle Tuesday as animal-control workers searched a Slidell drainage canal for a 12-foot alligator.

"I hope I finally get to see it," said Evan, who had stopped by with his mother Monday when the workers briefly snared the gator with a fishing rod before it got away.

"I saw big splashes and lots of bubbles, but I didn't get to see the alligator," he said, adding that he wants to be a crocodile hunter when he grows up.

Hundreds of people came by Tuesday afternoon to monitor the search for the alligator, which was spotted Monday morning in the W-14 drainage canal at the spot where it widens to about 75 feet as it passes under Gause Boulevard near Slidell Memorial Hospital.

The workers searched all day Monday and returned Tuesday about noon. City workers built a dam using sandbags, and pumped water from the canal, which was about 8 feet deep under the Gause overpass. Howard McCrea, a Sheriff's Office wildlife specialist leading the search, said the gator may have burrowed into the canal's muddy bottom to stay warm.

McCrea and two other animal-control workers poked the mud with wooden poles but hadn't found anything when they called off the search as darkness fell. McCrea said he would return this morning to look for signs of the alligator, but he did not anticipate resuming a full-scale search.

As many as 200 people at a time gathered behind barricades and yellow police tape to watch the hunt unfold in a muddy pit 25 feet below street level.

Austin Cochran, 5, had the best seat in the house: on top of his father's shoulders.

"He loves it," Mark Cochran said. "Anywhere there's action is where he wants to be."

Christy Fambrough said her 12-year-old son, Robert, convinced her to stop as she was driving him home from school.

"He saw the crowd and kept saying, 'Let's go! Let's go!' " she said. "I didn't think I was going to find a parking spot. It's worse than at a Mardi Gras parade."

Business was booming at the nearby Southern Delights ice cream and snowball stand, which uses an alligator in its logo.

Slidell police Capt. Rob Callahan sees that as more of a conspiracy than a coincidence.

"I was joking with the lady behind the counter that this is just a marketing ploy," he said. "Once we get this gator out of here, they're going to put another one in."

Callahan attributed the crowds to a combination of pleasant weather and the thrill of a large gator on the loose in the middle of the city.

"It's like a little festival -- the Gator Festival -- right here in Slidell," he said.
. . . . . . .

Paul Rioux can be reached at prioux@timespicayune.com or (985) 645-2852.
Alligators are no big deal in these parts, but the size and location of this one makes it one. I had the opportunity to go alligator hunting a few years ago. You can read about that here.

12 foot long alligator Here is what a 12 foot long alligator can do. The woman in this story lost part of her arm and nearly her life.

Slidell alligator video

That is the critter update from the bayou. I'll let you know if they ever catch him.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, February 23, 2005



Today I placed a phone call to Charity Hospital in New Orleans to reschedule an appointment for one of our patients. The individual had a clinic appointment and would be unable to attend due to being hospitalized. On the surface, it sounds simple enough, but in reality it is more difficult than threading a needle on a roller coaster.

I grabbed patient X's chart and headed to my office. Luckily, the phone number was in his chart so I dialed it up. Now our facility makes calling long distance a bit tricky by giving out codes. The codes go to employees cleared to call long distance. Every now and then, they change something and the codes don't work. Something that should be routine becomes a quest for the Holy Grail. On top of the LD code fiascos that can occur, the phone company sometimes throws out strange rules, like, "You don't need to dial 1." "You need to dial 1, but no area code." and "You can't call there from here."

Things were progressing smoothly until the first Charity employee answered the phone:
Her: Charity hospital
Me: This is John Strain from blah blah Hospital. I am calling about pt. X . . .
Her: Interrupting me - Let me transfer you to patient information.

Me: Listening to another number ring and thinking, "Damn, she didn't hear me out and thinks I want to talk to a patient. Maybe I should call back and try again.

The next her: Patient information.
Me: This is John Strain from blah blah hospital, I am calling to reschedule a patient's appointment at XYZ clinic. (I got smarter this time and left no room for misunderstanding.)
The next her: I am going to have to transfer you to the patient appointment desk. By the way, there are two phone numbers 555-1234 and 555-5678. I will transfer you to the first one.
Me: Thank you. (Thinking: finally, some action.)

The next next her: OB / GYN
Me: (Thinking: What the . . .) I think I may have been transferred to the wrong department. I am calling to reschedule a patient's appointment at the XYZ clinic.
The next next her: OK sir, let me get you the proper number.
On hold: No music
The next next her: The number is 555-9101
Me: Thank you. (Sarcastically thinking: Hmmm, I'll bet this is the right number.)

At this point, I decided not to call the number given to me by the next next her. Instead, I called the second number from the next her.

The next next next next her recording: Thank you for calling the OB / GYN department. . .
Me: Hanging up.
Me: Dialing the number given by the next next her.
Me: Listening - "This is the XYZ clinic, blah blah blah, leave a message."
Me: Leaving message, then hanging up.

I will have to follow up to make sure they got the message, which is as probable as winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

Maybe later I will try something easier like calling the Internal Revenue Service for tax information.

Another work related funny: I asked a patient a question in group. "What was one of the best times in your life?" The answer: "The day God spoke to me in an audible voice and told me to go outside. When I went outside, there was an extra terrestrial space ship in the parking lot and I got to talk to them."

Without commenting, I went on to the next patient with the same question. Some things just don't need further comment.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, February 21, 2005


A 22nd Celebration


Wedding photo 1983


22nd Anniversary

We had fun Saturday celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary. I had a little too much fun though, as you can see in these next two photos. Alcohol and idle time in a clothing store translates into mischief. Barbara and Faye were so proud.
John finds a new friend

Brian finds a new friend

Another fun night in the books. Next Sunday is the Mardi Gras Marathon, the fun just never stops down here on the bayou.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, February 19, 2005


Can Spring Be Far Away?

Tulips are one of my favorite flowers. One of the first bloomers, they herald the good news that spring is near. Take heart my Northern and Canadian friends, each passing day is one day closer to springtime.

Spring Tulips

Spring TulipsSpring TulipsSpring Tulips

Click to view three photos of beautiful tulips

Now it is on to New Orleans to celebrate our anniversary

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, February 18, 2005


Just a Couple of Things

Saturday is my 22nd wedding anniversary. Time flies. To celebrate, Barbara and I along with a couple of sets of friends will grace the French Quarter with our presence. The usual routine is to head down about 3:00 PM, frequent a couple of bars, people watch, then hit a restaurant. After that, Bourbon Street is heating up so we make a few passes then head home, unless a mood strikes us.

We were married in Vicksburg and spent our wedding night in Grenada, Mississippi on our way to Arkansas to honeymoon on the White River. Grenada is a small town and in a dry county. That's right, no champagne. Oh well, we made do.

I have been eating a lot of fruit. Today, for instance, I ate four bananas. I have been fighting the urge to climb trees and throw poop at people who pass our yard.

Do you like the people you work with? I sure do. We spend a lot of time with our coworkers - maybe more time than we spend with our families. A family is a word I would use to describe my coworkers. We certainly have some fun. I suppose being witness to so many weird, strange, bizarre, and hilarious things tends to make people close.

I guess that wraps up another week. Have a great weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, February 17, 2005


Dreams, Emotions, Success, and Failure

Success GraphicI watched American Idol tonight. It was my first time. I was fascinated by the way in which the contestants handled the pressure. These performers were given a pass or fail on their performance. The judge’s decision would either prolong or end the dream.

It seemed cruel how the judges drug things out. Then when the decision was announced the emotions gushed. I would love to have the opportunity to make people as happy as those folks were when they were passed to the next round. The ones who got the bad news handled it differently. Some were angry, while others were philosophical about it.

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is the stuff of life. Some have tried to soften the agony, but such efforts also squelch the thrill. There is no getting around success and failure. Those who try may avoid the trauma and disappointment of failure, but in so doing; make it impossible to ever drink from the sweetest vintage of victory.

Few things match the joy of achievement. The disappointment that comes with failure is a pain that lingers. The trick is to let that pain motivate you to try again, to try harder, to stand one more time and give it a go. I believe we can achieve nearly anything we are willing to work for. When you put yourself out there and go for "it" you are on a course leading to success or failure. What lies ahead is shear joy or a heartache beyond belief.

I like the Nike commercial with Lance Armstrong. He says, “They keep asking me what I’m on,” (Lance has been accused of using steroids, which is not true) “What am I on? . . . I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day.” Lance Armstrong believes he out works his competition and deserves to win.

Do not be afraid to want something so badly you would be crushed not to obtain it. For if you do achieve the goal, great joy awaits. If you should fall short, rekindle your efforts and try again. Try harder, do it differently.

Those on the American Idol fall into both categories. Some said they would quit and let the dream die, some said they would keep trying, while others are still living the dream.

I admire them all, because they gave it a shot. They tried. Life teaches us through success and failure. With an open mind and a willingness to work our successes will increase.

Life is unpredictable and it is the unpredictability that makes it so emotional at times. Don't be afraid to go out on a limb for your dream, that is where the fruit is.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, February 16, 2005



Lawn ChairWhen I grew up in Shawnee, Kansas we had lots of neighbors. It was familiar territory up and down both sides of the street and the nearby side streets. We knew their names, their pet’s names, where they worked, and what the inside of their houses looked like. Here in Louisiana, I have just as many neighbors, but I know very little about them.

It was because of the familiarity of the neighborhood, my parents allowed us kids to leave the house and roam around. My mom knew that if I were up to something, one of the operatives neighbors would see it and call her to rat me out. Us kids understood George Orwell's 1984 way back in the 60's because Big Brother really was watching us. My mom had a network that would put our national intelligence services to shame. I ended up going straight, because I always got caught. I couldn’t get away with anything.

Our society has changed and I have heard different explanations for it. One theory is that with the advent of air conditioning, people keep their houses shut up. This extra layer of insulation removes us from what is happening outside. Familiar voices and cars pulling into nearby driveways go unnoticed. In the old days, we sat in our front yard in lawn chairs. As people walked or drove by, they would often stop and talk. A conversation often turned into an invitation to sit down and enjoy some iced tea and fresh chocolate cake. Those conversations would be the seedbed for planning weekend BBQ's or holiday parties.

Another reason we do not know our neighbors has to do with the disappearing front porch. Construction costs and other factors have led people to forego the front porch. The square footage is kept inside and summer nights are spent indoors away from the contact of neighbors.

The other evening, I noticed our next-door neighbors had moved. I barely knew them. We spoke on a few occasions when we were both engaged in yard work. His name was Jeremy and I do not recall his wife's name. They also had a small child. They came and went and I know nothing about them. That's a shame. Maybe our feelings of detachment and safety concerns would diminish with a simple effort to relate to a next-door neighbor.

I think when the next set of folks moves in, Barbara and I will go over and introduce ourselves. Shoot, we may even throw in a bunt cake or something. Who knows, an introduction here and an introduction there, where will it lead? Maybe we will forge our own spy network to foil the mischief of the neighborhood kids just like when I was a lad.

Things change, but we have a lot to say about changing them back if we want to.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Opinions and Qualifications

I am going to air a pet peeve today. It irks me when members of the media are interviewing celebrities and ask said celebrity for their opinion on various current events. As if everyone wanted to know what Britney Spears thinks about the war in Iraq or what Paris Hilton has to say about family values. Oh, I forgot, Madonna is lecturing on family values these days. I am not impugning Britney, Paris, or Madonna. I just think their opinion is of little value given their expertise on the given subjects.

If I am in the gallery at the 15th hole at Augusta, my opinion about Tiger's club selection is laughable. Not that I am a moron, but I am when it comes to golf.

Sometimes the media is not to blame. The celebrity is not asked for an opinion, but one is given anyway. The usual venue for unsolicited opinions is often awards shows. Some actor receives an award for acting and they feel empowered to use that soap box to promote their own political view, as if we should give a rat's arse.

Let's take this idiocy to its logical conclusion. Let's say Katy Couric wakes up with some medical problems; nothing serious, a pounding headache, coughing up blood, and a growth the size of a golf ball coming out of her neck. Would Katy call Britney Spears or Hillary Clinton for their medical opinion? If one of Jay Leno's cars is on the fritz, would he phone Elton John or a mechanic?

Celebrity worship leads to this sort of thing. I suppose the logic goes something like this. Gee, so and so can read jokes on TV and make me laugh, I wonder what they think I should do with my 401K? Celebrities have no special powers of insight or brilliance. They are just people. More often than not, they are people with more problems than the people seeking their uneducated counsel.

I don't want the guy who slept at the Holiday Inn Express flying the plane, I want a real pilot. I hope my doctor has a medical degree, and when I want to be entertained, I will check out a celebrity.

This concludes my unsolicited rant.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, February 14, 2005


Over the Hump

Barbara has had a case of the flu. It had been building last week, and then Saturday she took the brunt of it. Fever, headache, difficulty breathing, and just feeling miserable was her world. Sunday, the fever broke and she began improving. I would say she is about 50% at this point.

I am guessing it is the flu, because I had a flu shot and I have been spared thus far. The medicine the doctor gave her has provided little relief, but maybe it is kicking in now. I will be glad when she is back to normal. With her sick, I have been pulling more KP and other responsibilities.

I ran 20 miles this morning, 2 hours 33 minutes and 58 seconds. That is 7:42 per mile. The marathon in New Orleans is two weeks from today. From here on out, the training runs are not so intense. I can run at a nice easy pace until race day. I am keeping my fingers crossed to stay healthy.

Lake TahoeJohn got back from Lake Tahoe. Here are more pictures from the trip. February 14 is his one year anniversary with Ashley. They met at our Olympia Parade party last year.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone
Cow Valentine

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, February 11, 2005


Who Cares?

Wall Clock
This clock used to hang on the wall in my counseling office. A lot of people looked up at it and laughed. That clock served as a perfect segue from our small talk to talking about the problems that drove them into counseling.

This unorthodox timepiece was a gift from my mother. It is a good symbol for philosophies I embrace, namely:
Don't take yourself or things too seriously
Don't worry

Now, this chronograph sits near my computer monitor. It is a good reminder to loosen up. I encourage people to have something humorous or something that reminds them of good times sitting around their work area. Stress is relieved when you look at that photo, stuffed animal, or knickknack. Just a positive thought or remembering a happy time is all it takes to interrupt an avalanche of stress.

Do you have anything on your desk like this?

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, February 10, 2005


Geriatric Dog

Hobo's 13th Mardi Gras

Hobo at Mardi Gras 2005
I have been asked about my pup Hobo. He will be 14 in June if he makes it that far. The past two years has been a dramatic decline for Hobo. The muscles in his hind quarters have withered away. He is only bone back there. As the muscle deteriorates, it gets harder for him to get up and to walk. As it is, I have to help him up many times a day. He falls a lot and is unable to get up. He does not complain though, he just lays where he fell and waits for someone to notice he is not around. I have an internal clock of sorts. If I don't see him laying nearby, I go looking for him. More often than not, he is laying somewhere unable to get up.

Hobo at Mardi Gras 2005, 13 years oldIn addition to his declining mobility, he is incontinent of stool. He has no control and drops surprises all over the house. Because he cannot get up, he may poop while he is laying down, then grind it into the carpet trying to stand up. I have become very good at cleaning poop out of carpet.

Other than this, he enjoys the same things he always did. He begs for food and sleeps. I suppose when he can no longer walk at all, we will have to have him put to sleep. I am resisting that though. I wish he would drop dead and spare me that decision. For now, he is not in pain, so I see no reason to kill him just because he poops on the floor.

I do not think he has a lot of time left. He has probably seen his last Christmas, and these are most likely photos of his last Mardi Gras.

I am going to hate to see this old friend go, but I know it is inevitable.

Death is the flip side of life. It is sad to contemplate death and separation, but he has lived a good life. We provided a good home for him and loved him. He, in return, gave us lots of joy and laughter. Given the limits of life cycles, it is unrealistic to expect more.

So here's to Hobo - a good dog - and a much-loved member of our family.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Some Have it Rough

I have a prayer request if you get a moment today. Remember my son, John, who could not be home for Mardi Gras. Instead he had to go to Lake Tahoe with his girlfriend and family.

To get an idea of the utter pain he is experiencing, look at this photo.

I think you get the idea. It is times like these I feel so inadequate as a parent. There is nothing I can do to help the poor boy. At least he will be home Thursday. I hope he can recover from the torture he knows as Lake Tahoe.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, February 07, 2005


It's Mardi Gras

How about a taste of Mardi Gras from Bourbon Street?

Check out the Bourbon Cam and others.

Mardi Gras 2005
Typical parade view on St Charles Avenue

I have the day off. After our little parade in Covington, I'll grill some burgers and just enjoy the day. I hope your Mardi Gras is a good one.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, February 06, 2005


Scratching My Back

Scratches on my backSince I went back to lifting weights 7 months ago, I have been noticing some pretty good gains in the physique. Call me vain, but I check my progress in front of the mirror 10 times a day occasionally. I think this behavior is a guy thing. It only makes sense. You work hard to slim down and firm up then you check to see if it is working. The other night I was giving my body an inspection before shaving, when I noticed my latissimus dorsi muscles had developed quite well. Information like this is too important to keep to yourself, so I showed Barbara.

Barbara is used to me coming up to her and saying things like, "Check this out," while I am flexing one muscle or another. "Go on, touch it, squeeze it, it's hard as a freaking brick, huh?" She humors me, but just barely. So as she is going through the motions this time, she says, "What is that?" "What's what?" I said. She went on to say there were scratches on my back. I began trying to recall any recent back trauma I had received, but nothing came to mind. I offered a few explanations. "Maybe they came from a weight bar when I was doing my squats." They were too low though, right between my shoulder blades. "What do they look like?" I said. "Finger nails." She said. Then I responded, "Oh I remember now, my girlfriend did that the other day, hehe." She was not amused.
Proving the scratches came from meTo my knowledge, no one had scratched me in or out of the throws of passion. Somehow though, what was supposed to be an ego massage for me, turned into a Perry Mason episode with me as the defendant. I began to feel guilty and think of an aliby. Then I had a flash of genius, maybe I scratched myself. I was going to reach around to see if my hand could touch the scratches. This was a risky move second only to OJ trying on that damn glove.

I took my right hand and went over the top. "Am I reaching the scratches?" I asked her. "Yes," she said, "you must have done it." Pheeww! I dodged another bullet. I am always amazed at how quickly I can seemingly be in trouble when I am innocent. I think that is a chick thing.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, February 04, 2005


You Can Fly

What is possible?
Is there anything we cannot do?
Is there something you would like to do, but you think it is impossible?

Muhammad Ali said:
Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill. When I was boxing I would set a goal for myself to demonstrate to other people what could be done, and to prove to myself that anything was possible when I set a goal then worked to achieve it. We create our own realities according to our thoughts and beliefs.
Then I ran across this quote in an email I received from Peak Performance
Whether you like the idea or not, most of us put up psychological barriers that interfere with our performance and enjoyment of our sport.

The four-minute mile was the classic example of a psychological barrier. Runners were consistently achieving times of 4:03, 4:02 and 4:01, but no one could apparently run under four minutes. This led to a common perception that running a mile in less than four minutes was physically impossible. Almost everyone believed it.

Remarkably, though, within 18 months of Roger Bannister’s famous breakthrough 16 other athletes had managed the feat.

Did these athletes suddenly get faster and train harder? No: the floodgates opened because Bannister had breached the psychological barrier and demonstrated what was possible. Athletes were no longer limited by their beliefs.
History and our halls of heroes are filled with men and women who believed in something others thought was impossible. John F. Kennedy boldly set the goal to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Neil Armstrong's footprints on the lunar surface fulfilled that dream.

I want to challenge you today to dream and then to set the wheels in motion to realize that dream. We are only limited by our feeble views of what is possible. Listen to the song, "I Believe I Can Fly" for some inspiration.

Song: I Believe I can Fly

Here's to those who dream and endeavor to make them reality.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, February 03, 2005


"Treat"ed Like a Dog

OK, I know I'm a blind guy and all, but some things are just unsafe good vision or not. Take my snack shelf for instance. At first blush it may seem like a normal pantry scene, but evil lurks here. When I need a snack, I frequent this area of the kitchen. I am not very picky, so I often grab a bag without looking and head for the TV to enjoy some chips or whatever is in the package. Anything on this shelf should be fit for human consumption, but it is not. Take a look at the shelf and see if you see a problem. (I promise, there will be no loud screaming demon lunge at you if you gawk at this photo.)
Snack shelf in the pantry

Now look at the next picture where I turned some of the bags around.

Snack shelf in the pantry: A closer look

I nearly ate some freaking dog biscuits the other day because of this. I am going to have to speak to Barbara about a “dog biscuit free zone” or something. This all started because Hobo would help himself to his dog treats, which were kept on the pantry floor. Whenever the pantry door was left open, he would be wolfing down whatever he could reach. To out smart the gluttonous pooch, we placed his treats on the shelf. Now that he is old and barely able to walk, we could probably lower the dog yummies and ensure I only snack on human chips.

This reminds me of the time I grabbed the Preparation H instead of my toothpaste one morning. My tongue disappeared for about 8 hours. Then there was the time I thought a bottle of Tabasco sauce was Visene. Not really. I'm not that daft. Sometimes I open the freezer door instead of the microwave to heat my cup of water. It is funny what you can do when you leave your body on autopilot while your brain thinks about other things.

What about you? Have you ever absent mindedly done one thing instead of the other? Let’s hear about it.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Still Thinking About Justin

Lance Cpl. Justin McLeese, killed in the battle for Fallujah November 13, 2004
Al from Al's Ramblings reminded me that I said I would post about the funeral of Justin McLeese, a local Marine who was killed fighting in Fallujah November 13, 2004. That week was emotionally draining. From the time we learned of Justin's death on Sunday until the funeral on Friday, I was experiencing feelings of sadness, respect, compassion, and gratitude. I hurt for Justin, his family, his young girlfriend, my son and his friends, and myself. Justin touched a lot of lives with his life and he touched a lot of lives with his death.

I had taken Friday off before we learned of Justin's death. I was glad to find out I would be able to attend the visitation and funeral. John came in from LSU that Friday morning. Two of his other friends, Ben and Will met us at the house and we walked to the church for the 11:00 AM visitation. The mood was somber and we talked about Justin, still finding it hard to believe he was gone. There was also a patriotic flavor to our conversation that carried for the rest of the day. It was a day to mourn the loss of Justin, but it was a day to honor his service and contribution to his country. Justin died for us and we were grateful.

Approaching the church revealed a line of people stretching out the door all the way to the street. We took our place and began greeting those we knew. Voices were respectfully low and many shook with emotion. This event truly had an affect on our whole community. The line of mourners continued to grow and eventually wound down the street to the end of the block. I was proud so many were coming to honor Justin. It was a beautiful day weather wise. The contrast was not lost on me. Though the skies were blue and the sun was burning warm, it did not eliminate the sounds of crying nor hide the solemn faces of those in attendance. How could it be? How could this young man's life be over? Questions with no satisfactory answer, the reality kept striking back like a superior boxer, only inflicting pain in the heart, instead of the body.

It took a while, but we worked our way to the front of the church where Justin lay inside a flag draped casket. A marine guard was posted and the family was greeting people as they filed by. I felt so bad for them in their pain and wondered how they could endure such sadness. It was gut wrenching to watch and unimaginable to comprehend what they were going through. The family was very gracious and seemed to be trying to set others at ease. They exhibited thanks and gratitude for those who came.

We sat in a pew for a few moments after being greeted by Justin's family. We just took in the sights and sounds and each of us were quiet with our own thoughts. The news headlines had come home to us all, now one of our fine young men was gone.

We had some time before the funeral at 2:00 PM so we went to a nearby Subway for lunch. We continued to talk about Justin and Iraq. The boys talked about every Justin memory they had. We went back to the house and watched a video of Justin and the whole gang from Jr. high School. It made us laugh and it made us cry.

We wanted to make sure we had a place to sit, so we went back to the church about 1:30 PM, 30 minutes early, but still had to sit near the back. The church would eventually be filled to capacity, about 500 people.

Retired Archbishop Philip Hannan, himself a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne in WWII, spoke first about Justin. His words were both uplifting and comforting. He told us that Justin did not die in vain and his sacrifice was for an important cause.

Later, different family members and friends spoke about Justin. During this time, it was almost as if Justin were still there. We laughed and cried as stories were told from the poignant to the humorous. It is a cliché to refer to an emotional roller coaster, but that is exactly what it was.

From Justin's sister, to his girlfriend he had met at a Mardi Gras parade, to his uncle, and other friends, we were reminded of just how special Justin was. The stories showed us how special a person he was, which served to make the loss seem greater.

Those moments of comfort ended when the funeral was concluding. Very quietly the song "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me (see below) began playing. Six Marines in dress uniforms lifted Justin’s casket. Led and flanked by Marines, the casket was slowly carried from the church to the awaiting hearse. Many could no longer contain their sorrow and it was at this moment the sounds of grief were the loudest. I am hard pressed to conjure anything more sad or tragic than for a family to lose a young son. We all shed tears as Justin was slowly carried down the aisle.

Outside the church were news cameras, and lots of vehicles. We walked quickly to our car so we could get to the graveside. We did not drive in the funeral procession due to the logistics of where we were parked. The cemetery was only two miles away. We drove there, parked and took a position where we could see.

We kept watching for the procession and then we saw the flashing lights of the police escort. Each of the police jurisdictions was represented including the St Tammany Sheriff, State, and local police - five or six different police bodies in all. A number of police motorcycles were there too.

The hearse carrying Justin stopped and the Marines reverently carried the casket to the graveside. Words were said, taps was played, and the startling report of 21 guns echoed across the Covington dusk and amidst the cries of those who loved Justin. A fallen Marine was laid to rest. He was faithful. He completed his mission bravely. A good citizen was laid to rest. He had answered the call of his country. He gave his life like so many before him, men who have secured our freedom and our way of life by giving their lives. A beloved son, brother, and friend was laid to rest. Many mourned him. His absence will leave a hole in their hearts.

Those who knew Justin well, referred to him as JM. A bumper sticker was printed and distributed which read "JM Forever." It also displays the Marine logo. This sticker is prominent in Justin's neighborhood and on many cars in the area. Justin's service and sacrifice will not be forgotten, but his spirit and smile will be missed.

The Bible says it best: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) Justin demonstrated such a love.

Rest in peace Justin McLeese

Until the next time
John Strain

Related posts from the archives:
A Death in November
More About: Where Do We Find Such Men?
Honoring a Hero

Other links with information about Justin:
National Public Radio (audio) story about Justin and two others who were killen in Iraq
January 28, 2005 News Banner article by Brian Bossetta on what would have been Justin's 20th birthday

Information about how Justin died:
Lance Corporal Justin McLeese of Covington, Louisiana enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Covington High School. He wanted to join the Marines after the events of 9/11 and in his own words "it is an experience I want in my life". He was deployed to Iraq in July, 2004.

From Lt. Colonel W.A. Buhl, U. S. Marine Corps in Iraq: "Our battalion was recently involved in sustained high intensity urban combat in the City of Fallujah, Iraq. The resistance we encountered and the combat that ensued was as fierce as anything I have witnessed over my 23-year career. Your brave son, Justin, was in the thick of this action. Fighting the enemy inside of a house, he was wounded and continued to fight to protect his brother Marines. Regrettably, the enemy is believed to have detonated a massive explosive charge inside the house that took Justin's life and wounded a number of other Marines in India Company. Justin's performance of duties in the Battalion greatly exceeded our already high expectations. We will cherish his memory as a man and a United States Marine, for the honorable way he lived, and in recognition of the selfless service and sacrifice he rendered for God, Country and his brother Marines."

Justin was 19 years old. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine India Company based out of Camp Pendleton, CA. His bravery and courage are much appreciated. He is a recipient of the Purple Heart with numerous awards pending. His heroism is inspirational. JM Forever.