Blog Stew 9/27/2012

Hmm…Blog Stew…I think I’ll make that a new category for my random thought posts. Sounds tasty! Blog stew is great for those days when I don’t have the idea, time, or motivation to write a long, thoughtful post on a specific topic. Those do take a lot of work, and no matter the topic, it’s sure to only interest some of you. It’s much easier to throw a bunch of different things together in the old Crock Pot and let it simmer. I hope you will find a few interesting morsels.

  • Don’t get too excited yet since we haven’t played any big-time schools, but so far the nation’s top college quarterback in total offense per game attends a little school in Waco, Texas. Sic ’em, Nick Florence!
  • Today will be my final long run (13.1 miles) before the 25k in Tyler on October 13. This will only be the second time in my life I’ve ever attempted this distance, the other being the Cowtown half marathon back in February. But my legs feel great, and I’m excited to get out there this afternoon. Next week I’ll taper, or cut back on mileage to rest up for the race.
  • You Obama-haters can rejoice…briefly. I’m strongly leaning toward going Green with Dr. Jill Stein. I like many things about Obama and will be happy if he wins in November, but he’s also done some things I don’t like and broken some important promises (not closing Guantanamo Bay, not punishing the business execs who nearly destroyed our economy, keeping troops in Afghanistan when victory is impossible, etc.). I don’t agree with Stein on everything, but she and the Green Party seem to have the platform that the Democrats don’t have the guts to pursue, largely because the Greens don’t have corporate sponsors. Unfortunately, that also means they have very little chance of winning anything, much less the Presidency. Romney will carry Texas regardless of how I vote, and Obama will probably get reelected regardless of how I vote, so maybe I’ll just use my ballot to dream big.
  • The pilot-management standoff at American is interesting but sad to watch. I read a comment from one AA pilot that the slowdown isn’t exactly an organized, concerted effort to destroy the operation. It’s more a matter of being extra careful to protect their jobs. Until the judge tossed out their contract a couple of weeks ago, that contract backed them up in the event of an small deviation from the hundreds of company procedures they have to follow when flying the plane. The company can now fire them at will for any mistake they make. I’d be a little more careful, too. Is the pilot’s statement true? I’m not sure, but it made some sense to me. However, with so much anger over there, I’m sure that some of them don’t mind making their employer look bad. I hope both sides can work out a deal soon. And I’m still very grateful to work where I work.
  • You know my son Brenden doesn’t feel well when you have to drag him out of bed in the morning. He is definitely a morning person.
  • Jenny has been accepted at UTA and will start classes there in January. She did awesome on her nursing school entrance test as expected. The only question now is when she’ll be able to take her remaining UTA-specific nursing prerequisites. She meets with a nursing advisor next week who should be able to help.
  • I know it was unnecessary and expensive and irresponsible and all that, but my iPad is awesome. I use it more than my phone or laptop. Blogging on it is a bit more difficult compared to a laptop or desktop since it doesn’t have a separate keyboard or mouse, but it’s easier to carry around than the laptop and has a 4G Internet connection.

Thank you, come again.

Hotter’N Hell – We Made It

Yes, we survived, and I finally got around to telling the story. =)

When Jenny and I got our road bikes in June, we knew we needed a cycling goal to motivate us and guide our training. Since I have lots of family in Wichita Falls, including some cousins who rode and actually helped organize the race, my first thought was riding in the Hotter’N Hell race in late August. Two months wasn’t enough time to prepare for the full 100 miles of the long distance, but the 50-mile distance seemed like a reasonable goal.

Wichita Falls is a medium-sized city in northwest Texas, maybe 100,000 people. It doesn’t have enough hotel rooms for all 13,000+ riders plus companions who converge there each August for the race, one of the biggest in the country. All hotel rooms for race weekend are generally booked by springtime. Fortunately, my cyclist cousins graciously allowed us to stay with them so we didn’t have to drive in that morning. As it turned out, my cousin Chuck was planning to ride the 100k distance along with his son Jeff. Perfect!


We arrived Friday evening and enjoyed a tasty pasta dinner (of course!) with Chuck, his wife Debbie, and Jeff before driving to the race expo for packet pickup. I saw these cousins a few times a year growing up, but only rarely now that Jeff and I were adults and some of our family has moved to the Dallas area. They are all experienced cyclists, so we now had a new shared interest and enjoyed talking shop over dinner. The expo was just like a running expo – an anthill of excited people milling about among an army of vendors. The biggest DFW bike shops, including our local shop, set up booths along with Wichita Falls bike shops, the BikeTexas advocacy group, and other vendors selling cycling food, clothing, and other gear.

Saturday morning we dragged ourselves from bed early. Some showers had developed overnight as feared, but they appeared to be staying west of the course, especially the shorter 50-mile and 100k courses. The race was on rain or shine, but that didn’t mean I would feel safe riding for over three hours on slick streets with 13,000 other riders. So I hoped my radar-reading skills were on. We left early to hit the official pancake breakfast in the event center, which included pancakes, sausage, and fruit. Jenny and I loved seeing all the different cycling jerseys – college teams, past Hotter’N Hell races, bike shops, corporate teams, even Marvin the Martian.

At some point I realized I’d committed a serious rookie error and left our tire pump at Chuck and Debbie’s house. Road bikes work best with high pressure in the tires to reduce rolling resistence and prevent punctures, so it’s best to air them up well before riding. Fifty miles on squishy tires would be like rolling through mud. Fortunately, Chuck and Jeff hadn’t left yet, so they brought us our pump. In all the busyness of getting our bikes and gear ready near the start area, we also forgot to attach our timing chips. Next time, we’ll try to get to the site earlier so we won’t be so rushed.

Finally, we reached our starting corral. The organizers put the 100-mile riders, who consitute the majority, in front with the shorter distances lining up in back. Imagine roughly 13,000 riders in a huge herd, a street’s width wide and half a mile, maybe even a mile long. It was an amazing and thrilling sight, perhaps a bit like troops lining up to prepare for a great battle. Chuck and Jeff were maybe 100-200 yards ahead for the 100k, so we didn’t see them again until after the race. Around 7:00am we sang the anthem and enjoyed a four-plane flyover from nearby Sheppard Air Force Base, which we would ride through near the end of the race. One thing we didn’t realize, being noobs, is that the race used a staggered start and separated each group by about 10 minutes. So Jenny and I waited on our bikes, and waited, and waited, until we finally got to start rolling around 7:45am. Had we known, we could’ve taken our time during preparation or even gotten a bit more sleep. With little space to maneuver or ride fast and a long way to go, it took five minutes just to reach the starting line. But we were off!


We’d been riding our road bikes for two months. Jenny’s longest ride prior to the race was 40 miles, mine 35. So we knew we wouldn’t be competing for a medal. Jenny had been riding longer on a spin bike at the gym, but I was more experienced on a real bike on the road. We agreed in advance that we were Team Box and would ride “no drop”, meaning neither would leave the other behind. We started with a gentle pace early to avoid burning ourselves up before reaching the finish line. The forecast called for a headwind on the final quarter of the course, so we had to leave something in the tank. Any bike race has supplies and gear (SAG) trucks patrolling the course to help people who get hurt, wear out, or have bike trouble, but we were determined not to SAG out. We took turns in the lead. Drafting off each other wasn’t really helpful because we were so slow (13-15mph), but that way we each had the chance to set the pace.

The showers did stay west of us as expected, and the temperature cooperated as well – maybe low 70s at start time. Riding at sunrise with my wife and thousands of other bike enthusiasts was such a blast. After a few miles, the crowd thinned a bit, giving us more room to maneuver. It was still pretty crowded, though. Riding full-speed would have been a challenge. So we just enjoyed the journey and tried to keep a decent pace. The route took us out of Wichita Falls along country roads and through a few small towns, much different from my normal trails and suburbia. Hundreds of locals lined the course to cheer us on, holding signs and ringing bells. This race is one of the biggest events of the year for the area, and the residents strongly support it.

The rest stops were crowded like we expected, but the tons of volunteers did a great job filling our tanks. Refreshments varied by rest stop. Our favorite was called Margaritaville, the next-to-last stop. The rest stop crew had brought in sand to create a small beach, hired a live band, and decorated the whole area to look like a tropical resort. Plus they had Oreos! I tried to eat something at each rest stop, whether my own gel or bars or something I picked up there such as energy chews. As in a marathon, in a long bike ride like this, cyclists burn thousands of calories, so we need to take in some fuel along the way to keep our energy up.

After the halfway mark, our route took us mostly east until Margaritaville and then south into a 10-15mph southeast wind. Up to a point, you can ride into the wind, but it can be a huge challenge. If your speed is 15mph and you’re fighting a 15mph headwind, it feels like getting hammered by a 30mph wind. We just shifted to a low gear and tried to pedal fast (spin) so it took less effort to keep moving. Pushing hard in a high gear wears your quads out fast. On the final 10-15 miles, plowing straight into the wind and uphill in some stretches, we passed several people who had stopped on the side of the road to rest. I don’t blame them. It was really tough, especially at the end of the course for every distance when we were all tired already. Jenny and I had been out 2.5-3 hours by the time we entered this final stretch. It made me glad we’d taken it easy in the beginning.

Sheppard and The End

With just a few miles to go, we passed through Sheppard Air Force Base, where my grandfather taught aircraft mechanics and planned logistics and exercises for many years. It felt a bit odd to just ride my bike onto a military base past an armed guard, but I was thrilled at the chance. Passing various buildings on the base, I wondered whether my grandfather had worked in any of them. Next the course took a turn through two rows of beautiful military aircraft. I wasn’t sure whether pictures were allowed – it was a military base, after all – but then I saw several airmen posing with riders next to a fighter, so I stopped for a few pics. On the way out, we rode through two lines of enthusiastic air cadets who were cheering us on. They’d probably been out there for hours already, but they seemed genuinely happy to be there supporting us. I appreciated that.

We debated a max-effort finish, at least as much as our exhausted legs could put out, but decided against it. Finally, we crossed the finish line!

Final tally per my Cyclemeter iPhone app: 52.25 miles in 3:50:52, not counting rest stops, and total calorie burn of 2644. For comparison, my half marathon (13.1 miles) in February took 2:00:55 counting rest stops and burned 1703 calories. Although I felt worse at the end of my half marathon, by every numerical measure the Hotter’N Hell 50 was my greatest fitness achievement.


In closing, I want to applaud my wife. For various reasons, including childhood problems with her ankles, she was never really athletic growing up or as a young adult. After Jonathan was born, she decided she wanted to get into shape and joined a gym, where she discovered indoor cycling classes and started toying with the idea of a road bike. Once we both got roadies in June and committed to riding Hotter’N Hell, she took her training seriously, piling indoor and road cycling on top of her hard work caring for our boys and managing the house. It wasn’t easy, but she was determined to finish the full 50 miles and not SAG out. And she did it! I am extremely proud of how hard she worked both in training and during the race. I am also extremely proud of her determination not to give up, even at the end when her legs were spent, her back ached, her hands were tingling, and the wind kept trying to push us away from the finish.

We’re already talking about returning next year, possibly with more cousins, and riding the 100k (62 mile) distance. Thanks again to Chuck and Debbie for being great hosts and to the people of Wichita Falls for putting on a great bike race!

Recreational Companionship

Years ago, perhaps when Jenny and I were going through our premarital counseling, I read that one of a man’s greatest relationship needs is for recreational companionship – sharing interests with his significant other. That idea made sense to me. Although I’m not a social person by nature, it can be nice to have company for my various pursuits. Jenny is my best friend, so it seems natural to want to do stuff together. As it turns out, Jenny is a fan of recreational companionship as well.

Here are some of our common interests:

Live Sports – I’m a fairly big sports fan, but Jenny doesn’t generally watch sports on TV. She would rather read or surf. However, actually going to the game is fun for her. Our first two dates were a Mavs game and a Stars game. A few times a year, we get tickets to see a game in person. We’ve seen the Stars, Rangers, Baylor Bears football, RoughRiders, and Tornado, among others. Before we had kids, we even got a Stars mini-plan a couple of years. Usually it’s just the two of us, and it makes for a great date night.

Cycling and Yoga – A couple of years ago, Jenny discovered spin classes at her gym and loved them. She got me interested in cycling, and last month we got road bikes so we could ride together. I have more experience on a real bike, but she knows more about the fitness aspects of cycling from her spin classes, so we can learn from each other. Plus it’s just fun to go ride together. Our first race is in three weeks. We also practice yoga together on occasion, either at home with a yoga video or at the gym. I’ve mostly suppressed my urge to make snarky comments throughout the session.

Video Games – On our first pseudo-date, we talked about gaming. I hadn’t known many female gamers, so she earned instant brownie points there. I do more actual game playing, at least on our PS3, but Jenny is the one who reads Game Informer and keeps track of what’s happening in the industry. When we can find a good two-player co-op game, we enjoy playing together, usually on RPG/adventure games like Baldur’s Gate or platformers like the Mario series.

Travel – Having young kids makes traveling more difficult right now, but we do enjoy getting away when possible. Cruising, hiking in the mountains, camping, lying on the beach, or simply going somewhere for the weekend to see a football game or to race all sound good to us. Once the boys get older, we’ll be able to take them with us and get away more often. We want our boys to see the world and experience a variety of cultures so they know there’s life outside suburban Texas.

What types of recreational activities do you and your significant other enjoy?

Random Facts About Me for May 2012

It’s been a while, so here are ten more random facts about me:

  1. I’m glad I went to Baylor (sic ’em!). There are many reasons I chose Baylor. One of the primary ones was its Christian atmosphere. My other top choice was Rice, a small liberal arts college with a secular and quirky culture. At the time I was deciding on schools, I debated (among other things) whether I wanted to be surrounded by Christians who I assumed would support my faith or surrounded by mostly nonChristian students and professors who would challenge my faith. It never occurred to me that Baylor would challenge my faith like it did or that Rice actually had quite a few Christians. I wonder what, if anything, would have been different if I’d spent those four years in Houston. Would my faith have emerged stronger or weaker? Would I have dated my high school girlfriend across hundreds of miles during college or broken up with her? Would I have chosen the same career path and gotten the job that I did?
  2. I love football, both college and pro, but I feel a bit guilty for supporting it due to the growing pile of evidence about football-related head injuries. As a fan, I’m part of the problem. However, with growing awareness comes growing support for changes to the game to make it safer for the players, so I have a bit of hope.
  3. Although as an Irving native, I’ve always supported the Dallas Cowboys, I will support the Redskins as long as RG3 is their quarterback. Yes, even head-to-head.
  4. I’ve tried a few burrito joints. I rank them thus: 1) Chipotle 2) Planet Burrito 3) Freebirds
  5. I still miss singing in a choir. I’m not a great soloist, but I seemed to do OK singing with lots of other people. Once the boys get older, I might look into rejoining a local community choir. Perhaps my old choir (The Irving Chorale) or my friend Randie’s choir (Schola Cantorum) might give me a break if they’re hard-up for baritone types. For singing purposes, my favorite styles are classical and gospel. Some musicals are great as well, such as Les Mis or Phantom. Just don’t make me try to dance and sing simultaneously. Something’s gotta give.
  6. At work we’ve been negotiating a new contract for about 2 1/2 years now. We seem to be nearing the end of the process, and speculation abounds that we’ll get a nice raise from the deal. If so, I won’t have to work day or afternoon shifts for overtime anymore, just midnights when I want to make some extra cash. That will make both Mrs. Box and me very happy.
  7. The contract negotiating process has given me a new appreciation for labor unions in general. There are always at least two sides to any discussion, and neither one is always right. Sometimes unions make bad choices. Sometimes management makes bad choices. Sometimes they work together and find a viable compromise.
  8. I am very proud of my wife. While she has her bachelor’s degree and could simply stay home with the kids until they are grown, she decided to go back to school to become a nurse. Just completing the nursing pre-reqs has taken a lot of work, but she’s cranking them out and maintaining a 4.0 while raising two active boys. After Monday, she’ll only have one more class to go (microbiology this fall) before she applies for nursing school for next fall.
  9. I get mad (internally, of course!) whenever I see a dog running around off-leash in my neighborhood or at a park. Two reasons: 1) I don’t know or trust the dog, and if he decides to attack me or my kids, the owner has no way to stop him. 2) Most cities around here have a leash law, and the owner is ignoring it.
  10. My all-time favorite musician is probably Sarah McLachlan. Jenny got me tickets to see her at AAC a few years back, and she put on a fantastic show. If she ever comes back to Dallas, I’ll probably go again.

“The Rules” for Couples with Opposite-Sex Friendships

Unless you live in an isolated cabin in the mountains with your significant other, you’re bound to have some contact with members of the opposite sex. Here in America, we’ve developed a variety of rules of engagement for interacting with them to reduce the chance of, or the appearance of, illicit hanky-panky or any other inappropriate relationships. However, different situations and different couples seem to need different rules. Here are some that I’ve observed in others or applied myself.

Social Activities

One-on-one outings with the opposite sex are generally frowned upon. Even if the two people are as “just friends” as two people can be, such outings could give the wrong impression to anyone who sees them or create unpleasant questions in the mind of one or both spouses. Even though Jenny trusts me, this is one rule that I follow for three reasons:

  • There’s already way too much gossip in the world.
  • I don’t want to give Jenny any reason to doubt me.
  • I generally feel more comfortable around women and connect with them better. I don’t want to set up a situation in which I start to develop a bond that is too close with a female friend.

However, I wouldn’t mind if Jenny wanted to do something with one of our mutual male friends. For instance, she and our friend MadBomber are both sci-fi and comic book fans, much more than I am. If they wanted to go see the latest X-Men movie or something similar, I’d be OK with that. I trust both of them. But I would understand if MadBomber or his wife found that weird.

Some people avoid other mixed-gender situations as well. Some refuse to ride alone in a car or meet behind closed doors with anyone of the opposite sex. My pastor at Fellowship Church held himself and the rest of the staff to this standard, understandably so. I don’t hold myself to that standard strictly, though. I’ve carpooled to work with two different girls with no problems. Most people avoid being alone in a home with someone, which seems wise to me for a number of reasons.

When I’m meeting someone new, especially a woman around my age who might have been interesting in another life, I try to mention Jenny and/or our boys to make sure the woman knows I’m taken.


I covered hugging in a previous post.


At church we sit with the same people in the same row every week. Someone, usually a couple, sits down first. Some of our friends, when they arrive next, intentionally arrange themselves so that girls sit by girls and guys sit by guys. If I’m seated and the couple starts walking down the row toward us, the girl might wait until the guy passes through so he’ll sit by me. The same thing happens sometimes in restaurants, movies, or other venues. But other couples don’t seem to care. So it’s either a personal preference or a differing understanding of the “rule”. Personally, I have no problem sitting next to a girl, and Jenny has no problem sitting next to a guy.

Phone Calls

I’ll bet this one depends largely on the nature of the call for most people. I know lots of people who have short conversations with an opposite-sex friend for some specific purpose – where is our group meeting for dinner, where do we park, what does your spouse want for her birthday, etc. But lengthy conversations between the two of you seem to be much less acceptable and something I avoid.


The explosion of the Internet, particularly Facebook, has presented couples with a new set of situations and potential dilemmas. The ease of connecting and interacting with people of both genders is both a blessing and a threat. It’s so easy to look up old friends from the past, but what if that friend is also an old flame? Is it OK to friend your ex or email with him/her? Jenny and I have done both. Naturally, we keep the interaction someone limited and make it clear that we are happily married and have no intention of rekindling the flame. However, from what little I’ve read, many relationships have ended in recent years because of Facebook reconnections with former lovers.

What about connecting with opposite-sex friends? I doubt many people have a problem with such semi-public interaction on Facebook or Twitter, but what about email or private Facebook messages? Are those OK? If so, how much interaction is acceptable? A joke or random question? A longer email? A multi-message conversation about more personal issues? Where is the line, and how do you know when you’ve crossed it? I’m not sure where people stand on this one.

For us, we don’t have a problem with private messages as long as the content remains appropriate and we don’t get too emotionally involved with anyone. One way that Jenny and I protect ourselves is by giving each other our passwords. At any time, Jenny can check my email or Facebook account and see what I’m up to, and vice versa. So if I’m writing a private message to a woman, I keep in mind that Jenny could read it and try hard not to say anything that might bother her. I also consider the possibility that my female friend’s husband or boyfriend might do the same.

Some of our friends handle this threat differently: by sharing an email address and/or Facebook account. The shared account makes interacting with them a bit more complicated since you never know who’s going to read your message first and sometimes don’t know who is replying. But a shared account does add an extra level of transparency.

The Biggest Threat

A strong emotional connection, to me at least, is probably the biggest threat in a mixed-gender friendship. Especially as a guy who feels more comfortable around women, I shouldn’t allow myself to get anywhere near as close emotionally to any woman besides Jenny. If I’m telling a female friend things that I wouldn’t reveal to Jenny, I’ve crossed the line and need to back off quick. Some friends of ours ended their marriage over such a situation. The guy found himself developing a too-close friendship with another woman. His wife didn’t like it, but the guy refused to end or scale back the friendship, so they finally divorced. I want to make sure that never happens to us, so I keep this principle in mind for all my interactions with female friends.

What are your thoughts? What rules of engagement do you follow when dealing with people of the opposite sex?

Random Observations from This Weekend

For Jenny’s birthday weekend, we stayed at a hotel in Addison, enjoyed some great food, slept a lot, and enjoyed getting to talk for long periods. Here are a few observations/factoids/highlights/whatevers:

  1. Tokyo One makes really, really good sushi. It’s a sushi buffet in Addison. Although a bit expensive for dinner, the service is good and the quality and variety of the buffet are outstanding. On their website, you can print a coupon for 10 percent off and a free piece of birthday cake if you eat there within a week of your birthday.
  2. At Tokyo One, I tried several new and weird items: blue marlin (very tender and mild in flavor, although I’m not sure whether it’s a very sustainable food source), jellyfish (looks like grilled onions, tastes like generic seafood when doused in soy sauce like this was), lychee (a strange, brown, tropical fruit with hairlike projections on the outside and sweet white meat inside), and luo han guo or monkfruit (a light brown tropical fruit with sweet white meat inside much like lychee). I seem to have outgrown the picky phase from my younger years in which I would only eat toast and french fries.
  3. Marriott beds are very, very comfortable, almost Tempur-Pedic comfy. Overall, we were very impressed with the Marriott and would stay there again.
  4. I still think it’s cheap and lame to charge hotel guests to park at your hotel. I understand charging non-guests, especially in an urban environment with lots of business people and limited parking spaces, but a parking spot should be included in the price of my room. Both the Marriott and the Anatole charge for parking. The Omni Mandalay in Irving, however, does not.
  5. I continue to be amazed that guys in the men’s locker room at King Spa feel the need to cover their bits with a towel when they walk around, as if their bits are somehow different or special compared to ours. One guy used his hand. Really, dude? That’s what toddlers do when they have to pee.
  6. I saw a guy with a black tramp stamp. Is that weird, or is it just me?
  7. Male…um…grooming habits vary widely from man to man.
  8. I performed a simple heart rate experiment in the spa area. The main hot tubs were 106-108 degrees. The steam room was about 118, the dry sauna maybe 170. While my resting heart rate stays around 60, it rose to maybe 100 or more in those hot areas as my body tried to cool off. Then, after a few minutes in the 65-degree cold plunge, it dropped to around 50 as my body tried to preserve its heat.
  9. We had breakfast Sunday morning at Einstein Brothers, one of our favorite breakfast places. A man and his sevenish-year-old son were in line ahead of us. First, the dad yelled at him not to touch anything. Next, he criticized him in front of the cashier for putting his pants on backwards, something about being “incapable of seeing the tag in the back”. Finally, they sat down and ate breakfast together. I chose to sit on the other side of the room so I didn’t hear any more, snap, and go off on the guy. I’m not sure they said a word to each other as they ate. As a father myself, I certainly understand getting frustrated and impatient with one’s children and being less kind at times than one should, but tearing a kid down constantly doesn’t do either of you a bit of good.
  10. We walked into 300, an upscale bowling alley (ever heard of that?) in Addison. The furnishings are plush, the menu offers a much broader variety of food and drinks than a typical bowling alley, and giant screens above the pins were showing a Beyonce video and the Final Four game. We would’ve stayed for dinner and a couple of games, but it was really loud and ruined our Zen from King Spa. Maybe some other time. It would be fun with a group of friends.
  11. BJ’s Brewhouse makes a tasty berry cider, great crispy fries, and a really good club sandwich.