Friday, December 21, 2007

Presents Under the Tree...

I am ready for a break since I cannot seem to get out from under my current work situation. Good thing that the holiday is upon us so that I can slip into the proper mood and be of good cheer. Wendy decided that it was a good idea to break the cycle and jump-start on the festivities by sneaking in a couple of presents last night. Wendy & I have been fortunate to share in some wonderful moments this year, and some of those moments have been blessed with the presence of good friends from far and wide. I take a quick moment to thank all those people (you all know who you are!) for being in our respective lives and look forward to an even better year in 2008.

So much to celebrate - it was easy to let Christmas overtake us. Presents under the tree, and I look forward to what is inside all those intricate wrappings!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

100,000... and Counting!

The last milestone from my trusty, now old, Volkswagen GTI VR6 was 50,000 miles. It was December 2004, and I was driving cross-country from California to Ohio, on my way ultimately to Switzerland and a year abroad in graduate school. It took 8.5 years to reach that milestone. Little did I know that the next 50,000 miles would take just under a quarter of that time.

I remember so much about this car. My mother dinged it not more than a week after it found itself into my parent's driveway; 10 years later, it would be hard for that to happen again - there is no more basketball pole, and the lane is wider after the house renovation.

At 99,998 miles, I remembered the days in college. After an epic trip with my father cross-country from Ohio to Los Angeles, I wound up with a car on-campus for my sophomore year. What a privilege to have wheels - and what a benefit to friends. There was even that one evening where an impromptu van jam ended up with 7 in the car, from front seat to trunk. Diddy Riese and its famous cookies never saw so many folks pile out of a car that size!




At 99,999 mjiles, I remembered the consulting days on the west coast. Most of that time saw "my baby" lounging indoors, parking from garage to garage as I wracked up the airmiles. I estimated over five years that my air mileage was upwards of 400,000 - but my car miles were 10x less than that. There were a couple of harrowing moments, including a break-in that stripped my car of the Sony stereo that my little brother gave me. It must have been worth something, I hope the thief made a good return on my misfortune.



At 100,000 miles, I was less than a mile from home - which reminded me of the stat that 90% of accidents happen within that distance. I pulled over to document this moment and thought about that moment and all those wonderful memories through the past decade.
A good reflection, to be sure, for this wonderful German machine has been through thick and thin - all the way back to college. Now, it joins me into my married life with Wendy. She gives me a hard time because my baby has faced some mechanical hurdles this year, what with replacement of ignition coils and wires as latest repair. I rationalize every time that it is cheaper to fix than outright buy a new car, but she is not convinced. Perhaps she knows better that I will have a hard time giving up my baby which has traveled so many roads before with me. At 100,000 and counting, it is nice to travel those roads with a trusted friend.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nothing But Magic

It was Saturday night, and the Magic Kingdom was packed: teens acting cool with their friends, young tots fighting valiantly against fatigue, stroller babies laid out in peaceful slumber, and exhausted parents encircling them all with consternation. First, it was the spectacular fireworks, then it was the light parade. All the while, I was clinging to waking hours by the sheer joy I was experiencing with Wendy. What can make this place nothing but magic?

It was the place where I raced in fascination as a kid - what boy can resist being a pirate and getting "trapped" in an enchanted yet haunted house? It was the place where I proposed to my future wife - what guy can resist being a prince sweeping his damsel off her feet? It is the place where creativity is free to roam and imagination is celebrated and not relegated to practicality - what person can resist the urge of freedom and self-expression that results?

Perhaps it is too much to ascribe a make-believe place with such hyperbole; after all, that same boyhood charm of Disney World today seems much more miniature than before. Perhaps I am negating the jostling experience that getting into the Magic Kingdom can be - and what a crush of people any time of year! True as this all might be, there is still only one place on earth like Disney World. Even the build-up to this short weekend excursion away from a month's worth of work craziness could not spoil the wonders. That must mean that magic really does live in Orlando, where the kids know what Pooh and Peter Pan really can do.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not So Magic

Southwest Airlines has many supporters - of which I am not one. Call me snobbish from prior days of inter-continental business travel, but I have never fancied the inevitable cattle call that comes when the gate agent opens up the mic. Tonight her call was honest and to the point: "line up, you know, just like gym class when you were long ago in school... and no so long ago for some of you." Correction duly noted - it is not just boomers with a pocket of pension money to burn. Students, military, modest couples, entrepreneurs, regional sales folks, the crowd was mixed - and all the more so because my flight was heading to Orlando. Ah yes, Orlando, that oasis of middle-class holiday-seeking so spot on attracting the bulls-eye median of the US population that chain restaurants like Red Lobster test their new fixin's down there. Simple reason: if the Disney crowd likes it, then anytown USA will like it too.

Somehow I turn out to be a supporter regardless. Standing in line amidst another rocky evening of slight weather conditions throwing off taut, yield-optimizing flight schedules, it seems every time I travel now, the flight is not scheduled to depart on time. Not always long - like the last sentence - but enough to reinforce the aggravation of 21st century travel. Tonight the delay was 30 minutes, but somehow I am willing to put up with it. Perhaps because I am going to the Magic Kingdom where all the magic went down last year, but perhaps also because I am on a budget. Yes, those high-flying consulting days are gone where I actually have to buy the ticket myself.


So I am in this line thankful that I can get a cheap flight on Southwest. Yeah, the crowd is a bit strange, and I am standing around like in high school gym class, but people are nice enough, and the flight is only two hours. Not so magic, but I guess it will do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Long Days at the Office

I thought the week might get better. If only I could that last presentation done over dinner at the hotel, I would be able to leave from HQ at a reasonable hour. If only we would have reached resolution sooner on some big-picture dialogue then I could have gotten home before the strike of midnight.

No dice. I hate to think that I am working like my father, but in these days, it is true. Granted, the long hours are paying dividends, both in gaining experience and feeling a sense of accomplishment. I am getting better at being more productive. Still, it is long days at the office - and there are other things to do than work.









What long hours at the office lead to...

Monday, December 10, 2007

So Close to Magic

This week is already proving challenging. Driving up to New Jersey on Sunday night, I will be doing work from before dawn to after midnight, hopefully getting a few hours of sleep in between. In the meantime, there are meetings to attend to, presentations to make up, calls to dial in, action items to resolve, and all sort of other items to take care of. It's a mess, and I'm not entirely happy to highjack my schedule.

That being said, there is light at the end of the tunnel - namely, Disney World. To celebrate all that this hard work has brought Wendy and I, we are heading off to Orlando for the weekend, a sort of early holiday present to step out of the every day and into the special. So close to magic, I can taste it - past this week's craziness, that is...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Silent Sunday

The house is quiet. The computer is humming. Keystrokes break the silence with staccato taps. The desk is cleared, and the notebook is open. Pen standing by, notations as necessary. This is the set-up for a moment all too brief, where concentration and activity meet to accomplish something often anticipated but never realized - a closed list of action items.

Desk, computer, notebook, pen, cup of coffee (sometimes water or tea) - this is all it takes for the knowledge worker to realize a new world. Often, it takes more than this to find the necessary inspiration - website, photograph, song, even poetry as aid - and even then, the results do not materialize. It is the bain of knowledge work that output cannot be summoned like the clouds for rain.

On this silent Sunday, I feel like I have summoned my own clouds. Let me take to work in order to make it pour - just like the grey pervasion of this day's precipitation.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let It Snow (to stop traffic)

I had my doubts about commuting to work this morning. I thought twice about the endeavor when I looked out the window as I made my daily lunch. An odd silence echoed the sight - a parking lot on the highway. To say that Washington DC traffic is horrible is an understatement - every year it climbs the tables to now reside at #2 worst in the US behind NYC - but today's sight on I-270 that runs from Frederick to the Beltway was unusual. Car-to-car parking lot, literally stopped on a five-lane highway.

Out at the car, I made an easy decision - I would take the backroads to the office. My decision was confirmed when the daily traffic report made my mobile phone vibrate incessantly (every morning, 8am, the traffic report!). I turned on the radio, and the news became worse than the text messages - back-ups on 495 outer loop, inner loop, 395, 95 north and south, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, George Washington Parkway, 50, 66, Ohio Avenue, New York, nearly every major route in and around DC with at least one accident.

It took awhile to get going as I waited for lines of cars trying the same trick as me. Then, I was held up by one, two, three, four, five accidents on the back roads - which were mere stop-offs on a slow caravan out to Laurel. 90 minutes later, and I phoned home to Wendy to let her know that it was a long ride.

No bother, though - I switched the radio on to local 97.1, the "official radio station for the holidays" that has been playing around-the-clock holiday music since before Thanksgiving. I was dialed in and smiling as "Let It Snow" warmed up the car. Absolutely right...

Monday, December 03, 2007

"A Turner, I own one..."

For some reason, the words of a Rufus Wainwright song went through my head as I ambled through the National Gallery of Art. Two special exhibits are on during this period: J.M.W. Turner, the great English landscape painter of the 19th century, and Edward Hopper, the iconic yet laconic American painter of the 20th century. Two different wings of the gallery with two distinctly different takes on the world.

I took great pleasure letting the afternoon slipping away and frolicking with my wife; after all, this is what newlyweds do, right? In spending the requisite time studying some of the works, though, I got to thinking: who are these family of so-and-so and endowment/foundation groups who own these works anyway?
Special art exhibits have a penchant for bringing together the varied works of an artist that have long-since scattered the collecting elites. Some of these pieces come from museums naturally, but a good number come from private collectors, some of whom remain nameless on the walls of the exhibition space. I wondered who these people might be and how deep their art appreciation went, particularly when I witnessed the prancing antics of a young girl who was touring the museum with her mother. In her bounding excitement for the works and while answering the children's museum guide pamphlet of "age-appropriate" activities, she came quite close to touching several paintings in pointing out the violent waves and inscrutable figures of various Turner landscapes. Seeing the faces of those private collectors whose works were almost marred by the innocent joy of a child would have been priceless and brought me back to Rufus' song. He sings of a girl who falls in love with her art teacher in high school, many years later to marry a rich executive and own artwork of the masters she once studied. In her moment, she wonders what has happened to her beloved art teacher as she now amasses without feeling what she once studied with fervor at his feet.

Perhaps these varied vignetted paint the picture, so to speak, of art and life and love and loss. Who knows? Maybe those private collectors would find it timeless that a five-year-old marred their precious works in a liminal moment of happiness. Who knows? Maybe those private collectors would be just as heartless as a stereotype would portray them, stacks of money around with no chance for contentment. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to own just one of Turner's melodramatic yet majestic landscape paintings or a Hopper moment stuck in a hotel room with a solitary woman. Then again, I doubt the likelihood.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What To Do?

I am distracted. I am sitting at work and trying to get my head around each of the various things that I have going on and need to move forward. I am organized but not on top of things. I feel at any moment that an order will come down from "on high" (as it usually does) that blows up all these various activities. I am apprehensive to commit to do anything, but then I feel like the rock is rolling fairly slowly uphill. I hope that the email stays in check long enough so that I can bite into the piling workload in other areas.

What to do? Play video games. Go on a date with my wife. Put up the holiday tree (that will come this weekend). Read a book. Pack for a trip. Anticipate for the inevitable intrusion of Wendy's work on our Disney World plans in mid-December. All these wonderful things are enabled by the messiness of the office environment. After all, what pays the bills are what I am supposed to do sitting at this desk. I guess a little motivation is necessary to get geared up for picking away at this mountain of mundane activities.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Back in Akron for some holiday cheer, the family trekked downtown for the annual Children's Hospital Holiday Tree Festival. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, over 100 holiday trees go up in the John S. Knight Center with all kinds of themes - Akron cheer, Notre Dame & Ohio State spirit, racing, autumn, candlelight, children's dreams, and all other sorts of themes. Throw in Santa Claus, mini-globes, and wreaths, and you've got a cornucopia of holiday fun.

A nice feeling, to be sure. Surrounded by all the decorations that a great holiday should have, the event was for good cause, namely the assistance of children in medical need. Many kids have benefited by the good work that Children's Hospital does both locally and nationally, and it is all too easy to share in such an event for that benefit. And might I mention the reminder that Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are just around the corner?

So here's to a winter wonderland (photos) and a bevy of holiday trees to make it beautiful.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Cross Country Championship

On a cold, snowy morning in Ohio, I ventured out for a morning of competitive golf with the family. Odd, you might say, for such a round of golf at this time of year, but an annual tradition has risen from the post-Thanksgiving food comas in the area. The local country club holds a cross-country golf tourney that reconfigures its course into a nine-hole adventure that criss-crosses the existing layout in new ways. Around practice ranges this way, over the trees that way, a new tee box where the existing fairway starts, and you have a test of golf refreshing and entirely novel. Trouble is that the snow keeps the ball hidden half the time, and assuming that the ball is found, the challenge of keeping hands warm and swinging through the layers of clothing is enough to keep minds off the fact that the feet are frozen.

But no matter. What kept us occupied was the competition between the two threesomes in the group. Surprising birdie after surprising birdie, the fight was to the last hole, when my miracle approach shot from 200 yards out faded closely around the corner pocket of trees and landed softly on the green. When my dad sunk the 20-foot putt, we later found out that not only was our team victorious but that we took all the skins for the day. Meaning a nice, little credit of golf merchandise in the pro shop. 7-under was not too bad and left a series of highlights worth sharing:

Photos at Flickr

Videos at YouTube

Conor dropping a birdie

Steve tree-bound off the tee

Lauren sticking a tee shot

Lauren sinking a putt

Geo dropping his birdie putt

Dad drops a birdie putt

Dad wayward off the tee

Conor works his magic

Dad big with a final birdie

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fun with Facebook

A random entry before heading off on Thanksgiving holiday - fun with Facebook. The internet fascinates me with its way of evolving the way that people communicate. Ever since the dawn of humanity, we have been working out how to better share our thoughts and feelings with each other. From cave wall scrawl to today's computers and mobile devices, we have come a long way - but the underlying urge to express ourselves has remained fundamental and constant.

Which brings me to Facebook and any number of "social networks" that are out there. The buzz is around what is new and additive to our society - no doubt that MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, and the rest are new sorts of "online communities" that connect people in new ways. No doubt also that the implications for business can be profound and that many business plans are built upon the chance that these sort of social networking sites could change the way that we interact with each other as consumers. But the simple fact of the matter is that this sort of technology makes engaging with friends and acquaintances new and often exciting. In short, fun - and I look forward to the continued onslaught of technology to move us all further up the Maslow hierarchy of needs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Burning...

...the midnight oil. Inexcusably, work has crept up on me again - not that I intended for the office to draw me back in. I am trying to stay on top of a number of items and finding a hard time to say no to the efforts.

No worries, though - it is now Friday since midnight passed! I can slumber in peace knowing that all the efforts of this past week threw me straight into the weekend without a second thought. At least tomorrow I am afforded a nice sleep-in to start the Saturday off right!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waiting on Something

We are all waiting on something. It could be an event, a person, or a feeling. Sometimes waiting is hoping - either for the future to arrive or for the past to come back. In many cases, waiting is all that is available in the moment - a wait that does not stop the moment at hand from passing swiftly by.

A simple thought, to be sure, and a good reminder to enjoy the moment. Because if a moment is all we have, waiting is a poor substitute for what really happens around us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sitting in a NYC Taxicab

I was whirring up Park Avenue for a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria (oh, how posh!) when I pulled out my cameraphone to snap a picture uniquely indicative of New York City. Something representative without being overdone (easier said that done!). Something relatable to almost anyone that has been to this wonderful city. Something easy to recognize. Something difficult to forget.

Sitting in a NYC taxicab, it was apparent where the shutter would point itself. Of all the places that I have been in Manhattan through the years, none have been so welcoming and iconic as the backseat of those yellow beacons of light after a bender of a night. An United Nations of drivers mans these vehicles, representative of the dream that the United States has often been for the fortunate, displaced, and ambitious - not that disillusionment did not follow when finding the cab as an occupation hopeful for a better future. Regardless, the taxicab is often friend, sometimes foe - and sometimes the instigator of a New York scrap (hey - you took my cab!!!). And a final note: try to avoid the need for one of these guys when five o'clock turns around - you don't want to be left cursing your luck when these simplest of NYC icons puts on the "Off Duty" light and changes shifts.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On Track

Used to be, a train could take you anywhere in the US you wanted to be. From Boston down to Washington DC and over to Chicago, you had everyone from big shots to hobos hopping on the line. There was even a rush to make that train go all the way across this great, big country, from coast to coast. Forgotten in the modern age, Abraham Lincoln's greatest achievement at the time (1862) was signing into law the Pacific Railway Act which government-sponsored two railway lines - Union Pacific and Central Pacific - to connect the Eastern United States to California. Lincoln never saw this great vision come to fruition since the famous "golden spike" was driven into the tracks after his death, in 1869 (May 10 in Promontory Summit, Utah, to be exact). Regardless. it brought the railroads to great prominence and drove the Pony Express and the stagecoach into the relics of history.



Now it is the railroad that has nearly been driven into the relics of history (thank you planes and automobiles!), but I am having none of that on my ride in the Amtrak up to New York City. Having a chance to sit back and listen to the great whistle blow as we bluster down the tracks past Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey landscape, I wonder what it used to be like. I cannot think too long, though, because I have work to do - the whole reason I'm sitting on the train to begin with. I guess I'll get back on track and out of my railroad daydream.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mission Accomplished

I wrote yesterday that a down home Sunday afternoon ensued as Wendy & I got back into the groove of getting our house in order. Since the backyard was taken to task the weekend before with mulch and new storage shed, it was time to bring the garage up to snuff with some shelving and storage space. So, off to the Container Store a couple of times and into the mode of do-it-yourself furniture assembly.

In little more than a weekend, the space went from clutter to cramp-free - and now we can walk around the car (kind of) when it is pulled into the garage! The funny thing is how such little effort for noticeable result leaves one with a feeling of mission accomplished.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Down Home Sunday Afternoon

Very few moments can command the pleasure like a down home Sunday afternoon. As I type, I have a number of thank-you cards scattered about me and am looking out to our freshly-manicured backyard. It has been a busy few months with the wedding, honeymoon, and time-consuming business deals at work, but now Wendy & I are stepping back into blissful domestic life. What does that mean? Trips to Home Depot, The Container Store, Staples, Giant groceries, Barnes & Noble (another book doesn't hurt, right?), and driving around. Rationalizing bank accounts. Cleaning out the garage. Making the home office more functional. Paying off various debts. Writing thank-you notes for wedding presents. Selecting photos for the wedding album. Getting ready for the holidays.

So much to celebrate - and nothing like the present to jump in to the mundane of homemaking. And this is the best part of having a down home Sunday afternoon - all the time in the world to make that blissful domestic life happen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Little Bit of Proust

Somehow I started to read Proust. The blame goes to Alain de Botton, a writer whose witticisms deconstruct modern thinking and make intellectualism seem but a trifle and a whim. He wrote a book in 1997 called "How Proust Can Change Your Life" which distills the enigmatic French novelist into a self-help dispenser of pithy ideas. How clever I found Mr. de Botton to be when I dipped my toe into the vagaries of Proust; I picked up volume one of "In Search of Lost Time" and instantly fell into the deep end. What author dares to run sentences onward into the stratosphere that sometimes seemingly mellows behind the stars of a bright night, but never so much as an introspective person that wretches for the meaning of a simple thought, sometimes stumbling, but always emerging strongly as that same night in starry sky, almost an homage back to Van Gogh, whose rich paintings greatly represented the mood of a generation - and generations often afford a few mis-steps in leaving a legacy as strong as the stars and stronger yet for the living.

I step back from the precipice, appreciating how far that little book of Mr. de Botton's went in dispelling the complexities of this almost-godly figure in the literary world. A little bit of Proust can leave one confused, or worse, interminably wrapped up in wandering thoughts and words.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Starting Down the Road...

After a beautiful honeymoon all over Europe (Barcelona, Venice, London, Paris), I have re-entered the "real world" with the requisite meetings, bills, gardening, and handiwork. Wendy started a new job, that just happens to be local (lucky me!), and we were left pondering the next big decision as a couple - how to survive with one car?

I hate to admit this, but we are an all-American couple. Meaning, one car for every driving-age adult (that seems to be the rule - check out traffic during rush hour!). That left us one car short for daily commutes. After briefly considering some non-American options (ie. carpooling or ride-sharing), we indulged in the trip down to the local car dealership.

What did we find? First, that a car-buying experience can actually be fun! First, we interacted with a chilled-out sales person. Second, we got a chance to test drive. Third, we got a great deal - and without painful haggling. We even got the interest change lowered just by asking (thanks Sun!).

So, an afternoon of test-driving, haggling, paperwork, and signatures, Wendy & I were starting down the road to a two-car life. And in case you are wondering, it is a Tango Red (yippee!) 2007 Honda CR-V EX, all-wheel drive, Wendy now standard option for me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Stopping In with some Wedding Pictures

It's been awhile since I have jotted down an entry, and it will be another short spell until I have some proper time to reflect as I swim out from under a tidal wave of stacked-up work items, but it feels good to put fingers to keys and write something.

I figured a good place to get going again is with some wedding pictures, since Weddings Perfect, the photography studio we hired for our wedding, has been able to post the collection of photos from the engagement sitting as well as the ceremony & reception. So without further ado:

Here is the link to the wedding photos
You will need to enter the event code on the left-hand side of the page as "wendy"

Frankly, I was quite happy with how the pictures turned out; Carroll, our photographer at the event, was all over the place and captured so many moments, I wonder if he was really a set of twins that tag-teamed to get in on all the action. In any case, the pictures are posted for a bit of reminiscing & recollection:









Wendy getting ready & the actual ceremony (link)









Post-ceremony professional photos (link)









Reception fun (link)

Back in a bit with some more thoughts and memories!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Venice by Foot

Italian sojourns have become my secret travel vice, ever since my exchange student days in Milan. A day in to the Venice leg of the honeymoon reminded me again of this fact - and no sooner than the hour-long vaporetto ride that introduced Wendy & I to the deserted nightlife of post-ferragosto Lido, an accompanying island to Venice. After a semi-restful first night (Wendy's introduction of the paperback thriller "Angels & Demons" kept me turning pages later than I would have liked), the adventure took us by water taxi around to Piazza San Marco and the center of Venice. 10 hours later, we were happily fed (pasta, pizza, frittata mista, and gelattoed out), newly dressed (a wonderful present of a shirt from Wendy and other close calls for her too numerous to list), monumented (the impressive Doge's Palace with an equally superb temporary exhibit on Venice's connection to the muslim world through history), and walked out (including narrow lanes and bridges). Venice by foot is truly a pleasure.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hello from Barcelona

A solitary moment to drop a quick note. On my honeymoon and loving it, after a restful night from a long flight. The weather in northeastern Spain is superb, and the people are their usual festive selves late into the night. I am content the morning after a truly amazing paella and resting in the honeymoon suite which overlooks La Rambla. Who could ask for anything more?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Happily Ever After...


It is a day on from the end of the wedding weekend, and I am still trying to figure out what happened to me. The affair that I thought was just a dream ended up leaving a ring on my left hand and a house full of gifts. What was once a source of stress became at the march of the bride a source of immeasurable joy, such that the rest of the wedding night ended up passing as a cascade of wonderful moments beyond measure.

I remember the wedding ceremony distinctly. Walking along the side of the deck out to the front of the altar, with a closely packed group of onlookers that had been there through so much of my life. After setting myself at the front, briskly walking up the aisle to get my parents. Once at both their sides, focusing all my nerve on walking delicately back down the aisle without engaging them too deeply, lest seeing their beaming faces turn into tears that might throw off my composure. Catching Wendy move like a ghost through the cocktail room before emerging onto the deck, under blusher and escorted by her parents. The red sash about her waist blinding in its beauty and shuffling effortlessly with the billows of her beautiful white dress. The look of terror on her face as she approached - I could tell her heart was racing as much as mine. My wide smile flickering in between tears of joy. Unveiling her million-watt smile by pulling back the veil - but not enough to fall all the way down behind her. Andrea reaching back to pull it fully down, thus finishing the job I started. Grabbing one of Wendy's hands with both of mine. Readings from Mike (way to go buddy - and Colossians at that!) and Sarah. A bunch of words and readings from the pastor that bled together and ended with an exchange of hats (Todd's, Wendy's); in between, a message that strung together a number of poems I had written before as well as words from the pastor to live by in love (humility, compassion, and others) and a clincher from "Message in a Bottle". The start of the vows, with a confident "I will" to resurrect my botched attempts at the the rehearsal on Saturday. Wendy's parents giving her away with another reprieve from the rehearsal - a measured response of "We... her parents, do". All the while, vacillating among many of the feelings that make love so glorious - excitement, nervousness, joy, tears, smiles, joking, laughter, intensity, intention, and longing. The vows with so much else disappearing behind me. Andre' coming to attention at the moment of exchanging the rings. Slipping Wendy's diamond-circled wedding band onto her finger, she slipping my silver ring onto my finger. Lighting the unity candle with Ray arranging "Your Song" in his own way, nearly bringing me back to tears with his beautiful voice. Ray's expert finish of the song blending somehow into a benediction from the pastor. Then, kissing the bride and feeling her luscious lips touch mine to relieve the tension. A huge smile to release the happiness into the crowd. Parading away from the altar and back down the aisle, trying to soak in all that had just happened in becoming bride and groom. Which would not happen on that evening as the receiving line approached and left me with a feeling of watching the greatest hits of my life walk by in the form of family and long-time friends.

So many other memories followed. The beautiful dusk light creating an amazing backdrop for pictures - many, many pictures. Stealing a few appetizers at the end of pictures - courtesy of Heather, our wedding coordinator - before walking out onto the pier for some final shots. Back into the cocktail room to line up for introductions. Stealing a moment myself to share in the joy with Wendy. Being introduced as the new Mr. & Mrs. Todd Alan Strickler before semi-waltzing to a first dance of "Moon River". A touching speech by Dr. Li (father of the bride), the maids of honor (Andrea, Sarah), and an uniquely irreverent address by my brothers as best men. The refutation of "the perfect son" nickname. A wonderful dinner ensuing, salad with mandarin orange and vinaigrette, followed by a trip upstairs to see friends. The main course of crab cake and filet with potatoes and asparagus. The turn-up of the music from that great wedding band, Cityscape, and the sudden dancing of the crowd. A circle around my flailing dance steps, followed by the "band getting back together" - all of my family (mom, dad, Geo, Steve, and Lauren) dancing together in the circle made by onlookers. A short break to catch my breath with Andre' at the chocolate fountain before being whisked in with my mother for the father-daughter, mother-son dance to "What a Wonderful World." More dancing to stir quite a sweat before stepping up for the cake-cutting. Standing by as Wendy threw the bouquet (caught by Megan) then fishing for her garter before finding her leg; then with my newly found treasure, tossing it to find Conor in its possession. Then, strangely, to watch Conor putting the garter onto Megan's leg as our surrogate couple for grabbing the winnings of our tosses. Going outside for some fresh air and ending up in a bonding session with the Considine family (sans Matt) on a gorgeous evening. Somehow ending up back at the altar for more pictures with friends and family, then making an address for the wedding video. Some more bonding time with family and friends before getting in for the last dance, followed by a bunch of loitering and packed buses to leave the venue.

These recollections all come streaming back when I reflect on that blur of a night and what a great evening that it ended up to be. Of course, this was after a boy's night out on Friday to the Cancun Cantina (nothing like a little boot-scootin' with women who could beat you up near the Baltimore airport), a wonderful rehearsal and luncheon subsequent on Saturday to act as prelude for the welcome cocktail reception that carried late into Saturday night. Not to mention the golf outing on the Sunday morning of the wedding to further deprive sleep but also to add to the great times.

All of these events brought me into various contact with all sorts of relatives and life-long friends that added to the magic of the weekend. From beginning to end, a truly magical sort of affair. Now, on to the happily ever after...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On Second Thought... The Final Countdown!

I had a moment when I wrote the last entry. Searching for photos to illustrate the topic, I stumbled across cover art for the song "The Final Countdown", the great hit by the Swedish rock band Europe (learn about this famed song at Wikipedia). It just so happened that this was the first album I ever bought, back in 1986; I was 8 and music had just enchanted me for the first time. It was a cassette tape, and I remember buying it at the music shop with my mother. That first night, I sat on the edge of my bed listening and listening and listening to that song, wearing out the rewind button on the cassette player. It was a short time later that I got a Walkman portable cassette player as a birthday present, and my horizons were expanded again. I remember walking in my neighborhood with headphones on, listening to that cassette as well as various radio stations. The sound was bursting out of those headphones and seemed to encircle manicured lawns and mature trees that dotted the sides of the street. I was a kid, walking with music, and enveloped by the experience.

Funny how seeing the cover art of a long-ago album can do that to you; music has that sort of power. Come to think of it, so do other things like the smell of certain foods on the stove and the sight of a familiar face from long-ago lurking in a crowd. These visceral experiences are reminders of a past that disappears everywhere else but in our head. For such memories, the web is an interesting medium to revive such experiences at the drop of a keyword.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Final Countdown

My last weekend as a bachelor just passed, and I am equal parts excited and nervous about putting a wedding ring on my finger. Crazy for a guy to say that, but I am also crazy about Wendy and have been anticipating this day for quite some time. Just checking in to share my feelings in the final countdown...

And Then There Were Four

How quickly we become attached to pets. No later than the end of a thunderstorm that doused the heat choking the air today (some reports put the temperature above 100 with very high levels of humidity), Wendy and I made our little trek into the backyard to feed our fish. But much to our surprise, we saw something absolutely shocking in the nibbling on the flakes - a veritable newcomer black fish!

If you recall from last weekend, there were three fish that accompanied us back from Petco in the plastic bag - Oscar (brightest orange face), Minnie (slighter orange face), and Mickey (mixed color face). And, in case you are also keeping score at home, these are newly minted names as the fish had no name when first returning home. Back to the point, at hand, though - where did this new fish come from?

At this point, we have no clue as to the mysterious appearance of our new pet. But I can only guess one of two things: either our fish are super-fertile and breed like gremlins or we have unknown fish that are miraculously spawning from beneath the plants that have cast off so much algae this summer. In either case, our pond is cultivating its own ecosystem - and then there were four.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Favorite Things

On an unusually warm Friday evening, Wendy and I ventured into Bethesda to experience what the rest of the world calls date night. Amidst the bar vultures at Houston's, we lingered over drinks - she of a French martini, me of a Campari e soda. We had front-row seats for a couple of guys looking to impress their dates, best part witnessing their bumbling efforts to validate their manhood. Asking the bartender in a quizzical, uncertain way, "What do you think of a scotch and soda, you know, to show the women that we are real men?" they got a bemused response from behind the bar: "So, I know that you cannot drink that. You might want to try something with vodka in it." She went on to mix the gentlemen vodka tonics while delivering up Pinot Noirs for their dates; it turns out the women knew much more about libations than the men.

But that was only the opening act for the main event, namely the comfort food that followed back in our cozy booth away from the bar. Tucking in to some gooey spinach dip and and a fat cheeseburger was just the sort of thing that made up for a long, stressful week at work. Which was no match for the ultimate finale - the signature apple walnut cobbler. A simple mound of vanilla bean ice cream surrounded by caramelized walnuts on top of an apple cinnamon cobbler, tastes that blend smoothly together to create a brief moment of bliss.

Ah, such a wonderful moment to let the taste buds transport me to a place far away from deadlines and wedding planning. Of course, apple walnut cobbler cannot fully match gelato in Roma and cherry blossoms in springtime, golf shots hit flush that find tight pin locations. But suffice it to say when I think in this way, Houston's apple walnut cobbler is one of my favorite things.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where It All Happens

Wendy was trying to guess what I was going to write about this evening. Work? Gardening? Wedding? These seem natural topics, but no - I defy. This evening is about writing.

She forgets that once upon a time I was a (ah ha - Wendy spotted a missing "a"!) single young man with a lot of angst. During those days, I used to fill up journals with all kinds of anxieties and ambitions and hopes and fears and all the little peccadilloes that surrounded my travels. Because travel I did as a consultant. Now, I am a bit more grounded and "normal", worrying about keeping a house going and not getting fired at work.

But I am distracted. What I was really thinking about was sitting down at the old computer to do some writing. Good, old-fashioned, unadulterated writing. Feet on the desk kind of writing where the thoughts spill all over the screen, and all one needs to do is mop them up into short story or poem. Sometimes, I get these moments, but not as often as in those bachelor days. You see, I am contented by a beautiful young woman who is keeping me busy with wedding plans. And gardening (yay - Wendy's contribution to this entry!).

I digress - where I was going with this entry was that every so often creativity strikes like thunder and pours out like rain. And where it all happens is here at this desk, feet on the table and pondering over a thought that needs some massaging to reveal itself clearly to the reader. No worries - I'll keep working at it (even as Wendy lurks behind the computer screen, and I am distracted) until someday, a masterpiece results. In the meantime, there is always the next entry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Some New Family Members

Out back of the townhouse, there is a small pond. Upon move-in, this pond included a nameless koi of decent size, about 8 inches. He was a fine fish but shy; I thought nothing of his hiding tendencies in the early days.

It was only a few months later that I realized the nameless koi was no longer part of the family, so to speak; he literally disappeared from the pond. A befuddling occurrence, considering I never found the body of this fine fish. It took many months more for the idea to sink in that, in fact, some animal might have made friends with the koi and escorted him somewhere outside of the pond. Since the koi disappearance, the pond has been vacant... until this past weekend.

Some new family members joined us on Sunday, three new goldfish that came courtesy of Petco down the way off Rockville Pike (thanks to Wendy for showing them off!). They don't have names yet, but they do have the luxury of spreading their gills to take in the nearly fresh water of our little pond. We wish them well as they join our backyard and hope they find a better fate than our nameless koi, whose whereabouts are still a mystery.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Deadlines

There is nothing like a pressing deadline to get the blood pumping. One just moves along without a care until a date is associated with an activity, and then the thrashing begins. What have I left to do? What really needs to happen? Who is going to do these things still remaining? And what I have gotten myself into anyway?

These days, I know all about deadlines of the personal and professional variety. Important presentations and big events, these are coming quick in the coming days, with associated pomp and circumstance. And it seems, at least for me, that the pomp and circumstance is getting more and more involved. I used to be able to meet my commitments with a bushel of email inquiries and a few hours of online research, but now that is only background towards reaching real progress. Could this be the true mark of an adult life coming on?

Perhaps so, but the fact of the matter does not change - deadlines regardless of magnitude are all around and bring about the swiftest of change. Because once deadlines are met, the world reveals itself anew to what deadlines were meant to encourage - a reality conceived by an activity's full completion. Now if only I could meet deadlines with a lower heart rate!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Books

As a sometimes aspiring writer, I cannot imagine a world without books. My fiancee' cannot imagine a world with as many books as I try to cram onto an office library wall, but that is another topic altogether. Books are a direct passage into the wandering recesses of our brains, encapsulating knowledge as idea, moment, or discipline as well as a writer could possibly hope to capture it for posterity.

I remember elementary school days, when Scholastic provided book order forms to teachers so that pupils in their class could order straight from the source on all the best children's stories of the day; this was before big chain bookstores and Amazon. I would always leaf excitedly through those order form pages, dreaming about having the infinite time and money to buy up the list: "Rover", "The Indian in the Cupboard", and anything by Dr. Seuss. If I was fortunate, my mother would cave on my simple requests, and the order form would turn into a submission envelope that I would march back to school so my teacher could send it off with the class order. Then, I would anticipate a glorious day 2-3 weeks later when my teacher would hand down the neatly bundled Scholastic book club selections I convinced my mother to order; such a simple pleasure, but it was so exciting to handle those newly arrived books for the first time.

Most of my childhood books are gone now (no doubt stuffing bookshelves at my parent's house!), but I have kept the book-buying habit and feed my addiction as often as my budget allows. I still find pleasure browsing through the selection on display at the local Barnes & Noble. Times have changed: there is usually a Starbucks adjoining, and the tables are always full of punk-ish high school kids or nerdish types slaving over textbooks with iPods cabled to their bodies. Somehow, those agitant groups find room to coexist among books, just as all sorts of books with their opposing ideas have come to coexist on the bookshelves in my office at home. And in that coexistence, I find hope that the following generations will continue to appreciate what a treasure books can be, and that as much as our age becomes a digital one, there will be room enough to accommodate the sort of pleasure I experienced as a child upon cracking open the spine of a fresh paperback for the first time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Whirlwind Weekend

Sleeping in. Baseball game. Wedding. Presentation revision. Night out with friends. Contract review. Emails. Multimedia uploads. Blog.

I'm ready for bed, now that I have lost all advantage that I might have picked up from earlier efforts to try and catch up on sleep. That work should be the culprit again this evening is no surprise, and I cannot help but think of what life could be like if I could better manage the "scope creep" that my work affairs do to the other parts of my life. At least there is the upcoming honeymoon and the 2.5 weeks of pure bliss that di fare niente in various European cities will mean. Beforehand, I have a boatload of things to do - not unlike this past whirlwind weekend.

So off to bed, sleepy head - only a precious few hours separate me from the next week of avalanche workload at the office.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Speed typing

Wendy warned me - 15 minutes until I absolutely need to get off the computer. I've been blazing through some action items and trying to get on top of the work stuff that prompted my prior post. Now, I have to quickly jump in the shower before we go out for dinner with friends.

This gives me pause to hurry up and log some sentences before I run off to the bathroom. Not such an elegant post, but enough to remind me that I need to make this more routine as I noodle out more thoughts from the creative subconsious. It is amazing what just a few moments of cleared mindspace can do to find the inner voice. Speed typing, and I am done with this entry in less than 5 minutes!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A chance at productivity

One moment out of the day to keep the writing end up does not seem like too much to ask. However, these past few weeks the idea of penning a few small paragraphs of text has seemed like a major chore. With work pressures, big project deadlines, and wedding planning swirling about, I am at a loss for time. And so I am left figuring out what item next gets crossed off the list - the idea of blogging does not even seem to make the list.

I have figured that this eternal quest for "being on top of things" is nothing more than a hope that perhaps any one of us have a shot at controlling our own destiny. The hope is alluring, but the reality is much more daunting than our greatest wishes. That leaves me sitting at the kitchen table on a Saturday morning, allowing myself a nice, old-fashioned sleep-in, and a few paragraphs of text.

Of course, I am in the process of re-prioritizing my list of things to do, but that process has been ongoing for quite some time. All for the chance at productivity, and if I am lucky, some ideas might stick before the next wave of deadlines and pressures washes the rest away.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just a little post

After 3+ hours of driving, I end up in New Jersey to find a castle. Not just any castle, but a castle built into a hotel. Not just any castle built into a hotel, but a Sheraton. Ou...

It is late, and I am tired; a long day at the office awaits me tomorrow. I have been so absent from the blog, so I figured to give it just a little post to feel some love. After all, this acts somewhat like my castle online, where I can be king for a moment of words.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dueling Computers

So much fun sitting at the kitchen table. These are the priceless moments that get cataloged in the memory for safekeeping, the moments that will accompany me in those dark moments when encouragement is needed. Wendy and I sitting at the kitchen table, being dorks together with our dueling computers - there is nothing so simple and yet profound as these sorts of moments that bind us together in ways that elude any sort of description. A moment to wish Wendy good night and more wonderful moments to come.