Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vacation Plans

The fiscal year is coming to a close soon, which means I have several weeks of vacation days that I need to burn through in short order.  The good part of this is that I get away from work for a while to recharge my batteries.  On the down side, I haven't really taken the time to plan a real vacation, so other than a nebulous intent to visit with family, there's not much in my vacation plans this year.  There are so many places that Heather and I would like to go visit, but that will have to be for another season, when I have more time to put in some deliberate thought.  I've been so run down from work that I just haven't had the energy to do serious travel planning.

One place that I know we won't be visiting for a vacation anytime soon is the deep South.  Technically, living in San Antonio I suppose we are already there, but I consider this the Southwest, a different region from the areas east of the Mississippi.  I refer specifically to the Gulf Coast areas that were hit hard by the oil spill fiasco a couple of years ago.  I know BP garnered some major legal woes from the incident, with devastating economic and ecological impact, but I find their "Come On Back to the Gulf Coast States" commercials not only disgustingly disingenuous, but just plain annoying.

Each time I have to see a wide-eyed local representative of Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi or Alabama touting whatever their local tourist department has decreed to be the most promising aspect of their state "In Florida the beaches are even more relaxing", "In Louisiana the Creole makes you feel even smarter" I am reminded of how real actors aren't as overpaid as we think they are.  And how do you make beaches more relaxing, anyway?

Can we just have some shots of pristine beach interposed with guys with goggles and hardhats working on an oil rig and a nice voice-over from Tim Allen about how BP is committed to meeting our nation's energy needs while increasing their vigilance to protect our fragile planet?  Maybe throw in some kids giggling while making a sandcastle or something?  I wonder when the marketing geniuses will realize that all these commercials do is remind us that BP was responsible for releasing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.  Please, BP, help us all move past this tragic incident and stop peppering us with these annoying "Sure we unleashed mass pollution and destroyed livelihoods with one unfortunate accident, but it's all better now" commercials!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Allergic Reaction

Last year when Heather and I moved to Texas, I was relieved to find that neither Heather nor I experienced any noticeable allergies.  This was great news for Heather, and somewhat surprising, as she had various issues with allergies in the previous three states we had lived in.  For myself, it was a relief, because although I have not been one to suffered from allergies, the one exception to that was when I lived in Texas for 10 weeks of Army training almost 20 years ago.  I don't know what I was allergic to, but my nose never stopped running for two months, so I was a bit nervous about living just a few hours' drive south of where I had experienced such annoyance.

When we moved here the state was experiencing a record drought, with no rainfall and daily high temps at about 110 degrees for a couple of months.  As you can imagine, not much was growing at that time, other than people's electric bill.  I didn't really appreciate the upside of living in a virtual furnace at the time.  This year has been another story.  Rain and cooler temps in the 90s have returned to San Antonio, making for a more moderate and comfortable climate for man and beast, as well as vegetation that is indigenous here.  Unfortunately, it turns out that I am indeed allergic to something that grows in Texas.

My misery began on Monday, when I woke up to a sore throat.  This is normally a precursor to a cold, so I expected to be coming down with one.  this would normally mean one day of sore throat followed by around 6 days of my body producing vast quantities of, to put it delicately, sinus congesting mucus.  Instead, by Thursday the normal cold symptoms had not kicked in, but were replaced by a chronic sore throat, cough, and restricted airway.

By Friday morning my voice was down to a whisper as I finally broke down and called for a doctor's appointment between coughing fits.  They were able to get me in within 45 minutes, and I was given Claritin for my hay fever, plus some medicine in small gel tablets to help with the cough.  Unfortunately after sitting in my car all day the gel tabs had congealed into one mass of melded spheres, although I was able to get them separated using a butter knife and delicate pulling.  More importantly, the Claritin has kicked butt on whatever evil microscopic plant matter was causing my respiratory woes quite nicely.

While my usually strong, if slightly unpleasant, singing voice won't be back for a few more days while my throat recovers from its present roughed up state, at least I am sleeping through the night now without feeling like I'm about to lose the ability to breath, and I can carry on a conversation without coughing every 3 seconds, which you don't really appreciate until you are in the throes of pollen-induced hypoxia.  Breathing really is one of life's great pleasures, so take a deep breath, and enjoy!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices in My Head, But It's a Good Thing

It's the hottest part of the year, which means it's time for me to start running to get ready for my physical fitness test this fall.  I may need to rethink the timing that I have set up for my annual test now that I live in southern Texas.  In the meantime, I have added a powerful new tool to my arsenal to help me run faster - a set of Bluetooth headphones.

I've always been a fan of music, especially when working out.  When I was younger I would sing songs in my head while running (and sometimes when running a more moderate pace I have been known to sing out loud) but  nothing helps move your focus from the pain in your heart, lungs and/or legs quite like some good tunes produced by professional musicians.  Unfortunately, I don't know anyone willing to drive in front of me in a pickup truck with a sound system blaring from the back end, so that has entailed having an iPod with earphones to carry the auditory accompaniment into my brain.

This has some negative side effects, such as having to reinsert the earbuds occasionally as the pounding force of each step yanks downward on the cord and slowly pulls them out, and the aggravation caused by the feel of the cord slapping against your bare skin (and there's no way I'm running with a shirt on when it's hot outside - I would overheat faster than a Buick with a clogged radiator).  Worst of all is when you accidently catch the cord with a swinging arm and give a hard jerk on the earbuds.  It doesn't happen often, but is extermely annoying when it does.

You can imagine my reaction when the Major who works for me who is an avid runner mentioned the other day that he uses Bluetooth earphones that don't require a wired connection to his iPod.  My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and I immediately said "I've got to get some of those".  I don't know why I never thought of it before (it's not like this is a new invention that just hit stores last month), but I went to my local Best Buy and did my part to help them stay in business.  I have to admit, I probably could have saved considerable dough by buying online, but I feel like it's only right to occasionally buy at the local store that I go to when I want to browse electronics.  It's not like they can provide that service for free.

Needless to say, I wouldn't say I'm enjoying my twice-weekly runs, but I am loving my new purchase, and even use it when I'm not working out, just to be free of the tangles.  Until they figure out a way to implant speakers into your head this is the next best thing.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Friends is Easy (With a 3 Year Old)

This week I went out twice, which makes for a pretty social week for me.  First, on the 4th of July a bunch of us from work got together for a barbeque and fireworks.  I'm ashamed to say that Heather and I left before the fireworks, and I was in bed asleep before they went off - I'm no good at staying up late anymore.

The highlight of the party for me was watching my boss, an F-16 fighter pilot and former weapon school instructor (think Top Gun for the Air Force) play the X-box version of a video game where you get to fly an F-16 in combat.  Compared with the two guys who own the game, jerkily pulling the plane hither and yon, the Col smoothly flew through the landscape demolishing the enemy.  On his first encounter the young Captain was literally in mid-sentence saying "you'll have to shoot this plane 2 or three time to bring it down" as a fireball appeared on screen with the word "destroyed" next to it.  We all started laughing, and just sat back and enjoyed the show.

On Thursday, I got to dine at BJ's, a favorite among many of us, as we had a farewell dinner for a Chief Master Sergeant on his way to California.  Unfortunately, Heather couldn't make it to this engagement due to a prior commitment, but I got to make a new friend, as I was seated next to two of my co-workers' 3 year old niece.  I helped her color on her place mat and talked to her throughout the meal, enjoying her childish antics, like licking her arm when she got milk on it, and crawling under the dinner table because she was bored.  Her aunt had her hands full, and I expect some of her behavior was due to knowing she could get away with more with her than with mom, because that's how it usually works.  By the time everyone was ready to leave I had made a new buddy, and she held on to my arm and said "I don't want you to go, I don't want you to go."

Of course I explained that I had to go home and go to bed, and I was sure she also needed to get to bed as well, so she could wake up ready to play in the morning.  So she asked if I could come over and play and I told her maybe sometime.  Then she made her way down to her uncle who's house she's staying at and asked if I could come over and swing with her on their swing set.  He found that funny of course, probably because I would actually fit on the swing.

I was struck once again at how easy it is to befriend small children, and how we could all do well to be more like them.  Not by throwing all manners out the window, but by opening ourselves more freely to others.  If only we could erase the years of scars and callouses that build up on our hearts and lose our cautious distrust, we could be as welcoming of each new person we meet as we were when we were little.  We would all have more friends and life would be that much sweeter.  I guess that's why God gave the world children, to remind us all of our better selves.