Hello Again

Huh. It’s a blog post! Considering my last one was in December, I thought I’d write another one and try to be better at it. I said try, folks.

In said post I had mentioned that COVID cases continued to surge. That’s no longer the case as more and more people get vaccinated and numbers are actually dropping. As a result, the state has entered a lower tier and restaurants are starting to open for indoor dining, stores are allowing more customers in their doors, and gyms are welcoming back the resolutioners that haven’t thrown in the towel yet.


I have acquaintances posting family pics at Mongolian BBQs. Ann has friends who couldn’t wait to get smashed at local bars and posting selfies of their exuberant debauchery.


Perhaps I speak for myself when I say that we’re still in the midst of a motherfucking pandemic and it’s still way too soon to be getting shitfaced at Moe’s Tavern or be slurping udon with your family in a restaurant.


Anyway…

(Update 3/25/21: I learned yesterday that a family on our street — known to have had plenty of social gatherings during this pandemic — all came down with COVID after one of their drunken soirées because one of the members was unknowingly exposed and spread the virus. It cost one of the eldest members his life. Worth it?)


I haven’t been shot yet because I do not meet the state’s criteria of being a fat…uh, morbidly obese nor do I fall within the age range of being 60+, work in field that puts me at risk, or have any underlying conditions that put me at a higher risk of dying from COVID. Damn you, you healthy stinking body!

Ha ha. Sucks to be you, I guess. Go eat some oranges you healthy sucky-suck.


Frankly I have a greater chance of getting hit by cars while out for my morning walk/ride – and it’s already happened more times than I’d like to mention.

The family hasn’t been vaccinated yet either for the same reasons I’ve stated although they do have asthma and one is a cancer survivor. (Ann is now two-and-a-half years of being what the doctors call “unremarkable” and still exceeding all the -ologists expectations!) My mom has gotten both shots and in-laws have had their first dose. My brother got his today although I suspect he, as he always does, stretched the truth to get it. I mean…there’s a history of that and all…

And when we finally do, don’t count on any post-vaccination selfies. Because.


In a post last May I had mentioned that I was going to write a three-part blog series called The Days of Wine and COVID with Part 3 being called The Return to the Office (ala the J.R.R. Tolkien books which I did read, thankyouverymuch). While I got through Parts 1 and 2, Part 3 isn’t happening any time soon. My employer continues to monitor the state’s situation and will follow those guidelines when the time comes although we are at no obligation to ever return to the office. While I do miss being around some coworkers, being home has proven to be a viable alternative to the typical workday. We’ve gotten just as much done at home as we would have at the office and I have much more freedom to do what I need for the family. I miss the location of the office and my coworkers but this is just too easy.

So aside from all that, what’s new?

I’m down 20 pounds. I started to track my weight when I got my Wyze scale last April and weighed in at 237 lbs. Holy, holy fuck. I’m currently at 217 and working on reaching 25 pounds lost by this April. So far this year I’ve logged 500 miles between daily walking and cycling with the occasional rest days. Change is always possible even in the most adverse of situations so don’t give me the “But we were in lockdown!” or “The gym was closed!” excuses for weight gain because I did this during lockdown and never set foot into a gym. You want it? Find a way and work for it.


I’ve joined some virtual challenges. With running events being on hold indefinitely, virtual runs/walks have become more popular. I’ve completed several Conqueror Challenges and have set a goal reaching of 2,021 miles this year so with 500 miles in the books thus far, it’s gonna happen by October. As of now I’ve earned 5 medals and they are soooo cool.


L-R: Mt. Fuji (46 mi.), Mt. Everest (40 mi.), Giza Pyramids (46 mi.), Grand Canyon (280 mi.), St. Francis Way (312 mi.).

New iPad Air. Stimulus money be damned! I got a 2017 Nissan LEAF EV last July and Ann realized on the last day of 2020 that I qualified for a $1,000 rebate, so I hastily submitted my application with the appropriate paperwork and got approved a few months later. Once I got the check, I used a portion of it along with some cash I had saved up for this specific purchase and some Amazon gift cards to get the iPad and an Apple Pencil 2 (required for newer iPads). That said…


Y’all wanna buy some stickers? Part of the reason I got my new iPad was to be creative and draw more regularly. I had one of my drawings of Milhouse Van Houten made into stickers and my first batch is up for sale on Etsy. I’ve sold a total of one but will have more on the way.


NOBODY LIKES MILHOUSE!


We’re growing stuff! No, not that stuff. After a year of being home, we decided that having a garden would be fun so we used our existing planters and any empty areas in the backyard to plant a bunch of stuff: onions, pumpkins, peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, etc. It’s been a lot of work but so worth it. This is just a small part of it.

Green goodness!


Fresh eggs are comin’! I eat two eggs every day for breakfast, so I thought hey, why not have fresh ones? I have a chicken coop coming and once it’s built, I’m getting a hen. It seems we’ve turned into city farmers – maybe even hippies with my EV – and it feels kinda nice picking what we need from our backyard. And no, my hen isn’t going to be on our plate one day. She’s going to provide the eggs and be our pet, and we’re looking forward to having her.


And that’s pretty much been life since December!

The Days of Wine and COVID, Part II: Working from Home

As stated in my previous post, this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home save for that time I thought being a freelance proofreader would be the way to go (I ended up doing one project).

As such, there was much to get used to – like, everything. And being my wife is also working from home and starts at an earlier time than me, I’ve kept my alarms set to 6 am so that she can get up and start her day an hour before I start mine.

But after about a week I had my schedule in place and it goes something like this.

6 am: Alarm goes off on iPhone. Hit Snooze for the next few rounds.

6:30 am: Ann gets up and prepares for her workday in the kitchen where her home office is set up. I roll around in bed a few more times before deciding to get my running clothes together.

6:45 am: Laced up and ready to go. My daily goal is 5 miles which has become easier by the day. I get home in about 1.5 hours, 1.25 of which are moving (I take a few breaks along the way).

7:00 am: Out the door I go.

And before you ask, yes, social distancing is in order. In my city, outdoor exercising is one of the few things you can actually do that does not require wearing a mask. I take full advantage of this because, frankly, running with one really, really sucks. (And ladies, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have facial hair, put your mask on – just pretend you have a hole for eating and speaking – and imagine wearing it all the time. Yeah. Really. That’s why I no longer have a goatee because it’s freaking hot and I don’t care to constantly maintain the goddamned thing. Plus, gray hairs. And ew, facial hair.)

Here’s a small section of where I run (about 1 mile in length).

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There is a dirt path next to the San Gabriel River bike trail but with all the foot traffic, maintaining social distancing is next to impossible. I’ve been running on the right side of the picture because there was never anyone over there – then some figured it out and traffic has increased. So now I run alongside the river to avoid people, COVID-19 or not. And on the way here, I run in the street if there are people on the sidewalk.

8:10–8:20 am: I return home with just enough time to take a shower and have breakfast. During this time before I start, I also charge up the case for my new – they are about a month old – JLab Air Icon earbuds so that I have juice for the day in case I need it. (Not a paid endorsement; for a mere $59 they have held up to my daily workout abuse and get me through most of the day on a single charge. Plus Apple earbuds don’t fit my ears and have abysmal battery life, and Beats are overpriced and uncomfortable.)

Wearing running shorts, a t-shirt, flip-flops and no hair gel I make my way to my home office in the den. I light a candle and turn on the computer.

9 am: Work until 6 pm.

The reason I started doing this daily cardio was because I was eating way too much and at the start my WFH tenure, things were still kind of sketchy with this COVID-19 thing, meaning there was a time when it was nearly demanded that we stay indoors for a week in order to reduce the chance of spreading it. So I did Wii Fit “workouts” until we were cleared to exercise outdoors once again. They were goofy and fun but being indoors all the time really sucks.

Now that I’ve been doing this I’m down 7 pounds, eating better, gaining muscle and losing fat. Not bad.

WFH definitely has advantages. For one, I’m not driving much if at all anymore, as if I did to begin with since I was taking the bus to the office. Now whenever I open the door to my car, I have to yank on it a bit because it’s practically sealed shut and air-tight like a sarcophagus. I think I may have put gas in it twice since mid-March – we alternate cars every week when we do have to drive – and that’s okay by me. I don’t even know how much gas costs anymore.

Not dealing with traffic or a long bus ride to the office are great. While working at the office, by the time I walked home from the bus stop it would be around 7:20 pm. Now I just turn off my computer and walk from the den to the living room to get “home” at 6 pm. Plus I can have dinner and lunch with the family instead of dining solo long after their meals have been consumed. It’s a win-win.

But it’s still working. Messaging apps and conference calls have become the norm for my daily work life, respectively replacing phone calls and daily meetings. And being we’ve had some layoffs and restructuring, there have been plenty of conference calls.

For now, this is how it will be. My company is getting things in order for our potential return to the office, which will be based on local government recommendations (we won’t talk about the federal government’s plans or, more precisely, lack thereof). It has been stressed that by no means will anyone be required to return to the office if they do not wish to do so, and I’m kind of leaning in that direction.

And that’s the only thing that has me torn.

The office is in a great location. I’ve spent many a lunch hour walking or riding my bike around town and on the beach, taking pictures of interesting things. There’s so many cool buildings, fun events, and interesting people in the area. It spawns my creativity. In that respect, I miss being there.

But since we’re still under safer-at-home orders (indefinitely it seems), there’s almost no point in going back. Many businesses are still closed and several restaurants have shuttered permanently. All major events that I enjoyed attending were cancelled this year and who’s to say if they will happen next year. In fact, I’m holding off on registering for this year’s half marathon since everything is still up in the air – there goes my 10-year streak of participating. And since people like me are working from home, there’s no downtown vibe.

So I don’t know what I’ll return to downtown if I decide to go back. If working from home has proven anything, it’s that my job can be successfully done from a darkened den with a candle burning for ambiance instead of a fluorescent bulb-illuminated office where I’m tied to a desk all day.

There’s a certain freedom being home.

And I really like that.

Next episode: The Days of Wine and COVID, Part III: The Return to the Office

Yoga Kicked My Ass

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One of the many benefits that my employer offers is free twice-weekly yoga classes. Over Christmas break I decided that, after almost three years on the job, I would start to take these classes.

Once we returned to work after our break, I made a trip down to Ross and bought the last yoga mat they had to reinforce my commitment – a whole $15 for that mat – to taking these classes.

Last night was the first class. Last night was also my last class.

To put it simply, it kicked my ass. I mean, really. And it’s when you take a yoga class that you realize you’re not in the shape that you thought you were.

Granted I had never taken any classes outside of what’s offered on Wii Fit and some other fitness game I have on Xbox, so there was some familiarity with it but not a full understanding.

She says this to everyone

And from those games I knew the poses everybody knows: warrior, downward-facing dog, and the chair pose. But also, I would do these in the privacy of the den with nobody around and I got used to it, even if I sucked at it.

Taking yoga with people is a different thing entirely. For one, breathing plays a big part in yoga if not the main part. When you’re with a class of people in a small, quiet room listening to new age music and meditation bowls bonging, no matter how hard you’re trying to concentrate on your own breathing, you hear everyone else gasping for air and your focus – well, mine at least – gets lost. And for what it’s worth, I liked it better doing it alone.

Then there’s the flexibility issue. In a word, I’m not. I can easily walk/jog (75/25 I’d estimate) a half-marathon distance, go for a day of hiking without much water or ride 25 miles on the bike at any given time because I’ve conditioned my body and strengthened it for doing those things. Yoga isn’t any of those so it would take some getting used to and even so, I doubt I’d gain the flexibility of others.

The after effects of yoga didn’t sit well with me either. Years ago, Ann got me a massage for my birthday and while it was indeed relaxing, the release of the toxins messed me up by way of a headache and severe sinus issues that lasted for days. Last night I came home to the same symptoms plus I looked like I was hit by a Mack truck. Thankfully all these symptoms went away by morning.

On the plus side: I slept so good but parts of my body are still sore today.

Finally, the class ran really long. I guess for free this shouldn’t be a legitimate complaint but when I’m off at 6 pm and don’t end up getting home until 8 pm, it not only makes for a long day in general but it also bites into a big chunk of family time. And with things being the way they are lately, I don’t need to be around them less.

So I came, I tried, and I didn’t like. I’ll keep my gym membership and not try not to think about that $15 investment not being the best one I’ve made recently.

Unless the cats decide it would make a good bed.

Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

It’s become a thing with me to not make a big deal about my birthday – I just don’t. In fact up until a few years ago, I worked on my birthday because I felt like it.

But with this job giving me Personal Days and whatnot, I decided last year to take the day off and hit all the local eateries that were offering free birthday foods (I started signing up in November 2016 for every one I could find). It was fun but still just…meh.

So about a month before The Big 49, I had decided to do something different and something I had always wanted to do: hike to the Hollywood sign. It used to be pretty easy to access but over the years, the locals got tired of tourists and adventurers parking on the street and the sign was an easy target for vandals as well.

That’s no longer the case. It’s clean, guarded 24/7, and there is no longer parking on Beechwood Drive. Things have definitely changed.

Knowing this, I had to figure out a few things before I made my way up there, like parking and, you know, which trails to take. But once I did I was pretty excited to start my local adventure.

It took about an hour – typical drive time – to get to Canyon Drive, the place where the trails begin. And because it was the middle of the week I had no trouble finding a parking spot. On the weekend? Forget it.

So with my backpack strapped on my back, GoPro* mounted to a stick in hand, I locked up the car and made my way.

Before you venture in, there’s a map of all of the trails you can take in the area. It’s hard to believe this is in Los Angeles, right?

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The fire danger is always high around here

As part of my pre-hike preparation I had already looked up all the trails and marked my intended route on my Endomondo fitness tracking app so I wouldn’t get lost. Naturally, I took the longest route which is a little over 5k (3.22 miles). Because I’m a fool.

Need proof? Look at the picture below. This is near the start of the trail and you can barely see the sign or the radio/TV towers on top of Mt. Lee.

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I would get there eventually but oh, there are hills to climb. This was maybe just under a mile into the hike.

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It was about here when I learned something: hiking is not walking. I normally walk at a brisk pace and I started out that way but it sure didn’t last. I toned it down a bit for the rest of my trek.

The trails are clearly marked and that’s a good thing. A bunch of hills and valleys later, I came across this sign and took a little break for air and water. Just under a mile to go!

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While on the way up, I passed a few groups of tourists riding horseback on the trail. From what I could gather, they only stay on the dirt trails and don’t ride up to the sign – it’s much to steep for them. But wow, they are such majestic creatures, aren’t they?

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Here’s a little something you may not know. From a distance, the Hollywood sign looks all nice and straight but if you look closer at the image below, you’ll see just how misaligned it really it. In fact, the first O looks to be the farthest out of them all.

And hey, I’m getting closer!

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This is the final trail: Mt. Lee Drive. This wraps around and ends at the Hollywood sign.

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If you look to the right, you get a spectacular view of the valley. In the dead center of this image are a few studios including Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Warner Bros. Studios, etc.

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This plaque is sitting just before you turn the corner and reach the sign. The donor list includes Hugh Hefner and a handful of studios.

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Finally, just over an hour from when I started, I had reached my destination. And was it ever worth it.

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And did you know there was a lake up here? That would be Lake Hollywood (duh) and the Hollywood Reservoir.

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Here’s what all those towers look like up close.

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Life’s little moments are worth celebrating.

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Just after this picture was taken, I decided to have a seat and snack on the banana and protein bar I had packed. That’s when my phone rang. It was Mom calling to wish me a happy birthday.

“Are you at work?”

“Um. No. But you’ll never guess where I am,” I told her.

“Oh no. Where are you,” she asked, slightly concerned.

“I’m on top of Mt. Lee. I just hiked up to the Hollywood sign.” There was a moment of silence.

“Oh my…the Hollywood sign?” Her concern turned into a little bit of excitement once she realized I had made it and everything was fine. We talked for a little bit – definitely a surreal moment – before she let me go so that she could tell my brother to call me.

I finished my conversations and noshing on whatever snacks I had and made my way back down the trail. But if you think that’s it, you’re wrong! There was one more stop: to the Batcave (aka Bronson Canyon)!

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This is it, the one that Batmobile drove out of in the original Batman TV series. You can see a then-and-now on this Instagram post. The cave is manmade and aside from Batman, has been used in a slew of TV shows and movies.

Me, unkempt, in a cave. Because why not.

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But just because it’s manmade doesn’t mean you won’t find anything interesting in there. While I was walking through, a couple was pointing a flashlight into a small hole – there was a baby bat inside.

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The video I shot gives you a better idea of what we were looking at. I maxed out my zoom since I didn’t want to frighten the little guy.

So with that being my final stop, I was done. And in case you’re wondering what all the meandering looks like, here you go:

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The green line is speed; the gray line indicates elevation which started out at 646 ft. and ended at 1,696 ft. for a gain of 1,050 ft.

Here are the stats Apple Health gave me for the entire day:

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94 floors? Holy moly. No wonder I was sore the rest of the week.

If you’re ever in the area, by all means take some time and do this. The trails to the sign aren’t terribly rugged but I wouldn’t recommend wearing flimsy shoes, either. A good pair of running shoes ought to do the trick as would a few bottles of water and some snacks.

Oh, and definitely bring your phone for pictures (and a portable charger). The view from the top is worth every step you take.

All in all, it was a good time and something I would definitely do again. Next time I’d like to take a trail in to Griffith Park or Griffith Observatory, one of my favorite places in L.A.

The question is: what will I do next year for my 50th?

I have no idea, but there’s time to start planning.

—-

*I’m still in the process of editing the video on my phone. Steven Spielberg I ain’t.

The Ol’ College Try

IMG_2739A few months ago when I got an email stating that my company was interested in starting a softball team, I jumped at the chance to join. I figured hell, this would be a heck of a lot of fun and a way to bond with coworkers from other departments.

Besides, I’m always willing to prove myself to a group of younger adults who think they are all that and a bag of chips.

Anyway, when it was given the green light, I decided to go out and find myself a mitt since the last one I used is MIA. I bought a nice Rawlings at a good price and was ready to go.

I broke it in a bit and had it ready for our first practice and team introduction. And I should have known then that things wouldn’t be the way I thought. More on that later.

The season consists of 10 games. Due to scheduling conflicts and other last-minute, once-in-a-lifetime obligations, I played in two of them, the second one being last night with four remaining on the schedule.

I quit this morning. Now let me go into details as to why.

Too Many Rules
I’ve never played in a softball league before so I’m not 100% familiar with their rules but it seemed to me there were too many. For example, the count starting at 1-1 which is done in order to speed up the pace of play. At the same time, you’re kind of under pressure to swing at the next pitch that looks good – even if it’s not. You can also strike out looking which is super-fucking-embarrassing in softball, slightly less embarrassing than missing the ball on a tee. There was also a walk rule where guys took second base on a walk issued after four straight balls. Girls only got one base.

Time Limit
Here’s another one I get but took getting used to. Games ran an hour no matter what, regardless of score unless, of course, the Mercy Rule was called. In last night’s game, in which we scored one run and the opposition scored…more than that, I got one AB and because I was rotating in left field, was on the field only once. The rest of the time I sat in the dugout and watched the opposition cremate us for three innings. It was ugly, and it wasn’t the first time I’d seen this (and remember, I only played in two games).

Teams In Wrong Division/Ranking
If last night’s game was any indication, it’s obvious that some teams sign up in a lower-ranking division just so they can slaughter the competition. Our team was made up of players with varied backgrounds, some with none, in effort to make it a fun learning experience. The others should have been as well. But when they have guys that are 500 pounds and literally hitting the ball out of the ballpark (because they’d never make it to first base with a single), there’s some serious bullshit going on.

Winning Is Fun
I realize that this was all done in fun but when you factor in the division thing I mentioned above and the fact that they’ve yet to win a game, it becomes more frustrating than amusement and it’s no longer worth the effort to show up. I didn’t even break a sweat during last night’s game in the brief moment I was actually on the field. And if I could describe last night’s game to you, it would be like this.

I wish I was joking about that. My only AB produced a long fly ball to right field, the hardest and farthest hit ball from our team all night. It got praise from a few former teammates to which I replied, “It was a long out. That’s it.” Frustrated, I left immediately after the game was over while the rest of the team stayed and socialized. “Embarrassing” was what I muttered to another former teammate as I walked to my car. We had scored one run.

The Outsider
As I had mentioned early on, practice should have been an indication of how things were going to be. Many of the players worked together – currently or in the past – in the same department and already knew each other, so for them rapport on the field was easy to build. As a result the team seemed to break off into little cliques, none of which I belonged to. (And as a general rule, nobody likes proofreaders because we’re inherently nitpicky about mostly everything.) So I felt like I was on my own from the beginning, which isn’t the best way to start a season.

To add to this, I have not been in the best state of mental health this week. I’ve been battling something that has been making me want to cry at any given moment, but it’s nothing I can tell you about because I don’t fucking know what it is. I’ve been moody with bouts of overwhelming sadness, and being in an environment where I felt like an outcast wasn’t helping matters. While I’m better now, I didn’t feel the need to subject myself to any more misery so removing myself from the team seemed like the only viable option while I get my head back on straight.

I wish the team the best of luck for the remainder of the season.