Tag Archives: Blessings

Shattered: Holy Crap, the Scarlet Letter and Josh’s H-Bomb

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. So why write it, you ask? Well, how can I call myself a real writer if I won’t tackle a hard topic?

This is a story about how your whole self-image and world-view can be shaken to its core. I haven’t even fully processed it yet. Maybe writing this will help. (Editor’s note: It did not.)

It all started with an envelope, as many stories do. It was from the power company, so I felt compelled to give it some consideration. These envelopes usually contain bills, but on rare occasions, there’s a refund! So I opened it.

The envelope contained neither a bill nor a refund. This one contained a report of how my family is doing with our energy usage. The news was not good. Very bad, in fact. According to Puget Sound Energy, our household – led by me – ranks 99th out of 100 in energy efficiency. Adding insult to injury, they indicate very clearly, “1 is most efficient, 100 is least efficient.”

If you know me, even a little, or if you’ve spent any time reading my blog, you’ll know what a blow this is. What eco-cause am I not a fan of? I use a tiny laptop. I bike instead of drive. I recycle like crazy. I live in a densely populated neighborhood, in a house that’s too small for our needs. Why? Because I have been around the world. I know the luxuries that we as Americans enjoy. I want to be mindful of my use of resources (and yours too!), and try to keep it in check so as not to become another ugly, gas-guzzling American.

But let us count the ways in which I over-consume: Four cars, three refrigerators, four flat screen TV’s, washer/dryer, air conditioning; whole-house anti-allergy air filter, heck, I even have an electric boot dryer so my cycling shoes never have to be damp or mildewy. It blows hot and cold air to the inside and outside of two pairs of shoes at one time! (And apparently uses a lot of juice….)

Maybe the report was an error? Maybe the power company was playing a rude trick on their customers by telling everyone how badly we’re doing! Yes, we all rank 99th out of 100! Or maybe my neighbor or neighbors have figured out how to pirate my juice?

First things first. I called a family meeting. Gail agreed we have a lot of stuff and suggested we put a governor on the XBOX. I have to admit that was handy. Josh (20 YO) recognized my anguish, and then poured gas on the flames by dropping an H-bomb.

H-bomb? Yes, the dreaded H-bomb: “Hypocrite”! As if paying the bill (which is honestly 30% less than we paid in our McMansion in Bellevue) isn’t enough? Now I have to deal with this scarlet letter. Is this all just an elaborate trick I play on myself to avoid the obvious? Maybe I should just get a pick-up truck like my friend, John?

I’m grateful for our first-world benefits, but honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing how much we have, and how easy it is to take it all for granted. But now I may have to come to terms with a new reality. Am I just another conspicuous consumer? Am I like the cruise ship passenger happily sipping champagne while a trail of trash fouls the ocean behind me?

There are no easy answers here. But believe me, I will think about it and get back to you. Please tell me what you think: Can an eco-friendly guy be an energy hog? Is it all just a pretense? So much liberal finger-wagging? Should I double-down and sell some of this holy crap? What to do, what to do….

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2015 Fundraising Appeal – Obliteride

Today I’m kicking off my fundraising for Obliteride, my third annual ride to benefit Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), and my annual request to friends to help support my favorite charity.

I’ve written before about my work towards helping to repair the world – I feel an obligation to share what I can, and I hope you’ll join me. Many friends ask me to help with their fundraising; this is an invitation for us to be part of a “circle of giving.” If you’re interested, post back to let me know what you’re doing, and how I can help.

I’m particularly excited about Obliteride and Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, for the following reasons:

  • Bone marrow transplant was invented at Fred Hutch.
  • Immunotherapy and Genomics – today’s research focus at FHCRC – have a very strong potential of curing most human cancers within 10 years. These therapies involve sequencing an individual’s cancer genes, and then using that individual’s own immune system to attack and eliminate the cancer.
  • FHCRC vision to treat cancer: Blood test, small surgery, vaccine. Amazing stuff, and way better than chemo!
  • FHCRC is also one of the top researchers in the world for HIV. Their research focus is “DNA editing enzymes” which has broad potential for treating HIV and other viruses, which also frequently complicate cancer patients’ recovery.
  • Obliteride money raised last year actually helped FHCRC develop new blood-testing technology. It used to cost $500 per person to get a blood test in Africa or S. America. Now, a Fred Hutch-developed paper-based carrier can be used with a splatter of blood, and mailed to a testing center for just $0.50, dramatically reducing the cost – and increasing the reach – of blood testing.

One more reason – as if that wasn’t enough to inspire you, is a very personal one for me. It was exactly ten years ago that my good friend and mentor, Marty Levin, died from Multiple Myeloma, a deadly blood cancer. Marty enriched my life, and the lives of so many people, in so many ways, that I’ve dedicated my fundraising efforts this year to try to eradicate cancer – in his memory and gratitude for our friendship.

Obliteride is August 9th. In addition to donating $250 of my own, I’ll be riding 100 or so miles with 1000+ like-minded people, and I hope you’ll support my fundraising goal of $1500, with a small donation of your own. Here’s the link to make an online donation. Do it today and help me support Fred Hutch and remember my good friend, Marty!

Josh and the tub

Newly Impassioned Soul

I heard Mumford & Sons “Roll Away Your Stone” on the iPod the other day. It was one of those gorgeous warm afternoons we’ve been savoring as part of Febru-ly in Seattle (follows June-uary, thank you to Gail, apologies to my fellow skiers and NY in-laws!)

The song brought me back to an epic ride from August 2011, that I thought I’d share with you. Conveniently, Josh and I made a video about it, which you can now watch here.

Courage Classic is a 3-day charity ride (i.e. non-competitive) that runs each August in the mountains east of Seattle. What made the ride so amazing for me was that it was the first time out for more than just a short day ride with my son, Josh, who had just turned 16. It was a father-son rite of passage, something that happens once in a lifetime — if you’re lucky.

The basic elements of the ride: Three days on the bike, two nights camping. All-you-can-eat meals and snacks catered by volunteer organizations competing for your votes of appreciation. Portable shower truck at each stop and the finish. Camping gear hauled for free by UPS. On-road support vehicles. Live music. Beer. Waterfalls. All you have to do is fundraise/donate, train for a couple of months, then climb and descend Snoqualmie Pass, Blewett Pass and Stevens Pass, a total of around 180 miles (of bliss!)

For the movie, we mixed a time-lapse sequence from Josh’s GoPro Hero HD, along with cellphone stills and an amazing hula dance (what some people will do for a free T-shirt!) Some fun facts that take you back: Josh is wearing a Windows Vista jersey; and at one point during the time-lapse, you get a quick glimpse of Jay Inslee, who was beginning his campaign for governor at the time, and riding with his son.

Since that ride, Josh has become quite an adventurous outdoorsman (check out his YouTube channel here.) The ride was a hard one for him – he was about to come down with mono, and almost bailed – but I’m so grateful to have been able to share something so special with my son.

By the way, if you think the whole thing sounds like fun, but want to try something a little less challenging, I have a tip for you. The guy who ran Courage Classic is now running Obliteride in Seattle, with rides from 25- to 180 miles, the second weekend in August. The hospitality isn’t exactly the same, but pretty darn close, and it’s a great cause! I have a team, and we start training in May.

Discovering a New Sport

I went out Friday with three close friends for my second try at mountain biking (MTB). It was a humbling and joyous experience.

The humbling part is learning a new skill, with a body that is not as resilient as it was at age 20 or 30. The first time I went, I fell 4 times, but not very hard. This time I fell just once, but this was an “endo” (they have names for different falls in this sport!) going down a hill, and I landed hard on my elbow. After I got over the shock, and realized I would be mostly OK, it reminded me to be careful and pay attention – there are hazards galore in this sport.

I’ve been biking my whole life, but my primary mode has always been on pavement. On the surface, MTB and road biking look a lot alike – wheels, brakes, a skinny seat, etc. – but truly they are worlds apart. MTB has a completely different vibe.

Let me try to describe it for you. On a road bike, your goals generally revolve around getting from Point A to Point B, usually as fast as possible. The ultimate ride involves reducing friction, avoiding obstacles (& cars!) and achieving something as close to flight as possible. In fact, a lot of people describe the thrill of on-road cycling as something akin to the freedom of flying.

Now switch your mindset to mountain biking. You’re in the middle of the woods. The twisting & undulating nature of the trail, not to mention the rocks, stumps and trees, make going fast mostly impossible. Frequently, you lose traction due to the mud or a hill, the bike stops and you flop over to one side. Maintaining traction means keeping your pedals moving steadily, and keeping your wheels in contact with the earth.

On the MTB, it’s all about being in the moment, choosing a safe path, as you move gracefully along the trail. The image I got on both my rides was more about caressing the earth, vs. flying over and by.

After my confidence returned, I realized I had gained a higher level of respect for the trail and the bike. I was coming to appreciate the difficulty of this new sport, but having had a glimpse of the exhilaration and tranquility it can offer me, I knew I’d be hooked.

On the drive home, I opened the windows, turned up the radio, and basked in a perfect mix of sunshine, endorphins and old songs that somehow sounded completely new.

Happy Holidays, Giving Thanks

Happy Holidays, Dear Reader!

The holidays are upon us and it’s a great time to reflect on the multitude of blessings we have.

I’m thankful for:

  • Another year of good health
  • My loving wife
  • Three healthy & happy boys (young men, actually)
  • Good friends
  • Relative peace in the world

We’ve made our home in the great Pacific Northwest. The photo you see at the top of this page is from my first-ever back-country backpacking trip to Mt. St. Helens, taken in July, with my cousin, Sander, Josh and Eli. How scary to see the destruction caused by the blast in 1980; but that blast opened a gateway for me and many others to appreciate this incredible natural beauty! The cycle of chaos and creation.

This holiday season, I hope you’ll join me and do something to give back to your community. I just scheduled my plasma donation at the Puget Sound Blood Center, and “invited” my son to give for the first time. Blood banks experience a blood shortage each December and January, since the demand remains constant, but people are too busy to donate.

My local blood bank is trying hard to get plasma donations at the moment. Plasma helps in the treatment of trauma patients, burn victims and others fighting serious illness and injury. In addition to providing this additional life-saving resource, you can give plasma more frequently than whole blood – so everybody wins!

I’ve written before about why I think giving blood is so important, but in this season of giving, please remember to take time to go out of your way and help people in need. It only takes a few minutes and it will make you feel great!