Monday, December 28, 2009

What I Did With My Christmas Vacation

Thanks to my Brother in Law Joe for lending me a small number of his many weigh lifting trophies for this picture!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On The Road

There are few things as boring as a long road trip. We are traveling from our home in Columbus to visit my sister for Christmas. She lives in the northern wastes of Massachusetts a stones throw from New Hampshire. It is a beautiful area of the country, but it is also unfortunately a drive of 750 miles.

A trip of this magnitude does offer some opportunities for great discoveries. As loyal readers, I will share with you the treasures I have seen so far.

A car with antlers!

A tanker truck full of coffee!

A dog that likes pizza for dinner!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

8. Columbus, Ohio Water Tower

Northwest Columbus along route 270.

7. Columbus, Ohio Water Tower

Near the intersection of routes 161 and 270.

6. New Albany, OH Water Tower

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Keep Austin Weird

I just got back from a four-day training in Fraud Examination. It was a good week – the training was excellent, I got upgraded to first class on the flight back, and the hotel put me on the club level which comes with all a fancy little room with all kinds of snacks. The training was in Austin, Texas, my first time there. A few observations on Austin.

Austin can get really cold. I was expecting warm Texas sunshine. Instead it was cold and rained most of the time. Not cool, not cool at all.

Austin is a party town. The main industries are the state government and the colleges. It is not all that different from Columbus. There are bars all over the place and these kids know how to kick loose. Many of the bars are clustered on 6th street. It is just one big bar after another, block after block. Not really my scene, but it was fun to see.

As part of my training, we visited the National Fraud Museum. It was small but well done. If you are geek and into this sort of thing, plan a special trip to Austin. They will welcome you with open arms.

The food is excellent. I ate Tex-Mex constantly and could not get enough of the homemade, fresh salsa. One restaurant reminded me of Uruguay with its outdoor mesquite barbeque set up for cooking. You could smell the wood smoke a block away. In Uruguay, this is very common both in restaurants and in private homes. I think I will always associate the smell of meat cooking over wood fire with cool nights beside the ocean in Uruguay.

Monday, November 30, 2009

5. Weirton West Virginia Water Tower

4. Hopedale Ohio Water Tower

Best in Show

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Red Cross for a Dog Show. Over and over I kept thinking about the movie "Best in Show" due to all the similarities. The dogs were bored with the whole affair, the owners were obsessed, and the judges could not be more serious. I had a great time and they even provided free lunch.
For those of you who have not been to a dog show, here is how it works. The dogs are divided up by breed. Each breed competes in little caged areas. They walk around the edge of the pen. They stand still with tail held aloft. They run around. All while the judge watches. Honestly, all the dogs looked the same to me. But, somehow the judge picked the best of each breed. The best then proceeds to the next round.

The next round has the winner of each breed compete within their group. The groups are sport dogs, toy dogs, etc. The winner of each group then goes to the main ring for the selection of best in show. The whole thing took about two days. Luckily I was there for the last six hours, so I saw the crowning of the champion.

Unlike horses, I don't think dogs understand they are competing the they do not seem to care whether they win or lose. Mostly they are interested in the steady stream of treats handed out by the owners. The owners were extremely competitive though. They brought RVs to sleep in the parking lot and it was clear that this was just one step on the road to glory (Westminster). Having a dog that is ill behaved, I can appreciate all the time and effort that these people put into these dogs. That being said, I was happy to just be able to show up for a couple hours, hand out a couple band-aids, enjoy the show, and then head home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ohio to Erie Trail

Touring by bicycle has seemed like an interesting idea to me for quite a while. I like to travel, but in a car you tend to miss all the fun interesting stuff along the way. I love little towns, farm fields, community festivals, and wide open spaces. A few weeks ago I decided to give bicycle touring a try by riding from Cincinnati to Columbus on the first half of a trip across Ohio. The distance between the two cities is about 130 miles (though in my planning I messed up and assumed 180 miles).
I wasn’t sure exactly how long it would take me to cover 180 miles. I planned on three days, two nights, an average of about 60 miles per day. This is a bit slow, but I was not sure how much my body could take day after day. Certainly the third day would be much harder than the first. Elly was nice enough to drive me down to Cincinnati and drop me off next to the trail.

The trail starts out in a small metro park just outside the city limits about ¼ mile from the Ohio river. For the first 75 miles I followed the Little Miami Scenic Trail, most of which is built on an old railroad grade. I climbed the small elevation out of Cincinnati and immediately entered a forested area. The trees were turning gold, red, and brown and the air smelled like fall. I felt good, my legs were anxious to get moving. I had strapped quite a bit of camping equipment to the back of the bike, but it did not feel like too much of a burden.

The first town I came to was Loveland, Ohio. I was barely large enough to notice. The distinguishing factor was a large brick factory right alongside the trail that was abandoned many years ago. Little towns usually have the feel of a patient on life support. It is hard, but the young people leave for opportunity. There was a nice downtown that I quickly biked past. Some people sitting outside at a café pointed at me, it was fun to be mysterious and interesting.

I continued north, past King’s Island, a large amusement park very popular in Ohio. I did not see the park but I could hear the roller coasters. The trail was about 10 feet wide, paved, and in good condition. There were some people on the trail but there were long stretches when I had it to myself. After another 10 miles I reached Morrow, Ohio. Morrow did not have much to distinguish itself, but it did have a very nice public restroom right along the trail. Thank you Morrow!

Just north of Morrow was the largest collection of Harley riders I have ever seen. They were everywhere. A couple times I had to stop my bike and walk around great groups of rides walking slowly along the trail drinking beer. They made way for me but sadly no one offered to share any beer with me. A mile later I had the trail to myself.

I planned to have dinner in Corwin, Ohio then ride a few more miles until I reached the Frontier Campground. When I reached Corwin I was disappointed to see a lack of restaurants. This was bad news as I was out in the middle of nowhere and it was getting late. Ten miles to get dinner was not an attractive option. I was settling into the thought of eating my emergency packaged food (blah!) when I decided to call Elly to see if she could find anything on the internet. Problem solved, just ¼ mile away there was another town (Waynesville) with a pizza shop.

Anyone who travels with me knows that I have good luck in finding interesting things to do and fun places to eat. It takes me longer to get places, but it is a good time. Pulling into Waynesville, I could not believe my luck. That very night was the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival! There were about 200 booths all selling various sauerkraut items. I feasted on fried sauerkraut balls, fried oreos, and sauerkraut pizza. It was a great Festival and I thank Waynesville for the friendliness extended to the hungry, tired stranger on the bike who clearly did not belong.

My stomach full and my spirits lifted I sprinted the seven miles to the Frontier Campground. I should say, I sprinted to the place where the campground was supposed to be. Bad news, it was nowhere to be found. I kept riding up and down the trail looking but I never did find it. The sun was disappearing below the horizon and it was getting cold. I had lights on my bike, but I did not want to keep going, especially knowing that there were no other campgrounds anywhere near. I rode until I reached Spring Valley, Ohio. Spring Valley is a small collection of houses and a tiny main street with one store. They did have a nice big park though that I made my home for the night. I set up in a quiet, dark corner and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. Lights out was 9pm and I was happy to snuggle up in my sleeping bag as I tried to ward off the 33 degree temperatures that night.

I awoke the next morning at 5am cold but in good spirits. My plan was to get everything packed up and get out of there before the sun came up. A minor bike repair took nearly a half hour in the dark, but I was on the road by 6:30, heading north. The trail consisted of long straight stretches through farm fields. It was cold and lonesome land, but it was beautiful. I rode the twelve miles north until I reached Xenia, Ohio. Xenia is a larger city as evidenced by the many fast food restaurants, a public library, and a profusion of banks. I asked a local where the best place to get breakfast might be. She recommended a biscuit and gravy place that sounded like heaven to my cold and hungry stomach. I put aside my vegan diet and prepared to feast. Horror of horrors, it was closed and I could not bring myself to eat in one of the fast food restaurants, so with a heavy heart I pointed my wheel north and continued on. One fun thing is that the local Chamber of Commerce was shooting a promotional video and I will be featured. Look for the hungry bicyclist in red riding past the Xenia Station. Pulling out of town I also saw a large Turkey Vulture that appeared to think I was going to be his nest meal.
About ten very flat and straight miles took me to Cedarville, Ohio. Cedarville is a cool little town with a great coffee shop. They accommodated my hunger and sent enough coffee my way to bring a smile to my face. The sun came out, it started to warm up, and life was good. Pulling out of Cedarville I realized there was nowhere I would rather be at that moment.

I continued on through the vast farm fields. I passed corn, soy, and wheat. There was a hog farm I passed outside of South Charleston that smelled so bad I started to have dry heaves. I rode fast and put it behind me. I kept going until I reached London, Ohio where I stopped for a short lunch and some time to give my butt a rest. At that point in the trip I started to feel the strain of the distance and my butt was getting uncomfortably numb. I also realized that I was close enough to Columbus to make the push to sleep in my own bed that night. A few miles outside London, the bike trail ends and it was all road riding the remaining 25 miles. Road riding is less fun. People in cars are rude, they yell and act like idiots. Someone threw a soda at me but luckily missed. I caught up with him a few miles down the road and stopped and stared long enough to make him feel very uncomfortable. It is best not to mess with someone who slept the night before in a town park in the frigid cold, then got denied biscuits and gravy.

I made it home in time for dinner that night. Overall it was a great trip and I am looking forward to part 2 of the journey up to Cleveland. I did manage to blow my knee out in the final ten miles and I am still suffering pain from that. My new touring bike was excellent and I am really happy with it. Next time I will pack less, plan to cover more miles, and get a new knee.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Columbus Marathon

Running a marathon seems like an impossible idea to me. I have always hated running, much preferring the low impact exercise of a bike. It is easy to envy the long lean bodies that runners work so hard to achieve. Runners seem a little crazy to me, this past weekend that was confirmed.

On Sunday was the 30th Annual Columbus Marathon, hosting 15,000 runners. The marathon starts downtown and winds all through the various neighborhoods of Columbus. It is amazing how much ground 26.6 miles covers. The course went from urban downtown through city parks, to quaint German Village, past Ohio State, up to the inner suburbs of Upper Arlington, the wound back down to downtown. A great course matched only by the leaves on the trees in many fall shades.

I volunteered with the Red Cross to staff one of the many first aid stations along the route. We were warned up front that the worst injuries would be psychological. This proved accurate. One runner blew her knee out and completely lost it when told that she would not be able to run the remaining 11 miles of the race. She described her pain as 10 out of 10 and could not put weight on the knee, but she refused to quit. There were various other similar incidents. One runner was taken away in an ambulance after an episode of hysteria when she realized that she could not keep going.

The sacrifice required to train for an event like a marathon is incredible. Practice calls for years of steady training and caution. All runners suffer injuries that constantly nag. It is a brutal sport, especially when the biggest reward is personal satisfaction. A runner who completes the marathon walks away with no more than a T shirt and a few pats on the back from friends. I was happy to end the day with no serious injuries. The Detroit Marathon the same day experienced three runner deaths due to heart attacks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

3. South Charleston Ohio Water Tower

Giving Back

A mentor once shared his philosophy on remaining happy in life by periodically evaluating where you stand with career, family, and community. If you sense an imbalance in any one area, likely you are due for an adjustment. Serious dissatisfaction in one area likely impacts all parts of your life. When a friend hates his job, I know about it even though I may not work with him. Likewise, when a work colleague is having issues at home, usually it spills over in some way to work. It works in the opposite way too. Being seriously thrilled about home life may help a person cope with a miserable work situation. What is bad for one person is great for another, so it is impossible to generalize where on the scale a person should aim for.

This philosophy resonates with me. I see in myself the need for interesting work, a good home life, and the feeling that I am part of making the world a better place. When I chose to become an accountant, I knew that these parts of my life would necessarily be separate. The four years that I worked for a socially responsible start-up is perhaps the only exception. Otherwise, I have been actively involved with non-profits during my off hours. This was disrupted when I moved from Pittsburgh to Columbus three years ago. The non-profits I worked with in Pittsburgh were all local and by moving I broke my link with them.

I struggled to find my next volunteer opportunity for two years, considering one idea after another. Over Christmas my Father in Law suggested that I look into the Red Cross. This proved to be the direction I needed. Quickly I got involved with the Columbus Red Cross First Aid Service Team. So far this year I have worked providing first aid at seventeen varied events. Last week the Red Cross invited me to take additional training so that I can take a more senior position in the organization.

It is a relief to feel like I am giving back to the community. It is fun and important work that we do. Usually we are the first on the scene of injuries, accidents, and medical problems. It is a serious role that we play, which is good for me because I am a serious person. Free access to a variety of interesting events is a plus as is the appreciation people have for the help that we lend.

Ohio State vs Wisconsin - October 10, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2. Wilberforce Ohio Water Tower

1. Cedarville Ohio Water Tower

Giant Puffball Mushroom

Regular readers of this blog know that we subscribed to a CSA this year. Overall, it has not been a great experience as the quantity of the food has been way short of expectations. In addition, there have not been many surprises in the form of food that you can not normally find in a supermarket.

This week was a bit of an exception. We received some slices of a Giant Puffball Mushroom. Now, if you are thinking what the heck is a giant puffball mushroom, well I was thinking the same thing. I was a little worried that the farmer was trying to kill us all. See the picture above that I found online of what one of these mushrooms looks like. Clearly it is giant.

When eaten, it tastes like a combination between mushroom and tofu with the texture of compressed marshmallows. You can slice it and cook giant slabs. I cooked my slab like a piece of beef, adding some balsalmic vinegar, rosemary, salt, and pepper. It was quite delicious and made for a very interesting meal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blog post number 101!

How is it possible that I am already up to 101 blog posts? It seems like just yesterday I was toying with the idea of starting a blog thinking in the back of my mind that I would probably run out of things to write after about ten posts. Here I am now breaking the 100 barrier in less than 10 months, which equals one blog post every three days or so. I hope you have been enjoying it as much as I have.

One of the reasons I started my blog was because I have always suspected that a lot of interesting things happen to us every day. Looking back we remember mostly the big stuff, but not all the little things that give our lives color. The blog is my way of documenting some of the color in my life. It has been a good year for me full of unique experiences, there are not too many blogs based out of Uruguay!

Volunteering with the Red Cross at the Ohio State University spring graduation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Columbus 2009 Pride Festival

It was an exciting weekend. I volunteered with the Red Cross first aid team at the 2009 Columbus Pride Parade and Festival. The Festival occupied Goodale Park in downtown Columbus. Thousands of people attended, I was amazed at what an event it was. The parade went right through downtown Columbus part the State House and up to the Festival. There were floats, bands, and all kinds of interesting marchers in the parade.

The Festival is about showing pride in being gay, lesbian, or transsexual. While most of the participants were just like the participants in any festival, this festival has drag queens and nudity. It is unlike anything I have done with the Red Cross. There were a couple people who were not happy to see the Red Cross there as the Red Cross as a policy does not accept blood donations from gay men. This is perceived by some as anti-gay. We were able to engage the people who challenged us by explaining that we were volunteers who were there for the safety of the crowd.

We were pretty busy as it was a hot, sunny day. We handed out lots of band-aids to parade participants who had blisters. There were a couple more serious incidents such as a woman who had chest pains and a man who was stung by a bee who had a strong allergy to stings. No paramedic transports though and everyone ultimately left our first aid tent smiling.

CSA - week 3

The amount of vegetables we are getting in our CSA has jumped this week. It is about what I would expect at this time of the year. My biggest complaint is that the portions of each vegetable are rather small. This week in our basket we found:
- Italian herb bread
- Millet honey muffins
- Kale
- Arugula
- Radish
- Swiss Chard
- Two head of lettuce
- Bok Choy

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Monday with Eric

My volunteering with the Red Cross took me to the Eric Clapton concert on Monday night. I have not seen Clapton live before and I really was looking forward to it. The ticket cost was a bit higher than I am willing to pay (yes, I am very very cheap) so getting in free as a volunteer was a good way to go. Free of course meaning that I had to get there really early, leave late, and work through the concert. It is fun though, I like helping people who need help.

Clapton was performing with Steve Winwood. Unfortunately the two of them sounded like cats yowling. Out of tune, painful to listen to. Clapton did win me back with his performance of "Layla" which was awesome and made the whole thing worth while.

Elly checking out the concert, you can see the reflective stripes on her Red Cross vest

It was a pretty quiet night from an injury perspective. There was a heart attack which was taken care of by the paramedics. We handed out a few band-aids and a few cold packs. My main role was to expertly show people how to use the aspirin machine in the hall. I am surprised there were not more injuries as alcohol was flowing freely throughout the event.

So they say it's your Birthday

Yesterday was my Birthday. In some ways a Birthday is a non-event for me. I do not get worked up about getting older and really don’t care aboutanyone who might. I consider physical health the key factor in getting older, as I believe health is a more meaningful indicator than the number of years you have been hanging around.
I do like a little celebration simply because it is a good excuse and I have a hard time getting away from my to-do lists to relax unless I have a reason. Elly was nice enough to bake me a “cake”, which really was bread that spelled out Happy Birthday Mike. I prefer bread to cake, so I was certainly pleased. I got some nice gifts, the best being my fancy new Hines Ward Steelers jersey. Gow Stillers. And some friends made up a special picture for me that is incredible (see link).

As I am very goal-oriented, I inevitably use annual events like Birthdays to measure progress. Standing back, this has been a year of stretching my abilities and comfort zones. Spending months in Uruguay and Germany fundamentally changed my perspective and taught me a whole new set of skills in enjoying people who I have nothing in common with. A change in jobs is always somewhat traumatic, but so far my transition has been overwhelmingly positive in part because of the new challenges I face. Despite this year being characterized by a world rocked by problems, family and friends are all doing well. I found a non-profit to volunteer for (RedCross) that I am really enjoying, which helps to satisfy my need to giveback.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

CSA - Week 2

This week in the CSA our yield increased a bit. It is still far below what I would consider a good deal, but this is to be expected this early in the season. One really positive aspect of the vegetables we are receiving is that they are very fresh and taste much better than what you get in the market. I have been really impressed by the taste and the quality.

This week in the CSA, we received:
- radish
- beet greens
- kale
- tiny bok choy
- mullberries
- rhubarb stalks
- loaf of chibatta bread