Conner's Chat with Santa

A few weeks ago Conner spent the afternoon with his Grandma, Grandpa and Mom. At some point they took him over to see Santa and Conner made this happen.

Conner was speaking to Santa at the mall. Santa waved me over and said, "Do you know what Conner asked for for Christmas? He asked to be with his family...and also maybe a stocking for his gerbil." And that's why Conner's on the nice list.

This morning Holly, our family Elf on a Shelf, returned with a stocking for Conner's gerbil Nibbles. Conner was so thrilled he decided to bring the stocking to school to show his friends. The moment he returned home he announced he was going to hang it next to his stocking.

I can't wait to see what Santa brings Nibbles.

Poor poor Gingy...

While I was away on business last week the kids decorated some crazy big Gingerbread men. Christine sent me a text with these pics. It all seemed like good clean fun until the last picture arrived.

Why I'm Voting Yes on Question 2

I've had two pets that lived great lives. But every life comes to an end, and for my dog Buffy and cat Jerry the end started with horrible diseases that left them in a lot of pain with no hope of getting better. Though it was emotionally difficult I did the humane thing and had them put to sleep. I still miss them both.

One thing we all have in common is that we're going to die. Some of us will go quietly in our sleep, others will contract a disease that slowly eats our bodies. Me, I'm planning to go out in a freak Zeppelin accident, but if it doesn't work out that way, and I'm suffering with some horrible disease that's slowly taking my life, I want the choice to end things on my terms.

Now lets be real clear, I don't want to die anytime soon. My daughter is 5 and I'd like to be around to go geocaching with her kids. So I'm in this for the long haul. But lets say I come down with a disease that has me bedridden and in constant pain. Multiple doctors tell me I have 6 months to live and it's only going to get worse. At some point I should be allowed to say enough is enough.

As of today, the law in Massachusetts does not allow a terminally ill person in constant pain to end their life without starving themselves to death. So in my hypothetical situation, I am bound by law to be tortured every moment of every day until my body eventually gives out or I starve myself to death. Some have argued that starving yourself to death doesn't hurt, but I feel like crap when I miss lunch, so I'm not sure how that argument is supposed to hold up. But I digress...

It comes down to this: What kind of world do we live in where I can spare my pets from the torture of a slow and painful death and have it considered humane, but I can't do the same for myself?

We have a chance to fix this. Next Tuesday, in Massachusetts, a yes vote on Question 2 will give terminally ill people the ability to die with dignity on their own terms. Here's a quick overview on Question #2.

A "YES" vote on Question 2 will allow terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to request a prescription for life-ending medication from their doctor. The law has 16 different safeguards, including approvals from two doctors and waiting periods. Doctor participation is voluntary and no doctor would ever be forced to prescribe against their will.

Patients dying of late stage cancer, and other terminal illnesses, can face weeks or months of extreme pain and suffering before death. Question 2 allows these patients to face death on their own terms - often in their own homes - with the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones while they are still aware and competent.

Here's what's proposed in Massachusetts:

  • An adult patient who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and determined by two doctors to have six months or less to live is allowed the choice to use the Death with Dignity law.
  • The patient must voluntarily request his or her doctor write a prescription for life-ending medication. Doctor and healthcare provider participation is voluntary.
  • Two doctors must confirm the patient is mentally capable of communicating health care decisions and confirm the patient is making a voluntary, informed choice.
  • After the patient makes the request, there are required waiting periods before the writing of the prescription.

The same law has been in place for 15 years in Oregon and 4 years in Washington State. In each state only 60 terminally ill patients decide to utilize the law each year and careful tracking of the law has found not a single instance of abuse over the past 15 years.

I don't know how I'd sleep at night if I didn't get my butt out and vote yes on Question #2. To do anything else feels like advocating for the torture of terminally ill people.  Even so, there are people very aggressively advocating against Question #2. I've gone through every one of their objections and haven't found a single one that was both true, and gave me the slightest bit of pause.

I'm voting for choice, control and dignity. I'm voting yes on Question 2.

I encourage you to take a look at Question #2 and if you have any concerns about voting yes I'd be happy to discuss them with you. Here's a few resources to get you up to speed.
  1. The Facts on Question #2 
  2. Official MA website for Question #2
  3. Death with Dignity: Why I Don’t Want to Have to Starve Myself to Death - By JOHN M. GROHOL, PSYD 

Russell vs. Predator

Met this guy trick-or-treating last night. You'd never know it from his movies, but he's actually quite friendly.

Image by John Russell, used under the 'I'm your big brother and I'm stealing this picture' license.

2012 - A Good Year for Fall Colors

This year we had some spectacular colors as the leaves changed. I managed to get out and take a few pictures right as the season peaked. Here are some of my favorites.

The Russell kids

Just up the street from our house.

Leaf rainbow

Tom. Chillin

Makes me think of the Shire

Conner and Allison out for a ride.

The swingset

The 2012 Fall Colors set has more pics from this years color change.

Night Photography

A few weeks back I took a night photography class with Dan Splaine through Test of Time Photography. He took us on a teaching / walking tour near the Boston Aquarium. This was my first formal introduction to photography and Dan did an amazing job. I'd absolutely recommend one of his photo walk classes.

What I learned that night, apart from the basics of ISO, f/stop and exposure time, is that photography is like any other hobby. To get good it takes a bit of know how, some creativity, and a whole lot of practice. These are some of my favorite shots from my first night of photography practice.

IMG_9267 - Version 2
Clock tower across from the Boston Aquarium. The fog was rough. I must have taken 100 shots before I got one to come out.

My brother practicing his night photography

Time lapse of a plane landing at Logan

Panorama of the Boston Waterfront

Looking into the light

Light writing  

Light writing turned out to be a lot of fun and pretty easy to set up. The trick is to set a low ISO, high f/stop, and 10 to 15 second shutter speed. This lets the camera leave the shutter open for a long time without soaking up too much light. As it was I should have adjusted the settings for a little less light absorption on this image.

Once you have it set up, put the camera on a 5 second delay and push the shutter button. Then run in front of the camera with your cell phone flashlight and write something. The brightness of the flashlight will show up perfectly in the image and if you move fast enough and have on dark clothes you will appear nearly invisible. This technique is going to take a bit more practice, but it was easy enough to get started.

The full Boston Night Photo Walk - October 2012 set is on flickr. More pictures to come as I practice, practice, practice.

How to Get Picked Up By The Cops on The Golden Gate Bridge & A Lesson from Tony Nicklinson

It's surprisingly easy. As easy as riding a bike really. Except you don't even need a bike. Perhaps I should back up a bit.

I've been traveling out to California for over a decade for work. In all that time I'd rarely visited any of the sights.  In fact my first venture outside work and the hotel was last September for a hike up to Mission Peak.

So as I was getting off the plane at SFO a few weeks back I thought, 'I should go see the Golden Gate Bridge'. Seems harmless enough right? Not so much...

I got there after 8pm just as the sun was supposed to be setting. The clouds made that a bit of a moot point. Even so, the view was spectacular.

A nice couple pointed out some dolphins playing in the water between the bridge and Alcatraz. We got to chatting and when they learned this was my first time visiting the bridge they got all excited. "You have to walk across it some time!" they insisted.  I figured there was no time like the present, so I headed out on foot.

The bridge is about a mile and a half one way, so I figured if I pushed it I could be back in 45 minutes. It would be a brisk walk, but seeing as it was getting on towards 9pm, and I was still on EST, it felt like midnight. At some point I was going to have to get some sleep.

It got darker and windier the further I went. You could see the clouds being blown across the bridge by the wind coming off the Pacific. The air tasted salty. I ran into a bunch of bikers, some people on foot, and even a couple trying to capture themselves in a romantic moment on camera.  

This was the south tower up close. It was getting dark by the time I got there. Looking out to the right, the view of the bay seemed an infinite void. I stood right up against the fence and looked out towards Alcatraz. The white caps of the water below were barley visible and everything else was a dark blue emptiness.


I was having a blast, and after a few minutes contemplating the exciting nothingness of that inky void, I headed off to finish my trip across the bridge.

Unbeknownst to me, but knownst to the government of California, many people lean out over that same spot. Oddly enough, instead of feeling exhilaration, they pitch themselves over the side and hit the water 4 seconds later traveling at 75 miles per hour. 

For the record, this was me under the south tower. I think I look relatively happy.

It turns out they have cameras and sensors out there and a few minutes after I peered out into the inky abyss a cop came along and picked me up. He was extremely friendly and explained that the bridge closed at 9pm and that I should have seen the sign. In retrospect, the friendliness was probably because he thought I was planning to jump off the bridge.

So this is what the back of the Golden Gate Bridge paddy wagon looks like from the inside! It's quite smelly.

In the end I didn't make it across the bridge. Instead, with the most innocent of intentions, I unwittingly made myself look like the profile of a typical jumper at the most popular suicide location in the world. And that is how you get picked up by the cops on the Golden Gate bridge. QED.

Thoughts on Suicide
I recently learned the story of Tony Nicklinson (@TonyNicklinson), a man with Locked-in syndrome who desperately wanted the right to die on his own terms, but didn't have the physical means to make it happen.  I simply can not understand the callousness of people that would deny him the right to die peacefully.  Our culture has such a strong fear of death that we are willing to give up quality of life and even force others to embrace suffering rather than let them control their own death.

A person should have the right to kill themselves as long as they do it in such a way that it doesn't physically hurt someone else. Tony wasn't hurting anyone.

As I was driving back to my hotel that night in San Francisco, I couldn't help but think about the issue of suicide. My initial reaction to being picked up by the cops was that it was overkill (no pun intended) to go through all that trouble to keep someone from jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. If someone really wants to kill themselves, I thought, the method isn't the problem. The moment the Golden Gate bridge stops being the most popular site for suicides, someplace else will automatically take it's place. Somehow my brain pieced together that attempting to remove one method of suicide by closing a bridge to foot traffic is like trying to stop people from binge eating donuts by taking away chocolate donuts from everyone. The people that are going to binge eat donuts will find a new location that serves powdered donuts.  This last part of the argument in my head probably had something to do with jet lag and hunger, but the point stands.

After reading through a few suicide prevention websites it seems that there is an unscientific consensus among those groups that suicide jumpers are impulsive. Jumpers typically leave less than 45 minutes of time between when they decide to jump and when they do. The sites goes on to state that suicide survivors often think the attempt was a bad idea. From this they extrapolate that putting nets on bridges would actually reduce suicides. It seems likely that properly installed nets would reduce suicides on the Golden Gate bridge, but it's not clear to me it would prevent impulsive suicides.

There's clearly some gray area here and the idea of trying to prevent impulsive suicides seems like a noble enough goal. Even so I can't shake the feeling that nets aren't the answer.  Something must be really wrong with society if people are pitching themselves off bridges.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we're talking about putting up nets to "help people" while being perfectly willing to let people like Tony Nicklinson suffer the way we did.  Instead of putting efforts into building nets, maybe we should put that effort into improving the way people live and even die.

One simple way to do that is to sign Tony's petition seeking a change in the right to die laws.

If there is one thing I learned from Tony's story it's to get on living while the living is good.  So instead of getting embroiled in debates over bridge closing times and net installations I'm going to focus on living. The plan is to enjoy life, try to be nice to the people around me, and make sure next time I leave myself plenty of time to make the full trip across the Golden Gate bridge and back. The view really is magnificent.

My First Century

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for 8 months. I'm back dating it and posting, because it describes an event simply too silly to be relegated to ones draft folder.  

This September (2012) I completed my first cycling century. One hundred miles all at once on a bike. Nine months earlier a ride like this was unfathomable, but I'd developed something of an exercise habit in that time. That, and a mate of mine said, "I'm doing this. You in?" Which is basically the equivalent of a Tripple-Dog-Dare.

So there it is, the 100 miles.

The route got a bit hilly in the middle. About 47 miles in there's a hill that looks like you're cycling up a ski slope. Riding up that hill was the first time I was able to accurately measure my pulse simply by listening to my heartbeat pounding in my ears. 172.

But I lived, and with the exception of eating three dinners that night I felt great.

Me and Arthur Dent after finishing the Century

A few interesting things I learned building up to this ride.
  1. Eating properly while cycling is the most important part of a ride over 50 miles. Salt and Potassium intake are critical.  Get them right and you can ride forever, mess it up and you're screwed... Pheidippides kind of screwed.
  2. Bring a friend. It makes everything easier.  With willpower you can overcome seemingly impossible tasks, but pushing (and mostly being pushed) by a friend makes those tasks seem easier.
  3. Spandex is not flattering. 

My goal for this ride was to finish. So I took it easy for most of the ride. Now that I know a century is doable, the next challenge will be to do it faster and further.

In that spirit I just signed up for a 2-day 180 mile ride which, in addition to forcing me to workout this winter, will raise money to fight MS.

Bike Maintenance Day

Alex and I did some bike maintenance today. First we checked out YouTube to learn about cleaning and lubricating bike chains. Then, after a quick supply run we proceeded to resurrect his new/hand-me-down bike from years of neglect.

I'm happy to report that he can now use all his gears and the bike no longer squeaks like mule being dragged behind a truck with a bad axle. In addition to the audible improvements, Alex says it's much easier to ride. It's a very nice bike now in excellent condition.

Next we did some should-be standard maintenance on my bike. Apparently I'm supposed to lubricate the chain once a week. So I was only behind off by 800% seeing as this was my first time. Alex is right, it makes a big difference.

The other big addition is a bike computer. It tells me all sorts of things like current speed, cadence and distance. Not a necessity, but very nice to have. Can't wait to get out on the road for a long ride tomorrow.

Biking Against Cancer Over Comically Large Hills - Part II

A fortnight ago (and yes I waited to post this so I could use the word fortnight) was my second ride in the Prouty bike race against cancer. This year the goal was 50 miles.

Riding 50 miles is a little more tricky than shorter distances because your body doesn't have enough energy to do the entire race without eating. So once you get in shape enough to do that kind of distance, you need to figure out food and water intake.

It was over 91 degrees outside which is not exactly my natural habitat. Even so, the ride was going great until mile 38 at which point I ran out of potassium. This manifested in the form of wicked hamstring cramps and sucked because I was otherwise full of energy. My legs just decided they weren't going to work. After pulling over and stretching for a few minutes I rode to the 40 mile rest stop. There I filled up on bananas before heading out for the last 10 miles.

Overall the ride was a success. I finished and the hills just didn't seem to pack the same punch as they did last year.

I'm not sure if we took a wrong turn or runkeeper is messing with me, but even if what we rode was only 48.73 miles it doesn't take into account the mile to and from the car, so I'm calling it 50.

Next up, a century on September 16th. 

Taking a break from Geocaching

Using multimillion dollar satellites to find Tupperware hidden in the forests (a.k.a Geocaching) is a blast. It became our hobby of choice this spring. We've discovered a number of really cool conservation lands in our home town that we previously had no idea existed.

With the explosion of ticks and mosquitoes this summer, we're taking a break from Geocaching in the woods. Even with clinically dangerous levels of bug spray the bugs treat us like we're a Thanksgiving feast as soon as we step foot in the forest. 

So we're taking a break until the bugs die off from cold or someone starts dropping Agent Orange on the local conservation lands. In the meantime here are some of my favorite pics of this season's treasure hunts.

My fearsome Geocachers

Using an old rock wall to cross over swamp land

Alex discovers a Geocache made out of an old ammunition box
Way upstate New York. The bugs were unrelenting.

New to Geocaching? Check out this one minute introduction.

A Week With The Kids

This week Christine was off to Paris for a much needed "Girls Vacation" while I hung out with the kids.

My little chunder monkeys started off the week with their traditional "Mom just left the house so lets see how Dad handles bodily fluids" routine. Fortunately they really wanted to get on with the week so I was spared the full Mr. Mom meets Tropic Thunder experience.

Once that was out of their system we got on to some serious parenting. I purchased three bottles of Diet Coke and a few boxes of Mentos. The plan was to combine them in an irresponsible manner to an explosive end.

Our early designs didn't quite work as planned. It's possible they could have worked but the kids were so eager to help they did things like throw one Mento into the Coke bottle "To get it started." We lost 2 boxes that way. Then Conner then came up with the brilliant idea to protect the final batch of Mentos by putting them in a sealed container full of water. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  Alas, I still have hopes of a 10 foot Mento/Coke eruption, but it's going to take a little more design work and a much more rigorous approach to procedure adherence.

Biking was next on our list. My goal was to get Conner off training wheels. I gave myself a week. Conner gave me 2 minutes.

By the next day he was looking for curbs to jump.

Alex and Conner went off on adventures while Allison stuck nearby on her training wheels.

And this was Conner after an hour in a parking lot.

High off Conner's success I decided to get Allison off training wheels. Allison doesn't seem to have Conner's complete lack of fear and I think her bike is a little too heavy for her, so it was a bit slower going. She tended to fall when she realized I wasn't holding her. As long as she thought I was holding her she was fine. Even so, by day 2 she was off and going.

I've learned 2 things from this experience:
  1. Fear can really hold a person back.
  2. The most exhausting exercise in the world is running, hunched over, holding a 4 year old's bike seat.

Allergy season is in full swing and it's been bugging the boys. Alex started taking samples of pollen and looking at it under his microscope. I hope he finds a better allergy cure. Somehow we got onto the topic of looking at blood under the microscope. Just a few hours later I cut my leg while carrying some garbage out of the house. You'd think I'd learn. Fortunately there were no stitches this time and the boys were happy to have a fresh sample.

At one point the boys were in school at the same time which left Allison and I to do some yard work. She's getting pretty strong.

She's also getting pretty smart. Right after I took that picture she said. "Daddy. Can I take the pictures while you move the rocks?" That was the last rock she picked up.

Conner was disappointed that we didn't have a flag at our house for Memorial Day so he made one. When I asked him how many stars he had on the flag he said. "Fifty. See five rows of ten."  I think he's going to be just fine in first grade math next year.

Christine was off having a grand time in Paris. We'd wake up each morning to a video message from her. It had the kids completely captivated.

I remember a time when long distance calls were a big deal. That time has passed. We saw Christine every night on FaceTime.

On Thursday I went to Allison's last day of preschool. One of the class traditions is for the "Person of the Day" to ask people questions about their last name and then choose someone to answer. It was nice to see her looking so comfortable in front of the class. 

Thursday was also the day they celebrated her birthday so Allison was soaking up the attention.

Friday night my parents took the kids and I went out for an awesome bike ride. We didn't push too hard but still set a new record for the Harvard loop. I'm starting to think that ride can be done on a hybrid in 52 minutes if I really work at it. A big step from my previous goal of completing it in under an hour.

Conner chose that night, away from home to loose his second front tooth. Even so, the tooth fairy came through! In other news, Conner has made it abundantly clear what he wants for Christmas.

And then as quickly as it started it was over. We headed off to the airport to get Christine and rode up and down the escalator while she made her way through customs. It's good to have her back.


Somewhere over the course of the week I managed to fit in a few house projects - Cleaning out my shop, sanding and painting molding, spackling (you can't have a week off without spackling something in this house), and even fixing the stuck door that has more than once trapped one of our kids in the bathroom.

The bathroom door is kind of a funny project. The sound of a child screaming from the bathroom fills a parent with the dread of the disgusting. So many times the relief of learning that the screaming was nothing more than a trapped kid that that the bathroom door defect became something of an old friend. I'd grown to love that stuck door for every Mr. Mom meets Tropic Thunder experience it wasn't. I almost didn't want to fix it. Almost...