Sunday, November 30, 2014

Remembering Gene

The reason my posting has been so sporadic over the last few months (and non-existent in the last few weeks) is that my family has been dealing with an eminent loss. Kelley's step-father Gene Saunders has been fighting kidney cancer for a few years, and about 5 weeks ago the doctors at Duke had to tell him that the medication wasn't working to shrink the tumors anymore and they would have to stop treatments. Last Thursday 11/20 he had a heart attack and went into the hospital, and Friday 11/21 he passed away. Gene was married to Kelley's mom for 30 years. Since he was getting treatments at Duke, they came up to our house at least once a month for a few nights and we all enjoyed getting to spend that much time with them. Gene leaves behind one daughter Aimee from his first marriage with two adult grandchildren, and Kelley and her sister are stepdaughters with our three grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by all.

The funeral was on Sunday 11/23 in Newberry SC. Christopher, Aimee's oldest kid, spoke very eloquently about his grandfather. Also Preacher Campbell delivered a grand southern eulogy and sang a couple of old hymns. On Monday 11/24 Gene was buried at the family plot in Troy, NC near his parents and a couple of his brothers. I got to speak and sing there, and Kelley gave one of the most passionate and genuine speeches I've ever heard. She is terrified of public speaking, so that made it even more amazing.  The best way I can think of to mark Gene's passing here is to retell what I can remember of my speech at his gravesite with some pictures of him.

Eating s'mores with a young Evil Genius

Stories about Gene:

I first met Gene when I was still 20 years old, and I'm only a few months away from hitting 40 now. He guided me from being a dumb college kid into a man, then into a parent, always with helpful advice and a steady hand. We treated each other over the years as both a parent/child and as friends, and our time together is something that I will always cherish.

In 1998 I had just graduated college, and Kelley and I were moving from Boone down the mountain to Greensboro. My dad came up to Greensboro to help us unload the uhaul and I told him: "ok, you're going to meet Gene for the first time. This guy has already had 3 heart attacks and it's kind of a hot day today, so I don't think he's going to work us too hard. If we just do what he says we should get out of it without too much damage." Then, everybody met, and we unloaded and unpacked. By the end of the day, Dad and I were both drenched with sweat, our knuckles were dragging the ground, and we were ready to pass out. Finally, Gene said "ok, I guess we can stop now", so Dad said to me "I thought you said he wasn't going to work us too hard because he's already had 3 heart attacks?" and I told him that what we got *actually was* Gene going easy on us.

Most of us will never know what a hard days work looked like to Gene, and that's a blessing. He had an ability to work hard, and lead by example in a way that meant you were going to learn what he was doing while he was doing it, kind of a leadership/teaching hybrid. Pretty amazing skill.

Gene was raised on a cattle farm in Troy NC and then went to NC State. He played football in high school, and was pretty good at it, but most people knew that. However, most people didn't know that he walked onto the NC State football team! Then he walked back off after only two practices because "them boys was huge and I didn't want any part of it" as he told me once. Gene never did back down from a challenge, but he knew when it was in his best interest to back down.

Immediately after graduation, Gene went to work for NC State in the weed control department. His degree was related to farming, and work was all in pesticides and herbicides. We almost didn't get to have Round-Up sold in NC because Gene's group couldn't pass the testing for it. Finally someone did find the product and they were able to pass it on to the Extension Service for testing.

Making pottery with EG
Gene told me one time that the fastest he ever had to fire anyone on the job was only 20 minutes in. Can you imagine? Showing up bright and early for a first day at your new job at 7 am, and then by 7:20 you're already headed back to the unemployment line. Gene just said that he couldn't get any work out of the guy and had no time to waste on it. Crazy!

Gene's comfort zone was always working with his hands. Anything from gardening to making stained glass  or pottery, to playing guitar he could do anything with his hands. Sewing, crochet, woodworking, electrical, plumbing, you name it he could do it. Gene retired when he was only 50, he took off every October for the last 4 years that he worked and went down to Prosperity SC to work on building his house. Once the house was finished, he still had 2 years of vacation time saved up so he cashed in and moved down there. The house he built is an incredible log cabin right on Lake Murray.

I love spending time in other people's comfort zones. Gene and I worked on projects together all the time. Just a few months ago he was in Raleigh for a cancer treatment, and then we were laying hardwood flooring (remember what I said about a hard days work? he never slowed down) that afternoon. Eventually after doing so many projects together you just know what the other person is expecting. We had to step outside to cut the floorboards on his saw, and when we had glued down enough to block access to the door that got interesting. I just spread the next part of the glue, then darted around the house, out the back door, and around to where the saw was. By the time I got there, a board was sitting in an open window waiting for me to cut it. No instruction needed, I made the cuts and handed him the boards he needed back through the window. When I saw he needed more glue down, I came back around the back door and got back on the glue. I doubt that I'll ever have that kind of unspoken communication with anyone else. We just knew the patterns and what the other person needed.

When you got into Gene's comfort zone you learned the simplest way to solve any problem. You learned that any problem can be solved by breaking it down into small, simple solutions.

Gene carving a turkey for Thanksgiving
Words cannot express how much I'm going to miss him or how much I loved him. Gene and I were as close as any other father/son pair out there. I'm grateful for the time we got to spend together and the lessons I learned from him.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Gene was a big fan of traditional country and bluegrass music, so this hymn was an appropriate choice. After Kelley talked we all sang a few choruses of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" to close the ceremony.  After the ceremony we all went back to the old farmhouse where Gene was raised. His brother's son lives there now with his wife. In true southern style, there was a ton of food there including a chicken (and a veggie) pot pie where moonshine was the secret ingredient.  It was amazing.

Kelley, Aimee, Meri, and Neena on the farm

Thank you for all of your kind words and prayers as our family goes through such a difficult time. We all stayed with Neena at the lake house for the rest of the week. Thursday was Thanksgiving at the home of one of Neena's sisters, then Saturday was Neena's birthday. Those have to be a separate post. Now that we're all back in Raleigh and I've been able to collect my thoughts I can realize how much of an impact he had on our lives

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

The youngest brooding teenager ever

Road trip!

Somebody got sick on the ride back home
 We went to visit Kelley's mom & stepdad over the weekend at the lake and had a blast. These car shots were the only pics that I got, however. Solid road trip.

Then for dinner one night earlier this week, we made waffle falafel's! They were actually really good.

It's a falafel waffle

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jumping for Pictures

While we were in Greenville visiting my parents last weekend, someone had told Mom about a place called Sky Zone. It ended up being a real highlight of the weekend for pictures! This place was amazing. It has zones set up for different trampoline fun. The ones they were not interested in included dunking a basketball after jumping or playing dodgeball on a trampoline floor. They did however completely flip out over the foam pit and the trampoline floor!

The floor and walls are all trampolines

the action shot!

Evil Genius getting in on the action too

Daddy get this jump!

This may be my favorite. Running? that hair?  come on.

running to the wall

and running back

sad EG

Bounce and jump into the ball pit!

Ella got pretty good going into the foam pit!

EG got the hang of it too

it was a giant foam pit

We all had a great time in the Sky Zone and the kids have been talking about it all week. Afterwards they were so worn out they were actually well behaved.

The entire weekend was a blast. We had a lot of fun with my parents, I got to visit with my best friend from high school for a bit, and we got to hang with Morgan and Martha saturday night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The time I took the podium!

We finally found a good weekend to get back down to Greenville and visit my parents and it turned out to be a blast! Once we decided to go, I stumbled across the Dean Batson Legacy 5k going on up in Travelers Rest SC. There was a 10k going on too, but I wanted to try and push the speed a bit. In past years there has been kind of a small field so I figured why not, go for it.

Saturday morning turned out to be pretty brisk, sunny but temps in the low 40's. Perfect day to run hard. 

I was the douche with an Ironman visor at a 5k race. Didn't plan that.

And when I say there was a small field, I mean it was like

The entire field
That's the parking lot and the starting line and most of the field gathered before the race. Lucky for me, none of the fast people showed up to play.

Except this guy
The 10k took off at 9 am from that parking lot.  The few people that stuck around for the 5k milled and talked, and I got to hang out with some really friendly people. Finally we all lined up, and the front row ended up being a bunch of kids.  Good to see the high schoolers out there, apparently there was a bunch of kids from one swim team that signed up.  I kind of got back into the 2nd row of people. 

Of course then we took off and I passed most of the high school kids. 200 yards into the race I could count 7 people in front of me. I brought the Garmin with me, but the battery was dead so it wouldn't turn on. Some young people just took off really quick, and I paced off of this older guy who seemed to be huffing and puffing pretty hard. I didn't expect he would be able to hold up with that breathing pattern, and surely some of the younger folks would falter as well. His garmin buzzed at the 1 mile mark, but the course wasn't marked at all, so I remarked that the mile seemed to go by pretty quickly. That mile was mostly downhill.

Mile 2, however, quickly turned back uphill. There was a few steep climbs to get up, and some nice descents. Even a flat spot right around the 2nd mile marker that let the legs spin out pretty good. The old guy kept his pace going up that hill and I never caught him again.  Sure enough, there were a few of the young people on the side of the road too. Then we turned onto the Swamp Rabbit trail, a mixed use rail-to-trail conversion. So it was nice and flat compared to the rest of the course, and before I was really expecting it, the finish line was in sight.

Oddly, being that close to the front was fairly demotivating. I knew I wasn't going to put up a blazing fast time thanks to the hills out there, and there was nobody close enough in front of me to catch, and nobody that was going to pass me if I didn't put up a strong finishing kick. So I just held my pace and cruised in.  Somebody told somebody else they were close to the front overall, but I had no idea what that meant for me.  I got passed by a girl and a 10k runner in the last quarter mile or so, but I thought with such a small field the best I could hope for was an age group award an neither one of those people would affect that.

Turns out, I finished the race in 23:40, not blazing but not too bad. And that was good enough to get me the 3rd place male award! Yes, that's overall male, not age group. I got beaten by a 13 year old and a 66 year old and that was it.  Well, actually there were also 2 girls that finished ahead of me as well. So 5th overall, 3rd male, and won my age group. Of course the race was so small there were no actual awards. Every finisher got a medal but that was it. 72 total finishers, 28 male finishers, and I will gladly take a podium spot any way I can get it.

The coolest part about this race is that the Dean Batson foundation provides support for individuals fighting cancer, and this time they chose my friend Susan as the recipient of the fundraising behind this race! I didn't know that before getting to the starting line. I do like that the foundation supports individual local people instead of just donating the money to research, that is a neat concept. Susan races on the Rev3 Age Group team and we've done a few races together. I even used some of her pictures in my Lake Logan race report earlier this year. It was great to see the support that this organization was giving my friend.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The New Outdoors

Leave it to Evil Genius. She has actually found a way to redefine "outside". Recently she's been getting more paranoid about spiders and bugs, so we apparently found what she was looking for in a Bass Pro Shop that opened recently in Cary. This place is huge, and as far as giant specialty retail stores go this one is really on top of the game.  They loved all of the food products and toys, but when we made our way to the back of the store they went absolutely nuts.

The aquarium was about 10' tall, plus the waterfall going down into it

Kelley is getting attacked by a stuffed bear!

Ella isn't scared of the bear

that's as close as she would come to the head
some of the fish in that aquarium were huge! It has several striped bass that were over 18" long. So EG's favorite version of the outdoors is actually indoors. There are taxidermied animals throughout the store, and of course all of the hunting and fishing supplies you could hope for. They had a blast, and all we ended up buying was a couple of moon pies.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Winter is Coming

Maybe it's already here! 36* when I got in the car this morning to head to work. One thing is for sure, October is gone.  Let's see what happened!

Swim: 10,150 yards, 4 swims
Bike: All doughnuts - nothing
Run: 81 miles, 10 runs, 1 race
Strength: 7 times
Yoga: 17 times

81 miles of running is not bad at all! Of course 31 of that came in the New River Trail 50k, my only race on the month. Also leaves me at 1027 miles on the year, well on pace to hit the 1200 mile goal. It felt great to cross the 1000 mile threshold.  I've been hitting the yoga mat and strength training regularly as well. It felt great to get back in the pool too. Next week (supposed to be this week but the pool had some staffing issues) I get to hit the RAM practice at noon! Ah noon practices are going to be great. I really hope it sticks so I can swim 5 times a week instead of 4 times a month.  10k in the pool is kind of pitiful, but it is an off month for swimming anyway.

As we come into November, the goals go back to family time, building a swimming endurance base, and getting my 100 mile running months in to wrap things up. And some of this:

Totally not a mass murderer

New glasses came in! Hipster frames, but kind of cool I think.

Probably the last garden selfie of the year. Notice the yellow leaves on the muscadine vines in the back

This weekend got interesting, if slightly torturous. Saturday my plan was to take out the baseboard heaters above the floor in the morning, then spend the rest of the day watching college football. There was snow being dumped on the western part of the state, but I didn't expect that storm to affect us at all. So naturally when I thought I was done with the baseboards (and picked a nice batch of Ghost and Habanero peppers)  the power went out for 4 hours. no football for daddy. We decided to kill the time by going to a shopping center to get some dinner and hit the Bass Pro Shops store that recently opened to search for christmas gifts and show the girls the giant stuff inside. So we find a great sports bar that I've heard has great wings, and they've got the Florida - Georgia game on. Alright, here we go. Wait, why is everyone in here wearing florida shirts? If anything is worse than being a Gators fan, it's being surrounded by Gator fans. Evil Genius thought it was too loud for her to enjoy anyway, so we had to get the hell out of there. Again, no football for daddy. We settled on a pizza place. After we got home about 8:30, I finally got some good college football.

Sunday I had an amazing time on the yoga mat, and EG even got in on some of the action with me. Then I got in a nice speedy 10 mile run. After that the plan was to go under the house and free up all of those copper pipes that were feeding the baseboard heating elements I removed on Saturday. Turns out, that was insanely painful. Our crawl space is only about a foot high in some places, so I quickly found myself in a tight spot. That's the top picture above. I threw on the overalls, safety glasses, and Rev3 dust mask and went under the house. Then after a few hours under there, I came out with some copper and lots of new bruises. seriously, I scraped up body parts I didn't know I had. We're going to sell off all of that metal (and copper brings a premium price) to a local recycling center so it will be worth it in the end. I'm just glad to have 4" of floor space back.  And I've never been more glad to see that cubicle on a Monday morning knowing that copper was gone.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Halloween Special

This year we had an amazing Halloween! My mom made their costumes which came out amazing. The kids wanted to go out as Anna and Elsa from Frozen, which was a pretty common costume this year.  But of course, I'm biased that our kids costumes were the best, and they really collected a ton of candy for it.

I showed up to work like this Friday morning! Got a few laughs.

Kelley getting the kids all primped - out of my league

Elsa's white hair was actually a wig and beard from a Moses costume!

Ella wanted to get a selfie before we started trick or treating

The family portrait - might even make a decent Christmas card!

Ella with her haul - 2 buckets worth!

Loot from both kids - insane!
We ended up meeting up with my buddy Tom and his kid who is in Evil Genius's Indian Princess tribe and walking the neighborhood with them. They live just down the street from Kelley's dad. Overall everyone had a blast and we pulled off another solid holiday! Hope yours was just as much fun.