Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sundry Updates

The quit smoking attempt this weekend unfortunately proved to be a bit…premature. I went from 8pm Friday until around noon today without a cigarette but ultimately the desire to light up outweighed my resolved to quit. I certainly do not see this as a defeat or all that substantial of a setback. I’ve now tested my limits and know what I’m capable of, so that’s a good point for refining the technique for changing this unwanted behavior. Tapering off the number of cigarettes per day will have to be an essential component to the process. So in a way, this weekend was but an experiment; one test in a series of many until the wanted conclusion is reached.

So anyway…

I joined Gold’s Gym during my lunch break on Friday and made the first foray there early this afternoon. The size of the crowd was just about where I like it to be: somewhat busy, but not overly so. As I haven’t been to a gym in ages and more or less just went today to familiarize myself with a new gym, I just stuck with a cardio workout today. I’m planning on just doing cardio over the next week or two until I’m a little more back up to speed and then start adding some of the circuit machines to develop more of a routine. I’m targeting two or three sessions a week at the outset as I don’t want to overdo it and burn out. I’m looking at the long-term here. Progress will be slow (and hopefully steady) as long as I stick with it. The goal now is to develop that necessary routine, to get into the habit of taking the time to go on a regular basis.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Note to Self

On the first night of quitting smoking, one should never EVER go out drinking. As all the necessary triggers were.....(for the lack of a better word) triggered, the desire to smoke is almost too great.

Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

To join or not to join....

No, I’m not talking about the military. Nor the Dark Side. Not even some weird religious cult (Growing up in Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches, I‘ve pretty much been down that road. Never again.). Despite my protestations about such things earlier this month, I’m considering joining a gym.

Yeah, a gym.

*pause for laughter to die down*

And it’s not my fault. Really! I was innocently minding my own business at work today when I happed across the latest employee health bulletin about local fitness clubs offering corporate memberships to government employees. On a whim I made a few calls, and before I knew it had set up and appointment to tour the new Gold’s Gym this evening at six. The place was absolutely packed which was both good and bad in the sense that it created a “worst case scenario” on just how busy they can get, particularly in January when all the non-fitness types (such as myself) make halfhearted attempts to get into shape. Even as busy as they were, plenty of machines of sundry types were still available, so this suggests that even at peak time, one could still get in a decent workout without having to wait for a machine.

Other than the crowd, I was rather pleased with the gym, both in terms of equipment, price, and friendliness of the staff. The crowd really doesn’t bother me as I can just avoid the peak evening period by going later, or showing up at 5am before heading off to work. I actually prefer the latter option as I’m usually up that early anyway. And the drive isn’t that bad either. Just about half an hour to get there this evening in rush hour traffic and about 15 minutes to get back home going against traffic. Certainly doable, provided the motivation for such an endeavor doesn’t dissipate after the first two weeks.

Though I was tempted to do so, I did not join tonight. I picked up an information packet and will consider it over the next two or three days so as to avoid the possibility of making a rash decision that I may regret (e.g., joining the gym, but never going. Been down this road as well).

So we shall see......

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Crumbling Wall

A friend will be coming over for dinner around seven, so very shortly I need to get started on the cooking as I'm preparing Italian tonight and everything will be homemade, including the bread. Ugh. That's going to be a chore. But first I'm going to have a coffee and hammer out a few lines on here. This ordered sequence reveals a bit about my daily priorities. Coffee before all else.

I suppose the only real thing of interest is that I finally posted my pic on my blogger profile, an image taken a few weeks ago whilst in Honduras. Not all that significant of an event, really; the only thing it does is personalize the blog just a bit which increases the chances of one of my employees waltzing into the office one moring with a few printed off blog entries. Though I greatly value my privacy, I'm at the point now where I do not particularly care if colleagues know more about me than the carefully-screen infomation I choose to reveal around the office. Maintaining that impenetrable wall of separation between work life and personal life has become tedious and altogether impractical, particuarly considering the extent to which I've carried it in the past. While I'm certainly not going to make my personal life a topic of conversation around the office, I'm no longer going to worry too much if a few breaches occur in that wall. So I suppose as insignificant as posting my pic on here is, it's symbolic in many ways of a certain course shift in the river of my thinking.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thursday Evening

This spring-like weather has begun to hamper my productivity level at work. Several times today I caught myself staring out the window wishing I was anywhere but there, stuck behind my desk. It’s far too early in the year to have spring fever and I have to remember that February is still a few weeks off and is typically the coldest month of the year for Norfolk. On the rare occasion where we do get snow, chances are it will be February. Or even March.

Speaking of March: I need to get the flights to the Philippines booked within the next few weeks. As it’s looking now, I’ll be spending the latter half of the month there, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to get the trip organized. No matter really, as such preparations will add some excitement to the dreariest of winter months. When I got back from Honduras a few weeks ago, the last thing I wanted to do was head off on another adventure, which is largely the reason I have yet to book the flights. Now that I’ve been home a few weeks and back to the routine, the travel urge is growing again and by the time March rolls around, I’ll be ready to get the hell out of here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

New Years Goals, Two Weeks Late

As the term “resolution” seems too lofty and unobtainable, I prefer the word “goals“ for those things everyone makes for themselves at the start of the year. This is also how I feel about the word “diet” and all of its negative associations. With the latter, I prefer the phrase “modifications in behavior,“ or simply “lifestyle changes” which, though more verbose, is not nearly as offensive a term for the mechanism for weight loss. So today I’m going to prattle on a bit about a few goals I’ve set for the coming year.

1. Financial Details. This is an important goal as I all too frequently “nickel and dime” myself to death. By no means am I wealthy, but given my income versus monthly expenses, I should be able to put a respectable amount into savings each month. This rarely happens. A few dollars here and there may not seem like much at the time, but when considered across the course of several months, it’s rather alarming just how much money I waste on this and that. This past week I started a home budget book in which I track all of my expenses, particularly those incidentals that will add up over the long term. Already I’m not liking what I’m seeing and will implement some “behavior modifications” in the very near future, such as…

2. Smoking. At the moment, I’m running between a pack and a half to two packs a day. Certainly not on track to live very long this way, but when I attach the monetary price tag to this…well, it really hits home. Cigarettes now cost about $3.85 a pack and if you do the math at two packs a day, that’s just over $2,800 a year. This is practically what I paid for the trips to Thailand and Honduras combined (including air fare, per diem, and other incidentals like gifts). I have two boxes of nicotine patches at home, and when the time is right, I’ll begin the smoking cessation process. I suspect this will occur in the not too distant future as I‘m quite over the filthy novelty.

3. Buy a condo or small house. Once I have a better grasp on financial outflow and make the necessary modifications, I’m going to seriously consider buying my own home later in the year. My current lease isn’t up until the end of August, so now is a good time to begin exploring the process. What I pay now in rent is essentially a mortgage payment so why not make the transition to owning my own home. If it doesn’t happen this year, next year is a certainty. Either way, good time to start learning the process.

4. Find a hobby. Over the last couple of years, work and the masters degree have occupied too much of my time, leaving little room for any distraction (e.g., “hobby“) necessary to preserve my sanity save for the occasional trip. With the acquisition of a new digital camera back in December, photography might be a good candidate for a hobby. It doesn’t require a lot of time and provides a nice creative outlet (not that I’m all that creative of a person) when the mood strikes. Joining a gym or fitness center would also be a good distraction, but given my dislike of this, I’m not going to add it to the list. (If I join one and actually GO on a regular basis, so be it, but I’m not going to hold my breath).

5. Be less of a hermit. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I can be very much a recluse when the mood strikes, which seems to occur on a more regular basis than in times past. While I value my own time to read or whatever, it certainly won’t hurt to socialize more. This will require some effort.

6. Learn a foreign language. After several years of vacillation as to what language I should study, I’m going to finally pick one up and stick with it. I explored the possibility of learning Thai last year, but it’s simply not practical. The same goes with Mandarin Chinese. Would love to learn that simply for the challenge it provides. Spanish is the most practical due to the changing demographics of this area and the likelihood of a forthcoming public health project in Central America later this year. I haven’t had any Spanish since high school, but was heartened during the two weeks in Honduras by what actually came back to me even though I haven’t studied it in 17 years. My current employment is reason enough to learn Spanish as no one else in my bureau can speak it despite the ever-increasing need for second language ability in the public health field.

At any rate, these are just some goals for the forthcoming year. Will I accomplish them? Well… we’ll see. The most important (for obvious reason) will be smoking cessation and the financial tracking. I’ll also give the second language a high priority as well due to work implications.

Sunday Morning

We were treated to a dusting of snow last night, which is the first such occurrence in Norfolk this winter. Certainly nothing to get excited about, but white roofs and grassy areas were a treat of sorts when I looked out the window shortly before 4 this morning. Now that the sun is up, it lingers only in a few shady patches. Sure this is hardly worthy of mention, but as I’ve said on here before, snow is a rare thing in this part of Virginia.

Speaking of Virginia…..our new governor, Timothy Kaine, was sworn in yesterday at Colonial Williamsburg. One of the things that particularly impressed me was his emphasis about welcoming all Virginians, including newcomers, to the table of Thanksgiving. At this point, he shifted into Spanish for a part of his inauguration speech (the first ever such bilingual inaugural address by a Virginia governor). Over the last few years, the Commonwealth has experience a large influx of immigrants from Latin America and it was inspiring to see the new governor reaching out to this new, and too often unrecognized, group. The governor espoused the worth of everyone who calls Virginia home and if he follows through with this, it will be a good next four years.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dancing Jaguar

This is a shot of a dancing jaguar relief from the Maya ruins at Copan. The round circles visible on the work would have held jade insets at the time. This is also an original piece of Maya art (note the metal roof that protects the piece from the elements).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Most Memorable Experience....

Of all the experiences that made the two weeks in Honduras a success: the Maya ruins, the wildlife, the whole godfather business, perhaps the most memorable were the “Santa Rounds” on Christmas Eve. I’ve mentioned these before, so I won’t belabor the event here beyond some general observations.

The “Santa Rounds” consisted of two components: prearranged stops (with specific kid’s names on bags) and random distribution. Of the 100+ bags we put together, probably 60 percent were generic boy and girl bags suitable for any random kid we happened across. In many ways, these latter group was more special in that distribution was totally random and the recipients completely surprised by their gift. Most of these kids came from families living in extreme poverty outside of town which made the endeavor all the more worthwhile. We also carried with us that day in the back of the pickup bags of candy we freely distributed to any kids we ran across, particularly groups of them where we didn’t have enough bags to go around. At one point outside of town we were chased some length down a rough, winding trail by a gang of giggling barefoot children to whom we tossed out candy by the hand full. We suggested the driver put some distance between the “sleigh” and the kids lest we have a pint-sized mob scene were they to catch up with us.

I think the following picture sums up well the essence of the “Santa Rounds” endeavor: a random kid happy with an unexpected present. He was among the recipients late that afternoon just across the bridge leading out of town. We parked here in hopes of making that day’s final distributions to kids and families heading back to their homes up in the hills. What the picture cannot capture is the hope, the wish that we were able to make someone’s life a little better for at least one day and what intangible impact, if any, such a little, unexpected gift may make in the long term. As a realist, I’m sure the significance faded for most not long after the fruit and candy were consumed and the toys broken or lost. But perhaps for one or two, the memory will stay with them, possibly dormant for years until maybe..just maybe…they’re inspired to do some small thing that will bring happiness to someone else, even if it is just for a day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Birds: tame or otherwise (mostly otherwise)

This post is for Kim. Below are three images I took whilst at the Bird Park just outside of Copan. In many ways this park serves as a sanctuary for injured birds or those that had been previously mistreated by owners (and subsequenly rescued) and would not otherwise survive long in the wild.

Obviously the first image is that of a barn owl. We have these here in Virginia so it's not all that exotic of an animal. This was, however, the first opportunity I've had to photograph such a beautiful bird.

This next image is a macaw, the national bird of Honduras. I had the luxury of having my finger grabbed by one of these birds at a section of the park where the birds on display were more or less tame. What the guide failed to tell me was that when holding one of these, keep your fingers closed in a fist, otherwise they might just test your mettle. He/she didn't break the skin but left a rather nasty bruise.

This last image is of some sort of toucan (yeah...I'm about as terrible an ornithologist as I am a botanist). I was allowed to enter its cage for photographic purposes, but after the aforementioned macaw biting, I was a bit skittish around this one. He/she was rather curious about the camera.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Random Kid

This is a shot of some random kid I took on my second day in Copan, presumably on his way home to one of the outlying villages in the late afternoon. I thought it was an intersting shot and the kid was delighted to have his picture taken. This was a very common mode of transportation all over Honduras and it was routine to see kids younger than the one pictured clopping by on a horse or donkey.

Copan Ruinas

This is an image of Copan Ruinas, Honduras taken from mountain across the river from the town.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Maya Ruins

Two images of the Maya temple complex at Copan, Honduras taken on 28 December 2005.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Godfather

It’s a good feeling to be home again. This is almost always the case with trips: no matter how much fun traveling abroad is, returning home is always a very welcome thing. There and back again in one piece loaded with souvenirs, pictures, and fond memories that will linger long after the souvenirs are handed out and forgotten and the photos relegated to a CD among a stack of many.

This trip was special in many ways that will be remember for years to come. Sure the Maya ruins were wonderful as was the unique feeling of living in Central America for a couple weeks amidst coconut palms, banana trees, and other botanical/ecological interests of that region. But what will make this trip memorable are the kids: both in the context of the previously mentioned “Santa Rounds” on Christmas Eve and the rather unexpected occurrence of me becoming the godfather to a four week old boy named Kenneth Alejandro Garcia.

The boy’s father, Adan, works as a handyman and night “watchyman” (watchman) at one of the local restaurants we frequented in Copan. Like so many people of his age (early 20s) he only finish the primary school of six years and earns about five dollars a day. However, unlike so many people is age, he’s married and is a responsible father. The norm in this part of Honduras seems to be for guys to father kids here and there with very little interest in the responsibilities that come with such a position. Adan is different. He is devoted to his wife and child; when he’s not working, he’s generally home with them and/or working on his small, one room adobe house where he will raise his family. I met him one of my first nights in Copan and over the course of the vacation we became friends through my host who served as interpreter. Nonetheless, it came as a surprise when he asked if I would be the godfather for little Kenny Alejandro. I’ve never before served in this capacity and wasn’t sure of what expectations it entailed. To buy a little time to think things over, I set up a time a few days later to go out to his house to meet the family.

My take on “meeting the family” turned out to be far different from what Adan evidently had in mind. I expected to meet him, his wife, and Kenny, but when we arrived at his little house on the outskirts of Copan, Adan pretty much had everyone there. His wife and son (expected), as well as his mother and brother, his wife’s blind grandfather, along with other assorted family members whose exact relation escaped me at the time (all unexpected). For them it was a big affair, much moreso than I was expecting. Adan had even dressed up to the best of his ability. Within a moment, my visions of a casual meeting turned into this rather large social event for which I seemed to be the guest of honor. Mind you, this is by no means an attempt at self-aggrandizement. Merely stating the facts and I was certainly uncomfortable in this new situation. I’ve always hated being in the spotlight and all eyes were on me that day. So after the round of formal introductions (in my very bad, broken Spanish) we retired into Adan’s house to get down to the godfather business. As the house had no furniture save for a crude baby crib, some random girl brought in two plastic lawn chairs for us followed shortly thereafter by two small glasses of Coke for my host/interpreter and I. The glass wasn’t necessarily all that clean (ok….I work in public health.. I notice such things), but knowing the significance (both practical and symbolic) that such a refreshment provided by the very poor entails, it was perhaps the best glass of Coke I’ve ever had.

The actual process of becoming godfather was simple. Viewing and playing with the baby amidst some small talk about how handsome he was and so very strong for only four weeks old and how the proud and grateful the parents were about their little gift from God. I told them that I would be honored and humbled to be Kenny’s godfather. This was met with smiles and handshakes and sincere “mucho gracias” and other words of thanks. Certainly very touching for them and to be honest for me as well. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and since that afternoon I’ve been trying to put it all into context, to wrap by brain around this event. I think I understand it better now thanks to subsequent discussions with my host who has lived in Honduras the last seven years and knows better the culture and the people, though it’s still very alien in many ways.

Certainly my godfather status is very significant for them. And not for the potential financial gain either, though that‘s what I originally thought. My host told me that I am under no obligation to send money, though it may be a good idea to send five or ten U.S. dollars maybe once or twice a year, particularly on Kenny’s birthday (Dec 3). The real gain for them is status and prestige. To have a godfather in the United States is very significant, particularly for those living in extreme poverty. I could not send them a dime and it wouldn’t lessen my status as godfather. From taking part in this experience and observing the life and culture down there, I’m going to take my role as godfather as seriously as they do. Though it’s far from any major obligation, financially or otherwise, it’s still a commitment for which I’ll do my best to fulfill.

Late the night before I returned to the States, we ran into Adan seated outside the restaurant where he was serving as night watchyman. He was all smiles, repeatedly shook my hand, and rambled at length about how happy he was, how grateful to have me as not only a friend, but a part of his family. He asked whether I would return to Honduras and when I do, he’ll throw me a fiesta. He spoke away for a very long length of time, and my host had to work to keep up with the translation. As to the impassioned monologue, my host later explained that Adan couldn’t express, didn’t have enough words to convey his appreciation for the godfather business. He was trying in every way possible to convey his sincere appreciation. Though I hate to admit it, I almost became a little misty-eyed at this point. That something I thought was more or less a casual thing could mean so much was touching on many different levels and I don’t know who is more fortunate: Adan’s family or me. Perhaps we both are in our own ways.

Afterwards, as we walked down the street towards home, my host told me that I had made Adan and his family perhaps the happiest people in Honduras. This may be true, but I would certainly count myself up there as well. It’s a newfound connection not only with a young family in a foreign country, but also with reality. When I get distracted with this and that, those little things that somehow receive a degree of attention far beyond their worth, thoughts of little Kenny Alejandro, the smiling mother, and Adan’s heartfelt gratitude will bring me back to what’s truly important in life. The thoughts and feelings of becoming godfather, and the newfound responsibility are the elements of the time in Honduras that will live on in memory long after everything else.