Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who lit the afterburners?

Wow--the pace of life has really taken off during the past couple weeks. It went from being relatively manageable to constant motion. I'm not sure what changed--but something certainly did.

I have a lot to update on--including some new wines (which I will review separately) and some of the hard work we've been doing with the family.

The weather, however, takes center stage. With temperatures in the low 60's and high 50's at night guess about the water temperature in the pool (especially since propane is about $3.00 per gallon)--yup, it is COLD. I haven't been in the pool in two weeks--and that is a real pain to me since it is only August (at least for a couple of days). Where'd summer go? I love my pool and laying on a floatie in the afternoon with a cold drink in my hand.

I finally got the repairs to the wall in the bedroom completed and mounted the new (yes new) TV that Chris bought. Oh yeah, and I ran the wires in the wall to protect the beauty of my repair job. Only trouble is, I didn't get the behind the wall wire requirement until the wall was nearly completed. So that made the job a bit tougher. But it looks good.

Coupled with that, we have finally upgraded to HD Directv. That was an experience. Who would have know all the complexities associated with HD service--I guess after two new holes in the concrete basement walls of the house--and three visits by Directv contractors, I do. Now if I only get enough time to actually watch some sports in HD. Oh yeah--and I have more holes to fill in the walls! Yippeee! I think I'm going to get a part time job as a "mudder."

But I love Directv--you know why? Because it is not Comcast! Nuf said.

So we had a wine party at the house a couple weeks back. It was great fun to have some new and old friends over to enjoy a few bottles of wine around the pool on a great August evening. One wine we tasted was so unique that I will review it soon. I can't recommend it for many people--but it will go great with a dark, smoky barbecue.

Well--I'm sure this stream of consciousness probably lost its focus--but then so has life. Somewhere we need to slow things down a bit and find something elusive called the "perfect present" rather than the frenetic future.

Relax, have a seat, and take a sip of that drink you are holding. Read a book just for kicks and reflect on all of the blessings that God has provided. And that DOES include family, grandkids, and friends--just in the right proportions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday at the Zoo

What a beautiful day it was yesterday, August 17th. I made my first ever trek to the Baltimore (Maryland) Zoo accompanied by the grandsons (a/k/a the dynamic duo of E and Jax), their mother and Chris.

I got to push Jax in the stroller--which really is an RV in disguise. Jax and I had some quality time wandering around looking for the next shade tree--that is until I bored him so much he went to sleep.

I enjoyed the zoo. The shade of the trees made the walk very pleasant. Of course the drive through Baltimore's not so nice side was also interesting, but the zoo is nicely landscaped and the exhibits are well maintained. E and I had fun finding the animals in the enclosures. Seems the zebra had a desire for anonymity and went and hid once we identified him.

The polar bear was very active swimming around her enclosure. She was fun to watch. Finding the arctic fox was fun--he looked liky our cat Louis--a white ball of fluff sleeping in his enclosure.
The African Bird Watering Hole is a unique exhibit and was very enjoyable--although I think E really enjoyed running arounod the outside ofthe enclosure with me chasing him--he even stopped to wait for me when he got "too" far ahead of me,  just to be sure I was still part of the action.

Recommendation: The zoo is a must visit spot while in Baltimore. The walking is easy and although the sun was hot, there are shade trees everywhere. The crowd was light even though it was a Sunday. I'm sorry it took me 13 years to get to the zoo--because as the song says--"it's all happening at the zoo."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Return to the Court and Defeat of the Couch Potato

Ugh! I finally crawled back onto the racquetball court yesterday morning after two weeks of sitting around pretty much doing nothing as I recovered from my medical problem. It was not pretty.

It is amazing how much a body forgets in two weeks about how to make certain shots and how to move--it was a struggle to remind myself how to hold a racquet and how to make certain shots. I mean the really good shots: the roll-outs and the corner kill shots. You have to see them before you take the shot and coming off a recovery the mind is a bit slow and the body a bit uncoordinated so it all doesn't flow together.

Thankfully, the guy I was playing hadn't played in two weeks either and I was competative--even winning both games we played. (We usually play three or four games--that's how bad it was) Although I suffered a strained muscle for my efforts--serves me right for getting sick in the first place.

But, the games were not against him--but rather against the lethargy of my own body. And I am happy to report that lethargy lost! By the end of the second game--strained muscle and all, things were coming back together. But all during that first game I kept wondering exactly why I force myself onto the court at 5:30 AM.

Saturday morning I was able to watch pros play racquetball on TV. (couch potato alert) I deluded myself into believing that I could make some of their shots--which I can, just not with the consistency they do. Pro Open racquetball is a lot different from the much tamer variety I play. The rules are a bit different too.

But I don't have dreams of ever becoming a pro racquetballer. I play just to keep one step ahead of becoming a permanent couch potato. And I can veggie out with the best of them--just ask my wife.

So, tomorrow morning, ugh, I will force myself out onto the court again to keep moving and hopefully regain some of the conditioning I lost over the course of the past couple weeks. And believe me--I really do love it!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yellowfin Steak & Fish House Review

The Yellowfin Steak & Fish House in Edgewater, Maryland was the chosen location for our anniversary dinner. We selected this restaurant for our very special dinner based upon the recommendation of our daughter and her husband--they had recently celebrated their anniversary there.

Making reservations was a breeze--just do it from the website--nothing could be easier. The location on the water in Edgewood at a marina provides a fabulous view of the river and is a great backdrop for dinner. Ask for a table by the windows (to better enjoy the view). 

Although reservations were easy, parking is at a premium. Be prepared to park on the street leading under the bridge. It is a short walk, but parking in the main lot, which is shared with the marina, is tight.

The facility is pleasant and nicely abuts the water. The service during our meal was superior. We had a reservation, arrived early and were seated immediately on a Saturday night and were lucky enough to get a window seat looking out on the river.

The wine list is sufficient and has a good selection of wines at moderate prices. We chose a Pinot Grigio,  Ecco Domani, to have with our meal since we wanted something light and European to compliment our fish dishes. We were not disappointed.

I chose the Japanese Sea Bass which was excellent. The presentation was especially nice and the entree had a nice light flavor. The hot potatoes and broccoli were done to perfection. Chris chose the Bang Bang Mahi Mahi--the entree again was tasty and nicely presented with good flavor; however the rice was very dry. Her asparagus was excellent, however.

We were treated to a dessert, we told them it was our anniversary and they provided the dessert totally unexpectedly. We also enjoyed coffee after dinner. It was a very nice dinner and very enjoyable.

Recommendation: Definitely a place to visit again. Thoroughly enjoyable meal in a comfortable setting with a dynamic view at reasonable prices.

It's All Happening at the Fair

Friday night at the Howard County Fair was fun and spectacular again this year. The price was right ($5) and going with Nicole and the boys made it all the more fun. Ethan had his face painted to look like a tiger and he was cute. Jackson was all about the sights and the sounds of the fair.

We checked out the livestock to get in touch with our farming roots. I admit, I love the smells of the cow barns as they remind me of growing up in rural Central New York near a lot of dairy farms. It's not a nice smell--just familiar and reminds me of a time in my life when I really didn't worry about tomorrow--I was more in the moment and concerned about the day. But that's the way kids are supposed to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chris return to her childhood by riding all of the kiddie rides with Ethan. I've been warned that when Ethan is ready for the wild rides that involve hanging upside down or rocketing through the universe at warp speed that he will be my ride-along responsibility--but until then she is happy to do the more tranquil rides. Just don't do a lot of spinning as the chum starts soon after.

Jax though--now that is where the fun will be. He is just itching to be mobile to run circles around his big brother--and big brother doesn't have a clue. Jax watches everything--and figures it out all on his own. He is going to be fast when he finally gets mobile. Look out!

All-in-all it was an enjoyable fair--the Maryland State Fair should be equally as fun.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday of a week of recovery

Well it was one of those weeks. I have been on the mend all week and haven't really strayed much outside the home in an effort to recover from my hospitalization last weekend.  Even my doctor told me not to play racquetball this week--so I have been pretty sedate--and it seems the more sedate I am, the more sedate I want to be. In fact, I could curl up right now and take a nap!

But the weekend activity schedule is looking up--Howard County Fair tonight, dinner for our anniversary (yes it is number 33) tomorrow night on the bay at Yellowfin Steak and Fish House and Sunday should be fun with the family again as schedules return full-bore to normalcy.

The weekend weather promises to be excellent--so we should have a lot of fun.

Last night was nice--we did Friday Night Happy Hour and Dinner on Thursday because some of our group is headed off to Canada today. We had an 11 year-old bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon which was extremely smooth and really lived up to its age. I'm not going to review it because, well, it's not available anymore so why rub your nose in it? But, I was reminded that when a good wine ages, it really does get very smooth and enjoyable.

I think I finally settled up with my insurance company on the vandalism from early June. That was no small task. I have a sense their job is to let me do all the work and for them to sit back and tell me what they are not going to cover. Actually, when it is all said and done they did pretty good by me. It was just a lot of leg work and research.

OK--I'm ready for the weekend, how about you? Why wait for 5 o'clock? I know it's 4 o'clock already somewhere!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cannonball 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a very interesting wine--not your traditional Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is bottled by Cannonball Wine Company of Middletown, CA.

This is a very complex, fruit forward Cab which starts with a strong and pleasant nose and lingers on the palate. The wine is 89% cabernet sauvignon and 11% syrah.

The label describes the wine as: "Exploding with black cherry, wild berry fruit and notes of chocolate and oak, the rich texture lingers long with a bright fresh finish."

I enjoyed this wine. It is one of those wines which allow you to enjoy each aspect of the wine to then appreciate the whole wine as a package. In addition to the tasting notes on the label, I tasted a hint of black pepper.

The syrah adds the zing and excitement to the cabernet sauvignon, and being a huge fan of syrah/shiraz anyway, it really added to my tasting experience with this wine.

This is a stand alone and wine and cheese kind of wine. It is a bit too fruity for heavy meals.

Recommendation: A solid house wine for treating friends. At about $15 (or less) this is a very enjoyable wine and will be an ice breaker for discussion.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Team Leader Feedback - Use It!

A strong leader always seeks feedback. And not just from the traditional sources. 

Leaders expect to get feedback from their superiors--it is part of the process. Really good leaders find ways to get unvarnished feedback from their team and even from their peers--whether through formalized 360 degree assessments or through informal actions. Really exceptional leaders also geet feedback from outsiders and customers and then do a remarkable thing--they use it to their advantage.

The key is getting the feedback and making it useful.

Feedback often is not "nice" and may not make us feel too good about ourselves--especially the informal kind that comes from non-traditional sources. It often leaves us saying: that's not me, or  looking for reasons why the view presented is skewed or does not match with reality. Our nature is to discard feedback inconsistent with our view of the team or ourselves.

I recently received feedback from a promotion cycle which was not consistent with independent feedback I had received from two other sources. It was painful to read (as it was all distilled down) that I was considered qualified in the only area the other two sources noted as my weakest area and that I was not considered qualified in areas considered my strongest--and in which I had received validation only months before from another official government process that I was considered fully qualified in all areas.

Am I going to discard the feedback because it is inconsistent? No. I'm trying to understand the differences and use the feedback to make me more competative the next time around. The feedback is valid, but was unexpected. I need to use the feedback to improve myself and to ensure my qualifications more clearly match the standards.

Team leaders need to do the same type of assessment. When seemingly inconsistent feedback is received (good or bad--the key is inconsistent) consider it valid and take action. There is something of value which will make the team stronger by working on it.

The easy way out is to say, well we know this isn't valid because of (and then begin listing everything that says the feedback is not valid). But in fact, for the person or agency which provided the feedback, the feedback is valid and it is our job as leaders to figure it out and find the nuggets which will make the team (and ourselves as leaders) stronger.

Sometimes it's not pretty!  It is definitely not fun.  But leaders have to ask: Why is this true? What can I do about it? Do I need to do anything about it?

Seek feedback on yourself, your team, your product, your processes and then use it to make a positive difference.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Looking Out of the Hospital Room Window

It was a wild ride from Tuesday to Sunday. Friday night I was looking out of a window from the fourth floor of Howard County General Hospital. It was my first (and thankfully as it turned out, only) overnight in a hospital as a patient for other than an elective procedure. I was hooked to an IV pumping antibiotics into my arm to kill some then unknown bug that had gotten into my blood--I knew the medical terms for what the doctors thought we were fighting, but frankly it was all making my head swim. I was in, as it was explained to me--for the weekend until they were sure that the treatment plan would work against the infection raging in me.

My family had surrounded me with an inspiring amount of love. And when I say my family, I mean my whole, large extended family. With my wife leading the charge--and each of my children and their families, and my parents and each of my siblings and their families, friends and coworkers--I was surrounded and encouraged with love and prayer from an army of prayer warriors.

Looking out of the window it was a surreal. I actually felt better Friday when the doctors admitted me than I had in about three days. I had been to the emergency room Wednesday night--being released from there about 3AM Thursday morning. And Thursday I was a mess and really felt bad--but the treatment began to take hold and Friday as I was admitted to the hospital about 7AM, I actually felt much better and almost normal.

By Friday night--after my family gathered for Chipolte dinners around my hospital bed, I was feeling really good--but also, based upon some preliminary internet research we knew that this was a very real concern from a medical standpoint. If the treatment plan was not correct, I could be in a lot of trouble very quickly. Sometimes the internet can tell you more than you really want to know. And it is interesting that as each one searched (because of course I didn't have internet access in the hospital) some new piece of information emerged to help us grasp the strategic understanding of the fight we had been engaged in at the tactical level.

The staff of the hospital was fantastic. They provided information and assistance at every juncture and went out of their ways to help us through the long day Friday while we were in the ER waiting for a bed on the floor. We even secured a couple of hall passes to roam a bit--always with the promise of returning in about 5 minutes.

As I was looking out of the window Friday night, I wondered how long and was thinking it could be till Monday. I tried to figure out what may have caused the condition--still don't know and that becomes the subject of probably a number of tests over the next couple weeks. There were a lot of unknowns--but although I felt a bit trapped, I knew there were a lot of things I was sure of. Chief among them was love from everyone--family, friends, coworkers.

As it turned out, the doctors chose the right course of treatment from the start (at least as of this writing) and through no small miracle, I was released Saturday afternoon to continue treatment at home with the promise that I would stay at home and be quiet until Monday when I was cleared to return to work.

The fight is not over--but right now the tide has turned and the bug is on the run. The medicine, the prayers, and the grace of God are winning. My job is to continue to let those flow through me and not do something stupid which will cause a set-back.

Thank you everyone for your love, prayers, and concern.
My Zimbio
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