Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hello, is this thing on?

Holy crap! I just realized that it's been almost a year since my last blog post on here. Sorry I've been away so long!

So much has happened in that time, but the highlight is that I became certified as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and am now gainfully employed in the fitness industry, in a second career that I truly love. After passing an exam next month I'll earn another certification as a health coach (what the American Council on Exercise used to refer to as a lifestyle & weight management consultant). This certification focuses on more of the behavioral aspects of health and fitness, like why do people make excuses to not take proper care of themselves, and how can I as a health coach help them see ways around those excuses? Really fascinating stuff.

I love working with my clients at Bay1 Fitness and helping them achieve their goals, whether it's developing their deltoids or gearing up to climb a mountain. Every day is different and brings new challenges, I have some flexibility with my training schedule, and the pay is decent - I couldn't ask for much more out of a midlife career change!

At some point my goal is to combine my fitness knowledge with my media expertise (oh, don't worry - I ain't giving up that part of my life any time soon!) and start doing some videos, podcasts, etc. about health and fitness. I like to call that dream job "fitness media consultant". When that happens you, my Blue Sky Blog fan, will be among the first to know.

'Til next time, stay healthy and happy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A death in the "family"

Earlier today, after the news broke that legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died at age 85, I realized that it's already been almost six months since I headed back from San Francisco to Happy Valley for my graduation ceremony.  Yet in that brief time the tight-knit Nittany Lion community has been sucker-punched again and again and again.  And it's excruciating every time.

I've previously discussed on this blog what is now unfortunately known as the "Penn State scandal", and of course my heart goes out to Jerry Sandusky's victims.  I do believe that Joe had a serious lack of judgement in that horrific situation.  In his last interview before his death he admitted as much himself.  So I do not examine his life and death solely through the perspective of hero worship, as so many at Penn State seem to do.  Frankly I'm proud of the critical thinking skills that I gained and developed during my studies there.  And as is common in most situations in which critical thinking comes into play, this was hardly a cut-and-dried, black-and-white situation.

Steve and I have often had the discussion over the years that once Joe stepped away from the football field, no matter what the circumstances might be, he would soon lose his life's purpose -- his will to live -- and would be gone within a short period of time.  Little did we know how swiftly that end would come, and how much more tragic than necessary that end would be.  Many people have speculated, and I agree, that in large part Joe Paterno died of a broken heart.

To those who conclude that Joe's decades-long legacy of good should be wiped off the map, I believe that you could not be more wrong.  It's so much more complicated than that.  Many outside of the Penn State community simply cannot grasp how important Joe was to the university.  He was way more than just its winning football coach -- he was its heart and soul.  He donated millions of dollars to the university's library, a wing of which is named in his honor.  Not an athletic facility, mind you -- a library.  That was where his priorities lay.  And although we may have trouble comprehending his actions in connection to the scandal, we still love him.

Look at it this way -- say your grandfather gets behind the wheel of a car, takes his eye off the road for a second, runs a red light and hits and kills a pedestrian.  A horrifying (and in this case potentially criminal) lapse in judgement leads to a profoundly sad conclusion.  Do you then simply stop loving your grandfather?  Do you cut him out of your life forever?  Or do you attempt to support him, even though you cannot wrap your head around what has happened?  Today, although both of my grandfathers were long gone by the time I was born, I mourn as if I've lost the grandfather I never had.

Furthermore, to those who self-righteously condemn Joe for not stopping the evil in his midst and therefore believe he should be damned to hell himself, I ask this -- what have you done to stop evil today?  Are you any less of a flawed human being than me?  Or Joe?  What right does any one of us have to throw stones without taking a good, long look in the mirror first?

My wish for Joe is that history recognizes his contributions to the betterment of Penn State in particular and to society as a whole, and that his remarkable life will not be judged on its heartbreaking end.  I share my sincerest condolences with the entire Penn State family, and I so wish that I could be back in State College to grieve with you in person.  Sadly this blog will have to convey my long-distance sorrow, but my heart is definitely with you.  At the candlelight vigil at Old Main.  At the growing pile of flowers at Joe's statue outside of Beaver Stadium.  At the library that bears the Paterno name. That is his true legacy.

Rest in peace, Joseph Vincent Paterno.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A December to remember

Happy holidays!  Okay, right off the bat -- I hope the title of this post didn't mislead you into thinking that I'm going to give you an exorbitant luxury car with a big red bow on it.  No, it's just my way of summing up a month that... well, let's just say bring on 2012, okay? 

December started off uneventfully, but I woke up on Sunday, December 4th feeling really lousy -- zero appetite, totally exhausted, feeling like I was getting a cold.  After sleeping half the day away, I awoke the next day with the same symptoms but now with an added bonus -- an odd pain in the right side of my abdomen.  Uh-oh... is this what appendicitis feels like?  I dunno, I've never had it before!  But the pain didn't have me doubled over or anything, it was just... weird.  So I vowed that if I still felt bad the next day I'd make an appointment with my primary care doctor, which I did for the following afternoon (Wednesday).  My doc, who I love dearly, wasn't available, so I saw her nurse-practitioner -- a rather brusk Russian woman who, upon hearing my symptoms, was convinced that I had a case of salmonella!  That sure didn't seem right to me, so I started asking, "Could it be my appendix?"  She stuck to her salmonella guns and was about to write me a prescription for an antibiotic when I adamantly suggested that she really should be checking my appendix. Her response: " (sigh) Okay, lie back on the exam table." Her: Poke, poke, poke. Me: "Ow! Ow! Ow!"

Suddenly she sent me across the street to the hospital for a STAT CT scan, then it was right back across the street to my doc (who. thankfully, was now in the office) to get the results -- congratulations, it's appendicitis!  (Oh, and a kidney infection to boot.)  Once again across the street to the ER, where I was admitted pronto, and a few hours later I was sans appendix.  Quite the whirlwind! 

Fortunately I bounced back from the surgery really quickly, with a little help from Vicodin and a lot of support from Steve.  I have a negligible 1 1/2-inch scar thanks to the expert work of my surgeon, Dr. Maki.  Even my nurses were remarking how teeny the incision was!  Within a week I had my surgical follow-up, which I passed with flying colors.  I felt fabulous!  And I was jonesing to get off my butt after doing pretty much nothing for a week and a half, so Dr. Maki cleared me for light exercise (walking, jogging, light weights).  I immediately treated myself to a 30-minute walk on a gloriously sunny afternoon.  Life was great! 

Wouldn't you know it?  The very next day I awoke with a wicked cold, which turned into my annual bout of laryngitis, which meant missing more work on top of the four days I had already missed due to the surgery.  But it was more than work that I was missing -- I  was stuck sleeping through all of the holiday hustle and bustle that we often complain about every December but, deep down, would be bummed about not being a part of.  Regrets were sent for holiday party invitations, Christmas cards remained naked and unsent, our apartment treeless and devoid of its usual holiday decorations.  Bah humbug.

Well, I'm pleased to announce that I'm feeling much better, just fighting through the last stubborn vestiges of my cold and now finally, on Christmas Eve, I'm jumping into the holidays with gusto!  Before I left for work today I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and the yummy beginnings of what will become candy cane truffles!  Yep, my inner Martha has been pent up all this time and ain't nobody gonna keep her down!

So if you were expecting me at your yuletide party or you were wondering why you didn't get my annual Christmas card, I hope you understand.  A big thanks to all of my family and friends who weighed in with well wishes.  And while December has more or less sucked for me until now, there were some amazing bright spots earlier in 2011.  Among them were my long-overdue graduation from Penn State and my joy in witnessing Steve triumphantly take on a second career in the wine industry.  And my fingers are crossed that I just may have a major announcement after the new year!  Can't say any more now, but check in same blog time, same blog station.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays... am I missing anything?  Oh yeah, thanks for reading my blog. :-)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"May no act of ours bring shame..."

One of the many long-standing traditions at Penn State is a joke that centers around the singing of the university's alma mater, titled "For the Glory of Old State".  The song is played at every home football game, but the running gag is that nobody knows the lyrics.  So they sing the proper melody but they substitute the phrase, "We don't know the goddamn words".  Today at Beaver Stadium, prior to the start of the Nittany Lions' moving first game since news broke of the devastating child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation, everyone knew the words.

I have to admit that I didn't know the words either, that is until my commencement ceremony this past August -- the lyrics were printed in the program for our convenience.  Not long after I had walked to the stage and accepted my degree with a handshake from PSU president Graham Spanier (a thought that now makes my blood run cold), I stood in my cap and gown to sing the song.  One line that struck me was, "May no act of ours bring shame, To one heart that loves thy name".  I cannot begin to explain the deluge of emotions that Penn Staters have experienced over the past week, but shame is certainly one of them. 

Shame that supposedly responsible adults could exhibit such profoundly poor judgement as to place the reputation of a university and its football program above the safety of innocent children.  Shame that so-called men, all fathers and grandfathers, did nothing to stop crimes so heinous that I either become nauseous or cry (or both) every time I read about them.  Shame that a strapping 28-year-old 6' 4" former quarterback could somehow not muster the courage to bust into the shower, tear a young boy away from a 58-year-old monster and pull him to safety, then report the incident to the police.  Shame that a legendary coach who, both on the field and off, had done enough good for three universities will now go down in history as one who turned a blind eye to the evil in his midst.

Yes, Joe Paterno is/was beloved.  I've been a lifelong devoted fan of his.  But he did the legal bare minimum in reporting the 2002 assault to his "superior", athletic director Tim Curley -- he fell inconceivably short of meeting his moral obligation.  Um, by the way, anyone with a smidge of common sense knows that JoePa really ran the university, and wielded enough power that had he truly wanted to he could have pressured the right people to ensure that the incident was being investigated, or at the very least could have inquired about the welfare of a 10-year-old boy who was witnessed being brutalized in his locker room shower.  It was with very conflicted emotions that I realized that the university's Board of Trustees had to make the painful choice to fire Coach Paterno.  I realize that there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree with me.  Some of them were unable to set aside their hero worship long enough to formulate an objective opinion and vented their outrage by rioting on campus.  Of course, they're the ones who showed up on cable news coverage representing Penn State to the entire nation.  Gee, thanks morons.

There was far more airtime devoted an estimated 20-30 idiotic rioters than to the 10,000 peaceful students, faculty, and community members who crowded onto the lawn of Old Main for Friday night's candlelight vigil in honor of the victims.  That, sadly, is the nature of our sensationalistic 24-hour news cycle world.  And as the days, weeks, and months progress, those same news outlets will be filling their airwaves with any scrap of speculation and innuendo that they can get their ratings-hungry hands on.  I fear that the worst of this horrible scandal is yet to come.  Believe it or not, it's going to get even uglier.

So today, when the Nittany Lion football team took the field to play Nebraska, their first game since the unthinkable news shattered Happy Valley, outsiders slammed Penn Staters for continuing to glorify their football program.  I'm extraordinarily proud of our team for picking up the pieces and doing what they do with grace and dignity.  Why on earth should the players who've worked so hard to get where they are be penalized for the actions (or inactions) of others that they had nothing to do with?  How much do the critics want the university to suffer?  How can they justify using the misdeeds of a handful of men to judge some 95,000 current students and nearly a half-million alumni?  Oh, but they do.  And that hurts all of us who love Penn State.  But obviously those who suffer the deepest wounds are the victims and their families.  Eight boys that we know of were abused, but that number is already rising.   There are enough unanswered questions to fill a very sordid book.

I've been wanting to blog about my feelings around the scandal but every time I was about to start I would read someone else's writings that were so heartfelt, so eloquent, so poignant, that I felt my words couldn't do the issue justice.  But finally the time came for me to just spill -- I needed to get this stuff out of my system.  I want to thank my many friends who have checked to see if I'm okay in the wake of this mess.  It'll take time, but I'll be fine, as will Penn State.  Well, that may take lots of time.  But we should be the least of your worries.  We all must join together to make certain that no child suffers in silence again. 

May no act of ours bring shame.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I remember my first time in New York City, in 1982.  It was a high school orchestra trip to Lincoln Center to hear a matinee performance of the New York Philharmonic.  As our tour bus crept through the jammed streets we slowly passed by two identical buildings, so massive that I nearly strained my neck trying in vain to look up to take in their full height.  I remember being amazed, and I vowed that one day I would return to view the expanse of the Big Apple from the towers' upper floors.

I remember waking up on the morning of September 11, 2001.  I had a hardcore gym habit then, so I normally got out of bed around 5:30 to workout before I headed in to do my midday show.  For some reason, on this Tuesday, I decided to skip my workout and sleep in a little longer.  I lay in bed for 15 minutes or so, but I couldn't get back to sleep, so I turned on CNN.  I remember smoke, flames, and not believing my eyes. 

I remember being riveted to the TV and watching in horror as the second plane hit.  Jolted by the realization that they probably needed all hands on deck at the station, I rushed to shower and dress so I could get to work early.  As I was getting ready Steve walked into the bedroom with a look of gloom and announced, "One of the towers just collapsed."  I would never have the opportunity to climb to the top of those towers after all, as I had vowed nearly 20 years earlier, but that was by far the least of my worries.  I remember my heart sinking.

I remember my Muni ride to work, the headphones on my tiny radio blocking out the noise around me.  Only there was no noise around me -- the other passengers on the bus were stunned silent.  I was glued to KCBS, the local news station, which was now simulcasting its sister station from New York, WINS.  Every minute or two the jarring music used to announce breaking news made my heart beat faster.  Bulletin after bulletin, each bit of information more excruciating to hear than the last.  The first reports came of people jumping from the upper floors of the Twin Towers to escape the flames.  I remember desperately fighting back tears.

I remember arriving at Z95.7 to complete chaos as everyone struggled to keep up with the deluge of information, trying to sort fact from fiction.  Gene & Julie, our morning team, were making a valiant effort to try to make sense of it all for our listeners -- while struggling to make sense of it themselves.  I walked into the on-air studio and Julie asked me, "Can you believe what's happening to our country?"  I remember being speechless.

I remember going on the air at 10am, my control board littered with whatever scraps of paper I could grab to jot down information that was now flooding into the studio.  The airports were closing.  The Golden Gate Bridge, a potential target for the terrorists, was also closing.  Government buildings were shutting down and sending employees home early.  Somehow I got through those five hours in one piece.  I remember feeling completely drained at the end.

I remember my Muni ride back across town to get home, once again glued to KCBS.  Downtown San Francisco was a ghost town because all of the offices had closed, as its Financial District was also feared to be a target.  For the entirety of my ride home, during what would normally be a busy rush hour, I was the sole passenger on my bus.  I remember feeling really unsettled by that.

I remember being on the air the next day, fielding phone calls from listeners.  They were confused, afraid, angry.  But I most remember one particular phone call from a college student who was being harassed on campus simply because she was a Muslim, her tormentors operating under the twisted logic that all Muslims were terrorists.  I remember the pain in her voice, and the anger I felt on her behalf.

I remember going home that day, turning on CNN -- unable to turn away from the horrific video that seemed as if it were on an endless loop.  I had USA Today spread out on the coffee table, reading about the lives of the victims that had been identified thus far.  I was on the couch sobbing inconsolably as Steve arrived home from work that evening.  I remember him closing the newspaper and turning off the TV.

I remember how, in the ensuing days, so many Americans came together to do what they could to help.  Local blood donation centers were so crowded that people had to be turned away.  A handful of us from "the Z" went to Oakland City Center to hand out small American flags, and the line stretched down the block.  I remember feeling a glimmer of hope amidst the tragedy, and that hope is what keeps us going ten years later.

Always hold onto that hope.  And always remember.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Milestones and memories: The final chapter

Our bellies egregiously full of grilled stickies a la mode, Steve & I piled in the car to leave Happy Valley and continue on my graduation trip through Pennsylvania.  Next stop: Lewisburg, a little over an hour away from State College, to reconnect with two couples with whom we've been longtime friends but hadn't seen in forever.

First we stopped at Mike & Cara's house. You know those friends who, although it's been eons since you've been together, you can pick up your easy conversation like you just saw each other yesterday?  That's the way it was with us -- so cool to hang with smart, funny, truly good people!  (And their two cats, which made us miss our kitties back home.) The four of us moved on to to a restaurant where Mark & Mary Anne joined the festivities.  M&M once owned the radio station where Mike, Steve & I worked in the early '90s, and we still have a business relationship with them today.  After a blast over drinks and some surprisingly good fish & chips -- and glaring looks from the restaurant staff who were annoyed that we had lingered so long -- we parted ways with M&C and set out into the countryside to spend the night at M&M's home -- a 1790 farmhouse that they've lovingly restored into a real showplace.

Imagine the coziest, homiest bed-and-breakfast you can, with plush, comfy furnishings, piles of pillows, and impeccably chosen antiques all around. A log home surrounded by serene woods made greener and lusher with the recent rainfall.  Paradise, right?  Yes, Mark & Mary Anne live in their own Pennsylvania paradise.  Oh, did I mention the tricked-out gourmet kitchen?  My Food Network fantasy come to life!  The four of us enjoyed some more beverages, reminisced, and engaged in some passionate but civilized political debate.  Yes, Steve & I do know that conservatives exist --  we just don't run into many in San Francisco!

It was back to Steve's parents' house near Philly the next day, taking the backroads rather than the busy turnpike.  There we bonded with our niece Carrie and her adorable 15-month-old daughter Maddy, who we were meeting for the first time. Gary & Cindy (Carrie's parents), who had been with us at commencement, brought pizzas and we sat out in the carport and chatted.  At one point Maddy (who I had been warned was clinging to Mommy and might not warm up to anyone else) reached out from Carrie's lap and came right over to me!  Just as I was turning her to face forward so Steve could get a picture, she reached back for Mommy.  So despite a lack of photographic evidence, I proved that I'm capable of handling a small child for a grand total of three seconds, which for me is quite the accomplishment.

On the road again the next morning for our final stop, just what the doctor ordered to conclude our whirlwind tour.  We drove to the Jersey Shore for some long-overdue beach time, thanks to Steve's sister Kathy's generous offer for us to crash at their rental house a block from the beach.  It's an annual trip for Kathy, her husband Mike, and their daughters Kelly & Katie (and now their husbands, Derek & Jake respectively), and since it coincided with my graduation they invited us to join them.  After a rain-shortened stay on the sand on Day One we returned to the house to eat, drink, catch up, eat some more, drink some more, drink some more... well, you get the idea.  Kelly & Derek are expecting a baby in January, and because she was still so early in her pregnancy they were jokingly referring to the baby as The Sea Monkey.  (We found out the following week that it's a boy Sea Monkey!)  That evening was spent sitting outside the house, chowing down on some fine Jersey Italian food and watching the Phillies game on the TV that had been turned to face out the window.  Considering how little actual summer weather we get in San Francisco, even the sunburn and mosquito bites felt good to me.  Steve & I had only half a day left before we had to head back to Philly Airport, but we made the most of it on a gloriously sunny day at the beach.  Water temperature: 68 degrees -- considerably warmer than the 50 degree Pacific waters a few blocks from where we live.

All too soon it was time to pack up for the flight back west.  This trip was a shining example of quality over quantity... we didn't get to stay in any one place nearly as long as we or our hosts would've liked, but we made every moment that we had count.  There are so many people who were so gracious, accommodating, generous, helpful, supportive, and just all-out amazing to me, not only during the trip but over the course of the last year-and-a-half that it took me to complete my degree.  I can't thank you enough for all that you've done for me.

Now?  Bring on the next milestone.. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Milestones and memories, part 2

Sorry for the wait, Blue Sky Blog-land! When last I left you in my Penn State graduation trip adventures I had just done my post-graduation newspaper interview and the family & I were off to our celebratory lunch at American Ale House in State College. Wow, did we have a great experience there, starting with the congratulatory toast with Veuve Clicquot. Rich, our waiter, started making small-talk about wine -- that is until Steve mentioned that he works in the wine industry. Then Rich, realizing he might be out of his league, moved on to another topic. But he couldn't have been more easygoing and attentive to our party of seven, and the food was phenomenal and super-affordable. The place also has a piano bar that unfortunately wasn't open when we were there, but man that would be fun! (Oh, and over the piano bar were painted lyrics to some classic songs, including "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". It's like they knew I was coming!) Who knows when we'll back to Happy Valley, but when it happens we'll definitely return to American Ale House. (And for the record: no, I'm not receiving any compensation for endorsing this restaurant.)

We wrapped up lunch and headed to our next stop, a must-do for any Penn State graduate: the traditional cap-and-gown photo op at the Nittany Lion shrine. By this time it was around 3pm (keeping in mind that the commencement ceremony had wrapped up at 11:30), but there was still about an hour wait to get to the Lion! No worries -- we had plenty to entertain us during our wait. The group in front of us in line included three best buddies who had graduated together. Their degrees were in golf course management, but their minor might as well have been stand-up comedy. They had the whole line in stitches, helping the time pass quickly. (Side note: these three guys also ended up in the newspaper article for which I was interviewed.) Then there was an adorable little girl, around 3 years old, dressed in a Penn State cheerleader outfit and chasing bubbles blown dutifully by her dad. Her family's turn at the Lion came and she was propped up on its back for the photo when someone said, "Okay, ready: one, two..." and before they could get to 3 the little girl screamed, "Cheeeeeeeese!!" The whole line cracked up. Then another picture: "One, two..." "Cheeeeeese!!" More laughter.

Finally it was my family's turn for photos, and it was all I could do to hold it together without tearing up. When I first decided to return to Penn State, one of the things that kept me going was knowing that one day I'd be standing there in that cap and gown with my arms around the Lion's neck, like so many thousands of others before me. Thankfully there was some more comic relief in store to help contain my tears. Our mascot for the trip was one Holly Heather Heifer, a stuffed white Fisher Price Puffalump cow (remember them from the 80s?) that Steve & I have had almost as long as we've been a couple (26 years!). So after the first round of photos of just me, then with family members, it was Holly's turn. Just like the little cheerleader girl before us, I propped up Holly (dressed in her own tiny Penn State t-shirt) on the Lion's back for her moment of glory. I wouldn't have considered making the trip back to PA without her.

Within the next 24 hours the family members dispersed to try to beat the heavy rain that had moved into the area. Steve & I took one more swing back to campus for our final non-negotiable trip down memory lane: a stop at The Diner on College Avenue (called Ye Olde College Diner when we were students the first time around) for grilled stickies a la mode. What is a grilled sticky, you ask? It is a Penn State delicacy and a thing of fat-and-calorie-laden beauty: a large cinnamon bun grilled on a flattop to get the glaze all caramelized and crackly, warmed to perfection so the gigantic scoop of vanilla ice cream on top melts slowly to perfection. It was another one of those memories that did not disappoint, as was Steve's entree of chili mac, which once served as late night sustenance on all of those long nights of... studying. Yeah, studying... let's go with that. Macaroni & cheese, topped with chili, topped with an inch-thick layer of more melted cheese. (I sincerely hope our doctor doesn't read this blog or we've got some 'splainin' to do!)

Geez, looks like this trip is going to require Blog part 3. So more to come... I'll try not to make it so long between installments next time. :-)