XP, still

Last night I showed a rare level of self discipline by not installing Windows 7 on my laptop. My laptop runs XP and works flawlessly. The Windows 7 disk was free.  The disk went into the drive. I ran the compatibility wizard. I was going to have to install all my applications again and a couple of them might have needed updates. Windows 7 might have run faster. It is newer. I was going to have to learn to use all of the new things that are different. Did I mention that Windows 7 is newer? The final ‘install’ button was staring me down. My finger moved the cursor over the button. To push or not to push. Good vs evil. I came back from the brink. It was a small but significant victory.

The disk is safely back in its plastic sleeve.

Only a geek would understand.

30 Days in the Chair

Today marks 30 days since my shoulder surgery. I’ve spent most of it sitting in this big, blue, leather chair and more often than not I’ve also been working on one or the other of my laptops.

(I spent a lot of time trying to think of a better word than ‘working’ in that last sentence and came up empty. ‘Typing’ is too menial; I wasn’t entering data. ‘Messing around’ implies lack of focus; not true. ‘Using’ sounds like I exploited it. Well in a certain sense I did but the word just doesn’t work. ‘Multitasking’ was pretty true but it sounds too unfocused and managerial. On the company’s laptop I worked. On the other laptop I did stuff. That sounds like wasting time, but it wasn’t really. Not much web surfing or Facebook. I built a website for my Kilimanjaro book. I pretty much finished the book except that it could use a catchy cover photo. I found a site to host and sell the book from. I linked that site to mine. I cleaned up and rebalanced email accounts. I installed Dreamweaver and started to learn it. I wrote a little in my blog. I did my Christmas shopping. The right word isn’t coming.)

I slept in the chair the first few nights after the surgery and ate my meals there as well. I watched a fair amount of football on tv but usually it was in the background. I watched a few movies including Lord of the Rings. (This year I just wasn’t up for the mostly-annual back to back to back marathon but we did get through them all.) Harry slept in my lap a lot, which probably seemed fair to him, since by the simple measure of having spent more time in the chair up to this point than anyone else in the family, he has a claim to it.

Recovery from this kind of thing is slow. I’m not used to being sedentary. But there are so many things to keep a mind occupied and a computer is a portal to a gizillion of them. TV is so inane by comparison. I tried out daytime TV the first day after surgery and all it took was a brief surf on one frothy wave of hyperbole, controversy, and commercials to turn me off completely.

It’s a good chair. I’m glad that 10 years after we bought it someone other than the cat got some good use out of it. I think I’ll take it to the old folks home, if that winds up being my fate, and bring along my large-key, large screen computer. It’ll be awesome by then.

Untold Story



I know there’s a story here.  We were in Knoxville visiting Rachel’s dad this summer. Walking out of his church we saw this awesome car. At least I thought it was awesome.  Bob’s probably seen it every Sunday for who knows how many years. A bright purple Chrysler station wagon. Paint and body in great condition. Parked proudly amidst a sea of nondescript silver and white.

There is one dominant color in Knoxville, and that color is bright in-your-face orange. Volunteers. On game day the city and the surrounding roads are a torrent of orange  that would have made William proud. (Mary, maybe not so much…she married into the family.) Can you just see this car driving proudly around on game day and into the stadium parking lot?  Now that would be a picture. It kinda hurts your eyes.

But back to to the car. Look at the front license plate. Since there aren’t any official front license plates in Tennessee you can do what you want with the space. It says ‘purple haze’. Hendrix. Parked right there front and center in the Fountain City First Baptist Church lot. Has it always been her car? Was it her parents’? Was it a mid-life crisis purchase? Has it always been purple? Did she grow up in the Bay Area? Did she used to be a hippie? Is she still?

I don’ t know the answers to any of these questions and probably never will. After I snapped the 2 pictures I walked up and told her I loved her car and then walked off. But I thought of it this morning as we were 8 inches into what’s forecast to be a 12-18 inch snowfall and everything in the back garden is a shade of black or white.  When the storm is over and the sun comes out I’ll imagine it, gleaming, parked out back and think about what I’ll say to her if I see her car next time we visit Knoxville.

Christmas Letter 2009

I didn’t actually go through the effort of sitting in front of the screen for an hour before realizing there was nothing to say in the Christmas letter this year.  I knew it before I began.

There was no big news. Nobody in the family climbed any faraway mountains, or took any fantastic trips.  We all went to the beach like we usually do, for all the same reasons and with much the same result.  Nobody died, or got married, or had babies.  Everyone is pretty much in the same health at the end of the year as they were in the beginning.  Dan can probably bench press a few more pounds, Sara can run farther, Rachel can spin faster, and Jon’s shoulder will be stronger after it heals from the surgery.   Everyone has the same job at the end of the year that they had at the beginning. This is slightly better news for Rachel and Jon than it is for Sara, who would like to have more challenging things to do. Dan is still working on his engineering degree; that certainly seems like a job.

We are still in the same house in Manassas that we’ve been in for 25 years. The garden has no room for any more flowers or shrubs. The ones that we do have are becoming as accustomed to their locations as we to theirs.  We didn’t harvest the basil this year in favor of being able to look at it and smell it when we walked past.  The jar of pesto at COSTCO only cost $10 and was about as good as what we would have made.

None of us won any great awards, was elected or appointed to high office, or made any important discoveries. Our pictures were not in the paper, on a milk carton, or on the wall in the post office. Our identities were not stolen, and we collectively were involved in only one minor traffic accident, which was not our fault.  (You never tell anyone about a traffic accident that *was* your fault, do you?)

We spent a little more time on Facebook than we did last year. Many lost relationships were found after more decades than we should admit. That was wonderful. Facebook also made current relationships more convenient to not maintain. That wasn’t good.  No tool will ever fill a void of ambition. We are not even tempted by Twitter. You’re not missing much.

We will have the same people together for the Holidays.  Christmas dinner is at our house this year, because it wasn’t last year. After all the make-believe discussion of new foods, the official menu will be the same, to Sara’s chagrin. The same people will bring the same contraband, non-approved items.  So long as there is enough roast beef and potatoes, Dan will be happy.

So, you see, nothing really happened. It will be up to everyone else to fill the void this year.

We will wait, with bated breath, for our friends’ holiday letters to arrive, hopefully with more interesting news.  We will vicariously relive the thrills of straight A’s, liver dialysis, bus trips through five European countries in three days, and sports trophies.  We will see stunning photos, skillfully rendered in the margins, of people we can barely make out doing things we can hardly understand.

I hope our letter isn’t too disappointing. All things considered, we had a pretty good year.

Incisive Thinking


It’s Friday morning. I have several incisions in my right shoulder. Just how many, I’m not sure. In the next hour or so, after Rachel finishes what she’s doing, she will help me take the bandages off and we’ll both know.

On Wednesday of this week Dr. Thal, a fine surgeon by all regards, fixed an old injury in my shoulder that was getting worse. I haven’t been able to throw a good spiral all summer. Then again, I couldn’t throw a good spiral ever in my life. It just hurt more to not throw the spiral recently.

It also hurt more this summer to serve a tennis ball fast. So I served it slowly with lots of spin. Rachel and I were undefeated against Mary and George this summer, for the first time since we came back from England ten years ago. Many years we go 0-fer against M&G. So… it doesn’t hurt so much to serve slowly, with spin, and we do better.

Cycling is my main exercise activity. My road bike is very light, and hangs upside down, like a bat,  from the rafters in the garage when I’m not riding it. (It does this with the aid of hooks, and not of its own accord.) My shoulder hurt more and more to lift the bike down and to put it back up and I almost dropped it a couple of times while doing one or the other. That must be why I had the surgery. Also because my health plan rules were changing; it cost me several hundred dollars this year but would cost several thousand next year.

As I was saying, Dr. Thal is a very good surgeon. He does this kind of work for the Washington Redskins, and their shoulders are worth much more than mine. They can throw better spirals than I can, and probably also serve tennis balls faster, if they even play tennis. I don’t think they cycle, unless they are warming up on the sidelines like Deion Sanders used to. They probably ride Harleys and drive Escalades for fun. But Rachel and I have beaten more people at tennis this summer than the number of football games the Redskins have won this year.  So on balance, I stack up OK with Dr. Thal’s other patients.

The surgery wasn’t fun, exactly, but it wasn’t painful. I had to wait a couple of hours longer than scheduled, but everyone kept apologizing to me. I remember being wheeled into the operating room, but that’s it. By Wednesday afternoon I was home, taking narcotics, and listening to the ice water circulate in a high-tech sling-like thing around my shoulder. By Thursday morning I had stopped taking pain pills. I worked 8 hours from home on Thursday, sat in a couple of telcons, made incisive observations, and caught up on email. (I hope the Oxycodone had really worn off while I was writing those emails. Nobody has complained yet.)  All that, less than 24 hours after being out with a general anesthetic.

The recovery time is looking to be amazingly short. Agonizingly short. I had expected to be out from work for a month, from the accounts of people I know who have had this surgery recently. Maybe it has all been a clever conspiracy to stay at home, and I am blowing everyone’s cover after they were all nice enough to let me in the club.  I’m feeling terrible about this. While I *had* planned to catch up on some work, I was really looking forward to drawing up some internet business plans, learning photoshop and dreamweaver, and maybe watching a few (tens of) movies and reading some books. Now that is all in jeopardy.

I don’t feel badly enough to not work. My boss doesn’t expect me to work. In fact, she fussed at me for working yesterday. So why did I spend my first 8 waking hours working? Do I like it that much? Or am I addicted to it?  I didn’t take the Oxycodone on the second day because I did not need them and I didn’t want to get a dependence. I don’t actually need to work 8-5, if I adjusted my lifestyle. What I need is a five year exit plan, like my friend Ken did.

Rachel is finished, so I get to take off the bandages. I’ll get to take a shower and then put bandaids over the cuts. I’m going to use the really bright, flourescent ones because they make me smile. I’ll put one bandaid over each cut and be able to get an accurate count of the incisions that way.  That’s probably a good goal for the rest of the day.

Small world, smaller pleasure

starbucks buddha

Yes, we can get everywhere faster these days. And everywhere feels less wonderfully unique and foreign than it used to. This rule, sadly, works for pretty near everywhere in the US and major cities around the world and is starting to apply in developing countries too. The Big Macs are consistent, TGI Fridays is everywhere, and Starbucks is growing virally as well. (Do they have *Venti* in Rome? Or is it *large*? I don’t know).

I was walking through the airport in West Palm Beach today, looking at some interesting decorative fish hanging from the ceiling. I thought of looking in the stores for something unique for a Christmas present but that thought perished quickly.  Everywhere I travel for business or pleasure seems to have the same stores in the malls, on the streets and in the airports as in Virginia. It used to be I could come home from San Diego with something interesting for the family. Then I couldn’t. In the 90’s we realized the Waterford crystal from the UK was the same as what we bought back home, except that it was cheaper at COSTCO. Same for the Lladros in Madrid.  The only things worth bringing home seem to come from a long way away and are made by hand. They still have some essence of the culture but are getting harder and harder to find.  The carvings we saw in Tanzania were beautiful, but the vast majority looked like they were cheaply  mass produced, probably at slave-like wages, and who knows where in Africa they came from. Can we be sure they didn’t really come from China?

There is a consolation and it centers on not emphasizing the things to bring back. The small world disappointments drive us to spend less time in the big cities, less time in the stores, more time in the rural areas and more time doing things where we meet the people. Like spending extra time in street-side cafes drinking a coffee or a glass of wine. Talking, reading a book, or just enjoying seeing and being. Finding a service project that makes use of our skills and passions.

I am much happier now with a head and a heart full of memories than I am with a shelf full of knick-knacks.


Too many directions – that’s for sure.  Along the way this fall, I’ve wished I had the (this) web page set up. Today, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, there were a few spare moments as Dan was getting ready to head back to VT. I thought I could load wordpress onto a domain and start looking for templates later on…something easy. I typed jonwist.net into the browser and found I’d already set it up. I did it at the beach this summer, as I was finishing the kilimanjaro blog.

The header picture I’d chosen brought back great memories of three days in Zanzibar with Rachel.  There we were, about as far away as two people could get from Manassas, Virginia. Relaxed.  Walking along the beach looking at the white sand, the azure water and the mix of modern as well as timeless boats on the horizon. Like being in rehab where the things that aren’t good for can’t tempt you.  A good feeling to *not* forget. 

I want fewer things, more focus, and a greater feeling of commitment. The sense of accomplishment will be keener. I now keep many, many plates spinning at the same time. It’s a well-developed skill but it’s less interesting than it used to be.  Many of the plates can and should be allowed to fall. 

It’s been hard, but I have finally learned to say yes or no and to not look back. I need to learn how to do them both more gently. I am finding it easier to rid myself of things that have use, but are really distractions. That is a work in progress. I have decided it is better to go with my strengths and let my weaknesses take care of themselves.  My real friends will understand.

I see the day when I can change the name of the blog.  Hopefully, I won’t have forgotten where I put it.