McIlroy and Fowler: Out In the Open

Rory McIlroy on practice day one, US Open 2012. The Olympic Club, San Francisco CA.


Since CNN delivered a British an Open Championship spoiler via text alert at about 11 a.m., I figure there’s nothing stopping me from writing a quick blog post about two of my favorite professional golfers — Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler — while the tournament is still being televised in the U.S.

Rory won at Royal Liverpool, and Rickie ended the day tied for 2nd place with Sergio Garcia.

I remain a wee bit skeptical about Rory after he called off his wedding to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in May, just a few days after the invitations were mailed. Seriously, he couldn’t have decided he “wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails” any sooner? The results speak for themselves, though: ever since rejoining the ranks of single folk, his level of play has been phenomenal, suggesting something (probably his head) just wasn’t right.

Besides, rumor has it that Wozniacki was prohibited from wearing high heels while dating McIlroy because she is two inches taller than he is. (She’s been tweeting photos of herself this week, wearing stilettos for the first time “in three years”.)  No man is worth that kind of sacrifice.

Wozniacki won a WTA tournament in Istanbul today. Rory is the newest Open champion.  He is 25 years old, she is just 24. Perhaps they both have emerged from their relationship as winners.  At a minimum, seems like they dodged a bullet.

I dug into my photo archive from the 2012 US Open for shots of McIlroy and super-nice-guy Fowler.  Aside from being very down-to-earth and gracious with fans, Rickie is a blast to follow around the course because there are always a few very young boys there who idolize him, and dress up in head-to-toe Puma gear. (Orange on Sundays, of course.) Adorable.

Well played, fellows!


LeBron James: He Likes Us! He Really Likes Us!

LeBron James Nike "We Are All Witnesses" billboard hanging from a building in Cleveland, Ohio

Four years ago
We were sucker punched, so
You can understand why I’ve been skeptical.
My hometown was spurned
Our allegiances turned
And our hero was yanked from his pedestal.

His burning ambition
Lay behind “The Decision”
To join forces with Bosh, and with Wade.
Fans shouted obscenities
And burned him in effigy
Any time the Cavs and Heat played.

But feelings evolved
And Cleveland resolved
To lure King James back in free agency.
They flattered, they fawned
They slept on his lawn
Would he come home, or turn us down gracefully?

Never say never
Knock me down with a feather
The optimists were not mistaken.
Chock full of forgiveness
And ready to WITNESS
This time fans have not been forsaken.

A conclusion forgone:
We’ll win with LeBron
And great things are going to happen!
The Q will sell out
And there’s really no doubt
That the Cavs will be NBA champions.

Come home LeBron billboard in NorthEast Ohio, 2014.

Seattle: Right As Rain

IMG_1140_edited-1Last week I made a quick trip to Seattle, one of my favorite US cities. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “How was the weather?”  Seattle weather gets a bad rap. It can be soggy, but it seldom rains buckets for days on end. In my experience, the daily “norm” is periods of sunshine interspersed with fast-moving showers. Nonplussed Seattle-ites don’t even bother opening their umbrellas most of the time. They remind me of the Scottish in this way – maybe it’s why I am such a fan of the Emerald City.

That said, it’s very humid most of the time so any day can become a very bad hair day.

On my trip, I visited the Seattle Art Museum (SAM, to you). I hung out at Olympic Sculpture Park and Woodland Park Zoo, and caught a Seattle Mariners/Cleveland Indians game at Safeco Field – my first time in a domed baseball stadium.  It drizzled a few times during the game, but the roof stayed open.

Locals who attend Mariners games are so NICE. (Listen up, Oakland A’s fans.)  Actually, everyone in Seattle is polite and über-affable, perhaps due to their proximity to Canada.  And Safeco Field has some interesting amenities I’m more accustomed to seeing at a county fair.  Well played!

Family Tree Hugging: Unearthing My Civil War Roots

Cavalry orderly, Rappahannock Station, Virginia. (Painting by Edwin Forbes)

Cavalry orderly, Rappahannock Station, Virginia. (Painting by Edwin Forbes)

As I’ve mentioned, I am a bit of a genealogy buff. I was a history major in college, and my just-to-get-me-out-of-the-house occupation, should I hit it big in the Powerball lottery, would be genealogist.

I’ve been researching my family background since 2010. It is extremely time consuming, but also incredibly interesting because neither side of my family has much in the way of lore. No fancy trees illustrated on parchment and displayed under glass for my people. Pre-2010, my most entertaining family fact was that both sides can claim a (hard-drinking) ancestor who fell under a streetcar and lost his leg.

So you can understand why I might want to dig deeper in search of a connection to someone a little more… grand. Or failing that, someone notorious in a “wasn’t-the-X-century-quaint” kind of way. So far, I’ve unearthed no pilgrims, presidents or international playboys, which is disappointing — but then again I’ve discovered no Nazis or slave owners either.

My primary tools for research are and Google, and I recently added Fold3 to the mix. Owned by Ancestry, Fold3 focuses almost exclusively on military documents. If your family arrived in the U.S. anytime before the Civil War, it’s a goldmine. I signed up on Memorial Day 2014. It seemed fitting.

(Fold3 costs about $80 per year, after a seven-day free trial, but I waited for a special deal for subscribers and paid half that.)

My first discovery was a set of muster rolls for my paternal third great-grandfather, Albert Jackson White (c. 1829 – 1885). I’d never heard of the White branch of my family before I started my research, and thanks to Fold3 I now know that Albert fought on the wrong side of history – enlisting in Company D of the 151st Virginia Confederate Militia (later the 17th Virginia Cavalry) on August 21, 1861. He was promoted from private to second lieutenant on May 1, 1863, and was taken prisoner at Nineveh, Virginia the following year. Albert was released on June 17, 1865 after swearing allegiance to the United States. (I have a digital copy of his signed oath.)

At the time of his release, Albert was described as standing 5’9”, and having a “sallow” complexion (common coloring among POWs, I suspect) and blue eyes.

My research has also helped shed new light on the maternal branches of my family tree. Today I uncovered information on another third great-grandfather: Jones McCutcheon. (Great name, right?) I have not yet found proof of his military service, but there’s a document dated September 21, 1861 – one month after Albert J. White signed on to fight for the Confederacy – in which Jones pledged allegiance to the Union, and the “Government of Virginia” (a.k.a. West Virginia).

So, the Civil War didn’t just pit brother against brother. It was also third great-grandfather vs. third great-grandfather.

Harper Minner Arrest DocsBut wait, there’s more. What Civil War family legacy would be complete without a deserter? Allow me to present yet another 3x great-grandfather, Harper Minner. His is another fine family name that would be perfect for my firstborn (who would have to be a foundling on my doorstep, at this point). Too bad Harper Minner is shaping up to be quite a scoundrel…

Harper enlisted in the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry in March 1864 – not exactly an AJ White-style eager beaver. The fact that he chose the right team doesn’t really add up to much since, according to the May 1864 muster roll, he quickly fell ill and was sent to a hospital in Charleston. (Could this be the Civil War era equivalent of a LeBron James flop?)

By July, Harper had been transferred to a hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained… until an apparently miraculous recovery late in 1864 enabled him to desert.

A man named John Sheafer received a $30 bounty for arresting Harper in Kanawha, West Virginia on December 18, 1864. Harper was court martialed in January 1865, but released a few months later thanks to Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation 124, offering pardon to deserters. Records suggest he may have been charged the cost of his arrest ($39.85), although there’s no record of his payment.

Say what you will about deserters; their questionable choices mean treasure troves of documents, pulled together by the military in order to prosecute them. For this I say… thank you, Grandpa Harper.

I’m stepping away from genealogy for a few weeks, what with some travel plans and the World Cup going on. Plus, my brain is feeling overloaded with… facts.  But I’ll be back, as long as there are both auspicious blood lines and notorious ne’er-do-wells still to be discovered.



Sweet Talk

Woman's feet on a bathroom scale.A few weeks ago, nearly everyone in my office was cleansing. All around me, colleagues detoxing from sugar, caffeine, gluten, fat – you name it – belched $10 kale juice, while I drank Diet Coke and scarfed down all manner of “bad” carbs. At home, I consumed too much wine and snacks, slept badly and skipped the gym.

I’m not sure what got into me, but I had taken a pronounced detour from the detoxers, and my “thin” clothes that I’d worked so hard to fit into last year, had become a pretty tight squeeze.

Then I hit the trifecta. Or did I enter the Bermuda triangle? Not sure, I suppose time will tell.

First, I read The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life, by Tory Johnson. The book received mixed reviews, but I’d heard it was a fast read so…

Tory’s story begins on the day she is “invited” to breakfast with a senior executive at ABC, where she is a weekly contributor at Good Morning America. Tory knows what’s coming: She’s about to be told to get thin – or else. Because she is the primary breadwinner for her family, she decides to finally get serious about food issues she’s struggled with since childhood. The Shift tracks her one-year weight loss journey.

I’d be fibbing if I said I enjoyed the book overall. For starters, it is a chronological account that resembles a monthly journal. That’s a writing style I don’t care for to begin with, plus let’s face it: Diets (the non-fad ones, anyway) are monotonous as they stretch over months and months. That’s why diets are so hard, they are relentless! Who wants to read about one, blow-by-blow?

Also, Tory can be a little cheesy, like when she waxes romantic about how losing weight improved her sex life with her husband. It’s enough to make a Harlequin romance writer roll her eyes. On this topic I say, less is more.

That said, the book is unique in that it makes no promises, and offers no gimmicks. In Chapter 11, Tory acknowledges “the delusion of a quick and easy fix… There is no instant gratification, just hard work and patience.” This is not the message most folks who buy diet books want to receive, so I applaud her for not pulling punches.

Even if the writing is not inspired, The Shift is unique in that its focus is mostly on what’s going on in Tory’s head, rather than the physiology of weight loss, or tricks and shortcuts to losing 50 pounds in an absurdly brief period of time. If you have ever struggled with your weight, you might recognize some of her patterns – which she sheds, one by one.

Food for me, now, is fuel. It does not have to be amazing, entertaining or exciting. Each meal does not have to be like a trip to the county fair or a fantasy segment of Top Chef. I’ve had enough “Wow!” meals to last a lifetime. I want a different set of “wows” now.

How many times have we heard a friend (or ourselves) promise they’ll start a diet tomorrow, because tonight’s meal (with extra bread, butter, wine and dessert) is “special”? Tory Johnson may not be in line for a Pulitzer, but she’s a pretty good truth teller.

80% of products in US grocery stores are spiked with added sugar.  1/3 of Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

Photo: UCSF

If The Shift provided food for thought, it was just an appetizer. I followed it up with the movie Fed Up, a stinging indictment of the food industry lobby, and government agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture, for their contribution to America’s obesity epidemic. As with The Shift, the information provided in Fed Up is not all new. Most of us know by now that sugar – in all its sneaky forms – is unhealthy. It’s been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. But there were still a few gob-smack moments for me.

I felt sick as loving, well-meaning parents featured in the film fed their families “low fat” processed foods, loaded with sodium and sugar to make them taste good. It was heartbreaking to watch their obese children sob in confusion, because they were getting heavier despite making what they thought were good food choices. The kids believed the advertisements for reduced fat products, and blamed themselves for their lack of weight loss success.

I was also struck by a rather obvious question posed by producers: Have you ever wondered why food labels list the recommended daily allowance of all kinds of ingredients, except sugar? (Um, no. Sadly, I never even wondered.) The fact is, most processed, packaged foods contain more than the recommended daily amount — six teaspoons for me. Telling consumers this might interfere with consumption, so the food industry lobby has opposed such transparency.

So today I embarked on the 10-day Fed Up sugar-free challenge, applying greater scrutiny to food labeling than I ever have before – and it’s already super freaking hard! Day one’s excruciating a-ha moment: Even plain Greek yogurt has sugar. In some cases, a lot of it. My favorite brand is Athena, which has eight grams of sugar. That’s one third my target maximum for a NORMAL day.

I’m a diehard (or hardboiled?) egg lover, but I am not sure I can eat eggs for breakfast for the next 10 days. Face Greek yogurt has just four grams of sugar per serving (one sixth of my recommended daily amount) and there’s some in my fridge…

Oh yeah, this thing will be hard.

Part three of my trifecta: for the past two days San Francisco bus and subway drivers have held a “sick out”, leaving passengers waiting up to one hour for a ride to work. I sometimes walk home in the summer, but have always steadfastly refused to consider walking TO work. (I’ll get too sweaty! My hair will go nuts in the fog! I have too much to carry! I’m wearing the wrong shoes!)

View of downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Buildin, from Broadway at Jones Street.

View of downtown San Francisco from Broadway at Jones Street.

This week, I’ve had no choice but to walk, and of course it’s been fine. I show up at work with more energy, and according to my Jawbone Up the round trip pushes me past my daily goal of 10,000 steps, even if I’m a total slug for the remaining 22 hours of the day. Commuting on foot also offers stunning reminders of my good fortune, to live in such a beautiful city.

I can’t promise I’ll walk to and from work every day, once MUNI drivers go back to work. But my new goal is to walk at least one direction.

Sometimes we are inspired to change. At other times, change is thrust upon us. Right now, I’ve got a little bit of both going on – and I’m trying to grab on with both hands.

Seriously, though. Can anyone recommend a sugar-free Greek yogurt? Does such a thing even exist? (FYI, I draw the line at buying my own cow. Or goat.)

Mindy’s Law

Mindy Kaling is the bomb. No wait, she’s the BOMBDIGGITY. I watch her show The Mindy Project on Fox every week. I read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) on my daily commute and laughed out loud, to the point where other San Francisco MUNI passengers inched away from me and fumbled furtively for their pepper spray. She is smart, witty and self-deprecating. She is also, apparently, semi-stalking Harvard professor Noah Feldman, who bears a striking resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch, from the BBC series Sherlock. (Mazal tov, Mindy!)

Kaling’s — er, I mean Miss Kaling’s — speech at Harvard Law School’s Class Day on May 28 was so funny, I watched it twice. Then I remembered…

I have a blog, and I know how to embed YouTube links. If you haven’t yet watched the speech, enjoy!

Zero Tolerance For the Cubbies

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson at AT&T Park. May 27, 2014.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson

Honestly, I like the Chicago Cubs. I really do! I mean, they are a Midwestern team with a rich history, that hasn’t won a championship in… 105 years. Lest you forget, Cubbies fans, I grew up in Cleveland — so I feel your pain. But when they play the San Francisco Giants? Well, I think you know where I stand.

On Memorial Day at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Cubs spanked the Giants 8-4 in the first game of a three game series. Uh-oh.

I had a ticket for Tuesday’s game, and luckily the outcome was better. (Final score: 4-0, in favor of the Giants.)  It was a fog-free night at AT&T park — warm by Bay Area standards — and pitcher Tim Hudson was dominant. He and relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Jean Machi wrapped things up so quickly, I was home in my bed by 11 p.m.  Muchas gracias, guys.

The Giants currently have the best record in professional baseball: 34-19, as of this evening.

I can’t complain.


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A Poem For Donald Sterling

CNN Graphic of Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano, Magic Johnson and anchor Anderson Cooper

If you live in L.A.
And played ball on parquet
While inhabiting skin that is brownish

You could be a victim
Of Don’s racist dictums
Defense of which makes him look clownish

He and his missus
Got most of their riches
From selectively renting out housing

To Caucasians and Asians
All other persuasions
Were discouraged from so much as browsing

Not much of a husband
He’d long been accustomed
To openly flaunting his honeys

So how apropos
To see him brought low
By a “girl” he called his “funny bunny”

To her friends he objected
But he never detected
That his views were being recorded

He bought her a Ferrari
This V. Mata Hari
And this how he was rewarded?

His allies soon vanished
From the league he was banished
And forced to pay a large penalty

It was no time for glibness
He begged for forgiveness
And appealed to America’s empathy

But dollars and cents
Haven’t bought Sterling sense
By speaking, he only seemed meaner

With absence of caution
He dissed Magic Johnson
And dug himself in even deeper

For the good of us all
And to spare basketball
May his 15 minutes soon expire

Leave him his money
And his gold digging bunnies
But force that old man to retire

Earving "Magic" Johnson, on the court with the Los Angeles Lakers

Keep Me In the Picture

Image for "Photo Not Available"I recently began celebrating Throwback Thursday, digging through scrapbooks for mementos I can scan and post online for friends to laugh (or cringe) at. Sadly, as part of this exercise, I’ve been reminded of how seldom I appear in my own photographs from high school, and particularly college.

I’ve never enjoyed having my picture taken. In fact, I just took my first selfie in December. (It must have been comical to watch me try to line the shot up properly, first moving my iPhone left and right to capture my whole face… then holding the camera still and ducking back-and-forth like a bobble head. I briefly considered flagging down a teenager to help me, but we Gen X-ers have our pride.)

Shyness is partly to blame for me being MIA in photos, but a truer explanation is… I seldom wind up in front of the camera, because I’m usually behind it. I don’t recall exactly when the photography bug bit, but my parents bought me my first Canon 35mm as a high school graduation gift, and I never looked back.

Countless point-and-shoots and SLRs later, photography remains my most consistent, consuming hobby and my primary creative outlet. I may be an introvert, but my favorite subjects are people. Go figure. For me, nothing beats the satisfaction of capturing a key play at home plate, or a candid expression on a friend’s child’s face, complete with flattering shadows and a sparkle in the eye. I love landscapes taken by others, but mine always feel just so-so compared to my portraits — selfies not withstanding.

Alexander Wolcott CameraAnd so, on this Throwback Thursday, I celebrate the contribution of Alexander Wolcott. On May 8, 1840, aided by John Johnson Sr., he received the first US patent for photography (US Patent No. 1582) for the Daguerreotype mirror camera, which featured technology still in use today. By reducing sitting time for portrait subjects from 30 minutes to just five, the Wolcott & Johnson camera advanced photography by leaps and bounds. It didn’t have a lens, and it certainly wouldn’t fit in anyone’s pocket — but it was groundbreaking nonetheless.

Avant-garde portrait photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976) once said, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

It’s true, photography is a journey, not a destination. No matter how pleased (or displeased) I am with a photo I took today, the moment captured is already history. Tomorrow, I can start fresh. Maybe I’ll even try a landscape. Or a still life. But will I dust off the auto timer for a self-portrait? Baby steps, people!


Old Habits Die Hard (With a Vengeance)

The Power of Habit book jacketEvery January 1st, most of us set out to make behavioral changes — often with humbling results. For many, an annual list of resolutions can look more like a pie-in-the-sky bucket list, with no identified means of successfully reaching our goals. I’ve written about this before.

Of course, it’s one thing to map out very thoughtful, specific lifestyle changes we need to make… and altogether another to make them. Why is breaking bad habits, and picking up good ones, so difficult?

The answer may lie in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. It turns out even the most introspective, well-intentioned and strong-willed among us are going about this self-improvement business all wrong.

Extensive research into the physiology behind human behavior has proved that habit forming is one of the most primal brain functions of men – and mice. Once patterns associated with habits develop in our basal ganglia, they are there to stay.

For example, a mouse can be trained to run a maze each day with greater and greater speed and efficiency, to reach a piece of cheese. If researchers move the cheese, the mouse will learn the new path to it – in other words, form new habits. (It may also ask its mouse buddies, “Who moved my cheese?”.) But if the cheese is later returned to its original location, the mouse will quickly resume its old route through the maze, without having to “relearn” it. The habits associated with the original route were only displaced – not replaced — by later ones.

So if we can’t erase bad habits – if they are always lurking somewhere deep in our brains – what’s a body to do?

Duhigg defines habits as being composed of four elements that are closely interwoven:

  • Cues
  • Routine behavior
  • Rewards
  • Cravings

Cues are signs we may not even be aware of that provoke specific, habitual behavior. An example from the book: Duhigg developed a habit of stopping by his workplace cafeteria for a cookie break each day at about 3 p.m. Time of day was the cue.

The habit loop, from The Power of HabitHere’s where it gets tricky: The routine wasn’t just eating and the reward wasn’t simply the cookie. WHEN and WHERE did he eat it, and what else was he doing while he ate it? If he always had his snack while chatting with his friends, maybe the reward was camaraderie and not the cookie itself?

All Duhigg knew was, whenever he tried to skip his cafeteria run he suffered cravings, ostensibly for a sweet treat, that hindered his ability to kick the cookie habit.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Duhigg contends that the key to changing a negative behavior is recognizing what triggers it and the need it is really meeting, and finding a more constructive routine that will meet that need and extinguish the craving.

Naturally, I wasn’t able to finish the book before I began analyzing my own habits, and I had a few epiphanies. For example, throughout my adult life I’ve always been very motivated and disciplined about exercise. I had an ingrained morning workout habit, the cornerstone of which was running. Then, two years ago, I injured my knee. X-rays showed I had worn out the cartilage, and unless I wanted to hasten a knee replacement I needed to find a new form of exercise.

I loved running for several reasons. For starters, I could do it anywhere – outdoors, or on a treadmill. I would just slip on my headphones, and get lost in the rhythm of my feet and the music. By the time I’d finished, I had sustained a heart rate of 160 beats per minute for some time, and the endorphins had kicked in.

Since my diagnosis, I have struggled mightily to maintain a gym regimen. My workout mojo has made a run for it, so to speak. I wondered how a 30-year exercise habit could desert me, just like that?

Feet running on a treadmillNow I get it; working out wasn’t my habit. RUNNING was my habit, and the zoning out and endorphins were my rewards. Unfortunately, there’s not a spin class in existence that can deliver anything similar – especially a good zone out, what with the teacher barking out instructions to pedal faster, visualize a big hill up ahead and so on. So my mission is to get on track with a new low impact, high-intensity workout regimen, that also helps clear my head.

Another important ingredient to adjusting old habits, and building new ones, is simple on its surface: support from others. Whether you are in Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers, access to cheerleaders who reinforce the belief that “you can do it” can determine success or failure. This brought about another light bulb moment for me. While some of my friends freely share their personal goals such as weight loss, even going so far as to discuss their starting weight and pounds to lose with others, I’ve always kept the details of my resolutions private. Perhaps I’d be more successful with the really sticky ones – the ones that stump me year after year – if I enlisted support from my friends or other connections. No man (or woman) is an island, am I right?

The Power of Habit goes beyond personal tendencies, to address workplace habits that collectively make up corporate cultures – for better or worse. Every firm has them. For example, I once worked on a team where “busy” was the default answer to the question, “How are you?” Why couldn’t anyone ever respond with, “I’m great, how are you?” It drove me nuts! The cue was the question, obviously, but what was the reward? Sympathy? Perceived credibility and value? A lighter workload in the future? Stay tuned, I’m still working through that one.

Duhigg can at times extend the definition of habit so far, he loses me. I am still skeptical about his theories on the role habit can play in civil unrest and political movements. Still, there’s enough food for thought in The Power of Habit to keep me in a state of self-analysis for weeks or months to come.

Could greater awareness of my habits, become a habit in itself?