The Year in Scribbles – 2011

Per U.S. Christmas Code 25, it is required that all participants in family events and/or Christmas are required to distribute a missive stating their activities and/or accomplishments of the past year.  Hereupon, the Hughes’ submit said missive.

It may be best to classify 2011 as the Year in Travel.  In the past twelve months, we’ve gone halfway around the globe, across the United States (and back), and even gone 150 years into the past.  In between we were visited by a President, a King and Queen, and got to visit a Queen across the pond.  We went for runs in seven different states and three separate countries.  Steph boarded 40 planes (39 of which took off) while Matt set foot on a dozen or so.

Needless to say, we’re glad the Christmas holiday was spent at home.

(This missive may be long and is punctuated by the occasional picture.  You have been warned.)

The highlight of the year was far and away our March trip across the Atlantic to visit the United Kingdom.   We spent a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland where we met up with Steph’s friend Lanee’ who had been studying abroad and was happy to give us a tour of the town.  Along the way, we saw Sterling Castle, ate at the Elephant House (where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel), sampled haggis, and fell in love with Scottish accents.

London came next with all the tourist sites – Shakespeare’s Globe, the British Museum, the British Library, and, of course, Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross.  We even caught a showing of Chicago in the theater district.  We watched the Changing of the Guard in the company of an elderly British veteran who gave us insights that all the other tourists missed out on when they were jockeying for a good camera position.

Tintern Abbey

A train whisked us away from London and into Wales.  There we visited another of Steph’s friends, Laura, who has lived in the country for the last eight or nine years.  A day trip took us out to Tintern Abbey where a faulty memory card in our camera almost caused us to convert.  A second trip took us over to the beautiful city of Bath.

Our final major stop was to the village of Haltwhistle, where we hiked 12 miles along Hadrian’s Wall and took in some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable.  We wrapped up the trip by returning to Edinburgh before flying home, promising that some day we would come back (and possibly never return).

No sooner than we had stepped off the plane did we board another in May and fly out to California to attend the wedding of Steph’s cousin – Andy – in Los Angeles.   The bride’s family was … well, very cool, energetic, and fixated on babies.  Matt also got the chance to hang out with Viable Paradise buddy Chia.

Back home in Iowa and with our travels (temporarily) behind us, we settled into our usual pattern – running. And lots of it.

It started off with the Coach Jim Boughton Run for the Cure 5K where Steph set a Personal Record by over a minute and earned a 2nd place medal.

Luther College Relay Race

Matt was one of the race directors for the Luther College Sesquicentennial Relay Race, a 150km race starting at Halfway Creek, WI and passing through three states to arrive back home in Decorah, Iowa.  Eighty-some runners came out to participate and even though the temperatures were abnormally warm (upper 90s all weekend), everyone seemed to have a great time.

Coincidentally, the relay race also fell on the same weekend as our 12th wedding anniversary.  Steph summed it up best:

26.2 Miles Later


Two weeks later, we traveled up north to Duluth, Minnesota where we ran in the 35th Grandma’s Marathon.  This was Matt’s third marathon and Steph’s second.  Despite cool temperatures (40s), 15+mph winds, and on-and-off rain, we both set Personal Records (3:37 and 3:58, respectively) and survived the weekend.

Sometime around July, Steph’s employer thought it would be a good idea for her to start going out and visiting clients around the country.  This meant travel and lots of it.  She’s visited Portland, Oregon so often that we are looking into getting her permanent residency.  She also made a few trips out to Pennsylvania whereupon she made such an impact that when she left, the entire university rioted.  Or maybe it had something to do with some football coach but we’re pretty sure it was Steph.

In between, we kept running (and traveling).  Together with some friends we headed up to Hayward, WI where we ran in the Birkie Trail Marathon Relay.  We also made the (short) trip to La Crescent, MN to run the Applefest 5K Road Race.  All the while we tended to our sprawling gardens, made apple cider, and saw the end of summer.

October marked the end of the racing season as we traveled to Middleton, WI to run the Haunted Hustle 1/2 Marathon.  The whole thing was Greg’s idea and as an added bonus, it became a family weekend with the entire Hughes clan (sans Jon) came up to watch.  Matt and Greg finished finished together in 1:42.  Steph, on the other hand, kept up her tradition of setting Personal Records in 2011 by finishing in 1:49.  For those keeping track, that’s a PR in the 5K, 1/2 Marathon, and Full Marathon in the same year.

Onto November where in a rare turn of events, both Matt and Steph traveled at the same time and to the same time zone but not the same place.  Steph went back to Oregon while Matt headed a bit further south to San Francisco.   He did the usual tourist bits (cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc) plus got a behind the scenes tour of AT&T Ballpark and a chance to eat some of the city’s best sushi.

Thanksgiving saw us down in St. Louis, visiting our good friends Becky and Simon.  Thankfully, no one had to have an organ removed this year.

As the year comes to a close, we celebrate in the comfort of our own home. There’s no snow on the ground, the temperatures are more akin to spring than winter but as the old saying goes, there’s no place like it.

2011 was good to us.  2012?  Well, we’ll see about that.  There will be more travel (to a place that’s warm with blue waters), a new kitchen, and you can bet on some more running about.  Maybe even a surprise or two.  But that’s then.  This is now.

May you all have a Happy New Year.

Happy New Year

Christmas Gift Fail

Like most husbands, I wanted to find my wife a Christmas gift that was thoughtful and would warm her heart all through the Holiday season.

And like most husbands, I didn’t have a clue what she wanted.  So I spent a lot of time searching.  Soul searching.  Web searching.  Magazine searching. Google searching.  Finally I gave up and resorted to searching through her text messages and e-mails until I got an idea.*

Last week I found just the right gift from [Redacted Company].  As a bonus, [Redacted Company] offered gift wrapping which I readily accepted.  This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has received one of my Yes-That’s-A-Present-No-It’s-Not-Discarded-Wrapping-Paper gifts.  So I placed the order and waited for it to arrive.

This meant keeping an eye on the mailbox.  See, Steph works from home and typically brings in mail and any packages.  But I didn’t want her to see this package. [Redacted Company] makes a number of items but her interest in them is fairly narrow so I suspect she’d know what her gift was without any trouble.  Kind of ruins the surprise, eh?  Because the tracking information I was sent never updated, I also couldn’t have her avoid checking for packages on a specific date.

Fortunately, the package arrived today and Steph hadn’t checked yet so I got lucky.  And as per my request, the package was gift wrapped.

In wrapping paper that loudly declared [Redacted Company] in bold letters.


So thanks to [Redacted Company], Steph will be opening one of my Yes-That’s-A-Present-No-It’s-Not-Discarded-Wrapping-Paper gifts.  Christmas – Tis the Season to be Jolly, despite [Redacted Company’s] best efforts.

 * Well, no, I asked her but this version sounds much better.

Why No Updates?

One possible scenario.

There are two possible scenarios for the lack of updates on the blog as of late:

Scenario One:

I was kidnapped by metallic pygmies native to my closet who held me hostage in a shoebox until a ransom of Peppermint Bark had been paid.

Scenario Two:

I haven’t been writing here because I’ve been busy putting words down on paper elsewhere.

See, I made it a personal goal to write at least 250 words per day for the month of December.  Some days its a struggle to hit 250 while on other days I have no problem knocking out upwards of 1,500.  A key has been to not revise or revisit earlier scenes ala the old Viable Paradise mantra – “It’s a draft, therefore, it can suck rocks.”

Now that I’ve got a stride, I don’t want to break it or the streak.

So there’s your scenarios.  Take your pick.

College Paid Off

On December 7th, a payment of $34.22 will free me of the last of my student loans.

I graduated college in 1997, meaning it’s taken around 14 1/2 years to pay off that education.  And holy crap, is it ever a liberating feeling.  Just thinking about it makes me a little giddy.  Heh.

Being that I now work at a college, a few of my student workers asked me if they thought it was worth it.  Valid concern.  After all, they paying upwards of $40,000/year to attend college and their prospects on the other side aren’t looking so hot.

Circa 1997

Yeah, there’s some difference.  In ’97, tuition was $18,500 (source) and my job prospects weren’t impacted by a global recession on the scale of the great depression.  But knowing what I know now, here’s my answer:

  • While signing up for Freshman year classes, my adviser suggested I enroll in a class called African Ethnomusiology.
  • The people I met and what I learned in that that class sparked an interest in African History and in turn an eventual major in African American Studies (along with my English w/Creative Writing major).
  • I met many of my best friends during my Freshman and Sophomore years of college.
  • During my Junior year I met the woman who would become my wife.
  • My Creative Writing professor and Senior Paper advisor was a published author who gave me my first insight into the world of writing outside of school.
  • I wrote my first novella while at college.  I still have it.  It doesn’t completely suck.
  • When I graduated, my writing skills and ability to translate complicated technology issues into plain speak led to unique job opportunities, which led me to moving to Cedar Rapids.
  • Living in Cedar Rapids meant I was able to meet the local writer’s group, the Noble Pen.
  • The Noble Pen inspired me to write my first novel – Asymonte.
  • The same day I was laid off following an ugly hostile takeover, I applied for a job at Luther.  Being an alumni played no small role in me getting the job.
  • Getting that job meant moving back to Decorah, a town I love living in.
  • Being in Decorah took me away from the distractions of the city and gave me the impetus to fine tune Asymonte and submitted to an open world contest held by Wizards of the Coast (publishers of Dungeons and Dragons).
  • Sending out Asymonte garnered a personalized rejection that let me know I was close, on the verge of breaking through, so I kept at it.
  • In an effort to break through, I submitted an application to the Viable Paradise workshop in 2009.  And I was accepted.

    Circa 2011
  • At Viable Paradise, I met a ton of new writer friends and became friends with a number of published authors and editors, including some of my personal heroes.
  • Following Viable Paradise, I finished my second novel (Genie Memories) and it’s now out making the rounds.  I’m starting my third novel.

And as I finish this blog post, I’ll be stepping out into the kitchen of my home in Decorah to help my wife make dinner.

So yes, I’d say that college was worth it.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your SAP

Your SAP

Congratulations on the acquisition of your new Technical Support Assistance Provider!

This is a bright moment for you, one that promises to be filled with joy and relief.  With proper care, your Technical Support Assistance Provider (SAP for short) will be by your side for many years, through countless software and hardware upgrades, viruses and bugs, and those little hiccups along this road we call the Digital Future.

Let’s get you started on the right path!

Details Are Unnecessary

Your SAP has spent years in dark basements honing their senses.  They are experts at being able to discern the slightest details merely from the tone of your voice.  Did your keyboard cable come unplugged from the back of your computer?  Is the power out in your building?  Did you change an file name thus throwing off the entire merging sequence?

Don’t worry – your SAP will intuit it.


Documentation and Training

All those reams of documentation?  Those Gigabytes of video tutorials?  Forget about it.

All that information exists for the sole purpose of helping your SAP navigate through this confusing world of technology.  If they send you a link, it’s just to tell you what they plan on doing.  You’re not expected to have to learn anything.


The Rules No Longer Apply

With your acquisition of a SAP, you’ve found a shortcut around those pesky rules and procedures.  Yes, it might take a full day to copy all of Mary Jo from Accounting’s data to a new computer but your SAP can make it happen for you in less than 30 minutes! Don’t have the budget to purchase that equipment?  Check with your SAP.  They’ll have it in your hands before the end of day.

Count on it!

In fact, by merely uttering the phrase ‘But this is important!‘, you empower your SAP to bend the laws of space, time, and physics!  It’s amazing!


Let It All Out

Angry at your computer?  Just want to shout and scream and blame someone else for all those problems?  Go ahead! Your SAP is ready and waiting!  Yell at them.  Blame them. Criticize them. Swear at them It doesn’t matter!  It’ll bounce off your SAP like fruit flies off a bulletproof window!

All SAPs have been carefully screened to be devoid of normal human emotion.  Yes, that’s right – your SAP is a sociopath!

The Cell Phone

It is possible that you will acquire your SAP’s personal cell phone.  Remember – nothing is by accident.  Your SAP wanted you to have that number so use it!  Anytime, anywhere, your SAP is waiting for your call.  One does not become a SAP with an expectation or notion of ‘free time’ or ‘scheduled lunch’.

SAPs relish the opportunity to work late hours to clean ramen out of your printer.  In fact, those late night phone calls that interrupt dates, dinner with a spouse, or a movie only serve to increase your SAPs Geek Cred.  So go ahead, call.  You’re helping!

Your SAP Exists For You and Only You

You are the most important thing in your SAP’s life.  At any moment of the day, they are willing to drop everything and work on your problem.


That’s all for now.  Keep an eye out for Dealing With Your SAP, Part Two – Humor, including such things as :

  • Referring to your DVD Drive as a Cup Holder
  • Star Wars vs Star Trek
  • Ninja vs Pirate
  • Password Creation including ‘1111’, ‘12345’, and the all time classic ‘password’.
  • And much much more!