A Letter to Cadence as She Leaves For Her Final Walk

Hey pretty girl. You’re sitting here next to me in the brown chair where you’ve sat and watched me work for the last few years. Each morning that I’ve had the good fortune of working from home I could always count on hearing the patter of your little feet make their way from the bed upstairs, down the hall, down the two small staircases, and then onto Gram’s brown chair. Your hips have been bothering you for the back half of your life but you’ve always been a good sport about the stairs. You spend your days here curled up making sure that I’m right where I am supposed to be, working hard but always within reach. Sometimes you’re nice enough to share a part of it with Ashley (Mom) when she comes down to check in, but we all know that it is your space.
Watching you watching me through the years I’ve always been regretful that we couldn’t sit down and have a chat for an evening. Our communication and subsequent relationship are about as good as a dog-Dad relationship can be, but I’ve always yearned for a deeper understanding for us if only for just one talk. As time draws to a close for you, I’ll settle for the usual, me talking and you being a constant and conscientious listener. I need you to know; however, that I have a deep and earnest desire to know your impression of how life was from your perspective. Did you get to do it all? Did you get to see enough? Were there enough walks?

You are an awesome value. Your mom and I found you shortly after buying our first house back in 2007. I had just graduated boot camp and your mother just moved down south once we had everything settled. You were the last piece to making our home, and you came at the cost of $10 from Greene County Animal Services, a kill shelter in North Carolina. We picked you up in November, a few days before my first Marine Corps Ball. We always celebrated your birthday on September 1st but your guess is as good as ours. I’ve often wondered what happened to your brothers and sisters and if they were adopted into loving homes like you were. I know you had it rough before us, you came with a partially mended broken foot and a near-psychotic fear of bicycles. I’ll never forget bringing you home that afternoon. It was about a 45-minute drive back to New Bern and you bit your Mom’s ankles with those razor-sharp baby teeth the entire way.

Your first few years were pretty turbulent. Some were my fault (traveling for the Marines, moving houses, switching jobs, new cars). Some were your fault (eating the neighbors fish gutting’s from their yard and getting sick, hurting your foot jumping against the back fence, fighting with dogs in the neighborhood). Those first five years in North Carolina were probably some of your favorite. You always loved the water, whether it be swimming at Flanners Beach on the Neuse River, or tackling the waves at the beach in Fort Macon State Park.

Your curiosity was always bigger than your fear. Remember when you stuck your face in the hole in the ground at Oyster Point and found the wasps? You got stung on the face and mom got an infection from her sting on the leg. We got through it though and now we laugh about it when we reminisce. Even now as you get ready for your last walk you show no fear, just an unrelenting attitude of being ready for whatever is next.

The decision to move to Wisconsin had been a turning point for us. My days of going overseas for months or years at a time were over. And you had just worked so hard to help Mom beat cancer for the first time. You were there to console her when she found out her diagnosis, I was on the other side of the world in Afghanistan when I learned the news.

By then you were six years old and approaching mid-life, no longer the rambunctious puppy we brought home from the pound. You began to carry your age and wisdom on the graying hairs of your chin. That didn’t stop you from sneaking out and trying to meet everyone in the neighborhood all at once, but you never got in any real trouble and we were always able to get you back home. More often than not you came back from running the neighborhood soaking wet and smiling. The decision to leave for Wisconsin redefined ‘home’ for all of us.

Leaving North Carolina for Wisconsin meant you had traded your beach access for long winters. The bright side was that there were so many wooded trails that it seemed like we never had to take the same walk twice. And I am sure you remember the trains that passed by some of our best trails, you’d stand mesmerized with that too-long tongue hanging out of your head. You would just stop and gape until the last car rolled away. As much as you disliked the cold, we would walk the trails year-round, sometimes even when the snow was deep enough that your chest would push through it like a plow. Once you got going you would forget the cold, and that silly brown coat we would make you wear, and you would lead the way into the wilderness in search of rabbits and turkey.

Summers were the best though. We had left behind the oppressive heat of the coast and embraced the temperate summers and fertile growing season in Wisconsin. It was fairly routine to spot you sunning yourself on the back deck during mid-day, eventually stumbling into the house while panting until you made it to your water dish. Remember how, before we even moved in your Mom and I installed that fence so you could be the queen of your domain as soon as we got there? I think your favorite feature of the Wisconsin house was the expansive floor to ceiling bay window in the living room. It afforded you an unrestricted view of every bird, dog, and person that dared to move about on your street. You liked it so much we made sure that your final home in Pennsylvania had one just like it so you can assess the goings on here in Mister Rodgers’ neighborhood.

We knew when we brought you to Pennsylvania three years ago that we were likely moving you into your final home. We made sure you got a fantastic window and a fenced in yard with varied terrain so you could have your own space to explore. And you took it in stride as you did everything in life, making the space your own without a complaint. The best part of being here for you was probably the parties. Everyone got to come by and say hello to you and feed you trimmings from the table. I’m especially grateful that you made it to my graduation party for law school last month, everybody was so happy to see that you survived your surgery and were well enough to hang out, beg for food, and give love.

You always have love to give. It’s important for me that you hear this. You were a very good girl. You were not the perfect dog. You didn’t have as many animal friends as you could have, due to your fear of most other dogs. And it was a chore to ensure that we always had positive control over you so you wouldn’t break away and explore the neighborhood on your own. But you did all of the important things right. Once you were house trained as a puppy you never made mistakes in the house. You liked to bark out the window, but you never overdid it. You were responsible enough to stay home alone overnight; although it was always very clear that you missed us being away. Car rides, whether it be to the next county or the next time zone were always a piece of cake for you; being a part of the adventure was your greatest thrill in life. Thank you so very much for being the perfect dog for us. Losing you is losing a part of our family. A genuine shift to a new way of life for your Mom and I. You will forever be a part of every walk we take for the rest of our own lives.

It will probably bum you out to know that we will own another dog someday; not any time soon, but when the time is right. You always were intensely jealous when we directed our affection to another. Just rest assured knowing that no dog will ever own us the way that you did.
You can tell me it’s time. I think you already have. You are ready for your last walk? Go ahead, bite the end of your leash and show me the way as you always have. It’s time to go.

CompTIA $50 certifications at home via ProctorU

I’ve been working on an IT Project Management Masters for a while now, in fact I only have six weeks left until graduation. Given that I’m doing technical work at the moment I do not plan to pursue Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM) or Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI). They’re fine certifications for those that are doing or hope to do hands on project work, but right now I’m really enjoying still working on the gear and do not plan to pursue CAPM or PMP for another five years. However, all of this Project Management knowledge is still fresh in my brain so I turned to CompTIA and their Project+ Certification. The test is from 2009 which means it’s one version behind of the Project Management Body of Knowledge so if you plan to work directly off the material be mindful of the differences between the 4th and 5th editions of the PMBOK. The CompTIA suggested price for this is exam is $279 and the exam does not expire.

Early in January 2015 I received an e-mail from CompTIA offering to participate in a new pilot program they’re running. The program offered $100 certification exams and the opportunity to sit for the exam at home. They have partnered with ProctorU, an online proctoring service that utilizes your webcam and a locked down browser to monitor you while you take the test from the comfort of your own home. It’s used by a lengthy list of colleges and other institutions and this is their first partnership with CompTIA. Initially I was interested in the program but wagered it would still be around when my classes were done in April.

Fast forward to this week when I happened to be browsing TechExams.net and noticed the program had ended and ProctorU had slashed the exam price down to $50 per exam but with a solid expiration date of 3/31/2015.

The exact details from the ProctorU site are:

Test at home for only $50.00! This special offer is only available for the following exams:
CompTIA Cloud+
CompTIA Project+
CompTIA Server+
Hurry! Offer expires 3/31/2015!
This offer is valid in the United States and Canada only.

It’s easy to take advantage of the offer. Just sign up for an account and login to ProctorU and add CompTIA as your institution. After you’ve entered your information and created an account and then selected Schedule New Exam. The screen you see below will list your choices and you can add each exam you’re interested in to your cart individually. PUC

Once you pay for your exams (no shipping or tax, an even $100 USD for my two exams) ProctorU will send you a voucher code via e-mail. Each set of codes will come in a separate e-mail. Login to your account at Pearson Vue (or create one if this is your first exam) and sign up for testing. As you work through the Pearson Vue site the cart will reflect the full $279 until you enter your Access Code and Promo Code.

Given that I already have some virtualization experience I’m going to try my hand at Cloud+ first, and Project+ a week later. If I enjoy the experience I may try to squeeze Server+ in before the end of the month. The short deadline is somewhat difficult but has motivated me to knock these two certifications out and clear them off of my certification track. Incidentally, if you go to Amazon you can get a 7-day trial of Stammer and Wilson’s CompTIA Cloud+ Certification Study Guide to use to freshen up on your virtualization knowledge. It is worth nothing that the Cloud+ exam does require renewal in three years or it will expire, but it can be renewed by completing higher level CompTIA certifications so this is not a concern for me.

It’s important for me to point out that I do not work for ProctorU, CompTIA, or PearsonVue. Though I do have an Amazon Referral account. I just wanted to pass along the opportunity to get about $850 worth of certifications for $150 out the door. This is very likely going to be the cheapest way to obtain these exam certification vouchers ever.

Best of luck and happy testing.

Simple Homemade Shrimp Chowder Recipe

It's Simple!

Recently I had the pleasure of working with one of the best amateur chefs I have ever met, Katie Riesbeck. The last week I worked with her she brought in a great batch of Shrimp Chowder and was kind enough to pass along the recipe. I used it for a party at my home and everyone seemed to enjoy the chowder so I’m paying my good fortune forward.

The recipe itself is very easy to execute and is made with ingredients that you can find at a common grocery like Wal-Mart.

Shrimp – 1lb of medium pre-cooked Chachere's Creole Seasoningpeeled tail-off
Cream of Potato Soup – 2 10oz cans
Skim Milk – 2.5 Cups
Neufchâtel Cheese – 1 Block cubed
Butter – Half Stick
Yukon Gold Potatos – 2 diced
Frozen Corn – 1 small bag
Green Onions – 2 diced
Garlic Cloves – 2 minced
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning – 2 tsp to taste
Cayenne Pepper – .25 tsp to taste

After dicing green onions, garlic cloves, and potatoes add to a large pot with butter and melt over medium heat. Soften mixture, but do not let the potatoes brown. Add in the potato soup and skim milk.

Take your cubes of Neufchâtel Cheese and add them to the chowder; Neufchâtel is very similar to cream cheese but is lower in fat and slightly firmer. You may use cream cheese if Neufchâtel is unavailable, they should be faced together at your grocer. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat to melt the cheese, rather allow the cheese to melt slowly and stir often. Do not allow the chowder to come to a boil at any time, it will ruin the taste. Stir often. Once the cheese has melted add shrimp, corn, pepper, and creole seasoning then turn the heat to medium-low just above simmer. Not being a big corn-in-chowder fan I used a single small bag for a double batch. Put a lid on your pot and let it cook for 30 minutes while stirring often.

Doubling this recipe will fill a normal sized crockpot nicely. I prefer to serve with slices of french bread because as the chowder thickens it begs for dipping.

I can’t speak directly to the nutritional value of the meal; however, we do pay attention to our sodium intake at our household and I have to believe that this is a relatively healthy option in that aspect as it is a rare chowder that is tasty enough not to require a sprinkling of salt.

Thanks Katie!


Special thanks to my good friend, Kim. She made the recipe herself and did the math on sodium. It turns out that each cup has 636mg of sodium which is above the recommended level; this effectively changes the recipe from a smart tasty choice to a guilty pleasure.

Obnoxious Runner

As far as runners go I’m pretty low rent. I’m fat, lazy, and not particularly fast. I have terrible form and the attention span of a five year old at the Chuck E Cheese which makes running without an mp3 player out of the question. Runner culture seems pretty pretentious to me and I have no friends that are addicted to the sport so I am under no ones influence in particular.

So then why do I love it? I have been taking running ‘seriously’ since about 2005. I used to compete in the Carteret County Beach Run Series 5Ks to help prepare myself for the Marine Corps. I was coaxed into it by Larry Stover and his daughter, Halley. I had already been doing some timed running with my wife Ashley who, fresh out of college where she ran on scholarship, would leave me eating sand, so I was alone with just the surf. Most of those races were hell. I was terribly out of shape and the course is the worst you can think of for those that can not be self amused. The course was a 1.6 mile run down the tideline until you get to the turnaround table. The reward at the turn around: A paper cup of ice cold water and the instruction to turn around and repeat if I wanted to see my car again. The greatest thing about the paper cup of ice water was flipping it over my shoulder and dumping it down my back to cool off. The sudden shock would cause an involuntary respiratory contraction and I’d immediately suck a lungful of air against my will. The second greatest part of the paper cup was crumpling it up and discarding it in the trash can as I ran, pretending I was nearing the finish of a marathon as if I were someone competant.

Running on the beach is fun for a while, but the delicate balance lies in running close enough to the water to find the packed sand without getting wet. A sudden tide surge or a misjudged leap over a sliver of water and your shoes are instantly soaked adding weight and discomfort to the ordeal. However, considering all the running I’ve done over the years I look back most fondly on the Beach Run series, complete with the 98% humidity and matching temperature. Larry continues to run it and I hope to rejoin as life permits.

When I was indoctrinated into the Corps I became an expert at the three mile run. I studied it, practiced it, and even dreamt about it. I analyzed every Performance Fitness Test track when reporting to a new base; paying attention to elevations, street crossings, and split markings. I memorized goal time splits and knew how to pace to get where I needed to be. The irony is I wholly under perform the other two events so the run is almost an afterthought when it comes to completing my score. My initial scored PFT at the end of boot camp was timed at 24:30 for three miles. I’ve only PR’d past that once, my first PFT after Iraq, with a 23:17.

Most of my time spent in Iraq I was overweight. In January I checked in at 267lbs. The first half of the year was spent with light cardio and weight lifting which lowered my weight to a more respectable 230. The latter half of the year I took up treadmill running. I followed the recommendation of a good Sergeant of mine and went to RunnersWorld.com and downloaded a SmartCoach configurable running routine. The first day called for a brisk two mile run that I completed in a little less than twenty minutes. My fitness routine so far in Iraq allowed me to slip considerably and there was a lot of work to do. Ten weeks later on my second program I could run for sixty minutes straight and cover nearly seven miles in the process. My weight fell to 220 pounds which is within Marine Corps standards for my height.

The most staggering part in all of this is that I am no kidding addicted to running. If I go more than two days without hitting the treadmill I go through a noticeable physical withdraw. I recently overcame a head cold that kept me off the treadmill for nearly a week. Lying in bed all night made me so miserable I ran a quick two mile maintenance run, fifteen minutes this time, and it made me feel noticeably better when nothing else worked all week. Sure the weight loss, which is tied directly to my diet and running regimen, contributes to my need to run. However the urge goes beyond vanity.

In short, I have become an obnoxious runner. I thumb through RunnersWorld, and I actually read the articles instead of staring at the taut abs of the woman on the cover. While sitting in Iraq I found a place in Raleigh, NC that will video tape my stride and match it to a specific shoe just so I can run better. When I walk around at work I challenge people to join me after crew for a six mile run knowing full well they’ll never go. And I’ll be damned if I let a morning go by that I do not mention how far and fast I ran the previous night. I really believe the old saying that I shouldn’t be a part of any club that would have me, but I am a pretentious, overconfident, self-indulgent runner and the Obnoxious Runners have a new colleague whether they like it or not.

Camp Leatherneck, Afgn

Moments before embarking on my first 26.2

*The bulk of this article originally appeared as a Facebook Note on September 24, 2009.