Thursday, August 19, 2010

Call Your Grandparents

If my maternal grandfather were alive, he would be 94 years old today. He passed nearly four years ago, after living a life of 90 quality years. Today’s anniversary of his birth got me thinking about him, and more generally, grandparents and the influences that mine have had on me.

Although she died just before I reached the age of 12 in 1988, I can remember my mom’s mom, Susie, as if she were alive today. She spoiled me and my sister and cousins to no end. But that’s not the only way she showed her love. She was caring and sympathetic and never met a stranger. Some of her best friends might have been the sackers at the local grocery store. A lifelong Houstonian, she frequently hosted parties in her home. If not for her, my social skills would be weaker.

I heard Grandmom curse once, when I accidentally cut my wrist with a knife she bought me in the Galleria. Blood was all over the place. I deserved more than the “I shouldn’t have bought you that damn knife” that followed. She was a fine lady, and I miss her.

Two of my grandparents—my dad’s parents—are alive today, both of whom have enjoyed strong health throughout the years but are showing signs of slowing as they pass their mid-eighties.

I make a point to speak with my grandfather at least once per week. Most of the times we talk, my grandmother is by his side, listening—as she always has. We chew the fat, solve the world’s problems, and I come away with a refreshed perspective on life, thankful I made the call.

I can go on and on about the mark my dad’s dad has left on me over the course of our friendship, but will save that for another day. Raised without a father himself, he is a shining example of a Christian family man who leads by example. As modest as they come, Milton leads a simple yet productive life. He is well-read and has a memory clear enough to recall his childhood years in East Texas with swift precision.

Doris, his wife, has stumbled, physically, over the past year—but not in spite of her positive attitude. Even as her heart failed on her and she was set against the ropes of life early this year, she remained upbeat. Happy that she didn’t have to labor over meals anymore, she went on about how tasty the hospital food was… oh, and the variety!

Today, almost as if in step with each other, both of my grandparents spend their nights in an assisted living facility in West Houston. I visit them every so often, and they seem pleased to be there. I’m pleased they’re there, too—available for chats and reminders of what’s important in life.

Back to Bob—whose birthday it would be—I had the unique opportunity to speak at his funeral. Below, I have posted the text (italicized).

To this day, I’m grateful that he and I were friends. He and my other grandparents have each influenced me in their own ways. If they’re alive today, call your grandparents. You never know how something they say or do will influence you years from now.

October 10, 2006

Hello everyone, I’m Chad Covey, one of fifteen grandchildren present today.

On behalf of our family, many thanks to Monsignor Rossi for leading this service.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge – and express our personal gratitude to – David Gautreaux, my grandfather’s longtime friend. His assistance to the last moments was above the call of duty, making the final few weeks better for all, especially Granddad.

Buddies like David are few and far between.

I’m honored to be here. I’m lucky to have had such a formative and memorable relationship with my grandfather. Many of my best and clearest memories come from being with him. Many of the most valuable and lasting lessons I’ve learned come from being around him. He was – and still is – a mentor to me.

Granddad was, by any measure, a successful man. A devout Catholic, he believed in the holy trinity. He had four daughters who meant everything to him. He was the Captain of their hearts.

He met my grandmother, Susie, following a heroic couple of years in the Pacific, where he piloted the notorious PBY Catalina. They met in Colorado Springs, and soon fell in love. They got married in Houston, where he applied his unparalleled work ethic to the oil & gas industry.

Granddad worked professionally until he reached his mid-seventies, but never let his day-job consume him. In modern-day terms, Granddad exemplified a positive work-life balance. His community involvements were various; he understood the importance of regular exercise, and in his Irish-blooded manner, could enjoy himself.

At the age of 60, when I came into the picture, he had lived a life rich enough to be complete, but he was long from done. He was always up to something proactive, rarely idle.

One of my first words was: “Bob.” I used to follow him around on the weekends, asking “what’s next, Bob?”

We’d putter around, fixing and building things and toying with his cars and other collectibles, including coins, stamps, prints, statues, and war memorabilia. We’d take a stab at the occasional task or adventure. One time, we made a kite. Another time, we woke up early to witness Haley’s Comet. We’d spend time in his home office, which was full of maps and interesting books.

He’d give me a sip of his cold Miller Lite, years before I should’ve had it. He’d usually reward me for a hard day’s work with something only he would own, like an uncut strip of $2 bills or a 25-pound, deactivated bomb. To wrap the day, we’d sit in his big, living room chair to watch television and share a half-gallon of Blue Bell ice cream – his favorite flavor was strawberry.

Part of the Greatest Generation, he was extremely patriotic and made it a morning ritual to raise the Stars & Stripes outside of his homes in Houston and on Lake Travis. His favorite animal was the Bald Eagle.

His political orientation was conservative. He was of the conviction that we realize our greatest potential with individual freedom.

He taught me to never turn down a profit and keep a diversified portfolio. Even in his final days, Granddad showed signs of saving that only those who were alive in the Depression-era would understand.

He was stern – and tough, but not without staying conscious of his purpose and confident of his reasoning. His attitude was upbeat – a trait that can serve us all.

One thing I most admired about the Man was his ability to talk with anyone.

He treated everyone he met with respect, showed them courtesy, and listened attentively to what they had to say. He was modest, but wouldn’t hesitate to relate a few stories and opinions of his own to keep conversations flowing. This innate ability was a contributing factor to why he had as many pals as he did – those friendships kept life full for him.

He had knowledge of a number of subjects, but did have some favorites….

He loved jokes, possessing a cheery sense of humor. He loved to travel, especially by airplane, seeing much of the world before taking off in a jet was commonly possible. When driving an automobile, he preferred back-road scenery to more traveled routes, leading my grandmother to once quip: “Bob, had Christopher Columbus not discovered the Americas, you would have.”

He also loved to teach….

He taught many of us to drive, no doubt before we had our licenses to do so. His girls and many of his grandchildren drive cars today, keenly aware of that voice: “Don’t accelerate toward that stoplight!” “Ease off the brake!” “Slow down!”

His competitiveness and focus never left him. He played great golf, with a lifetime low-score of 67 and a hole-in-one to prove it. Together, we’d play an old Navy game called Acey Deucy. We played at least a hundred times, and when I managed to snatch a victory from him every so often, more often than not, it was because he “let me win.”

His mind remained active and curious until he died. On any given day, you’d find him reading about his favorite sports teams, the weather, hand-picked stocks, and current events in the Houston Chronicle. He was on constant patrol for when his favorite WWII video was airing next on the Discovery channel… the television’s volume steadily increasing.

Thanks be to God that his days in pain were few. His death finally came in the presence of his beloved daughters.

While Granddad had previous brushes with death during his illustrious career in the service, there’s irony in his final passing. It was eerily similar to that of my dear grandmother, whose birthday was just yesterday.

A grand celebration for both of them… is in order!

In closing, I’d like to thank you for attending. In one form or another, my grandfather had a unique relationship with each of you.

The shape that he provided to my life is permanent and unforgettable.

May God bless you all and may peace be with my Friend, Bob.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

After the Bell: Life Lesson in Keeping a Positive Attitude

(Kathy Covey rings a bell at M.D. Anderson; courtesy of Steve Covey)

My mom, Kathy Covey, one of the most tender-hearted and selfless people you could ever meet, recently rang a little brass bell in the Texas Medical Center. In so doing, she crossed a major medical milestone that marked the last of 16 chemotherapy treatments.

To say that she and everyone close to her is relieved is the understatement of our year.

My mom’s bell-ringing ceremony also signified an important life lesson for me: that, even in the presence of unexpected adversity, we should keep a positive attitude.

Last fall, when my mom first told me that she had a small lump in her left breast, she did not know whether it was cancerous. Her demeanor was upbeat, and she seemed unworried—an effort, I am sure, to reduce added concern on the part of her family.

Another mammogram a couple of weeks later revealed that the lump was malignant. My mom’s spirits remained unchanged.

What she found out next was that the recommended action to beat this cancer consisted of the notoriously body-weakening chemotherapy. This, after a considerably less invasive option, called Balloon Catheter Radiation, was ruled out, because the cancer had already spread into the sentinel lymph node in her left arm.

Under the care of Dr. Daniel J. Booser at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the world class facility right here in Houston, an aggressive plan to win was put before her:

- Phase 1: 12 treatments (once a week for 12 weeks)
- Phase 2: 4 treatments (once every 3 weeks for 12 weeks)

Facing a rocky, 24 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy, my mom promptly began the steep climb with gusto on New Year’s Day, using her naturally positive attitude to steady herself.

Along the way, there have been setbacks, many waits and a handful of medical procedures. She underwent a surgery to install a port (“portacath”) below her collarbone, which made regular injections easier for the body to accept.

She is dealing with lymphatic obstruction (“lymphedema”) due to 18 lymph nodes in her left arm being surgically removed in December. The effect of lymphedema has been a tolerable, but uncomfortable swelling of the same arm.

Through it all, my mom jokes that she lost her marbles: 16 of them, in fact—enough to represent every chemotherapy treatment. On the advice of a friend, she removed one marble from a glass votive after each session to mark its completion. Her chosen repository? A new fish tank, sitting on top of a shelf in my parents’ living room. In the tank as well are two unsuspecting goldfish, “Che” and “Mo.”

(Che and Mo Covey; courtesy of Emily Covey)

My mom's journey with breast cancer is not complete. A 6-week round of radiation begins in 3-weeks’ time. But to finish chemotherapy was huge—a momentous day, a chance to celebrate, a source of great relief.

She would tell you that she is pleased to have passed the challenge of chemo and that enduring it will have been a mere bump on the road of life.

Where does she find her strength and how does she continue to keep a positive attitude, in spite of the obstacles faced? She assures me it is her faith in God that sustains her.

To that I say, “Keep the faith!”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Humble Attempt to Describe My Experience in India Thus Far

(Kids of Dharavi; courtesy of Reality Tours & Travel)

Many people have recently asked me a punch-packing question, “How is India?”

Often with a pithy reply, I acknowledge that it is a solid, rewarding personal experience, that there is a lot of work to do, that the people are nice, and blah, blah, blah. Those are fair replies, to be sure, but none, individually or collectively, is wholly representative of my experience in India over this last month.

How could they be? After all, I am in In-freaking-dia, a country of nearly 1.2 billion people, a destination of spiritual enlightenment for Indians and non-Indians alike, a geographic marvel, an undeniable reflection of history and struggle, an unfortunate home to off-the-chart poverty, and oh, by the way, a hugely competitive force in today’s world of commerce.

Maybe I am taking the responsibility to answer the question too personally and too seriously. It is not mine to tackle. But my current environment and its effect on me have prompted me to consider it with a modicum of dedication.

In a humble attempt to describe my experience in India thus far, I lead with a quote, “The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head. There’s nowhere else in the world where that’s quite so true.”

I lifted those words from Shantaram (“A Man of God’s Peace”), written by Gregory David Roberts, allowing them to be my personal mantra and reminder of patience while here. They have served me well.

My first thought is that India is packed with people. While it is the seventh biggest country in terms of surface area, India is the second largest in terms of inhabitants. It is expected to overtake China as the single most populous country in 2030. Its overpopulation is apparent.

In my everyday routine in Bangalore, for example, riding in traffic on the short way to work is a unique lesson in High Population Density 101. People—many of whom are pavement dwellers—meander in the roads, vying for space with smallish cars, smaller black and yellow auto rickshaws and noisy motorbikes. They all seem to get along swimmingly, but not without help from their horns.

In a more extreme case of India’s crowdedness, on a weekend trip to Mumbai, a colleague and I toured Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, where it is estimated that more than one million people live in an area of 1.75 square kilometers (.68 square miles). The sheer closeness of quarters was barely believable.

There, I saw people literally living on top of one another—yet they still manage to coexist in relative harmony, and have for more than a century—under the most squalid of circumstances and ethnically diverse atmospheres.

(Narrow Street in Dharavi; courtesy of Reality Tours & Travel)

That leads me to my next thought: the surprise of religious variety in India.

Most people reading this know that Hinduism is the majority religion of India. Hell, even I knew that. Hindus make up approximately 80% of the country’s population.

As a Christian myself, I learned early in life about Saint Francis and Mother Teresa. I figured simply on the basis of those two having been here that more Christians would be here. Just over 2% of Indians are Christian.

What I never realized, though, is that almost 14% of Indians are Muslims. India is home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population. What with all the burkas—at times—I feel like I am in the Middle East!

Sikhism, the religion of men who wear turbans, rounds out any major religious representation at roughly 2%. For an interesting—but saddening—story of the Sikhs, see Operation Blue Star and the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi.

My final thought brings me to the subject of Indian cuisine.

As I will be gone by the time monsoon season officially arrives next month, I consider myself fortunate to have been here during another season: that of the Alphonso (mango)!

The Alphosno is a delicious fruit, bursting with sweetness. I prefer one with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, but they can stand up delightfully well on their own.

Visiting Crawford Market, also in Mumbai, I took a spin through the mango aisles. To view that, plus additional footage of the city’s horn-filled and traffic-jammed streets, press play on the below video.

Other foods get my attention, but nothing is tantamount in taste to the Alphonso.

Supposedly, there are distinct differences between South and North Indian food—and even regionally—but I have trouble discerning them. Most plates have rice and a type of bread, usually fried, accompanied by dipping and smothering sauces, usually spicy.

One other point of note on the food is that I have not mastered the Indian way of eating with my right hand and not using a napkin! This is one of those things that I cannot explain. Forever and always a Westerner, utensils and napkins are for me.

There are numerous aspects of India that I would love to cover but did not… and probably could not. Left for another trip perhaps, I would like to delve more deeply into the spiritual significance of India, especially as it relates to meditation and yoga. Learn Hindi? Sure, maybe one day. Uncover the intricacies of India’s famed chai tea, which I have been drinking regularly? Another cup, Chaiwalla!

Dhanyawad, India—as of today, I am thankful to have spent a month with you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We Need to Change: Video Blogging

In his legendary country music track, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, the late, great Waylon Jennings, sang, “We need to change.”

It is with that timeless phrase that I introduce my initial video blog.

Till now, blogging to me has meant words of text, with the occasional photo and outbound link included therein.

Hardly “the same old tune, fiddle and guitar,” this blog has enabled me to experience the craft of writing, which will no doubt continue.  However, by incorporating video to my posts now and again, I shoot to make it more dynamic and interactive.

Where to begin?  In Austin for SXSW, I put my fancy Flip Video to its first use.

One of my close pals and partner in adventure, William (see guest post here), and I stopped by Rosita’s Al Pastor, a charming curbside taco stand in East Austin, to grab a bite before catching the Flaming Lips play a show later that night.

The result… not perfect, but a start.  Buen provecho.

Watch out for improved video blogging from Future Mayor of Cherryhurst.  Enjoy the change.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Even Time Flies on Emirates

Upon reflection of the week that was, I write from my modest yet comfortable hotel room in Bangalore, a 25-hour journey from Cherryhurst, door-to-door.

I arrived to the city in the wee hours of Thursday morning, after an uncertain few days of travel planning. I was meant to be here last Sunday, but Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano which has inflicted total chaos on European airspace, delayed my departure by four days.

It also forced me to alter my route. I was originally supposed to fly with Lufthansa Airlines from Houston to Frankfurt, followed by another haul of a similar length to Bangalore, but after excessive days of delay and cancelled flights that reached into the thousands, the executive decision was made: I would fly with Emirates Airlines, on a non-stop flight from Houston to Dubai, around the mess in Europe, and then onto Bangalore.

Fly Emirates I did, and it turned out to be the highlight of my week.

Due to volcano-related tangles, our departure from Houston was behind schedule by 45 minutes. I could have cared less, though, as I had dealt with bigger issues in getting myself to that point.

Happy to finally step aboard, I was met by a welcoming fleet of flight attendants, who offered glasses of champagne, water, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, as well as hot towels. I accepted their offerings.

One of them then showed me to seat 10B, my personal space for the next 15 hours on the luxurious aircraft that is Boeing’s 777-200. Once settled, I was pleasantly surprised to see that nobody would be sitting next to me.

This was my first time in business class, on any airline. My level of comfort had already evolved beyond anything I had experienced on a commercial flight, and we had not yet left the tarmac.

I flew coach with Emirates a few years ago, round-tripping from Dubai to Istanbul—a primetime ride, yes, but business class—I can now state—is on another level: to me, it might as well have been first class.

At takeoff, I noticed fellow passengers, who behaved as if they had been in this situation before, fiddling with their armrests and looking determinately at the personalized screens on the chairs in front of them.

As it turns out, they were familiarizing themselves with ICE, or Information, Communications and Entertainment, Emirates' on-demand multimedia center. Loaded with movies, podcasts, audio books—whatever one could possibly need to combat in-flight boredom—ICE has it all, including SMS messaging capability and access to cameras outside of the airplane for bottom and front views.

Dinner was excellent. I had a glass of French wine along with it. I watched By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, a documentary about the president's campaign to win the White House. Once finished with that, I leisurely reviewed the music selection, deciding on Steely Dan. Surely the sound of Aja would put me in the mood to catch much needed rest.

It did, and a flat-lying seat with a thin-spreading mattress only added to sleep inducement. Facing the artificial stars on the ceiling above, I was soon out like a light, with Emirates-furnished noise cancellation headphones wrapped around my head, and did not wake up for eight hours.

When I did awake, the friendly attendants were nearby, ready to serve, and to my knowledge, had not gotten a wink of sleep themselves. I stood up to stretch my legs, walking in a pair of Emirates-provided socks, with the intention to use a fancy dopp kit also provisioned by the airline.

Waiting for the bathroom, I struck up a conversation with the attendants and seized an opportunity to remember the experience with a photo, even if I had slept through much of it.

From Turkey, Serbia, and India, all three ladies led me to believe that they enjoy working for the airline. If Emirates treats its employees remotely close to how it treats its customers, it is well they should. There is something to be said for cheery attendants. They can make or break a flight.

Following yet another tasty meal, we arrived to Dubai International Airport (DXB). Upon arrival, I noticed, since we had left Houston late, that I was on a compressed timeline to catch my flight to Bangalore, so I needed to scoot.

I skipped through the Emirates Business Class Lounge, freshening up for a few minutes there, and before I knew it, was back in familiar territory: in a business class seat with Emirates.

Not long into the second flight, I was served another fine meal and a glass of wine, this time Californian. I knew what to do after that. Looking to the arm of my chair, I reached for ICE, delving into its deep music for a selection fit to accommodate a leftover tinge of sleepiness, leaned back and closed my eyes... into dreamland I went again.

Two hours later, I awoke to the sound of a pilot saying something in Arabic about our descent, and stumbled to the kitchen and bathroom areas for another pre-landing stretch.  Meantime, I struck up a conversation with a congenial Indian attendant, a man of about my age (34).

Looking at my watch, I realized that we were on track to land early, but inquired to confirm that I was tracking in the appropriate time zone: "Are we arriving to Bangalore early?"

"Yes," he replied, "by about thirty minutes or so."

I smiled contentedly; this news of an early arrival had just completed my dreamy experience.

As I turned to head back to my seat, he said, "Even time flies on Emirates."

Indeed it does.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fancy Food Show—Here I Go

My interests in international commerce and beer come together this weekend as I arrive to balmy San Francisco for the 35th Winter Fancy Food Show, where I’ll be volunteering at Booth 2415 for the fine folks of the Brewers Association.

The association’s Export Development Program, which generates publicity for the US craft beer industry and assists its affiliate brands in gaining attention and distribution in selected markets, will be coordinating the events at our booth.

Ten big-name craft brewers will be displaying their artisan-style ales and lagers. I’ll be serving and tasting them all over the next few days. Here’s the lineup:

21st Amendment Brewery
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
Boston Beer Co.
Brewery Ommegang
Dogfish Head Craft Brewing Co.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Kona Brewing Co.
Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Rogue Ales
Stone Brewing Co.

To say that I’ve worked with Dogfish and Stone, both brands which I can buy in Texas, will be damn cool. But I’m particularly pumped to meet the representatives at 21st Amendment. From San Francisco, the hometown boys are fairly new on the beer scene. I’m intrigued by their can-format packaging and watermelon-flavored beer. Firestone Walker, of Paso Robles, California, has my attention too.

I’ve never been to this festival, so I’m not sure what to expect. On the show’s website, I note how vast it really is, both in its size and number of exhibitors. Thousands of vendors will be on hand, representing every corner of the “fancy” food world—from grass-fed beef to olive oil and yogurt, it will all be there.

An online contest (“Can You Spot the Next Food Trend?”) to predict the top five food trends that will emerge from the event caught my eye, appealing to my trend-spotting instinct. Willing to win, I go for it, entering my top five:

• Açaí
• Coconut Water
• Kombucha
• Raw Honey
• Yerba Maté

The two previous show’s winners were:

Summer 2009
• Blood orange
• Chocolate and salt
• Superfruits
• Gluten-free
• Eco awareness

Winter 2009
• Single-Serve Portions
• Fruity Additions
• Organic
• Sensitivity to Dietary Needs
• Exotic Spice Blends

While this event for me is mainly about the beer—the good kind, with benefits of its own—perhaps I'll learn of new, healthy ingredients to mix into smoothies on future mornings in Cherryhurst. (See ‘Smoothie Operator’ post last year.)


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Survey Says: FMOC Lives on in 2010

Happy New Year!

Here’s a big THANK YOU to all who completed the 2009 Readership Survey.

I don’t plan to go on at length about the results. (Your feedback was primarily for my benefit.) If interested, please contact me directly, and I can share the general sentiments shared.

Nobody nailed the correct number of email subscribers… but since I’d rather give it away than keep it, I’ll send the $15 gift certificate to the person who guessed closest. Correct number: 23.

In the biggest news of all, Future Mayor of Cherryhurst will live on in 2010!

Considering all feedback (mine, included), I’m making a couple of tweaks that will manifest themselves in 2010:

1. New description & future redesign

Although the meaning of FMOC remains the same, the blog’s description has changed to read: “One Man's Quest to Take Office in a Quaint Corner of Montrose.”

On the whole, I like the blog’s look and feel, but the functionality can be improved. In the spirit of continuous improvement in the blogosphere, I’ll work for change.

I’m looking at ways to make the blog more appealing to the passing reader, and especially, more attractive for all readers to make comments.

Ideally, this blog will become a means of communicating with friends and followers alike, all in support of the FMOC campaign.

2. Less regimented schedule & more freewheeling content

The schedule will be less regimented, as will be the content. No longer will I be posting every two weeks.  Posts may come more frequently, maybe less.

A biweekly schedule was useful because it allowed me to publish regularly... to avoid a collapse into the blogging ether. I also wanted to be conscious to not let my blogging interfere with my day job, so I intentionally posted on Sundays. This rigid schedule put undue stress on the Covey household.

The way forward?

Posts are intended to be freewheeling, a reflection of what’s on my mind at the moment—a complement to the daily proceedings of life. They will probably be shorter and (hopefully) to the point—as is the case with the blog’s description.

This year brings a looser and more spontaneous mayoral candidate… do keep reading, and enjoy:-)