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Apr 22 14

Where bananas flood my youthful memories

by John

Bananas. I love them, and I always have. My kids, also, love bananas. When I was a child, however, the dream of the perfect banana taunted me — brilliantly yellow without anything close to resembling a brown spot on the skin. I’d peel it and there would be no strands, whatsoever, because the perfect banana wouldn’t have such silliness. It would be sweet and not mushy. It must exist.

I’m grown now. I can tell you that “sweet” comes from “ripe,” and “ripe” doesn’t happen without the brown parts, or the yucky parts. If you see a perfectly yellow banana, it will only look yellow when it’s by itself, it’s unripe and will look green next to most anything resembling a ripe banana. Even if you manage to peel this “perfect banana,” you’ll end up with half of the peel sticking to the fruit, tons of those little annoying string things, and it will taste like starch.

But, when I was a kid, I blamed my parents — they just wouldn’t give me the perfect banana. They didn’t understand that, by the time a banana had a brown spot, it was, effectively, ruined. When I snuck a banana that wasn’t anywhere near ripe, and I had to deal with a starchy, unsweet, stick, my parents, obviously, bought the wrong kind of fruit.

Now, I’m an adult, or something. And I seldom eat bananas. Well, I should say that I seldom chose to eat bananas. With the kids, well, bananas find their way to me, whether I want them or not.

Because, you see, my children have the idea of the perfect banana.

“No – one without any yucky parts” I hear, oh so often, as I start to peel it.

“It’s yucky” I hear, when the banana is not yet ripe.

When there is a soft spot on the banana, itself, oh, the sky is falling. Sometimes, I might be able to scoop out the soft spot and, by some miracle of physics & unicorn piss, the banana will hold structural integrity, with a portion removed . . . in those cases, just maybe, my kids will eat the banana.

But should the banana break – be it from the removal of a soft spot or, you know, just because there is a good reason that bananas aren’t chosen as building material, that’s when we head to tantrum city. From this point, at a computer, far away from my children, tantrum city is a splendid place to travel. It’s silly — it’s where logic stands on its head. Of course, when visiting tantrum city, I might as well try to fart rainbows as try to be a reasonable parent.

It’s my fault that bananas break. And a broken banana, obviously, has my child ruined. Just as a starchy, unripe banana was, absolutely, my parents’ fault when I was the same age as my kids.

Apr 14 14

Where the wheels fall off at the end of a marathon

by John
Garden Spot Village Marathon

According to all of the training guides, I had underprepared. In the running world, “long runs” are supposed to happen once a week or so — it’s never necessary to run the whole distance you’re set to run, but you should feel comfortable having run about 2/3 of the distance . . . for that last third, you can rely on your nerves and adrenaline and chutzpah and whatever it is that keeps an endurance athlete going. The problem is, long runs require a long time, and time has been at a premium — and because I’m a moron a purist, I won’t run on the dreadmill. The marathon came, and I had runs between 40 & 55% of the full marathon distance under me.

Smiling Pre-Race

But I’m me – I wasn’t worried. I would finish.

Sometime in 2014, I want to run a marathon in under 4 hours . . . but, with this being my first take at the distance in over two & a half years, I was going to be happy to “finish strong1“. Basically, I wanted to go out and treat the Garden Spot Village Marathon like “just another long run.” Just a long run that happened to be 26.2 miles in length.

As per my past behavior, I did not scope the course, but I did study the course map & elevation profile carefully. There was a big hill just before the 10k mark. There was another hill between miles 22 & 23 of the same elevation, but with a much steeper incline and decline. The thought in the back of my head was “if I get to the top of the hill with my legs still going, I should be able to coast to the end.”

I started pretty well — within the first mile, I had weaved my way, into & out of the crowd, to find “my pace,” which is always good — at the beginning of any big event, I typically spend far too much energy over the better part of two miles just being able to run my own race. By that first mile marker, I was on my own.

I passed the 4-hour marathon pace crew.

I passed the 3:55 marathon pace crew.

I climbed the hill at the 10k mark and passed the 1:55 half-marathon pace crew.

I hit the “runners high.” Honestly, I can’t tell you too much about miles 8-17. I remember passing each mile marker, thinking “Ok, I feel good.” I wasn’t even looking at my phone to see what pace I was running — I was on autopilot and it felt great.

As we approached mile 20, I consciously started to slow myself down. I still had plenty “in the tank,” but I knew the steep climb was coming – and, dammit, I wanted to be running at the top.

Mile 22 came. The summit came. I was still running.

Then mile marker 23 hit.

In the past, I’ve always claimed that a half marathon is, really, only a 10 mile run — you can coast the last 5k. And a marathon? It’s “only” a 20 mile run . . . and then it’s “just” a 10k. Of course, I was lying to myself.

What felled me is that I had spent too much time thinking about getting up the hill — I got up the hill without issue. But, it was steep going downhill, and, unlike riding a bike, going downhill requires just as much effort when you’re running as going uphill – except, to keep myself in check, I shift my weight back – instead of leaning slightly forward as I stride, I actually stand almost straight up. It was on one of these steps, right after the 23rd mile marker, that my right hamstring seized.

I immediately stopped running, got myself into a squat position, and the kink worked itself out. I started running again, and, within half a mile, it was right back. Again, I stopped, squatted, and got myself back into shape.

The 3:55 marathon pace runner passed me.

The 4 hour marathon pace runner passed me.

I passed a water station and guzzled two small cups of water, run/hopping with the pain in my leg.

I turned a corner and the leg seized yet again.

I lied down to stretch my leg out. Someone came running over from the last water station, a radio in her hand.

With less than a 5k between me & the end of the race, I very nearly had her call for a vehicle.

But I got up. When I tried to run, my leg would seize. When I walked, as long as I favored the limb, I was mostly ok.

A woman with whom I had been running much of the early part of the race caught up to me — on the uphills, I’d pass her, then she’d catch up on the corresponding downhill. Our flat-elevation cadences were just about perfectly in-synch. She tried to pep talk me into running. I tried. I couldn’t.

Others whom I had passed and shared a story or a pep talk or a smile or whatever passed me. I couldn’t go with them.

Mile marker 25 passed and I felt the knot dissipate – almost like the magic trick where a magician will pull two ends of a string and the knot in the middle just disappears.

Gingerly, I ran a few steps. And then a few more. And then a few more.

And then there was mile marker 26.

And then there was the finish.

Garden Spot Village Marathon Medal

It was a beautiful day for a run, and the volunteers on the course were among the best I had ever encountered in a race. I crossed the finish line.

Despite walking most of the last 5k, I bested my previous best time for the distance. Heck, I officially knocked a full hour off of my first marathon time (and I’d argue that this marathon was far more difficult than any of the previous marathons I had run).

Injuries suck. Finishing feels great.


1 Foreshadow alert: I did not finish strong.
Apr 7 14

Where I geek my way into a fun weekend.

by John

It started with an NPR story. I was on my way to work & they talked about a day-long party where all of the Lord of The Rings movies would be played where everybody would eat like Hobbits. Seriously, it seemed right up my alley.

I filed the story in my memory banks, thought about how much fun it would be, and then . . . sat.

But time passed, and passed, and passed, and passed . . . and I still thought about how much fun it would be.

So I looked at the calendar, found a weekend where I was not booked (this proved to be among the hardest parts of the entire exercise) and said “that’s it, this is when we’re doing it.” Evites went out — and, it’s only then that things become official.

I fretted about the menu for some time — foods inspired by the books . . . for a yet-to-be-determined number of people. My own issues with food (trying to “eat clean” and “be healthy” and ensure that “every calorie counts) aside, I knew it would be an undertaking. And I knew my approach to my diet would just be thrown out the window, for the weekend — and I was, somehow, ok with that.

The Menu & Timeline

  • 8am: coffee & tea
  • 9am: Breakfast (and start the movies). Frodo’s Scones & Gimli’s seedcake
  • 10am: Second Breakfast. Scotch Eggs Strider, Rosie’s Bread.
  • 11am: Elevensies. Lembas Bread
  • 1pm: Lunch. Po-Tay-Toe Soup, Cheddar Soup
  • 3pm: Tea. Bilbo’s Tea Cake, Mulled Cider
  • 5pm: Dinner. Rosie’s Shire Pie.
  • 6pm: Supper. Balin’s Spiced Beef.
  • Dessert (whenever/however): Blueberry Tarts, Smaug’s Gems.

Out-of-town guests started arriving Friday night — fortunately, we did most of the cleaning before anyone was over — but, my guests had to deal with me cooking and baking and prepping into the night. I hardboiled eggs, I marinated meat, I prepared the shire pie. I made enough scones, and seed cake, and tea cake, and tarts, and cookies to feed a crowd (note: I needed more of all of these). But, I was in my element.

I ended up drinking wine and playing piano with the out-of-town guests until 3 in the morning . . . well, I thought it was just past midnight, but you know what they say about time flying when you’re having fun. When I realized it was 3am . . . well, I knew I was in trouble. See, I wanted to run (did you see the menu?!) before showering before people arrived.

I woke at 6:30 and managed a quick two miles.

And then the day started.

Guests started arriving quickly. I’m afraid that most of the first few hours, I wasn’t the most social of hosts, as I was busy preparing/cooking the Scotch eggs, and then the soups. But I had a houseful of happy people. Kids were playing video games in the basement, or were watching Disney movies in the toy room. At one time, a parade of girls marched through, all of them dressed up like princesses and wearing fairy wings.

There was lots of laughter.

And, once I was able to serve the soups, things went onto auto-pilot for me, and I actually got to hang out with my guests and watch the movies! As to be expected, large gatherings started to happen outside of the movie-room, as that was the best place to sit down & chat, allowing those who wanted to watch the movies, well, to watch the movies (surprisingly, it was the older kids who were most steadfast in their desire to keep up with the goings-on of Frodo & the Fellowship).

I have friends who have gotten very, very good at home brewing, and there was tipple enough for all . . . and then some. Seriously yummy beer. Which lead to a seriously tipsy John by the end of the night.

People came & went as a full day on a random Saturday isn’t always, you know, available for a family. But people had a good time. And when the movies were ending, most everyone in the house stopped in to watch The Ring’s destruction and the return to the Shire.

Then we played Cards Against Humanity. And drank Angry Balls (cider & fireball whiskey). I was wearing my kilt. Somehow, I made it to the morning in one piece.

And then, since most of the crowd that spent the night ran, we ran.

Looking back, there is little that I would have done differently. Despite cooking and cooking and then more cooking, I didn’t have enough food for the crowd — we ended up ordering pizzas after serving the spiced beef. The shire pie & tea cake1, especially, I should have doubled…or tripled the recipes. And short work was made of the chocolate chip scones. Finding the right “doneness” of the Scotch eggs proved to be difficult — slicing them open when I was done, and then, sometimes, throwing the half-eggs back into the fryer proved to be necessary.

When I’m cooking a lot of food, much of it for the first time, I’m always prepared for something to flop (I’m especially reminded of a Weight-Watchers-friendly Chinese food feast that I attempted years ago, and throwing a bit of a tantrum over a “healthy” General Tso’s chicken that just wasn’t edible), but there wasn’t anything that I think didn’t pass muster here. I wasn’t a huge fan of the seed cake, but others seemed to like it. I don’t like chocolate, so the chocolate chip scones, well, I didn’t even approach them – but, as I said, short work was made of them. Smaug’s Gems (again, chocolate, so I didn’t do anything with them) appeared to be an acquired taste — not overly sweet, and with a whole lot of whiskey to them, but for those who liked them, they really liked them. As I started baking, I realized that I completely neglected to buy lavender — so the lavender muffins never materialized . . . but I’m someone who always tries to find the things that could have been better . . . and, well, I think everything went quite well. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’m going to start adding Scotch eggs to my breakfast routine, especially on days that I lift or run early, and the shire pie may become the new casserole of choice (replacing the chicken tortilla casserole that we make when we know we’ll need meals for a few days but not necessarily want to cook meals for a few days).

A dishwasher that won’t drain water had us constantly doing dishes . . . but that’s a mere minor inconvenience.

All in all, a good time was had. Duffy and I used to throw full-weekend parties, often . . . and then kids came. I think we both had no small amount of trepidation when it came to this weekend . . . but it worked well. We had activity enough for kids of all ages. And, you know, when you’re rocking out with your geek out, let that geek flag fly.

Now, though, I need a nap. And to head back to “clean eating,” at least until my marathon this Saturday.


1 The tea cake was the one thing that I knew would turn out, as I took the recipe and made cookies from it over Christmas . . . though, to be fair, I tried to make it, as a cake, about two months ago and it just completely flopped — this weekend, it was delectable.
Apr 1 14

Where I freak out a little bit about an upcoming marathon

by John

If you’re new here, there it probably isn’t too much of a surprise to know that I have a marathon on the horizon — I mean, you come to a place like “Daddy Runs a Lot” you expect posts about a father who runs. A lot. And a marathon is a lot of running.

But, this winter, I haven’t been running all that much. I hate running on the dreadmill, and the near-constant presence of ice on the roads has kept me inside . . . I’m working out, for sure, but I just haven’t been running as much as someone who is training for a marathon should be running. So, yesterday, I decided to test myself.

In 2011, I ran my first marathon — the Harrisburg Marathon. I had trained quite well, including several 22 mile runs — but I didn’t scope the course properly. Everything I read talked about how flat the course was . . . and up to the halfway point, I agreed – the course was quite flat. I was running fast (well, fast for me at the time, and certainly faster than I should have been running), and then I hit the 18 mile mark. The course ran straight through Wildwood Park in Harrisburg, with significant hills. I was going too fast. I was running too confidently. The hills, almost literally, swept my legs out from under me.

I finished the race, but I ended up walking most of the last 10k. I just had nothing left.

So, yesterday, after a brutally cold weekend that included a late March snow/freezing-rain/ice storm, I found perfect Spring-in-Pennsylvania weather. And a few hours to kill. So I ran. And I took myself to that park which was the bane of that first marathon. I ran the hills. And then I looped back and ran them again. And again. And again.

All told, I ended up running 12.5 miles, but I had plenty left “in the tank” at the end of everything . . . I stopped because I had another commitment, so I just didn’t have another half-hour to commit to another loop around the park.

Looking at the elevation profile of the run I’m committed to, there are two significant climbs – the first in the first 10k (which, hopefully, will allow me to prepare my legs), and then one just before the final 5k (seriously, the highpoint is almost exactly at the 23 mile mark, so the last 5k is, literally “all downhill” – hopefully I’ll be running and not rolling).

I keep telling myself that “I’ve got this,” despite not being out on the road as often as I’d like, but yesterday’s run certainly helped me believe what I’ve been saying to myself.

Mar 27 14

Where I recall watching a movie with my son

by John

In my last post my friend Lisa, from libelletage mentioned how it’s great to look back at parenting posts to remember just what kids were like. I smiled when I read the comment, and started thinking of my favorite memories of my kids. And I realized that there’s one that I haven’t shared here. But I need to.

We can argue nature versus nurture for what kids grow to love when they’re kids — there’s certainly a tremendous amount of influence that we, as parents, have over their children. But, I think some loves just are born, intrinsically . . . with an adopted child, well, we don’t have a lot of input into what the birth parents enjoyed — but I was certainly happy the day that I started watching Star Wars on the TV & CJ sat down, transfixed.

The kid, simply is a Star Wars kid. Soon after I realized that I could use the movie as a babysitter to distract my young son while I dealt with my daughter, CJ started getting into Lego Star Wars on the Wii (which was awesome at first, because you just had to give him a Wiimote in control of a character that had a blaster & he was happy just shooting the blaster randomly . . . now, he actually plays the game, which is great & everything, but if he can’t get through a part, he’ll ask for help, meaning that I have to keep within hailing distance once I turn the game on).

Though I loved having a Star Wars kid, there are times that, simply, you have too much of a good thing in your life1. And I couldn’t sit through another Star Wars movie. So I put in the Iron Giant.

CJ couldn’t have been much more than one at the time — he was walking, but absolutely not talking2. Leila was very little, and I believe was napping through much of the movie (I ended up placing her in the pack & play more often than not because her “not entirely steady on his feet” brother couldn’t really be trusted to not trip over her if she was anywhere near him.

Throughout the movie, I was doing laundry, changing diapers . . . I may have napped for a little bit. CJ did the typical toddler thing, looking at the screen every now & then, but playing with toys, asking to be picked up, generally treating the movie as background noise.

Then the movie ended **spoiler alert for a movie that was released 15 years ago, but is entirely under-appreciated**. The Giant sacrificed himself, and the redeeming quality of the “jumpy” bolt that seemed to be screaming “it’s going to take awhile, but I’m putting myself back together,” would be lost on a one-year-old.

I questioned how much of the movie my son was picking up, but answered myself about 5 minutes later. He napped, then snacked, just before the movie, so it wasn’t “I’m sleepy,” and it wasn’t “I’m hungry,” but he started bawling. Uncontrollable crying. For 45 minutes.

He wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t sleepy. His diaper didn’t need to be changed. I’m convinced that he was crying for the giant.

So we watched Star Wars again to cheer him up.


1 Fortunately, when it comes to Star Wars, it takes an incredibly short amount of time for the awesomeness to reset.
2 I worried, for ages, about CJ’s speech — he started walking early, and shows plenty of signs of “being smart,” but his speech was delayed, so I worried, and hoped he would start talking. Now, there are times that I curse myself for those hopes.
Mar 25 14

Where I notice subtleties in the behavior of my children

by John

Not long ago, I wrote about “uppy.” My kids enjoy it when I carry them about, and I’ve gotten really good at lifting and carrying both children at the same time. Heck, if I have somewhere that I need to be, this is my preferred method of foot transportation, because it means that I can walk at my own pace (which is considerably faster than the toddler constant of dilly-dally). Monday, during the preschool drop-off, we parked, I got both children out of their carseats, and asked “who wants uppy?” Both children said “me,” so I picked them up and worked my way to preschool.

But as we got close to the actual school, CJ started seeing his friends. And, suddenly, he wanted to walk.

I wonder if the days of cuddles with the cuddlier of my children are limited.


Leila is finally turning the corner with potty training. We still have accidents, but I feel like we’re getting close to the end of them. Now, though, when she thoroughly fills the toilet, she’s taken to saying “my poop is like daddy’s.”

I don’t know what to make of this.


I’ve taken to doing handstands & headstands in an effort to getting used to being upside down, which will aid in my doing handstand push-ups. My kids find this hilarious, but it’s going to kill me when one of them pulls off a perfectly executed handstand before me. And I know that’s going to happen — they have a LOT less mass to balance.


I typically sleep in my underwear or pajama pants — seldom do I wear a shirt to bed. This means that, at night or in the morning, I hang about, in my house, wearing little. Leila has taken to sucking in her tummy whenever I’m getting her dressed so that she “is like daddy.” I don’t know if this is a testament to my fat-loss, or if I subconsciously suck in my stomach whenever I’m not wearing a shirt.


As someone who can hear a song time and time and time again & barely know any of the words to it (I pay attention to the music, itself), it’s kind of scary how well my kids know the lyrics to the songs they like. They both seem to know every word to every song in Frozen. Whenever I have them alone in my truck, I just tell Siri to “Play Artist, The Beatles” and that’s what we listen to.

The other day, Leila was singing “Letter B”, to “Let It Be” which made me giddy. And at the end of the same trip, CJ asked me who Jude was, and why wasn’t she paying attention? Because, if Jude were paying attention, you wouldn’t have to call “hey” all of the time.


Tantrums as I get the kids ready for preschool are pretty commonplace. But the last made me chuckle: I was getting everything ready, and, as it was a Monday, I had symphony practice that night, so I had to put my bass in the truck. When Leila saw me pick up Lenore, she asked if I was going to make music.

I explained that, yes, that night I was going to play music. She wanted me to take Lenore out, right then, and play. I really, really hope this is the start to true music appreciation.

Mar 18 14

Where a tired mind makes for a disjointed post

by John
  • This is tech-week for Bat Boy: the Musical. I’m playing bass, but, with the way the theatre is laid out, I actually can’t see what’s going on, on-stage, at all. So I really don’t know what the heck is going on, I just see randomness with people backstage. In no particular order, this show involves: a very pretty girl wearing her underwear, a skinny guy with bat ears and fangs, the entire cast dressed as plushies, some shirtless dude with horns carrying a staff, gunshots.
  • CJ has expressed increased desire for “Ninja Lessons,” which is the term we use when talking about martial arts. So I think I’m going to figure out how to get him signed up . . . next week. This week, I have rehearsals every night.
  • My workouts have changed rather significantly. After a few, consecutive days of being unable to spend some quality time with the squat rack or a bench-press, I decided to think about what body weight exercises I might be able to do to replicate the exercises that I was hoping to. I came up with pistol-squats (stand on one leg with the other straight-out, lower yourself fully, and then stand back up without allowing the straight-out leg to touch the ground), dips (place yourself on parallel bars, lower your body so that your upper-arm is parallel with the ground, lift yourself back up), pull-ups (grab onto an overhead bar with your palms facing away from you, lift your chin above the bar). I was not able to do most of these, so I’ve adopted a bodyweight training program, just so that I can get the exercises I want without having to worry much about equipment. I still have my original goals: squat 315 pounds, bench press 225, overhead press 135, deadlift 405 — but the exercises I’m doing now should help me, even if I’m not actually doing those specific exercises. If nothing else, I’m sweating more from “weight lifting” than I ever have. And I’m doing headstands.
  • I haven’t “gone paleo” but I’m giving a LOT more thought to what I eat and what it’s for . . . mainly, I’m trying to ensure that every calorie counts . . . which means that I’ve just about cut sweets and chips out of my diet entirely . . . but I’ll eat guacamole by the spoonful.
  • I miss chips and candy. Though I’m not complaining about the way my body is responding to the lack of either.
  • My daydreams, increasingly, take me to the beach. I long to feel an ocean breeze cooling my body from a hot day.
  • Also, I want to hike. I think, once I can find a free weekend (not always so easy in my world), I’m going to take the family camping. Unplugging is good, every now & then.
  • That said, I fear CJ is associating the word “camp” with “Camp Halfblood,” because he talks, often, about wanting to go camping, and he’s listening to the Percy Jackson audiobooks. Something tells me that he’ll be disappointed to not find a minotaur while camping.
  • I’m giving serious thought to taking a week’s worth of vacation and sitting down to write songs. I wish lyrics were easy.
  • I’m stressing a bit about my schedule, especially when I start thinking about what the kids might need to do — the next several weekends:
    • Musical
    • Musical
    • Lord of the Rings Day, where I’ll play all three movies while serving foodstuff based on the books.
    • A marathon that I have completely under-trained for
    • A half-marathon that I’d say that I had completely under-trained for, but if I’m running a full-marathon the week before, so I can hardly claim the same here, because I’ll be perfectly trained for this race by then.
    • Another musical.
    • Symphony concert.
    • Mothers’ Day.
    • Then we’re sometime into late-May.
  • I really, really like getting myself breakfast for dinner.
  • I’m unreasonably proud of myself for making corned beef & cabbage over the weekend & preparing single-serve portions for lunch throughout the week this week. Next week, I’ll be doing the same with curried chicken & lentils.
  • I’m very sleepy.
Mar 17 14

Where I wonder just how much money I’ll be spending on my daughter’s drama lessons

by John

This past weekend, my wife‘s uncle held a St. Patrick’s Day Party — and we were quite happy to attend (because beer family). I made guacamole (because green).

Knowing we would likely be dealing with sleepy (if not asleep) children when leaving the party, we packed pajamas, in the hopes of changing the kids into the PJ’s just as they started to show signs of growing weary. Leila, of course, as soon as she got into the house & saw her Minnie Mouse pajamas (with polka dots!), stripped fully and demanded to be put into her pajamas. I’ll always preach “wear comfortable clothes” to my kids, so, you know, why not! Pajamas for La!

As with most any good party, the food was plentiful and varied. As one point, I was helping CJ make a plate for dinner. He’s four, and he’s not a baby, and he can carry his own plate himself.

Except when he can’t.

So the plate dropped to the ground.

It was just at this moment that Leila came in, threw her arms in the air, looked me in the eyes, and said “uppy.”

If you’ve seen me with my kids, in real life, you know about “uppy” Basically, my kids like to be carted around . . . and I lift weights in order to be able to do this1. Because I’m a pushover I like to make my kids happy, I oft respond by squatting down, hugging my kids tight about their thighs, and then standing, with them both in my arms, when I hear this “uppy” word.

But there was a mess on the floor that needed to be addressed right then.

So I said “no,” a word that I don’t ever say say very often around my children.

Leila sighed, seemed to deflate in front of me, and sulked out of the room, as did CJ, who was very upset that he couldn’t hold onto the plate.

I cleaned the mess and walked out to make sure my kids were ok.

La, apparently, looked distraught to my wife and then broke into monologue. “Daddy yelled at me. He wouldn’t pick me uppy. He used to love me but now he doesn’t love me anymore.”

Sigh . . .


1 The real reason I work out is to look good naked be healthy, but part of that is being able to cart around 80 pounds of squirming toddler mass while walking/hiking2.
2 The only reason I crossed out “look good naked” in the previous footnote is because I already look great while naked. Though I’m always looking to look better3.
3 Vanity, thy name is John.
Mar 6 14

Where I answer the questions that I’m commonly asked at the gym

by John

Maybe it’s because I smile a lot. Or maybe it’s because I seem to be there with a mission (giving the impression that I know what I’m doing). Or maybe I have the type of body that people are trying for (see first question below). Whatever the reason, a lot of people have started asking me about their workouts as I’m at the gym – and being the wiseass helpful guy I am, here goes.

How do I keep from bulking up?

This is easily the most asked question (throw “I want to be cut” and “I want to look toned” in with the mix), yet nobody believes my answer, that you should find a set of lifts that you feel comfortable with, that work all of the muscle groups of your body, and proceed to do them, regularly and heavily. I always, always, always get the “but lifting heavy makes you bulk” counter, and that makes me cringe.

It’s true that, when you first start lifting weights, you’ll “appear to start to bulk.” What happens is that you’ll be exercising muscles that aren’t used to being tested, and that will make them grow. But that shuts off really damn quickly. From there, the only way to “get bulky” is to add mass. And the only way to add mass is to eat more calories. If you don’t want to add mass, and therefore keep from “getting bulky,” don’t eat excess calories. It’s as simple as that – and what I do. Now, I test my limits most every time I am at the gym – and, because I’m not eating a caloric excess, my body weight is staying mostly stagnant (over the last 180 days, my weight has been between 209 and 219 pounds), I’m not adding weight to my lifts as quickly as someone who is adding mass to their body as they add mass to their lifts. But, those gains are coming for me1 in their own time.

Again, the only factor for body mass is calories ingested versus calories expended. If you want to keep your weight where it is, set a caloric budget and stick to it.

Want to get “cut,” “ripped”? What you really want is to see your muscle definition, and to do that you need to cut down on your body fat percentage. The easiest way to do that is to add muscle while maintaining your body mass (because as you add muscle, if you’re maintaining mass, the excess mass in your body will come from somewhere, and that’s your fat stores). The less fat you have, the more you’ll be able to “see” your muscles through your skin — arms, legs, chest, and, yes, six-pack-abs, they’re all muscles, and all abide by the same formula.

What are these muscle groups that you target?
I do not do any isolation exercise. Every lift I perform, I perform because it’s compound (works a bunch of muscles) and I believe it will assist me in real life. I squat, as much as possible – because everybody has to squat. I do overhead presses because, well, there are times that I need to lift shit over my head. I do “pull” exercises (first rows, now pull-ups) because I have nightmares of having to pull one of my children up from over a cliff. I do chest-press exercises (first bench press, now push-ups and dips) because it’s far more cool to get out of the pool by propelling yourself up on the side than stepping out from the stairs or the ladder. Eventually, when I’m strong enough, I’ll be doing handstand push-ups because I think they’re cool. All of these use a variety of muscles – I do not touch any of the machines at the gym.

But don’t you need to work your core?

Look at the previous closely. I do work my core with every lift I do. When I squat, I need to keep my core activated, lest my upper body falls forward or backward as I get up from a squat. When I overhead press, I do so while standing, and my core supports my body, keeping it rigid. The main reason I’ve switched from the bench press to dips is because, while the primary muscles worked are much the same, doing a dip forces you to keep your core active, lest your lower body sway as you try to dip – and that keeps you from completing the exercise. The entire time you’re doing push-ups, you’re maintaining some form of plank. When I’m finally able to maintain a handstand, well, you need to keep your core active or your legs will just fall forward.

I fear I may never have six-pack abs, but that’s not because of lack of core work — too many years of too little attention to my body has this nice layer of skin around my middle — even if my body fat were to shrink to the point where I should start seeing “a six pack” (12-15% for guys), the skin will just hang there.

How much protein should I eat?

This is more complicated. My philosophy is that I want to hit my calorie goals — 2700 calories on a day that I don’t work out (I came to this number via a LOT of trial & error since the start of 2013, when I started trying to lose weight in earnest — 2700 seems to be what I need to keep me where I am, which is consistent with a lot of calorie calculators for a moderately active 36 year old man). Add 300 calories if I lifted. Add 800 if I ran more than 6 miles or cycled more than 20. Add 1000 if I both lift and run in the same day.

For those calories, I try to only eat when I’m hungry. When I eat, I try to chose high-protein foods (lean meats — enjoying a good steak works lovely here, eggs, I mix protein powder into my morning coffee — protein satiates me more than anything else) and shy away from sugary foods. I don’t shy away from fat, though I try to avoid trans-fats like the plague. But I don’t stress over “hitting my macros,” because then I get a little bit crazy, and “just eating and logging” starts to feel like a diet.

One of the most useful side-effects since the start of 2013 is that I know what it feels like to be hungry. I’m fortunate enough that, if I want food at any given moment, I can have food. Even if money is tight, I have something in my pantry that I can eat or I can scrounge in my truck and find a few quarters for a trip to the vending machine. But since I’ve been really giving thought to what I’ve been eating, I’ve allowed myself to get hungry. I hope to know that feeling on sparse occasion, and only when I consciously want to remind myself what it feels like – but it’s useful. I try not to eat because “it’s time to eat,” (though I do try to make sure that I’m starting to get hungry at a time that is “socially acceptable” for dinner), and I won’t allow myself to eat because I’m bored.

What is this (pointing to the Smith machine) good for?

In my opinion, the Smith Machine (a machine with an attached barbell on a rail that allows you to make fixed, vertical movements) is good for very little. Squatting is one of the key motions that everybody has to perform – but when you squat in real life, you do NOT squat on a fixed vertical axis – there’s a little horizontal movement. I squat, now, to add muscle and to ensure that I’m able to squat “worry free” for as long as possible (getting old sucks). Using a regular barbell on your back, you need to squat properly. Sure, if you fail, it’s scary (that’s why I always squat in a safety rack – if my muscles simply won’t allow me another repetition, I can just sit down from the bottom of the lift, and then be a man, walk around, and take the plates off the bar before re-racking it), but that’s also how you get better.

The Smith machine is great for learning how to do pull-ups. You can set the bar at different heights for inverted pull-ups, which I think are far better to getting yourself to doing actual pull-ups than bands or counter-weights.


1 I should note that I love to eat. Like, seriously. Looking through the book that my parents made of all of my grade-school art projects & stuff, I recently ran across an “all about me” book that I made in the second grade. It read “My name is John. I have a cat. Her name is Ebony. I love to eat.” My cat’s name, now, is Pip. The rest of that autobiography? As accurate today as it was in the second grade.

Because I love to eat so much, I’ll readily admit that the main reason that I’m loathe to add calories to my diet2 is that I do not trust myself to add more calories than I should, in the name of “gotta bulk up.” I can keep myself honest at present. The other reason is that I am a runner, I enjoy running . . . and it’s easier to propel a 212 pound body for 26.2 miles than it is to run that same distance with a body that weighs, say, 250 pounds.

2 Here, I’m using diet as a noun, as in what I eat on a daily basis . . . I do NOT diet (verb). I am not looking to cut my caloric intake — just watch what I do eat.
Feb 25 14

Where I contemplate malaise

by John

Really, I don’t know what this is. Maybe it’s just being tired of the weather. Maybe it’s my worried lack of sleep rebounding upon itself causing more worry (and therefore less sleep). Maybe it’s the exercise I’m doing keeping me so sore that my mood has adjusted accordingly. Maybe it’s my refusal to ever admit that I’m sick conflicting with the fact that I am sick, and whatever “this” is is just the manifestation of the converging illness and delusion.

Whatever it is, it sucks. Things that I typically receive great joy from: symphony, band, working out, running, writing . . . they all feel like chores. Heck, I even worry about heading home — don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but I fear that, whatever marbles I might have remaining will disappear during post-bathtime cries of “I’m hungry” as I’m climbed upon, despite the fact that both children adamantly claimed to “not be hungry” during dinner, and that the food I made was disgusting. I’ve taken to just cooking whatever I want and just happily preparing a microwaved hot dog or peanut butter sandwich for the lesser crowd – it’s no skin off my back. But, oh my god, the whining about being hungry minutes after whining about the fact that they weren’t hungry as I try to get them to eat.

A long run clears my head, but getting out the door is trying. Especially when you’re fighting the cold and the ice and the wind. And running with numb feet is no fun.

I have no idea why I’m waking up with numb arms in the middle of the night, most nights, but I know the act isn’t helping anything. I wake, and “why the fuck are my arms numb” gets added to the list of voices that I worked so hard to silence just to get myself to sleep in the first place.

Fatty, sugary foods call to me, right along with salty, crunchy ones. But I know those are false cures. I wish I was as sure of the same for wine, though I truly believe I have that devil in me held at bay. Most days.

I much preferred the days of constantly smelling faintly of spit-up to the days of wondering what new & interesting places I’ll have to clean shit from. It wouldn’t be so bad if said clean-up weren’t also a footrace with overeager dogs.

Then I feel guilty that I haven’t walked said dogs in a long time, because of the weather issues at the top of the post. So that gets added to the list of voices that will keep me awake tonight, along with the worry over the fact that I still haven’t “just passed out” and slept through the night, like I’m certain I will, one of these days. Just like those who play the lottery, religiously, are certain that it’s the next jackpot that they’ll finally win.

I need to lose myself in something — I just wish I knew what.

Or I just need the weather to warm up. Or something.