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Apr 20 15

Where I chronicle a busy, fun weekend, renewing the “daddy” part of my handle

by John

My poor performance at the marathon had been looming over my head for a full week, which isn’t entirely horrible. Because, with the way my mind works, I’ve been figuring out how I can run the distance again, and run it better, and do better, and, you know, actually feel like I ran a marathon. While a very real part of me was talking of “retiring the distance,” I don’t want to have my last marathon have such a sour taste in my mouth1. So I’m already devising running plans so that my next marathon will be stronger. And, injuries aside, it’ll happen in 2015. I might not get to four hours . . . but I’ll cross the finish line strong, with a smile on my face.

While last week was a week of recovery, both emotional and physical, this past weekend was necessary on many different levels . . . even if it didn’t allow me to catch my breath – because, well, what’s “rest” when there is fun to be had?

We’ll start on Thursday. As I mentioned previously, my son absolutely rocked his karate belt test. However, in our school, you don’t receive your belt when you test — the results need to be validated by a third party . . . which means the belt ceremony, where you get the next belt, happens the next week. This happened on Thursday. And CJ, having achieved something he really wanted, got to pick where we went to dinner. He choose a local hibachi grill – you know, the kind where they cook the food in front of you with a little show. CJ loves this place – especially the sake part (for adults, the chef squirts sake from a squeeze bottle from the grill to any willing participant at the table, quitting when they beg out or when the drink starts dribbling down that person’s chin — then, for kids, he does the same, only with water in the squirt bottle — my kids are DANGEROUSLY good at this). So, we went out for a fun dinner. I had sushi, and steak, and salmon.

Hibachi Dinner

Is it really dinner if it doesn’t involve a selfie?

Damn, I love food.

Friday had me at work all day . . . so, well, I guess Thursday wasn’t really part of the weekend, but it really felt detached. After work, I got the kids, got home, made dinner and spent the night watching movies & playing video games and, well, just enjoying being with my kids.

Saturday, forgot to reset my alarm, so my phone started going off at 5am. I tried to reset it — but I have a two-stage alarm. First, there is the electronic alarm that is my phone . . . then there is the physical alarm that is a 50-ish pound shar-pei mix mutt that likes to lick my face. Especially after the alarm goes off. I think I managed to say in bed for the better part of an hour, thinking “Benji will grow tired of bugging me, eventually” but I was wrong. So I got out of bed. I walked him. I got Snickelfritz, and fed both dogs. Then I dressed . . . to run.

I “only” ran 4 miles — and, honestly, I was fighting pain for much of the run — my knees and hip are still dealing with the marathon. And I really don’t know what’s going on with my shoulder, but it’s still not happy. But, I ran. Just for a little bit, I lost myself in the sweat, the “going.” It was splendid.

I had big plans for the day, so I got right back to work after getting home.

First, the kids showered with me, then we got dressed, and then we got out of the door. The National Aquarium in Baltimore beckoned.

My first job out of college was as a software developer for a startup firm headquartered in Baltimore — I worked directly across the street from the aquarium. When work got to be too frustrating, I’d find myself taking lunch at the aquarium — I’d make a B-line to the sharks (avoiding the crowds where possible, completely skipping the rainforest exhibit) and just watch them for awhile. If time allowed, I’d make a second loop of the aquarium, taking everything in, marveling at the colors and the . . . serenity that are fish swimming about.

My kids — well, they’re four and five. Sitting around, looking at fish? Not super high on their priority list. I mean, sure, fish are cool & everything . . . but there is a definite lack of appreciation for just “watching.”

I told Leila the highlights from when I used to visit regularly: the poison tree frogs, the anaconda, the octopus, the puffins (that she insisted on calling penguins . . . I stopped correcting her at some point, though we revisit penguins in just a little bit), the seahorses, and the sharks. Every time I tried to stop to admire something, I got a “Dad, you’re getting distracted,” and she wanted us to see what she wanted to see, which was what I said was cool. Most things, we got a cursory glance of, not much more. But that was expected.

Aquarium!

Fortunately, I was able to point out the seahorses . . . watching the comprehension that I wasn’t just “looking at sticks in the water” and was looking at “real seahorses” was pretty cool. The touch exhibit was recently opened . . . Leila was very happy to be able to touch horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, whelks, and stingrays. CJ wasn’t quite brave enough to try.

CJ was quite happy to see a tarantula — but happier that it was behind glass. Leila was disappointed that the poison tree dart frogs didn’t come in pink. The rainforest was a hit, if only because it was “just like the movie Rio 2!” Everyone was hugely impressed with the “nice sharks,” with CJ being especially fond of the sawshark, whom he named Sir Shark.

The dolphins were a HUGE HIT – and the kids even paid attention, a little, to an instructor explaining why porpoises have bite marks2. I considered the outing, despite the breakneck pace through the exhibit areas, a huge success – and an educational success, at that.

But, on the way in, CJ saw a huge sign with a Lego figurine on it . . . and he really wanted to see it.

And, to be honest, I kind of wanted to see Port Discovery as well. I had never been.

Now, there was some kind of major running event going on in Baltimore when we arrived — but it really didn’t affect us heading into the aquarium. I think the very large beergarten near Port Discovery was tied to said event. But maybe not. What I do know is that, as we approached Port Discovery, there was a VERY VERY long line of 20-50-somethings and very loud music. But, I think this, actually, worked to our advantage . . . as nobody there was actually heading into the children’s museum, but waiting to have their ID checked for some beer event. And, while a beer event sounded great on the hot day (it his 85F/30C), it’s not the most child-friendly decision I could make. So, long line of people waiting for beer meant less of a crowd in the kids’ museum.

The kids played with Legos. They climbed intricate treehouse-type structures, they slid down slides, they experimented with water flow, they blew bubbles. They, basically, played at a huge toddler park (I may have climbed said treehouse-type structure, as well . . . because, well, I’m me – and CJ wanted help, half-way up).

When we had seen all that could be seen there, we started working our way back home . . . when CJ asked about the zoo.

And we didn’t really have a timetable to abide by. So we went to the Baltimore zoo.

Kids with a Lego Dragon

In retrospect, this was a parent mistake — but not a huge one. If you were to ask me for advice in planning an adventure to Disney, the first thing I’d say is to “schedule downtime.” There is no need to be doing something active at all times — it’s a recipe for child (and adult) meltdowns. This . . . well, it kind of made for a minor meltdown. First off, the kids had been going strong since 7am, and I mean GOING STRONG. Things were in constant motion. It was a hot day, and the sun was blaring — I put sunscreen on them, but, well, the sun still takes a lot out of you . . . especially when the winter has been brutal and the kids, simply, aren’t used to sweating when walking about outside. The Baltimore Zoo has a significant walk between the entrance area and the first exhibits . . . all of that made for some grumpy.

On top of that, it was a mid-April day, and there are some animals, that prefer the hot, that the zoo keeps elsewhere, until some time in May, just because freezing, in April, happens. But, because of the temps, many animals that would normally be about were hiding in the shade. Essentially, there were a lot of what appeared to be empty exhibits to the kids.

And my kids were done.

I reminded myself that I workout because I want to be able to carry my kids. So, I picked both children up. They rested their heads on my shoulders. And I walked them back to the car. We drove home. The zoo, sure, we could have skipped . . . but the kids did get to see real penguins (though I’d argue that puffins were cooler). They saw zebras and giraffes and polar bear and rhinoceroseseses. They had a good day.

Not unexpectedly, bedtime was quite easy Saturday night . . . we watched The Lego Movie (because, hello, we had been playing with Legos most of the day) and the kids, kind-of, put themselves to bed.

Sunday woke with a dog walk, because, well, Benji is relentless. Then I made lunches for the week. Then the kids were dressed. We went to church and did the church thing (heck, CJ even spent a significant portion of the service sitting next to me at the organ), then I went to watch a show. Duffy has been helping backstage for the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which is just a delightful three-person show, and I really wanted to see it. So the kids went with my in-laws and I watched a show.

CJ with Daddy at the Organ

It’s very rare that I sit in the audience and enjoy a show . . . I’m far more-used to putting on a show. But I had a blast, and the cast & crew of the Oyster Mill Playhouse should be very proud of themselves for a truly high-quality production.

Then, it was time to rehearse, once again . . . because, well, it’s what I do. I’m playing bass in a production of Schoolhouse Rocks, Live! next weekend, which meant that Sunday night was the cast sing-through. There were minimal costumes, next to no dancing, no dialog . . . but, I can already tell this show will be fun. So that’s that.

But now we’re at Monday — I’m exhausted (and am looking at a week of work & rehearsals — little else), but, well, I’m feeling much better than I was, at this time, last week. So there’s that :)


1 In all of the negativity with my last post, there was a very real positive from the run . . . see, with the online blogging & everything, it’s easy to forget that there are real-life people involved, sometimes. A good friend of mine ran the half-marathon, and she stuck around to cheer me at the end. And, well, even if I was hating life as I crossed the finish line, it’s always great to see a friend and to be cheered on. Thank you, Kris, for sticking around. It was unfair of me to make it seem that everything about that day was horrible.
2 In a display of dominance, a stronger dolphin will bite another dolphin, essentially to say “I’m stronger than you.” When a new dolphin appears in a new group, the bite marks (or lack thereof) will explain how this dolphin fared amongst his/her previous brethren. My kids asked why dolphins would make the bad choices of biting each other.
Apr 12 15

Where I have a little chat with myself about preparation & disappointment

by John

Four hours. It’s my goal time for the marathon — it’s FAR slower a time than “Boston Qualifying.” But, it’s a nice-round number. And, well, it works for me, at present. Four hours — it’s what I’m striving for.

That said, today’s marathon, I knew I wasn’t going to hit four hours. I can tell myself any number of reasons – but, the truth is, running has not been my priority. I think I’ve been out, in calendar year 2015, 4 times. One of those times was to run a sanctioned race, where I put more care into how I was looking than I did into my stride rate and pace. None of those four even approached the 26.2 miles that I was set to run this morning. I’ve been working out, surely – but running – improving my distance, improving my speed, working to become a better runner . . . I’ve done none of that.

Before the race, I said, with complete honesty, that I “just wanted to finish.” I knew I wouldn’t hit four hours. But “just finish” was a bunch of bullshit, as well — I wanted to finish, finish strong, and finish with a smile. One of those three things happened.

I knew I was in trouble after the first mile. I started in the very back of the pack, but never fought to make my way to an area where I could run “my pace.” Where there were gaps among the runners, I’d move up, but I was far more a leaf in the river than the salmon swimming upstream that I feel like, at the start of most every race. The only way I could have speculated as to my time, after the first mile, was that I was just starting the third song of my playlist . . . which made me feel that I was running “average, maybe a little slow.” But, again, I just wanted to get through, so who cares what my time might have been.

What bothered me after the first mile was that I just wasn’t “feeling it.”

Every runner has to deal with running. I have yet to meet anyone who can go out for any run and can honestly say “yeah, that was amazing” the entire time. For me, I need to overcome the inner turmoil at the start, every time . . . usually, by the first mile, I am enjoying myself . . . but there’s a changeover that happens in there. The first mile hit here & all I could think was “something doesn’t feel right.”

Mile marker two came, and I started wondering if I should flag down a support vehicle. My right knee was very unhappy, and I was afraid that I might be doing some damage to it by continuing to run. But, the field was QUITE crowded at the time, and this was probably just me saying “you know you’re under-prepared and you’re looking for an excuse to get out.”

Mile marker three came, and I told myself that I’d flag down a support vehicle for a ride back at the half-marathon turnaround.

Mile marker four came, and my knee was no longer at the forefront of my brain.

As Winnie the Pooh might say, I started feeling a “rumbly in my tummy.” As my kids would say “Pooh!” As any experienced runner might say, “runner’s trots.”

Mile marker five came, and I told myself that I’d just turn around with the half-marathoners, get through the damn race, and chalk it up to a bad day.

Mile marker six came with the same thought.

The half-marathon turnaround saw a rather aggressive woman looking at bibs, telling people to move forward or to turn around. I was wearing a “full” bib. I was told to keep going. I kept going.

The next rest area, I stopped. I think I continued the run several pounds lighter than I had just previously been.

The marathon is fickle. 26.2 miles is a really fucking long way. But, it’s an attainable distance. I’d argue that most anyone can complete a marathon . . . it’s just that, well, if you don’t want to hate yourself & everyone around you when you’re done, you really need to train for it.

And, again, I hadn’t trained.

In addition to the physical endurance needed to keep yourself going, step after step after step after step, you need to do something to keep your brain occupied. This is where the “runner’s high” is so wonderful . . . there are times, during a run, where I lose track of the fact that I’m running. I am not actively thinking about much of anything . . . I am. Just, simply, I am.

In this run, I never got “the high.” What I started doing was taking a physical inventory at each mile marker. By mile marker 10, my knee and belly weren’t as pressing . . . as I was developing a nasty headache. “Duh, doofus,” I said to myself, you just dropped off a load of water — double up at every rest stop. And I did.

At mile marker 11, I told myself that I’d just “run a half marathon” and then flag down a support vehicle to take me back — my knee hurt, my belly wasn’t right, my head hurt . . . simply, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t harming myself by being on the course.

Mile marker 13 came, and there was a rest stop soon after. I stopped again. I got back on the course, again, lighter than I was previously.

The thing about running is that the act of getting yourself “up to speed” takes considerably more effort than “staying at speed.” So, while actually stopping left me feeling just a little bit better, and thinking “maybe I can get through this, after all,” the extra little bit of energy that it took to just go from “moving” to “running” left me sucking wind yet again.

But I was running again . . . I’d continue to 16 miles . . . that’s the “long run” minimum for marathon training . . . if you can get to 16 comfortably, some schools say, you’ll be able to complete the last 10. I got to 16 — my knee wasn’t hurting quite as much, but my head was throbbing. I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything in my stomach for my stomach to really be upset. My left big toe was hurting, and my right hip was starting to speak up.

Remember how I mentioned that the marathon was a mental exercise? Well, juggling all of that, and then trying to adjust your pace so that you aren’t damaging yourself – it makes for a long race.

By mile marker 20, my right foot went into a full cramp/spasm and I had to stop, take off my damn shoe, and work the muscle cramp out before starting again. As soon as I did, my right quad/hip/buttcheek started spasming. In addition to double water with every rest stop, I started adding a 1/3 of a banana to my intake. I was walking. Painfully. At this point.

I walked up “the hill”. Heck, I limped/walked most of the last 8 miles.

I never called for a support vehicle, though I was tempted to, often.

A big part of what had me going, as I approached the end? Poop – and not my own.

This race is part of a two-race series . . . the other race is in September, a half marathon — if you run both in the same calendar year, you get a plaque with hose poop shellacked onto it . . . I want this. Last week, I got a trophy for running a race in the best costume. 2015 will be the year of “weird race bling,” and, well, if I finished, I would be that much closer to this plaque.

Now, hours after the fact, my right butt cheek is still spasming and I have a greatly reduced range of motion in my right hip. I can’t walk down stairs without going step by step. I’m sun & wind burned most everywhere. The blister on my left big toe has opened up, leaving what looks like an odd biology experiment inside my sock. My right shoulder hurts like a motherfuck. My shoulder — from running. Bullshit (well, no – I can tell you that a shoulder will hurt from running in the same way that knees hurt from running — thousands of steps create shock, and that shock works its way up the body — it gets absorbed as it goes, but every joint is going to feel every step, in some way/shape/form — I’ve been having a lot of problems with my left shoulder, lately, from an ill-fated attempt at performing a muscle-up . . . it only makes sense that, subconsciously, I was favoring my left shoulder and . . . as such, punishing my right shoulder just a little bit more than the left, so, on a day like today, the right shoulder would, essentially, stop working . . . though, seriously, it feels like I’ve been stabbed).

Oh, the wind. Holy shit, the wind. The weather was just about perfect . . . just a little bit cool at the start, but, considering I was running, that’s not a bad thing. The sun shone brightly. But the wind? Wow. It was consistently blowing 20-25 miles per hour. Gusts were up to 45 miles per hour.

I’m lighter than I’ve been in quite some time . . . normally, when running a big race, having less of you to drag around is a good thing. However, well, in the wind? I don’t know if I wouldn’t have minded an extra 10-15 pounds, even if it was pure fat . . . just anything to help fight through the resistance.

My time was 5:25 — a good hour more than I finished, last year. Almost an hour and a half more than my target time. A minute away from my first (and worst) marathon.

But I made it to the end.

I knew I would fall short of my time. I haven’t been running . . . my diet? It’s been pretty-much spot-on target. My workout plan? I’ve been sticking to it — it’s just that running has not been my priority. I make explinations excuses, but when push comes to shove, I have chosen not to run. Yes, I have less body fat than I once did – and because of that, the cold affects me far more than it used to. Yes, I have a legitimate fear of slipping on ice and/or being seen around snow banks when running before the sunrise. Yes, I have severe guilt issues heading out for a run when my kids are awake (where I need to choose to leave the house rather than spend time with them).

I am getting really damn close to “having the body I want.” I’m lean. I’m strong. Fuck, I have honest-to-god six-pack-abs. Pull-ups, where the hope of a single pull-up was once a distant pipe dream, are “just a thing I do, when I want to some strength training but don’t have a lot of time”.

So, I’m left pondering things. Do I continue working on the marathon? Was today’s poor performance more a result of my lack of training or my body simply saying “fuck you” to my overloading it? Why does burlap chafe so? Was sleeping on my sister’s couch the night before the most prudent idea? Was the fact that I the statement “I worry about the amount of blood in my caffeine stream”

Was my inability to find the “runner’s high” a result of a fully-conscious knowledge that I had under-prepared for the race? Was it because I hadn’t been running and subconsciously felt the need to keep “in tune” with my body? Was it because I’ve packed my brain so full of shit/worry that my brain was actively trying to clear itself, but as one thought/worry faded, another would just rise to the surface? Were my physical ailments truly based on injury, or was my brain telling me that I had a long day/night ahead of me, and a little extra energy might be needed1? Were the thoughts that keep me from getting a good night’s sleep the same that allowed my head to clear during the run? Just how bad is the fact that I can say “I worry about the amount of blood in my caffeine stream” and have it only partly-be a joke?

I won’t be giving up running, entirely . . . but I may retire the marathon distance for the foreseeable future.

I once claimed that I was able to “pull a half marathon out of my ass,” and that holds true. I ran a difficult half-marathon course last week, where I put more effort into my costume than my actual running preparation. I fought a headwind and my costume throughout the run. I ran the race in just north of two hours. I was sore afterward, sure, but I went about & had a normal day.

I had planned to run “the marathon” in four hours. But, more than that, I wanted to turn running the marathon distance into “just another run.” If I ran one a weekend morning? It would be no different than if I had woken up and did a typical workout. Right now, where I’m barely able to walk, as I complete this post about 24 hours after the starting gun went off? I can tell you that the marathon was not “just another run for me.”

The half-marathon — I will finish in 2 hours, give or take. If I work on it, I’m pretty sure I can get my time down to 90 minutes. I can choose to run a half marathon in the same time that I’d take off to watch a movie. I enjoy the distance. And, truth be told, I believe I can excel at the distance.

I was five minutes away from my goal. I was 8 minutes per mile away from my goal. I was close. Reaching my goal was palpable.

But, right now, I am miserable.

This fall, I currently have two half-marathons scheduled — one in September and one in October. The Harrisburg marathon is in November. I head to the beach in July. I think, when I make it to the beach, if I can work on my tempo, start working on my endurance, and start truly establishing a training program . . . if if if. I’m not saying that I’m not going to run another marathon. Heck, I’m not even saying that I’m not going to run another marathon this year.

But I won’t run another marathon as unprepared as I was for this race.


1 If this was, in fact, the case, my brain was truly being an asshole. Yes, pushing yourself and going harder during any run requires extra energy. But, we’re talking about the difference of running 9-minute miles instead of 9-minute, 15-second miles. For this race, instead of being on the course for just north of four hours, I was on the course for five and a half hours — those added steps? That added time? It adds up. It takes its toll. There was a quote from some actual good runner about how running a five hour marathon is a whole lot harder than running a 2 & a half hour marathon . . . it’s just too much time pounding pavement. I kind of agree with him.
Apr 9 15

Where the belt test is slain

by John

One could argue that I’m moderately fond of my children.

My life is far from perfect. I’m not the world’s most perfect father. Or husband. I’m not a perfect musician or writer or runner. I am not perfect. Nothing I produce is perfect. Nothing I attempt yields perfect results.

Probably the only “perfect” thing in my life is my love for my children. It is innocent and all-encompassing. It fuels me when life is a bit . . . overbearing. Why am I doing this? Why am I putting up with *whatever my brain has decided is bullshit right at that moment*? Why? Because I love my kids. And they’re worth any amount of any given bullshit activity.

So yesterday just cemented that fact.

I picked up my son from my mother-in-law’s, allowing him to eat a little candy on the way to the Dojo — a little sugar energy never hurt anyone. We got to the school, changed into our uniforms, and started stretching & practicing.

Before we knew it, the test started.

We recited the tenets of the school. We bowed. We did push-ups and sit-ups and jumping jacks. We stretched. We punched and kicked. CJ was focused like I had never, ever seen him. After each step, not only was he eager to move onto the next item, he wanted to know how he could do better. I love my son, but my pride for him was growing.

Normally, testing is a two day process — the basics are done with the local school, and then several schools pull together for a second day, where the form and breaking are evaluated. However, as previously explained, in excruciating detail, this Friday, the second day of testing, happens to be Good Friday for me & CJ. Testing wasn’t a possibility . . . so, we did our entire test yesterday.

CJ was ready for this. However, as many of the students were being dismissed & CJ wasn’t, he started to get excited for his new belt & nunchuks. I explained to him that, while he tested today, he won’t get the new belt or nunchuks until after the test has been completed & the testing results verified. It’ll likely be a class or two.

The lack of instant reward, for a five year old, is difficult. He broke down. There were big tears.

And this is where my pride for him grew even deeper.

I told him that he needed to finish the test, if he were to get those things. He sat down, wiped his eyes, breathed deeply, and got himself under control.

Next in the test, we demonstrated our forms. CJ was asked to do the first form, first . . . between the abundance of emotion and not immediately starting with the second form (the main form he had been practicing), he was flustered. He did quite poorly. He was asked to do it again, and he did markedly better. He was asked to demonstrate the second form, and did so, nearly flawlessly.

When it was time to break a board, he didn’t perform it on his first try. He breathed deeply, focused, and tried again. The board snapped when his elbow hit it.

I am so incredibly proud of that little boy. Heck, the “young man” seems more apt, now, than when I use it when I’m frustrated with him.

Apr 7 15

Where the belt test looms

by John

Last weekend, I ran a half marathon. This coming weekend, I have a full marathon. I’m Daddy Runs a Lot. You’d think my thoughts would be focused on the running.

But they aren’t.

That first word is Daddy — and that’s a big word. The meat in the running sandwich, this week, is a karate belt test. CJ started taking Tang Soo Do over the summer. And, when it was time for us to determine whether we were going to have him continue or finding something else to try to burn off endless child energy focus his attentions, I asked him if he’d like karate better if I did it with him. CJ was pretty emphatic that karate would be “more better” if I did it with him. So I signed up.

Being an adult among the kids is kind of fun. I’m someone who takes his fitness very seriously – I end up being a combination instructor/authority figure/student in class. I can’t really do much in the ways of explaining how to do a specific move/form (because I’m still learning them all, myself), but basic exercises? Well, I’m a helpful coach for push-ups, sit-ups, suicide runs, etc.

Anyway, tomorrow, CJ & I are looking at our second belt test (we tested, and received, our yellow belts a few months ago, assuming we pass, we’ll have orange belts). This is a pretty significant hurdle for CJ – because it means that he’ll be allowed to start his weapons training (to receive the next belt after orange, you need to demonstrate a nunchuk form). I’m still coming to grips with the fact that we’ll be giving my son nunchuks (though, to be fair, he’s held my old wooden nunchucks from my Kung-Fu days).

Anyway, martial arts schools don’t necessarily do well in not allowing their students achieve what they set out for — the fact that CJ has been invited to test means that his instructor has seen enough from him that he’s confident that CJ will pass the test. But CJ doesn’t know that. As far as CJ is concerned, tomorrow will be a “get it or not get it” moment. And he has been FOCUSED. He wants to start training with nunchuks. Heck, the other day, he started talking about how he really wants a black belt — and the focus has me super excited.

But, before we get to getting nunchuks. Before we get to black belt planning, we have to get through the next belt test. And the “biggie” is the second high form. CJ knows it . . . he knows it down cold. But when he does it in a group setting? He second-guesses himself. He watches what others are doing and, sometimes, overthinks himself. My mission? To get CJ to have confidence in his abilities.

CJ – if you mess up, do it confidently. Be strong. Be proud. If you hit a wall? Make sure there is a CJ-shaped hole in your wake.

Apr 2 15

Where I try to plan for the busy stretch

by John

You’ll have to excuse me as, again, I find myself turning to this here blog to try to keep the crazy at bay . . . I have a particularly busy stretch coming ahead, and need to plan it out, so I figure the three and three-quarters of you still reading will keep from unsubscribing y’all would love to see the way my mind works.

Complicating the busy stretch for me are two factors. First, I’m the organist of a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and the Greek Church and the Western Church commonly celebrate Easter on a different schedule. So while most of the Christian world celebrates Easter this coming Sunday, this Sunday actually marks Palm Sunday in my calendar. So, everybody who might have scheduled around Holy Week, or, at least, Easter . . . well, they scheduled directly INTO my busy time. Then, my wife is following one of her passions, helping to make a local community theatre production great . . . and she approaches Tech Week as I work around Holy Week.

  • Saturday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji, start coffee brewing
    • 6:00am: shower, get into costume
    • 6:30am: drink coffee, eat breakfast
    • 7:00am: out of the door
    • 7:30am: check in at race
    • 8:00am: run the Movie Madness Half Marathon dressed as Rocky Balboa
    • noon: pick up the kids from Duffy‘s rehearsal
    • If I’m thoroughly exhausted:
      • Take kids to Starbucks, get myself coffee
      • Head home to watch movies on TV, put feet up
    • If I’m able to function:
      • Take kids to garden store, get cold weather seedlings (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), pest-repellent plant seeds (marigold, mint)
      • Throw above shit into garden
    • 4:00pm: start dinner and hardboil eggs
    • 4:30pm: have kids dye eggs1
    • 6:00pm: dinner, movies, whatever the fuck happens at night. Drink a bottle or two a measured amount of wine because, fuck, I just ran a half marathon. Sleep.
  • Sunday:
    • 6:45am: wake-up, walk Benji, start coffee brewing
    • 7:15am: shower, dress self and kids for church
    • 7:45am: drink coffee, force breakfast down kids’s gullets
    • 8:30am: head to church, rehearse with choir, get through Palm Sunday service.
    • noon: donate blood (blood drive at church)
    • 1:00pm: head to my mom’s for Easter Dinner
    • 2:00pm: chores / child wrangling / piano playing / dinner eating / hugs / kisses / goodbyes
    • 7:00pm: home for movies and whatever the fuck happens at night.
  • Monday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji, start coffee brewing
    • 6:00am: head back to bed (Duffy and the kids have the day off . . . so I’m taking the day off, unfortunately for her, she has dental surgery)
    • 7:00am: shower, drink coffee, dress and play with kids
    • 9:00am: pack up van, drive Duffy to dental surgery
    • 10:00am: drop off Duffy, take kids to Starbucks. Or maybe McDonalds. Somewhere.
    • 11:30am: pick up Duffy, head home, make kids lunch, play with kids (possibly, head to garden store if I couldn’t make it on Saturday & every one is up for it)
    • 4:00pm: pack overnight bag for kids, make dinner, eat dinner
    • 6:00pm: drop kids off with my mother-in-law for the night
    • 7:00pm: symphony rehearsal
    • 10:30pm: sleep. Blessed sleep
  • Tuesday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji
    • 6:00am: start coffee brewing, light strength-training workout, dress for work
    • 7:00am: work
    • noon: gym for shower/massage chair
    • 1:00pm: work
    • 5:00pm: choir rehearsal
    • 6:00pm: Holy Tuesday service
    • 10:30pm: sleep.
  • Wednesday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji
    • 6:00am: start coffee brewing, dress for work
    • 8:00am: symphony board presentation
    • 9:00am: work from home
    • 12:30pm: preschool presentation
    • 1:30pm: work from home, pick up CJ
    • 5:00pm: karate belt test with CJ
    • 6:30pm: pick up Leila
    • 7:00pm: home for dinner, baths, bedtime, sleep
  • Thursday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji
    • 6:00am: start coffee brewing, dress kids, dress for work
    • 7:00am: work
    • noon: gym for shower/massage chair
    • 1:00pm: work, pick up CJ
    • 5:00pm: karate belt test with CJ
    • 6:30pm: pick up Leila
    • 7:00pm: home for dinner, baths, bedtime, sleep
  • Friday:
    • 5:30am: wake-up, walk Benji
    • 6:00am: start coffee brewing, dress kids, dress for work
    • 7:00am: work
    • noon: gym for shower/massage chair
    • 1:00pm: work
    • 5:00pm: choir rehearsal, Good Friday service
    • 10:30pm: sleep
  • Saturday:
    • 5:00am: wake-up, walk Benji, start coffee brewing
    • 5:30am: shower
    • 6:00am: drink coffee, eat breakfast
    • 6:30am: out of the door
    • 7:30am: check in at race
    • 8:00am: run the Garden Spot Village Marathon
    • 2:00pm: shower, rest, eat something
    • 9:00pm: dress
    • 10:00pm: choir rehearsal, Easter Vigil service
    • 3:00am: sleep. Blessed sleep.
  • Sunday:
    • whenever Benji sticks his face into mine: wake-up, try not to strangle him, walk him
    • half an hour later: back to bed (with head under covers)
    • noon: dress
    • 2:00pm: family Easter celebrations. Finally break my “no refined flours/sugars” restrictions

Of course, I have a week of “more-normal” (which is still pretty structured & busy) before I start tech rehearsals for my next show (Schoolhouse Rock) as Duffy spends weekends with her production run of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr. My kids will remember who I am, eventually. I’m sure.

With the aforementioned schedule, I have the added fun of planning to run a marathon in there, which requires meal planning. I’m . . . truly disciplined in what eat (because, if I deviate from a plan, everything falls to shit in a heartbeat and I wonder why I’m shoving fistfuls of sugar into my piehole with one hand as the other hand slices a wheel of cheese into bite-sized bites). Every weekend, I take a little time to

  • Place a large quantity of high-quality meat in the crock pot with a bunch of spices overnight, then in the morning, I shred the meat before placing it into John-sized single-serving containers
  • Mix a small amount of yogurt with milk and leave at 110°F overnight, bottling the yogurt into single-serving containers
  • Shred/chop/slice large quantities of green cabbage, napa cabbage, bok choy, carrots, onions, and/or red cabbage, placing the result in large jars with spices and salt, and leave the result to ferment at room temperature for the next month
  • Take a batch of the fully-fermented prior and package into John-sized single-serving containers
  • Pour a half-gallon of whole milk over kefir grains and store to ferment at room temperature for a week
  • Take a batch of fully-fermented kefir, strain out the grains, and portion into single-serve containers

For breakfasts, I have coffee & kefir & yogurt. For lunches, I have the pulled meat and sauerkraut/kimchi. For the most part, this treats me quite well (you might recognize the diet as a fairly standard weight-lifter’s diet . . . it’s about 50% protein/25% fat/25% carbohydrate) . . . but, well, I need to bump up my glycogen stores for the marathon . . . which means more carbs. As I haven’t been gaining weight (and, well, normally I would care a LOT more about body fat percentage than my actual weight — but 26.2 miles is a LONG way to carry even an extra 2-3 pounds, so, well, my weight does matter) I’ll simply be adding a sweet potato & a beet, which I’ll munch on, throughout the day – perhaps the stray avocado as well.

After the marathon? I’ll rest. Or something.


1 Coloring eggs with the kids in the traditional “place hardboiled eggs in colored water and wait” doesn’t really work with my kids – so I’m trying to find ways that are a bit more active. I’m going to add rice & food coloring to airtight containers, then have the kids add one egg at a time & shake the container like a polaroid picture – I’m hoping that “more active” will mean far happier children.
Mar 31 15

Where a splash & a little bit of lip crack me up

by John

I’ll admit to having a bit of the same identity crisis as my friend Cameron, where I don’t fully know what direction to take this little blog of mine and it’s three & three-quarter readers. I can write about diet & fitness & the like until…whenever. But, well, even I’d grow tired of reading it . . . and it’s my life. I can only imagine what it would be like for you readers (that said, there will be two race reports over the next two weeks — and, possibly, a detail of a workout plan between now & my next full marathon, if only to help me formalize what I want to do, myself — once it hits this blog, well, I’m much more likely to abide by the plan I set out). I enjoy sharing little tidbits about home life & my cute children . . . but, at the same time, I do think my kids deserve some level of privacy.

But then I think that my kids can’t even read yet, so it’s not like they’re going to REQUEST that I stop writing about them . . . because they have no idea I’m doing it.

And also? This blog is, kind-of, serving as a “memory book” for the kids . . . at some point, between this blog, Duffy‘s blog, Instagram, and Facebook, we’ll be able to recreate much of my kids’ lives, growing up. Heck, even now, Timehop reminds me of what the kids did, when . . . and this is a story that, well, just can’t easily be shared on any of the prior, so it seems like it screams for a blog post.

Yesterday was not a banner day for child behavior.

CJ had already lost the ability to play video games, play with his iPad, choose a TV show (basically, most everything in the parent arsenal of “I have shit to do, here, entertain yourself”) due to behavior infractions the prior weekend. He still had his toys & his Legos, so it’s not like he was being tortured with boredom, but he was…difficult.

Leila, however, henceforth to be known as The La, was actually pretty good the past weekend. So I was quite disappointed when I picked the kids up from my mother-in-law & heard tales of horrible child behavior. No iPad/no movie picking for her for the night.

Great, what am I supposed to do now, to entertain the kids? Actually spend time with them. Fuck that shit.

Dinner passes ok – the kids eat pasta, I have a truly obnoxious-sized roasted turkey leg (I “breaded” it with almond meal before roasting, and then put a Carolina-gold BBQ sauce on for the last 45 minutes of roasting . . . it was heavenly). Then we play, approximately, 9,381 games of Candyland.

Then the kids ask to play chess. I’ve tried to teach them chess — they, simply, are not ready. So I suggest checkers. But hearing that checkers isn’t a 3 person game leads to dual temper tantrums.

Well, temper tantrums mean no more games. So, running out of tools in my parenting arsenal and knowing the sun still hadn’t set, I declared it bath time. Fortunately, the kids were really, really into this idea. So yay!

I still bathe the kids together. And the beginning of the bath is all business. Start the water, wet the hair, wash the hair, wash the bodies . . . then daddy can play Trivia Crack on his phone the kids can play until there just isn’t any more hot water. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when I tidal wave of water hits me. Followed by another. And then another.

I expected to find CJ staging some epic battle between a Batman action figure and one of Batman’s foes. Or Luke Skywalker. Or a Littlest Petshop figurine. But, however, it was The La, pumping her arms and slamming a Princess Tiana figurine, repeatedly, into the bath water.

“Leila, please stop that” I said, calmly but firmly.

(she continued to do it)

“Leila!” I say, with a note of aggression in my voice.

“I’m not doing it, it’s the princess!” she responds, splashing again.

“Does Tiana need a timeout?”

Leila stops the splashing. I think she’s contemplating what answer will keep her from getting a timeout.

“Well dad, that’s up to you.”

A better parent would have taken their daughter from the tub and put her in timeout for the second time that evening1. Or explained that the toy wasn’t making any decision on her own, and that continued “acting for the toy” would result in punishment.

This parent?

He dropped to his knees, laughing.

Seriously, the kids stopped what they were doing and watched me. CJ asked if I was going to be alright.

“Yeah buddy, I’ll be fine.”

Splashing, for the remainder of the bath, at least, was curtailed.

Later in the evening, as we read bedtime books, Snickelfritz, who is old and grumpy and deaf and blind and has a gimpy leg so he will only ever go up or down stairs if he is sure what he wants is on the other end of the stairwell, started barking. The barking got increasingly distressed. So I went to check on him.

This past weekend, I started work on my vegetable garden . . . I haven’t planted anything yet, but I took out the plants from last year, tilled the soil, and put up a barrier to better keep grass from working its way into the vegetables. I still have a lot of work to do: put up a fence, put down a weed-protective lining, etc., but it felt good to be outside & doing something.

Anyway, when I removed all of the plants from last year, I took out the tomato cages and put them aside. Somehow, and I really don’t know how this could have happened, but dogs – especially grumpy old dogs, have ways of making the impossible possible. Anyway, Snick ended up trapped inside a tomato cage. He managed to get himself through the dog door, but couldn’t get up the stairs.

I managed to get the cage off of him, somehow, and the kids did, eventually fall asleep.

They’re perfectly well-behaved in their sleep.


1 Earlier in the evening, Leila decided she wanted pack of mandarin oranges . . . however, we don’t let the kids open the mandarin oranges because, well, the juice they’re in would go anywhere. CJ, in a very bossy way, reminded Leila of this fact, and to let me open the oranges, to which The La threw an absolute fit. So I sent her to her room. Where she cried and cried and cried. When I went to check on her to try to calm her down, she looked at me and stated “just leave me alone.”
Mar 26 15

Where the random comes to visit

by John
  • Around these parts, the high temperatures are, consistently, above freezing every day — but, I’m ready for *warm*, dammit. And it has not been warm.
  • Before I married, I lost a significant amount of weight (mostly through a-near starvation diet), but found most-all of it over the next 10-12 years. Well, this time, as I’ve lost weight, I believe I’ve kept my head on a far more-level level. Yesterday, however, my weight registered 179 pounds, which was my previous low-water-mark. I’m still processing what this means — I feel that I’m far healthier than I last was, at this weight — I’m stronger and I’m not facing the same bouts of hunger that I was all those years ago. Yet, the number on the scale was a bit of a reality call, and I’ll be incorporating more calories into my diet (I’d say that I’d work out less but, lately, well, I’ve barely been working out, fighting a series of colds and an extraordinarily busy schedule1) in an effort to put on a few pounds in a responsible way.
  • Yes, I realize that I’m an absolute asshole for saying “I need to gain weight,” but, well, best to call a spade a spade.
  • My brain has moved onto the Appalachian Trail since my last post . . . alas, commitments don’t go away just because I have pipe dreams aspirations. It will likely be until August that I’m actually able to make a multi-day hike a reality. My current plan has me leaving the AT from a point close to my home, heading north, spending a night on the trail, heading north again, having Duffy and the kids meet me near a shelter, pray that the shelter isn’t overly-attended, spend the night as a family at the primitive facility, and drive home, together, the next day.
  • While my kids claim to “want to camp,” they’ve been used to campsites. While certainly “closer to nature” than staying at a hotel, they do include a bunch of amenities: running water, the ability to plug in & charge electronic devices, the car you got there in, mostly reliable cell phone coverage. I’ll be interested to see, if this “more primitive” night actually takes place (I’m not going to say “truly primitive” because it’ll be at an established shelter, with a well provided for water and a privy dug), if it changes my kids’ opinion of camping.
  • Part of me wants to take Benji with me — but I will not because I’m concerned enough with myself and, while the dog has lots of energy, he’s used to napping for the better part of the day, most every day – I’m not sure how he’d do on the trail for 12+ hours of movement.
  • Speaking of Benji, he’s taken to hunting rabbits. In the past month, he’s brought in 3 rabbits that he’s killed in the yard. Now, I love my dog, but, as far as canines go, I do not think he’s especially bright. And he is not, in any definition of the word, stealthy. But, he is quite quick – what I think is happening is that a large portion of the back yard is fenced in, and the fence is buried in most places, to keep dogs from burrowing under it. But, at the two gates, there is some “wiggle room” for small animals to get through. I think they’re getting through, causing Benji to notice them, and then they can’t work their way out of the fenced-in area. And the dog makes quick work of them. While cleanup from these adventures is gross, it does leave me thinking that we mightn’t have the same rodent problem in the garden as we have in years past.
  • Speaking of the garden, I’m hoping to head out to till the soil, dig/place some barriers to better protect against grass incursion, and put up some fencing. Despite the fact that I’m looking at a TON of work for myself, I’m kind-of giddy, thinking about doing it.
  • I worked from home yesterday while recovering from a dental procedure. I dislike the dentist for anything more than a cleaning (I kind of like the fact that I’m forced to unplug & “just be” during a routine cleaning), but the worst part of the whole event was getting back home. I knew the procedure was going to force me to have a numb jaw/tongue — the thought/worry about what was coming weighed on me & affected my appetite that morning. After the procedure, I knew things would return to normal, and with that, my appetite returned. The problem was that I couldn’t feel my tongue. I couldn’t taste anything . . . I’m sure I COULD have eaten something, if I was quite careful & whatever I ate was mushy (because, if I tried to chew, I’m pretty sure I’d have bitten my tongue) — but, well, what’s the point? I waited for feeling to return before finally eating . . . but being hungry and not eating is a horrible feeling. Which makes me think about the levels of comfort that I have. Very rare are the times that I want to eat, where I cannot eat. I am fortunate. I know this.
  • Two weeks until my next half marathon. Three weeks until my next marathon . . . wanna guess how much I’ve been running lately? Let’s say that I’m happy that I won’t be concentrating on my time.
  • Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien Reading Day . . . I wore a silly tshirt with a “Calvin & Hobbes”-ified picture of Gandalf & Frodo. Leila expressed a great interest in the shirt . . . so, last night, I put on the animated version of The Hobbit. She loved it. My geeky heart could not contain its excitement.
  • My current music mix at work contains several renditions of God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday, Blood Sweat & Tears, Lou Rawls, Sonny Rollins, Annie Lennox, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett), in case you’re curious where my mind travels when I’m exceptionally busy.
  • Is there any way to name someone Aretha in today’s day & age?

  • 1 Yes, even for me
Mar 23 15

Where I process this past weekend

by John

A long time ago, I started a blog specifically to chronicle my cycling. Then it turned into “how I was going to get myself healthy.” It didn’t take long, however, for me to start writing to “keep the crazy at bay.” I don’t write here as much as I once did, mostly because I find myself busier than I was, back when I created this character of “Daddy Runs a Lot.” But, today, well, I’m fighting off the crazy a little bit, so you’ll have to excuse me as I just extract the thoughts & turn this dumping ground collection of posts into my own, personal pensive.

I was in the pit of Jesus Christ Superstar when the director asked me if I’d be interested in playing bass for a show in Hershey — the show was Edges, and it was a one-weekend commitment, and it would probably pay . . . and I was free for that weekend. So I said sure. But then the show was delayed & I didn’t think about it too much. It turns out that the show was pushed to this past weekend . . . though I missed the original note as to the new dates, I was still able to play — so play I did.

Dustin, the director for Jesus Christ Superstar, is the president of the Carlisle Theatre Company (I have the honor of saying that I’ve been part of every pit for every musical that the theatre ensemble has put on where they had a live band . . . and the only times the group has put on a musical that didn’t involve a live band was when the licensing of the musical dictated that tracks would be used). He doesn’t cast himself in shows at Carlisle very often, but he’s a very good entertainer, and every time he is involved with a show, there’s a good reason for it. Edges — it’s not a show, but a song cycle (meaning that it’s just a bunch of songs, very loosely tied to one another) . . . it’s very odd, but very fun. And the talent of the four actors that put it on? Well, I was blown away. It was fun and profound and silly and funny and, well, just a good time.

This was my first time playing at the Hershey Area Playhouse (which is a beautiful theatre, and the support staff there is, truly, top-notch), and the whole thing was just a blast. This, however, was the first time that I’ve played a two-show engagement . . . meaning that every song I played was either the first or last time I’d play that song in front of a crowd. Well, I guess it’s likely that I’ll end up playing the show again, but, even if it’s the same cast, in the same theatre . . . well, every production feels like an entirely new show. I’ve played Annie so many times that I think I can actually dictate all of the dialogue (and I’ve never been on stage), yet, every time I play it, it feels new.

Anyway – the show was super fun. Saturday night, however, I was in one of those “I am performing” clouds. The best way I can explain this is to compare it to the runner’s high. No longer was I playing the music on the page, but my being was part of the performance (just like the only way I can describe the “runner’s high” is that I’m no longer running on a course, but that I’m, simply, part of the run). If there was a feeling that I wish I could recall, at a moment’s notice, it’s that feeling . . . better than anything in the world.

The show’s rescheduling, however, came at a precarious time — Duffy was out of town Saturday to Sunday for a girls’ weekend. And I had to be in NJ for a family baptism on Sunday. Fortunately, my mommy lives pretty close to the theatre, so, on Saturday? We trekked over to her place after I got through my “need to do in order to ease my mind” chores on Saturday (started a batch of sauerkraut, prepared lunches for the week) — I tried to do my best “good son” impression: did her taxes, fixed her computers before taking advantage of some free babysitting. My kids and I got home around 11pm on Saturday night . . . yeah, I had a four year old and a five year old out, almost to midnight. I don’t know why anyone thinks that I’m the least bit responsible. Truly.

I woke early on Sunday to tidy up my shaved head and to trim my beard. As I started preparing car snacks (chopped vegetables, lox & kefir-cheese wraps, nuts, and cheese), the kids woke. I cut CJ’s hair, bathed the kids, dressed the kids . . . and we got out the door.

I may have stopped for coffee a time or two along the journey.

We made it to NJ, attended the baptism of my stepbrother’s son. The kids . . . well, I’m conflicted as to their use of electronics. For the church service, the kids sat (mostly) quietly in the pews, playing with toys, which is, honestly, as good as one can hope with young children. At the banquet, however, I let the kids take their iPads in . . . they got the iPads for Christmas and, for long car rides & the like, they’re life-savers. Here, however, there were other kids about . . . I was really hoping that my kids would, you know, play with those other kids. But, it was also a fancy Italian restaurant . . . and the iPads were keeping the kids quite quiet and out of the way of the servers. I let them play & watch whatever — but, thankfully, they shared the screens with their cousins & stepcousins & friends of their stepcousins, and whoever else happened to be there.

Leaving the banquet, I had a voicemail. I checked it.

A friend of mine – the drummer in my two bands. His wife had died of cancer.

I screamed in frustration.

The kids asked me what was wrong.

We spent the better part of the ride home talking about death (well, the kids are kids – we talked about Doritos. and cheese. and Halo. and Legos. and Spongebob Squarepants. and what TV shows daddy watched when he was their age. and Batman. and “Strawberry Cupcake”. But death circled about a lot – especially as we passed any graveyard) and why someone dying would make me frustrated (yes, La, frustrated like when you have a potty accident). It’s truly remarkable how provocative and introspective kids can be.

Eventually the kids fell asleep and I went back to the audiobook that I had been working through: A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt, finishing the book just around the time the kids woke once again. I am one of the most “connected” people I know. So, I don’t know why I feel the draw of the Appalachian Trail as I do . . . but I do. Anyway, I truly enjoyed the book, and it got me thinking that I’m going to need to hike the trail some day (I know, I know “some day” is the term that people use when they want to do something but never will — I truly applaud my friend Lisa for getting things in order so that she can turn her life to her passion of travel). Alt, throughout the book, does a GREAT job of detailing the food he’s eating . . . and, well, if there is something I think about more than sex, it’s food . . . I found myself salivating over his descriptions of the all-you-can-eat restaurants, and, I’ll admit, finding myself a bit jealous of all of the sugars he was eating (though, to be honest, I’d be a LOT more lax about my diet if I were moving 25+ miles/day on my feet).

I found myself thinking about Jack London & the Call of the Wild . . . there’s something about the wilderness that speaks to me. I want to be one with nature . . . yet I still want my iPhone. I think about Alexander Supertramp and, while a winter in the Alaskan wilderness is completely crazy — I’m left wondering if I could do it. I’m left wanting to test myself. Until I think about the fact that my feet are cold, so I turn up the heat in my truck, and realize that, yeah, maybe not.

The AT runs through my town . . . heck, in times of good weather & lax schedule, I run portions of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of mine (Hi, Linda!). I’m giving serious thought to packing up a pack and heading out for a long weekend — two days out, two days back among the rockiest terrain of the stretch . . . and with that, I’ll figure out when I might be up for more. Though, if I’m honest, I maintain the hopes that one or both of my kids catch the “like to make myself tired” bug that I have. Hiking the Appalachian Trail with my son after he graduates high school. Celebrating my daughter’s doctorate with a bicycle ride across the US.

We got home, had some Chinese, I drank some too much wine. I prepared my breakfasts for the week (I made goat’s milk yogurt for the first time, for those of you who follow my diet closely — I’ll have a report eventually), read a bedtime story to the kids, put my feet up, started the next Star Trek movie (I’ve been working my way through them) and was asleep before the opening credits were over with. I’ll still need to watch The Final Frontier.

So now we’re on Monday & I can’t stop thinking about a solo hike. I think this needs to happen, and happen soon. My schedule is dictating my life lately. I live between my work calendar and the google calendar that I share with my family. But, as the voicemail reminds me, life is precious. Time is finite and precious. I need to find my roots – and in so doing, maybe get over this funk that I’ve been fighting for the past . . . . oh, I don’t know, I hate to say it, but I think I’ve been fighting it since the new year.

Mar 9 15

Where I contemplate life as a musician

by John

I still remember my thought process in college. At the start of my freshman year, I was eager to get my degree in music education. Sure, my salary might not be quite as much as it could be, otherwise, but I’d be able to moonlight with private lessons and gigs of some sort or other — I’d get to do what I wanted to do, having fun along the way.

What do you call a musician? Someone who will put a $5000 instrument in a $1000 car to drive 100 miles for $50.

Then my first credit card bill came in during the same week that I heard from a band on campus that they were going to go with another bassist – it’s the first time I wanted to join a group and didn’t (except for that time I auditioned to be in the middle school musical and forgot the audition song halfway through the audition — and, even then, I played in the pit of the musical, and that was far more “me,” in the end). Heck, even the first time I auditioned for regional symphony, having barely looked at the audition piece, while high on codeine, I made the orchestra.

I don’t want to say that I was an entitled kid, but I was, at least musically. What I wanted, I did 1. And, suddenly, well, “moonlighting for the New York Philharmonic” wasn’t a certainty. I had a bit of a crisis and, by the middle of the semester, I had changed my major from music education to computer engineering, which I stuck with until graduation. And I’ve done quite well for myself, employment-wise, since making this decision.

But, after graduation . . . well, it was months before I even set up a cheap keyboard in my apartment, and it wasn’t until I moved to central PA that I touched Lynnette. I tried to remove the “musical aspirations” from my life. I was a good web developer, I was on a good career curve.

But those passions in life, well, they never really leave you.

When we finally moved our furniture into the house2, my wife had a piano that came from her mother’s house. I had a church organ that had been with me since high school. I had Lynnette back. I had music all around me, and I started playing when I could. And, as this was before kids (heck, this was before I even started running), so I had some decent downtime, so I played a fair bit.

Then I was asked to play with a pit band for a theatre fundraiser. A college friend of mine found that I was in the area and had me join the community symphony. The theatre fundraiser gig turned into my playing piano with a musical production, which turned into my playing with the classic rock band. I was married in a Greek Orthodox church, and the previous organist died in a car crash, during my wedding rehearsal (I had hired a local musician from outside of the church to be my own organist). I didn’t know this — but, ahead of my wedding, I played the organ just to blow off some steam . . . choir members heard, and I was approached about becoming the organist there. I’m still the organist there, 11 years later.

Anyway, I don’t believe I’m a great musician3, but I do believe I’m a competent, reliable, & easy-to-get-along-with musician. And, well, that makes for opportunities – and I’ve had several. And with opportunities come random thoughts!

  • As mentioned above, I’m the organist at the local Greek Orthodox Cathedral . . . and, well, the powers-that-be in the church would far rather there be no organ used in the ceremony. Every now & then, the choir director gets a gleam in her eye about having me, simply, provide an opening pitch and then having the choir sing a capella — maybe, for the more-difficult passages, I’d just mirror the soprano part. Every time this happens, I just smile & nod, knowing full-well that, if this were to become common practice, I’d walk away from the job. Yes, the job would become exponentially easier . . . but all challenge would be removed. You’d be able to teach a monkey to provide pitches, and I wouldn’t feel that I was “making music,” and that just wouldn’t be worth it to me. Though losing the paycheck would be a shame.
  • My classic rock band has had a real problem finding a lead guitarist. The lead guitarist that was there when I joined the band quit because we weren’t gigging enough (though, well, he wasn’t exactly going a lot to bring in performance opportunities). We found a new guy & were having a lot of fun coming “up to speed” with him, but he walked . . . a big part of the reason? We played some songs that, while the typical “bar crowd” loved to hear, he didn’t like to play. Those who have seen me play know I am…expressive. Heck, with the symphony, I may be expressive to the point of distraction — I can’t dance worth a lick, but I move to the music I make and, in so doing, am providing a single focus of all of my energies. If I’m not moving, it means that I’m either bored or I’m still learning the music (meaning that there’s little going on outside of my seeing the music, interpreting the music, and relaying things to my hands — I’m “playing notes” and not “making music”). Heck, most of what I play, I consider not-challenging and, mostly, it’s not fun to play. But I smile, and I do as good a job as I can in playing it, even if it’s the ten-millionth time I’ve played “Stars and Stripes Forever” (just a slight exaggeration). When I play, whether or not I truly enjoy the music I’m playing, those watching see a musician who is actively seeking to make the best of the performance. And that makes even playing a boring piece well-worth the time & effort into performing it.
  • Regarding the previous, I’ve been told, a time or two, that I’d be wasted as a studio musician. I can’t say that I disagree — performing for a recording is great & everything, but it pales in comparison to playing in front of a receptive crowd.
  • I truly get a kick out of my most common “audience of two” (you can’t see Leila doing her ballet moves here, but I promise she was). Again, nothing beats a receptive audience. Even if said audience is small (in both quantity and stature).
  • I have made little progress on my musical . . . but I have not given up hopes of writing it. Some day. It just hasn’t been a priority.

  • 1 I was cut and/or rode the bench for my share of sports teams . . . it was only with musical groups that I seemed to be writing my own ticket.
    2 When we moved, we originally rented the house in which we currently live back to the sellers for a month or two, and then moved only what we absolutely needed, with the bulk of “our stuff” held in my mother’s garage as we did some hardcore renovations of the house – notably floors and walls, which are a whole lot easier to do when you don’t need to re-configure furniture. Then I broke my elbow and we just had movers move everything in.
    3 This isn’t false modesty on my part (though I’m aware that some who may have heard me would disagree, perhaps vehemently). What I learn to play, I play well. To a certain level, I can play most anything — and, if I put in the time/effort, I can learn to play anything. I don’t typically have the time to sit down and teach myself the truly elite passages, and I, generally, learn to play only what I need to play, to get by – and, if I did have the time to “become a great musician,” I fear that I’d find other things to do — there’s always something that needs attention . . . memorizing Rhapsody in Blue isn’t one of those things.

    With all that said, I believe myself to be an elite accompanist. I listen incredibly well, and am always aware of what I’m playing and how it’s interacting with everything else going on during a performance. I have a strong grasp of musical theory and can help a featured musician work out of a mistake by changing up a chord progression. I have enough experience to make incredibly educated guesses as to where someone may change things. In short, when I play with others, I believe I make those others better.

Feb 11 15

Where I provide my take on the current crop of fitness buzzwords

by John

There are tons of buzzwords heading about the fitness world these days — and, I’ll admit, there are times that I feel overwhelmed by them all — and I’m, admittedly, someone who has things “better in tow” than most. So, I figured I’d take a minute to throw a bunch of the buzzwords that are used, break them down, and share a few thoughts about them.

5×5
What is it? In strength training, working your way to five sets of five repetitions at the maximum resistance. When you’ve managed to achieve five sets of five reps, you increase the maximum weight the next time.
Why is it being talked about? Because strength training is important, and this is a very easy and effective method of making yourself stronger, faster.
Do I do it? No. I focus, primarily, on bodyweight exercises, as I have limited access to free weights & barbells. However, when I first started strength training, I did abide by a 5×5 plan.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
What is it? skipping a meal every now & then. There are some who develop complex schedules about when/where you should skip – but, in the end, it boils down to skipping a meal every now & then.
Why is it being talked about? The old theory was that you “maximized your metabolism” if you broke your food intake down into several small meals during the day. Following the adage “never skip breakfast,” and then, essentially, grazing on healthy food, you’d just shed weight. Logically (to me, at least), that approach made sense — the body has to work in order to break down food . . . so if it’s always working to digest, there’s less chance for it to take from food stores to fat stores. However, modern research shows that skipping a meal could, in the end work. I should not that this is NOT a “eat whatever you want for a few hours a day and don’t eat the rest of the day” diet. That shit will fuck you up. If I had carte-blanche to eat whatever I wanted while at work, for example, and then eschew food for the rest of the day? I could do it. But I’d gain weight, very quickly – and most of it wouldn’t be muscle.
Do I do it? I actually do this, though not regularly. The “small meals” concept truly does make sense to me . . . but I’m someone who can graze all day & still feel hungry — so, when I try to employ the “lots of small meals” concept, it ends up blowing up in my face. I do much better about “eating on a plan” if I feel so satiated, at the end of a meal, that I don’t want to snack. I can deal with “being hungry” for a bit (as long as I keep from BEING HANGRY). Generally, I try to ensure that there are 12 hours between the last food I eat for a day and the first food I eat in the morning. I never skip a meal on a day in which strength training is my focus (I want to ensure that the body is building muscle), but on a rest day? Especially a rest day that I’m particularly busy? I might skip breakfast or lunch or dinner.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Couch to 5k (C25k)
What is it? A training program designed to get a someone new to running to running 5k races.
Why is it being talked about? Running is fun, and free, and is growing in popularity. 5k is the most-popular race distance.
Do I do it? I started running by following Couch to 5k . . . while I’ve progressed beyond it, I absolutely followed it.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2
CrossFit (CF)
What is it? A fitness regimen/workout plan focusing on strength & conditioning. At the core, it’s: lift shit, using complex movements. With a focus on “getting strong” the rest of the body will come along.
Why is it being talked about? Because it works. The “modern gym” focuses on muscle isolation and cardio machines — but, in the real world, you never need just your bicep to get yourself out of a tricky situation. By employing complex movements (pull-ups, squats, etc.), you make the whole body stronger, spending time, overall, in the gym, and as you get stronger, everything kind-of falls into place.
Do I do it? Strictly speaking, no. I do not belong to a CrossFit gym, so, therefore, I do not follow CrossFit. However, my focus, 3-4 days a week, is in doing pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, goblet squats, overhead press, chin-ups, and push-ups, which are all regular items on the CrossFit Workout Of the Day (WOD). The main reason I don’t belong to a CrossFit gym is twofold: I’m just busy enough that juggling an external schedule gives me a headache, and they’re far more expensive than the gym I belong to.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
TRX
What is it? A fitness contraption, allowing you to easily re-adjust it and do a plethora of exercises in a relatively small amount of space.
Why is it being talked about? Because, when push comes to shove, any exercise that uses your own bodyweight will make you stronger, quickly. This contraption is something that allows you to do a lot of bodyweight exercises, at varying levels of difficulty (e.g., if you’re not strong enough to do a pull-up, you can adjust the mechanism to allow you to progress to doing a pull-up relatively easily), in a very small amount of space.
Do I do it? No. I’ve attended a TRX class or two at my local Y, but I don’t do well in juggling any more in my schedule than I already do. It was fun, certainly, but it’s not in my regular line-up. And the mechanism is expensive – too expensive for me to justify the cost at home (I do, however, have a set of gymnast rings and a pull-up bar).
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Paleo
What is it? A diet plan following the belief that our minds/technology have evolved more quickly than our bodies, and we should be eating more along the ways that our evolutionary ancestors ate.
Why is it being talked about? Every few years, a diet ends up being the “in” diet. Right now, it happens to be the Paleo diet. Like most any diet, it works, as long as it’s followed. However, look through any Paleo message board and you’ll see tons of variations and firmly held beliefs about what is/isn’t paleo.
Do I do it? Kind of. I’ve eschewed most refined flours and sugars. If I can, I make my food . . . that which I can’t make (and, therefore, order from a restaurant), I try to only order those items that I know how they’re made and what ingredients they might contain. But, I fucking love cheese. Heck, I love most any dairy, but I fucking love cheese. I will not live without cheese. And, one of the first things you’re supposed to remove from your diet, when you go paleo, is dairy. So I don’t do paleo, and I won’t claim to do so. But, many of the aspects of the paleo diet, I do abide by.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Low-Carb/High Fat (LCHF)
What is it? A diet wherein you get a relatively low number of your calories from carbohydrates and relatively high number of calories from lipids.
Why is it being talked about? Because for years, the general consensus has been the precise opposite: eat lots of grains (though limit sugar) as part of a low-fat diet. But, modern research seems to show that, as long as you’re keeping trans-fats out of your diet (and maybe, or maybe not, limit Omega 6 fatty acids while maximizing Omega 3 fats . . . as I said in the intro, this shit is overwhelming), you might be better off flipping the original model on its head.
Do I do it? Yes. I severely limit refined flours and sugars . . . this means I eat very little bread/pasta/rice. When I go to a restaurant and want a burger? I’m that jerk who orders it without the bun (though I’m much more likely to order steak or chicken and salad). When I order Chinese take-out? My kids eat the rice that comes with the meal. I don’t eat pizza, unless I make it myself, and therefore make it with a cauliflower crust. The carbohydrates that I do eat (and yes, I do eat plenty of carbs), are generally incredibly rich in fiber.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Kettlebells
What is it? A cast-iron weight on a handle
Why is it being talked about? These have become quite popular among the CrossFit crowd. Simply, they’re a bit more versatile than dumbbells.
Do I do it? Yes. I have a set of kettlebells in my basement, ranging from 5 to 35 pounds (in 5 pound increments). There is a barbell manufacturing company relatively close to where I live, so ordering directly from the manufacturer allowed me to save a bit of money — but, that said, they’re not overly cheap.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Zumba
What is it? An aerobic-dance class
Why is it being talked about? Because dancing is fun. Dancing and burning calories, all the better. Basically, the more you move, the better.
Do I do it? No. I like to say that my rhythm doesn’t extend beyond my musical talents . . . I can’t dance. I’m ok with this fact.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Whole30
What is it? A 30 day diet program built around “eating clean.” For 30 days, there’s no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy. Essentially, if you can’t grow it or kill it, don’t eat it.
Why is it being talked about? This seems to be the “fad” new year’s resolution this year — while the program has been around for awhile, a lot of people seemed to kick off the year with a Whole 30 commitment. And, well, those that stuck with it, they experienced great results.
Do I do it? Oh hell no. Remember, I fucking love cheese. Also, I don’t do well with any eating plan that has me focused on an end date. I get “do this for a small time, just so you can see how it makes you feel,” but that end date seems too arbitrary for me — so what’s the point of sticking with whole 30 instead of whole 27? Then whole 24? Then “just give me the damn doughnut already.” I do appreciate the core belief of “don’t look for ingredient substitution methods,” however. There are entire websites built around ingredient substitution (instead of using white sugar, use coconut palm sugar and *viola*, it’s paleo-friendly!), and that’s just a practice that grates on me the wrong way1

Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Gluten-Free
What is it? Gluten is a protein found in many grains, especially wheat. A gluten-free diet is a diet wherein the dieter avoids any ingredients that contain gluten.
Why is it being talked about? There is a very serious condition, known as Celiac disease, where someone is allergic to gluten, and reacts quite poorly whenever they eat anything that happens to have gluten in it. Many, however, have gone “gluten-free” after trying a gluten free diet and . . . well, with less refined flour in their daily lives, they find they feel better.
Do I do it? Not really, no. My grain intake is quite low . . . but that comes from a desire to remove processed foods from my diet, not in removing gluten. Gluten, itself, doesn’t affect me. It’s just that I can eat a slice or a loaf of bread and be no less hungry than I was when I started eating. While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have next-to-no gluten in the food that I’m eating (if I ingest any gluten, at all), my intent is not to avoid gluten, and I don’t read ingredients specifically avoiding foods that might have wheat as an ingredient.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2
Red Wine
What is it? Fermented grape juice, also known as the stuff of heaven.
Why is it being talked about? This article, showing that a glass of red wine may offer the same cardiovascular benefit of an hour of a moderate workout has been making the rounds. Important to note from this article is that the benefits are limited to a single glass – they don’t accumulate as you drink glass after glass (or, in my case, bottle after bottle).
Do I do it? Yes. I commonly enjoy a single glass of red wine with dinner (I, typically, buy a 5L box of wine and then pour from that into a mason jar to ensure that I have a precise amount – allowing me to help hit calorie targets and stay on a budget). But, I don’t drink it for any health benefits. I drink it because I really, really love it. Almost as much as I fucking love cheese. Limiting myself to a single glass is difficult — but, well, I’m a dad first & foremost. In all things.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2

1 That said, I’ll admit that I’ve fallen into this trap with a banana bread recipe. See, I hate throwing away food — and, in my house, bananas are hit or miss. Sometimes, the kids eat whatever we buy, essentially the minute they’re brought home. Other weeks, bananas are ignored, entirely. And when they’ve gone overripe, really, the only options are to bake with them or throw them away. So I found a banana bread recipe that fits within my “no refined flours or sugars” philosophy.
2 But please, for the love of god, unless you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease, do not tell food preparers that you have an allergy to gluten (which means that they have to, essentially, sterilize their entire operation to make you food, where, really, you’re just looking to avoid an ingredient or two, but, you know, if they used a knife that once touched a slice of bread, nobody is going to have any ill effect).