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Sep 15 14

Where I present unsolicited advice for your next race

by John

This week is the official start of my “fall racing season.” This Sunday, I start a series of races: two (possibly three) half-marathons, a full-marathon, and then a 10k, before I shift focus from running to swimming as it will, likely, be too cold to safely run outdoors, and I hate hate hate the dreadmill.

As I’ve been through a race or dozen in my life, I’ve picked up a lot of habits, whenever I run. As it seems that running is becoming more & more popular, I figured I’d share my sage advice wiseassery for anyone who might not yet be familiar with what to expect at a race.

I was originally planning this as a completely facetious list, but The Oatmeal beat me to it, and did a much better job than I ever could hope to do.

  • Do not wear the shirt from this year’s run. Yes, it’s great to have a brand-new tech shirt, and, oftentimes, that brand-new tech shirt will have a great design. But it’s tacky, the equivalent of wearing the t-shirt of the band whom you are seeing in concert. The only time you can pull it off is if you’re wearing the shirt of a previous tour, and you attended one of the dates . . . it’s cool to wear the shirt of the same race from the prior year, but this year’s shirt? Wait until after you’ve completed the race before you wear it1
  • Do plan out your outfit the night before — know what you’re going to wear, and put it aside before you go to bed. Nothing sucks quite as much as rushing about, trying to remember where you put this thing or that thing.
  • If you have boobs, do not use your running bra as storage. Boobs are wonderful, truly. I can’t say enough about them . . . but, as I understand it, women who lack pocket space will turn to the combination of bra & mammary glands as a method of carrying stuff. During a race, it’s good to have your car keys and a few bucks on you (I can’t imagine what else you might need to have – stuff for immediately after the race can either be left in your car or with a bag-check — I like to have a pair of sneakers & a really REALLY comfortable pair of hiking socks), but running for a distance with a car key pressed against your boob is just asking for a bruise the shape of a Nissan Sentra key. If necessary, buy a fanny pack, or (even better) one of those shirts with a tiny pocket built into it.
  • Do not constantly check your phone during the race. First off, if a course photographer is being all ninja-like, trying to keep people from posing for a photo2, you’ll have pictures of you looking at your phone . . . and, no matter how fast you’re running, you look like you’re going slow when you’re looking at your phone. Next, you fucking need your battery life — even if you had a fully charged device, you had a few hours beforehand, and you’re probably running your run tracking program, and you might not be able to charge immediately after you’re done. Let your phone be.
  • Do put thought into your runtime playlist. When reading the previous bullet, you might ask “well, how do I know how I’m doing as I run?” Now, most run tracking programs will give you a cue every x minutes or every mile or something, but I don’t use that, because I get into whatever I’m listening to. But, even if the course doesn’t provide regular feedback as to elapsed time, I can tell you how I’m running. See, months ahead of time, I start planning my playlist – for any race more than a 5k, I have the same routine: I have a target time, I arrange a playlist for 10% longer than that target time (for example, I’m running the marathon in November, I’m targeting four hours: 240 minutes, so I’ll plan a 260-ish minute playlist — I hope to not hear the very end). I always start out with incredibly mellow music, to remind myself to keep calm, there’s a lot of race ahead of me. I gradually pick up the pace to a series of what I can only describe as “jams,” pop music that I can sing along to that makes me happy — as I hit the runner’s high3. From the halfway point, I gradually switch to angrier and angrier music, with music that would make Mother Theresa want to kick puppies playing at my target time. Then, for that last 10%, which I truly hope to not hear, however, is sympathetic music. So, if I hit the halfway point, and my music is still mellow? I’m ahead of pace. If, suddenly, I hear “Everybody Hurts” by REM, I know I’ve missed my time – all without ever looking at my phone.
  • Do not have a “loud” volume on your tunes. This is simply common sense — you need to be able to hear other runners. You need to be able to listen for road noises. You need to be safe, and that means your music can’t be so loud that you’re essentially, a deaf person on the course.
  • Do pull your earphones from your ears before the end and give everything you have left. Where you “turn it on” is entirely up to you4 — and, yeah, “turning it on” is difficult at the end of a long run where you, simply, don’t have anything left. But people are cheering. Soak it in. You fucking did it. Go as fast and as hard as you can. Make it hurt. Because it’ll feel all better in just a little bit.
  • Do not pull out your phone/watch to stop your run tracking at the finish line. We all want that ultra-accurate assessment in our run tracking – we hit the “start” just as we crossed the start line, let’s make sure we have the finish to the second. But, with the previous notes about pulling out your phone on the course, there are, typically, photographers everywhere at the finish of an event. Head through the finish, strong, and stop your tracked run a little while after. If you’re truly anal about your time, log in, edit your run, & make your run time match your chip time.
  • Do smile as you cross the finish line. Again, photographers are everywhere. Also? don’t blow a snot rocket as you cross the line.
  • Do plan your morning before the race starts. Most every race I run, I sleep at home the night before — so I have my routine: wake obnoxiously early, heat water & grind coffee, as my coffee brews, I shower & manscape, dress, drink my coffee, eat something protein & carbohydrate laden, drive to the start. My race, this Sunday, I’m staying with friends – so I’m going to have to change things up — and I, honestly, don’t know what I’ll do leading up (I’m not about to say “I’m going to take a long shower…and don’t mind the curly hairs in the shower drain when I’m done” to my friends, though they’d likely get a kick out of it) . . . but I can guarantee that, the night before, I’ll think through what I plan to do the morning of the race, just so that I have the semblance of a plan worked out in my “early morning brain”.
  • Do arrive early. Save your stress for the race itself – don’t fret about getting to the start on-time. My worst run, ever, I arrived 20 minutes before the gun, picked up my packet, pinned my number on me, and got to the start just as the race started. I was frazzled before I started and, when it was time to run, I was already spent. Arrive early and chill. It’ll be worth it5
  • Do not bring too much to check into the bag check. There is typically limited space — if you won’t have access to your car at the finish, bring only what you know you’ll need. If you will have access to your car, consider foregoing the bag check all together.
  • Do not be intimidated by other people’s warm-up routine. I do not stretch before I run. I do not run wind sprints or do squats or stand on my head before a run. I do not warm up6. Typically, before a race, especially if the early morning is chilly, you’ll find me hanging out wherever I deem it “warmest,” preparing myself, mentally, for what’s forthcoming. Other people have their own routines — don’t feel the need to match what someone else is doing. Do you stretch before you run? Ignore the assholes like me that are just standing around.
  • Do make small talk before & during the race. I love to meet new people and hearing their stories (I know not everybody is like that). If there’s a conversation going on that you’re interested in, jump in — everybody is awkward in places where the only thing bringing us together is a want to “make ourselves tired.” You might as well enjoy it.
  • If you’ve never this specific distance previously, do advertise that this is your first time. “Hi, I’m Bob Fartknocker, and this is my first marathon8.” You’ll find like souls that are feeling many of the same feelings you are. And, if you’re talking with a race veteran, well, you’ll introduce nostalgia for them as they remember their own first time.
  • Do not interrupt someone obviously trying to keep to themselves. I realize I’m writing this as the extrovert that I am . . . if someone is, obviously, hanging out trying to keep to themselves, let them have their own pre-race routine.
  • Do not let your eyes wander. Look, runners have some of the most gorgeous bodies. At a race, no matter what your personal inclination, there’s plenty of eye candy. Don’t let your eyes pop out of your head.
  • Do course research. I am horrible about doing this, myself, but it’s important — know if you’re dealing with a late hill, or “rolling hills” throughout9, or a flat course. It does you no good to go out hard, run a great race for 3/4 of the distance, only to have a hill eat you up at the end.
  • If you’re concerned about racetime start temperatures, do not fret about bringing throwaway clothing. I’m saying this, specifically, because this Sunday, I’ll be running my race with several friends from South Florida . . . and current, morning Philadelphia temperatures are, um, a bit colder than they’re used to. Bring a big old sweatshirt and start the race in it (just make sure it’s not one that you won’t mind if you don’t get it back — many races will collect all clothing & make it available for pickup, donating anything that’s left) — once you’re warmed up, leave it at an aid/water station.
  • Do hydrate. Generally, when I’m out on a training run, I don’t drink water . . . and this has lead to truly horrible training runs from time to time, but I know what my body needs. For most distances, however, unless I actively need to pee, and the thought of drinking water makes me feel like I’d burst, I grab a cup of water from every aid station and swallow what I can (without fear of spilling any on me – if I do, I do) as I run. For a full marathon, I’ll drink whatever sport drink they have for the first half – I’ll need those carbs at the end, switching to water at the halfway point.
  • Do not litter. After every aid station, there will be some sort of trash can, at least try to throw your cup in it.
  • Do not start too fast. You’ll be excited. You’ll want to win! Resist temptation — if you start out “too slow” you’ll just have more in the tank when you get to the end . . . but if you start out too fast, you just won’t have anything left10.
  • Do thank the volunteers. They’re giving up their time to make sure you have a good race – show them your appreciation (also? unless you’re in the final kick, if you’re breathing too hard to say “thank you,” to someone, you’re going too hard).
  • Despite the temptation & common knowledge of “carb loading,” do not change up your diet, significantly, the night before your race. Let’s talk about poop for a minute. See, I’m the father of two four year olds — I’ve been dealing with poop all of my life. And, for the past few years, I’ve been dealing with more than just my own poop. Everybody poops. Pooping during a race sucks (and yeah, the “runner’s trots” happen), as it means time is ticking and you’re trying to “drop the kids off at the pool” while sitting in a horrible chemical toilet. Do not do anything that may make your bowels hate you — if you have an established diet, do not deviate from it, the night before a race, because you just don’t know how it might affect you.
  • If you’re a coffee drinker, do drink coffee in the morning. Coffee helps me poop. Though, when the portapotty line includes portapotties that have run out of toilet paper, it’s no fun hearing “oh, you’re a guy, you can use that one,” only to have to respond “um, no, I need toilet paper.”
  • If you’re not a coffee drinker, do not start before a race. Again, see above about changing things when you don’t know how your body might respond.
  • Do allow yourself to splurge after you’re done. You fucking did it. Bacon cheese fries with milkshakes, all around!
  • Do not introduce any new equipment for a race (he says, not sure if his shoes will be up for the entire race circuit he has planned). Most big runs feature an expo, where you get to view all of the latest & greatest running gear & gadgetry. If you want to try something out, go for it . . . but wait for your next run after the race — keep with the “tried & true” equipment that you’ve been training with, for this race. Nothing sucks quite so much as finding that your brand new running shorts leave you feeling some chafing, or running an entire race with earbuds that just won’t stay in.
  • If there are “anticipated pace” or “anticipated finish” stations, do follow them. This is a major pet peeve of mine. You’ve been training for this, presumably for awhile. You know where you plan to finish – why the fuck would you start with a faster crowd? If nothing else, run like an asshole11. What I find is that, most people who start with the faster crowds hang out in a crowd and throw their elbows, as if to say “I don’t care that I’m slower than you, you go around me,” which is fine & all, except that, in the early goings, it’s almost always crowded, so everyone ends up sacrificing safety & energy trying to get around these people. The thing is, despite the elbows being thrown by the slow walk/runners, I have, probably, 40+ pounds on most of them. If the elbow connects with me? I’m probably not the one who is getting hurt.
  • Do not leave immediately after finishing. I used to be someone who would have to look at the course cutoff time before committing to a run. In the years that I’ve been running, though, my pace has gotten faster & I can generally assume that I’ll finish any race well before the course cutoff time. But, those runners that are racing their own targets and the course cutoff time, they deserve the same race experience as the elite runners. They deserve to throngs of cheering spectators as they end (because, all too often, they’ve been dealing with support stations that may have packed up before they should have, or support stations that are, plain, out of support materials). Stick around. Cheer for those finishing behind you.
  • Do not fret when you’re passed. There’s something in all of us that, as soon as we feel someone coming up, we want to go just a little bit faster to keep ahead. Remember that this is your race, so run your race. Unless you’re trying to win, outright, repress that competitive vibe.
  • Do not feel bad if you’re “running for the bling.” Hey we all have our own motivations — don’t fret if you signed up for this specific race because you liked the medal, or because you wanted to achieve a NerdFitness quest, or get the Fitocracy points. This is your race. Your motivations are your own, and they’re just fine.
  • Do have fun. I mean, that’s why we’re waking up early & freezing our asses off & losing toenails & breathing heavy – this is fun, right?

  • 1 A few weeks ago, I wasn’t able to run a race series (5k on Friday night followed by a Saturday half-marathon). A friend of mine picked up my packet, including three shirts — shortly, I’ll pick up those shirts from her, but, as I didn’t run? Part of me thinks I’ll likely donate them to goodwill, rather than wear them, as they weren’t “earned.”.
    2 Sounding my barbaric yawp as I approach the finishI’m horrible at this — when I see a photographer? I put on a great big smile & typically gesture for the photo – the most egregious example is seen to the right.
    3 A truly magical experience, where you’re running and you don’t realize how far you’re running & the miles just kind-of pass by, but you’re in a zone. Every run starts, with me, with “why the fuck am I doing this?” but, eventually, the suck starts to wear off, and then *gasp* it becomes enjoyable. Then, distance dependent, the suck might return . . . or it might return with a vengeance.
    4 For me, for a 5k or 10k or half marathon, this is the last half mile or so. For a full marathon, this is the 26.0 mile marker
    5 This rule goes out the window for a The Color Run or any other super-large race with “open corrals” where they start the run at some time & continue running heats until there aren’t any other runners left.
    6 Ok, for a 5k, because it’s such a short distance7, I’ll ensure that my legs are warmed up by jogging a mile or so and then doing some lunges before the start.
    7 Yes, I realize that I’m an asshole for just calling a 5k, a distance many new runners hope to simply achieve a “short distance,” but, for the distances that I’m used to, 3.1 miles is what it takes for me to “find my pace.”
    8 Bonus points if you don’t replace “Bob Fartknocker” with your own name. Triple bonus points if you name is, in fact, Bob Fartknocker.
    9 Rolling Hills are bullshit.
    10 Despite writing this, I always start out too fast.
    11 If the event is chip-timed, meaning that your time is measured between when you, personally, cross the start line, then the finish line, running like an asshole is when you hang back with slower runners and spend the entire race passing people, feeling like you’re the fastest person in the world.
Sep 8 14

Where I think about logic

by John

I cannot deny that one of the greatest & most-endless sources of joy in my life is my kids. I love it when they learn something. I love the way that so much in life is new to them, and the endless joy & curiosity that comes with anything “new.” I love that, no matter how many times they may watch a movie, they’re *still* mesmerized & shocked by a plot twist.

And, well, I love the moments when they’re not too intelligent.

Yesterday was a fun day – we woke up and went to church for the first Sunday of choir (I’m the organist) and Sunday School. We then went to a pet adoption event to see if we might be ready for a new dog (verdict is yes – but the right dog for us wasn’t there – however, there was yummy yummy beer there, so it was hardly a wasted visit). On the way home, we talked about what to do next weekend (Duffy is heading out of town for a much-needed girls’ weekend, so I’m figuring out what to do with the kids – currently, I’m torn between any number of amusement parks, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, Crystal Cave, or just hanging out with video games & movies) and, somehow, The La called CJ a butt.

In explaining that we don’t call other people names, CJ called me a butt.

I explained that, when we got home, each child would have to go to timeout (they’re four years old, so timeout means being alone for four minutes).

In all of this, I made it clear that I realized that they were “just being silly,” and I wasn’t taking away anything that they then wanted to do (CJ wanted to play video games, Leila wanted to watch My Little Pony) – but they had to have a timeout first.

We got home. I parked the van. I got out of the van and dropped some stuff off in the house . . . the kids, however, were not yet in the house.

To avoid the timeout, they were hiding in the van. Part of me wanted to count the time they spent in the van as the time-out (this equaled significantly more than four minutes), but that seemed to be “letting them win” or, at least, “letting them figure out that time-outs aren’t all that bad.” I tried to remind them that, the sooner they took their timeouts, the sooner they could get to the things they actually wanted to do.

Nothing worked. It wasn’t until many tears later that the children worked their way to their rooms & closed the doors behind themselves.

Ahh, those four minutes of relative quiet.

I still don’t think Leila understands why she got in trouble for calling her brother a butt.

Aug 21 14

Where I think about working toward a goal

by John

My son is going through a major transition right now. Then again, something tells me that kids are in a constant state of transition until they move out of the house — but, I’m noticing this now. Well before he was two, I had had enough of “kids movies” and, one day, decided to randomly play Star Wars (Episode IV). He watched from the couch, wearing only a diaper, transfixed for the entire movie. I like to think that was when we started to see the “seeds of geek” take hold.

CJ watching Star Wars

Soon thereafter, I put Lego Star Wars in the Wii, and CJ would spend HOURS a day with a Wii remote, pressing the trigger button. He didn’t know what he was doing – he just liked making the “blaster fire” sound it would make. Especially in the early stages of Leila transitioning from the potted-plant phase, I really worry about how often I’d turn on the Wii, change characters to a blaster character, and let him go.

Of course, even to a toddler, this got old, and he started wanting to play the game. Now, he’s not bad while playing it – though he far prefers when either Duffy or I play with him.

Well, Lego Star Wars allows you to buy characters, and he’s started to realize this. He wanted the Emperor because he wanted to be able to shoot lightning at his foes. He wanted this character or that because he found them fun. He started wanting to collect all the characters . . . maybe he’s becoming a digital hoarder, I don’t know. For the most part, buying a character is a relatively easy feat – you get a little money every time you complete one of the chapters (the game is broken into the six episodes, and each episode is broken into six chapters) and most characters cost less than what you’ll get from a single chapter. But, now, CJ is fixated on the ghost of Yoda. The ghost of Yoda costs well in-excess of the money you get from a single chapter. We’ve been playing the game for several days now, trying to find the chapters that we enjoy playing which we know will result in a decent yield, but now, we end & just find another chapter (CJ is used to finishing a chapter, heading to the bar, picking out a character, and then playing another chapter as said character, just to see what that guy can do). Every time we finish a chapter, CJ struggles in not buying someone new1.

As this goes on, we’ve started a new initiative program to get CJ to sleep in his room all night, every night (because, well, he likes to sleep in ways that keep me awake when he sleeps in my bed). After 30 days, he’ll get to pick out a new toy. Right now, he has his eyes on the Playskool playset of Jabba’s Palace. He will sit and look at pictures of “his toy” for hours right now. I don’t possess anywhere near this much focus.

CJ karate

He’s been in ninja lessons Tae Kwon Do for a few months right now. Every class, assuming he’s made progress and has demonstrated the ability to make good choices, he receives a sticker toward one of the seven disciplines of his school (integrity, concentration, perseverance, respect & obedience, self-control, humility, & indomitable spirit). When he gets five stickers in any discipline, he gets a stripe on his belt. When his belt has all of the stripes, he’ll be allowed to test for the next belt.

Delayed gratification is hard for a preschooler, yo.

All of this going on at the same time, well, it has him figuring that, for those things you really want, you need to work hard for them. I’m so very hopeful that the lessons stick . . . while part of me truly feels for him because, well, he’s fighting this battle on three fronts at the time.

1 One of the neat things about this resurgence in interest in Star Wars is that he’s been wanting to watch the movies more & more. While I’m always up for watching Star Wars, watching the kids watch them has really become interesting. That original Star Wars viewing basically had a toddler following a bunch of noises & flashes across a screen. Sure, he found some of the characters, and, perhaps, followed the story (as well as a one-year-old can follow a two hour tale), but it was in-one-ear-and-out-the-other. Now, at four, nearly five, though, he’s actually stringing the story together. He’s really getting that Anakin turned to Darth Vader, and this is how it happened, and these are the mistakes he made, and this is how he redeemed himself. I’m still listening to the audiobooks of Harry Potter, and, just the other day, both kids were stringing together Wormtail’s story. My geeky little heart could NOT be happier with this advancement.
Aug 8 14

Where random wins the day

by John
  • I’ve never been a good one for “being at rest,” but lately, things have been a bit out of control. My muscles will scream in soreness from me pushing them during workouts — yet, if I have an hour to myself? I feel the need to run. Or ride my bike. Or something active. Normally, I’d say that’s great, but I fear that I’m wearing myself down – and that’s not a good feeling.
  • Fortunately/unfortunately, my garden is providing ways for me to fill any down time I might have. The number of tomatoes I have is truly staggering . . . for the foreseeable future, I believe I’ll be picking & washing tomatoes through the week and then making stuff with them on the weekends. This weekend? Salsa (because I have tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños) and tomato sauce.
  • The lawn & yard have always been a bit of a bane to me. This year, after years of “just working around the edges” of ground cover that the previous owner had placed, I went in and weeded areas of the landscape that have gone, essentially, untouched, for the past 13 years (because, if they’re not facing the house and/or facing the street, I haven’t cared). It was a lot of work, but I’m left thinking about what I want to do around my house:
    • We have one significant hill that has always caused me a difficulty in lawn mowing. I’m thinking about leveling out said hill (putting in landscaping timbers between each step) and, with each leveled-step, starting grape vines (on trellises that I’ll build myself).
    • A small portion of the yard fronts onto a pond — I’m tempted to build steps leading from the back yard to the pond and setting a pump to pump water from this pond to a water feature heading from to the topmost step back down to the pond. And, at the pond, putting in a fire pit along with a small, leveled patio . . . this might take me some time to do.
  • I love my kids like nothing else. Truly. But I’ve found myself, when I’m alone in the car, driving to the sound of silence because, well, my children are not silent.
  • I’m working my way through the Harry Potter audiobooks, once again, because they’re such a fun tale and Jim Dale is an amazing narrator. This has become a yearly tradition — we leave on vacation, I listen on the way down, get hooked, and work my way all of the way through.
  • On the topic of listening to things, though, we signed up for Amazon Prime when we ditched cable. At first, I’d say that it was mostly a bust — most of what we wanted to watch through Prime wasn’t free on Prime. And two-day-shipping, while nice, isn’t a necessity for most anything. However, the free selections of music on the Prime Music store are wonderful – especially for someone like me, who prefers listening to classical music while at work.
  • I’ve been obnoxiously watching my diet as of late — not only keeping my caloric intake in check, but actually ensuring that I’m getting types of foods that I want (always aiming for less than 30% carbs, at least 25% protein). This means that I’ve been avoiding the Chinese buffet. But I’m going there for lunch today . . . it’s going to be fun to let loose.
  • I’ve always though I’d be a “it’s just hair, it’ll grow back/grow out” parent. But, lately, my son has been asking me to cut his hair really, really short1. Part of me wants to give into this whim of his — give him a buzz cut (I won’t shave his head, like I have mine, just because I know the pain of a burnt scalp and I don’t trust a four-year-old to keep a hat on when it’s necessary), but I don’t know if he truly realizes:
    • just how slowly hair comes back
    • how much other people enjoy his curls

    . I haven’t cut it yet — we’ll see if the end of the summer leads to the same decision.

  • I’m getting really good at brushing little girl hair.
  • A local band has asked me to join up with them . . . it sounds like they’re good & everything, but the idea of spending less time at home just isn’t sitting well with me. I love playing, truly – but there are reasons I chose not to make my living as a musician . . . I’d fear taking on an additional band would push me one step closer to always looking for that next paying music gig.
  • I have two half-marathons and a full marathon over the next three months . . . despite the whole “not resting enough” item that I started with? I need to get myself running more (though, don’t worry, I’m working out aplenty).

  • 1 This started with a fight about combing his hair . . . he didn’t want to have his hair combed because “it hurt” when his hair was combed, but he agreed to let me trim his hair with hair clippers. I now, somewhat-regularly, set hair clippers to the height of a single curl & trim to that height.
Aug 5 14

Where I revisit my garden

by John
Early Garden

So this year was my second take at the garden. Last year, I dug up a bunch of dirt, barely planned, planted too soon, and had a . . . less-than-desirable harvest. This year, I did a LOT more research, planted at the right time (before the official “we should be fully clear of frost” date of May 15, but with lots of following of the weather forecasts to show that “freezing” shouldn’t happen again until the next winter.

I knew the plants I wanted: tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, lettuce, peppers (bell & jalapeno). The rest, I’d figure out while looking around the nursery – and I added green cabbage, onions, spaghetti squash, carrots, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, pumpkin, green seedless grapes, and assorted herbs to that list.

This year has been a learning experience, just like last year, but in a wholly different way.

First off, planting later means that none of the plants died prematurely.


Tomatoes: During the seedling selection process, I let my kids have far too much input, and that means we ended up with TONS of tomato plants. Every day, right now, I’m picking bowlfuls of tomatoes (grape, cherry, roma, and several variety of heirloom tomatoes, some of the latter have yet to produce a single ripe fruit, meaning that I fear the volume will only increase as the summer progresses). Next year, fewer tomato plants, fewer tomato varieties – but, as the tomato plants I have managed to tangle the tomato cages I put them in, I believe I’m building wire trellises for them to climb upon next year.
Tomato Sauce
Last weekend, I made my first batch of tomato sauce, purely from home-grown ingredients, and I must say that the process was far easier than I thought it would be. Considering the volume I’m anticipating over the next few weeks/months, I believe I’ll be making a LOT more sauce.


Cucumbers: The cucumbers started off quite well – in fact, I had to look into how to make pickles just because I was picking more cucumbers than we could eat, as a family. Lately, though, the plants been looking quite sickly & have, generally, stopped producing. I’ve done my best to cut back any of the less-than-healthy leaves & vines, and the plants seem to be responding. Next year, put in another plant or two, get better canning equipment, and be more on top of pruning. Though, if I’m honest, when I left for a week’s vacation, the plants were thriving – so I think the very hot temperatures & nightly downpours that I’ve heard we had may have been more to blame for their current state.

Zucchini: Much like the cucumbers, the zucchini plants went from producing well (heck, there were moments where, if I skipped a day of harvest because of a particularly large yield, I’d head out and harvest what I’d call “weapons” more than “fruit”) to being sickly. I’ve just pruned back any of the sickly portions of the plants & there were new zucchini blossoms just this morning, so I hope we’re back — I’ve made a tremendous amount of grilled zucchini, but have yet to make a loaf of zucchini bread, so I’m hoping for a decent late-summer harvest. Next year, much like the cucumbers, I need to be more on top of pruning any portions of the plants that aren’t thriving.

Lettuce: I planted two types of leaf lettuce: a red & green variety. I managed enough for several salads before the red plants were felled by rabbits and the green leaf lettuce went to seed — I’m pleased with the results, though, and will be planting more for fall-harvest this year. Next year, more of the same

Bell Peppers: I only planted red bell peppers, as I much prefer snacking on them to green bell peppers, but they just haven’t been producing at all. Every now & then, I get a very small pepper from a plant, but, by the time it starts to turn red, the pepper is soft & mushy. Next year, plant orange mini peppers instead.

Jalapeno peppers: I’m completely surprised here. I planted the peppers in the hopes of getting a pepper or two, but thought I was, mostly, throwing away money on an ill-founded experiment. But, I’ve been picking a handful of peppers about once a week — they’re tasty, with a decent kick. Next year, do precisely what I did this year. I’m super happy with this harvest.

Cabbage: The cabbage I planted took forever to form into heads, but, eventually I had decent heads of cabbage, and have made a few batches of coleslaw & a few batches of kimchi. However, these heads of cabbage take up a tremendous amount of real estate in the garden as they grow, and I haven’t yet received an odd looking child from the cabbage patch. Next year, skip the cabbage.

Green Beans: I’ve had a decent harvest here. If anything, I could have planted more plants, but what I have has done well. Next year: more of the same, maybe use the cabbage real estate to put in more plants.

Eggplant: I never managed to get the plant to thrive. I picked a single, sickly speckled fruit before the single plant simply gave up and died. Next year, skip the eggplant or try a different variety.

Onions: I’ve managed some decent onions – all on the small side, but sweet & tasty. Not sure if I’ll include them again next year, though.

Carrots: I planted a bunch. I’ve picked two very sickly looking carrots – not sure what I should do differently next year, because I want carrots, but I believe they’re the preferred snack of the rabbits that I just can’t keep out of the damn garden. Next year: skip ‘em.

Spaghetti Squash: this is a winter squash, so it’s over the next few weeks/months that I should actually start seeing – the first fruit I managed took forever to ripen, but it was quite tasty when I cooked it. There is a huge one that is just starting to turn from white to yellow. Next year, only include as part of a second, fall-harvest planting.

Watermelon: I bought four watermelon plants, because my daughter can put away watermelon like nobody else. But the plants never really made it beyond their infancy because of the next item. Next year: try again

Pumpkin: I cannot believe this pumpkin plant. I guess the soil in my yard and the weather have been prime for pumpkin growing. I, in fact, didn’t even want to put in pumpkin — but the kids begged for it, so I planted it. I’d leave work, come back home, and find that the plant had taken over all of the real estate granted to it. I’d try to force it, and nearby plants, into directions that would allow everything to live, but, within a week, this plant had “eaten” all of the watermelon plants. Then the blueberry bushes. Then the strawberry plants. Then the blackberry bush. Right now, I have 7 or 8 good-sized pumpkins which are just turning orange. Next year, if I plant again, plant later & far, far away from anything else.

Strawberries: I managed some decent strawberries – but the issue was harvesting at the right time — I’d leave for work to strawberries that were still ripening and return to strawberries that were either overripe or had portions that were on the ground and never turned red. Next year, elevate the crop

Premature Blackberries

Blackberries: until the pumpkin plant ate the bush, I had some decent blackberries . . . I’m hopeful that the bush isn’t damaged too too badly, and can get more next year with minimal upkeep.

Blueberries: blueberries were few & far-between for me (until the pumpkin plant felled the bushes). I think part of it may have been the soil (not acidic enough), but mostly, I think birds got in the way of a decent blueberry harvest. Next year: bird netting

Now that the lettuce, carrots, green beans, and cabbage are all done (while I’m still hoping for plenty from the remaining crops), I believe the next few weeks well see me planting cauliflower, broccoli, and more lettuce in hopes of a decent harvest this fall. We’ll see how that goes.

Jul 18 14

Where I reveal my beach body

by John
Beach Body 2014

It started with my tagging a random Twitter conversation at the end of 2012 . . . two friends were saying that they were going to get serious about weight loss in the new year. I said that I didn’t want to be left out. A few other people joined in, and, *poof* we had a good number of people, all watching what they were eating, looking to lose weight.

At the time, I weighed 256 pounds.
Before Weight Loss
For the next six months, I logged every bite of food I ate. I logged every sip of drink I drank. I ate within my caloric guidelines most every day, and weight started falling off. I ran when I could. When I couldn’t run, I would stationary cycle (because I hate the dreadmill). After 6 months, I had lost 40 pounds.

I looked better, I had more energy – but I wasn’t “there.”

So I looked into maximizing my workout time — simply, I couldn’t sustain completing several hours of cardio a day, and that’s what I was doing. So I looked into getting stronger . . . and I started lifting weights. My weight didn’t change but my body started changing in some wonderful ways. But I grew frustrated having to wait for certain equipment at the gym, so I started looking into what I might be able to do “anywhere,” and I ran across some serious bodyweight workout routines.

So I worked to getting myself to do pull-ups (hint: they’re hard when you’ve never done one). I worked to getting myself to do parallel-bar dips.

For the past 60 days, leading up to my annual pilgrimage to the beach, I’ve adjusted my focus: next-to no booze, minimal refined sugars or flours, no processed foods (unless absolutely unavoidable). Pull-ups, dips, and one-legged squats every day (unless I had a run planned, when I might do lunges instead, just to save the legs), but never for more than 30 minutes of exercise.
Beach Body 2014
My weight has gone down — after the first six months of the weight loss challenge, my weight hovered between 210 and 220. With the new focus, I’ve been weighing between 195 and 200 for the past few weeks. I’m far stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. But, more importantly, I believe I’ve stumbled onto a plan that I’ll be able to sustain for a long, long time1 – because, every previous foray into weight loss, for me, has backfired once I started trying to maintain. But logging what I’m eating has become habit, at this point, and I’ll continue that, hopefully, for as long as I’m able to feed myself. Aside from bakery treats, I don’t miss much from the “cleaner eating departure.” Workout-wise, I can take 10 minutes before getting ready for work, or sneak to the gym over lunch, or take a few minutes once I’m home from work without disrupting my day to “find time for exercise”. If I find myself with a few hours on my hands, a long bike ride or run might be in order, but that’s secondary.

1  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be enjoying my vacation, and taking a vacation from how strict my diet has been . . . this next week will have me eating like a ravenous dog let loose at a Chinese buffet and drinking like Hunter S. Thompson at an open bar.
Jun 19 14

Where I detail a poor night of sleep

by John

It was a sunny, hot day when I got the kids. A Wednesday afternoon, Leila normally has dance — but she just hasn’t been into dance as much as she once was. She does enjoy looking at herself in the mirror while wearing her purple leotard with a matching tutu. And the change from ballet to tap always elicits a brief “oooh, this is fun” moment . . . but I think she, either, is frustrated by not moving as gracefully as a ballerina after a few months of practice, or is finding that she has the moves & grace of her father, and that maybe dance isn’t “her thing.” Whatever the case, she’s been saying, for a few weeks, that she doesn’t want to do dance anymore.

It was a hot, sunny day . . . dealing with a potential tantrum while getting The La dressed in her leotard and then sitting in the hot dance studio while keeping CJ entertained just held zero interest for me. “Who wants to go to the pool?”

The wee ones were unanimous.

We put on our bathing suits, packed some snacks, got to the community pool, put on our sunscreen, and went at it. Oh, how I wish I had the “go full blast, without ever stopping” that my kids do. For an hour & half, we splashed and shot water guns and made friends and ate snacks and swam and had a good time.

But silly daddy now had a conundrum on his hands. The kids shouldn’t hang out in their bathing suits at home . . . but it wasn’t bedtime. That said, I made the mistake of suggesting that the kids put on their pajamas, even though it wasn’t bedtime. It took two timeouts for yelling for Leila to realize that pajamas don’t necessarily mean bedtime.

Dinner was uneventful — we’re still eating leftover watermelon from La’s birthday, so it was fruit filled.

Bedtime was some TV shows and some Scooby Doo “learn to read” books before the battle cry was sounded.

“Dada, I sleep in your room tonight?”

Most every night, one or both of the kids will ask this question. We are not strict “you must sleep in your room” parents. But, we’re trying to put our feet down & saying that you must start the night in your room. Following the “No” I had to deliver came “dada, you cuddle me?”

It was from CJ’s lips — it’s a common refrain when he realizes that he needs to go down to bed in his room. We turn out the lights & daddy promptly falls asleep the kid eventually falls asleep.

I wake & work my way back over to the master bedroom.

CJ comes over before midnight, snuggling up in my left armpit.

A thunderstorm rolls in, waking me.

The shortsightedness of putting the kids in their pajamas well before bedtime becomes apparent when Leila wets herself . . . normally, we put the kids in overnight pull-ups when we put their PJ’s on. I strip her bed, put a pull-up on her, and bring her into bed with us.

I lie back down and both of my hamstrings immediately cramp.

I’ve been doing one-legged squats, every day, for a fitness challenge — the first day, I did 10 pull-ups, dips, and one-legged “pistol” squats. The next day I did 11 . . . and so on and so forth. Yesterday, I did 35. While my body is certainly responding positively to these exercises . . . last night was the first “beyond sore” side effect. I breathed deeply, stood, and, eventually, the cramping subsided.

I lay myself back down and my shoulders & upper back went into a non-painful, but highly-annoying spasm.

Perhaps I didn’t drink enough water . . . though the shitton1 of watermelon I ate with dinner should have had me perfectly hydrated. And full of potassium. But who knows what happened. My body just hated me.

I grab a glass of water and, again, lay myself back down . . . but my cuddly little son now, deep in the throes of sleep, attempts to burrow is hands and feet under me.

This drives me crazy.

At 4:30, I head back to where I started the night . . . in his bed, beneath the Star Wars tent we’ve erected on said bed.

Today was a long day before I even got to work. Have any coffee I can spare?

1 1 shitton = 1.37 shittonnes
Jun 16 14

Where I reflect on life and death and living

by John

As a general rule, I take every Friday the 13th off as a personal day. When I first started these “holidays,” the hope was to sit in bed, drink myself silly during the day, and watch a marathon of the titallitating adventures of Jason Vorhees and/or Jason’s Mom and their implementation of creative (though controversial) methods of population control.

But, let’s face it – a day (a work day, no less) just lounging about is not in the cards for me. First off, there’s always stuff to be done, cuddles to be cuddled, lawns that need mowing, kids bellies to feed, emails to be answered, gardens to be tended, trails to be blazed, and still miles to go before I sleep (all due apologies, Mr. Frost — it’s your fault that you penned one of my favorite sayings). Second, I’m just not very good at staying still. Last Friday was Friday the 13th, and I took the day off . . . but I had no hopes of staying in bed all day. My daughter was turning four the next day, and there was stuff to do!

We are in the transition between “family party” and “friend party.” My kids love their extended family . . . but, well, four year olds aren’t really content to sit down & spend a few hours catching up on all of the stories that have happened since they got together. Kids, well, they want to play . . . so we bought a shitton of water guns. And bubbles. We bought snack foods and watermelon and enough Capri Sun juice boxes to over-sugar an army of toddlers. Duffy made the cutest watermelon cupcakes.

But the festivity planning had to take a detour in the middle of the afternoon.

About a week ago, our eldest dog, Hobbes, exhibited a marked change in behavior. He was groggy and constantly shivering. Walks held no appeal for him. Getting him to eat anything was a chore (truth be told, though, he had never been a “ooh, food, let’s eat!” dog). If we, the family, were outside, he’d lie down in the sun; if we were inside, he either made himself at home on one of the kids’ oversized stuffed animals or on the bed. If I got the leashes out for a walk, he’d just look at me, as if to say “no thank you, not today.” Were this a gradual change, it’d be easy to chalk it up to “a dog getting older.” But, one day, he was just fine. The next, he was like this – as if he walked through a doorway to “old.”

In the middle of the afternoon, we went to the vet.

She told us what we were afraid to hear.

There was a tumor in his stomach. He was losing a shocking amount of weight. He was suffering. He had been a very good dog.

Since The Choice, we’ve had a lot of talk, with the kids, about death. About Heaven. About ghosts. About finality.

To say there have been tears would be an understatement.

We speak, a lot, about feelings in our family. I believe I’ve heard “I miss Hobbes” at least a hundred times since this weekend. To each one, I’ve responded “as do I.” Because I do. Even those things that I didn’t enjoy . . . as soon as I’d lie down in bed, as I radiate heat in my sleep, Hobbes would seek to lie down directly between my legs, to try to absorb as much of my body heat as possible. It’s not so much that his being there was uncomfortable, but it meant that I couldn’t move without first dislodging him; Hobbes was not a big dog, but he did a great cinderblock impersonation. But last night, as I lay myself down, there were tears as I realized that I’ve never have to fight him in order to reposition myself again.

The big thing about the kids, now, is convincing them that the vet isn’t where you go to “make animals dead.” That it’s, almost always, where you go to make sure that animals are happy and healthy. I try to shift the focus of missing Hobbes onto remembering Hobbes — how much he loved cuddles. How he loved walks. How he kissed the kids, even when they, maybe, didn’t want his kisses. How he howled when he wanted attention (for a terrier, he was surprisingly silent . . . except when you left him, when he’d howl — The La does a wonderful imitation of it). I try to shift the attention onto our healthy pets. The problem is that I need to make those shifts in my own thoughts, too.

So Friday was a rough day. Friday night was an even rougher night.

But life happens.

Saturday, we woke, finished our preparations, and set up to celebrate four years of The La. Kids ran around, shooting one another with water guns. Climbing on monkey bars. Swinging on swings. Cupcakes and potato chips and watermelon were eaten. Laughter was shared.

We haven’t moved beyond “the nap phase” just yet in our house. Heck, if you asked me “would I like a nap,” my answer would be “yes, please,” most any time. But a day with a birthday party certainly was a day without any napping. As the party wound down, both of the kids started to exhibit The Tireds – something known all too well to any parent of a kid beyond two . . . the child that needs to sleep, but steadfastly will not.

And with everything that happened the day before, for the first time, despite the increasingly unpredictable behavior and the fact that it wasn’t so late that a nap would have made bedtime impossible, I rooted for my kids to fight those naps. To keep playing. To embrace life. Sleep will happen — but there are only limited times that you can shoot the big kids with a water gun, or get daddy to help you climb across the monkey bars.

And here I am, thinking of emails that need to be answered and lawns that need to be mowed . . . and thinking that, just maybe, I should concentrate a bit more on day-long marathons of bad horror films . . . and ensuring that the cuddles that need to be cuddled are doled out.

Jun 10 14

Where I reflect on being a father

by John

I’m such a loser.

Really, I am.

Father’s Day is this Sunday . . . and I just Googled “what do I want for Father’s Day?” because Google knows, man. Google knows.

(apparently, I want the latest gadgets, I disagree, but the internet marketing force is persuasive)

My son has been dragging a guitar around all day today. But the story starts on Sunday. CJ will go to sleep far-more-easily if you give him cuddles at bedtime . . . there have been plenty of nights where I’ve fallen asleep next to him, in this practice, which I think is his impetus for the request. Anyway, Sunday night, I was cuddling CJ at the end of what was an incredibly music-intensive weekend for me (a gig on Saturday night, filling in with a jazz combo, and then my last day of services as organist until the fall), and we started talking a little about music. I asked him if he’d like to play an instrument. He asked me what that meant, and suddenly we were talking about the different instruments. He asked if he could play guitar, and I replied “sure, buddy, heck there’s a guitar downstairs that you can play around with.”

But, it was bedtime. Those bedtime conversations typically leave me as soon as they’re over.

But, to a four year old, they stick.

The next day, CJ woke early & started his day by dressing and playing video games. After we turned off the video game console, CJ asked for the “boo star.”

Four year olds can be difficult to understand from time to time (it’s because of this difficulty that I really have no idea what I’m getting . . . one day CJ will mention “I can’t wait to give you ahgioadsfadoifa dsoipa, but I’m not supposed to tell you about that” . . . followed by Leila saying something similar. Part of me thinks Duffy has them up to this, though that would be a difficult prank to pull off with the unreliability of preschoolers).

I had no idea what he was talking about, but assumed it was a kind of food, gave him an apple & a granola bar, and packed the kids to take them to my mother-in-law’s for the day as I went to work. In the truck, he, again, asked for a “boo star.”

“Buddy, I don’t know what you mean, what is the /boo star/ like?”

“You know, Dad, an instrument”

“Oh, a guitar!”

“Yeah, a guitar, can I have one?”

This morning, I woke, dusted off a cheap classical guitar that I’ve had for years, tuned it up & handed it off. He’s been very careful with it, but I don’t believe he’s put it down once.

I must admit that I’m pretty darn proud to see this love – even if it seemed to come from out of nowhere. I like to think this is a “I want to be more like Daddy” bit of behavior. I hope it is.

Now, I should probably figure out how to play the instrument properly. Or something.

My daughter recently started dance classes.

She gets in trouble, quite often, for paying more attention to looking at herself, in her purple leotard & tutu, in the mirror than on performing the dance move she is set to do.

I’m already excited about Halloween. Seriously, I’m trying to get the kids to figure out what they might want to be so that I can come up with a costume that will work with both of them . . . though I realize this is fruitless. Possibly beyond fruitless, because, as my daughter is quick to do, kids “change their minds” all of the time.

I’m sitting, right now, typing this, with my muscles sore. Just about every single muscle in my body is protesting . . . I’ve truly been serious about strength training lately, and today’s workout was brutal – which is far from dissimilar to any other workout. While I can joke about vanity and go on & on about the advantages of having more muscle on your frame, the impetus behind this? My kids were growing faster than I had the ability to lift them . . . maybe if I can make myself stronger, strong enough to carry the two of them, despite how big they might be, they’ll still be “my babies.”

So what do I want for father’s day? All I know is that it’s far from the latest gadget.

May 29 14

Where I achieve a long-standing fitness goal

by John

Around the time I got married, I lost a lot of weight and, deep down, knew that I should be stronger than I was. So, I bought Pavel Tsatsouline’s The Naked Warrior book & DVD set. Soon after watching & falling to the ground trying the exercises, though, I decided that the program was far too advanced for me; I started Kung Fu, and truly enjoyed myself with Kung Fu lessons until other priorities took that spot in my life.

The premise of the naked warrior is that you can build muscle using only bodyweight exercises – the two most prominent of which were the one-armed push-up and the pistol squat. When I first tried the exercises mentioned, though, I could barely do a regular, two-armed push-up. And, since that point in my life, there have been several times where my fitness level has been poor enough that I haven’t been able to complete a single push-up. Taking Kung Fu certainly made me stronger, while that time in my life lasted – but any attempt at those two main Naked Warrior exercises was futile. Utterly futile. I put them in the back of my brain with the “you will never do this” stuff.

Fast forward to my adopting my current fitness goals. I want to make myself stronger. Right now, I don’t want to lose weight (but I’m not, necessarily, looking to put weight on, either). I want to ensure that I can do the exercises I want whenever I want . . . this last bit has been difficult. For awhile, I was following the Strong Lifts program, and making good progress – but there were days that I would head to the gym and have to improvise an entire workout because I couldn’t get access to the squat rack. So, I started following Fitness 666 because that involves a bunch of bodyweight exercises, and I never have to worry about someone else using my body1.

If you follow any calisthenics program (Convict Conditioning, Start Bodyweight, Beast Skills, etc), you’ll find the pistol and the one-armed push-up in your training . . . these are two key milestones as you work toward the progressions defined.

For months, I’ve been doing one-armed push-ups on the Smith Machine, with the barbell slowly being re-positioned until it’s been at the lowest rung for the last month. I’ve been doing pistol squats with a counterweight (this is one exercise that is actually made easier holding weight – as long as you keep the weight out in front of you).

Today, during my lunch time workout, I finally ditched the crutches. After my warm-up, I first attempted unassisted one-legged pistols. My right leg is actually my weaker leg, and I fell, time and time again, trying to lower myself into the start position. But I kept trying. Finally, I managed to lower myself into a full, one-legged squat, somehow keeping my ass off the ground, my empty hands held in front of me. From there, I pressed. Next thing I knew, my body was standing, and then I was back down in a one-legged squat again, and then I was standing. Ultimately, I managed three repetitions on each leg.

But, if I was honest with myself, I know I could have done that sooner – the question has been balance more than strength — I know I have nice, strong legs.

What surprised me was the one-armed push-up. My hang-up has always been confidence in lowering myself to the ground. For whatever reason, I have a mental block and my body simply won’t allow the muscle to fail as I lower myself, so I end up with my upper body at some angle to the ground, my elbow only partially bent, and I get “stuck,” having to bend my knee to the ground in order to get out of the position. Today, I lowered myself to the ground (right arm first, as that’s the one that might give me problems, with the elbow being surgically repaired) without “getting stuck.” I marveled at that for just a moment, and then I pressed — completing the exercise was far easier than just getting past that damn first step. As with the no-counterweight pistol, I managed three repetitions on each side.

A little over 10 years ago, I told myself that I’d never be able to do these exercises. Today, I told that version of me that I was wrong.

1 other people using my body would lead us to an entirely different kind of blog post.