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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.
May 23 14

Where I let the random fly on the Friday before a long weekend

by John
  • A few days ago, a trickle of water hit my head at my desk . . . I inquired about who to go to, because, well, it wasn’t raining, and I don’t work on the top floor of my building, and, you know, water dripping onto your head is not within the realm of “expected” at the workplace (unless you work in a shower). It turns out that it was the drain from the kitchen sink directly above my desk . . . they did “something to fix it” and that was the end of the story.
  • Until Yesterday. I was tweeting working hard when gush, water started cascading down onto my head/desk/phone/computer/everything. Whatever they did to “fix the problem” apparently made it far worse. I got drenched – but, a rice treatment for the phone & quick action (and ample time to dry) left all of the electronics functioning. Yesterday, I worked from home for the afternoon — I’m back today, but I’m wary.
  • With the Heartbleed Hack, I went a bit security crazy, enabling two-step authentication for most any site that allows me to (dear my bank, Amazon, and eBay, it would be appreciated if you could do this as well, though I’m not quite as worried about eBay because I always pay with Pay Pal, and that has the second step activated). I was feeling all self-righteous about this . . . until yesterday, watching dishwater pour onto my phone (again, the phone is fine). My way into my email, my Facebook, my twitter account, heck even this blog . . . they all require my phone. I’m pretty sure I need to go back to the drawing board for security concerns (at least Pay Pal, Twitter, and Linked In send a text, so I just need access to the texts sent to my mobile number, which, if I replace my phone, should be easy enough to get to).
  • I’ve started the PLP Challenge, with the goal of finishing the challenge the day I head to the beach (because vanity, they name is John). What is the PLP Challenge? It’s 60 days of Pull-Ups, Lunges, and Push-Ups — 10 on the first day, and you add one each day until, on day 60, you’re doing 70 Pull-Ups, 70 Lunges (on each leg), and 70 Push-Ups. But, because Lunges & Push-Ups are relatively easy for me (and pull-ups are, decidedly, not easy for me), I’m making this a PDP Challenge: Pull-Ups, (parallel bar) Dips, Pistol Squats (one-legged squats, full range of motion, arms held out in front of you — I’m doing mine with a 25 pound counterweight to make them a little bit easier in large batches). I shall be posting before/after pictures here when I’m off to the beach.
  • The sprouts just broke ground in my garden, though I have not gotten any better at remembering to take pictures — everything, aside from the blackberries, appears to be somewhere between “doing ok” and “thriving.” Heck, because I started with lettuce seedlings, I was able to harvest enough lettuce, the other day, for a lunch salad.
  • I’m really attacking my yard this year – I’m determined to enjoy it. This means that areas that I’ve, essentially, allowed the weeds to win, in years past, I’m declaring war on. I cleared the largest of these beds last weekend . . . when I took the kids with me to Lowe’s that day, I let CJ talk me into getting a fire pit. Burning and roasting marshmallows over the brush/weeds/roots of the stuff that you spent days in the hot sun fighting, while drinking wine? Incredibly rewarding.
  • My kids have completed their first year of preschool. This makes me unbelievably happy and feel unbelievably old (and yes, I know that will only get worse through the years).
  • Pouring the hot water into my French Press the other day, the glass cracked. It felt like an old friend just up & died. I should have my replacement one delivered today, but it just reminds me that I need to vlog my making coffee for y’all — I do believe you’d get a kick out of it.
  • Fridays, in my office, are “bagel fridays.” While I’m trying to reduce the number of refined flours that I consume, and, as such, can often avoid a bagel on Friday morning here, the demise of my coffee making mechanism meant that I had to improvise with a smallish amount of coffee this morning, and I was hungry when I got to the office. Normally, though, the bagels are delivered from a local bagel shop, and are phenomenally good. Today, someone picked up a bunch of grocery store items . . . if I’m going to leave the diet behind, I’m going to make it worth it, dammit. So I ate one of the leftover chicken wings that I brought for lunch for breakfast.
May 16 14

Where I share my weight loss “tips”

by John

I posted a link to this article, detailing how adding butter to your coffee can aid in weight loss to my Facebook page, and I’ve been fielding a fair number of questions since then. Along with that, though, came a request for other tricks that I’ve employed . . . and, you know me, writing about fitness is the thing I do. So here goes.

But first, a warning, Be wary of what works for others. Just because something worked for your friend/sister/brother/mother/cousin’s best-friend’s florist doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it might fly in the face of conventional thinking (butter, to your coffee, to make yourself lose fat?). I list what’s below as “what worked for me,” but I know, full well, that these things won’t work for everyone.

But, with that, know that I’ve tried a bit of everything . . . I’ve been vegetarian. I’ve been pescatarian. Vegan. I’ve done raw food diets. I’ve tried “juice cleanses.” I’m also well versed in the seafood diet. What lies below has worked, and continues to work, for me.

Do Whatever You Can to Make Yourself Stronger
If there was one piece of advice that I wish the “current” me could have given to the me of 18 months ago, it would be this. At the start of 2013, I started: strictly logging my diet, limiting my calories, did a shitton of cardio. I lost weight, so I really shouldn’t complain. But the thing about cardio is that, when you’re done, you’re done. Your body burns calories, which is a happy thing, but once your heart rate returns to normal, you’re, essentially, where you were before your workout. When you “lift heavy” (I’m talking low reps/high weight, not countless repetitions of low weight), you finish, but your body continues burning calories rebuilding the muscles you just taxed. If you push yourself to your limits, trying to make yourself stronger, you’ll find benefits that last throughout the day. I still enjoy my running (after all, I am Daddy Runs a Lot), but I enjoy it more for the fact that running clears my mind than running making me more fit. “Getting in shape,” I believe, is mostly about eating right — but, you can cure a lot of diet issues and/or give yourself a huge advantage by making yourself stronger.
Log Everything You Eat
There has to be some form of self-accountability. I know some people find this step tedious . . . but, well, if I don’t stop to say “this is what I’m eating,” I allow myself to eat ungodly-sized portions. Before I eat it, I log it.
Don’t Snack
I know there are people out there who will tell you to eat 18 specially proportioned meals a day to optimize metabolism or some shit like that1. If I eat 18 small meals a day, I’ll be disappointed 18 times (my BMR is about 2700 calories, so, in theory, I could eat 18, 100 calorie meals through a day and call it a 1000 calorie deficit, which is what most people would target for a two-pound-a-week weight loss). I’m someone who, when he snacks, isn’t any less hungry than he was beforehand. So I’ll snack at 2pm and eat the same dinner as if I didn’t snack. This kind of defeats the purpose of the snack. Some people will say “I’ll only snack on fresh fruit.” If you’re one of them? Good for you . . . give me a half dozen peaches and an entire bunch of grapes, with an apple and several dozen kiwi . . . I’ll eat that all, and still eat a pound of steak with a side salad and an entire bunch of broccoli for dinner (and wouldn’t say no to ice cream afterward). I can’t snack. Nothing good comes of it when I do.
Read Your Labels
Simply, if you don’t understand what’s in it, seriously consider whether or not you should eat it. Words like “refined,” “enriched,” and especially “partially-hydrogenated” need to be carefully considered (and, if possible, avoided). I’m hardly a Paleo-Diet supporter (where you only eat foods that a caveman may have eaten . . . beans and lentils will always be staples of my diet), but I do think that the more food is processed, the less good it can be for you. I’ve actually started making my own yogurt, because I love it — but the sugar & preservative levels (and expense!) in store bought versions scared me.
Know that eating fats doesn’t make you Fat
For the longest time, I would avoid most anything with fat in it. I didn’t want to be fat, so everything I ate was fat free. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. The body needs fats (heck, even the oft-maligned saturated fat shouldn’t be avoided — though I’d argue that anything in excess is a bad thing). Now? I try to avoid anything with lots of sugars, and always look to maximize the amount of protein I may be eating. I’m not a macronutrient nut (there are those who eat a very strict diet, ensuring that they have their optimal balance of fats to protein to carbohydrate . . . but, trying to eat like that drives me batty), but since My Fitness Pal analyzes my diet for me, I do look at the nice little pie chart . . . on most days, I see 40% of my calories coming from fat, 25% of my calories coming from protein, and 35% coming from carbohydrate sources. When it reads 90% carbohydrate? I do find that I question, well, did I make the best choices for food, for me, for the day?
Eat your fiber. Eat Your Fiber Hard
Make your workout a habit
Just like I’ve been aided by turning eating into a “look at the food, log the food, put the food in my mouth” habit, my workouts have become a habit. Maybe I’m risking future promotions at work by always going off on my own, but I try my damndest to keep 11:30 – 12:30 free on my schedule. That’s “my time,” and I use that to go to the gym. It’s habit. After a few months of doing this, on the days that I don’t go to the gym, I feel sluggish. My body wants it.
If you weigh yourself daily, don’t sweat day-to-day variances
Yesterday was an especially active day for me. I woke to walk the dogs, kicked my ass over my lunchtime workout, got home and spread fertilizer over the yard, and then spent an hour removing some brush from my property. I was a sweaty, sweaty mess. On top of all of that, I kept my calories in check through the day. You’d think that combination would have me losing weight — but no, I stepped on the scale Wednesday morning for a weight of 201.4 pounds. Today, it read 203.2. But that’s no biggie, and I’m not about to change anything up today to “make up” for that weight gain. Dinner, last night, was sodium heavy — especially sodium heavy . . . I’d put good money on the fact that I simply had more water in my system this morning.

1 I challenge anyone who believes this to actually supply the science behind their research. Jillian Michael’s blog may not be a scientific paper, but she scares the piss out of me, so I’ll link to her first. The US National Institute of Health found no difference between meal size/frequency and fat loss, and that is a scientific study. It’s all about how much you eat, each and every day.
May 13 14

Where I try to learn from my mistakes and, again, plant a garden

by John

The mistakes from last year rang in my mind. I wanted an epic vegetable garden then, and I still want one now. But, last year, I went about things the wrong way, and things did not turn out.

  • First off, we planted on a truly beautiful day in early April. While our April, last year, was quite mild, as far as Aprils go, we were not clear of the final frosts when the plants went in the ground. The pepper and tomato and cucumber plants we bought? Did not survive the month.
  • When buying plants, we decided “ooh, let’s try this,” or “let’s try that.” There wasn’t much rhyme or reason, other than “this vegetable is tasty, let’s plant it!” Broccoli and cauliflower, while indeed tasty, are not warm-weather plants. While they survived the frosts, they went to seed before more than a single, token meal could be salvaged.
  • When I tilled the soil (with a roto-tiller, because power tools are awesome!), I did little else to prepare the ground. The thing about grass is that it’s resilient as fuck. Not only was there minimal barrier between “garden” and “not garden” but the “garden” part had large clumps of grass that had been disturbed, but were still together. So grass encroached from all four sides, and from within the garden, itself.
  • I did a piss-poor job of remembering where I put seeds. Because of this, when anything broke through the ground, I had issues identifying whether it was a plant or a weed or grass.
  • The Brussels Sprouts incident.

The garden wasn’t a complete disaster, however. I grew enough lettuce for several, large, salads. Chinese cabbage grew aplenty for a few stir-frys. I was able to make a few loaves of zucchini bread. But, all in all, it was a sweaty, expensive learning experience.

This year, we did a lot more planning.

  • First off, I researched what vegetables I should expect to be able to harvest in the height of summer, in central Pennsylvania. I love broccoli and cauliflower (seriously, for years, I shied away from cauliflower . . . then I decided to roast a head on a whim and, since then, it’s become a staple of my diet), but there is no way to grow them in the heat of August1.
  • Where possible, we bought seedlings instead of seeds. I know this was more expensive — but, my goal this year is to succeed in harvest, not to minimize budget. Next year, I’ll look at seed starter kits and actually start what can be started inside, in early Spring, but baby steps this year.
  • The tilled area remained from last year — but we attacked it
    • Two borders of the rectangular garden are chain link fence — I put railroad ties down on both the outside & inside of the fence, to inhibit grass migration (and, hopefully, to dissuade any burrowing creature from making the trek2). Inside the chain-link fence, we have a small picket fence (to keep the dogs from “helping” with harvesting and/or weeding) and we lined the inside of said picket fence with mountain stones.
    • Manually, we turned all of the soil, discarding anything that was green or had a root — it took significantly more time than the roto-tilling, but I feel that we have a base where we actually discouraged weed/grass growth.
    • We placed newspaper on top of the manually tilled soil, to provide yet another barrier between anything that’s trying to get through the ground and the sunlight it’s trying to reach.
    • We brought in soil, so that the top layers of dirt were near-guaranteed to not start with life that we’re hoping to avoid having.

    Some lessons learned from this go-round

    • Tutus are not, necessarily, appropriate gardening wear. The La was “helping” by digging in the soil as we manually turned it. She sat on a hill of ants. They started biting her. The tutu acted as a net for the damn insects, so that, even after we brushed them off of her, another wave started.
    • After said ant attack on his sister, CJ would flip his shit whenever we saw any bug, of any size. We were outside. You can guess how well that went.
    • It takes upwards of 10 minutes to put gardening gloves on preschoolers. They don’t do near enough with their hands to warrant protection.
    • I hated having the plants that I wanted to plant and still having to wait to finish all of the prep work before starting the actual planting. The “actual planting” is what the kids wanted to do . . . if my desire to ‘get going’ was so great, imagine the patience level of my preschoolers.
    • You know that scene in Goonies where Stef steps on the head of a rake and scares herself when the pole hops up and she screams when some rags & a dead fish are stuck to it? Leila tried to re-enact that scene, but wasn’t wearing shoes at the time. Fortunately, the rake tooth didn’t break through her skin.

    With all that said, I’m feeling confident that we’ll have a good harvest this year. Lots of tomatoes (some heirloom vareities, Roma, and cherry), jalapeno & bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, onions, carrots, string beans, watermelon, pumpkin, and herbs.

    I’ll be checking in as we harvest :)

    1 This is not to say that I won’t grow said vegetables this year — it just means that I’m going to have to be quick, possibly aggressive, when deciding which plants are unlikely to yield any more fruit, and re-use the space when August rolls around, in the hopes for September harvest.
    2 I’m not too manly to admit that I screamed like a little girl and jumped like someone who had stepped on hot coals when I picked a carrot last year and disturbed a family of moles who had made their home directly in the middle of the carrot patch.
May 2 14

Where I have a new favorite tantrum

by John

As one of the (many) reasons of this blog is to preserve those memories which, given time, may depart for forever, I thought I’d share a particularly entertaining tantrum.

We ditched cable a long, long time ago . . . this has its pros and cons.

  • Pro: our monthly bills went down by a significant chunk (even after we factored in subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime).
  • Con: the kids, now can basically watch whatever they want to watch, whenever they want to watch it.
  • Pro: our kids seldom see an advertisement, meaning that they’re only ever exposed to the “latest & greatest” toys at the toy department of Target.
  • Con: we still go to Target.
  • Pro: Every show that is on the air, that I want to watch, is carried by Hulu and is available the day after it airs.
  • Con: The Hulu app for Roku sucks and will sometimes just force the device to reboot at a climatic part of an episode.
  • Pro: I barely am able to stay awake to have time to watch anything on TV anyway.
  • Pro: I can watch horror movies where scantily clad, buxom “actresses” drink themselves silly & act out fantasies involving bathtubs and whipped cream.
  • Con: the Netflix “recently watched” queue is incredibly difficult to hack in order to hide my tracks.

My children, like most all children, are creatures of habit. When it’s time to pick something to watch, they choose familiarity — the only time they’ll choose something new-to-them is, well, if they’re carefully guided along that path.

Spy Kids is in heavy rotation, at the current moment. As far as kid movies go, I’m ok with this — it’s silly, it’s action packed . . . it’s among the lesser of many more evil options. But, however much I might not mind when my kids choose to watch one of the Spy Kids movies, I’d never sit down and say “hey, let’s watch Spy Kids.”

So, the other night, we put the kids to bed, but they were still wide awake. We turn on the Roku and start an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Within the first few minutes, a little voice rings out from my daughter’s room, “What are you watching?”

“A TV show,” we respond.

“Are you watching Spy Kids?”

“Yes, we’re watching Spy Kids,” comes as a sarcastic response.

Sarcasm is lost on the young ones.

The next thing we know, The La is in our room, demanding to watch Spy Kids and nothing will appease her, save for us putting on Spy Kids for her to watch. And, of course, doing so would have meant that she would win.

The only way we were able to resolve this was to turn off the TV, entirely, so that nobody watched anything until Leila calmed herself down and fell asleep. Which was after Duffy & I had fallen asleep.

So now, once we put the kids to bed and the Hulu queue awaits, I always start the “what to watch” discussion with “let’s watch Spy Kids.”

And, if Leila was awake and listening? Protest. Immediate protest.

But, then again, as parents, well, aren’t there times that you want to eat candy and watch their crappy television shows when they can’t, as some sort of karmic payback for whatever they’ve put you through that day?