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Feb 2 15

Where I seek out to make crispy chicken drumsticks

by John
Drumstick

So, yesterday was the Super Bowl . . . and while it was a modest affair, I see the Super Bowl as the “last hurrah” of the holiday eating. Yeah, I try to be “good” and eat “clean” all year — but, well, I really fucking like food. I think about sex food all the time. And, as George Takei points out, The Super Bowl is the last hurrah in the Jabba holiday eating graph.

This year, I decided that I was going to indulge, but I was going to try to stay within my rules1 for the game. This meant no nachos . . . but guacamole and cheese.

It also left me wanting wings. Badly.

But, to get really crispy wings, I’ve always dried them, coated them in flour, and then baked them . . . and the covering in flour, well, that’s against the rules.

Also against the rules? Paying something like $5/pound for wings. Now, if they were cooked and delivered to me? That’d be different . . . but the local grocery store jacked up the price on their wings leading up to the Super Bowl – but, in looking at the meat counter, it looked like they had no shortage of people buying them. So good for them. Capitalism works.

But chicken drumsticks were cheap . . . and, really, drumsticks are just like huge, giant wings. So, I decided to figure out how to make huge, giant wings within my rules – and tried to get them crispy.

I started, as I start almost every recipe journey, with Alton Brown’s Wing Recipe, where he suggests steaming wings, cooling them, and then roasting them. But, the geek in me wasn’t content to stop there, and I went to the Serious Eats baked wings recipe, where they suggest a dry rub containing baking powder.

I decided to try both approaches. I was heading out of town for the weekend, so I didn’t have the luxury of the “3 to 18 hour” downtime . . . I had about 48 hours that I’d have to leave the chicken behind . . . so I steamed the drumsticks on Thursday night, let them cool, dried them with a paper towel, and rubbed them with a mixture of garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, and baking soda. Then I let them sit in baking trays, refrigerated, for the next few days.

When I got back home, I put them into the oven at 425, for 20 minutes, turned them, added the sauce (see below), and roasted for another 20 minutes.

The result was quite tasty, but not super crispy . . . I’m thinking about trying an almond meal breading next time. Though I’m hardly complaining about the result.

Oven Roasted Drumsticks

Chicken

  • 10 drumsticks (about 3-4 pounds)
  • Aluminum foil (just to help with cleanup)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sauces

Hot Sauce

  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce
  • 1/4 cup ghee

Honey/Garlic Sauce

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  1. Steam chicken in large steaming attachment for 15-20 minutes (until meat appears to be cooked through).
  2. Allow meat to cool and dry with paper towel.
  3. Rub spice/baking powder mixture into drumsticks, place in aluminum-foil lined baking sheet, refrigerate until cold (at least 2-3 hours)
  4. Preheat oven to 425
  5. Transfer chicken to a roasting pan (otherwise the rub on the aluminum foil might burn) and place in oven for 20 minutes.

  6. Use this 20 minutes to prepare your sauce
  7. Turn the drumsticks and pour half the sauce onto the chicken.
  8. Cook for another 20 minutes.
  9. Remove and toss drumsticks with the other half of the sauce.
  10. Eat immediately, with greek-yogurt blue cheese dressing (if that’s your thing . . . this is the second time I’ve made it – I just put a Cuisinart mixer on low with all the ingredients together during the post-turn 20 minute span and the dressing came out just about perfect)

1 Minimal refined flour, minimal refined sugar. Nothing that might have trans fat. Limit potatoes, and/or corn without going crazy.
Jan 21 15

Where I think on confidence

by John

No matter how things play out, there is always a difference between “real life” and “virtual life.” For some, that difference can be marked and quite intentional — for others, it may be minimal. But, there’s no doubting that, being behind the screen that is “being online” people are different.

The “me” that shines through is…confident. One might even say cocky. Maybe. Or one might just like writing the word cocky (giggling as they do so). Cocky cocky cocky. Cock. Cocky. Anyway – while I do believe I’m a confident individual, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I’m more assured of myself online than I am in “real life.”

I was thinking about how things were, with me, a few months ago, and a few years ago. To say that I’m more self-assured, now, is an understatement. Things in my life are far from perfect — in some aspects of my life, things are worse for me, now, than they’ve ever been . . . but, whereas the me from a few years ago would fixate on key items (with so much focus on “what isn’t perfect” that I’d lose sight of the good stuff), I’m now able to brush off those things that bother me.

Maybe it’s a special brand of meditation that I’m not aware that I’m deploying. Maybe it’s some odd kind of defense mechanism where I just move about from thing to thing in life — always with a focus on “what must be done” without reflection on “what am I feeling?” but I really don’t think that’s it. I think I’m, simply, more confident these days. I feel less of a need to prove myself. I don’t think I’m more optimistic (I fear for the future just as much as ever) but I don’t focus on self-doubt like I did a relatively short while ago, and, as such, don’t allow external factors to create self-doubt like they once did.

Does that make sense?

Anyway, what does this all mean, in the context of this blog, aside from the fact that I had a strange stage-performance anxiety dream last night1? I just listened to Yo Yo Ma’s performance of Bach’s Violoncello Suite #1 (unaccompanied). And, more confident as I may be these days, Mr. Ma, in his little finger, has more confidence in his performance than I can even fathom.


1 I believe I last experienced stage fright during the height of the first Clinton administration.
Jan 20 15

Where I let out some of the random spilling about my head

by John
  • I wish I held the ability to think of something and, like Elsa, “let it go.” But, once my mind hits “I think I should…” or “what would it take to…”, well, I have to, at least, think through whatever my brain stumbled upon.
    • I listened to Nick Offerman’s recording of Paddle Your Own Canoe1, and it’s somewhat changed my life. In the book, he hypothesizes that people who actually create things are far happier than those who live a virtual existence, spending their free time on a screen and chatting with virtual people and/or living in a virtual reality. It’s not to say that he’s entirely anti-social-media or anti-video-games, but he posits that someone who has a priority of actually doing something will be happier than someone who has nothing but memories to show for their labors. Since then, I’ve been wondering just what I could “make,” aside from music, which I think I’m pretty good at . . . this has lead me to wanting to:
      • learn to crochet (if only to “talk shop” with my crocheting wife
      • make my own wallet — mine is falling apart, and, at least in theory, the making of a new wallet should be straight-forward and somewhat fun
      • turn Lynnette into a wine rack . . . this will likely happen once I’ve finished clearing out my basement
    • I’ve been trying to figure out just how to eat healthier while enjoying what I’m eating more and being hungry less. This lead me to a few articles on the wonders of lacto-fermented foods2. What I took from the articles was: regular eating of fermented foods will allow your body to recover from a “bad eating day” far more easily, they may aid in lowering blood pressure (my blood pressure, when measured, is usually anywhere from “slightly above normal” to “slightly above slightly above normal.” It’s never been to the point of “danger,” but it’s something I keep an eye on), and the traditional fermented foods that you might purchase in a store have, likely, been pasteurized and/or had preservatives added to them (in other words, they’re not as healthy as they should be). I enjoy yogurt. I enjoy sauerkraut. I enjoy kimchi. So, I’ve started making my own . . . every weekend, I make a batch of yogurt for lunches for the week. I have two batches of sauerkraut currently fermenting — the first should be ready for lunches over next week . . . and from there, I plan to have one batch nearing completion, one batch nearing start, as I work my way through a third batch. As snow peas were really, really cheap at the grocery store this week, I’m going to make a quart of “snow peackles”. I fully realize that this process requires its own post, and I’ll do that, once I actually get around to taking pictures of what I’m doing.
  • My daughter is preparing for her first dance recital. I, seriously, don’t think the world is ready for the level of cute . . . I still remember sitting through my sister’s dance recitals as a kid, and dreading them . . . now, though, it’s a little ridiculous as to how much I’m looking forward to things.
  • CJ lost his first tooth. The tooth fairy visited & left a $2 bill.
  • Benji managed to scratch the top of my head in his excitement for a walk this morning. I really don’t know how he managed it.
  • If I keep my current workout plan going all year, I’ll complete over 10,000 pull-ups in 2015. In 2013, I couldn’t complete a single pull-up.
  • I found myself with a couple of hours of time on my hands last night, near a very good Chinese buffet. I didn’t go truly overboard, but I ate my fill, and them some. Why do I view an “all you can eat buffet” as a challenge?
  • I’m still trying to figure out just how things happened here, but in a process that includes: a Good Friday gig that I couldn’t play because of church duties, an incredibly ornery musician, and a separate musician who was quite good but was diagnosed with cancer; I find myself as the bassist of a new band (I still have my classic rock band, Landslide, where I play keyboards) for the time being. As with Landslide, I’m the “young guy”.
  • This was the first morning in quite some time where it wasn’t dangerously cold in the early AM . . . I’m kind of kicking myself for not making myself run — but I had my running gear buried in my drawers, my running shoes in the truck . . . by the time I had everything together, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have had time to run. With a marathon looming in 2 & a half months, I need to get out. If the weather provides, I may head out to the Newville-Shippensburg Tail-to-Trail this weekend, just to allow my legs to go and set up some sort of baseline to determine where I am with my endurance3
  • Google Calendar makes my life far easier to manage.

1 I listened to this because Amy Poehler told me to, in Yes Please, and, seriously, life would be much better if we all did what Amy Poehler told us to do . . . the funny thing? I was in the middle of a series of memoirs: Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris, Amy Poheler . . . and, while I listened to Amy and jumped from her memoir to that of her Parks & Rec co-star, I didn’t actually enjoy Amy’s memoir all that much — she’s a wonderful writer, but it’s quite obvious that she wrote things over a very long time, in starts & spurts, so there were times, while listening, that it felt like spending a weekend with a ADHD meth addict telling you about the time he went to the fair when he was 12. It was worth the time to listen, surely — but, mostly, because it lead me to read Offerman’s work.
2 Essentially, leave food out for a good long while, at room temperature, submersed in a brine. This allows beneficial bacteria to multiply and build/secrete lactic acid. When this is all eaten, the beneficial bacteria then start to reside in your gut, allowing for better digestion, and the foods, themselves, may have added benefit as the vitamins may be able to be processed by your body better . . . the science gets a bit above my head.
3 I’m in the best shape of my life . . . but 26.2 still provides a great amount of trepidation for me.
Jan 5 15

Where I ruminate on resolutions

by John

As much as we can say that we’re firmly into the new year — I mean, it’s been 2014 2015 for days, now (and, almost magically, I wrote the proper year the first time I had to write a date . . . that won’t last, of course . . . heck, there was a time over last summer that I was putting “2012” on the top of status reports, but I surprised myself), but today is the first day where I’m back at work. It’s the first Monday of the new year, and it’s the first day that it feels like “I’m in a routine.” It’s also the first day where I’m half-cringing heading to the gym because, well, I like to get in, do my thing, and get out . . . and, traditionally, I find that a packed gym means that it’ll take more time for me to “do my thing”.

So, as much as “the resolutioners” weigh on me, I believe I find myself in that crowd, this year. Because there are some things that I want to change — and, well, right now seems to be the best time to do it.

Too Much Stuff

I find myself very concerned with my son’s want for “stuff.” The past few weeks, between his birthday, Christmas, and holiday parties galore, it was, essentially, a present-opening extravaganza. My mother-in-law mentioned, in passing, during one of these holiday parties, that Santa had visited her house. Without the typical routine, he hasn’t been there since before Christmas morning; now, he has been fixated on getting his present, nevermind all of the stuff that he just got, and enjoys playing with.

Over new years, some of his older friends were playing with a certain kind of toy and he, essentially, is willing to do anything to get that toy. What worries me is that I don’t know if he wants to play with the toy – but to actually have that toy. The acquisition seems to mean more than the actual items, themselves, and that worries me. So, how do I combat this? I get rid of stuff.

Slowly, but surely, I am ridding my basement man-cave of clutter. As happens in a house where you don’t need every nook & cranny of space, those superfluous nooks & crannies accumulate those things that are, simply, unneeded. The past few weeks have seen me demolish and remove furniture that the original owners left because it couldn’t be removed from the house and, simply, re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic everything to ensure that anything I decreed “would stay” was still needed, and then cleaned1.

The past few days have had me going through my closet & drawers, throwing any clothes that are either ratty or do not fit into the center of my room. Every week, with the trash, I’m filling the trash bin with anything too junky to be donated after I’ve taken care of the household trash. Every day, I’m grabbing as much as I can from the pile of clothing, putting it into my truck, and its finding its way to a donation center.

I’m hoping that my kids see that I have things that I use and that I enjoy — and not things because, dammit, I have those things. And I’m hoping that it rubs off on them.

There is the saying “everything in its place, and a place for everything.” I know myself well-enough to know that there are going to be times that I have too much to carry/too much to do/too much on my mind to ensure that I never leave something out-of-place in my car or on my desk — but, I can, every time I get home or to work, make sure that any trash in my truck is attended to, that my sunglasses are in the drop-down ceiling storage bin, and that I’m carrying as much as practical – just to ensure that there isn’t something that’s trying to live in my truck that shouldn’t live there. When I leave the office, I can ensure that anything out is left out for a specific purpose (e.g. to grab my attention for when I’m next in the office). And, goddammit, I can ensure that laundry is put away before I go to bed at night (I’m horrible about leaving a pile of folded laundry out & about).

Too Much Screen Time

It’s almost like a joke in the house. When we’re in our routine, I get up and out of bed to walk the dog. I work out, and come 6am, I head upstairs to dress my kids. At this time, almost always, they’re still sleeping. Even though they’re both hearty sleepers, the act of having your clothes removed and new clothes put on . . . well, I’m pretty sure the act might’ve woken Rip Van Winkle. Almost always, The La will groggily ask “I watch somepin’?” as she turns the corner from unconsciousness. The kids each have an iPad Mini from Christmas, provided, mainly, as a car trip strategy (getting them to agree on watching a movie together is, oftentime, difficult).

It’s easy for me to say “less TV, less iPad, less anything,” but, well, when I’m home, I’m often on my phone or on computer. I’ll put on the TV for background noise. In short, it’s just not me that is dealing with “too much screen time.”

Obviously, I work at an office, with a computer job, so I can’t simply say “I’m going to do this less,” but when I’m home? I think I can. Despite my fastidious logging of every bite of food I eat (and that’s not going to change), I’m going to not touch my phone during mealtime. I’m going to try to institute “TV-less Tuesdays” where, after work, CJ and I will head to karate together, we’ll head out for a relatively inexpensive meal, then we’ll do something as a family (swim, bowl, etc) that doesn’t involve “watching sumpin”. These nights will involve a bedtime of reading books and then bed (typically, we allow the kids to each watch a 30 minute show to help unwind . . . the hope being that whatever the “something” that isn’t “watching somepin” might be, it’s enough to wear the kids out).

My wife has also turned into a amigurumi wizard, and she spends her free time crocheting little guys . . . now, she can do it while mostly watching a TV show, but it’s something physical – they’re something tangible that she’s working with . . . and I think that resonates with the kids. I’m going to resolve to find something to actually work on so that, at the end of the day, even if I did watch a movie, I have something in my hands to show what I did that day, rather than just the memory of the movie/sporting event/video game.

Too Cranky / Too Hungry / Too Much Food

I love to eat. Truly. But I’m very careful about what I eat . . . during a typical day, I’m very careful about the amount of food that I allow myself to eat before I’m home. Honestly, I’m regimented, and it’s worked for me. But, far too often, when I do get home, I find myself with a tremendous amount of calories still available to me, and I’m cranky. So, I eat — and I eat within the boundaries that I’ve set . . . but I eat a lot.

Now, my kids are grazers . . . but I worry about them seeing the way that daddy eats dinner and them thinking that they’ll mimic the behavior at some point. So I’m resolving to eat more during the day — I’ll still be strict about logging, I’ll refrain from eating junk (heck, I’m making a concerted effort to eat far more fermented foods: making my own yogurt for breakfast, going to buy homemade kimchi from a local asian market for lunches), but dinners will involve “less for daddy.” And, hopefully, a bit more pleasant daddy between the time he walks in the door and dinner is on the table. Though there will still be plenty of steak – because daddy likes steak.

I do not believe this resolution will affect my behavior at a Chinese buffet. Because each one of them is evil and it’s only in full-frontal assault will such buffets not consume their own customers.

At the same time – my wife just got me a winemaking kit, and I fully plan to make, and enjoy, my own wine . . . only, for the most part, I plan to partake of said wine at a very modest pace (a glass, maybe a glass & a half a night), because, well, I enjoy wine, and I think it’s important for my kids to see an adult drinking responsibly.

Too Disposable

Whenever a toy breaks, CJ rushes to throw it away. There are times that, truthfully, this is the best course of action. But, recently, it’s moved onto things like Legos – where whatever he has built simply falls apart due to his lack of knowledge of engineering won’t go together the right way — nothing is broken, but he gets pissed. I worry that there’s enough in my life that “oh, this isn’t doing exactly what I want, let me get rid of it” that he’s just copying what I’m doing. Yes, right now, I’m purging a lot in my life. But, at the same time, I need to start ensuring that anything new that enters my life, enters with a reason. I needn’t buy things because I fancy something, or choose something on a whim — a little research to ensure that I have the right thing, and then holding off until I actually need the item, well, it means that I should end up with less in my life, and those things that enter my life will be necessary, and thus, not-disposable.

Will this one work? I haven’t the foggiest idea – but it seems good on the surface. If nothing else, I think it means that I’ll end up on more-sound financial footing.

TL;DR

Gonna get rid of shit I don’t need. Gonna cut back on TV watching and see if there’s some kind of craft that I can start. Gonna eat more during the day (making sure I’m eating right, though). Gonna try to only ever buy what I need.


1 To be fair, I’m allowing CJ to get those Hex Bugs that he wants so very badly . . . to “earn” them, despite the mountain of toys that he finds himself sitting on, he “helped” me move stuff about and sweep up my basement.
Dec 23 14

Where I present a huge helping of random before the holidays

by John
  • I have figured out what my introduction music would be, if I were a major league baseball player:
    • First three innings: Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King (from Peer Gynt)
    • Second three innings: The cannon-firing portion of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture
    • Final three innings: First movement from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (right from the start)
    • Extra-innings/critical game situation: O Fortuna, from Orff’s arrangement of The Carmina Burana
  • A little part of me wonders if my figuring this music out now that I’m well-past my playing age prime is why I am not a major league baseball player.
  • Yes, I’m aware that classical music might be an unorthodox choice for “coming to the plate music”
  • I may be a tad bit excited to binge-watch Mozart In the Jungle this holiday break.
  • What I have been binge-watching lately, when time allows (which means, generally, 30-40 minute segments between work and symphony on Monday nights and a wondrous hour between work and poker last Friday night)? Kung Fu movies. Holy shit, they’re fun.
  • I’m ridiculously excited for Christmas, partly because I want to play many of the video games that the kids are getting. And I’m very eager to see what The La might create with modeling clay.
  • I’ve decided to make a dessert to bring to my mom’s for Christmas Eve & my in-laws for Christmas night, just so that I have a “slightly-less-guilty” dessert option available to me1.
  • Throughout the year, when I listen to music in the office, I usually gravitate toward classical music. However, as the season changes to Christmas, that changes to Christmas music . . . but I have found myself keeping the Christmas tunes “poppy”. Only recently, I think I discovered why: many classical Christmas albums heavily feature grand organ pieces – complex, layered sounds made on truly brilliant pipe organs. That’s right, my readers, I’m admitting organ envy.
  • It’s been years since I’ve worked at a government installation, but I’ve, only recently, gotten into the habit of carrying a pocket knife with me most everywhere I go (I actually attach my keys to a carabineer included with the small pocket knife, which “lives” on my belt and/or a belt-loop if I’m not wearing a belt that given day). It’s amazing how handy those things are.
  • I recently attended the retirement luncheon of a former coworker, whom I consider a friend — and damn, that made me feel old.
  • There was a time when I unsure if I’d ever have kids. I truly cannot comprehend my life without those little ones, now.
  • CJ & I tested for our yellow belt in Tang Soo Do the other week. We both passed. It may only be a step on a journey, but I, sincerely, could not be more proud of the way that CJ focused for his test, how seriously he took the responsibility, and how newly devoted he appears to be after getting his first, colored belt.
  • While I have all gifts planned & purchased by this point (though I just purchased something for my mother yesterday), I find myself stressed and actually opening/reading spam emails offering last minute deals and/or free overnight shipping. Dear John – you don’t need anything else. All is accounted for.
  • Every year, at my in-laws, we do a Yankee Swap2. Every year, my wife & I bring decent bottles of booze because, well, booze is always appreciated at my house. Every year, I end up taking home something I’d rather not have. I’m hoping to end the tradition.
  • I think I’m close to being able to complete a muscle-up, but I always feel strongest in the early morning, and it’s too cold for me to work out outside, and I can’t arrange a low-enough pull-up bar for me to attempt a dip at the top of a pull-up while at home, so my test of this will have to wait until a random dog walk on a mild morning.
  • I’m giving serious thought to waking up 20-30 minutes earlier, every morning, and fitting in a kickboxing workout with my heavy bag. Because my plans to swim just haven’t come to fruition, and I’m trying to find “full body exercises” that will get my heart going. Because, you know, 5am3 is bullshit already really isn’t all that early.
  • I chaperoned the kids to a “meet the orchestra” holiday field trip the other day. I kind-of got in trouble for allowing Leila to dance in the aisle (my reason for not stopping it is, as a musician, I have never complained about someone dancing to the music I was creating . . . had people been paying and/or had I felt my daughter was distracting someone else’s viewing experience, I’d have disallowed it . . . but she was just The La being The La).
  • Coming home from said field-trip, the kids and I played with every instrument we had in the house . . . heck, I’m even planning on bringing a bunch of instruments to the preschool so all the kids can bang around on the not-as-nice instruments that I happen to own (my bass, banjo, and bass guitars being the exceptions – those are nice instruments). I believe my son now qualifies as a better violin player than I am.
  • If I’m setting a New Year’s resolution, it’s to teach myself guitar. I’m an adequate-enough bassist & pianist, but I need to sit down and figure out how to play each chord. If I’m playing guitar, I want to be proficient enough so that I can “just play along,” and I’m nowhere near there right now. We’ll see how that goes. Once I am “proficient-enough” on guitar, I’ll focus on the banjo.
  • I want an accordion.
  • And a sitar.
  • And a money tree.
  • I spent this past weekend quite sick — a stomach bug that, seemingly, came from out of nowhere. So far, my immediate family hasn’t shown any signs of the awful that I had, but I’m nervous about Christmas being around the corner. Anyway, in being so sick, I barely ate anything on Sunday and didn’t have a drop of caffeine. By Sunday evening, I think I’d have been feeling “entirely better,” but, well, I was deep in the midst of caffeine withdrawal. Since then, my morning coffee? Well, I believe it’s given me the ability to hear squirrel thoughts — I go from “quasi-functional4” to “more than a bit wired” during the morning commute to work.
  • I wish movie theatres offered iced tea or reasonably-priced water. I have a feeling that I’ll head out to see a movie, at least once over the break . . . but I’ve given up artificial sweeteners and soda. You know, wine and beer would work, too . . .
  • Merry Christmas, everyone.

1 Hey, I’m still me, you didn’t expect this to be a fully “no health news / evangelism” post, did you?
2 A gift exchange where everybody brings a modest, wrapped gift, and you take turns picking/opening presents. When it’s your turn, you can chose to open a new gift or “steal” an already opened gift. If your gift is stolen, you may then open another present. You do this until all gifts have been opened.
3 My current wake up time
4 So my morning routine is quite strict, and because of that, I just, kind-of, react without really thinking much: wake, dress for the cold, walk the dog, feed both dogs, undress to weigh myself, put on pajama pants, complete half my morning work out, dress the kids, start the coffee process, say goodbye to the family as they go about their day, complete the second half of my workout. From there, I typically dress, blend my coffee, pour it, and head out the door for work. Only, the other day, I missed the “dress” part. I stepped outside and realized that I wasn’t wearing shoes . . . but this isn’t entirely uncommon for me — I knew I had a spare set of shoes in my gym bag, and it wouldn’t be a problem for me to wear those. And then I realized that I was quite cold, but, again, I had my jacket in the car, so, no problem. I got to my truck started, went to back out the drive-way and realized that I didn’t have a clean pair of socks to put on my feet. So I would have to go back in the house to get some, when I realized that, um, I needed to put on real pants. And just maybe a shirt, too, if I wanted to head to work ok.
Dec 15 14

Where I present the unforeseen downsides to getting in shape

by John

No – this isn’t one of those tongue-in-cheek “you don’t rest midway up the stairs” lists. I still don’t know if I truly consider myself “in shape,” I’m certainly in better shape than I have been, previously, at any time in my life, and I can tell you that there are some downsides to being in better shape that I did not consider, when I started this journey.

Being Cold
I used to jokingly say that, if I could get away with it, I’d never wear pants. No matter the weather, if I were heading to a holiday party? I was going in shorts. Sure, work functions, typically, frown on shorts – but I was the guy who, in the middle of winter, wore shorts. But as your body fat drops, there’s less insulation — I get cold, now. Heck, I’ve thought about getting myself long underwear, just so that I can make myself a little more comfortable if/when I’m heading somewhere that just might be chilly.
The Toilet
When my legs are sore? When I have pushed them especially hard the previous day . . . and sit down on the toilet? Well, I’ve given some serious thought to taking my work laptop into the bathroom at work, just because standing up, when I’m done, requires serious commitment, and the thought of sitting with my laptop on my lap, all afternoon, just seems easier.
Letting Down Friends & Family
A few weeks ago, I was at a family event, and chose not to have a cupcake. My mother-in-law, who made the cupcakes, made sure that I knew that she made a selection of cupcakes without chocolate, especially for me. I, basically, had to say “thank you, but no thanks” because a cupcake, while delicious, provided empty calories; I was trying to “keep myself good” ahead of Thanksgiving. I can’t help but think that my mother-in-law took the cupcake refusal personally.
It doesn’t really get easier
Well, maybe it does get easier, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve “been down this road before.” As much as I want to say that, “yeah, but this time is different,” I’m afraid of falling off the wagon like I have, so many times before. So, I keep on top of my calories. I watch my macros. I ensure that I get enough fiber while limiting my carbs. I prioritize protein intake at most every meal. I especially don’t allow myself regular “cheat days1” or allow myself a reward for hitting a goal/target (I cringe when I think about how I allowed myself to stop & get a cinnamon bun on the way to work, each and every day, provided that I made myself sit on the exercise bike for at least 10 minutes in the morning . . . I was doing far more harm than good, back in those days).
Your complaints about your body don’t go away – they just become more specific
We all hate our bodies. I just watched Pumping Iron (the bodybuilding documentary that essentially launched Arnold Schwarzenegger from a bodybuilder to a movie star), and I’m convinced that, Schwarzenegger, at the height of his body-building career, when he was Adonis, personified, had a constant list of stuff that he wished to change about his body. Instead of thinking “I want a flatter belly,” you start looking at the loose skin around your stomach, wishing it weren’t there. “I want more muscles” morphs into “I want bigger shoulders”. Self-complaint doesn’t go away . . . it just becomes far more specific.
Clothes shopping becomes a different kind of stressful
It used to be that I would fear going clothes shopping because I’d have to try on clothes and, gulp, I didn’t know if I, maybe, had gone up a size. Now? Well, I’m cheap . . . not long ago, I went to TJ Maxx to look for a new pair of dress pants. I had no options in my size — 30″ waist and 34″ inseam pants, apparently, are, simply, not available at discount stores. So, I’ve essentially given up on shopping at discount stores, and thrift stores . . . and even the big box stores – well, shorts are easy enough to find – but pants? No. Heck, even on eBay, I commonly strike out, and I’m loathe to purchase anything that I can’t try on.
You still think about food just as much as you always have
They can say “nothing tastes as good as being fit feels,” but I really don’t know about that. The enjoyment I get from food is, truly, astonishing. The saving grace is that, because I’m so careful about what I eat, and want to ensure that every calorie “is worth it” (meaning that it’s going to taste great and provide nutritional value), I spend as much time daydreaming about cooking, and figuring out what I want to make myself to eat as I daydream about eating. All that said – I’ve been having flashbacks to the feeling of opening a fresh back of tortilla chips . . . you’ll have to forgive me if I need a moment.
You’ll always need the occasional kick in the ass
“Not feeling it” happens to everyone. Seriously. The most disciplined person in the world will, still, need a pep talk every now & then. Honestly, I treat a skipped workout or a cheat snack much like I imagine an AA member treats a beer — I text/tweet when I’m feeling vulnerable. I have several great resources who live inside my phone, and, when I have a serious case of the “not feeling it’s, they’re great at telling me “it’s just 15 minutes” for a workout, or reminding me that “a doughnut isn’t going to actually make you any less hungry”.
People will come from anywhere to ask you how you did it, and always be disappointed in what you tell them
You know, it does feel good when someone notices that you’re “looking better” (though the little old Greek ladies at church have been asking if I’m sick, lately, so it’s probably time for me to doubly-ensure that I’m maintaining my body mass), but “hey, you’ve lost weight” or “wow, looks like you’re working out” is, almost always, followed by “how did you do it?” Whatever you answer, you’re going to disappoint the person. Did you have gastric bypass surgery? Well, then surgery will scare the person. Did you focus on diet & exercise? That’s “too much work”. Did you adopt a low carb diet? The person will need their bread. Really, anything short of “I sat on my ass and ate pizza and bonbons” is going to be “too much” for someone looking to casually follow what you’re doing.

1 I do allow myself some cheat days – but I try to make them few & far-between, and to follow the calendar. Thanksgiving, for example, I allowed myself to eat what I wanted, and as much as I could eat. If anybody has been following my My Fitness Pal Diary closely, you might see that I’ve been especially strict at of late . . . the reason is because I’m looking at a string of: Christmas, Anniversary, Birthday, and New Year celebrations, all in the same week.
Dec 9 14

Where I think about how I got here.

by John

After 40 minutes of pedaling, I was a sweaty mess thinking “I can’t believe I used to do this all the time.”

See, I haven’t been doing much in the way of cardio lately. Heck, I’ve barely been doing any cardio. But, it was a Monday, my legs were sore, I had over an hour to kill between work & symphony, and taking myself out to dinner that entire time would have meant over-eating (because I don’t trust myself with spare time on my hands), so I chose to try some relatively-light cardio to see if it might alleviate the ache in my legs (it did, somewhat, but that’s not what this post is about).

It used to be that I’d head to the gym, do a 30 minute “isolation” circuit: 10 stations of muscle isolation “station” exercises for a minute apiece, 10 stations of stair running for a minute per station, 10 minutes of rest (broken up into 20, 30 second intervals between the machines and the step) before sitting at an exercise cycle or elliptical machine for whatever time I had remaining, making myself good & sweaty.

I was telling myself, in my sweaty state, that, well, “if I only knew then, what I know now, I’d have done everything differently.”

But, well, that was wrong. Because I don’t think I’d have had any success if I had been doing what I do now, back when I started getting serious.

In January 2013, I weighed over 250 pounds (and wouldn’t even look at the body fat reading on my bathroom scale) and joined a weight-loss challenge. I lost weight – a fairly drastic amount, if I’m honest, by logging everything I ate (I’d turn it into a game by logging what I planned to eat before I ate it). By cutting caloric intake and doing a lot of cardio, I created a sizable calorie deficit; I dropped weight.

And the scale showed it. There was near-instantaneous feedback . . . every week, on Wednesday, I’d step on the scale and it would show a number lower than the previous Wednesday. And I was happy. And I continued.

But the mind and the body have a funny way of playing together as you work toward a goal. As the weight stopped dropping as quickly, I was feeling “skinny fat.” Simply, there was less of me, but I wasn’t feeling all that much better (though, well, I was able to climb the steps while carrying both children without getting winded . . . so I should have felt better than I did before I started – but it’s easy to look past stuff like that when you’re caught in the now). However, I knew I wasn’t following a sustainable plan. My days were getting busier and busier (funny how kids and a job do that), and I had already had to cut cardio from 4-5 hours a week to less than 2 hours/week. I was still logging my food – but I wasn’t eating at a deficit . . . I was getting hungry more often, and when you factor in the reduced amount of time that I was doing cardio, well, I stopped losing weight . . . and there were times that I started adding weight.

So I started research to see how I could make my working out more efficient – and it looked like strength training was the answer. So, I left that circuit behind and learned how to squat. Suddenly, instead of having to carve out, at least, an hour for the gym, to make it worth it, a gym session that lasted a full hour, even when combined with a shower, was the exception. My weight . . . it stayed right where it was. But I started to get stronger. It appeared that my body was more than happy to burn fat and build muscle.

And then I started karate with CJ.

And with that, I read a little about Bruce Lee, and his workout philosophy, and his diet, and how he eschewed refined flour & sugar, well before the term “paleo diet” was even a gleam in a young marketer’s eye, because their calories were empty. I thought I’d try kicking refined flours and sugar for a little while (well, I’ll allow myself a glass of wine most nights . . . so I’ll have some sugar), just to see what happened.

Over the past three months, I’ve stepped onto my scale every morning — this is a scale that sends an electronic pulse through your body to try to determine your body fat percentage. Over these past three months, I’ve seen my body fat percentage, according to this device1, drop from 17% to 13%. All along, the times that I actively feel “hungry”? Well, that’s happening far less often than when I was dealing with a strict calorie deficit.

The hardest part of this change has been trying to ignore the amount of fat I’m ingesting . . . living in a “low fat/no fat” world, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around “eating fats doesn’t necessarily make you fat”.

My fitness plan, at present, is as such: focus on strength training and only do cardio (and light cardio, at that) if I have time on my hands2. Worry about the quality of calories, as opposed to the volume of calories (though I continue to log everything). Avoid processed foods as much as possible, making whatever I can (just to ensure that I know what’s in it; besides, I enjoy cooking).

And a big part of me wishes I had been following this plan since January 2, 2013.

But, with this plan? The weight shown by my scale? Well, I don’t worry about it nearly as much. That drop in body fat percentage? 4% over 3 months, if that’s accurate, that’s a fairly sizable jump in a relatively short amount of time — but on a week by week basis, there would, barely, have been movement. And with the finicky nature of my scale, there are weeks that it’d show in the wrong direction because of Chinese take-out the night before, or something, despite a mostly on-target week. If I were following my current plan, when I first started, the lack of immediate results would have discouraged me to no end; I would have quit..

It’s easy for me to say “what I’m doing now is better than what I was doing yesterday . . . but if I hadn’t done what I was doing yesterday, I’d have never gotten where I am. I know that . . . and, it’s entirely possible that, tomorrow, I’ll find something that works, even better, for me.

TL;DR;: do what works for you, adjust accordingly. Accept that others are doing what works for them, unless you happen to know where they happen to be on this fitness journey.


1 I debate the actual reliability of this device — depending on time of day and the amount of salt/water I’ve had over the past previous 24 hours, this reading can appear quite different . . . but I do trust the trend of the numbers.
2 For example, last night, I was home with a whole hour of unscheduled time . . . so I sat on my spinning bike and played video games. And it felt wonderful.
Dec 3 14

Where I determine my favorite super hero

by John

The other day, my son asked me a pretty simple question, and, well, I couldn’t answer. I really couldn’t even come close to answering him. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to . . . but I’m finding that this question was just as difficult for me to answer as “what’s your favorite song1“. I don’t think my son realizes just how good he has it to be growing up in an era of superhero movies.

So I’m left trying to answer him.

So I’ve been debating the merits of the Super Heroes that I know, in an attempt to answer.

I should note that I’m not looking up any facts as I write this, so I don’t know when I’m referencing a movie, or a comic book, or a TV show, or my own faulty memory in detailing what I enjoy, don’t-enjoy about a certain character. Everything below should be read with a big giant “not checked for factual consistency” sic.

Iron Man

Part of me wants to answer Iron Man: a super-rich, super-smart, hard-drinking misogynist who seemingly has the ability to alter time so that he can build his Iron Man suits and protect the world from evil and bang hot chicks. Seriously, he kind-of defines what bachelor-John wishes he were (minus the “spent time being tortured in the desert” and having to have an electromagnet operating to keep shrapnel from stopping his heart stuff).

But, the truth is that, until the first of the movies? I knew Iron Man only as a Black Sabbath song – and Black Sabbath was one of those heavy metal bands that I wasn’t supposed to listen to, as a kid, because some kids were freebasing crack and trying to listen to the record in reverse and decided that Ozzy was saying bad things to them.

So I discounted Iron Man.

Super Man

Superman is a bit too perfect. Seriously, he feels like Cartman in the ninja-episode of South Park, where, when someone needs a new super power, well, Superman gets that power. Heat Vision? Cold Breath? X-Ray Vision? Super Strong? Ability to fly? Ability to revise history? Super farts? No, there’s too much in Superman.

I know the quote belongs to the next superhero I’m going to evaluate, but “with great power comes great responsibility,” and, well, there’s too much responsibility with Superman.

Spiderman

Spiders, honestly, freak me out a little bit. And, while I know “family is what we make of it,” well, I am a family guy. Someone who has lost so many of his family members and seems to always see those family members that he hasn’t lost placed in danger . . . that’s just too much for me.

Batman

Batman, honestly, is how I wanted to answer, originally. I remember watching the old Adam West Batman episodes each & every day, when I got home from school, on Nickelodeon. At least, I think it was on Nickelodeon. Anyway, I truly enjoyed that show, and I really like Batman: unbelievably smart, unbelievably rich, unbelievably powerful, takes care of his body, has a great set of friends to call upon to help him.

But my son? He loves Batman above most any other character . . . I, happily, play the Robin to his caped crusader. I don’t want to make him feel that he’s sharing the character.

The Other Justice League Members

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman may be the most under-appreciated superhero out there. But, I know incredibly little of her backstory.

Aquaman

I remember being painfully upset when I watched an episode of Super Friends & Aquaman wasn’t featured. Seriously, I got irrationally mad when this happened (not like the disappointment I felt when watching an Adam West Batman & Batgirl wasn’t featured . . . I liked Batgirl’s motorcycle, a lot, but that was just disappointment when she wasn’t there. Aquaman, I got angry that he played a minor role).

That said, I don’t know all that much about him – Aquaman was just a dude that I hoped I’d see on a television show I watched. I don’t know that I ever really envied him.

Captain America

I remember having a Captain America thermos, or something, and cherishing any site that I saw of him — but I was never a “comic book kid,” so, as I grew up in the 80’s, there was very little Captain America that crossed by me.

Voltron

I loved Voltron as a kid . . . but, sadly, I don’t know that I can name much in the way of details or character names, aside from the big robot that saved the day only when the five cat-robot-things worked together.

Optimus Prime

Wise, strong, always trying to ensure that good is being done, always looking out for his own. Seriously, Optimus Prime should, probably, be whom I base my parenting on. That said, I had an Optimus Prime toy as a kid, and it broke nearly as soon as I put it together. And then I got a new one, and it broke in the same way. So fuck Optimus Prime.

Lion-O

The leader of the Thundercats gets serious consideration. The Sword of Omens is a great weapon. But, while he had a, truly, kick-ass ensemble of sidekicks, from what I remember, Lion-O either found himself needing to be saved by someone else, or needing to save his friends/family because of something stupid someone did. Maybe my memory is especially faulty, but it seems that the Thundercats’ biggest enemy was their own stupidity, just amplified by Mumm-Rah.

He-Man

I really, really disliked how whiny Prince Adam was, when he wasn’t his bulky alter-ego.

The X-Men

Wolverine

Here we go with, again, someone that I would chose as a bachelor. As a kid, I marveled at his claws, but, when I watched the X-Men, it was all about:

Cyclops

Here we have Superman’s laser/heat vision without the “you must constantly be saving the world, all the time” thing. But, when push comes to shove? He’s kind of a dick.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

If these hit their prime sooner, I’d have been all over them . . . as it stands, though? They were a “kid toy” when I was trying to delude myself into thinking that toys were for “little kids2.”


So, we’re left with one, single character, that I can recall from childhood that I’d say “yep, that’s my favorite.”

The Incredible Hulk

I remember watching the Lou Ferrigno series as a kid, and, even now, can distinctly remember being awed that there was a character who was always trying to “do right,” even though people from all sides were trying to mess with him. The Hulk maintained the ability to look through what had happened and see the path that he should take. At least, from my little boy memory, he seemed to be the most moralistic superhero (at least he was among the non-self-righteous superheros).

Though I’m trying to remember if there were entire episodes where Bruce Banner never changed into the Hulk, or if I would just get bored whenever the green fella wasn’t on the screen.

Now? He’s built like no one else — I’ll often tell myself, when talking myself out of lying back down after walking Benji “no way you’re going to be like the green guy if you don’t do your pull-ups right now”. On top of that? He’s, like a meditation master. And keeping my mind grounded? It’s something that I need to focus on, more.

On top of all of that? One of the toys that survived my childhood? A Hulk action figure that CJ absolutely cherished being able to play with. When he first received it, it was the first time I actually felt that he sensed that his dad was, once, a kid, just like him.

So, CJ? Who is my favorite super hero? We’re going to go with the Hulk.


1 A question that, when asked of me, drains color from my face and redefines the “deer in headlights” look. I have a favorite piece of music (Second movement (Largo) of Dvorák’s Symphony Number 9 in E Minor “From the New World,” but song? That can change weekly daily any time I listen to a new song.
2 While parenthood is, hardly, something minor – becoming a parent is a huge change that will alter your life in ways that you cannot have even fathomed. But, being able to play with toys again? It’s one of the great benefits.
Nov 30 14

Where snow brings out The Force

by John

The day before Thanksgiving, I worked from home. What started with “maybe I should work from home because the office will be a ghost town” turned into “I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it into the office to ensure that I’m there for a 6:30 meeting” turned into “no way I’m leaving home to drive home in an afternoon driving snow when I’d need to be in at 6:30, anyway, and, with the extra people traveling and the snow anticipated, getting in by 6:30 was iffy to begin with….”

So I worked from home.

And snow, it did. There wasn’t a tremendous amount, but it was enough that I was glad to not be driving in it. The kids, however, spent the day just begging to go outside. “Dad, can we play in the snow?” was heard, every few hours minutes seconds. Before too long, however, it was time for me to shut down the laptop, and we went outside.

First, we put on the snow clothing – snow pants, winter jackets, boots, hats, gloves . . . the works. Then, I dug the sleds out of the complete mess that is my garage. Then we went sledding . . . again and again and again. We have one really good sledding hill in my yard, and we, essentially, went down the hill, again and again, until the hill, simply, wasn’t traversable. At this point, The La started to complain that her fingers hurt, so we started toward the house.

But CJ begged us to stay. Then he begged me to push The La down the hill, one more time, as he ran into the house.

When he ran back, he had with him his blue toy lightsaber.

The toy’s hilt was buried in the snow. The boy asked me to pick him up by the ankle. Once suspended he tried, with all his mental might, to make the lightsaber fly to him.

I <3 my geeky son.

Nov 21 14

Where I present five random facts about myself #oldschoolblogging

by John
  • If you asked me, until the time I was about 11, what I wanted to be, while there was a chance I might have responded “fireman” or “policeman” or “doctor,” more than likely, I’d have answered “mad scientist.” To be honest, Doctor Horrible is kind-of my hero.
  • No question stresses me out more than “what is your favorite song?”
  • Whenever I visit somewhere where the sports scene is different than what I’m used to in the US, I make it my mission to understand the intricacies of a new sport. When last I visited Canada, I happened to be there over the Curling World Championships, and feel that I understand curling as well as a spectator might. When last I visited the United Kingdom, the Cricket World Cup happened to be played. I have no freaking idea what the hell I watched, and couldn’t have told you who was winning or losing or, really, anything about the game. I think I could officiate a game of Calvinball better than I could explain cricket.
  • I learned to cook because my mom was in a horrible car accident. After she got home from the wreck, she couldn’t cook. So I would help her (or blindly do whatever the heck she said, because I had no idea what I was doing). I seem to remember Christmas cookies (especially ricotta cheese cookies) and pepperoni bread being among my very first lessons. I love to cook, now, in part because I feel that I’m half-decent at it. And because I love food. Like, I really love food.
  • I first encountered the Inkheart effect (where you can recall vivid details about a vacation by thinking of a book you were reading on said vacation) in Norway, reading Interstellar Pig (a required book for summer reading) while on a cruise with my grandfather.