Thanks For Sharing

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” – Khalil Gibran

“Hey man, I know this is going to sound fucking gay, but…”

When someone starts a sentence with anything similar to this, I already know I’m just going to love how it ends. And by “love,” I mean “feel uncomfortable with.” If I’m in a bar and that person has had a half-dozen beers and a couple of Jaeger shots, I’m less able to predict what level of discomfort, but I know to brace for it.

“…I just want to thank you…you know, for kind of showing me that I could get healthier. I know that wasn’t your point at all. And I’m doing it a totally different way. But you motivated me to find my own path to be healthier and feel better. And I appreciate that.”

These are the types of things most men can only say to another man after first consuming the above mentioned doses of truth serum. We’re emotionally weak creatures that way. And because it too resembled a complement, and I take compliments almost as well as a toddler takes a tetanus shot, I responded with the warmest “Yeah man. Um. I’m uh, I appreciate that, and uh…I’m glad you’re feeling better Man.” (**Stares up at muted television thinking this would be a great time to go outside for a cigarette…if I hadn’t stopped smoking weeks ago. Dammit, being healthy sucks!**)

Did I mention that men are emotionally weak creatures? Or I am anyway.

“When you are in deep conflict about something, sometimes the most trivial thing can tip the scales.” – Ethel Merman

The above transcription is a pretty accurate account of an exchange I had a couple of weeks ago after a friend of mine finally bought a new bathroom scale. He’d been working out regularly for a few months; riding his bike, doing some resistance band/medicine ball workouts at home, and eating better. He’d lost a bunch of weight and saying for weeks that he felt way better and would be happy to get down to about 205 or 210 lbs.

He didn’t own a scale during those months. But because he was a wrestler in high school and felt experienced in measuring his weight (dumb logic), he had been confidently guestimating it to be 220 lbs, and thought losing another 15 was a realistic goal without having to get “crazy.” He’d say things like, “I’m never going to be walking around at 195 or anything. I respect what you’re doing, but I’m not gonna start running. I like drinking beer. And even though I’m eating healthier, I like eating too much to eat a diet like yours.”

Cool. I don’t give a shit.

Then he saw a scale somewhere at a price so low that he couldn’t resist. He weighed 208. He’s lost almost 50 lbs. Now that 195 number doesn’t seem so unreasonable anymore. But make no mistake. It’s still just a number. Just feeling good is the point. And he does.

“Anyone’s life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.” – Lillie Langtry

Lesson #1:  Text me, and I'll publish that shit online.  Sorry.

Lesson #1: Text me, and I’ll publish that shit online. Sorry.

Luckily for my socially stunted ass, not all news of people surprising themselves comes to me in the form of awkward bar conversations. In fact, because I stay so busy, most of my communication with the world is via text messages. And it makes me smile when someone is having a happy moment and decides to casually share it with me for no other reason than they know I’ll appreciate it. I like that shit.

“Wow! For the first time since I hurt my knee, I can bend it and it doesn’t feel swollen. Woot woot! Maybe all of the other exercise is helping with strength and mobility. Longest run time today at 2:2 run walk intervals. Yeah 57 year old me. I can do this just like everybody else! Small steps slowly! It was a nice morning out. LY”

Maybe I’m a little biased, but my mom never ceases to impress me. She’s been running/walking longer than I have and had to work through some minor injuries and a few inconveniently scheduled illnesses. But she’s done a couple of 5Ks, finished her first 8K in march, and is currently training for her first 10K in the fall. And she’s killing it, whether she always acknowledges it or not.

I think my favorite part of this message was the mention of her age. One, she’s a pretty young 57. Two, she’s thankfully not one of those people that lives under the imaginary weight of that number. And three, regardless of her age, I’m more impressed with her ability to achieve the things she’s doing physically as an asthma sufferer with sinus allergies, a gluten sensitivity, and an intolerance to lactose. She’s pretty much allergic to air and food. No biggie.

I hear people make excuses for why they don’t exercise or complain about how difficult it is to eat healthy, and I just nod quietly. It’s none of my business. Do what works for you.

Breathing the humid pollen-thick summer air of this area is hard enough without asthma and allergies. But she still gets out there and logs her miles, because it makes her feel good. Going to gym can be a pain in the ass for anybody, but she’s recently been cross-training a couple of times a week because she wants to improve her running/walking times. And as the message indicated, it’s working.

As I’ve rambled on about far too often, eating the right foods for exercise and recovery can be a nutrient-balancing, mathematical nightmare even for people that don’t have to avoid half of the grocery store because of the prevalence of gluten and dairy products in almost everything. But she does her research, eats a mostly vegan whole foods diet, and finds ways to properly fuel the activities that are important to her. Why? Because being active makes her feel good. That’s what “Woot woot!” means…I think.

“I just went for an 8 mile bike ride and it wasn’t at all the awful experience that running is (to me). And I have to ride 8 miles back home too. Papa may have found a brand new bag.”

This one was a recent favorite. A friend had been looking for a way to be a little more active, maybe drop a few pounds, and I think really just wanted to feel better. She’d tried running a few different times and had some success. But as you may have picked up from her subtle wording, running didn’t exactly make her feel great (note: she was overdoing it to the point of near injury). Riding a bike on the other hand wasn’t at all awful. And luckily it appears easier to avoid injury as well. That’s awesome. No one is going to keep doing something that makes them feel shitty. The trick is figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you and sticking with whatever makes you feel good. Are you picking up on a theme here?

“Hey buddy. I worked out for an hour yesterday and again today. Feeling a little sore, but in a good way. Defenitely going to do it again tomorrow.”

This one I got from one of my closest friends. He’s carrying around some extra weight that he knows isn’t healthy and has some chronic ankle issues so running is pretty much off of the table for now. But he got motivated recently and started hitting the exercise bike, treadmill, and resistance machines in the fitness center where he lives. He’d obviously crushed a pretty solid couple of sessions and feeling the buzz of it. I like that.

“Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.” – Lee Haney

I’ve gotten similar reports from a bunch of people in the last year. Some friend or acquaintance will decide to start running or going to the gym, and many of those exchanges had similar statements about feeling sore or even pain (e.g. “my legs are killing me, but…” “I could barely lift my arms this morning, but…”). But they’re always “still going to do it again tomorrow.”

I always like the enthusiasm, but I almost always advice against the next day’s activities. So far no one has ever listened. And more than a few of those stories ended in activity-halting pains or even injury.

My general comment is something like “If you ‘hurt,’ stop. If you’re ‘sore,’ tread lightly.” I’m no expert at all. I’ll say that again; I am not an expert. And I’m not always very good at following my own advice either. But in talking to my pseudo-brother about his workouts, it occurred to me that an old drinking motto might still apply. I used to joke with friends that you should never drink so much in one day that you can’t drink again the next day. You can tell I was a positive force in their lives can’t you?

Well, as far as I can tell exercise really isn’t much different than alcohol. It makes you feel good in moderation. It doesn’t mix terribly well with an empty stomach. Too much of it can make you puke. And you don’t want to do so much on one day that you can’t do it again the next day. Moderation is key. Not moderate effort; drink the good stuff. But moderate doses; don’t drink the whole bottle. You want enough to feel that burn that tells you you’ve done something, but not so much that you can’t move for three days; which happens to be just enough time to forget about the buzz you experienced when you started.

“This life is for loving, sharing, learning, smiling, caring, forgiving, laughing, hugging, helping, dancing, wondering, healing, and even more loving. I choose to live life this way. I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, ‘aw shit, he’s up!” – Steve Maraboli

sharing 1I suspect that in the coming months, as my marathon training starts to ramp up and whatever other plots I’m working on pile on, that my time will get even more limited and face to face interactions may become even rarer. I almost feel guilty for how unfazed I am with that likelihood. But in this digital world too often occupied with pointless whining and disrespectful “debate,” (Yes, I’m guilty of both) I hope I’ll still see the occasional reminder that people are finding their smiles. And I certainly hope that everyone remembers that it’s not our scales, our ages, or our chosen methods that matter. Do what you like, do it the best you can, and share your joy with the world around you. It just might be contagious.

For me, besides running my ass off, I’m just going to keep trying to identify those things in my life that make me the happiest, pull those things as close as possible, make them my highest priorities, and let go of the rest. It’s working so far. We’ll see what happens.

For some reason I can’t embed videos today, so I’ll try this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9mpu0n7BFY

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W.R.E., Baby’s First Bonk

If my very first run had been anything like the experience I created for myself this morning, I would still be the fat angry snark-slinger I was last summer because I probably wouldn’t have done it again. Other than PR (Personal Record), PB (Personal Best), and DNF (Did Not Finish), I really don’t know any other running acronyms. But if W.R.E. (Worst Run Ever) isn’t already in the lexicon, then it is now. Today’s run sucked. Because I’m an idiot.

“Yes, it made sense, and was so absurdly simple that it would take a genius to think of it. And, perhaps, someone who did not expect to do it himself.” – Arthur C. Clarke

My plan was so simple. Get up at 7 o’clock, run 8 miles at 9 o’clock, have brunch with my mom who was also running this morning, finally write the blog that’s been clawing at my skull for the last four days, and then maybe track down a beer or two later.

It didn’t exactly go down that way.

First I woke up at 6 o’clock for no reason at all. And because I don’t have enough hardship in my life, I immediately started making poor decisions; a trend that would continue for hours.

I normally don’t eat a real breakfast before I run because I don’t want to run on a full stomach. But three hours is plenty of time to have done so. Instead I stuck with my habit of having a bagel with honey about 90 minutes before a run. So I had my vitamin shake when I woke up, tried to find an angle on my blog for a little while, and ate a bagel a little after seven. No problem. I should’ve been fine on my 9 o’clock run. Nice lazy morning so far, right?

I was supposed to meet my mom at nine. She was going to be running for about an hour. My run was supposed to take about 1:15, so I decided to get there a little early so that we’d finish at the same time and then go get some food. I’m such a dreamer. As I was leaving at 8:20, I got a text that she was already there and going to take off because she thought it might take longer than expected. I was confused because I thought she was running for time instead of distance, but no biggie. I’d be there soon enough.

I got to the trail at quarter ‘til nine and she was nowhere to be seen. I got out, filled my water bottle, put in my ear buds, tucked my ipod into my flipbelt, and stashed my keys in the little pocket on my water bottle. It was sunny and warm and I was ready to run. Well, ready except for some quick warm up stretches.

I closed my door so that I wouldn’t hit it with my legs while swinging them back and forth to loosen up my hips and start to wake my heart up a little bit. As I settled into my stretches, I saw it; my water bottle sitting in the passenger seat of my locked car. My water bottle with my keys safely tucked into the pocket in the handle.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

There is a huge mental aspect to running and if you were anywhere near southern Chesapeake, VA at about 9:00 a.m, and you were really really quiet, you might have been able to hear my mind shit its pants. I was done right there. It was a wrap. Only because I’m wicked smart, I didn’t actually stop.

I was calm for a second. “Maybe I’ll just go do the run and worry about this after,” I thought. “Nah, I don’t have any water. That’ll suck.” Nope. I was going to wait. My mom’s car was right next to mine. She started early. I’ll just wait until she gets back and then get a ride back to my apartment and get my spare key.

No I fucking won’t; because my house key is on the same ring as my car keys. And in case you’ve forgotten, this genius locked those inside his car.

At that point, I clinched my fist white-knuckle tight and made a low growling sound that would probably be spelled something like arghghghfuckkghghgoddamnmotherfuckergrgrgrgrfuck! It wasn’t pretty, but at least it wasn’t loud either.

Let me make sure I’m painting this picture accurately. I’m standing in a parking lot on an otherwise beautiful morning, wearing running shoes, shorts, a tank top, sunglasses, and headphones. That’s all I’ve got. I’m standing next to a beat up old 4runner with not only my keys, but also my wallet and phone locked inside.

And I was pissed. But it was still no time to stop doing dumb shit.

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.” – Erich Fromm

Here’s a quick wrap-up of the next hour of my day:

I remembered that I leave my windows cracked under the rain deflectors on my car doors, so I decided to tear the one off of the driver side door where the opening was largest. As I tried to remove it, it of course cracked and broke into pieces, leaving a lovely razor edge that I quickly tested by slicing my thumb open. Suh-weet! Next was a quick little cut to the wrist. At this rate, maybe I could bleed out next to my car while looking at my phone locked inside. I was loving life.

After I finally got that plastic death trap off of my door, I broke a stick off of a tree and learned that pushing the door lock button doesn’t work when you and/or your keys are not in the car or ignition. Not sure which, but it didn’t work. And my frustration level was starting to red-line. All I wanted to do was run, eat, and let that damn blog out of my skull before it started taking hostages.

It was about this time that my mom got back from her run. She had some old windshield sunscreens with metal wire frames that she let me destroy in order to make a hook. I attempted without success to hook my water bottle and drag it to my window where I could get my keys, open my door, and try to rescue the rest of my day. I was 100% able to hook the steering wheel, the parking break handle, and every other plastic bag and piece of clutter in my car. Next time I’ll stash my keys in the trash bag. That thing loved the hook. Have I mentioned that I was slowly losing my mind?

After several failed attempts, more than a few well executed profanities, and my already limited patience fast exhausting itself, my mom did what she does. She fixed things. While I angrily stared at my car window, trying to decide if I would rather break it with my face or my elbow, she went over to some nearby contractors and found an eight-fingered man that was able to do what I could not.

Within 20ish minutes, he’d fashioned a small hook from some heavier gauge steel wire and managed to pull the lock up and open my door. I thanked him as he quickly disappeared refusing to take any money, probably just eager to get the hell away from me. My mind was still completely shot.

“What time is it Mom?”

“Ten o’clock.”

“Awesome, just about the time I would’ve been done.”

“Don’t confuse poor decision-making with destiny. Own your mistakes. It’s ok; we all make them. Learn from them so they can empower you!” – Steve Maraboli

There’s a reason why NASA will abort a routine rocket launch at the mere chance of a storm. It’s because it is way more important that the rocket actually make it into space than it is that it simply leave earth on time. It’s not the schedule. It’s the goal. Missing the target on schedule is not as good as hitting it a day late.

I
am not
a rocket scientist.

I debated skipping the run and just going to get some food. But in an effort to continue making bad decisions, I decided to run anyway. I just didn’t want to let one hour of dip-shitery (that’s a word now) throw off my entire day. I knew I wasn’t going to skip the run. And if I pushed it into the afternoon, I knew that I wouldn’t have time to get that blog together. I don’t know why I act like these things are so important. I don’t get paid for them. I don’t have any deadlines. I just like to get the ideas out while they’re fresh. For sanity sake, maybe I should let them ripen a little more from time to time.

Without stretching again, I took off. One mile in, I knew that I was screwed. This was not going to be any kind of relaxing therapy run. This was going to be a run that I was going to have to really pay attention to and concentrate on or I was going to do something sloppy and potentially hurt myself.

Two miles in, I finally stopped and stretched. I decided that after the shitty start to my day and the high probability that my bagel three hours ago wasn’t going to be enough to get through, I should abandon all pace goals and just focus on getting through the run without tripping and falling. Baby steps.

I was definitely going to need the tiny amount of carbs and caffeine from the jelly beans I had, but I was fairly certain that if I didn’t slow down to a walk while eating them that my form would get stupid-sloppy and potentially bang up my ankles. I haven’t had any issues lately, but by then I was running on an injury-prevention mental scheme. Just finish the run without dying and I win.

Three miles in, I knew I should turn around. I felt like shit. And I was running like shit. But I’m hard headed and half stupid, so I kept going. I told myself that it would be one of those mental tests of perseverance that we all have to endure from time to time; maybe even a learning experience.

All I learned is that I’m not a rocket scientist. By the end I wasn’t even sure if I was a runner.

“Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise” – David Zindell

I completely bonked at mile six. I was done. I was walking, dripping with sweat, completely exhausted, and again so frustrated that I almost threw my water bottle into the woods (I had taken my keys out of it by then). Luckily I was still two miles from the car so I had plenty of time to ponder all of the mistakes I made in creating such a mess.

I’ve written a few different times about baby stepping into new ventures and the risks of discouragement that can come from biting off more than you can chew. I’ve written and read about the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and pain and struggle, both in running and life. But goddamn it. That stuff is all true, but you shouldn’t baby step into a bad idea and decide once you realize how stupid it is that perseverance is the answer. Sure I was smart enough to run easy, stay focused on my running, and walk when I need to take fuel. But I also refused to turn back when I knew I should’ve.

What should I have done? I should’ve aborted the mission as soon as my mind took a dump. I could’ve gotten some food with my mom, settled down a bit, and then run a much better and enjoyable run in the early afternoon. I would’ve had to rearrange my plan a little, but I probably would’ve still been able to get that blog written. Instead I ended up having to share this tale of my very first bonk because it makes me feel better to have others laugh at me when I do something stupid.

“You cannot afford to wait for perfect conditions. Goal setting is often a matter of balancing timing against available resources. Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions.” – Gary Ryan Blair

The worst part, the absolute WOOOORST part of today’s train wreck is that while my training schedule technically started two weeks ago, today was my first run since officially registering for my first marathon. Yep. That’s right. I finally pulled the trigger last night, and today I couldn’t run a measly eight miles. Get ready for it Philadelphia. I’ll be trying not to puke in your streets this November. And if the guy that ran today shows up in the fall, you will be able to reach me by calling directly to the medical tent.

Happy Saturday. Now where are those beers?

Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 2): The Monday Night Kitchen Dance

“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” – Samuel Beckett

No one is more aware than me of how personal each person’s food decisions are. And because I am sometimes unable to completely turn off my snark, I might sound like I’ve got something figured out that you don’t, or that I know something that you should know. That is not the case or my intention.

I don't even remember what this picture was originally for

I don’t even remember what this picture was originally for

While staying with friends on a recent trip, my very gracious hosts, being aware of my attempts to eat as clean as possible, reminded me a few times that they had “healthy food” if I was hungry and that I was welcomed to anything I wanted. I so appreciated their hospitality and understood the emphasis being made since I share so much unnecessary detail on here sometimes. And because I often bring my own food to places others wouldn’t (like everywhere). But it also made me wonder if by excessively detailing that shallow line in the sand I’ve drawn for my own dietary benefit, if I haven’t created what looks to others more like a dangerous trench on the beach to be traversed with caution.

I want to make clear that I eat the things I do because they work for ME, not necessarily because I think it’s the way everyone should eat or because I refuse to eat anything outside of my regular daily diet. I don’t want to come across as that asshole that loudly harasses a steak house server about their lack of vegan options or the guy that complains about the lack of meat options on the salad bar. There are many ways to eat a healthy diet. I’m sharing this stuff (probably in excessive detail) because it’s come up in conversation a lot lately, and may be interesting to at least a few of you. I hope I don’t appear judgmental towards anyone else’s food choices. Do whatever you want. Life is short. Enjoy the hell out of it. If that means a steady diet of chicken nuggets dipped in nutella, then dip in deep. Hell, double dip if you want to, I’m not trying to get in there.

“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In Part One of this I-promise-only-two-part series of self-righteous food blogging, I mentioned that I eat the same basic things almost every day and that my diet goals are more fuel based than in mere satiation of hunger. I eat to live way more than I live to eat. And because of ongoing trials in post run/workout refueling, I try to eat within 30-60 minutes of finishing those activities. The debate rages on whether or not that time frame is as critical as it has so often been expressed. So instead of worrying about the specifics of that dispute, I just do it and know that no matter the time frame, the most important part is that I eat a well balanced and nutritious diet all day every day in order to provide my body with the energy it needs and to recover as quickly as possible from the stress put on it during runs and workouts. I have to eat. So I do.

I’ve also shared how busy I keep my schedule and how limited any spare time can be. As I discussed in Living Healthier Sucks, working, running, going to the gym, grocery shopping, the constant laundry rotation, and cooking nearly every meal I eat every day takes a lot of time. I’m only one person. So in order to do all of those things, I have to plan ahead and stick to that plan. Some weeks I do better than others. Some weeks it looks like I don’t have a fucking clue. But my diet remains near the center of my mental focus. It is key, and I am continually trying to make it cleaner and more efficient.

Maybe the most critical part of my meal planning is the Monday Night Kitchen Dance. The silly term comes from my old apartment where the kitchen was so small that just cooking in it at all involved pouring most prep work out onto a table in the adjoining room and rotating back in and out of the kitchen to stir this, flip that, or pop something in or out of the oven. Add another person to the equation, and it really did become a coordinated dance in order to not burn the meal or one of the “dancers.” Now, even with a larger kitchen and one less person on the dance floor, I sometimes still find myself spinning around a bit to get my weekly meal essentials all cooked and prepped on Monday nights. What an exciting life I lead, right? Pop a cork, let’s party.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

Brussel sprouts in some diluted bloody mary mix

There are staples to my diet that I have to keep on hand in order to eat the things I want to eat without sucking up every free moment of every day standing at my stove. My refrigerator always contains some cooked greens for my breakfast omelets; quinoa and some sort of beans for my lunch salads; baked sweet potatoes for dinners; and any number of pre-cooked veggies such as brussel sprouts, beets, or anything else that catches my eye and takes more than a few minutes to cook. Fresh and fast-cooking veggies like squash, onions, zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms (yes, I know they’re a fungus), I keep raw until I’m ready to cook and eat them, but they’re in there too.

On Mondays, I take inventory and make sure that those items with longer cooking times all get prepared and stored for the week to come. And I like to do it all on the same night so that I can 1) minimize required cooking time every other night of the week 2) reuse as much of the cooking liquids as possible throughout the dance routine. Because boiling veggies can cause certain nutrients to leach out into the water, I repurpose all used liquids except for those from starchier foods like beans or potatoes. Beet water is my current favorite. I could steam them or roast them, but I love using that deep red and tasty water in quinoa so much that I always simmer beets. And the beet greens are a nice addition to the Monday night stir fry as well. Have I mentioned how much I love my simple meals? Well I do.

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” – William James

Here’s the rough choreography of the dance. Maestro, can I get something in a funky ass 70’s groove please?

I scrub three or four sweet potatoes, fork-stab ‘em a few dozen times, rub on some olive oil, wrap each in foil, and pop them in the oven. They take the longest and once they’re in there, I can kind of forget about them. With them finally off the counter and out of the way, I start cleaning, pealing, and cutting up some beets because they also take a bit of time. I’ll cook beets in lightly salted water or if I have some leftover peppercini, olive, or jalapeno brine (I never throw that stuff out; too useful), I’ll mix that in with some water for some extra flavor instead adding plain salt. With that pot on the stove and heating up, it’s usually time for some brussel sprouts. I love me some brussel sprouts. I boil brussel sprouts in a 50/50 mix of water and bloody mary mix with some added crushed red pepper flake for good measure. I cook all kinds of stuff in bloody mary mix actually. It’s tasty.

Can't go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

Can’t go wrong w/ brussels, shrooms, onion, serano, & garlic

With the oven occupied and two pots going on the stove, the dance is on and it’s about time to start cutting onions, peppers, garlic, and whatever fresh veggies I’m planning to actually eat that night. Cooking Monday’s dinner while doing the dance gives me something to do while stirring watched pots and tasting beet pieces to check for doneness.

I only cook the brussel sprouts until they’re about half way done because I know I’m eventually going to be heating them in the skillet later in the week. When they start to get a little tender, I remove them with a slotted spoon and save the now sprout accented bloody mary mixture. In that same liquid and adding water or brine if necessary, I’ll cook the leafy green I use for my breakfast omelet. This week it was turnip greens. Next week, kale. Once they’re done, I remove those with a slotted spoon as well, again saving the greener and greener bloody mary liquid. Waste not, want not. Then I finally rinse out that pot so I can cook whatever bean I’ll be putting in my lunch salads; currently limas are my carb of choice. As the beets become slightly tender, I remove them just like the sprouts and greens, also saving the water. Recycle, recycle, recycle.

I’m ridiculous.

With the sprouts and beets cooling on the counter and limas simmering, it’s now time for the quinoa. I was very slow to fall in love with quinoa, but my love for it has only gotten stronger with time and each new discovery of flavors to add. It’s an excellent protein source for people eating a plant based diet and once I realized that I could cook it in almost any liquid I want, I was hooked (Note: sweeter liquids seem to burn faster and need to be diluted). I’ve cooked it in everything from plain water, diluted jalapeno brines, diluted bloody mary mix, spicy soup broth leftover from Thai take-out, or any mixture of these. My current favorite is anything mixed with the leftover beet water. And the beet water mixed with the bloody mary mixture from the sprouts actually makes a really great combination. I use that a lot right now. Any liquids I don’t use on Monday go in the fridge for later because I usually have to make quinoa more than once a week. I love that stuff.

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham

simple and tasty

simple and tasty

That’s pretty much the dance. Once the potatoes are done, I let them cool on the counter as well. And when everything has cooled a bit, I put it all in the fridge to hang out until it’s needed. Throughout the following days, I’ll portion them out along with whatever fresh ingredients I want to cook each night. I do have to microwave the sweet potato, but that’s pretty much the only thing I can’t conveniently reheat in the oven or my trusty cast iron skillet. When the other ingredients are all cooked and seasoned, I just pile them on a plate with the potato and enjoy. And I DO enjoy them.

I can typically get home, drink my protein shake, cook dinner, and be eating within 45-60 minutes of when I walk out of the gym. And that is only possible because I do the Monday Night Kitchen Dance every week. No one’s life is without variable, so some weeks need a little tweaking, but I can dance on Tuesdays if I have to. Whatever I need to do in order to always have my basic diet requirements stacked in my refrigerator or on the counter waiting for me when I need them. If I want to eat something else, I do. But I love knowing that the meals I cook at home are made with quality whole foods with little or no mystery ingredients or unpronounceable preservatives. It feels good to eat good. I like it.

“I am completely attracted to the idea of simplicity, or at least removing things that seem unnecessary when trying to get an idea out there.” – Demetri Martin

I clearly have nothing in common with Demetri Martin. Thank you for indulging me in this long-winded two-part diatribe about my food habits. It started by trying to answer simple questions that I’ve been asked recently and it just flew off the rails before I could stop it.

I again don’t claim to know it all, but it’s a tasty adventure trying to figure it out. Any foodies out there with a good idea? Vegetarians? Vegans? Somebody got a favorite use of bacon? Anybody with a crazy ass schedule who can share a trick on cooking fresh meals without sacrificing your whole evening? I’d love any suggestions you have to offer.

Happy Friday. I’m gonna go get a corn dog with spicy mustard dipping sauce and a fried twinkee.

“Laughter is the sound of the soul dancing. My soul probably looks like Fred Astaire.” – Jarod Kintz

Get ready to get down. I did.

Thatguywiththebeard’s Kitchen (Part 1): The Q&A

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?”

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?”

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?”

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to start writing a food blog…yet. One, because I’m not at all qualified to do so. Two, because the internet doesn’t need another one any more than it needed another blogging runner and I only want to be unnecessary on one level at a time. But these are questions that I’ve been asked more than a few times. And even as my weight seems to have finally stabilized, because I’ve continued to become noticeably leaner I still find myself being asked similar questions and in turn discussing my food choices more and more often. So a day after this week’s Monday Night Kitchen Dance, I thought I’d try and address these questions here where almost none of the people that ask them will ever see the answers. I’m really smart that way.

“…there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering.” – Brenden Brazier

Last October when I upgraded this running thing from a sanity saving activity to a truly enjoyable pastime, I read as much as I could to learn how to run better. As it rose in the ranks again and was eventually promoted from hobby to lifestyle, I started researching even more, reading about everything from running form to breathing techniques to injury prevention to proper diet. And it was always the diet part that seemed the most elusive. I just couldn’t figure out what to eat and when to eat it in order to best fuel my runs and aid in my recoveries. There are a million opinions on every aspect of diet and exercise. It was annoying that I couldn’t find one that worked for me…or rather one that I would work correctly. After discussing this struggle back in March, a friend stumbled across a book that she thought might help and kindly sent it to me. I’m really glad she did.

I was already eating healthier meals primarily of unprocessed whole foods. I had eliminated the last few garbage foods from my diet. Good riddance to those greasy breakfast sandwiches. But I wasn’t very good about eating the right foods at the right times or even making myself eat as much as I should’ve in general to fuel my new exercise regimen or recover after workouts. It is true that losing weight can be a simple “calorie in” vs. “calorie burned” equation, but not all calories are created equal. And because I dropped weight so quickly, that wasn’t my issue. I needed to keep weight on and repair muscle better.

Then I received a package in the mail, “Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” by Brendan Brazier, with a note that read in part “You might find some of this nutrition advice helpful as you train….”

Are library cards still free?

Are library cards still free?

I did.

I do.

Over simplified, Brendan is a former professional triathlete who actively promotes the athletic and physical benefits of a raw vegan diet through his books and his Vega line of nutrition products. A more accurate description would be that Brazier has taken his advocacy of a vegan diet to the next level. He’s extensively researched not only the physical benefits of a plant-based diet, but also the economic and environmental costs of food production to help create both a measure of foods’ nutrient density (nutrients per calorie) and the production impact on the planet (nutrients provided compared to natural resources spent and pollution created). He also discusses the potential dangers of politically supporting a food industry more focused on producing calories than nutrients. Those two things are not synonymous. That’s a hard thing to deny in a country with so many people that are both obese and malnourished at the same time. Clearly there isn’t a calorie shortage. It’s just that too many of them are nutritionally empty calories. To a numbers nerd like me, all of these things were very interesting and enlightening.

Basically, this planet’s raw nutrients are made digestible through plants. Seeds grow from the ground and process the nutrients in the soil into an edible and often tasty plant of some kind. And those plants are almost always more efficient sources of the earth’s nutrients to humans when consumed directly than they are after being wastefully and expensively fed into another animal first. If you’re interested in the math behind that, I recommend reading the book. If you believe that subsidizing the soy, corn, and meat industries is the best management of the earth’s resources, I don’t think you’d like it very much. Oh, and the so-called “free market” advocates out there probably don’t want to know how prohibitively expensive their favorite steak would likely be if not for big government subsidies in these areas either. It’s not for everybody but no matter your food preferences, if you read this book and it doesn’t change the way you think about your diet in some way, then you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your diet in the first place. And it’s easily worth the cost of your local library card.

I probably think about my diet way too much. And I very much appreciated the gift of that book; both for the information within it and for the introduction to Brendan Brazier. I recently gave my mom his book, “The Thrive Diet,” and look forward to reading that when she’s finished with it. There is so much still to learn. And while I’m unlikely to adopt a strictly vegan diet, I love his often scientific approach to food choice, training, and especially recovery.

Anyway, enough of this book report silliness. Let’s get to those wildly interesting questions I get asked.

“One should eat to live, not live to eat” -Benjamin Franklin

“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?” At least 50% of the time, this question is posed in a tone you’d expect when being asked if that rash on your face is contagious. The short answer is “no.” I’m not a vegetarian. And I have no intention of ever declaring that I am. But my diet does continue to veer in that direction with every passing week. I almost never have any meat products in my home (do eggs count?), I haven’t cooked it in a long time, and I will often go for a week or more without consuming any. But I don’t want another rule in my life, and I’m not going to eliminate the option to enjoy a slice of bacon or some pulled pork barbeque without the guilt of violating a self affixed label. So until those items are reclassified as vegetables, I will remain an omnivore; and omnivore that eats a very plant based diet.

“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?” Answer: with a fork. I get this one a lot. Every time I find myself working with a new person for any amount of time, it comes up.

I’ve never been a guy that just “loves” to eat. I thoroughly enjoy well made and delicious food, but I don’t simply love the act of eating. Because of this, I find it very easy to settle into food routines in my daily life. I eat the same thing for breakfast almost seven days a week; a greens, onion, jalapeno, & cheese omelet w/ grits and toast. And I eat the exact same thing for lunch five days a week; half of an apple and a garden salad topped with beans, quinoa, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. If I’m having dinner at home (which I do 9 out of 10 days), I don’t get much more adventurous there either. With very few exceptions, I eat a baked sweet potato with some sort of lightly sautéed veggies piled high on top of it. I know, I know. It sounds boring as hell to most people. But I genuinely enjoy these foods. And since I’m dining alone most of the time, mine is the only opinion that matters. **puts thumbs in ears, wiggles fingers, and sticks out tongue**

While I do enjoy these meals, when I sit down to eat my goal is very rarely to experience a mind blowing taste sensation. My goal is usually one of two things, to fuel my day or recover after exercise. I eat my chosen breakfast and lunch in an effort to consume a nutritious meal that will fuel my body as efficiently as possible and provide me with the energy I need evenly throughout my day without the need for stimulants like caffeine and processed sugar. And it works. I used to drink a 5 hour energy drink almost every single day. Now, I can’t even remember when I last bought one of those little red bottles.

My dinner choices are similarly motivated. I eat dinner after I’m done with whatever run and/or workout I have scheduled each day. And my main food goal is to eat a nutritious meal with plenty of carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes of those workouts when my body is so readily trying to repair and rebuild muscle. This has been my struggle, and eating a giant pile of veggies seems to work better for me than trying to cook and eat a chicken breast (of unknown origin these days). And the nutrient density of most vegetables is insanely higher than animal flesh. I don’t care what other people eat and I am not saying that meat is intrinsically unhealthy. It’s not. But if I want the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck, I’m going to have to eat more veggies and less meat. So I do. And I feel better and have more energy than I ever have before.

I’ll do what works for me. You do what works for you, if it’s actually working.

“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?” I just got this one for the first time last week. We’ve got a couple of new-hires at work, and the guy that ended up sitting next to me has been running a little bit, working out some, and generally trying to lose a little weight. It was a new question for me, but just as easy to answer as the rest: Every day.

I eat whatever I want Every Day.

I’m not on a diet. I have a diet. And it’s made up of everything that I eat or drink. And despite the misconception that eating a healthy diet is some kind of chore or stunt that you perform for a measured amount of time and then claim victory, I’m happy to say that I have very little trouble maintaining it. I thank my mom for that.

I wasn’t raised on sugary processed foods, so I never developed a deep seated bond to those things. And I cannot express how grateful I am to not have that poisonous connection in my brain. I’m not a machine. I acknowledge that fatty meats can taste good or that a shake or two of salt can liven up certain foods. I put a little bit of salt in my grits every morning. And the human animal is instinctively attracted to sweets. It’s the first taste we develop as babies in order to encourage nursing. And it’s the last flavor sensation to go as we age. Sweet just tastes good. I know that. I just like to enjoy these flavor variables in natural and unprocessed whole foods as much as possible.

100_6643I eat whatever I want every day. I wanted to eat my omelet with fresh onions, collard greens, and jalapeños this morning. It was delicious. I loved my salad at lunch today. The peppercini, spicy quinoa, limas, and cranberries made for a very tasty and satisfying meal that I’m sure people still saw as “rabbit food.” And I love sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables too. You can do anything with that simple formula. A few different herbs and spices make it easy to mix things up from day to day. Last night, it was red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh beet greens. Tonight, leftovers plus some of the beets.

These ARE the foods I want to eat. And because they are such good fuels for my workouts and because I do exercise regularly, on the days when I want some cheep beef tacos or an order of hot wings, I can do that too. I just really don’t want that stuff very often. I like feeling good. And eating what I want to every day helps me do that.

“Are you sure you’re eating enough?” This one is usually from a family member or other long time relation that I haven’t seen in a while. When someone has gotten used to seeing me at some varying degree of overweight for a long time, seeing me significantly smaller and leaner may seem “unhealthy” looking. The answer is: I think so. And with my current trend of better running, stronger workouts, and overall higher energy levels, I believe that I am in fact eating enough…finally.

An egg, a salad, and a sweet pototo every day? Is that really enough? Yes and no. My routine meals as overly detailed above are a very satisfying base for my diet, and so far have fueled my workouts and recoveries very well; but of course not entirely on their own. I eat slightly differently in the days before a race or longer run in order to fuel more specifically. I still drink a vitamin shake with breakfast and a protein shake after workouts. And like everyone else, I take a little snack break here and there, usually consisting of a handful of almonds or the other half of that apple I had with lunch. And on the rare occasion that I get a weird sugar craving that won’t go away, I’ll find a piece of candy. Problem solved.

“Water is the driving force in nature.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Maybe the most important part of my diet is that I drink a lot of water. I’m drinking it now.

I am of the opinion that more often than not, the hunger pangs that people experience, either in the afternoon or at night, is really thirst. I can’t prove that. But I have for a long time tried to limit my late night noshing and instead drink water when I get an urge to eat something after 8ish p.m. It really did cut way back on late night cravings even before I was running. And now with a more balanced diet, I rarely get those craving at all anymore.

I drink well over a gallon of water most days. I don’t force it down, but I always have some, and when I’m thirsty that’s what I drink. I know some people have convinced themselves that they don’t like water. And honestly, I think that’s kind of funny. When I meet people that say that they don’t like water, I feel like that is on par with a human being claiming that they don’t care for the taste of air.

“I know I should breathe more air. But I just don’t like it. It doesn’t taste like anything.”

For a mammal to have somehow decided that it doesn’t “like” one of the absolute key necessities of the body is more than a little silly. Your body loves water. You need water. Many people have just conditioned their bodies to think that the water they need is supposed to be combined with some added flavoring; often the result of added chemicals, sugars, and/or stimulants (caffeine). There is a whole industry now creating squeeze bottles and individual packets of flavored powders designed to be added to bottled water. It’s water. It’s not supposed to be purple. But if that’s the only way you can convince your mouth to accept something the body is ultimately going to demand, do what you have to do. I’m not judging anybody. Drinking florescent green water is still better than having a soda.

Vodka is clear. Does that count as water?

Sorry I got long winded on this one. I promise not to do it too often, but I have been asked these a lot lately. Whenever I get around to Part 2, I’ll explain what the Monday Night Kitchen Dance is. Hint: It involves bloody mary mix. And since my blog was so long this time, here’s a short song for your food enjoyment. Happy Tuesday.

F the C Word Too (J.O.G.T. 5)

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

grateful

May seemed a fairly uneventful month for this guy with a beard. Other than pulling my head out of a small mental funk in the first week or so and setting a new 10K PR in the end of the month, almost all of my Jar Of Good Things entries could be summarized in one of these simple statements:

“Great run today.”

“Nice workout today.”

“The weather was awesome today.”

When looking through the entries for any interesting things that I hadn’t already shared, only one entry really stood out. And because of recent events in the lives of dear friends of mine, I’m dedicating J.O.G.T #5 to that single entry.

May 05. Went to Funny Bone Comedy Club for Chris’s Humor Heals CHKD benefit show and saw Brett Leake again. He was as funny and inspirational as I expected and I’m really glad I went. “Love life”

As I’ve already shared, I was in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks around the turn of the month so when my friend, and local comedian, Chris Dimbitz told me that he was again organizing a comedy show to raise money for Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD), it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d be going. I of course wanted to support my friend’s venture. CHKD is an institution easily worth my time and money. Last year’s benefit show was funny as hell. And at the time, I knew I could really use a good laugh. So I went.

And I’m glad that I did.

I was seated down front, right up against the stage where a 6’4” introvert like myself always dreams of sitting when going to a public event alone. I shared the matchbook sized table with another solo patron who responded to his favorite quips of the night by repeating them aloud, and a younger couple that appeared to be friends with one of the other comics performing that night. We all exchanged simple pleasantries (mainly about how cold it was in there), ordered a couple of drinks and/or appetizers, and settled in for the show.

Bring on the funny goddamn it!

Chris emceed the event and was supported by several local comedian friends. And I don’t mind saying that I had modest expectations of them. I’m no comedy expert, but it is easy to fall into a comedy hole with me. A few poorly strung together “On the way over here tonight…” jokes or some more of the exhausted “black people are different than white people” observations and I’ll be gone for the rest of the set.

But the group Chris gathered did a really great job. All had different styles of humor. None aimed for the low hanging comedy-fruit of simply being shocking or offensive. Sometimes a genuinely funny joke will make the occasional person squirm in mild discomfort or awe of an unexpected zinger. But just making people cringe doesn’t automatically make something funny. Does that make sense? I obviously have no problems with the use of curse words, but it was nice to see some quality good natured and clean comedy. I liked it.

“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The headliner of that show was the comedian Brett Leake. You’ve probably seen him before. I remember seeing him on The Tonight Show a few different times before I abandoned television. I saw him at the old Thoroughgood Inn Comedy Club in Virginia Beach almost 15 years ago. And he’s seemed to pop up on my radar just enough that I was already familiar with his work and his story.

(Odd sidenote: I also saw Chris at that club back then, but didn’t know him at the time. The world works in funny ways.)

Brett has muscular dystrophy. Back in the day, you may have remembered him as that comedian with the crutches. Today, because he’s had to adapt to a wheelchair, his website refers to him as “one of our nation’s top sitdown standup comics.” His performances have also evolved to be a mix of standup comedy and motivational speaking that I can’t describe any better than his own website:

“His inspiring presentations leverage his success at overcoming adversity to focus on creativity, managing change, life balance, and personal growth. He weaves into the entertainment recent findings in emotional intelligence research; why humor is essential in our lives, how one can develop a humor lens, and the notion that if we attend to a few core needs we and our colleagues can communicate more effectively, feel less of a divide between work and home, and find what suffices.”

OneChildrenWithBlocksI sat stage-side about eight feet from Brett’s left elbow and enjoyed an hour of much needed and very humorous perspective adjustment. I already knew I had no reason to feel shitty. I already knew that my life wasn’t that bad. And I already knew that I was in control of how I process and adjust to any parts of it that I’m unhappy with. I just needed a little reminder. Brett was funny. He was positive. And on May 5th, those were things that I could use. He delivered.

I left that show in a much better head-space than I arrived. I was happy to support my friend’s event and it felt good to give my money to an institution that does so much good work for suffering children and their families. But I went to the show for fairly selfish reasons. I just wanted to laugh. Today I’m even happier to have gone and supported the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.” – Terri Clark

I obviously can’t be 100% sure, but I’m fairly certain that each and every person reading this has had their life touched by cancer in some way. Chris started organizing the fund raiser to help show his family’s appreciation for the hospital and its services when his youngest daughter was born with a rare cancer (I’m happy to report she’s doing great now). My grandmother died of lung cancer after never smoking cigarettes. One of my close friends lost his father to cancer a few years ago. My ex-girlfriend’s father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer only last fall. A few months ago, my sister-in-law’s childhood friend died of colon cancer just months after giving birth to her second child. She was younger than I am right now. And last week, one of my oldest friends on this planet was told that his not yet one year old daughter had a cancerous brain tumor.

Just typing those words seems unreal to me.

I fucking hate cancer.

HATE!

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. There is no justice to be found in the illness of a child. There just isn’t. Any lessons to be learned, or growth to be experienced from those types of challenges are not worth the suffering. It is not fair. It’s not! But fair or not, it is happening. And the whole family is in my thoughts way more than they know (which is obviously my fault). If you’re the praying type, please do. If you’re not, keep them in your thoughts and keep your thoughts optimistic. I believe positivity helps, and I don’t particularly care where your positivity is grounded as long as it’s focused and directed to the places it is needed.

So far, the closest thing to a silver lining that I can find in this grayest of clouds is the close proximity of CHKD. Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters is one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals, and surely the best in the state of Virginia. The fact that it’s located in our hometown, where my friends can so conveniently access it, is maybe the only good thing I can find in this situation. But it is a very good thing, and I’m grateful that they are able to have such a great medical resource available to them during this incredible fight.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There was a time when I might have wanted to take this time to discuss just how flawed our healthcare system and insurance industry really are despite America’s politicians’ repeated claims that we’re the greatest at everything. At this point, America claiming to have the world’s best healthcare system is probably on par with that strip mall restaurant next to where you get your car inspected claiming to have the world’s best hamburger. It sounds good. It looks good on the paper hat. But it’s probably not true.

What is definitely true is that the suffering of an innocent child is already traumatic enough and alone worthy of every bit of a family’s energy, without the distraction of having to also worry about the immense financial burdens lurking in the shadows, completely indifferent of the medical outcome. These are my friends. They’re hard working people who pay their taxes and their mortgage; and have health insurance. But it doesn’t take a lot of research to see how inadequate health insurance can be in these most extreme cases.

Since reinventing this blog last November, I have enjoyed a truly amazing amount of support from old friends, new ones, and strangers alike. I am so grateful for every person that has shared these posts, sometimes too resembling of diary entries than I intend. I genuinely appreciate every comment on this site and/or my facebook page. I absolutely love it when I get to talk to someone who says that this blog has inspired them to run, workout, get healthier, or to simply try anything that they might have thought impossible. I could’ve never imagined having that affect on anyone. I am truly grateful for it all. I really am. And after all of that unbelievable support and against my nature of never asking for anything, I humbly ask for more.

Not a single one of you owes me, or my friends that you may have never met, another second of your time. But if you do have a minute, a friend of the family has set up a website where anyone that is interested in helping these good people during this difficult time can read their story and/or contribute to a fund that will go towards their quickly growing medical and life expenses. If you have those few moments, I do kindly ask you to check out that site HERE.

Give if you can. Share the link if you will. And if nothing else, please keep these good people in your thoughts; and keep those thoughts positive. I really appreciate it. And I know they do as well.

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” – Voltaire

Be grateful for what you have. Express the love you feel. Nothing is guaranteed. Love Life, even if it doesn’t always seem to love you back.

“It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.” – Robin Roberts

Just for some sake of normalcy, here are the Honorable Mentions:

May 02. Signed up for the Rock n’ Roll half marathon on Sept 1. I’m taking that day back.

May 09. Beautiful day for a run by the river. Mild temps, low humidity, and slow winds. Perfect.

May 16. Started new workout routine, met the Hills, Spring, and Marco for a drink, and just might have smoked my last cigarette.

May 24. Another great pre-race dinner with Mom. I’m starting to think Indian food is my favorite pre-race meal.

May 31. After getting in my run and workout, took a nice drive to NJ where I was welcomed by a little league game and the ritual post game water ice.