Pretty Women and Big Voices (J.O.G.T. 6)

Damn! It’s already the forth? I was certain I’d get June’s Jar of Good Things post out on the first. The year is half way gone, and I think June might have flown by faster than any month so far. Are you finished with your New Years resolutions yet? Do you even remember what they were? If not, don’t worry about it. I’m guessing Christmas decorations will be in stores by the weekend, so it’s probably time to just forget about them and get your shopping lists ready.

While we wait for the man in the red suit, here’s the music-heavy highlights of my jar.

Jun 01. Played in the sun all day at Appel Farm fest… So much fun watching Brandi Carlile and her band clearly having a great time on stage.

I came out of the gate really strong in June by attending the Appel Farm Art and Music Festival for the third time in four years. It’s an annual outdoor music festival in Elmer, NJ that primarily focuses on folk, alt-country, and Americana music. But it definitely mixes it up enough to avoid any mood or tempo ruts.

In past years I’ve seen Gogol Bordello, The Avett Brothers, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Trombone Shorty, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Ani Difranco (I think), and a bunch more that I can’t remember right now. I’m sure my memory lapse is in no way attributable to excessive vodka consumption in those earlier visits. I did much better this year. Sheesh.

Mainly because I wasn’t very familiar with most of the artists, this year’s line up didn’t really excite me all that much. But Brandi Carlile was headlining, I have friends in the area, and I love the wide open outdoor venue enough that going back was still a no-brainer.

I spent most of the afternoon playing one game or another created by my friend’s 8 year old son. “Okay, you go stand over there, and I’m going to try and kick the ball past you. And um, if I do, then I get a point and we have to switch sides and you have to try and kick the ball past me. Okay?” I love hearing children create elaborate games that almost always just end up being very similar to a simple game of catch. It cracks me up. But those games always seem popular with the other kids too, so what do I know?

Our game started with me, my friend David, and his son Jacob. Then: “Hi, I’m Jack. I’m six.” “Hey, I’m Greg. I’m thirty-seven.” “Can I play.” “Of course.” And it just grew from there. Twenty minutes later there were six of us. I still don’t know the rules of any of the games we played, but I’m pretty sure I lost.

I didn’t know much about any of the opening acts and I still don’t. But I know they made for a really great soundtrack to play in the sun all day. And Brandi Carlile’s set did not disappoint. I always feel like her voice ranges between a young Loretta Lynn and Natalie Maines, which is a good thing in my ears. A friend and I went up to the front and were immediately impressed with just how much fun she and the twin brothers that make up her band were having. It was her birthday and they were all just beaming as they ran through a set of her often sad, but not necessarily down beat songs. It was definitely a great way to start the month. Good music, good friends, good times. I had a blast.

Jun 12. Met Kathryn from Run Eat Play RVA in Sandbridge for a hot mess of a run and an awesome dip in the pool after. Good times.

I think I’ve mentioned more than a few times that I almost always run alone. In fact, prior to June 12 I had only run with other people one time. But when Kathryn from Run Eat Play RVA suggested running together during a day trip she was making to the area, I knew I had to do it.

She was the blogger kind enough to present me with the Liebster Award a few months ago, I read her blog regularly, we both ran the Shamrock Half Marathon but were unable to cross paths, and now we’re both training for our first marathons in the fall. And honestly, I needed to do it just because sticking to my narrow routines has often proved a bad idea in the past, and I wanted to stretch my comfort zone a little. It turned out to be one hot mess of a run, but I’m really glad I did it.

I learned a few things that day. 1) Leaving work only one hour early is not enough time to squeeze in my gym workout and still beat traffic out of Portsmouth. 2) Don’t eat half a bagel 30 minutes before a hot-as-fuck afternoon run in the sun. 3) Kathryn is cool as a fan.

She got a lovely dose of my awesome luck as our run coincided with the hottest, most humid day of the summer thus far and my work schedule limited our run time to the hottest part of the afternoon. Woo hoo! You’re welcome.

I met Kathryn at a beach house her cousins were renting in the area, and after a quick exchange of hellos and nice-to-meetchas, we took off into the blazing sun. She is a faster runner than I am and I was a little worried about that, but because of the heat we decided to run our 5 miles at something like a 9:30 pace. No problem. She also openly claims to be a horrible pacer. And I was absolutely no help because I forgot to even turn on my watch for the first mile and after I did all I noticed was that our pace was kind of all over the place, and often much faster than our plan. Oops.

Other than the heat, it was a pretty good run…kind of. We chatted a little bit about marathon training, the heat, the therapeutic benefits of running, the blazing sun, our jobs, how much the heat sucks, our diets, how long five miles feels when you’re dying, and most importantly-how awesome the pool was going to feel when we finally made it back…if we made it back. We stopped to stretch half way through. Our poor diet choices early in the day forced both of us to walk a couple of times. And did I mention that it was hot as hell? Well, it was.

But we bulled through it and finally made it back, and I was not about to turn down the kind invitation to jump in that pool. It was a good time. Kathryn is pretty awesome. And her cousins were super nice to let me take a dip and change clothes before heading out. Next time, I guess I’ll have to head to Richmond. Hopefully, she’s got contractors putting in a pool as I type this.

Here’s a link to her account of our run: Run Eat Play RVA

Jun 13. Saw Lake Street Dive @ 80/20 w/ Van and Amanda. Really great show.

During a break in the gaming action at the Appel Farm fest, I got a text message from my friend Van asking me if I’d be interested in seeing the band Lake Street Dive at a local restaurant in our area. Truth be told, I like Van and his lovely wife Amanda enough that I’d have gone just to hang out with them. But this one was even easier because I really like that band too.

Lake Street Dive is a four peace jazzy, but not exactly jazz, soulful, but not exactly soul band from the Boston area. It’s easy to get distracted by how amazing the lead singer is, or the vocal harmonies when they all sing together. But the band itself is really great as well. The bass player and drummer were really tight and they even let the bassist stretch out a little and show off with a few short and tasteful solos. And the guitarist (also plays trumpet) kind of stays low in the mix a lot, but when he does punch it up a notch, his guitar tone is just nasty (that’s a good thing).

I had a blast seeing my old friends again. And seeing Lake Street Dive in such a small venue felt like something I might not get a chance to do again. Check ‘em out if you get a chance. I think they’re current tour includes a couple of the popular summer festivals too.

Jun 29. Ran my longest run since Shamrock, and enjoyed a long but fun night at Jenn’s going away party, ending with super late night releasing of paper lanterns/balloons.

I’ve mentioned my talented musician friends before. Well, one of them skipped town on Monday to take the next step in her adventure in the U.K. On Saturday we all got together to drink too much and send her off right. It was a great time.

jenn lanternI don’t remember exactly where I met Jenn. I don’t really recall getting to know her. I just know that there was a time when I didn’t know her. And then there was a time when we were friends. And I’m very happy to say that we still very much are. I guess I’m just lucky that way sometimes.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing music with her on occasion and recording her incredible songs on many more occasions over the last several years. It was an honor to witness the creation of so much great art. And I can’t wait to see what she does next. Whatever it is, I know it’s going to be great.

I told myself that night that I wanted to be home by 10:30. At 1 a.m. I was standing by a lake, trying to light a wax block on fire, and eventually releasing a paper lantern into the night sky. So much for my plan. But it was a really quiet and beautiful way to say “see you later” to my friend. I love her.

Well, that’s about it. Looking at it now, it seems June was the month of pretty women and big voices. I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing all of these people again too. We’ll see what happens. Happy 4th of July.

Honorable Mentions:

Jun 03. I haven’t registered for it yet, but I recorded the first workout on my marathon training schedule. I love having a training schedule to focus on. LOVE IT!

Jun 04. Met Meri and the legendary Laura Watkins for some amazing karaoke performances in Ghent. Those ladies are some damn fine singers…and funny too.

Jun 18. “Hey Alexis. Come here. Look!” young girl on a big wheel to her sister as I passed on my run. I don’t know if it was because I was a sweaty mess, my tattoos, or this silly ass moustache, but something about me startled some little girl today. And for some reason that made me laugh.

Jun 21. Bought some new running shoes, had dinner with Dad, and…oh yeah, I Registered for the Philadelphia Marathon. Stoked.

Jun 26. Supreme Court strikes down DOMA. We’re getting closer to treating my friends like equal citizens. It’s taking far too long.

I’m a Winner!

Well, it’s official. This is now an award winning blog. A fellow runner and blogger has awarded me the Liebster Award. What? You’ve never heard of it. Neither had I. And even doing a quick Google search didn’t produce too much of a clear history or explanation on the “award.” So I’m going to trust the information provided by the kind writer that honored me with it.

The Leibster was awarded to me by Kathryn who writes the blog Run Eat Play RVA. It is a fun blog about Kathryn’s experiences…you guessed it…running, and eating, and playing in her relatively new home of Richmond VA. She, like me, is currently training for the Shamrock Half Marathon and I’ve enjoyed reading about her training, coming back from a past injury, rediscovering her running strength, and continually growing love of the run and life in general. It’s a good read. Check it out.

According to Kathryn, the Leibster Award is given to newer or at least smaller bloggers that have fewer than 200 followers. I just realized that I have 18 and was pleasantly surprised to see that I don’t actually know all of them. The award is then supposed to be passed along to other bloggers in that same boat in order to help spread each others’ readers around a little bit and maybe get some new eyes on each others’ blogs. It’s kind of like a chain-award I guess. Or as Kathryn put it in her Leibster post, “Basically it’s a nice way to say, ‘Hey I like your blog! Let me help you promote it!’” And I really appreciate that. Thank you Kathryn.

The receiver of the award is allegedly supposed to follow these few rules.

-Each blogger nominated must post 11 random things about themselves.

-Then answer the 11 questions the tagger has asked.

-The blogger must then create 11 questions of their own to ask the bloggers they decide to nominate.

-Bloggers must be notified of their award. No tag backs.

Okay, this admittedly feels a little bit too much like one of those old myspace surveys than I’d normally be comfort with. But I guess reaching out of my comfort zone is part of what my blog has become about. And I do genuinely appreciate Kathryn’s gesture, so I’m at least going to follow the first two rules the best I can. We’ll see about the other two a little bit later.

So first, here’s 11 random things about me:

1. The Conan the Barbarian movie soundtrack/score might be my favorite record of all time. I’m a huge music nerd so it’s really impossible to pick a single record as my favorite, but Conan is definitely up there.

I used to work in an independent record store that sold used CDs and tapes. That’s right, cassette tapes. I’m that old. One day somebody brought in a huge box of old cassettes they didn’t want any more and the Conan soundtrack was in there. I took it as something silly to listen to in the car the way home. That damn thing was in my tape deck for at least four days.

I, like nearly everyone else on the planet, have seen the movie. But it was when I was still pretty young and I don’t remember much of it. Now I refuse to ever watch it again, because I like to create my own imagery to go along with the score each time I listen to it. And I’ve recently discovered that it’s also a pretty nice record to listen to while I run.

2. You remember that saying “Act your age, not your shoe size?” My shoe size and my age were the same number from somewhere around nine years old to 15.

Is that an interesting fact about me? Maybe not.

Is it a random fact about me? Damn right.

100_64323. I make a pretty mean sandwich. I like to cook and feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but on rare occasions, I just want a sandwich. My favorite sandwich is probably a BEATL (pronounced “beetle”). It’s my version of a BLT with a fried Egg and sliced Avocado on it. It can get a little messy, but it is soooooo good.

I actually made a sandwich as part of my dinner last night. It was sliced avocado, sautéed onions, fried egg, Swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on 100% whole grain toast. It was DELICIOUS and tasted great with leftover beet soup I’ve been enjoying.

4. I don’t watch television. I have one, and I’m pretty sure that it still works. But I have no television service (cable, satellite, antenna, etc.) in my home. Every couple of weeks, I’ll go to HULU and watch any Modern Family episodes that I haven’t seen, but that’s about it. I haven’t had television in years and I don’t miss it.

If it wasn’t for the line of muted televisions at the gym, I wouldn’t even know how awful and ashamed I should feel about the type of entertainment my country supports. It hurts my head to see so much “reality” TV out there. And Jerry Springer is still on TV! Ugh. Who is watching this stupid shit? And why?

5. I don’t really watch movies either. On average, I go to the movies less than twice a year, and probably watch less than six movies total in any format (DVD, theater, Online) throughout the year. No grandiose reasons. I just don’t see a lot of advertisements for them. And when I do, they don’t appeal to me.

As you might’ve guessed by now, I don’t always pick up on it when people make current pop culture references. But I still seem to be doing fine.

6. I am a proud supporting member of my local NPR radio station. I made my donation last night in fact. I am by no stretch of the definition financially wealthy, but I do listen to NPR every day. And since one of the many things that I don’t miss about television is the commercials, I try to pay for that service so they don’t have to beg for money from Pepsi or McDonalds.

Nothing’s free.

7. I have a beard because A) I don’t like to shave B) I have sensitive skin that breaks out (and bleeds) if I try to shave on consecutive days, or even within 2-3 days C) Why not have a beard? In fact, I generally don’t trust clean shaven men. Men without facial hair remind me of politicians and used car salesmen. And they’re not to be trusted. (only half kidding)

8. My blog is only called “thatguywiththebeard” because “ThatGuy@wordpress(dot)com” was already taken.

In 2009, I participated in a month-long online celebration of the moustache called “Moustache May.” Basically, all participants agreed to wear a kick ass moustache for the month of May and post a picture of their top lip greatness on the website every day. I know it sounds silly, but it was actually more of a club of creative people often using that photo as a daily art project. Having a moustache was just the buy-in to join the club, and those photos were often only loosely connected to the facial hair that brought them together. The community that developed from sharing and commenting on those pictures is really hard to explain to anyone that didn’t experience it. Your loss.

When I registered, for a reason still completely oblivious to me, I chose “ThatGuy” as my moniker.

In November of that same year, the organizers of Moustache May launched their fourth and final Whiskerino. Whiskerino could be called the beard version of Moustache May, but that wouldn’t be totally fair to its greatness.

Whiskerino required all participants to shave on November 1, and then let their beards grow untouched and free until February 28. The daily posting of pictures and commenting on those pictures was very similar to the shorter moustache party held in May. But the longer time frame and the challenges that not shaving became to so many people (A lot of beards did not make it through. SHAME!) helped lead to such a more robust community of bearded brothers than you can imagine possible from an online facial hair challenge. I met some amazing people through that website and eventually in person, that I’m happy and proud to still call my friends today.

I used the same moniker, and after four months of trying to comment on every single picture posted by the hundreds of initial participants, the name stuck. And after a total of three Moustache Mays and one Whiskerino, I am ThatGuy. I’m ThatGuy when I have a beard. I’m ThatGuy when I don’t.

And between you and me, on Shamrock weekend when I run my first half marathon, I will likely look a lot more like Thatguywithsideburns. I do what I want.


9. I’ve been taking the exact same water bottle to the gym with me five days a week since September. Why? Because it can take over 400 years for a plastic water bottle to biodegrade, my kitchen tap emits water at my will, and recycling is expensive. I recycle it every day for free when I refill it and put it back into the bottom of my refrigerator to chill until tomorrow’s trip back to the gym. Recycling is easier than ever. Woohoo!

10. Biographies are probably my favorite type of book to read. I’ve read bios about Johnny Cash, Angela Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Graham Parsons, Larry McMurtry, Doc Holiday, Phil Ochs, Waylon, Willie and others. People’s real lives just seem more interesting to me sometimes. But then again, I’ve also enjoyed reading the fantastical ramblings of Richard Brautigan too.

This little guy can't get enough of the gym.

This little guy can’t get enough of the gym.

11. There is a small but consistent concern in the back of my head that I might succumb to some temporary temptation and fuck up the progress that I’ve made over the last few months. I haven’t skipped a planned workout or a run without immediately making it up the next day. But exercising is absolutely the easiest habit in the world to break. It’s like the opposite of heroin. All you have to do is skip a couple of workouts and it will get easier and easier to do it again until you find yourself at happy hour, drinking with your friends in the afternoon talking about how you “used to go to the gym” and saying things like “I should really start running again. Excuse me ma’am, can we get another round? And I think I’ll have a double order of hot wings…”

“…with ranch AND blue cheese please.”

I don’t walk around racked with worry, but I stay aware of those risks and how important it is that I stay focused on my goals.

Okay. That was way harder than it should’ve been. Now to answer the questions that Kathryn asked me.

1. Admit it: What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

Cigarettes. I know. I know. But yes, I still smoke. On most days it’s only one or two late at night with a cup of tea while I read or work on something I’m writing. I don’t even take them to work with me. But as a lot of smokers can attest, when I’m out with friends or having a drink, it can increase. I smoke just under two packs a week and really if I could cut out the binges when I’m out with friends and stick to the two a night “pleasure” smokes, I’d probably have no “guilt” at all. But they ARE awful for you and not at all a performance enhancing substance for runners, so I suspect that they will be exiting the program sooner or later. I’ll keep you posted.

2. Tell me all about the best meal that you ever had.

Hmmmm. My best meals are probably not as focused on the food as much as the company, but every now and then both of those things come together.

Two of the best meals I’ve ever had were on my friend Anne’s front porch. Anne is a local chef and a friend. A few years ago, my then girlfriend and I were invited to Anne’s house to have dinner with a few other friends. I unfortunately don’t remember everything on the menu (and I may be mixing some of both nights into one memory). But I remember being introduced to the incredibly simple but oh so tasty hors d’oeuvre of cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, and a delicious baked sea bass, with roasted asparagus or brussels sprouts. I can’t remember which, maybe both. But between the amazing food, some really good wine, and the six or so really great people talking, laughing, and listening around that table on her front porch, it really felt like we were in a wine commercial. It was a really amazing time, and a great meal with good people.

I have eaten at two different restaurants where Anne has worked since, and will gladly patron anywhere she works in the future. If you should find yourself in Virginia Beach, check out Pacifica. I’m not normally a tapas fan, but I have loved every meal I’ve had there and the bar tender’s no slouch either. As crazy as it sounds, the daily flavored butter is worth stopping in. Trust me.

3. If you won a $100 million jackpot, what would you do with it?

Pay my debts. Buy a modest home somewhere pretty; maybe in Colorado or New England. Buy a new car (mine is 12 years old). Travel to all the places I’ve never been and try to run races in every state in the union. Read more. Play more music. Maybe try to write a book.

4. What is your favorite childhood memory?

Laying on my back on the floor of my grandparents den with the lights off and my head under their ridiculously over-lighted Christmas tree and staring up through all of those multi-colored, mirrored, and twinkling lights while listening to their old Christmas records. Those records are still the only Christmas songs that I can really get into.

5. What is your every day super power? (mine, for instance, is being a super planny plannerston.)

I really don’t know. I’m a decent multi-tasker, but not because I want to be. It’s usually because I haven’t planned well enough and find myself having to do too many things at once just to get caught up again. Procrastination is a very hard habit to break.

6. What is the most rebellious/crazy/reckless thing you have ever done?

I’ve honestly never been terribly rebellious, crazy, or reckless. Most of the more reckless things I’ve done have been cliché mistakes resulting from excessive drinking and youthful stupidity (even if I wasn’t as young as I was acting).

But this MIGHT have happened. And we were all 100% sober, believe it or not.

About 10 years ago, my friend, his girlfriend, and I bought a car for 50 dollars from a guy about to leave the area. No title, no license plate. We gave him 50 dollars. He gave us the keys. We spray painted the whole car (including most of the windows) with paint found in the trunk. Then we drove it out into the country to tear around in a field and see if we could maybe get it up on two wheels (I said we were sober, not smart). At some point while switching drivers, I noted that the car was smoking a little bit and decided that we should probably leave the field before it died there and left us no way to get it out.

About a half hour or so after getting it back to my house, my cousin drove up and told me that the smoke I’d seen was not from the car but instead from the field. We had MAYBE accidentally set the field on fire with the catalytic converter and the fire department MIGHT HAVE had to come out to extinguish the then sizable open fire…not an easy task in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.

Did I mention that the car had a Charlie Daniels Band tape stuck in the tape player when we bought it? What a perfect soundtrack for that total ridiculousness.

7. If you had it to do over, what is one thing that you would have done differently?

Oh, geez. I’ve unfortunately spent too much of my life stacking a pile of regrets so large that it’s probably visible from space. But in an effort to keep this a bit lighter in nature, I’ll stick with something simple. I wish I had taken piano lessons as a child.

I’m not totally sure, but I think I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to when I was around seven or eight years old and I said no. Apparently I’ve always defaulted to the negative. I love a lot of piano music, but really I just believe that had I built a music foundation on the piano and developed the ability to read music, that knowledge would have transferred well into other instruments and possibly made me a better guitar player. Not a huge issue now, but I would have done that differently if I could.

8. Your favorite adult beverage:

Dirty Kettle One Martini. Yes please. I VERY rarely drink shots, but I love these simple drinks so much that it is sometimes hard not to just take the first one right to the face and immediately order another. And so far I think I’ve had one the night before every race that I’ve run. I’m running a 20K tomorrow (in the effing rain of course), so I had one just about an hour ago. It was a little dirtier than I like, but still very tasty.

9. A movie that you can watch over and over again and never get sick of:

Wow. Tough one. Big Lebowski and True Romance immediately come to my mind. But I’m going to go with Almost Famous. I love the soundtrack and the story and the actors. It’s just a really great movie that I know I could just sit and chill through no matter when it came on.

I may have to blow the dust off of my TV this weekend and watch it again.

10. What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Probably my sense of humor. I’m usually pretty quiet when I meet new people or if I’m in any kind of crowd. And I happily and comfortably spend a lot of time alone. But being able to make people laugh has been a pretty decent ice breaker when I can finally open up a bit (beer helps). And I’m sure that the ability to be silly and not take myself so seriously all of the time has helped me through some rough days in the past.

11. Your house is on fire and you have time to rescue one thing. Assuming your family members and pets are already safe, what do you save?

100_6437100% honest: Probably nothing. It’s only stuff. I’d just leave.

But let’s see…my garmin? No. My running shoes? Yeah right. I guess I’d try to grab my Fender Old Growth Redwood Telecaster. There were only a limited number of them made as part of Fender Guitar’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Telecaster. It is made from reclaimed centuries-old redwood and sounds as amazing as it looks. I honestly don’t feel like I play well enough to deserve this guitar, but my dad gave it to me for my birthday a couple of years ago and I just couldn’t refuse it once I heard it. It’s awesome.

Well, that’s that. I spouted off random facts about myself. And I’ve answered 11 questions about myself. That’s a lot of “me” time. I might actually be a bit tired of myself right now. So I guess I should pick someone else to talk about.

I am going to pass the Leibster Award onto another Hampton Roads blogger. Justin is a husband, father, musician, bass instructor, and martial artist who writes a blog at His blog ranges from shorter humorous anecdotes to fuller posts about self discoveries he experiences as he adjusts to fatherhood and continues his training in Filipino martial arts.

Justin and I met about four years ago (while I was taking a picture for moustache may), live in the same town, and have still probably only been in the same room together about four times. But we are kindred spirits in a lot of ways (we both possess a pretty solid aptitude for snark) and it’s been quite interesting and entertaining to read about his personal triumphs and self discoveries as I am experiencing similar things on an only slightly different path. I suspect that Justin probably writes his blog more for himself than for others, but I believe that his insights are often much more universal and relatable than he may realize. Check it out.

Because I don’t think Justin will be excited at all to come up with eleven random things about himself, and even less so to have to answer eleven questions that I pose, I’m only going to ask for five. He can rattle off as many as eleven if he wants. But I’m only asking for five random facts about Norfolk’s favorite ginger. And I’ll ask as many questions as I can come up with before I give up. And he can answer as many as he wants. I’ll live.

Congratulations Justin. You just won a Leibster Award. Now tell the world (or the tens of people that might see it) at least five random things about yourself. Keep it clean.

And when you’re done, I’d like to know the following:

1. What was the first band that you saw live? Where?

2. Why Kali?

3. If you could have a beer with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

4. Besides the obvious wedding day and child birth answers, what would you say is the proudest moment of your life so far?

5. Who was/is your favorite teacher or instructor in any capacity (school, music, etc.)?

6. I doubt you have a true bucket list, but what is, or would be, the farthest fetched thing on it?

And lucky number seven. If you died today what would you want on you tomb stone?

I’ll stop there. My apologies to Kathryn for soft balling my passing along the award. But I hope that keeping it shorter will make it easier for a busy guy to actually find the will to keep it going. Good luck and thanks.

And because I already know that he’s one of Justin’s favorite bass players (if not his definite favorite), here a clip of James Jamerson killing the bass. Happy Friday.

Good Will to Men

christmas_lights_headerWell, it’s that time of year again. That time when, while scurrying around town hunting for bargains, we’re more likely to walk out of a store and be approached by that downtrodden family patriarch that somehow managed to get the invisible car that they all live in, past all of the nearby gas stations, and into the busy department store parking lot just as it ran out of gas on the way to grandma’s house in (insert distant city here), OR that alleged veteran in the parking lot of a grocery store nowhere near a bus station looking for a little “help” getting a bus ticket back to his family for the holidays. Maybe these stories are true. Maybe they’re not. But they are a lot like Chia Pets and electric razor commercials in that they only seem to appear around Christmas time.

Personally, it’s an intuition thing with me, but if the story is good and they’re not rude or aggressive, I’ll usually give anyone a few bucks if I have it. If I don’t have it, I don’t feel guilty saying “no” either. I don’t concern myself worrying about what they end up doing with the money. It’s not my place to judge them. And at least they’re not ringing a fucking bell in my face.

No matter your feelings on the holiday shakedowns, it’s important not to let the grifters out there make us forget about all of those people truly struggling and heading into this holiday season with a drastically more uphill battle into the land of cheer.

While so many are scouring national retail chains and online marketplaces for sparkly holiday trinkets to satisfy some temporary want, many people are searching thrift shops and second-hand stores for those things that they absolutely need as we head into winter. And if they’re lucky, they might even be able to satisfy a holiday wish as well. And then there are so many people with nothing at all whose wish gland dried up years ago and wouldn’t know luck if she walked up and kissed them on the mouth.

goodwillI found myself in the unusual position this year of having a closet full of jeans, shirts, and light coats that no longer fit. I cleaned out my closet in the self-serving desire to get these things out of my way. I gave them to my local Goodwill store because somebody might be able to use them, or maybe even need them. I did it tonight rather than later so that these simple things might still have a chance of brightening the Christmas of someone who is working on a little tighter budget this year than they’d like.

Life can be hard. Sometimes it’s going to kick you right in the chest. I am extremely grateful that during a difficult time I was able to discover a healthy path to what I hope will be a better me. Not everybody is so fortunate. It’s easy to wander down the wrong path when you’re struggling with life’s hurdles, especially when those hurdles started early and can be seen stretching into the horizon. I sympathize with anyone struggling to run life’s roads in those conditions. And while I’m still working my way down my path and I occasionally stumble into some dark places, I know I want to remember that feeling of gratitude for my good fortune and share as much of it as possible this season. It makes me feel better.

In the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and Christmas parties, it’s easy to forget that “Peace on earth, good will to men” isn’t just a Christmas card slogan. And even harder not to immediately disregard the possibility that maybe that guy in the parking lot honestly just needs a little gas money.

Happy Holidays.

ON A SIDE NOTE, if someone out there actually receives a Chia Pet for Christmas, you’d probably get more out of it if, after you grew the magic “hair,” you pulled it off of the pottery and threw it on a salad, or maybe just threw the seeds themselves into some yogurt. Chia seeds are a high fiber “superfood” rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that among other things has been shown to help control blood sugar, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and possibly prevent cancer. And they’re subtle nutty flavor isn’t bad either.

Chia-Seeds-Bag_400Click here for more information on the health benefits of chia seeds (yes, that picture in the link is actually sunflower seeds), and here for more uses. I haven’t explored too many of those other uses yet, but I put a teaspoon of them in my vitamin and protein shakes every day. I’ve only been adding them for about a month, but I have felt better during runs and workouts. I’m not sure how significant their singular effect has been, but I’m going to keep doing it.

Now, what to do about these cigarettes? Hmmmm.

DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely no idea if the chia seeds that come with that silly pottery gift are of any kind of food-grade quality. Nor am I qualified at all in the nutritional, health, or medical fields. I only know what I read, but I read a lot. And I recommnend people research anything they plan to ingest for the first time. That’s why I provide the links. Enjoy.

Cleaner Fuel

In an earlier blog I briefly mentioned that I wasn’t eating enough back in September when I started running and exercising again. I seem to remember an elementary school science teacher telling us that changing two variables in an experiment at the same time could lead to unreliable results, and that’s exactly what I did. I dramatically increased my activity level while at the same time reducing my caloric intake. Sure, I shed weight like a crack whore, but it was impossible not to notice that even as I was running more and more, I was getting slower, weaker, and more winded.

Some of that was undoubtedly due to overdoing it and not letting my body recover between runs. My early runs were very short, but for a fat guy coming off a long streak of inactivity, they were more than enough to require recovery days in between. And I wasn’t taking any rest days. Of course, I wasn’t really thinking about being a “runner” at the time. I was just doing the only thing that made me feel less shitty.

After a couple of weeks of running almost every day and not getting any faster, stronger, or even improving my breathing at all, I was getting pretty frustrated. I kind of knew what was up, but without beating a dead horse, I wasn’t in the best mental state early on, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down and decide that if I wanted to keep doing this (and I did), I was going to have to pay better attention to my body and what it’s telling me.

I decided that I should take a count of the calories I was consuming on an average day.

I was lucky to be raised in a house not overloaded with sweets and by a mom that appreciated the economic value of taking her two growing boys to all-you-can-eat salad bars instead of a lot of fast food restaurants. Thanks to those things, I’ve never been a big fan of sugary foods and I love almost every vegetable that comes out of the ground. Radishes don’t do much for me. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

I was hard-wired for dietary success, but I could probably fuck up a steel ball if you gave me a little time with it. I have been taking a garden salad to work for lunch every day for over seven years and that is probably the only healthy diet habit that I haven’t waivered on. I did really well making my own breakfast (grits and scrambled eggs) for a very long time. I avoided unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And those things meant that I didn’t generally have to be too concerned with my dinner choices. I usually cooked those at home too, so I was doing okay even for a lazy ass.

My problems came with waning portion control, career advancements that required less and less movement (desk job), and eventually a housing change that provided no reason to stay home and higher social opportunities (read: I drank more). Going out more meant sleeping less, getting up later, and buying unhealthy breakfasts. Sitting at my desk all day made my regular snack foods almost unnecessary. I’m not burning any calories sitting there; I probably don’t really need the extra sustenance between meals as much I just really like handfuls of almonds and banana chips. And if I wasn’t going out in the evenings, someone would stop by my apartment to hang out. Either way, I was drinking four or more beers, four or more days a week. That is a lot of empty calories being fed into a fairly sedentary being. And the effects were impossible to ignore, but not impossible to excuse. I believe I’ve mentioned my incredible excuse-making abilities before.

After my Labor Day weekend, a lot changed. I all but quit drinking for a few weeks and started eating all of my meals at home again because I had no desire to go anywhere. But once I discovered the healing and therapeutic powers of running and decided that I really wanted to get better at it; Once I decided that I really wanted to be healthier overall and get better at just being me, I was faced with the realization that I wasn’t fueling my body properly to accomplish those goals.

While I’m sure it’s not uncommon at all for someone to routinely pay high prices to put premium gasoline in their automobile just to then drive it into a fast food drive-thru and put cheap horrible fuel in their body, bad fuel is bad fuel and it makes things run like crap. I wanted to run better.

After I cut down on the alcohol, eliminated the poor food choices that sometimes resulted from its consumption, and better portioned the foods that I did eat, I found that I was running a pretty significant calorie deficit. When I calculated my meal totals, I found out that for those few weeks, I was only eating about 1200-1400 calories a day. That’s not enough. But I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t hungry. How was I going to force so many more calories into my body?

It was clearly time for some research. I started reading anything I could find about nutrition and healthy dieting (note: I use the word “diet” not as a temporary weight loss plan, but as EVERYTHING a person consumes to fuel their body). I genuinely enjoy so many healthy foods. There had to be a way to make sure that I could cover my basic nutritional needs and fuel my running without force feeding myself more food than I really wanted to eat. I’ve seen and/or met people that struggle with their weight because they claim to “love to eat.” I love and appreciate well prepared and flavorful cuisine. And I really enjoy cooking good food as well. But I’ve never simply loved to eat. That’s probably why I’ve always eaten too fast. “There has to be something better to do, let’s get this ‘eating’ thing out of the way and get on with it.”

My current diet is still a work in progress (like the rest of me). My scrambled eggs for breakfast have turned into a spinach omelet. I added nutrient and carb rich lima beans to that lunch salad, and sometimes a few sunflower seeds too (with an apple chaser most days). My dinners are all over the place, but I eat a lot of fresh organic vegetables and very little meat at all. I almost never eat red meat, and the chicken industry is so sketchy that I find it easy to skip that as well. Just to make sure that I’m not going to wake up to loose teeth and yellow skin, I started drinking a vitamin and mineral shake every morning that I now swear it is the best wakeup treat I’ve ever had. I love it. And I drink a protein shake after runs and workouts.

I have not recalculated my calorie intake, but I’m getting stronger instead of weaker and my running has noticeably improved over the last couple of weeks. So even though I am still slowly losing weight, it’s not at an alarming rate any more, and I feel good. Cleaner fuel seems to agree with this machine.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, It’s the holiday season and while doing all of the above mentioned reading, I learned something new that might come in handy for some of you during this time of office-parties and New Years excesses. Apparently asparagus helps the body break down alcohol faster. That’s right! Not only does it make your pee smell, it can help prevent and relieve hangovers. Now that is some information that needs to be shared. Click here for more on that gem of a revelation.

After discovering that, I figured that there has to be a convenient way to work more asparagus into the holiday menu. Asparagus is not a difficult food to find or cook, but it doesn’t exactly scream “party food.” However, I was able to find these two recipes that you could probably sneak into your family dinner and/or New Year’s party: Asparagus Guacamole and Roasted Asparagus Soup.

Asparagus Guac

The asparagus “guacamole” is closer to a fine diced salsa really, but I thought it was pretty tasty. I made mine with twice as much jalapeno and no yogurt (I didn’t have any) and with the garlic, onions, cilantro, and lime it made a pretty nice snack with some pita chips. I’d definitely eat it at a party. If I made it again, I’d probably add a small amount of sweet peas to see if they’d help smooth out the texture a little and of course sweeten it just a tad.

Is it guacamole? Nope. But the goal isn’t to replace the delicious goodness of avocado guacamole; it’s to help fend off that hangover. It’s worth a shot.

Asparagus Soup

The soup was tasty too, but I’m sure it gets more than its fair share of baby food comparisons. I personally like thicker pureed type soups (split pea soup, sweet potato soup, etc). If I made this again, I’d add more garlic, probably some herbs, and definitely spice it up a bit.

Is it going to change your life? Nope. But it might be a good early dinner course before you drink those two bottles of wine at the Christmas party.

I have not personally tested the hang-over affects of these recipes because I haven’t been drinking as much, and I was never really plagued with hangovers when I did. But feel free to let me know if it works for you.

Gobble Gobble

Contrary to what your favorite retailer would have you believe, Thanksgiving is not merely the starting pistol for the holiday shopping season. It’s a wonderful holiday that’s proven itself so difficult to commercialize into obnoxiousness that all non-grocery stores just skip it altogether and go strait into Christmas right after Labor Day.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. When I was growing up, it was always spent at my grandparent’s house in rural North Carolina where I happily spent so much of my childhood. My brother, cousins, and I would spend most of the day throwing a football around in the yard or riding bikes or running around in the woods until supper was ready.

We all knew the meal was ready when my grandmother would holler out of the kitchen, “Alright, wash yer hands and get the snuff out chur mouth. It’s time to eat” I don’t know if anyone in the family had chewed snuff since her mother passed away or not, but she said it at every holiday meal strictly out of tradition. And I still miss it every year.

My grandmother and aunts would work together to put together what I guess is the classic southern thanksgiving fare: turkey, ham, stuffing, butter beans, corn, collard greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, yams (almost all of which had been harvested from their own gardens) and if you were willing to wait for it, my grandmother would invariably forget about the biscuits until that perfect smell of burning reminded us all that they were still in the oven.

I won’t even get into the massive amount of desserts weighing down that poor antique buffet in the dining room. But I will say that I still think “mincemeat pie” just sounds gross. And no amount of southern or country living will ever get me to like salt cured ham. Eck!

I’m guessing my family isn’t the only one where the kids ate too fast and the adults seemed to have no time to eat over the desire to visit together and share stories from the past, often the same stories they told last year, and a few they’ll tell again a month later when we do it all again at Christmas.

After everyone had eaten their fill plus one more piece of pecan pie, the men would slowly herd into the living room and one by one fall asleep in front of the football game on television. I think Dallas still plays every Thanksgiving day. They always gave my Redskins fan of a grandfather someone to root against.

While the men slept off lunch in order to find the energy they’d need to eat again later, my grandmother, her sisters, cousin, and occasionally her brother would all stay at the dining room table for hours catching up with each other while my great aunts filled the air with smoke and the ashtrays with smashed and bent cigarette butts. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen siblings closer to each other than they were. They spoke to each other either in person or on the phone all of the time, but never ran out of things to talk about. And if that threat ever presented itself, there were always the family stories to retell. I loved sitting in on those sessions. It’s a shame that I don’t remember more of the stories.

These days, we gather at my cousin’s house, still in rural North Carolina and enjoy much of the same delights. There are no more cigarettes at the table. Some of the stories are different as the story tellers have also changed. And for some reason football is too often replaced by an all day marathon of some tool or gadget show on television. But it doesn’t matter. I can sleep through anything. And the fun of family is the same.

Yep, Thanksgiving is it. A lot of people prefer Christmas. But Christmas is really just Thanksgiving with the added stress and hassle of shopping. It is most of the same people with much of the same food and a lot of the same stories, games, and laughing, but with more stuff to pack into the cars and less money left in the bank. No thank you.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to hate on Christmas. The lights are nice and I enjoy seeing everyone, but Christmas can’t hold a peppermint stick to Thanksgiving.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people on social networking sites have been spending November sharing a daily expression of what they are thankful for. I’ve also noticed that after about 10 or 12 days, fewer and fewer people are keeping up with it. That is totally understandable. After family, friends, good health, maybe your faith, and a few select creature comforts, it’s hard not to slip into more trivial things just to maintain the daily posts. “I’m thankful I was able to sleep in this morning.” Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for a lot of things; my family, my friends, my health, my home, my memories. I’m thankful that this diffilcult year is almost over and will soon be gone forever. But most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that even though betting on hope has almost never paid off, I still have some. And today, I hope all of you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week.

Do it for me. It’s MY favorite holiday.

Don’t eat too much though. You don’t want to be too sluggish to head out late-night and trample a stranger for a good deal on that gadget/toy/whatever that no one really needs. Happy Holidays.

OH SHIT! IT’S TIME TO EAT! (c’mon, it is almost the holiday season after all)

Today is the thanksgiving potluck lunch at work. It’s the usual. There is a sign-up sheet of what people are going to bring. Those less comfortable in the kitchen race to claim paper plates, utensils, sodas, cups, or anything else that can be quickly purchased and requires no cooking. Then there are the people with their favorite recipes for pasta salad, chili, green bean casserole, and other delights guarantying that there will be the proper over-abundance of food.

And like all holiday meals, there will be no shortage of sweets represented. We do love sugar around the office.

What Thanksgiving dish am I bringing? Quinoa and Black Beans. Hey, what were they expecting from the guy that’s been bringing a mixed green salad for lunch every day for the last seven years? Buffalo chicken dip?

I was admittedly not a fan of Quinoa the first time I tried it. I believe “textured air” was my initial response to what I thought was a very light and flavorless food. But I was converted as I was repeatedly shown just what a great vehicle it is for so many flavors ranging from citrusy vinaigrette dressings to simple herb combinations, or just sautéed vegetables. And it’s a high protein, high fiber super-food. I was slow to get it. But like everything else, even though I’m slow, I do eventually get there. This was my first time actually cooking it.

I started by doubling this recipe (click), but with the following changes: I added two diced red bell peppers to the onion/garlic sauté. I rinsed the quinoa before using it to reduce any bitterness. I used about half as much black beans and cayenne pepper (though if I was making this for myself, I probably would’ve added pureed chipotle pepper). And I added two cans of fire roasted tomatoes at the end with the beans and cilantro, but drained them at the beginning and used that juice together with broth to make up the liquid required to cook the quinoa. Oh, and I mixed in the juice of two limes at the very end as well.

I think it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. And if it’s not a huge hit at work, I’ve got a ripe avocado and crushed red pepper flakes just waiting to be stirred into the leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving.