7 Things for 7 Days No. 3

So my publishing has been a bit irregular with the challenge of taking care of two feral children and attempting to work from home taking precedence. Here are a few things that made the last week special.

NOT QUITE MURDER HORNETS

A few months ago in the midst of corona we all got a momentary jump scare in the form of murder hornets. They were terrifying enough to sting their way into the crowded 2020 news cycle for a few days. While my yard has remained murder hornet free, it has proven to be a breeding ground for scary looking insects this summer.

While working in the kitchen recently I noticed some flickering shadows in the afternoon sunlight. Above our back door a tornado of wasps or bees was diving and swirling around what could only be a nest. Avoiding the war zone, I called an exterminator who ventured into the backyard in full beekeeper gear and eliminated the problem. Turns out they were carpenter bees and had drilled some pretty substantial holes into the wood frame around the door. Despite their menacing appearance carpenter bees do not sting.

Then this past weekend our patio has been invaded by what appears to be platoons of low flying hornets and dozens of tiny holes resembling anthills. Armed with a broom I swept the dirt back into the nests and cleaned up the yard. The flying insects left me alone and seemed unperturbed, but kept their low altitude vigil. I did a little research and discovered that our backyard guests are likely cicada killer wasps. Somewhere under my patio their queen is burrowed. While the threatening name suggests death and danger, they too do not sting.

So no murder hornets, but we’ve got bees that eat wood and wasps that kill cicadas. I am curious what will turn up next in our 20′ x ’20 patch of deadly urban wilderness.

TOTAL IMMERSION IN LATTER DAY SONIC YOUTH

I’ve long been a big fan of going back and revisiting a favorite artist’s catalogue and immersing myself in their work. It’s a great way to rediscover and reevaluate treasured bands and artists. My obsession with music goes back to childhood and there is only so much I can consume. My ability to amass music has only grown in inverse proportion to the time I have available. At 25 all I did was read and listen to music. Now there is so much more music and so much less time.

No matter how much I love a band it can be impossible to keep up. I am struck by how much I missed or barely heard. Whole albums seem new again. My current immersion project is latter day Sonic Youth.

Triggered by a recent Brooklyn Vegan article looking back on their 16 studio albums I began to revisit a band I’ve loved for decades. I was an instant fan the second I heard Death Valley ‘69 a long time ago, captivated by every new release. I saw them live a dozen times, but somewhere around 1998’s A Thousand Leaves I stopped paying attention, giving each new record a couple of listens and filing it away. Life got busy, but the albums kept coming, six of them. Pitchfork gave NYC Ghosts & Flowers a 0.0. They put out a ton of experimental releases on their own SYR Records. Then, they broke up. And I missed out on most of it.

It’s strange to realize that you blanked out on a decade of a favorite band’s career. Now I get a chance to start again and live with these half dozen records, hearing them without the rock snob approach I would have had 20 years ago. All of them are worthy of deep listening, even the maligned NYC Ghosts & Flowers. This was a band that reinvented guitar rock, mastering beautiful, coruscating noise and shimmering dissonance. I may have skimmed over them the first time around, but here’s to second chances.

BRIGHT RUNNING SHOES

I’ve been an avid runner for most of my adult life. The majority of my running career I ran in anonymous blue, gray and white shoes. Neutral and inconspicuous was the only way to go. Then in 2014 I needed motivation after not running and gaining a lot of weight. At my local Fleet Feet I gazed upon a bright lime green pair with orange laces. If I bought these I knew I couldn’t escape them. They would scream at me from the closet to get out and run. Plus, anyone wearing shoes that ghastly had better run fast. Buying them changed my running game. Those shoes ran me. I got faster and shed the weight. Since then I’ve opted for fluorescent blue, blood red, neon green and flaming orange. I wear my flashy shoes with pride. Even the rest of my running gear has taken a turn for the flamboyant. Those green shoes six years ago kickstarted a late career comeback and my new screaming yellow Sauconys are my latest motivation.

FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT

We just launched a new family tradition. The three year old announced we would be watching a movie together and there would be popcorn While this was a cynical ploy for the boys to eat snacks in front of the TV without consequences we embraced the time together. There is no downside apart from an occasional lame movie. So far we’ve enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me and Finding Dory. We also endured one of the most mind bogglingly incomprehensible Scooby Doo movies ever, Zombie Island, featuring the voice talents of Mark Hamill and Adrienne Barbeau. We’ve stocked up on microwave popcorn and cleared our calendars. It is already set in stone as our permanent Saturday night event.

BIG JOE

Bean bag chairs seem like the greatest invention ever until you actually sit on one and realize your folly. However, let go of the disappointment and allow Big Joe to embrace you. It’s a bean bag chair with structure and support. The Big Joe in my kids’ room has become my favorite place to hide while we have been sheltered in place these last few months. His wide open arms welcome me at least twice a day. He’s perfect for writing, reading, listening, meditating and relaxing amidst the occasional chaos of our current semi-permanent home confinement. Highly recommended.

BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE BEANS

Coffee is an essential in our household and we needed a solution when all the local coffee shops shut down for quarantine. Once again my wife came to the rescue with a recurring weekly order of Blue Bottle beans. Yes, they are a little expensive, but the price still beats what we spent on a coffee or two each day at the office. Plus the coffee is very, very good. If you’re working from home this is a great way to treat yourself.

OUTDOOR TRAINING SESSIONS

When my gym shut down in mid-March it put all the trainers out of work. I knew this would put a financial hurt on the trainer I’ve been working with so when he suggested working out on one of the piers here in Hoboken, I agreed. At first I was more than a little embarrassed to get my sorry 98 pound weakling ass pummeled by a trainer in front of hundreds of apartments, but soon the sun and breeze made me forget I had an audience. I’ve grown to enjoy the outdoor sessions. I’ve been impressed by the tortures he can devise with just a few weights and a TRX suspension trainer. Someday the gym will reopen, but for now I look forward punishing myself out on Hoboken’s Piers for an hour a week.

***Bonus Thing***

BUILDING AN IGLOO

With the temperature teasing 100° over the past several days, I focused on cold thoughts and was reminded of a chilly adventure a long time ago. My friend Marc Burns and I headed to Paradise on Mount Rainier one January morning. Armed with an ice saw and a sizable bag of provisions we crunched off into the heavy snow pack with the goal of building an igloo.. Marc provided the expert knowledge and I brought the mule power. Together we built a damn fine shelter in a few short hours. Decades later I still remember that day as one of the coolest things I ever did. Thank you again, Marc!

See you next week with whatever gets me through the week. Thank you for reading.

7 Things for 7 Days No. 2

Thank you to everyone who read last week’s post. It’s nice to be back after not publishing for far too long. I was so excited last week I posted EIGHT things. Seems that’s the start of a new tradition. Here are a few things that made this last week special.

BRAIN PICKINGS

One of my most treasured newsletters is Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. She excerpts wonderful pieces from modern and classic texts, adding her own context and commentary. In an era that has seemingly forgotten poetry and the wisdom of the past, she is a master curator unearthing words, poems, art and illustrations that still resonate today. Each week I discover at least one book I must read and much more to think about. As an added bonus she has turned me on to some of the best kids books over the last several years.

BERRY PICKING

Fresh-picked from Phillips Farms

A couple of weeks back we embarked on a family journey amidst a torrential downpour only to discover that the rain decimated the strawberry fields. We made a u-turn and navigated toward the farm’s other u-pick area down the road. There were no strawberries, but the place was bursting with raspberries, peaches, cherries, currants and more. Armed with three buckets we headed straight for the blueberries. After a half hour of picking the plump fruit we dumped the tubs together and had a solid five pounds. The next stop was black raspberries which proved both smaller and thornier. Our little helpers soon went on strike. With a good two pounds picked we called it quits to avoid a toddler insurrection. Our week was filled with fresh berries and as supplies dwindled we decided to jump back in the car and return to Phillips Farms to supply our new fresh fruit addiction. Once again we began with blueberries and filled a whole bucket of delicious fruit in no time. Then, we loaded a bucket with peaches in less than two minutes. I spied a fellow picker’s bucket loaded with gargantuan blackberries and followed the signs. Fifteen minutes later I had scratched hands and a few more pounds of fruit. Some day we’ll get our strawberries.

BANDCAMP

After decades of spending my days cratedigging in record stores and dropping a few hundred bucks a month on vinyl, tapes and CDs, I all but stopped buying music in 2013. I jumped onto Spotify and didn’t look back. Yet somehow Bandcamp has dragged me back into the store, albeit online. When i can’t find something streaming I turn to Bandcamp. Now with Bandcamp Fridays and the site waiving fees to benefit the artists I find myself once again stockingpiling great music.

Some recent favorites include Ekoplekz, the many alteregos of Leyland Kirby (The Caretaker, The Stranger), the great archive of Sonic Youth live shows and the Touch: Isolation compilation.

THE QUIETUS’ BAKERS DOZEN

Every week The Quietus has an artist reveal the 13 albums that shaped them and their music. They also share why a particular records meant so much. Often I am surprised by what some musicians love. With every column I find hidden treasures, new music and am frequently compelled to revisit a recording with new ears. It’s very easy to listen to music, but it’s a challenge to unlisten and hear it anew without judgment.

HOBOKEN PUBLIC LIBRARY

As a kid I was enamored with libraries. The stacks of books promised so much. I loved the smell, the quiet, the solitude and the stacks of books. Somehow as an adult I forgot about them. Thank you to my kids I rediscovered the pure joy of so many books at my fingertips. It was a homecoming after 20 years away. So much has changed, yet they are so very much the same. If I request a book I can usually get it delivered from any regional library. The Libby app allows me to check out books and audiobooks wherever and whenever.. As my local library slowly reopens I am excited for their return and their noble efforts to keep programs going during lockdown.

ALL THE BOOKS AT ONCE

I’ve got at least one book going on every device and in every room of my house just in case I need a book right now. Here’s a quick house tour of what I’ve been reading.

Living Room Earth Abides by George Stewart, My son has to read this for summer reading so I am tagging along. This couldn’t be more timely as the world in this book has just been wiped out by a mysterious pandemic.
Bedroom Batman & Robin, Volume 1: Batman Reborn You might as well call it the Batroom as there is always a Batman graphic novel in rotation. Grant Morrison is behind this one.
Kitchen Grunge is Dead by Greg Prato. I’ve been reading this engaging oral hitory of Seattle’s 80s and 90s music scene 4 pages at a time. It’s all so familiar and so long ago.
Office Post Office by Charles Bukowski. I really want to love Bukowski, but this semi-autobiographical novel makes me depressed. Someday I will finish.
Libby App The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is his fiction debut and it tells a magical tale of a slave with super powers who becomes involved with the Underground Railroad.
Kindle Alan Sillitoe’s Travels in Nihilon. This one is a slog. It’s a high concept travelogue through a country that has embraced Nihilism. There are echoes of 1984, Brave New World and other dystopian classics, but for every step forward it takes two absurd steps back. Someday this treip will end.
Audible Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flame Throwers, follows a motorcyle riding female artist from seedy 1970s New York City to the Bonneville Salt Flats and around the world.

Just Finished
Sally Rooney’s Normal People. A deep dive into the complex and evolving relationship between two kids from high school into college. I saw the trailer for the Hulu show and knew the book was all I needed. ★★★★

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. A look at the racial dynamics between a white mom and a black nanny. It’s light, poignant and funny at times and moves quickly. There are a few nice twists at the end, but the characters are poorly developed and the breezy tone serves to undercut the primary themes in the book. ★★★

FRIENDS WHO STILL SHARE MUSIC

Many of my college and post-collegiate friendships were forged through working together in public radio. Over the years I did time at KUGR, KZUU, KCMU and WFMU, We bonded over music, spending our time hunting for records and going to shows. In pre-ditigtal days great music was scarce. Today I can find almost whatever I want whenever I want it, but I love the friends who email a few mp3s or send some links to something special. There will never be a shortage of songs, but those shared by friends are guaranteed my special listening attention. Here’s a great mix from my longtime friend @DJ_DamonCreed.

***Bonus Thing***

HOBOKEN THEN & NOW



My running buddy @petermarney tipped me to this Instagram account curated by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Two pictures. One then. One now. Hoboken is an old town with a storied past and seeing history side-by-side with today is eye opening. All too often the past looks a whole lot better than the present.

See you next week with whatever gets me through the next seven days.

7 Things For 7 Days 7/10/20

Words, pictures, music and random ephemera that guided me through the week

AUSTIN KLEON

My current favorite weekly newsletter comes from Austin Kleon. Every Friday he shares ten things that he’s found remarkable, noteworthy and wonderful over the past week. I discover new books, music and ideas with each issue. His book, Show Your Work!, motivated me to share some things I’ve loved this past week. It’s a great opportunity to jumpstart my sad, ittle blog. I tip my hat to his great taste and good advice and thank him for his inspiration.

MILES DAVIS – LIVE-EVIL & DARK MAGUS

These two 70s albums by Miles Davis are stunning in their breadth and musical daring. Both find Miles in the fiery jazz-rock fusion period that divided fans then and now. 1971’s Live-Evil is half live/half studio and a continuation of the journey he began with In a Silent Way. While Live-Evil is adventurous, it is still accessible. Dark Magus is in a class by itself. Recorded in 1974 at Carnegie Hall, Magus is loud, confrontational, soaring and searing. The record features four largely improvised two-part tracks named for the Swahili numbers one through four (Moja, Wili, Tatu, Nne). Here his jazz-rock palette expands to include funk and plenty of random dissonance. It’s mindblowing.

MY NEIGHBOR, THELONIOUS MONK

On another jazz note, Kottke.com tipped me to a lost Thelonious Monk live album recorded at a Palo Alto high school in 1968 that will soon be released. That story on its own is remarkable, but when I dug around for a little more information I discovered that Monk spent the last several years of his life just up the road in Weehawken. He was taken in by an heiress of the Rothschild family, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who was a huge benefactor to the jazz community. She and Monk had quite a history together. I’ve run past the house many times without realizing the story behind the walls.

WAKEFIELD, THE SHORT STORY AND THE LONG MOVIE

One of my recent work projects included the 2016 movie with Bryan Cranston. In my research I discovered it was based on a 2008 short story by Ragtime and Billy Bathgate author, E.L. Doctorow. I found the story in The New Yorker and loved the tale of a high-powered lawyer descending into madness. The film is faithful to the story and Bryan Cranston brings a knockout performance to a movie that happens almost wholly in the deteriorating mind of the protagonist. My advice is to start with the story, then watch Cranston bring it to life.

THE NUMBER ONES

Tom Breihan of Stereogum writes one of the best music columns right now. He is reviewing “every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958.” Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday he goes deep on one song’s background, merits and historical context in an effort to understand why a particular track became the biggest song in the country. Plus, he rates all of them on a scale from 1-10. While I may not always agree with every assessment, I look forward to each installment. Right now he’s trapped in 1983 working his way back to the future. Let’s hope he can keep this Herculean effort going. Like so many online outlets Stereogum is fighting to keep the business afloat. If you’re interested you can lend a hand right here.

EXP TV

I am at a loss as to how to describe the supreme weirdness of EXP TV, a new streaming site that has me mesmerized. Perhaps a 1979 post-punk version of Robot Chicken might be the closest I can get and I am still miles away. Dangerous Minds called it a “freaktastic new video channel (that) will rip your face off and eat your brain.” Combining old commercials, chunks of forgotten low budget movies, bits and pieces of public access tv, insane music videos and so much more amazing cultural detritus, it’s a mind boggling random acid barrage of words, images and music.

I ADVANCE MASKED

A week ago the two masks I ordered finally arrived and this week I scored one at my local Fleet Feet. I am thrilled to hide my aging mug behind masks honoring Sonic Youth’s Sonic Nurse and Dave Pell’s always incisive and insightful NextDraft. It may be summer and it’s easy to forget that there are 50,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day. Cover that beautiful face, please.

***Bonus Thing***

MAGIC SPOON CEREAL

I love sweet cereal, but I try to avoid it. It’s far too easy to destroy a box in one sitting, leaving me in a stupor of bloat, sugar buzz and self loathing. It took half a lifetime to find the answer. For the past few months I’ve been enjoying the loopy goodness from cereal disruptor Magic Spoon and their high protein, low sugar, low carb cereals, It’s mail order only and not inexpensive, yet when I unload those bright, cartoonish boxes I forget the cost and dig in. My three year old is a big fan as well. Excuse me while we share a box and live to tell the tale.

Enjoy the weekend and I will be back bext week with more stuff that made my week special.

My Favorite Music of 2017

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NEW STUFF
Snapped Ankles – Come Play the Trees
William Basinski – A Shadow in Time
GAS – Narkopop
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Forest Swords – Compassion
Robert Aiki Aubrey Low – Two Orb Reel
Kara-Lis Coverdale – Grafts
Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage
Sarah Davachi – All My Circles Run
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – On the Echoing Green
Fred Thomas – Changer
Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
Fever Ray – Plunge
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Corridor – Supermercado
The Doomed Bird of Providence – Burrowed into the Soft Sky
Circuit des Yeux – Reaching for Indigo
MXLX – Kicking Away at the Decrepit Walls Til the Beautiful Sunshine Blisters Thru the Cracks
Transcendence Orchestra – Modern Methods for Ancient Rituals
Bardo Pond – Under the Pines
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Maxwell Sterling – Hollywood Medieval
Richard Dawson – Peasant
This is the Kit – Moonshine Freeze
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Feed the Rats

COMPILATIONS, REISSUES & REDISCOVERIES
Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane
Michelle Mercure – Eye Chant
Common – Electric Circus
Minnie Riperton – Perfect Angel
The Absolute Clock- The Absolute Clock
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live
Augustus Pablo – King David’s Melody – Classic Instrumentals and Dubs
Biosphere – Substrata/Cirque
John Coltrane – Trane: The Atlantic Collection
Isaac Hayes – The Spirit of Memphis
K. Leimer – Land of Look Behind
Various Artists – Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power
Raymond Scott – Manhattan Research Inc/Three Willow Park
Swans – Great Annihilator
C-Schulz – Fruhe Jahre
Yasuaki Shimizu – Kakashi
Patrick Cowley – Afternooners/School Daze
Drexciya – Grava 4
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Water Witches
The Jam – 1977
Kraftwerk – 3-D The Catalogue
Husker Du – Savage Young Du
GAS – Konigsforst/Pop/Zauderberg/Oktember
Richard Horowitz – Eros in Arabia
Laraaji – Ambient 3: Day of Radiance

Is This Useful?

“Is this useful?” That was a question posed by Joseph Goldstein in one of the meditations offered on 10% Happier.

While he was referring to the thoughts and feelings that constantly tug at our focus and divert us from being present in our own lives, I would extend that question to the multitude of digital distractions at our fingertips.

Dozens of times a day I pick up my phone and fall headlong into a compulsive search for the tiniest hit of digital dopamine while neglecting everything right on front of me. It’s an addiction. Even now as I write the faint glow of my phone is tantalizing me into grabbing it just in case anything monumental has occurred in the last five minutes.

For several years I often wondered what I had done all day. I couldn’t remember, yet I felt so overwhelmed and busy. What was I so busy doing? I was buried in my phone. My time evaporated with each bit I shaved off for social media, games, apps and email. All those slivers add up into hours, days, weeks…

Click by click I was serving time in a self-imposed digital prison. I could have used that time growing or making or living or building or reading or loving or talking or walking or writing. Instead I was fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming the Foursquare Mayor of the Ralph Kramden Statue.

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I can’t stop using my phone. Complete abstention is impossible. But I can modify my behavior and change the relationship. I can set limits and curtail the empty minutes and hours wasted.

Below are just a few things I do to limit my time online and on my phone. Rigorous pruning of my daily digital commitment has yielded powerful results. Sometimes it means tough choices, but I guarantee the time and freedom gained make up for the low-calorie enjoyment lost.

  • Unsubscribe from email lists.
  • Delete unnecessary apps.
  • Turn off all sounds and notifications.
  • Don’t take phone to meetings or the bathroom.
  • Close time wasting browser windows.
  • Drop RSS feeds.
  • At home, leave the phone in another room.

So what is useful in my life? You may notice I write frequently about six daily habits or practices that I have instituted over the last few years. All of these require putting down the phone and reclaiming my day.

Meditation. I take ten to fifteen minutes to sit and do nothing. The sense of calm and well being I feel most days is a direct result of meditation. It stops the negative chattering in my head and reinforces the good things.

Exercise. I lose weight, tension and stress. I gain strength, confidence and calm. With regular exercise, I feel sharper, more focused, and better prepared to handle the challenges of the day. It can be as easy as a short walk or as hard as I want to make it.

Read More

Just Start

starting-line

Everyday I sit down to write. I rarely begin with an idea burning a hole in my brain. I’ve got nothing and I just start writing. If I am lucky an idea starts to come together. For me the process requires constant, repetitive, disciplined work. If I show up, the good ideas follow. It’s the work that creates the inspiration.

Eventually words become sentences become paragraphs and I don’t stop until I hit at least 750 words. I’ve stuck with it for two years. What began as a broken New Year’s resolution to write more has become a daily habit.

Just start. That mantra has been key for me the last few years in everything I do. Just write. Just run. Just meditate. Just exercise. JUST FUCKING START!

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I’ve got a serious inertia problem. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest or in motion will remain at rest or in motion until acted upon by an equal or greater force. When my fat ass is parked on the couch eating Oreos, I blame Newton. At rest I am immovable, but in motion I can be unstoppable.

I pretended for decades that I was a writer, but never wrote a damn thing. I fussed over having the right tools. I set up a WordPress blog. I bought dictation software. I downloaded countless writing and productivity apps. I manicured my social media presence. But I still wasn’t writing.

One of my 2015 resolutions was to write more. I signed up for a series of daily writing prompts. It helped to a point, but it was a half measure. It wasn’t until February 8th of that year when I signed up for 750words that I made a commitment to change a habit. On that day I made the decision to JUST START.

Just starting every day took so much effort at first. I focused on one day at a time for a week, two weeks, a month, three months, six months and then a year. Somewhere along the way it became a habit, an almost instinctual part of what I do every day. Now the momentum of two years of daily writing is behind me, rocketing me forward. I will keep on writing because the pressure to continue is greater than the pressure to stop.

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This month I made the commitment to up the ante and publish every single day. I appreciate everyone who has read, liked, commented and offered feedback and support. I’ve missed one day because I was falling asleep at my desk drooling onto the keyboard. I failed to finish, but I started.

I would rather fail to finish than fail to start.

I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)

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Apparently This Means Stop

Cutting hard between two taxis, I accelerated to avoid a collision. As I veered across the blacktop I may have used salty language requesting a panel van driver pick a lane or kindly move aside. I shifted into a higher gear and hammered the pedals, breaking into the bike lane that opens up near Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue. The signal at 10th Street turned yellow, then red. Ignoring everything I learned in Driver’s Education, I roared through the light. I had places to go and things to do. Move it, people!

The well hidden cop who stepped out from behind an SUV and asked that I kindly stop was not aware of my plans. After I failed his lighthearted quiz as to why I so brazenly broke the rules of the road, he asked for my license and left me there to ponder the error of my ways. While I looked back on my extensive life of bicycle-related crime, countless cyclists blew through the same light and their freedom mocked my predicament. A few minutes later the kind officer came back with my consolation prize, a $190 ticket.

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You’ve Been a Bad Boy!

Here’s the deal. I broke the law. I ran a red light right in front of a cop. I’ve been riding Citibike for almost 4 years. With 1,400 miles and 1,200 rides under my belt I was due for a ticket. I had become a hardcore bike criminal, running red lights at every opportunity, ignoring the flow of traffic when it suited my needs, cutting in front of cars and crossing traffic illegally, even riding on sidewalks.

I rode without regard to most laws in order to get to where I wanted to go as quickly as possible. That’s the beauty of cycling in the city. Get there now! No traffic jams. No sweaty subway platforms. No waiting for cabs. Just jump on and go. Amortized, it costs me 40 or 50 cents per ride. It’s the only way to travel in Manhattan.

But then I got busted. Good for me. I deserved it and I paid my debt to society.

It’s odd that I am such an aggressive cyclist while I am a conservative driver. I rarely go faster than the cars around me. I stop for red lights and follow the signs. Everything I am as a driver is everything I am not as a cyclist.

What is the difference between breaking the rules as a rider or as a driver? There are real consequences as a driver. If I drove like I ride I would have lost my license long ago and priced myself out of affordable auto insurance. That doesn’t even count the possible accidents and risk of severe injury or death. It is as if two different people exist in my regard for the laws on NYC streets. There is Dr. Jekyll the driver, upholder of the law and Mr. Hyde the rider, flaunter of all rules.

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So what does this say about me? Am I an honest person who gets out of control on a bike? Or am I a highly deceitful individual who only conforms to the rules he is afraid to break? Does this behavior extend beyond cars and bikes? Maybe I am just a bad man whose only constraint is fear of consequences. Perhaps I would live a life of crime if I knew I could get away with it. If it weren’t for those meddling rules. But I digress.

After I pocketed the ticket and jumped back on the bike I couldn’t wait to blow through some lights, break some laws and vent some anger on the way uptown. However, I made a decison. Play by the rules. No more tickets. No more two-wheeled crime sprees. Now, I wait for all the lights, stay off the sidewalks and proceed only in the correct direction on one way streets. I’ve become a law abiding rider, noticing two things right away.

One, I am a much more relaxed cyclist. I worried my usual routes would take so much longer when I followed the rules. While adding a negligible amount of time, it gave me the gift of calm. I’ve become less aggressive and enjoy the peaceful pace. No insanity and I get there just the same.

Two, as cyclists we are our own worst enemies. Wonder why cabbies, pedestrians, truck drivers and cars hate us? Perhaps it is because we ride like jerks. We weave in and out, blasting through red lights and stop signs. We go the wrong way on one way streets and ride on the sidewalks if it gets us there faster. Yet, we are the first to bitch if someone cuts us off or doesn’t see us.

Getting a ticket knocked a little sense into me. I don’t own the streets and neither do cars or pedestrians. We share it. If we want the city, the police, other drivers and pedestrians to take us seriously and respect our rights as cyclists we need to change the way we share the road. If not, there’s a $190 ticket out there with your name on it.

 

Carrots, Apples and Pears, Oh My! Weight Watchers, Part 1

fresh_cut_fruits_and_vegetables

It’s What’s For Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Grapefruit, kale, strawberries, lemons, limes, chia seeds, protein bars, tofu, almond milk, coffee with skim, sugar free jello. Mmm, that’s pretty much my diet these days. You might notice the distinct lack of anything fun or indulgent or even that satisfying.

Welcome to Weight Watchers.

On the last Saturday of August I made a commitment to lose weight. My muffin top (and muffin bottom) had been troubling me for a few years. I spent 2009 through 2012 wearing pants that were too tight and vanity prevented me from jumping to a 38 inch waist. At one point I weighed in at career high 248.

The tipping point was running races. I was putting in 20-25 miles a week and racing once or twice a month. With all my training I assumed I had lost more than just a few pounds, but my race times were slowing down. My advancing years could account for some of the sluggishness I felt on hills, but there was more to it. I decided to weigh myself for the first time in over a year and was shocked to see I was still carting 238 pounds around. Damn.

I can’t just sort of lose weight in the same way that I can just sort of do anything. I need to go all in or it won’t happen. Half-assed isn’t the path to success for me. I was primed for action. Enter Weight Watchers. They had a decent deal going so I signed up. Downloading the app, I realized there was no turning back. This was the push I needed. I was on the edge and now my momentum was heading in the right direction.

Entering my details online, I received 41 SmartPoints per day plus 42 weekly points to use as I saw fit. I also could earn extra FitPoints through exercise. In case you are wondering, a single fast food meal can devour all those SmartPoints and not even fill you up.

I did Weight Watchers about a dozen years ago and it was a little different. Back then just about everything counted against me. Today I can eat all the fruit and vegetables I want, plus protein is a good bet. Sugar, oil and carbs are pretty much no-nos. I can eat them, but they aren’t worth the points. Goodbye bread, butter and breakfast cereal!

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Teeth Not Required

The NutriBullet I received for my birthday has played a big role in my program. Every morning I toss a bunch of fruit, almond milk, greens and protein powder into a cup and blend it up for a perfect low calorie breakfast smoothie. Some nights I return for a dinner bullet with greens, tomatoes, hot sauce, lemon and whatever else sounds good. They aren’t always as delicious, but they fill me up. Some days it seems I hardly use my teeth at all as my meals now come in liquid form. Yum!

My strategy is to preserve FitPoints by eating a low point breakfast and a medium point lunch so I can eat a decent dinner. Three nights a week we’ve been cooking Blue Apron and those are pretty satisfying after a long day of apple slices and crudité. Occasionally I indulge with a slice of pizza or a bagel, but most days are pretty simple and kind of boring.

At first I was starving. Then I was always a little bit hungry. Now it’s just what I do. It sounds torturous, but you get used to it. I make sure I have a lot of point-free snacks so I don’t want to splurge on a box of cookies or a half dozen doughnuts. Dessert has all but disappeared from my life as has most processed sugar.

That’s what is key about Weight Watchers. It forces me to track and think about everything I eat. At some point soon I will hit my goal and have to figure out a sensible compromise between complete deprivation and eating everything in sight. The real trick will be learning how to keep it off.

So far it’s been six months. How much have I lost? The answer in Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

No Use Crying Over Spilled Goldfish

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My three year old experienced a significant personal setback earlier today. His special treat after a swimming lesson was a baggie of rainbow goldfish, perhaps his favorite food of all time. As we braved the frozen hellscape the weather forecasters referred to as a wintry mix, he was engaged in what amounts to gleeful multitasking for young boys. While munching his brightly hued salty snacks he was pelting dad with ice rocks and splashing through each and every puddle in his path.

As he became fully engrossed in demolishing a rather deep pop-up pond on the sidewalk, he neglected to notice the precarious position of his goldfish and they escaped the confines of the baggie and returned to the sea. A great horrified howl arose behind me and I saw the smiling little piscine shapes bloating in the cold dirty water. He cried bitter tears of great suffering and loss as if there were no consolation for his disintegrating snacks.

It was a bittersweet moment and it is easy to laugh a little at his plight. We’ve all lost an ice cream cone in the dirt or seen our freshly jellied toast land delicious side down on the floor. Yet, his pain was intense and very real. For a few moments he grieved with such profound sadness. There was no future. Everything was gone.

Despite his disbelief, there was another serving of goldfish waiting at home. Once we ditched our boots and warmed our hands he had a small bowlful to feast upon. With renewed joy he shoveled them into his gullet moments after we returned.

His predicament provokes comparison to my own horror when faced with setbacks and challenges. There are times when my suffering is very real and I shed tears and see no light in the darkness. This is the end. This failure is the ultimate failure. All possibility has been crushed. This loss ends everything.

But wait.

I’ve learned the only answer is to stand up, dust myself off and move on. There is an ample supply of goldfish waiting in the cupboard. I can’t save those who drowned in the puddle, but I can accept their loss, grieve for the snack that could have been and make my way back home.

 

Is Cooking a Secret Key to Productivity?

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For an hour I was in my kitchen engaged in a frenzy of synchronized motion, focused solely on cooking dinner. Just a man, his knives and a frying pan. Everything else faded into the background. It was a Blue Apron night and I tackled fresh linguine pasta with roasted fennel and garlic breadcrumbs.

First, I prepped the ingredients. Slicing an aromatic fennel bulb into thin slivers, I readied it for roasting. I zested and deseeded a lemon, then minced and mashed fresh garlic. The last step was chopping castelvetrano olives. I am in perfect harmony with my knife and cutting board intoxicated by the sounds and smells.

No fingers were lost in the preparation of this meal.

Then, the cooking began in earnest. The fennel roasted while I browned butter to make garlic breadcrumbs. Once the breadcrumbs were toasted to a nice golden brown I prepared the sauce, combining the lemon juice and zest with olive oil. My fresh linguine finished boiling on the back burner. Coating my al dente pasta with the sauce, it was ready to plate.

While I cook I never fail to disparage the dish until it all comes together. At the last moment I realized how good it would be. When I nestled a hearty dollop of lemon ricotta atop the pasta and garnished it with chopped green olives and homemade breadcrumbs, I knew it was a home run.

Minutes later it was gone. We destroyed it.

I love cooking, but life and kids and work and chores and more kids pretty much get in the way. My go-to approaches for meal preparation are either something frozen from Trader Joe’s in the microwave or something else from a menu delivered to my front door. Sure, I might get fancy and make real food on the weekend, but burritos take just minutes from freezer to plate to my gaping maw, so the stove doesn’t get much action.

Then, my beautiful fiancée scored me three nights of Blue Apron per week. They do the hard work of getting the ingredients to my kitchen along with a recipe. It’s up to me to slice, dice, roast, stir, sauté and beat those fixings into something resembling dinner. In just four months I have rediscovered the sheer delight and serenity of cooking.

The process of creating something delicious while under pressure to pull it all together is an adrenaline rush. Hammering through the prep work while whisking a sauce and caramelizing onions demands perfect timing. One mistake and my hard work could end up in the compost. I love making it happen and seeing the results.

After a few months of stretching my culinary abilities (as well as my gustatory limits) I realize several things I demand as a cook also ring true in how I maximize my productivity in life and at work.

No Distractions. I am at my best when I can concentrate fully and put all my focus into the task at hand. I don’t mind quick conversations or interruptions, but I’m working. Cooking demands full attention or food burns, sauces curdle and dinner suffers. I want to be fully engaged and immersed in preparing the best meal I can.

Clear Space, Clear Head. Some thrive in a cluttered space. Not me. The kitchen island must be empty, the dishes washed and the counters clear. When I can chop all my ingredients, arrange them in bowls while I am preparing everything with ample workspace and plenty of clean dishes, that is a little bit of heaven.

The Right Tools Matter. I want the right tools for the job. Sharp knives, good pans, utensils within reach, all sizes of measuring spoons and a full set of measuring cups. Plus, I want my tools organized and always in the same place. That’s all.

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The Best Christmas Gifts Ever

Preparation, Practice & Repetition. Prepping ingredients is key to a successful meal. The sight of several colorful bowls of vegetables, herbs and other ingredients all perfectly chopped is so satisfying. A few months ago I worked slowly and meticulously. The details matter and I wanted to do it right. Through sheer repetition my skills have improved and now I speed through the process. I have a long way to go to master the kitchen, but I’ve begun to deploy my growing proficiency on non-Blue Apron nights.

Prioritize. This is the balancing act, the make or break part of the cooking process. The more I sauté, stir and roast, the more I learn to juggle several tasks simultaneously. The rote functions have become instinctual and I have it down to a science (with occasional laboratory explosions). Some days it all flows and I can push all parts of the dish forward without missing a beat.

Presentation Is Everything. It might taste great, but if it looks terrible I’ve failed. This is why focus on every step to get to this point matters. All my work is wasted unless that dish pops off the plate and says “Eat Me!”

Clean Up Your Mess And Do It All Again Tomorrow.
Sink, soap, sponge, drainer. Leave no trace. Need I say more?