Resistance just makes me hard

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Maintain and Improve My Fitness For Life (read all 11 entries…)
Results Are In

I have the results back from my recent physical last week. I was pronounced in good health, good blood sugar, excellent blood pressure, no prostate issues (except for the actual exam, which I really don’t like), triglygerides normal. Only area of concern is my weight and cholesterol.

My overall cholestrol count is 198. The HDL is on the low side at 32 (should be 40 or above) and my LDL is 147 (should be below 130). This is always frustrating because I am generally careful about what I eat. But the numbers don’t lie, so I have to go back and re-examine my diet for hidden cholestrerol contributors. I also have to remember that my family history includes high cholestrol and arterial sclerosis, so some factors will be hard to control externally, if at all.

Maintain and Improve My Fitness For Life (read all 11 entries…)

This past week I’ve been very dilligent about drinking my daily ration of water on schedule. The good ol’ timer chirps every two hours from 8am to 10pm and I have to down my half-consumed bottle from the previous time period and crack a new one.

Right now I’m consuming just about 128 oz a day, which is about a 400% increase from my normal average. I do feel more energized at times, and I also feel full and not hungry. I also feel bloated during the day for an hour or so after drinking my 16 oz portion. Maybe the remaining effects are yet to kick in.

One effect is constant and rather annoying. The water is certainly doing its job as a flush agent. Seems like I have to go to the bathroom about once every 30 minutes now. And when I have to go… I have to GO!! This is okay if I am really effectively flushing out toxins and waste and bad stuff from my system. But it can be inconvenient when I’m trying to get anything done. Some event schedules make it very difficult to just leave the team, even for a few minutes. And having to do the potty dance at the front door with the keys after a 45 minute drive home is vaguely ridiculous. I’m now one of those guys who looks for the bathroom before he looks at the menu at a restaurant. I’m building my routines around access to a toilet. I wonder if this will level out after a time, or if it is something I am going to have to deal with as a trade off for better and healthier hydration.

I… oops, gotta go…

Change the Energy (read all 49 entries…)
A Spoonful of Vinegar

Glancing back through these entries I read one that I made in March of last year. In it I made some predictions about where I intended to be 12 months later. I forgot about my intentions, and over the next few months of that year, things went from poor to bad to worse. Then, some things began to pan out and life began to look up. A year after that entry I was not only working again, I had been promoted and given a raise. My marriage recovered, my wife’s health improved, we streamlined our finances and recovered our savings, although not to the point of doubling them the way I had bragged to her we would. That would take another six months. Not only did my friendships change, but the rules for who could be my friend changed. A year later everything was coming up rosey.

Except I was deeply unsatisfied.

I knew I would be unhappy about somethings. The job was not what I wanted and it didn’t make me happy. I saw it as a stepping stone, something to stabilize us as I strived on towards another job that seemed much more promising. The trade-off of losing some friends was that I also lost the deeply personal connection I’d made with them. The other job never materialized and I went into a very low emotional state of mind. I was succeeding at my current job beyond their wildest expectations, and they were about as grateful as a bunch of goats eating popcorn.

In the midst of this I put myself on trial, bore witness against myself for my crimes and shortcomings. I persecuted and prosecuted myself and my life and choices up to that point. I was at the point of deciding that my life was pretty much washed up and I would never be any happier in the long run than I was at this time (and that was pretty damned unhappy). I would never be a better person, a better employee, a better husband, a better friend, certainly never be a better father. I should accept what I was, was my internal judgement, and stop trying to be someone better, some idealized version of myself.

Hear the tolling of the bells – Iron bells! What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

Then, quite unexpectedly and unanticipated, some helpful people flowed back into my life. I had cleared the deck, so to speak, of some unhelpful people, hoping to make room for new friends. What I got was a handful of old friends whom I had not seen or talked with in a long time. There was no reason for us to have connected again. Things just lined up and made it possible. One friend worked tirelessly with me to improve my positive mental process. She took me through the old routines, but more importantly, she managed to reach my on an emotional and spiritual level. She reminded me that the choices I make every day (good or bad) nullify every choice I made before (good or bad). “How successful do you think you’d be at trying to change something that cannot be changed?” she asked me. No very successful, I admitted. “Then why try to change the past? It’s written, it’s done, it’s unchangable. Regret is just recognizing you made the wrong choice. It’s trying to reverse-engineer a decision. It can’t be done. What you have the power to change is what happens from here on.” She didn’t mean I could suddenly have everything under control, even the uncontrollables, but that my state of discontent was totally within in my purview to change. I read her books and listened to her CDs. I didn’t buy into them, but I let them buy into me. A little bit at a time, they penetrated my thoughts and spirit. I learned about being “never not broken” and how the bitter pill is often what I need the most. I started thinking and dreaming differently again. Too raw and bruised to be hopeful and excited, but desiring some kind of change.

In a few weeks things improved greatly. I got a job I enjoy very much from a source I absolutely didn’t expect. I feel back on track with everything else in my life and a new consciousness in the way I make choices. By year’s end we will have increased our annual income by 25%, be closer on the path to our goals, and I believe we will be happier and more complete than we have been in all of our 10 years of marriage. I don’t think everything will be perfect, but I think I will be making the choices everyday that push things in the right direction, and by doing so, nullify all those poor choices that came before.

And now my special friend is out of my life again. I don’t know when I will see her again, and she is notoriously bad at email and FB. She’s gone to Canada on a whim. She’s going to teach snow skiing despite having very little experience in the field. Her argument is that she doesn’t have to be very good, only a little better than the people she is teaching. Her’s is definitely a life of no regrets.

I could have tried to make myself happy with the situation I was in. I could have ground down my feelings and stuck with the job I hated and the people who were stifling me. I could have put roses on it and been grateful for every soul-sucking moment of it. But it just wasn’t right. Maybe I needed a spoonful of vinegar to make what came next taste all the sweeter. Maybe I needed a period of time where everything was right on the outside but still unfulfilling, to make me push on towards something better, although I could not see what the better was. I haven’t figured that part of it out yet. And I don’t know what comes next. I just want to make a choice every day that moves me farther along the path that feels right.

15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
15 Minute Yoga

This morning I restarted a routine I used to do with on and off regularity. I take my yoga mat and go outside and perform 15 minutes worth of sun salutations. I do this either predawn or right at sunrise. I don’t do it naked, but in a way, because I am outside, I do have to overcome feelings of exposure and vulnerability. I wear only the exercise shorts I work out in, however. The reason for that is that I used to do this in Florida, and in the summer it was hot, even at 6am. Later, I did it to as a means to discipline myself and keep my focus. I sun salutated on the back patio in Florida, on the wood deck of my landlord’s apartment in Maryland, next to the hotel pool in Pennsylvania, next to a lake in Utah, in the canyons behind our hotel in Wyoming, and in the green area of my apartment complex in Atlanta. I did this (when I did it purposefully and regularly) every day, rain or shine, snow or wind, 80 degrees of 20 degrees. The guys I worked with and stayed at the hotels with would often make fun of me as they headed off to the convenience store for breakfast. When I told them that doing yoga in just a pair of shorts in 35 degree weather with snow all around improved the libido, they started asking more questions than making jokes. Under any circumstances, they usually steered clear of the crazy guy headed back to his room at daylight after stretching in his drawers, steam roiling off his skin in the December predawn. It gave me a perception of being unpredictable that I used to my advantage.

I don’t need to do that now, however. I just need a good kick-start to my morning, to feel limbered and loosened and purposeful. My back patio is pretty private, and the sun is not yet up when I start. 15 minutes, followed by a nice, cool 16 oz of water, then I begin my day. I am going to do this everyday for the next 72 days, until the end of the year. I will see then if I feel it is being beneficial and decide if I want to keep up the routine.

Take 20 Pictures of Myself (and S. when possible) Someplace I've Never Been Before (read all 3 entries…)
Washington Farm

Okay, this is childish. But it is also irresistable! They have a slide to enter the corn maze! We went on a Sunday afternoon and had our annual ritual of getting lost in a field of corn, following the twists and turns and markers. Lots of fun.

The slide is made up of pvc rollers, and is actually not a very comfortable ride…

October Bootcamp 2012: Living vibrantly and harvesting my goals before they fall (read all 6 entries…)
Corn Mazing, Brain Dazing

This past week has been pretty good. I had two successful events and got a lot of other work done as well. More time cleaning the kitchen which is improving the vibe of the place. A clean kitchen is a happy kitchen, even if the dishteam is not happy cleaning it at the time.

I took Friday off except for a chocolate-covered strawberry display I made for a bachlorette party. I worked that into my list of other chores. I think it turned out okay, but with more practice and more materials I think I can do much better.

Friday evening our good friend Linda came over for dinner and we had an excellent meal and an excellent time. She is definitely one of the five people I need to raise my average. She has an amazing spirit and is certainly vibrant.

Saturday I worked all day and for a while I was feeling stressed. My guys weren’t working as fast as I wanted them to, one burned the chocolate that was on a water bath right next to him because he failed to notice all the water had boiled out, and the other took about 2 1/2 hours to make 140 salads. I was waiting for Dulce to arrive and rescue us, because my time-line was getting more and more delayed, but she was an hour and a half late because of all the commotion going on around the Susan Komen Walk that was happening downtown.

Somewhere between looking at the clock, checking my phone, checking my timeline, and mentally urging my guys to pick up the pace, I stopped and mentally took a couple of deep breaths and said to myself: “It’s going to be alright. It’s goooooing to beeee alllllrighhhht…” Dulce finally arrive and I was able to get everyone to kick it in and get done on time. The evening went very well dispite a little front of the house disorder and the fact that I had to put Dulce on my station while I jumped over to the risotto station to bail my guy out who was hopelessly backed up. The event was a commitment ceremony between two men, and to a degree I guess I was expecting a more eccentric group of guests. But it turned out to be the kind of people you’d see at any wedding, albeit a few more well-dressed and good-looking guys. The event came of well and everyone seemed happy.

Today I spent the day with S. and we drove over to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery in Conyers. They have a nice little store there with gourmet foods, and I bought a bottle of maple syrup that had been aged 2 years in bourbon casks (it was 50% off), and the monk there gave me a bottle of chardonnay vinegar for free after I agreed to buy a bag of their fair trade coffee. S. bought another bonsai in her endless attempts to get one to live longer than a year in her care. From there we took a leisurely drive to Washington Farm in Walton County, where we wandered through pumpkin patches, shot corn cobs from a cannon, let loose a pumpkin catapult, chased goats and chickens, wandered their corn maze, and took front row seats at a good ol’ fashioned pig race. Little pigs with racing stripes ran around a track, leaped into a trough of water and swam to the other end, and crossed the finish line while people cheered and clapped. We left there and had a nice dinner and a nice wander through the bookstore before coming home. Fall, and October especially, has been pretty good.

This past week has been about rising to the challenges and overcoming them. I feel I’ve done well, but not “pretty” well. In other words, I’ve achieved some stuff in a very sloppy way. I’m harvesting success, but in a forager-gather kind of way, not a seed planting, garden-tending kind of way. I’m pefectly okay with handling things that come up on the fly, but some things caught me off guard because I should have been prepared for them and I wasn’t. I am starting to build a better life by doing little habits repeatedly every day. I’m hoping to fill my basket with enough positive and progressive habits as to edge out the bad ones. Next week is slower at work, and I will have more time to get re-organized now that I have some experience in what the day-to-days and event scheduling looks like. As much external work as I have been doing on everything around me, I need to take some time and do some internal work as well.

Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 28 entries…)
Reunion Dinner

Our friend Linda came over on Friday night. We haven’t seen her in a long time, and she admits she is just now begining to poke her head out after a couple of years of baby-induced isolation. We’d planned just a little get together, to let her finally see our house, to catch up, and to enjoy a nice meal. Dinner was pretty simple, and took me about two hours to put together. I did all the main work before she arrived so we could concentrate of socializing as I finished a little sauteeing. Then we were able to sit down and enjoy good food and good company.

I started with a Kabocha Squash Bisque, drizzled with Sage Oil. I like using kabocha over butternut squash for a couple of reasons. The flesh, once roasted, seem smoother and finer to me. It purees perfectly. It is also less sweet and has a richer, nuttier flavor. It takes flavors like curry and chili and melds wonderfully. I made this bisque with just a little butter, cream, coriander, cayenne, and rice wine vinegar. The sage oil was just crushed sage leaves seeped in warmed olive oil until infused.

Our next course was a miso/sake glazed ahi tuna, seared and sliced over a roll of sushi rice, with a pile of wakame seaweed salad and honey-chili avocado relish. The relish was super simple: I diced some avocado, sprinkled with a touch of salt, and drizzled a blend of honey and chili powder, then tossed. Because of its nature, honey will prevent an avocado from oxidizing the same as lemon juice, and it provides a great alternative flavor. For fun and flourish I added a rambutan(that spiny-looking thing) to each plate. The fruit was a nice palate cleanser after the dish.

After that I finished off the sushi grade grilled salmon, dusted with cumin, coriander, chili powder and garlic, and set it atop the creamed leeks, celeriac, and red onions. I usually match celeriac up with salmon these days, and generally it is pureed, as with mashed potatoes. But this time I shredded it and creamed it with the leeks and onions. The results were very pleasing. I topped the salmon with a spoonfull of heirloom tomato/dijon mustard salsa spiked with a little white balsamic vinegar.

All of that would probably have been enough, but I went one dish farther and did a red wine/balsamic braised short rib (I used a piece of chuck flap, which works excellently for braising). I sliced some king trumpet mushrooms and braised them in the beef’s liquid for about 20 minutes, then reduced and strained the braising liquid to make a sauce. I oven roasted tiny tri-color potatoes with oil, garlic, and smoked salt, and sauteed a bunch of red swiss chard. The meat came out fork tender, the potatoes were perfect, the chard provided a nice bitter bite back against the somewhat sweet sauce, and the mushrooms added a beefy complement to the short ribs. Of course the beef and sauce were very dark, as were the mushrooms and the chard. Not the best photo, but it tasted darn good, for sure.

We retired to the living room for more catching up and dessert. A simple yet flavorful Caramel Vanilla Creme Panna Cotta, with Caramelized Seckle Pear and an Amarena Cherry. I made the caramel sauce for the bottom of the dish, and let it set up in the fridge, but bein impatient I added the panna cotta too soon and it melted and combined. Still, very good. A little too stiff, however. I cut back the gelatin quantity by 1/3 from the recomended amount, because I was making the panna cotta with 36% heavy cream. It was still a bit too much, since the panna cotta was not as smooth and spoonable as I wanted. Flavors were all there, anyway.

State My Intentions (read all 6 entries…)
Fix It, Break It, Fix It Again

I’ve spent a good deal of my first month on the new job bringing things back to a status quo, or to a sufferable minimum. I have made no ill remarks about my predecessor, but I haven’t had to. The changes have been evident to everyone who comes through the kitchen and everyone remarks positively on them. I am also executing events successfully using menus I haven’t worked with, but have to create because that’s what was sold. Basically things were both at a standstill and a downward slide when I came in, with no structure, organization, order or disciplines. I have spent almost a month fixing that. Right down to making a daily “to-do” list for the dishwashers regarding their job requirements. I was asked to do this by the Assistant General Manager, so it could be used as a training tool to help them improve. Of the 8 point list I made, the #1 item was: When they wash a dish or a glass or silverware or pot or pan, make sure all the food comes off before they put it away. If it still has food stuck to it, it is not clean, no matter how many times it went through the dishwasher (seriously had someone try to tell me they washed a pan 3X and it just wouldn’t come clean, so they just figured it would never come clean, and put it on the shelf to be reused). So I have fixed a lot of what was broken.

But if I want to make my own mark, I am going to have to go back and break a lot of things over again. Habits, for one thing. But more importantly, perceptions. There needs to be a strong break in the organizational set-up of the kitchen, but there also has to be a stylistic change. I am working with menus created by two of the most recent chefs. I’m fully competent to execute all of them, but I want to introduce my own menus, concepts, style and creative energies. This is not something I have been able to do because of the required transition period, making everyone comfortable and not shaking things up too much. But the honeymoon is approaching an end and everyone is still in love, so now is the time to break the comfortable stance everyone is in and rebuild.

I feel good about knocking things down and building things up again, partly because I’m working to embrace the concepts of being “never not broken”. Being in flux, being at times undefined and unpredictable, has a lot of value right now. And I know in my heart that the only thing that would keep me on a rigid path is fear of slipping off, fear of making a mistake, fear of exposing my lack of skills or knowledge… Fear, basically. It is not change I should be afraid of, it is stagnation and consistancy. It is not the unexpected, but the predictable I fear. In the unexpected there is great opportunity and growth and excitement. Predictable is the opposite of all that. What I feel will benefit me the most now is the freedom of impermanence, the sense of breaking it all down and choosing what gets reconstructed.

There are other parts of my life I feel like this is a good tactic to have. I cannot and will not wreck my whole life and routine just to try and reassemble it. Some permanence and consistancy is nice and beneficial right now. There is a certain demoralization that comes over me after the reaching of certain high-energy achievements. It’s almost like a fugue where I wander aimlessly, lacking a sense of purpose or direction. I’m not allowing that to happen anymore (to the extent I can control such things). Or, more correctly, I am allowing it to happen, but to realize that when I’m at that point that is the most creative, powerful, unlimited and effective I can be. It isn’t when I don’t know what comes next that should distress or scare me, it is when I do know. When I do know, I’ve reached my limits. When things are broken and the routines upset and the rails jumped… that is when I can become unlimited. When I’m unlimited, nothing is unimaginable or impossible. I shouldn’t worry about not feeling like I have a purpose or point or milepost to reach. I should be glad that I have the opportunity to choose what comes next without guidelines, expectations or definintions.

So, in my work and career, I am not content to just rebuild the walls and fortify the ramparts and get my workplace back to normal. I have to rattle the bars, tear down the walls, breach the barricades that lock me into conventionality, predictability, and safety. And from that rubble rebuild the form and structure as I see it, without limits, with an eye that nothing that lives and grows is permanent. This is true for other parts of my life, too.

Conversation Starters (read all 5 entries…)

A woman who works with my wife moved in with her boyfriend last week. My wife saw her yesterday and spoke with her briefly, just trading hellos.

This morning my wife was called in to perform a cardio-echo on the young woman so Lifelink could determine the viability of her heart for transplant. Sometime last night her boyfriend shot her in the head. While she was declared brain-dead, her body was sustained so that her vital organs could be harvested for transplant, in accordance with her/her family’s wishes.

The woman was 25 years old.

Try the 5BX Fitness Plan - 11 min/day, no equipment (read all 4 entries…)
Easy To Do

And easy not to do.

The 5BX Fitness plan is a set of very basic exercises (one is compelled to call them “calisthenics” and have visions of Jack LaLanne in his stretch shirt and stretch pants doing high steps and arm swirls) that were designed to help maintain a degree of physical fitness when A) Equipment was at its most basic, B) Time was a factor and extended sets of exercise were not practical, and C) Motivation was not exactly peaking. It was designed to whip the Canadian Air Force back into shape when 1/3 of their pilots were considered too overweight and out of shape to effectively fly their planes. And who can blame the poor pilots? It’s Canada, after all. Until the US runs out of wood, nobody’s going to be invading, and certainly not offering aerial combat over the Arctic Circle. All the same, the routines that were established for the pilots became very popular in the civilian market and were probably very beneficial as well. George Burns claimed to follow the routine and he lived to be 100, cigars and all.

5BX – 5 Basic Exercises – offers 6 levels of effort for the 5 basic exercises, which are always done in the same order. Starting at level 1 and progressing up each level is supposed to provide a reasonable level of fitness for the average person, and can be accomplished in about 11 minutes. And really, aren’t we mostly just average people, with about 11 minutes to spare? The exercises aren’t difficult; we probably all did a variation of them in P.E. class. There is sun-salutation-style stretch and touching of toes to start, crunches (it used to be sit-ups, but most programs go with the safer and more effective crunches), Superman-style back arches (again the caveat that there are safer, less stressful alternatives), pushups, and running in place (or going for a walk or run). Do this every day for 11 minutes, and it is supposed to improve your flexibility, your strength, help you lose weight, and be more fit. Once you get to a maintenance level, you only need to do it three times a week to maintain the advantages. All you need is a bit of floor space and 11 minutes. Easy to do.

And… easy not to do. What is 11 minutes going to benefit me? I need something that is going to “torch the fat off my midsection” like the Muscle&Fitness programs promise, and the ones that want to melt fat away in 30 minutes a day, and OMG do you see how fit Paul Ryan is and you know he uses P90X and all. I want to lose 12 pounds in 14 days, I want to reprogram my Caveman body, I want to eat my way to fitness… I want an exercise routine that asks me with every 3am infomercial “Are you tough enough for the Spartan/Templar/Marines workout?” 11 minutes is nothing. I spend 11 minutes coming up with reasons not to work out. I spend 11 minutes deleting email or listening to voicemail or thawing bread from the freezer to sop up bacon grease from the skillet with. 5 exercises that don’t target my lats or isolate my rhomboids and take less time than it takes me to drink a 64-oz super slurpee, brainfreeze included? No 11-minute exercise is going to help me, I need hours of exercise.

That is how part of my mind thinks about it, anyway. And that is why I roll through routine after routine without getting the results I want, I think. If I look at it more closely, 11 minutes a day of some kind of exercise is 77 minutes in a week. Over an hour of exercise per week. Over two hours in two weeks. Five and a half hours in a month, 66 hours in a year. Can I truthfully say I’ve devoted 66 hours in the last year to fitness and exercise, and had the kind of results I wanted? Or do I put in a hard 35-40 hours in a month, then slack off for six weeks, then spend 5 hours regaining lost ground, then put in another 10, then fall off again…? And these exercises only offer to provide a baseline of fitness. I can always increase diversity and effort from there. The exercises themselves are set up to be increasingly difficult, but there is always a stage from which a person can continue doing them regularly. They don’t require days of layoffs to heal and build muscle, they don’t require power fuel to push through those last reps. They require 11 minutes, roughly the time it takes for The Weather Channel to cycle through the local report. So, why do I fight the idea of a low-stress, effective, equipment-free, time-saver workout?

Because in my mind I should sweat, I should pant, I should shake and ache and limp away from exercises. I shouldn’t be done in 11 minutes. This from the guy who will just not buy what he came to the store for if it means standing line behind more than 3 people. From the guy who still uses a timer to see how fast he can peel and dice 50 lbs of potatoes or breakdown a case of chickens. I should jump up and down that there is an effective routine that only takes 11 minutes of my day to perform. It is exactly the kind of 80/20 percentage I seek to include in my life. Thing is, it is only effective when compounded upon day after day of routine. And I hate to wait.

I wouldn’t see loss right away, I wouldn’t see improvements right away. I wouldn’t hurt or burn or stiffen or limp. It might take weeks, or months, to feel like I was making progress. But the fact is that the progress would be there, it would have been built by small, dedicated, compounded efforts and choices. Those days and months and year are going to pass by whether I establish a basic routine or not. 11 short minutes and 5 basic exercises might do more to benefit me over the course of a year than any other single thing I might do, or might not do.

October Bootcamp 2012: Living vibrantly and harvesting my goals before they fall (read all 6 entries…)
Autumn Reds

After a busy week of parties and prep, I gave myself Friday off and just opted for self-indulgence. I ran a few chores in the morning that I had been needing to get done, but then I took some advantage of the lovely day and drove up to Lake Allatoona near Red Top Mountain State Park. I went to a boat rental place and checked out the possibility of a late season rental, in case I can confince S. to follow-up on her conquest of aquaphobia and take a boat ride with me in a couple of weeks. While there I walked around the woods and enjoyed the coolness and quiet. The leaves are turning here, shimmering bright and vibrant. I took a photo of the lake, framed by ruby leaves. I sat by the lake for 15 minutes doing absolutely nothing.

That night we went to the Rocky Horror Picture show with some friends. This weekend is Gay Pride Weekend in Atlanta. Lots of vibrant and unhampered energy in the theater that night. We were out until about 3am. We came home and I mixed up a dough for a challah loaf I needed for work on Saturday. I had meant to make it early on Friday but it didn’t happen, so I mixed it and let it rise for a couple of hours while I slept. I got up and punched it down once, then went back to bed.

Shortly thereafter we got up and I cut and braided the dough and let it retard in the fridge. S. was participating in an art show on Saturday, so I packed up the tables, tent, chairs, boxes and art stuff and helped her set up. We both enjoy the art shows because of the many eccentric and interesting people we meet there. I stayed a couple of hours then had to go and get ready for work.

I baked the challah while I was getting ready, then went and picked up my staff member who was helping me for the day. We got everything ready with an hour to spare, so we cleaned out the cooler and labeled all the product that had gotten missed. The party was a bah mitzvah so the guests were 95% teens who brought their own vibrant energy. It went very well and smoothly and everyone loved the food. We left an almost an hour before I had predicted and I got home in time to spend quality-time with S.

I rarely have time where I stop and appreciate the moment. I’m either analyzing the past, consumed by the present, or planning for the future. The last few days I made a goal to just sloooooowww down and take time to stop by a late, look at leaves, breath forest air. Enjoy a moment like this for what it is, not what I can try to make out of it. I thought to myself “These woods would be a good place for a run”, then checked that thought and realized they are just as good a place for a quiet walk, or a peaceful sit. I thought “It’s midnight, do I really have time to be at a theater with a bunch of dressed up weirdos?”, then stopped and realized I am one of those weirdos and its okay. Harvesting this goal is making me calmer, happier, and, in the end, more productive.

Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 28 entries…)
Caramel Candied Popcorn

One challenge I will have in the new job is letting go of some tasks and training/trusting others with doing them. I made some deeeee-licious candied popcorn the other day. It is a task that requires very little skill, but a great deal of attention. I considered handing over to one of my “exeperienced” event chefs, but they always scare me a little with their mercernary nature. They all – all – brag on their levels of skill and talent, and some are very talented. But the fact is, they are all hired guns, and they don’t all shoot straight. And Lord help ‘em if they have to innovate or substitute.

Caramel candy popcorn is easy: Pop your corn in a big kettle, caramelize some sugar, pour it over the popcorn, let it cool, break it apart. All very basic culinary steps. But you have to pay attention so that you don’t burn the popcorn (I’m amazed how many chefs cannot pop a kettle of popcorn on the stove without turning the kernels on the bottom to a charred ruin). You have to pay attention that you don’t burn your caramel sauce. Either item, once scorched, cannot have that burnt flavor teased out. You have to make sure you’ve mis en placed all your tools and gear when pouring the caramel over the popcorn, and to make sure you don’t get 320 degree sugar on your arms or hands. Oh, and you have to work quickly, something else event chefs are famous for not doing.

The batch I made came out super. I began experimenting with the next batch by adding food coloring to the sugar mix and pulling it at the hard-crack stage before pouring it over the popcorn. This gave me a range of green, orange, and lavendar-shaded candied popcorn (I have a daily discipline to act outside the box, to be creative and pursue unconventional solutions). Doing this project, I relied on both my instincts and my training/experience. I can instruct people on the techniques, what to look for and what to watch out for. I don’t know how to push that button of inspiration on others to get them to think and act outside the box. Most people are frightened at the idea of trying something that they don’t know will work. I was able to get some degree of chance-taking with my previous staff by giving them range to make mistakes and learn. They would suggest things and try things, knowing that even if it were a total cock-up, I wouldn’t flip out (as long as they could justify the process).

The guys I deal with now are endlessly telling me what they have done here, done there, done in the past, seen done by someone else. What I keep asking (and what I fail to get useable responses to) is “What have you never done? What have you thought, but not done?” I know it is possible to “share your vision” and be an inspiration to get people to think in creative ways. Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Oprah Winfrey, and many others are masters at this. It is a skill I have to train myself in first. Because the day will come where I won’t have an hour or two to knock out a batch of perfect caramel popcorn, and I will have to trust someone to prepare food with the same care and attention to detail that I have, and to go beyond what I ask and be amazingly creative.

I do make some killer caramel popcorn, though. And in colors!

Keep A Day Dream Journal (read all 9 entries…)
Wondering About Winter

Our last vacation was a nice treat, and it has made us hungry for another one. We are thinking more and more about managing “mini-vacations” inbetween our longer vacations. I think we both want to reach a point where taking off for a month would not be out of the question.

It is time to start casting around for a first of the year winter mini-vacation. In my business it is going to be very busy up until the end of December, then usually it drops off for a few weeks, so it would be a perfect time for me to cut out, unwind, and recharge. S. can use her flex-time to take a couple of days off around a weekend, so we can get up to four days off at a stretch with no real hardship.

With those limits, and with the prohibitive cost of trans-Atlantic airfare, we will do something in the states. Possibly Vermont or upstate New York. We want to do something wintery that involves snow.

There is almost a guilty reluctance to indulge this king of dream-planing. I’m going to squash that instinct, however. Time is already a factor but I do think that post-holiday travel deals might be in abundance in January. So I want to focus in on a locale and some activities and get the snowball rolling on this.

Maintain and Improve My Fitness For Life (read all 11 entries…)
It's Not That Hard

For two weeks I’ve been trying out different workout routines, trying to find one or two that accomodate my job schedule, and provide the range of fitness goals I’m trying to achieve. So far no luck finding one series of routines that works.

But, I’ve decided it doesn’t have to be this hard.

I was on one website that went through a range of impressive and vigorous exercises, and a thread of reader questions below included one person who asked “What muscles does this exercise target?” I found myself scrolling back up and looking to find the answer. And I decided that this shouldn’t be this hard. I am not sure what I need, but I don’t need a fad exercise that I will do a few times and never repeat due to complexity and difficulty. I don’t need to target a few specific muscles or isolate body parts.

There is a guy at work who has lost 70 pounds in the last year (I’ve watched his progress, so I know where he started from). He juggled a variety of diet and workout routines, some of which he readily admits were poorly conceived. He is now on a high protein diet and does a heavy weight routine for about an hour a day with a trainer. He says he feels 100% better, has more energy, and can think more clearly. All the women at work, even the slender and fit-looking ones, are getting into dieting and exercise and all were excited to learn that I had knowledge and experience in organic and raw foods (the last chef made a lot of fried foods and cheesy dishes for staff meals). They are all working on complex and convoluted eating patterns and hot yoga and kinetic polymetrics and what-all.

For me it just can’t be that hard. I won’t do it if it is that hard. I don’t think it has to be, either.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of a full-body calasthenic that is done pretty much full intensity and non-stop for 15 minutes. It goes against my convetional thinking that a 15 minute routine could be of much benefit but it has to be better than the 0 minute workout, or the 60 minute workout that is too complex to keep up with or do routinely. And 15 minutes can be a long time. I imagine doing squats non-stop for 15 minutes would be challenging. I imagine 15 minutes worth of pushups would accomplish something… I am going to start next week building a routine of intense, multi-muscle, face-paced workouts that are simple and adaptable. They also have to require as little equipment as possible, maybe just some dumbells and a Swiss ball (and a slosh pipe, of course!).

And I know I can find 15 minutes of time every day to do something. That is not too hard to do.

Be a 24/7 Vegan for October (read all 3 entries…)
Breakdown or Breakthrough?

I have been doing very well on my diet the last 10 days from an observance standard. Eating my fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and such. Avoiding meats and dairy except on days I’ve predetermined to be allowed.

In effectiveness I don’t think I’m doing very well, though. I can tell I am not consuming enough calories. I need enough to fuel my workouts and recovery, and to just sustain me through the day. Today I hit a brick wall of exhaustion and I know it is from not getting enough proper calories, and from dehydration. I worked a solid 12 hours yesterday, until midnight. That is not unusual for me. But the problem is I have trained myself to not eat during long stretches of work, and to binge on one large meal, sometimes very late in the day. I know this is counter productive to everything I want to accomplish. But it is a hard habit to overcome. That and I miss my coffee with sugar somethin’ awful.

My eating is fine, it is my eating strategies that are messing me up.

In trying to recover I have a couple of aims in mind:
  1. Keep a gallon jug of water in the cooler, set the timer on my phone to go off every two hours with a reminder to drink at least 16 oz of water. In 8 hours I can effectively drink 64 ounces which will help keep me hydrated and keep the energy up.
  2. Get some vegan powerbars. I don’t go in much for refined foods like ceral bars or powerbars. But given the inconsistancy of my work schedule, there’s a lot to be said for a 200 calorie bar that can just be unwrapped and eaten within a few minutes, no muss no fuss.
  3. Start the day with a vegan protein shake, end with the smallest meal of the day. That won’t be easy. Shakes take time, and I’m not a “spend time in the kitchen” kind of morning person. Still, I can try. Eating a small meal at the end of the day is going to be tough, since I’m used to that being my biggest meal. But if I want this to work, I guess I’m going to have to change more than just what I eat; I have to change how I eat as well.

I have also considered that part of my general feeling of exhaustion may come from the change in diet. I know that there is often a few days of “feeling icky” or sluggish as the body adapts to new calorie sources and nutritional fuel. With no more refined carbs or meats to power me up, it is entirely possible that some sort of crash was inevitable. Again, reflecting upon my eating habits as much as what I eat can see me through this.

And on the plus side I have lost 4 pounds since the 1st.

15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
Goal Refined

Changing the title of this goal to fall into alignment with one of my daily disciplines. That is to make, not find, 15 minutes each day to consciously and effectively address four needs.

Each day I have to spend 15 minutes doing something that I enjoy. This can be as frivolous as watcing fainting goats on YouTube, or something progressive and life-enhancing. I waste a lot of opportunity not doing things, even little, simple things I enjoy because somewhere in my busy schedule I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to some dedicated self-time. The truth is this isn’t something I earn, it is something I need, like a tiny vacation every day.
  • Today I started working on a Halloween shirt I want to have ready by Friday when we go out with friends.
The flip side of the coin is I have to spend 15 minutes every day doing something I don’t want to do. I frequently put onerous chores off as long as possible until they are twice as much work, and consume much more time and resources, as they would be if I just went ahead and did them. This is common-sense to most people but something I am often pathalogically resistant to. If I confine it to just 15 minutes, a couple of things usually happen: It turns out the task I’ve been avoiding because it would take too long only takes about 15 minutes to take care of; even if I don’t get it all done at once, it becomes more manageable in smaller bites; I find that putting in an extra 5 – 10 minutes to finish it up accomplishes more in the larger scheme than continually putting it off; I become aware how tasks I don’t want to deal with germinate and grow, and I’m better able to nip them before they become troublesome chores.
  • Today I finally got on the computer terminal upstairs and printed out all my upcoming events for the year. I discovered two things: There is a means to remote access the software from any internet-connected computer, and there is a way to mass print multiple events by only going throught the print procedure once. Two things that will make future efforts much easier and less time consuming for me.
15 minutes are set aside for doing something for someone else. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it is in fact a discipline I need polished and made aware of. I spend a lot of time doing things for other people with no awareness of how it affects my own scheduling. This can lead to abuse and neglect of my own goals when all I do is run around working on things for other people. At the same time, it is not unheard of for me to become very selfishly self-absorbed in my own needs and projects, to the exclusion of friends and family, even strangers. 15 minutes is not too long to spend doing something for someone else. And if 15 minutes is all I have, I am going to try and do it as effectively and timely as I can. In other words, it moves me from from thinking about ways to help someone else to actually taking action to help someone else.
  • Today I went online and ordered some jackets and pants for a member of my former staff. We don’t work together but she still asked me to place the order for her because the uniforms are more comfortable, better wearing, and cheaper than anyplace else she can find. Took me all of 8.5 minutes.
Finally, I have to take 15 minutes each day to do absolutely nothing. Take a brief quarter of an hour absent from phone, text, email, audiobook, conversation, contemplations, or any purposeful, mindful action. I’m not suggesting my mind is quiet during this time, but I am working more and more to be unfocused, to not dwell on any one thing. Not to fantasize, not to daydream, not to have conversations in my head, not to analyze the day past or the day coming… just sit there and be quiet. Timeout. The reasons can be multiple: I need to defuse, I need to let go, I need to release. Why must every waking moment be filled with an endless of progression of things to do? Why does every minute have to have a purpose? Let it go, unwind… see what might develop when when I am not bound up so tight.
  • Today after work I sat in the Jeep, engine, radio, everything off, for 15 minutes. I didn’t check the mirrors to make sure no one was approaching my vehicle, I didn’t watch people passing on the sidewalk at the end of the drive, I didn’t fiddle with stuff inside the car that needed tending. I sat there with my hands in my lap and my gaze aimed softly at the visor I pulled down. I did absolutely nothing but sit there and breathe. When 15 minutes was up I started the car and drove home, calm and relaxed even in the heavy traffic. Traffic will usually stress me, but not today.

I doubt I will keep an daily update here on my progress. But I do want to check in once or twice a week to record the thoughts, feelings, and opportunities that arise from following this discipline.

15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
15 Minute Solutions

As part of a daily practice of self discipline, I have taken on the challenge of spending one hour each day performing what I am calling “15 Minute Solutions”. For 15 minutes each day, I will take on the following tasks:

  1. Spend 15 minutes doing something that I want to do
  2. Spend 15 minutes doing something that I don’t want to do
  3. Spend 15 minutes doing something for someone else
  4. Spend 15 minutes doing nothing at all

The idea is to actually do some things that I have been putting off because “the time wasn’t right” or “I don’t have the time right now” or whatever excuse I dredge up. Using my phone’s timer, I program 15 minutes, then get to doing whatever it is I task myself with doing. I only have to do it for 15 minutes, even if it doesn’t get finished. At least I knock a chunk of it out, right? And quite often I believe the tasks can be done in 15 minutes, if I will dedicate that precious quarter-hour to the challenge.

Today I successfully tackled all my challenges. Only one item took me longer than 15 minutes – It took 22 minutes. Now that it is done, I can move it off my list of things to do that constantly get transferred, and move on to new tasks.

☑ Something I wanted to do: Read two short articles out of a magazine I bought over a month ago.

☑ Something I didn’t want to do: Cleaned the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher.

☑ Something for someone else: Wrote out the chef bio our marketing person has been asking about for two weeks.

☑ Do nothing at all: Layed on the floor in the middle of the office, hands clasped on my chest, eyes closed, not focusing on breathing or anything, just laying there (Now that 15 minutes seemed to go by quick!).

Follow The Code (read all 13 entries…)
The Six Disciplines
1. Start the day with a positive mental attitude
  • Arise with an affirmation
  • Do something positive and progressive for 10 minutes first thing in the morning
  • Set 1 positive intention for the day
  • Focus on confidence, opportunity, solutions, optimism and success
2. Have a clear agenda and timeline for the day
  • Decide what is important
  • Write it down, with a timeline
  • Set SMART Goals
  • Stick to the priorities, stay on track and schedule
3. Get the news for the day
  • Keep it brief
  • Keep it relevant
  • Learn something positive and helpful
  • Come up with 1 wonderful idea and write it down
4. Act outside the box
  • Be brave, push the boundries
  • Pursue unconventional solutions
  • Consider solutions from another discipline or industry
  • Go have some pie
5. Do the “15 Minute Solutions”
  • Spend 15 minutes doing something I want to do
  • Spend 15 minutes doing something I don’t want to do
  • Spend 15 minutes doing something someone else wants me to do
  • Spend 15 minutes doing nothing at all
6. Upon returning home, offer gratitude
  • Give thanks for a great day, no matter what happened
  • Give thanks for a place of retreat and rest
  • Leave all resentment, anger, complaints or negativity on the doorstep
  • Choose to associate with positive, helpful, progressive people

October Bootcamp 2012: Living vibrantly and harvesting my goals before they fall (read all 6 entries…)
Good Vibes

A nice second week at work. This job is turning out great and I’m really happy to have it, despite the disaster the kitchen was in when I came on board. We had two events this week that both went very well, and I got a fair amount of congratulations for my new position and for my food quality.

At the end of our first event I had some vanilla peach puree left over from one of the appetizers so I challenged the bar manager to come up with a cocktail featuring the puree. He thought about it for a while and came back with a pitcher of puree doctored with champagne, brandy, some kind of liqueur and a bit of bitters. He poured glasses for me and the ops manager and it was… vibrant. A nice mix that went down a little girly but still had a nice kick from the brandy. At the end of the second event we were closing down as the nightclub staff was coming in. The bar manager came around and took drink orders(since our event was over, it was cool). I told him to bring me a bourbon and coke and he asked what kind of coke (apparently they keep 5 flavors of coke behind the bar… how sweet is that?). I considered it for a nanosecond and told him the kind of coke I can’t taste. He obliged and brought me a throat burning triple of bourbon on ice. My friend who worked with me that night got a rum and coke, which was very rummy. The cocktail waitresses who work there have a uniform which is mostly corset, fishnet, heels and nylon briefs. They were very happy with me because I saved some strawberry tarts for them to enjoy, and then I doubled the pleasure by topping them with chocolate whipped cream. One gushed and told me “You are my god!”. I tried to take it with a grain of salt. My friend insisted on taking a phone-photo of me with my drink and a corsetted waitress on each arm to show the people at my old place of employment “what a mistake I’d made in leaving”. Vibing very high.

Today S. and I took advantage of shared days off and leisurely drove around town, enjoying the mild October day. We ended up at the Norcross Art Festival and even though we did not buy anything it was still pleasant to walk in the sunshine and admire the art work and crafts and guys selling double-paned windows. We went to a restaurant on the square because it was my meat day and I wanted a burger. We saw burgers on their menu but when we sat down our server told us that was just the lunch menu, which they stopped selling at 2pm. We got up to leave but the owner had overheard us and said he’d make a burger for me if that was what I wanted. I got a buger and a beer, and S. had them make a shrimp stromboli for her. Both meals were good and we got out for under $25.

The issue with the burger made me think of a goal I have floating out there to always try and find a way through. Over, around, or through. When they said they weren’t serving burgers, my first impulse was to get up, leave, and go find a place that did serve what I wanted. In hindsight, I should have asked first if, even though it was no longer lunch, would they make an exception and cook a burger for me anyway. If they had declined, I could have pushed and asked if there ever was a case in which they would make an exception. I’d have suggested our server talk it over with the owner or manager. I should have pushed (politely) to get what I wanted from this place, instead of getting up and going to look for it somewhere else. In other words, make them do the work of getting me what I wanted. I was able to harvest this goal today, but it was by accident more than design.

15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
I Will Clean The Flat Top

My new job is great, even though the previous chef left the kitchen a mess. Scratch that; from the look of it, the last three chefs have all had a hand in the long-term neglect. I’m changing that by degrees. My first week was almost all clean-up. My second week has been roughly half clean-up, some events and some administration. I’m planning a big “clean day” with the dishteam next week that will get us to a decent starting point where I don’t have to look around while I’m trying to focus on events and think to myself “My God… It’s full of grease!”

The bane of my cleaning efforts has been the flat top griddle. When I arrived (and for as long as I have worked there part time over the last year) it was seldom used, and layered in strata of grease and carbon. When I finally got to it on my list of things to do, I felt well armed with degreasers, carbonators, scrapers, grill bricks, griddle screens and flat top burnishers. I went to work like an archeologist removing centuries of build up on a relic. I wasn’t far wrong, when every person who came through the kitchen commented that they had never seen anyone try to clean the flat top, and as far as they knew, it had always been black.

I soaked it in degreaser for 1 hour, I went at it with the grill brick and the scraper, I followed up with the griddle screen. After an hour’s work it was nearly impossible to tell that I had done anything at all. I went back to work on it, angling to get one, tiny, dime-sized spot where metal shone through the shield of blackness. 30 minutes later I found the surface of the flat top. Progressively over the next three hours I alternately chipped away stone-hard layers of burnt on carbon, scrubbed and scrapped and polished, and used enough chemical to poison a small fish pond. I had, for my efforts, successfully cleared 90% of half of one side. (See photo above)

I went to Home Depot that night and bought a couple of wire wheels that attatched to my power drill. These are the kinds of things you use to remove layers of rust from steel, or take the paint of a car to get to the metal beneath. The next day I went to work on the flat top, protected by goggles and a vinyl apron, and wire-brushed the other half of the grill. Another three hours later and the whole top was 95% bare metal. I had ground and scrubbed and washed and chemicalized the top so much it lost all its seasoning, so the first things I cooked on it stuck. But it cooked hot, baby! Previously, it would have to be turned on full blast for about 45 minutes before it was useful to cook on, and then it cooked unevenly. Now, halfway on is fine, and heat distributes across it perfectly. Oh, and all that black grime and build up is not seasoning, as I had to point out to someone who said I was taking all the flavor off the griddle. Yeah, the flavor of burnt grease and charcoal, I answered.

For all my efforts, which were considerable, the griddle is still not 100% clear of baked on carbon. So, for 15 minutes a day I scrub and scrape and clean a dedicated portion, trying to get to all clean and polished metal. My friend came in to help me with a party Thursday. He was impressed with how clean the griddle was and how well it worked as we seared meat and made pancakes and omelets. Afterwards he volunteered to clean it up and I let him. He got the surface clean quickly, then began working away at the spots that still remained. I told him not to get obsessed, but he kept at it until the sweat ran down his face. After 30 minutes he had successfully cleaned a 3 inch area.

Eventually it will shine like a new piece of equipment (the whole kitchen will). It’s just going to take more work, in 15 minute increments. After that it will be simple maintenence. But until then…


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