Sunday, May 31, 2009

Snuggles for Stress Relief

Today is a big day for our family. After a year or two of promising our children that, when the family was ready, we'd consider adding cats and a dog to the family, today we made good.

My mother-in-law breeds Siamese cats and German Shepherds. One of her cats escaped into the neighborhood some months ago, and met a fella. The resulting litter of kittens are a mixed bunch, and all adorable. There were some short hairs, some long. Some striped, some solid colored. All with the characteristic Siamese large ears. Years and years ago, my wife and I had adopted two brothers of similar origin from my mother-in-law. Those cats (Jackson and Mogwai) were our companions and beloved friends for a long, long time.

Today, we brought home another pair of brothers. Here they are, snuggling together in the back of the carrier we brought them home in. I was, frankly, amazed by the ride home. I've never been on a car ride with cats that didn't have the kitties constantly meowing, stressed out by the odd motions. These two just cuddled up together, and rode it out like they'd been on the road for years. Of course, they probably just don't know any better yet...we'll see.

The little black one is Loki, named for the Norse god of mischief. He's curious and active, and we expect that, of the two of them, he'll be the one getting into trouble more. His striped brother is Thor. We played around with all kinds of names. Bert and Ernie. Wall-E and Mo. Jet-adiah (for Loki) and Malachi(te) (for Thor...he's striped, see?). But, in the end, we liked these simple names, that harkened back to our family's Viking ancestry. There are actually quite a few Thors, Olis and such in my family tree, I'm told. :-)

After a few hours huddled in their carrier, the two little guys are getting a little more comfortable here. A little. Here's Loki, cuddling with our younger daughter. Of the two, he seems to be the more comfortable around humans right now.

I'm sure Thor will get over the shock of transplantation to a new home and a new family soon. For now, though, he prefers the safety of his carrier, or the litter box. Hey, if I got to PICK the place a new kitten likes to hang out, the litter box would top the list. :-)

We're all thrilled to have these little guys join the family. I've missed the companionship of cats over the years since our previous pair of brothers passed on. I remember very fondly the feeling of a little ball of warm fur cuddled up on a cold winter night. The sense of calm they transmit when they settle down in your lap, wanting nothing but a little love and affection. My kids were too young to really remember these parts of having a cat. Mogwai and Jackson passed on when our eldest was still very young, and our middle child had just been born. We're all looking forward to getting to know these two little guys.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Much-Needed Rain

This morning, I took my younger daughter to her weekly ballet lesson, planning to go for a walk in the nearby park while I waited. I made one (of my usual two) circuits before the drizzle turned into light rain. My legs were still so sore that I couldn't get above a moderate walk without the quakes from each step shaking my quads painfully. So, I let Mother Nature and my body have their way, and sat out the second circuit. I found a bench under a balcony, and watched the rain fall.

There's a large airport near this park, and the planes fly low over the southern stretches on approach. Today, the clouds were hugging the tops of downtown's skyscrapers, and the planes left vapor trails as their lowered flaps squeezed the rain out of the air. The planes were so close than I could actually see these trails start to fall. Somewhere, right below the flight path, folks were probably getting little showers each time a plane came in to land.

Our back yard is beautiful under a sheen of water. The tips of each tall stalk of grass seed (I need to mow the lawn, badly) sparkle. The broccoli plant, somehow resisting the water, is covered in big droplets. The birds were AWOL, and I missed them, but the rain is very welcome here. We're suffering a multi-year drought. Even more rain would be a great thing.

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It was a nice weekend day around our house. We racked up a few long-standing household projects, ran some errands, and made a very nice dinner. Not bad.

I spent some quality time with our little boy today, teaching him to install cut-off valves on all of our showers. OK, not so much "teaching him" as "asking him to hand me stuff," but it was great fun.

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This evening, I engaged in a little "food therapy" again. I made a wonderful pureed asparagus soup, from a recipe by our very favorite TV chef, Jamie Oliver. Some onion, celery and leak gets sauteed, then in goes stock and the chopped stalks of a huge pile of asparagus. It boils for some time, until the asparagus is cooked nicely, then the lot gets pureed. Back into the pot, and in go the tips of all those asparagus spears. Once heated, it goes into bowls, along with a slice of toasted bread and a poached egg. Oh man. This recipe is a KEEPER. Thanks, Jamie.

But, I need a better phrase than "food therapy." I need something that blends one part organic fresh vegetables, one part making quality food for my family, and one part mind-calming knifework. "Vegi-tation" (Veggie + Meditation) would be good...if it weren't already a word. Come on,'re the verbal gymnast and punster extraordinaire...lend me a hand here. :-)

Food log:

Breakfast: a piece of French toast with strawberry jam instead of syrup. Strawberries.

Lunch: Half a Oro Blanco grapefruit (yum!). A carrot, cut into sticks, with some roasted red pepper hummus. A slice of whole grain toast with butter.

Dinner: asparagus soup, with toasted bread and a poached egg laid into the bowl right before serving. YUM.

Snacks: split a small bag of trail mix with my daughter. One Tagalong Girl Scout cookie.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Learning from my body, the hard way

I went to bed last night already feeling a little sore, after the workout of yesterday morning. When I woke up, the stiffness and painful muscles were in full effect. But, I figured a nice warming walk would help loosen me up. So, off I went for a thirty-minute rapid walk through the neighborhood. Hindi chants on the iPod. Birds chirping. Wind blowing the feather-light drizzle around. Very nice. And by the time I got home, this old body of mine was humming, and limber-ish.

Fast-forward to just before lunch. I was hobbling. Shuffling. Moving slowly on purpose, to nurse my sore muscles and trying to avoid pulling a muscle. But Yoga class was calling.

I almost didn't go. I thought it through. I worried about the possibility of hurting myself if I didn't take it easy. But...I figured...what the heck. I'll go. I'll take it slow. I'll stop if I start feeling any pain.

And for most of the class, it felt like I'd made the right call. I warmed up, I stretched, I kept up with the quickening intensity of our practice. Feeling' no pain.

But it wasn't the pain I should have been noticing. It was my energy level. By about forty minutes in, I was spent. Not in my mind. Not sleepy. My quads weren't burning. They weren't hurting. They were exhausted. I couldn't make my legs move they way I wanted them too anymore. They felt like almost dead weight. Yes, I pulled back. I slowed down. But it was too late already.

I left early from work today, heading for a couple of end-of-the-school-year events. My eldest daughter had a recorder recital (in which she played beautifully...she's REALLY coming along). My little son had a graduation ceremony (part of which was a talent show, during which he and his sisters sang a song they made proud of them). But before I could even get to these, I needed pain killers. I made it through. I enjoyed the festivities very much.

The little dose of Ibuprofin helped, but it's getting on toward bedtime, and it's going to be a sore, stiff night.

My father tried to warn me (thanks Dad). This whole exercise thing is still very new to me. I'm learning what my body can take, and what it can't. Unfortunately, I ignored the wisdom of my elders and had to let trial-and-error whip my butt.

I'm supposed to go for another walk tomorrow morning. We'll see. Right now, I feel like I've been run over. Twice. Right now, I'd rather BE run over than exercise more.

There is, however, a very shiny, very cool, silver lining to this stormy story. I weighed myself this morning. 222.6lbs. Which, my friends, is my lowest weight since...well, I don't know when. Lowest in years and years. Like, since college. Or possibly high school. I'm very, very proud of myself for this. I'm very, very motivated to keep this up and get down to a healthy weight. My body is sore, but I feel GREAT!

Food log:

Breakfast: half a bagel with cream cheese, fresh melon from our CSA box, blueberries from the farmer's market, and a glass of milk.

Lunch: leftover stir-fried tofu, bok choy, water chestnuts and rice. A dozen cherries.

Dinner: was had at the pot luck at my son's graduation ceremony: salad, a little hummus with carrots, some tuna and white bean salad (our contribution), two little meatballs and a very small slice of pizza. Also a chocolate-chip cookie and a meringue cookie. What can I was a good night to indulge a little.

Snacks: a carrot, with some roasted red pepper hummus. A cracker, and a small handful of raisins.


I came across this today, in the latest issue of Yoga Monthly:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
Not time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich the smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

"Leisure" by William Henry Davies

This captures, beautifully I think, one of the three pillars on which I'm building this healthier lifestyle. Exercise is one. Eating well is another. And calming the mind, taking time to notice the beauty of nature and life around me, learning to step outside the stress of the moment, to get beyond the panicked and heated response to a place where I can manage my mind's reactions, is the third.

I've always craved silence. I've always felt most alive in nature, where the world around me demands my attention and draws me away from the cares and concerns of the day. Since I was a child, certainly, but probably always.

I'm learning, slowly, to do that on purpose. To attend more closely to the pleasures of the moment, and to put anxiety in perspective by doing so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Training in Tranquility

I went into the gym this morning feeling grumpy. The economy is on my mind, and it's the season for annual performance evaluations at work. The budget is tight, and small differences in my evaluation could make big differences in the amount of money my family has on hand next year. But things are hard everywhere. I tried to remind myself that I was lucky to have a good job. That others have it much, much worse. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, though, I was tense and stressed and worried.

Exercise really, really, can help one's state of mind. When I finished my ten minute warm up on the treadmill, the thoughts were still with me. I started working out on the bench with dumbbells, doing reps much faster than normal. Angry, impatient lifts. Then something happened.

I'm not sure when. I don't remember a transition. I just realized, as I was finishing my third set and heading for the quiet of a side room to stretch, that my mind was at ease. I couldn't summon up the angst of an hour before at all. Not that I wanted to, really, but I tried, as an experiment. Couldn't do it. My mind and body were warm and quiet.

I almost skipped the gym this morning. I almost slept in, but got up early anyway and came in. Once at work, I almost went straight to the showers to seek solace in hot water and seclusion. But "Do a little more..." ran through my head and I got changed and started up the treadmill.

I'm so glad I did.

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While looking through friends' galleries on Facebook today, I found an image someone had created using an online tool at BeFunky. The site provides all kinds of tools to goof with an image. Some of the results are pretty fun.  This one looks like some of my favorite comic book art.

And this one? I wish I knew how to make ink drawings that looked this good.

I kept looking for the effect that would show me what I'll look like after I lose forty-five grapefruit, but couldn't find it.

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Food log:

Breakfast: Waldorf salad of berries, melon and walnuts dressed in yogurt, and about a cup of pineapple.

Lunch: A big salad, half a leftover breakfast sausage from our local grass-fed butcher shop, a few strawberries and blueberries.

Dinner: tofu, bok choy and water chestnut stir fry, with brown rice. A glass of nice merlot. Yummy.

Snacks: a dozen Rainier cherries

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Around the horn again

Last night I spent an hour or so doing "food therapy." I sauteed up some onions that we'd tried to grill up with some shishkebobs last week. The grilling didn't really caramelize them, so into the pan they went. I made up a nice big batch of roasted red pepper hummus, toasting the peppers over the flames of our gas range. I love making great food that's good for me.

No exercise today, I'm afraid. It's a crazy season at work and, despite my commitment to make exercise the priority, I spent my lunch hour at my desk, catching up on work. Tomorrow morning I'm hitting the gym. Time to start the end-of-the-week cycle of more intense exercise. Gym tomorrow, Yoga Friday, walks in the mornings of the next few days, and probably some intense compost shoveling this weekend. Aaaah.

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Food log:

Breakfast: granola with lots of strawberries

Lunch: sauteed onions, celery sticks with roasted red pepper hummus, leftover (lightly) breaded tilapia with peach-and-cilantro salsa.

Dinner: leftover chili, salad and half a piece of corn bread. A glass of milk.

Snacks: a snack sized Hershey's chocolate bar

Weight Watchers, 70's style

Weight Watchers, you've come a long way, baby (warning: the language is NOT appropriate for little ones, in places).

Go ahead, page through 'em all. I'll wait.

Sick. Funny, but sick. :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Self-image, and nailing the metaphor

So I just finished posting about the size of a pound of fat, and my waistline.  I drew certain unflattering analogies to describe my physique.  Didn't feel like I quite nailed it, but I KNEW the man in the mirror looked familiar:

I took the kids to see "Monsters vs Aliens" in 3D this past weekend.  We LOVED it.  Funny, funny, funny!  But I'm biased/twisted.  I watch a LOT of kids movies (With my kids.  No, really.), and they're the standard against which I'm judging this one.  Got kids?  Go see it.

Oh, and the President is voiced by one of my favorite comedians, Stephen Colbert.  Glad the man finally got a chance to hold an elected office :-)

Fat : Muscle :: Grapefruit : Baseballs

Some time ago, I was involved in Weight Watchers.  It's a great program, and I'd recommend it, but that's not why I'm writing this.

In one of those meetings, and again today, I stumbled across something interesting.

A pound of muscle is about the size of a baseball.
A pound of fat is about the size of a large grapefruit.

Also of interest is that a pound of muscle is 25x more efficient at burning calories than the pound of fat (which I find a suspect "statistic," as I wasn't aware that fat burned calories at all).  But here's the thing...

I figure I need to lose another 45 pounds or so.  That's FORTY-FIVE flippin' grapefruit I'm carrying around?  When I look in the mirror, OK, I don't like what I see.  My belly is large, merging into a pair of "love handles" seamlessly.  Ugh.  But I just can't imagine what I'd look like if I removed volume equal to forty five just doesn't seem possible.

But whatever.  I'm looking forward to finding out :-)

Exercise and Emotion

The long weekend was, on the one hand, restful and relaxing.  We spent a lot of time together, made some progress on some major household projects, and saw a number of good friends.  On the other hand, I was enjoying myself so much, and busy so often, that by the time the evening rolled around I was too pooped to post.

This little break from the blog gave me a reason to look back a bit.  Not just over the past few un-journaled days, but a bit farther into the recent past as well.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my progress on this journey.  My goal of getting down to 215lbs by the end of August is achievable.  I'm using an Excel spreadsheet to track my poundage, and I'm below the line I need to hit to make the goal.  So, I'm still not a big fan of the man in the mirror, but I'm heading in the right direction, at a safe and sustainable pace.

My eating habits have changed quite a bit.  The cravings have subsided, for the most part.  Today was a stressful day, and I certainly felt like hitting the vending machine for a blast of caffeine and/or chocolate.  But that urge was easily controlled.  I'd really rather eat an apple or a carrot than drink a soda these days.

I'm finding exercise fun, too.  I've had quite a lot of it over the past week, and I find myself looking forward to the next workout or walk.  My exercise schedule tends to focus the biggest effort near and through the end of the week.  Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem, by contrast, a little sluggish.  I think I might be reaching that state of exercise addiction one of you mentioned in the comments.

I'm noticing something interesting.  Exercise, for me, raises my emotions much closer to the surface than they normally are.  When I go for a walk and my mind is peaceful, I notice the birds, the wind and the sky.  That peace is amplified while I'm walking.  When my mind is troubled or stresses run high, I feel those stresses more intensely while I'm out there.

My Ashtanga yoga practice, in particular, seems to intensify my emotions.  Frequently, in the space of one practice session, I ride a roller coaster.  I can pass through troughs of frustration and depression, climb hills of elation and accomplishment, or surf the wave and find peace all in the same hour.  In part because my belly is still large and getting in my way, and in part because it's an intense class, I find that I usually feel a little depressed and sad after my class.  That feeling passes quickly, and I still very much enjoy the workout itself.  When I find I can do something I couldn't do before, or go deeper into a stretch than ever, the highs are very high.  But the lows are low indeed.

To be honest, I've remained skeptical of the more mystical claims one sometimes reads in association with yoga, meditation and similar practices.  But there's something there.  Something about an intense yoga workout seems to open up my floodgates in ways other exercise hasn't.

I went to my Anusara yoga class this morning.  The vibe is completely different in this "restorative" class.  The emphasis is on peace, tranquility, and stretches designed to loosen and limber.  The class is full of friends, all there for those same things.  I leave this class feeling friendship, peace, and relaxation.   On the other hand, I never work up a sweat or feel sore after these classes.

I'm really enjoying learning more about myself as I pay attention to how different kinds of exercise challenge me, and open up my body and my mind.

No food log today.  I ate well today, and for the past few days.  I've had some victories, resisting temptation and sticking to my food principles.  And I've indulged myself a couple of times.  But I'm feeling good, and making progress.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Running around, picking stuff up: a family entertainment

I got into the gym again this morning.  Two sets of upper body lifts, squats and crunches, with a ten minute warmup on the treadmill and bunch of stretching afterward, all to "Big Blue Ball."  I'm looking forward to the soreness tomorrow.

That's an interesting album, by the way.  Every once in a while, Peter Gabriel outfits a house with a bunch of recording spaces (in the basement, in the kitchen, out on the lawn, wherever they'll fit).  He invites a few dozen world class musicians, poets, and songwriters to the house for a few days, and music ensues.  "Big Blue Ball" is a selection of some of the songs recorded at these events over the years.  Lots of recognizable name musicians, and lots more talented players I've never heard of before.  The collaborations are fascinating too.  On one track, for instance, Papa Wembe's POWERFUL voice keeps pace with the Flamenco guitar of Juan CaƱizares.  So cool.  My favorite track is "Habibe." Natacha Atlas sings in sultry arabic, over a driving beat set by Hossam Ramzy's percussion.  Makes me want to dance.

Tonight was family game night.  We played a rousing game of Cadoo.  My son's favorite cards are the ones that make you run through the house looking for different things (e.g. "find something round that you can balance on your head long enough to recite the A, B, Cs").  On his turn, he'd clap his little hands when it was time to draw a card, then squeal when he got one of these "run around" cards (as he calls them).  Some cards make you act something out, others ask you to draw something, and there are a few other kinds.  "Run around" cards are a hit with our family, though.

Food log:

Breakfast: yogurt with fresh strawberries and blueberries and a little granola, and a separate bowl of fresh pineapple, melon and strawberries.

Lunch: leftover vegetarian Chow Fun, some Ranier cherries, a snack pack of M&Ms.

Dinner: skewered and grilled grass-fed beef, with onions from the garden and bell peppers and zucchini from our CSA. A glass of wine.

Snacks: nothing...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sometimes, the right thing to do is to say goodbye

For five years, I was a technical leader in one talented team of engineers.  Through shared deadlines, common goals and many lunches full of stories and humor, we all became good friends.

I stepped away from the team for a year, to try something new.  Then, as I became interested in a management career, the opportunity to lead half of the old team as their manager came my way.  I've been in my new role with the team for a year and a half now.

It's had its ups and downs.  The distance that the disparity of role creates surprised me, for instance.  I had to go from being their friend and down-in-the-trenches compatriot, to their leader.  Sometimes I've had to ask them to do things I would have grumbled about myself, when I was in their shoes.

But the upside is strong.  My favorite part of this job is helping people advance their own careers.  If I can make available an opportunity for one of them to stretch and grow, in a direction they're passionate about, I feel like I'm making it easier for them to achieve their own goals.  I feel like I'm helping to add value to their work lives and careers, to the strength of the team, and to the company.  There are other ways a manager adds value, but this one is most important to me.

I've had the pleasure of working for two managers who excelled at this.  It was their example, and their encouragement, that led me to pursue the management path after nearly two decades as a software engineer.

Today, the team went out to lunch, to honor one of our members, and pay respect to his departure from the team.  The gentleman leaving the team is a strong engineer, and a friend.  We're sad to see him go, because we'll miss working with him each day.  And it means the family is growing apart.

But, he's making a good move for his career.  He's interested in technical leadership, and the new position offers him a lot of opportunities to lead a small teams of engineers, and show what he can do.  He's interested in working more closely with our end users.  The new team will put him in very frequent contact with a tightly defined group of customers with big, compelling, solvable problems.  I'm excited for him.  I'm happy to have been some part of making this move possible.  I'm looking forward to watching him succeed in the new setting.

What's this got to do with getting healthy?  Not much, perhaps.  But today, the stresses and pressure of my job feel a little lighter.  The rewards feel a little richer.  It's important to notice and honor the things that make life, at work and at home, a little sweeter.  Food for the soul.

Food log:

Breakfast: 1c granola, 1% milk, strawberries and bananas

Lunch: half an order of vegetarian Chow Fun (spicy veggies with wide rice noodles).  Saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.

Dinner: caesar salad, three pieces of pizza at Mountain Mike's pizza, diet soda

Snacks: four crackers, six small slices of cheese

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Loss

Yesterday evening, our younger daughter's pet fish passed away. Patrick was a yellow beta, and had been with our daughter for almost two years. He'd been ailing for a week or so, and finally died just before bedtime last night. Our daughter was very upset, as you might imagine. Losing a pet is always difficult.  Losing your first pet is so, so hard.

I'm very proud of her. She took really good care of that fish, and loved it as much as a person can care for a little aquarium-dweller.

Her older sister was fantastic. She was there for her little sister, sitting with her arms wrapped around her as she cried, and bringing her favorite stuffed animals to her for a little extra comfort.

Tonight, we buried Patrick in the vegetable garden. His resting place is marked with a large stone, from those we dug up from the yard during a big landscaping project four years ago. Our daughter plans to paint a picture of her fish on the rock, with a memorial message. "I miss Patrick" is the front runner.

It's been a hard couple of days for our little girl. She's a deeply emotional and caring soul. She feels the loss intensely.

I want to be able to do something. To make it better. It's hard to have only words to offer at a time like this.

More pets will be joining the family in the near future. We're looking at kittens, and planning to give a home to a dog in a few months. But for now, that's out of our minds, replaced by the loss of our daughter's fishy friend.  The light in Patrick's tank is out.  The pump is silent.  We'll miss you, Patrick.

Food log (today):

Breakfast: "Waldorf salad" of apples, blueberries and bananas, with french vanilla yogurt and granola, spiked with ground flax seeds.

Lunch: steamed fresh veggies, and half a chicken breast, in some kind of salty buttermilk sauce, from the cafe at work. Not my favorite. Too salty.

Dinner: fried chicken salad, with beets and bleu cheese on romaine lettuce, with Honey Mustard dressing, and a slice of homemade bread with butter. We've been playing around with our Honey Mustard recipe. Here's the latest. We like it a lot. We make it in small batches, and keep it in the refrigerator to preserve the integrity of the olive oil.  Put everything in some suitable container, shake vigorously, and chill.
1/4c olive oil
1/4c honey
3T lemon juice
2T dijon mustard
Snack: Two Dove dark chocolate singles. A very small scoop of ice cream for dessert tonight, with a little whipped cream on top.

Food log (yesterday):

Breakfast: granola, 1% milk and some strawberries

Lunch: leftover salmon with lime zest and salt, leftover sauteed vegetables

Dinner: tuna and white bean salad, half a piece of homemade bread with butter

Snacks: another cupcake, an apple, two squares of dark chocolate

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vacation Mind

This morning, the family piled into the car, turned up the tunes, and drove up to nearby Mount Palomar. I've lived here for twenty-five years, with this amazing place almost in my backyard, and I've never been there before. The observatory is at about 5,000 feet, in a mixed forest of oaks and spruce. The dome is quite a sight.

Right outside the building, the forest falls back from a small field studded with little, fine-leaved ferns. I don't know what kind they are (Julia?), but I think they must be fairly rare. There are signs all over the grounds, and in the nearby State Park, warning visitors not to pick them.

The ferns are home to all kinds of local critters. We saw lots and lots of ladybugs, for instance.

This grasshopper was the only one we saw, but there must be more. When (s)he posed so nicely on the little piece of wood, I had to take it's picture. Gotta love that Macro mode.

But my favorite thing about these ferns is their "understory." "Understory" is a bit of a grand word for a plant less than two feet high.  But the deep dark beneath these densely snuggled plants looks like primeval forest, full of miniature mystery.

After walking the grounds for a while, we took a quick peak inside the observatory. The telescope itself it huge. The main mirror is 200 inches across. For eighty years, it was the largest telescope in the world. It's still in active use, with astronomers at the cameras on every clear night. It's quite a piece of engineering. We missed the guided tour, but happened to be sharing the gallery with a visiting astronomer from somewhere near Los Angeles, who had worked at Mt Palomar in the past and was a font of information.

We were up on the mountain to celebrate the birthday of my mother-in-law. After the observatory, we pulled up a picnic bench and dug into the cupcakes we'd brought. We had a really nice day, then headed home. A little way down the mountain, my wife suddenly exclaimed, "Hey, we're listening to the wrong music!" A quick CD change later, and Sheryl Crow was singing us down the winding road through the forest. Last year about this time, Sheryl Crow was the soundtrack to our trek through the redwoods in Northern California. One song into the album, with my family in the car and the road sidling back and forth, and Vacation Mind was in full effect.

Food log:

Breakfast: pancake with strawberry jam and ground flax seeds, cherries, and a glass of milk.

Lunch: half a peanut-butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread, blueberries, strawberries

Dinner: Home Town Buffet...yuck! Salad, bites of several dishes that were terrible, apple crumble with vanilla frozen yogurt, two pieces of fudge.

Snack: cupcake, and a few crackers

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Compost, and what you can make with it

For years now, we've been telling ourselves that, some day soon, we'd plant the rest of our garden beds, still empty after we re-landscaped our yard.  Today, we took the first step.  I rented a pickup, drove to the local landfill and bought four cubic yards of 60-day-aged compost.  That's two heaping pickup's full.  My wife and I got a GREAT sweaty workout shoveling all this brown gold into our driveway.  I'm going to be sore (again) tomorrow :-)

"The plan," this morning, was to go get the compost, then do a lot of spreading it around the yard in the afternoon.  Well, the best laid plans...  By the time we'd emptied the truck the second time, both of us were really, really tired.  We showered, then I lay down to watch a little TV in our bedroom.  Next thing I knew it was 5:30 and my wife was shaking me awake.  Thank you, dear.  I needed that nap.

This evening it was time for a little more knife therapy.  The box of produce from our CSA included still more chard this week.  So, of course, we had to make some more "Passato of vegetables, with chard and croutons."  Here's the pile of veggies, before the knife meditation turned them into nicely chopped piles.  Just seeing these amazing organic vegetables laid out like this makes my mouth water.

Tomorrow is a big day.  My mother-in-law is celebrating a birthday.  So the family will be meeting in a nearby state park, to tour the observatory there, hike a trail or two, maybe find a geocache, and eat cupcakes together.  We'll be bringing a camera.  Maybe I'll have some more photos to share tomorrow.

I really enjoyed making progress on the yard today, but I'm looking forward to spending some time outdoors without a shovel in my hand.  

Food log:

Breakfast:  more of the latest batch of sauteed squash, mushrooms, carrots and onions, cooked into a two-egg omelet with a little cheddar cheese.

Lunch: half a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread, an apple.

Dinner: chard soup, half a piece of home made bread with butter, half a grilled cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, a glass of milk.

Snacks: half a piece of pumpkin bread, more of those sauteed vegetables, this time heaped onto whole grain crackers as a spread, two Dove singles of dark chocolate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sweat hard, and prosper

I walked this morning, tuned in to the rest of "Hail to the Thief" on my iPod.  Something I feel like gregorian chants or japanese flute music.  Sometimes I have to have poetic lyrics to a syncopated beat.  With distortion.  And volume.

I'm sore, but it's a good sore.  I think I pushed myself just enough in the gym yesterday.  My arms, upper body and glutes are humming, but nothing is screaming.  A little yoga in front of the TV last night stretched the muscles out nicely, and this morning's walk warmed them up and opened them up.  Aaaah.

This afternoon, my team and I went to lunch together, then went to see Star Trek.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I'm sure many of you haven't seen it.  I really can't say much at all that wouldn't spoil SOMETHING for you.  So, I'll just say "Wow!"  No, really, "WOW!"  I enjoyed it very, very much.  I can't wait to see it again!  It's hard for me to know for sure...'cause, see, I'm a Trekkie...but I think it's a movie non-Trekkies would enjoy too.  Very action packed, great characters, and the story is clear and interesting.  I drove home wanting more.  What a nice afternoon.

Food log:

Breakfast: big bowl of "Waldorf salad" - apples, bananas and strawberries, a little yogurt, some granola, and some ground flax seeds.

Lunch: pizza out with the team, before we headed for the movie theater.

Dinner: salmon cakes, a big salad, and a glass of milk.

Snacks:  one Thin Mint cookie

Poundage in Pictures

On the way up in the elevator this morning, I noticed the photo on my badge for the first time in a long time.  Taken in 2003, when I joined my current company, it shows a very different me.  After a little digging, I found a few other photos that show a slow but fruitful progression of weight loss over the years.  There have been a lot of ups and downs, but overall, this makes me feel pretty darned good.

At my peak, I weighed 260lbs.  This photo is the one on my driver's license.  Sorry for the quality.  Really, I'm not trying to hide my girth through creative photo editing. This was taken with PhotoBooth on my Mac, which doesn't do well with macro photos of small things.  So, it's very blurry.  But, I think you'll be able to see that I could have been called "rotund," if you were in a kind mood.  "Ball shaped" comes to mind, too.

Here's me, the day I joined this company in 2003.  Again, the picture quality is down to PhotoBooth, and the fact that the picture on my badge is already very blurry.  

A little over a year later, I went to my 20th High School reunion.  Looking better, but still quite overweight.

Skip forward three years, to our summer vacation last year.  OK, not a lot of progress over that span of time.  Actually, I went through an emergency appendectomy, got a blood infection as a bonus, spent four days eating and drinking nothing except what came through the IV, and lost a TON of weight.  I think it was thirty-five pounds.  And then I put it all back on again.

And here I am today.  I weighed in this morning at 227.6.  That's down a bit from the holding pattern I've been in for the past week, so that feels terrific.  And I'm heading in the right direction, and enjoying it.  It feels sustainable.  I feel great.

I have a ways to go yet.  I haven't won the war.  But I'm winning battles each day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peace, through superior geekery

I got back to weight training for the first time since my illness this morning.  I turned up Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief" on my iPod, warmed up on the treadmill, then went through two sets of chest presses, tricep curls, bicep curls, assisted pullups, crunches and lunges.

I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but it feels great now.

Something is amiss out in the vegetable garden.  In the span of two days, three of our potato plants have wilted away to nothing but shriveled ex-plants.  We don't know what's wrong, but we're hoping like crazy that the other's will survive.  We're really looking forward to home grown spuds.

Tomorrow's a big day, when it comes to recreation and rejuvenation.  Yes, I'm going for my morning walk, but...the big event?  My team and I are going to see the new Star Trek movie.  I grew up watching Kirk, McCoy and Spock on our rabbit-eared television with my father.  When the network changed the air time from 8pm to 9pm, I moved the bed in my room so I could see down the hallway and watch it after I'd "gone to bed."  (Sorry, Dad).   I'm a big geeky sci-fi nerdboy, really, and I can't wait.

Food log:

Breakfast: After my workout this morning, I stopped by the cafe at work to see about breakfast.  Recently, the cafe has started featuring "Eat Right for Life" options at lunch.  Nice.  Well, this morning I discovered they'd added similar options for breakfast.  So, I had a small "Waldorf salad" or chopped apples, blueberries, strawberries and pecans, dressed with a little yogurt and topped with about 2T of granola.  Readers who've faithfully slogged through the food log portion of this blog will recognize this as a common breakfast I make for myself at home quite often.  I had no idea it had a name :-)

Lunch: about 3oz salmon with lime zest and salt, about 1c sauteed squash, carrots, onions and mushrooms, about a dozen cherries.

Snack: three small carrots, two squares of dark chocolate (four left!)

Dinner: Pad Thai, to which we added some stir-fried bok choy and carrots.  A glass of milk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sometimes, food is all the inspiration I need

I use this space to record all kinds of things, but they are share a common thread.  They are the things that inspire me. That motivate me.  That make me appreciate the life I live.  This blog is all about getting healthy. Happiness, and noticing the good things in life, are a big part of that.

But what about food?  It's often cast as the antagonist in stories about getting well.  But for me, preparing and eating great food is a source of joy.  If I were to start down a path of deprivation - of building a diet around the avoidance of foods - it wouldn't last.  I'd tire of it quickly, and grow depressed.

Yes, there are certain things I need to eat less of.  But I focus on those amazing foods that I should eat more of.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are at the top of that list.  The food part of my journey is about adjusting what I eat to focus on healthy, fresh, quality ingredients, grown or made with care, and prepared simply and well.

I'll give you an example, from this week's household menu.  Some months ago, my wife found a wonderful cookbook: "Vegetable Soups, from Deborah Madison's Kitchen."  We've tried a number of Deborah's recipes, and haven't found a bummer yet.  Our favorite so far is "Passato of Vegetables, with chard and croutons."  It's chock full of great veggies, and couldn't be simpler to make.

The recipe starts with some olive oil warming in the bottom of a large pot.  We use a cast iron dutch oven.  Into the hot oil goes a large pile of swiss chard, an onion, a carrot, a couple of celery ribs, a potato, a tomato and a garlic clove, all chopped into pieces.  On goes the lid, and it simmers and bubbles for half an hour.  Open the pot, enjoy the smell until you come out of your aroma coma, then puree in a blender with a little hot water.  Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.  Put it in bowls, add toasted bread croutons and parmesan cheese, then try not to eat it all before you reach the table.

We use fresh organic veggies, and my wife's homemade table bread for the croutons.  Most of the time that goes into this recipe is spent chopping veggies.  There's something very therapeutic about knifework.  I think it comes from the dire consequences should you lose focus.  There's no time to think about any of the stressors in your life while you're making sure it's only veggies getting diced.

So, great ingredients.  They make me feel good about what we're feeding our kids and ourselves.  Simple preparation.  The soup tastes amazing, and it's all due to the ingredients themselves.  No fancy sauces or tricky techniques.  Dead simple.  Take great ingredients and treat them with respect, and they'll reward you.  It's what makes Italian, Greek, and many others cuisines amazing.  It gives me great peace and a lot of satisfaction to eat such food.

There are some foods that give me pause, however.  For instance, I can't tell whether I should be feeling guilty and worried, or happy and content about my dark chocolate snack habit.  On the one hand, it dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate is good for high blood pressure and is high in antioxidants.  And it's just a little bit.  Two squares is about 140 calories, 8g fat, and 2g fiber.  On the other hand, that's 140 calories I don't NEED to eat.  And my weight is holding steady right now instead of falling.  I'm not sure why that is, but I think I'll finish the bar (three more days at this rate), then drop it and we'll see what happens for a while.

I believe in setting goals.  In writing them down, as a contract with yourself.  I've set myself a three-month fitness goal of losing sixteen more pounds by the end of July.  That's a healthy rate of 1.5 pounds per week.  I've created a little spreadsheet to track my progress with.  I'll keep you posted.

Food log:

Breakfast:  1c pumpkin and flax seed granola, 1% milk, 1T ground flax seeds, about six strawberries

Lunch:  1c passato of chard (it's a yummy chard soup, similar to split pea in consistency, and SUPER easy to make...I'll post the recipe here soon) with croutons from my wife's amazing bread, and grated parmesan.  An apple.  Half a dozen whole grain crackers with cheddar cheese.

Dinner: 6-8 ravioli with herbed tomato sauce, about 1.5c of sauteed squash, onions and shiitake mushrooms.  Two little round cookies made by the grandmother of one of the Girl Scouts...yummy!

Snacks:  two squares of dark chocolate, three (really) small carrots

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The rumors of this blog's demise...

...have been greatly exaggerated.

I've been away from the blog for a couple of days, distracted by life events.  All good things, but by the time the evening rolled around, I've chosen bed over writing an entry.  My energy around this blog was waning, too.  I think the lack of feedback (except from my wife, and from Julia...thanks a million, ladies!) was sapping my enthusiasm.  Then this morning I remembered that, really, this blog is for me.  It's a place to keep tabs on my energy level, my health, and to keep myself enthusiastic about the journey I'm on.

So...I'm back :-)

I'll start with a story.  My children like the movie Shrek.  They don't watch it all the time, or even often, but it's in the top twenty.  In the movie, after the credits, there's a great segment called something like "Shrek's Karaoke Dance Party" - a medley of all kinds of popular songs.

So tonight, we're in line at the ice cream parlor after dinner.  I'm talking to the young man behind the counter, placing our order, when my (nearly) four-year-old son tugs on the leg of my shorts.  "Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, d..."

"One second," I say to the ice cream man.  "Yes, William?"

"Uh...who let the dogs out?" he asks, all smiles.  The inflection was pure question.

I couldn't control the laughter.

Readers of Julia's (wonderful!) blog will recognize a trend here.  :-)

OK, on to current events.  This morning, after Yoga (aaaahhh), I arrived at the office to find that the cleaning crew had knocked one of my plants off the desk, shattering the pot.  It was a mistake, and they left me a very nice apology note, but the poor plant was in bad need of some soil, water, and a place to call home.  So, I shuffled a morning meeting to later, and went off to the local nursery.  I found a nice new pot, some organic potting soil and fertilizer, and a pretty new deskmate to sit beside the beat up victim of last night's de-shelving.  A little elbow grease later and the two plants are happily ensconced.  I had to trim off all of the foot-long leafy tendrils that had grown from the old plant (on the left).  Several had snapped off, and the others were bent and bruised.  So, the little plant's spent several hours with an exposed root ball, had a severe haircut, and a re-potting.  We'll see how it does.  I've got my fingers crossed.

Yesterday afternoon the sun was shining when I got home, and the kids had already finished their afternoon chores and homework.  So, the girls got their helmets and grabbed their scooters, and off we went for a nice fast walk/scoot, with my 3.9-year-old son in the jogging stroller.  OK, he's too old for a stroller, but we were going to go FAST.

I'd worried a little about the girls keeping up with me, but shouldn't have.  They were always WAY out in front.  I gave them some simple guidelines (don't go so far that I can't see you, don't cross any streets, and watch out for cars coming/going from driveways) and they did a great job.  After a few road crossings with Daddy in command, I gave them the helm, letting them make the call as to when we should cross.  Flawless.  They were very, very careful and kept a weather eye on traffic from every direction.  I'm very proud of them.  And, with the days already turning comfortably warm around here, I've just discovered a new way for all of us to get more exercise.  Happy, happy Daddy.

Sunday was Mother's Day.  The kids made some presents and cards for my wife, and I wrote out a longish note saying "Thank You!"  We have a great life, and my wife is a big part of making it all happen.  She leads both girls' Girl Scout troops.  She volunteers at their school on the fundraising committee.  She shows them, by example, how to plan healthy and tasty menus that keep us (mostly) out of restaurants and the processed food aisles at the grocery store.  She spends time with the kids baking bread and planting (and harvesting!) vegetables.  And really, even all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.  We have a good life, and because of her guidance and example, our kids are going to grow up knowing how to make a life like this for their children (our grandchildren...yikes!).

Yes, these things are all important to me too.  And yes, I help out a lot.  I'm no slouch in the kitchen, for instance.  But Sunday was the day to focus on her, and she deserves praise, and thanks, and loving hugs for all she does.

On Saturday we drove a couple of hours North, for our nephew's First Communion.  The Mass was beautiful, the party afterward lots of fun.  I spent an hour or two in the pool getting soaked and jumped on by the nieces and nephews, then another few hours catching up with my sister-in-law's family.  They're great people, and I always enjoy seeing them.

It feels good to be back at the keyboard, writing this blog. "Welcome home," he said to himself.

Food log (today):

Breakfast: oatmeal, with dried cranberries, dried coconut and pecans...just a little of each.

Lunch: an enchilada with tomatillo sauce, a small handful of cherries, one square dark chocolate.

Snack: an orange

Dinner: the insides of a pulled pork and cole slaw sandwich from a local BBQ place, and a Diet Coke.  I've given up soda, but forgot my water bottle tonight.  Oh well.

Food log (previous days):

Who remembers?  Missing a day or two's worth of food log is too bad, but not a big enough deal to wrack my brain too hard :-)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Priorities - there's theory, and then there's practice.

I spent all day in a planning meeting with my manager and the rest of my peers, working through and prioritizing the work we're planning for this year.  Our team is made up of about a dozen people, all of them vocal, all of them drivers.  It can make for active and engaged meetings, but they're exhausting too.  Especially when they're six hours long.

It also meant that I had to miss my Yoga class.  I am trying hard to make my exercise top priority, but sometimes it needs to take a back seat.  These meetings are rare, and strategically important.  Had to make the tradeoff today.

"In theory, theory and practice are the same.  In practice, they're not." - Lawrence Peter Berra

Food log:

Breakfast: an apple and a banana, dressed with yogurt and a little granola.

Snack: strawberries, pineapple and melon.  Three dark chocolate-covered strawberries.

Lunch: Grilled zucchini, peppers, carrots and onions.  Quino with peppers and tomatos.  greek salad with kalamata olives, feta and onions.  A little roasted red pepper hummus, but it was SO salty I just couldn't eat it.  Too bad...looked good when I put it on my plate.

Dinner: breakfast for dinner...the kids love this.  I made pancakes and bacon for them.  For myself, I put some leftover sauteed vegetables into an omelet with a little cheddar cheese.  And two slices of that bacon.  Yummy!  I made enough omelet to have the rest for breakfast tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Alliums and Aliens

We pulled the first onion of the season up by its dreadlocks this afternoon, diced it up and threw it in a hot pan. The variety is Granex, a short season sweet onion. Cutting this beauty up was an unusually tearless affair. After a good long sizzle, the onions were sweet, sweet, sweet. Our young girls even liked them.

Just behind the onions, our red potatoes are coming along nicely.  They need another few rounds of growing and mounding, but before long we'll be swimming in new potatoes.

These won't be our first potatoes of the year, however. Some months ago, my wife tossed some sprouted potatoes into the compost pile. A few apparently bounced free, buried themselves in just enough compost to take root, and proceeded to make babies. Once the greenery died off, we dug up the proceeds. We found about three dozen little volunteers. Some had turned green from too much sunlight (green potatoes will make you ill if eaten), but most were white and delicious.

The potatoes weren't all we found, however. My wife called me out to the yard, announcing that she'd unearthed an alien from outer space in the compost pile. After some homework and an consultutation with a friend at the local natural history museum, we're pretty sure this ugly beastie is a Jerusalem Cricket. Whatever.  I just call it creepy.

Some days ago I mentioned the Mourning Dove who'd built a nest and laid an egg in our yard. Mother Dove is long gone, and I'm sure the egg isn't viable, but I can't bring myself to take it from the nest.

Finally, a picture of one of the Black Phoebe chicks who have been learning to hunt insects in our yard. Sorry about the photo. I took it using the maximum digital zoom our camera could produce. I tried to get close enough to take a less enhanced (and, therefore, clearer) photo, but the Phoebe's are wisely wary of us lumbering humans.

Slippage, and Recovery

Yesterday morning, I was feeling pretty good. My illness is gone. The last couple of days at work had been good. But I had this sense of disquiet...unease...sadness. Something wasn't right.

Around lunchtime, I was supposed to go get some exercise. A fast walk through the neighborhood near my office. Instead, I surfed the web, looking for peace through distraction instead of where I'd really find it (outdoors, doing something good for myself). I couldn't find the motivatation.

Last night, we joined some of the other parents from my younger daughter's Girl Scout troop at a local pizza place for dinner. All you can eat night. The company was great, the conversation fun and interesting. But before I'd really thought about it I'd eaten way more than I should have (see below).

When we got home, I was feeling tired and sluggish. My waistline was tight. That old familiar heaviness was returning. I looked over my food log for the past week...

I think what happened was this. First, it's been a busy, busy week. The lead up to our daughter's First Communion was a lot of work in a short amount of time. The conference at work was great, but left my day job responsibilities to pile up. So stress was up. Second, the good news from my doctor, despite my commitment to stay focused on my goals, took some of the urgency out of my health situation. Third, I was getting a little tired of the life changes, especially feeling like I have to watch everything I eat. The result? Not so good. I've put a couple of pounds back on. Maybe that's just the natural side effect of coming off an illness, but it didn't feel good. My energy was low, and my motivation was slipping.

I went to bed thinking this over, feeling depressed. I couldn't face posting my daily update. I felt like I'd let myself down and, by proxy, you readers out there.

The good news is that I noticed this now.

So early this morning I re-read my early blog postings. I went for a good long walk in my neighborhood, chill music on my iPod, and I thought hard about what I was doing all this for in the first place. I remembered how good it felt to be getting healthier. And how good it felt to be making choices around what I needed, not what work needed. I realized that, as important as staying away from Diabetes and heart problems is, I won't stay motivated if I'm changing out of fear. Especially now that the fear is less immediate.

I need to focus on the benefits. The wellness I feel when I'm exercising regularly. The extra energy I have to play with my kids. The peace I can maintain more easily when I'm doing the right things to manage my stress (yoga, exercise, eating great food, getting lots of sleep, keeping up on my responsibilities, giving my family a good Dad and Husband). Being there, to see our children get married, and to play with our grandchildren. Being there, to do all those things in retirement that we don't have time for now.

Things are looking up again. Another walk in on the schedule for tomorrow morning, and I've got Ashtanga Yoga in the afternoon. I'm looking forward to it all, and that alone is a big, important difference.

Food log (today):

Breakfast: a cup of granola, 1/2 1% milk, one banana.

Lunch: collard greens, a small pork chop (about 3oz), half an orange.

Snack: half an orange, two squares of dark chocolate (Shoot! Need to get down to one a day, or less)

Dinner: one enchilada - corn tortilla, filled with boiled chicken and cheese, topped with a green tomatillo sauce and a little more cheese. Also sauteed assorted summer squash (from the farmer's market), carrots (from our CSA) and sweet onions (from our garden...the first onion harvest of the season!). And, guess what...our daughters both liked the onions. My wife really, really dislikes all onions, so this was something of a grand experiment.

Food log (yesterday):

Breakfast: a banana and an apple, dressed with a little yoghurt and granola. 1/4 of an orange.

Lunch: half a turkey-and-havarti sandwich, boiled collards, some rice

Dinner: five small pieces of Moutain Mike's pizza, 2c Caesar salad

Snacks: an apple, four whole grain crackers, two squares of dark chocolate

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Redwoods, and other peaceful places

In the comments about my vacation wish list post, Julia mentioned an upcoming trip to the Redwoods. I thought I'd share a few pictures from the road trip our family enjoyed through this kind of country this past summer.

I have many of these pictures in frames around my office. They remind of the peace and relaxation that were so much a part of our trip. A few minutes spent focused on these photos, daydreaming about the forests and beaches, and I'm relaxed and ready to get back to the job.

Jedediah Smith State Park is in Northern California, near the Oregon border. It's chock full of old growth redwoods, with miles of quiet hiking trails to enjoy. The road into the park is densely tree-lined, and beautiful in the coastal fog.

Once on foot, the understory is dense everywhere except on the trails. The light dims as you step under the canopy of the breathtaking giants.

Traveling South, the highway quickly snuggles up to the coast, passing by miles and miles of stunning beaches, and sleepy coastal towns.

Just past Fort Bragg, highway 128 cuts East through the hills and the last stretch of stunning redwoods. Just when you're stomach can't take another twisting turn, the road straightens out, the redwoods drop back from the road and turn into oaks, and the California Wine Country opens up in front of you.

The Oregon and California coast is one of my favorite places. We'll be back. Maybe we'll hit some of the other places on our destination wish list first, but we'll be back.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Forgetfulness, Art, and the Desert

After two weeks away, I went to my early morning Anusara Yoga class.  I'd so missed it.  The class is focused on restoring the mind and body through gentle stretches, held and deepened over the course of many breaths.  It's deeply, deeply relaxing.  Aaaaaaah.

I spent the day attending, virtually, day two of our internal development conference.  I won't bore you with the details, but hearing from so many interesting people, on topics that excite them, excites me.  I'm burning to try some of the things I learned about today.

My excitement about getting to Yoga, and getting to the conference, had a downside.  I missed my appointment with Orthopedics this morning.  This is very, very atypical of me.  I feel terrible about it.  I was so enthused about our conference, and returning to my yoga class after starting to finally feel better, that I just didn't check my calendar last night.  I got everything ready for yoga, including my mindset, and when I woke up this morning I cruised right into the class.  Never thought about my doctor's appointment until I signed into my computer and the reminder popped up...thirty minutes AFTER the appointment.  Time to call the doc's office, apologize profusely and beg forgiveness.  Sigh.

Burning Man is going on out there in the desert somewhere.  I stumbled across it while watching Current TV this morning.  I've never been to the festival.  I'd heard of it, of course, but didn't know much about it really.  But I'm reading, checking out the pictures I can find on flickr, and there's something there.

I believe, at my core, that everyone's opinion deserves respect.  OK, there are exceptions (the dangerously insane, those with hurtful ideologies), but basically, mutual respect is key.  I believe that everyone is beautiful.  I believe what makes people unique makes them special and valuable.  Burning Man seems to be closely aligned with that ethic.  Again, there are apparently exceptions, but the inclusive vibe resonates with me.

Also there's the artistic angle.  Sculptures and experiential art abound.  I grew up as the son of an artist who, during my childhood, specialized in large, interactive sculptures.  Burning Man territory, before there was Burning Man.  My current favorite is Uchronia, a huge sculpture by a Danish team made entirely of 2x3 beams in 2006, that continued to grow and expand over the span of the festival.  It was so big that, inside, a techno dance club ran all night.

Another I like is Perspective.  It's creative, and thought provoking.  What you see (usually?) isn't what you get.

Photos by Tristan Savatier, hosted on flickr. Click on an image to get to his gallery.

Finally, I forgot my blood pressure meds again this morning. It's hard for me to remember to bring my medicine along when I'm heading out the door in a hurry and will be eating breakfast later.  On the upside, I get to find out whether the aches I had last time will come back.  Gee, fun.

Food log:

Breakfast: small bran muffin, pineapple, melon and strawberries from the continental breakfast provided for the conference. Frankly, the fruit was terrible. I'm so spoiled by all the fresh produce we get.

Lunch: half a turkey and havarti sandwich on whole grain bread, an orange, and a small salad with beets, pine nuts, veggies and homemade olive oil mustard vinaigrette.  One square of Belgian dark chocolate.

Dinner: broiled salmon with lime zest and rock salt.  Roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese and more lime zest.  A glass of milk.

Snacks: a bag of Mrs. May's natural Cran-Blueberry Crunch...should have brought a little more for lunch, or a piece of fruit for a snack.  Still, this stuff is pretty good for you.  Also, a small bowl of mint chip ice cream for desert tonight...not so good for you, but one of my favorite flavors.

Destination: Vacation

I started thinking about summer vacations after a conversation with my wife last night, and the ideas started flowing.  Most of these interest me because they're just so beautiful.  Nature is grand, strange and wonderful.  Nothing recharges me like spending time out there.

When I was growing up, I spent some time living in New York.  While there, I met and befriended people from all over the world.  Years later, my wife and I traveled to Europe, broadening our horizons further.  There is so much more to our world that the little corner we live in.  I'd love to share these places, and many others, with my wife and children.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona (map it)

Sedona, Arizona (map it)

Arches National Park, Utah (map it)

Canyonlands National Park, Utah (map it)

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (map it)

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado (map it)

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California (map it)

Bridal Veil Falls and El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California (map it)

Homer, Alaska (map it)

HuangShan (The Yellow Mountain), China (map it)

Machu Picchu, along the Inca Trail, Peru (map it)

Mars. OK, this is silly. But how beautiful! (map really, try it)

Now it's your turn. Got a favorite place we just have to visit? I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On dancing the Hokey Pokey beside a free spirit

Tonight was Daddy's night at my son's "mommy and me" preschool.  I spent the evening with my son, and got a good taste of what his preschool experience is like.  It was wonderful to dance along side him to the "Hokey Pokey," circle the room with him during "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush," and follow him through all the movements to the manifold verses of "Down By the Sea."  We had a great time together.

Today was also the first day of my company's annual internal product development conference.  It's a chance for teams to come together to share what they've learned about innovation, rapid development, best practices, etc.  While I'm not attending in person this year, we're doing a great job allowing for "remote presence" by setting up conference rooms with live video feeds, real time blogging from the event, etc.  I saw a couple of fantastic speakers today.  It really got my creative juices flowing, and sparked some ideas on motivating and empowering my teams.  Looking forward to tomorrow already.

The lunches for tomorrow are packed, the evening is winding up, I've got yoga in the morning and day two of the conference all day tomorrow.  It's going to be a good day.

Food log:

Breakfast: 1c granola, 1/2c 1% milk, strawberries

Lunch: 1/2 ham and havarti sandwich with mayo and mustard, apple, leftover sauteed zucchini, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and spring onions.

Dinner: pot luck at my Son's preschool class.  Lots of good choices.  I had a little pasta and crab salad, some green salad, a little penne with meat sauce, a few tortilla chips with a dip made from tuna and avocados, and a little chocolate chip cookie.

Snacks: 2 squares Belgian dark chocolate

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Turning of the Seasons

For the first time in a few weeks, we made it to the local farmer's market after church.  I really enjoy the market.  Getting to know the vendors puts a familiar, personal touch on the food we eat.  One of our favorite growers had cherries for the first time today.  Sweet, red, juicy cherries that are a cross of Bing and Ranier.  We sampled a few, and stocked up.  The grower tells me that the pure Bing and Raniers will start flooding in just as the apples we've been enjoying (Pink Lady and Fuji) are fading out.  After that, blueberries (our kids are already drooling), then stone fruits like nectarines and peaches will start rolling in.  Pointing to the few early nectarines he had for sale, he said "those are good...but just wait."  OK, we'll wait...but it won't be easy.

A yoga story related to me recently:  one friend had eaten too much, and was feeling uncomfortable.  "Here," her yogi girlfriend gently offered, "I can show you the Wind might help."

"Well..." the discomfited friend said with a hesitant smile, "OK...I'll try anything."

With a straight face, the yogi pointed at her friend.  "OK...pull my finger."

Food log:

Breakfast: still full from yesterday's feast, I just had an orange and some strawberries.  And a glass of milk.

Lunch: turkey and gouda sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard on whole grain bread.  About a dozen of those scrumptious cherries.

Snack: A few more cherries, and another piece of cheese.

Dinner: a pork chop with grape glaze, 1/2c brown rice, 1c bacon and brown sugar-braised collard greens

Saturday, May 2, 2009

They're growing up

Our middle child, Isabella, received her First Communion along with many of her friends, in a special Mass this morning.  She looked so beautiful in her white dress and veil.  She's worked hard preparing for this day, through her religious education classes, and by working through a couple of really excellent preparatory books provided by our church.  It was a wonderful ceremony.  Her older sister, Sarah, played a hymn on her recorder for the first time during the service.  Sarah's been practicing hard, and it showed.  She played the whole song very prettily, with no mistakes at all.  Mom and Dad both had tears in our eyes.  For both of our girls, we had one of those "our babies are growing up" moments.  Pride and wistfulness, mixed into a potent emotional cocktail.

After the service the family retired to our house for some relaxing chit chat, a little lunch, and (for the kids) some much needed "cousin time."

I did another weigh-in this morning.  For the past two days, my weight's been going in the wrong direction.  Still, the illness really took a lot out of me, and I'd lost six pounds in a week.  With the gains of the past two days, I'm still down four pounds.  I think my body is waking up from the illness and soaking up energy into its depleted reserves.  I'm sticking with the plan, and maintaining faith that I'm doing the right things to bring my weight down to a healthy level.  Of course, the strawberry short cake at today's celebration isn't really "to plan," but it's a special occasion and I'm feeling celebratory.

Food log:

Breakfast: a bowl of granola, milk, lots of strawberries.

Lunch: Half a turkey-and-havarti sandwich with lettuce, tomato, a little mayo and some Dijon.  Six crackers loaded with cream cheese and raspberry chiptole sauce, a small serving of strawberry short cake (1/2" slice of pound cake, about 1/3c macerated strawberries, and 2tbsp whipped cream).

Dinner: a large salad at Soup Plantation

Friday, May 1, 2009

Back in the Saddle (Pose)

A good night's sleep makes so much difference.  Last night's was wonderful.  I started the night off with a glass of lovely, smokey, scrumptious wine (Woodbridge 2007 Cab, if you'd like to try it).  The wine left me drowsy, allowing me to mostly ignore the tickle in my throat.  I woke up this morning at 5:30, feeling refreshed for the first time in days.  I celebrated with an early morning walk in the neighborhood, listening to meditative music.

I returned to my Ashtanga Yoga class today too.  Boy, did I sweat. But my stamina and energy level are so low.  Still, I managed a shoulder stand for the first time, and noticed several bend and twist poses that were much easier now that I'm carrying a lot less bulk around the stomach.  Good for my self-esteem, that.

We've had a sad turn of events in the garden, it appears.  Mother Dove hasn't been seen in 36 hours.  And, there's a beautiful white egg in her nest.  Our best guess is that the egg wasn't viable, and she left once it became clear that the egg wasn't going to hatch.  It was so nice having her in the yard, and I was so looking forward to the possibility of a chick out there.

Wish me luck tonight.  I'm working on my glass of wine as a type this.

Food log:
For breakfast: half a bagel with a little cream cheese, pears, glass of milk

Lunch: a carrot and 1/4 red pepper, 1/2c spicy lime cilantro hummus, 1oz jack cheese, an apple, 1 square Belgian dark chocolate

Dinner: sauteed carrot and zucchini slivers, shiitake mushrooms and scallions, cooked into a two-egg omelet with a little cheddar cheese.  A glass of milk.

Snacks: half a Reese's peanut butter egg