Friday, January 27, 2012

Marathon Training - Update #4

Almost a week since I ran. Been icing and soaking each day. Still feel a twinge of pain just from walking around the house. Not nearly as bad as the rest of the week, though. Could barely walk on Monday. Both legs hurting as if I were moving on broken legs. By Wednesday I was able to keep a normal walking pace. But I still feel an odd weakness in my calves. And my right foot turns oddly, as if the toes are wanting to go further to the outside.

Easily the most pain I've had since I started training. Guess it was "shin splints." Which is a generic term, of course. Pretty much means: "pain below the knee and above the ankle." Suggestions included: changing my shoes, odd stretches before and after bed, and compression socks.

Not sure when I'll be able to run again. Thinking it might be at least another week.

If only I hadn't run on that cement...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Liam's officially the youngest kid in the Chamber Orchestra. They invited him to join them today! Want him to play the double bass for them. The only 6th grader, he says. Everyone else is in 7th or 8th grade. Cannot wait to see his first event!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trumped Them All

Liam challenged a kid for 2nd chair in trumpets today. Surprised us all with that news. Got better though. The kid he beat re-challenged Liam, and lost. Then the kid's best friend challenged Liam, and lost. And a third kid challenged Liam, and lost. Four victories in one day for him. Proud of that kid. He trumped them all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #12 - Remember Your Goals

Mid-way through my short drive to work, I wake up. Five minutes or five miles completely unremembered. I don't know what I was doing. Or what was on the radio. Or what I was thinking. Just making the motions. Going from one place to the next.

How many of us lead entire days like that? How many times do we forget why we're driving? Or where we're going? Maybe we don't even have a destination at times. We're just driving. Putting distance between us and something else. Or someone else.

It is easy to forget our goals. Our destination. Why we make these motions. Put up with all this toil, or drama, or grief. If we are lucky, we wake up in the middle of our ride, and remember. But usually, we forget and keep driving. I forget all the time. Or I try to forget. Makes things easier. 

We have to remember our goals. And do what it takes to achieve them. Maybe that involves multiple challenges. Sometimes multiple years. But losing sight of the goal means losing sight of what it takes to achieve them. And then we quit. Or keep driving in endless circles. 

I keep long term and short term goals. The long ones are pretty simple: raise two children into good adults. It will have taken 20 years, or more, by the time I'm done. And I don't really know what I'm doing. I play much of it by ear. But I have a have lots of time to get it right. And most of my toil and drama and grief is done to achieve those long term goals. 

My personal short term goals are much easier. They usually involve measurable challenges: drop back down to 185lbs, enter and finish a half marathon, complete more triathlons this year than I did last year, beat all my times last year, remodel the kitchen, and write write write. 

I keep these goals in my head. But I'm constantly checking them. And in all cases I try to ask myself the same questions:
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What is stopping me from achieving it?
  • What am I going to do about that?
Over and over, I'll go through those motions. Almost always finding something that is stopping me. And having to work hard to over come it. Maybe it is eating more sensibly. Or all the difficult training for the half marathon. Or managing all the pieces (and finances!) of completing a home renovation. But eventually, weeks or months later, I will find that nothing is stopping me, and I'll achieve a goal. I'll finish that half marathon. Back down to 185lbs. I'll get the kitchen completed. And one day, God help me, I'll have raised two children. 

In the meanwhile, while I'm driving down these long roads, I have to wake up and remember my goals. Keep them in sight. Realize that nothing good is easy, or free. Remember what I want to do. Figure out what is stopping me. And decide what I'm going to do about it. Finally, one day, the ride will be over.

Marathon Training - Update #3

Did something wrong. Something bad. Real bad. Flew solo and made bad decisions. Already regretting it.

So anyway, I figured I'd do 9 miles today. Went to eFit. Worked out a bit, just to warm up. Stretched. Then hit the road. Or more accurately, I hit the sidewalk. Concrete sidewalk.

About three miles into it, I wasn't feeling right. Feet not lining up. Something pinching in my hip. No right at all. And as I approached 5.5 miles, I couldn't do any more.

Think my shoes need to be replaced. Didn't feel supported at all. And probably should not have run on sidewalk the entire time.

But it is all too late, now.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #11 - Eliminate Excuses

Given enough time and motivation we will convince ourselves of almost anything. And we can create excuses for any situation.

Most of mine appear before I start training. Or before I tackle a big project. I try to talk myself out of it. Put as many mental barriers in place as possible. Kick the can down the road with false promises that I will do it later. But later will never come if I keep listening to my own excuses.

Here's a list of my favorite ones:
  • "I don't have time to eat healthy."
  • "Too much work to go to the gym."
  • "I hate running."
  • "I don't have the energy for that."
  • "It is too early for this."
  • "My back / legs / shoulder hurts."
  • "I don't want to embarrass myself."
And there's more where that came from.  Plenty more.

Any time I'm faced with something difficult or challenging, the voices start distracting me. If I listen or give them validity, I'm screwed.

Even when I start actively training, I'm not safe. I continually try to talk myself into taking it easy. Or cutting a workout short. Or slowing down. Or not giving it my full effort. And of course there's more where that came from. Plenty, PLENTY more.

Many people face the same challenge. To some degree or another. Maybe they call it procrastination? But they're coming up with flimsy reasons to "do it later." And like me, later never happens.

There is only one course of action: stop making excuses and start making progress. Put another way: shutup and do it!

Simple as that.

Eliminate excuses. Don't just stop listening to them. Stop creating them. Replace useless discussions (especially negative internal discussions) with productive actions. 

Less talking. More doing.

Talk when it is over.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Terminus Est (1000 Posts Later)

Terminus Est. Latin. "This is the line of division." A tipping point. Between one stage and another. Between one reality and another. One life and another. Etc. You get the point.

I started writing Tales From The Eye in late 2005. We had just moved from Atlanta, GA, to Gulfport, MS. Liam was 5. Meg was 3. New jobs. New home. We wanted to be closer to our families. Away from the noise and grime and traffic of The Big Peach. But, less than 48hrs after unloading the moving van, Hurricane Katrina came ashore. And she carved my line of division. Abruptly changing everything. Terminus Est.

Tales From The Eye has been personal therapy. A dumping ground for the thoughts and images I find crowding my head. Digital sounding board for my sanity. A place to vent. Unload memories. Celebrate my private victories. One dork's experiment in  archiving his soul.

1000 posts later. Everything makes more sense behind my eyes. Learned some lessons. Shed some layers. Earned new scars. Abandoned addictions. Acquired different ones. But overall, I've never been happier or more comfortable in my own skin.

A thousand posts is an odd accomplishment. Didn't expect it. Or plan for it. Just kinda snuck up on me. And I have dozens, if not hundreds, of unposted pieces of my life lingering under the bed sheets. Need to catch up on those. But for now, one more pat on my own back. And once more into the breach.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #10 - Pick Your Battles

I'm passionate about many things. I'm quick to voice my opinion. And I will fight for what I believe. But not on EVERYTHING.

What does drama ever solve? Is yelling productive? How often do we spend more time arguing than we spend trying to fix the problem that caused the issue in the first place? And arguments spread like wildfire, rarely leaving anyone untouched. It isn't uncommon at my house for one person to start yelling, then the other yells back, and eventually we're all involved as I try to defuse the situation but nobody hears unless I'm yelling, too.

I do not believe all disagreements or differences of opinion need to result in knock-down drag-out conflict. Sometimes, it is far easier for everyone involved if we just shutup and do what we're asked, told, required, or needed to do.

We have to pick our battles. Find opportunities to defuse confrontations before they erupt. And we have to realize that relationships are built on supporting one another, not competing against one another. And this is true of personal, social, or work relationships.

I constantly gauge my daily encounters and interactions. If possible, I try to conserve my sanity by resolving problems with the least amount of drama and energy as possible. If I have to do some extra work or clean up somebody else's mess, so be it. But I know that nothing good will ever come from an explosive confrontation. Everyone's going to get wounded if we go to battle. And some wounds take longer to heal than others.

When is it acceptable to put on your gloves and deliver an old fashioned beatdown? That's entirely up to you. Everyone has different tolerances. But consider asking yourself: Is it worth it? And will arguing make this situation better, or worse?

If somebody has to take the moral high ground, it is going to be me. The alternative is more drama, more conflict, and ultimately less sanity for everyone involved. In the long run, that's never a sustainable solution.

Monday, January 16, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #9 - Don't Defeat Yourself

There are two phrases that have repeated throughout my life: "You can't do that!" and "Oh, I could never do that!" Either somebody telling me what I cannot do without any thought of encouraging me rather than defeating me, or somebody telling me what they cannot do without a care that they're defeating themselves.

But don't we all do it? Don't we all tell each other what we can't do? Or say how we shouldn't even try? If something is hard, if it takes dedication and patience and practice and grim determination, why do we think it is somehow impossible? Not even worth trying?

A year ago, I'd never competed in a triathlon. Swimming scared the hell out of me. I hated running. Literally, hated it. And I'd never ridden a bike for two miles, let alone 20. I didn't know if I could finish one piece of a triathlon, let alone all three. I had doubts. And I had fears. But every lap in the pool fed me courage. Every mile on the bike quieted the little voices of fear. And during every run on the road I made it through it by telling myself: You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.

I did five triathlons last year. I didn't win any of them, but I didn't fail. I didn't quit. And I didn't accept defeat.

When I tell my formerly-athletic friends, who grew up playing sports and pursuing their own victories, that they should try to get active again, what do they say? "I can't do that." Why not? You're telling me a life long geek can do something a former athlete cannot? When I tell friends or family that they should join me some time, what is their reaction? "I can't do that." Why not? I was the smallest, clumsiest, least fit person they knew, and somehow I'm more capable than they are?

Don't get me wrong. I still try to defeat myself. Every time I run, I think: "You can slow down. You can walk for a bit. You don't have to go so far." Every time I swim, I have to tell myself: "You won't drown. Just breathe. One arm over the other." Every time I bike, I watch the miles and try to figure how much longer until I can stop. I always try to defeat myself in such small ways. But I'm prepared for it. I know it is all a trick. That I can do more. I can try harder. I can chose to do it. Or I can chose to quit.

Don't defeat yourself. You're going to have doubts and fears and want to quit. But don't give into to those voices. Don't chose to quit. And don't let other people convince you to do it, either. They've defeated themselves for years, or else they'd be encouraging you. They're bad enough, but don't defeat yourself.

You can do it. You can do it. You can do it!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Marathon Training - Update #2

Another great run, tonight. New personal record: 8 miles. Ran with Luke & Brendan, again. Left their shop and cruised through the industrial seaway. Stopped for a pee break. Doubted myself the whole way. Wanted to stop all the time. Didn't stop except when scheduled. Kept following and telling myself to do it. Got waaaay dark. Headlights throwing off my night vision. Ran through some unknown neighborhoods. Had to keep up. Or get lost if I stopped. So I didn't stop.

Great run. 8 weeks to go. At this pace, I should be good.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #8 - Timeshift

Today's suggested change is no big secret. Most of my friends beat me to it. And I am a late adopter of timeshifting. (Tivo has been out since 1999!) But now I cannot imagine getting through a week without using it.

Timeshifting is simply using a device to record television shows. The two usual choices are buying a Tivo or renting a DVR from your cable company. You save them to save shows and view them later. Or watch a show while it is recording, pause it, then resume where you left off or fast forward through recorded portions. It is very easy once you're used to it. And fairly addictive after that.

Here is why you should timeshift: FREEDOM!

First, you get to watch what you want when you want. No more being forced to watch specific shows at specific times. No more adjusting your schedule to appease the TV. A couple of clicks of the remote and you can record months of episodes, an entire season if you'd like, and view it whenever you please. Timeshifting also allows you to record one channel (or more) and still see another. So you no longer have to pick between shows, if you have multiple favorites playing at the same time.

Second, you can skip what you don't want to see. Namely: commercials! These days, the average hour of television contains seventeen minutes of advertising. And, if you're like me, most of it does not appeal or relate to you. By fast forwarding, you can cut out more than a quarter of wasted time. Do that with just a couple of shows, and you've recovered an entire hour you can use elsewhere. Do that once a week, and by the end of the year you've recovered more than two days of time.

Optionally, Netflix is starting to get a big selection of television series which you could watch. And Hulu is almost as awesome. But those products take a little longer to decipher, and don't have the same variety as if you do all the recording yourself.

Renting a DVR from your cable company might cost a few extra dollars each month. But figure out how much 52 hours of your time is worth. Probably much more than the price of a DVR? And what is the value of living by your schedule rather the the TV guide's?

Give it a try. If you're like me, you'll wish you had done it much, MUCH sooner.

Monday, January 09, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #7 - De- Clutter

At what point do we have enough? What is "too much?" And at what point did we cross the line so that now the things we own have started owning us? All this stuff begins to take up too much space in the house. And even more space in my head. Do I need to get a bigger house? Or do I need to get rid of some of this stuff.

Today's suggested change is based on a practice I've slowly been adopting: Declutter! Get rid of what you do not need. And get rid of what does not have special financial / sentimental value for you. Free up space in your home. And space in your head.

Two examples of simple decluttering that have had small but marked impacts on my personal life.
  • Last year I examined my "keychain." (You know, that four pound length of steel and brass and oddities we men keep in our front pocket or dangling from our beltloops on a d-ring.) With a little thought, I realized I didn't need to keep: keys for my wife's car (which I never drive,) keys for our storage shed (which I never use,) keys for secure rooms at work (which I've used once in yrs,) a small flashlight (my phone can serve as a light) or a beer bottle opener (since I don't drink at home and bartenders open my beers.) I removed everything and had less than half of what I started with. Fewer things in my pocket. Fewer things to lose. Fewer things to think about each day.
  • This year,  I examined my wallet. (You know, that four inch thick hunk of leather, stuffed with papers and pictures we never look at, but keep stored in our back pocket causing gradual hip dysplasia as we age.) With a little thought, I realized I didn't need to keep: six months of ATM receipts, dozens of business cards from sales weasels I'd never call, business cards of my own I never handed out, and 8 different bank / credit cards (when I only used one regularly.) I bought a VERY minimalist wallet. It only holds four items. So I only carry: ID, bank card, emergency credit card, and some folded cash. It is so small and manageable that I don't notice it. Less space in my pocket. Less things to lose. Less things to think about each day.
When I'm surrounded by stray objects and mounds of unused debris, there is chaos and my mind wanders, finding it harder to focus. Decluttering and having a clean, simple environment gives me peace of mind, purity of thought.

Slowly but surely, I'm scouring my life and finding places to remove the debris. The chaos. And the older I get, the more I understand that less is more.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #6 - Decisive Change

We are creatures of habit. Some more-so than others. I have my morning routine. A certain seating arrangement when eating. Specific pockets for keys and wallet and phone. Such things help to grease the cogs behind our eyes. Make our lives easier, if only slightly.

But the human condition which discourages change is a double-edged sword. We not only stick to those things which work for us, we also cling tenaciously to those things which work against us, things which make our lives less easier.

Think of those people in your life who complain about the same thing every day. Year after year. Doing nothing to fix their issues, except complaing to you. What about your friends who make the same bad decisions, over and over. Again and again. Always with the same bad results. But don't we all have some kind of painful compulsion we chase in endless circles? Some more-so than others.

Today's suggested change could be one of the most difficult ones, but also potentially the most rewarding: Look at your life, find something that is broken, and make a decisive change to fix it. Start small. Very small. The easiest of changes you could make. But make it, and stick to it. Even if nobody notices. Even if it doesn't have any impact on your life. At least you'll know you made one change in your life. And if you can make that one, you can make another. And many more.

But today's suggested change isn't about restructuring every element in your life. And it is not about making an impossibly-long list of things you'll start doing differently tomorrow. It is about picking something that does not contribute toward your happiness, and deciding what other thing will make you happier. Break the endless cycle of knowing what is broken while doing nothing to fix it. Stop complaining. Start changing.

Friday, January 06, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #5 - Don't Diet

Americans spend a tremendous amount to lose weight. In 2010, we spent SIXTY ONE BILLION DOLLARS just to shed a few pounds. Big chains like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers collected $3B. Diet pills and meal replacements took in $3B. And food delivery operations like Nutrisystem received $1B.

The typical dieter makes four attempts per year. Which means most people fail at least three times. And 80% of dieters do it completely on their own, without any support or professional help.
But despite all that money and all those attempts, as few as 1 in 5 people (in Colorado) and as many as 1 in 3 people (in Mississippi) are still obese.

Do you know anyone who has successfully gone through a "diet" and continued to keep the weight off? Or do you know plenty of people who have gone through all manner of diets, with little or no long term success? Think of all the friends you know that try this fad diet or that fad diet and always seem to be trying something new every other month. And how much money have them spent? Do they seem happy with their results? Sadly, their cycle will probably never end.

Why? The simple answer is: diet's do not work. They never have. And they never will. Sure, a diet may help you take off excess weight, but what happens when you go off the diet? When you resume the habits that cause you to resort to a diet, the weight will inevitably return. And possibly with a vengeance.

Everyone I know who has lost weight and kept it off has succeeded because of long term, long lasting changes to their eating and exercise habits. They all made a commitment to their health and stuck to it. They all eliminated fast food. They all avoid sugar. They all observe some form of portion control. And they all take part in some form of exercise three or more times a week. That's it. No complex formula. No magical devices. No hidden secrets.

So today's tip is suggest change is simple: Don't diet. You're wasting your time and money. Instead, change your lifestyle. And stick to the changes. This means eating better by avoiding fast food, sugar, and excess carbohydrates. And get active so you can burn off anything extra you might be consuming.

You can be healthy. You deserve it. And you can achieve it. But do it right. And in the long run, you'll be much happier.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #4 - Track Your Intake

Most people do not plan to eat poorly. I don't think much planning goes into most meals at all. The vast majority of mine are completely spontaneous and given less thought than what I'm going to wear to work in the morning. With this overly-familiar lack of forethought, we wander through a haze of  blissful uncertainty, hoping we eat something remotely nutritional but as least destructive as possible.

One day (shortly after my dearest bride advised that I would soon need to upgrade to larger pants due to the continued growth of my waistline) I made the unusual decision to start tracking my food intake. I picked a simple, easy-to-use website and diligently recorded all my meals. At the end of the month all the data revealed that... ...low and behold... ...I usually consuming far too much fat, way too many carbs, and not nearly enough protein. A poor diet, indeed. Suitable for one thing: packing on layers of blubber.

It didn't take too long to make adjustments, once I knew what to avoid and what was providing good quality fuel for Ye Ol' Guns. Some interesting discoveries: lamb is loaded with protein, fried anything is as fatty as it is delicious, and you can eat as many carrots or celery sticks as you like without concern for your gut.

The moral of today's tip: Pick an internet site that appeals to you, track your intake, and use it to gauge what you're doing to your body. Cut back on the bad stuff. Have an extra serving of the good stuff. And if you over-do it a bit, some extra situps will keep the hounds at bay. If you're anything like me, you'll be amaze to see how quickly the numbers add up. And the reason you've been getting thicker will become all too apparent.

Here's a list of sites. They're all good. Pick the one that you find easiest to use:

Once you know what you're consuming, you can see where to make adjustments. And I will offer you one final spoiler: the stuff you love the most is also doing the most damage. There, you've been warned.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Last Day Off

I burned some time to turn this week into a five day vacation. Today marked the end of it. Full of awesomeness and The Happy. Started with some much-needed extra sleep. Progressed into me continuing my quest to de-clutter my life. I abandoned some of the trappings of my life in Atlanta by packing up a truck load of old computers and servers and accessories and hardware and cables then donating it to the local school district. Hopefully they can make use of the equipment. Give it all a new home. Maybe some poor teacher's workstation. Bring her a few extra moments of joy when her copy of Microsoft Word opens ever-so-quicker. Printers, speakers, switches, firewalls, KVMs, spare memory, power supplies, and everything from coax to 100 foot spools of CAT6. Haven't touched any of it in years. It was taking up space in the garage and leasing room behind my eyes. But no more. I'm done with it. And all the clutter in caused in my life.

Then off to lunch. My Mom and Grandma. Chinese food. Super Chinese Buffet, up HW49. My favorite because it has a Mongolian grill. Only I didn't eat off the grill today. Wasn't digging the thought of extra carbs attacking my midline. So I stuck with the essentials: General's Chicken, Pepper Chicken, Steamed Dumplings, Hot & Spicy Beef, Crab Ragoons (which have as much crab as a lunar landing,) and a lone eggroll. Good stuff. Great to see Grandma. She's doing well. My Mom, too. Everyone happy and fine as fish fur after the holidays.

Liam comes home to let me know he made a 100 on his district math test. But he mis-spelled "roommate" on his attempt to join the spelling bee team. Didn't really want to join, he says. "ROOMMATE?" I says. But he did make a 100 on that math test. So I don't hold it against. He doesn't really need any additional activities right now. He has a lot on his plate. Plus, he tried a new chicken dish for supper. So bonus points there.

Then off to the gym. Back & biceps. Bit of a walk around the track to stretch. Then an hour of swimming drills. Grrrrreat workout in the water. Feel 9000% better than I did earlier. Needed that. And a great way to end my last day off!

12 Changes For 2012 - #3 - Avoid Carbs

I knew all kinds of faddish folks who ate burgers without bread. Or wrapped their sandwiches in a great big lettuce leaf. Same folks would scream like a vampire in Holy Water if a french fry touched their plate. Unfortunately, none of these trendy hipsters could articulate in simple sentences WHY they went all OCD on the carb thingy. Always seemed like bread was some kind of tasty Kryptonite that robbed them of their super powers.

So here's the tip, followed by a simple explanation of why you should try it: Avoid carbs! (Especially white bread, pasta, and the various forms of potatoes.) You should avoid them because carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates)  disrupt your insulin levels and cause increased fat storage in your fat cells. Want an example? Ever notice that "I need a nap" crash you feel after lunch? Usually carbohydrates goofing with your insulin levels. Multiple that feeling times a couple of years and think about the steady, glacial growth of your waistline. That, my friend, was a result of excess carbohydrate intake

Notice that today's tip is to AVOID carbohydrates? That means to make a personal choice to eat something else, if at all possible. It does NOT mean go all creepy obsessive or freak out about micro-managing carbs. Eliminating carbohydrates completely is no easier than eliminating sugar completely. But do what you can to avoid the biggest sources of carbohydrates. You'll still get plenty of them in everything else you're eating. Don't take my word for it, check the ingredients and you'll see it for yourself. But trust me, it's ugly. Let me know when you pick your jaw off the floor.

How to avoid them? Here's my usual plan: don't eat french fries or chips, don't eat pizza, don't eat pasta, and only eat whole wheat bread with sandwiches. First week I started to aggressively avoid carbs, I dropped 5lbs right off my pale white belly. I still crave pizza. I still eyeball pasta. I eat homemade lasagna because it is impossible to resist. But whenever I can, I avoid carbohydrates. The transition was much easier than I would have thought. And those 5lbs never crawled back on my belly.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Marathon Training - Update #1

A personal milestone on Saturday: ran 10K. With Luke & Brendan from Run N Tri. A big empty subdivision. Going in loops for an hour and seven minutes. 6.70 miles in all. 10:08 min per mile. Fog was so thick I had to run without my glasses. Felt pretty good, but I was on fumes by the end. Nine weeks until the event in New Orleans and I'll need to add a mile each week to my long runs.

But as proud as I was of my run on Saturday, I'm disappointed by my run tonight. Was only going to do a short one, 5K. But my calves were full of concrete by the first mile and my pace fell off significantly. By 4K, I was clenching my teeth and forcing my legs to move. The pain and tightness was completely unmanageable and I called it quits at 2.6 miles, averaging more than 12 minutes on what distance I did manage to cover.

Don't know what happened. Maybe it was residual effects from the Mexican food yesterday? Maybe not enough stretching? Maybe the colder weather? Or the lack of running partners? Not sure.

Supposed to run 4 miles tomorrow and 3 on Thursday. But I'm going to skip tomorrow and try to cover 4 miles on Thursday. Hopefully I perform better next time. If not, I'll be looking for suggestions.

12 Changes For 2012 - #2 - Sweet Detox

One of the simplest changes to make is also one of the hardest: give up soda. Even "diet soda." And if you're living in The South this means giving up sweet tea. Just replace soda, diet soda, and sweet tea with water.

My own greatest hurdle was Mountain Dew. When I worked over-night shifts for 12hrs at a stretch, I drank at least three a night. Sometimes six. That was 300% to 600% the recommended daily dose of sugar. 5 days a week. Not to mention all the caffeine! And as a kid, I probably drank soda three to four times as much as I ever drank water.

Most sodas these days contain enough sugar (usually a minimum of 10 tea spoons!) that your stomach would backfire from the excess sweetness. But there is a key ingredient (phosphoric acid) that cuts the taste and calms your stomach. Without that ingredient, we wouldn't be able to hold down that much sugar.

And not only do diet sodas contain chemicals (especially aspartame) which are toxic at all but the lowest levels of consumption, they also contain higher levels of sodium. Drinking them causes the body to retain water. Ultimately meaning more weight, not less.

For an example of the effects of just one soda, read: What happens when you drink a Coke.

Unfortunately giving up sodas and Southern tea still doesn't eliminate sweets. Thanks to industrial food production, avoiding sugar is almost impossible to do today. Many modern foods are laced with High Fructose Corn (HFCS.) If something you eat tastes sweet, it is likely due to HFCS. Salad dressing. Ketchup. BBQ Sauce. Honey Wheat Bread. Cinnamon Rolls. Brownie Mixes. Potato Salad. Breakfast syrup. Frostees. Applesauce. Chicken salad. Croutons. Bagels. Yeast Rolls. Fudge. Croissants. Grape Jelly. Mayonnaise. Lemonade. English Muffins. Hotcakes. And even salsa contain HFCS. And that's just a brief list. Check the ingredients list and you'll almost inevitably come across it. Especially if you are eating Fast Food. Check for yourself.

HFCS comsumption has increased dramatically since the 1970s when it was developed. The average American consumed 39 pounds of HFCS in 1980. And 62.6 pounds in 2010. Track the unintentional consumption of HFCS next to the increase in obesity, and what do you think you'll see?

Knowing that we're consuming dozens of pounds of sugar in what we're eating each year, drinking even more is a recipe for disaster. The best thing to do is eliminate the sodas and teas and stick to water.

For me, giving up sodas took time. And a very determined effort. But I wish I had done it sooner. Water quenches my thirst now. I don't have wildly fluctuating energy levels. I'm not carrying around excess water weight. And I'm not drinking hundreds (if not thousands) of extra calories each day.

Monday, January 02, 2012

12 Changes For 2012 - #1 - Be Active

Friends and family who haven't seen me in a couple of years sometimes ask: what have I been doing to get in better shape? So,I figured I'd start the New Year by offering 12 tips for changes that you could try in 2012.

The first is also the most subjective and abstract: BE ACTIVE!

But, what does that mean? It really is up to you. However, it will almost always mean you have to do more than you're doing now. The main thing to remember is: doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you're really doing nothing, just start off simple. Get out of your comfort zone a little. Get your heart rate up. Sweat a little. And you should do your activity three times a week.

When I was starting, I would hop on the treadmill for 30 minutes. At first I'd only go a couple of miles. I'd sweat like crazy. By the end of the run, I'd be out of breath and completely ready to quit. Three times a week was brutal. But eventually I was able to go more than three miles. Moved on to the elliptical. Then the indoor track. And these days (years later!) I run outdoors several times a week and I'm training for a half marathon.

I took it slow. I made gradual progress. I kept raising my goals. And I continually tried to push through my perceived limits. For me, that is being active. You're mileage may vary.  But keep it simple at first. And do something rather than nothing.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Why We Fail

I'm pretty good at failing. I have a long successful history of it. I'm arguably an expert at this point. Though I think I am losing my touch. Recently some things in life have actually gone well. And one or two of my efforts have seen positive results. Probably a fluke. But, anywho....

Along my way in life, I've discovered several reoccurring factors that explain my outstanding track record of failures. Perhaps somebody can benefit from my notes and experiences. But you should avoid them at your peril. They may disrupt failures if they're avoided.

First, ours is a generation that expects and accepts failure. I was told at an early age that everything I wanted to do was impossible. When I was a kid, I wanted to sing. I was told I had the heart of a singer but not the voice. When I was older, I wanted to run in local races. I was told I'd never even finish. Later: backpack across Germany. Impossible. Become a comic book writer? Impossible. Sci-fi author? Impossible. Play guitar? Impossible. Start my own Internet company? Impossible. Spot the trend? Every time I wanted to do something, I was told I couldn't do it. I wasn't supported. Wasn't encouraged. And best of all: I listened to everyone who told me I couldn't do what I really wanted to do. I accepted it. And I kept listening for most of my life. Thanks to that habit, I was finished before I even started.

The second factor that contributes to a life of failure: unreasonable expectations. When I wanted to play guitar, I thought a couple of lessons would put me on par with Jimi Hendrix. When I wanted to backpack through Europe, I didn't put an ounce of planning into it, as if the whole trip would unfold for me, without any effort or trouble. And when I wanted to start a company, my market plan consisted of "build it and they will come." How much (if any) of that was reasonable? I hadn't even hiked across a city block, let alone a foreign nation. I might as well have planned for my own space launch from the back yard.

Another reason that we achieve plenty of failures: we're soft. We don't want to do anything remotely difficult. When I wanted to play guitar, I didn't like what it did to my fingers. You know, that whole painful blister stuff. I didn't even try to get past that. I spent years trying to "get fit." But the soreness from running or working our once or twice defeated me each time. I didn't really try to get past that, either. It was so much easier to just quit. Time after time. Resolution after resolution. I didn't push myself. I just said things I'd learned from an early age: "You can't do it," and "Just give up," and "It's impossible." So much easier to eat wrong, live wrong, and behave wrong. I was always soft. I always took the easy way out. Never challenged myself. And accepted my own self-imposed limits.

The final reason we fail is ironic: we fear failure. We're terrified of it. Throughout our lives, we avoid failure at all costs. Rather than start my own Internet company and risk failure, I did exactly nothing. Perhaps I would have failed, but perhaps I would have succeeded. Now, I'll never know. I just accepted defeat without putting up a fight. I feared rejection letters from editors, so I never tried to become a writer. I feared I wouldn't get into a good college. So I didn't bother trying for good grades or academic excellence. Easier to be average by doing the least I could do. Those voices of the past coming back to haunt me again and again: You can't. Give up. Impossible. How many times did I listen to my own fears? I'll tell you: every time. Most of my entire life.

And that is why we fail. By accepting failure for ourselves and promoting it in others. 

Then, think of those around us, in our lives. How often do we support somebody's dreams? How many times do we take part in their challenges, if only to move them a little further on their journey? How many times do we honestly want them to succeed when we've spent so much time failing?

What would happen if I fought for my dreams? What would happen if I supported somebody else's dream? That's my question and my challenge for 2012.

Where's Winter?

75 degrees and stunning. This glorious first day of the year 2012. Feels like Spring. All of us out in the air. Getting sun on our lazy white bones. My shirt off. Cindy reading some book with her Paris Hilton shades in effect. Liam launching a frisbee skyward for the dog. And Meg, our living firework, decides to combine dancing plus scrubbing down parts of the house with a bright yellow sponge.

Here's the riddle: where's winter? Snow and grey in the rest of the country, but we are in shorts and t-shirts. Not that I mind, but it doesn't bode well when we're getting ready to start a back yard Mardi Gras when we're supposed to be hunkering down for a long winter's nap.