My 2018 Resolutions

Last year I made several ambitious-but-attainable resolutions. I failed at all of them.

For 2018, my goal is much simpler: do better at everything than I did in 2017. The bar is pretty low.

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“I haven’t … since I got married.”

I had a quiet chuckle the other day when I thought to myself, “I haven’t showered since I got married.” Immediately I came up with several other personal-hygiene-related phrases I’d had a chance to use: “I haven’t brushed my teeth since I got married.”

But what of other parts of my life? It seems like there should be plenty of opportunities for a newlywed to find humor with the phrase. “I haven’t eaten since I got married” only lasted a short time for me, but would have been pretty good.

I get the feeling that I’m missing some pretty good ones. Any thoughts from the bloggcomm?

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So, I’m Married Now

Yep, my best friend in the whole world, my sweetie, my soul mate and I tied the knot today. I’m more than a little pleased by that.

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An Apology to my San Diego Friends

I was in San Diego yesterday. I debated whether to tell anyone, but in the end this was a hit-and-run trip to the courthouse for a document, with a little time set aside for a trip with my sweetie (and dogs) to Kono’s for a big breakfast and a too-short, very happy visit to Dog Beach.

For those keeping score at home, Kono’s is everything it ever has been.

For my San Diego friends, I promise I will visit again, and next time there will be ‘bertos and Callahans and Tiki and BV and Keith and Mikie and Adam and Jerry S. and all the rest of you. I feel a little guilty, but this trip turned out so very well that I hope you can forgive me and accept my rain check.

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Sonora Pass, Revisited

Has it really been so long?

If you own a nimble little car, particularly a convertible, put Sonora Pass on your bucket list. Be sure to note, however, that it is closed more than half the year. At almost 3,000 meters above sea level (officially 9,624 feet), it’s just not possible to keep the road open year-round.

I drove the pass once, many years ago, and this time the memories came flooding back. The place where I passed the slowpoke in a VERY short passing zone. The guy just wouldn’t pull aside, through there were ample opportunities. Then there was the place farther up when I had to shift down to THIRD (I have a six-speed), and briefly to SECOND, because the grade was so extreme and I didn’t want to lose momentum. I remembered the smell of burning brakes coming off the vehicles coming down, vehicles that probably shouldn’t have been there to start with.

Another corner, farther up, that I didn’t remember but now I will, as it hairpinned around to the right, steeply up, and I kept the accelerator to the floor to keep momentum and steerage but needed both hands to steer as I discovered myself in the wrong gear. It’s the kind of moment automatic-transmission drivers will never know, for better or worse. There were some people in a pullout there, and they probably heard my steadily-increasing-in-pitch “WoooooooooOOOAH!” as the full glory of that curve became apparent to me.

That was about the time Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” came on the radio. I had to laugh. 55 mph would not be happening for a while.

I pulled over where there was a good view of the road below me. It was a long way down from where I stood to the rushing river in the valley below. I stretched, took in what oxygen was available, snapped a couple of unintersting pictures. The slope of the ground beneath my feet felt odd; paved surfaces aren’t supposed to lean like that.

Back in the car, around a bend, and a better place to stop. My foot twitched between brake and throttle, indecisive, but I decided to pull over again. “Taking it slow, today,” I reminded myself. “Smelling the roses. Only planning to get as far as Tonopah.”

I pulled over again, stood on a rock and fired up the panorama feature on my phone. At this time, I’m unable to upload the result. I’ll get on that real soon. After a few more moments to appreciate the view, I hopped back in the car.

Not much farther up the snow pack started to become significant. The snowplow cuts through the banks at the side of the road were obvious. My memories of my last time through the pass don’t include snow. For a few miles, the best potential camera shots were from the perspective of the road; one seldom-discussed advantage of convertibles is the ability of one to hold a camera up over the windscreen and get a good shot.

Touch-screen controlled cameras suck for this purpose, however. Even when using the hardware button to trigger the picture, too many knuckle-brushes against the screen change modes and settings, and while I could spare a hand occasionally, I could not spare my eyes to ensure that I had taken a shot. At one point I pulled over to review my work and I discovered I was in time-lapse mode, with a sped-up view of my lap. Then I was in some sort of ease-in-out-slow motion video. I just wanted a dang picture.

Not a great picture, but I like the reflection of the snow, and the reflection of the reflection.

Just over the top, maybe two miles on, a bicyclist was stopped at the side of the road, heading up, lights flashing fore and aft. He was straddling his bike, clearly gassed, panting through a salt-and-pepper beard. “Almost there!” I called out, hoping he took it as encouragement. I looked at my clock. Early afternoon. I wondered when he has started his assault on the pass that morning. He was a long way from any potential base camp I knew about. Maybe I should have offered him some cookies, or a Gatorade. In hindsight I think I could have been more helpful.

More memories as the road wound back down, and a curve carved with luck-fueled precision, the suspension squeezing and releasing in synchrony with the bank of the tight curve, the tires whooshing loudly but not squealing, the car shooting ahead as I downshifted to take some of the load off the brakes. I was redeemed for the curve that had taken me by surprise on the way up.

There’s a military base just beyond the steepest part, on the first flat piece of ground. As I passed one crew was paving the helipad (a road sign warned drivers of dust kicked up by helicopters), while another fatigue-clad bunch sat on a ring of boulders, facing the man addressing them, the way kids at camp might sit in a circle and listen to their counselor tell a story. My first time through, when my car was much younger, I had noticed that the propane tanks on the base were painted light olive, rather than white. I spent many miles pondering the logic of that. Was white not the best color? I always assumed white was intended to absorb less heat from the sun. What possible threat would be mitigated by painting the tanks pale olive?

There was more to my drive yesterday, but past the military base it does not qualify as Sonora Pass anymore. Sonora Pass is a wonderful drive, rivaled by few other stretches of road in this very large country of ours. It felt good to renew our acquaintance.

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Road Trip Coming!

Draw a rough rectangle anchored in California, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, and you have an idea the route we’ll be taking sometime early next Summer. Sound vague? It is! (Though I prefer the term “flexible”.)

There will be three of us in the vehicle — pilot, navigator, and small dog. I want to keep the miles on any given day reasonably short, stopping at many rest areas to let the small dog sniff things and for photo opportunities I’ve driven through in the past. Unfortunately that means we won’t be able so stay in any one place terribly long.

That rectangle intersects many old friends, and some of the best sights the western United States has to offer. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this trip. Those in the path of our march will be hearing from us as plans solidify.

Road Trip! Wooooo!

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The First Anniversary of my 50th Birthday

As I marched through my 40’s I’d been thinking about how to best celebrate my 50th, but the months leading up to that milestone were brutal. At one point I made a decision to reduce my work day to 17 hours so that I could sleep for five. The project was running behind, but I was building something awesome. Really groundbreaking. The kind of thing you go all out for.

On April Twoth, 2014, my 50th birthday, one year ago today, the project was canceled. I was deflated, too tired to feel anything more. Lost.

It was the start of a pretty good year.

By any meaningful measure, I’m younger now than I was a year ago. Were you to take my medical statistics from last year and my current numbers and give them to a doctor with no hint what order they were taken in, my this-year stats would be chosen as ‘younger’ every time. The bicycle is a big part of that, of course. Going back to working 40 hours a week (which seemed like a vacation for the first three months) didn’t hurt either.

Also this year, I’ve accepted an offer from another group at Apple, and I’ll be starting there in a couple of weeks. I’ll be working at Apple University, an organization devoted to keeping the unique culture at my company alive even as Apple becomes mind-bendingly massive. One of Steve’s final legacies. I’ll be personally responsible for keeping Apple great. Yep, me. Personally. I’m ready.

Other noteworthy awesome things this year: the bread machine (how in the name of all that’s holy have we done without one so long?), lots of good home cookin’, fast friendships, our wee dog Lady Byng and her trips to the dog park each Saturday, and top of the top of the list, my sweetie. Dang things are nice when she’s around.

An hey, speaking of fun, how ’bout that Halloween booze thing? I’m expecting a Nobel Prize nomination for that work, though the official sweetie of MR&HBI was the leader of that effort. The accidental bottle of 18-year-old Scotch may turn out to be a blessing or a curse. Only time will tell. But dang, it’s good.

Of course there were not-so-great things as well. A car with a couple of decades of useful life ahead of it was suddenly terminated. Now we have car payments. But no one was hurt — even the bad things could have been worse.

The cloud over the parade: not a whole lot of writing getting done. Gotta figure that out. Which is what I said last year, and the year before. But the bicycle was a structural change in my life that worked; I just have to make another.

But to me this really isn’t my 51st birthday, it’s one year after my 50th. I had anticipated the big 5-0 as a landmark, not as a scar. Fifty plus one is about healing, and appreciating just how good life can be. Because lately, it’s been pretty damn good.

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It’s a Tough Life

I mentioned to the light of my life that I was craving burgers to replenish my strength after my last (for a while) visit to the colon doctor.

For most people, the response would be, “where do you want to get them?” Not so my sweetie. Her response: “I’ve been wanting to make burger buns!”

And so she did.

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Automotive Dreaming

A little time travel happening tonight, as I do the Heisenberg shuffle to keep the questions raised in this episode from affecting the answers. By the time you read this, we will have sipped our wine, gazed at the pictures, and perhaps shed a tear or two for reasons hard to define. We will have toasted the departed Roxy, and set a new course.

And now to the story…

My sweetie and I need to replace the eminently practical and utterly reliable Ford Escort that was declared by actuarial tables to be a total write-off this week. More on that anguishing process later, but in the end, it could have been a lot worse. We actually got a settlement that was a bit on the happy side of fair. It was not a gentle ride, however.

Now, suddenly, we’re car shopping. Buying a new car is out of the question, so we’re combing the used-auto sites, seeing what’s out there that we can afford. (One observation — surprisingly few Hondas. Unscientifically, I have to conclude that they hold their resale value extremely well.)

There are a lot of cars in our price range, but not all of them qualify as ‘practical’. This story is about one of those cars.

I was at work today, putting in some Saturday hours to catch up with my deadlines after dealing with all sorts of automotive distractions over the week. I got a call on the Sweetie Hot Line. When I asked her how she was, her answer was tentative. “Uh, oh,” I though. “Is 2014 throwing a farewell spitball at us?” 2014 has not been gentle.

That turned out not to be the case. What had happened was this: An online acquaintance of The Light of My Life had sent her a message about a car she was selling. She looked at the pictures and her heart went pitter-pat. The car is a 1960 Studebaker Lark V8. The Lark was one of the first North American entries into the car class that would come to be known as “compact”, and by 1960’s standards this car is tastefully understated. This one is apple red, has all new electrics (including an alternator instead of a generator), and based on the description is in very good shape.

A little trivia: The first couple of years it was out, the V8 Lark could do 0 to 60 in less than half the time of its competitors. That was mostly because the competitors were really friggin’ slow, but still. I learned that on Wikipedia today. I learned a lot about the Lark today. Strictly to help us make an informed decision, obviously.

My Sweetie was calling me to be a voice of reason. She needed someone to tell her how crazy it was to consider a car that’s already had its 50th birthday as a replacement for a modern, reliable ride.

My attempts to pour ice water on her dream were only half-hearted, however. There’s part of me which thinks driving a Studebaker around town is a pretty grand idea. Then my favorite redhead said, as an argument against buying it, “We’d have to go get it.”

“Where is it now?”

“Kansas.”

And just like that my head filled with images of a road trip with my sweetie, in a Studebaker, and writing each day about the road we had covered and the conversations we’d had and the comments we got at rest stops when we let Lady Byng out to pee. That would be awesome. After that, my attempts to dissuade her lost all muscle. “There will be a day you need to get somewhere and you turn the key and nothing happens,” I said. Which is certainly true.

Bench front seat. Remember those? This car seats six. Automatic transmission, but for a car like that we could put up with it.

Yet, from the very beginning there was something I could have mentioned, something that I will have to mention eventually, that will probably end the conversation. It’s about safety.

I’m sure we can get three-point seatbelts installed, and airbags are overrated. But there’s one other safety feature that modern cars have that almost no one talks about. Had our little Ford not had this feature, however, it’s quite possible I could have been badly hurt when the kid smacked into me. My head was snapped back quite forcefully, but the headrest on the driver’s seat caught me and protected me from potentially serious harm. As a result, our insurance claim was strictly about property damage.

Air bags are complex, expensive, and require extra complexity to keep them from doing more harm than good in certain situations. In contrast, the headrest is an example of safety legislation with a lot of bang for its buck. Simple and effective.

The Studebaker in question has no headrests. Pristine interior, red and white, but no headrests.

When I point that out to my sweetie, talk of classic cars will likely end, much as I’d love to glide along with my honey next to me on that bench front seat.

Or… not. Maybe this is the litmus test of our dedication to a classic automobile. Are we willing to be a little less safe to drive something cool? (Corollary: does that make us hipsters?) Are we prepared for weekends of cursing and scuffed knuckles to keep her running? Will I have dirty fingernails every Monday when I go to work? To be honest, I kind of miss having a high-maintenance car. It’s like exercise. Sucks when you’re doing it, feels great when you’re done.

Is it a sign from above that the car costs almost exactly what our insurance settlement is? Are we destined to be the curators (not owners — it will likely own us) of a classic automobile? It sure would be cool to do photo shoots with a ride like this.

We’ll have a little something to drink tonight, look at the pictures, and dream a bit. Then most likely we’ll move on, turning our attention to the sensible end of the spectrum, and wondering forevermore what might have been.

A Particularly Shitty Couple of Weeks

A couple years ago, we lost out entire kitchen to a plumbing problem. Since then, we’ve had two near misses. The laundry room under-floor will never be the same, but we can pretend all is well. Then there’s the leak that’s been going on long enough it has been supporting its own ecosystem. Our plumbing is crap.

It came down to this: we would never sleep well at night until we tore out the horrible plumbing in our home and replaced it with not-horrible plumbing. Money has been tight, but we agreed that it was worth spending some cash to end the ongoing risk of catastrophic and expensive plumbing failures. It took all our immediate savings and some sale of fruit-flavored stock, but after a week of what might otherwise have been a relaxing time off work, the plumbing crew was mostly finished. A stressful week, but one that promised peace of mind on the other side.

There were a couple of hitches, so on Tuesday the plumbing company sent a guy out to fix them. Our wee doggie has not dealt well with any of the plumbing intruders, but as I got into the car Tuesday morning I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We had better pipes. The endless worries about losing months of our lives to home repair were soon to end.

It was raining Tuesday; that’s why I drove. That’s why the roads were slick. That’s why the kid in the Corolla slammed into me.

I’m not hurt. Roxy, the 2001 Ford Escort, is mortally wounded. Roxy has only 40,412 miles on her, which means There are simply no comparable vehicles out there. And there’s the bitch of the thing. The actuarial tables State Farm uses will not yield a number that comes remotely close to the replacement value. We could have ridden that car for another decade easily. The thing just plain did its job.

So now the showdown begins. State Farm will offer us money for our car. That money won’t be enough. Our position: make it like it never happened. Put a car in our garage that fills the same role. It’s not about money. Their position: We’re buying your wrecked car for a fair amount.

Meanwhile, we just gave all our spare cash (and a little more) to plumbers. We’re not ready to take on car payments.

I know, as I bitch about the ill fortune that has beset me, that a lot of people have it worse than I do. Most of planet Earth, in fact. People in camps near where I live would scoff at my problems. But a twenty-year-old kid driving like twenty-year-old kids do has put us in a serious financial bind, and honestly I don’t see the right answer.

A Fine Meal

There are few things better than fresh tomatoes straight from the garden. One of those better things is several different kinds of fresh tomatoes gracing your summertime entrée, all fresh-picked from within thirty feet of where your dinner plate is.

I didn’t count how many different kinds of tomato we had tonight; there are ten different varieties growing out in the back 40, but they’ve never all had ripe tomatoes at the same time. But tonight there were definitely several types represented, and they were all delicious.

When I was a kid I didn’t even know there were ten different kinds of tomato. The growing interest in pre-industrial versions of the food we eat is definitely a happy thing. And healthy, too.

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Cocytus

A few months ago, our water heater died. We called our home warranty people and they dispatched Street Plumbing to take care of us. They were prompt and courteous, and we were planning to ask them to convert our plumbing from plastic to copper.

Last week our new water heater started making funny noises. When the burner was on it would hum a deep bass note that would vibrate the whole house. It was as if a big truck were rumbling past, only it didn’t stop. It happened once after I got home from work, then never again. We weren’t feeling great about the events, but we went on with our lives.

Until the heater went kaput completely. Naturally this was on Saturday morning. The heater was practically brand new, so presumably under manufacturer’s warranty. We called our home warranty people (alert readers will note at this point that there are two warranties interacting). The folks at First American Home Warranty sent out a repair guy from Street Plumbing, the same company that had installed the heater, and he showed up Saturday afternoon. He replaced a hose, then couldn’t get the heater to light again.

“You need to get a new heater,” he said. He provided the specific information about our heater that the manufacturer would want when I called, then left. I called the manufacturer, and spoke to a very nice lady who was baffled. It seems everyone who installs water heaters should know that they just need to go back through their wholesaler to take care of warranties.

So I called the Street Plumbing back. No answer. I left a message. I went back to the home warranty company to see if they had a secret insider’s emergency contact number. It is not easy to contact First American; wait times are routinely over an hour. Finally I got through to someone and she said she’d contact Street Plumbing with proper authorizations first thing Monday morning, but that I should call as well.

There would be no hot water until Monday, it seemed. No washing dishes. Very unpleasant showers.

Monday morning I called Street Plumbing. I talked to the receptionist and she said that the technician would call me back. He did not. All further attempts to contact Street Plumbing failed. To the warranty company, all they said was, “we already told those guys they have to call the manufacturer.” Because Street never called us back, they didn’t know that we had already dealt with the manufacturer multiple times. But they never called us, and so never did anything to make the situation better. We had no hot water, and no one was doing anything.

Finally a key piece of the puzzle was resolved. First American Home Warranty had made the purchase of the replacement heater, so they were the ones who had to contact the manufacturer and get the warranty managed. The right person at the First American was contacted, and he said he was taking personal responsibility for seeing this through. Hooray!

By this point my dearest sweetie was handling communications from our frigid base camp. It was a task I was happy to relinquish, but I felt bad for the light of my life. Things were going into a spiral, you see. Mr. Personal Responsibility vanished. He didn’t answer messages (left at a time cost of more than an hour). Sweetie was getting annoyed, frustrated, and downright pissed off.

Another day passed. Another person at First American took “personal responsibility”. With my best gal waiting on the line, she called each of the parties involved and worked through all the shit. She was awesome. Understandings were reached. Let there be light. A manufacturer’s rep would be right out to sort things out. Except…

Another day passed. No water heater.

My sweetie called the home warranty people late the next afternoon. Had to explain the situation all over again. Discovered that HOURS EARLIER the home warranty folks had learned that the manufacturer’s rep would not be coming that day. But they never bothered to tell us that. The rep on the phone started to give the same promises as usual, and my sweetie tore her throat out, using the power of her voice alone. We’re getting off this merry-go-round, thank you very much.

Shortly thereafter, we got a call from a different plumber, Water Quality Plumbing, who is somehow more closely connected with the manufacturer of the water heater. The scheduler said there was no one available until the next day. “have you been without hot water all day?” she asked. “We haven’t had hot water since Saturday,” the brightest star in my constellation told her.

“Saturday? No one told me that!” Sarah at Water Quality Plumbing took that seriously; Jeff was at our house half an hour later, working overtime, and he fixed our water heater.

Let me repeat that. Jeff fixed our water heater. In about thirty minutes. We didn’t need a new one. Days lost while the various entities pointed fingers at each other, hours spent on the phone trying to get someone to do something, were all completely unnecessary. If the first guy to come to the house had been competent, none of the rest would have happened, and we’d still be buying a bunch of copper pipe from Street.

So while there are plenty of bad things to say about First American Home Warranty, Street Plumbing earns the goat award for this one, for not fixing the (apparently) simple problem in the first place, and compounding the problem by not providing a simple piece of information that would have accelerated the ridiculous process by a couple of days.

Lesson to all in the service industry: even if you haven’t made progress on the case, pick up the fucking telephone and answer your messages.

Thursday, I think I had the best non-camping-related shower of my life.

Welcome, Lady Byng!

Yesterday evening we arrived home from the nearby animal shelter with a new friend.

Lady Byng

She is named for the hockey trophy that is awarded each year to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Yes, it’s hockey’s Miss Congeniality award. Fitting to her name, she is a very well-behaved little dog, who doesn’t need to be told more than twice where she is not allowed to go (though the subtleties of sofa-with-blanket vs. sofa-without-blanket are still confusing to her after 24 hours).

She is also very quiet. Last night, as we put her into her bed in the laundry room she cried for a while, with some really odd-sounding vocalizations, but nary a bark. Once she figured out that we were still nearby she settled down to sleep.

So, welcome to the pack, Lady Byng.

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Tweaking the Health Regimen

The light of my life and I bought a fancy elliptical trainer a couple of years ago. She has been very consistent with it, while I’ve been, well, streaky. There are times I come home from work and I’m just too wiped out to contemplate getting on the thing. (On days I do manage to get up on it, I’m glad I did, but that lesson is soon forgotten.) I’m definitely healthier, but I’m no skinnier. In fact, I’m bigger than ever.

The obvious answer, of course, is to climb up on that bad boy first thing in the morning, before I’ve had time to start making excuses. Alarm goes off (dreadfully early), I drag my sorry ass out of bed and grind out my time. So far, I’ve been very consistent with this approach, and I think I arrive at work more alert and cheerful. And hungry. Gotta love the oatmeal bar at the little coffee place in the building. More on the hunger shortly.

One thing I have observed about working out first thing in the morning: It’s much harder to meet my goals. I’m going into max energy burn after fasting for a few hours, and I hit the proverbial bottom of the tank way sooner that I do when I work out in the evening. I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

I did some research to see if there was some food I could eat only moments before exercising that could help me power through. Turns out, not so much. But I did learn another interesting thing: What I eat right after I exercise can make a big difference next time. There is a window after exercise in which the body grabs all the energy it can out of the blood stream to convert to store in muscles as glycogen. Get the carbs (and some protein) rolling during that window and things will be better the next day. Pretty sweet!

I started comparing different foods for the right carb-protein balance (nonfat chocolate milk apparently is about perfect and has nutrients the commercial sports recovery drinks lack). I was about three days into this process when I started to wonder:

Isn’t it good when I run out of gas while working out? Isn’t that kind of the goal of all this?

All the advice I’d read, you see, was targeted at athletes. For them, high output while exercising is the goal. Not so much for me. I want to create conditions where my body (reluctantly) chooses to break down some of that stored energy in my fat cells and use that to restore the glycogen in my muscles. This process is far less efficient, and the human body really is loath to give up its precious fat, but during that same window where the body will suck every carb out of the bloodstream, if there aren’t enough carbs, it will convert just enough fat to keep things running.

My muscles aren’t replenished as much, and the next morning’s workout will be tougher. But ideally the energy is coming from the right place.

By the time I get to work, that window has closed, and my insides have returned to business as usual. And I’m about ready to eat an entire pizza. Hooray for oatmeal! It’s carb-heavy, but low-fat and sticks to the ribs and by lunchtime I’m able to make more sensible choices as well.

So, with such a sensible system, the pounds must be flying off, right?

Well, not so much. Not yet, anyway. I’m absolutely certain that I’m on the right track, and like any long-term project, it’s best to keep expectations of instant and dramatic success tempered. But I have recently made one more change, a dramatic, desperate gesture of good health beyond all reason.

I have a target weight this month. Next month, the target weight goes down. Each morning as I prepare to exercise, I step on the scales. If I’m above the target, no alcohol that day. No beer after work, no wine with dinner. I like beer and wine. While cutting alcohol will definitely reduce my caloric intake, there is a second, even more powerful, indirect effect. When the alarm clock goes off in the morning and I just want to stay in bed, I remind myself that shirking on my exercise will only delay my next sip of sweet beer. On days I don’t bring lunch from home I think about the consequences of eating the wrong thing: Another meal with my sweetie, with no wine for me.

A coworker laughed when I told him this story, imagining me on a treadmill running full-speed for a beer hanging just out of reach. That’s not far from the truth. But if it works, that’s all right with me.

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Our Kitchen, Filled With Treats

Our kitchen, filled with treats.

Our kitchen, filled with treats.


Here’s a panoramic view of our newly-reconstructed kitchen. It’s awesome! It’s kind of hard to tell when it’s wee small (click to biggerize it), but there’s about ten different kinds of yummy holiday goodies piled up in there.

Yeah, life is good.

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