Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shooting Around

With my face a mask of concentration, I stepped up to the free throw line, determined to make my first shot a good one. I dribbled hard three times, bent my knees slightly, and then, in one smooth motion, rose up onto my toes and lofted the ball towards the hoop, using the textbook form drilled into me incessantly by my coaches during the seventh grade.

Airball. Not even close.

I smiled. I still had it!

It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I was out testing my newly-purchased basketball via the age-old activity known as “shooting around.” Now, it’d been years since I’d last shot around, but I figured the occasion called for me to get out and make the effort.

You might ask: “If you never shoot around, then why do you need a basketball in the first place?” Good question, and the answer is “just in case,” which is, for the record, the exact same reason I have a water canon in the trunk of my car that I’ve never used, despite owning for well over a decade. You just never know when it might come in handy.

The court I was using was located at a seldom-used park about a mile or two from my home, as I’d decided against using the hoop that stands just behind my house. My reason for doing so was simple. I didn’t want any of my neighbors to see me, which I was positive would elicit whispered remarks such as:

“Hey, who’s that old guy trying to recapture his youth?”
“I don’t know, but it looks like he’s out of breath after taking just a couple of jumpshots.”
“To be honest, I don’t think you could actually consider that jumping.”
“Did you see that? He’s down! He clanked a layup off the bottom of the rim and it came back and hit him in the face!”
“I know! I know! I got it on video, and it’s already trending!”

Anyway, after airballing my first shot from the free throw line, I began to expand my range to other portions of the court, and soon I was missing from everywhere, just like old times. However, even though I’d entered a zone of familiarity, the whole thing was still a bit awkward. I mean, it’s not like I was practicing for the next high school season or something. I was just some old dude randomly shooting around at a park for what appeared to be no reason, which isn’t something you see every day. Or maybe ever.

However, regardless of the inherent awkwardness of the situation, I quickly found that shooting around was just as fun as it’d always been, and soon I got into a groove. I shot off-balanced jumpers, fadeaways, teardrops, scoops, hook shots, and finger rolls. At one point I even pulled out the ol’ spin-around-only-to-be-blinded-by-the-rising-sun shot, which, to no surprise, missed by roughly a mile, but was still a heck of a lot of fun to try. Then, later on, I even managed to sink a wrong-handed layup, which took me back to the athletic highlight of my life, which was when I miraculously made two of them during the eight grade championship game, helping to propel my team to victory. 

The minutes were now flying by, and soon I was practicing yelling, “And one!” as I got my shot off, along with, “The bank is open!” after putting one in off the backboard. It all culminated in me somehow defying the laws of probability and nailing a corner three-pointer, which left me wanting to stretch out my arms and scream, “Did you see that??!!” to everybody within a three-block radius. Luckily, however, I was able to restrain myself, and the local police didn’t have to be called to come and ask me to leave.

By now I was sweating profusely, and I soon began to wonder just how long I was supposed to play. This may sound a bit strange, but the truth of the matter was that I was breaking new ground. You see, back when I was a kid I shot around nearly every day with my brother, and we’d always play until somebody got hurt, I broke my glasses, or Mom called us in for dinner. Barring a helpful ankle sprain or a missed dribble that came up and hit me in the face, however, I was now on my own.

Fortunately, my lack of conditioning soon got the better of me and I began to tire. I still managed to push on for a few minutes longer, but there was no denying it was time to quit. However, any basketball player worth their salt knows there’s one rule you can’t ever break, even if you're shooting around for the first time in years: You’ve got to leave on a make, preferably a three-pointer.

And so, with my chest heaving, I dribbled behind the arc, steadied myself both mentally and physically, and proceeded to jack up an airball of stunning magnitude.

Stupid crosswind!

I retrieved the ball, dribbled back, and tried again.

Brick city.

This occurrence then proceeded to repeat itself over and over again, to the point where I began to wonder, since I could barely catch my breath, if I was ever going to get off the court alive. “He died doing the thing that he loved, but was extremely terrible at,” is what I imagined they’d soon be saying about me.

Then, mercifully, I somehow managed to bounce one in, and a moment later I was staggering towards my car, cackling with delight.

Later on that day, sitting in the comfort of my home, I began to reflect on what had transpired, and I soon came to three important conclusions:
  1. From a straight up skills perspective, not much had changed, despite the passing of years. You see, I’ve always been the Rocky Balboa type, making up for my lack of talent through sheer stubbornness, and this approach had ended up paying huge dividends. I mean, how could I lose a step if I’d never had one in the first place?
  2. On a more philosophical level, I realized that I’d initially felt awkward because, to the untrained eye, it may have seemed like I’d been trying to recapture my youth. However, that was not the case. I’d merely been trying to have fun, which in turn made me realize that I’d accomplished something far more important than attempting to chase down my past. You see, trying to recapture one’s youth is never fun, because it is, in fact, impossible. However, bolstering one’s youthful exuberance, which I believe is one of the most important things a person can do, is most definitely possible, and is always fun.
  3. Finally, despite all of the time that had passed since I’d last shot around, I was proud to realize I still had just as much of a chance to make the NBA as I did all of those years before, and that, at least for me, made for a pretty good day.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Embracing Minnesota

Being a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who’s now living in Minnesota, I’ve made it a priority to not forget where I come from, and this is no more evident than when you step into my house. U.P. coasters, calendars, hoodies, t-shirts, drawings, and various wall decorations can be seen everywhere. There are also several pasties in my freezer – which I keep forgetting to eat – and an “I 💗 Fulton" magnet is proudly affixed to my refrigerator. And that’s just what I own at the current moment. I’m always in the market for something new, with one of my main goals in life being to obtain some sort of U.P. night light that will help me watch out for those pesky monsters that only come out after the sun goes down.

Now, while embracing one’s roots is a good thing, I recently realized that my borderline-maniacal fixation with the U.P. may have been coming at the expense of assimilating into Minnesota culture. I mean, I’ve lived here for a half-dozen years and still say “camp” instead of “cabin,” and the words “hot dish,” “budge,” and “why do our kickers always blow it in the playoffs?” have not yet spilled out of my mouth.

And it goes well beyond adopting the vernacular, too. Despite living in the Twin Cities for quite some time, I’ve experienced very few of the things one would read about if they were planning a vacation here and wanted to soak up the local culture. For example, I have no urge to ever go to the Mall of America, with the reason being that I’d never be able to find my car afterwards, which would then force me to live there until my money ran out, at which point I’d either have to get a job at one of the department stores or try to make the desperate trek back home on foot. I also haven’t been to Valley Fair, as paying good money to let some mechanical abomination fling me around until I’m sick just isn’t my idea of a good time. And then there’s the Minnesota State Fair, a.k.a. the Great Minnesota Get-Together, which I typically avoid like the plague. I guess sweating profusely in the hot sun while surrounded by thousands of other people sounds slightly stressful to me.

Now, I fully realize that my excuses for avoiding these activities do nothing more than paint me as a crotchety old man who doesn’t ever want to leave his house, but, as a very wise cartoon character once said, “I yam what I yam!” Still, upon realizing that for the last six years I’d basically been rejecting all things Minnesotan, I knew I had to do something to show my current home a little respect. I mean, it’s a great state, and living here has allowed me to experience some truly wonderful things, such as:

  • Clouds of mosquitoes that could probably carry away a cow if they ever coordinated their efforts
  • Flocks (or gaggles, or hordes, or murders) of aggressive geese who can occasionally cause me to fear for my life
  • Hot summer days that cause the freeways to buckle, creating jumps you usually only see in the Dukes of Hazzard
  • Icy winter days where the wind has more control over your car than you
Now, before any of you Minnesotans out there decide to form a mob and throw rocks at my house, I realize that living in the U.P. is no picnic, either. I mean, where else can you see snowmen during a normal winter’s day and legitimately wonder if there might be an actual person underneath?

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. What could I do to embrace Minnesota that didn’t involve going somewhere with lots of other people? Should I start saying “Uff-da,” or perhaps refer to Duck Duck Goose as “Duck Duck Gray Duck?" No, that’d be too forced.

Maybe I could fully adopt the hockey culture by busting out my skates and honestly trying to get involved in the game? Nah, it’d be too embarrassing to have 5-year-olds skating circles around me and potentially spraying me in the face with snow.

Then it hit me. I’d break my own personal rule of only owning black Adidas hats and buy one featuring the Minnesota North Stars! I mean, for a guy to violate his own hard-and-fast wardrobe rules would go a long way in showing he's truly embracing living in the area, right? Plus, I’ve always secretly wanted to own a North Stars hat, for the following reasons:

  • It’s a great team name.
  • The logo is simple, yet classy.
  • Since they no longer, technically, exist, I could wear it and still not be accused of rooting against the Red Wings.
So the decision was made, and I soon found myself in Goldy’s Locker Room in the Ridgedale mall, surrounded by apparel for what seemed to be a thousand Minnesota sports teams. This in itself was quite overwhelming, and I kept waiting for some of my grade school friends from Michigan to materialize out of thin air and beat me up for even stepping foot into the place. Still, it was part of the deal I’d made with myself, and so I forced myself to look around until I found the hat I wanted: Black with a logo on the front. Simple and classy.

On my way home I stopped by the grocery store for the express reason of testing out my new hat. As I wandered through the aisles, I half-expected to start getting random high-fives from strangers, as if by putting on the hat I’d be instantly accepted into some secret society of Minnesota sports fans, but things went about the same as usual. However, it was a big step for me nonetheless, and I knew I’d made the right decision.

Since then I’ve only worn the hat a few times, as it’s still a little weird to be walking around supporting a non-Michigan team. However, I’m hoping to get it into a regular rotation with the Adidas hats soon, and if you ever see me out and about with it, realize that I’m doing my very best to integrate into the state I now call home. However, for the record, don’t expect me to ever wear it when I head back to the U.P. for a visit. I still think I might get beaten up.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Table For One

It had been a long drive to the rough-and-tumble town of Buffalo, Wyoming, and I was hungry. I saw several dining possibilities as I rolled down the main street, all of them steakhouses. I smiled. The cowboy spirit was alive and well here, and with that would come many opportunities for a good meal.

Wanting to cover all of my bases, I did some exploring, and soon I happened upon a rustic looking restaurant that just seemed right. Call it a gut feeling. With my mind made up, I parked the car and made my way over. My spirits were further bolstered when I discovered that I had to enter said restaurant via a set of batwing doors, after having navigated through an adjacent saloon. I smiled again. Any place attached to a saloon was bound to serve up large platters of hearty food! Heck, maybe I’d even run into a bar fight on my way out, something right out of the Dukes of Hazzard! What a great place!

Except then I saw that the hostess who greeted me was holding a menu whose contents were easily contained on a single side of a piece of paper. Uh-oh.

Looking around, I saw that I was awash in a sea of fancy drapes, napkins, and tablecloths. Double uh-oh. Nearly every fiber of my being told me to turn right around, but it was too late. Being rude was simply not an option.

Politely ignoring the wild look of fear in my eyes, the hostess led me to the far room – which was empty – and deposited me into a solitary corner. She then informed me that she’d return in a moment to light my candle.

I looked down. Yup. There was a single candle resting elegantly on my table. Triple uh-oh.

Perusing the menu, I saw that I had three main options to choose from, each of which was priced at a tidy, whole dollar amount. Management, it seemed, felt no need to try and play physiological games by charging something like $9.99 or $19.99. Nope, this place was far too sophisticated for something as tacky as decimal points.

After briefly debating crashing through a nearby window and making a break for it, I ended up ordering the chicken-something-fancy, nestled in a bed of something-else-quite-fancy, garnished with something-else-really-fancy.  (I was tempted to go with the filet mignon-something-fancy, but I wasn’t quite prepared to sell a kidney to help and finance it.)

As I passed the time waiting for my meal by watching my candle flicker, people began to stream in. Apparently, I was the beginning of the dinner rush. My seat was facing the afore-mentioned window, and so I couldn’t see any of the new patrons, but on multiple occasions I heard spoken some variation of the following: “Oh, this is so romantic!”

Feeling more out of place by the moment, I quickly began to devise a backstory, just in case somebody asked why I was there alone. It went like this:

Her name was Violet, and her eyes sparkled like the stars in the darkest of night skies. Upon first seeing her on the busy streets of Buffalo several years before, I’d been instantly in love. We’d met by accident, or so she'd always thought. I'd had to make several attempts to accidentally bump into her in the crowd before I finally got it right. The next week was a whirlwind of blossoming romance like I’d never experienced, and I soon found myself hoping I’d finally found the happily-ever-after that I’d become convinced was forever going to elude me. But like a candle in the wind it was suddenly over, and she said good-bye to me one night in this very restaurant, at the same table I was sitting at right now. She said she didn’t want to go, that she loved me, but also that she had no choice, driven by circumstances far too complicated to even begin to explain. We both cried, and then she slipped out into the night, leaving a gaping hole in my chest where my heart used to be. And so, every year on the anniversary of her leaving, I return to this same restaurant and table, hoping that she’ll be here waiting for me, having finally made peace with whatever demons had chased her away.

Or something like that.

I continued to massage my back story – playing with inventing a hand-written letter smelling faintly of her perfume that I could carry around in my jacket – until my food finally arrived. It was exactly what I expected. While tasting excellent (you can never go wrong ordering chicken-something-fancy) I easily could have eaten three times the amount. In fact, by the time I’d taken my last bite I was pretty sure I was hungrier than when I’d arrived.

By now the room was crowded and loud with conversation, and I was itching to make my departure. Seeing my empty plate, the waitress mercifully dropped off my bill, along with some sort of fancy, cinnamon stick thing. I began to sweat. I had no idea how to eat it. Did I suck on it like a candy cane? Break it into smaller pieces with my fingers? Cut it with a fork and knife like a gentleman? In the end I went with option four, which was to shove it into my pocket when nobody was looking, with the intention of doing further analysis at a safer time.

Trying not to look too eager, I arose from my table, crossed the busy room, and paid my bill. I then pushed my way through the batwing doors back into the saloon, where a brawl had unfortunately not yet broken out. This is when I saw the sign stating that a traditional menu was being served there.

Of course if was.

As I made my way back to the car I had to hunch my shoulders against a late-afternoon rain shower, but I didn’t care. I was free! And, unsurprisingly, still quite hungry. Making a mental note to hit up a grocery store, I took one last look back at the restaurant and shook my head.

Time, however, allows for new perspectives to spring forth, and in the weeks since I’ve decided that maybe I should go back and give it another chance. Perhaps I was too hasty in my judgment, too quick with my scrutiny. So maybe in about a year. After all, Violet might be there waiting for me, hoping that I’ll push through those batwing doors, sweep her off her feet, and take her away. As far-fetched as it sounds, I can never allow myself to lose hope, and until then I’ll keep her letter tucked away in the pocket of my jacket, letting the faint smell of her perfume serve as a reminder of the love we once shared, the love that I hope can someday be rekindled into a roaring fire of everlasting passion.

Or something like that.

Monday, May 22, 2017

To the Bighorns

In past blog entries I’ve mentioned my car, the trusty Honda, on numerous occasions. We’ve been together for over ten years now, during which time we’ve become good friends, mainly because he doesn’t get annoyed when I sing along to the radio, nor judgmental when I consume a hasty on-the-go breakfast from Kwik Trip consisting of a half-dozen doughnuts and coffee.

While our adventures have piled up over the years, it recently dawned on me that it’d been quite a while since we’d been on a real road trip together. During his younger days he’d taken me to both Montana and Tennessee, but over the past few years he’d been asked to do nothing more strenuous than occasionally shuttle me to and from Michigan. This newfound realization didn’t sit very well with me, mainly because of the fact that as I grow older, one of my biggest goals is to prove that I still “have it.” In short, I’d like to think that I can still run as fast and jump as high as I could ten years ago – albeit with a few more aches and pains afterwards – and so why wouldn’t the same basic principle apply to the Honda?

This was definitely food for thought, and after a little soul-searching I decided that we should go to Wyoming to see the Bighorn Mountains. It’d be a win-win situation. I’d get a chance to not go to work, and the Honda could prove that he, too, still “had it.”

The trip would be somewhat abbreviated. We’d leave Minnesota on a Sunday and return six days later. It’d be a lot of driving, but that was sort of the point. There’d be a lot of time to listen to music, ponder the mysteries of the universe, and, most importantly, relive some of our past adventures – although hopefully not the one where I almost let him roll off the Bear Tooth Pass during the aforementioned Montana trip. The problem, however, was that I simply couldn’t ignore his age. He was over ten years old and in the twilight of his life. Something was bound to go wrong. He’d been so trusty for so long that the law of averages was bound to catch up with him. The only question was: what, exactly, would it be?

And so I was actually happy when his ability to produce cold air suddenly began to wane a day or two before the trip. Maybe this was the “something” that was bound to go wrong! Heck, I could handle weak, or possibly no, A/C! I mean, the pioneers didn’t have A/C when they crossed the plains, and they survived – at least some of them! And so, armed with a renewed sense of adventure and a Triple-A card, Sunday rolled around and the Honda and I set out on our way.

Not far into our journey I turned on the radio, and the first full song I heard was William Michael Morgan’s “Missing,” whose chorus came pretty close to summing up the adventure we were embarking upon, both physically and spiritually:

Well there ain't no telling where I'm bound (correction: Wyoming)
The big city or the country, a little beach town (correction: still Wyoming)
But you won’t find me 'cause I can't be found (correction: unless you call my phone)
I'm on a mission, to be missing
I'll be back some day I just don't know when (correction: Saturday)
'Till then I'll be a feather floating in the wind
So don't you go missing me
'Cause sometimes missing is my favorite place to be

As the song’s last chords disappeared, I knew the trip had been the right choice. In fact, I was so inspired that I plugged in my iPod just so I could listen to it again. Ahhhh, it was perfect! Fate was obviously smiling down upon me and the decision I'd made! Then I realized that in my exuberance I’d missed a turn, roughly three miles from my house, which had to be some sort of navigational error record.

Undeterred, the Honda and I were soon back on track and heading into southwestern Minnesota, which can only be described as flat-as-flat-can-be-and-probably-even-flatter. Farms littered the landscape, and while I appreciated the fact that they were playing an integral role in the feeding of this great nation, I was also very happy that I was traveling via freeway, which meant I could appreciate them at a fairly high rate of speed.

It was a hot day, and having diminished A/C was a little distracting. Still we pushed on, and eventually we entered into South Dakota, where the landscape instantly morphed from flat, never-ending farmland into flat, never-ending farmland where the speed limit had been bumped up to 80 miles an hour! Woo-hoo! Now we were getting somewhere!

There’s not much to say about South Dakota except that I believe the majority of their economy is based on the construction of annoying billboards along Interstate 90. The ones I hated the most – based entirely on the sheer number of them – were for the Corn Palace, the Petrified Gardens, the authentic 1880’s town, and, of course, Wall Drug. (The Wall Drug ones made no sense, and by the end I was pretty sure that if I went there, I’d get to fight dinosaurs in a shooting gallery while drinking coffee and eating ice cream.)

The trusty Honda handled South Dakota admirably, punctuated by an overnight stay roughly halfway through, and the next day we hit Wyoming, ecstatic to leave billboard purgatory behind. After a stop at Devil’s Tower National Monument – where I took at least three-hundred pictures of the exact same landmark, all from a slightly different angle – we were again on the road, plunging into the rolling green emptiness that is Wyoming.

When we finally chugged into our destination of Buffalo, I felt myself becoming overwhelmed with pride for the Honda. He’d made it! After we’d stopped and I’d gotten out, I wanted to give him an encouraging pat on the taillights, but instead I went with the Appreciative Guy Nod, which, while almost imperceptible, still speaks volumes. However, it was the Honda who’d done most of the talking that day, and I’d heard him loud and clear. He still had it.

My stay in the Bighorns was highlighted by rain, snow, fog, hail, giving a random guy who’d hit a deer a ride back to Buffalo, the Chris Ledoux statue in Kaycee, and the trusty Honda not rolling off any mountains. Needless to say the time passed quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to embark upon the return trip. Our sights were set on Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and with Car Talk blaring through the Honda’s speakers, we again took to the interstate. As with the previous few days, it was raining, but as we headed east the skies eventually cleared and the sun broke through, making for a pleasant drive. This lasted up until the sign in Custer, South Dakota that points to Mount Rushmore, at which point we hit a dense layer of impenetrable fog that pretty much confirmed my working theory that I’d recently done something to annoy Jupiter, the Greek god of light and sky.

And so, thanks to Jupiter and I now somehow being mortal enemies, I get to say that I’ve been to Mount Rushmore but have never actually seen Mount Rushmore. It was all sort of funny, and I found myself stifling giggles as I walked the Presidential Trail in a doomed attempt to get close enough to see through the fog. Nobody else around me, however, seemed as amused by the situation as I, and so I did my best to keep my mirth to myself, as I didn’t want to get beaten up in front of Abraham Lincoln.

Once I’d finally given up on seeing anything, it was a straight shot back home, highlighted by us blowing past the Wall Drug exit out of the sheer principle of not being manipulated by advertising. (Although I did sort of want to fight the dinosaur.) The rest of the trip was uneventful, and when we finally pulled into my driveway I realized that I never should have doubted the trusty Honda. He seemed as strong as ever, except for the minor A/C issue.

My condition, however, was a different story. I was exhausted from driving and navigating and consuming nutrient-deficient food, and as I tried to find the motivation to unload all of my stuff into my house, it suddenly hit me: Perhaps I’d been thinking about this wrong the entire time. Maybe I was the weak link. Heck, maybe the Honda was going to have to trade me in!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Whole Story On The Whole 30

Recently, I decided to join the rest of the nutrition-conscious world and do the Whole 30, as I’d grown tired of feeling inferior whenever I was amongst a group of friends, who’d all seemed to have completed at least one round. Also, it just sounded like a good idea, given as how I’d just finished the grueling Bowl Full of Jelly 30, which is a program that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, during which time the healthiest thing you eat is green frosting.

But What Is The Whole 30?

Since the official definition of the program contains the facepalm-inducing term “nutritional reset,” I'll instead break it down into layman’s terms: The Whole 30 is when you eat healthy foods for 30 days and then act incredibly surprised afterwards when you look and feel better.

Wait, you might say, that’s it? That’s what all of the fuss is about?

Yup, that’s it. You eat good foods for a month to improve your overall health, after which time you go online and blog excitedly about your experience, sometimes in ALL CAPS:

  • “The Whole 30 changed my body! I now fit into clothes I haven’t worn since high school, which is weird because I donated all of my clothes from high school years ago!”
  • “The Whole 30 changed my life! I now have an endless supply of energy, and it’s been weeks since I’ve fallen asleep in the shower! Who would have guessed that eating vegetables would actually be good for you?”
  • “The Whole 30 saved my marriage, got me a new job, and taught me how to do a proper pushup!”
  • “Once the Whole 30 was finished transforming me into a virtual supermodel, it rescued several small children from a burning building downtown! I think the mayor may even be giving it the key to the city!”
  • “The Whole 30 for president 2020! HOORAY FOR NUTRITIONAL RESETS!!! 
To get into a bit more detail, when you do the Whole 30 you eliminate from your diet all of the foods that most everybody on the planet agrees makes you fat and sick – think anything Hostess or Mountain Dew related here – along with the foods that most people agree really aren’t that good for you. Then, once your cupboards are basically empty, you throw out even more stuff, simply because the Whole 30 is sort of a jerk who doesn’t want you to be happy. Once the dust has settled and you’ve wiped the tears from your eyes, you’re basically left with vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and fruit. However, the news isn’t all bad, because in addition to being allowed to drink coffee, in some weird twist of fate, bacon somehow makes the cut!

In short, during the Whole 30 you rid yourself of all the nasty stuff you know isn’t doing your body any favors (except for bacon) and replace it with real – I.E. whole – foods. Simple, huh? Then, once you’ve fought through the 30 days, you slowly start to reintegrate the foods you cut out back into your diet, in order to see how they affect your body. In theory, this allows you to get a good feel for what foods works for you and what don’t. However, if you’re like most people, your reintegration is really just a headfirst dive into a mountain of Oreos and pizza, because they’re delicious and you missed them more than you ever thought possible.

So What’s Doing The Whole 30 Like?

When you do the Whole 30, you quickly notice a few things. The first is that no matter what 30 day-window you pick, you constantly find yourself in situations where you’re offered free food expressly forbidden by the program. For example, if you work in an office environment, you’re guaranteed to stumble upon birthday and retirement celebrations boasting free cake almost every day, including some for co-workers you didn’t even know existed. (“Michael from accounting? Since when do we have an accounting department?”) On the home front, you’ll be routinely invited by friends and family to go out to eat, attend parties, or even consume chocolate chip cookie dough straight from the container, just for the sheer joy of it. In addition, every time you enter a grocery store you’ll most likely be offered a multitude of free samples – and it’ll never be kale-based – and there’s also a very good chance that at some point a vending machine will malfunction and expel its entire payload at your feet without warning.

I have no doubt that Garfield was on the Whole 30.

However, these constant temptations can’t be avoided, and so it’s up to you to be strong and decline all of these free treats, even if it makes everybody around you feel bad for indulging. You may think that a polite, “No thank you,” might defuse the situation, but you’ll quickly realize that, in the end, it’s roughly the same as saying, “Go ahead and enjoy eating that junk food that’ll probably kill you. I’ll be over here munching on a carrot stick, looking smug and self-satisfied.” (That’s another thing. Never look smug or self-satisfied when declining treats, as your co-workers, friends, or family members might get annoyed at you to the point of holding you down and force-feeding you Doritos.)

In the end, however, it boils down to one simple thing: The Whole 30 is about you and your health, and nothing else. Who cares if you ruin multiple celebrations and activities during your 30-day window because people think you're a pretentious junk food snob? You simply have to do your best not to worry about it, mainly because you’re going to need all of your worrying capacity to try and figure out what you’re actually going to eat during those long 30 days! 

Yes, planning meals on the Whole 30 can be tricky, and you’ll quickly find that you fall into one of three camps:

  • Camp 1: You do it by the book. (Literally, there is a book.) You follow the rules explicitly and never deviate. You spend hours on the internet looking for delicious Whole 30 compliant recipes. (This is, of course, impossible, since you can’t eat processed sugar or cheese.) Still, you’ve made up your mind to do it the right way, and that’s what’s going to happen! In short, you’ve immersed yourself in the program 100% and you WILL NOT cheat yourself.
  • Camp 2: You haven’t read the book (as you hate taking direction from anybody) but you do know, vaguely, the Whole 30 guidelines. Also, you detest following recipes, mainly because when you attempt to cook anything that consists of more than one or two ingredients, you always end up with something far less edible than what you began with. So, instead of immersing yourself 100% into the program, you keep it simple (hello eggs for breakfast every day!) and you may even - gasp - cut a few corners, just as long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the program.
  • Camp 3: You miss Oatmeal Creme Pies too much and give up on about Day 4. (Camp 3 is by far the most delicious of all of the camps.)
Personally, I fell squarely into Camp 2, as evidenced by the fact that one time during my thirty days I broke down, had a piece of gum, and didn’t even restart the program! In addition, being the terrible person that I am, I cut a corner and got the majority of my veggies via green smoothies.

Wait, you might ask, green smoothies are bad?

Well, sort of. You see, blending food leaves it in a rather un-whole state, and the Whole 30 would really, really, really like it if you ate foods that are, well, whole. So, while technically not violating the rules, blending does infringe upon the spirit of the Whole 30. My thought process on the matter, however, was this: Since I clearly wasn’t going to be dedicated enough to eat a truckload of whole vegetables each and every day, I had to find a workaround, or risk turning to the dark side. (I.E. the side that has Chips Ahoy)

It’s been a while since I got a Darth Vader reference in.

So, without any feelings of shame, I compromised and made smoothies.

Not that smoothies are some sort of magic food, mind you. They just make eating vegetables a bit easier for those of us with vegetable-challenged taste buds. In theory, the reason to drink them is you get to mask the taste of vegetables with fruit, but the problem is that to actually accomplish this, you need about a 4-to-1 ratio of fruits to vegetables, which really isn’t all that healthy due to the sugar in the fruit. So, you instead have to find the sweet spot consisting of just enough fruit – sent on what amounts to a kamikaze mission – to cancel out just enough of the vegetable taste to allow you to choke it all down and claim a moral victory. (“Well that was sort of terrible, but on the bright side, I ate spinach and I'm still alive!”)

My Personal Smoothie Recipe:

1 apple: “Sorry brave little apple,” I usually say as I put it into the blender, “I wish I was going to be able to taste you, but your job of canceling out vegetables is still a very important one.”

3-4 small sticks of celery: Included because, unlike most other vegetables, celery doesn’t really taste like anything.

4-5 cucumber slices: These make the cut mainly because they’re easy for me to find at the grocery store.

4-5 broccoli trees: Included because of the large nutritional punch they provide, along with the – ah, who am I kidding? I only use them because they look like little trees, and I find that to be hilarious.

3-4 glugs of almond milk: Only included because the act of pouring almond milk out of one of those flimsy containers is both nerve-wracking and fun. However, each time you manage to do so without incident, your self-confidence soars, and having high moral is one thing that’s desperately needed on the Whole 30. (“If I can pour almond milk without making a mess, surely I can accomplish anything!”)

1 avocado: Note that no matter how hard you try, whatever avocado you pick will always end up being either overripe or not-quite-ripe enough. This is, however, not your fault, as avocados have roughly a ten-minute window where they’re actually good to eat. (Note: If the avocado breaks your blender, it probably wasn’t ripe enough.) Still, they’re worth putting in, as they give your smoothie a creamy texture that will allow you to almost convince yourself you’re not eating a ground up pile of vegetables and almond milk.

2-3 hacks off a cabbage: I know what you’re thinking: “Cabbage? Who in the world besides Peter Rabbit actually eats cabbage?” Now, while that's a valid point, let me explain myself. I only use cabbage because one day I looked into my refrigerator and saw one just sitting there. Considering that I’d never even considered purchasing one before, this was quiet peculiar, and I half-suspected that it felt lonely and jumped into my grocery bag when I was on my way out of the store. Feeling sorry for it, I decided to give it a shot, and I’ve since grown used to it to the point where it’s become a smoothie staple.

1 pound of bacon: Ha-ha! Just kidding! Although, now that I think about it…

1 handful of spinach: Included because I’m still influenced by all of those Popeye cartoons I saw years ago.

½ lime, squeezed: Since I don’t use love, I needed a different secret ingredient, and lime juice provides the smoothie with a much-needed tang.

But What Were Your Results?

Overall, my Whole 30 experience went pretty well, as I made it the entire 30 days without cheating. (Assuming, of course, that you ignore the whole gum incident.) In general, when I make up my mind to do something, I can be pretty stubborn about it, and committing to the program brought that out in full force. Honestly, I think the best part of the Whole 30 might be the challenge of it all. While not some nutritional magic bullet that’ll cure all your ills, framing it as a 30-day challenge gives you not only something to strive for, but also something to celebrate if you should succeed. 

This is because there were no jokes in the previous paragraph.

But did it work? Of course! I ate healthy food for 30 days! How could that not be beneficial? But did I look like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III when I was done? Of course not! That’s preposterous! The Whole 30 is a nutritional reset, not a weight loss program! Also, Rocky had hair! But, just in case you were wondering, here’s one of those before and after pictures you tend to find all over the internet when researching various health programs and initiatives:

The difference is like night and day!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really should get to figuring out how to approach my reintegration. Although, since we’ve become such good friend, I might just stick with the bacon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gray Beards and Surprised Koalas

The aging process is a heartless phenomenon made only slightly less terrible by the fact that it happens very slowly, and also not only to you, but to everybody else around you.

However, even though the decaying of one’s body is a gradual process that affects the global population, there are still landmark moments that can slap you in the face, and it’s how you react to these moments that measure the true depths of your character. Do you laugh it off as an inevitability of life, as a milestone of something you have no control over, or do you instead freak out and start throwing things?

Personally, I recently chose option 2.

You see, about a year or two ago I was looking intently in the mirror, wondering why my nose had decided to grow in such a funny way, when all of sudden I saw it: a single solitary white hair nestled comfortably in my beard.

“Hi there!” it seemed to say. “Your life is over!! Also, don’t bother to pluck me, as reinforcements will soon be coming!”

While the memory of my immediate reaction is a bit hazy, I’m pretty sure it involved me verbalizing the following: “YYAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!!” Then, once I’d thrown a few things across the room, I decided to buy a Corvette and go on a backpacking trip to find myself.

Soon after, however, reality began to set in. First and foremost, I would look stupid in a Corvette. I mean, really stupid. Also, finding myself seemed like a lot of work that I really didn’t want to put in, not to mention the fact that no matter what I did, the white hair would still be there.

So I decided that for better or worse, I’d just have to live with it.

At first my strategy consisted simply of not looking at myself in the mirror. However, after a few spinach-stuck-in-the-teeth incidents, I realized that I couldn’t hide from myself forever. I had to accept what was happening and make peace with it.

Reluctantly, I turned to the mirror and began to picture what I’d look like as more and more of my beard turned white and/or gray. At first it was hard, but soon I began to have visions of others who’d gone through it before me:

Sean Connery
Gandalf the White
Willie Nelson
Jim Leyland
Obi-Wan Kenobi

Then it hit me. For some unknown reason, when a man goes gray he suddenly begins to emit an aura of great wiseness and maturity, even if he’s the type of person who can’t operate a revolving door without injuring himself. It’s one of life’s great mysteries. Why is it that all it takes is some salt and pepper in a man’s hair to instantly make him look like the type of person you’d want as your mentor, your financial adviser, your airplane pilot?

Upon realizing this, I smiled. This was great! My beard was eventually going to make me look wiser! And more mature! And more dignified! And the best part was, I’d never been, nor will I ever be, wise or mature! I mean, just yesterday I literally spent 10 minutes at work giggling at the following picture of a surprised koala:

Honestly, I had to leave the room in order to not disturb those around me! That’s surely not somebody you’d want flying your plane or architecting your retirement plan!

So now I don’t even care when a new white hair pops up in my beard. In fact, I’ve begun to look forward to them, and when I do spot a new one when looking in the mirror, I smile and say, “Getting wiser, I see!”

Gray = Wise is one of life’s ultimate farces, and I’m now looking forward to perpetuating it for many years to come. So, ask me your questions about retirement, mortgages, aviation, or just life in general! I’ll be sure to make up something that sounds wise and gives you comfort! It’s my duty as a graying man!

Unless, of course, I’m too busy giggling at the picture of the surprised koala.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Three's a Crowd

This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but I’m nothing if not a man of consistency. When I find something that works, I stick with it, as evidenced by my trusty Honda, my ever-growing collection of Dave Barry books, and my timeless love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And so, quite naturally, my need for uniformity has played a large role in the development of my wardrobe, specifically my collection of baseball hats:

Yes, those are 3 different versions of the exact same hat, and no, I don’t buy them in bulk. Now, before you ask any more questions, let me explain my reasons for owning them.

Reason One:
These hats are black and drab, which is a critical component to my style. (The Drab Forgettable Look) The last thing I’d ever want to do is stand out in a crowd (shudder), and a drab black hat goes a long way in helping me fade comfortably into any given background. Basically, it’s social camouflage.

Reason Two:
It takes the thinking out of matching. You see, I’m terrible at coordinating colors, mainly because there’s way too many of them, which confuses me to no end. (I mean, is fuchsia really a thing, and if so, is it really necessary?) Take a standard color wheel. If you were to show me one, I’d immediately get dizzy and have to lie down and rest for a while. There’s just too much going on with it, to the point where over the years I’ve been forced to develop my own personal version:

And so – with the help of this simplified color wheel – I’ve decided that black is the way to go in terms of my hat color, since it seems to match just about everything I own, including my ill-fitting J.C. Penney suit that I’ve worn only twice (both to costume parties), my swimming trunks, and, most importantly, my collection of drab black, gray, and blue shirts.

Reason Three:
The Adidas logos on these hats don’t jump out, which is something that’s very important to me, as I don’t want to be a corporate shill. Unless a logo has something to do with the Upper Peninsula, United States national parks, or the George Strait 2005 Somewhere Down in Texas tour, I don’t want it standing out. “Mind your own business” is my motto for logos that adorn my wardrobe.

But why, you might ask, do I have three versions of the exact same hat? Are you really that lazy? Well, to be honest with you, it’s because I made a terrible mistake. I probably should have stuck with just two.

You see, I had a good system going for a while. I owned two hats, one old and one sort of new. The old hat (used for semi-formal, festive, and casual occasions) was dirty, faded, and smelled like campfire. The newer hat (used for black tie, white tie, and formal occasions) was slightly less dirty and faded, and its smell had yet to reach the point of turning heads. Basically, it was the perfect system. I either wore the old hat or the newer hat, and the simple choice helped to keep my stress levels low.

Then, however, in a fit of what I thought was inspiration – but which I later realized was a brief bout of insanity – one day I had the following thought: “Two hats are good, but wouldn’t a third one make things even better?”

At the time it sort of made sense. My old hat was getting quite ragged, to the point where the possibility of it dissolving in a stiff gust of wind seemed very real. So, I figured that by buying a third hat I could begin to phase out the old hat, namely by relegating it solely to campfire and sports duty. Then, what had once been the newer hat (and which would now become the middle hat) could take over some of the duties of the old hat, while the newly purchased hat would immediately be used for high-class gatherings, such as going to Kwik Trip or the ATM. Then, whenever the old hat did give up the ghost, the middle hat would seamlessly slide down to become the new old hat, while the newly-purchased hat would become the new newer hat, officially restoring the two-hat system! Got it?

However, I wasn’t counting on the old hat being as stubborn and ornery as it is. (I think it takes after me.) You see, no matter how many fires I've attended or how many sports I've played, it’s simply refused to give up the ghost. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’ve now quite certain it’s going to outlive me, and perhaps even modern civilization.

In addition, I’ve also realized that the newly purchased hat is, well, too new. It’s not faded at all, and it still has that annoying new hat smell. In short, it has no character, and when I look at it, I find myself thinking, “Why on earth would I want to wear you? What have you ever done to deserve that?” I then grab the middle hat and wear it instead, because it's been around the proverbial block a time or two, and I trust it.

So now I’m stuck with three hats: One that’s so ratty I’m sometimes mistaken for a hobo when I wear it, one that’s so new I can’t stomach to wear it at all, and one that’s just about right. Now, as you can probably guess, this disruption of the two-hat system has raised my stress levels to unacceptable heights, leaving me no choice but to search high and low for a solution.

The main problem I’m been having with reverting back to a two-hat system is that I simply hate to get rid of one. Throwing out the old hat seems insensitive, since it’s been so loyal to me over the years, and junking the new one because it’s just too new is plain silly. Luckily, I’m a problem solver by nature, and so I’ve finally come up with a solution, one that just so happens to involve you.

Yes, you. Now listen up.

If you ever see me wearing my old hat (you’ll know it because you’ll wonder why I have a dead animal on my head) I want you to steal it from me, run away, and either burn it or blow it up in some sort of dramatic explosion. Warning: Even though this is my idea, I might still attempt to chase you down, and perhaps even beat you with a blunt object, as I'm quite fond of that hat. However, remember that it’s for the greater good! If you succeed, my middle hat will then by default become my old hat, and the two-hat system will finally be restored! Then, after I cry a little over my loss, all that'd be left for me to do is jump up and down on my new hat for an hour or so, just to give it a little character.

Plus, you’d even get a reward out of the deal, as I promise that I'll take you out to lunch.

We’ll have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.