Monday, June 30, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Wood Badge Recollections: Part 1, Chaplains Aide Training

I had a chance to talk with my Troop Guide for my Wood Badge course on Saturday. This was what would amount to my “exit interview” or my opportunity to go over the items that I chose to work on and what I learned from the process. In all honesty, I thought this would be just a standard “no problems, everything went great” discussion, but truthfully, by the time Don and I got to have that conversation, I realized there had been lots of ups and downs with this whole process, and that at the end of the day, completing my Wood Badge tickets was not at all a simple process.

When I had heard that the minimum amount of time required for completing tickets was six months, I thought “aww, come on, I *live* for this type of thing, why should it take me six months to complete five objectives?” OK, I’ll give bonus points to anyone who recognizes the hubris in this comment, and I’ll thank you all kindly in advance for not throwing things at me and making me feel like a bigger prideful idiot than I already was. The truth is, if your ticket items take you any less than six months to complete, chances are you didn’t give yourself big enough challenges.

My first completed ticket item was one that I thought would be difficult, in that I had to make sure that I walked a fine line between being diverse and still maintaining the integrity of the program that we were offering (LDS Scouting units have a number of differences as compared to secular scouting units or even those that are chartered by other Churches. What resulted was a 20 page document with a lot of hints, tips and suggestions for how a Youth could help develop and lead spiritual meetings for many boys of different faiths and help spur spiritual development regardless of denomination. In many ways, this process was the most enjoyable “up front”, in that it was the one that I assumed would be the most challenging, so I wanted to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. As I got into it, I went and found many different resources that allowed me to look at the role of a Chaplains Aide from a number of different angles, and allowed me to develop a guide that would allow any youth in our troop, regardless of religious denomination, the opportunity to serve in this capacity. As I developed the ideas, much of them most definitely not original or created just for this purpose, I felt a great sense of interest in the role of this youth leadership position, and a sense of sadness that we had not, to date, actually used it in our Troop. By calling and training a Chaplains Aid in troop 250, we are breaking new ground, and I’m excited to see exactly where that journey takes the boys that hold that position.

While I was excited to do this item, I thought the rest of my ticket items would come together in the same time frame and with the same level of focus. Alas, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, and my other ticket items took considerably more time than I had originally envisioned.

Ego Over Matter 2008: Week 4, Weigh In and Random Thoughts

Wow, have I been at this for a month already?! It seems like it was just yesterday I started this, and at other times, it seems like I’ve been doing this forever (LOL!). OK, let’s get to the numbers, shall we.

This morning saw me tip the scales at 205 pounds, which means I’m down three from last week, and down 15 from the start. Again, fifteen pounds in one month is still pretty darned aggressive; it’s the equivalent of 3.5 pounds per week, although I’m taking some comfort in the fact that the last two weeks have slowed down without radical change in activity or eating, so maybe this time around I’m still on the normal side of things.

I had a bit of an embarrassing incident on Saturday. As part of Order of the Arrow, I was asked to help one of the boys in our Lodge receive his Eagle Scout award. Thus, I was asked if I’d be willing to wear regalia for the ceremony (read, full Native American buckskins, feather headdress, the whole nine yards). Since the ceremony was at 2:00 PM, I just kind of went about my day, then got to the place the ceremony was being held, helped set up everything, and then went in to do the ceremony. Well, in a small enclosed room, and trying to keep things going smoothly, I had basically “forgotten” to grab anything to eat or drink prior (that’s one thing about getting into a diet mode, you can genuinely “forget” to eat or drink at odd times, because your body isn’t telling you it’s thirsty or hungry). Well, about three quarters of the way through the ceremony, I start to see purple tracers appear in front of my eyes… anyone who has had this experience knows what happens next. Next thing I know, I’m sitting on my butt, the master of ceremonies is asking me if I’m OK, and everyone has this concerned look on their face. I just thought, "oh man, what did I just do?!” Fortunately, it was a quick spell of light headedness, maybe about 30 seconds until I was back to myself, but the fact that it happened at my friend’s Eagle court made me really embarrassed. Note to self, next time you are in full leathers in an enclosed room that gets really hot, make sure you have a water bottle nearby and drink from it regularly, whether or not your body is telling you it is thirsty or not (d’oh!!!).

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that little scenario to people to realize that, sometimes when you get focused on a goal, you sometimes lose track of what you are doing, and if you lose track at the wrong time, you might find yourself parked on your butt thinking “aw man, what just happened?!” Hopefully I’ll be able to prevent things like that from happening again, but most importantly is to, honestly, remember that when your body is dieting, it doesn’t really care at what point it stops behaving itself. The mind and ego are tough competitors, but ultimately, in a battle of wills, the body’s survival instinct will win out (LOL!).

So that’s this week’s reality. Tune in next week as I see whether or not my burn rate slows or keeps at its current pace (a little slower i.e. two pounds a week, would be a good signal right about now :) ).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Philmont Grace Signs Completed

Yesterday, I completed the last of my Wood Badge "Ticket" items. For those not familiar with Wood Badge, it is, the top level of training that can be performed by Adult Leaders in the Boy Scouts of America. In addition to completing the course work, every participant commits to five "projects", called ticket items, aimed at improving their Units, Districts or Councils.

Four of my projects were close to home and revolved around training for either our Troop or our Lodge:

* Develop a training and program plan for the Chaplain's Aide in LDS Units

* Develop and present a mid level training course for youth leaders between introductory Troop Leadership Training and National Youth Leadership Training

* Create and use a training guide for our Council's Order of the Arrow Dance Team

* Convert our Troop over to using Troopmaster software for managing information, plus develop a training guide for our youth and committee to use it

I'll talk a bit about those experiences in other posts, but today's entry covers the ticket item I've approached with the most apprehension:

* Create three signs (one each for our council camps), that displays the Philmont Grace, to be hung in the dining halls and eating areas of our three Council camps (Boulder Creek, Cutter, and Oljato) for purposes of encouraging more regular mealtime prayers at our council camps.

Half the reason it has taken me nine months to complete my ticket was the fact that I *dreaded* doing this particular item; it was going to take a *lot* of time to do. Unlike the other projects, which I could do here a little and there a little, this one required substantial up-front time in the way of preparation and execution. Realizing that I wasn't going to get it finished without imposing some deadlines on myself, I decided I needed to make a hard commitment and just hammer it out.

First, here's the dimensions for these signs. They're rather large, approximately two feet by four feet (one of them is roughly 18 inches by 4 feet because it will be going into a smaller area). Each of the signs has the entire Philmont Grace routed into the wood in both 2 inch and 3 inch hetters to a depth of 3/8 inches. For those not familiar with the Philmont Grace, here it is:

"For Food, For Raiment, For Life, For Opportunity, For Friendship And Fellowship, We Thank Thee, O Lord"

As you might guess, that's a *lot* of wood to carve and paint (LOL!).

Here are some of the steps along the way to making it happen:

Taking a stencil and scribing all of the letters, making sure to leave the right amount of space on all sides so that it is centered on the boards.

Next step, after scribing all of the letters was to route them all out of the wood. Each sign took me about three hours to do... multiply that by three. Additionally, each sign had another pass with the router to round the edges of the boards to give them a more professional look. This was where one of my disasters struck... the guide fence on my RotoZip loosened and I ground way too low and wrecked one of the edges. To compensate, I had to usa a table saw and remove the edge, and then remove a litle from each side so that the sign would still be centered.

After routing out all of the wood pieces, I used a dark mahogany stain to seal and protect the wood, as well as to add a dark rustic look to the signs. I left them out on our deck to dry for about 18 hours.

With the signs stained, sealed and dried, it was time to start painting the letters. This takes almost as much time as routing out the letters does, as you want to make sure to get as much paint inside of the letters as posible, as well as along the routed walls, but not get paint outside of the routed impressions.

My daughter, Karina, loves to paint, and so she was a big help when it came to finishing these signs.

And here's what the signs look like painted. After this step, it was one more pass over the boards with the mahogany stain to color the corners and clear up some of the residue of the paint smears near the letters.

I learned a few things by doing this project. the first and foremost is that making routed signs takes a *LONG* time. Second, it is extremely satisfying to get into the middle of such a big project and lose yourself in the process. I started out really nervous, and not sure how I was going to do it all, but by the end of the project, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I wanted to do something that rose to an Eagle Project's level of work. My son will be a Life Scout starting in July (if he does everything he needs to on time) and as such will need to start thinking about his own Eagle project. Having seen Dad working on this one, I think he will have a better appreciation for the time and effort that needs to go into an Eagle project. Plus, this way, he knows that *I* know how long these things take and how much effort goes into them. This project required me to stretch a bit, and learn some skills I never used before. Would I recommend a project like this to another Wood Badge participant? Absolutely, although I might suggest making *ONE* sign instead of three, but hey, I was ambitious (LOL!).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008, Week 3 Weigh In and Semi-Random Thoughts

Well, here we are at the end of week three. This morning, I weighed in at 208 pounds, which pouts me three pounds down from last week, and 12 pounds down from when I started this. That works out to an average of three pounds per week, still a little on the aggressive side, but better than the last two weeks (note that when I say “better”, I mean losing weight in a way that’s actually sustainable; mush as I like seeing the weight drop off, I don’t want to take the hit to my metabolism and watch the weight creep back on. What’s the point of that?).

Some folks have asked me what my writing method looks like and how I do it. Here’s an example entry from a single day:

4:00 AM Orzo, Chicken, Mint pasta, 1 12/ cups (220 calories)
6:00 AM Lemon Herbal Tea (1/2 Gallon, consumed throughout the day (0 calories)
8:00 AM 5 Whole Roasted Peanuts (50 calories)
9:15 AM Italian Mixed Vegetables with tapatio Hot Sauce (70 calories)
1:15 PM Flour tortilla, mixed vegetables, shredded cheese, refried beans (400 calories)
3:30 PM 5 whole roasted peanuts (50 calories)
6:00 PM Whole wheat pasta, sun dried tomato paste, feta cheese (600 calories)

The idea is that each section is listed as a running tally, so I know whee4 I stand at any given point in the day. Since a pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories, a person needs to create a 3500 calorie deficit to burn through one pound of fat in a given week, 7000 calorie deficit to burn through two pounds. That means that 1000 calories each day needs to be removed from intake (or added to exertion and output, or a combination of the two) to meet that requirement. By doing some basic measurements (either through an electronic scale that can gauge your level of bodyfat, or using an older method like caliper measurements), you can get an idea as to where your baseline metabolism actually resides. Currently, I hover around 2500 calories per day, which means I have to make do on 1500 calories a day if I want to make that two pound a week goal consistently.

A couple comments on my eating habits… I genuinely can eat anything at any time of the day. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos that could eat a tri-tip first thing on waking up in the morning, or have waffles for dinner. I have no food hang-ups whatsoever, at least none that I’m aware of. That’s why you’ll see a breakfast of Orzo, and I’ll not even flinch. I think it comes from my crazy early morning hours. Oh, and the current buzz about eating a big breakfast being key to losing weight… in my experience, it’s true. I prefer a method of “backwards” eating, where I eat heartily early in the day, and decrease my consumption as the day goes on. Dinner becomes the smallest meal of the day. Oh, and what’s the deal with the 5 peanuts at regular intervals in the day? These are what I all a “blunt”, meaning that the act of just grabbing five peanuts (and yes, they need to be whole and yes I do count) gives my body just enough EFA’s to concentrate on and limit an insulin spike (it’s not diabetics that need to worry about insulin regulation; people who are dieting get an extra boost by helping keep the insulin receptors “offline”).

OK, that’s enough babble from me for now. I’ll see y’all again next week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If I Could Write a Letter To Me

Unless you've been living under a rock, or have absolutely no exposure whatsoever to Country music in any way, shape, or form, the above phrase should sound familiar. it's the title of a Brad Paisley song that I happen to like a great deal. It's about his current self writing a letter to himself back when he was seventeen. I won't rehash the song, but I love the idea, and I'm therefore going to do a little bit of creative plagiarism, if you don't mind...

[The first lines are Brad Paisley's actual intro to the song...]

"If I could write a letter to me, and send it back in time to myself at seventeen..."

[and now these are my words and thoughts]

First, I'd say that the anger you are placing towards "K" is misguided... he's a dad, with a daughter, and he's looking out for her best interests. No matter how earnest and caring you are, you are *not* that best interest, not at this time. You're going to lose this one... and that's OK. Can you have true love at 17? Yes, but only 17 years worth. You're asking for more than can be given at this time in your life, and you have to step back and let it go... and again, that's OK. Believe it or not, you're going to see "K" again in 9 years, and you are going to introduce your wife to him, and you are going to smile, and laugh, and realize that all things have their time and place. Oh, and by the way, when you have two daughters of your own, you'll understand "K" a whole lot better, and find that you actually agree 100% with him.

Next, I'd say not to be in such a hurry to grow up and be an adult. Freedom is great, but it comes at a pretty steep price. The irony is that, when you make your own money, live in your own place, and can finally make your own rules, being responsible and taking care of yourself and others leaves very litle time for all the "fun" things you think you'll be able to do when you finally become an adult. Slow down and enjoy this time.

Do you see all of those people you think are making fun of you? They're not. Many of them actually admire the fact that you are willing to stick your neck out and work towards a dream, no matter how crazy it may be. You may succeed, you may fail, but you never truly fail if you keep trying.

Music is a tough career, and it will cost you a *lot* more than you think it will to get a foot hold. By the way, you have the vocal chords of a heavy metal singer, and unfortunately, your dreams of doing music like Depeche Mode or The Cure won't work very well for you in 1986. However, you will have a rather memorable career as a frontman for a glam metal band, and many wonderful memories will be formed from that experience. Wait, don't you play guitar and bass? Yeah, you do, but your true talent lies in singing. Stop being afraid to raise your voice and learn how to control it. You'll be surprised at what comes out of your mouth after a few years.

You will make mistakes, you will break hearts, you will have your heart broken. However, you will find the woman of your dreams, and she will complete you, both figuratively and literally. Your three kids will be the greatest blessing and the high points of your life. No career choice or experience will top it.

You know that Boy Scout award you gave up on several years ago? I've got a surprise for you. You are going to have the experience of helping twelve other boys earn theirs (as of this writing) plus the potential to help many more. Never saw yourself as a Scout Leader? Well, that's OK, but rest assured, you'll find it to be one of the most fulfilling works of your life.

That church that you are so frustrated about, the one that's full of perfect people that you can never hope to measure up to... those people are just like you. They are imperfect, striving people that make mistakes, have problems, have doubts, insecurities and have weaknesses just like you. They may not have the same weaknesses, but rest assured, they have their own. No matter how they may treat you, know that your Heavenly Father knows who you are, and that he loves you, and that he has a plan for you that you will scarcely believe. You'll have experiences both outside of the Church and inside of the Church. Don't be surprised to find that the one's inside will be the ones that bring the biggest smile to your face later. Oh, and that "hopeless dream" of being sealed in the Temple... you''ll do exactly that with your wife and three children in 2002, surrounded by family, friends and loved ones who will cherish that day every bit as much as you will.

To borrow from Brad again ... "you've got so much going for you, going right, but I know, at seventeen, it's hard to see past Friday Night". Still, your life is going to turn out in ways you cannot imagine right now. Friends you love will be lost, new friends will come, you will lose family members, you will get and lose jobs, you will change careers, you will struggle and thrive, and at times you'll do both at the same time. Life is not a destination, it's a journey, and it's one that will make you into a man that you could scarcely imagine you would be. I hope you like the man that you become, and I hope you never stop trying to make him into the best man that he can possibly be.

Anyway, that's about what I would say... "if Icould write a letter to me".

15 and a Half and Counting

My friend Laura A. made a post like this in honor of celebrating her fifteenth anniversary with her husband. I liked the list of questions, so I decided to do the same thing, only this time, I figured I'd do it now and not wait for the 5th of December to say it :).

What is your wife’s name? Christina

How long have you been together? We met in September of 1990, our first date was shortly thereafter (Mandarin Restaurant in Millbrae, CA and a walk along the Hotel Zone in Burlingame). We got engaged Halloween night 1991. We got married on December 5th, 1992.

How long did you date? Well, that's an interesting story... we actually "dated" in a non-exclusive format for six months before we both decided "OK< this is dumb, we both know we like each other more than anyone else out there, so let's do something with this".

Who eats more? Me, hands down (LOL!).

Who said “I love you” first? That would be me... of course, I risked it all by saying it, seeing I was under strict instructions never to say those three words, or I'd be dumped like a hot potato (and I am so not kidding about that, those were the exact words Christina told me on our first date. It took me three months to decide I was willing to chance it... and I made sure that she'd have to think it through if she wanted to break it off, so I did it 30 miles from her house :) ).

Who is taller? Me, she's 5'4", I'm 6'2".

Who is smarter? Depends on the subject. Analytical stuff, I tend to do better, but Christina has way more common sense and practical knowledge in many areas than I'd ever hope to have.

Who is more sensitive? Again, depends on the circumstance. In most arena's Christina is, but I have my areas, too.

Who does the laundry? Mostly Christina, but we both get involved when things get behind.

Who does the dishes? The dishwasher does :).

Who sleeps on the right? Right as in the foot or the head of the bed, and which direction. I sleep closest to the window, Christina sleeps closest to the door.

Who pays the bills? We have a two way system. I'm the sol wage earner, so we do as much of this together as possible. Christina handles the day to day operations, and handles short term savings and emergency funds. My job is longer term investing and retirement savings, but we both review a budget together and make an action plan based on shared input.

Who mows the lawn? Me, but I'll gladly pay any of our three kids to do it for me :).

Who cooks dinner? Weekdays, Christina. On weekends, we split the meals.

Who drives when you are together? I almost always drive (LOL!).

Who is more stubborn? Depends on the situation. We both have our moments, but I love the fact that we both tend to hate getting into "you're wrong and I'm right" situations, and we both do our best to look to each other for alternate opinions and possible solutions we hadn't previously thought of.

Who kissed whom first? She kissed me, it was the end of me picking her up and carrying her over my shoulder for about a hundred yards (you had to be there to understand the context of this LOL!).

Who asked who out first? I asked her, after an almost disastrous follow-up phone call from when we first met in a night club a couple of nights previous. Long story short, I had some preconceived notions about what kind of girl Christina was... boy, was I off the mark (LOL!).

Who proposed? Me, in a semi-creative way... Halloween evening of 1991 was the first Halloween in many years that I wasn't booked to play a gig with my band, so Christina and I went down to Hillsdale Mall to see the kids trick or treating (yes, around San Mateo at the time, that's where kids went to Trick or Treat). Somehow the topic got to marriage, and I asked her, hypothetically, what kind of wedding ring she would want, and lets, for fun, go ring shopping. We did, and we found one that she just loved. After I made sure it was the one she'd really want, I told the lady behind the counter that we'd take it. As we were waiting to finish the purchase, I watched Christina go from smiling to looking at me quizzically, to almost hyperventilating, to her finally asking "ummm, what are you doing?!" I deliberately stayed quiet the whole time, and even whistled a few times. I refused to answer her :). When we finished buying the ring, I took it and put it in my pocket. we went to our favorite Sushi restaurant, and when I finally saw that she couldn't stand it any longer, I got down on one knee, proposed in front of all these witnesses and a lot of dead fish, and I promised that I couldn't guarantee a life of ease or comfort all the time, but I'd do my best to take care of her, and I pledged that it would never be boring. She agreed, we kissed, the whole restaurant clapped :).

Who has more siblings? I'm the oldest of four (another brother and two sisters). Christina's an only child.

She's been there with me through so much of my life. We literally "grew up" and became adults together, and we've had a great ride these past fifteen and a half years. I just wanted to pick a day other than a birthday or an anniversary to tell her that :).


Monday, June 16, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008: Week 2 Weigh In and Random Thoughts

Alright, here’s my Week 2 numbers and where I’m at. This morning, Monday, June 16th, 2008, I weighed in at 211 pounds, which is 5 pounds down from last week, and now has me down 9 pounds from my starting weight of 220 pounds. Now *that* is quite a bit more aggressive than I had planned. A first week with a big drop can be considered recalibration. Two weeks with a greater than two pound average drop means there’s some catabolism going on, so I need to slow down my burn rate just a little bit.

Now for the random thoughts section. I’m an organization nut… not that I’m really all that organized, but dang it, I do try. To that end I make an effort of trying to keep track of things I do, from productivity, to spending, to keeping track what I actually eat. I use a small portable notepad that I can stick in my pocket and have available any time I need it. The act of writing down what I eat, and when, has both a measuring and tempering effect. Sometimes, just pulling out the notepad and writing down what I’m about to eat (no matter how small) acts as the gate I need to say “never mind”, and just walk away.

Other little I’m doing to help stay on track… Steering clear of most processed foods; my daily meals currently include oatmeal in the mornings, various mixed vegetables that I usually douse with hot sauce, various fresh fruits (usually citrus or apples) and a 2 liter water bottle that gets filled daily and is nursed regularly by yours truly while I’m at work. When I am at home, I do my best to either prep food for myself, or Christina helps with making various dinners that tend to be on the lighter side. Whenever I try to work at losing weight, I tend to buy and go through a *lot* of chewing gum. I think the act of constantly chewing something helps to blunt my drive or need for getting up to grab something to eat. Since I work in an office that stocks the cabinets with lots of potential diet breakers, this is a big help.

There are some fairly decent hills surrounding where I work. North of me is Telegraph Hill, my normal daytime lunch break walk. From my office, I can walk up Montgomery to the end and then climb the stairs of Telegraph Hill Terrace to the base of Coit Tower and Pioneer Park, then turn around and head back. That can be done in about 30 minutes, and it definitely wakes you up in the middle of the day. Due West is Nob Hill, and the market where I do most of my grocery shopping. I do most of my grocery shopping here in the city for while I’m at work at the Bell Market on the corner of Hyde and California. It’s roughly a mile walk, including going up, over and down Nob Hill. Thus I get a pretty decent workout every day at work. The key is to make sure that I get out and do it every day. The Coit Tower hikes are done on average four times a week, with the Nob Hill jaunt done once a week when I need to replenish groceries.

I like making larger meals at home and freezing portions of them. This way, I can take those meals, where I know *exactly* what’s in them, and have them on tap. Another bonus, having items on hand to make batches of food costs less for food in the long run. I limit eating out to no more than once or twice a month. Since I have no clue what’s been put into the food that I get at a restaurant, it’s hard to keep track of what I’m eating.

This may sound like drudgery to some, but for me, these steps help me keep track and remain aware of what I actually do. Measuring increases awareness dramatically, thus I can see and anticipate potential progress. Do I recommend living like this *all* the time? No, but I do think keeping track or having baseline knowledge of things you do is helpful. Obsessing over it *every* day gets old quick. Making strict boundaries that you chafe against will ensure you not follow through after reaching the goal. Developing habits you can live with, and perhaps even enjoy, has a better chance of success.

OK, that’s it for me this time. Have a great week and we’ll see where I stand next week, and how much of me is still standing (LOL!).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008, Week 1: Weigh In and Random Thoughts

Well, we are one week into my second attempt at Ego Over Matter, and sure enough, I experienced *exactly* the same thing I did the first time last year, from declaration to first week weigh in. This morning, I weighed 216 pounds, which is four pounds down from my starting point of 220 pounds. The first time I did this, I about freaked, since that was double my target rate. However, there’s a few things I’ve come to realize that help to put this into perspective.

There are three steps that take place at the beginning of any weight loss. The first step is usually related to water retention, and making a dietary change of any kind (changing up simple sugar intake for complex carbs, going from processed foods to whole varieties, or making a change that significantly lowers daily sodium intake) causes a change in the amount of water your body retains. Net result is that you can easily drop two to three pounds in a single day. However, this often gets mitigated pretty quickly the next time that you drink a glass or two of water, so these changes should be averaged out over the course of a week.

The second step (pardon the “ick” factor of this) is a clearing of the GI tract. Most people think that eating a meal will be digested and the wastes eliminated in a matter of hours, but this is often not the case. In many people, the process can take anywhere from 48 to 96 hours from point of eating to final elimination. Thus it is very possible to have anywhere from two to six pounds of matter in the GI tract at any given time. More alarming is that, for truly obese people, this process is slower, and they can have several pounds more food in the GI tract at any given time. This was driven home to me when I saw a special on stomach reduction surgery. The person that was going to have to have the surgery had to live on a clear diet for six days. The main purpose was the removal of most food material from the GI tract before the operation. The person in question reported a weight loss of close to 18 pounds, of which more than half was remnants in the GI tract. This is where you hear many dramatic “I lost 15 pounds in seven days” stories; they didn’t *really* lose 15 pounds, but they did clear their systems of excess water and still digesting foodstuffs. Sorry for that mental image. Did you already have breakfast (LOL!)?

After these two potentially big drop off's, it’s now time to hit the third area, which is actual adipose tissue (more commonly called “FAT”). Unfortunately, just as it’s easier to flush away excess water and easily clean out food remnants from a cooking pan, scrubbing away fat that has been left to harden takes a greater amount of elbow grease. Same is true when it come to burning away bodyfat. When you get to the point where all that’s left is to burn fat, I use the analogy of lighting a kerosene lantern and just waiting for the gas to burn down. That’s where the challenge comes in, and that’s where, really, we have to just let time, caloric deficits and our bodies do the work they are set to do. This is why so many people look at the rush of a first week and get excited, then get frustrated when they don’t see the same stellar results carry into the following weeks. It’s because the first week is usually the body recalibrating itself, it’s not a true loss of bodyfat, although the general two pounds worth a week is probably still part of that equation.

For those looking to play this game at home, here are some tips that y’all may find helpful.

Weigh yourself at the same time on the same interval to get a true gauge of where you actually stand. For me, that’s done once a week on Monday morning after I wake up and have my first bowel movement (sorry for the gross imagery, but it is relevant to the discussion). This way, you always start from a similar point and can gauge true progress.

Don’t check things out daily, as the inevitable slides up and down based on activity will give you a false sense of where you are at. Remember, all it takes is a glass or two of water to skew the results up by a pound. Avoid the anxiety and stick to one weigh in at the set time each week.

If you have a manual scale, make sure to recalibrate it each time. No sense getting excited or depressed at the reading if you aren’t starting from true zero to begin with.

Keep a weekly tally so that you can see exactly how much progress you have made (me, I use this blog for that purpose, but you may choose to just put a sheet of paper on the wall and track each week as they come and go.

Well, that’s it for me today. If I don’t post something else during the week, I’ll see y’all again next Monday with results for Week 2.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008, Volume 1.2, Relationship of Physical and Financial Fitness

This isn’t exactly an Ego Over Matter blog, but it is tangentially associated, so I’m going to include it as one anyway. Plus, it gives me yet another chance to spout my dime store philosophy (LOL!).

Losing weight, fitness and finance often seem to come hand in hand. Last year, I made a concerted effort to do something about my physical fitness up to my set goal. In the current year, I have also been putting a lot of focus on what I consider to be my financial fitness. I wanted to see if I could apply parallels between them and see if any of them could help me impact the others.

The blog asked the same question on June 5th. Instead of rehashing their points, which looks at the parallels of physical fitness as it relates to financial fitness, I wanted to see how my own approach to physical fitness paralleled my approach to financial fitness, and vice versa. Many of fivecentnickel's points are reflected in my observations, so I want to give credit where credit is due.

The first and most obvious thing that jumped out to me was that I have to eat less and do more to lose weight. When I look at that just in the light of dealing with the day to day cravings and realities, it can be a bit of a drag (yes, I said it, self denial isn’t real fun. Necessary at times, but rarely fun). However, there’s a neat little hidden bonus to this approach; using tight portion controls actually helps me save money. By looking at the actual serving size recommended, and committing to eating just that serving size of each item, I am able to make sure that the items I buy last longer, and thus either I buy less overall, or the items I do buy have a longer shelf life. Net result, I lose weight and I spend less :).

Second is the idea of the turning point. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we all have those "I’VE HAD IT!" moments, and those are when we finally decide we are ready for a change. Activity level will increase, food consumption will decrease, deficit spending will decrease or cease and enforcing a savings regimen will only happen when I am finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. When I make that commitment to myself, in the right mind and spirit, then I am prepared to make the changes that are necessary, and make those changes stick. In both cases, I made some broad decisions and chose to stick to them. On the fitness sphere, it was to live pain free (if possible) and to be in shape to enjoy the activities that I do. On the finance side, remaining 100% debt free and increasing my saving for the future are the key elements that drive me.

Third is the need for a big win quickly, but the ability to temper that with the idea that true success takes time and happens gradually. Financially, a big win for me is to sacrifice intensely for a brief period and make a major spending habit change, then take that saved money and either put it towards something important or save it for later. On the weight and fitness front, a commitment to drop that first five pounds in two weeks is key. Whatever it takes, I have found that that first *big win* is vital to continued success. If I made a goal to save for my kids college educations, and only focused on the potential expense in total, I might get discouraged about the sheer amount required; that’s a hard thing to sustain enthusiasm for, especially when you have a lot of other things that need to be dealt with. Likewise, walking into a gym for the first time, setting up a goal for a 300 pound bench press, 400 pound squat and a 500 pound deadlift, and going gangbusters to get there is also going to be hard to deal with over the long haul. Setting up a quick "big win" is smaller in scope, but can be just as gratifying. Be very specific. Work towards that goal, celebrate and mark the achievement, and then keep going.

Keeping track of what I do, both physically and financially, helps me gauge my actual progress and keeps me focused. In most cases, it’s not the lack of enthusiasm, but the lack of focus and clarity that causes me to spin my wheels. When it comes to food intake, writing down what I actually eat is very telling; it lets me know exactly what I am doing at that moment and gives me immediate feedback. Later, I can see what I ate, what made sense, and whether or not I want to trade off better health and a lower weight for the pleasures of a candy bar. When it comes to money, writing down everything I spend, or plan to spend, is also telling. This puts the things that I spend money on very up front and obvious, and I can separate needs from wants, and decide what I am willing to put off or do away with to get ahead.

nickel talked about making this into agame, and that's very much my approach as well. People who are passionate about a sport or an activity already have a big advantage over everyday people who just want to get back in shape a bit. When you have a passion, that passion tends to drive you and you respond to meet it. If you love playing soccer and play every chance you get, chances are you are probably already in the top 5% of physical fitness. If you are an avid rock climber and regularly climb, the same could be said. My decision was to find something physically demanding that I love, and center my activities around those. At this stage in my life, much of my energies are dedicated towards Native American dance, hiking and snowboarding. Those are the three things I enjoy doing the most. By focusing my energies on activities that help me maximize on all three, I can keep my mind focused and my interest high. When it comes to money, my "game" is to see if I can do better month after month and bring down my spending footprint so that I can save more towards something I really want. I treat it like a game because, if I can get further ahead each month, it’s like an accumulating game score, and it allows me to see progress (and yes, I actually find that to be fun :) ).

For me, the idea of "personal bests" is very important. Comparing myself to another person (like an athlete or some multi-millionaire) is counter productive. As a point of inspiration, I think it’s fine, but getting hung up on the fact that I don’t look like [fill in the blank] or I don’t have the net worth of [fill in the blank], is only going to make me miserable. Instead, I try to look and see what *my* personal bests are, and try to always move them forward. At times those personal bests may just be inching along, and at times, I suffer set-backs where I actually *lose* ground. This is a normal part of life, and I tell myself it’s important to be willing and able to keep them in perspective. I used to agonize over the fact that I could not beat another racer I competed regularly against, until I realized that he had advantages I didn’t have, including living close to a ski area and having the ability to run gates every other day. Because of where I live, I could only ride every couple of weeks at best. Thus, I abandoned the idea of "beating him" and made my races a goal of beating my previous best last time. Truth be told, I always placed better when I took that approach then when I tried to "beat the other guy". My only gold medal win in Giant Slalom was when I decided I ultimately wanted to just beat my best previous time (the "other guy" moved into another division, so no, my personal bests attitude never resulted in my beating that particular racer, but hey, what can you do :) ?).

Like everyone, I mess up from time to time. Messing up does not mean giving up, though. Success is often defined as winning on the twenty-first try when you failed the previous twenty times. If I fail, I try to take stock to find out *why* I failed, and then incorporate that knowledge into my next routine, and have another go. In my mind, failure only really becomes failure if I give up and quit. If I keep at it, I haven’t failed, rather I’ve just discovered another variable that I need to keep track of as I take another shot. Not making weight because of bad weather isn't a failure, just that my routine needed to incorporate other options or adjustments when I can't go out and do what I originally scheduled to do. Blowing a budget doesn’t mean I can’t handle money, it just means I have to look at what I originally planned for, see what items busted it, figure out what area I didn’t account for, incorporate that information, and give it another go.

I believe in celebrating milestones, in whatever way will keep me focused on my goals and targets. When I dropped to 190 pounds last year, I did a before and after picture post. This was a celebration for me, a chance to smile and notate a great achievement. When we paid off our house, it was suggested that we should take a copy of our mortgage paperwork, wrap it around a duraflame log, and have a party as we watched it burn. These are examples of celebrating a milestone, and I have found them to be very helpful to keep my perspective and enjoy the moments when success is reached.

Maintenance is active. The human body is an active organism, just like money is an active organism. If I am passive with either, I know I will lose ground. Both require active focus and active management. When I get to the point where I have met a goal, I have to remember that I now have the knowledge and the skills necessary to “keep on going” if I choose to. Ultimately, though, the most important thing is that I actually choose to do that. Money is a little easier to deal with in this case, because I can choose to auto-invest money from my paycheck or from an account, and make sure it goes where I want it to go. There’s no such thing as auto-exercise or auto-feeding (short of an I-V drip, but really, I have no intention of going there :) ). I have had times where I became so in tune with the things that I was doing that exercise and good eating habits became almost second nature. Still, maintaining that "second-nature" is harder than auto-investing or setting up a direct deposit. No one else can regulate the man in the mirror but me.

Ultimately, I have found that, whatever I choose to do, I make it a point to look to the future, be willing to take a period of readjustment and realization, and accept the fact that I may have to make some changes, ranging from slight to drastic. At the end of the day, it all comes down to me and what I want to accomplish. No one else can do it for me, either in physical health or financial health. There are, ultimately, no quick fixes, no magic pills, or get rich quick formulas. Both take effort, planning, tracking, and work to reap the benefits from, and both require a level of delayed gratification. The only sure thing in both areas, to borrow from and paraphrase Dave Ramsey, is that "if I live like no one else, later, I can live like no one else".

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ego Over Matter Volume 1.1: Taking Stock and Deciding Why

When it comes time to make a change, there is always some tipping point, an “I’VE HAD IT!!!” moment, where they decide that they are going to turn things around. I’ve had many of those moments over the years, and I’ve acted on them dozens of times. Still, human nature is a beastly thing to permanently overcome; comfortable patterns tend to set back in. Progress made, if not actively maintained, likely will regress, and a body not actively engaged, or a mind not actively aware will likely return to its “natural balance point”.

Over the years, my “natural balance point” has moved. When I was between 16 and 21, that balance point was 165 pounds. No matter how hard I tried to move that point, either to bulk up or get lean, 165 was where everything evened out. From age 22 to 25, I averaged somewhere around 190 pounds, up or down. After I turned 25, and decided to “Get Right with my inner Mormon”, my baseline shot up considerably to 220 pounds. Some said that this was my body’s revenge for having lived so many years as a starving musician with *really bad* habits. This 220 pound baseline became my standard for fifteen years. I could bulk up or strip down with effort, but if I just let life coast, the 220 pound figure would be my body’s natural equilibrium point.

Well, I’VE HAD IT!!! I don’t want a baseline of 220. I am willing to have a baseline of 200. I’d be even *more* excited if I could actually maintain a baseline of 190 long term.

This begs the question… How does one truly reset a baseline? I know there’s no way I will be able to *passively* maintain a baseline at 200 pounds, and I *definitely* won’t be able to passively maintain one at 190. It will have to be an active endeavor for life if I want to truly maintain at those levels. Plus, as I have become painfully aware over the last several years, tricks and techniques that used to work in earlier years tend to not work as well the older one gets. I’ve read in more than a few places that the body’s natural metabolism adjusts downward at a rate of about 5% every decade. Thus, now that I am 40, I have to make a point to get by on less or work out more to make up the difference.

I believe strongly in the idea of having more than just a target weight as a goal. Plus, it needs to be for more than just a one-time deal. Many people diet down for a reunion, or they diet down because they want to look good in a swimsuit or a particular outfit. While those are perfectly good reasons to train and get in shape, they have a tendency to be quickly forgotten once the day or event passes. Better is to have something related functionally to that weight and the reason why it should be lost. It needs to be more than something like “I want to feel better” or “my clothes don’t fit right anymore”.

Here’s an abbreviated list of some specific goals and hopes that are currently driving me:

* I’ve decided I want to do Fancy Dance as a Pow Wow discipline. It’s quick paced, utilizes rapid movements, and it’s *very* physically demanding; therefore, I want to get to the point where I can dance proficiently as a Fancy Dancer.

* I want to be able to get back into racing form for snowboarding, even if I don’t actively compete any longer.

* I’ve enjoyed the feeling of being pain-free in my lower back, and it was such a wonderful sensation. With the returning weight, the dodginess in my low back is returning I want to go back to that pain free feeling!

* I will be hiking, camping and swimming with the Boy Scout Troop that I lead up at Camp Oljato this summer. It will be at an altitude of 7500 feet. Thus, I’ll need to be in “fighting shape” before I leave; I don’t want to be huffing and puffing while I'm up at Camp.

When goals are set, and clear objectives as to "why" are established, and they are more than just casual and amorphous goals, it tends to be much more practical to make a game plan and stay on track with it. Time will tell if this dime-store philosophy of mine holds up week to week :).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Ego Over Matter, 2008: Volume 1: Starting Over Again

Last year, I made a monumental change for myself, in that I went hard core and decided to lose 52 pounds. This brought me from a lifetime heaviest 242 pounds down to a much more svelte 190 pounds. Many people thought that I might have gone too far by dropping down to 190, and that 200 or 205 might be a better target for me at my height and frame (I’m 6’2” and have fairly broad shoulders and mostly mesomorphic features). So I took my foot off the gas pedal and let some of the weight come back. Problem was, I let it slide for too long. A year after losing 52 pounds, I tipped the scales this morning at 220 pounds. That’s been my running average since 1994, with two drops to 200 or lower after considerable work and focus (I dropped to 200 in the year 2000, and a drop to 190 in 2007). Now, 220 is a lot better than 242; I’m still down 22 pounds from my peak, but that’s just nowhere near as satisfying as saying I was 190 or even 200. Thus, it’s time to get back to the training wheels and get this show on the road again.

One of the great and powerful elements of blogging is that it forces me to be accountable, either to myself or anyone else that reads these posts at any given time. Hence the title of my Monday morning blog posts. Ego Over Matter is significant; the average person, if they shoot their mouth off publicly and willingly open themselves to public scrutiny and ridicule, is much more likely to make their goal and to hit their goals. Since I’ve vowed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so far as I know it to be and remember it to be (let’s face it, I’m human, and there’s a good chance I’ll get something wrong without intending to) my Monday entries from here on out will track progress, share some piece of wit or wisdom (or perhaps some piece of incredibly bad judgment, who knows (LOL!)). Ultimately, it’s meant to be a way to motivate myself to get back to “fighting shape”.

Everyone needs a goal, and sometimes it helps to have outlandish ones. However, it helps to be a realist, so I’m going to try hard but be within the realm of healthy and possible. So here it goes… my Troop departs for Summer Camp at Camp Oljato on July 19th, 2007. On that day, it is my intention to weigh in at no more than 205 pounds, with a stretch goal of 200 pounds. That works out to seven and ½ weeks. The realistic physiological limit to lose body-fat without catabolising muscle mass is about 2 pounds per week; that puts my 205 goal in very realistic focus. The 200 goal, maybe not as easy or realistic, but hey, if it happens, I’ll be quite happy :).

So here’s where the rubber meets the road. Today I weighed in at 220 pounds. Overall, I feel pretty good, but don’t like the way my clothes fit any more (I did this as a deliberate gate on myself last year; once my clothes started to feel uncomfortable, it was a sign it was time to get back to losing weight again, and that time is now). Size 32 waist pants feel crushing at the moment, but again, I wear them to remind me of the work I need to do… no new clothes, no slacking off. The problem buttoning the pants is my reminder that it’s time to get back to basics. The next Ego Over Matter post will go up next Monday, and I hope to have good news and good progress to report. Til then :).