Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The making of an action hero, hitting the streets

Operation status: Active.

Duty Assignment: Local patrol.

Notes: Recommend further training and attention to diet.

It has been several months since my last report. As my training regimen has stabilized, I no longer feel the need for weekly updates. That being said, writing helps me order my thoughts and prepare for the next mission—so greater frequency may be in order.

I began training back in May of 2013. I try not to use my statistics from then as a guide since it tends to make me feel more comfortable than I like. The good news is that I am now fully capable of patrolling my neighborhood. Back then I had difficulty covering any significant distance. I was lucky to cover 15 miles in a week. Now, with the help of my Charge HR mission tracker/fitbit band, I have that up to more than 30 miles on average. The charge HR tracks pulse, steps, and provides vibrating feedback for alarms. It sends the data securely to my iPhone where I can compare my information against fellow agents like the brunette and Lisa S. I find myself getting up during the day just to add steps to keep up with peers and lighten the load I will need to hit my daily goals. I get off at earlier bus stops to force myself to walk further. The wrist mounted band has the advantage of more accurately counting my punches as well as steps compared to the previous pocket carried version.

Physically I am in excellent condition. I go to the gym/training three times a week. Tuesdays I attend boxing/hand-to-hand cardio from 6:30-7:30 followed by a strength and conditioning class from 7:30 to 8:00. Thursdays I take 45 minutes on the elliptical followed by a half hour with the previously mentioned strength and conditioning class. Sunday’s agent Squish and I do an hour and a half of upper body/core work followed by either an hour on the elliptical or an hour and a half patrolling the streets. I have had to balance the desire to push myself further with the fact that my joints in particular can only take so much. This seems to be the right balance—variable exercise in the classes backed up by a hard routine of cardio and upper body work the rest of the time.

I am satisfied with my progress so far. I am down from a size 50 jeans to a size 40 since April. They are relaxed fit, but progress is progress. I can wear an honest 2x now, not a large 2 or a small 3. I am considerably stronger in terms of raw power and endurance.

As my trainer likes to say, there is always room for improvement. By mid September I was down to 236 pounds. Now I’m between 245 and 250 depending on the day. Part of that first number came from stomach problems and dehydration—so I expected to gain some weight—needed to actually. Unfortunately while I was bulking up for muscle building and rehydrating I fell into bad dietary habits. This was entirely my fault. I tried a system of eating called intermittent fasting in which the subject (me) takes several days out of the week and eats essentially nothing or so little as to be the same thing. Short term I lost a huge amount of weight. Long term I became very tired, my joints started hurting, and when I stopped the fasting my appetite returned tenfold. I gave myself license to indulge with predictable results. I could have prevented this if I had brought more than a 120 calorie yogurt for lunch and convinced myself week over week that I could handle the hunger pangs. Turns out I can, but only for so long.

Until further notice I am bringing a sandwich and yogurt for lunch each day—or the equivalent there of. My breakfast is a banana and some fruit salad—usually a mix of grapes, strawberries, and pineapple. This hasn’t reduced the cravings entirely but I’m back down to a manageable level. The holidays are bad enough without me going gonzo for a cheeseburger every 8 hours.

Upcoming training items:

• Develop some new recipe templates for dinners to increase variety.

• Work to hit my 8k step goal each work day.

• Get the Aria scale back online.

• Develop a firm strength training program.

• Visit the range at least 4 more times by the end of the year.

Today’s Recipe:

Chicken salad Requires 3 diced chicken breasts, half cup lemon juice, diced celery, ½ yellow onion diced, 3 bell peppers diced, half cup light mayonnaise, ginger, Montreal steak seasoning, hot sauce, and 1 cup water.


Season the chicken breast with the steak seasoning, quarter cup lemon juice, and water. Cook chicken in the skillet until tender and juices run clear or in the microwave for 25 minutes. Drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

In a small batter bowl, mix mayonnaise and quarter cup lemon juice. Add ginger and hot sauce to taste.

Combine everything and mix thoroughly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Making the Mac

Thanks to the master of mac, I have this excellent recipe which I will be making for this year’s friends’ giving. Let all rejoice, spicy chicken-mac is incoming.


Serves 4 to 6 servings

1/2 pound macaroni

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 1/2 cups whole milk warmed

2 ounces Cheddar grated

1 ounce fontina cheese grated (gouda cheese can be substituted)

1 ounce American cheese grated

4 ounces Chihuahua cheese grated (Monterey Jack can be substituted)

2 ounces mascarpone

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion diced divided

3 garlic cloves minced

3 chipotles in adobo sauce pureed

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 pound shredded cooked chicken

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons lime juice

salt and black pepper to taste

4 scallions white parts and 4 inches of green tops thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 375 F

2. Prepare a 13 x 9 inch baking pan (grease if needed)

For the pasta

3. Bring pot of salted water to boil over high heat

4. Cook pasta until it is al dente

5. drain pasta and run under cold water

6. return to pot

For the sauce

7. heat butter in a saucepan over medium low heat

8. stir in the flour and cook stirring constantly for 1 minute

9. increase heat to medium & slowly whisk in warm milk

10. bring to a boil whisking frequently

11. reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes

12. add the cheese except for the Chihuahua to the sauce by 1/2 cup measures letting it melt before adding more

For the chicken

13. heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat

14. add half of the onion and the garlic cooking for 5 to 7 minutes or until onion is browned stirring frequently

15. add the chiles, orange juice, precooked chicken, cilantro, and oregano cooking stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until thickened

16. pour the sauce and chicken mixture over the pasta and stir well

17. stir in lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste

18. transfer to pan and sprinkle Chihuahua cheese over top

19. bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the crumbs on top are deep brown

20. let sit for 5 minutes then add scallions on top

Friday, October 2, 2015

Doing the right thing

As I move from my 30s toward curmudgeonhood, I frequently ponder friendships, social obligation, and manners. I am one of those people who enjoy reading Emily Post for obscure items of social etiquette. I also read articles on conflict resolution, ethics, honor, and morality.

The byproduct of this musing is that I spend a lot of time trying to do the “right” thing. I used to think that worrying about how to tactfully get out of an invitation, when to tell a friend that they were being unreasonable, and at what point our obligation to family ends meant I was a bad person. I figured that the desire to protect my own interests meant I was selfish. I have since learned that worrying about such things is exactly what prevents one from becoming complacently self-centered—but it took me a couple decades to appreciate the distinction.

For example, we recently exited the friends’ group dinner rotation. The original Friday night dinner crowd (FND) developed when the core members gathered for a regular gaming night. Although we were kindly invited to several of these gatherings in the early 2000s, we didn’t formally join the rotation until a couple years ago. The founding group was built on similarly situated couples—post college, pre-children, building careers, RPG and board game fanatics…etc. Dinners ended with people staying late, rolling dice, playing cards, or throwing down in HALO until the wee hours of the morning. It was a huge compliment to be included in that community—both because of the fellowship and close ties that resulted from those associations.

We officially joined when some of the long time participants were having kids, expanding their social circle, settling into their careers, and completing professional degrees. Old members brought in new blood. The rotation went from an informal six week spread to requiring a Google calendar. Some members broke off as people ended relationships and found new partners. After a couple years, the community landscape bore little resemblance to the original roster despite some cosmetic similarities. For me, the biggest change was the loss of the sense of “closeness” which characterized those early gatherings. Those get togethers were intimate affairs among close friends. Current FNDs have lost that sense of personal connection, that sense of family which made the experience so special. I remember one day getting off a 13 hour shift at work expecting to take public transportation home. That week’s FND was supposed to have started several hours earlier. Even though it was my appointed birthday group meal, I had to stay late to hit goal. I left the building to find a car waiting to rush me to the still ongoing celebration. There I was greeted with a pitcher of kee lime martinis and birthday best wishes. I was deeply touched that someone had gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and wanted. At my most recent birthday FND five people mentioned the passing of another annual cycle. The brunette’s recent birthday FND got moved to a date she expressly couldn’t attend (we asked months in advance so as to schedule a date for pampered chef that wouldn’t conflict with other peoples’ plans and her dinner got moved to that date anyway.)

I mention the birthday celebrations because they are particularly good examples of the kind of ambiguity I struggle with. I don’t expect gifts around birthdays and holidays. I greatly appreciate anything offered, but there is no expectation even if we have recently gifted the other party. I do however expect that if we get someone a present that they will acknowledge the gesture. Over the past couple years we have routinely purchased gifts for FND members and had to press them to learn whether they even received the package much less appreciated the thought behind it. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but when I take the time to memorialize someone’s celebratory moment I assume that common courtesy dictates a response on their part. I don’t expect much, but a simple “thank you for thinking of me” tells me that the gift had some impact. In reality I think most of the group just lost interest in observing birthdays save as a theme for that evening’s comestibles. The circle of friends is so large and disconnected that it isn’t a close family any more. That realization lead me to consider how many FNDs I chose not to attend and how many birthday dinners I didn’t feel compelled to gift. I remembered all the political discussions where I was told that I was wrong or made to feel stupid. I thought about all the dinners where I had to work to find anything to do or anyone besides my wife I had something in common with. There were plenty of good memories; but several not so great times as well. From there it was a short step to realizing that while I like most of the people in the FND orbit, the process had become an obstacle—one we ultimately decided to forgo.

Along similar lines, I am simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the upcoming release of exalted third edition. Exalted has been and will likely continue to be my favorite high fantasy tabletop RPG property. It has a unique combination of lush setting, evocative character creation, and epic storytelling. The third edition may or may not be an improvement over previous versions—I honestly don’t care. We paid a lot of money to kickstart and buy into the new edition and when it comes out I will damned well be running a campaign or two. I have run and played in a lot of exalted games over the last decade. Most of my friends have been roped into at least a couple sessions at some point. So, even though E3 is releasing more than 2 years late, I am eagerly waiting to put it on the table.

The catch, there is always a catch, is that I have no idea how I am going to put together a complimentary group. I want to say this delicately but I just can’t think of a way to manage it—most of my friends have regressed into poor role-playing habits. Some of them have no respect for character immersive RP. Others refuse to make group oriented characters. Many seem to take a perverse joy in holding the group hostage to a childlike desire to win at all cost—even if the urge is completely inappropriate for the moment. Each GM has their own quirks and foibles—I am no different. Each player has their own goals going into a campaign. That is as it should be. Part of good storytelling is conflict. Done well, intra-group conflict can drive powerful drama. I actually enjoy seeing players intentionally work at cross purposes to drive the action—provided everyone understands that:

A. The point is to tell a cooperative story.

B. Character choices aren’t about you, me, or the other players—they are about the character at that moment in time.

C. At some level the group has to work together—even if the goal is to resolve a conflict in a less than ideal manner.

D. Even if you are not playing you need to stay focused as to what is happening.

E. Role-playing means that sometimes you will have to sit through scenes and sessions in which you do nothing or the game drags on or your character has nothing to contribute—it sucks but derailing or attempting to shortcut the scene is extremely poor form.

F. Table talk over other players and use of significant distractions when it isn’t your turn is right out.

Running games for college students is easy—gaming is fresh and new and different. Gaming is the thing you’re doing instead of studying or writing papers or attending class. It commands everyone’s attention. Younger gamers have no concrete expectations—they enter the experience with an open mind. Running games for adults is hard. Logistically you have to get people with 40+ hours a week jobs, kids, and distinct social lives to show up at the same place on the same day for at least 4 hours on a somewhat regular basis. Seasoned gamers often want different or even sometimes impossible things from their “gaming.” The benefit of decades of play is that they have immense hordes of inspiration to draw upon for problem solving and character development. The drawback to decades of experience is that all that play time tends to make them inflexible when approaching gaming related challenges both in and out of character.

With that in mind, I am absolutely dreading having to:

1. Put together a group that can function as we all learn the new material.

2. Tell several people that I know they love exalted and they will have to wait till later to play a 3rd Ed game; and

3. The possibility of getting a picture perfect improvement on the Exalted line only to discover I have no players willing. And. Able to give it a sincere test run.

With the FND rotation I was worried about missing a point of common courtesy, offending someone by withdrawing, or losing friends by deciding not to show up to everyone’s’ events. I probably over-thought things. I know many of our friends just aren’t bothered by the finer points of social convention—and in some ways I wish I could follow their lead. With gaming lately I have found myself wondering if the people at the table even have any common interests or respect for each other or appreciation for the little courtesies that are essential for any group to function effectively. I know and care for all these people. In some cases they might as well be family. I find myself more and more often wondering where the line between respecting their feelings and needs ends and where it is appropriate for mine to take primacy. I don’t want to be the classic selfish self absorbed self centered jerk. I do want to maintain positive friendships and pleasurable social experiences. The question is whether I can do both in today’s hyper sensitive society and if not, which is more important.