Captain Of My Soul

I’m a little surprised, just checking around the nets, that there’s not more remarking from people in my neck of the woods about yesterday. There were some pictures of snow.

And there was snow, sort of unexpected, including thunder snow. Some outlying areas got pretty decent coverage; our lawn was covered but not the roads. Just not that cold.

But starting in the morning with some sort of accident involving flammable material, I have to think that Feb. 27, 2017 will be one for the traffic books. If someone keeps those.

Yesterday I became a footnote. My wife was rehearsing an opera (she’s been directing a small company for a few years now, one in which she sang for many more years) in Shoreline, about 15 minutes south of me on the freeway. And I dropped her there and went back to retrieve her in just about that amount of time.

From there, though, we had to drive to Renton, some 26 miles southeast. In normal daytime traffic, about a 35-minute trip. In rush hour, of course, longer. Yesterday, about 95 minutes. It took a full hour to cover the last 7 miles. It was not nice. Lots of accidents, etc. Ice and snow, wet roads, and so on. Not a surprising story, but a big one.


What was nice, though, was that it was my wife’s birthday, and even given her usual busy day (it’s almost always busy on her birthday) I figured out how to spend some of it with her, even if part of that was in the car. She was going to church to prep for Ash Wednesday, and with my help we got through it pretty fast. Then we headed out for Mexican food, spontaneously joined by five friends, and managed to get something that looked suspiciously like a birthday out of the whole experience.

And the drive home was a breeze.


I watched Captain Fantastic the other day, noticing it on Amazon Prime and being curious. Viggo Mortensen got an Oscar nod for his performance, which I have no comment on having not seen the competition.

It doesn’t seem to have done very well critically or at the box office, even with Viggo. I’m not sure what to think about that. There’ve been any number of snarky mash-up comparisons, as if it were just a combination of Into the Wild and The Swiss Family Robinson.

What it was, to me anyway, was a libertarian fantasy, a Noam Chomsky-quoting father rearing five children in the wilderness, living in an old bus and off the land. It’s a remarkable sight, and concept, a rejection of a consumer-based society controlled by the rich and powerful.

The rest of the story is problematic, maybe, in ways that I won’t spoil, but I think I liked it. And Viggo was great.

For some reason, too, it seemed like a perfect film to watch as Lent approaches. As I’ve said, most of the time I haven’t been particularly observant of Lent as a period of reflection and perhaps shedding some distraction, but this year is different. I’m not likely to wander out into the woods and slit a deer’s throat with a hunting knife. Probably definitely not.

But the ascetic, frugal, simplified life of this fictional family was inspiring in a way I haven’t quite figured out. So I have a few weeks to do that, and see what I feel like at the end.

Today is Fat Tuesday, though. Tomorrow is soon enough.

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Picking Your Chains

In June 2011, back when trauma was getting lively in this household and comfort food was exactly that, I broke down and got an iPhone. They’d always looked like pretty cool gadgets; I’d just resisted because I never saw the need.

I’m not sure “need” is the right word here. “Utility” is more like it, although that describes a lot of things I don’t have or want. I just reached a tipping point of sorts.

It was a bizarre time, at any rate. My wife, six months out from brain surgery, had a heart attack, and on the work-up for that they found breast cancer. At the same time, work drastically slowed up for about three months, plenty of time for me to find some old habits to practice. Mostly watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of junk.

Four years after losing about 90 pounds, it was the closest I ever came to climbing that ladder again. I gained about 25 pounds over those three months, zoom zoom. And then, before anyone really noticed and certainly no one commented, I dropped them. Within a month I was back in fairly normal range, and by the end of summer I as actually a little lighter than I had been for the past couple of years.

What helped me, besides a new steady gig that helped fill those empty hours and kept me from filling my stomach with ice cream, was the phone. And particularly an app, MyFitnessPal, which is now pretty popular but I just grabbed on a whim because it was free and I thought it would come in handy to keep track of what I was eating and exercise.

I never stopped, either. It may be a redundant app now, but for the time being I still use it the same way. Just punch in what I ate, finding nutritional information online or sometimes just approximating a calorie count. I figured it would all work out and it did, and over the years the app has added features that make it easier to do this.

The point is, I’ve used this particular app without a break for nearly five years, although it tells me that I’ve logged in for 700-plus straight days. I obviously missed a day along the line, catching up the next day, although it still sort of annoys me. I never broke that chain. I’d like some credit.


“Don’t break the chain” is a concept that Jerry Seinfeld talked about in an interview, and which has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years in the life-hacking community. His method, which involved making sure he wrote material every day, was to use a large calendar, putting a big red “X” on every day he wrote. And his goal became not to break that chain. Nothing too complicated, or original, but there’s a nice intuitive bounce here. Visual reminders are helpful. Repetition, discipline, and incremental progress are solid ways to achieve goals. Works for me.

I brought this idea up in a discussion the other day, and people seemed intrigued. Maybe I’ve been living with it too long. Feels like a no-brainer. Pay attention. Write it down. Repeat.

For what it’s worth, I eventually added RunTracker, which is a nice app that tracks my walks via GPS, gauging elevation and estimating calorie burns. It’ll also track walks in the background, which I use for short trips to the store, a mile and a half round trip or so.

And now I have a Fitbit. I have more data than I imagined five years ago. I have lots of data. I am Data King.

Yeah. It’s mostly just fun, some inspiration. Now that I’ve hooked up those first two apps to my Fitbit, heart rate is now dropped into the equation, and that’s really the stat in the long run that tells the tale.

Again, as with a smart phone, I was a late adopter. Both my brother and sister-and-law were wearing the same Fitbit as mine when I saw them in January. Still trying to figure it out.

Once an hour, it’s been nudging me to move, walk for a few minutes, and again the chain comes into play. It shows me nine hours, from 9am to 5pm, and checks off each hour that I moved approximately 250 steps. I’ve gotten to walking laps around the house. Gets me off my butt.

And it motivates me in other ways. It gave me a fitness score ranging from 48 to 52, just numbers but apparently excellent for my age. Now, two months later exactly, I’m up to 49-53. My resting heart rate, which started in the mid to high 50s, went up into the 60s for a week or so, and now sits at 51 this morning, has a lot to do with it.

The world record holder in the marathon has a score of 81, by the way. So that’s not a goal. Hitting 60 might be possible. Gives me something to shoot for.

None of this makes a huge difference in my life, other than to focus my increasingly jumpy brain on something concrete, with a little personal best sort of goal to keep me going. I’m not expecting an increase in longevity, although it’s possible I can delay wearing those chains I forged in my earlier life, the bad habits, the drinking, the smoking, the compulsive eating. They will show up eventually, and there’s no breaking them. I can only hope to mediate the natural progression, maybe keep some decent exercise tolerance for as long as I can.

And the numbers help, in a small way. Yesterday I ate about 1600 calories and burned around 2400, according to Fitbit, resulting in a weight loss of 0.3 pound. Which showed up on my scale this morning. Today I may eat 2400 calories and burn 1600. We are in a stable situation, then, unusual for me and surprisingly helped by this light little thing that always stays on my wrist.

My current pulse rate is 56. I weight 168-1/2 pounds. Hang between there and 171 or so and I can wear anything I own, which is all I’m asking here. That, and a few more years to see if I can figure out what to do with my life. Besides walking and writing.

And now I owe myself 250 steps. Piece of cake, really. Not literally. You get it.

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The Big But Less So Night

On Sunday night, Denzel Washington has a chance to enter rarified air and win a third Oscar, something only Walter Brennan, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep have accomplished. This would be for his role in “Fences,” an adaptation of the August Wilson play.

And that’s about it. All I know about the Academy Awards this year. Oh, a couple of other details; I’m aware of most of the films, even if I’m not sure what they’re up for. But the rest, no. And watching? Also no, I’m pretty sure.

The last time I watched the Oscars, I was in Austin and my son-in-law wanted to see it for some reason. I remember that it was vaguely entertaining, with maybe a surprise, but that’s sort of the point. For people who like movies – and that seems to be most of us – it feels as though the world has outpaced the Academy Awards. What used to be an industry back-patting, putting a period at the end of a season of cinema, has become a blip on screens that have a lot of blips.

I miss that. Those days, when I’d have seen most or all of the films, and I had favorites and it was just fun, right? It was an All-Star game, the best of the best, and it became a night I marked as one to wait for, to anticipate, to look forward to.

I remember the 1981 Academy Awards. I was working a swing shift schedule at a medical clinic, just me typing in a spare office, alone for the last few hours aside from the janitor. I was having transmission problems with my car, so I’d started riding a bike to work, only a few miles, and I left a little early that night, hoping to catch the last 90 minutes or so of the big show.

There was no show, as it turned out. That afternoon, President Reagan had been shot. That alone is worthy of a head shake; I’d spent several hours being oblivious to a major news story. How is that even possible, I think now, but of course it was, and is. It’s just that I’d have to be on a plane or in, irony alert, a movie theater, or undergoing surgery. Really, I can’t imagine it.

So the world has changed in the past 36 years. Alert the media.


I don’t miss those days in any real sense. I was younger, for one thing, with fewer responsibilities than would come along soon. My wife and I went to the movies all the time, sometimes several times a week. Few interesting films escaped my butt in a seat, because there was an imperative that no longer exists: See it in the theater, or wait a few years for it to show up on network television, edited into a family- and commercial-friendly version.

This isn’t breaking news either, but I can’t help but reflect. We live in a world that is a logical extension of ideas and inventions and adaptations, but we were certainly not ready for it. Cable television begat video rentals begat streaming everything, although it wasn’t begatting as much as exploding.

And as I think about it now, 1981 might be a good touchstone year as far as the beginning of today. CNN had just gone up the year before. Video stores were already around, a niche service for a country in which maybe 10% of us owned VCRs. Alan Alda was doing commercials for IBM’s original PC. We could see what was coming, or some of it.

I would have looked forward to the rest, too, had I known. I just couldn’t have anticipated that what changed the world would also change me. I still watch movies. And I don’t miss the Oscars, not a bit. I just maybe miss missing, if that makes any sense. Good luck, Denzel.

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That Time Of Year

All calendars are arbitrary; this isn’t news, but we forget. Useful and necessary, but artificial constructs, dreamed up with some help from primitive astronomy.

You know this. I was just thinking of the church calendar, even more arbitrary than the one that lives in your phone. I was thinking about Lent.

The Lenten season starts next week, with Ash Wednesday. It’s usually a philosophical note to me, as is Advent; I observe, I participate, I acknowledge. I just don’t feel it quite so much.

Arbitrariness aside, there’s a purpose here, one that waits. Go with it or not; nobody will know the difference. That’s sort of the point, but there’s more. Lent is the Big Kahuna.

And I really need it this year. I need a season of reflection, of backing off from distractions and trying to glimpse my road. It’s been hard to do that lately.

This is Lent, then. Practice eliminating distractions, see what happens. It’s not about denial, or abstinence, or fasting, although people do this sort of thing. And I guess it’s about that for them. I figure whatever gets you there.

This is why my past few Lenten seasons have been a little light. My focus felt sharp, and my spiritual life fairly robust, or as robust as I wanted it to be.

Let me parse this semantically for a second, something that usually drives me crazy. I’ve said it a million times: Spirituality is the theory. Religion is the practice of that theory. Saying that you’re one and not the other makes no sense, regardless of how you define the terms.

But I’ll separate them out for my purposes: My religious life is fine. I practice all the time, at least the kind of practice one can do in an organized system such as a church. I go every Sunday, I sing in the choir, I serve as lector and occasionally assisting minister, I’m a ruling elder who attends meetings and plans stuff. I’m pretty active.

This helps. It really does.

But this year I need something, because whatever it is, I don’t have it. I’m unfocused and lost. I’m physically fine, but something feels off, feels broken, and I can’t seem to get a handle on it. There are plenty of practical reasons for this, but. I need something.

Maybe Lent, then.

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The Future Is ON

I know I’ve used this analogy at least once, and probably more than that. Sometimes you just go back to a really good well.

It’s from 30 Rock, just a quip. A gag. A one-liner. Dennis, Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) on-again, off-again sociopath of a boyfriend, arrives in her offices with his new title of The Beeper King (the former King passed away), complete with a briefcase full of samples. Of beepers. In 2009 or 2010.

Still, he insists they’re making a comeback. “Technology is cyclical, Liz!”

History, maybe, if you’re willing to wander into the abstract. Technology, no. Nothing goes back in the box to be replaced by an earlier, analog version.

This has always been the case. Whatever you don’t like about the modern world and its technology, it’s not going anywhere, any more than the printing press. It will just get shinier.

There’s no value judgment here, at least on my part. The older I get, the more I see the trade-offs we make every day. Last night, I leaned back in my chair and looked at my two 24” monitors sitting side by side on my desk, the whole world waiting inside my browser. They’re sharper than anything I imagined 30 years ago, rail thin and lightweight, and at that moment – and for a lot of moments I spend here at the desk – they functioned primarily as a clock. I’ve taken to putting the stupid thing to sleep several times a day, just because I imagined a future and it looked sort of like this, but it never occurred to me that the future would always be on.

And so we come back to social media, which is the world we live in, and we’re really talking about Facebook. Whatever Mr. Zuckerberg had in mind originally, no matter how that vision changed and grew, we’re the ones who are playing his game.

It’s a good game, too. A lot of the time. The allure is obvious and the draw powerful: Stay off Facebook and run the risk of being out of any number of loops. Loops you actually might not need, but you’ll be missing them and eventually that can wear on somebody. I get it.

But a large, open clearinghouse for everyone’s dumb ideas? We should have seen this coming. Human nature being what it is.

I don’t have any good solutions, either. Our understandable resistance to hear statements from people we might or might not really know that are offensive or at least in opposition to things we believe led to our ability to lock it down, see only what we want. Convenient for those of us who like to keep our blood pressure under control, but whatever the problem it seems obvious, maybe axiomatic, that choosing bubbles over wide-open conversation isn’t solving anything, and never has.

Bubbles are boring, for one thing. After removing myself from field about a year ago, I’ve kept my distance and my mouth shut, for the most part. And following a brief effort to unfriend some names that I barely recognized, people I had only a spot in my high school yearbook in common with, I just did what we all end up doing and blocked most of them.

So I’m presented every morning with a slew of posts from people who agree with me on most things, and watching paint dry looks better and better. Moderation, not my strongest suit, might be the better part of valor here.


On the brighter, or shinier, side, and speaking of those glistening monitors, I’ve had some fun exploring high definition at a pretty high level lately. Feeling that I needed an optical drive, if only to pull home video off DVDs to edit, I opted for a Blu-Ray drive. It wasn’t expensive and I figured the upgrade might come in handy.

Blu-Ray technology strikes me as almost niche, at least in the sense that most people probably don’t care. My mom has a nice, high-definition television but a standard definition cable package. It’s a little baffling to watch but she can’t imagine a reason to upgrade, and I’m probably with her. You don’t miss what you never have.

Blu-Rays have allowed me to practice some rules that became necessary 30 years ago, when buying VHS tapes became a thing, particularly for people with kids. We must have had (and still do) dozens of Disney movies, along with blank tapes I recorded various films and shows on. A foot had to be put down, and when we switched to DVDs it was my foot. I couldn’t stop anyone else in this household, but I could keep my collection to a minimum, and now Blu-Ray made it even leaner. I can stream virtually anything I want; I own a few, select titles on Blu-Ray, and just because I like owning them. I’ve got The Godfather. I have every Rocky movie. There are a few others.

And despite the lack of freeware capable of negotiating the elaborate DRM B-R manufacturers pile on their disks, meaning that I had to buy software to play them, it’s actually a pretty cool experience. A smaller screen, better resolution than my plasma in the other room, and a super-crisp picture.

I’ll get over it eventually, and the drive will gather the dust that all of this gathers, but as I said: Shiny is compelling, and sometimes it takes a while to realize that all that glitters is not glittery, really. A lot of it is noise, and we have the tools to take care of that, and always have.

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An Easy “A”

My sister-in-law, a lovely woman who seems to naturally lean toward compassion, spent a couple of days in my presence last month as I was starting in on my latest cycle of bronchitis and just generally annoying coughing. She finally pulled me aside and said that she’d read some articles about vitamin A lacking in our modern diets, and how sometimes adding a supplement will lessen the effects of respiratory illness or maybe prevent them.

I’m a little suspicious about vitamin supplements, but I’ve got nothing against vitamins. I just wonder; I read things, too. But this woman isn’t an idiot, she was trying to be helpful, and I gladly took a handful of capsules from her to give a try.

Until I checked my handy app that snags what nutritional noise it can from what I plug in, and as I believe I’ve mentioned here, I eat a fair amount of spinach. Occasionally kale. Really, along those leafy green lines is where I’ve been living lately, and it turns out that this provides a lot of vitamin A.

That’s not surprising, although me eating spinach might raise an eyebrow. The whole thing starts to feel silly after a while, but it’s at least harmless and Lord knows I can always eat better and who knows?

It’s strange enough that I shove a big handful of these greens into a blender along with berries and water and protein powder. Or strange enough that I actually drink it.

But yesterday, suddenly hungry and with nothing handy, I noted that we had some pepperoni in the back of the fridge (shelf life: Roughly 150 years) and a bit of mozzarella cheese. Add some flour and salt and olive oil, and a guy who likes to play with dough, and it was an easy call: Make a little personal pizza. An hour tops, from scratch to stomach.

It turned out fine, very thin crust, and I just felt like it needed something more, so I sprinkled some of those vitamin A-laden leaves on top. It was an excellent pizza, but once again: Not exactly like me. I would have taken a picture but, again, I was pretty hungry.


I’m not trying to do something here, or not consciously. As I said, I have lots of doubts about nutritional advice. Not that it’s fake or useless or even overstated; I just wonder how crucial it is at this stage of my life. Which, of course, by most measures, is the last stage.

An old friend of mine, from my teenage days but one I hadn’t seen in 15 years, was at Mom’s birthday thing last month and was asking about my weight. He’s a guy I remember always struggling to keep the pounds off, but with plenty of discipline and motivation. He’s usually looked pretty much the same, never lean but always looking pretty healthy, as he did when I saw him. Maybe a bit heavier, but he was wearing baggy clothes.

Anyway, he commented on my situation, asked a few questions. I told him some of my story, and then made the point that this – meaning the way I look – is just a hobby. A way of passing the time, staying engaged, trying to improve whatever I can. Fighting off the inevitable as a game, in a way.

Which is to say, I have my doubts that those leafy green veggies and these push-ups I’ve restarted doing and everything else I at least try to be consistent about in terms of a healthful lifestyle will have any effect on my mortality.

But, but. I’m not sure it can hurt. And whatever the rest of my life looks like, it’d be nice to be able to at least walk upright and not have oxygen tubes snaking through my nostrils. Maybe vitamin A is the answer. Maybe genetics are going to have the last word. Maybe I’ll get struck by lightning.

I’ll be standing up when I do, in any case, or that’s my goal. Keep on standing. Pass the spinach.

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Ups And Downs

I never look at analytics for this site. Actually, I’m not sure I ever set up analytics. I have them on my main page ( but I notice them only occasionally, when I update. Not a lot of traffic, but some. Ebbs and flows. It’s hard to figure out what people are looking for without digging deeper than I care to. Than I care about.

That said, I don’t want to make this a miserable experience for anyone who wanders by. And that said, of course I’m going to write here pretty much what I want. I just try not to be offensive, or inflammatory, or too profane; a little profanity makes the world go around, but some people have tender ears, which I understand.

I will say this, even with the risk of provoking yawns and clicks away: The rhythm of life fascinates me, and lately it feels good. You know? I can’t really explain it. Just feeling a little better about things. Creativity is starting to creep back into the picture.

Not that being creative ever produced anything like real income, but that’s on me. It’s still good to have ideas pop up on a more frequent basis. Last night I played a chapter from the audio book I’ve been recording (sort of waiting for my bronchitis to clear up, now just trying to find the time) in the car for JK. It sounds good, or at least the way an audio book should sound. I have very little experience but I can see how people would enjoy listening to a book in the car or at the gym, or wherever. I’ll try to nail this down soon and see where I am.

Then there’s the project I’m putting together in stray moments. I’ve been writing for public consumption now for nearly 17 years. There’s a ton of material there that seems not only potentially compelling as a chronological picture of one ordinary life spread out over a decade and a half, but some of them are actually pretty good. Not bad, anyway. If I can find a way to anthologize all of this…well, I don’t know. Maybe someone would be interested.

I also have a vague idea about a podcast. I tried this a few years ago, tried interviewing people I knew with interesting life stories (which I think is pretty much everyone, with enough digging), but I ran out of guests. And the concept wasn’t nearly niche enough, and niche is our world. This new idea, though…it plays to a passion, and it might draw some listeners. So there’s that.

Finally, every time I get ready to step into the shower, I get a picture of an aging male in the mirror. But it’s not as bad as it could be, thanks to keeping the weight off and the former days of lots of push-ups. It’s been a few years since I did them the way I used to, 200 or so every day, usually 20-30 at a time. It’s a great exercise.

And you forget how to do it. Some of it is lost strength, but some of it is psychological, I think, and the rest muscle memory. And I’m not trying to set any records. It just seemed, again, a good exercise, a way to keep the impending loss of muscle and strength at bay, at least for a while.

So since I’m not trying to impress anyone, and frustration kills motivation, I decided to start on my knees. Not the old PE way; you just rest on your knees and keep the lower legs elevated. It cuts about 40% off the body weight, and while it’s a little boring it makes a difference. I figure once I reach 50 or maybe 100 of those in a row, I’ll switch to regular ones. My life is so interesting.

But I’m a firm believer in incrementalism in these situations, so I’m just going to inch along. Make some recordings. Write some podcast scripts. Finish this anthology of columns.

And keep pushing up. That’s the ticket. Always push up. The alternative is pretty clear.

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Sing A Good Song

If I told you the worst nights of my current life…well. Hmm. Obviously I’m going to tell you. Didn’t really think that sentence through.

Wednesday nights. There.

You know about choir, unless you’ve just now wandered by this blog. My wife, who’s an associate pastor, a minister of music at our church, leads the choir. Small church, small choir. It used to be a bigger church with a bigger choir, and I’m sure some current members miss those days.

And maybe they’ll come again. Churches live out their relative utility to a particular community, and die. It happens all the time.

But sometimes there’s a flow to these things, when the congregation shrinks and then expands. I have no idea.

I just know the choir members are obviously passionate about it, given the need to attend practice in the middle of the week and get to church early on Sundays for more.

And if you’ve been reading, you might remember my experiences with choir. But some back story might be useful.

I always sang. When I was a kid, I wrote a lot, mostly poetry. I’m talking the very first writing, from age 6 or so. I loved poetry, loved to play with meter and rhyme and whatever primitive intuition I had about dissonance, assonance, etc.

But I sang, too. I had a clear prepubescent treble, on pitch and nice to listen to, so I sang in choirs in elementary school and junior high. I played my guitar and sang. When my voice changed to a solid baritone, it was right on time to jump into high school musicals and there I sang a lot.

Then there was college, and a couple of other musicals, and lots of other acting. For two summers, I sang for my supper at a local dinner theater, meeting my wife and friends who remain so all these years later. I sang, essentially, all the time.

I also was fascinated my music, and music theory, and I learned how to play chords on the piano. It turns out I have a good ear, whatever that means, so it was easy to take a few chords and improvise the melody of pretty much anything. This always seems to impress my wife, who can’t do it, and my wife is the most musical person I’ve ever met.

This is the salient point here. I have never had a particular skill with math (except geometry, for some reason; I was a star geometry student), but I can still do basic algebra and I do. You might be surprised how often it comes in handy, despite the clichés.

But I’m not a mathematician, or even very good at it. Most higher math left me baffled and a “B” student. Meaning, pretty average, nothing special. I can add and subtract.

On to music. I have some ability. I have a decent voice, and I can usually match pitch without a problem. After marrying a musician and fathering another, I let it slip away. It was obvious that wasn’t my gift, and I was pretty content to just observe my wife and daughter as an audience.

But that choir was diminishing, down to a solid 8 or 9 members, and not only was choosing anthems for them to sing all that more difficult with a small group, there were no baritones. Our pastor would usually sing that part, even though he’s more of a tenor, but he’s getting his doctorate and that was one more thing he could skip with his busy schedule.

So I got drafted, and thus Wednesday nights became the worst. Really. Just awful.

I hadn’t sung in years, much less in parts. I rarely even touched the piano, and my music-reading skills have never been great (for years, if I wanted to learn a song on the piano, I’d memorize it clef by clef; a few measures of the right hand, then a few of the left, then put them together and move on. I never mastered the bass clef on sight, always having to mentally transpose up two steps).

So I’m in this tiny choir, trying to sing the bass part with no one else to help. I would get hopelessly lost, unable to find a note, any note. My wife would plunk out my part and record it, and sometimes that helped. Sometimes our organist will come over and sing bass with me, which is great.

But most of the time I felt helpless, and I really, really don’t like that feeling. Especially with something I’ve been doing for much of my life.

Usually, though, by the end of practice I was feeling better. Socializing, even with drawbacks, is an injection of happiness in my life.

I still saw myself as hopeless, though, frustrated and always looking for an opportunity to slip away, take my seat in the congregation and sing hymns, always the melody.

Until something happened, and that’s the fun part of this story.

I got better. And sort of suddenly. Things work out that way sometimes.

Suddenly I was able to sight-sing with much more ease, finding the intervals easily and quickly finding the key, which, with my slightly hard-of-hearing but still functional ear, makes harmony so much easier.

And I was finally mastering that bass clef on sight, without the transposition. I know the treble clef backwards and forwards, but now my mind automatically sees a D-flat instead of a B on the lower staff. It feels like a miracle.

Then again, I’m a guy always on the lookout for miracles. Shouldn’t be a surprise.

I’ll never be all that good. And choir singing is not my favorite, anyway; I was always a show-off, and I always wanted the spotlight. Choirs are about cooperation. It’s a good lesson to learn, along with those tricky accidentals.

And I can plunk out my own part now, although JK will still do it for me, singing the melody while she plays my part. Musical, as I said.

Little victories, I guess. These days, for reason that are unclear, I get a lot of reader mail. These are affirming and very satisfying, hearing feedback, and I cherish them all.

But there’s nothing quite like the alto section turning around when I finish an anthem on a low E or something, thumbs up, affirmation from the ladies who carry us and me across the finish line. I’m feeling my age and waltzing between hope and despair as I look at my current state of underemployment. I may feel awkward and out of place, definitely, but the frustration is less and the benefits are crystal clear.

I’m getting better. Talk about hope.

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Phone Home

Routines. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. Write that down.

I’ve got my share, although habits are tricky for me, my tendencies toward compulsiveness understood and acknowledged. Sometimes it gets dangerous. Other times, good for me. Vigilance is the key, and now I have a nice pun that I didn’t see coming.

I spent some hours on the transit road yesterday, not my usual style but hey. It’s a break from habit. I needed to be down in Renton, some 30 miles or so south of here, at 7pm. For various reasons, it makes a lot of sense for my wife to take the car on Mondays, and she usually does.

But now I’m an elder. A Ruling Elder, actually, if you want to be specific. My wife is a Teaching Elder, which is the term we’re now using for ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I feel so sorry for her.

“Elder” is such a loaded word, carrying with it centuries of shorthand. Aged, wise, a fount of good advice.

Just not in the Presbyterian Church. “Presby” means elder; presbyopia, which pretty much everyone over 40 has (it’s why you need bifocals or progressive lenses), just means “elder eyes.” So the system is set up with a committee of elders, voted in by the congregation, representative democracy alive and well here in this particular denomination.

So the Board of Elders, referred to as Session, is essentially student council. We are on the board of directors of the church, although it’s a small church and big decisions are rarely on the table. It’s really a fine way to have leaders, which organizations need, without heads getting too big. We are all just servants.

Last night, we talked about making sure the dishwasher was loaded correctly. For an example.

Anyway, JK drove to school and then across the lake to church yesterday, her typical Monday, and I headed out at 3pm to do some bus work. The first takes me from fairly near my house to the mall, which then means I walk across the mall, the entire mall, to reach the next bus stop. I usually have 15 minutes to do this and can pull it off in less than 10, so there’s a little pressure but not much. And yesterday was warmish and sunny. I wore sunglasses most of the trip, even.

Then I pick up that bus, after my short wait, and spent an hour getting to the Bellevue Transit Center, where I wait about 10 minutes for the next bus. And then I spend another hour on that, walking the last half-mile from where it dropped me off to church. An easy trip, a little exercise, three hours of my time that, again, I could spend enjoying sunshine and some interesting podcasts.

And then the drive home, no big deal. I left a battery charging in the car, which I do a lot, so I had to turn around and retrieve it. A couple of hours go by as I unwind, and then I head for bed, another routine I try to keep.

As I took my glasses off to place on the nightstand, I realized I forgot my phone. I leave it muted for the night but it’s useful for setting alarms or getting the time in the middle of the night if I’m so inclined. So back to the man cave to retrieve it.

No sign of it there, and now I’m not quite so sleepy. One doesn’t want to leave one’s phone lying around. It’s locked down and I could wipe the contents remotely long before someone broke my PIN, but that’s no fun. Retracing my steps made more sense, and sure enough it had just slipped out of my pocket and was lying on the floor of the car.

Back inside to reassure my wife that phone was retrieved. A few minutes to let the adrenaline get re-uptaken or however that works, then back to bed, where I conked out quickly.

Fast-forward to 6am, when my wife stirs me to drive her up to the bus stop. At the last moment, I can’t find my keys, so I just use hers.

But no sign of the keys inside, or in the car. I obviously used them to get my phone, so we’ve narrowed the timeframe. Not on my desk. Not in my pockets. Not on the ground, shoved between the seats, lying in the flower bed. No keys. Keys are important.

A little panic this morning, then, until my wife texted to try the bed. It was late at night; maybe I left them in my pockets. And sure enough, there they were. Relief.

But a little fear, too.


It wasn’t the keys. That made sense. A spontaneous, late-night trip outside to get my phone? Easy enough to slip my keys into my sweatpants and then wear those to bed, letting my keys land where they will. It’s nice that I found them. No fun changing locks.

It was the phone. As I said, I keep it silent during sleeping hours, although it’s been programmed to let phone calls through from family members, just in case. It just saves me the beeping from late-night emails. It mostly serves as a convenient light, and the alarm. I never read screens in bed, not anymore.

But I panicked, bigly. And that’s the unnerving part.

Look: We all know about phones. Unless you’re one of those who’ve opted out of smart phones, and I know a few, our phones carry a lot of information. So do my credit cards and driver’s license, which I could also easily lose, but my phone? Emails, text messages, browsing history, photos…it’s an open book to pertinent details about my life, and could lead in the right (wrong) hands to a lot of information that could be troublesome.

An answer would be to downgrade to less reliance on my phone, but that’s not happening either. It’s an incredibly useful tool, letting me be reached (when I want to) anywhere in the world, along with maps and weather forecasts and all sorts of useful apps. I will take the good and keep an eye on the bad.

And, again, it’s pretty locked down. Law enforcement would have a lot of trouble breaking into it, as we saw with the San Bernardino shooter. Although I have no issues with law enforcement at the moment.

A criminal would be more inclined to try brute force, but again: I’m aware of this. My PIN is very long, and my fingerprint keeps a quick unlock available but only resides on my fingers. I never let my phone out of my sight for any length of time, so if it goes missing for any length of time I’ll just wipe the contents, put a recovery email message on the lock screen, and hope for a good Samaritan while I look into replacing the phone.

I was spared that, but the fear that went into a temporarily missing phone is disturbing. Keys, sure. Everybody wants to keep track of their keys. Letting my phone out of my sight, or at least my knowledge of its whereabouts, and I panic.

This bothers me. I may not be able to get unbothered; we make choices, and I guess I’ve made this one. And I’m not worried about living life with my face buried in a screen; I don’t use it that much, unless I’m traveling.

But take it away, even for a short time? That’s pretty classical dependency, and while I might be willing to accept it, it’s got me thinking. I lost my wedding ring a few weeks ago and I had nowhere near the anxiety about that in comparison. Maybe time to reevaluate.

Or maybe time to be extra vigilant. My phone isn’t going anywhere. At least not if I have anything to say about it.

I won’t say much into it, you understand. I just like having it around.

Pillow talk
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Counting the Days, Always

Here’s a mini-rant, although given the state of the world it’s not really in my top one-thousand, I’m guessing. It’s more something that makes me mildly exasperated, and usually with people I care about.

And it should be noted that there are any number of exasperating things I must do. Possibly writing this blog, today. Feel free to leave at any time, no hard feelings.

This particular exasperation has to do with Facebook, which has its own share of these. A person I know will post a link to an article (the vast majority – I’m forgetting the exact percentage – of news stories on Facebook are shared without being read, so right away we have some bad internet hygiene in terms of contributing to the problem) and then say, “Just posting so I’ll remember to come back to this,” or something similar.

I roll my eyes because, good grief, people. No clue about bookmarks? Or how to save to a reading list, or one of the many apps that make this simple?

I don’t know why this bothers me. Part of my Facebook issue, I guess. Easy enough to fix. My Facebook time is now down to a few minutes, a few times a day.

But then. I can’t swear that I write here or elsewhere with absolutely no thought about it serving as sort of a bookmark. I don’t have a conscious intent, but intent is a curious thing. Sometimes best understood backwards.

So this may be one of those.


I was sick in November, right after returning from a trip to Austin. A couple of days home and then wham, viral illness with a fever above 101 and some other unpleasantness for about 24 hours, then the bronchitis and bad cough that lasted long enough for me to seek medical attention.

And then again in January, after my trip to Arizona (granted, planes are flying incubators for microbes). No fever but more bronchitis, slow to resolve but it did.

And now I feel fine. I walked up to the grocery store yesterday in the middle of a mild windstorm (mild in my neighborhood, anyway; just breezy) and back, about 3-1/2 miles, and no problems. Ordinarily I try to avoid walking in big winds, just because it feels dangerous with branches flying and trees looking a little unstable, and we’ve got some big trees up here. I needed to pick up a prescription for my son, though, and some food, being without a car all day and night.

The prescription was important but could have waited. The food was more crucial.

So here’s my bookmark, for Future Chuck: Since January, I’ve averaged around 1600 calories a day. Some days are much more. Some are pretty light. Just an average. And since my Fitbit gives me what seems to be reasonable figure on exactly how many calories I burn each day, based on movement and mostly my weight (60-70% of the calories we burn – the energy we expend, to make it easier for you calorie-averse people – are just keeping us alive), I can easily look at the difference between the two. Particularly since I write it down.

And Fitbit tells me that number is pretty consistent, sometimes ranging up to 2400 calories and occasionally down to 1900, but mostly hanging around 2100. That’s without a lot of exercise, with the sickness and all, but some.

If I were neutral, just looking at those numbers, I’d expect a weight loss of around a pound a week. This isn’t something I’m real interested in happening, although it’s not dangerous. I’d just not like to keep this pattern.

And so it seems I’ve lost 5-6 pounds, although the scale is all over the place, having loaded up on food these past few days, bad news for my stomach but at least an attempt to correct. Heavy food sits in the stomach for a while, and messes with the numbers. Yesterday I weighed 172. Today I weighed 174, after several days of indulgence.

But based on my calorie intake and output, I’m really about 166. That’s a strange way to look at things, I know, but I’ve been doing this for a long time, amping it up last year when I trouble with my appetite. I can’t afford to be ignorant about what I’m doing.

And I know from experience that the scale will adjust. If I eat just a normal amount of food for a guy my weight, based on my caloric output, and don’t eat after 6 or 7pm, say, the scale will drop down to where that statistical number resides. It sounds crazy but trust me. Been down this road.

I’ve been doing this nearly 10 years, by the way. I have spreadsheets going back to 2007, when I crested at 273. I’m pretty confident in the numbers, but they’re just numbers. Only when they mean something; that is, when they match up with the way my clothes fit or I feel, or a comment is made.

People are a little leery about making comments, mostly because they know I’ve had some struggles with this. My wife is not leery at all. I came into the kitchen today and she rubbed my back, and asked me if I’d been eating enough. Thought I was getting a little thin again.

So there you go. I feel confident in all of this. I just need to keep an eye on it. Pizza and ice cream help. Not the best nutritional diet of all time, but lots of calories and calories are what I need.


The reason this just feels like a bookmark is because most people aren’t interested. Although some of you might be better off being interested.

I firmly believe that social media has dulled our cognitive abilities, or at least our common sense. Answers seem obvious to certain people, who are not shy about pointing out their subjective sense.

So let me put it this way, once again: I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It’s not hard. I’ve got apps, I’ve got a scale, it’s easy to keep track of calories and ignore food (that is, I don’t log food, just calories). I try to get on the scale once a day, although I usually miss a day once a week or so and then I just approximate, based on what I ate.

In other words, faced with a problem that I wanted to solve, I decided on data, and data, in my case at least, worked. Over that decade, I’ve been up a bit and down some more, but I’ve never gotten within 70 pounds of my highest weight. It’s just something it’s headed up over the holidays, and needed some extra attention come January.

But it’s been a few years since that happened. I’ve been pretty consistent, occasionally adding some spinach-berry smoothies to get some nutrients, or as much as I can given the smooshing together. If you went out to dinner with me, you’d see me eat a regular amount of food, maybe something special for dessert. I don’t look like a picky eater, although that may be all the food I ate that day, other than a few snacks. I have some appetite problems.

Even with all the noise out there, the different diets and different theories, most designed to make losing weight as easy as possible, depending a lot on the psychology of the person in need. Everybody thinks they have the answer.

Biology is not crowdsourced, though. I’m just one guy. Still, it’s been 10 years.

And after 10 years, I think I could help. Maybe. I have these spreadsheets and everything.

The variables are problematic, but in general they seem to work, and it’s a pretty simple philosophy: No matter what the charts or statistics or apps tell you, logging is the easiest and I suspect easiest way to make this work. Eat “X” amount of food. Burn “Y” amount of calories, settling on some formula and being consistent.

Let’s say I eat 1500 calories one day. Fitbit conveniently suggests that I burned 2100 calories. The equation is simple: Y-X=D, with Y calories out, X calories in, and D representing the calories deficit.

That is, 2100-1500=500 calories deficit. Since we generally equate 3500 calories with a pound (it’s the caloric equivalent of a pound of fat), we simply multiple 500 X 7 (days of the week) and we get, surprise, 3500.

And that’s it. I’ve lost 5 pounds in the past few weeks, despite what my scale currently says (ate a LOT of food, fairly late at night). I could eat 1600 calories, spread out over the day, and in three days my scale will say 166. Or 165. Don’t want to do this.

And that’s probably enough. No fancy here, no special fat-burning foods or exotic diets. I eat all sorts of things, some of them fried and some of them loaded with creamy calories. Just, maybe, not enough.

I’m not sure how to fix this. And I’m fine; that range between 166 and 172 it right in my wheelhouse, in terms of clothes and comfort. I just need to keep it there.

And maybe in a year I’ll look back on this post, and I’ll remember. Eternal vigilance.

And I’m willing to share my ideas. But I won’t offer. If you’re interested, let me know. Otherwise, you’ve probably already moved on. I don’t blame you and I wish you well. I’m just one guy.

But I weight well over 100 pounds less than I did a decade ago, and even the minor ups and downs show a remarkable consistency. Maybe I’m on to something. Maybe my wife worries too much, but I know of what she speaks. I can weigh whatever I want to weigh. If you haven’t stopped reading already, I’m thinking you can, too. Get familiar with spreadsheets, though. Trust the numbers. Figure out when you gain based on what you eat, tweak your spreadsheet, and carry on. Information is everything, awareness is everything, and cookies should be baked and given away. That may be the most important.

And now I have my book mark. Exasperate away.

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