Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

We interrupt our normally scheduled blogging to bring you this commercial announcement.

Mother’s Day is May 10th.  We have about 20 of these left:

No, not 20 Charevas … she’s one of a kind.  We have about 20 of the Cool Moms Cook With Butter aprons left.  They’re available in the Fat Head store.

Or you could just send your mom a nice card.

 

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In a psychology class I took in college (during my brief stint as a psych major), there was a lecture on what determines our personalities.  One of the factors was what the professor called energy endowment.  Some people are born to be energetic and some aren’t.  Your energy level would certainly affect your personality.

I recall thinking at the time, Well, that explains a lot.  I’m not blessed with much of an energy endowment.  I wasn’t especially lazy or anything, you understand.  I went to my classes, I was diligent about my homework, and I worked as a waiter on weekends to make a few bucks.  But I didn’t crave physical activity.  I liked reading, playing in a band, and talking about every subject under the sun with my friends.  I was never the guy who said, “Hey, let’s go play football in park!”  Sometimes I did go play football in the park if other guys invited me, but I was kind of relieved when it was over and we all went to sit down in a pub.

Fast-forward 35 years …

The forecast for Saturday was rain all day.  Just as well … I knew Chareva and I wouldn’t be doing farm work together because she took Sara to a seminar for girls on math and science careers.  So I figured I’d spend the day indoors, working on my speech for the upcoming cruise.

As I was sitting at my desk and going over the speech, I noticed a ray of sunshine peeking through the window blinds.  Then I felt mild tension in my right calf.  I looked down to see my right foot inching towards the door.

“Excuse me, foot.  What do you think you’re doing?”

“It hasn’t rained all day.  I want to go out.”

“And do what, exactly?”

“Well, I’m a foot, so it would probably be something that involves walking, genius.”

Not wanting an angry foot on my hands, I gave in and played 18 holes of disc golf in the front pastures.  Then Alana and I took food and water to the chickens in the front pasture and collected the eggs.  Then we took food and water to both flocks of chickens in the back pasture.  Then we took food and water to the hogs.

Feeling I’d done right by the foot, I sat at my desk to go over the speech.

“You know, it’s still not raining.”

“Yes, I know.  The forecast was wrong.  Big surprise.”

“Well, I want to go back out.”

“But I have to—”

“You can always write later if it rains.”

Can’t argue with that logic.  So I went out and played another 18 holes of disc golf.  When I tried to take my shoes off to go inside, the right foot refused to let go of the leather.

“What now?  That’s 36 holes already!”

“I’m just negotiating on behalf of your arms.  They don’t talk much.”

“Well, what do they want?”

“Work.  I mean, real work.  Tossing those little discs around isn’t work.”

“Tell them Chareva is gone, and the next farm chore is stringing more fencing.  That’s a two-person job.”

“Hang on … They say the driveway could use more patching.”

“Well, yeah, now that you mention it …”

“You need to fill in the holes with rocks.  They like that idea.  Rocks are heavy.”

Chareva’s garden cart was full of tools, tarps, gloves, zip-ties and other items dumped in there in no apparent order, which means she planned it that way.   I decided not to mess with her system, even though the garden cart is good for hauling rocks.

So I took a big bucket down to the creek, which serves as my quarry when I need rocks.  For the next couple of hours, I scooped rocks and gravel from the creek into the bucket.  Then I hand-carried the loaded bucket from the creek, across the front pasture, and to the top of our driveway, making sure to switch arms so neither would feel left out.  Then I filled canyons and craters in the driveway with rocks and gravel.  When we get a few days with no rain in the forecast, I’ll mix up some Quikrete and pour it between and on top of the rocks.

The rain that had been forecast all day finally came.  My muscles were tired by then, so the foot and his silent companions didn’t complain when I went inside.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes wrote about what he calls the compulsion to move.  We see lean people who move around a lot and fat people who don’t, so we assume the lean people are lean because they’re active.

Taubes says that’s getting the causality backwards.  Lean people are lean because their bodies aren’t hormonally geared to store a disproportionate share of calories as fat.  When they eat, their bodies would rather burn the calories than store them – so they feel a compulsion to move.  Longitudinal studies have shown that despite what most people think, kids don’t sit around and then get fat.  They start getting fat first, then sit around more – because they’ve lost the compulsion to move.

I believe there is such a thing as an energy endowment and that it’s partly genetic.  Some people are born bouncy and stay bouncy.  Others, not so much.  But diet has to figure into it as well.  When I was college, hardly a day went by when I didn’t eat wheat.  Toast or cereal in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, noodles or a roll with dinner – heck, that’s just normal food, right?

Now I rarely touch wheat.  But when I do – like, say, for my very rare pizza indulgence – I can feel the difference the next day.  I lose my enthusiasm for physical activity.  I feel like I did back in the days when I believed I was born with a low energy endowment.

I don’t have that low energy endowment anymore.  I’m not the bouncy type and never will be.  But when the weekend rolls around, I feel a compulsion to move.

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The programming project that’s been dominating my time and my life should wrap up this weekend.  In fact, this is the do-or-die weekend.  I’m supposed to run my big-fix program before Monday.  Everyone from the president of IT on down is waiting for results, so if I fail, I’m failing on a big stage.

It’s a bit stressful, but I also tend to thrive under this kind of pressure.  Years ago, an agent who signed me in Los Angeles told me he liked to work with standup comedians and retired athletes, and that the two share some personality traits.  As someone nearly devoid of natural athletic ability, my reaction was something like, “Uh … huh?  What are you talking about?”

“Think about it,” he said.  “You both have to perform in a high-pressure situation in front of a live audience.  Doesn’t matter if you’re tired, doesn’t matter what kind of mood you’re in, doesn’t matter how good you were last time out.  When it’s game time, you have to get out there and do the job.  There’s no re-shoot and no second take.  It’s the personality type who wants the ball when it matters.”

So yeah, I kind of wanted the ball when this one came around.  Hope I don’t fumble.

Anyway, I expect life to return to normal on Monday, which means I won’t be an absent blogger anymore.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share the view from our kitchen window this morning:

Deer come down from the hills now and then and and nose around the tree line, but usually the dogs bark and scare them away.  The dogs happened to be snoozing in the sun room when I took these pictures.  We counted eight deer in all.  It was a pleasing, relaxing sight to take in before heading upstairs to put my program through some final tests before running it.

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Man, it’s cold out there.  Tonight is supposed to be the deepest of the deep freeze, so we’ll see if the power stays on.  The wood-burning stove is already cranked up just in case.  I also decided to post tonight in case the -5 temperature snaps a power line and takes us off the grid for a few days.

Some weeks ago, Chareva ordered a new flock of 25 chicks.  I believe the purpose (since we’re certainly not running short on eggs) was to have more variety in the color of the eggs.  Also, she wanted to make more work for herself, since caring for two flocks of chickens, two hogs, two dogs, two children, one cat and one husband isn’t enough.

These were mail-order chicks that have to be shipped soon after they’re born.  Apparently they’re fine in a shipping box for two or three days, but only within a specific timeframe.  Chareva received an email notifying her that the chicks were shipped on Monday, which means they were making the trip from Iowa to Minnesota to here during one of the coldest spells of the year.  She and the girls prepared themselves emotionally to receive a box of dead, frozen chicks.

The chicks arrived today and, amazingly, only one of them had died during shipment.  Tough little critters, I guess.  The hatchery usually sends extra chicks anyway, so we ended up with 29 live ones … a mix of Araucana/Ameraucanas and Cuckoo Marans, plus one of some other breed we can’t identify yet. They’re happily congregating in their temporary home under a heat lamp. So we’ll be constructing another hoop house or two in a few weeks.

The first two winters after we moved to Tennessee, there were substantial snowfalls.  After spending their toddler years in Southern California, the girls were thrilled to finally go sledding.  The “hill” was a wimpy little thing in a neighbor’s yard, maybe a five-foot drop and 15 feet of total sledding.  So when we bought the farm with the big ol’ side hill, I thought to myself, “You think sledding down that little mound was fun?  Wait until you go down this bad boy.”

Three winters came and went with barely a dusting of snow each year.  Best the girls could do was sled down our driveway a few times in the morning before the afternoon soon melted the snow.  I actually slept through one snowfall last year.  By the time I was awake, it was already gone.  I only knew we’d had snow because Chareva told me.

Not this time. The mix of ice, sleet and snow that hit our area this week won’t be melting until at least Saturday, if then.  So the girls finally put the big hill to use – along with the driveway for old times’ sake.  They insist that what they’re doing out there is called “snow surfing.”  I created a video for them to remember the occasion.

The bailouts near the tree line are intentional.  (The others aren’t — they’re falls.) You can’t see it in the video, but the big hill ends at a sudden drop-off into the creek – not something you want to hit going full-speed on a sled.

Chicks and surfing … just what every guy dreams of during a deep freeze.

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I didn’t post yesterday because I had my every-five-year colonoscopy, which means undergoing general anesthesia, which means feeling a bit dopey and tired for the rest of the day.  I elected to spend the evening relaxing and watching some Netflix series I’ve been meaning to check out.

I don’t consider myself a cancer candidate, but since my dad had colon cancer, I get the peek-inside procedure done every five years.  No use being stupid about it.

The peek inside showed no cancer or warning signs of cancer, by the way.  That might be a disappointment to the vegan evangelists who occasionally show up in comments to warn me that red meat causes cancer.  They’ve seen some studies, by gosh, and they just know my meaty diet is going to kill me at a young age.

I once pointed out to a vegan troll who was making that argument that Linda McCartney died of cancer after more than 20 years of being a vegetarian.  He replied that she didn’t become a vegetarian until she was in her 30s, so the damage had already been done.  So I replied that I’m in my 50s, which means according to his theory, the damage has already been done.  So there’s really no point in me giving up meat at this point.  May as well enjoy my diet and my life until the cancer set in motion decades ago by eating meat finally flares up and kills me.

That actually shut up him, which was a bit of surprise.

Now I’m off to enjoy a skirt steak for dinner.

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We’re only two weeks into the New Year, which means millions of people are on a diet, hoping to fulfill a resolution to lose weight. Last week I wrote about how U.S. News ranked the popular diets. The low-fat, low-sat, low-flavor DASH diet was ranked #1, the Slim-Fast diet was ranked #13, and the paleo diet was ranked last. I finished that post with this comment:

So here’s what we’ve got with the U.S. News diet rankings: the same group of idiots who’ve been pushing low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets for decades were asked to rank diets and – surprise! – they chose the low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets as the best …

And that’s why the same people will be making the same weight-loss resolution next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Now and then some internet cowboy will pop up in a forum and make the (ahem) profound observation that all the popular weight-loss diets work equally well if people stick to the diet. Uh-huh. That’s roughly as enlightening as saying all alcoholism-treatment programs work equally well as long as the alcoholic doesn’t drink. Or that knee surgery is equally successful under no anesthesia, vodka anesthesia or general anesthesia, as long as the patient remains perfectly still for the procedure. That may be true, but I’m pretty sure the type of anesthesia influences the patient’s tendency to run screaming from the room.

You can lose weight drinking Slim-Fast shakes instead of eating, but you’ll probably be miserable the whole time. If your diet puts you at war with your own body, your body is going to eventually win. I wrote about that phenomenon early last year in a series I called Character vs. Chemistry.

Later in the year, I read a thoroughly enjoyable book about the psychology of happiness titled The Happiness Hypothesis. The author, a psychologist named Jonathan Haidt, presents an explanation of human behavior that I like so much, I’m borrowing it (with attribution) for the book I’m writing for kids.

As Haidt explains it, your body and your unconscious mind are like an elephant. Your conscious mind – the part of you that thinks and makes plans and vows – is like a rider on top of the elephant. We like to think the rider is in control. But he isn’t, at least not if he tries to guide the elephant somewhere the elephant doesn’t want to go – like, say, into a fire. Here are some selections from that chapter that I edited down:

The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.

It will help to go back in time and look at why we have these two processes, why we have a small rider and a large elephant. When the first clumps of neurons were forming the first brains more than 600 million years ago, these clumps must have conferred some advantage on the organisms that had them, because brains have proliferated ever since. Brains are adaptive because they integrate information from various parts of the animal’s body to respond quickly and automatically to threats and opportunities in the environment. The automatic system was shaped by natural selection to trigger quick and reliable action, and it includes parts of the brain that make us feel pleasure and pain and that trigger survival-related motivations.

Language, reasoning, and conscious planning arrived in the most recent eye-blink of evolution. They are like new software, Rider version 1.0. Automatic processes, on the other hand, have been through thousands of product cycles and are nearly perfect. When language evolved, the human brain was not reengineered to hand over the reins of power to the rider (conscious verbal thinking). The rider can see farther into the future, and the rider can learn valuable information by talking to other riders or by reading maps. But the rider cannot order the elephant around against its will.

Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness to carry them out.

Love it. That last sentence described me pretty much every January through April before I found a diet that doesn’t leave me feeling deprived. I’d resolve to lose weight, adopt some variation of a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet, and lose a few pounds … then give up after stalling, or finding myself unable to take the gnawing hunger anymore, or both. And then, of course, I blamed myself for being weak-willed.

I wasn’t weak-willed. I was human. I had put myself into a battle with my own body chemistry, and chemistry won. Or to use Haidt’s wonderful analogy, I was trying to drag the elephant to a place the elephant refused to go – because the elephant believed he was in danger. To repeat a quote from Haidt:

The automatic system was shaped by natural selection to trigger quick and reliable action, and it includes parts of the brain that make us feel pleasure and pain and that trigger survival-related motivations … When language evolved, the human brain was not reengineered to hand over the reins of power to the rider (conscious verbal thinking).

The automatic system – the elephant – is far older than the conscious mind and was shaped by the need to survive. If evolution has hard-wired one survival instinct into every living creature on earth, it’s got to be this: don’t starve. Starvation means death. In our conscious minds, we may believe going hungry for weeks on end is a fine idea if we’ll look good in a swimsuit by summer. But the elephant disagrees. And as Haidt puts it, the rider cannot order the elephant around against its will. So the elephant decides to run away and escape the danger.

Haidt doesn’t claim that the elephant makes it impossible to change our behaviors or reach new goals. (After all, the title is The Happiness Hypothesis, not The Hopeless Hypothesis.) His point is that the rider has to learn to work with the elephant, not simply try to order the elephant around. Then the rider and the elephant are both happy.

For people trying to lose weight, working with the elephant means adopting a diet the elephant doesn’t consider a threat. If you simply starve yourself, you’re dragging the elephant somewhere he doesn’t want to go. If you deprive yourself of what your body knows it needs – fat, protein, salt, vitamins, micronutrients, and yes, perhaps even some “safe starch” depending on your metabolism – the elephant will run away. If you drink a sugary shake that jacks up your blood sugar, then leaves with you low blood sugar after the insulin spike, the elephant isn’t going to be happy. Low blood sugar is one of those triggers for a survival-motivated behavior – the behavior in this case being run out and eat something, now!

So to quote again from my post about how U.S. News ranked the diets:

On one plate, you’ve got a slice of grass-fed beef, some eggplant and green vegetables drizzled in olive oil, and perhaps a small sweet potato. On the other plate — wait, make that in the other glass – you’ve got a brew of FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

Paleo vs. Slim-Fast … or as the U.S. News panel of (ahem) experts would label them, the worst diet vs. one of the better diets.

Hmmm, I wonder which of those meals would satisfy the elephant and which would leave it feeling deprived and threatened?

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