Place Generic Title Here

I’ve often remarked on these pages that a good title will write a good blog.  The both of you, my loyal readers, know this to be true.  The rest of you who swing through to gaze upon the wreckage like so many standers-by drawn to a train crash will also note the lack of many decent titles.

Tonight I want to write.

I want to write for the joy of writing.

I just finished watching a movie.  It was a silly flick starring Kevin James.  In it he plays a writer.  Actually he plays an actuary who is also working on a novel.  I mention that because my late father was an actuary.

A note about that…  Growing up, none of us knew how to answer the question our friends would inevitably ask.  “What does your dad do?”  I remember asking the old man once.  I think I was six.  “Daddy, what do you do?”  Reaching deep into his brain he quickly shot back, without raising his eyes from behind the Wall Street Journal, “Well son, an actuary is the man who brings a bomb on a plane.  Because while the chances of there being one bomb on a plane are negligible, the probability of there being two bombs on a plane are infinitesimal.”

A few years later I had cause to ask him again.  I believe I was 11.  “Dad, what’s an actuary?”  Releasing a puff of smoke from the pipe clenched between his teeth he said: “Well my boy, an actuary is place where they bury dead actors.

Finally when I was sixteen I asked yet again.  “Father, what exactly is an actuary?”  Putting the remote down for a brief moment while switching between Jeopardy! and Crossfire he rejoined: “An actuary, lad, is the guy who uses the last urinal in the men’s room because he knows it cuts in half the statistical likelihood of getting his shoes pissed on.”

And I finally understood.

I went back to all my friends and said: “He does something with math.”

In the movie, James’ character, working on a novel, remarks that he writes to escape life.

Not me.  I write to document life.  I sometimes feel as though if I didn’t write down some of the crazy things that have happened to me no one, not even I, would believe them.  So what crazy things have happened to me lately?

I went out to visit the school where I am soon to begin work as an assistant principal.  I met with my spine surgeon and discovered that I’m in pretty amazing shape.  My kids appeared in a couple of short plays at their music school.

None of these things are amazing by themselves.  Take the job, for instance.  Lots of people start new jobs and lots of people work in school administration.  But standing in my new office the other day looking around, being called into meetings with the principal to decide important matters…  A few short months ago I really would not have believed this is where I’d be.  In the back of my mind I had a goal that had almost vanished.  I wanted to be an administrator before I hit 40.  Here I am.  I still can’t believe it.

So I’m cheating. This spine is strong because it’s been fused.

Sitting in the office with the doctor today and looking at the CT scan of my spine all brightly lit up from the contrasting dye I was convinced he was going to tell me I had some kind of condition, maybe even a spinal tumor.  Instead he said: “Both fusion are holding great and the disc height at the level above is incredible.  Your spine is strong.”  He even tossed in “In fact, you’re looking really good.  What are you doing?”  Hear that?  My spine is strong!  And I’m looking good.  Must be doing something decent.

That’s my girl playing the empress (she of the “new clothes”)

OK, with those two plays…  Nothing really remarkable here except that my babies are growing up.  There was a time not long ago when I would hold them and read to them and take care of them.  Now they’re entertaining me.  They’re memorizing lines, looking so grown-up in character on a stage.  How did that happen?

So the title of this post is so generic I didn’t even have to write it.

Nothing amazing happening here except life.

And life is pretty damn awesome.

Kickin’ A&&

I’m working on a couple of posts with some exciting developments.  In the meantime let me take a moment or two to update those of you who care to follow along about a recent goal and my progress.

A few weeks back I set a personal goal of getting really “good” at pull-ups.

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Weights and a ball

Thanks to a friend who fabricated an awesome pull-up bar for my back yard I finally had the right tools, so to speak.  The other tools would be my arms, shoulders, and back.  I’ve kind of had them since birth but you know how that goes.

My “progress goal” was to do 25 pull-ups every day in a span covering no more than 5 minutes.

In the first few days I accomplished this goal just barely by doing a set of 5, then resting a minute, then continuing with additional sets until I had hit the magic number.

It was tough going and the subsequent sets (after the first) were of a lesser quality in terms of form and required greater exertion on my part.

But I did it.

Last night – I am happy to say – I knocked out 3 sets of 10 in under 2 minutes!

I include the exclamation point there because this is a HUGE deal for me.  What’s more, each set, in my opinion, saw proper form and was exponentially easier than those weak sets from the first day.  And that was just 3 weeks ago.

I am demonstrably stronger, bigger, and, ironically leaner than I was when I started.  My mom, in town for a few weeks, commented, when she saw me coming in from a workout with my shirt off, that I had bulked up.  I’d like to think mom’s tell the truth more often than not.

At the same time, I am continuing my BodyBeast routine of lifting heavy weights every single day.  I could not be doing that without the help and support of the same friend who made the bar for me.  He’s a good man and I greatly appreciate working out with him.  His friendship is invaluable and the motivation we provide each other is priceless.

I’d like to think this proves the theory I was testing.  If you want to do pull ups, then do pull ups.

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Do MORE pull ups!

By the way, in addition to the 30 pull ups, I’ve been doing more.  See that, another friend (JB) challenged me once to always go father when working out.  Only a minute after finishing the 30 I proceeded to do 15 chin ups (underhand grip, working different muscles) and 15 “scapula pull ups” designed to specifically target the muscles of the upper mid-back.  These last movements actually contribute to being able to do more effective pull ups.

If you’re reading this looking for inspiration, let me know if I’ve helped by dropping a comment.  If you’d like advice on any aspect of this plan, send me a message.

Otherwise, I’ll be back on the bar.

Talking Up the Sisters

Earlier today I drove some Missionaries of Charity nuns to the airport. 
In the half-hour I was in the car on my way to pick them up I wondered where our conversation would take us. These nuns are talkers and I’ve always enjoyed our chats before. 

Well, I must have picked them up in the middle of a Saturday devotion. 

I made my first turn toward the highway and Sister Passenger whipped out her beads. In fairly decent but somewhat broken English she said:

“We pray rosary now.”

Five decades, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, and nine Memorare’s later I had safely returned the remaining nuns to the convent. 

Honestly I’m glad the happy talk took us to prayer. Truly just being in their presence I feel holy. Tack on a whole lotta prayers and, well, I stepped out of my car one foot closer to heaven

Typical Saturday Morning

My precious 7 year-old daughter just came stumbling into my bedroom.  It’s Saturday morning shortly before 8.  I am awake but not terribly so.  She has questions for me.

  • “Daddy, what can I do?”
  • “Daddy, why are you awake?”
  • “Daddy, what is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

I answer her.

  • “You may watch a little TV this morning since no one else is awake.”
  • “I have to drive some nuns to the airport.”
  • “What do you mean?  An African or a European swallow?”

I’ve been showing them clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I consider it my duty as a dad to enlighten them and help form their senses of humor at the same time.

It’s called Nun-math and it’s awesome.

mother teresa

Could she get any cuter?

Oh, the flying nuns…  Right…  Much love and thanks to my mother-in-law for volunteering me as a driver.  I mean that.  She knows I’m a sucker for the Missionaries of Charity.  For those who do not know; the Missionaries are the nuns founded by Mother Teresa.  They are the most adorable creatures on the planet.  Due to the sanctity of their founder (who IS a saint) the sisters receive an additional grace from God upon final vows.  That is, whatever they ask, people will not be able to say no.  As it turns out, one of the sisters is flying somewhere this morning.  However, they are required per their own rules to travel in groups of two or more.  And so taking one nun to the airport means taking three nuns.  It’s called Nun-math and it’s awesome.  Lest anyone think I’m complaining in a backhanded way, I really do love these women and will do whatever I can to help.

Perhaps I’ll chat them up about the Sally Field series The Flying Nun on the car ride.  They’ve always seemed to enjoy our conversations before.  Wish me luck!

Just Get It Done

I heard someone say once “If you want to write well, simply write.”

The implication is that in order to become a better writer one has to first write anything at all and, more to the point, write a lot. 

Likewise I heard a former Navy SEAL say that when he first joined the Navy he thought he was able to do pull-ups. He was humiliated to discover that the “half-up and half-down” method he was great at wasn’t really a pull-up. “How am I ever going to be a SEAL,” he thought, “if I can’t even do a pull-up?” He discovered what good writers have known for some time. If you want to at least try to be great at something you just have to get it done. In other words, to be good at pull-ups, do pull-ups. 

I just finished 25 in 5 minutes. I’m not satisfied. Some who know me know that I rarely ever am satisfied. I see that as a good thing. These 25 pull-ups? They were in sets of six. See that’s I pushed myself up one from the sets of five I did the other day. But they weren’t great. I admit toward the end I wasn’t going down all the way. But somehow it seems to be coming together. I’m squeezing the right muscles in my back and noticing my forearms working a bit more (taking the strain off my biceps). For those who are interested I watched a YouTube video yesterday on how to improve form. It involves hanging from the bar and just raising one’s head up and down to focus on strengthening the scapula muscles. This is apparently a key to doing phenomenal pull-ups. I did it. Don’t know if it helped or not but it couldn’t hurt. 

Enough about that. I think I’ll try to knock out another 10 before heading inside. Thanks for following along. 

Challenging Myself

As a dad I face many challenges every day. Most of them involve living up to the expectations of my kids, my wife, and God.

Son, not making a fool of himself on the field.

For instance, this evening it’s off to the ballpark where I get the pleasure of serving as assistant coach to my son’s baseball team. The challenge here: until a few weeks ago neither he nor I had ever played baseball. He’s 9. I’m almost 40. The challenge lies in rising above myself and not worrying about the fool I will make of myself on the field. Because you see, this one is all for my little boy.  The reward is great though. He’s getting super good super fast and I’m learning quite a bit about a game I’ve never played. Somewhere in the recesses of both of our minds are visions of the two of us being drafted by the New York Mets. And we’re having lots of fun in the process.

Me, making a fool of myself (and demonstrating what a friend politely called “a natural tennis swing”) at the batting cages.

On the marriage front, I am always faced with the challenge of becoming a better husband. Daily I look around my house and my world and ask myself what I can do to make my wife’s life even marginally better. In the past year alone I have found myself tinkering with my homes electrical system, building props for the play, finally advancing in my career (😉), and shopping for produce at a farmers market at five in the morning on a Saturday. Every time I’m given a task I’ve never done before I find myself rising above my own fears and coming to realize that because she trusts in me I can do anything for my wife. And we’re having a whole lot of fun in the process.

So this afternoon when I got home from work I decided to challenge myself. Remember the pull-up bar? This one is a challenge to which only I am answerable. After hearing that friend of mine toss out the figure of 25 to 50 pull-ups a day, I decided to reach for the stars. I don’t expect to be as good as him – certainly not right away – but one cannot hope to achieve great heights without starting somewhere. The challenge is to complete 25 pull-ups within five minutes every day of every week. And of course, as I notice myself gaining strength, I will have to increase that number. A short while ago I just barely beat the clock. Five sets of five pull-ups with a little more rest between sets than I would’ve liked; but I did it. The reward, I hope, will be great.

And I’m having tons of fun.

Raising the Bar

Getting back to writing about my fitness goals…

I had intentionally stopped writing about these particular goals for a long while.  In fact, my plan was not to mention the subject again.  There’s only so much one can write about when it comes to a lifetime of trying to get in shape.  And failing.

I have had the benefit over the years of a number of resources yet never felt confident that any of the information I received was either worthwhile or accurate (in other words, it wouldn’t deliver the results I wanted to see).  In particular, the past four years I’ve been leeching off the training advice of a coworker who generously tried to help whenever he could.  The problem, it turns out, was me.  I always had some kind of excuse.  Sometimes it was valid and oftentimes it was not.

About three months ago, having completed the Insanity Max:30 program from BeachBody and having taken a subsequent Christmas break and some time off for the death of my father I committed to BeachBody’s BodyBeast program.

The program started out great.  I spent three weeks using fairly light dumbbells in what the program’s trainer calls the “Build Phase”.  That is, you build yourself up to the next phase by learning the movements and proper form.  In my case, even though it had been many years, I was re-acclimating myself to these movements.  Not entirely unfamiliar with weightlifting technique, I discovered that I more or less remembered proper form.

When I finished building I moved into the “Bulk Phase”.  The goal of the whole program is to build solid muscle, something I have lacked.  I started seeing results, especially after another friend who had injured his shoulder graciously loaned me some considerably heavier dumbbells.  I’d buy my own but a full set runs around $500 and I don’t feel like dropping that kind of cash on something I wasn’t sure would benefit me.

Then came the callback…  Two weeks ago today the guy with the bum shoulder called his weights back.  He was recovered and ready to lift again.  To my surprise (and not entirely unsure of whether he was just trying to be polite) he called that night and asked if we could workout together.  His weights.  His garage.  In my  mind I balked at the idea because I just didn’t love the idea of making a fool of myself.  Don’t forget, I’m probably the most insecure person you’ll ever meet.  Seems to me that most guys my age are not only either current or former champion athletes but also far more adept than me in a gym.  This guy was going to kick my ass and then laugh about it.  Or worse yet, he’d patronize me by telling me “good effort!”

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A more solid pull up bar there never was.

But it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.  For the past two weeks, almost every night around 9:30, he and I have been lifting heavy weights in his garage.  I’m noticing tremendous gains.  Even if I’m the only one who sees it, the muscle is there and getting bigger.  What’s more important is that an increase in raw strength – something I had almost overlooked as a goal – is also improving.  This past Sunday my friend called me as I was on my way home from graduation.  He told me to swing by his house.  He had a present for me.  He had heard me make one of my trademark excuses.  “I could do pull up’s… if I had the proper bar with the right clearance.”  So he made me a bar out of a length of pipe he’d picked up from Lowe’s.  He completed the bar with mounting brackets and told me to stick it onto the cross timber of my kids’ playset in the yard.

And so for the past four days, with no actual excuse in sight, I’ve been doing pull up’s.  I heard a statistic about a year ago that said only 1% of grown men can properly do a single pull up.  That sounds high to me; but then again I’m talking about real, solid, proper-form pull up’s – the kind where you dead-hang from the bar before lifting yourself completely up to chest height.  I certainly had a hard time for the longest time.  Callouses, gripping the bar right, what muscles to engage, etc…  But when you shed those excuses – or rather, when someone takes them away from you – it all comes down to how committed you are.  I WANT to do pull ups.  Another friend told me today that he knocks out 25-50 a day every 2-4 days.  That’s impressive.  No comparisons here.  That would be insane.  But man, I’d love to get to that level.

Toward that end I gripped the bar this past Sunday.  Remember that strength I mentioned?  It must be growing, especially in my forearms and upper back.  I nailed 5 of them.  And as if to knock me back down I tried a sixth and struggled hard.  I’ve been experimenting and discovered that I can knock out five at a time, take about three minutes, and knock out another five.  Can I do more than that?  I’d probably need more of a break between the later sets.  Should I try?  I see no reason not to.  Just a short while ago I hit fifteen in three sets of five over about five minutes.

But without a friend like the guy who threw this bar together for me I wouldn’t be able to try.  And if he’s reading this (which he probably isn’t) I want him to know how much I really appreciate that and the time he’s investing and the camaraderie.  I’m certainly having fun.  I’ve had a few personal goals in the past few years.  One of them was to move into school administration before I turn 40.  Another was to get shredded before 40.  In both cases I’ve been motivated by a desire to prove myself.  Very few people have any measure of real respect for teachers.  It’s sad but true.  Even those with the best of intentions generally let on that, in their minds, teaching is something you do when you can’t do anything else.  I know my fellow teachers know what I’m talking about.  Likewise, very few men have any measure of real respect for a man who is weak.  They may be polite and tell you athletic ability, broad shoulders, and curling prowess are overrated but deep down we all know differently.  It’s man’s nature to respect power and achievement.

I got the admin job.  I’m excited to finally show my family and friends I’m actually a really talented guy who is competent in the formation of youth.  So what if some of them needed to see a title attached to my name in order to believe it.  I’ve always considered myself mentally strong.  Maybe those same people will finally see that strength in me too.  So what if some of them need to see a strong body to believe it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get jacked before I’m 40 after all.