One Month At A Time

Resolutions for 2019

Every year, almost, I make a list of things I want to do or try or things I want to give up and then I kind of fail at around half of them (or much more).

This is pretty normal. Most resolutions by most people fall by the wayside.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about lists and what I want to do and what I want to change. From my newspaper pal Becca Carballo, I heard about S.M.A.R.T. resolutions (which I would have heard about earlier, if I’d followed through with another resolution to read the New York Times every day).

The acronym stands for:

Specific (concrete goals)

Measurable (Find a way to document your progress)

Achievable (within the realm of possibility for you)

Relevant (Make the goal for the right reasons)

Time-Bound (Achievable in the time allowed)

This seemed like a good place to start.

Meanwhile, my former cubicle-mate Carlee Lammers posted this really interesting way of setting goals incrementally, to build habits instead of setting yourself up to fail with big, sweeping statements about doing this or that.

So, I have sort of adapted the two concepts into something I’m going to try.

The things I most want to change or improve in my life are my health and how I spend my time outside of work. I lean more and more toward being sedentary, spend way too much time on my phone or in front of a television, and not enough time interacting with the real, physical world.

I often talk about doing things and going places, but tend to just skip them in favor of something easier and cheaper.

It’s learned behavior; a habit that can be corrected.

What I’ve come up with is 12 months of changes that I hope will make me modestly happier with myself by the end of the year –nothing too crazy.

Here’s the schedule:

January –Turn off social media on the weekends (6 p.m. Friday night).

February –Meet four different friends for four different lunches.

No social media on the weekends.

March –Read one big book (something longer than 200 pages and more complex than your average pop fiction novel)

Two lunches with two different friends.

No social media on the weekends.

April –Clean out closets, cupboards and bins at my house, toss old clothes and stuff I don’t use. Reduce clutter.

Read one big book.

Two lunches with two different friends.

No social media on the weekends.

May –Run at least one 5K race.

No social media Thursday night through Monday morning.

Read one big book.

Two lunches with two different friends.

June –Spend one weekend without internet, television or video games.

No social media Thursday night through Monday morning.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K race.

July— Attend the Forecastle Music Festival in Louisville, Kentucky (I have already purchased tickets, but having tickets has not stopped me from skipping in the past).

One weekend without television, internet or video games.

No social media Thursday night through Monday morning.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K race.

August –Participate in the Spartan Race at Summit Bechtel Reserve.

One weekend no television, internet or video games.

No social media after 6 p.m. weekdays or on the weekend.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K.

September –Attend either the Dublin Flea Market in Pulaski, Virginia or the Hillsville Flea Market in Virginia (both are huge markets I enjoyed as a kid)

One weekend no television, internet or video games.

No social media after 6 p.m. weekdays or on the weekend.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K.

October –Clean up yard, prune and get ready for winter.

Two weekends no television, internet or video games.

No social media after 6 p.m. weekdays or on the weekend.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K.

November –Holiday with family (I’ve gotten out of the habit, but hope to do this every year).

Two weekends no television, internet or video games.

No social media after 6 p.m. weekdays or on the weekend.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K.

December –Take a vacation that is free and clear of any work obligations.

De-clutter house for winter.

Two weekends no television, internet or video games.

No social media after 6 p.m. weekdays or on the weekend.

Two lunches with two friends.

Read one big book.

Run a 5K.



TBT: How this all got started

Ideas sometimes come from weird places.

For example, just before the office Christmas party, where I planned to eat my weight in ham, turkey and cheese, I got an email from a publicist for something called “Veganuary.” The email read:

“The worldwide Veganuary campaign is back, and they want everyone to try great food, feel fantastic, reduce animal suffering, and tread lighter on the earth.

“People in 115 countries pledged to try veganism this past January. The final tally: 71 percent of participants felt an improvement in their health in just one month, 65 percent learned something new about animal agriculture, and a whopping 51 percent said they’re staying vegan permanently. Best of all, organizers say, Veganuary 2015 saved the lives of 1,596,180 animals.”

After snickering about another hippie marketing campaign, I took a second to think about it — what did I know about vegans or veganism?

Not much, really.


Continue reading…

Wednesday weigh in

This is the first official weigh-in for 2019 for me.

Height: 5’7″

Current weight: 207 pounds.

Current goal weight: 180 pounds.

Weight medical professionals believe I should be: 144 or the approximate weight of 6 large Muppets (minus their helpers).

Blood pressure: ???

Caffeine: None as of yet.

Cans of diet soda consumed this week: a gazillion.

Captain America t-shirt: of course, but not in this picture.

General outlook: Vaguely optimistic.


Welcome 2019

Blogs have a funny life at the Gazette-Mail.

Over the years, I’ve had probably four or five. None of them amounted too much, probably because they tend to get shunted toward the back of the page. You have to kind of want to read a particular blog. You have to hunt it down and unless you have a built in following of dozens, hundreds or gazillions, writing a blog can feel a little like whistling in the wind.

This blog, for example, was started as a companion piece to my Sunday column, “One Month at a Time.”

As with other blogs, I didn’t get a lot of mileage out of it, but in all honesty, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do with it. Just writing the column takes a lot of time and keeping up with my month-to-month activities tends to absorb my attention.

There didn’t feel like there was a lot left –or that maybe I should save up the material that I might blog and just use it in the column, which was far more satisfying than blogging ever was.

Just the same, I missed blogging and there seemed like so much stuff I wasn’t writing about, that I could write about.

For all I know, I may have mentioned this in a previous blog about blogging, not blogging… whatever. I’m starting this one up again.

As part of my grand plan for 2019 (2018 did not have a grand plan and 2017’s grand plan fizzled), I’m exploring fitness and getting healthy. This is a year-long project, though not all of this will make it into the newspaper.

Not every month I have lined up revolves around some kind of double-dare physical challenge. (Spoiler alert)

For example, in March, I’m scheduled to spend a month baking pies and other sundry sweets, which sounds only slightly more healthy than working in a distillery (keep in mind, I’m a large guy and I like pie more than I like whiskey –well, marginally).

But regardless of what I’m doing, I’m still hoping to stick to dropping weight and getting into decent shape.

So, that’s part of what I’ll be covering here –my frustrating attempts to get fit.

As my pledge to you, every Wednesday, I’ll do a Wednesday morning check-in, which will include my current vitals like height, weight and blood pressure.

I am really hoping that as my weight drops, my height will grow, but I’m not counting on it.

I will also explain what I’m doing and how I’m doing what I’m doing, so you can see in relative real time, my progress (or lack thereof).


Just because I’m doing this doesn’t mean you should. Technically speaking, I am under a doctor’s supervision. He told me to lose weight over a year ago and was informed back in September that I’d put myself on a diet and was doing some exercise.

If you’re like me, and need to get a bit healthier, go ahead and bite the bullet: Call your doctor, schedule an appointment and talk it out before you get some wacky notion that I’ve turned myself into a health guru.

Anyway, this blog will help serve the grand plan for 2019, which is to improve my fitness and health, but that’s not all you’ll get. You’ll also get “One Month at a Time” throwbacks on Thursday, updates on past months, continuing adventures with things I’ve picked up –and whatever else I can throw in there.

That’s my spiel. I’ll be back tomorrow (Wednesday) with all the gory details.

Until then, Happy New Year, but pace yourself. We have a long way to go.

October Films! “The Devil’s Candy”

I’ve got a bit of a backlog of movies to report on. There’s been some time to watch spooky stuff, but not much time to write about it.

“The Devil’s Candy” is a film that has come up a couple of times on Facebook. A few of my Facebook pals have spoken highly of it. So, sure, I decided to give it a try.

Released in 2015, the film stars Ethan Embry, an actor I remember from the 90s films “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “That Thing You Do,” and “Empire Records.”

He was also in “Dutch.”

I remember him as kind of a wide-eyed, sort of goofy, but generally likeable character actor, but I lost track of him somewhere around 2000, where he moved on to more serious stuff.

With the stringy blond hair, ragged beard and tattoos, Embry is barely recognizable as the approaching middle-age metal-head father and painter, Jesse Hellman, in “The Devil’s Candy,” though his character has some of the same earnestness that you see in his earlier work.

The story revolves around Jesse, his wife and daughter moving into an old house with a bad history. The previous owners died –apparently by accident, everyone in the film believes (though we know different).

It’s a nice house and “Gee, wouldn’t it be a shame to let the place go to waste just because of a couple of dead people?”

This all seems like stupid horror film logic, but then again, I’ve been through the whole home buying process. When you’re looking for some place half decent that’s in your budget, you’re willing to put up with a lot.

I’d be OK with some dead people just to have some better windows. Cultists could definitely have tried to call up C’thulhu at some point, if it would have knocked a hundred bucks a month off my mortgage.

It beats renting.

Boiled down, the thread of “Hard Candy” follows bad things are happening, a reluctant serial killer serves the devil, loiters around the family home, which used to belong to his parents.

The cops know about the serial killer, of course, but seem to figure that it was just a phase, something he did when he was a kid, but he’s fine now, except for creeping everyone out.

Then things get worse. People die. There is some teen angst and Mom isn’t a huge fan of heavy metal music for some reason, though she’s married to a guy who looks he’s a roadie for Slayer.

How does that even happen?

“The Devil’s Candy” is fun, but it is also a mess. There’s a vein of demon possession or demonic influence that may be connected to the house, to Pruitt Taylor Vince’s tortured serial killer character or even to Jesse, but then there’s the issue with the painting Embry’s character is working on.

Is it prophesy, a warning, a love letter from hell?

Who can say? Maybe all three. Maybe something else.

And what’s the deal with the art dealer (played by an uncredited F. Murray Abraham) named Belial, who shows up to maybe tempt Jesse?

Thanks to a good long time spent playing “Dungeons and Dragons,” I know the name Belial belongs to a Duke of Hell. So all the hours spent reading the “Monster Manual II” during high school weren’t wasted.

Abraham is there, he pours a couple of drinks, and splits without accomplishing a lot, except maybe saying again that the devil is involved with Jesse on a very personal level.

It has to be the name, Jesse Hellman. He’s Hell’s man, get it?

Anyway, the ending almost feels like something out of a Kirk Cameron film. I wasn’t satisfied with it and felt like it was a cop out.

As I said, “The Devil’s Candy” is fun, but not particularly smart. The acting is good, even if the story could have used some fine tuning.

You can find “The Devil’s Candy” on Netflix.

October Horror Films Return!

Through the month of October, “One Month at a Time” will be watching lots of seasonal horror films and sharing our (my) findings.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t watched a lot of scary movies lately. I used to watch them by the metric ton, back when there were things called video stores, but with the decline of the brick and mortar places, I’ve fallen into watching whatever is on Netflix or Amazon.

The experience isn’t the same and also, with so many choices, it’s hard to find anything actually worth watching.

On the one hand, it’s awesome that obscure indie directors can get their low budget, hand-crafted movies out to where people can watch them. On the other, nobody at Amazon, Netflix or the other streaming services seems to care what they run –just so long as there’s not too much nudity.

There’s no real filter –and those star ratings systems are often pointless.

Besides, decent horror films often get trashed in the ratings by killjoys who really wanted to watch the British Baking Show, but got stuck watching something spooky because they lost a coin toss.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last couple of years, like everyone else, watching endless seasons of “The Office” and “Supernatural,” but this month, I’m trying to dig in there and watch some honest-to-Goodness horror films. While I can’t promise one a day, I can probably get a couple in a week.

Here’s the first:

“Hell House LLC”


My first film out of the gate is a shakey-cam film about a Halloween haunted house attraction production crew that sets up shop in an old, upstate New York hotel with a bit of a history. Bad things happened. There may have been a cult. It really doesn’t matter. Thinking too deeply is only going to hurt the ball club.

The main thing is the place is haunted and the folks who signed on to make some money during Halloween are slowly drawn into a nightmare.

While there is a bit of blood, it’s not especially gory. The film is trying for more of a documentary feel and the malevolent forces at work are more about efficiency than grandstanding with a lot of organs getting tossed around.

It’s a little bit “Blair Witch Project” meets “The House on Haunted Hill,” but I mean that in the most complimentary ways.

As is usual with haunted house films, the audience figures out everybody should just pack up and go someplace else approximately one hour and 20 minutes before the end credits, but where’s the fun in that?

“Hell House LLC” is fun. It’s legitimately creepy and even when you know where it’s all going, that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun ride.

You can find this one on Amazon Prime.


Spartan Race –People of Target

I was at Target, picking out a fitness tracker to help me keep up with my mileage, when I spotted Travis and Hannah, a couple both sporting Spartan Race t-shirts.

This was reason enough to amble over and say, “Hi. I couldn’t help but notice your t-shirts. So, you’ve done a Spartan Race?”

The couple looked at each other. I don’t think I was the first person to walk up to them to ask.

We talked for probably 10 minutes. Last year, they’d run a couple of Spartan Races, but had also done Tough Mudder races (A different brand of obstacle race). Both looked like they were in ok shape, but didn’t look like the people I keep seeing in Spartan Race promotions.

It’s looking more and more like they hired a few models or actors, which is fine. Not everybody is photogenic. Doing all the crunches in the world can’t fix it if you look like a velociraptor.

They told me:

  1. They like the Tough Mudder races better.

“It’s more of a community,” Hanna said. “People will help you, if you need them, too. It’s about everyone getting across the finish line.”

2. Spartan Races have better swag.

“You get a better head band and it’s a good t-shirt,” Travis said.

3. The mile markers at Spartan Races might become scarce.

Hannah told me, “We stopped seeing them after a while and when you’d ask the volunteers, ‘How much farther? They’d always say, just another couple of miles.”

And the miles just rolled on.

4. Bring water, snacks and mustard.

I didn’t know this, but, apparently, you can wear a Camelback water bottle and take race refreshments with you –like Gatorade chews, Gu packs and even Cliff bars. This was also not apparent in the photos I’d seen of races.

I knew about Gu packs –they’re basically sugar and electolytes, sometimes with caffeine and protein. Long distance runners, cyclists and triathletes use them. I’d seen Gatorade chews at the grocery store and I eat Cliff Bars regularly (My fave is the Peanut Butter crunch).

Mustard was new, but Travis said, “Yeah, you see empty mustard packs all over the place. People will carry them.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. Eating mustard straight out of the packet seemed gross.

“It helps with cramps,” Travis said.

According to a couple of websites, yeah, that’s what it does. Mustard contains properties which will help prevent or ease cramps in the case of dehydration.

5. They believed I could handle the race.

“I’m not much of a runner,” Travis said. “But that’s not all that important.”

You never run that far, he explained. There is always another obstacle to get to. The obstacles are the thing, not the distance.

His wife didn’t entirely agree.

“Some of the obstacles are the running,” she said. “You might run straight up a mountain for a mile and a half.”

But it could be done –as long as I paced myself and kept my head.

“You can do this,” she said. “And there’s beer afterwards. It’s the best beer you’ve ever had.”

Spartan Race: nothing runs like a deer

I parked the car near the swimming pool, but almost had the lot to myself.

At 7:30 in the morning, not many people were out at Coonskin Park –just a handful of men on mowers, a few others driving around in beat up county trucks and whoever had been banished from the civilized world to sit behind the lonely desk inside the building by the tennis courts.

Stretching was modest, but more than usual. I’m working on stretching before exercising. Not stretching, not warming up is an old, stupid habit. So, I did ten air squats, bent and twisted my spine, held on to my car with one hand and one after another, tried to wake up my thighs and hamstrings.

I hate running.

As a teenager, I’d been a distance runner –not a good or really competitive distance runner, but I’d run some races. I’d earned a couple of t-shirts. I’d sat in the bus after and eaten the french fries.

I needed to get my legs back. I needed to get my lungs back, and I needed to dump 30 pounds of weight.

Running is the only way I know how to do that inside of a couple of months –along with a tedious diet.

As stretched as I was going to get, I plugged my earbuds into the iPod strapped to my arm and chose something fun as my morning workout soundtrack.

What I listen to varies from day to day –a lot of the time I will go with aggressive or up tempo rock stuff. Heavy metal is great for lifting heavy weight, example, but for a run, I wanted something that would distract me from the basic unhappiness of having to do it at all.

Today’s run was accompanied by music from the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Agreed, kind of a weird thing to listen to while you run, but the struggles of Tevye and his family in late Czarist Russia soothed me as I hacked my way through about three miles of some running and a lot of brisk walking.

Along the way, a deer stumbled out of the woods like a drunk fraternity pledge lost during homecoming weekend. It looked at me, watched me struggle to maintain a trot for a few moments. Then, as if to mock me, the beast pranced away at full speed across the road and toward the golf course.

The “run” took me about 40 minutes, but it was good to get it out of the way.

I’ll do it again tomorrow, same course. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll run a little more, walk a little less and think to bring a rock to throw at smug forest animals.


Updates and a Spartan Race setback

are-fritos-veganUnfortunately, I didn’t make it out to run this morning. I ran into some trouble with my kid’s summer camp and had to run back to the house to find my checkbook.

So, we’ll try to get some time on the road later today or tack it on tomorrow. I really can’t skip the running.

Since there’s been kind of a lag between when I was last active with the blog, now seemed like a good time to update on a few past projects, some of which are still active.

While I’m not a full-on vegan these days, I am a vegetarian who leans vegan. Basically, I avoid animal products when I can, but accept that if I’m someplace where “clean” foods aren’t available, I go along with things that have eggs or dairy.

I will have a slice of pizza at the office, have a piece of chocolate or maybe get a donut every once in a while, but otherwise just leave it alone.

I probably have something with eggs or milk in it two or three times in a week.

I am still taking self defense classes at the Butch Hiles gym in Charleston. Over the last six months, I’ve gotten better at throwing a punch and learned a lot about getting out of several holds, while also horribly crippling your attacker.

That is the magic of Krav Maga.

I had a good time at the FOOTMAD contra dance in February when I was studying all things Celtic (well, mostly things Scottish) and went back. It’s a pretty good time, actually.

I have not, however, continued with learning the bagpipes or worn a kilt since. Everyone is happy about that, I think.

I am still a member of the Kanawha Kordsmen, which surprised them as much as it did me.

Since my performance with them in Cleveland back in April, I have continued to go to rehearsals pretty regularly, learned the words to a couple of songs and performed with them again during FestivALL.

They have been amazingly kind and welcoming.

I’m still not very good. I don’t have much range, but I think I’m getting better (slowly), and it’s great fun.


Spartan Race training


It was a weird way to spend my birthday.

June 18 (contrary to what Facebook says) I turned 47 and went over to the University of Charleston for a Spartan Race workout.

My race is coming up August 26 (now, just two months away) and I’m getting nervous about it. So far, I’ve read two books on the subject, but only have a general idea of what to expect, based largely on a few stories from very, very fit people who’ve attended a few of them.

So, I went because I wanted to see what kind of exercises would help and also see what kind of people do Spartan Races.

I learned a little –how to do a proper Spartan burpee, for example. I also saw people who will probably ace the West Virginia race in August. They seemed superhumanly fit, like the kind of people who wear spandex and fight crime on the cover of comic books.

But I also saw some people like me –not in terrible shape, but not really ready to run 15 miles while climbing walls, jumping over hot coals or crawling under barbed wire.

It was one of the most vigorous 90 minutes I think I’ve put myself through. I drank three bottles of water while on UC’s lawn overlooking the river and had a fourth one in the car.

I figure I got my money’s worth for the class. Ten bucks netted me a t-shirt, four bottles of water and about 10 Cliff bars.

I also met a woman with MS who told me she’d done six Trifectas –that’s when you do a sprint, a super and a beast race within a year or so.

The beast is usually a 13-15 mile race. She said she did a beast in New Jersey last year and with her illness, it took her 13 hours to complete, but she finished.

“A lot of people got a DNF –a Did Not Finish,” she said. “I didn’t quit.”

I took a lot of encouragement from that.

If she can do it in 13 hours, I can do it in 13 hours.

But I hope I can get it done a little faster than that, get home and maybe watch a lot of Netflix while eating my weight in Fritos.

This is the dream.

I didn’t do much in the way of exercise for the week following my birthday. I slacked off and focused on my upcoming show at The Comedy Zone, but I’m back at it today. I did a bunch of new exercises that are supposed to help me get ready and I’m going to do a better  job of watching what I eat.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try to run/walk five miles before work. There’s no way that’s not going to suck. Tomorrow’s post will be all about the bellyaching.