Temptation and Permission

I’ve struggled with my diet over the past six weeks. Part of this is because I’ve intentionally tried to move from “weight-loss” mode to “stasis” mode. Finding balance has been more difficult than I anticipated. But most of the problem has come from the constant temptations around the house.

First, there was the holiday season, which was filled with cookies and candy and all sorts of other good stuff. For a time, I exercised a bit of restraint. And I had no problem eating modestly when we went to holiday parties. Eventually, though, my willpower at home collapsed, and I started sneaking food I knew I oughtn’t. We had a bunch of cheap root beer left after Christmas, for example, and I’ve spent the last two weeks drinking the rest of it.

This recent bout with temptation has simply reinforced what I already knew: I can’t allow crap in the house. If there’s bad food here, I’ll eat it. Instead, I need to train myself that cakes and donuts and the like are only for special occasions: for dinners out, for parties, and so on. It’s not wrong to have junkfood now and then, and I don’t want to practice complete self-denial; I just want to be sure I’m not constantly exposing myself to temptation.

As part of my attempt to wean myself from the junk I crave so much, I’m going to implement a policy I used last spring. I’m going to give myself permission to eat anything I want, as long as it’s healthy for me.

Note: When I say “healthy for me”, I mean healthy by my current definition. Because my diet philosophy is constantly evolving, “healthy” will gradually change. Also, my healthy may not be the same as your healthy.

I’ve been going to the corner market for candy bars lately, for example. Because I’ve been hooked on the junkfood at home, it’s just too easy to rationalize junkfood at the office, too. To thwart this, last week I went to the store and bought 20+ packages of “simply natural” fruit cups from the refrigerator case.

Yes, I know that actual fruit would be cheaper. At $1 a pop, these fruit cups aren’t very cost effective. However, it’s too easy for me to rationalize not eating actual fruit. It rots too quickly. I have to peel it. And so on. I just make excuses. I can’t make excuses with the fruit cups, so it removes some passive barriers.

I view the fruit cups as a transition from the candy bars to real fruit. And so far, they seem to be working.

I’m also giving myself permission to eat expensive cuts of meat for dinner. This keeps me away from the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and other crap that I’ve been drawn to lately. And I bought a liter of grapefruit juice to stand in for root beer. Etcetera, etcetera.

My hope is that by removing the temptations from the house (and from my office — I threw out a bunch of junkfood yesterday), and by granting myself permission to spend on whatever healthy food I want, I’ll be able to feel good about my fitness again.

“I feel fat,” I told Kris yesterday. And while it’s true that I’ve gained half an inch to my waistline this month, my actual weight (based on my weekly average) is the lowest it’s been since I started this fitness regimen a year ago. In other words: Things are fine, and I’m just obsessing. That’s just what I do.

Dog Days Are Over

In early December, at the end of the Glee episode where the kids go to Sectionals, I was literally moved to tears by this song:

Glee – Dog Days Are Over

Some of my (very manly) tears came from all of the Glee soap opera that led up to this, but a lot of it was just the song. So frickin’ amazing!

I meant to check out the original song (from a group called Florence + The Machine, which I’d never heard of), but I forgot to do so. Today, Trent linked to the original version of the song above, and I suddenly remembered my mission to learn more about this band.

Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over

What can I say? It’s bean a long, long time since I’ve loved a band this much. I love Florence + The Machine more than The Decemberists. Maybe more than U2. These songs are glorious. If Sinead O’Connor — whom I used to believe had a musical window into my soul — is going to produce psuedo-mystical folk crap, I need somebody that can fill her boots. Florence + The Machine can do that. They’re like early Sinead: raw power and emotion.

Sinead O’Connor – Jackie

Sinead O’Connor – Troy

I mean, listen to these songs:

Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over

Florence + The Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)

Florence + The Machine – Kiss With a Fist

Florence + The Machine – Drumming Song

Florence + The Machine – Cosmic Love

Florence + The Machine – You’ve Got the Love

This music gets me deep inside. I can’t wait to hear more.

I’ve been watching Florence + The Machine videos all afternoon. It’s only fair that I order the CD from Amazon. Oh, and while I’m at it, the vinyl LP.

Bonus Videos! Some of you know that I love a capella covers of modern pop. A decade ago, I made a whole series of CDs filled with a capella covers. Anyhow, here are a couple of versions of “Dog Days Are Over”.

First up, The Virginia Belles:

Virginia Belles – Dog Days Are Over

Next, the Kenyon College Owl Creeks:

Kenyon College Owl Creeks – Dog Days Are Over

But wait! There’s more! Here’s Tulane’s Green Envy:

Green Envy – Dog Days Are Over

And, finally, the BC Dynamics with an amazing soloist:

BC Dynamics – Dog Days Are Over

Wow, I love the soloist in that last one. Hell, I just love that song.

Action is Character

Back when I worked at Custom Box Service, Nick and I would often have philosophical discussions. Or psuedo-philosophical discussions. Well, we’d share our Deep Thoughts with each other at any rate.

On more than one occasion, I’d be lamenting that X was a priority in my life — where X could be exercise or getting out of debt or reading more books — but that I never seemed to have time for it. Instead, I did a bunch of other stuff.

Nick would always tell me, “Then X isn’t a priority.” If I tried to argue, he’d point out that the things we actually do are the priorities in our life. What we say doesn’t matter; it’s what we do that counts.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. I used to be what I call a Talker: I talked about all the things I wanted to do, and I felt like I had the solutions to everything, but I never actually took action. I was full of hot air.

Somehow, I’ve turned into a Doer. Most of the time, I get things done. Instead of lamenting about the man I want to be, I’m working hard to be that man. I’ve built a new life out of doing the things I used to only talk about before. (Note that I’m not always a Doer. I still spend plenty of time Talking, but my ratio of action to words has increased sharply in recent years.)

I’ve written about this subject several times in the past, both here and at my personal finance blog. For example, in August I wrote a piece about the difference between Talkers and Doers for GRS. It may be my favorite article from last year. And longer ago at Folded Space, I shared Action Girl’s Guide to Living from Sarah Dyer. (Action Girl’s #1 tip is awesome: “Action is everything! It really doesn’t matter what you say or even what you think; it’s what you do that matters.”)

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately because of a single quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald. In his notes on The Last Tycoon, he wrote, “Action is character.

I’d never heard this phrase until Kris and I watched An Education, an interesting little film from 2009. In it, a bored English schoolgirl spends a few exciting months hanging out with an older man. At one point, she says, “”Action is character, our English teacher says. I think she means that if we never did anything, we wouldn’t be anybody.”

Or to up it another way, we are what we repeatedly do. (This is Will Durant’s interpretation of an idea from Aristotle, though many people mistakenly attribute it to the latter.)

This is brilliant, and it goes back to what I said earlier: We are not what we think or say; we’re what we do.

  • You can say that health is important to you, but if you don’t eat and act healthfully, it’s just not so.
  • Thinking about writing doesn’t make you a writer; writing makes you a writer, and if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.
  • You can say your life’s too busy and you want to slow down, but so long as you keep scheduling things, you’re showing that you value the busy-ness more than the downtime.
  • You can profess a belief in Christianity, but it’s your actions that actually make you Christian, not your words. (I know, I know: We could argue this point of doctrine for days. Or years. Or centuries. But I believe it. Faith without works is dead.)

Action is character. We are what we repeatedly do.

All of this was tied together by a quote from Jess Walter’s Citizen Vince, which we just read for book group. In it, the author writes:

There is what you believe and there is what you want and these things are fine. But they’re just ideas, in the end. History, like any single life, is made up of actions. At some point, the thinking and believing and deciding fall away and all that’s left is the doing.

So, my friends, what is important to you? No, I mean really: What is important to you? Stop hiding from it, stop being afraid of it, stop waiting for it to come. Go act. By doing so, you’ll reveal your true character.


Today marks the start of Blog Week in my life. I’m spending the next seven days focused on preparing Get Rich Slowly for my upcoming absence while Kris and I spend three weeks in Africa.

While editing guest posts this morning, I’m listening to my “angsty eighties” mix. By sheer chance, the song “Southern” by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark came up on random play. The song features excerpts from Martin Luther King’s speeches.

An OMD fan has created a video for the track and posted it to YouTube. I like it:

Powerful stuff.

Arnold Thomas Sandwick, Jr.

When Kris and I moved to Oak Grove in 2004, we were surprised by the neighborhood. We’d just come from Canby, which seemed like a proto-typical small town. Yet we barely knew our neighbors there. We smiled at them and waved hello and helped each other with small tasks, but we were never what I’d call friendly. Our area never felt like a neighborhood or a community.

Our street in Oak Grove felt like a neighborhood from the start. People were welcoming. They chatted with us and shared vegetables. We talked about the cats and the druggies down the street. We exchanged baked goods at Christmas and watched each other’s homes. This has never felt intrusive — just friendly.

Tom, the old man next door, was perhaps the best of the lot. He liked to stand at his fence and chat about our gardens or our cats or the history of the neighborhood. He shared advice on growing fruit trees. Once, while we were holding book group outside, he brought over a wheelbarrow full of old photography magazines to give to me. (And later gave me a bunch of darkroom equipment.) Tom was a Good Man.

Tom died last Saturday. I never thought I’d devote an entire blog entry to mourn the loss of a neighbor, but I’m doing so today. As I say, he was a Good Man, and it somehow seems wrong that there’s no digital memorial to him. Well, Kris and I attended Tom’s funeral service this afternoon, and the program contained a fine biography of the man. I’m going to preserve it here.

Arnold Thomas Sandwick, Jr.

18 September 1927 – 08 January 2011

Arnold Thomas Sandwick, Jr., was born 18 September 1927 at Terrebonne, Deschutes County, Oregon, and went home to be with his Lord on 08 January 2011. He was the first of five children born to Irene Beatrice Deach and Arnold Thomas Sandwick. Tom was followed by Andy, Anitra Van Matre, Carmen Olsen, and Eric.

Tom and his first wife, Mildred, also had five children: Carl, Jean, Karin, Kristen, and Judi. After his divorce, Tom married Roberta and gained two more children: Clifford Sandwick and Catie Elrod. He was predeceased by his parents and brother, Andy.

At 17, Tom graduated from Redmond High School, and whiled away the summera as a railroad section hand pounding spikes into a rail line under construction. After he turned 18, he joined the Navy. He served a partial tour of duty at the end of World War II on a submarine. He was called back up during the Korean War and served on a seaplane tender.

Tom spend the years between and immediately after his time in the Navy continuing his education. He attended Powellhurst Bible Academy, Whitworth College, Oregon State, Western Seminary, and Denver Seminary. He had a degree in civil/structural engineering from Oregon State and became a registered professional engineer in 1961. When structural engineering became a separate discipline, he successfully applied for dual registration under the grandfathered application process. He did not renew his license in 2007, although he was willing to brainstorm engineering problems after that time.

Tom’s engineering career was complex and varied. He designed the marine park at Kalama, Washington and worked on the Bull Run water source for the city of Portland. He was involved in the ramps on the Morrison Street Bridge, the sewer system in Oak Grove, and a now-abandoned chip loading facility in Lake Oswego. These are just a few of the many projects he was a part of as a problem solver or designer. On a personal level, two projects stand out. The first was the house in which he raised his children. His favorite was his last project, the house in which he spent his retirement.

As a young boy, Tom was entranced by airplanes. He read about them and built model airplanes. Much to his grief, he was never able to fly due to very poor eyesight. Tom learned to develop and print his own black-and-white photographs while on the submarine at the end of World War II. Photography was one of his pleasures. A collection of his prints is scattered through the second house. He had a very good eye. Tom took great satisfaction in growing a significant portion of the household fruits and vegetables. He was also an immense help in putting up the surplus for winter use.

Family was always at the center of Tom’s life. He worked very hard to be a responsible parent in a single-income household. At times this spread his resources very thin, but the results were worth the effort.

Tom seriously considered a life in the ministry, but decided that he was just not cut out for the pastoral role. He valued greatly the education at Powellhurst, Western, and Denver. He applied this education to all aspects of his life.

Tom usually had some deep thought wandering around the back of his mind, even at the very end. Shortly before he lapsed into unconsciousness he said, “This is ridiculous.” When asked what “this” was, he answered, “The whole concept — yet it’s perfectly plausible.” Perhaps he meant that the idea that man was in charge of anything was that which was ridiculous. That would be consistent for a man who said “love” was not a big enough word to encompass the emotion he was experiencing.

I only knew Tom for six years. He and I would stop to chat when we saw each other in the road. (When he was setting out to feed the neighbor cats, for example, or when I was walking up the hill to my office.) I didn’t know Tom well, but I liked him. I wish I had known longer and better.

Tom Sandwick was a Good Man.

The Smartest Dog in the World

Nicole — who knows I love stories about animal intelligence — wrote in to share the tale of Chaser, the smartest dog in the world. Or at least the dog with the largest vocabulary.

Here’s the story, as reported by Animal Planet:

As part of a three year training course at Wofford College taught by psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley, Chaser was introduced to the names of 1,022 toys. Over the three years, Reid and Pilley taught the collie the names of 1,022 toys by introducing them to her one by one, getting her to fetch the toy and then repeating the name to reinforce the association. They say there’s no limit to what the dog can learn!

They’ve even posted video of Chaser in action:

Pretty amazing stuff, but I’d still like to see them do this with a cat… (Plus, I think it’s hilarious that this man refers to himself as Pop Pop.)

Geeks in Love

On February January 24th, Kris and I will have been together for 22 years. Here’s a photo from right around our one-year anniversary:

Black Tie Affair 1990

This was taken on approximately 14 February 1990 (my guess is the 10th 3rd) at Willamette‘s “Black Tie Affair”, a formal dance held in Portland. Man, we’re a couple of geeks.

Jared Loughner’s Insane YouTube Videos

So, I’m just as worried as everyone else that Jared Loughner, the man who attacked a political gathering in Arizona today, is some sort of politically-motivated rightwing nutjob. However, after a little research, I’m not convinced that’s actually the case.

Jared Loughner may have spouted conservative anti-government rhetoric, but if you watch his YouTube videos, the guy’s flat-out insane. I don’t mean in a figurative sense; I mean this literally. Just as John Hinckley didn’t represent liberal Democrats when he tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, Loughner doesn’t represent conservative Republicans in this case. Both men are just nuts.

Don’t believe me? Take a gander at Loughner’s non-sensical YouTube tirades. Here they are, in chronological order:

How To: Your New Currency! (from 22 Nov 2010)

The Student at Pima Community College: An Unconstitutional Crime! (from 30 Nov 2010)

How To: Mind Controller (from 06 Dec 2010

Introduction: Jared Louhgner (from 15 Dec 2010)

Hello (from 15 Dec 2010)

Again, this doesn’t seem to be a Tea Party thing. It seems to be a mentally insane thing. This guy reminds me of the nutjobs I’ve mocked in the past, like the Time Cube guy, or the guy who posted a classified ad in the Salem paper about being forced to play basketball at the mental hospital.

So, please, just as you wouldn’t want conservatives to rush to judmgent about somebody who shot a Republican congressman, don’t do the same when it’s a Democratic congresswoman who has been shot. It may be that Loughner is a Tea Party crank — or he could just be somebody who is mentally ill.

The Cat on the Table

While emptying my camera’s memory card the other day, I found a photo I’d forgotten I took. It’s funny.

My family generally celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. We get together for a pizza dinner before exchanging gifts. This year, Kris and I hosted. We bought several take-n-bake crusts and provided toppings so people could customize their pies.

When we sat down to eat, however, Toto decided she wanted in on the action. She hopped up on the table, and demanded that Aunt Stephanie share a slice of pizza:

Toto Wants Pizza

Toto has always sat on the table at meal times. I know this grosses some people out, but that’s just how it is with her, and Kris and I deal with it. (She’s not allowed to do this when company is around — though obviously, sometimes she breaks the rules.) Lately, though, she’s become brazen. Instead of waiting for a possible nibble or snack, she barges right in to take a bite.

It’s as if she’s trying to play the pity card: “Look at me: I’m dying. The least you can do is share your food.”

When Toto does die — and it’ll probably be in 2011 — this photo will be one of a handful I’ll flag to remember her by. This captures her personality and one of her trademark moves. I love it.