I just want to brag a bit

We’re about as ready to have a baby as we can be. We’ve actually been preparing in earnest for a few years now, beginning with buying this house and then trading the truck in for a minivan. There were some major renovations that came with the house, such as repairing termite damage to the floor joists and girders, the wall studs and ceiling beams in the front room, some foundation damage from a tree root… and then we had to get a new roof last summer. Oh, and two summers ago I replaced all the power outlets with ones that have covers built-in so kids can’t stick things into them. But this summer has been really baby-inspired.

  • Because the nursery is typically 8-10 degrees colder in the winter, we tore off some drywall with the intent of adding insulation to the exterior wall. It turns out that the wall was insulated, but the termite damage had left a gap between the floor and the wall that went straight into the crawlspace. So we insulated and blocked that up.
  • Put up ceiling fans in the nursery and guest bedroom.
  • We also did some other constructiony things like replacing a rotting wall on the shed, painting the shed, replacing a column on our front porch, and lots and lots of thinning flower bulbs and spreading mulch.
  • April has done a ton of reorganization, cleaning, and furniture assembling (crib, bassinet, shelves, etc.).
  • While exploring the crawlspace to make sure there weren’t any other gaps between the floor and the wall, I found that the ductwork was super damp. The condensation had caused rust, which then led to some small holes in the ductwork. These have now been patched and the ductwork insulated.
  • We had a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to help reduce humidity further and prevent insects from burrowing up into the crawlspace.
  • The vapor barrier (sheets of plastic spread across the ground and up the walls of the crawlspace and the piers supporting the house, then sealed with tape and tacked to the walls) made it evident that pipes were leaking. Turns out our entire plumbing system was close to failing, so we had it replaced. The galvanized steel pipes were so full of rust, and metal chunks were flaking off because of the rust. Now we have pex everywhere.
  • Hopefully, the pex will help prevent our pipes from freezing like they have the last two winters. I’ll also be blocking up our foundation vents properly this winter.
  • After all the construction, we had the ductwork professionally cleaned.
  • Our thermostat went out, but I was able to get it replaced under warranty. This came with an extra room sensor, so we now have a remote thermostat sensor in the nursery. We also have a video baby monitor with three cameras that we can put in different places or travel with.
  • Rugs have been shaken and cleaned, floors have been swept, everything has been washed, etc.
  • April has begun preparing freezer meals so that we have around 2 weeks of food that we can just pop into the instant pot or oven without having to do much prep or thinking.
  • We acquired a deep freeze so we have room for freezer meals, etc.
  • After all the construction, we had the house fully treated (crawlspace, attic, inside, outside) for all manner of insects, but mostly spiders.
  • We’re going to a birthing class on Monday nights that has been tremendously helpful and eye-opening. Tomorrow night, we have a hospital tour. Next week, we’ll install the car seat.
  • Our friends and family have been so generous and we now have enough baby clothes for probably the first year and a half, as well as plenty of cloth diapers.

So much of this was possible because of April’s parents, and between the support of our family and our network of friends (which, again, kudos to April… she does such a good job of making sure we stay connected to people despite my inclination to never leave the house or talk to anybody), we feel ready. We feel secure and supported. We know that we have people to catch us and help us. And we’ve learned so much from everyone.

I want to celebrate this. We did good. I can’t wait to meet our baby. We’re about 4-7 weeks away!

Jesus Christ y’all, the new album from Florence + The Machine is so good

I think it’s just speaking my language, and I want to tell you all about it, but I also want you to discover it by listening to it twice and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The beginning of the album is broken-hearted, and it progresses through hope and on to happiness. And the final song begins a capella with the lines:

And it’s hard to write about being happy
‘Cause all that I get
I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject

And there would be no grand choirs to sing
No chorus could come in
About two people sitting doing nothing

And then I go back to the top of the album and begin again, and I hear:

You were broken-hearted and the world was, too
And I was beginning to lose my grip
And I always held it loosely
But this time I admit
I felt it really start to slip

And choir singing in the street
And I will come to you
To watch the television screen
In your hotel room

I love albums that tell a story, where every song is related, and listening to the album altogether is the best way to hear it.

Florence + The Machine isn’t Christian, but I love her spiritual songs.

Sometimes I think it’s gettin’ better
And then it gets much worse
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Though I know I should know better
Well, I can make this work
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts

You need a big god
Big enough to hold your love
You need a big god
Big enough to fill you up

Shower your affection, let it rain on me
And pull down the mountain, drag your cities to the sea, yeah
Shower your affection, let it rain on me
Don’t leave me on this white cliff
Let it slide down to the, slide down to the sea
Slide down to the, slide down to the sea

Listen to it on Google Play Music: https://play.google.com/music/m/Bigmsii2zedk5egwpbb2wkrsroa?t=High_As_Hope_-_Florence__The_Machine

Stepping onto the deck at night

The USA seems to be in a bad place. What we’re doing to immigrant families and their children is horrifying. I’m concerned about the trade wars that Trump is getting us into. I’m pretty well convinced that Trump has colluded with Russia to subvert our democracy, and I think the GOP is complicit and is shirking their duty to uphold the constitution and hold the President accountable.

But each evening, I step out onto the deck with Willow before bed, and I stand in the soft humidity and look up at the stars while crickets converse, and I enjoy the relative quiet. And I think, maybe it’s all terrible, but right now, here in Missouri, maybe it’s OK? Maybe…

I’m not convinced by that “maybe.” I’m still disconcerted. But I can halfway pretend. My conscience won’t let me go entirely, but I can take some solace in the night and lie to myself for just a moment about global warning, and the rising prominence of Xi Jinping, and our president’s abuse of our allies and our citizens.

I wish I could be convinced by the night sky. I wish I could accept the peace of a still, humid evening in the Ozarks and believe that the rest of the world was like this. But we know it’s not. We know that all is not well, and that our leaders are making it worse.

It’s hard to leave the deck. Even a half a morsel of peace is a relief. I wish that I could make everything better so it didn’t feel like such a lie.

I’m not defined by my past

I met a man at church who told me about a motorcycle accident, fractured kneecaps, a fractured elbow, and a broken neck. He was homeless, and these injuries inhibited him from working.

I think he told me these things because they are a core part of his identity.

I have been hurt terribly in the past. And I had a traumatic childhood. I have lately been wrestling with deciding whether or not to write that story. This potential memoir would help communicate my childhood to my own children and maybe help them understand why I have the priorities I have and why I believe what I do.

But the more I think about it, the less certain I am that I should write this. It has been over 16 years since I converted to Christianity. I do not feel near to the person I was 16 years ago. My identity is rooted in who I am today, not who I was back then.

And I often ask myself, “Does this story really need told?” Will it actually help people? I’m not so sure it would.

Achievement Unlocked: Goal Weight

This will be my last post on health and weight for a while. My next will likely be in a year when I can write about the first year of maintenance.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 190

So, I have lost 50 pounds in around 6 months. I actually hit my goal weight a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to give it some time and make sure I was settled into it; that it wasn’t going to pop back up again.

I’d like to share why I started this, how I went about it, and what I have learned.

Why I wanted to lose weight

Since I was young, my primary goal in life has been to be a good husband and father. That means that I am continually looking for ways I can become a better person: nicer, better educated, better at handling conflict, more generous, more kind, more supportive, etc. And I also wanted to be physically healthier. I want to have energy to do things, I want to have strength to pick up our kids, and I don’t want to be a burden when I am older.

I don’t think you can do everything at once. Losing weight can be stressful, and it’s certainly another thing to think about and plan for. When you’re overworked and busy, that’s hard to do. So I put it off as long as I could.

But these days, I’m not in school and my job is great. And now we’re going to have kids! So the time had come.

I was also really struggling with mental energy and long-haul travel. My doctor recommended keto, a low-carb and high-fat/protein diet, to address these problems. I didn’t like being completely drained by 4 p.m. on weekdays, and I needed to make a change to fix that.

How I lost weight

You can’t outrun your diet. I had one year where I rowed multiple times a week and burned lots of calories, but I didn’t keep track of what I was eating. After a year, I had rowed a lot of kilometers, but I hadn’t lost a pound.

I lost weight over the last 6 months through Calories In, Calories Out (CICO). I used MyFitnessPal to track my meals and I followed its calorie recommendation to lose 2 pounds per week. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so this meant a weekly deficit of 7,000 calories, or 1,000 per day. Since I was eating around 1,500, that suggests that maintenance for me is probably 2,500… we’ll see.

April was a tremendous help through all of this. I don’t know that I would have been successful without her. She did a lot of the cooking and food prep, and she helped weigh and portion things so I could log them. She made the salad I had for lunch every day. Her support made this possible.

What I ate

I ate a keto diet, which means that 65% of my calories came from fat, 30% from protein, and 5% from carbs. I maintained this for probably 4 out of the 6 months. I don’t think keto is what lost me all the weight, but it did help me maintain the CICO approach. Keto evened out my blood sugar so I didn’t have any spikes or crashes, and it reduced my cravings tremendously. I think cutting out sugar was really the biggest thing for helping me stick to the diet.

Breakfast most every day was keto coffee, which is 1 tbsp. (14 grams) of coconut oil, 1 tbsp. (12-14 grams) of heavy whipping cream, and coffee. This is 185 calories and gets me to lunch at around 11:30 a.m.

Lunch was Mark Sisson’s big-ass salad almost every day while doing keto. My favourite dressing (out of the 3 I tried) was Green Goddess. If I wasn’t having salad, it was typically a basic meat + veggies thing, such as a pound of ground beef in a skillet with a bell pepper and mushrooms sauteed in, and I would eat half of that.

Dinner was typically similar to lunch. We would have meat and veggies, and try to have something different than what we had at lunch. So if we had beef at lunch, then it would be chicken at dinner. Occasionally pork, but not often. If I had a big salad at lunch, I often didn’t bother with veggies much at dinner.

Our main cooking oils were coconut, olive, and avocado. If you have never had avocado oil, I absolutely love it. Put two tablespoons in with ground beef right before sauteeing your vegetables and it really kicks the meal up a notch. Make sure to add salt and pepper too.

I have a powerful sweet tooth, so when I craved something sweet, I ate dark chocolate. I didn’t really like dark chocolate originally, but it turns out that different dark chocolate tastes different. It’s not all horribly bitter! My favourite, after trying many different dark chocolate bars over the last few months, is Alter Eco. I also made chocolate mousse and roasted pecans regularly to have as other snacks/desserts. For ice cream, I had this mint chip coconut ice cream and it was great.

What I learned along the way

There were some surprising things I discovered while losing weight.

Gear doesn’t make you lose weight

I wore a step-tracker on my wrist for 4 years before I really changed my diet. There have been a number of studies indicating that Fitbits and whatnot don’t typically lead to weight loss, and there have even been lawsuits about it. I’m not writing this to be critical of anyone who wears something like that, but it’s important for us to admit to ourselves that tracking steps, and even walking 10,000 steps a day, won’t lose us weight on its own.

You burn a different amount of calories for physical activity depending on your current fitness level. These days, I find it harder to get my heartrate to the aerobic zone (of beats per minute), and I’m not burning as many calories as I was. But when I was starting out, walking 10,000 steps might burn 5-800 calories in a day. That’s great! But if I was eating 2,500-3,000 calories in a normal day, and occasionally more, then my weight was plateaued or going up.

I had to change my diet. And I had to keep track of it. MyFitnessPal helped tremendously, and I got two other pieces of gear along the way that have helped. But it’s important to note that these tools help us lose weight. We have to make the conscious and regular decision to change what we eat and what we do if we’re going to lose weight.

A few months ago, I got a Vivoactive 3 and an Index scale. I like the Vivoactive because it has a heart rate monitor and GPS, so it helps me know more accurately the number of calories I am burning in a day. But what had an even greater impact on my weight loss was the electronic scale. I forced myself to step onto it every single morning, no matter what I had eaten the day before or how I felt, so that it would wireless sync my weight to Garmin and MyFitnesspal. Having that daily chart helped me in two different ways:

  1. It kept me accountable. Weighing myself daily, and having it actually be accurate (which my old scale wasn’t) and visible (through the apps, where it showed up alongside my calorie counts) made a huge difference for me.
  2. It gave me hope and clarity. I could see a clear connection between my choices and my weight. And because I was logging my calories, I knew what was happening. When I had a personal pan pizza (850 calories), and my weight shot up by 4 pounds, I knew that I hadn’t actually gained 4 pounds (14,000 calories). No, I was retaining water. And if I went back to keto, and drank a lot of water, then in around 4 days I would drop that water weight. Seeing this in action really helped calm me down. Weight loss takes time, and knowing how it works helped keep me patient. That helped keep me from giving up.

So, gear can help, but it can’t do the work for you of choosing and making the right things to eat, tracking what you eat, or exercising.

Temperature affects me differently now

I’m not as hot and sweaty as I used to be.

And strangely, really cold water doesn’t hurt me as much as it did. Like, I’m generally colder than I was, but when I put my hands in really cold water, my joints don’t hurt as much. I think this is down to having less inflammation thanks to my diet.

Also, I have less acne. I think this has more to do with cutting sugar and unhealthy oils than it does with weight loss, but they kind of go hand-in-hand.

Eating when I’m happy is good, and eating when I’m sad is not

I am a stress eater, and I have my comfort foods. If I am down in the dumps, the orange chicken from Thai Express is my happy meal.

But through tracking what I eat and how I feel, I know that generally speaking food doesn’t actually make me feel better. When I’m depressed and want to eat an entire quart of ice cream, and I go ahead and do it, I don’t feel better afterwards. Eating half a pizza doesn’t make me feel good. A burger, fries, and milkshake doesn’t fix my problems.

When I’m feeling happy, and I have some good food, it’s great. I’m loving it. And that’s important to remember. It’s the same advice that Chesterton gives in regards to alcohol (I think in Orthodoxy). Do not use alcohol as medication, because using it to try and feel like we should always feel means that we will always drink, which is unhealthy. Only drink when you’re happy, because this will be more rare but will make the happiness even greater.

I was upset last night and really wanted to go to Andy’s for some frozen custard. Instead, I hung out with some people online and ate dark chocolate, which while it’s not exactly the best thing, was literally 10% the calories of what I would have had at Andy’s. And I don’t regret it and didn’t feel bad as a result.

Monitoring your nutrients is important

Tracking nutrients is especially important when starting keto. I was getting way less sodium as a result of my diet, which is a problem. Using MyFitnessPal really helped me see where I needed to be eating more. That’s one of the things a lot of people don’t think about with tracking your meals.

Everyone fixates on how “hard” it is, when it really isn’t hard and only takes a few minutes a day. When you track your calories, it’s not just restrictive and telling you what you can’t eat. It’s also telling you when you need to eat more. If I’m super active one day, then MFP helps me see that I need to eat more. And if I check my nutrients and see that I’m low on sodium or iron, then I should do something about that.

This was also helpful because I was feeling pretty bad for a while. I kept getting this really heavy and uncomfortable feeling in my gut, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing it. Turns out, I don’t tolerate whole avocado well. I thought at first that the problem was having 19-20+ grams of fiber in a day, but I think it’s actually just pure avocado. So that’s good to know.

Where I’m going from here

I actually want to lose around 5 more pounds to get down to 185. That way, when I switch to maintenance and start eating pizza and rice and Chinese food regularly again, and I’m carrying around an extra 4 pounds of water all the time, I’ll still be around my goal weight.

My reward for myself when I hit 185 is an ice cream maker. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m going to make keto and/or low-sugar ice cream that’s cheaper and relatively healthy, and try to completely break my craving for Andy’s.

I have tried making Chinese food at home and been unsatisfied, but we are going to buy some new cooking stuff to open up new possibilities for home cooking. We need some new and different skillets and baking sheets.

And I have already bought new clothes. Not all that I need, but enough to get by for now. I’m down around 6″ in the waist for jeans, and I’m wearing medium shirts instead of XL now.

So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I’ll probably write next about health and weight in a year.

Goodbye Pops

There are four reasons I like having a new/good gaming computer.

First, gaming is a way to recharge. Like reading, it is typically something that I do alone, and that energizes me.

Second, I enjoy gaining mastery of a system or process. I like figuring out how a game works and becoming skilled at it.

Third, I like having a good computer because it means more time gaming and less time waiting for things to load, or dealing with things crashing. I’m going to have a lot less free time soon, and I don’t want what little gaming time I have to be spent in frustration.

And fourth, it gives me a way to connect with people and have fun with them that isn’t super exhausting. Even when I’m playing with people, there’s enough distance (probably due to a lack of body language) that it doesn’t require as much of me.

I love playing games with people online. I like multiplayer role-playing games in particular, and I like being able to support my teammates and help them succeed. A few years ago, I joined an amazing guild that spans numerous games and is filled with people I enjoy gaming with. The guild’s credo means that everyone is generally kind, supportive, and mature.

Pops was in the guild before me. He has been in Gaiscioch for as long as Gaiscioch has been on my radar. To me, he embodied the guild’s principles. He was kind, patient, funny, and great to hang out with. Admittedly, he could be brusque and a real jackass sometimes… but it was because he cared. He legitimately cared, and he didn’t want to mince words or dance around any subject because he didn’t have time. Instead, he pushed people to be better to themselves and to each other, and he was… good. He was a good guy.

He passed away earlier this week, and we had an in-game memorial for him earlier today. We sat around a campfire and took turns sharing memories and thoughts about Pops.

I haven’t been to a funeral in a few years, but I’ve been to a fair number, and I’ve had a lot of people in my life die. I think that Pops is the first online friend that I have gone through this with. I didn’t know that he had a terminal illness, but Fog shared that Pops told him when he joined the guild. Pops literally lived every day as if it was his last, because it was supposed to be. He lived 6 years longer than the doctors said he would.

Because our guild is so large and diverse, it isn’t uncommon for guild members to die. But Pops was the first that I played with regularly. I’ll miss hearing him on Discord and playing with him. The world is a bit dimmer without him.

I will miss him.

New computer

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A few weeks ago, I built a new gaming computer. My long-suffering Lenovo y510p laptop was around 7 years old, and while it’s a great gaming laptop, these things don’t last forever.

I had been having trouble with it for a couple of years. Certain games would make it overheat and crash, but I just didn’t play those games and turned settings down and got by. But last year, I reached the point where the number of games that I wanted to play, but couldn’t, was higher than those that  I could play.

So I built a new machine. I had thought about buying one instead of building, but you save so much money building, which meant fewer months of saving up money. And today, the last piece came in: a new keyboard. Subsequently, I’m writing a blog post.

  • Intel Core i5-8600k 3.6GHz 6-Core Processor
  • Asus – Prime Z370-A ATX LGA1151 Motherboard
  • G.Skill – Trident Z 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
  • Crucial – MX300 525GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive
  • Seagate – Barracuda 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
  • Gigabyte – GeForce GTX 1060 6GB 6GB WINDFORCE OC 6G Video Card
  • Phanteks – Enthoo Pro M Tempered Glass (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case
  • EVGA – SuperNOVA G3 650W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply
  • ASUS Black 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM
  • Ducky Shine 6 keyboard
  • Microsoft – Windows 10 Home

I’m super pleased. I decided not to get the highest-end video card, and I haven’t yet upgraded my monitor. I plan to get a new monitor later this year because mine is going dim after however-many-years it has been. But the video card needs no upgrade, as it turns out. I’m running everything on maximum settings, and I even have some add-ons installed for Elder Scrolls Online that make it even prettier, and I’m getting at least 60 FPS in everything. This has been an unmitigated success.

The only challenge that I ran into is that my external hard drive was corrupted. It looked like it still worked, but when I tried to transfer all of our photos to the new computer, it failed. Thankfully, I had everything backed up through Carbonite, and they had backed up before whatever/whenever it was that the external got corrupted, so I was able to restore everything going back to 2005. That would have been pretty heartbreaking to lose all of our pictures.

Now I just need to get used to this keyboard. I’m still managing around 90 words per minute, but I’m making a lot more errors than I would like. I do enjoy the feel and responsiveness of it though, and I look forward to doing more writing with it. It is higher profile than I’m used to so I may need to get a wrist rest.