Picking a Finish Line- Setting Goals

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

When you’re down as low as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?

It’s not that going “up” is never possible EXCEPT when you’re face-down in a gutter- it just becomes the best of very few other options, and less distraction… or that your survival depends on your ability NOT to be distracted.

In the last few months, I went to some REALLY low places in my mind. Not “rock bottom” in any real sense- I still had a home, I still had food, my wife still loves me- but in my mind, none of that made a lick of difference. In some ways, it even made it worse- “Who am I to deserve all this? I’m an idiot, and I’ll lose it all eventually.”
“Why did I get out of bed today?”
“I’m disappointed in myself for going to work.”
“When did I give up dreaming? When did I stop wanting more?”

A job change, a slight mental break, and a new routine later, things are thankfully starting to balance out. My new job has me working evenings, so that means my mornings- and my best energies- can be spent on doing what makes me happy: exercising, reading, cuddling Miss Cleo, and of course, writing.

It’s a new kind of routine, so now is as good a time as any for me to start thinking again-

I feel more free than I used too… so what am I going to do with it?”

Sign post in tropical background, naming world cities

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

It’s kind of weird for me to actually be writing about goals or goalsetting simply because, while I’ve absolutely HAD goals before… I never really thought of them as “goals,” or at least not structured as such.

I always saw them as “objectives,” or “missions,” or some other semantic dodge to make it feel less “self-help-bookish” and more “I’m doing this thing because I want to do it-”

LOSING WEIGHT
Goal:
 Get down to 165 lbs, what I was told is the heaviest I could be in the “healthy range” I could be.
What I Told Myself:  “Lose weight because otherwise you’ll die fat, sad, and in pain. 165 lbs sounds about right.”

BECOMING A CHEF
Goal: Graduate culinary school, find a job baking, and eventually become a pastry chef.
What I Told Myself:  “I like baking. This is what I’d have to do to make that my job.” *cue years of hard work, saying “yes” or “no” as felt appropriate, and letting things happen.*

WRITING
Goal: Write a blog, make it popular, and make it a career.
What I Told Myself: “I like writing, and people seem to like to read what I write. I should do that more often. Once a week sounds good… maybe more later.”

 Obviously, there was a little more to it than that- finding resources for how to lose weight, for example. Working hard in my vocations, and keep my eye open for opportunities. I never really laid anything out on PAPER though, or really thought “How will this help achieve ___ ends?” I can only imagine what it would be like if I had any kind of plan worked out.

That said, it’s not like I NEVER thought about what I wanted in life or how to get it.

Portrait of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”- General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Ever since I first found a quote by him in comic form on ZenPencils.com, I’ve been a pretty big fan of writer, traveler, and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau. His website, “The Art of Non-Conformity” and his manifesto “A Brief Guide to World Domination” (which you can download for free through that link) got me thinking very hard about what kind of life I actually wanted to live, and how I wanted to live it. I strongly recommend everyone reading the whole thing, but I’ll sum it up with three big points Chris makes:

1. You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

 

2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Ultimately, doing what you want is just fine. Living your life and accomplish your goals is great- but eventually, it’ll feel empty. You can rule the world- but that means you need to think about the world, and what you can give back.

In the manifesto, Guillebeau also linked to an interesting Goals Brainstorming exercise and workbook by Paul Myers, also available for free. It’s a pretty extensive exercise, and if you sit down and just decide to knock it out, it’ll probably take you a couple hours to do completely.

It’s absolutely worth the time though- consider it an investment in yourself. When was the last time you did that?
The beauty of the exercise is that it asks you first to visualize what your ideal life would be like- in gratuitous detail. Do you work? Doing what? Where do you live? How do you spend your day? What do you do with your downtime? And so on and so on…

Then it makes you write down what you have going for you now– and not just material and financial matters, though those are absolutely included. It makes you write down all of your skills and interests- ANYTHING you have knowledge in. All the people that you know, what they do, and if they can help you (seriously, I’d forgotten how many friends I actually have until I did this exercise.) Then with all of this in mind, you pull apart the elements of what you want:

What do you actually NEED to make this happen?
What steps do you need to take?
Is this something you actually want? Or is it a symbol of something else?

The last time I sat down and did it, I was living in New Jersey, burning myself out in the medical field and culinary school. I was miserable in life, and felt rudderless.

After the exercise, I made a few VERY strong insights about myself:
1. I already had everything I needed to do what I wanted.
2. I had people around that would help me if I needed it.
3. I needed to start making MYSELF more of a priority than I had.

Soon after, I decided to start up the original Black Hat Bakery. I started to lose weight, get healthier, and save money.

Seriously, give this a shot. You’re worth it.
While you’re at it, I strongly recommend Chris’s books as well:

The $100 Startup : This is the first book of his I picked up, shortly before being fired for the first time. It inspired me to relaunch as The Black Hat Baker here in Portland, and to try actually making a living out of this crazy thing I love.

Born For This:  Even if entrepreneurship isn’t for you (and it’s not for everyone!) that’s no reason you can’t have a life you love AND work for someone else. This book describes how you can mold your life and work to be something that excites you, rather than exhausts you.

Side Hustle- From Idea to Income in 27 Days: His most recent book, and one I’m currently reading. Because there’s nothing wrong with figuring out how to earn a little scratch on the side.

That’s all from me for now- I’ve got a worksheet to do, a beer to drink, and some emails to write.

What do you think? Are you gonna give this a try?
What kind of goals do you want to reach?

Stay Classy,

A Sense of Taste- Things That’ll Make Your Tongue Lie to You

 Good evening, friends and neighbors.

To quote my wife, “Cooking with a cold must be like being a musician that can’t hear.”
This may or may not be because we went out to dinner once when I was dealing with some nasal congestion and couldn’t taste anything. My favorite beers, deep-fried brussels sprouts, and smoked ribs were utterly tasteless. It was frustration bordering on heartbreak.

The senses of smell and taste are obviously deeply connected- informing and influencing each other in one of our most primal survival mechanisms- when something smells off, it probably IS off.

When you’re a cook, though, not being able to taste things is not an option. You might know the recipes by heart, you may measure and cook everything perfectly- but if you aren’t tasting (or able to taste) as you go, it’s like driving down the highway with only one eye. Yes, you can do it- but you wouldn’t unless had to, and there are a LOT of things that can mess with your ability to detect flavors.

Here’s some of them:

Illustration of Beethoven composing

Supposedly, when his hearing loss was nearly total, Beethoven would put a pencil in his teeth and press the end to the soundboard of his piano so he could feel the vibration of the notes. Nothing quite like that for taste though.

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Dropping Weight by…Dropping Weight: The BHB’s Bodyweight Regimen

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

I don’t have a home gym setup. Never did. I saw absolutely no reason to drop 12 Easy Payments of $19.99 a month for some gargantuan piece of machinery that, in all likelihood, would become another clothes rack and hiding spot for the cat.

Yet, 6 years ago, I was 240 pounds. As of this morning, this is what my scale told me:

Scale readout indicating 164.2 pounds and 10.6% bodyfat

10.6 Bodyfat Percentage
Scale readout indicating 164.2 pounds and a BMI of 22.3

BMI of 22.3

Yes, I am still a baker. Yes, I still eat my own work, as I’ve brought up before.
I just lost the weight and keep it off without buying some ridiculous workout machine or diet plan.
In the previous articles, I’d mentioned it in the broad strokes, and I mentioned that I use a single, 50lbs. sandbag for weightlifting (or, as the case may be, a sack of flour), and told you all a bit about where and why I run, but I never went to any great detail on my bodyweight exercise routine.

 

Here we go then!

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So You Want To Move To Portland…

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little bit, you probably know at least three things about me:
1. I like a food. Like, a lot.
2. I am a proud New Jersey native.
and 3. I currently live in a pretty weird place.

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The Unipiper- a guy who figured that a Darth Vader mask, a unicycle, and flaming bagpipes would be his day job. Click for his site

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On Doubt and Feline Doughnuts

​Good evening, friends and neighbors!
There’s been a lot of thinking, rethinking, and nefarious plotting going on at my end recently- what I want “On The Bench” to be next, what it used to be versus what it has become, and how I want to go about tackling that “next big thing” we ALL worry about- the big project, the big presentation, the opening day, the whatever.
In the midst of all of it, two fortuitous memories resurfaced amid the frothy madness that the waters of life work themselves up into.

The first one is the video below, which remains one of the single best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten for attempting ANY project EVER- personal, professional, or academic.

The second one is a bit more of a story. This blog will therefore be a little different than the others- part story, and part actual news update about what this blog will turn into, and what I want to do next.

Watch the video, and I’ll see you after the jump. Thank you Extra Credits for handing down some sage advice that makes so much sense, I wished I’d learned it earlier in life.

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A Day at the Race

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

A few months back, I decided that I needed a goal. Work had become mundane, home life and exercise had become a routine, and even the joy I generally took from writing had become somewhat stagnant.
I needed something to look forward to- something I’d have to train up and prepare for.
I chose a 5K trailrunning race, up a mountain that I had only ever really used the paved paths on.

This is how I got up a mountain, down said mountain, and where my mind went on the way.

Mt. Tabor in Portland Oregon shrouded in mist

It was frustratingly chilly. There had been spats of sunshine and warmth the entire work week, and now on my weekend- Portland was earning one of its many nicknames as “Puddletown.” I hadn’t really slept well the night before- Emily came to bed late, and the cat decided that 4 AM was a perfect time to jump up onto my chest and bury her fuzzy face in my armpit.
I needed to pick up my race tag and swag at 9:30. There wouldn’t be an official bag check or locker system- anything I came with or acquired would be on my back for the race, or tucked away in a tree for the honor system to decide its fate. Therefore, pack light. I was wearing my Utilikilt- the hiking model I had bought for myself years ago- it has big ol’ cargo pockets that dangle from it’s sides, or can be removed and attached to the belt. I make the call to leave them at home- I don’t need the extra weight slapping around when I run.

Picture of the BHB in his Utilikilt

Cleo finally succeeds in getting me vertical at 7:30. A quick breakfast of protein pancakes, pre-workout drinks, and some eggs, then it’s time to dress… Kilt, long-sleeve running shirt, neon-green hoodie, and my favorite running bandana, tie-dyed with “kfitzat haderech” written on it in Hebrew- קְפִיצַת הַדֶּרֶךְ. One of my own little superstitions- the words are from Kabbalistic Judaism, and mean “contracting the path” or “The Shortening of the Way”- a divine miracle in which someone is blessed with super-speed, or otherwise able to cross vast distances quickly. Frank Herbert had borrowed it to mean something a little different, and changed the pronunciation to “Kwisatz Haderach”.
“And how can this be?”
Long socks and my running shoes go on… then I stroll out into the wind, hands deep in my pockets, for the uphill hump to the starting line- no point in taking a car, and no car to take anyway.

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This is not my first time running a 5K- in a kilt, or in the cold- and the fact that I’m doing it at all is at least a little bit of a miracle. Not a divine one, though- the miracle of being too stubborn to die young.

The first time was in Philadelphia- a country and several years back. I ran the Ugly Sweater run with my sisters through Fairmont Park. It was really my first test of my fitness since I had decided I needed to lose weight- that I wasn’t happy being overweight and in constant pain, and that I needed to outrun a family history that promised diabetes, obesity, and disease of the heart and lungs.

I certainly didn’t make the run easy on myself- it was going to be cross-country, but on mostly flat terrain. I wore a light, woven kilt, a t-shirt, the requisite ugly sweater (mine said “Happy Elfin Holiday”) and my denim jacket. The morning of the race, it was 1 degree F. Oops.

Better borrow a scarf from my sister.


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The sweater got given away to charity later, sorry to say.

Racind tag from the 2018 Tabor Challenge

I’m one of the first to show up at the mountain- the volunteers running the race had been setting up for a couple hours already, but the wind and cold were making it slow-going. The Tabor Challenge started in 2015 as a fundraiser for scholarships for athletically AND academically worthy high school students. This is its third year.
As soon as I show up, the giant banner/selfie background reading “The Tabor Challenge- Run Fast. Think Smart” blew over. As I start lifting it back up, a few volunteers coming running up to help. A couple cases of bottled water function as sandbags.
Hey, thanks for the help!”
“No worries- hey, where do I pick up my packet?”
I get pointed over to the single most stable structure nearby- a large picnic pavilion containing the registration and raffle. I get handed my tag, instructions for the raffle (some great running gear, gift card to Columbia sporting goods, etc.) all the energy bars I can handle, and a copy of the Chinook Book– a long-running coupon book with deals for locally-run/sourced businesses. A hell of a gift for running the race- that I now need to carry with me or stash.
I should have worn the pockets.

Back in the main starting area, people are starting to file in behind me. They’ve laid out free granola bars, bananas, bottled water, and Gatorade for all the participants, and a merch tent is selling Koozies, hoodies, shirts, and more. Off to one side is a bizarre little bus-like vehicle that, at first, I think is the beer cart getting set up for those who apparently need a beer at 9:30 AM. As I get closer, I read the signs and see that it is something FAR more important- the coffee cart.


The Gotta Have Coffee Coffee Truck

As more racers start to file in and the sun slowly peeks through the clouds, I get a chance to talk to Cleann- one of the two folks working the coffee cart. The cart came together much the same way I built up The Black Hat Baker- her husband Scott had been a mechanic all his life, and decided that his body wasn’t going to be up to the job forever. Holding on to the knowledge he’d gained from a small business course and making espresso in high school, he decided he was going to sell coffee. The ingenuity and resourcefulness that comes with a lifetime of metalwork and fabrication meant that, in the fall of 2016, Scott dragged a totaled 1970s mail truck into his garage and told Cleann he was going to turn it into a self-sustaining coffee cart. Rebuilding, raising, and outfitting the truck himself and sourcing coffee while his wife worked as an assistant school principal, in 2017 Gotta Have Coffee launched for catering and events.

As Scott preps for a rush of runners craving caffeine, Cleann and I chat about her story.
There’s a blog on our website, but people never seemed to care much for it. I just stopped updating it after a while- but when I started taking pictures and telling people about us and the cart, they were MUCH more interested.”

People like hearing about coffee, we agree- but they like hearing about people more, and they LOVE a good story. We part, agreeing to follow each other on social media.

The lineup is starting. I look at my hands holding the coupon book, free t-shirt, and stuff I’d been handed since registering. No way in hell am I carrying all this, and I brought nothing to carry it in anyway. After a little inventive wrangling, I tie it all up in my neon hoodie (yes, I’m cold, but I’ll warm up on the run.) After a little more wrangling and attempted ties, I notice others are stashing their bags in the crooks of trees or under bushes. Well, if they’re comfortable with it….
I tie my hoodie and its tiny treasure trove to the branches of a nearby tree, like a weird offering to Odin. If the Norns decide it’s worth taking… realistically, I’ll be more pissed about losing the hoodie.
Anyway, it’s time to line up.


I am F***ING. COLD.

The race starts ridiculously early, and in Fairmont Park, the sun isn’t even up yet. My sisters and I meet under the registration table where we are given our tags, “Ugly Sweater Run” backpacks, a handful of swag, and a plug for Save the Children- the worldwide charity that part of our registration costs go toward. I’m pounding down mediocre hot chocolate and jogging in place- everyone else is in heavy coats for the moment, or leggings. Lauren and Steph are a bit more bundled, but we all huddle out of the wind. As we stick together against the cold stone of a staircase, groups of runners start clumping together- they’ve been doing these and other runs together for a while.

In a way, I envy them. Ever since I started, running for me was a solitary activity. I ran specifically FOR the quiet time- the energy of motion, and the chance to be alone with my thoughts for as long as the track/my legs could hold out. While being part of a community of runners would be fantastic, I don’t think I’d ever want to actually run as a group. Still, it’d be nice to have a group of friends to talk about it with though. Maybe someday…

A dull loudspeaker announcement… it’s time to line up. Steph, Lauren, and I hop in place- everyone agrees to go at their own pace, and we’ll meet up at the end.


The race began on a downhill. A goddamned DOWNHILL.
We tear off on a short, paved uphill stretch to get over a small rise, before a sharp right turn takes us through the dirt and on to a long-bomb, downhill paved run straight past the first reservoir.
I’d been running on this mountain ever since we moved into the area- almost always on the same, paved path, but it followed the mountain: uphill all the way to top, when one normally has the most energy, then the long downhill run when gravity helps your tired muscles and all you need to do is keep your feet.
The race is starting out downhill though… and paved. This might be problematic. I hadn’t prepared for this.

Halfway through, I know that I’m not making my average pace. The long downhill led to a flat run around one of the reservoirs, and then a lap around the lowest ones- the reservoirs I do laps around at the end of my ordinary runs.
The lined path has sharp corners and switchbacks- baffling any momentum a runner might pick up by forcing them to stop on a dime and change direction. With half my energy burnt up on the downhill, and essentially having to start from a standstill after a hairpin turn, I recognize where in the course we are… and that we are making for the top, in the mud.


Roots. A few small rises, and the frozen ground warming under wave-after-wave of pounding sneakers and the rising sun make the going a challenge, but not impossible. I’d been running almost entirely through the flat streets of my neighborhood in Egg Harbor City, NJ. There was rarely a space- or need- to run over dirt, and the flatness of the Pinelands made elevation changes non-existent.
No matter, though- my main speed came from the need to keep warm. My bare legs, though still chilly, were being warmed by rushing blood. Some people are slowing down- others are walking. I manage to outpace a few- I’m sure that if I slow down, sweat will make me freeze.
Run for warmth,” I think. “Run for your life.”


Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” is blasting in my headphones. Goddammit, I’m TRYING.
I’ve been reduced to walking, more like a dogged hike. The uphill dirt path is rendered to cold mud by the recent rains- absorbing all the energy from my footfalls, and giving little support underneath except what I can gain in traction. I remember my hikes as a Scout- “when going uphill, stay on your toes. Lean in to the hillside. Make it a controlled fall, and keep your legs pushing BACK, rather than DOWN.”
A few guys who had passed me earlier are walking too- stretching or breathing out stitches. It’s too cold to make out if anyone is really sweating, but their breathing is heavy enough. The sun is fully up, and I’m starting to feel hot.
“Glad I ditched the hoodie” I mutter, rolling the sleeves of my running shirt up. We’ve gotten to the flat moutain-top park.
Oh god, they’re making us use the STAIRS?!

Pink Floyd gives way to Springsteen. “Baby, we were born to ruuuuuuuuun!”


8:14.
8 minute, 14 second mile- that’s my pace as I barrel down the long stretch to the finish line. I’ve long since stopped feeling cold- the layers of t-shirt and sweater actually feel unbearable as I emerge from the trees into the sunny clearing.
My sisters are nowhere in sight, so after walking out any cramps my legs may have, I grab the phone in my pocket to text them- let them know I’m at the finish line, ask where they are, maybe brag a little bit. I wind up reading instead.
Matt, are you at the finish line yet?”
“Someone’s hurt, around mile 2. I think she sprained her ankle.”

Find a medic, there’s no one on the trail and we can’t move her.”A medic is leaning against his ambulance. A quick rundown, and he’s grabbed his bag, heading back the way I came. My sisters cross the finish line, jogging slowly- one of the runner’s friends caught up and agreed to stay with her when they said they’d texted me for help, and would try to run ahead to find a medic or me, whoever they got to first.
The medic gets to the injured woman quickly and patches her up. My sisters and I grab a beer in the sun. It’s been an exhausting morning.

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8:46.
8 minute, 46 second mile as I come down the mountain- appropriately now set to “Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction as I cross the finish line.
I’m bitterly disappointed. 8:30 min/mi had been my target pace, and if I had trained properly, maybe I wouldn’t have wound up slogging up some of the trails.
At the bottom, the volunteers are laying out MORE water and granola bars. One of them grins at me- I’m one of the first group to make it over the line.
“How’d you do, man?”
“Ugh…
not so great. 30 seconds behind my goal pace.”
Aww, don’t sweat it, dude! The rain made the whole place muddy. You sign up next year, I bet the weather will be better. Get some record action going, brother! Here, have a snack!”As I stretch and walk off the race, I happen to look at the tree. My hoodie is still hanging up where it was. No one touched it- just like they didn’t touch anyone else’s. There is a community here- an understanding.
The beer tent is set up, but I skip it- I can’t stand IPAs. As more people come across the line, a few wave and smile at me.
“Dude, how’d the kilt treat you?! I saw you have some really good leg motion on the uphills- I gotta think about that!”
“Hey man, how’d you do? That mud was a killer- I was trying to keep pace with you, but DAMN!”

I walk around and watch friends catch up. Pizza arrives, Scott and Cleann are busy. I don’t win the raffle, but I DO treat myself to a new running tee and a laser-engraved steel coaster. There’s an afterparty that night at a local brewery, but for now I’m fine just walking home.

At home, Emily is awake. She asks how the run was, and if I want to go shopping with her later- she’s had a lazy morning and wanted to slip off somewhere and write.
I’ll join up with her later. My hoodie gets hung up, my clothes in a laundry bin. The tag goes on a pegboard with the one from the Ugly Sweater run.

Well, that was interesting. Just like last time.

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Stay Classy,