Monthly Archives: October 2011

How to simplify your “stuff” in 2 simple steps.

So, I have a lot of stuff. (and no, this is not a photo of any room that I have lived in, nor the room of either of my boys, or of any child that I personally know)

I am sure that many people reading this blog might be able to say the same thing … and if you have any number of children, I am most certainly sure that you can say the same thing.  And if you live in America, you can say that as well, because by default you have more stuff than you actually need to survive, at least in comparison to the rest of the world.  Here are some facts about the “poor” in America (from recent US Census Data, and analysis by the Heritage Foundation). (Please note: “Poor” in this analysis is based on the US Census Guidelines): Continue reading


30 While 30: Day 223 – A day late, and some goals yet to meet …

Well, folks, it’s been a while since I last just updated on some of the list goals, so I thought I would take this Tuesday morning and do just that.

1. 5k #2 down! (#5 – Run in 2 5k Races)  The first of the season you can read about here.  A nice run, flat course, and a cool autumn morning.  This 5k was the inaugural Go Commando! run in my hometown, and also coincided with a half-marathon on the same day.  Needless to say, I was not prepared to run the 13.1 miles today (granted, I may not be ready by December – for my actual half-marathon in Memphis).  From what I can see from the time stamps on the start, the coding for my time was off by about a minute (I only know this because the results have all the runners starting at the same time, and I know for a fact it took me almost a minute to get to the start line).  That being said, it looks like I shaved about 3 minutes off my time from one month ago.  Not too bad.  I am still not under 30 minutes, but progress is progress.  This run actually felt good.  Well, as good as you can feel (TMI incoming) on a full bladder – I was a bit distracted and not paying attention to race start time, and the portas were about 1/2 mile down the course … so there was some slight discomfort … but other than that, the race actually felt … good.  Surprising, at least for me, as if there is one thing that I have learned from this year … I am not a “runner”.  Granted, I am sure I could run decently from someone trying to kill me, or to catch a fleeing child, but running for the enjoyment of it … it ain’t for me.  I don’t crave it, that is for sure. Continue reading


30 While 30: Day 215 – What do you crave?

Today is the last part in my “Lesson’s Learned” through my month experimenting in Vegetarianism.  A shorter post today, but I want to share this last aspect that was surprising.

First, some history.

Trying to lose 30 pounds this year is not the first time that I have tried to lose weight.  One time, back in (about) 2005, I did the “Atkins” thing.  It was the flavor of the month, and even then, I was desperate for some “easy fix”, some simple way to let weight just fall off.  Well, it worked.  During that stint, I probably lost 10 pounds (which I gained back later on).  That however, is not the point.  For anyone that knows anything, this diet is all about the elimination (at least in the beginning) of carbohydrates in an effort to entice your body to burn fat reserves for energy.  What did that mean for me?

I wanted potatoes.

I didn’t really care what kind.  Baked.  Mashed.  Fried.  Whatever.

There was nothing I wanted more.

My body was used to consuming mass volumes of carbs.  I wanted carbs.  My body had become used to obtaining them.  I wanted them.

I craved them.

Fast forward to the month of September, 2011.  Thomas goes meatless.  In the beginning, things were the same.  I wanted meat.  I wanted it bad.  The only things that really could sate that hunger were the protein staples I had come to depend on: yogurts, eggs, cheeses, and other dairies (with some legumes).  Then the end of the month came.  What came with it?  Well, oddly enough, not a craving for meat.  Did I eat some?  Sure.  Could I have survived without it?  I think so.

Now that this month is over, what can I say that my eating habits are like?  Well, I am eating less meat.  Meat isn’t nearly as appetizing for me as it once was.  A week and a half past the end of September, and I haven’t even had a steak (to put that last one into perspective … I had almost 20 oz. of ribeye steak at my “Farewell to Meat Extravaganza”.  To usher in meat again?  Not so much.)  It goes back to my watching of Forks Over Knives, helping me to realize that animal protein isn’t the end all and be all of effective eating strategies.

Here is my point:

Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits adapt to what we do to them.  This, in part is a good thing.  This is what helps casual runners to become marathoners.  It’s what helps good high school students become MD’s.  It’s what helps those that change their eating and activity habits to lose weight and increase their overall health.  When we put pressure on our body systems, they are forced to change to accommodate the stresses.  They get used to the way things are, they learn to want more of those things.

We learn to crave in relationships.  It’s what makes me stay up too late and fall asleep with the television on when Summer (My wife) is away – even for a day.  Think of those relationships that you know of, have heard about … or maybe ones in your own past (or present).  What happens when you invest in that person, get to know them, learn how they tick, what they love and what they hate?  You often can’t get enough of them.  You crave them.  You have trouble getting along without them.

This truth can also be a bad thing.  Addiction to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine are examples of biological cravings.  In that same thread, when we have habits that lend themselves to sloth and laziness, we let that be our natural state of being.  (Even heard or read of those people that seem to get a “high” from being busy or accomplishing tasks/projects? – these are the people that crave those things.)  When we are sad all the time, we think that is the natural way of things.

So, in part, cravings are natural.  But in my limited experience (and to be honest, an interesting topic for future literary review / scientific study) we can create our own cravings based on what we do to ourselves.  We build capacities and potentiality … but we also erect fences, and set boundaries.  The danger is in thinking we have nothing to do with this, that these capacities and boundaries are a simple product of our biology and heredity, instead of a manifestation of our choices and our habits.

Do that which will make you better, and more whole.  Do that, even when it feels uncomfortable … and soon, you will begin to crave it.

_Thomas


On Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and Steve Jobs

I had another post planned for today, but after reading a recent story this morning, and hearing last night of Steve Job’s death, I decided to postpone that post to Monday, and have a long, jumbled conversation about some seemingly unrelated topics.

If you can hang on to the end, I promise there is some method in the madness.

Photo courtesy of guardian.uk.co

I had been relatively unaware of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests going on in New York City, until I followed up on a couple of stories this morning about these protests.

This thing confuses me, if I am being perfectly honest.  Maybe my perspective is incomplete, and folks that check this blog can help to educate me.  Really, I invite it.  Until then, I want to share my confused perspective on this event (or events, as it appears they are traveling to other areas).

First, I don’t know what these protestors want.  Here are some quotes from participants:

“We are here to support this movement against Wall Street’s greed,” he said. “We support the idea that the rich should pay their fair share.” – Victor Rivera, a vice-president for the …1199 Service Employees International Union

“Banks got bailed out, and we got sold out.” – Students banging on drums made of water jugs
 
“The state of education in our country is ridiculous,” said Kingsbury, who plans to teach. “The state doesn’t care about it and we need to fight back about that.” – Danielle Kingsbury, a 21-year-old senior from New Paltz
 
Here is an early list of “demands” posted on a website that gained some traction:

“Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending “Freetrade” by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.

Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.

Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.

Demand four: Free college education.

Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.

Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.

These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.”

Here is a more “formalized” and “official” list of demands for Congress.

One of the things that has come about from the protests is a comparison to the Tea Party movement, which began prior to the 2010 congressional elections.  Similarities include: 1) Grassroots development 2) No established leadership 3) Common goals.

I will admit that these similarities exist, however, I am less convinced of #3.  I would wager that if you asked anyone identifying as a “Tea Partier” what the goals or ideals of the Tea Party were, I would venture a guess that 95% (admittedly, a made up statistic) would reply 2 things: “Less government and lower taxes”.  I do not get that impression from the Wall Street protests.

What impression I do get is that people are unhappy, upset, and want things to change.

This is not a bad thing.  At all.  I feel their frustration.  Sometimes (maybe many times) things don’t appear fair or just or equitable.  Sometimes corporations lay people off.  Sometimes they open businesses in other countries.  We can spend days discussing the reasons why or the solutions to solve it, but, to be perfectly honest, that detracts from the actual conversation that needs to be had.

This brings me to my third point of the day: The death of Steve Jobs.

Photo courtesy of thisismynext.com

There has been a lot posted in the last 12-14 hours about his passing, but I think his story has more to do with this day in age than people are giving him credit for, and not just for the impact of his inventions.  Let me share with you some facts about Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs did not complete college.  He dropped out of college after 6 months.  He credits a calligraphy class as the foundation of his conceptualization of elegance in the development of products.

Steve Jobs began Apple Computers with 2 things: A parter that believed in the idea and his garage.

Steve Jobs took that company and turned a sizable profit relatively quickly.

Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company that he founded.

Steve Jobs was asked to return to that company and in 15 years built it to be the largest valued company in the United States, valued at 351 billion dollars, and is second in the world, just behind Exxon/Mobile.

(Just a side note, I wonder how many protesters are listening to their favorite music on an ipod, or communicating their minute by minute tweets and communication on iPhones or iPads … but I digress)

My point is this:

Be angry and frustrated with the state of the economy or government.

Be angry and frustrated, but don’t forget that you can make a difference.  You can build revenue.  You can start a business.  You can be educated (even without going to college).  You can create something that wasn’t there before. 

Do you think that Steve, at age 25, would be with them on Wall Street?  I don’t think so.  You see, Steve didn’t care about that stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Hear it from him:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

The American dream is, and always will be about looking to the horizon, seeing an undeveloped plot of land and making something out of it.  Creating value from innovation, creativity, drive, and perseverance.

It is not about forcing people to give you a job because you think that because they have money it is their duty to do so.

And I have credibility to say that.  I have been laid off.  I have been laid off when my wife was 2 weeks from delivering our second child and with a brand new mortgage to pay for.

I have been there.

I am the child of two parents who lost a family business when I was 10 years old and were left surprisingly unemployed, who, instead of being angry and stagnant, instead worked in any way they could, and built new careers when the old ones went away.

I have been there.

I have spent years of my relatively young life helping children, adolescents, and whole families take stock of their lives, look to their strengths, and build futures better than their todays.

There is no silver spoon in this mouth.

I recently finished a book, written by a Jewish psychiatrist about his time in concentration camps in Germany during World War II.  He has something to say about this day in age as well:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

So, to those of you out there protesting corporate greed, I applaud you for seeing how things are not right. 

Now make something of it.

To those that might be well off, how can you change this world for the better?

If you are a business owner:

-Look for ways to creatively offer opportunities to others.  Look to exchange offering experience for apprenticeship, if you can’t hire directly.  Mentor, in exchange for effort.

-Look for ways to increase commission-based pay.  Let the effort and creativity of others lead to financial gain, especially if you can’t hire full-time employees.

-Look for independent contractors.  Work is work, and there are those eager for work, even if it doesn’t include a benefits package or a union card.

-Is there room in your business plan to offer community classes about something that your company is good at?  Welding, auto repair, anything?

If you are a “regular” person:

-What are you learning every day?  Education is not a prisoner of the collegiate system.  Education and wisdom are eager partners, that are often found in hard work and diligence, as well as in the stories and experiences of others.

-How are you helping others around you?  The government will work to feed people.  The government will pay for short-term stimulus for jobs.  What are you doing to create fishermen(women)?  Who are you investing in?

-Where are you allowing your own ingenuity and creativity to increase your happiness in life?  More times than not, our principal barrier is not corporations, government, taxes, or the economy.  Our principle barrier is ourselves and our beliefs about ourselves.

All I am saying is that when you want to figure out how to change the world, it is less about changing others, and more about looking in the mirror.  If we followed that guide, we wouldn’t even have time to go to a protest, whether it be for Occupy Wall Street … or the Tea Party.

I did not intend for this to be that long, but I had so much running through my head, I had to put it down somewhere.

As always, feel free to share my content with friends, family, and contacts if you think that it might be helpful.

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day – Lessons in Vegetarianism – “The Joys of Simplicity”

Last week, I wrote about a few simple thoughts I’ve had over this last month regarding my experiment with vegetarianism.  I must say, out of the long list of things that I am attempting to accomplish this year (which by the way, I have crested the 6-month mark) this past month has been on of the most profound ones from a learning and experiential perspective.

In the last post, I talked about conviction.  Not only in regards to the reasons that people decide to forego meat as a lifestyle, but what role strong moral or logical beliefs have on how we interpret and act on the world around us.

Today, I want to talk about another lesson learned in the month of September: The Joys of Simplicity.

First, let me tell you a bit about some of my experiences with simplicity during my recent trip to Charleston, SC.

As I had mentioned and asked on Facebook, prior to my trip, I was seriously considering altering my vegetarian plan (and some might call it cheating … myself included) to include fish and seafood (called “pescatarianism” – normally a stepping stone from meat-eating to vegetarianism, but not considered by “true vegetarians” to be an authentic vegetarian lifestyle).  The truth being that I wanted to sample some of the various foods in town, especially after hearing of some of the varieties of seafood available.  Cravings are a topic (and lesson learned) for another week.

My colleagues were very gracious, often asking me if a restaurant was going to be suitable for my recently adopted lifestyle choice.  It was honestly very sweet, and an authentic demonstration of their sensitivity to the real difficulty I was having with the choice that week.  That being said, I didn’t really have the same dilemma that they did when staring at the menus.  My selections were much more limited.  Considering the lack of meat, or items cooked in a stock made from animal protein, my menu was unequivocally much smaller than theirs.  While I will admit that at first it was troubling,

at the same time, it was rather freeing.

–          –          –

When I started this month of being meat-free, I got quite a deal feedback and comment from friends and family.  My mother (bless her heart) was worried of my cholesterol, when she heard I would probably be eating more eggs for breakfast (and for the record, I had a complete blood work done just 6 months ago, and my cholesterol – the bad kind – was just fine).

My wife, on the other hand, wondered if instead of dying from lack of meat, would perish from boredom of my limited palette.

You see, my eating, while it had been without meat, had also becoming increasingly simple:

My breakfast consisted typically of 1-2 eggs or some greek yogurt, flavored with fruit.

My lunch was often a vegetable (simple or starch), a simple sugar (fruit like an apple, banana, grapes, or pineapple), and a protein source (almost always either some type of cheese or a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter). 

Snacks consisted of fruits, raw vegetables, or nuts, and dinner was often the side dishes prepared for the family (the wife and children ate the meat).  

Once again, something that people might have considered a burden …

… felt oddly freeing …

–         –          –

I’ve been trying to make sense of this sensation this feeling.  That by my self-confining of diet, and increased planning, my overall diet was greatly simplified.

Even so, by decreasing my options, the last month has felt the most freeing.

Granted, for the last several months, my eating habits have changed.  I notice it even more as I look back over our families eight years as a family.  There was a time (though Summer swears against it) that we ate hamburger helper … or flaked mashed potatoes, or “meals in a freezer box”.  That isn’t the case really anymore.  Summer, as the edible compass of the family, has helped reshape how we look at foods, and granted (as I have mentioned before) I don’t know if I am ready to forgo meat as a whole at the moment, we sure understand the difference between fresh and/or organic and heavily processed meat foodstuffs.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  This is not a post about how you are eating wrongly or a post about me sharing horrible facts about random additives to food.  That, honestly isn’t the point.  There are many more important things in life to spend time thinking about.

And that is the point.

In the process of simplification, an interesting thing happened.  When I wasn’t concerned with what I should or should not eat (as I had spent very little time planning and committing to a simplified diet), and my energy wasn’t focused on the moral dilemmas of eating things that were going to mess up my weight loss plans or specific dietary plans for my vegetarian month, I found pockets of time to spend on other things.  I have moved at a much faster pace through my next book in my list in the last two weeks.

Is that a likely link?  Maybe not, but it isn’t an impossible one and it is a link that lends itself to a common principles that have made good common sense the whole world over:

Simplicity leads to clarity.

Think about it.

The simplest beliefs are often the clearest, and the ones that are held the most tightly.  The ones that are the most meaningful.

The simple life allows for flexibility, malleability, the capability to respond more easily to unexpected changes.

People … very powerful and influential people … ones with resources sometimes incalculable … will take vacations, sabbaticals, leaves of absence … forgoing the conveniences of life, simplifying there’s for a time, for a specific purpose.

I seem to also remember a certain person who once suggested to us to look to the birds, noticing that each of their needs are cared for, and calling for us to wonder why we worry about anything in the first place.  We have so many things that give us more and more information … to formulate worries beyond our wildest imaginations.

So, if you were to take something from this rambling, open-ended, disjointed post, let it be this:

Look for areas to simplify your life, and weigh the cost of doing so.  Sometimes chains don’t look like chains … until you take them off.

_Thomas