It’s a law

…If there is one person in front of you in line at Walmart, they will be buying 13 million gift cards, each containing only $10, and each requiring individual activation and careful selection of gift envelope depending on its intended recipient. This process takes nine hours.

…you will spend one unnecessary minute in line for each piercing your Walmart cashier has in his face. Knowing this law, I will avoid the line of 14 Piercings Guy in the future; I was not so fortunate today.

2,000 words or less: I’m an expert at nothing

I’m an expert at nothing.

I write things like this and this and this, which I suppose are mildly interesting, but is it good writing? Nah. I liked this story that I wrote on our nursing program, but it’s hardly great writing. You can read this blog and know that I’m no great writer; hell, you’ll figure that out by the time you finish this post and make some effort to untangle the four or five completely divergent topics that are sure to emerge from what started as a simple enough premise. I’m clearly no great writer.

I draw things like this and this, but it’s pretty middling work.

In the past I’ve taken toys apart, reassembled and repainted them to make something different and unique; back in the late 1990s I even had a couple of minutes of very specific Internet fame for coming up with a recipe for a particular Star Wars figure that was copied in earnest by other people who are into that sort of thing.

I play video games, and over the last several years have poured an absolutely embarrassing amount of time into this. I’ve played a bunch of console games, and have bothered to complete only a select few. In fact, I could probably list every game that I’ve actually completed here if I put a few minutes into it.

I see work like this, and it just blows me away. Nothing I’ll ever build out of toy parts will look half as great as this.

I’ve tried new things. This completely wild-assed idea I had to build a piece of furniture was going about as well as I could’ve expected for a first attempt, until I ran out of materials and pretty much tapped out my abilities to complete it without help. I’ve tried making a point to draw more. I’ve tried to make a point to write more.

I’ve tried a lot of things, but I don’t know what to do to be great at any of them. I see a lot of things in my head; I’ve always been able to visualize outcomes. For whatever reason, I’ve just been unable to turn those visualizations into tangible results.

There are plenty of things I think I do well enough.

I think I’m a pretty damn good dad to my two girls, and I take a lot of pride in that. I’m not great; there are plenty of things as a dad that I know for a fact I could do better. But on the whole, I think I’m pretty good. I can read stories in silly voices with the best of them; I can make shadow puppets on the wall while I’m laying in bed with my four-year-old daughter right before she falls asleep. I can laugh while she draws vampire teeth with the drawing program on her Leapster. And I can get on the webcam and help my oldest daughter with her algebra homework, even though it’s been three months since I’ve been able to give her a hug.

I love my girls to death; I love them both terribly. I hug the little one daily; I miss the oldest one just as often; and I am anticipating the arrival of their new partner in crime in March with an almost stupid amount of joy.

Likewise, I think I’m a pretty good husband. My wife may or may not agree, depending on the day or the time of day or whether I have or have not completed some assigned task in an appropriate fashion in the assigned amount of time. I feel confident saying that I think she mostly agrees. As with fatherhood I can, of course, be better. I’ve said and done things I shouldn’t have. I’ve not said and done things that I should have. The realities of dadhood and husbandhood are such that there’s always room for improvement and, fortunately, some relatively significant margin for error while you’re working on it. But in a big-picture kind of way, I think that I’m a pretty good husband.

I had a career that I thought I was pretty great at; when people asked me in job interviews why they should pick me, I told them, “Because you might find somebody who can do this one thing or that one thing or some other thing better than I can; but you’re not going to find anyone who’s better than me across the board. I don’t know who your other candidates are, but I’m better at this than they are.” And not only did I say that, I was pretty sure it was true. I would’ve put myself up against anybody else in the country; I wouldn’t have come out on top every time, but I’m pretty confident I’d have come out ahead far more often than not.

I don’t have that career any more, and I miss it on a near-daily basis. Not that the job didn’t have its share of frustrations; the frustrations played no small role in my departure from that job. What I miss about it was being really good at something, knowing I was really good, and showing up every day with the knowledge that I’d have some opportunity to prove it. I also loved that as a part of that job, I had regular opportunities to teach somebody something that they didn’t already know, or to share the tricks I used to accomplish some particular thing or complete a particular project.

I also have a pretty good imagination. It’s certainly vivid and creative; whether or not you wish to classify it as “good” depends greatly on the day and on your own individual perspective. I suppose in the hands of others, my imagination might be quantified as quite disturbing. When some people ask their friend to draw them a pony, most people probably get a pony in return. My friend got a pony named Deathblossom with giant cannons grafted onto its back. I like looking at things from any number of off-center angles, and when I’m passionate or excited about something I can look at things and see what could be, not merely what’s laid out in front of me.

But as I’ve already mentioned, I always seem to fail at making that vision become anything tangible.

I think part of my problem is that I’ve always wanted to be really good at a lot of things. Andy Bartlett, guitar playing woodworking artistic designer who can also whip up a computer program. The problem is, I think I suck at basically all of those things. I haven’t a clue how to play guitar, have failed to put enough effort into my few efforts to be a computer programmer to see even the remotest progress; I don’t practice enough to be really good at drawing. I don’t write enough to be a really good writer. I don’t make the time to do a lot of things.

So, I’m an expert at nothing. The only thing I think I do exceptionally well is get distracted by something new that I ultimately won’t be very good at. I’m not particularly happy about this, but at the same time I’m unsure of what exactly to do to cure it.  In all likelihood, I’ll probably just keep goofing around with any number of broadly-varying things, and hope that whatever I pick up to occupy myself is at least temporarily amusing — even if the end result isn’t very good.

2,000 words or less: Fail.

Yep, fail. It’s pretty much the only word I need right now.

Food journal? Haven’t updated it since Dec. 5. Fail.

Write something each week for “2,000 words or less?” Missed last week. Don’t have an idea for what I’ll do this week. Fail.

Avoid playing WoW on Mondays so I can do other things. Fail.

I’m perpetually tired now. I won’t go into the details as to why; doing so would violate several of the off-limits topics for this blog. The holiday break is coming at a good time, that’s all I’m saying. Having a few days away is going to be great, and I’m super-excited about getting home to Kansas for a few days.

In other news, our second round of home renovations is off to a great start. So much so, in fact, that today we’re going to expand the scope of the project. We made a decision at the very end of November to insulate our completely unfinished basement; we were in for adding framing, insulation and drywall to the basement’s exterior walls, but were going to leave the basement open. However, work is progressing very quickly and very affordably, so today we decided to go ahead and frame in and finish a bathroom, a guest room with a closet and a second room that’ll be ALL MINE (TM) and serve as the laboratory for all my evil schemes. We’re also probably going to do a drop ceiling, but we want to research materials a little more first (and I kinda want to do something different with what will be my room; will just have to see if I can find the right materials and get the OK to do it…)



For the last couple of months, my youngest daughter has freaked out over any notion that she’d be left alone. She’s thrown tantrums about being left in the car with me while her mom runs into a store to grab something; she’s had similar fits if I go in and she stays in the car with her mom.

Last night, she threw another one of these fits. I picked her up from school, and we stopped to get gas on the way home. It was about five below zero at the time, so there was no way she needed to get out of the car. I told her “Hey, kiddo, I’m going to get out of the car and get some gas. But I’m going to be standing right beside the car; you can just look out your window and see me.”

This was fine, until about halfway through the fill. I could tell she was hiding her eyes, and after I finished the fill I looked into the car to play peek-a-boo with her and I could tell she was crying. So I got back into the car, and I asked her what was wrong.

All she said was “help.”

I said, “Kiddo, I’m right here – I was never more than two feet away from you. It was too cold for you to be outside, and you could see me the whole time! Please stop crying.”

She just responded in her little meek “pay attention to me while I’m pretending to be shy” voice, repeatedly “help… help… help…”

I looked at her in the rearview mirror and said “Kiddo, I’m right here – you do not need help.”

She caught my eye, pointed at the window, and said again “help.”

I turned around, and with her little four-year-old fingers, she’d inscribed “help,” spelled “HLEP,” into the fog on her window.

This is now officially the funniest thing she’s ever done.

Food Journal: fifth day in

So, this food journal thing that I’ve been using over at FitDay has been an interesting experiment. I’ve been keeping this since Monday of this week; I think other than three Altoids I popped the other night (10 whole calories), I’ve been pretty good about entering everything I’ve eaten this week into the journal. Some things were tough to estimate; Mel made some spaghetti sauce for dinner the other night that was delicious, but ultimately altogether evil, and I’m not entirely sure I got everything measured out right there – particularly for the two meals of that I ate as leftovers at lunch this week. But, I tried to estimate that stuff on the high side, so hopefully I got in the ballpark.

The damage so far – for the four full days I’ve measured, I’ve had two days of about 1,400 calories total intake and two days of about 2,200. The two 2,200 days were eating meals of spaghetti with Mel’s meat sauce for one meal and this Indian Butter Chicken recipe that Mel found on-line for the other. Note to self: one or the other.

Today after lunch, I’m in at 646 total.

I made lunch today and had fun looking at the labels of all the various ingredients and then coming up with a nutrition-information entry for “Andy’s Bean, Cheese and Onion Burrito.” Note to self – buy different tortillas and low-fat cheese, and consider using three tablespoons of taco sauce next time instead of four. OK, thanks.

According to the information I entered at the beginning of the process; I burn about 3,500 calories a day just being a big ol’ desk-sitting dude. That makes my calorie deficit somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,500 or so for this week; at 3,500 calories per pound, that supposedly puts me down a pound and three quarters or so from where I started. It makes me wish we had a scale so I could see if that were true.

The simple act of entering food into the journal has been helpful; I’ve conciously avoided eating seconds at dinner twice, when otherwise I would have without a moment’s hesitation, and I’ve successfully walked past a counter at work covered with cookies, bread and other treats no fewer than four times without eating anything. And I’ve been eating fruit like a beast this week.

As a bonus, even on my 1,400-calorie days, I haven’t found myself to be overly hungry. And if I have felt the need to eat something, I’ve tried to eat an apple and some yogurt or something along those lines instead of making delicious peanut butter and honey toast.

Things to work on: more protein; probably fewer carbs; get some vegetables into the mix; figure out a physical activity plan.

Those all seem like far more minor details than they did at this point a week ago.

2,000 words or less: contemplating weight loss

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to spend a little less than three days in Minneapolis with my awesome family. We stayed at a hotel that Mel’s shopping prowess landed us for basically the price of one nice dinner for two nights – so cheap that even the hotel desk guy wondered how we got the room at that rate – ate a bunch of really good food that is only available to us when we load up the covered wagon and make the trek out of the northern forest and generally had a great time.

Our last stop of the trip was in Maple Grove, a northwest suburb of Minneapolis. We did a little shopping, went insane on the Indian food buffet at Curry Up, then made a final quick shopping stop at the new Nordstrom Rack store that opened there.

You’d never know it by looking at me, and read this with the knowledge that I all but hate my current wardrobe, but I really have grown to love clothes. Not $10 polo shirts on clearance at Target that you wear, sweat in, spill sauce on, then throw in a pile on the floor without a second thought, mind you. But the kind of clothes that you buy, cherish and take care of. This realization that I like nice clothes has been an interesting revelation for me, having grown up shopping at thrift stores and yard sales and at the clearance rack. I don’t want to give the impression at all that this is bad; it’s not, in the slightest. It just makes wanting a $100 shirt or a $500 leather jacket or some $200 shoes more than a bit of an internal struggle.

I’ve only had one piece of clothing that I would consider to be in this “nice” category. When Mel and I were dating, we took a trip to Minneapolis and hit up the Nordstrom Rack store at the Mall of America. On clearance there was this purple shirt by a designer named Jhane Barnes. The original price of the shirt was $275; Melissa decided I looked great in it, and bought it for me for the clearanced price of $50 the Rack wanted for it. Owning that shirt probably makes me the worst kind of fashionista poseur; buying last year’s model on clearance and all, and above that still wearing it six years later. But I freaking love that shirt; I still do. It’s showing its six-year age at this point, but I’ve treated that thing like a prized heirloom. The fabric is great, the sleeves are long enough, it fits through the shoulders. I just love it. And having that one shirt makes me want to have more clothing like it – not just stuff that I can wear, but stuff that I can love.

So, we come back to Nordstrom Rack. This new store in Maple Grove seemed to have a lot more men’s clothes than the store we usually hit up at the Mall, and Sunday I spent some time digging through the jackets. The first jacket I tried on was this amazing Hugo Boss leather jacket that was completely unattainable because it was a) entirely too small and b) $385. It looked pretty much like this one, and even though it was entirely too narrow in the shoulders it was fun to try. A few minutes later I came across a black biker jacket by a New Jersey design house called Hause of Howe; again, last year’s model I’m guessing, as I can’t find it on Howe’s Web site.

It was awesome. I could immediately tell the difference between the real leather on that jacket and the heavy, rigid and altogether different leather on my black leather jacket – a Merona model from Target. There was detailing on the sleeves, it had a pointed yolk on the back and this big heavy zipper pull, the lining was heavy and quilted, and as I slid it on I just thought “wow; now, this is nice.” It fit great across my shoulders, even over the sweater I was wearing. It just seemed like The Jacket.

Then I tried to zip it. That didn’t go so well.

I’ve known for awhile that I’ve needed to do something about my weight. In the last two years, I’ve slobbed on about 25 pounds. I’m not to the point that I look particularly bad yet – just a little round – and Mel assures me that I look just fine, but I feel absolutely awful. I’m in the 250 neighborhood now, and it’s just to the point that things cannot continue down the path that I’ve been on for nearly 38 years now.

I tried to start hitting the treadmill earlier this year; I was getting up at 5 a.m. and going downstairs, and managed to do this for about two weeks before, for a variety of reasons, my efforts flamed out. I have tried to restart this a few times, and it’s just never taken.

That damn jacket, though…

Not being able to zip up that beautiful jacket without some serious gut-sucking efforts really pissed me off. The jacket was $200; expensive, but not outrageous for something that I’d wear constantly for years. I probably could’ve negotiated it as my Christmas present. But not if the goddamn thing didn’t fit over my stupid stomach.

So yesterday I started a food diary. Counting calories and nutritional content, paying attention to portion sizes (which has always been my nemesis), the whole nine yards. Hell, I even walked by a plate of sugar cookies at work yesterday without taking and devouring the entire plate — and I did this twice. I’m also strongly considering ordering this workout plan that some friends of Mel’s from school use and absolutely swear by. I’m afraid and intimidated by this, because I have no illusions that it’s going to be anything but extremely hard work. And continuing to walk past that cookie plate and pretending it doesn’t exist is going to be brutal.

But I also realize that things cannot continue the way they’re going.

I have absolutely zero interest in looking like Brock Lesnar. I would be completely satisfied with more of a Julian McMahon thing (which, I’m also completely certain, Mel would also endorse). Mostly, I just want to be able to get to a comfortable weight, maybe 80 percent or so of what I’m clocking in at right now, go back to Nordstrom Rack next summer and zip up that damn jacket.

If a $200 black leather jacket or a Hugo Boss suit is the motivation for me to finally do something about this and try to drop this weight, then a $200 black leather jacket or a Hugo Boss suit it is. It’s motivation, and for some reason I’ve had trouble with “just do this because it’s the right thing to do and you’ll feel better about yourself.”

Here we go…