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Phase IV

My first planted lily ready to bloom!

When I first bought my house, I would go in the back yard and see the ivy growing there. And I would say to myself, “This shit has got to go.”

And for years, I never touched it. I thought about clearing it, but every time I would mention this particular notion, people would gasp like I had just threatened to slap a puppy. “YOU CAN’T GET RID OF THE IVY!” they said. “IT’S GREAT GROUND COVER!”

Yes. The infamous ground cover argument. Except for the fact that I would rather have grass there, because ivy is pretty much useless at best and a menace at worst. And for me, it was in the menace stage … climbing the back of my house in ever-growing numbers.

See, I can deal with mowing the lawn. Neglect your grass and it gets a little high, makes it a little tougher to mow, no big deal. But neglect ivy, and that shit is everywhere.

So, today I was starting on Phase II of my plan to reclaim my back yard. Except the weeds were dug in, the sun was brutal, and I kept having to wipe sweat from my eyes every 2.6 seconds. Not fun. I would need to poison the shit out of that area and then wait for a cloudy day to rip it all out. And with this being Western PA, this could happen sooner rather than later.

I looked around at what else I could do. Last weekend, my girlfriend and I had been looking at the ivy that was climbing my house. She pulled some of it and noted how easily it came down. This was likely because of how dry everything was, combined with an earlier poisoning spree.

I figured if I had to wait to move on Phase II, I could at least start on Phase IV. Phase IV involves clearing ivy from the back of my house, and the area is in the shade … so I figured I could rip the ivy down that was climbing up by my kitchen and feel good about my day. And as I pulled it down, I pulled down some more. And some more. And an hour later, I had a pile of ivy and weeds up to near my waist, and had basically cleared the back bed.

You can still see the remnants of it on the walls …

Phase IV just needs about another few hours of weeding, some small wall building (because there’s already some “stone walls” in place, which is why I could never just mow it in the first place) and some planting, and it will be off my “to do” list.

I still feel kinda dumb that I’m kind of excited about landscaping and reclaiming my back yard, but it’s as though with every few hours that I put into my house, the better and better it looks. And the better it looks, the more I want to do. Unlike weight lifting or whatever, this stuff has immediate and tangible results. I don’t have to wait weeks. That’s pretty satisfying.

So, yeah, not according to plan … and humble beginnings. But as long as it all gets done, right?


Domesticated sheep

Never did I think I would see this day.

The day when I became excited about landscaping.

It still seems foreign to me, even as I type this.

But time has finally caught up with me. I’m beginning to turn into the guy who gives a crap about his lawn. Well, technically, that’s not true … I hate my lawn. But I did start to give a crap about my landscaping. The credit lies with my girlfriend — not because she hounded me to do it — but because she was super knowledgeable about plants and gardening and such, and with her help, I was finally able to get an idea of what I wanted to do around my house. It all started with the idea of a patio on the side of my house that currently is unused — but to start work on that, I have to clear the space.

Now, I have an asston of creeping ivy in the back that I’ve absolutely hated since day 1, but everyone always convinced me to keep it. By this time, years had passed and it grew over everything. I decided to break up this project into phases …  Phase 1 being a reclamation project of what I call “the Step Garden,” because, you know, it’s by my back steps. This is what I was up against:


As you can see, it was a complete mess. And you see that dirt on the steps? Plants were actually growing on the concrete there. So, the steps were impassable unless you wanted to walk through ivy, poison ivy, and other assorted weeds.

I won’t lie, there was a lot of chemical warfare to help my clearing efforts. No mercy, ivy. You gotta go.

Well, after hours of work over a few weeks and several trips to Lowe’s and Michael Bro’s nursery in Russelton, this was the final result …


Two hostas (the big bottom one moved from the side of my house, where the hostas are absolutely huge), some phlox, two Japanese ferns, some deadnettle, 2 coral bells, and nine lilies.

Still a shitload of work to do, but the steps are now passable. Now, on to Phase 2: Clearing the bottom of the steps and creating another flower bed for more lilies and hostas. Phase 3: Take out the tree and azalea bush at the top of the steps so then I can work on the other side of the steps, which is Phase 4.

And then I can move on to Stage 2 (back of the house). And then Stage 3 (sunny side of the house).

This whole project will probably take me the rest of the summer and fall to complete. But my house desperately needs it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I like seeing the results my hard work.

So bring it on, projects. Because I will win.


Serial Killer Cake


When it comes to birthdays, I will admit, I am usually “the suck.” It’s not that my intentions aren’t good, but birthdays are right up there with holidays in my book — just a big “Meh.”

Before you say it, I’m not a Scrooge. It’s just that after being in the newspaper industry for almost 20 years and having worked pretty much every birthday and holiday and missed a lot of significant events, it’s hard to get worked up about them — cause, well, I’ve grown used to not being a part of them.

Except this time, it was different. It’s not just me anymore.

My girlfriend’s birthday was upon me … and therefore, a celebration was in order. And thus began one of the funniest yet scariest kitchen adventures I’ve ever been a part of.

Bear in mind, I’m no baker. I’m a fairly good cook, but baking … I fail and fail a lot. Brownies? Fail. Cookies? Never had one come out right. Not ashamed to admit it — it’s just not my thing.

Now, my lady LOVES Hello Kitty, so I went out and bought a Hello Kitty baking tin. My goal was to make a vanilla cake with chocolate icing and fresh strawberries in the middle, and then use the chocolate and strawberries for the eyes, nose and bow.

The cake itself turned out OK.

But then the dilemma: Do I make a second layer, or just keep it one layer? After a few texts to a couple of friends, I opted to cut this layer in half.

Then it hit me: I had to cut Hello Kitty’s face off.

Now, I’ve watched a bazillion bad movies and probably half had someone’s face cut off in them.  But when it comes to actually doing the deed — even on an anthropomorphic cake — it felt a little weird.

Halfway through slicing, I was interrupted by a little girl selling candy bars for her science class. I’m a sucker for science, so I returned $2 poorer and began eating the candy bar as I proceeded to slice Hello Kitty’s head in half.

Soon, the deed was done:

Those eyes will haunt me in my sleep forever.

Then came the chocolate layer, and a layer of strawberries. Notice the number of knives increasing.


Now, you’d think that the blended strawberries were bad … I was laughing, thinking “What the hell have I done!” But NO! IT GETS WORSE!

Next came actual strawberries, which I had sliced. They took on a vaguely muscle-tone appearance when put in the confines of a Hello Kitty skull.

Now it was time to put the face back on it. By this time, I knew my imagination had gone too far — I felt like Leatherface — and I couldn’t stop laughing.

The “bloody” cutting board and wet knife…

Next came the finale: actually decorating Hello Kitty’s face. This proved to be much more difficult than I imagined. It rapidly became clear that cake decorators have nothing to fear from me. But, I put down a chocolate icing base for the bow, and then filled the eyes in with icing, and added a sliced strawberry for the nose. The result?

And there she was in all her glory: The second cake I have ever made, and the first that I’ve tried to decorate. She came out looking fairly scary, but her tastiness could not be denied — so I was sorta “proud” of what I had done.

The final result? I made my lady close her eyes and sang happy birthday to her. When she opened them and looked down and saw the cake, she grinned from ear to ear … and as she giggled in amusement, she kissed me.

I will call the cake a success.


The great evil

It’s been over 2 months since I started the whole paleo adventure. Weight is still down … in fact, it hovers around 200-203, which is what I would hover around when I was eating shabbily and mountain biking or riding Rails-to-Trails several times a week. Also, this is at a time when I’m not actually working out too hard, as I seemed to have injured my rotator cuff. So, I’m still kind of  psyched for the upcoming warm weather when my shoulder is better and I can start riding often.

The other day, I was wondering what I could do better in my eating habits. Technically, February was full of fail — from Valentine’s Day sweets to a Girl Scout cookie binge that left my body crushed by my stomach’s soul happy — and I found myself wondering what I could do to break this plateau I was on and get back on track.

As fate would have it, I ran into another paleo eater, and as we chatted, she posed an interesting question: “Are you pro- or anti-potato?”

To me, this should be a dumb question — potatoes would be a “whole food,” not a grain or dairy. It was already a staple of my “new” diet. But then I did a little research, and was appalled.

Not so much about the potato. About people in general.

Apparently the potato is a great source of discontent. Some say it’s fine, others say they are a starch-filled death, while a third group was like “in moderation.” Some quoted chemists. others quoted archaeologists — and it was maddening. They argued acids, talked about “toxins in the peels,” and for someone who wanted a simple answer, it was all just blah blah blah.

To put things into perspective, this would be like trying to find ways to be a better Christian, and stumbling into a forum of Catholics and Protestants arguing over the word “devout,” with one person quoting the Pope, another quoting Martin Luther, and a third saying, “You have to do what you feel is right in your heart.”

I opted to throw the whole argument out the window and stay off paleo sites, as it’s just another way for people to try and make themselves stand out or feel superior to others. I found thats a level of paleo snobbery I never want to reach — in fact, probably 9o% of these folks would tell me that I’m not eating paleo at all. Whatever. I’m happy about how I feel and am looking.

But just for kicks and giggles, I’ve decided to reduce my potato intake and eventually drop them from my diet for like a month to see what happens. I mean, it’s not like they won’t be around later on, and at the very least, I can satisfy my curiosity.

Just one more step on a long journey, I suppose …


Week 4: The Big Cheat

Because, well, they do.

By this time, I pretty much have myself in a goove when it comes to my eating.

Groove. Maybe rut. Whatever.

Paleo gets along great with my body. I eat a lot. I feel good. I miss bread and cheese, but I know it’s a mental thing, not a physical craving. And I’ve found I like some new things that I’ve never had before … like almond milk. I drink that stuff like crazy.

Now, if there’s one lesson that life has taught me, it’s that shit happens. In the paleo world, that was last weekend. It wasn’t like I had unstoppable cravings, or that I couldn’t make better choices … it was I just really wanted some bad food. I didn’t go the fast-food route (bitch please, I got SOME dignity), but I did have the worst cheat meals that I’ve had since I’ve started this adventure.

EXPECTATIONS: Honestly, I expected to hover in terms of weight. Adding muscle, dropping fat … if I dropped anything, I’d pretty much call it a miracle. So, my goals were to work out hard, eat like the new normal, and let things go from there.

CHEATS: BIG CHEATS this week. Went to Primanti’s cause I was jonesing for a giant fish sandwich. I didn’t eat the bread or cheese, but the fish was breaded, as were the wings I had with it. Next day, breaded wings (again … hey man, it’s hockey season). Late that night, a couple slices of Fiori’s pizza (the big no no — flour and cheese!).

OBSERVATIONS: From what I’ve read from other paleo people, when you cheat, your body should swell up and baby aliens should shoot out of your chest and face … and after you die, your soul goes to paleo hell, in which you are judged by a tribe of cavemen who will put you into a Dorito taco and feed you to raptors for all eternity.

Well, those things didn’t come to pass (yet). But here’s what I did notice:

  1. My sinuses almost immediately jammed up. I didn’t think about this … but I haven’t used my neti pot since I’ve gone paleo. Normally this squirrelly warm-cold-warm-cold weather should have me stuffed up and having sinus headaches galore. I only actually NOTICED getting stuffy after I ate the breading.
  2. The pizza produced the same sinus bomb, and in addition, I got a tightening in my gut that felt like a ball was there. It wasn’t agonizing or anything … just noticeable … and that feeling was gone by morning.  

Everything went back to normal as soon as I ate paleo again — but yeah, now I know why I felt so shitty for so long — keep eating all the bad stuff day in and day out, and you never get a chance to “feel right.”

RESULTS: 205.4. Dropping like a pound a week would be cool in my book. That would put me around 200 for the start of my mountain biking season, which means by mid summer, I’d probably end up in the low 190s. I honestly can’t remember the last time I would was that weight … maybe like 10 years ago, when I was hardcore riding daily.

OVERALL: I’m just in a “plugging away” kind of mode. Learned the valuable lesson that a treat here and there won’t kill you, but does have effects. But yeah, still planning on plugging away through March and into summer. It’s just too easy to eat like this, and I can’t argue with the benefits — but posts about it will likely be bi-weekly or monthly or when I hit what I feel is a milestone of sorts, like “Hey! I’m under 200!” or “Hey, I can fit into a smaller pants size!”


Week 3: When the going gets tough

Week 3 has basically come and gone. I normally start one of these posts early on and add/edit as I go. This week, no such luck.

But I did start going to the gym this week. I did everything light, mainly to avoid straining tendons and injuring myself. I only got 1 class of yoga in, and opted to start spinning this upcoming week. With Week 4, I start going heavier with the weights.

Since I’m short on time, let’s just get to it, shall we?

Week 3. Here’s my thoughts going into it:

EXPECTATIONS: I know there was no way I was gonna drop another 5 lbs. At some point the body adapts and dramatic drops go away. I figured I’d end up around 206ish.

Also, I realize that this is where my body will start to hit more of the visceral fat, and the only way that goes is with proper diet and exercise. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I certainly didn’t become fat overnight. This will take time. When it comes to making a big change, patience is indeed a virtue.

CHEATS: Oh, there was a lot of cheating this time … mainly, some Christmas candy that I found as I was putting away my Christmas decorations. Also some other assorted stuff … but no bread or rice or dairy … just some sugar and some wheat flour. Eh, I could accept it.

The thing I find I have a problem with is “the old food” that is still lingering in the house. In the paleo book, the author is all “Just throw it out!” Well, I can’t. I can give the boxed/packaged stuff to a food bank, but that opened container of breaded chicken fingers? The opened bag of ravioli? Can’t do it — it’s against my nature. So, I will have cheats until they are used up or on pawn them off on to someone else. I accept it.

OBSERVATIONS: Still feeling really good. I can see a noticeable difference in my gut, as in I’m definitely becoming leaner. I bought a new pair of jeans a size smaller than I have been wearing when I started this, and I was able to fit in them without sucking in my gut. In fact, when I started this adventure, I couldn’t even button the same size pants that I had in the closet. So to be able to wear the smaller size comfortably … I’ll call that a win.

I sleep like a rock now. I have a fairly obnoxious ringtone when I get mail … and if I forget to turn my phone on “silent” and I get mail … guaranteed it would wake me up. It went off last night. I didn’t hear a thing.

RESULTS: 206.2. This is probably a trend that will continue … 1 or 2 lbs a week, or even a gain here and there, followed by a drop. Not concerned.

OVERALL: “When the going gets tough, the the tough get going.” That’s where I’m at right now. It’s really easy to get discouraged when the scale doesn’t go like you’d expect it to. However, with my pants size going down, I am still just as eager to continue the paleo lifestyle as I was in the beginning.

In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m going to extend this through February, just to see where it all goes.


Week 2: Gaining my feet

With the first week of eating paleo down, I decided it was time to get back to the gym.

At first, I thought I’d stick to my normal weight-training regime … I’d start off with a week of light weights to see how everything felt, and then I’d gradually move on to heavier stuff in the upcoming weeks. On Tuesday, out of curiosity, I asked one of the gym attendants if the spinning and yoga classes had been filled up by resolutioners. She said, oddly enough, that the classes in the afternoon had been smaller than normal as of late. This gave me an idea.

This has nothing to do with this post. I just thought it was funny.

I decided I would try lifting MWF, do spinning and yoga on T-Th, take Saturday as a rest day, and possibly take a kettle ball class on Sunday. This way, I could get a lot of variety and cardio training in while waiting for mountain biking season to start. However, I am a little worried that I will overtrain. So, we’ll see how it goes.

Tuesday was also the day were I strained a tendon in the back of my neck, so I opted to hold off on all of these grand plans until next week.

The other thing I’m doing differently? I started drinking coffee. I know it sounds weird, especially since I’ve been working nights for almost 20 years — but I had a hankering for it. So, I now have coffee before working out.

Week 2. Here’s my thoughts going into it:

EXPECTATIONS: With last week’s 5 lbs drop, I don’t know what to expect. Weight wise, it’s dropping much faster than anticipated. On one hand, I am still thinking a 2-3 lb drop will be the norm — but on the other, I’m in uncharted territory. Exercise will certainly help drop weight, but I’ll be starting to put on muscle mass again, which will drive my weight up.

If I have to guess, I’ll say I’ll end up at a solid 206 by the next weigh in.

CHEATS: Nothing drastic … some cucumber sauce with my gyro (didn’t eat the pita), some kung pao chicken (probably corn starch in the sauce).

OBSERVATIONS: The coffee definitely put a much needed zip into my workouts.

Wednesday was a weirdly rough day — if I had to classify it as anything, it would be “withdrawal.” I wanted a Big Mac and some Little Debbie Oatmeal Snack Cakes in the worst way. It could have also been the plague or just simple fatigue … but whatever it was, it went away after I chugged down some vege juice and slept in. Thursday, I was right as rain.

Also, I noticed that my body seems to stay a same weight for a few days, and then drops.

RESULTS: 207.8. That’s almost 10 lbs in 2 weeks, without a lot of exercise (M, T, walking a lot on Friday, and back to the gym on Monday). Pretty pleased so far. When I was essentially counting calories before, it took almost 4 weeks to hit this point.

OVERALL: My energy has leveled out a bit this week. I sleep a lot better. I keep feeling better, too.

Very curious as to Week 3, because this is where things should slow dramatically. Initial drops are always fast.

Last year when I rode my bike a lot and watched my calories, I was down to 203, and could never seem to drop lower than that. We’ll see what happens in the next week or two.

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