Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Cliche, no? How many times have you heard this? How many friends have tried to be “helpful” with this advice? How many people have you actually seen do this? These answers and more on today’s blog…

Actually that sounds like the opening to a video blog more than a blog. I blame it on the videos I have been watching on YouTube lately. Mostly Charles St. Micheal a funny, irreverent and kind of offensive guy that leans to the right like I lean to the left. My personal proof you can disagree and still discuss. But I digress (as he does in nearly every video too).

The idea from this blog came a while back, after the episode of Supernatural titled The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo. Specifically from the opening scene. If you haven’t seen it, check it out over on YouTube. Consider it 45 seconds of homework. Fun little scene, no?

It probably won’t shock anyone to hear that after that episode aired there was a string of posts to FB and the like touting that “I’m totally going to do this from now on.” I sort of did myself, but for different reasons. My posts looked similar to this;

I’d totally do the elevator dance, but I don’t take the elevator from where I park.

Seriously, I take the elevator today but now out of the 8 albums of music I have a Felicia Day song!

WTH? 3 songs out of several hundred and this is the 2nd time this week!

You get the picture. Out of five days of that first week, I had one of the three Guild songs come up on my shuffle three different times. This is after loading up several albums into it so I had some appropriate scene music for my morning writing. Sort of like a playlist for the book – which I totally have now for when it publishes. The odds of probability there were pretty astounding. My thought? It must be serendipity. In short, the message is coming in and I am ignoring it.

Seriously, considering that scene from the video above, what better music to elevator dance to? Keep in mind I am a large redneck looking dude with a multitool strapped to his belt. I have actually had people speed up in walking or cross the street to avoid being on the sidewalk near me. Nobody wants to see me dance like that. Which is more than enough reason for me to do it. Of course I am the geek working “behind enemy lines” in a university athletic department. They already think I am just too odd.

This is my challenge to y’all. Don’t just say “dance like nobody’s watching.” Do it. Out in the open. On the street. Let people look at you strange. I had this attitude for a long time and something in my recent (last 10 years) past changed it. I remember my last flight to Texas the TSA agent asking if I was uncomfortable or embarrassed taking my tub back up for scanning. My answer was, “Sir, I am a gamer. I could carry it back over my head singing Zipadee Doo Dah and not be in the least bit embarrassed.”

Now, do I do this every day? No. Last thing I need is getting a “talking to” at my day job because I’m scaring the straights. But every now and again do I bust a little dance move going up the stairs to my office? Yup. The Athletic Director doesn’t take the stairs, so I’m okay with scaring a coach or two.

Steak Fajita “Stew”

Yeah, not the most exciting “here’s a sample from my work in progress” blog entry, but someone requested a recipe for a dish I made for lunches this past weekend. I’m going to let you all in on a secret, but it’s… y’know… a secret. So don’t tell anyone. Most of my cooking sports little to no recipes.

Once in a while I’ll venture out (like the chicken tortilla soup recipe, which did need some adjusting to get the Mrs. Zombie seal of approval), but mostly I’m making this shit up as I go along. I hear tell it’s the Italian way. That’s really the only excuse I can come up with for how I can eyeball amounts and remember the recipes that I’ve been brushing up over the past couple of months. That and a strange memory that will hold onto small details. For example, when I couldn’t remember the cupcake base I’d been doing for the past year and a half I knew that I was having problems. I hadn’t eaten anything in over five hours. When you eat five or six small meals a day, you do not go five hours without food. Not without a price to pay that is. And memory really is the second thing to go.

That said, I do remember exactly what went into this experiment. My goal was to make some fajita stuff to put into a tortilla or a pita bread and eat. I made this in the slow cooker as I was making steak, mashed potatoes and pan seared asparagus for supper that night. And doing laundry. June frickin’ Cleaver with a beard – that’s me. (Note to Self: buy a pearl necklace.)

Okay, by the numbers…

  1. Chop up 3-4 jalapeno peppers. For this, I used the two and a half I had left over from the cornbread experiment. Put them into the slow cooker. (make sure to clean out all the seeds)
  2. Chop up 1 pasilla pepper into small bits. Put this into the slow cooker. (If you don’t have them fresh, get the dried one and stew it in olive oil first. Shoot for fresh if possible.) (make sure to clean out all the seeds)
  3. Note on 2. If you can’t find pasilla try for ancho chiles or a pepper on the lighter side of spicy, like a poblano pepper. If you like the hot, you could replace with 2-3 serrano peppers, but you’re rolling the bones on that one. 😉
  4. Slice up one large or two medium sweet onions. If you like cooking, look into a mandolin slicer. You can get them as cheap at $20 in a big box store. I use mine to julienne the onion. Larger julienne slicing if you still want to be able to see the onions in the finished product. Guess what you do with it when you’re finished slicing. 🙂
  5. Open up two large cans of diced tomatoes. I use canned instead of fresh because I’m lazy. Just make sure the cans you get aren’t sporting a bunch of sodium in them. Low sodium where possible. Put them into the slow cooker.
  6. Throw in 2 pounds of lean stew meat. You can trim it if you wish or not if you’re lazy. (Note: were I to want more stew in this stew, I’d oil the meat and brown it covered in whole wheat flour and spices. Stew wasn’t what I originally was going for though.)
  7. For flavor I sprinkled in some grey sea salt, ancho powder and the Penzey’s chili mix I use (good cayenne kick to it). I also crushed in a couple of cloves of garlic – I’m Italian, it’s a law.
  8. At this point I considered adding some low-sodium V8 to give it more liquid for the cooking, but I figured it would be a bit spicy for Mrs. Zombie so I wanted to tone it down. That meant some sweet and something to counter the oil. I had grabbed a can of Pepsi that was in the frig, but stopped. I went over to the pantry and picked up a can of Vanilla Coke. Soda is awesome for slow cooker meats, but I thought the vanilla would be just enough to tone down the spice but leave the flavor.
  9. Set to cook for 4-6 hours. (The high setting on our slow cooker.)

End result was something that my wife ate as a soup. She loved it, which showed me two things. One that the vanilla was a good call. And two, that she’s learning to accept the peppers in everyday life. 😉

And for the record, the steak fajita “stew” pairs up all sorts of nice with the jalapeno bacon cornbread I made the day before. Still is in fact.

Writing Accountability

I have done a number of personal and public challenges to offer myself some form of accountability in my writing. No matter how much this is a smoke and mirrors trick on myself, it works for me. Change Write Now pushed me into losing weight and getting back into the swing of writing every morning – no matter how hard it is to get out of bed. Writing Streaks put me into the mode of motivating other people to keep ahead of my word count as well as getting me into the writing habit with at least one local person. Okay, so I may be addicted to community like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club.

This past couple weeks I’ve also been feeling a fund-raising pull. Had I signed on earlier and been able to set up a pledge page, I would have been doing the Walk a Mile event. Now I was looking towards cancer-related charities, but locally my family-favored one The Badger Childhood Cancer Network has a golf outing coming up being sponsored by my Italian Heritage Club. Also, I don’t have the resources I used to for putting together a gaming weekend event like I did several years ago. There’s also the foundation started through the Rockstar Ronan story I started following due to social networking. (Side note to wear purple on May 12th. Memory and all.) And while these are all worth the time and any effort I can put through, I have settled on something a little more directly involved with my life for my personal effort this month.

Love it or hate it, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has not only kickstarted me back into writing, but has gotten me more involved with the local writing community. Local authors and support groups have been more an effort of writing conferences and social networking, but this group of aspiring authors are really my people. They’re in the same boat I am. In a strange way, I look forward to the whirlwind that is November every year. Hell, I even shamed Dale into participating this year even though she had no intention of doing it. I meant it when I told her the write-ins wouldn’t be the same without her. To answer the question, this has everything to do with the fundraising effort I am going to take on this year.

Donations to the Office of Letters and Light (the folks than run the NaNoWriMo site) go to funding the event every year and the Young Writers Program they run. I see it the way some people see Twilight, which is to say that even if you hate the idea of NaNoWriMo, it is getting people – young people especially – writing. I can’t see this as being a bad thing. To that effect, I am going to be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, their June event that is sort of a summer camp of writing. The goal is the same, a 50k story in 30 days. In this instance though, you can set up a pledge page. Once I have the page set up and ready to take donations, I’m thinking I may do some kickstarter type stuff for this. Such as first person to pledge X amount to the fund gets to name a character, pick a genre (from within a list), pick a villain, etc.

According to the web site, the top fundraiser is being given a Neo (battery operated portable writing devise). It seems to me that this will not take the place of my iPad and wireless keyboard, so in the event that I win it with donations, I think I’ll run a writing contest for teens. All entrants will get posted and the winning story will get the Neo. Relatively sure I’ll handle this one locally. Not 10o% on that, and honestly not sure I need to worry about it.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Any categories of challenging writing inserts/sparks you’d like to seed out there for your donations? Post now or until the end of May hold your peace.

Two Questions

So this morning the curse of Monday hit. Normally I would be posting my thoughts on Odyssey Con from the weekend, but not today. To give you all the proper frame of reference to this situation I need to give two pieces of history, one of which is a bit of a spoiler to this weekend. But we do as we must.

Steven Barnes, one of the Guests of Honor this year at OddCon and arguably one of my favorite authors (which I will get into later), spoke several times through the weekend on how all things boil down to Two Questions. (Capitalization is added by me for the emphasis on the concept becoming an ideal.) Who am I? What is the Truth? Everything you do is part of answering those two questions. I know, pretty philosophical stuff for a guy whose online persona involves a decaying, ambulatory cannibal. I’ll dig deeper into this more in my processing of the weekend (next blog post), but sufficed to say the concept touched on something from my high school to college days lost in the haze of a concussion. In short, it reminded me of who I am, helping to answer the first question. But more on that later.

Additionally we must consider that my critique group has determined that I need some conflict, some punch at the end of chapter three of my work in progress. Something that an agent or editor would hang on to if they request the first three chapters. So, about a week and a half ago, I started a new document in my Storyist project to write Chapter Three. My reasoning behind doing it that way is unimportant and I may touch on later. All that is needed for our purposes here is that I had a file with just the new chapter three I’ve been working on this past week.

Saturday morning at OddCon, I was sitting in the lobby intending to work on chapter three as I didn’t make the cutoff for the spontaneous writing contest. With the distractions around the lobby, I could have pulled off the contest but I didn’t have the flow going to work on the manuscript. Also, after a couple of paragraphs Kimberly sat down near us. She’s a freelance editor here in Wisconsin that had joined in on NaNoWriMo this past year. I talked with her for a while and waited for Paul to come find me to help set up the room for Steven Barnes’ tai chi session. Fast forward to the panel after I did the tai chi and from my bag I can hear music playing softly. Actually I recognized it because it was one of the punk songs from the Unholy Ghosts playlist. I turned off the music on the iPad and locked it.

This morning what I discovered is that due to me leaving the document open that morning, the trip in my bag had highlighted all the text and replaced it with gibberish. At first I had thought the file was corrupt and checked my full document (which was backed up, unlike my new chapter three one). Once I realized what had happened it dawned on me that it was my own error that had caused the loss of around 4-5k words over the past week. A minor nightmare for an author, the full document would be worse. As a side note, if you ever hear of me getting 30-90k into a story and not backing it up, sweep the leg like I am in the Karate Kid movie.

Here is where the Two Questions come into play. This is where I need to answer them.

Had this been at the start of my trip down the road to become a working author I would have likely freaked out. Tears are not assured, but there would have definitely been expletives and likely some striking of inanimate objects with high amounts of velocity. But that would not have been who I am. As I stared at the gibberish on the screen and pieced together what had happened, my internal monologue actually said, “Who am I?”

I remembered back to the hazy times of my martial arts classes in high school, about two years into my four year training stint. We were learning self-defense holds and breaks and the instructor was waiting for me to follow through on the move. He wanted me to force him down to the mat. So I did. He got up with a smile, looked and Sensei and said, “I knew there was a warrior in this one.” So, today when I asked “who am I” the answer was a warrior. I am not the kind of person that would let something like this break me.

Also, who I am is a person with (what I call) an Instagram Memory. It’s like a photographic memory, except fuzzier, crappier and while it looks good at parties, there are very few instances where it would land you a job or a paying gig. What having an Instagram Memory (another answer to who I am) means is that the entire re-written scene/chapter (complete with new foreshadowing and a different ending) is still in my head. Some of the better lines are still there as well. In short, I simply have to go through and draw them back out again, only now I have the chance to refine them again. I can make the chapter even better.

As for what is the truth, that is even easier to define. The truth is I need to do a back-up of my work at night as I cannot do it while working in the mornings as the coffee shop is a wifi free zone. Had I exported the file to Dropbox or to my email, I would’ve had a recovery plan. Also it has reminded me to not only drop out of the app when shutting down, but to lock the screen instead of just closing the cover to put it in sleep mode. In other words, the parameters of the writing world I’m in include closing out and locking down. I took it for granted that shutting the unit would be enough. I directly caused this problem and now I know not to do it again.

So, sitting in the coffee shop I stared at the screen, answered these questions and came to terms with what I needed to do. I wrote a journal entry on it (most of which is contained here), drank my iced americano, and then restarted the chapter on my newly cleared document. The 450-500 words I managed this morning was the same opening of the scene, but because I was writing it fresh I was able to describe it more clearly (and succinctly) giving it more pop. At least I think it did. We’ll see once I hand it over to my critique group.

No ulcer, no high blood pressure, no rage. Just acceptance and moving on. All due to two little questions with big answers. I think I’m going to be using those two for a long time.

CWN Cookbook – Chicken Tortilla Soup

As was shown to me this week, I get larger spikes in views when I blog about politics as opposed to recipes. Of course that could be related to not linking another blog from the #amwriting web site. Also, it does take a special person to take recipe advice from a guy named Zombie Joe. That said, I’m still going to give you another recipe from the Change Write Now cookbook I am compiling.

A while back I picked up a copy of Eva Longoria’s cookbook. Mistakenly I picked it up in ebook format. I found that my Nook takes a long time to load the photos – and there are a lot of photos in the book. My first attempt at the soup involved using a full chicken to boil, but otherwise was according to the recipe. I found that my wife declared the soup too spicy, so I made some modifications to it due to produce availability here and taste. What we came up with is a tasty soup that is low in calories and sodium, but good enough to eat often.

Grocery List

  • 4 pounds of chicken legs
  • 4 pounds of chicken thighs
  • 4 cups of low-salt chicken stock
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1-2 medium-large onions
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 4 fresh tomatoes (or 2 cans of diced tomatoes)
  • 2 bunches of fresh cilantro (our store sells pre-chopped in a tube)
  • ground ancho chili

In addition to the above list, you’ll want to have some olive oil handy for sauteing the peppers and onions. You can also use other spices to your taste, but other than a pinch of sea salt, anything else would get lost. The only change in spices I have is using the jalapeno instead of the second pepper listed in the original recipe (as well as using fresh instead of dried), and using ancho powder instead of dried ancho. (Dried ancho is tough to get around here, and I keep a stock of dried for making cupcakes.)

Stage One

Fill a large pot up with the stock, water and chicken, bring to a boil for around 30 minutes to boil the chicken.

While that is boiling use a pan with a little olive oil in it to saute the garlic and the strips of jalapeno (wash and clean the seeds out first). Once they are cooked through (only 4-5 minutes over a medium heat) put them into a blender (we use a Ninja) with the tomatoes. You can mix the ancho pepper into here as well, but I put it right in the soup to minimize the affect on my lungs. The recipe calls for putting the onions in the food processor as well, but we like the strings of caramelized onions in the soup.

Stage Two

With the salsa ready to go, put the chopped up onion into the pan with olive oil. Saute them until the get clear-ish but don’t let them burn. Burnt onion strips in this soup would ruin it.

Around this time the chicken should be getting close to done. Once the chicken is cooked through (juices come out of the meat clear), remove the chicken and set it aside to cool. If the chicken you used was particularly fatty, skim any fat out of the stock left in the soup pot. We haven’t had to skim it yet.

Mix the salsa, the onions and the ancho pepper into the stock and leave it in there, off of the heat. Wait for the chicken to cool.

Final Stage

Once the chicken is cooled down, remove the meat from the bone and tear it into small pieces. You can chop it, but tearing it is faster and offers a sort of lizard brain satisfaction to it. Once all of the chicken is torn into small pieces (removing any skin, bones, etc. from it) deposit the chicken back into the pot with the broth and bring to simmer. Throw in the chopped cilantro (even the prechopped stuff) and let simmer until warm (about 3-5 minutes)

This soup can be served over tortilla chips, but I usually don’t as it takes time to make the tortilla curls and it adds calories. Lettuce and a dollop of sour cream are also part of the original recipe, but I stick to just the soup. I have grown in the habit of having cornbread with it though.

Serving Size: 1 cup

Actual Serving: 1 bowl (usually 2 cups)

Calories (per cup): 100

Yield: I forget the exact number, but I think it was around 26 cups give or take.

Pairings: Normally my bottle of water and a cornbread muffin.

Change Write Now Cookbook – Brat Chili

Part of my success or lack thereof in dieting involves my ability to eat the same foods over and over again. Through Season One that evolved into making large batches of meals and portioning them off so we had easy food to take for lunch that wasn’t saturated in sodium. What helps out in this instance is making it taste good and something you like. For my first posted recipe, I’m going with Brat Chili.

I know, if there are brats in that chili, how can it be healthy? The idea is to make something fresh, good for you, low in sodium and the like but still filling enough for a meal. And if you’re worried about the fat content as well as the calories, you can substitute the ground beef with ground turkey and the brats with turkey brats. The calories won’t go down as much as you think, but it is less fat.

First off you’ll need a shopping list.

  • 2 pounds of ground beef (as lean as you can get it)
  • 1 pound of brat meat (single packages are about 1 pound)
  • 2 cans of black beans (can use red kidneys or a combination for variety)
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 4 fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 4 small cans (5.5oz) of V8 (or the equivalent)
  • note: you can substitute plain tomato juice for V8 if you want to keep the sodium down
  • chili seasoning (I used Chili9000 blend from Penzey’s)
  • ando chili powder (my personal tastes include adding this to the seasoning mix)
  • cayenne pepper (if you want to kick the heat up more – only for HEAT eaters)
  • olive oil (for saute mode on onions, garlic and jalapeno)

With your ingredients purchased, you can either make this in a pot or in a slow cooker. When time allows, I use the slow cooker to free me up from watching it.

First Step

Get out two pans. In one, put the onion and garlic chopped up with some olive oil. Saute them until just caramelized, be careful not to burn them. At the same time, brown the ground beef in the other pan.

While those are cooking, slice and de-seed the jalapenos and de-skin the brats (if you didn’t purchase unstuffed brats). When the onions/beef are done, drain the beef and put it and the onion/garlic mix into the slow cooker. Replace them with the jalapeno (and a small amount of olive oil) and the brat meat crumbled in the other.

Once those are done, drain the brat meat and toss both pans into the slow cooker.

Second Step

Drain and rinse the beans (you can skip this step, but this will bring out the bean taste more in the chili – your call). Pour the beans, tomatoes, V8 (or tomato juice) into the slow cooker. This point gets a little more abstract – spice it to taste. For a full batch I usually use around 2 tablespoons of chili9000 blend, about a tablespoon of ancho powder and a teaspoon of extra cayenne pepper.

Mix it up and leave it on low for 4-5 hours and it will be blended well and ready to serve. You can eat it sooner, but I find that leaving it in and stirring it every so often gets the flavor through the dish and brings out the brat taste in it as well as the chili.

Serving Size: 1 cup

 Actual Serving: 2 cups (a bowl)

Calories: around 220 per cup, closer to 200 if you use turkey meat

Yield: For this batch I think our final amount was around 18-20 cups worth. Enough for a meal that day and at least 3 days of lunch for everyone in the condo.

Pairings: I have a buttermilk cornbread recipe that goes real well with this. One cupcake/muffin sized serving is around 165 calories. For a drink, most of the time it is water, but if it’s a weekend and I still have calories left a Guinness goes down real nice with it, with a bottle being 175 calories.

What diet food do you like that some people would not call diet food?

Next Time – my modification to the chicken tortilla soup recipe I took from Eva Longoria’s cookbook. My seriously low calorie meal choice.

Season Two Goals

Season 2 of Change Write Now is in session, but that means a new set of goals. It also means a new set of teammates and a new team name. For my part the challenge remains the same. I didn’t take a week’s “vacation” even though we weren’t tracking points. I even caught hell for telling Corrine Jackson how many calories a small Shamrock Shake from McDonalds has. (Hint: It is obscene!)

For the record though, here are my goals this season…

Eating Healthy – 25 points

This is one of the big point catchers, and is my real motivation in this challenge. I am currently using an app called Lose It that determines my calories for the day. I agree that attaching numbers to weight loss can have a detrimental side effect, so I am not going to state how much I want to lose. Maybe an analogy… approximately the same weight as one of my grandchildren.

In this season, at my current weight my goal has been lowered to 2290 calories per day. In addition, I am splitting that up as 5 meals a day. Two of those meals consist of a tub of Chobani Greek yogurt and maybe a piece of fruit, but they are meals none-the-less. In short, eat like a hobbit limited to 2290 calories per day.

Exercising – 25 points

For me, a spinal surgery has placed some limitations on what I can do. My goal is to get back to the point where I can have a health club membership and use it. In addition to the health goals I need to meet first, this will also involve a budgetary goal. What this means is that I take my dog (who is also old and needs the exercise) on a 20-30 minute walk when I get home. If I cannot do that, I fit time in to walk myself sometime during the day. I work in a university athletics stadium, that shouldn’t be too much a stretch for me.

Sleep 6 Hours – 10 points

Full disclosure here, I am one of a small number of people that don’t sleep 8 hours. Never have been. Six hours is my normal sleep schedule. Earlier in my adult life when I was working two different full time jobs I was going on four hours. Now if I am sick, all bets are off and I sleep in. Otherwise, I am a six hour guy. That said, meeting six hours is not a real problem for me. Since the start of this year I was only hit with insomnia once and that was during the week break in the seasons. I have found that diet and water keep the insomnia in line. Not sure how, but I’m not complaining.

Consuming 64oz of Water – 10 points

Recently in answer to budgetary limits (self-imposed) I have found that I am able to go 2-3 at least without coffee. This not only allows me to buy a big assed latte when I do go, but also means I’m drinking water in the morning instead of coffee. Also I only really have a can of soda every couple of days as well. This forces my hand a bit on the water, although I do also drink juices and smoothies at home.

The trick for me was taking one of my 32oz V8 bottles, washing it out, and using it for water. I fill it in the morning and when it is emptied I walk down to the arena (longer walking that out to the kitchen on our floor) to hit the restroom and refill the bottle at the drinking fountain in the field house. It has the added bonus of being good, clean, cold water as opposed to the kitchen which has a real metallic taste. I refill the bottle once or twice through the day. (Sometimes I’ll dump the last half of a bottle, rinse it and refill it.)

Check In with Teammates – 10 points

I try and do a check in first thing in the morning to make sure I hit it. Having a smart phone has helped as I can check the email on lunch or the like. If there is something huge coming up (like last month with my birthday) I go on a bit longer to have someone give me the kick in the pants to stay in line. I also try and help kick others in the pants as well. Last season I was a bit nervous being one of the rare guys in the challenge, but my team really banded together so this season I’m not nervous at all.

Adopt a Good Habit – 10 points

Originally I had decided to place this as reading for at least 30 minutes a day. I had also played with cutting my television watching in half. I may still work on those two, but this season I wanted to do something a bit more fun. So in keeping with the theme of “It’s a Great Day for America” I am vowing to spend 10-20 minutes a day practicing the harmonica. That way, in the event that I publish and appear on Craig Ferguson’s show I can wow everyone with my mouth organ skills. (Yeah, that sounds wrong, but that’s what makes it funny.)

Losing a Bad Habit – 10 points

For this season I am going to be improving my organization. I know, it sounds like picking up a good habit but I see it as losing some of my clutter. Clutter is a real problem in my world. I run game night on Sundays for my friends, so the table minis, maps and books tend to clutter up the living room for days after the event. I’ve decided to put an end to that because it bugs me. So in light of that I will spend 20 minute every day organizing or picking up. That means cleaning up my den/library, organizing the book shelf with the new books, doing dishes, putting away the gaming table and accessories, etc.

New Goals in Effect NOW!

I am switching my Good Habit/Bad Habit as of today, which will start with me picking up a harmonica on my way home. Lucky for me my wife is staying in Milwaukee tonight, she gets to miss the first day of harmonica practice.

What are your goals? Does this sound like something you would be interested in? Keep it in mind for Season 3, it costs you nothing but the will to change your habits and get healthy. (Wow, that sounded a little preachy… even to me. It’s not that bad, really.)

Change Write Now: Season 1 Finale

This week was the final reporting in for the Change Write Now challenge. I’ve been considering this post for the better part of the week. Last night the official word came in an The Undead Poets Society (the team I was on with three other challengers) took over the top slot in the final week, with another team nipping at our heels the final sprint. (Both of our teams did a 600 point average score, meaning that each challenger on the team had to hit every one of their goals 6 out of the 7 days in the week.) For me though, it wasn’t the close final score that made the challenge for me. It was the path to get there.

A few weeks back, once we were listing in 3rd place in the rankings I took a look at the math involved. I’m a gamer geek and a recovering math geek on top of other eccentricities. Had I been more into sports other than MMA I might be rocking a fantasy football league somewhere – but I digress. What the math showed me is that we would have to average pretty high over the last 3-4 weeks to pull ahead into the top slot. So in one of my check-ins I mentioned (as I was the scorekeeper I was also the default “look at the rankings” guy) that while we could totally hit second slot, first place was improbable. Not out of reach, but would take some serious bootstrapping. I was aiming for second place.

Unanimously from my team came the response of, “The hell we can’t!” Had they not done that, there’s a chance one of those weeks I may have slipped a day or two. Like my birthday for instance. Even with having a beer and a couple shots I managed to stay in my calorie range. That team motivation kept me in calories every day during the challenge, even the “free” days. Even though the challenge was over this week and Season Two isn’t starting until Sunday, I’ve still kept in my limits.

My splurging this week was going out for barbecue last night. Even doing that I was only over about 80-90 calories for the day. Sleep did pay the price last night though, which is one of the key goals in Change Write Now – getting at least six hours a night. Even had the challenge been in session there’s no predicting one of those awesome leg cramps that you need to stand out of a dead sleep to get rid of and your leg is so messed up it twists back when weight is put on it. You know the move, the one that wakes you right the hell up and looks like a shifting scene from a werewolf movie. Good times.

Back to our team challenge, last week I checked in with the final math. If we all managed a perfect week, the top team would have to produced over a 590 out of 600 score to hold onto first place. Assuming, of course, that we all managed perfect weeks. Corrine Jackson may have thought I would be doing victory laps last night when our placings were announced, but Saturday night when everyone reported in perfect weeks was when I was really doing a dance. It was pretty awesome to see a group of three other people that were not only motivated the same way as me, but to have them pull it off.

If you’re interested, tonight is the last day to join up. There are currently over 60 people participating. Just go to the Change Write Now web site to register for it. The goals are (reproduced here from the CWN site):

Eating Healthy – 25 points

Basically, this is entirely up to you. If you eat the right amount of calories and nutrients for your age, weight & activity level over the course of a day, give yourself points. If you’re feeling guilty about your choices for the day, there’s probably a reason why. And that’s alright! Tomorrow’s a brand new day!

**We do have one caveat. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. If anyone does, please, please, please don’t let this game become a trigger for you. See a doctor. Some people may diet, but that is not our joint goal. The goal is to become healthy, and we would hate to inadvertently spark an unhealthy behavior for anyone.

Exercising for at least 20 minutes – 25 points

Some people may choose to lift weights, run, swim laps, do yoga, or hike a San Francisco hill for twenty minutes. Others may do a twenty minute workout with Wii Fit or twenty straight minutes of flailing around with Just Dance 2. We know of some writers who have treadmill desks so they can walk and work at the same time. Whatever you choose to do, get your body moving for twenty consecutive minutes a day!! Oprah and Dr. Oz have been kind enough to provide us with a twenty minute workout here (

Sleeping for at least six hours per day – 10 points

Poor sleep habits lead to more frequent colds, reduced energy, slower reflexes, and impaired thinking and learning. Read more here.

Consuming 64 OZ. of water – 10 points

Water is necessary for your body to operate. It makes up about 60% of your body weight. It flushes toxins out of your body and carries nutrients to your cells. A lack of water leads to dehydration.

Now, you may have heard that the 8 glasses of water rule is outdated. It actually does vary by person. The Institute of Medicine says a healthy adult female living in a temperate climate needs 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. We’re aiming for 8 cups or 1.9 liters because it’s easier to remember.

Checking in with your teammates – 10 points

We can’t stress how important this is. Each day, you will be asked to check in with your team. Your methods (Facebook, email, Twitter) are up to you. Will power and discipline are only one part of the game. A support system is really what is going to help us succeed.

Just be considerate to each other. And ditch the negativity. This is one point we won’t budge on. If you’re struggling, it’s perfectly okay to talk about that and to be frustrated. But be encouraging and kind to each other.

Remember, team discussions are CONFIDENTIAL!

Adopting one good habit – 10 points

This should be the same habit for the entire length of the game. Here are some suggestions:

  • Read something good for your soul for fifteen minutes each day.
  • For every hour you sit at your laptop, you take five minutes to stretch and move about.
  • Decide to make one meal a day at home instead of eating out.
  • Try journaling.
  • Clean your house for twenty minutes each day.
  • Organize something for twenty minutes each day.
  • Take up flossing your teeth every day.
  • Have fruit with lunch.
  • Use a daily moisturizer with SPF 15+

Tossing out one bad habit – 10 points

Again, this is a habit you want to work to get rid of. Pick a habit and stick to it for the two months. Some ideas….

  • Give up smoking. (Sarah says she will make you cookies if you do this. And by “cookies,” she means something totally healthier… she just has to figure out what that is)
  • Stop swearing. (This is a suggestion from the book and most likely not something Cory or Sarah will be giving up anytime soon. :-))
  • Stop playing on Twitter during writing/working time.
  • Work on negative self-talk. Each time you put yourself down, pause and rethink something more positive.
  • Give up coffee or soda.
  • Watch only one hour of TV a day.
  • Stop playing Sims 3 for 4 hours a day.


With those goals listed above, here is what I got out of it…

  • 17 pounds lost
  • A dog that insists on taking a long walk on the weekends and any weeknight I’m home before 9pm
  • Several short pieces of fiction done and revised
  • A short piece done in conjunction with the novel I’m finishing (getting their voices back)
  • Down to coffee every 2-3 days (this wasn’t on purpose)
  • Soda once every day or two (and then diet soda)
  • A 32oz bottle for water that I refill several times a day
  • Fewer migraines (extra coffee if they do show up)
  • New recipes discovered and tweaked (and calorie counted)
  • Casa de Zombie Cookbook started and being added to every day
  • Writing routine modified to lead to less coffee drinking

Sounds interesting? Join in. Otherwise you can jump on the boat next “season.”

Coming tomorrow I’m going to post the recipes I’m doing including their calorie count. I’ll start with either brat chili or chicken tortilla soup.

Change Write Now – Season 1 Finale

We’re getting close to a wrap on this bad boy. People have sent in testimonials on how well it worked and “Season 2” has been picked up – in a manner of speaking. The next round of this will begin in March. This would be my testimonial as I will be continuing on even if there is a week lag in the “seasons.” The main reason is that the program is working. I’ll try and outline some of the reasons why I think it’s working though.

The app Lose It!

This was something my wife picked up from a friend of hers and I downloaded to check out. You put in the weight you are, the weight you want to be, and how much you want to lose a week (1, 1.5 or 2 pounds). The app then gives you how many calories you should be eating. If you punch in the exercise you’re doing it will also calculate how many more calories to add to your diet.

The app itself comes with a significant amount of food options to plug into your log, as well as the option to scan the code on store bought items. The features for adding food to your log was one of the best aspects of it. It also helps me to calculate the calories of the meals we’re making at home. Which leads me to…

Making Meals at Home

I’ve taken to making a modification of a chicken tortilla soup I found in a cookbook to use ingredients readily available here and that were more to my wife’s taste than the peppers in the standard recipe. Although it takes time, it is pretty easy to make and clocks in at 100 calories per cup.

Also on my go-to list is a pasta fagouli soup that takes less time involves more dishes and comes in at around 200 calories per cup. The thing that hangs up this one is the sausage and the pasta that goes in it. Although I have taken to using the whole grain pasta for the fiber and such.

Both soups get a side dish of a buttermilk cornbread that I make into cupcake papers to give us easy single servings. Using a modification to the recipe of using buttermilk instead of milk and adding a little more cornmeal the calories of the single servings are up to 165.

Taking the Challenge Seriously

At the beginning of January, I went out and bought a new scale. Our old one was old, probably broken (we figured out after getting the new scale) and wasn’t really reading for me. I also went out and picked up a bunch of new reusable containers, fresh spices and organized our pantry so that we can not only judge what needs to be replaced, but can also insure that the oldest stuff in there gets used first. We found stuff in that pantry that expired in 2010 when we cleaned it out.


While I cannot really “work out” due to my spinal injury, I have started on taking the dog for 20-30 minute walks. We’re now at a point where he expects it, so he bugs me until I do it no matter how much I would prefer not to. Ironically he also bugs me if he hasn’t gotten his nightly pill. I suspect deep down inside my dog may just be a natural pain in the ass – which makes for a good reason he fits in so well with the family.

Eat Like a Hobbit

Before Change Write Now I had two modes. I either ate way to little, or ate way to much. This lead meant when I thought I was doing well, I was eating so little my body was retaining everything. This lead me to planning out my food for the day. It also lead to me having the hobbit eating plan…

First breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies…

Literally I now eat 5 “meals” a day. It has gotten to the point where on the weekend if my wife keeps us going because she’s not hungry, I start to suffer. I first noticed it when I was making cupcakes and the recipe that I have had memorized for the past year and a half was gone. I had to look in the book. I grabbed the book, a greek yogurt and sat down for a while.

Water, Water and More Water

64oz a day at least. Every day. I think my bladder is filtering water at this point better than my coffee maker. Not that I’m going to test that theory out, mind you. I’m not Dr. Sheldon Cooper. (Bazinga!)

I’ve known for a long time that drinking a lot of water is good for all sorts of reasons, but with this program I’m now held accountable. Before if I slacked off on the water the only thing that happened is I had to look myself in the mirror. I do it now and I have to explain to my team why I dragged the points down this week.

My Team

Weeks when I felt bad, was tired, or didn’t feel like sticking to it, I knew that there were three women out there that would lose points in our ranking because of me. That kept me going when I wanted to let it slide. After all, they not only accepted a guy in their midst, but they accepted a guy named “Zombie Joe.” Also, when we discussed team names I half-jokingly threw out The Undead Poets Society and they all agreed on it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve become used to the fact that I’m now the minority in my chosen communities. I go to monthly meetings of a writers group that has a majority of romance writers. I attend reader and writer conventions where I am the 1%. Not the rich 1%, but the 1% that doesn’t have to wait in line at the restrooms.

I have no problem reading paranormal romance, young adult books, or even discussing them. I’ve even come to enjoy the looks friends of mine get when they find this out. Hell, I still chuckle when one of my players at game night was telling his girlfriend nobody there would know what she was talking about. I then corrected him on how to pronounce Manolo Blahnik.

I’ll wrap this up with one final story. The Undead Poets Society had a solid bid on third place, but mathematically for us to overtake first place multiple people in the two teams ahead of us would have to fall off the wagon. I told this to my team. Their answer to the statement we can lock third, but probably can’t take first? The hell we can’t! Which lead to our team getting the highest weekly total in the challenge to that point. I felt like we won the dieting Super Bowl.

End Result

Since starting this challenge I’ve managed to get my dog healthier, learned some new skills and lost 14-15 pounds in the process. According to my app I should hit the goal that I set some time in October. What that means is as long as Change Write Now is going, I’ll be joining. Although I’m not sure what I’m going to use for my Good/Bad Habits this time around. I have a couple weeks to decide.

Sign ups for the challenge are going through March 9th, just go to the Change Write Now web site to register. It costs nothing and gives you a whole lot in return. Even if you’re not a published author.

Book Clubs and Reviews

Hello? My name is Zombie Joe… and I… I’m a book addict.

Tell me that doesn’t bring to mind a group meeting in the chilled basement of a church with stale donuts and burnt coffee sitting on a folding table in the back of the room. People all around you shifting uncomfortably in equally chilly metal folding chairs and staring damn near indifferently up at me.

Okay. Maybe it’s just me.

The truth of the matter is that I have a number of collections (as many geeks do) but none rivals my collection of books. I attribute this mostly to influences from a time I don’t really remember. Back in high school I had teachers expanding my reading list to put me outside of my comfort zone. How else do you explain a 16 year old boy reading The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood? Also we had this history teacher that had two memorable traits to him – a nervous tick of sorts he did during lectures when he really wanted you to remember something, and his saying that the sign of a successful person is the ability to own books. Yeah, that’s when it started.

To give you an idea, right around my graduation Being a Green Mother by Piers Anthony had just released. At that point the Incarnations of Immortality was my favorite series. Not wanting to wait for it to become available in the library I purchased the hard cover to give myself as a graduation present. I think we have a picture of it sitting on a table with my Oxford Unabridged Dictionary (my graduation present from my parents). But that was then…

Last year was the first year I took a challenge to read a set number of novels. This is assuming you don’t count that semester of college where I had 32 books to read (one of which was Heart of Darkness). I aimed to read 52 books (1 a week) but in Goodreads I signed on for 100. I didn’t meet the 100 (and didn’t even put in all the ones I did finish in Goodreads) but I did make it past 75. Some of those were audiobooks due to a form of permission to listen to audiobooks in Stephen King’s On Writing.

With how hectic my life has become between work, a writing schedule, reading, running a D&D game twice a week and the cupcake “hobby” it seems rather daunting to catch up with my reading schedule. To this end I am not going to read all the way through any book that doesn’t have me hooked in the first act. I’m also giving a pass to the front of the line for any favorite authors or ones I know I will get signed within two years time. Ironically those are also the books that I will pick up in print as opposed to on the Nook.

In the past couple weeks I’ve taken on two different book clubs. The Team Awesome Book Club (reading a non-fiction book) and just this week the G+ meetup/discussion of “vaginal fantasy” books hosted by Felicia Day. If you haven’t, check out her bookshelves on Goodreads. I have no idea how she has the time to read so damn much, but it is impressive. Of course, being who I am I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about the “vaginal fantasy” title. In looking through her shelves, I have read a few of the vaginal fantasy books. In reality, most of the urban fantasy, science fiction and paranormal romance I’m reading it written by women. Even more of the main characters in the books I’m reading are female as well.

Honestly I think this is a statement less about the quality of male authors and more about the increased percentages of female authors on the shelves of my section in the book store. Also, it doesn’t hurt that my online resources for reviews and the like are recommending the female authors and characters more often. Kara Gillian from Diana Rowland’s first series and Chess Putnam from the Downside novels by Stacia Kane are at the top of my list of favorite characters. Both of their series I think would fall in the description given for a “vaginal fantasy.”

Now consider that I am a member of the Madison Romance Writer’s group and was one of the few men at Romantic Times in 2010. John Scalzi and I were discussing at lunch (with a few of my favorite female authors) about the awesomeness of being at a con and not having to wait in line at the restrooms. Everywhere I went I was incredibly outnumbered by women. And it was by far the best time I’ve had at a convention in a long time.

This of course all leads me to my current goal for the weekend – to finish Silver Tongued Devil and Grave Witch. Silver Tongued Devil is another of my favorite series and has Giguhl – another of my favorite characters, but a decidedly male one. Grave Witch is the vaginal fantasy offering to be discussed Monday. In addition I have D&D Encounters to run Wednesday night, Writers Group Thursday night, dinner with friends Friday and my Sunday D&D group. Now work in some writing time.

Seem crazy? … Hi, have we met?

Personally I am dealing with the fact that I work full time and want to become a published author. I need to learn to increase my time management skills to handle all of this. Don’t worry, I have a pecking order on things left to die first. I may be insane, but I’m not an idiot!

The last three weeks have been nailing down the diet into a pattern that works. Now I’m looking to ramp up the reading and writing time back to what it was last year with the addition of the diet plan. If you see me blogging less or running down the streets of Madison like Daffy Duck (woo hoo woo hoo woo hoo) then you know what has happened.

What are you doing this month that’s insane? Because really… sanity is totally overrated.

Change Write Now (January 24, 2012)

  • Food – made it, even with going out to lunch today…
  • Water – really need to learn to swim (over 64oz)
  • Exercise – over due to an overzealous dog
  • Writing – made goal, still need to clean it up for group
  • Habits – both met, especially since there was no time to weigh myself
  • Sleep – over 6 hours, but not by much

Project Stats

  • Writing – naughty piece should be ready to go, starting dragon poem
  • Reading (print) – Silver Tongued Demon (into the good parts, but this is longer than the last one)
  • Reading (Nook) – Grave Witch (haven’t started yet, want to finish STD first)
  • Listening (iPod) – Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Notes: Hexed is a “re-read” as I read it in print. The narration is awesome! The reader really gives life to Oberon. He is quickly becoming another of my favorite characters.