March 2011 Archives

Well, that was groovy.

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In all honesty and complete transparency, I have never once tried any type of "controlled substance" (other than beer, wine, and a few very select alcohols like Tequila and Scotch), nor have I ever tried a single cigarette. The idea of trying any of those items has never interested or appealed to me - I suspect my core group of childhood friends (Matt, Andy, and Dan) played a large role in that, since to the best of my knowledge, none of them have tried smoking or anything illegal.

I realize that's hard for many people to understand, but it's 100% true - smoking grosses me out (I can't stand the smell of it in any amount), and any type of drug use just seems completely dumb to me... heck, when I was in the hospital for a terrible infection back in 1998 and the doctors prescribed a morphine drip, I refused to use it other than one time - I'm partially too afraid of, and mostly not interested in any "mind altering" substances like that.

So, I was shocked by the weird feeling that I experienced today - one that came at a most unexpected time and place. I had left work a little early to run an errand, and then headed out for my "usual" run (6.7-mile loop).

As I neared the end of the loop, I noticed that my hearing was starting to act really funky. I thought my headphones were acting up, so I wiggled the connections and restarted my iPod Shuffle - no luck. Things were still funky. I couldn't really hear from one ear, and in the other ear, I heard the sound of the ocean.

I'd experienced similar sensations a few weeks ago while running; became light-headed and passed out. I suspected this might be the case again. I slowed, and noticed that it felt like my legs were still going at full steam ahead - that was new - and then I felt super-extremely light-headed. Ok, looked like I was going to take a dive again.

I stopped running and sat down, and the next thing I heard was a whooshing/rushing noise, followed by what I believe was the jingle for Old Spice commercials - that short and catchy whistled tune. I felt really light - like my arms, stomach, legs - body - could float, followed by a total euphoric, painless, feeling. I think I said, "Wow" out loud. I suspect the feelings were similar to those of a "high" - for a split second, it felt cool, but upon reflection, it was weird and scary - not something I'd want to experience again.

And then, next thing I knew, I was on my side, and I felt really heavy. It was a struggle to move my arms or legs, and rolling onto my back was difficult - it was if I didn't have any type of orientation or awareness of my position on the ground. It was a very unpleasant, and non-euphoric feeling... I've had maybe 2-3 hangovers in my life, and this felt like a doozy of one, sans the imbibing.

A lady approached me (she was walking a small dog - a dacschound, I think) and asked if I was ok. I told her I think I overdid my running, and needed a break, but all was ok.

She said she would call an ambulance, but I declined. I sat up and immediately felt a throbbing headache. I assured her I was fine, and she said, "Well, ok, you know best I suppose," and she kept walking.

I laid back down for a minute, reached into my Spi Belt, grabbed my phone and snapped a picture of myself on my back. Why, I'm not sure - I felt so weird; I'm surprised I was able to operate my phone...

Here I am, about 5 minutes after the experience:

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I'm glad that I got a set of Road ID bands; they're reflective, velcro ID tags that have my name, location, and emergency contact phone details. Had I been "out" for much longer, I suppose they would've come in handy. Here's a shot of my leg, with the Road ID on it:

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Thankfully, I was about a mile from the apartment, so once back on my feet, I walked back to the apartment, drank a boatload of water, downed an electrolyte tablet, and ate a Clif Bar. I suspect I was dehydrated and underfed... I've been trying super hard to cut some of the last bits of fat on the 'ole gut, and may have under-calculated my caloric needs.

After my massage yesterday, I wasn't hungry at all; I did make an excellent turkey burger, stuffed with garlic and minced onions, and topped with roasted bacon, salsa, and onion in a cabernet reduction:

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It was tasty, but apparently didn't have enough calories for the bod. After the massage and dinner, I hit the hay - I was exhausted, and fell asleep by 7:30pm. A good massage will do that, I guess! This morning, I had my usual breakfast of 3 egg whites, 1 piece of bacon, 1 cup of spinach, and 1/2-cup of black beans. For lunch, it was 1-cup of Fiber One and 30g of Tera's Whey Goat-based protein. And then I went out for the run. I'll have to bump up the calories a bit, I suppose.

The good news is that I didn't fall unexpectedly like I did a few weeks ago on the ice and with the first fainting... and, the headache is going away - I took some ibuprofen with my Clif bar, and am feeling pretty good.

I had to share the experience; partially for benefit of "lessons learned," and partially because I thought it was odd... plus it beats my usual "I did this" or "I had this fish fry" entries that seem to be dominating the blog as of late. :-)

I'll be cleaning the apartment tonight, lifting weights, and then hitting the hay early.

Is there anyone out there who feels like this winter season has dragged on relentlessly? Wow. I'm so ready for the cold, damp, dreary weather to go away once and for all. I realize this is Wisconsin, and that it gets (and remains) cold for quite a while... but, enough - ok? Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!

It doesn't help that we've recently had a few quick "breaks" of warm weather - I believe we hit the high 50s last week, with some low 50s on Saturday of last week. I took full advantage of that warm weather by firing-up the primary road bike and hitting the roads for a nice 30-mile ride:

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Nothing beats getting outside for a good ride in nice weather - it's liberating and invigorating. I love how quiet my bike is, and I enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, and of course the speed and responsiveness of riding on a real road surface. As I mentioned earlier, the trainer hasn't been too terribly bad this year, but there's nothing quite like riding in the great outdoors, especially when the weather is so perfect.

But, being the tease that she is, Mother Nature didn't gift us with nice weather for too long... nope, because while last Saturday was stellar, Sunday was dreadful - rainy, cold, and windy. No riding outside... and my run was anything but fun. Ick.

Thankfully, I was able to take some refuge from Sunday's dreary weather - a group of us went to the Milwaukee Bucks game and saw the Bucks take on the New York Knicks.

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As you can see, the weather wasn't too appealing... but, we avoided most of the bad stuff by stopping at Saz's restaurant, snagging a free parking spot, grabbing a pre-game beverage and snack, and then riding their complimentary shuttle bus to the Bradley Center. You can't beat that service! The bus drops-off and picks-up directly in front of the Bradley Center. No parking fees, no traffic fights, just a quick 10-15 minute ride from Saz's to the center. Nice!

Once inside, we were pleased to discover our seats were pretty stellar:

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We were about 15 rows from the court, and I was amazed by how incredibly strong and conditioned NBA players are. Holy cats - those guys are tall, lean, and ripped - they looked like huge blocks of muscle flying up and down the court... You can't really appreciate their conditioning until you see them in person; the television doesn't do their speed and strength any justice.

The Bucks ended-up beating Carmello Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (of the Knicks) by a score of 100 to 95. Turned out to be a decent game!

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After the game, we took the shuttle back to Saz's, then headed back to Madison, where we grabbed a late dinner at a local Irish pub. All-in-all, a good day/weekend.

This weekend is shaping up to be rather dull - nothing really going on. I transported a dog from Coloma, Wisconsin to Edgerton. He was a super nice little guy named Paxton. He rode like a true gentleman - calm, quiet, and perfect.

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It was an early morning transport; I had to leave the apartment by 7:00am to meet the other transport driver in Coloma, so I waited to ride/run/lift until I returned to the apartment. Spent 2 hours riding the trainer, an hour running in the freezing cold (it was 27F with 15mph winds), and an hour lifting weights at the gym. Exciting, eh?

I've got a massage scheduled for tomorrow afternoon - my calves have been killing me (cramping heavily lately, especially while sleeping), so I'm hoping a little massage therapy will help some of the adhesions and knots. Other than that, it'll be more of the same - ride and run in the morning, massage, and then a semi-cheat meal. I'm going to make a garlic- and onion-stuffed turkey burger with mushrooms and sprouted wheat bread. I'm really looking forward to it!

I used a slice of the sprouted wheat bread (it's 100% whole grain with less than 1g of sugar per slice - loaded with complex carbs and protein) for my afternoon lunch today, which consisted of 2 slices of Applegate Farms nitrate-free turkey breast wrapped in 3 egg whites mixed with chopped spinach and topped with cilantro-and-garlic salsa. Yum, and it came in at exactly 250 calories. A perfect post-workout lunch, for sure.

Well what do we have here? A fish fry review? It's been far too long, indeed.

After spending a few weeks following a strict diet/workout routine, and coming within 0.5% of my goals (literally), I decided to treat myself to a little fish fry by way of Kelly's Bar. My cousin and aunt had mentioned Kelly's to me a while ago, and said it was a great spot for fish - a bit out of the way, yes; but it was supposed to be superb. So, I fired-up the Prius and hit the road, destined for Columbus.

As a kid, I remember making the drive to Randolph on more than one occassion, and I always remembered a certain point along Highway 73 where there was a bright yellow building, and a series of smaller white buildings/houses. Back then, I had no idea the white buildings were Kelly's Bar... so, I was surprised when a familiar feeling struck as I drove north from Columbus.

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The parking lot was starting to fill-up, and it was only about 6:00 or so. A good sign that Kelly's served good fish (that, or they had a good happy hour special).

My cousin and her husband were waiting patiently at a small table near the bar area; the bar isn't terribly large, nor is the drink selection terribly vast - you'll find a few domestic taps and a small smattering of "craft-ish" beverages, primarily from Leinie's. They did have Spotted Cow, but that was about it for exotic offerings. Cans of soda will run $1; most beverages about $3.

Kelly's follows an ordering methodology that some love and some hate - you place your dinner order at the bar, wait for a table to become available, and upon being seated, your food arrives. I prefer that method - it's efficient.

I browsed the menu which included several fish options - everything from walleye (Winning!) to frogs' legs (Not-winning!). They had: haddock, walleye, perch, cod, shrimp, and scallops. And, you could order combination plates, in various sizes: small, regular, order-and-a-half, or double order. For reference, a "regular" order consists of about 5 pieces of fish.

Side options were standard: fries, seasoned wedge fries, waffle fries, baked potato, hashbrowns, or cheese-tots. Upon further inquiry, the hashbrowns and tots were just what I suspected: frozen patties, deep-fried with cheese as an option.

I went for an order-and-a-half, with Lake Perch and Haddock. Leanne went with haddock, and Jeff ordered the sampler platter, which included a little of everything. We also ordered some breaded mushrooms and an order of cheese curds. Hey, when you're off the wagon for a day, you might as well jump clean away from it. :-D

We enjoyed a beverage at our small table, made some small-talk, and were just about to order another round when our table in the dining area became available. So, we moved into the dining room, where our mushrooms and curds were waiting, along with a basket of rolls, coleslaw, and salads.

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The mushrooms and curds, while not homemade, were perfectly fried. Kelly's has a firm handle on the fryer controls; according to Leanne (who knows the cook), Kelly's watches their oil temperatures like a hawk - and that attention pays dividends in how their battered items serve-up. The 'shrooms were wonderful and the curds were decent - again, not homemade, but definitely good.

We had just sampled the appetizers when our main courses arrived, piping hot from those carefully piloted fryers. Here's my plate of Lake Perch and Haddock:

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I tore into a piece of the Lake Perch and recoiled - it was so scaldingly hot that the trapped steam gave me a "warm" welcome. Wow, that fish was hot! I allowed the piece to cool a bit before giving it another go; the breading was of the crunchy, non-battered style and it clung perfectly to the firm piece of fresh water perch. The perch had just the perfect fish taste - enough to let you know you're enjoying fish, but not overpowering enough to turn you away. Delicious.

The haddock's batter wasn't quite a breading, nor was it a beer batter, nor was it a buttermilk batter. It was... well... battered. I can't describe it in any other way. It was good, and just like the perch, it stuck perfectly to the thick and meaty squares of haddock. And, just like the perch, the haddock was expertly cooked, and featured a perfectly mild, almost "creamy" haddock taste. Yum.

I do suspect, upon retrospection, that the fish arrives frozen and pre-battered. I'd be surprised if this was hand-battered/hand-prepped fish. There's nothing wrong with that, but purists will want to take note.

Jeff's sampler platter looked impressive (and indeed, received rave reviews):

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Leanne's plate of haddock was exactly as my sampler - large pieces of squared haddock, served with a baked potato on the side. We scarfed down our food; dinner was largely silent, as we were too busy indulging and enjoying the feast. :-)

The check arrived, and our bill for 3 was just about $45, which included the appetizers and a few sodas as well. Not bad.

Note: Kelly's doesn't take plastic; it's cash or check only, and they do not have an ATM onsite.

Kelly's = WIN

Food = 3 stars - all "from the bag," but cooked really, really well
Value = 3.5 stars - lots of options, reasonable prices, great flexibility
Service = 3.5 stars - quick, concise, no-frills but friendly
MISC = 3 stars - true, "old school" tavern; filled with friendly locals; not much for beverage selection; no plastic/no ATM

Summary: it may not be home/handmade fish, and yes, it's a bit out of the way. But, it's a great little bar/restaurant with a huge selection of good quality fish and great appetizers.

Catching some Z's

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My current apartment, while conveniently located, gorgeously appointed, trendy, and perfectly sized for me, isn't quite all it's cracked-up to be, especially when it comes to controlling noise between the units.

Without exaggerating one tiny bit, I can honestly hear everything that takes place in both apartments on either side of me, including: normal conversation (clear as day), coughing, toilet flushing, any kitchen activity (drawers/cabinets opening and closing, microwaves open/closing/beeping/running, garbage disposal running, water being turned on/off, pots/pans being moved, refrigerator door opening/closing), any television programs, music, and so on.

It is not pleasant at all - I know more of the nitty gritty and intimate details of my neighbors' lives than I ever would care to know. And I am not exaggerating at all - I know exactly what kind of Girl Scout cookies the one couple ordered; what their tax returns were; where they're planning their vacation; what they have for dinner each night; their cell phone bill, and so on... it's ridiculous.

I've tried everything imaginable to reduce the noise, but nothing works. I've got a fans, a humidifier, an air purifier, I leave the TV on a lot more than I'd like to, I use my iPod, I've used ear plugs... it really stinks. Granted, I am sensitive to environmental noise, but this is ridiculous - the walls are literally made of a single layer of 1/2" drywall, direct connected to a single 2x4 stud, with a very thin (1-2") layer of fiberglass insulation between the units. Impact noises and all frequencies are easily transmitted - think of the cheapest hotel you've ever stayed in, where you could hear everything between the walls, and that's my life, 24/7.

So at night, it's especially fun for me to try to fall asleep... I'm not into taking any type of sleep aids, so I've searched desperately for a sleep solution. After much trial and error, I finally found two items that work incredibly well - I've managed to get several nights' good sleep lately, and I'm convinced it's because of these two miracle items:

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It's my iPad and the Nightwave Sleep Assistant.

My iPad is loaded with iHome's Sleep application, which is essentially a fancy alarm clock that has a "sleep to music" function that I've loaded with a soundtrack called "Tranquil Nights and Peaceful Sleep sounds." It's 80-minutes of calming, soothing, interference noises - mostly running water, like from a slow moving, babbling creek in a very quiet wooded area. It plays for 80 minutes, then slowly fades out. At about 10-minutes prior to my desired wake time, the alarm function kicks-in; it slowly fades the volume up over 10-minutes, so there isn't that abrupt "jar-you-awake" sound that most alarm clocks deliver.

The Nightwave is simply awesome - it uses a calming blue light to help you fall asleep; it "pulses" in a breathing pattern that is supposed to help calm you and help you relax and sleep better. It really does seem to work - as soon as I try to match my breath to the rhythmic brighten/darken patter of the light, I quickly fall asleep. I'd say I'm "out" in less than 10 minutes on most nights.

I've been using this system for a few weeks and am thrilled. Well - I'm not thrilled that I pay more for my rent than I do my mortgage and am left to suffer with unacceptable levels of noise (the management company isn't willing to do anything, but did "test" the noise between units and confirmed my complaints)... but, at least I'm getting a little sleep. :-)

The best part of waking up...

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...is not a certain "brand-name" in your cup. No sir, contrary to what that catchy little jingle might want us to believe, commercial coffee is truly awful - I can tolerate it during an emergency, but much prefer a java that has been carefully and painstakingly roasted by a local entity.

You may recall my extreme fondness for Berres Brothers Coffee, which is a local roaster/purveyor of some mighty darn good coffee. They're based out of Watertown, WI, and if you haven't yet tried their offerings, do yourself a huge favor and go buy some. I'd recommend the Highlander Grogg and the House Blend. Both are absolutely fantastic.

So I didn't think I'd be able to find a better coffee than what the good brothers had to offer, and that was fine by me. But over this past weekend, I stumbled across another local roaster by way (of all things) of a small beer tasting that was held to benefit local arthritis research foundations.

I served as the designated driver for a group of friends from work for the "Festiv-Ale" event, which was held in Monona this past Saturday. While there, I drank my fair share of diet coke and water, but I also discovered some truly stellar coffees from Just Coffee Cooperative.

They were invited to serve coffee at the event, and they brought along two brews: Bike Fuel and Revolution Roast. This little shop carefully air roasts all of its fair-trade, organic, small farm grown coffee right here in Madison, on East Wilson Street, and man, they do a great job. The Bike Fuel was phenomenal - unreal with how delicious it was. I must have downed 5-6 cups of the stuff in less than an hour.

After a few trips back to the coffee pot, I started talking with Josh, one of the company reps, and he happily shared info about their business, their philosophy, and their mission, and I really liked what they do. They try to be 100% transparent with their business and focus on treating everyone fairly - from the grower, to the importer, to their employees, and to their customers. That's an idea that I can stand behind and support.

So support I did - I went to the local grocery store, located their coffees, and bought a few:

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Truth be told, I bought the Bike Fuel on Saturday night, and have been drinking it nearly non-stop ever since. So, earlier tonight, I returned to the grocery store and re-filled my stock, while adding a few new flavors to try. I can't wait to sample them all!

Each package features some of that transparency that Just Coffee tries so hard to promote - what other coffee vendor/roaster/seller shows you this type of detail?

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I'm digging the closely controlled supply chain that's as direct as possible, and I appreciate the detail about where each dollar goes along the way. I'm also really digging the coffee itself. If you're looking for a truly tasty cup of coffee that boasts some of the highest quality, direct from the small farmer, organically grown, locally roasted flavor, give Just Coffee a try.

Now the real trick will be trying to balance my two coffee loves - both the Berres and Just Coffee are really "one of a kind" in terms of quality and flavor, and both are quite honestly the best coffees I've ever had, so how do I decide which one to brew each morning? I guess that's a nice dilemma to face, and should make the mornings a bit more tolerable.

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Happy (early - really early) St. Patrick's Day!

Madison hosted a slew of festivities this weekend to support the upcoming holiday, including the Shamrock Shuffle, which consisted of a 2-mile walk, a 5K run, and a 10K run to support The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. The race started and ended on State Street, and despite the fact that it was a chilly 30F at race time, the race was an enjoyable event. So many of the participants dressed in Irish garb - there were Leprechauns, kilts, St. Patricks, and dozens of people wearing all kinds of crazy green getups. It was really entertaining.

My time wasn't too great... I could only manage a 53:54 time (8:41 average mile), which was good for 332 out of 795 of the 10K racers. I'm so disappointed by my recent "slowdown" while racing - my legs remain uncooperative, sore, and generally feel heavy and thrashed. I'm fairly certain it's due to over training, but taking a few weeks off isn't an option - I remember taking a single week off last year due to my surgery, and the following weeks were almost back-breaking. So, I have to keep moving.

Once the race was finished, I headed back to the apartment where I hopped on the bike and trainer for an hour or so. Believe it or not, I'm not dreading the trainer as much as I did in years' past, primarily thanks to the Turbo Crank training program that I downloaded a few months ago. It's such a great program - solid workouts, some variety, and I think it's delivering results.

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I then hopped into the shower and made my way back downtown, where I met my cousin Leanne and her husband Jeff. No, we weren't there to protest or march around the square, but rather, to watch the Madison Saint Patrick's Day Parade, which was held on the capitol square. Jeff and Leanne (whom I really, really, really enjoy spending time with) secured a superb location from which to watch the festivities; we were in the sun, which helped keep us warm, and totally blocked from any wind, thanks to the buildings around us.

Here are a bunch of photos from the parade, starting with the beginning of the parade, which featured what appeared to be a 1952 - 1954 Chevrolet police car:

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The UW marching band (well, part of it) wasn't far behind. Although, no green? Someone's getting pinched. :-D

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And speaking of bands and lack of green/Irish spirit, what the heck was this guy doing in the parade?? (Truth be told, he sounded pretty decent)

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Ok, this is a bit more inline toward keeping with the spirit of the day:

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There were a few dogs making their rounds as well, including these two guys - that's an Irish Deerhound in the back, I believe - I love those guys!

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There were plenty of bagpipes and drum bands, all of which sounded great. I'm not sure why, but I really like the sound of bagpipes. Honestly!

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I was surprised by the number of Irish dance schools in the area; this was just one of four or five dance schools that marched (and danced a bit) in the parade - check out the Irish curls:

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And finally, a few odds-n-ends made their way into the parade, including this super cool contraption that looked like a mini-ferris wheel. It was entirely powered, steered, and controlled by the guy's momentum and movements - he'd climb around inside of it, sit on certain rungs, lean a certain direction, and so on, all to make it move or stop. He was really amazing:

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The parade was a bit long - I want to say that it ran nearly two hours - and, it featured more candy and beaded-necklaces than I've ever seen. The parade participants were literally covering the streets in candy. We joked that there should be a dentist's office in the parade to hand-out business cards... and there was!!! Genius!

The parade also had a lot of political overtone to it; I realize there's a lot of change and history taking place in Madison these days, but I wasn't sure if the parade was the best choice of venue for folks to share their positions about the recent legislative actions that have taken place (for the record, I'm 200% against the Walker agenda - it seems as though this is a personal battle for him, and it's been quite underhanded and full of what I would consider to be unfair practices). But, the folks were all very cooperative, friendly, professional, and peaceful, so in the end, it was AG (All Good).

After the parade ended, Leanne, Jeff and I went to the Old Fashioned for a late lunch/early dinner. I had a super excellent grilled chicken salad; Jeff had some incredible baked mac-n-cheese, and Leanne had a scrumptious sandwich. I did indulge in one beverage - a warped speed scotch ale - and it was unreal. Oh so good. But then I stuck with water and Diet Coke, so all was not lost.

We scored an ideal seat, near the front window, and talked for nearly 2-hours. It was really enjoyable, and I was shocked to see that it was nearly 4:45pm when we got up to leave. I was certain I'd have a parking ticket on my car (I plugged the meter in the ramp for 2.5 hours), but the luck of the Irish came through - no ticket to report!

So, there you have it. Not a bad weekend. I just returned from the gym where I lifted some weights and am about to eat a late dinner (the usual: grilled chicken, black beans, tomato, and broccoli).

I got the call to help with two more rescue transports and once again, really enjoyed it. Last weekend, I drove two rescue dogs from Madison to Eau Claire, and both were complete angels; the weekend prior, I drove a super sweet little guy from Madison to Eau Claire as well, and he was totally awesome. I need to count my lucky stars; all of the rescue transports I've done so far have been fantastic - the dogs have been great passengers and the people have been wonderful to work with.

Here are a few photos of the pups that rode with me - there were a total of 8 or 9 dogs in each transport, so several of us caravanned our way from Madison to Eau Claire, by way of the Dells and Black River Falls. The weather was a little dicey for the first transport, but the second one featured lots of sunshine and smooth sailing.

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I also had the pleasure of spending someone else's money by way of my coworker, Brian and his quest to build a small home theater in his recently remodeled basement. I always enjoy spending money, even more so when it's not mine. :-)

Brian had us over to his home to inspect the layout prior to beginning the equipment installation - it was really great to hang with him and his family - his wife and two children are super wonderful. Here we are in the basement, inspecting things (that's Mark (also from work) walking in the background - I think he was chasing Brian's son):

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You can see some of the new items in the photo - a 55" Samsung television, a Klipsch Reference Subwoofer, Klipsch speakers, and a Denon receiver - all really nice stuff!

And while the basement was really cool, we were most impressed with his "in-house bottle opener" (which was a registered wedding gift, believe it or not!):

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And here's Brian and me, enjoying one of those beverages and a few snacks. I caught Brian just as he was trying not to spit out his drink while laughing (sorry for the poor photo, Brian!):

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After finishing the recon-work, we hit Buffalo Wild Wings for some good eats (I haven't had BWW in ages!); and I'm happy to report that other than that cheat meal, I've been sticking fairly true to the diet, which hasn't been easy, as you'll see in a second...

I returned to Brian's the following weekend to help install all of the components, and I'm pleased to say that we successfully hid every single wire for each item, hung the TV on the wall, mounted the speakers to the wall, and configured everything over the course of an afternoon. I'm told that the family is enjoying the new set-up - especially the kids; I lent them my Blu-Ray copy of Despicable Me, and it's been quite the "wower."

And finally, one of my project teams from work requested that I provide donuts at our next meeting, so I swung by the local bakery and picked-up 18 donuts and 2-lbs of cookies. While there, I saw what may have been the most intriguing donut I've ever seen, so I bought the very last one. I present to you the bacon-topped, honey-maple frosted, syrup filled long john:

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We cut it into about 10-pieces, and from what I'm told, it was pretty fantastic. I honestly didn't have a single bite of any of the donuts, nor did I have any of the cookies. How I managed to stay away from those goodies is beyond me, but I managed. Instead of indulging my sweet tooth, I nibbled contently on my protein bar and drank my green tea. That night, I found myself fantasizing about those donuts as I ate my standard dinner, which consists of: grilled chicken breast (free-range, organic, locally raised), "clean" black beans (no lard, no pork, no added fats/oils - just beans simmered with some garlic, bay leaves, and spices), roasted broccoli and cauliflower, a small organic tomato, and some mustard:

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As good as that meal is, I really do wish I wasn't such a lardo, and that I could wolf down a few pizzas, some cheese curds, some donuts, and a few choice New Glarus beverages... alas, the 'ole metabolism won't allow for such treats, so I'm stuck "enjoying" my healthy dinners. Argh.

With all due respect to The Sound of Music (a musical by which I am not a fan of), I figured I'd share a few of my favorite things with you. These are things that I've recently discovered - things that have really made a significant impact in my life. They run the gamut, from food to soap to luggage; an odd or unusual mix? Yes. But truly life changing (at least for me).

And for those who really know me, you'll vouch that I don't purchase something without first conducting a ton of research, followed by some significant obsessive-compulsive internal debate, followed by more research, and only then, when I'm confident that I'm buying the absolute best, will I pull the proverbial purchase trigger. So trust me when I say that I've done my homework on these items. Let's get to it, shall we?

Nutritional Goods

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Unless this is your first visit to my blog, you'll know how much I worry and obsess about diet, nutrition, training, and general health. It consumes me. So, I pay fairly close attention to what I eat (save for the weekends, when I've been known to inhale an entire school's worth of fish fry or a dozen of Greenbush Bakery's donuts, but that's another story).

I've been focusing on the quality of what I consume more so than the "raw numbers" (nutritional data), as I've realized that quality, or values such as bioavailability, is almost more important than the sheer number of calories, protein, fat, or carbs in a given food. If your body can't digest it, it's not doing much good. Think of it as if you were putting premium unleaded racing fuel into your diesel powered car... when you look at the raw numbers for that racing fuel (the octane rating), it's impressive. But, your diesel-driven car can't burn gasoline, so the net result isn't favorable.

I consume a lot of protein powder(s), so imagine my delight when I stumbled across a local company called Tera's Whey. It's a small, family-owned company that produces what may be the highest quality protein powder I've ever utilized. 100% of the product is natural and organic. It's low-glycemic. It's locally sourced - they buy the whey from local dairy and cheese farms, and can trace it back to the source. No fillers. No additives. Just plain, wholesome, delicious whey protein. 110 calories per serving, 20+ grams of protein, 3-4 grams of carbs, and little-to-no fat.

I started with Tera's dairy-whey-based products, and tried a number of different flavors. I determined that the vanilla was my favorite, with blueberry scoring a close second. But then I discovered a "goat-whey" product from Tera. It had more protein, less sugar, less total calories, and came in a pomegranate-cranberry flavor. Hmm. Sounded intriguing, but goat whey? Yikes!

So I did what I do - a lot of research. And it turns out that goat's milk is actually superior to cow's milk in every possible way. It's much more bio-available to the body than cow's milk; it's easier for the body to process, digest, and utilize, by a factor of nearly 10 (cow's milk rates at around a 10-11 on a 100-pt bioavailability score; goat's milk comes in around 92-94). It's non-mucous forming. It neutralizes acid. The triglyceride structure is medium-chain, which means the fat globules are more readily digested and more difficult to absorb. The low-level of sugar contained within goat's milk contains no lactose and stimulates almost no blood-sugar response. Win, win, and win some more.

I bought a sample packet of Tera's goat-whey protein and gave it a try. It was fantastic! Goat products don't have that "musky," "dense," "all-coating" taste or feel like cow products do - it's really smooth and light, with just a very slightly sweet and clean taste. Combined with the pomegranate-cranberry flavor, it was awesome. I immediately fell in love with the stuff. So much, in fact, that I'm currently out of it, which is why I used the vanilla whey container for my photo. I'm off to the store after I complete this entry to restock.

And speaking of goat's milk products, you'll notice the goat's milk yogurt. It, like the whey, is unbelievably good and even better for you than traditional yogurts. The taste is to die for, literally. If you hate yogurt, I guarantee you'll like the goat's milk yogurt. It's so smooth, and even in the plain, unflavored form, it tastes almost like frozen custard. Best of all, you enjoy all of the benefits as described above, while minimizing calories - a 6oz container of goat's milk yogurt weighs in at 100 calories, with 4 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of readily available and highly digestible protein.

As much as I enjoyed Skyr and Greek yogurt, there's simply no possible way I could go back to cow-based yogurt. And, the goat's milk yogurt costs just slightly more than Greek yogurt and significantly less than Skyr. I buy mine at the local Willy Street Co-Op, but you can also find it at places like Whole Foods and other organic/naturally-focused grocery stores. A 6-oz container runs about $1.89 or so (Greek runs about $1.50; Skyr about $3.00). Please give it a try! It also comes in various flavors, if you're into the fruit-based yogurts.

And finally with respect to the food front, I've been trying to limit my soda intake, so I've been drinking a lot of tea. I really like to brew my own and prefer to use Adagio teas, but when pressed for time, I've discovered that Honest Tea's "Just Plain" line of teas are phenomenal. The ingredients? Water and tea. That's it. No calories, no additives, just simple tea. Squeeze in a little fresh lemon juice and enjoy it. Yummy. I'm having a big glass of it as I type this.

So there you have it - three recent food discoveries. Seriously, give the goat's milk products a try. You'll kick yourself for not trying them earlier in life - I know I certainly have!


Maintenance products for the bod-squad

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I hate soft water. Hate it. In fact, hate may not be a strong enough word to describe my loathing of it. I despise it. I hate that it leaves my skin feeling all slimy and "coated." Nevermind that it does absolutely nothing to prevent water spots in my bathroom, and that I find salt particles in my drinking glasses. I hate the stuff.

Which is why I'm so fond of a new line of body cleansing products from a small company called Shikai. Their products don't use any traditional soaps, so they rinse much better than your typical soaps and shampoos - even the "high end" products like Aveda.

It was purely by accident that I discovered the Shikai products; a small sample of their moisturizer was included in the goody bag from a recent race event. I almost threw it out, but for some reason decided to check into the company, and boy am I glad I did. They spare no expense when it comes to producing their products - integrity is the number one ingredient in their process.

And when I tried the moisturizer, I was floored by it. No greasy feeling. It absorbed quickly and left my skin feeling incredible all day. Nothing "clung" to the moisturizer; my legs, which are normally as dry as a dehydrated piece of armadillo jerky hide, have never felt better. No itching, no flaking, no dryness. It's glorious. And a pea-sized drop of their moisturizer covered both legs. The sample lasted nearly a full week!

I kept researching Shikai, and decided to give their shampoo and shower gels a try. Guess what? They were just as good as, if not better than, the moisturizer. And, they cost less than the Aveda stuff I was using. And they they smelled better. A drop of shampoo the size of a nickel creates a wonderfully rich lather that rinses completely clean; no conditioner or hair product is needed afterward.

A small palm's worth (about the size of a 50-cent piece) of the shower gel is enough to soap my entire bod, even after a grueling workout day, and just like the shampoo, it rinses completely clean. I don't feel slick or slimy when done, even with that dreadful soft water. The scent of the gel is so light - it doesn't interfere with anything at all; it blends well with my deodorant. If you happen to see any of the Shikai products while out and about, be sure to grab some. Especially if you have dry skin - it's simply amazing. Oh, and they don't do any animal testing, nor do they use any animal-based ingredients. All natural, all organic, all quality.

And finally, you'll see my other favorite line of skin-care products: Nancy Boy. I've been using their stuff for a while - it's always served me well, but it seems to be a bit more "traditional" than the Shikai products. That said, I'm still totally in love with their facial moisturizers and their body lotions. I find myself reaching for the Shikai body lotion more often, but the Nancy Boy stuff will always have a place on my shelf. I use the facial moisturizer every single day - it absorbs quickly, doesn't leave behind any oil/shine/sheen, and has a very light cucumber scent. It also works great post-shave, as it's very soothing.

I have the world's most sensitive skin - I'll break-out at the mere mention of the words "clog" or "oil" or "pimple"; none of the Nancy Boy or Shikai products have caused an issue for me, so take that for what it's worth as well.


Luggage

I'm a gear junkie, and when I travel, I tend to over-pack. Try as I might to lean-out my travel items, I always end-up wanting for more room/space, which means I usually get saddled with carrying multiple bags, paying for extra luggage fees, and struggling to make my way from point-to-point.

Take my current routine, for example: I have my laptop bag, which usually carries my laptop, my laptop accessories, phone accessories, a few magazines, adapters, a book or two, pens, pencils, and a few miscellaneous items. I also have a regular backpack, in which I stuff some basic "carry-on" items: an emergency change of clothes or some running/workout gear, a water bottle, any medications, my iPad, and any other items that won't fit into my laptop bag. And then I have my normal suitcase, in which I stuff a bunch of clothes, toiletries, and everything that I can't fit into the other two bags. Ugh!

Enter the geniuses from Tom Bihn. These Seattle-based-luggage-designing-and-manufacturing-gurus know a thing or two about creating luggage of the highest quality and most useful and practical nature. There's no other way to go about saying it - they know their (expletive); I mean, "stuff."

I've had a few of their "smaller" items like their incredible laptop sleeve and iPad sleeve for a while now, and have really fallen in love with both. Simple, elegant, effective, and stylish are a few words that come to mind. Every time someone sees my laptop sleeve, they always ask about it - it usually goes like this, "That's a cool looking laptop case - where'd you get it? Can I see it? Wow, that's so cool - it's perfect!"

I finally admitted to myself (and now the world) that I have a packing problem while loading up for my most recent trip - I broke the zipper on both my backpack and my transition bag. So, after cursing those smallish, poor-quality "sacks," I went online to Tom Bihn's site and eventually chose their "Brain Bag" as the answer to my problems.

The Brain Bag can accommodate 36-liters worth of goods, thanks to two separate, zippered compartments and a slew of smaller pouches/storage areas. Tom's crew says it's designed to hold two laptops - I swear it'll hold six, but that's another story. I liked the bag for a number of reasons: it could hold a ton, but was only slightly larger than a traditional backpack in overall size. The handles, zippers, seams, straps, liners, and backing all appear to be made from the highest quality materials by talented and caring craftsman - there's nary a stray stitch or an uncomfortable surface; this is the Bentley of backpacks.

I've taken a few pictures of the bag, none of which do it any justice - trust me when I say this is a take-no-prisoners, accept-nothing-but-the-very-best, high-quality piece of indispensable luggage. You will not find a comparable bag in terms of quality, practicality, capacity, or integrity. I'll dare you to try anything other than Tom Bihn's stuff.

Here's an "outside" view of the bag:

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One of the exterior pouches - it's currently housing all of my AC adapters (for laptop, phone, iPad, and external hard-drive, along with the hard-drive itself):

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Here's a shot of the back of it; notice the perfectly padded base, the ideally sized shoulder straps, and the helpful waist-strap that helps stabilize the bag when it's really loaded down:

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Here's a look inside - that's my laptop (15" MacBook Pro with Tom Bihn Sleeve) and a pair of size 13 running shoes, with plenty of room for additional gear, in the "front" pocket:

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And here's the second "pocket," with a 3" three-ring binder and a large (700-page) text book), with plenty of additional room to spare behind the open front pocket:

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Because I ordered the bag in all black, it's a bit difficult to make-out the details, but Tom's crew has smartly placed the lift handle in the middle of the divider, so that it's easy to lift the bag when loaded - it remains balanced and centered. They also used what may be the beefiest YKK zippers I've ever seen - I think you could safely zip-up and secure a jumbo jet behind those things.

One last shot of the bag, from the back, with a "nested view" that includes the Brain Bag, the laptop sleeve, and the iPad sleeve:

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The final thing I wanted to note about Tom Bihn products is their commitment not only to building a quality product, but to providing superior customer service. It starts with their website, which is incredibly easy to navigate and understand, carries over to the super-simple ordering process, and lands squarely on their follow-up and assistance.

Soon after I ordered the Brain Bag, Tom sent me a tracking number, which indicated the bag would arrive well after I really needed it. Panicked, I called Tom's customer service to inquire about upgrading the shipping. Even though I was mere minutes ahead of the day's shipping cut-off and despite the fact that the crew had already packed and labeled my order, they happily accommodated my plea to expedite the shipping. It arrived the very next morning; I was shocked, thrilled, and vowed to be a customer for life.

Although, given the bullet-proof-build-quality of their bags, I may not need to buy too many bags in my lifetime. I have a feeling this one is going to last for eons. I'm also really looking forward to an upcoming trip that I have scheduled; I'm confident this single bag will swallow-up my laptop, iPad, magazines, workout gear, and then some.

Folks, please - don't fool yourself into thinking you'll be fine with the department store brands of bags, and please don't get duped into buying a "high end" designer or "outdoors" bag without first looking into Tom Bihn's products. I guarantee you will not be disappointed! Aside from the impeccable quality and service, they're also handmade right here in the good 'ole US of A.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Hopefully, this was a helpful post. I probably sound really excited and worked-up. And that's because I am. This is stuff that I'm proud to have "found" and purchased, and I hope that you'll feel the same, should you decide to give any of the items a try. Have a great weekend, folks, and I'll talk to you soon.

Charlie Sheen

| | Comments (0)

Wow. I don't know what else to say? Wow. Wow. I'm just floored by these interviews - talk about a person that has lost all touch with reality, society, and normalcy. But, I must admit, some of his quotes are pretty hilarious - I'd love to find a way to incorporate these into my everyday vernacular:

"I'm an F-18, bro."

"I've got tiger blood coursing through my veins, bro."

"I make magic with these fingers - I turn your tin cans into pure gold."

"Bring me Doctor Clownshoes. Let's see what he says."

I guess what it all boils down to is I just want to tell someone I'm an F-18, bro. HA! Ok - enough typing, I've got to get back to watching this train wreck that is his interview on 20/20. :-)

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