Friday, July 25, 2014

Lakeshore at Sunset

A few days ago, I mentioned that I've been walking the Lakeshore Greenway on weekends, and I also mentioned that the greenway winds through and around the remaining buildings from the former mental health facility. Today I had a really busy day at work and didn't even get to do my walks through the building, so when I got home I was barely over 5,000 steps for the day, and I'm supposed to have 10,000. I decided to change clothes and go walk the greenway because it's about 5,000 steps if you do one lap.

The city recently started tearing down some of the old buildings (they're going to preserve a few), and you know how I love me some urban ruins, so while I was walking tonight I decided to take a few minutes to walk around the administration building and take a few photos:

stones at sunset

Lakeshore Admin Building (1)

Lakeshore Admin Building (2)

Lakeshore Admin Building (3)

Lakeshore Admin Building (4)

Lakeshore Admin Building (5)

Lakeshore Admin Building (6)

Lakeshore Admin Building (7)

I'm not sure there's anything spectacular there, but I think they catch a mood, and it's been a while since I just walked around and took some photographs.

I need to get back into that habit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pyrex Bake-A-Round

I've not been very successful with bread baking in the past. My friends are. My friends make beautiful bread, and post photos of it, and I help to cheer their accomplishments, but inside I am secretly jealous.

Why can't I make bread? I think, gazing longingly at my oven. What's wrong with me?

The obvious answer, that I'm clearly descended from aristocracy rather than bread baking peasant stock and am therefore genetically predisposed to have others make bread for me, offers little comfort as I stare at small, salty, dismal loaves produced and quickly disposed of in my kitchen. I tried to address this problem earlier this year, using a kit, but met with only partial success.

That's why I was so excited the other day to find a happy collision of my Pyrex hobby and my cooking hobby:

Bake A Round (1)

The Pyrex Bake-A-Round, produced in the 1970's and possibly into the 1980's. The Bake-A-Round isn't particularly sought after by collectors, and is often found (like mine) in the box, but it was only three dollars, it wasn't broken, and the original instructions were still inside, so I figured it was worth a try. How could my bread possibly get any worse?

I assembled all of my tools and ingredients:

Bake A Round (2)

(At this point my friend Heather is looking at that Pyrex bowl and saying, "Old Orchard? You hate Old Orchard." It was a gift.)

The Bake-A-Round instructions said that I could use any bread recipe, so I figured that I would just try the mix again, since it was partially successful. I started activating my yeast in warm faucet water, and then set about greasing the inside of the Bake-A-Round, which is easier said than done:

greasing (1)

Fortunately, the instructions said to start at one end and grease toward yourself. They also said not to use oil, which is why I didn't just spray the inside of the tube with cooking spray. I was kind of terrified that if I used spray the glass tube would explode in my oven, so I followed the instructions, and greased the hell out of that thing:

greasing (2)

Then I got to work on the bread. The Bake-A-Round instructions said to shape your loaf on waxed paper, so I did:


I then realized that the loaf had to fit inside the Bake-A-Round, and therefore had to be longer and skinnier, rather than rounded, so I had to shape it again. Then, following the instructions, I slid the waxed paper into the tube:

getting the dough in the tube

The next step was a minor disaster. The Bake-A-Round instructions say to slide the dough to the middle of the tube, then turn it upside down, and the dough will fall off of the waxed paper, which you then slide out.

The hell it does.

If you ever have a Bake-A-Round of your own, grease the waxed paper, too.

After a lot of shaking and cursing, I extricated the waxed paper from the tube and tried to shake the dough back toward the center:

ready for rising

At this point you cover the ends of the tube with foil, then put it in the holder and leave it somewhere warm to rise. This has been a problem with my bread baking in the past. My apartment doesn't have a spot warm enough, usually. This time, though, I set the oven on "warm" and put the whole thing inside...


doubled dough

Look how much bigger the bread got! It rose! Never again will hunchbread shame my kitchen!

Excited, I warmed up the oven (which needs cleaning; don't judge) and slide the Bake-A-Round inside for baking:


I ignored it through the entire baking process, although I did keep an ear open for the sound of exploding glass. I didn't get an oven full of glass and bread dough, though.

I got a somewhat attractive loaf of bread:

finished loaf

It's round, and crusty, and soft and airy on the inside:

sliced and buttered

It's bread.

And I made it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where I Walk (2)

In the last entry, I talked about where I walk at work, but that only covers a part of my walking. 10,000 steps a day, the goal set by my Fitbit, is a lot harder than it sounds, but I've started using some other tricks:

1) I walk ten minutes on the treadmill every morning before my shower, unless I'm running late.


My treadmill is tucked away in the front corner of my living room, where I can turn the television to face it. I also use it at the end of the day, after dinner, if I am really behind on steps and a trip to the mailbox isn't enough to make up the gap.

I try to make sure that this never happens, because God damn, I hate walking on that treadmill.


I don't know if it's in its own bubble of time and space, but every minute on the treadmill is like three minutes in the real world. It's like the treadmill runs on dog years or something. It's not that I'm exhausted after ten minutes; it's that I can't force myself to do it for longer than that unless I really, really have to. I'd even rather walk the mall than walk on the treadmill.

Speaking of which...

2) I get a lot of steps at the mall and at stores, and not just in the store:

farthest parking

I park as far from stores as possible, even in the rain.

I'm so far from the stores sometimes that employees are parking closer than me.

Once, at the mall, the mall security guys were driving around in their truck while I was hiking in from my parking space and they stopped, rolled down their window, and informed me that, "Mister, there are closer spaces. You don't have to park way out here."

You don't say.

Sometimes it's really hard for me not to say horrible things to people.

Walking the mall is like walking through hell most days, but it's a lot of steps, so I can't give up on it. It's just an awful place filled with awful people, and why are there so many kids running around everywhere? For that matter, why are there so many kids running around in so many stores? Yesterday at one of the thrift stores I go to these two kids were running up and down the aisles, screaming and shoving each other while their mother obliviously picked through discounted Christmas items. As was probably inevitable, the kids rounded a corner, and the one in front collided with me.

Somehow, their mother noticed, and hurried over.

"Oh, mister, I'm so sorry."

"And I'm sorry that your kids think stores are playgrounds. You must be so ashamed."

OK, that was terrible. Even I felt bad after I said it, and I've said some really terrible things to people at stores before. There may be something to the idea, which my coworkers were trying to convince me of last week, that constant low grade hunger has made me slightly irritable and snappish.

Even though I felt bad, I left without apologizing, because the store didn't have any Pyrex or any good ties.

I shouldn't have been there, anyway. I should have been walking...

3) Outside.

Marcheline was just commenting on the previous entry to say that I needed to get outside more, and she's right. Over the past couple of weeks, I have fallen in love with the nearby Lakeshore Greenway. The greenway circles the grounds of the former psychiatric institute, and while I'd been there before, I didn't realize how nice it is.

There's scenery, both natural:

greenway flowers

lakeshore greenway (7)

and manmade, since the path cuts around a lot of the buildings, some closer than others:

lakeshore greenway (1)

lakeshore greenway (2)

lakeshore greenway (3)

lakeshore greenway (5)

lakeshore greenway (8)

lakeshore greenway (10)

It's also fully paved:

lakeshore greenway (6)

and only has a couple of hills. Unfortunately, if you go the direction that I usually do (the greenway is a loop, which is also a plus), one of those hills is the entire last quarter mile. It sucks. By the time I get to the car, I'm ready to sit down in the parking lot and suck in some air like a beached whale, wondering why I did this to myself.

Except for today, when I decided to walk the loop again.

The best part about the two mile greenway, though, is the people on it. Unlike the people at the mall, the people on the greenway are not horrible, and they're all there for the same reason that I am. What I like about them, though, is the variety. There are people in who are jogging, but also people walking their dogs. There are old people. There are families. There are people pushing strollers. And there are people who are bigger than me. Almost everywhere else I go, I am aware of my size to some degree. On the greenway, I am part of a crowd.

It's awesome.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where I Walk (1)

I've had my Fitbit Flex for nineteen days now, and I'm starting to really get into walking. Except for a "down day" on each weekend where I only get about 5,000 steps, after the first couple of days I managed to hit the goal of 10,000 steps a day every day. How am I doing that?

Mostly, I walk the halls at work.

you are here

I start my day by parking in the spot farthest from the door, which is the opposite of what I used to do.

the farthest spot from the door

Look closely at that photo. See the tiny, tiny VW Beetle next to those orange things? That's my car, in the last spot for faculty/staff, before the parking lot turns into student spaces. Every morning I walk from there to the building. If I am twenty minutes or more before I need to be at my desk, I walk the entire length of the first floor, take the stairs at the end of the hall, walk the entire length of the second floor, take the stairs at the end of the hall, and so on, until I reach the fourth floor. Then I walk to the office.

If I don't have time to walk the whole building on my way up, I take the elevator. You know how I feel about taking the stairs the whole way up, and I really don't want to start my day with that level of wheezing.

During the day, I try to take a break every two hours or so, and that's when I walk the halls. My schedule is to do it once between 10 and 11, once at lunchtime if I don't walk somewhere for lunch, and once between two and three. Walking the entire building takes about twelve minutes (slightly less if I don't stop for anything, slightly more if I chat with people), and is about 1,000 steps.

What do I see on these walks?

Hallways. Long, white hallways.

interior hallway (1)

Also, curvy white hallways.

interior hallway (2)

Depending on the time of day, sometimes the lights have shut off, and they turn on when I walk through them.

interior hallway (3)

I also walk the hallway leading up to the place where I saw dead people.

benches and shadows

I also see stairwells.

work stairwell (1)

I know what the stairwells at either end of the building look like:

work stairwell (2)

but oddly have no idea what some of them look like above the first floor. I know that I've used the one at the center of the communications side of the building before, but can't think of a single distinctive feature except for the weird ceiling pipes on the first floor, which I see when I walk through it:

ceiling pipes

There's no other spot in the building, at least in the hallways, that has exposed piping. It seems weird to me.

The stairwells also don't get cleaned enough.

sam adams cap

I've been walking past that beer cap for a couple weeks now.

I'm using the stairwells at the end because my walk through the building is a loop: I walk down the fourth floor, take the stairs to the first floor, walk the whole first floor and take the stairs to the second, walk the whole second floor and take the stairs to the third, walk the whole third floor and take the stairs to the fourth, and walk the rest of the fourth floor until I get back to the office.

Anyone who has worked in Res Life or Housing will recognize this as a classic hallwalk pattern. The whole building is covered with no hallways repeated.

What do I see besides the building?

I run into students that I know. They don't often stop by my office to visit, so it's nice to see them in the halls.

I see people I wouldn't run into otherwise. I've started to get to know faculty in the communications side. They know my name, too. We say hi in the halls. The lady from the second floor who walks the halls during her breaks stopped the other day to show me a video of her son from the holiday weekend. The university can be a large place, and I'm running into people that I wouldn't know otherwise.

I'm also running into people that I do know. I say hi to my colleagues in the offices at our end of the hall a few times a day. I walk past the admissions office on the third floor, and they wave through the windows. Today, they cheered for me on my afternoon walk, and it felt great. People understand what I'm trying to do, and they want to help. They want to encourage me, and I appreciate it.

I walk the halls now, and I like where I work even more than I did before.

Now I just need to stop sweating so much in my shirt and tie while doing it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Elephant In The Room

I've learned something in the past week:

Nobody wants to agree with me that I am fat.

I'm serious. Last Friday we were out for a going away lunch for a friend who is moving (by now she's moved, actually), and I was debating whether or not I should get a salad. One friend asked, "Why are you looking at salad?", so I answered, "Because I'm fat," and another friend immediately said, "You're not fat."

I'm not? I'm 5'10" and I weigh 295 pounds. It certainly isn't muscle.

The same thing keeps happening in the office. I never noticed before how much food there is just floating around our office, although I had an inkling of it that time I gave up candy for Lent. I went to a meeting this week where there were three dozen cupcakes. I went to Orientation twice, and sat across from a table covered with brownies, cookies, mixed nuts, and fruit. I've been offered birthday cake, granola bars, Pop Tarts, raisins, pistachios (which I am allergic to and contemplated eating because yay, sick day!), and mini candy bars, just because I showed up for work.

"Oh, no thanks. I'm morbidly obese."

No one knows how to respond to this. Shocked laughter, wide eyed silence, uncomfortable giggling... I've seen them all this week, and it fascinates me. Why won't anyone agree with me? I get (and appreciate) that no one wants to be the first to say it, because no one wants to insult me or suffer a possible verbal lashing because they said it at the wrong time, but if I say it first, why are people so uncomfortable? Why won't people agree that I am dangerously overweight? If we're talking face to face, the evidence is kind of hard to miss for a sighted person.

This has been on my mind because I started a diet a week ago, and six days ago I bought a Fitbit flex to help me track and be deliberate about exercise. Some of my friends have asked what brought this on, which is not an unreasonable question given how often I mention that I need to lose weight and I need to exercise without ever actually trying to do either one. Just ask the treadmill gathering dust in my living room, supporting a collection of laundry, jackets, and scarves.

My answer would be that it was a cumulative thing, but the main straw that broke the camel's back is that two weeks ago I went on Ignite Summit. I love Summit, and have gone multiple times. Every time we go, I always get a team photo and a photo with my Team Leaders, and there are always people there taking candid photos and shots of us participating in the activities. When I got home, we all started uploading our photos to Facebook and tagging each other. It's clear that I'm having fun in our photos, but when I looked at them I only saw one thing:

Team 5


A lot of belly.

That's actually a picture where I look thin(ner), because I'm not bending. I can only imagine what the photos of me on the ropes course look like. Possibly no one took any because they were all busy making sure I wouldn't crush a 95 pound spotter to death when I fell.

Anyway, I looked at the photos, and I sighed, and looked around my living room and said, "This cannot continue to be my life."

Something has to change, so I started working on it. I'm still amused by the responses to the obvious fact that I need to work on it, though. Again, why won't people just agree with me?

One of my friends suggested that I was just being self deprecating to be funny.

I learned the value of self-deprecation in seventh grade, in Journalism class. Tina, an eighth grade girl who was very pretty and very popular and dating my friend Reuben (in seventh grade everyone was my friend), and I were working on numbering photos for yearbook pages, and she kept dropping them.

"I'm so clumsy," she sighed. "I make fun of myself for that all the time."

"I don't have to make fun of myself," I said. "Everyone else does it for me."

She made a sad face, and that day at lunch she gave me the cookie from her tray.

As I said, I learned a valuable lesson. Too bad I ended up not liking girls.

That's not what I'm doing when I say I'm fat, or that I'm a large person, or that I'm morbidly obese.

Another friend said that it's just depressing to hear, and that I must be depressed to think that way about myself.

You know what's depressing? The "Big and Tall" section for men at JC Penny's. The one at Belk is less depressing. It's kind of mixed in with the rest of the menswear, so that you're walking along and you sort of stumble into and out of it, like, "Ooops, I wandered into big and tall," and then you're gone. The one at Penny's, on the other hand, is a shame cave. It's in the very back on the men's department, so you have to walk past all of the clothes that won't fit you, and then when you get there, it's in a recessed alcove. If you're not looking at the clothes, you'll immediately notice two things:

1) There are no mirrors.

2) There are fewer lights.

If despair was a store you could shop in, it would be the dimly lit "Big and Tall" section at the back of Penny's.

My friend is also a little right, though. I do get a little depressed when I think about my weight. I cover it with jokes, but it was depressing to have to ask for a seatbelt extender on one of the planes when I went to visit Long Island. It's depressing not to be able to comfortably fit in the seats in the University Center auditorium. It's depressing that the thing I buy most at thrift stores isn't Pyrex or ties, but is instead five dollar 3XL shirts. It's depressing thinking about how I'm at risk for diabetes, and how I can't climb stairs without getting winded, and how I break a sweat just walking across campus. It's depressing that part of the reason why I wear sweater vests in the fall and winter is that I can unbutton the bottom of the shirt under them and no one will know.

It's depressing, but I am not depressed. I'm determined to change.

I need to change because I have a problem: I'm fat.

And politely ignoring my problem isn't going to help it go away.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Many Sins of Frances "Baby" Houseman

A strange thing happened to me this week. I was taking a Buzzfeed quiz on Facebook, as I often do despite swearing that I would never take another because I know myself better than any internet quiz could possibly know me, and I was informed that if I were a character in the movie Dirty Dancing then I would be Lisa.

Lisa? I thought, aghast. I'm Lisa? Vain, shallow Lisa? I'm Lisa?

Adding insult to injury, the little writeup of Lisa that accompanied my results informed me that Lisa sometimes "makes poor decisions".

Hey, wait a minute... I thought, placing myself in Lisa's fashionable shoes. Lisa makes poor decisions? You got a lot of nerve, Buzzfeed quiz. Lisa's not the one dancing across the ballroom with a statutory rapist and part time gigolo. All Lisa did was try to land a husband with potential for future success. How did Lisa end up getting such a bad rap?

Then I remembered something that I learned earlier in the summer, when I watched Maleficent: Sometimes, you might think a character is one way, but it turns out that they're something completely different, and you just had a crappy narrator. For example, you might think someone is a plotting, powerful sorceress who revels in her evil ways and laughs in the face of goodness, but then you find out that she's actually just a completely reactive, somewhat traumatized assault survivor who feels really bad about everything, cries sometimes, and really likes being a nanny to her ex-boyfriend's kid, and you kind of feel bad for her. Was it possible that Lisa got a similar deal? Especially given that the movie is narrated by Lisa's sister, "Baby", rather than Lisa herself?

What might we learn if we watched "Dirty Dancing" from Lisa's point of view?

My family and I decided to find out.


Our story begins in the car, and our first glimpse of the Sisters Houseman telegraphs their roles immediately:


Lisa, on our left, is a shuddering mass of insecurity, battered by a lifetime of familial abuse in the form of lowered expectations. Lisa's family has made it clear to her that she has no purpose, no destiny other than to be pretty enough to marry a man. There's no college in Lisa's future, no goals to attain. Lisa, worn down and unable to fight back after years of psychological damage, is instead driven to pursue an increasingly unattainable standard of beauty. Why else would she be trying to comb her hair and maintain its style in a moving car with all of the windows open?

The first time Lisa speaks, it is an expression of agony as she realizes that she has, once again, failed:


Lisa has not packed her coral shoes. The armor of fashion that she wears to defend herself from a cruel world that belittles and dismisses her suddenly has a chink, a flaw, a shoe sized hole that someone can fling an arrow through. And who does the flinging? Her sneering, faux intellectual sister, Baby. Not only does she immediately belittle Lisa's existential crisis of identity, but she takes the first available opportunity to remind Lisa of her place in the family and the world that night at dinner, accompanied by the cruel laughter of her parents.

Dr. Houseman explains, "Max, our Baby's going to change the world."

Sensing the exclusion of the other Houseman daughter, Max attempts to pull her into the discussion. "And what are you going to do, missy?"

Before Lisa can express a hope, a dream, or even a thought, her smirking sister taunts, "Oh, Lisa's going to decorate it."


Baby talks a good game in public for most of the movie, telling stories of Peace Corps aspirations and ambitions toward social justice, but in private she's a monster whose scheming heart and conniving ways would give Lex Luthor pause. The Housemans haven't even been at the resort for an entire day when Baby commits her first transgression:



Followed immediately by theft.


You may have carried that watermelon, Baby, but who paid for it? Who paid for it?

Like a bee to the hive, Baby's black heart is drawn to a den of sin: lustful dancing, underage drinking, and rampant drug abuse and there, in the eye of the storm, she finds the terrible yin to her yang: Johnny Castle. Unlike Baby, who cloaks her depravity in sweater sets and sweetheart necklines, Johnny openly telegraphs his rebellious lawlessness through a selection of black outfits in this sea of resort colors, a sinister shadow driving the only black car in the Kellerman's parking lot. It's no more surprising that he later turns out to be a gigolo, statutory rapist, and suspected thief than it is that Baby loves him; her blackened soul would accept no less.

Despite Baby's constant duplicity and undermining ways, Lisa continues trying to befriend her sister, asking her to cover while Lisa takes an innocent walk on the golf course with Robby, the waiter. Baby absently agrees, Lisa's problems of no concern to her. Later, Baby witnesses Lisa's moral purity in spurning Robby's sexual advances on the golf course, and she flies into a dark rage. Barely an hour goes by before she's engaged in clandestine late night meetings, bankrolling an illegal medical procedure and endangering the life of a dance instructor that she perceives as a rival for Johnny's affections, and then masterminding a conspiracy to defraud the staff of the Sheldrake Hotel out of a salary contracted to someone else.

Not satisfied, she then ruins Lisa's only chance at love by threatening to have Robby, the waiter, fired if he doesn't stay away from Lisa.

She also physically assaults him in his workplace.


Baby may talk a good game about helping underprivileged people, but she certainly has no problem with class warfare, does she? It took her all of thirty seconds to remind Robby, the waiter, that she could have him fired, because he is an employee, and she is a privileged member of the resort's leisure class. Her word wouldn't be questioned, and they both know it, even before she drives that point home with a strategic icewater pour.

Eventually, as it was doomed to from the start, Baby's illicit house of cards collapses, pulled down by the mounting weight of her parade of lies. She steps over Penny's weeping, bleeding body, watches from the comfort of the porch as her lover beats and humiliates Robby, the waiter, informs on the elderly and infirm Schumakers to divert suspicion from herself and her lover the sex offender, and then somehow convinces her parents to forgive her of everything with a few slick dance moves.

Where does all of this leave Lisa?


Before the final curtain, we see Lisa clinging to a desperate moment in the spotlight, yearning, trying, striving just for a moment to be recognized.


Minutes later, Lisa is once again upstaged by her sister.

Baby may have had the time of her life, but all Lisa got was a ruined vacation.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Postal Pride

Guess what I got at the post office today?

mail experiment 1

That's right. I got a sheet of Harvey Milk stamps.

I'm not sure how these are being sold or distributed at your post office, but I wasn't sure if they even had them at mine. The counter at my post office has a little display board that says, "The following stamps are available" and shows one of each stamp the post office allegedly has for sale. I checked the board by the first clerk and didn't see the stamp, so I checked the board by the other window and didn't see it there, either. Finally, I asked.

"Oh. Oh, yes, we have those."

They just don't advertise it or display them where any of the other stamps are. You have to go to the counter and ask for them, like a 1950's teenager buying condoms at a drug store, but I refuse to be ashamed. I asked if they had the Harvey Milk stamps in a voice deliberately loud enough for the entire room and entire line to hear, and I got my stamps.

You may have heard that this particular stamp has not been without controversy. Reactions from my friends have included, "Who's Harvey Milk?" and also "Why is it a big deal that he got a stamp?" I'm not going to answer the first one, because I assume your Google isn't broken, but I will answer the second one: It is a big deal because it says that gay people matter. It says that our contributions to society are important. It says that someday, any one of us could be on a stamp, just like any other important American.

It is a big deal because it says, in a small way, that we are equal.

Everyone isn't happy with this, of course. There's been the usual grumblings about deviants and perverts and agendas and lifestyles, and the loudest grumble came from the American Family Association, which urged their members to mark any mail featuring the stamp "Return to Sender". Their full press release is included in that link, as well as their letter to their members. It advises them to "Refuse to accept mail at your home or business if it is postmarked with the Harvey Milk stamp. Simply write ‘Return to Sender” on the envelope and tell your postman you won’t accept it."

OK, AFA. I'll call your bluff.

Now that I have my stamps, I went to the AFA website, and was advised that donations could be mailed to this address:

mail experiment 2

I've prepared a card:

mail experiment 3

mail experiment 4

And I've used one of my stamps:

mail experiment 5

Your move, American Family Association.