Monday, August 13, 2018

The Cowsills - How the good shines through


Back in time there's a place I remember,
Feels so long ago.
Everything I imagined was in my reach,
Knew that it was going to last ever more.

(Chorus)
All I can say, yeah,
How the good shines through.
They were some good years.
From: Some Good Years, The Cowsills

Have you ever felt you were about to achieve a higher level of success and for whatever reason, that next level was taken from you? Times that by seven and you may want to lean in and hear the story of an exceptionally talented family, a family that could have been rock 'n' roll hall of famers. When I say talented, each one of the six Cowsill children were musical naturals that could all sing and play different instruments to their perfect harmonies. The Cowsills were in fact real contenders in the rock 'n' roll world of the late 1960's.

However, this musical family story begins and looms with the dark cloud of Bud Cowsill, The Cowsills abusive alcoholic father, and controlling manager of the group. His actions alone, would not only create a tremendous negative impact to his seven children growing up (including his wife Barbara), but to their collective fate in popular music history.  This story doesn't end with Bud, but it does have a long and winding road with many ups and downs for all of the Cowsills due to Bud's complete control over the family. One quick example, look at the header picture above of the family band. There is actually one son missing from the band, Richard. Richard (who died in 2014) was Bob's twin brother and excluded from the band from the very beginning, by Bud. Instead of playing music with his siblings, Richard was shipped off to military school and then, onto two tours in Vietnam. Yeah, Bud's a great guy.

As you look at the header picture left to right- The Cowsills begin with the oldest child,  Bill (or Billy) who was the band leader and lead singer of the group. Billy and Bob (two over from the left) start as a duo in 1965 after learning how to play guitars in the late 50's and early 60's. They work up to singing together in clubs around Newport, Rhode Island and begin to gain some traction locally. Smelling success right under his nose, Bud steps in and to his credit gets the boys more gigs, and expands the group with John (fourth from left) and Barry (sixth from left). After a little reshuffle, John moves to drums and Barry to bass.

The Beatles were the four boy's idols and their sheer motivation and ability took them on a sky rocket ride, from the boys watching their heroes on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, to themselves appearing on Ed Sullivan only three years later in 1967. Leading up to 1967, Bud thought it best to add Barbara, their mother and then, Susan (seventh from left), and finally Paul (second from left) to the group. In effect, Bud had himself a Sound of Music rock 'n' roll Trapp Family Singers.

Bill laments in the film documentary, Family Band: The Cowsills (a film by Louise Palanker, 2011- available here on Amazon), how any teenage boy would react when told that his mother was going to join his rock 'n' roll band! But the family did exactly what was told of them by their father. If you get a chance, watch the documentary, it's a must see as I'm just skimming the surface here to a very complex saga.

From 1967-1969, The Cowsills have three top 10 Billboard singles and are riding on top of the world. Then Bud does two critical epic fails as manager. In 1969, he fires Bill (over smoking some pot, but it's much deeper as Bill is beginning to butt heads with his dad) and then, he fires the band's writing team of Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff. Korfeld and Duboff wrote, The Rain, The Park, & Other Things, specifically for The Cowsills that in 1967 reached #2 on the American Billboard charts and #1 in Canada.

I don't know how a father fires his own son, but Bill (only at 19) was the singer-songwriting leader of the band whose own star was rising fast. I will say that Bill was so promising as a musician, that if things had turned out differently, we might have been talking about him and The Cowsills at a level at least in sight of another family band, The Beach Boys. Today, Brian Wilson is called, "a genius," but even with Brian's own controlling father, was given a creative incubation environment that allowed him to thieve as an artist. Billy on the other hand was never given anything close to that incubation opportunity to steadily grow. Instead, Billy was often psycho bullied, physically beaten up and literally driven out of the family by his father that he moved to Canada to start a new life. Removing Billy killed The Cowsills as a top act who quickly crumbled and disbanded by 1972.

How does a working family regroup from such folly? To make matters worse, and pouring salt in an open wound, Hollywood comes knocking in 1970 and wants to put the Cowsill kids on  television (ABC) as a family band TV show. But instead of using Barbara Cowsill, they hire Shirley Jones as the mom, and after the family declines the offer because of this fact, hire Jones' real step-son David Cassidy to be the stars of the The Partridge Family (from 1970-74). I had to add the Partridge Family logo here because, don't you think it's a bit ironic?

In the years following, Bill and Barry both had a rough journey. Bill created a musical career for himself in Canada and lead various bands (including The Blue Shadows) and produced many artists, but also developed numerous health problems.  Barry who was a fantastic singer and bass player was also a teen magazine idol (my wife as a 6th grader was in love with him).  As an adult, he did some solo work but with a lot more drinking mixed in throughout his life. Barry died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as he refused to leave New Orleans. Bill died shortly after in 2006 from his medical problems.

Mom Barbara, died in 1985 from emphysema and who's memory (as "minimom") seems to be closely protected by all the children. One can only imagine her life with Bud and trying to keep her family together. As for asshole Bud, he died in 1992 from leukemia and according to Bob in the documentary, never accounted for the estimated 20 million dollars The Cowsills generated in the late 60's that he subsequently lost in the years following. To this day, the rest of the family has never seen a penny of that money.

So that's the backdrop past. However,  there's a whole flip side to the Cowsill family album- a family that can look back, but with a focus on moving forward with great character and stamina for life.


Bob who was forced to step into his older brother's role of lead singer when Billy was kicked out, has managed to keep the band The Cowsills alive and kicking all these years. Along with Paul and Susan they continue to perform as a band with a second generation of family members and many different offshoots.

John is a professional musician who played with the regroup of the band in the 1990's and today is the drummer of the touring Beach Boys band featuring Mike Love and Bruce Johnston. John is also married to Vicki Peterson, a founding member of The Bangles. Vicki Peterson has also played with Susan Cowsill in The Psycho Sisters. Susan along with playing with The Cowsills for many years has her own band, The Susan Cowsill Band and also played in the Continental Drifters. Bob Cowsill has played over the years with The Bob Cowsill Band and I included a great Beatle cover they do in the playlist this week.

So what attracted me back to The Cowsills after all these years? It was one of my favorite songs as a middle schooler in 1967, and their break out smash hit, The Rain, The Park & Other Things. That song has such a great hook. A couple of weeks ago, I looked it up on YouTube for my Summer Tunes blog, and now I still can't get the harmony chorus hook out of my mind!

I love the flower girl
Oh, I don't know just why, she simply caught my eye
I love the flower girl
She seemed so sweet and kind, she crept into my mind
To my mind

What really got my attention was not the original recording, but the 2004 video of Bob, Paul, Susan and Barry (including Bill's old friend and mentor, Waddy Watchtel) performing it live. The family had come together for a benefit show they organized for their original leader and brother Billy to help fund his medical bills. From this live recording and album, The Billy Cowsill Benefit Concert at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, The Cowsills were not just an oldies act, but a fresh band who still had the harmonies! In my playlist this week, you have to listen to, I Really Want To Know You with Susan on lead vocal, it brought me to tears. And if you're me, playing 'shoulda coulda', listen to their 1990 release, Is It Any Wonder, now please that song should have been a 90's era hit single!

Fast forward to now and The Cowsills have a new (and they say last) album coming out soon. 

They are controlling the distribution through PledgeMusic and here is the link to their campaign. As of this writing, they have 19 days left and just got 103% funded! I bought the pre-order CD for $15 (that must have been the  order to put them over ;-) and go ahead and hit that link if you're interested.

The Cowsills are currently on tour with the Happy Together Tour 2018 that I now see I missed in July in Orange County, darrnnnn. They are currently finishing the tour in the mid-western states if my little blog has somehow reached you on the plains.

I'll finish with the old saying, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" could be applied to the Cowsill children as they grew into adults. I can't help but think that Billy, Barry and Richard's identities and spirits were irreparably damaged by their father that had a lifetime effect and probably contributed to their early deaths. For Bob, Susan, John and Paul you see their love for all their siblings in the videos. They survived their roller-coaster up and down early years, and live their lives with such a positive energy moving forward, and that my friends is how the good shines through.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Summer Tunes


T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs
We've been having fun all summer long
Brian Wilson

Updated - Okay, starting week two of summer tunes as I have been busy on the YouTubes collecting now a 100 different eclectic videos for your summertime listening pleasure! This week I really got into watching Beach Boys videos, stories and just enjoying the music of Brian Wilson. Brian's one of rock 'n' rolls greatest artists and a fascinating character to put it mildly. I love this picture of him and wish him as much happiness as he has given all of us with his music! Please make some time this summer to relax, maybe next to a body of water, and listen to some music. Enjoy my friends!


Monday, July 16, 2018

Paul and John... via Dana Carvey

Getty Images
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little blog about Paul McCartney's new album, Egypt Station coming out in September. In the video playlist I included Paul's recent appearance on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.

This past week, I had a chance to see Dana Carvey on Jerry Seinfeld's, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, New Season 5, Episode 6. I just love this show and the Dana Carvey episode was great as Dana rolls through his impressions. He does a segment of the sketch with Paul McCartney talking to John Lennon in heaven about Kanye West. Now this was absolutely hysterical and I didn't realize that Carvey actually does a 5 minute piece on this in his 2016 Netflix Special, Dana Carvey, Straight White Male, 60. (As a side note - Dana Carvey is my birth class of 1955 and we all just seem to continue to ride that endless Beatles wave.)

So after the Comedians in Cars Episode, I immediately watched Dana Carvey, Straight White Male, 60 which I highly recommend. His Paul McCartney John Lennon sketch was so fantastic I had to find it on the Internet and write this blog. Anyway, Netflix didn't create a copyrighted clip for YouTube and the only other one I found wasn't up to par. So, thinking I could do a bit better, I set up me ol' iPhone on the tripod and shot it right off the big telly. I uploaded to YouTube and well... that lasted for about 15 minutes before my clip was blocked by YouTube (as it should Douglas Glen McIntosh), but I've now posted another one I found on YouTube (?)...

So watch the bit here with a few more gems stitched together to form the playlist, and then catch the entire special on Netflix, as it's a boomer's TV night event!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Harry Nilsson - Good Old Desk

My old desk does an arabesque,
In the morning when I first arrive 
It's a pleasure to see, it's waiting there for me
To keep my hopes alive


This past week I came across the 1968 song, Good Old Desk by Harry Nilsson from his third album, Arieal Ballet while listening to streamed music at well... my desk. I have a tricked out 60"x 30" sit to stand electric desk that I purchased at IKEA in 2015 (see build).  Since retiring from my 35 year teaching career, it has become my new place of work.

Almost everyday, I get up in the morning and write something into the cloud from my good old desk. It has really become an extension of myself as I grow my educational consulting business, do research, write my book (with Richard Oka), or post a music blog before my self-imposed deadline of Monday at 8am. The blog title, Monday Monday Music (yes inspired by The Mamas and Papas) but strictly named on my part to kick my ass into actually writing something every week.

My favorite desk story is that it's going to be Mary Kit's birthday a couple of years ago, and I decided to get her a 32" TV for her office/sewing room. I order it from Amazon Prime and it doesn't show up for a week. We call, they can't locate it and send another one out, and it comes in two days. Then, about three weeks later, the original comes with the box a little worse for wear, but its fine. We call, and Amazon says, "just keep it." The picture above of me standing, is MY 32" TV/computer monitor that I use to mirror my laptop screen, on my desk. I blow the text up and man, I can even take off my reading glasses and pretend I'm reading 12 point font again. Also, my grandchildren love to control the up and down button (with my supervision) and watch the desk grow and shrink.

So, if you're at your work desk right now and going through your email or on the web and come across this blog, take a listen about a place where maybe you spend a good deal of time. If you don't like your current desk, think of it as, "a sad song and make it better." I mean it, start right now, concoct a plan to get a better desk that fits YOU. Nothing better than creating at a space that you can call, "my good old desk."

If you already like your desk and it kind of follows with this song, knock on wood.



Monday, July 2, 2018

Paul McCartney - Egypt Station (peek)

Paul McCartney's new album, Egypt Station is set to be released September 7, 2018 but Sir Paul has given us several bits of new media to hold us over through the summer.

First, I saw the Carpool Karaoke with Paul for The Late Late Show with James Corden in Liverpool. I think its fabulous and the reason for creating this post.

Then, Paul has just released two songs off the album, I Don't Know and Come On to Me.

I'm still kicking myself for not seeing him at Petco Park in San Diego in 2014. These opportunities are shrinking with the greats and let that be a lesson mates to go see the band you want to see when your gut tells you to go!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Snow Patrol - Wildness

I've been checking out newly released albums for an upcoming blog when I came across Snow Patrol and their new album, Wildness.

Snow Patrol is an Irish band formed in 1993 that I had never heard of before and lead by wonderful singer-songwriter, Gary Lightbody.

Wildness is a nice mix of Power pop songs that can land within a lot of different people's musical tastes. It is one of those albums that lives between pop and rock as it just kind of pulled me in. So check out Wildness on your music Monday as I think you may be hooked to listen to the whole album.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Angels in the architecture and devil in the details

Image Source
A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
The sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

From You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon

If you read my blog last week, Paul Simon, The Rhythm Poet, you can tell I haven't quite let go of my recent concert experience. As I was doing research for that blog, I came across an interview with Paul Simon that really spoke to me. As an artist, Simon talks about the concept of flow where sometimes the music and words come to him easily, and other times he works and works over a period of time to complete a song.

Now please take almost 5 minutes to watch this clip now, and I'll share my take on the other side.


What struck me about Paul Simon's curiosity with his own creative process describes how all of us are similarly capable of creativity in our own way and not just reserved for artists or people identified as gifted.

I'm not one to believe that God is directly providing that 'spark' of thought, but rather, through our own experiences we are all able to cognitively channel and engage our brains to create something new.

Paul's line, "He sees angels in the architecture" is for me a metaphor for that spark of thought framed around the idea and/or thing you are creating. The creating itself is thoughtful but is sometimes coupled with a 'spirituality' of goodness that is coming from some place to you and through you.

I found a similar passage from an excellent blog by Shannon Rusk, apply titled, Angels in the Architecture.

I prefer to consider the expression a metaphor.  Because I do believe that architecture, and by turns its architects, have the ability to do good, or otherwise.  But for me the angels in the architecture are not winged creatures or other beautiful details and careful ornamentation.  Rather, I see the angels as being the experiences and emotions and connections that architecture, at its best, can enrich and facilitate for those people who live their lives within and around it.  They can be something that architects deliberately design for, or they can happen just by chance, or as a result of the way people choose to use or adapt the building.  

Image Source
I'm currently writing an K-12 educational ebook titled, Learning Environment by Design. I've been researching and writing the book for a year now with a lot of passion and motivation to see it take shape, and to see it through.

 I've come to learn two things about creativity. One, you create the conditions for your own 'flow' as angels in the architecture within the structure you're building.  Secondly, your flow is sustained through your embrace of the process of iteration as 'the devil is in the details.'

Iteration is the act of repeating a process, either to generate an unbounded sequence of outcomes, or with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration", and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. Wikipedia

This creativity ying-yang of flow and details is a wonderful loop of inspiration and pace. For me, Paul Simon's work has always had a spiritual quality that has touched my soul deeply over the years. I guess what I appreciate now more than ever is the beauty and craft in the making of his songs.

As a student and young person, when it came to writing, I was a one and done draft with little regard for the process of editing. It's taken me a bit longer, but I've learned to love and embrace the 'rewrite.' Paul Simon would know something about that.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Paul Simon, The Rhythm Poet


Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
from The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon

In my 12th grade English class the teacher Miss Dunn, did a poetry unit on Simon and Garfunkel. She unpacked Paul Simon's lyrics and we explored songs such as, The Sound of Silence and The Boxer as deeply as passages of Dickinson or Thoreau.

Paul Simon is simply one of American music's greatest treasures. By the late sixties, he had reached Bob Dylan's poet stature as the songwriter of Simon and Garfunkel.  But he just never stopped his momentum and continued to evolve as the quintessential instrument to channel American and world rhythms into music as a solo artist.

Last Friday, I got to see Paul Simon for the first time at Key Arena in Seattle. His Homeward Bound - The Farewell Tour is billed as the final tour of his career and at 76 I'm just going to have to take him at his word. His setlist included 25 songs with three well planned but heartfelt encores.

Joining me was my lovely wife Mary Kit, as well as my dear old friend Bill DeVoe and his good friend Neil Wiesblott from Vashon Island. Our foursome was part of the largely "Boomer" crowd that grew up listening to Paul Simon, and in turn, our children listened to Simon growing up with us.

In preparing for the blog this past week, I typically start with the playlist and wanted to feature many of the songs from his recent performances. I got really excited listening to Paul's 70+ year old voice in concert as the man is well preserved physically, vocally and musically.

On Saturday after the concert, I had a chance to have lunch with Bill and he talked about how Simon just continued to evolve as an artist through the decades, not afraid to explore and expose his audience to literally the rhythms and beats from all kinds of cultural influences. Our discussion turned to how historically white musicians have "taken" music from musicians of color and not given them credit for not only their influence but the dollars they have reaped from that influence.

You can go back to the 1920's and discover jazz performers such as Paul Whiteman (literally his last name), who was known as the "King of Jazz" to the larger white audience without publicly  acknowledging the black artists who in fact created the art form of jazz itself.

This too could also be applied to Elvis Presley in the 1950's as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" to the larger white audience, and if I'm not mistaken, never overtly talked in the media about how black music influenced his music. I will say many black musicians like Little Richard have publicly said how Elvis' popularity actually boosted their careers, but not said by the man himself, in front of a microphone or television camera.

But in the 1960's and by the 1970's this pattern had begun to change. Groups like the Rolling Stones and musicians like Eric Clapton, openly talked about their black musician idols, and "put their money where their mouth is" by getting them big time booking gigs and appearances on TV.

Paul Simon took it a step further. He started putting people like the Jessy Dixon Singers in his albums and on his concert tours. He went to South Africa under Apartheid, hired all black musicians, recorded and toured with these musicians, and caught a bunch of crap for it. There are probably people who think Paul Simon has "taken" African music, but I would disagree. If you don't like the fact that Paul Simon is a musical genius whose world influences have created some of the most catchy rhythmic beat hooks of all-time, you probably just don't get rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' Roll is for everybody but it's important to know where it comes from and to acknowledge the people who brought the beat, no matter who's playing it.

Then I learned to play some lead guitar
I was underage in this funky bar
And I stepped outside to smoke myself a “J”
And when I came back to the room
Everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and began to play
And it was late in the evening
And I blew that room away
Late in the Evening by Paul Simon



Paul Simon rocked Key Arena. He's got one of the most talented bands I've ever seen. I could only image the audition process to join this elite group of people who all seem to perform double duties of playing multiple instruments plus sing harmony or back up vocals as well. The percussion section is hypnotic and the horns are the pure joy of the soul. Paul was fully engaged, telling stories about the songs and his singing voice was fantastic! The crowd couldn't get enough as he moved from acoustic to full orchestral, big sound arrangements and back to acoustic guitars. It was not quite late in the evening and Paul Simon blew me away. I was not alone.


If you're wanting more, I would suggest Paul's new book by Robert Hilburn, Paul Simon the life. Here is a book review in the Seattle Times by Paul de Barrios. I haven't read the book yet, but I think it will be on my bedside table very soon.


You know when an artist is so enduring to you that you sing the lyrics and play the music of a favorite song, in your head. For me Paul Simon has that extra quality (like Stevie Wonder) when the rhythm of the instruments just play over and over in your head, in a good way.

Right now as I'm writing this, I'm playing the acoustic guitar lead into Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, in my head, and that my friends is a gift on so many levels.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Team Tortoise Part III: Carry That Weight

Boy, you gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
from Carry That Weight | Lennon and McCartney

This is the third article in a mini-blog series about running, diet and music. If you haven't read the other two pieces, Team Tortoise Part I: Born to Run and, Team Tortoise: Part II: Getting in Tune, start there and then return here.

I don't care how healthy the above picture looks, for me, bread is "crack carbs." I could eat bread at every meal and then have toast late at night, for dessert. This is a family thing, built into my McDNA. Of all things possible in my recent quest for eating better, my aunt gives Mary Kit and I an electric bread maker this past week, and now I think of her as a drug dealer. 

Like most Americans, I'm addicted to carbs. It doesn't matter if I run everyday the rest of my life, there is no amount of exercise that's going to control my weight. We've all known the science for many years- reducing the level of carbohydrates one puts into their body is the first and most important ingredient to weight loss and management.   

But finally, after trying to lose weight since my 40's, I learned something. DIETING is actually the enemy of "health is a lifestyle." Dieting is a counter productive activity, a "bait and switch" that tricks your body for a short-term weigh-loss outcome. 

The Seven Day Cycle of Eating
I'm learning that I don't need to diet, but rather, just monitor the food I choose to eat on a seven day cycle. This cycle, combined with running every other day, is my 1-2 punch to lose and eventually maintain a healthy weight to carry.

If you want to lose (or maintain) your weight, there is only ONE RULE that you have to follow for the rest of your life-
  1. Cut out, cut back and replace carbohydrate foods that you consumed in your past "crack carb life." If you actively identify and target specific high carb (and sugar) foods, you will begin to reprogram yourself with healthy eating habits of mind and body that require the most important element, consistency.  
Change here is really just a series of small behavioral steps. Over the past several years, I have made a progressive effort to either CUT OUT 100% or CUT BACK a significant percentage of my "carry that weight" hit list of crack carbs, on a consistent basis. 

Shout
Shout
Let it all out
These are the things I can do without
Come on
I'm talking to you
Come on
From Shout | Tears for Fears

  • breakfast cereal and oatmeal (100%)
  • dairy milk (100%)
  • pancakes and waffles (95%)
  • bagels (98%)
  • all soft drinks, including sugar drinks like lemonade (100%)
  • fruit juice, and fruit smoothies (95%)
  • dried fruit (100%)
  • chips (80%)
  • crackers (appropriate name - 90%)
  • flour tortillas (90%)
  • quesadillas (100%)
  • deli sandwiches, I love deli! (90%)
  • regular pasta noodles (95%)
  • rice (90%)
  • potatoes, fries (90%)
  • jam (100%)
  • cookies, I love cookies! (95%)
  • pie (95%)
  • ice cream (90%)
  • pastries/donuts (95%)
  • bread, pizza and beer (0%) "A man's got to know his limitations."

But, I just couldn't go "cold carb." I needed to REPLACE my high carb intake with lower carb alternatives throughout the week. Here's some of my replacement behaviors. (Hey I should add a song to the playlist by the band, The Replacements.)

One thing Mary Kit and I learned several years back (on a WeightWatchers® diet) but did not practice again until recently, was to buy only low carb bread. Now you're probably saying, "but I don't want to eat bread that tastes like cardboard." Actually, there are some great low carb sliced breads out there. Here's a little simple math you need to do in your search for any lower carb food.
  1. Look at the "Nutrition Facts" on the back label on most any food product.
  2. Look for "Total Carbohydrate" (example - 12g, from Dave's Killer Bread 60 Calories Thin-Sliced, not to mention Dave playing electric guitar on the front label)
  3. Under Total Carbohydrate look for "Dietary Fiber" (Dave's 3g) and subtract that number from the Total Carbohydrate number. So, for Dave's 60 calorie bread the total carbs = 9 grams per slice.
  4. As a "carb standard" Mary Kit and I try to buy food with under 10 grams per serving. For sliced bread, our current favorites are the "Dave's 60 Calories" just mentioned and Eureka! Sweet Baby Grains (homage to James Taylor!) at 10 total grams of carbohydrate (Both breads found at Vons/Safeway). Once you start reading labels, you'll find that most sliced breads start in the 20+ Total Carbohydrate range.
Some "new habits" for NOT carrying that weight
  • I have a body weight scale (to the 1/10th pound) and weigh myself in the morning after I have gone to the bathroom. I don't weigh everyday, because like most people, my weight is always fluctuating a couple pounds, but I do weigh several times a week to get a feel and monitor for the (ding, ding)... Sunday morning weigh-in. Hint- If I know I'm having a carb carnival on Saturday night, I do my weigh-in on Saturday morning, remember don't punish yourself.

  • My strategic plan is to lose 1 pound a week for however long it takes me to get to 185. I use Google Calendar for all my scheduling and on the upcoming Sunday I have my current weight listed as an "all day event." For example, this week's goal is 201. It's been my goal for two weeks now. If I go under 201.0, my next week's goal is 200.0, if not, it remains at 201 and I slide that 201 calendar event down to next Sunday. If I weigh 199 this Sunday, my goal for next week is still 200.0. and I put up a new calendar event for 200 for next Sunday. I try to remain "slow and steady" and most importantly, not to create a weight system that punishes myself or causes me to feel I have to be on a DIET.

  • Eat the majority of your your carbs in the morning. I often have two pieces of toast as part of my breakfast, but got to watch it for lunch and dinner, not everyday but maybe 5 days out of 7. Give yourself the whole day to burn those carbs off as they turn to glucose, and then from sugar to fat. Also, have a little real butter on your toast, and no margarine as it is part of the artificial diet machine.

  • Eat a banana (or two) one hour before you run. It is high in carbohydrate and you'll burn the glucose for your running fuel. Bananas are also high in potassium and for me help prevent muscle pulls while running. For many runners, a banana also settles the stomach before a run.

  • You must always hydrate everyday, but one hour before a run I also drink a 20 oz. Vitamin Water Zero (Lemonade or Orange) because it has electrolytes and helps with the muscle pull thing I tend to get. (Note - A 12-ounce serving of Gatorade's Thirst Quencher contains 21 grams of sugar.)

  • You probably noticed I never stopped eating bread or pizza. Behaviorally, I made a choice. If I was going to continue those two habits, I was going to need to cut out, cut back or replace other carbs I was consuming.

  • Channel your Jim Gaffigan (Bacon!) and have a couple of cheat meals a week. Your body metabolically actually needs the food change ups if you want to lose weight, and after all, "variety is the spice of life." (If you're a Seinfeld fan, kind of analogous to, "sex to save the friendship" to my take, "pancakes to save the stomach.")

  • Protein is your friend. Find foods you like with higher levels of protein and increase that percentage from your old eating habits. Eat your protein after a workout because protein helps repair muscle and tissue.

  • Start drinking protein shakes at least 3-4 times a week. My current favorite is Muscle Milk 100% Whey Vanilla Concentrate Blend (from Costco) at 27grams of protein per serving (no after taste). My simple protein shake recipe includes:
        -2 cups of Almond Milk
        -1 scope of the above whey vanilla concentrate power
        -1 frozen banana
        -a spoonful of peanut butter (helps the medicine go down) and let it all blend in the blender. This is my new smoothie as the frozen banana is the key to the smooth!

  • I now literally go "cold turkey" with my "new sandwich" - a cold cut slice (or two) of turkey or ham between two pieces of cheese.

  • I haven't eaten red met (99%) for many years now, but if you are a meat eater and like fish, increase your intake and you will feel the difference. If you hate fish, go with turkey, ham and chicken. For example, make a chicken salad sandwich and just leave out the bread. I make chicken salad with boiled eggs, pickles, mustard and some mayonnaise and just stir it up and eat it from the same bowl.

  • If you are a burger nut, switch to lean turkey pre-made patties in the meat isle. (Making patties from ground turkey takes too much time and they are just too dry.) I'm a cheese burger guy from way back so include the DELICIOUS melted cheese but eliminate the bun and keep the lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.

  • Avoid packaged foods with the leading label "Non Fat." That is a bait and switch for your mind but your body just breaks downs the excess carbs to sugar and stores as fat.
  • If you are a vegetarian of any kind, you still have to reduce your carbs and get more protein, otherwise you will never lose weight and keep it off.

  • Replace chips and crackers with (dry roasted) nuts as a snack. Costco has a good selection, but don't blow it and buy the trail mix (doh)!

  • Replace pasta noodles with low carb Dreamfields Pasta noodles. Believe me, you won't even know the difference between regular pasta and Dreamfields.

  • Sugar is the enemy. Choose sugar treats few and far between because the body is just going to convert it and store it as fat.

  • If I need a sweet treat, I buy a variety of low carb Atkins Protein Bars, they are delicious. I make sure to buy the bars WITHOUT artificial sweeteners. But use your common sense, you shouldn't eat 3 bars a day (I have, several times).

  • Fiber is your friend. It helps bring down your carb count and keep you regular in the digestive department. I also take a Philipps "Fiber Gummy" with every meal at home. I don't have any hard data (other than my scale) to support its helping me lose weight, but it's helping in the digestive department.

  • Buy most of your fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk from Costco. It's just Mary Kit and I in the house, but it forces us to eat these foods more often before they spoil. Nobody wants to throw away food, so it's just another built-in motivator. Also, we have a pantry we used to call the "carb cabinet." As your behavior changes, your pantry should reflect that change. Your refrigerator becomes the new snack machine with things like dill pickles, olives, apples, cheese and berries.

  • If you're a big time snacker like me, Become a big time berry eater. I eat a fair amount of blackberries, blueberries and strawberries from Costco. If you reach for the carb cabinet, take a few nuts and get back to the The Americans.

  • Lastly, if you are living by yourself, it's up to you to create these new eating and exercise habits. If you live with a partner, your task is a bit harder because with most relationships, you often eat together. I'm not going to get into couple behavior here, other than to say you and your partner need to be on the "same page" when changing up your eating habits. My weight drops over the years have always been tied directly to Mary Kit. Relationships are an on-going process and hopefully the concept of "team" comes together for the both of you during your eating/exercise transformation. 

Boy, I carried that weight for a long time, this time for the last five years. One day, I just got sick and tired of the feeling that I had lost my former self in image and flexibility at 215 pounds. As I mentioned earlier, I wrote this Team Tortoise blog series to continue to motivate myself and maybe motivate you in some small way. I know as a Clydesdale or tortoise, I will need to continue to monitor my weight the rest of my life. I continue to strike the DIET word from my behavior and enjoy the "slow and steady" mantra of Team Tortoise in my running and lower carb healthy lifestyle.

As a lifestyle, Team Tortoise is also about stress relief. Music soothes the soul and is as important to me today as when I was a young 175 pound lean running machine. I hope this blog helps you a little more to connect to music on a weekly basis so that the current burdens you carry don't weigh you down too much. And, if you're looking for a Frank Costanza, "Serenity now" moment, you'll find it in your music. 


Here's a running start playlist that I've been adding to over the last three weeks to get us moving and smiling.

Notes on videos chosen- The Dave Wottle 1972 Olympic race really inspired me to start running | My first running shoes were the Nike "Cortez" | The movie clip from, The Black Stallion is about freedom and the freedom running can bring. It also reminds me of running at the beach in 1978 when I moved to Mission Beach | The "mans got to know his limitations" clip is just knowing who I am and listening to my body | The Nike commercial with the boy running on the road is about us all being on that lonesome road all by ourself, and that we will prevail on our journey.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Team Tortoise Part II: Getting in Tune

Image Source
I'm singing this song
Cos it fits in well with the way I'm feeling
There's a symphony that I hear in your heart
Sets my head a reeling
I'm in tune
Right in tune
I'm in tune

This is the second article in a mini-blog series about running, diet and music. If you haven't read the first piece, Team Tortoise Part I: Born to Run start there and then return here.

The Who is one of my favorite bands of all time and their Getting in Tune was a perfect title that fits in well with the blog I'm writing. This week I want to continue my jogging journey by providing some tips and tricks that got me right in tune with an exercise routine that is currently changing my life in such a positive way.

For me, "Getting in Tune" is eating smart and running with a positive mindset coupled with a strategy to meet or exceed my goals over a period of time. (I'll write about eating smart as opposed to "dieting" in my third installment, Team Tortoise Part III: Carry That Weight, next week.)

Last week, I presented "The Chart" continuum from walking to running.

The Chart - moving in either direction (no judgement, just get out there and get moving)

Slow Walking | Walking | Walking Faster | Slogging | Jogging | Slunning | Running

Pick where you're currently at on the chart and make your first aerobic exercise goal - to move to the right at least one step. For me, sometime in November, 2017 - I said I'm going from slogging (slow jogging) to jogging to slunning (slow running).

Now for some suggestions on running.

Suggestion #1 - Where to run?
  1. Ideally, pick a place that you can walk (warm up) from your front door. Why? Because who has the time in this busy world? Convenience and Routine in exercise is your 1-2 punch for NO EXCUSES not to exercise.

    If the following suggestions don't work for your home location, then get in you car and go to that place or places that meet some of the criteria below.

  2. If you are are 40 years +, find places to run with either dirt and/or grass as the majority surfaces for your runs. Your feet, ankles, knees, hip, back and neck need as much natural shock absorption as possible. Take it from a guy with meniscus knee surgery, plantar fasciitis surgery and torn tendons from his left ankle to knee (from a wedding dancing accident). Running only on concrete and asphalt will eventually end your running life before you want to it to end. Here's my 2016 blog on the subject, Running Surfaces and the Road Less Traveled.

  3. If possible, find a running location that includes hill work. Better yet, a steady progressive incline for at least a quarter mile to half mile. I don't recommend a long steep hill especially on the downside because of the pounding to your joints. From my experience, almost all of my muscle pulls have occurred while running down a steep hill or decline.

    A variety of up and down provides the spice of life to your running routine. Your body and mind need to be challenged- to use your body's gears to go up, down and flat out.
Suggestion #2 - How long and far to run?
  1. Run no more than 60 minutes every other day. There is a body of research to back this up, but more than anything, it's just common sense in diminishing returns with age, muscle tissue micro tears, tears, and recovery time. Personally, I'm not an IronMan, nor want to be. I almost killed my body and spirit running a marathon and then discovered half-marathons were causing me injury and setback. Less is more grasshopper.

  2. Run no more than 5 miles. If you are training for a 10K (6.2 miles) then bump it up to 6 miles at the most for a short period of time. for the average person, less running = running for the long run of life. Remember, you're a tortoise that typically lives a long life. Also, refer back to the Running Speed and Pace Chart Conversion in Part I (I cut the original off at 5 miles). And in the wisdom of Dirty Harry, "A man's got to know his limitations." –Harry Callahan

  3. Injury Prevention with Compression Socks/Pants and Stretching. As mentioned above, I have a body disposition for muscle strain and tear. Someone in my travels suggested compression socks for running. I first started with the leg sleeves from the knee down to the ankle and then purchased compression shorts for hotter days and long compression pants for colder days. Compression pants combined with good hydration and eating a banana (for potassium) a half-hour or hour before I run, has helped me tremendously from my calf and thigh muscle pulls.

    Speaking of gear, I wear my compression pants as underwear and a pair of running shorts on top of that. Make sure you buy some running shorts with at least one zipper pocket for your car license and/or car key or house key. I'm a freak worrying if my house key is going to fall out of my pocket while running, so the zipper is a little piece of mind. And speaking of staying calm, I read in Runner Magazine many years ago, that peppermint, calms the body while running. I always bring 3-4 Altoids® in one of my pockets on a run and find more than anything that an Altoid keeps my mouth moist and I don't get a dry mouth while running.

    STRETCH no matter what your age, before you walk and/or run for at least 10 minutes - DO IT and make it a top priority. In my stretching routine, I also use two pair of 10 pound bar bells and incorporate that in my daily morning stretching in the house. I do the free weights everyday probably for a total of 2 minutes but it's amazing how this helps with your upper body and strengthens the lower back.
Suggestion #3 - Walk everyday as an exercise activity
  1. Even if you are on a running day, try to walk at least a quarter mile to help stretch and warm your legs, but more importantly, get your mind primed to begin to free itself. Mary Kit and I walk everyday together for at least 30 minutes. It moves our conversations outdoors and we appreciate each other and the world around us a little more. For walking, mixing up your locations is a wonderful thing, discover your city and region.

  2. Counting steps at work or around the house with a counter strapped to you is just gathering artificial data that doesn't change your life. Get OUTSIDE and walk as an activity unto itself. Life is better outside. Okay with that said, I live in San Diego and someone in a colder wetter climate might be saying FU (forget you) right now. Okay for bad weather days, get a treadmill, with a view. 
Suggestion #4 - Run outside with your smartphone
  1.  Rule one is always safety. A smartphone either on the street or the trail may save your life or someone you encounter out there. Stuff happens. I once saw a runner get hit by a car in a cross walk on a busy street and ten people instantly were on their cell phones calling 911. (Yes, several others were also attending to the individual on the ground.)

  2. Experiment and find out if you want to carry your phone in a running hip pack or side armband. I like a side armband and it opened up my world for using my phone as an active part of my running.

  3. I'm going to talk about music, but before I do, I would highly suggest you NOT wear earbuds while running either on a trail, backroad or the streets. On the streets, you need to HEAR THE CARS at all times. On the trail or off road, you need to hear other people or dogs coming from behind. Be smart, be safe. Now if you are running at a park with lots of people around you, I could understand the use of earbuds, but even still, I would use only one side. I've been hit by a car in a crosswalk on my bike at 12, and bitten by a dog at a park while running (a couple of years ago).

  4. For audio while running, I put my phone upside down in the armband sleeve so that the phone's speaker is pointing up and about 12 inches from my right ear. I can hear the music perfectly, and I can also pause my music app if others are approaching me to give them their space. More importantly, I can hear and be in tune to all the other activity happening in my surroundings.

  5.  I also started using a walking/running tracker app to monitor my pace and distance. I use an app called Run Tracker. Here it is for Android and iPhone. Run Tracker is free (with a pro version available). I use it to monitor my time, distance and average pace per mile. It has a number of simple and easy to use settings. I get audio feedback that I set a every quarter mile and get my split times for every mile. It will save your run history and you can look back to see you're progress. This app has simply been a game changer for me, it gently kicks my ass or rewards me every quarter mile and it has made a difference in helping me reach one of my big goals - 5 miles at a 12 minute pace for one hour. Hope to drop the mic on that goal by summer!
Image Source
If you read the first blog in this series, I started it by talking about my experience in signing up for a jogging class in Community College with my friend, Paul Hobbs. This past Saturday, I was in Santa Maria, met Paul and we drove up a little north for a run on the beach at Oceano, CA. After Forty-five years, we're still pickin' them up and putting them down together-
"slow and steady for the long run." Life is good with friends like Paul.

Okay, next week in Team Tortoise Part III: Carry That Weight, I'll cover the most important area, one's (my) eating habits and a plan (lifestyle) to NEVER DIET AGAIN.

In the meantime, this is a music blog after all, so here is my Born to Run playlist to inspire you while...running of course. Yes, download the YouTube app (iPhone or Android) on your phone and subscribe to my playlists starting with this one. Send me any suggestions for running or eating-themed songs and I will add to this list for next week. Happy walking or running my friends!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Team Tortoise Part I: Born to Run


"Slow but steady wins the race." 
The Hare and the Tortoise

This mini-blog series on running, diet and music may be more of interest to someone 40 years and older, but for those a bit younger, take note as the years do seem to fly by.

Looking Back
In 1973, I graduated from High School and then attended Alan Hancock Jr. College in the Fall of that year. I can't remember if it was either the Fall or Spring semester, but my good buddy Paul Hobbs and I registered for a cross-country running PE class. The class was great, Coach Kring took roll while we stretched and then we hit the streets and ran for about an hour. I was 18 years old and immediately liked the routine, so much so, that I have basically been doing variations of that hour running routine ever since.

When I say, "running" well that's an action word that I'm going to examine today and categorize "speeds" akin to the gears on a bike. In the 45 years since I started running as an activity, I'm NOT what you'd call, "a natural born runner." If we were talking horses, I'm a Scottish Clydesdale, kind of with a square block farm body but with a "born to run" attitude. I was never going to be that lean, long-legged runner with a kick and over the years, I kind of identified with the Aesop Fable, The Hare and the Tortoise.  The fable heralds the slow and steady pace of the tortoise who eventually wins the race against the overconfident hare who takes a nap during the contest.


In the late 90's, I came up with the concept of "Team Tortoise" and eventually created a web site www.teamtortoise.org and some graphics for t-shirts to share with others in the spirit of being the slow and steady runners at public running events or solitary runs on a country road. When I was a younger tortoise/turtle I probably averaged a 10 minute mile pace at my very best. I mostly ran by myself but had several regular running partners over the years (Paul Hobbs, Bill DeVoe, Mark Hunter, Bob Morris, and my daughter Katie). I've run in 10K's, a dozen or so half-marathon's and one marathon.

Over the years, that pace gradually slowed to a 15-16 minute mile and last November my weight hit a new high and a very low point for me at 215 pounds. I was still running or should say, "sloooow joooogging," but my weight in combination with my diet and exercise was summed up in a term that came to me during one of those 16+ minute mile runs, "a slog." On one memorable slog, I actually had a guy pass me on the sidewalk, he was walking faster.

In looking back, my college roommate (health science major) and life-long friend, Mark Hunter often said in our conversations, "Health is a lifestyle." I still hear those words today in my head, and I still want to live those words.

Moving Forward - Setting Goals
So last November, I decided to set some new goals for myself. One goal being that I would write this mini-blog series (along with some "running themed" music) not only to help myself, but maybe to also motivate anyone on the on-going journey to being healthy and fit. So please take this series as simply some "tips and tricks" in my own journey that may help you on yours. At 63, I'm still learning new things to help with my diet and running lifestyle, and it's a good time to share some things that I have learned on the way.

My 3 BIG GOALS  (with no timeline restraints attached)
  1. To slowly loose 30 pounds (from 215 to 185), and keep it steady at 185 for the foreseeable future
  2. To run a 12 minute mile for 5 miles (12x5= 60 minutes), and keep that as my new pace and distance for the foreseeable future 
  3. To listen to new and old music while running to inspire my writing for Monday Monday Music blogs
One of my sub-goals is that when I averaged a 13 minute mile for 5 miles for at least a month, I would right this first blog as motivation to myself. I'm writing this first draft on Saturday, April 28th as today I ran and averaged a 12:36 mile pace for 5 miles. Today was a big day as I also weighed in at 199.4 and hit my halfway weight goal on the same day!

The Team Tortoise "Born to Slun" Chart
My professional life as an educator often involved my passion to organize stuff. So when I started my new running goals, I wanted to develop a "no judgement" continuum from walking to running that could be applied to most ambulatory people. As I get older, my lifetime goal will be to always walk until I die. 

Walking
In humans and other bipeds, walking is generally distinguished from running in that only one foot at a time leaves contact with the ground and there is a period of double-support. In contrast, running begins when both feet are off the ground with each step. Wikipedia

Independent walking speed of course depends on your height, weight and gait but is commonly clocked for most humans at around 3 miles per hour (mph). Here is a little continuum that moves from right to left as we age or have an injury or medical condition. The continuum here reflects the typical aging process, but it can move both ways depending on your situation. Not that it needs to be said but, walking as an activity is one of the most important things in maintaining an independent life.

Walking with a walker << Walking with a cane << Slow Walking (below 3.0 mph)
<< Walking (3.0 mph) << Walking Faster

Slogging 
Slogging is my blended term that means "slow jogging" and shouldn't be taken as a derogatory term.  For me, it starts around 3.1 mph and moves up several tenths of a mile. The distinction between "walking faster" and slogging can be minimal as I noted above with the walking guy passing me. Here, I'm emphasizing that one does not just want to walk faster but wants to begin to run again by getting both feet off the ground.

Slogging = somewhere between 3.1 mph - 3.5 mph for us Team Tortoise types.

from Running Speed Pace Chart Conversion
Jogging
Jogging is defined in Wikipedia as running at a "slow or leisurely pace" under 6 mph. From the Team Tortoise perspective, I'm going to redefine that at under the 5 mph and a wonderful lifestyle pace of exercise.

Slunning
Slunning is my blended term that means "slow running" starting at the 5 mph pace and peaking at the 6 mph pace. If you identify as Team Tortoise, this is your holy grail, your little engine that could in PR (personal record) territory. My personal goal is to be a slunner (again),  to "get back to where [I] you once belonged" or, "Ah, but I was so much older then I'm younger than that now.

The Team Tortoise motto - Slunning is running!

Running 
Running is traditionally defined at starting at the 6 mph pace. And yes if this is you, well good for you, you are officially a Hare. Being a Hare, this article is not necessary for you, but I'm happy for you. Please continue reading and I apologize for my jealousy (as you are probably lean and can just eat carbs all day long, you're whole life, that's... awesome).

The Chart - moving in either direction (no judgement, just get out there and get moving)

Slow Walking | Walking | Walking Faster | Slogging | Jogging | Slunning | Running

Goal #1 - Pick where you're currently at on the chart and make your first aerobic exercise goal - to move to the right at least one step. For me, sometime in November, 2017 on my bathroom scale, I said to self, "I'm going to go from slogging to jogging to slunning."

This week's playlist is only one song and the theme for this series (even if it's a car metaphor), and purposely chosen as "the slow version."

Next week in Team Tortoise Part II: Getting in Tune, I'll suggest some walking and running ideas for turning on your humming engine and just getting out there, everyday.