Art De Vany on Modern Life

Found some memorable quotes from a T-Nation interview with everyone’s favorite Evolutionary Fitness / Paleo-diet guru, Dr. Art De Vany (Discovered via Richard via Billy Jay). On Modern life:

What we use in this modern world are the brain modules that served the hunter-gatherer well. We have adapted them to our uses, and they function well indeed.

But, ancient life was full of extraordinary cognitive demands. Imagine being on a trail with the formidable predators that roamed the earth then. Life was a very long camping trip with no camp stove or energy bars to get us through. . . .

So, if you take this highly developed mind and put it in an office cubicle doing spreadsheets all day, you’re using ancient brain modules in a strange and possibly unhealthful way. . . .

Life was a far greater mystery then, far more dangerous and far more cognitively demanding than the lives we live now. What we might call an adventure now is what life was like then, every day.

Our ancestors lived in small bands of around 25 other people. Every person was important to the survival of the band. They all had value and contributed in some way. Now you can see thousands of other people and the comparison is almost always hard on your pride or sense of worth. And it’s hard to see your contribution in the broader scheme of things. I think this contributes to a sense of a lack of purpose and meaning in your life . . .

The rest of the interview (which is extensive) is worth reading for Dr. De Vany’s comments on evofitness, body building, insulin sensitivity, human growth hormone, etc.

Twight: “What you need is uncertainty … something that forces you to reinvent yourself, a whip to drive you harder.”

Over at Gym Jones, I read Mark Twight’s comments about living:

Burn the bridge. Nuke the foundation. Back yourself up against a wall. Have an opinion one way or the other, get off the fence and rip it up. Cut yourself off so there is no going back. Once you’re committed the truth will come out. You ask about security? What you need is uncertainty. What you need is confusion; something that forces you to reinvent yourself, a whip to drive you harder.

The entirety is worth a read. It reminds me very much of Thoreau in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it too its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world…

Creeds worth reading often.

Better Health via Intermittent Fasting and a Low-Carb Diet

I’ve been on a low-carb diet now for about two-and-a-half months. This has consisted of eliminating all breads, potatoes, and starchy foods from my diet (Regarding fruit, I pass on bananas with only the occasional apple while still eating berries and other colorful fruits). Furthermore, it has involved intermittent fasting. Through this diet and with minimal exercise, I have reduced my body fat percentage from around 20% to around 10% representing a loss of some 15+ lbs of fat and the gain of a handful of pounds of lean tissue (Weight change from approx. 182 to 168).

This weight loss was the easiest, most satisfying change in my health and body composition I’ve ever experienced.

As this post is extensive, here is the general breakdown:

  • Intro and Intermittent Fasting
  • Low-carb diet
  • Implementation and Conclusion
  • Additional Reading
  • Footnotes

Here are the details:

Intermittent Fasting

Yes, you read correctly, I used the “f word”: fasting. And I can read your mind:

  • What? You starved yourself?
  • Is that for religious reasons?
  • Yeah, that’s called anorexia!

No, no and no. And if I missed any others, no to them, too.

I first got turned onto Intermittent Fasting (IF) via Richard Nikoley over at Free the Animal who had been practicing Art Devaney’s evofitness sans fasting for about a year. Upon trying IF, Richard immediately noticed results in the form of both significant weight loss as well as change in appetite.

Richard’s successes seemed interesting enough from a distance (Fasting? Fascinating but not for me!), but what catalyzed a personal trial in IF and low-carb came after watching a lecture1 by science writer Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories (“GCBC”).

The big takeaway from the referenced lecture was that insulin, not overeating or under-exercising, is the chief culprit in why people become fat. Since eating carbohydrates causes the pancreas to secrete insulin, there is a direct correlation between carbohydrate consumption and insulin secretion. Ipso facto, the argument is made that eating carbs makes you fatGCBC.

Could it really be that simple? Dieting and working out had failed to reduce my weight effectively — it certainly seemed like something else was affecting my weight. Richard’s success and Taubes’ conclusion sufficiently piqued my interest. Admittedly without knowing all the data, I chose to do an IF, low-carb experiement.

What exactly is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is choosing not to eat for a set period of time, which unlike your daily sleeping fast, is a sustained break from regularly occurring feeding. Translated into some bright line rules, I’d define an intermittent fast as going at least sixteen hours without eating (call that a “short” fast) or going for as long as 30 – 36 hours or three meals (“long fast”). As defined here, a fast requires there be no dietary caloric load on your body.

Fasting for longer than 36 hours likely will not only result in diminishing marginal returns, but it could also start messing with your metabolism. Most obviously, all fasts must be broken by eating.

Completing one to two long fasts per week so long as they are separated by eating a few meals can result in some drastic health benefits while causing no harmful effects on metabolism so long as you are completing some form of regular high-intensity exercise2.

What happens when you fast? Some interesting biological things, apparently. For one, the body moves to mobilize fat stores from the adipose tissue (the fat under your skin) to consume the fat as energy. It accomplishes this fat mobilization as a natural extension of reducing insulin concentrations in the blood as well as an increase in fat mobilizing hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and growth hormone. Interestingly enough, growth hormone is also released to conserve protein from catabolism. Protecting the proteins in your body during a fast is important because your body needs its lean tissues to survive (be they muscle or organ).

A benefit of fasting (for your mind) is that it alters your perspective on eating. At the end of a 30 hour fast, you want to eat something good for your body. You don’t want to gnosh on some french fries, slam a sugary soft drink and eat a bowl of ice cream. Even more, via abstaining from food even when it is available for consumption, you are putting your mind in control of your behavior. Taking back a bit of control over your life is an empowering feeling that leads to improved self-image and confidence.

Biologically, whether fasted or fed, your body is going to take measures to maintain adequate energy flows to demanding muscles and organs. Your body gets this energy from dietary sources or from storage within the body. The key here is that your body is always working to strike an appropriate balance (homeostasis) given the current demands. Were it not managing this process, both eating too much or eating too little would result in your untimely demise!

The ability of our bodies to regulate energy during times of feast or famine is evolutionary engineering. It is reasonable to posit that homo sapiens have only recently lived in such abundance that they could expect to eat food throughout the day, three times a day or more. Go back 50,000 years and you’ve still got mostly the same genetic footprint for human beings, but an entirely different supply of food. These were times when “foraging for food” meant more than a run to the pantry. In other words, our genetics have been engineered to allow us to go without food for longer than ten hours without resulting in our bodies failing. For a tidbit more on the evolutionary aspects of intermittent fasting, see footnote 7.

The bottom line: by reducing insulin in the body and up-regulating fat mobilizing and protein-protecting hormones, IF naturally turns your body into a fat burning machine. During a fast, your body will use whatever energy necessary, which will be similar to the amount of energy required were you eating normally. Over a long fast, if your body requires 2,500 calories, you could expect the majority of that energy to come from fat stores. Thus, the combination of IF with exericse is an effective way to reduce fat stores and work towards a leaner body composition.

Now, the astute reader asks, “Couldn’t you switch your body to being a fat burning machine by cutting out carbohydrates from your diet? If you only ate fat and protein, your body would have to burn the fat for energy, right?”

Good question!

Low-carbohydrate diet

And the answer is, of course, yes! The metabolic pathways while on a fast are the same processes when on a low-carbohydrate dietGCBC (Also see Eades here). This is because in both states (fat/protein-fed or fasted) your body is going to rely on free fatty acids as its main source of energy. Does it really matter that the fat comes from dietary sources or from your cells? Apparently, not3.

If you want to know a ton more about this, and I reiterate this in the footnotes, pick up Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, an exhaustive book about the science and history of the low-fat-is-healthy hypothesis, the varying research studies behind low-fat diets, the research behind low-carbohydrate diets, obesity, diabetes, insulin, caloric restriction, exercising to lose weight, metabolic syndrome, some biochemistry and more. GCBC is a fascinating and eye-opening read.

As noted before, Taubes concludes that insulin is uniquely fattening. And again, since insulin is released after eating carbohydrates, carbohydrates are fattening.

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that regulates blood sugar, or glucose. Glucose comes from carbohydrates either directly or upon digestion. The presence of insulin downregulates fat mobilizing hormones (Human growth hormone, adrenaline, noradrenaline, glucagon, for example). Upon the introduction of insulin into the bloodstream, free fatty acids are driven back into fat cells for storage as they are now deemed unnecessary given the newfound energy. When all this energy leaves your bloodstream, you get hungry! In this manner, consuming carbohydrates not only shuts down fat mobilization but it can even spur hunger.

Furthermore, insulin tells your liver to take glucose and make triglycerides or fat for storage. Even more, if you note the “glyc” in triglycerides — that is for glycerol phosphate which holds the long fat chains together. Guess where your body gets glycerol phosphate? From metabolizing glucose! Thus, not only does the presence of insulin spur hunger and fat manufacturing by the liver, but the glucose facilitates fat creation by providing the molecule necessary to build the fat!

Insulin, by way of carbohydrates, is like the triple threat to being lean. It follows logically that by reducing insulin concentrations in the body, you can curb hunger, stop fat storage, and maintain the fast-induced fat mobilization process discussed earlier.

You reduce insulin concentration by fasting and avoiding carbohydrate-dense foods.

Though it is unnecessary to fast while on a low-carb / carbohydrate restricted diet, fasting speeds things along via caloric restriction overall while still allowing you to eat normal meals when you do eat. Taubes contends that a fast effectively accomplishes the same thing as Atkins’ induction phase, which is a two-week period of eating twenty grams of net carbohydrates a day or less4.

Implementation:

Though this is by no means the way to implement this diet, this is my semi-specific methodology. You must pay attention to your own results and customize a system that works for you.

Fasting: On a day when I plan to start a fast, I eat breakfast and lunch. Then I eat nothing else until dinner the next day. During the fast, I am free to drink water, tea and coffee so long as no creams or sugars are added. Some even say diet soft-drinks are ok but I universally avoid artificial sweeteners. All said, this results in anywhere from a 26 – 30 hour fast.

I make it a point to do about twenty to thirty minutes of high-intensity exercise about an hour or two prior to breaking my fast (typically some combination of multi-joint weight-lifting like dips, pull-ups, squats, kettlebell exercises, etc.). Whether you do your high-intensity exercise while in a fasted state or not, the exercise must be done! It is not optional.

I break the fast with a nutritious meal with normal-sized portions. In all meals, I avoid or eliminate carb-heavy foods. I avoid bananas and apples and all juices while regularly eating all types of berries, tomatoes and avocados. Nuts are okay though peanuts are not nuts but legumes (I still eat them from time to time though).

As far as portion size, Art DeVany says, and I think this is sound advice, to eat to satisfaction not to fullness.

Breads, potatoes, legumes and candy are off limits. Yes I cheat from time to time. I accept it and don’t allow it to overthrow my broad efforts. I find myself cheating less more and more as my body further detoxifies from the high-glucose, high-insulin addiction. I do not avoid beer or wine though I am always sure to stay hydrated and again, pay attention to your bodies!

For breakfast, I regularly eat a couple eggs (yolk never excluded), bacon or sausage (uncured) and berries. Some say avoid dairy, I do not and have not, regularly consuming cheeses and heavy cream. I do avoid milk and yogurt (can’t find any yogurt without a minimum of 15 gm of sugar). Remember: fat is ok. For me, low-carb did not mean “high protein” — it meant “high fat”. We’ve all been programmed to be scared of “high fat” — if you need some guidance in getting over your fear of fats, pick up Taubes’ book.

After breaking a fast, eat at least six meals before doing another fast.

Some notes:

While on any initial fasts, be prepared for some folks to think you are completely insane. If you keep it up, you’ll laugh when you find some of these people trying it out themselves a month later. Also, some people may experience headaches while fasting (particularly women). This is your body struggling with the swithover to fat as energy. Feel free to start with smaller fasts (say sixteen hours) before working up to a longer fast. Again, this is very personal — the nuances of insulin-sensitivity differ from person to person. Do what works for you.

If you try this out, please report any results. Questions? Comment below or email me.

Finally, a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. All of the above is for information purposes only. Any experiments you try on yourself are your own responsibility!

Conclusion:

I feel good practicing IF and a low-carbohydrate diet. The cravings for things like pizza go away faster than you might think. Excluding easy, filler-type foods makes you a smarter, more creative chef.

Via this regime, nay lifestyle, I’ve gotten back down to a body composition level akin to when I was eighteen, something I had long given up as impossible5. And I’ve done it in only a matter of a couple months.

My results being undeniable, I now have my father-in-law, wife, and brother all practicing this diet, something I now see as a way of life6 that I can maintain indefinitely. My sister-in-law and sister are also dabbling with the diet, too.

Additional Reading:

  • Fat: Mark Twight of Gym Jones talks about how endurance athletes run more efficiently on fat than on carbohydrates.
  • Martin Berkhan on Intermittent Fasting — talks about his history starting with when he was clearly overweight, to uber-skinny model, to experimenting with IF and weight lifting. Also read an interview with Martin here.
  • Fast 5 — a free ebook about fasting on a daily basis, not unlike Martin’s regiment in fast duration. A good introduction to IF.
  • Artificial Sweeteners Cause Energy Disregulation: More compelling (to me) than the arguments that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, is the contention that zero calorie sweeteners confuse our bodies, causing disregulation. I’ve avoided artificial sweeteners for the past two and a half months and haven’t missed them a bit. Note: had to link only to the clip I saved as Art has moved that post offline (or out of public view).
  • Big Fat Lie: an article from the UK Telegraph on Taubes. Read it and get the book if your interest is still piqued.
  • Intermittent Fasting: Art Devany is an expert of sorts on the paleo diet (which is low-carb by nature) and evofitness, which is high intensity “power law” training. Here he talks about his approach to IF, which of course, would have fit perfectly with the paleo lifestyle. Art is 70 and looks fantastic. Read his post on mental clarity and fasting. Note: both of these links are dead as Art redesigned his site and took much of the original content offline (unfortunately).
  • Your belly fat could be making you hungrier: A quote from the research:

    The extra fat we carry around our middle could be making us hungrier, so we eat more, which in turn leads to even more belly fat. Dr. Kaiping Yang and his colleagues at the Lawson Health Research Institute affiliated with The University of Western Ontario found abdominal fat tissue can produce a hormone that stimulates fat cell production. The researchers hope this discovery will change in the way we think about and treat abdominal obesity.

    More from Devany here. Basically, the fat in your abdomen is the last to go — almost fighting for its own existence towards the bitter end!

  • A Motivation I Haven’t Written About: Richard Nikoley talks about the link between carbohydrates and cancer cells. Apparently, cancer cells have an incredibly difficult time running on anything but glucose and even then, they burn glucose quite inefficiently. For this reason, a low-carb diet may have benefits for people fighting cancer.

There are others which I’ll have to point to in the future.

Footnotes:

GCBC Despite the name indicating the book is about foods and calories (a diet book), Good Calories, Bad Calories is a fantastic read on the history of research on low-fat and low-carb diets, insulin, weight-loss, pre-Westernized cultures and nutrition, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, cancer (metabolic syndrome or “diseases of civilization”) and more. If you want to learn all about these topics, you must pick this book up. If you are skeptical about low-carb diets, I implore you to read GCBC. It is a fascinating read at approximately 450 pages (Note: the book is 600 pages, but 150 of them are references!).

1 Watch Taubes lecture on “Big Fat Lies” on Google video here

2 Defined as low quantity or time, high quality or work completed. Volumes could be written (and have been) on this subject. Bodyweight circuits where exercises are performed back to back (See C8B300 for an example) are one form of this. Tabata intervals are another. A Body For Life style cardio session is also popular where you do 2 minutes at Level 5 intensity, then four sessions of one minute each at levels 6, 7, 8, 9 and end with a minute at level 10 and then a minute of cooldown back at level 6 (This adds up to 20 minutes total: 2 warmup, 16 on the four minute intensity cycle, one at peak intensity, and one at cooldown).

3 Therein possibly also lies the answer to a question that arises regarding low-carb diets compared to non-low-carb caloric restriction diets. Research has shown that low-carb dieters can severely restrict calories, achieve significant weight loss, and not be hungry. Comparatively, non-low-carb calorically restricted diets wreak havoc on the dieters making them cranky and typically resulting in all the weight going back on upon ceasing the diet.

4 Many, many people I’ve talked to about this think I’m doing the Atkins diet. If I am, fine. Honestly, I haven’t read Atkins stuff well enough to say if I’m following his protocol or not. I mention the comparison of a fast and the induction phase as a means to point out the connection between fasting and low-carb diets as well as the benefit that fasting provides in terms of speeding along the process.

5 Having tried the aforeblogged Getting back to fighting weight (Post deprecated) Body for Life program and seen results, but only after untold hours in the gym (probably on the order of 100 hours) and pounding three protein shakes per day in addition to three meals.

6 Fasting twice per week is not something you have to do indefinitely. In fact, its too regular to maintain on a permanent basis. Our bodies should be kept on their toes! Periodically going to only fasting once a month would be an option (Or once every other week). Just be sure to mix it up. My guess is that once you try fasting, you’ll find that going on a periodic fast is something you want to do to clear your mind, body, etc. and/or ward off a cold, get over a weekend of gorging, whatever.

7 This diet conforms readily to the way our bodies seem to be genetically engineered by tens of thousands of years of evolution. Hunter/gatherer man wasn’t looking for french fries and rolls! It has only been in the past ten millennia that carbohydrate-dense, processed foods have been available for consumption. Our bodies simply struggle to cope with such a drastic shift in diet from nuts, berries, leafy greens (all slow-to-metabolize carbohydrates on the glycemic index), and meat to breads, rices, potatoes, and sugar which require immense amounts of insulin to regulate.

Locked out of the house: Using trash to get back in

A snippet of my adventure for the day as told via an IM conversation:

Justin: I go downstairs to eat lunch, pop a burrito in the microwave and notice that we had a piece of mail from our neighbor, so I grab the mail to put it in his mailbox … only as I’m closing the door, I realize that the lock is on, so I try to just semi-shut it but I accidentally shut it all the way.

Locked out.

Eric: no way

Justin: I have my cell phone, but nothing else. I realize that if I had a credit card, I could probably jimmy the lock as I have done this before with some success. Only, I don’t have a credit card or anything for that matter.

I pretty quickly decide to call my landlord who works out of the house in hopes I could catch her admin to let me in. Too bad for me — no one is answering.

I start looking around on the ground for stuff I might use to jimmy the lock … first item I see remotely useable: an empty nicorette chewing gum wrapper (like the plastic/foil/pill-type wrapper). I figure it’s worth a shot.

Eric: huh, well that is resourceful

Justin: It didn’t work. I even managed to get it stuck in the jam!

At this point, I look to our trashcan with disgust, but figure I have no other real options. I pull out the lone trashbag in the can and start rummaging. Everything is mildly damp and smelly. I try using some containerboard from a yogurt box, doubling it over on itself for extra strength …

Nothing. Too flimsy.

At this point, I try calling the landlord again. STILL NO ANSWER.

Cursing commences.

Eric: this story is outstanding. haha

Justin: I then decide that I’ll just walk out on the street and look for things that might be useful to jimmy the lock. Mind you: today was trash day, so I was hoping that by some odd chance some piece of refuse will come to my aid.

Justin: I see *another* nicorette gum wrapper (And wonder who is chewing so much nicorette near our house), and then imagine if I can use the battery cover of my cell phone to jimmy the lock. As I walk back to the house, I see on the ground a pull-off top from who knows what kind of canned food item.

Salvation.

I grab it, and a few cuts to my index finger later, I’m back inside.

Eric: hahahaha, you used a little metal top. that is outstanding — all b/c you were being nice and giving your neighbor his mail

In case you’re wondering, I do have a deadbolt on this door, which is used whenever we leave the house!

Tree Stand Fiasco

Getting into the X-mas spirit:

Over the course of Christmases past, my in-laws have only messed with artificial trees. They’re Hindu, so Christmas has always been a sorta secondary, when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans kind of holiday. This year, my wife and sister-in-law decided to take Christmas to the next level.

Since this would be their first live tree, they needed a tree stand. And since I was the resident White Christmas expert, I was designated the live tree selection technician.

We must have been feeling frisky because we ended up the biggest “8 – 9′ frasier fir” I’ve ever seen. I think it is more likely at least ten feet tall from base to the pointy top, full all the way. And for $60, that’s a lot of tree — too much tree, really. If you’re still buying your tree from the fly-by-night shops in parking lots and random lots around town, chances are you are overpaying for your tree.

Terrible tree stands:

Lowe’s Christmas tree stand offerings were almost exclusively Home Logic E.Z. H2O stands. These stands were stacked all around the tree cutting station making up roughly 85% of the stocked tree stands.

The 10′ version of the E.Z. H2O was $20. At first glance, the build appeared up to the task. My wife and I had twice previously used a Good Tidings Plastic Christmas Tree Stand without any problems, so I had no reservations about picking up this stand.

It was only when we arrived home, unloaded the monster, and unpacked the tree stand did I start realizing things weren’t quite up to snuff. The stand came without directions, which initially wouldn’t seem like a big deal but for the fact that there were these cheap plastic doo-hickeys that appeared to go on one end of the steel bolts. Their use is obvious now that I see a product picture like that above, but at the time, it didn’t seem to make sense that the red plastic end caps would go on the end of the bolts that touched the tree — is a plastic end-cap going to hold up against screwing itself into the base of a tree? Seems unlikely.

Another oddity of the stand was that the base of the stand (the part touching the bottom of the tree) had no metal spikes. Metal spikes at the base of tree stand are typically included by default, and I’d expect to see them in any tree stand. So why did I buy a stand without them? Simple: I didn’t know they weren’t there! The bolts/redcaps plastic baggy was taped to the bottom of the stand using two large swaths of non-translucent packing tape, covering up the area where the spikes would be. Therefore, I wrongly had assumed the spikes were there, only hidden. Oops!

My father-in-law, Uncle and I got working on the eight bolts sans red caps, tightening them into our monster tree. Soon enough, we had it standing upright, more or less straight. Er … crooked. We adjusted the bolts again. Still crooked! We got it “close enough” after about 30 minutes of adjustments and then put the lights on. The tree was crooked again! What was going on?

We decided that the problem was the size of the tree. Or maybe it was the cut on the base of the tree. Whilst we were diagnosing the problem, my wife kept saying, “it’s the stand!” We ignored her and kept adjusting the bolts. We even tried taking a rope from the wall about halfway up the tree to pull it towards the wall. Nothing worked.

Us three men finally gave up for the night, determined to sleep on the problem and fix it in the morning.

It was at this time that I finally accepted that our failure to straighten up our tree wasn’t our inability to get the bolts “just right” or our jerry-rigged rope not being tight enough. The problem was the stand.

Giving up. Trying again.

We went back to Lowe’s and reevaluated our options, of which only two stands were non-H2O stands. Of these two, both were Jack-Post stands, the Jack-Post Large Welded Tree Stand and the Jack-Post Oasis (Plastic) tree stand. Now that I had spent a great deal of time trying to make the H2O stand work (and failing), and having given an inordinate amount of time theorizing on what a great tree stand would be, it became quickly obvious that either of these two options would suit our needs better than the H2O.

We decided to go for the Jack-Post welded stand. It was easily the most expensive option pricing in at $50; however, it also came with a lifetime warranty, had the beefiest bolts, complete with steel nuts / caps (like the H2O redcaps, but beefy, substantial and threaded), preventing the bolts from screwing into the tree trunk. Did I mention it was constructed of welded steel? I mean, look at this beast!

The Jack-Post Beefy Tree Stand
Welded steel! Plastic be damned!

But even the Oasis looked like a better option than the H2O having larger bolts, reinforced plastic where the bolts screwed into the stand as well as threaded steel, steel base spikes, and steel end caps — all for a paltry $15.

The weaknesses of the Home Logic E.Z. H2O

And it is in the strengths of these other stands that the weaknesses of the H2O really stand out. So without further ado, here are those weaknesses:

  • An eight bolt design. The H2O must believe in quantity over quality. It’s not easy to get four bolts to evenly support a tree trunk in a stand. Doubling the quantity of bolts only doubles this difficulty.
  • The eight bolts were diminutive in size — problematic in that the thinner bolts are more likely to drill into a tree trunk, offsetting their purpose entirely.
  • A lack of metal. Yeah, the stand is plastic, but the steel bolts were the only metal parts! A key ingredient to exerting pressure on a tree trunk is that the bolts have a fat end where they meet the trunk. I suppose the non-obvious plastic red caps were intended to accomplish this task. However, I cannot fathom how a thin plastic cap could hold up to the kind of pressure exerted between a 50 lb tree and a steel metal bolt.
  • Further to the last point, the stand has no spikes in the base! Spikes are imperative for the simple reason that the bottom cut on the tree trunk is almost surely not going to be at a perfect 90° angle to the tree, itself. The spikes enable the tree to pivot, giving purpose to the offsetting bolts! Duh!

In every instance above, the two Jack-Post stands offered at Lowe’s succeeded and the H2O stand failed. More than anything, I am disappointed in Lowe’s for pushing a product so fundamentally flawed as the E.Z. H2O tree stand. It’s shoddy quality, more expensive than better constructed alternatives, and ineffective at getting the job done. And as for the ease of putting water into the stand? Meh! Who cares about putting water in the tree stand when the stand is lousy? Not me!

Conclusion: a tree stand that works!

It should be no surprise that the Jack-Post welded steel stand had the tree ramrod straight within five minutes of removing the H2O? Nah! And really, what is $50 for a lifetime, welded tree stand that you know is up to the task? Nothing! Which is why we didn’t get the $15 Jack-Post plastic stand. Any plastic stand may last three seasons tops before falling into disrepair. A lifetime of Christmases tells me to go beefy, pony up the dough and pick up a welded Christmas tree stand. Two out of two Indian uncles (and one white guy) agree: the Jack-Post welded steel tree stand will get your X-mas tree sticking straight up!

And yes, Lowe’s took the H2O back. Though I say shame on them for stocking it!

Beginnings


I wrestle with beginnings. How do I begin? Where to begin? What if I fail? There is so much to do — where do I even start?

Beginnings are overwhelming. How often have I never even started a project because I was too afraid to fail? Or how often has the complexity of a goal overwhelmed me, turning me off to even trying?

Whether it is the beginning of a website or the start of my day, the choice to start a new job or to learn a new hobby, the question of beginnings pesters and demands answering.

There are these problems with beginnings. Not only do they overwhelm and instill me with fear, but they are supposed to be big, loud, ceremonious, impressive and purposeful. Races begin at gun shot. Boats begin with smashed bottles of champagne. We toast at the beginning of a banquet. There are groundbreaking ceremonies to mark beginnings. Perhaps one of the grandest, most elaborate beginnings we can experience is the ceremony of marriage.

Often there is such pomp and circumstance associated with beginnings that we miss the entire point, which is merely to begin.

I conclude that, ironically, beginnings are stumbling blocks. Pondering the beginning, planning for it or making it grand accomplishes little more than distracting from the task at hand, which is to act, to begin doing that which I want to do!

With these problems at the forefront of my mind, I’d like to offer up a few ideas on how to tackle beginnings head on:

  1. Identify a sub-task of the overall goal. Just pick something — anything. Once selected, do the task.
  2. Once 1., above, is complete, repeat. Continue to knock off sub-tasks so long as you are progressing towards accomplishing the greater goal.
  3. At some point, after repeating steps 1. and 2. enough times, a certain overall order will manifest itself. When this occurs, take the time to see the big picture, planning as much as necessary (but no more!) to continue accomplishing your goal.
  4. Remember: a goal is not accomplished merely at the end. It is achieved throughout. The only lasting failure is that which comes from not even trying.

Note that the above ideas are merely focused on the beginning. They have nothing to do with recharging once you’ve become exhausted or begin to experience malaise about your overall goal. However, I think its worth saying that perhaps the best thing to do when you feel yourself losing interest or momentum is to start back at Step 1., above. The key is not to dispense with distractions and other trivial matters.

As for my own beginning, so completes the start of this weblog/blog/journal, with as little pomp as I can manage.

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