I Also Do Healthy Things: Upper Body

Honestly, a lot of my exercising is aimed at increasing upper body muscle mass. With the amount of time I’m on my feet at work and out walking my dog, my willingness to engage in cardio is nonexistent. Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body is burning at a standstill, so it’s easier to keep my belly fat at bay.

Granted, I do a decent amount of upper body work at work and when I’m playing with my dog. Throwing around 161.5 pound kegs (thank you Wikipedia) and an 80 pound Doberman on a daily basis can get your whole body moving in ways I never even considered, and my many pulled muscles will attest to that. But, like I said in my last Healthy Things entry, there’s no way I could keep that up without dedicating a fair amount of my free time to increasing my strength (maybe three or four times a week).

Here’s what I do three times over about 30 minutes:
8 to 12 rotating bicep curls (fists start flush with body and wrap up as I curl) holding the shoulder strap of my weight vest (hand not in use at the small of my back to ensure that I’m isolating my biceps and not using my back muscles to hoist the shit up to my chest)
15 to 20 overhead tricep extensions holding the vest with both hands (hold over head while standing, clench abs to maintain posture, keep elbows tucked in close to your ears)
30 to 40 push-ups with the Perfect Push-up rotatey things

Here’s the why:
I start with 8 repetitions at whatever my new weight is (right now it’s at 35lbs), then once that gets easy enough where it doesn’t burn, I’ll up it to 10, then again to 12 before I move myself up 5lbs. This allows my body to adjust to the weight, and ensures continuous improvement without sacrificing form, which is important to maintain so that I don’t screw my body up too badly. The weight I’ve chosen is representative of the weight I feel comfortable with while still pushing myself – I want to barely be able to eek out those last few reps, but I also want them done right.

I feel like this is common knowledge at this point, but just for the sake of saying it:
Lower Reps + Heavier Weight = bulkier muscles (better at lifting heavy shit)
Higher Reps + Lighter Weight = leaner muscles (better at increasing endurance)
Both are important, and both build muscle, but I tend to prefer the lower reps version because I’m going for bulk. So why do I have my tricep reps so high? Because I’m lazy and don’t want to add weights to my vest in between sets, so I just increase the reps. Improvise and adapt or whatever.

I’m using a weight vest for a few reasons. 1) It’s what I have and weights are fucking expensive. 2) It’s adjustable. I can keep adding 2.5lb weights to it up to a total of 60lbs. 3) It’s flexible. That’s important because its shapelessness forces me to engage more of my stabilizer muscles. Also, if it’s flopping all over the place because my form sucks, I have pretty immediate feedback. Similarly, I use the rotating Perfect Push-ups things because it engages a more comprehensive set of my muscles.

This is the most recent iteration of an ever-evolving set of upper body activities I do. What’s important is that I can do it, I can do it quickly, and I feel like I’m pushing myself every time. Kinesiology is finding out new and exciting ways to get jacked all the time, and it’s fun to change it up, but if you’re bogged down by life like I am, it’s nice to have something you can do quickly that engages as many muscles as possible.

This is also worth saying again: the only reason I can do this and work and play with my dog with any consistency is because I stretch. In all exercises, you’re tensing your muscles to perform whatever motion, and if you don’t stretch, they’ll just stay tensed, which can lead to injury and/or looking like an idiot. As jacked as you might be, I’ll be the first to point and laugh at anybody who can’t scratch the small of their back because they don’t stretch enough.

So. Don’t be an idiot. Push yourself. Have fun with it. Stretch. Cheers.

Screw You, Too, May 10th

It’s springer than a motherfucker here in Chicago, and like the eager trees and flowers lining the city’s streets, the douchebags are in full bloom after only a few days of sunshine. This past weekend, I had to involve myself in two altercations with patrons of my pub, and venting to the people around me just hasn’t sufficed, so I’m back to writing (also I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty for suppressing the urge to type some shit out for far too long).

In the first display of machismo-laden idiocy, two gentleman who had been cordial with one another for upwards of 30 minutes suddenly turned sour on the prospect of friendship. Granted, the guy who was more of a regular does tend to spew his fair share of bullshit, but to most its simply the endearing behavior of an alcoholic. Tatted up, straight-brimmed-hat, large-cross-wearing white dude with a finely manicured chinstrap goatee felt differently about his rantings. After detailing his plans for expunging his previous assault charges by saying he’s on the autism spectrum, homeboy had finally had enough of our regular when he insisted that he had some Swedish heritage.

“If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m going to hit you over the fucking head with this glass,” he said, pulling the straw from the glass in what I can only imagine was an attempt at increased aerodynamics.

The regular recognized this as a legitimate threat, and knocked the glass to the ground. If you rewatch this bit on the security cameras (like I did), you could see my shoulders slump in a clear, “Please don’t be this dumb” body language plea for sanity. No luck. Homeboy hit the regular right in the face, dropped him to the ground, and continued hitting him. It lasted maybe 15-20 seconds before I got to them and pulled the guy off the regular, but it was enough time for him to land some pretty good punches.

My manager and I were between the two, saw a wallet on the ground, and I handed it to homeboy thinking it was his. He looked it over for a second, then handed it back to me because it was the regular’s. Pretty kind and compassionate post-face-punching, but hey, I’ll take what humanity I can get. Homeboy went outside to collect himself, I noticed a bunch of his blood on my arms (I assume he got cut when he landed on all the broken glass), then he was gone into the night.

Fast forward to that evening (the next day for me, but that’s only because I sleep during the day like a vampire as a result of working at a 4am bar). There’s a gentleman that I’d put at around 6’4″ and 250lbs wearing a black hat with red embroidery that reads, “45th.” Apparently that’s a Trump hat, and I feel like the potential that you’ll run into somebody who voted for a sitting president at any bar (no less a honky tonk bar) is pretty decent. One of my patrons felt otherwise, and thought it would be a good idea to walk up to that dude, poke him in the head, and call him a racist.

As one might imagine, the gentleman didn’t take kindly to being poked in the head, so he grabbed the guy by the neck and pinned him to the ground. I got to them in maybe five seconds, then ushered Pokey and his wife out the door, but not before the wife could call a few more folks racist, so then I had to stand in the way of those folks rushing up from behind me to continue the back and forth.

Somewhere in the frantic yelling, Pokey’s wife chided me for defending racists, and kicking out her husband who “protects our country” as an officer of the United States Navy. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m a big fan of the military in most regards. I’d say that nine times out of ten, you’ll get a fair amount of leeway from me if you tell me you are presently serving or have previously served in our armed forces. When you and your wife are screaming it in my face while I physically restrain you from coming into my bar after you literally ran across the street to continue your fight? Honestly, it doesn’t matter what words are coming out of your mouth at that point – you could be yelling about how Earth is actually round – you seem like the crazy person in the equation.

Ultimately, I was put in the position of defending someone whose political views I very strongly disagree with. Why did I defend him? Because supporting our idiot of a president doesn’t automatically make you a racist (I assure you, I would not allow explicitly or implicitly racist material through the front door). Because we are in a country where all people are allowed to support the politicians they want and wear articles of clothing that say as much (though in this instance, it was the most understated it could have been). Because there are no fights allowed in my place of business (no matter how justified). Because I’ve never been a fan of military officers who demand that they’re soluted by people of lower rank because it screams entitlement, and so did Pokey (he threatened to sue the guy at some point – you started the fight Pokey – don’t be mad because you lost).

Pokey, if you’re out there, I agree with you and your wife about a lot of things, and under different circumstances, we very likely would get along really well. But please, for your sake and mine, leave your shitty attitude back in the cold, dark winter where it belongs. The bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and it’s sunny as fuck outside. Have a cold beer and chill the fuck out. Cheers.

I Also Do Healthy Things: Stretching and Abs

Given how many of my posts are centered around times where I did unhealthy shit, I figured it was time to come clean, and let you all know that I often do healthy things to balance out all those choices. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to say that my lifestyle is largely healthy, but that’s just not as entertaining to read or write about. I’m gonna give it a shot, anyway. Maybe some of this will be useful to you other heathens who need a way to counteract all the bad you’re doing to your bodies.

Stretch

This is an important one. I’ve recently taken to stretching for about 15-20 minutes every day, and it’s paid off in terms of my ability to do my job well and continue with my exercise routines. Grab your yoga mat and throw Moving Art on Netflix, and you’re ready to reset your body.

Start with warm ups: exercises that get your body moving, warming up your muscles so that when you do start stretching, you don’t hurt yourself. I start at the top and work my way down: neck rotations, circular shoulder shrugs, arm rotations, toe touches, and leg raises (tuck into chest then kicking your own ass).

Then I run through about 20 different stretches I’ve learned over the past ten years from military training, way-too-thorough online research, and yoga practices. Again, I start at the neck, work down to the arms, then I skip straight to legs, and circle back to my back. When you’re spending hours lifting kegs and crates, stretching your lower back can make a huge difference, and has allowed me to pick up extra shifts when my coworkers peter out. At some point I’ll create a video running through this whole routine (and the other ones), so you can see the whole lineup. Until then, wing it to your heart’s content.

Exercise

I had a bartender say to me once, “You could basically use this job as your workout!” I think that was incredibly misguided. If I didn’t exercise in my off time, I wouldn’t be ready for game time (during service hours at the bar). I wouldn’t be strong enough to lift that last bag of glass-laden garbage into the dumpster at the end of the night. I’d pull muscles straining against kegs. I wouldn’t be able to confidently escort that drunk idiot out of the bar because I’d be too focused on my aching lower back. So, even when I’m sore from the night before, I push myself to get at least a little bit of exercise in aside from the dog walking and wrestling I do on the daily.

What I’ve found most helpful in terms of sticking to a workout schedule is short bursts of heavy activity. Basically, I need to cram a lot in to a short time window, as my schedule is hectic and I’m often tired. So I’ve come up with ab routines and upper body routines that I can do in 15-30 minutes if I’m pushing myself, and I do those 3-4 times a week most weeks.

Abs: I have a routine that I found a couple years ago that I find to be really effective (based largely on what I know about how the body works and how much pain my midsection is in during and after the routine). I’ve modified it to be a little more taxing than the original version, but I’d recommend adjusting the numbers to fit your level of fitness (don’t adjust them too low – push yourself into discomfort for the best results).

30 Crunches > 30 Straight Leg Lifts > 30 Cross-Body Sit-Ups (both sides) > 30 Bicycle Crunches > 1 Minute Side Plank (both sides) > 1 Minute Plank > 30 Super Man Crunches (lay on your stomach and contract your lower back to lift your trunk and legs off the ground).

I allow myself about 30 seconds of rest between each of those exercises. In the beginning (and for the rest of time), focus on your form. Do less repetitions, but do them perfectly, then work your way up in numbers. And of course, remember to breathe – inhale as you release, exhale as you flex. Your lungs take up space in your abdominal cavity, the less air you have in them when you contract your abs, the harder you can contract them.

There you have it. Entry one in the “I Do Healthy Things” category. More to come. Also, I’m considering doing a 30 day keto thing because why the fuck not? Plus 30 day challenges seem to be the most effective way to get me to actually do anything/write about it. Remember that meditation thing? That went well. I should maybe start doing that again, also…

Oh Man

It has been a LONG time since I sat down and wrote anything. I definitely feel a catharsis deficit as a result, which I’ve been conscious of for some time, but then I get all in my head about how what I have to say isn’t that important or impactful and then I don’t even bother opening up my laptop. I’ve written a couple blurbs here and there in the journal I carry around, but largely that’s been relegated to to-do and grocery lists, which is a shame. I’m going to make this easy on myself and just stream-of-consciousness at you for a while to get myself back in the groove. Thanks for bearing with me.

So a little of what many of my friends are most interested in: a recap of my experience of Saint Patrick’s Day (or at least the parts I remember).

I worked at the honky tonk pub the night before, meaning I didn’t get out of work until around 5am, which is actually really good for a Saturday. We ended up closing a little earlier than usual because here in Chicago, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations start as early as 7am for some people, so most people are passed out by the afternoon.

From work I went to the key club I’m a member of (key clubs are establishments closed to the general public, but open to members; this one happens to be a bar that closed down for financial reasons, but still takes cash in exchange for booze and is usually open until around 7 or 8 in the morning depending on how busy it gets) to continue the drinking I started after my shift. I meandered around for a bit, then got into a conversation about how attractive I am with a gay gentleman, who happened to also be accompanied by a beautiful woman. A back and forth about my sexual orientation took place, I carefully toed the line so as not to immediately limit my potential to stay involved in this conversation, and we ended up chatting for quite a bit.

At some point, my plans for the day came up, and I convinced them to join me on my trip to the suburbs south of the city, as I heard that was the most authentic Irish experience of the holiday. We went back to my house to continue drinking until around 11am when we got in an Uber.

I’ll say this: everybody that I ran into was very friendly, but also seemed a little guarded. I suppose the combination of me, a gay man, and a black woman was a little too city for some of them, but maybe I just looked drunk after what was about 5 hours of drinking at that point. Not sure. Anyway, none of the bars there have kitchens attached. One had a food truck “on the way,” and the one I finally got ANY sustenance at only offered me fried cheese curds covered in ranch. It was gross and delicious, and fueled my continued search for fun.

We ended up wandering around the neighborhood for a bit. I walked up to any number of random folks on the outskirts of house parties hoping that my friendly demeanor would grant me access to their food stores, but no luck. Again, maybe if I was by myself it would’ve worked, but I wasn’t.

Finally we ended up at one house party because some dude was convinced that he knew me, and who am I to argue? We hung out there for a while, then decided to head back to my place to continue hanging out and drinking into the evening. My new gay friend grabbed a case of Budweiser that had “DO NOT DRINK – PROPERTY OF [Insert Irish female name]” written in Sharpie on duct tape, and we Ubered it away from the suburbs.

Overall, I’d say it was a wonderful community experience. I saw a great parade complete with some great bagpiping and drumming, some adorable children, and some proud men in kilts. Had it not been built up as a mecca of debauchery, I would’ve probably enjoyed it more for what it was., but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.

Anyway, cut to today. I just filled out an application to work on a golf resort in Texas. It’s secluded (200 miles from the nearest Walmart per their website) and beautiful, and the south has been calling to me lately. Am I thrilled about the average temperature being upwards of 100 degrees? I am not. That said, I do like the idea of roughing it in the desert for a while to earn the right to use a southern accent from time to time. Also, it’ll offer me and my dog the opportunity to immerse ourselves in nature while I save up for my move to the Netherlands early next year.

That deserves some explaining. I spent the better part of five days heavily researching institutions that offer Master’s of Science degrees in Psychology, taught in English, around the world. I decided that a one year program would be better (read: cheaper) than a two year program, and would adequately display my aptitude for the pursuit of a PhD. As it turns out, the Netherlands offers some of the cheapest education to students coming from outside the EU, their schools are reputable, and they have an impressive quality of life. I can use the same planning framework for this as I already put in place for Vienna, so not a huge shift there.

Biggest shift: my cousin informed me that he would be moving out as of June 1st. He got accepted to a great acting program, and that’s wonderful, but it really fucks me in terms of consistency leading up to a major move. He offered solutions like, “sublet my room out on Craigslist,” which are fucking ridiculous, and I’ll never again subject myself to roommates I’ve not fully vetted over years of knowing them. So, the question is, do I move to a new place entirely (like Texas) or do I move to a more rural area surrounding Chicago, and maintain my current jobs? It’s a tough call. I’m leaning in the direction of a new adventure, but adventuring can be tiresome and trying. Of course, that’s never stopped me in the past.

Only time will tell where I go from here. I’m trying to maintain some degree of certainty during uncertain times, but it feels like an uphill battle. I am tired, I am working a lot, I am exercising, I am not writing enough, I am constantly thinking about what I will do next, and I am having trouble staying with any given moment. I’m also sick right now, which isn’t helping my mood any.

Usually I try to leave you with a takeaway, but I don’t have one for you today. All I’ve got today is an appreciation for the time you took to read this, and the time I took to write it. Feels good.

Separately, I’m sorry for any typos or errors in this – I shan’t be rereading it for revision. Cheers!

On Drinking – Present Day

There’s a dial in my head that’s been turned all the way to “information absorption” to the detriment of information dissemination lately. I had a rather heavy night out (read: “I drank really heavily”) a while back, and it sent me into a small downward spiral, and my inner critic had a lot to say when I handed him the mic.

He asked what the drinking was worth to me. Is it worth making friends with people whose names I can’t remember? Is it worth the hundreds of dollars I could have saved that night and the weeks of catching up on bills in the aftermath? Is it worth the multiple-day hangover and depression that inevitably follow? Or the lasting effects it has on my dog when I’m not willing or able to take him outside as often as I should because I can’t fathom getting out of bed? I think not.

About a decade ago, then chief drug adviser to the UK David Nutt, MD and a team of colleagues ranked different drugs based on nine different types of harm caused to an individual and seven types of harm caused to society. Alcohol was found to be the most harmful of all drugs (including heroin, crack, etc.) to society, and the fourth most harmful to the user. Dr. Nutt was fired from that position for saying that the government-sanctioned drugs were worse than the ones the government was trying to vilify – LSD, MDMA, and THC among them.

Much of alcohol’s harm to society is likely due to its legality, and the multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns encouraging us to raise a glass to whatever day it happens to be, or for no reason at all. There are, unfortunately, no juice bars selling small hits of Molly along with a kale smoothie – at least not that I’m aware of – but maybe that’s a much better way to hang out with your friends than having a beer together.

Don’t get me wrong – I love alcohol. I love the taste of it, the feel of it, the look of it – pretty much everything about it, actually. There are also plenty of studies saying that small amounts of alcohol can be good for your cardiovascular health, prevent kidney stones, safeguard against Alzheimer’s, and boost your social and sex lives. My problem is usually with the “small amounts” bit of those studies. When I drink, I fucking drink.

My friend called herself a “freegan,” meaning she only ate meat at dinner parties or when it was purchased for her. Essentially, she only ate it when she was socially called upon to do so. I think that’s the stance I’m going to take with alcohol going forward. If someone wants to buy me a drink, I’m not going to say no, but I’m also not going to ask for one or purchase one for myself. We’ll see how it goes.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I seem to have the thinking and the saying parts down, but there’s still some room for improvement on the doing. I’ll keep you updated.

Alone in Chicago

On Thursday evening I made my way to an event called The Anatomy of Connection at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. The focus of the discussion was on the lack of connection and the epidemic that is loneliness as we become ever more connected via the devices in our hands (or pockets or purses or on the table… whatever – stop nitpicking).

Loneliness has been linked to higher rates of mortality than air pollution, drinking, and obesity. In one of the longest longitudinal studies of health and wellness, loneliness at age 50 had a higher predictive power of death than high cholesterol. It can suppress our immune systems, lead to depression and anxiety, and in severe cases, suicide. It’s such a problem that the United Kingdom appointed a Minister of Loneliness.

Here in Chicago, a researcher had morning commuters do one of three things: engage the people around them in conversation, specifically avoid conversation with the people around them, and just go about their business as they would normally. At the beginning of the study, everybody who was tasked with talking to people thought, “Ugh, I’m gonna hate this!” By the end, those folks reported the highest amounts of happiness as compared to their counterparts.

The problem is that we all assume nobody wants to talk to us, so we don’t engage. We isolate ourselves in order to self preserve, then our empathy decreases as our defensiveness increases, and we start interpreting ambiguous social cues as negative. Moreover, it can be contagious as we all collectively avoid each other out of fear that we’ll get a weird look for saying hello or asking how someone’s doing today.

I know I’m guilty of this. I am a commuter in Chicago, and I certainly wouldn’t say I go out of my way to strike up conversations with people. I wouldn’t even say I go in my way to converse, given that folks are often pressed right up against me on crowded buses or trains. So, then what? Are we all just doomed to a life of self-perpetuating loneliness? Not if we put in the fucking effort!

M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and author of A Road Less Traveled, said that “mental health is dedication to reality at all costs.” The therapist giving the presentation noted that we have to practice what he called, “radical acceptance.” We don’t have to approve of our state of loneliness, but we have to accept that things just aren’t right in order to go about fixing any of them.

I lost my phone a couple weeks ago, and I just haven’t replaced it. There are financial reasons involved, sure, but honestly I just don’t want a phone. I find my quality of life to be higher right now. Sure, there are parts of my day where I wish I could call an Uber or text a friend right when a thought comes up, but do you know what I do? I write that shit down, I take that note home via public transit, and I reach out when I get there.

As a result of my phonelessness, I’m more connected to the situations I’m in. I’m not constantly wondering how many Instagram followers I’ve gained in the last ten minutes since my post, I’m not wondering about any event updates for that thing coming up this weekend, I’m not fretting over an unexpected phone call (most of which I just let go to voicemail even when I do have the phone). It’s relaxing. As evidence of how fucked up I was as a result of having my phone in my pocket all the time, I occasionally think I feel my notepad buzzing in my pocket. Guess what? It is not.

On Thursday night, I walked away by myself, but in my heart, I knew that I wasn’t alone in my loneliness. I think more of us are lonely than we’re willing to acknowledge (or accept to stick with the vernacular). So do me a favor, if you see me on a train or on a bus or in an airport, say hi (and buy me a drink if we’re at the airport, as I’m likely at the bar). Talk to me about your day, and I’ll talk to you about mine. Wake me up from the dream state proliferated by the screen in front of my face or by the endless stream of what-if’s I’ve got running in my head. We can do this. Together.

We’re all gonna die someday, but if we chat about it with a little more frequency, we lower our chances that that day is tomorrow. Sláinte!

Church

There’s an adorable English mastiff I saw a few times in the yard adjacent to the Lutheran church a block from my house. There’s a living quarters on the premises, so I guessed that that the dog belonged to the pastor. One day an elderly gentleman in that yard asked me if my dog’s frantic barking at his dog was playful or otherwise, and I guessed that he was the pastor.

“I’m pretty sure it’s playful – it sounds playful – but he’s a rescue and he’s so big that I don’t want to risk it,” I yelled back across the street. When I got home after that walk, I went to my whiteboard to-do list and wrote, “Go to church/befriend pastor.”

So yesterday, that’s what I did. In addition to that particular ulterior motive, I’ve been wanting to go to a place of worship lately. I enjoy the sense of community and the singing, and generally, I find church services to be a good reminder to be a good person as often as possible.

It was a windy day in Chicago, so there wasn’t anyone standing outside to indicate which door might be best to walk through, so I went through the front door. Opening the heavy wooden door was a dramatic affair as it blew open violently, and the wind rushed in along with a hurried me trying to get out of the cold. The small group of greeters standing inside looked at me wide-eyed and one said, “Well hello!”

I said hello and grabbed a program and started to walk by them, when they stopped me saying, “Do we know you?”

“No, I don’t believe you do!” I said, and I turned around and shook each of their hands (all of them were super awkward about it, but sweet, so I stopped myself from making snide remarks).

I introduced myself to the pastor, and laid the groundwork with a reminder of who my dog was. He’s loud, and a doberman with a tail, so he stands out in a crowd. The pastor remembered him and me by proxy.

The inside of the church was beautiful. Ornate dark wood carvings lined the front of the church, and behind that was a colorful abstract stained glass window. The same type of glass dotted the walls alongside the pews. The carpets were a deep red. Overall, I’d describe the space as warm and cozy, even in spite of the high ceilings and ya know… the churchy vibe.

By the time the service started, I was the only one seated in the first 4 rows, and the back of the church was only sparsely populated. Since I hadn’t been to church in so long, kept turning around to check if people were standing or sitting at certain parts. For the most part, I enjoyed my time there. The song selection was a bit dated, and I know we all love us some organ music, but if I slept less the night before before, the tempo would have lulled me to sleep.

The takeaway from the sermon was that we should more mindfully dole out small measurements of love to improve the relationships in our lives. Jesus said in Luke 6, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

To the children, it was put in terms of baking cookies, and the pastor handed out chocolate chip cookie mix packets to the children at the front of the church. My favorite part of the whole service was the audibly whispered, “YESS!” from one of the parents behind me.

After the service, I glad-handed downstairs between bites of homemade banana bread and sips of coffee. I put four boxes of Girl Scout Cookies on hold in the school office (I was supposed to go get them today, but my check didn’t go through, so I’ll go get them tomorrow – it’s only a block away after all). I walked back into the cold grayness of the outdoors with a smile on my face.

I don’t know how often I’ll go back to this particular place of worship, but I’ll definitely go get those cookies and introduce my dog to Cici (that’s the mastiff’s name). I also hope to open a philosophical dialogue with the pastor while our dogs play.

I spent a lot of time in churches when I was growing up, and the similarity between what Jesus said and what Buddha said (according to my recent readings) is striking. I mean, I always knew that, but churching it up yesterday reignited that bit of knowledge. Now I want to check out a synagogue, and a mosque, and a non-denominational spiritual center to see how everybody else is doing this whole “spread the love” business that I’m such a big fan of. Maybe I’ll learn something, or maybe I won’t, but I’ll be going in with an open mind and an open heart to see what there is to see, and spread some love of my own.