benchmarksblog

WHAT I LEARN FROM LIFTING & PLAYING

NUTS

It is crazy how much effort it took to procure freshly ground almond butter this week. 

The machine at the regular store was out of order and no one knew when the replacement part was coming in.

The manger offered me a free jar of any of the shelf brands but I refused. 

Almond butter is the favorite part of my day. 

I eat a tablespoon of it every afternoon and I insist on the freshly ground variety. 

It just tastes so much better. 

So I called same store in a different neighborhood and was surprised to find out that they didn’t even have a grinder. 

And when I eventually did find a store that offered this luxury, I had to locate a grocery clerk to refill the grinder because it was out of almonds. 

Then I had to walk to the other end of the store to get the quart size container because apparently, at this store, people only buy pint sized servings. 

So, I finally have almond butter. 

But crazy as how much effort it took to procure it, even crazier is how little effort I put into other things that definitely matter more. 

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RECIPE FOR DISASTER

I’ve been making these protein snack muffins for my last meal of the day.

 

So far, I’ve created four flavors: Meatloaf, Tuna Noodle, Chicken Rice and Sweet Potato Salmon.

 

I eat them on my first set break at work and the muffins are perfectly balanced with protein and carbs to fuel me through the night.

 

This week, I finally sat down, committed to writing down the recipes for the muffins, and emailed the instructions to my trainer and a few workout buddies who have been asking for this novelty food prep item.

 

I have a feeling that it’s not going to go well.

 

First of all, the portion size may not be correct for every individual, and if the ratio of protein to carbs shifts, the muffins may not hold together during baking.

 

Secondly, I don’t season this meal at all because I eat it during work. I don’t want to feel thirsty, I don’t want to be self-conscious that my breath smells like onion or garlic, and I certainly don’t to spend any time trying to pick out flecks of pepper or herbs from my teeth.

 

I warned them, saying that these recipes were developed specifically for my needs, that they might have to adjusted for each person’s needs, and to be fully aware that blindly following someone else’s instructions could turn out to be a recipe for disaster.

 

STEALING AWAY JESUS

The Christmas village is set up this year to reflect the socio-economic conditions of Detroit. 

In the wealthy suburbs, the streets are free of cotton wool snow, because they obviously have means to plough. But in the ghetto, the houses are almost covered over.

The suburbs also have amenities like the police station and the fire house. It’s a safe place to live and the school yard is full of rosy-cheeked children. 

In contrast, the “urban” neighborhood has blue collar jobs like the Christmas Tree Shed which requires manual labor, and Ye Olde Toy Shoppe, which we pretend sells adult novelties and pornography, along with a secret sex trade in the back.

It is next to this house where we place the manger, the prostitutes having overtaken all the rooms at a charming ceramic replica of The Inn on Maine Street across the way. 

Then, like I do every year, I hide the baby Jesus.

On the last day we are open before Christmas, I intend to put him in front of Mary and Joseph.

Except, this year I forget.

And I didn’t remember to do it until Wednesday, my first day back to work in the New Year. 

When I walk into the room that normally houses the Christmas village, I have a minor heart attack. The village has already been packed away. 

I stand there frantic, palms sweating all over the Christ child clenched tightly in my fist.

I don’t want to have a conversation about this with my boss, so I take the set of master keys from the hostess stand and spend all my breaks looking through every closet for the village.

I can’t find it. 

Just mail it back to the restaurant with no return address, suggests a friend.

Pretend you found the baby Jesus on the floor and give it to a manager suggests another.

Leave it on a dining room table for someone to find is an equally preposterous suggestion. 

I just can’t. 

The sole responsibility of returning Jesus to the village is mine. I cannot abdicate it or entertain the possibility of someone else loosing him. I will not be at peace until I place him, with my own two hands, in the storage box where he belongs.

Last night, I finally find the box, shoddily packed and careless kicked in the dusty corner of the closet normally reserved for other seasonal decorations. 

The box isn’t even sealed and it looks as though the houses would tumble out or break if it was bumped even a little bit. 

Surely, I think, the baby Jesus will get lost in here. 

I cannot bear the thought of spending another Christmas with a baby-less crèche.

So I wrap him up in my pocket square, and place him gently in my spare tip jar, which I keep in a Santa hat at the back of my office drawer. 

Until next Christmas, I will know that he is there safe, and waiting. 

BE THE STAR

I strike my last note at 8:30pm, walk out the restaurant and am seated in my pew at church by 8:45pm on Christmas Eve.

 

Candlelight service is the one tradition that I uphold every year,

 

This is my favorite church to attend because it holds a carol service, and manages to program all my favorites into a concise hour.

 

The homily this year is entitled “Be the Star.”

 

We are encouraged for the holidays and in the new year, to not just follow the star like the wise men did in order to find Jesus (salvation), but to shine brightly through word and deed, so that others can be similarly lead to redemption.

 

As I ponder my own constant search for “sparkles”, which can be briefly described as joy inducing incidents, and how I use these sparkles to fuel my mood, the couple in the pew behind me taps my shoulder.

 

“You played amazingly tonight, we recognize you from the restaurant,” they whisper.

 

Instead of chasing those sparkles, I’m going to be so much sparkles from now on.

IT’S BEGINNING TO FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS

The Christmas presents have all been sent out.

 

And in return, I have cards and gifts underneath my own tree.

 

Yet, even though I’ve playing carols since Thanksgiving, it doesn’t feel quite like Christmas.

 

Maybe it’s because all the traditions I’ve come to love haven’t been continued this year at work, where I express the bulk of my Christmas spirit through song.

 

We didn’t play secret Santa.

 

In fact, I didn’t even play for Santa this year because he decided to come on Mondays this season, when I’m not there, instead of the usual December Saturdays.

 

A local celebrity singer, as promotion for her new single, replaced my tree lighting duties.

 

There was no toy collection for me to put dolls, action figures and stuffed animals into compromising positions.

 

But mostly, I feel like it’s because I’m working alone and no amount of my own personal spirit can undo the enormous type of dysfunction that happens in the service industry during the holidays.

 

Still, I baked a large batch of brownies, and when I walk into work tonight, this annual treat that I give to my co-workers will, like it always has, put everyone in a good mood, and take us all through the weekend.

 

Remembering that as long as I have hope, it will always feel a lot like Christmas.

WHO’S GOT YOUR BACK

I have not even finished a phrase from the first song of the night.

 

A manager whispers into my ear that there has just been a shooting on our street.

 

No one is advised to leave the restaurant until the suspect has been apprehended.

 

So I play on, knowing that someone has my back not just tonight, but everyday.

COMEBACK

My trainer tells me to be patient. 

Even though it is healing up, my back will need time to fully recover.

And it is a slow process. 

Meanwhile, when a grumpy old man comes up and tells me, in the middle of a Christmas song, that his son is a concert pianist and that I am just “making a bunch of annoyance inducing noise,” I immediately ask him with which orchestra his child is performing tonight. 

The man mutters something incoherent under his breath and walks away.

Some comebacks are a lot quicker. 

PAINS IN THE BACK

The quadratus lumborum is a deep muscle that attaches from the bottom of the twelfth rib all the way down to the iliac crest at the top rear pelvic bone.

 

It is considered an abdominal muscle and there are two of them, each running down either side of the spine on the back of the body.

 

The one on my left is in spasm.

 

My trainer and chiropractor aren’t too worried, and frankly, neither am I.

 

The only people that seem highly concerned are those who inconclusively think I’m doing something wrong.

 

But the truth is, I’m doing everything right.

 

I’ve been consistent about sleeping with a pillow between my knees, and stretching after every set at the piano, as well as part of my training program, which additionally places an absolute emphasis on form when I’m lifting.

 

Even when I tell those people that things like this do happen occasionally, they still don’t believe something bad could happen to anyone who is good about leading a healthy lifestyle.

 

However, this has nothing to do with bad things happening to good people, and everything to do with simply just being human.

 

I accept that it is normal for my body to occasionally fail.

 

I have the means, the experience and the wisdom to work through this patiently, and to overcome the pains in my back.

 

The real pains are those who keep offering me unsolicited advice that they have no business offering in the first place.

CLASS ACTION

I receive legal notice in the mail from a brand of protein shake that I used to drink. 

Apparently, the company is being sued for falsely advertising the amount of protein content in their product. 

For the settlement, those of us who have receipts can claim $1 per carton purchased, up to $40. 

And for people like me, who didn’t save those receipts, I get to claim 50 cents per carton purchased up to $20. 

I’m not terribly upset, having switched to a diet consisting of primarily whole food years ago; meaning the bulk of the nutrients I consume comes from food that is processed as minimally as possible, and contains no added preservatives or artificial substances. 

But as I’m standing in line waiting to pay for the freshly hand-ground almond butter that I now insist on eating daily, I see a woman using food stamps to get herself crab legs, shrimp and rib-eye, items not currently in my own budget, and I start to fume. 

I’m not saying that the underprivileged don’t deserve luxury foods, or that the social-economics of a system designed to offset the cost of food for certain income brackets isn’t without its flaws. 

All I want to do in this moment is to be smug in my own special class of entitlement and privilege, while buying my pint of almond butter with the free money I’m getting from another unscrupulous business, when really, the only action I should be practicing is gratitude.

 

POUND FOR POUND

I put on a pound of muscle according to my monthly weigh-in.

 

Pleased with this excellent progress, I go to work tonight in the best spirits, and immediately step into a scene, where the sommelier is explaining to a very drunk guest, why the piano is only to be played, by the pianist, whom restaurant has explicitly hired to do the job.

 

Silently, I take off my coat, scarf and hat, as the guest keeps insisting that he “knows how to play this thing, dude,” with each repeated claim more sloppy than the last.

 

So as a final line of reasoning, the sommelier declares, “Our resident pianist doesn’t let anyone he hasn’t personally auditioned play for the house.”

 

To which, the guest unwittingly slurs, “What is this guy, a big faggot or something?”

 

I don’t even have to respond.

 

The sommelier stands by me, puts his arms around my shoulders, and replies, “Yes, the biggest one I know.”

 

Red-faced, the guest promptly leaves.

 

And we all start the evening with a good laugh.

 

I know, that with all things being equal, they may not be exactly the same.

 

For example, even though a pound of fat weighs the same as a pound of muscle, they both differ greatly in density, with muscle being about 18% more dense than fat.

 

Meaning, one pound of muscle occupies less space than one pound of fat, which clarifies the technically false misconception that “muscle weighs more than fat.”

 

However, love does truthfully weigh more than hate, because I just witnessed one ounce of courage and kindness pushing several pounds of discrimination and homophobia out the door.