This is my ever eternal struggle illustrated…

hot_body

Tacos are just too damned tasty and when I eat them, I eat far too many of them. Still, I strive to do better.

Managed to have a small streak of blogging going and then ran out of steam so here’s what I’ve been up to instead of blogging: Apartment hunting. Which is just a shitload of not fun.

Our lease is up at the end of May and we’re anticipating that they’ll raise our rent by another $100 which we just can’t afford. Our rent has gone up by almost $300 in three years and I’m almost paying as much for our two-bedroom town home as I did for the three bedroom we initially moved into. So we’re looking around to see what’s available out there. Right now it’s looking like we will have to leave Ann Arbor as all of the more affordable apartments are either in bad neighborhoods or at places that are in need of some serious renovations.

We’ve found a promising complex in Whitmore Lake that’ll give us two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a washer/dryer in the unit (stacked, but better than nothing). Pros are it’s a newer complex (about 10 years old), cuts my commute time in half, will allow us to keep our 2 cats, and is about $200 cheaper from where we are now (and probably even more assuming our rent is going up). Cons are it’s in Whitmore Lake which is a much more Conservative community than Ann Arbor is. And we have to pack up all our crap and haul it to the new location which doesn’t have a basement like our town home does.

Looking back, we probably should have followed through on our plans to buy a house last spring seeing as the alternative plan of using the money to try and get healthy has had very (very, very) modest success so far. That said, any of the places we were looking at would’ve been as difficult to afford on just my income as the place we’re renting now so I would’ve just been trading one financial difficulty for another.

Still, we trek on through this thing called life doing the best we know how.

Wow, is it almost February already?

turnthiscararoundLook at that. Nearly a whole month since I posted my Happy New Year message and the only other blog post was the one about my cat I put up earlier today. While I made it a point not to make any New Year’s resolutions, I did have every intention of blogging more frequently. Considering this will be only my third entry for this month it’s probably best that I hadn’t made it an actual resolution.

So what the hell have I been up to? Well, work has been a little nuts because The Automotive Company I work for decided it could save some money by switching the company we host our Exchange servers at. This meant migrating the email of all of the employees worldwide from one third-party provider to another and while I wasn’t involved with anyone outside of my office, there was still plenty to do here with our 150+ employees. That took up a fair chunk of my days over the past couple of weeks. Plus the usual catching up from the 3 week vacation I took at the end of the year.

Beyond that, it’s mostly been business as usual around the Jenkins house. We did make the decision to “cut the cord” and drop the TV part of our AT&T U-Verse service as the budget is very tight and it knocked $110 off of our bill. We still have U-Verse Internet and we’re relying on Amazon Prime and Hulu+ for our TV watching these days. Signing up for Hulu+ runs about $8 a month, but that’s a far cry from the $110 we were paying for U-Verse TV. We’re still able to catch up with most of the shows we watched regularly with the exception of stuff on CBS as that network doesn’t offer next-day viewing of its series on Hulu+. At some point we’ll pick up an indoor antennae to catch stuff over the air.

My daughter had a going away party last Sunday as she is set to move to Florida this weekend to pursue her dream of working for Walt Disney World. She graduated from Grand Valley with a theater degree and wants to build a career at the House of Mouse. She’s starting off in the Disney college internship program again for the first 6 months and hopes to transition to a permanent position within that time frame. I am more than a little apprehensive about her moving so far away in part because it will make it very difficult to help in an emergency and it was hard enough to see her when she lived in Grand Rapids and this is a lot further away than that. At the same time I’m very proud that she seems to have her shit together at an age when I was still stumbling around trying to figure out what I wanted to do and had a 2 year-old daughter to worry about. I will miss her terribly, but I couldn’t be happier for her.

Health-wise I’m doing OK at the moment. My weight is hovering between 285 and 288, but that’s down from the 299 I was last year. I’m not walking much at the moment due to winter being in full force, but I’m getting out on the days when it’s not quite so ball shrinkingly cold. I need to get back in to see the doctor at some point to get an idea of where my sugar and cholesterol levels are at, but they’d been in a downward trend the last couple times I went in so with any luck I’m still improving there.

I need to start thinking about finding a new place to live soon as our lease is up at the end of April and I doubt we’re going to be able to afford another hike in rent. I’d love to stay in Ann Arbor, but I doubt we’ll be able to do so without moving into some less than desirable apartments. Hell, I’d love to buy a house, but that’s definitely not in the cards as we no longer have anything close to a down payment on hand. I have no idea where we’re going to end up and it’s resulting in some sleepless nights. I really need to figure out my best-selling book idea so I can suddenly find myself fabulously wealthy.

That’s what I’ve been up to, what about you guys?

So I turned 47 on Monday…

awkward-moment-breathing-stairs… and I had every intention of blogging about it then, but I didn’t ever actually get around to it. That seems to happen a lot lately. Not that I have anything profound to say about turning 47 other than it’s weird being so close to 50. Forty wasn’t that big a deal for me, but fifty is freaking me out a little bit. Probably because I’ll be due for my first prostrate exam which I’m not looking forward to. For years I hoped they’d have developed an alternative to the traditional method by the time I reached that age, but three years out and no proper alternative is in sight. I’m also a little disturbed by how much my doctor is looking forward to that day.

I got some nice gifts for my birthday. My wife, ever enabling of my video game habits, bought me a Corsair Vengeance K70 mechanical gaming keyboard, a copy of The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4, and another volume of Red Dwarf on DVD (I’m slowly, but surely finishing that collection). Dave Hill of ***Dave Does the Blog sent me the Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray and I’ve got a few gifts from my in-laws that I’ll receive when I see them this coming weekend.

I’m still struggling with getting into the habit of walking. I’ve not managed to do a full week in some time now and it’s been over a week since I last got out and do it. I intend to do so tomorrow, but then I intended to blog on my birthday so we’ll see how it goes. My weight is fluctuating around the 290 to 293 range right now, but my physical last month was an improvement over the previous one. Being this close to fifty I feel like I should really have my shit together by now, but I’m just as disorganized as ever.

One annoying new development I’ve been experiencing is biting the inside of my own mouth. This is something that I almost never did in my youth, but now hardly a week goes by that I don’t manage to draw blood from the inside of my cheek or the area just under my nose while eating a meal. Just this evening I managed to bite the inside of my own mouth four fucking times. What the hell is up with that? Is this an age thing that no one ever talks about? It like I’ve forgotten how to chew properly. It’s damned annoying.

So, 47. Not sure I feel about it yet. I’ll keep you updated.

Is there something wrong with me?

Feeling like I’m from another planet is something I’ve experienced repeatedly ever since I was a kid. Especially when I see people upset about something and I can’t understand what it is they’re upset about. I’ll spend more time than I probably should analyzing whatever it is to try and figure out what the issue is and I always end up confused.

Take, for example, the reaction to a new cover for Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books is re-releasing the title as part of their Penguin Modern Classics range of books aimed at adults — it being one of the first kids books to be released in that line — and as such they came up with a new cover that they felt “highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life”. 

It didn’t go over well with fans of the book. On Penguin’s Facebook page the reaction was mostly negative with several folks saying they won’t be buying it. So what has everyone’s panties in a bunch? Here’s the cover:

charliechoc

So, yeah, it’s pretty creepy looking and I’m not entirely sure how it represents what the book is about, but I’m not sure it deserves comments like this:

I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that “adult” meant “inappropriately sexualized”?

Inappropriately sexualized? Really? The kid looks a little China doll zombie-ish, but I don’t see anything particularly sexualized about it. OK, there’s a bit of a JonBenét Ramsey vibe to her, I’ll give you that.

OMG It looks like a cover of Lolita, and it’s the cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory??NONONONONO

Again, not seeing it. If anything it looks like a badly cropped shot of a couple of mannequins from a 1950’s J.C. Penney sale ad.

The inescapable, sexualised, subtext of this cover really does need to be reconsidered by the publishers. I struggle to understand how the executive decision was reached to choose this image. Bad mistake Penguin.

Again with claims that it’s sexualized. Is it the hair? The feather boa? What is it that’s saying SEX to these people?

This looks more like a cover for Valley of the Dahls.

OK, that one was funny.

Clearly a lot of people are seeing something in this cover that I am not. As someone who literally does judge books by their covers I completely agree that it’s a bad choice, but mainly because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It turns out, according to the BBC, there’s a good reason for that:

The image is taken from a French magazine shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, for a 2008 fashion article entitled Mommie Dearest.

Yeah, I can see that. It definitely looks like something from Mommie Dearest, which is a completely different sort of story than Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

So I’m left to ponder: Is there something wrong with me that I’m not outraged by this supposedly hyper-sexualized image of a zombie girl?

Creeped out a bit? Sure. She’s got a death stare on her that’d fit in any horror movie. Not seeing the “sexy” in it though.

A small update on what I’ve been up to.

funny-thought-pleasing-everyone-cakeI’ve not blogged in awhile so I thought I’d at least get something up to say why. Mainly it’s because I’ve been pretty busy at work and have actually been spending more time than usual away from my computer once I get home. As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re also home hunting at the moment which has proven to be a lot less fun than I already thought it wouldn’t be.

In fact, this past Sunday we found a condo that we really liked and we decided to put a bid on it and things were going OK until a few hours later when our mortgage guy called to go over what our closing costs would be as well as the monthly payments. We’re trying to do this on my income only at the moment and the upshot is that the closing costs would’ve been about a grand and a half more than we actually had set aside for the downpayment/closing and then the monthly payment would be almost half of my net monthly income. Thus began my panic attack that evening. I won’t bore you with details, but suffice it to say that we withdrew the bid the next morning and decided to try looking for homes under $100,000, which there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of these days outside of cities we’d rather not live in. I’m sure at this point our Realtor, Mike Mazurek, is ready to pull his hair out, but he’s been incredibly patient with us.

Beyond driving our Realtor nuts, I’ve managed to get my dad’s computer upgraded to Windows 7 as my parents were still running Windows XP and support for that just dried up. Mom is supposed to get my old Win 7 Home license as I upgraded my machine to Windows 8.1 and moved my 7 Pro license to Anne’s machine, but when I went to upgrade Mom’s it was clear it wasn’t up to running it. I ended up bring it home so I could figure out what I need to do to get it to work and she’s currently sharing Dad’s PC. So if she’s not blogging quite as often as she used to, it’s my fault.

The only other new thing with us is Anne and I made the switch from Virgin Mobile to T-Mobile yesterday and upgraded our phones to a pair of Nexus 5s in the process. Took awhile for our numbers to port over, but we’re up and running and it’s nice to have a decent smartphone close at hand.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Nothing particularly exciting other than freaking out over trying to buy a home. I’ll try to get back into posting more regularly. Now that I have the Nexus I may even try blogging from that. Maybe put up some pictures. Maybe even a vlog. Though I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that.

We are officially looking for a home to buy.

CalvinonAdulthoodIt’s taken entirely longer than I ever imagined it would, but Anne and I are finally in a position to start looking for a house to buy. Having read umpteen million horror stories of first-time buying experiences over the years it goes without saying that we are a little intimidated by the whole process, but we’re jumping in with both feet because there’s really no other way to get started.

Ironically enough, our opportunity springs from Anne becoming unemployed. Her previous employer had an Employee Stock Purchase program as its form of retirement savings and as she is no longer employed there she had to option cash it out, which she did, and after taxes and penalties it’s just enough to make a 5% down-payment on a house of $150,000 or less. So that’s what we’re looking for.

We started browsing homes online Wednesday night on Zillow.com and I have to say that it’s amazing how quickly a real estate agent will get back to you even after 8PM. The first three homes we filled out “we’re interested” forms on called or texted me within 10 minutes of us hitting send. One of them already has a pending offer on it, which is a shame because it looked perfect online and was close to work. Another one had just listed that day and already had 11 offers so if we were pre-approved (we’re not) and ready to make a fast decision (we’re not) then it was an option. We passed on it. The third one in Whitmore Lake we’re scheduled to go look at this evening after work. Of the three, it’s the one we were least excited about — it’s an old house built in 1940 — but we figure it doesn’t hurt to look so we will.

All of the agents are, of course, trying to lock us into using them for any additional searches and that brings up the first problem we’re facing: How do you know which agent is willing to put up with us long enough to find a good deal on a home? A coworker suggested I ask each one how many homes they would have to show us before they got annoyed. I have a feeling we’re going to be a particular pain in the ass because A) we need something that’s ready to move into as I’m far from a handy man and I won’t be able to afford a contractor anytime soon, B) being that I’m buying a home so late in life I have every intention of making it the only home I ever buy… unless I win the lotto, C) I’d prefer to have city water/sewer and a finished basement, though that’s not a deal breaker if it’s a really good buy, and D) I’d prefer to avoid places with Home Owner Associations.

Our lease comes to an end in May and we need to let the apartment complex know if we intend to renew it a month ahead of time and that’s the second problem we’re facing. Rent is likely to go up (jumped nearly $200 last year) and if we try to do a 6 month or a monthly it’ll be even more ridiculous. So do we sign up for a year and then break it when we find a home? I think our agreement includes a clause allowing us to do so if we buy a house, but I’d have to double check it to be sure. We’re going to go into the office and discuss it with management soon.

So, yeah, the next weeks and/or months are sure to be filled with joy and peace as we undertake what I understand to be one of the more stressful life events you can engage in. Change is always fun, but if we don’t do it now I don’t think we’ll ever own a home of our own. Feel free to leave your horror stories of first-time home buying in the comments and, if you have any advice, that would be good too.

The secret to prolific blogging is small, bite sized chunks.

I’ve been trying to get back into blogging more regularly in part so that the folks who still come here often have something to read and in part to try and build up an audience again. So I decided to take a look at my archives at the early months where I had lots of entries such as March of 2002 (50) and January of 2003 (71). What struck me about the vast majority of those entries is that they are very small. Often just a handful of sentences in a single paragraph with a few consisting of as little as two sentences. There’s also a dearth of pictures of any kind and when I wanted to point out an interesting article I’d read someplace else I often just linked to it saying “go read this” instead of quoting sections of it.

This picture has nothing to do with the article. I just thought it was funny. Expect more shit like this.

This picture has nothing to do with the article. I just thought it was funny. Expect more shit like this. It’s hard to see, but that’s Christopher Walken. Get it?

I skipped around over the months and could slowly see how my blogging style morphed into longer pieces filled with blockquotes and pictures, but fewer and fewer entries overall until we get to the situation we have today where I’m lucky if I have more than 7 entries in a month. There’s a couple of factors that contributed to this that I can see.

First is the fact that the longer a blog post is the longer it takes to write. It’s not uncommon for a post like the one I did on the so-called atheist megachurches to eat up several hours of effort spread out over the course of a day. I might start writing it before heading into work, adding pieces during short breaks at work (over lunch or while waiting for a laptop to stage), and finishing it off in a couple of hours after I get home in the evening. Part of this is rewrites and editing in an attempt to get my message across clearly and part of it is research that I’ll do while writing the entry itself. Sometimes I’ll destroy whole sections after coming up with a new point to make during the periods when I’m not actively working on the entry. The atheist megachurch entry flowed out of me pretty smoothly taking a mere four and a half hours total to write, but those hours have big gaps between edits.

The second factor is the rise of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ which are perfect for blurting out a couple of sentences about something you thought other people would be interested in knowing, but that you don’t have a whole lot to say about. While my Twitter and Facebook accounts don’t tend to be particularly active (I find 140 characters to be very limiting and I generally just don’t like Facebook), my output on Google+ is as prolific as ever. I posted 10 items yesterday alone; almost all of which fit the style of blogging I did in the early days. The vast majority have a sentence or two and then the link to whatever it is I’m sharing. If I’m really worked up there might be a full paragraph and, rarely, there’ll be a posting that has three paragraphs of ranting. In fact, looking over my G+ timeline it’s clear that I’m sharing on average 10 to 15 items a day there. Even my Facebook sharing has gotten more frequent with items I think friends and family members would want to know about, though most of what ends up on my FB profile is still just Tweets imported in. My blog ends up being left to the longer posts which I write much less frequently due to amount of time they take. I tried to solve this problem in the past by using a plugin that would import my Google+ entries into SEB so folks could see and comment on them, but some folks thought they had to be Google+ members to see the entire entry (they didn’t, it was all imported into SEB) or leave comments (they didn’t, the comments worked the same as before) so I dropped it. These days my shortest SEB posts tend to be for YouTube videos I found that I think my mother would love to see so I post them here instead of Google+ where I would normally share them. My mother reads my blog, but she refuses to join any of the social media websites so anything I share on G+, FB or Twitter she’ll never see.

Looking back at the archives I’m amazed at some of the very short entries I wrote. There’s more than a few that are a single sentence consisting of some random thought that would’ve fit perfectly into Twitter. There’s even a few that consist of sentence fragments that tie into a sentence fragment used for the title of the entry. I can remember a time when I felt a little guilty about those short entries because folks would come by the site and there’d be a couple of tiny entries and I’d worry they’d felt it wasn’t worth the effort of launching their browsers, but it seems most folks didn’t mind. So I’m going to try and regress back a bit and start sharing some of the stuff I’d toss up on Twitter or G+ here on SEB instead. SEB is my home base on the Internet and there’s no good reason I shouldn’t do the majority of my sharing here. I’ll still probably post a shit ton of stuff on G+ with occasional spurts on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m going to make more of an effort to share stuff here at my virtual fortress of solitude. So expect more frequent, if smaller, content on SEB. Some of the entries might even be tiny or consist entirely of a funny picture. It worked in the past and perhaps a return to my blogging roots is just what SEB needs.

I am (probably) not the Les Jenkins you’re looking for.

funny-quote-nice-person-meetI don’t know about you guys, but I tend to think of my name as being somewhat unique. The truth is that it really isn’t. Well, in its full form it’s somewhat unique, but I don’t tend to use that form much opting for the briefer “Les Jenkins” that you’ve all come to adore. On one level I know that it’s really not that unique, but I still tend to think it is because sometimes my brain is stupid.

So when I suddenly get emails like the following:

Good Morning,

Thank you for your offer on 309 Mignon Ave.  The seller has chosen to go with anther offer.

Thank you for your consideration.

A Random Person

It’s a little confusing. What offer? I don’t remember making an offer. I’m glad they went with a different offer because I’d hate to have bought something I don’t recall making an offer on. Just where the hell is 309 Mignon Ave anyway and what is there that I made an offer on? Did I try to buy a crackhouse in my sleep or something?

It’s at this point that I remind myself that, as much as I’d love it to be so, I’m not the only Les Jenkins in the world. So I send a reply saying something like: Dear Random Person. I don’t recall making an offer on anything. Are you sure you have the right Les Jenkins? Sincerely, A Les Jenkins. 

When I did that today I got a reply back letting me know it was for a house somewhere in Alabama that someone had submitted a bid for on my behalf and it included scans of the documents and of a check written for the sale. The documents revealed that this other Les Jenkins has an email address of LesJenkins32 and he happens to be a real estate agent down in Alabama. Yeah, that’s definitely not me. I’m not that young or attractive anymore. (As an aside, it’s very weird to stare into the face of someone else with your name.) I replied once more to let Random Person know that there’s no 32 in my email address. Because I’ve been on the Internet for a helluva long time and am often an early adopter of new services, I managed to net plain old les.jenkins as my gmail account name.

Needless to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten email meant for some other Les Jenkins. A couple months back, I’m not sure if it was the same email address or not, but I suddenly found myself in the middle of a conversation about someone’s funeral arrangements. Someone was trying to contact that Les Jenkins, whoever he/she was, to let them know about a family member’s death. That’s an awkward thing to be accidentally included on. Considering the importance of the situation I replied as respectfully as I could that I wasn’t the Les Jenkins they had intended to contact.

There are a lot of us out there including a trombonist with the same name who was a part of Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra, an affiliate marketing guy, a “Goal-Setting and Achievement Guru” out of Colorado (who, coincidentally, is originally from Detroit), and a seemingly infinite array of others including a surprising number of rednecks.

So, yeah, my name isn’t all that unique. Kind of a bummer, but I’m sure I’ll forget that fact in a short while. At least until the next email for one of those other imposters shows up in my inbox.

My appearance on the West X Midwest podcast.

For those of you who didn’t watch it live, which is probably the vast majority of you, here’s the YouTube video of my appearance on the West X Midwest podcast:

If you prefer to listen instead of watch you can do so either at Libsyn or on iTunes. However you go about it, I make my appearance about half-way through. Don’t skip ahead, though, as the whole thing is worth a listen. In fact, if you’ve spent much time around SEB you’ve probably heard (read) most of what I say anyway. Still, for those of you in love with the melodious sound of my voice, this should fit the bill.

Time for another “Les isn’t dead yet” update.

exercisemotivationI last wrote about my state of health back on August 2nd so I figured it was time to give those of you who are interested an update on my current status.

The short version: I’m not dead yet.

The long version: I’m doing better. I still haven’t lost any weight — in fact I shot up to 308 pounds at one point which was a first — but I am doing better. We still don’t know for sure exactly what my chest problem was, but it’s gone away and hasn’t been back and I’m no longer taking Prilosec for it. I’ve been trying to exercise and count calories since that incident flared up and I started off really strong managing to do 15 minutes on our elliptical every weekday morning for near three weeks until my back flared up and I took a week off. Since my back got better I’ve only managed two to three times a week for reasons including sore legs and back twinges. I’ve also given up on trying to accurately track my calories as the MyFitnessPal app only worked occasionally on my smartphone and figuring out dinner counts was way more of a hassle than it was worth. Not that it matters as even with over-estimating how much I was eating I was still coming in under what it said was my limit that should have made me lose a pound a week and yet, as you’ll recall from the first sentence, no weight loss has occurred.

I saw my doctor this past Monday and told her about how demoralized I was getting with the whole process. I’ve been told repeatedly the exercise will get easier. It hasn’t. I’ve been told to expect a little weight gain at first, but after a couple of weeks I’d drop below my starting weight. I haven’t and it’s been almost three months. I still can’t make it more than 15 minutes without risking my legs giving out. The only indicator I had that there was any improvement is that it now takes almost 10 minutes before I start sweating profusely whereas it was just a couple of minutes at the beginning. Other than that I’m making myself miserable and not seeing any positive results for it.

My doc is a smart lady. She knows I need something to show me I’m making a difference so she orders me to have blood work done right then and there without bothering to fast first as you’re supposed to. So I do as I’m told and yesterday we got the results back.

I mentioned last time that almost all the bad stuff was too high and the good stuff too low. I specifically mentioned that my sugar was 254 and this time it was 247 which is still high, but my HbA1C, which is an average of my blood sugar over the past few months, had dropped from 9.8 to 8.2. The goal is to get it to 7.0 or under and I’m headed in that direction. My total cholesterol has greatly improved dropping from 235 to 140 with the goal being less than 200. My LDL (bad cholesterol) went from 151 to 79, the target is 100 or less, but my HDL (good cholesterol) also dropped from 36 to 27. She says that happens sometimes when you lower the bad stuff and not to worry about it just yet. Finally my Triglycerides were 169 down from a high of 241 last time and the goal for that is less than 150. Considering this was a lab done without fasting that’s seems pretty good to me.

So the upshot of all that is I am far from perfect healthwise and I’ve not lost any weight yet (I was 299.6 on Monday), but I’m definitely getting better. She wants me to keep exercising for as long as I can managed it every other weekday (Mon, Wed, Fri) and if I can squeeze one in on the weekends that’d be gravy. I’m still trying to pay attention to calories and portion sizes and she’s pointed me to a couple of other possible apps to help with that. I go back for another lab and followup in three months.

I’m happy to see that at least something about my health appears to be improving, though even a tiny bit of weight loss would go a long damned way to helping my motivation. I don’t think I’ll ever be thin again, but losing at least a few pounds would be really nice. So I’m keeping at it. I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m managing it in my own way.