In defense of silly

Stop taking yourself so seriously. Every now and then, you have to just let yourself go.

2015-03-15 07.08.30A few weeks ago I did a 5k. It went fine. It's been a tumultuous six months, and I'd only just recently had the opportunity to start getting back into a running and general fitness routine. It went better than fine, really; I figured I'd come in at 38 minutes or so, and then I added in a costume and a Camelbak full of water, so maybe closer to 42 minutes. But it was 36 minutes, even all decked out.

Oh, and all decked out I was! Check out that photo! Green* fu manchu! Giant glass of green beer on my head! Suspenders! Shamrock shades!

To some extent, I think I'd become grumpy old guy. Maybe it was the severe Syracuse skies as winter approached again. Maybe it was working nights. I don't know. But I'd been taking myself way too seriously for a while.

Given the new setting, and the fact that I knew pretty much no one, I figured I'd go a little nuts. And it felt good to get high-fived and have strangers ask for photos. No need of deep conversation, no judgment, just a bit of old-fashioned silliness.

See the team photo at the previous post.

*The green "dye" was green food coloring and an aloe lotion. It came right out of my beard, off my hands, off the shirt and out of the dish. Use an aloe gel instead; it'll probably actually dry and set, which this never did.


How to publish an ebook on Amazon

Something I did recently was this. I compiled some of my blog posts, edited them a bit, and put them together in an ebook to sell on Amazon. It's called Resolutions for the Rest of the Year, and is meant to give you the tools to set and accomplish goals now that most people have given up their New Year's resolution.

Almost as important to me as putting the book together (it's short; go ahead and give it a shot, why not?) was the process. Let me tell you how I did it, so that you can do it, too.

First, I redeemed a coupon I had for Scrivener, an amazing $40 piece of software (that's without the coupon). It makes it really easy to organize a book, and will help you compile it for pretty much any format — Kindle, iBooks, hard cover, soft cover, PDF — and provides you with a bunch of tools for proofing and organizing research and putting together keywords to embed in electronic versions.

Next, because it's such a complete piece of software, I took advantage of a special on a Udemy course on Scrivener (at this writing there's not a special, but almost 20 hours, it's still a deal at $169 for Mac or Windows).

Then I put the actual product together. If you're going to try this, be honest with your self and understand that the software's easy enough to learn, putting the product together is the hardest work.

I did some searching for royalty-free art to turn into a cover (feel free to pay for some, too), put the cover together, spelled a word wrong, went back and did the cover again, and thanked my eyes for catching that.

Next, I signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon's Kindle publishing platform. It's a fairly simple process (it took about 15 minutes) to upload the book and cover, add some keywords, price it, confirm that I own the copyright on the book and click the submit button (which is the scariest part, but that was the goal of the whole project — pressing that submit button).

I sent that on a lunch break, about 2 a.m., and by the time I woke up about 10 a.m., I had a book on Amazon.

Your turn. Go!

Find your relax


It's been 32 days since we pulled out of New York and 14 days since I felt like a passed-out cat. We've learned a bit about our new city, some about our neighborhood, and it took us 10 days to figure out all our utilities, the last of which was the garbage, which has been piling up a bit.

The landlord told us she'd notify the HOA when she got our paperwork. The paperwork is at the listing agent's. The listing agent's firm doesn't handle anything outside of the paperwork. The neighbors we've met largely take their trash to work, where they have dumpsters.

The listing agent then told us to call the people who handle our water – they would handle our trash, unless they didn't.

They don't.

The other day, I saw some barrels out, and they were stamped with the name Savannah Waste and a phone number.

Turns out they're a small, locally owned private hauler, and that the city (who handles our water) doesn't go beyond a certain point. Our first recycling load will be picked up sometime today; we can finally get rid of some trash on Monday.

On top of that, we've now had stuff like furniture and boxes full of our belongings for three days. So, we're unpacking on top of everything else.

We're both working full time, too.

feetWe're also figuring out where to find some relaxation, and one of those places, it turns out, is Tybee Island, a half hour drive away, with restaurants and beaches and restaurants and beaches.

It's exactly what you'd expect from a beach community. Really expensive housing with the occasional tiny bungalow or trailer park thrown in. Nice restaurants that look shabby because the salt air has messed with the paint and the wood.

We took two hours at brunch on Sunday, then walked over to the beach, where we hung out for another couple of hours. The water was chilly, and I guess the air was too cold for the locals; it was really sparse out there.

But it was beautiful, and relaxing, and even though I had a tough night ahead at work (busy and short-staffed), everything felt right.

Onward we march, until we bury our feet in the sand.

Rest, recover

This is how I feel today. [credit]

Those of you who know me personally know it has been a wild-n-crazy month for the Shear family.

On the night of Nov. 4, tenants signed a lease on our house in Central New York under the condition that they could take possession at 4 a.m. on Nov. 17, which means we had to be out Nov 16. That means we had to pack up and clean a house, plan movers and find a place to go in 11 days (they signed after 8 p.m. and we were going to have leave early on the 16th, so we didn't even get that 12th day).

We got a 24-foot rental truck and a trailer for one of our cars. I drove the truck, Jenny drove my minivan behind. We pulled out at 11 a.m. on the 16th, drove to a hotel in Harrisburg, Pa., that night, where I worked a full shift, met some folks from work in the morning (we all work from our various residences, so it's always cool when we get to meet each other), and then hit the road again for a 10-hour drive to Charlotte. The next day, we pulled into my parents' place in CHarleston, S.C., and promptly collapsed before waking up and heading to Savannah to unload all our stuff into a storage unit.

That was Nov. 19, and the next day, we rested.

On Nov. 21, we began our search for housing, keeping in mind we had a 2-hour commute each way from Charleston and I had to be at work at 6 p.m. We made the trip six times in eight days leading up to Thanksgiving.

On Monday of this week (Dec. 1), we signed a lease on a house in the Georgetown section of Savannah. On Tuesday, the electricity went on and yesterday they turned on the water. We're hoping to only have to take another trip or two down before we won't have to return to Charleston except to visit.

We're blessed and grateful to have the kind of family that says, "Hey, you need to take over a small room in the house for a few weeks? Go ahead!" We're also really happy to be able to settle into our own space and start putting the house back together soon.

But today, we rest. It's really important, actually. Your body wasn't meant to go hard 16-20 hours a day for weeks on end. It was designed to do some work, recover, do more work, recover, do some more work, and recover.

Over the next couple of months, as we get embedded into a new community and, let's face it, a new culture, expect there to be some community-building posts and some stuff I discover about the city, which has a very interesting history.

Introducing The Bearded Brain

in-the-earsYou may have seen me, over the past couple of weeks, posting on social media about The Bearded Brain, a new email newsletter I've put together.

Just a little bit about it: It's a collection of some interesting stuff I've seen, listened to, and, sometimes, discussed with friends throughout the week.

It's free, it's weekly (I send it on Tuesday), and I think you'll find it interesting.

You can see an issue here, so you know what to expect.

It's off to a good start, and I'd appreciate you trying it out for a couple of issues. I use a third party tool, so you can do your subscribing through them, and later unsubscribe with them if you wish, so there's no awkward, "Uh, Josh, I think I'm good" moment if you don't like it.

You can sign up here.

Thanks for checking it out!

End-of-summer to Thanksgiving challenge: Week 2

I thought I was actually going to put on a couple of pounds this week. I've been having some major food issues — notably not eating enough calories during the day, then back-loading on high-sugar foods at midnight or later to catch up.

2014-weight-loss-002But I listened to Steve Austin's podcast (auto-plays, NSFW), and someone asked about his diet, since he's trying to lean out for some upcoming TV shows. He's eating a lot of protein (350g) and calories (over 3,000), which is way more than I need, but he's also filling some of his meals out with oatmeal and potatoes and rice.

So I picked up some of those dense starches to take the place of things like, oh, peanut butter cups and cookies. And even in just a couple of days, it worked wonders. So, that's going to be part of the plan for the fall, I think. Not whole meals of piles of rice, of course, but a couple of fistfuls of oatmeal in my protein shake in the morning means it will stick a little longer. In fact, the first time I did it, it was 30g of whey protein, a banana, a serving of peanut butter and a little bit of oatmeal, and I had enough fuel for a three-mile run three hours after I drank it, on what was supposed to be a rest day (I just had some energy I needed to get out).

Anyway. It was also a pushups and pull-ups day. My two-minute max pushups was up almost 15%; my pull-ups increased twice that.

Here's the updated tracker sheet.

Weight Miles 2-minute pushups Pullups 3 sets to failure (total)
8/25/2014 163.2 N/A 63 23
9/1/2014 161.6 10.03 N/A N/A
9/8/2014 160.2 13.41 72 30
9/15/2014 N/A N/A
9/29/2014 N/A N/A
10/13/2014 N/A N/A
10/27/2014 N/A N/A
11/10/2014 N/A N/A
11/17/2014 N/A N/A

Saying thanks: Wedding vendors

It's now under three months until my wedding. We've been blessed in this process by having talented friends and family who we love and who love us. Only our flower vendor (whom I'll also mention here) was a stranger at the start of our process. As you plan your events, we recommend everybody here. Tell them we sent you!

Flowers: Backyard Garden. I really wanted no part of the flower plans. If I can't eat it, I'm not interested in learning how to grow it, and if I need an allergy pill to pin it to my lapel, I'd rather just skip it. But Nino took us through the shop and into his consultation room, which basically looks like a dining room with a big TV on the wall. He offered us coffee, asked some questions, picked up a remote and showed us some slides. He's followed up with us on colors exactly on the schedule he outlined, and we're looking forward to the final product.

Photos: Kelvin Ringold, Custom Photogenics. Kelvin is one of my oldest friends, and he's part of that group of people we were both friends with before we started dating, so he's known us and our relationship the whole time. Kelvin's a talented human, not just photographer. He writes newsletters, he's a public speaker, he's a life coach. Kelvin and I eat lunch together about twice a month, share our lives and how we're improving ourselves. Send him some business, if you would.

DJ: Geoff "Deaf Geoff" Herbert. Geoff is a friend I made on Twitter back in 2009, when Syracuse was first starting to use the paltform to build a community, before the university embraced it. He's a multi-talented pop culture observer. He's an entertainment producer, disc jockey and former on-air talent. And he's deaf. He speaks not only to students who want to be in radio, but also to groups of deaf young people to show them what's possible for them, to expand their horizons.

Favors: Simmons Ink & Stitch. Reggie and his wife Lysa are a new business. I used to play racquetball with Reggie, who has the sort of laugh you can hear for a quarter mile, and that's how I learned he was doing this for work. I was walking through a mall to see a friend at an art shop, and I thought I heard Reggie laughing, so I wandered in that direction, and there he was. They spent an hour with me showing me what was possible, and we found something that we truly loved, and, by letting us do some of our own craftwork, they helped us keep within our budget.

Venue and food: The Ridge. The Ridge is a lovely 9-hole golf course with a tavern that some of Jen's cousins bought and remodeled. The course has some great views, and the food at the tavern is fantastic, as is the atmosphere. They love bourbons and beer, always keeping a couple of special craft selections around. Make the trip out there. In fact, get in touch and we'll make plans to go play and eat.

Officiant: Frank D'Agostino. Frank is one of the funniest people we both know, another friend I made on Twitter alongside Geoff. He's a goofball, but he's a grown-up, in that he knows when to be serious. He may be a Yankees fan, but he's one of the best people in my life, and his family and ours have certainly been mutually supportive. He got a license when we asked him to marry us, so he can marry you, too.

Happy birthday to me

As of today, I've concluded my thirty-seventh year on the planet.

I thought hard about doing one of those lessons I've learned ebooks, but I recently read Stuart Firestein's Ignorance: How it drives science, and I realize that it's not the wisdom I've garnered over the years that's important, it's the wisdom I don't yet have.

For as much as I've been learning about the world around us – Einstein, Feynman, Darwin and Plato have all been on my reading list this year – my thirty-eighth year is going to be even more about exploration.

In addition to the wedding, I count at least four things in the pipeline I'm not ready to talk about yet, all of which I'm hoping will culminate before I reach my next birthday.

For today, though, I'll have a nap or two, probably hit the gym at some point, and enjoy dinner out. Tomorrow, after all, is another day.

A(nother) return to blogging, with rules


It's not so much that I've taken the summer off from blogging. It wasn't a planned hiatus or anything. I've busied myself with learning to run, learning to golf, reading (27 books this year and counting – not a 52-in-52 pace, but a book every 10 days), beginning to plan a wedding and continuing the fight with the back yard (finally starting to win that one).

And now I'm sitting at my keyboard, at a writing station I set up yesterday. You can't see the poster on the wall in front of me; it's a signed "Illustration for story on boy and a fox" from Jim Trelease, the noted children's author. The poster is from some time in elementary school when Trelease came by the school to read.

I was a reader then, but primarily I was a math guy. I would memorize baseball statistics, and when my next door neighbor, Andrew (my age but a Catholic school student), and I would shoot hoops in his driveway, I'd calculate percentages in my head.

Yeah, I was that kid. Two-for-11? You're shooting .182. Always in three digits, like a batting average.

I don't remember the story about the boy and a fox; I'm sure the library or Wikipedia would help. It's not that important.

I've carted this poster around now for thirty years, and, while it hung in my bedroom growing up, it has since been in the room where I've wound up doing my most creative work.

I've never been very good at discipline, and if you ask my mother about reminding me to practice piano while I was a child, practice hasn't been high on my list, either.

This summer, though, I've learned that a little discipline and a lot of practice can go a long way. For the third summer, I've thought that burning the yard down and starting over would be the best way to go; the way I'd have to go. But I can see the progress of steadily putting in the work (if you were to come by for the first time, you'd be horrified, but if you'd see snippets in the evolution of the yard, you'd know what I meant). It's taken (and will continue to take) discipline, but I think as we head into winter, the yard will be in good shape to be fully repaired in the spring.

I've also learned the value of practice. I went from being able to run short sprints or not at all (seriously, 3 minutes on the treadmill and I was done) to being able to run for a half hour, even on the street. I've also taken my golf game from 150 strokes to 110. For those of you who aren't golfers, that's still not a competitive game, but it's essentially halfway to par (which is usually in the 70-72 range, depending on the course). Practice has taken me down 40 strokes; I fully expect to be consistently under 100 by the end of next summer. We don't have a year-round season here, and I suppose I'll lose some strokes over the winter and need to regain them in the spring.

So, I've been busy. But writing is important to me, and I need to get in the habit of practicing, of writing, if not daily, then certainly three or four times a week, which is about what it's taken me to advance from no running to being able to run a 5K and still have enough in me to make dinner and go to work.

The rule I'm setting for myself with blogging, then, is a post every Wednesday. The time will vary, largely because my work arrangements are non-traditional and thus my sleeping patterns are as well. It will also give me the opportunity to (unlike with this post which I'm just spitting out as a launch into accountability) write, edit, rewrite, juggle multiple ideas and, should the need arise, move one post up the ladder more quickly if it feels more relevant.

It will also let you know when to expect new material. I'm not saying I won't write more often sometimes, but if you come back every Thursday morning, there will be a post from the previous day.

Have a great week. See you.

Welcoming 2013

If you're reading this, the world didn't end Dec. 21 (I'm writing this ahead of time, just in case).

I said last year that I was going to do two things: be more patient and get more face-to-face time with people. The more patient thing definitely happened. The face-to-face time thing, not so much, but there's good reason for that.

One thing I didn't know when I was writing last year's post was that I'd wind up managing five departments at the gym. I honestly thought when I signed on there in September of 2010 it would be a short-term job, but when it turned into a career proposition, I wasn't going to bounce around other low-paying retail positions until I found something I'm more passionate about. I took the opportunity and grew with it.

I had my frustrations, sure. If I hadn't needed a job, I probably wouldn't have gone there, and if they hadn't needed a manager, they probably wouldn't have picked me. I think it worked out really well for both of us, though.

But I'm back to news, now. It's where I want to be. And I spend a lot of time at home, and I drink a lot of coffee, and I laugh a lot.

The other big change this year was the addition of a black Lab called Rufus, a rescue dog we learned a lot from. Talk about an exercise in patience. This guy has torn up carpet, gone through a door, and in general came from the shelter with such an excitable personality and a really really bad case of separation anxiety.

He's been hanging out with me late nights, and he reminds both of us to play a lot.

I've already written about what's up for me in the coming year. Of the 12 things I gave myself to do in the year, I've implemented numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 12, all in the first 6 weeks.

I'm spending New Year's Eve into New Year's day working. While I've tended toward the quiet for the Flipping Of The Calendar the past few years (and, honestly, didn't even make it to midnight a couple of times) I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a quiet night news-wise; most of our work, I'm sure, will be in college football and pictures of drunk people with noisemakers looking happy. I'll be cozy and warm, with coffee, JB and the pup. I can't imagine anything else I'd need.