I Have a Zombie Problem

I’m pretty much convinced that the zombies are after me and that they want to eat my brain. Yes, I know that you think I have a zombie problem, what with my “Easter Zombies” and observations on Night of the Living Dead. But bear with me.

Not too long ago, I accomplished something truly worthwhile, finishing the entire run of the now-cancelled TV show Z Nation. Think of this program as a less somber, less serious The Walking Dead. I’m not sure exactly when I started watching Z Nation, but I do know that I wrapped it up about two weeks ago. I’ll assume that I ran through the series in about two months, but I rather suspect it was quicker than that.

There were 69 total episodes of this program, spanning five seasons. With each episode weighing in at about 40 minutes, that’s a total of 46 hours of my life that I dedicated to Z Nation. What a great investment of my time those 46 hours represent!

What could I have done with those hours? At my normal reading speed, I could have read six 300-page books and still had time to watch Avengers: Infinity Wars to make my Netflix subscription seem worthwhile. At my normal writing speed, I could have probably gotten somewhere near 40,000 words on the page. Instead, I watched a ridiculous TV program about zombies.

What if I invested that time in reading? If I did, I could read three more books each month. That’s 36 extra books a year. Who could I be if I processed 36 extra books each and every year? What could I accomplish?

I ask this because I’ve been thinking over my Netflix subscription and feeling uneasy about it. The Puritan writer Richard Baxter proposed four questions to consider when deciding on reading material. (I find these questions repeated in numerous online spots, but I haven’t located the original Baxter source.) While all four of these questions seem relevant, I just want to focus on number one:

Could I spend this time no better?

How many better things could I have done with those 46 hours than to have watched Z Nation? I’ve already mentioned reading several books, but are there some other things I could have done? How about these:

  • Study Latin
  • Refresh my Spanish skills
  • Create several teaching videos
  • Work on the ramp from my deck
  • Build steps into the root cellar
  • Meet my neighbors
  • Perform some genealogy research
  • Write a bestselling novel

These are some crackerjack ideas. I know they aren’t your ideas, but they are perfectly good. And having watched Z Nation, I have allowed the opportunity to achieve these things to fade forever into the past. I can always do them next week or next month, but that’s not the point. My Z Nation side-trip sets back my accomplishments and leaves me with pretty much nothing to show for the time.

It turns out that I do have a zombie problem. By wasting my time on mindless video, I’m turning myself into a zombie.

 

 

We’re Number One! And Gaining

Belly FatWhich is the fattest of the fifty, the most obese of these United States? The winner–they certainly didn’t do any losing, did they?–is (drum roll)…

Mississippi, which weighed in at 35.2% of its citizens obese. (Pun intended.)

My own home state of Missouri came in tenth at 30.9%. The other 8 in between these two were (in order) West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa, all of them with roughly one-third of their inhabitants tipping the BMI trigger for obesity.

We’ve already mentioned that BMI is a notoriously imprecise tool for measuring appropriate individual body weight, but as a tool in the aggregate, it’s much more acceptable. Why? While we might find individuals who are so muscular that their BMI records them as obese when they are actually in great shape–LeBron James being a poster child for this category–those people tend to be the exceptions. Show me a hundred people in the obese range of BMI and you’ll probably find that the vast majority of them have earned that label.

On the other end of the scale–another intentional pun–we find that Hawaii (19%) is the least obese state. What I find troubling is that some of the states with the highest concentration of evangelical Christians are also the most obese, while several states that are notoriously lacking in evangelicals (New York, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts) are all in the least-obese ten. Why is that?

Certainly we cannot blame this steady loosening of the belt throughout the Bible Belt on pot luck dinners. So what is the reason? Are Christians simply so focused on other-worldly things that they can’t push back from the table? Are we totally failing on that whole “prayer and fasting” thing?

All kidding aside, if there is an actual connection between obesity and evangelicalism (and it’s not just a coincidence of geography), then Christians should really be taking a hard look at themselves–especially the middle of themselves–in the mirror. We don’t need to look like fitness models, but we can’t do our best work for the Lord carrying around all that extra tonnage.

Biking It

A couple of days ago, I rode my bike to the grocery store. The trip wound up logging 4 miles due to the fact that I got to the bottom of our street and realized I had left my helmet sitting in the garage. In reality, the store in question is 1.8 miles away.

Besides the stupid inefficiency of getting down the hill before missing my helmet, I wasted a good bit of time on this jaunt trying to keep the new bag that Penny bought me from jamming up in the spokes. I also managed to get stopped by a train. On a good day, when my gear is properly on my head and attached to the bike, I should be able to make the round trip in about 18 minutes. That’s moving at a fairly modest 12 miles an hour. If I were particularly earnest about things, I could probably manage an average of 15, but let’s be conservative.

Driving the same route, I can go as fast as 35 for the bulk of the way. That’s nearly three times as fast. On the other hand, stoplights take the same length of time for bikes and cars. Plus, I can’t drive 35 on my street without incurring the wrath of my neighbors, and there’s all that time you spend walking from your car into the store. (Yeah, I really said that.)

Is there a point to all of this? Yes, there is. When I bike at 12-14 mph, I burn something like 57 calories per mile or 205 calories for the round trip. What do I lose by riding to the store? I lose perhaps 15 minutes of my time, maybe 20. What do I gain? For starters, I gain the $2.07 that the IRS would allow me to deduct for mileage. I know that I won’t actually see that $2.07 in my wallet, but the expenses add up. I also gain a decent little workout, the equivalent of running about a mile or a bit more. Is that a fair trade-off?

Granted, I’m not going to be doing my major shopping trip on my bike, but much more often I head to the store to pick up a few apples, a bottle of BBQ sauce, or some other smallish item. But if I were to make this run one time a week for a year, I’d save some $100 and add 50 miles worth of workouts to my year. That 10,000 calories amounts to about 3 pounds lost for the year.

I like that trade-off. It seems like good stewardship all around.

The Trifecta of Food Stewardship

Cooking at HomeIf you haven’t already figured it out from my posts, I am enthusiastic about wise eating, that is eating that is

  1. Healthy
  2. Economical
  3. Simple

Of course, food ought to taste good too, but I feel as if that goes without saying. The problem with a lot of modern eating is that it misses out on at least two of the three factors by being done via restaurants.

An article by Taylor Lee over at Pennyhoarder goes right up my way of thinking but adds some practical suggestions for how to make cooking at home not only cheaper and healthier than restaurant fare but also at least as convenient as getting in the car and heading to Applebee’s.

Every meal I plan has to fit three requirements:

  1. It has to be a recipe I enjoy eating.
  2. It has to be easy to make, with no more than 30 minutes of prep time.
  3. I should already have all the tools I need to prepare the dish on hand.

She has plenty more good stuff to share as well. Check it out.

The Five Factors of Fabulous Food

imageIt occurs to me, as I consider the possible topics for a Food Friday entry, that I should spend a few moments considering the criteria for inclusion. After considerable thought–perhaps 20 to 30 seconds at least–I’ve arrived at five factors that allow food to make the cut here.

Cost

Unless you are a trust-fund baby, you probably think sometimes about your grocery budget. That’s why I have been known to buy those $1 Michaelina frozen meals ($.80 with a coupon) that have virtually no redeeming value other than an entire chemistry set of preservatives.

Truly good food–that is, food that will do what you want it to do in your body–is going to cost something. It won’t be the cheapest way you can eat. It’s like when you buy the “cheapest” dog food that your store offers. It might fill up the dog’s bowl, but most of that food winds up lying in piles around your yard rather than nourishing Bowser.

We cannot be afraid to spend good money for good food, but we do, as stewards, need to seek out the most economical ways to eat well. Every Food Friday nominee should be reasonably priced–that is, you should get a lot of bang for your buck. That bang will be found in the other factors.

Upside

Good food isn’t just cheap food. Even though I keep track of my calories to avoid gaining weight, I recognize that calories alone are not the whole story. Food is not a single-dimensional thing. We don’t simply eat calories. We eat fats, carbs, and proteins that all carry calories.

Food worthy of my attention here will be food that has a lot of those positive nutritional elements for a reasonable price. I could eat 500 calories of greasy potato chips or a 500-calorie grilled chicken salad. Obviously the latter has a lot more to recommend it, a lot more upside.

Downside

At the same time that food has a reasonable price and some positive nutritional upside, it can be fouled up by the downside, the negative nutritional factors. Take an example. Today, I ate a footlong Subway Black Forest Ham sub. With banana peppers, onions, spinach, and pickles on it, I felt pretty righteous in my food selection. That sub, even with cheese, comes in at about 620 calories.

Had that sub been what I’d have really preferred, a Spicy Italian, the calorie count would have exceeded 1,000. I would have bumped the protein up from 36g to 40g but at the cost of going from 1600 to 3000mg of sodium and 9 to 48g of fat. Even though that Spicy Italian has a lot of the same upside, it comes at too high a downside for my preference.

Practicality

Maybe you are a devoted foodie, the sort of person who will keep thirteen different types of vinegar in the cabinet to make all the exotic recipes that appear in Food and Wine. That’s all fine, but my assumption is that if food is too difficult, too complicated, or too time intensive, I’m probably not going to make it.

A food could be the most economical, nutritionally ideal, and delicious fare possible. If I don’t ever get it on my plate, then it will do me no benefit at all.

Food Friday items need to be reasonably simple to prepare with ingredients that are easily located and stored. The skills and tools involved in the preparation need to be within the reach of anybody with a kitchen.

If you want to prepare fabulous, exotic recipes, I respect that, and there are plenty of cooking sites online to provide you with ways to use cassava flour and halloumi cheese. Sorry, but this isn’t one of those.

Taste

I’ve scoured the New Testament, and never did I find Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who eat bland and tasteless food.” God gave us taste buds for a reason.

The foods that Penny and I present here in Friday Food entries might not be your cup of tea (or plate of porridge), but they will definitely be something that we enjoy eating.

Food should taste good. If it doesn’t, then we’re writing ourselves off as something less than fully human.

Standing on the Promise

How's that standing desk thing working out for you?
How’s that standing desk thing working out for you?

Recently, I shared my simple process for building a standing desk at work. As a college professor, I can arrange my office in pretty much any way I want, but I do believe that similar approaches could work for many people either at home or at work.

So how did the use of the standing desk work out for me. My typical work day involves about 90 minutes at the top of the day, two hours in class, and then several hours of office work after class. Over the first several days with the computer in its new location, I assumed that I would do all my computer work standing and then sit for anything else: reading, hand writing, lunch, and so forth. I even went to a garage sale and bought a bar stool so that I could sit at the computer when I needed to.

What I discovered was that I almost never sat down either at the desk or on the bar stool. I would sit to read for long periods, but mostly I do that at home. I sit when a student comes in for more than a brief question, but otherwise, I’m on my feet. I even eat standing up, as if it were Passover ever day.

What does this mean? According to a calculator at JustStand.org, by standing rather than sitting, we burn .23 extra calories per pound of body weight per hour of standing. With me weighing about 190 pounds, I’m burning  an extra 44 calories per hour. If I average five hours a day standing at my desk, that’s 220 bonus calories burned, the equivalent of running about a mile and a half.

And I’m getting paid for it.

Why is this worthy of my comment or your attention since we’re supposedly talking about the Christian body? Jesus isn’t interested in you getting to eat another Snickers bar, after all.

My time, just like yours, is finite. If I can make use of my time to accomplish two things without having one of them suffer, then that’s fantastic stewardship. We’re not talking about texting and driving. Standing while doing computer work makes good sense. It uses the time and body that God gave me in a sensible manner. And if I can get that extra Snickers bar, so much the better.

Taking a Stand

Somewhere in the spring of last year, I noticed a problem. Putting in long hours in my office, staring at the computer and slouched in a desk chair, I would rise and feel awful. Yes, I was running 30-plus miles a week. Yes, I weighed 50 pounds less than I had a year earlier. Why did I feel so crummy? Only later did I realize that sitting is the new smoking!

Standing Desk 1
My new workspace cost nothing out of pocket, using a piece of plywood from the garage and a couple of bolts from my parts bin.

Even without all the recent hubbub about sitting, I wondered what standing through part of my day could be like. With a large bookcase at the perfect height already lining one wall of my office, I had the perfect platform. I started out by doing some pen-and-paper grading on the top of that bookcase. (The pen and paper were on top of the bookcase; not me.) When this worked out, I wondered how I could get my employer to buy me a standing desk.

That’s when I had my eureka moment. I brought a slab of 3/4-inch plywood to school. This board had been cut to fit the space available on top of the bookcase. It had already been used as a desktop in our home, so Penny had finished it and applying some edging to it.

Besides the wood, I carried along a couple of nut and bolt combos–just spares I had sitting at home–along with four washers. Also I brought a drill, bits, and wrenches.

A hole drilled partway through the plywood allows the bolt and washer to be countersunk.
A hole drilled partway through the plywood allows the bolt and washer to be countersunk.

I drilled a couple of 3/8-inch holes in the plywood and then drilled larger holes part of the way through the wood. These larger holes were big enough to hold the washers I would use and just deep enough to allow the washer and bolt head to sit below the surface of the wood.

Next, I drilled a 3/8-inch hole through the top of the bookcase and lined up with the ones in the plywood. From there it was simple to push through the bolts and tighten them down. In just a couple of minutes I had a very sturdy surface extending from the top of my bookcase.

It took longer to move my computer to its new home, but that wasn’t terribly difficult. From there, I started doing my office work standing. My desk still sat to my left, ready for me to plop down in the chair. It would have only taken a few minutes to put the computer back there.

In short, the only thing I had done that could not be reversed easily was those holes in the top of a bookcase. Yes, that piece of furniture does belong to my employer, but they won’t complain.

 

Where’s for Dinner?

The American Family Table

According to statistics from the Department of Commerce, Americans now spend more at restaurants and bars than they do at grocery stores. I have to say that, while I like having someone else cook for me as much as the next person, I struggle with the stewardship of this whole thing. First of all, there’s the cost of the typical restaurant fare.

The cost of restaurant meals (averaging $6.96 last year) are rising faster than the cost of in-home meals ($2.24), the NPD Group says. NPD also notes that even though we are spending more of our food budget on restaurants, four out of five meals come from food bought for the home.

My second problem with restaurant meals is the difficulty of finding food that doesn’t blast your diet goals out of the water. Even if you can keep the calories in check, the sugar, fat, and sodium will get you.

That’s why I’m opting to eat more meals at home. This evening, though, just this once, I’m thinking that Papa John’s pizza sounds good.

What’s on Your Plate?

“What’s for dinner?” Is any more important question ever passed between spouses during a Sunday morning lull in the sermon? What could be more spiritual than considering in advance the contents of your dinner plate? This morning, however, that sermon urged me to think not about literal food but about metaphorical food. “What’s on your plate?” in terms of responsibilities and projects.

plate 2

Over lunch today, I wrote down my priorities–the activities that I would hope would fill my life–on a paper plate. At the center of the plate I placed God. I’d hope any Christian would aim to put God at the center of life, even if He gets pushed off toward the Brussels sprouts from time to time.

Around the perimeter of my plate I arranged three items: Family, Writing, and Teaching. Those are my items. Yours, more than likely, will be different, perhaps Time Travel or Nuclear Fusion.

But then I sat back and thought about the amount of time that I spend running, biking, eating right, and doing other health maintenance activities. Should these things have gone alongside Family, Writing, and Teaching on the plate’s edge? I don’t believe they do go there. Instead, my fitness activities, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, serve those other items already written on my plate.

Think about it. By eating right and keeping my body reasonably fit, I’ll have more energy to teach, more years to write, and a greater ability to serve my family. Rather than sacrificing part of my plate to accommodate running and healthy eating, I recognize that these activities actually help me have a bigger plate.

Whatever you have on your plate, wherever God leads you to invest your time, good stewardship demands that fitness matters have a place on the platter. It’s not that controlling your blood pressure or eating more vegetables are ends in themselves. Similarly, sharpening your mind or increasing your emotional intelligence will strengthen you in all areas and help you to achieve more wherever God calls you.

What’s on your plate? Whatever it is, a serving of fitness will aid the digestion. Now if only that burrito I had for lunch would do the same.

House Guest or Master (Hebrews 3:6)

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Hebrews 3:6)

Dylan came visiting a couple of weeks back. A friend of Emily and Christian, Dylan comes from Pittsburgh, where he wants to begin a community for those in need of help. Far more tattooed than me, far more politically liberal than me, Dylan still brought a quality that I appreciated. He knew how to be a guest in my home.

Upon arriving, he announced that he’d be happy to do any work that we needed done. Penny and I assumed that he was simply being nice. When he repeated the offer, we determined to use his willingness. He ran a bead of silicone on our barn roof, a place that I hate to go, and hung a bat house. There may have been more, but in those two actions he willingly did more than most people who live here. Besides that, he cleaned up after himself and pitched in with the dishes and such.

While Dylan and I might clash over politics and the answers to social problems, I think we agree on the need to love people and take care of each other. When we agree on such matters, the other will resolve itself in time. Perhaps I am assuming too much about this guy, but I do believe you can tell a great deal about a person from what sort of house guest they prove to be.

Jesus, I’m convinced, was an outstanding house guest. I’m not sure what that meant in A.D. 33, but I rather expect he walked away from the home of Mary and Martha without them shaking their heads and wondering where he’d gotten his manners. He proved faithful as a house guest and as the master of the house, the church. Our call, I would suggest, in imitation of Christ, is to prove ourselves faithful over the house we find ourselves occupying. Perhaps that means we should be good house guests. Perhaps we should be good house owners. We might submit ourselves to someone else or exercise leadership over others. The tasks differ, but the call is the same.

I pray that Dylan will get that community started. I’m convinced he’ll prove a good steward over it. After all, I’ve seen some of his work.