The girls say my hair looks orange…

But I say it looks like a LION’S MANE. Can tiger’s blood be far behind?

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Choose words wisely – the best New Year’s resolution?

I watched an informative Meet the Press this morning that focused on tweets, the press, and the power of words. Are all words and all stories equally important? No. Do all words carry some weight and convey meaning? Yes. It’s a good message applicable to all areas of life and relationships.

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Ah…I couldn’t pass it up.

Few New Year’s resolutions are as far reaching for you and for those around you as the reminder that words have meaning. Be mindful of what you say to others and to yourself. Don’t say mean things to those closest to you that you would never dream of saying to a stranger just ‘because they are family’. Don’t say mean things to yourself. What you tell yourself becomes part of our inner story about ourselves – be kind to yourself even in your thoughts. And when you have something serious to say, you can choose words that move a conversation forward rather than stop it in its tracks. With your words, you can choose to ramp up the drama or to move toward reconciliation and understanding.

The flip side of this coin is to remember that your friends and your family and your co-workers aren’t always considering their words, either. If you don’t understand what they are saying or why they are saying it then stop and ask. “I don’t understand” just might be the most powerful words you can say.


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Cheers?

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions? Design the life that you want.

28 books from Tolstoy Therapy


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Copyright Dennis Mitton

recommendI’ve read the blog Tolstoy Therapy for some time now and never come away without new thoughts about one of the Great Themes. What is the good life? How do fiction and art and creativity fit into my science-heavy life?  The author of Tolstoy Therapy explores each of these themes – and many more – and points the reader to books that explore these questions.

She weaves an interesting story throughout her posts about how as she turned to books to help understand the particulars of her thoughts and outlook. After starting her blog, recommending and reviewing books to help see things in a certain light, she discovered that bibliotherapy is a useful and respected counseling tool. I noticed that her posts stopped for a time. When she began posting again, something had happened. She had moved to the Alps and wrote with a stronger voice. She conveys a sense that she is crafting her life now rather than simply dealing with what is dealt to her. If you have ever enjoyed any of my book reviews, you will find much to like and learn from at Tolstoy Therapy.

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My vote for the greatest novel of all time.

In a recent post – here – she summarizes much of her reading and thinking in a piece titled  ‘The 28 books that stopped my worrying, sent me travelling, and shaped who I am today‘. It’s a fun and important read. She touches on many of my favorites: Meditations by the Stoic Marcus Aurelius tops both of our lists. Of course, Tolstoy’s great War and Peace and Anna Karenina (my vote for the greatest novel of all time) are on the list. She lists several titles I can’t wait to sink myself into. I’ve been wanting to read Oliver Sachs for some time and she lists Gratitude as a reminder that ‘life is an enormous privilege and adventure‘. She recommends When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to help ‘decide how I want to be spending the time I have‘.  I haven’t heard of de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but her admonition to read it ‘to love‘ is all I need to put it on my list.

Surely you want to wallow in some introspection during the new year? Surely you want to spend some time peering at the world through a different lens for a time? Certainly you have an urge to spend hours with the Great Count Leo Tolstoy and his infamous Anna?

I recommend Tolstoy Therapy as a great place to start a new reading journey or to think anew about some of your old favorites.

Cheers!

 

Book Review – A Mountain of Crumbs – Gorokhova

Interesting read for Russian roots

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Copyright Dennis Mitton
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A Mountain of Crumbs, Elean Gorokhova

I found much to enjoy here and much to relate to: my grandparent’s extreme frugality and my mother’s granite belief in the satisfaction and duty of hard work. My family’s sloughing off of the old ways. Gorokhova tells an interesting history of a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union but I wish she would have parsed her story more thoroughly. Why was her mother such a staunch supporter of state truth? How did the author decide so easily to leave country, family, and friends? I would have loved for her to juxtapose the poverty and security of the Soviet welfare state versus freedom loving Americans who, awash with money and religion, allow people to ‘sleep under bridges’ and suffer without health care.

It seemed so easy for the author to leave her homeland and family. Leading up to the point, she never expresses longing for freedom or for the West but is mostly just perturbed with silly state protocol – the same things I feel when I renew my driver’s license. In fact, her decision to leave isn’t really even a decision: she simply jumps aboard a wind that blows from an American student: he proposes to her as a means to help her leave the USSR with the caveat that he will continue to see other women while they are married. This apparently presents a better future than the author is expecting in Moscow but she doesn’t explain why.

However much I wished for something deeper, I was absorbed by the book and story. The prose is wonderful, especially for a non-native speaker. The characters can be thin and, typical for memoirs, there are dry spots but the story will carry anyone with an interest in family or history. This isn’t quite Tolstoy or Solzhenitsyn but a very good read in its own right. I’m not sure of the book’s appeal to those without a connection to Russia or the Eastern Bloc. Well worth the cost.

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The mountain hamlet from wence I came.

Enjoyed the book thoroughly though I’m not sure of its appeal to readers without a connection to Russia or the Eastern Bloc. My mother’s parents grew up in peasant Slovakia and much of Gorokhova’s story mirrored my mother’s and grandmother’s. I finished the memoir wondering if the writer’s mother was right: “You’re going to live in America? What kind of a people or country allows its citizens to live under bridges and die of starvation or for a lack of money to buy the care they need?”

Three-and-a-half stars. Well worth the price of admission.

See here at Amazon
See here at Goodreads

Go here for the author’s website

When you have to explain that you aren’t an SOB? You probably are…

rudeI’ve been working on a project recently about real-life philosophy so I’m sensitive to snippets I hear of how people justify their behaviors as they navigate through their day. I was speaking to a friend and caught them – twice – saying, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”.  On the second go-round, I laughed and said, “Hey. Let me clue you in. If you have to explain that you’re not being rude then everyone knows you’re being rude.”

This circles back to a truth that we all know: words are meaningless when it comes to revealing character. Behavior reveals character. When you preface anything by saying that you’re not really being an SOB then you might as well wave a flag that says “Ass Hat Alert!” This doesn’t mean that you should never set someone straight or talk straight to a point. But that’s the key: talk straight to the point. Do it kindly. You don’t have to be condescending or mean spirited and most people will respect the straight talk.


If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.

Cheers!

Exercise to Overcome the Onslaught of Luxury

Is your lifestyle killing you?

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Copyright Dennis Mitton
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No need for the gym when this chore is done

I talk to my children a lot about luxury and the lives that we live as everyday-run-of-the-mill Americans. I don’t want them to imagine that our lifestyle is anywhere near normal for most people of the world. And though we are able to mask the effects of our luxurious lifestyle using drugs, we suffer from high rates of ‘luxury diseases’. These are ailments that appear to stem from our diets and lack of exercise. The number varies, but it’s commonly said that up to eighty-percent of aging American’s health issues are related to weight and diet.

I thought about this while I lolled on the couch watching the television show Mountain Men last night. My favorite is an old fella named Tom who lives in Northern Montana. It’s been a cold winter in Montana, and Tom’s meat stock is low. He sets out for a hunt, and to use as much of a deer as possible, he hunts with a homemade bow and arrow. A rifle, he explains, destroys much of the meat of an animal while it explodes through the body. But an arrow, if shot correctly, kills as quickly and makes the entire animal usable. tomI have my own qualms about hunting (cf here) but this attitude is refreshing compared to people who hunt elk or antelope for trophies from a mile away using high-powered rifles. On the day of the hunt, Tom drives into the woods, loads up his pack, and walks into the trees looking for deer tracks. There is fresh snow so he is able to follow the tracks easily. Finally, he comes upon a group of does and tracks them for a mile until he spots a buck. Just like humans, he laughs: when there are fertile females around a stag won’t be far behind. He approaches the buck, takes his shot, and then tracks the animal until he finds it dead. He ends the day back at his house butchering the deer in the dark as the temperature drops to less than zero.

Evolutionary psychologists refer to the EEA or Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (cf here at Wiki under Evolutionary Psychology). There is controversy about the environment that humans evolved within but it certainly includes much of the lifestyle that Tom enjoys. His day begins with splitting wood for warmth and for cooking. He walked miles in the snow and cold hunting a two hundred pound deer which he then drug out of the woods. Not bad for a seventy plus year-old man. His waking time, just like our ancestors, is spent burning calories – it’s easy to see why the body wants to hold on to fat.

Do you live like this? I don’t either.

And that’s why I exercise. I spend my working days in an ergonomically adjusted chair at a desk with no sharp edges. I force myself to get up to talk to people rather than use instant messaging all day. I buy fattened cow at the grocery store where they give away free cookies just for gracing the front door. My wife and I prefer clean and healthy food but our schedules often make it easiest to cook up something from a box that is laden with fat, salt, and sugar. Nothing in my evolutionary history has prepared my body for this onslaught of luxury.

It’s no wonder that we suffer from such high rates of heart attacks and cancers and obesity disorders. And without opting out of the normal rat-race I see no organic way to circle around this. (cf here for a book review of someone who did opt out – good stuff!)

So try to mix in a little physical hardship in your day. Do something that makes you sweat. Push the mower. Carry the garbage can to the curb instead of using a cart. Chop some wood. It’s how you were made to work and your body will respond with a thank you of pleasantly achy muscles.

Cheers!

Fitness50 – 10 Essential Tips for Starting a Workout Program

Starting a new workout program? 10 steps for success.

Copyright Dennis Mitton

Fitness50 is a blog series focusing on old folks like me who is interested in health, longevity, and the good life. Sign up to follow and receive updates as to when new posts are published. Thanks!


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Start wherever you are. Move a little bit today and a little bit more tomorrow. It all adds up!

If you are a twenty-year-old bathing suit model who runs half-marathons in your spare time for fun you can probably just keep moving along.  If you are like almost every other human being on the planet, and if you are just now starting a fitness program, here is some well- earned advice offered in an attempt to deprogram you from some of the silly and potentially harmful exercise advice many of us have bought into:

For starting out:

  • It’s said all the time and most people will ignore it: check-in for a check up. You probably need one anyway and your doctor will be impressed with your efforts at better health. Really. They will probably give you permission to start slow and that will comfort you on your first trot around the block. Get the blood-work done, too, and save the results. When you return for next year’s check-up, compare the results of your blood work. You’ll be surprised with how your work has paid off. You will look better and feel better but these results prove that you actually are better. On the inside.

  • Do not ignore stretching and warming up. Prep your body for the work ahead. Warm up slowly and ease into stretches. Ignore this at your peril. I will tell you from experience: it is stupid to lose a month of training time while you recoup after tearing a muscle because you couldn’t spare five minutes to stretch. If you only have twenty minutes and can’t get your full workout in then focus on stretching. You can run tomorrow. The earth will still turn.

  • Wear good shoes on a forgiving surface. My preferred gym is my garage when it’s ninety degrees outside. I wear heavy running shoes and have a sturdy carpet on the concrete to cushion my legs and feet. If you are doing more weights than cardio then consider a pair of heavier gym or cross-fit shoes. They will give you a solid foundation and help hold your ankles in place. They don’t have to be expensive but be sure they are of good quality.
  • start_3
    Okay. Cheesey but true. Take the time to learn good form.

    Most guys won’t be able to do this – we’ve simply been too brainwashed about what it means to be manly – but if your program uses weights, I highly recommend going through the first day or at least the first set without the dumbbells. Learn the movements. Your body is used to doing everything in a straight line. The very best way to hurt yourself is to get excited about losing forty pounds, grab a fifteen-pound dumbbell, and start swinging it sideways. I can almost guarantee that while the weight goes in one direction, your lower back or your hamstring, which hasn’t made a turn like that since the fifth grade, is going to stay right where it is. When one part of you moves and the other doesn’t? Not a good day. You can still work up a good sweat without the weights so start in easy.

For the mind:

  • “No pain, no gain” is stupid. Pain means that you are doing something wrong or moving something too far or aren’t ready  for the movement. I’m not talking about soreness or the feeling of pushing yourself. I’m talking about that feeling of having an ice pick jammed into the side of your left knee when doing a squat. Quit immediately and adjust if you feel pain. It took you fifty years to mold the body you have today. It’s okay to take some time to bring it back into a healthy condition. Working through real pain will only set you back as you take the time to recover from your dopey and misleading belief.
  • Remember that the people featured on those videos you are watching are fitness

    blobfish
    You don’t have to be a fitness model but the blob fish is going a little too far.

    models and fitness professionals. While true that you can reach their level of fitness, you probably don’t have six hours a day to exercise while a professional chef waits in the wings to cook your meals. Be nice to yourself and take some time. Learn to enjoy feeling your body improve.

  • Don’t worry if you can’t work at an 110% or 50% or 10% effort through the entire workout. Keep at it bit by bit and you will finally do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. But to rush because of false expectations only invites injury or frustration and both will detract from your efforts and goals. Feel free to rest for a set or just to take a few breaths. Enjoy the workout! It’s not a punishment.

Food:

  • If you want to lose weight then you’ve got to do some kind  of food plan. It’s becoming more and more clear that while exercise promotes fitness and health it does not always equate to weight loss. Eating less equates to weight loss. I really, really, like the container system used by the Beachbody programs. It takes away the guessing and calorie counting and tracking. You’ll be hungry sometimes and that’s okay. Find a program that suits you and your personality. I know that I won’t stick to anything too complex to explain to the nearest third grader. The simple fact is that if you want different results then you need to cultivate different habits.

  • Avoid eating at least a half-hour before your workout and avoid heavy fats or protein. In time, you will learn what your body likes. I feel best and do my most energetic workouts in the morning before I eat anything.  I don’t use pre-workout shakes or meals though many people enjoy them. I doubt that they provide any real boost but experiment to find out what you like.

  • Do nibble on or drink some protein after your workout. The efficacy of protein for
    post-workout muscle repair and replenishment is one of the very few sports nutrition guidelines that you can trust. Your muscles are hungry after a workout and as our bodies age we have a more difficult time metabolizing protein. So you want to replenish what you have burned and add a buffer for building new muscle.

A bonus!

  • Don’ t be stingy with the water. It’s free out of the tap and is the single best ‘nutrient’ to can put in your body.

An anti-bonus!

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Not excited about yoga or running? Here’s a good lifestyle workout.
  • You can always forget about exercise altogether. Running around the block in silk shorts while you sweat like a dog isn’t the only path to a better life. Some of us like to do this stuff. I do. But if you don’t there is golf, gardening, walking, yoga – any kind of movement will improve your health. For more on healthy living without spandex read here and here.

For more Fitness50 posts check these out:

How much exercise should you really be doing? Surprising research.

Lifestyle Fitness – It all adds up.

Live it up for the holidays.

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