Working My Life Away

Since J. and Crystalare playing, and I don’t have a post scheduled for today, I thought I’d share my work history, too.

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Le...

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Leonhard Building at Penn State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a couple of interesting things about my work history.   Job #1 started when I was 6.   Job #9 started when I was 21.   I’m 33 now.

  1. Paper route.   I delivered the local ad-rag.  The route was split with my brothers.  When I was 6, my share of the route was just the street we lived on.   I think I had 8 papers to deliver.    Later, that expanded to almost half of our tiny town.
  2. Odd farm jobs.  I spent some time doing whatever needed to be done on a local hobby farm.  That means everything from helping shore up a sagging wall in the barn to raking walnuts off of the yard.
  3. Dishwasher at my school.  My freshman year, I gave up a study hall to wash dishes and serve lunch.   My school was K-12, so I’d eat at the same time as the little kids, then wash their dishes and serve lunch to the rest of the students for $4.25/hour.   I kept at it until my senior year, when I decided to relax a bit.
  4. Construction.  Working with my Dad, until I fell off a ladder and severed a tendon in my finger when I landed.    Easily the most difficult boss I’ve ever had, but it was excellent preparation for every other job I’ve ever had.   His philosophy was that if he had to ask for it, I should have already known he needed it.  Try carrying that training into another job and see if they complain.
  5. Dishwasher/Cook.  I turned 16 and needed a job to afford a car that I needed to get a job.  Nasty cycle.   It took a couple of weeks of looking.  Apparently, if a teenager puts on a nice shirt and shows up to the interview on time, he is way ahead of the curve.   It took about 2 months to go from dishwasher to cook, and I kept the job until I was 18.   I was working full-time all through high school.
  6. Palletizer.   I spent 9 months standing at the end of a conveyor belt, picking up 50 pound bags of food powder mixes, taking 3 steps, and putting them on a pallet.   We averaged 1500 bags per night.     Fifteen years later, I still can’t comfortably button the cuffs of most shirts.  When I flex, my forearms look like I have an unhealty “adult” internet addiction.
  7. Cook.  While I was palletizing, I had a second job as a cook at a bar, working for a guy who was trying to avoid turning a profit by drinking his main product.    This was 5 miles from the other job, and my car died right after I started, so I biked from job to job.   In Minnesota.  In the winter.   I was a lean, mean popsicle.
  8. Machine Operator.   I moved from the sticks to the Minneapolis area and was immediately hired to be run a CNC machine based on a friend’s recommendation to his boss.   The pay was great for an 18 year old with no skills.  I worked 5 twelve-hour graveyard shifts.   The job mostly consisted of putting a little chunk of metal into a machine, closing the door, pushing a button, and sitting down for 15 minutes.  This is the period of my life that trained me to shop for books based primarily on thickness.
  9. Bill Collector/System Administrator.   After Brat #1 was born, 12 hour graves got to be a big pain.  I’d work from 5 to 5, come home and make sure my wife got at least 4 hours of sleep, then I’d sleep for 4-5 hours and go back to work.   Brat #1(who is now 13 and about 6 feet tall) needed to be fed every hour, so solid sleep didn’t happen for months.   I took a pay cut to work normal, day-shift hours.    I ended up working my way through college by collecting on defaulted student loans.   Shortly after I graduated, I got promoted to be the system administrator of the collection system, responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of debts flowing into and through our system correctly.    I had a security clearance allowing me access to the Department of Treasury’s computer system.   After a few years of this, the company decided that there were too many people with the same job description, so 5 overworked admins got laid off while the 6th got screwed with far too much work.
  10. Software Engineer.  This is now.  I write cataloging and ecommerce software, while managing a small team of programmers.  I spend half of my day working on customer software estimates, training, and assisting on sales demos and half of my day writing code.  I’m kind of a big deal.

That’s it, if I don’t count my side hustles.  I’ve been earning a paycheck for 27 years, and have only had 10 jobs.

When did you start working?  How many jobs have you had?

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Taco Seasoning

A few weeks ago, Edward at If You Can Read, You Can Cook sent me a jar of his taco seasoning to try.


He’s got four flavors:  hot, medium, mild, and sweet cumin.  Since I’m the only one in my family who likes spicy food, I asked for the sweet cumin.

This is a jar of pure taco flavor, without any of the burn.    Tacos, burritos, omelettes, or Rice Krispies,  nearly anything could benefit from a dose of this stuff.

Seriously, we’re done with the little paper packets from the grocery store.  From now on, Edward is getting our taco seasoning business.   We do large batches of tacos 2-3 times a month, so I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors, too. I was not compensated for this post, other than getting a free jar to try.  It’s just good.

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The Unfrugal Meal

A Teppanyaki chef cooking on a modern gas powe...

Image via Wikipedia

I spend a lot of time talking about how to save money here.  It’s kind of what I do.

Not today.

Today, I’m going to talk about the best way I’ve wasted money during my vacation this week.

First, so my feelings are completely understood:  A vacation is about experiences and memories.   I could spend all day at the park with my kids, or I could spend a memorable meal with them.   Which will they remember longer?

It ain’t the park.  They are there almost every day.

Of course, if the restaurant is McDonald’s they wouldn’t remember for long, either.

Tuesday, after a long day of hands-on, interactive museum-going, we took the kids to a Japanese steakhouse.   Teppanyaki, where they cook the food at the table, complete with fire, spatula spinning, and airborne food.

I’m the only one in my family who has seen that before.    Honestly, watching the art, the skill, the banter, and the giant fireball leaves me as wide-eyed as my kids.

They loved it.

Watching the chef throw a bowl full of rice across the table made my son’s jaw drop.

Seeing the chef carry fire from one side of the grill to the other on his fingers made my youngest squeal and beg for more fire tricks.

Getting squirted by the chef when he was putting out a flare-up made the middle brat giggle, possibly because the squirt gun was a little kid, dressed up as a fireman, with his pants down.   She got “peed” on and loved it.

Aside from cooking-as-a-show, the service was fantastic.   There was always a waiter nearby to keep our water glasses full or to provide “little kid” chopsticks, which are modified with rubber band to remove the need for skill to eat.   They had the courses perfectly timed.   The minute the salad was cleared, the soup was delivered.   When that was done, the chef rolled up to start on the rice.  My two-year-old was eating white rice without complaint for the first time.

Giggles and squeals.  Three days later, they are still talking about it.   My 11-year-old, who’s trying so hard to be an unimpressible teenager, says it was the coolest restaurant he’s ever seen.

Frugal, it wasn’t, but the memories were worth the money.

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Slow Carb Diet: How to Avoid Going Bat-**** Crazy

Space-filling model of the lipoic acid molecule

I received an email recently, asking “what kinds of things are you eating so that you don’t go bat-**** crazy?”

First, some background.

On January 2, 2011, I started Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb Diet and, as of 2/18/2011, I have lost 30 pounds. The first 11 or so were water weight, but I’ve still been losing 4-5 pounds per week.  This diet has a few—but only a few—rules.

  1. Eat nothing white.  That means no sugar(including fructose), no flour, no potatoes, no rice(even brown), and no milk(or any dairy).  Beer is white.
  2. Breakfast is high-protein.
  3. Cheat day once a week.  On cheat day, there are no rules after breakfast.
  4. Meals should consist of 40% protein, 30% vegetables and 30% legumes(beans or lentils).
  5. If you get hungry between meals, you didn’t eat enough at the last meal.

That’s it.  The rules are simple and don’t require that I refer back to the book for anything.

Here is a typical day for me on this diet:

For breakfast most mornings, I have 3 eggs and 2-3 sausage links.  I bought brown-and-serve sausages so this takes 10 minutes to cook in the morning.

On the way to work, I have a diet soda if we have any in the house.  If not, I skip it.  I like pop, but I’ve broken my caffeine addiction completely.

For lunch, I will either have leftovers from the night before or some stir-fry with beans and whatever protein is convenient.  I’ve been keeping pre-cooked brats(wurst, not kid) or polish sausages as a convenience food.

Several times a week, I make some stir-fry.  I use a basic, flexible recipe.

  1. Chop whatever vegetables are on hand.  We usually have onions, broccoli, a variety of peppers, and mushrooms.  If I have celery, asparagus, or almost any other vegetable.  Lettuce works poorly in a stir-fry.
  2. Put some oil in a hot pan.  I prefer sesame oil, but I’m not picky.  I’ll use whatever oil we have on hand.
  3. Cook the vegetables, stirring constantly.  Cook them in the order of how long they take to cook.  Onions are usually first.  Celery tends to be last..  While they are cooking, I sometimes sprinkle ginger powder over the top.
  4. If you are getting sick of eating beans, toss them into the stir-fry, cooked.  They mash and disintegrate, giving you the benefit and some flavor, without the mouth-feel.
  5. When the vegetables are cooked to your satisfaction, put them in a bowl.   They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

I tend to cook the meat separately, as that lets me vary the meal more.  I’ll make some chicken or steak ready to toss in the stir-fry before I re-heat it.

I vary the seasonings, vegetables, and oil to get different flavors  I rarely make the same stir-fry twice.  The real trick to keeping the food satisfying is to experiment with seasonings.  They make a huge difference between bland and yummy. Seasonings can make or break a meal all by themselves.

If I don’t have any stir-fry or leftovers, I’ll bring some salad and a polish sausage. Most salad dressing is sugar-based, so I either go light on the dressing, or use balsamic vinegar.   I try to avoid doing this more than once every couple of weeks.  It’s boring and doesn’t taste that great.  It’s okay, but that’s all.

I try to always have cooked beans or lentils in the refrigerator.  They provide a significant part of my calorie intake.   Beans are kind of a necessity.  Vegetables taste better, but  are a low-calorie, bulky food.  You can’t stay full all day on nothing but lettuce.  Beans get old. I’ll usually toss a few spoonfuls of salsa to change the taste.  When I cook lentils, sometimes, I’ll cook it in beef broth with fried onions and garlic to make a tasty change.

For dinner, I have whatever vegetables we are cooking for the kids, a scoop of beans, and a protein that usually isn’t cooked for the family.

The protein source varies based on whatever was on sale when we went grocery shopping.  It can be steak, chicken, or anything else.  This week, we bought 16 chicken drumsticks.  We spread them out on a cookie sheet and seasoned them 3 different ways, just for variety.  Some got garlic salt, some got Italian seasoning, and some got a Greek rub.  After an hour in a 350 degree oven, we had a delicious meal.

If I feel a need for a snack, or a craving for sweets, I just take a spoonful of peanut butter.  It helps.


I’m not doing any major form of exercise.  I wanted to test the diet on its own merits, first.  What I am doing is some timed exercises shortly before and 90 minutes after I eat, when I remember.   The exercises are resistance-based and 60-90 seconds in duration.  The purpose is to crank up my metabolism before the food gets introduced into my body, and then keep it up and running for a while afterward.

I use a mid-level elastic rehab strap, doubled-over twice.  I do 75 chest extensions about 5 minutes before I eat.   Most days, I forget to do them again 90 minutes later.  There are any number of other exercises that would work, including air squats or push-ups.


I am not your doctor.  In fact, I am not a doctor in any capacity.  Similarly, I am not a nutritionist, a dietitian, or even a board-certified snake-oil salesman.  I have no qualifications here, in any way, shape or form.  Follow this at your own risk.

I take 5 supplements.

Policosanal.  This is an herbal supplement that is supposed to help with cholesterol, which is a helpful thing to do when you are on a low-carb, high-protein diet.  More importantly, a side effect is weight loss.  Hurray for helpful side effects!

Alpha-lipoic Acid(ALA).  This is an antioxidant that helps your body produce vitamins C and E.  It is also supposed to inhibit triglyceride and fat storage.  To quote from the book, “ALA helps you store the carbohydrates you ea in your liver as opposed to in fat.”

Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract.  This inhibits your body’s ability to store carbs as fat and it accelerates fat cell death.  The second bit means it should help prevent the rebounding so many dieters experience.

Garlic Extract.  This assists with cholesterol management and the inhibition of fat regain.

B Complex.  I take a B complex vitamin with vitamin C.  The B vitamins help balance out some of the things the rest of the supplement regimen does to cellular metabolism while giving your overall metabolism a boost.

I take the whole mess in the morning and again before bed.  Shortly before lunch and dinner, I take the ALA, green tea extract and garlic extract.


As a pure body-hack, I ice my upper back every night.  I have an ice-pack sheet that I place on my upper back for 30-45 minutes each night before bed.  This lowers my core body temperature, forcing my body to work harder to maintain 98.6 degrees.  That burns calories.  An additional benefit: getting cold makes you tired, which helps with my chronic insomnia.

This combination of factors has resulted in my losing an average of .7 pounds per day, without meaningful exercise.  It’s a violation of a number traditional dieting principles, but it’s working.  Is everything I’m doing necessary?  Useful?  Possibly not.  Over the next few months, I’m going to be experimenting with dropping individual pieces of the plan, to see if my rate of loss drops for any of it.

For now, it’s working, and doing so at a rate I like.   Dieting usually sucks, because the results are so slow.  This is much more satisfying.

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