The Casual Blog

Tag: Happy and Hale

Vegetarian delights, and trying intermittent fasting

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Downtown Raleigh is getting downright vegetarian friendly! I had my first lunch this week at the latest new place catering to those who prefer plant food, Living Kitchen. It’s an entirely organic, entirely plant-based restaurant, and I liked everything about it. It’s airy and lively, with smart, friendly servers, and quite a fine veggie burger. There were many things on the menu I wanted to try, and I’ll definitely going back.

Within just a three or so blocks of my office, along with Living Kitchen, there is interesting and tasty plant-based food at Happy and Hale, B-Good, Buku, Shish Kabob, and Capital Club 16, and excellent juices at Cold Off the Press. A little further is Fiction Kitchen, with a highly creative all veggie menu. I could easily eat too much!
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Indeed, I have. I weigh in every morning on a digital scale, and in recent months have been about five pounds heavier than what I really wanted to be. Maybe my metabolism slowed down a bit.

Anyway, for the usual reasons (health, vanity), I’ve been trying to get rid of the excess, and it hasn’t been easy. I tried upping my daily aerobic activity from 40 to 45 hard minutes, and that didn’t make much of a dent. I looked for potential food intake problems that could be improved, and found few. I’d already cut way down on junk food, sweets, fat, and carbs. I’m used to eating smaller-than-typical portions. It wasn’t obvious what more could be done without leaving civilization and becoming a desert ascetic.

I finally decided to try intermittent fasting. I did some research on various systems for skipping certain meals. The version I settled on was no eating between lunch and breakfast two times a week. It made me a bit grouchy at first, but it got easier. The other significant shift was to cut out alcohol during the work week. Here again, it was a little grim at first, since I very much enjoy some wine with dinner, but the first week was the hardest. This week I finally made it to my weight target.
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Spinning, credit card fraud problems, and the tax system for the super rich

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On Saturday morning I had a particularly good spinning outing led by Heather at Flywheel. The previous week was a disappointing one, when I tried hard to reach 300 but finished with a total score of 286.  It made me wonder if I’d finally started that long slide down to the bottom. But this week I finished first in the class with 341! My average heart rate for the 45 minutes was 157 — a record.  There was one guy who stayed close on my tail the whole way, and was just two points behind when the music stopped. Whew!

That afternoon, I had my monthly deep tissue massage session with Ken Katchuk (K2). Ken is really generous with his skills and time, and we set a new personal best: two hours and twenty minutes on the table. It was challenging at times, but we had a good talk about sports, movies, politics, and dogs, and I felt great afterwards.

One of the greatest of modern conveniences has got to be the credit card, which has greatly shrunk the time and distance between a wish and its fulfillment. How amazing to have a need or want, have an online merchant, have a credit card, and very quickly have that object of desire. At the end of this week, though, I had my Visa card declined, first at Happy and Hale (for a lovely salad), then at Hayes Barton Pharmacy, then at Fandango (movie tickets).

I called Capital One, and a cheery fellow in the fraud department read out several charges from Ft. Worth, Texas that were definitely not mine. He said someone had made a counterfeit version of my card. Anyhow, that account is now history. I’m happy Capital One detected the fraud promptly, and happy I won’t be responsible for the fraudulent charges. Still, it’s a bit of a pain, since I’ve got to get a new card and remember to pass then new number to various providers of goods and services.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever prevent all fraud, and we may even be headed in the opposite direction. There’s little doubt that our electronic transaction system is a point of vulnerability. There are highly skilled, ethically challenged people in front of computer screens all around the globe searching for ways to take our money. Thus I’ve gradually converted to non-obvious passwords. You do what you can.

Tiller7Bug 1-2Speaking of systems and fraud, the Times had a significant piece recently about the corruption just below the surface of the US tax system. Here’s a bit from the beginning:

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.”

The article gives various examples, and explains that the very wealthiest and their tax experts are continually devising sophisticated new schemes. These same people are also the biggest contributors to political campaigns. Could these facts not be related? Once you begin to get you head around this, you might (unless you’re in the one-thousandth percentile) start to get mad. It’s not fair.

So why is this not a huge political issue? I see two main reasons. 1. The existing candidates for the most part are complicit in the status quo. 2. It’s too complicated. That’s part of the point: the tax dodges are designed by experts to defy understanding. Just comprehending a single tax scheme (there are many such) is beyond the mental capacity of most of us, including the IRS, and we’ve got other demands on our time and brain power.

I should note that there’s one major exception among the presidential candidates, who is very focused on the unfairness of favoring the super rich in the tax system: Bernie Sanders. He’s put the issue of addressing inequality and eliminating their special tax breaks  front and center. And against all odds, he’s still in the hunt for the democratic nomination. I have trouble picturing him in the oval office, but I’m very glad he’s getting fundamental issues like this one onto the discussion agenda.

My hopeful hand checkup, a new salad restaurant, a Porsche contretemps, and discussing legalization

14 08 03_1352I was a bit anxious about my check up for the torn ligament with the hand doctor earlier last week, but it turned out fine. After the doc twisting my fingers a bit and asked if it hurt (it did), he pronounced me improved, and lowered the chance of needing surgery to 5 percent (a big improvement from his previous estimate of 50 percent). He cleared me to play the piano gently (no Rachmaninoff, he said), but to otherwise keep my fingers taped up for another month. I asked about getting back to golf, and he strongly advised me to wait. This was disappointing, as I’d felt like this could be my year for a big golf breakthrough (as, admittedly, I’ve felt in previous years). Still, I I was pleased to be heading in the right direction.

Playing the piano again was a rich, dense, textured pleasure. Going a month without playing is something that I hadn’t done for at least 30 years, and I missed it. I started gently with some Chopin mazurkas, and then some nocturnes. I couldn’t resist trying some Rachmaninoff – the Elegie, op. 3. It was all a bit rough, but I felt I was listening better, hearing more nuance, and playing with more rhythmic freedom. Perhaps the forced time off did my ears some good.

14 08 03_1277The next day I discovered Happy and Hale, a relatively new take-out restaurant on Fayetteville Street a couple of blocks from my office. It serves only three things: salads, smoothies, and juices. All are not only super healthy, but also lively, interesting combinations of ingredients. My first experience was the quinoa salad, which had quinoa, black beans, avocado, cilantro, feta cheese, and a couple of other things, with red pepper vinagrette. It was amazingly tasty. There was a long line, but I found this more cheering than annoying. It was good to see people interesting in eating something healthy, and to see this little business doing well.

The next day, I took Clara to the Porsche dealer for servicing. Her check engine light had come on, but even before the that, I’d felt something wasn’t right. Giving her more throttle in the higher RPMs yielded more noise, but not more thrust. I suspected a transmission issue, which turned out to be correct. I needed a new clutch and new flywheel, and the cost was a big ouch.

Waiting for the parts to come in, I drove a loaner Ford Explorer (a sport ute). I just don’t get why people like this type of vehicle, at least when they don’t have a big group of kids or other heavy loads to haul. To me it was not fun to drive. After my sports car, It felt lumbering and awkward. I had the impression of barely having enough road, like a truck pulling a massive mobile home, needing a “wide load” sign to warn other vehicles.

But I admit that I liked the instrumentation. It had a touch screen set up for the climate control, radio, blue tooth, etc., and a handsome virtual compass. In reverse, the touch screen showed the view behind, with the danger zone outlined in red. It had some sort of RFD key that allowed the vehicle to unlock when I pulled the handle without the need for any use of the key. A nice convenience.
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Reading the New York Times is a settled part of my morning breakfast ritual, and there is a sense in which I always enjoy it. But golly, the news has been grim! Part of it is structural: in conventional journalistic thought, information usually only qualifies as news if it involves dramatic conflict. So we don’t hear anything about the peaceful countries in, say, Africa. But the lead stories recently inspire a special mixture of horror and hopelessness, because they’re big and absolutely beyond any individual control. Examples: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Nigeria, Washington.
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This week, though, there was a welcome exception. I was pleased to see the Times came out in favor of partially ending the war and drugs and legalizing marijuana. The editorial board had clearly had thought hard about it, and put some elbow grease into collecting the arguments: including the enormous human cost, the huge economic cost, and the relatively low risk. It felt like a watershed moment. Maybe now it will be possible that we can have a debate based more on facts and less on myth, moralism, and hysteria. I don’t think marijuana is a particularly good thing; for some people it’s surely an unhealthy thing. But criminalizing it has been an absolutely terrible thing.

So we might be close to overcoming this particular moral hysteria and to ending of prohibition. Perhaps some of our other seemingly intractable problems aren’t beyond all hope.
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