The locker room at work was noticeably empty leading up to the Christmas holiday. For weeks, when I would go there at noon each day to change for my daily run, it was just me and steadfast runner Ron. We discussed how the absence of others was unusual, but we expected the new year would bring in several people full of resolutionary zeal. We also expected that the newbies would clear out by February, which is about how long New Year’s fitness resolutions seem to last. It’s been five years since I made a exercise-related New Year’s Resolution, when I added a morning circuit training workout to my daily routine. In fact, the last big resolution of any kind I made was three years ago, when I decided to eat better, and for 90 days, I added veggies to the menu and cut back on everything else. Over those three months of two-a-day workouts, green smoothies, salads, and a dearth of salty snacks, I lost twenty pounds and felt great. I figured I was in the best shape of my life, but, unfortunately my doctor disagreed, informing me that I had developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I added two new medications to my regimen and swore off resolutions for a while. I was bitter, and I had no interest in resolving to do anything but eat more salty snacks, even if just for spite. Finally, this year, I decided to give it another try, but in a very moderate way. My resolution this year is about trying old things in new ways. I got some practice for this in the week after Christmas.
A couple days after Santa’s visit, I partook of a new hot sauce. I love hot sauce, and there are very few dishes I don’t add it to, but even that has become routine. I use Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce for pasta dishes and pizza, Thorp’s Hell’s Kitchen Habanero Sauce for burgers, and Yucatan Sunshine for everything else. This new sauce is called The Last Dab, and it was given to me as a present by my brother-in-law. It came with a warning of sorts, in which the manufacturer asked consumers to post video on social media of the first time they try it. That’s a hint that the sauce tends to evoke a memorable response. All three of my go-to sauces are relatively hot, but I haven’t challenged myself in a while, so I was eager to try this fresh hell. I also received corn chips for Christmas, but this was no ordinary bag of chips. My brother gave me a bag of Paqui brand Haunted Ghost Pepper Chips, purportedly among the hottest chips available on the market. When my friend Sean, who – in addition to being a metal head – is a fellow chile head, joined us for dinner, it was the perfect opportunity to give these new culinary treats a go. After I went live on Facebook, Sean, my son, and I started with the chips, and we were not impressed. Yes, they were spicier than your average Dorito, but there was nothing painful in the experience. My daughter suggested adding a bit of the new hot sauce to the chips, and my son placed a small dollop of the thick sauce on each of three chips and handed them out. We popped them into our mouths and, after a moment of calm, like being in the eye of the storm, during which we noted the good flavor of the sauce, worlds collided and stars went supernova. We traveled to the sixth circle of the inferno to suffer with the heretics. Beer offered no comfort and milk’s salve was fleeting. Only ice cream offered some moments of relief before the flames returned to torture our palates. We survived with the only permanent damage being to our psyches, and I am stronger for it. Of course, I will return to my normal menu of hot sauces, and The Last Dab will remain sealed in the refrigerator, like a bottle of drain cleaner kept under the sink. Should the need arise, I have it available, but I hope I never have cause to open the bottle again.
The next day, we took our annual Christmas-time day trip to a town called Poulsbo, which maintains a Scandinavian theme in the downtown area. According to the analysis of a gob of my spit, I have a lot of Norwegian DNA knitting me together, so visiting Poulsbo feels like a homecoming. Being very Scandinavian, Poulsbo doesn’t offer much in the way of hot sauces, but it does have a plethora of coffee, pastry, and viking-themed merchandise, and I like to think I come from good viking stock, albeit the near-sighted, asthmatic branch of that family tree. While we go almost every year to wander through town, stop into gift shops, and load up on coffee and pastries, we tried to change things up a bit by trying a different restaurant for lunch. On the drive up, the kids searched the Internet and found a place called The Slippery Pig, a brewpub that offered various sandwiches, including haute cuisine-style grilled cheese. As we perused the menu, I noticed an older couple was getting up from their nearby table, preparing to leave. My wife asked my daughter what she was going to get, and when she said the pulled pork grilled cheese sounded good, the woman I had seen turned to my daughter, looked her in the eye, and, with no humor in her voice, said, “Don’t get the pulled pork. Or the soup.” Her proclamation struck us like a witch offering a prophecy of doom, and we took it as a sign that, perhaps, this new restaurant was not the best option. We quickly retreated to the familiar confines of JJ’s Fish House and enjoyed more reliable fare. I give us partial credit for trying something new, even though we didn’t taste the offerings of The Slippery Pig. According to my literature degree, when a crone offers a warning, it’s best to heed it.
The second attempt at something new in Poulsbo was caffeinated coffee. It had been nine months since I had caffeine, but the eye condition that necessitated giving it up had resolved itself, so I wanted to treat myself. Our favorite Poulsbo coffee shop, Hot Shots Java, offers a delightful brew called “A Shot in the Dark,” which is a cup of drip coffee with shots of espresso added. The larger the cup you order, the more shots you get. I opted for the 16 oz double shot, to ensure I would feel the rush, and hoped I wouldn’t overdose. I sipped the black nectar and let the warmth flow into me, and the rest of the afternoon’s meandering through shops passed blissfully. I did have some trouble focusing on any of the merchandise in the stores, as the caffeine felt like an electrical current humming through my body. This was a much more pleasant new old thing than The Last Dab.
On New Year’s Eve, I tried to firmly establish a new tradition at home. Last year, we invited friends over to ring in the new year by standing over our backyard fire pit, raising glasses, toasting the year that had passed, and praying for the year ahead. We had a grand time, and I wanted to make the New Year’s Pyre an annual event, at least until the next presidential election. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to generate a conflagration as much as a smoldering heap, so I gave up, and we drank effervescent beverages around the kitchen table. While the fire didn’t work out, I was glad to have given it a try and happy to be surrounded by old friends.
On January 2nd, I made a more overt effort to try something new. I’ve been following the same morning workout routine since that resolution I made five years ago, and I decided to mix things up to see if I could get some better results. The bathroom scale provided increasing evidence that I had reached a point of diminishing returns with my old workout. I logged onto the Internet and learned that, in addition to party decorations, recipes, and crafts projects, Pinterest is a great source of brutal workout routines. I found one that appeared challenging but not too much more so than what I’ve been doing for the past five years, so I figured I could handle it. The workout included five repetitions of a circuit of five different exercises, each performed for 50 seconds, with ten seconds rest between each. It started out well, but by the fourth round, I could barely remain standing for the 50 seconds of bent-over rows. My legs quivered like Santa’s belly, and I am pretty sure I was weeping, though it was hard to tell due to the sweat pouring down my face. I was experiencing the calisthenic equivalent of eating that hot sauce. Hurts so good.
After the savage workout, I started another new twist on an old thing. I’m consciously changing my eating habits for the first time since that resolution three years ago. This year, I’m trying a paleo-ish diet in hopes of slimming down a bit. My pants have been feeling snug enough that I wasn’t comfortable putting my phone in my pocket for fear that I would overtax the seams and experience a “Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk” moment. So far, I’m loving eating eggs and bacon for breakfast. I’ve already lost a couple pounds, but that may just be a reflex reaction to no longer shamelessly consuming vast quantities of cookies and crackers during the holidays. I’m hopeful the trend will continue so that I don’t need to do any clothes shopping for a while.
Of course, the biggest new old thing in my life is my job. I recently started a new position in the same agency, working in our technology division. I admit, I have been confronted with a number of challenges. For example, I spend a great deal of time using Google to look up technology terms that get dropped like cracker crumbs around here. I’ve been involved in IT projects for many years, but I am now in a full immersion language course. I’ve been quieter than usual in meetings, as I don’t want the locals to discover exactly how technologically illiterate I am. The bigger challenge, however, has been determining what I’m supposed to be doing every day. I’m learning a lot of new words, but I haven’t figured out what exactly I’m responsible for yet. I confess, I’m a little bit scared, but it’s a good kind of scared. I haven’t been the new guy for a long time, and it’s exciting. I’m aware that some of my colleagues are readers of this blog, so I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable divulging my confusion. However, I’ve long believed that a bit of vulnerability is a good thing. As researcher Brene Brown taught me (Google her TED Talk), being vulnerable isn’t weakness, it’s strength, and I hope that strength will get me through this bewildering time. I’ve already found that confessing my ignorance to my new colleagues has helped me build some relationships. I’m making new friends, and I’m beginning to feel accepted into the tribe. They’ve even given me some ideas of what I should be working on. While I’ve got a long way to go before they teach me the secret handshake, I think it’s going well. I am grateful for the opportunity, and I’m eager to put my old skills to work in a new setting. While the pulled pork grilled cheese was potentially deadly, the hot sauce was painful, and the workout made me cry, I have higher hopes for the job because I have really cool people around me, ready to help. It’s like working with tubs of emotional ice cream.
So far in this new year, the locker room at work remains empty. There aren’t a lot of New Year’s Resolutions crowding up the place, and it’s still just me and Ron. If you are among those who haven’t committed to a New Year’s Resolution yet, or are considering changing the one you chose because exercise is hard, I encourage you to consider being vulnerable from time to time. Tell somebody what scares you. In my experience, people will help you. Then again, it doesn’t have to be confessing your fears to co-workers if you’re not ready for that. Being vulnerable is just about being willing to take a risk that may not work out. For example, you might try a dollop of The Last Dab hot sauce. You can borrow my bottle. Just be sure you have ice cream handy.
Happy New Year.