Saturday, March 2, 2013

March's Challenge!

It is long over due but the blog is back. And I'm ready to jump back in with one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced while living challenged. As you read this I am probably relaxing in my candlelit room attempting to read. My hope is that my preparations for this challenge were sufficient. 

The concept of this challenged was inspired in part by Earth Hour ( Earth hour is a global event held by the WWF (the animal one, not the one with the steel cage) where families turn off the TV, shut down the video games, and even turn out the lights for an hour at a specified date and time. The result saves a ton of energy for this blue globe while bringing families together to have a meal in the dark or pull out that old board game. An hour without electricity or electronics sounds fun and easy right? I thought so too, so I will be observing what I call "Earth Evenings".

This month's challenge: I will attempt to avoid the use of electricity or electronic devices after dark.

What does this mean? No television (don't own one anyway), no computer, no Internet, no iPhone. No Spotify, no mindlessly checking Facebook, no satirical rants on Twitter, no more validation seeking photos of my dinner on Instagram! Now I won't finish the last season of Friday Night Lights on Netflix until April! Well, I suppose I can do all those things during the day, but those hours are usually filled.

The stairs are here somewhere.

The challenge here is clear, but this is also an anthropological study. What will I spend my nights doing? Will my sleeping patterns change. Will reducing my ambient/artificial light exposure change my body's reaction to the sun? How long will it take to adapt to this lifestyle? Will I be able to succeed? My hope is that I find my nights to be more profitable, I take this opportunity to read the stack of books I've been wanting to read. My hope is that I don't just drink alone in the dark every night.

Fine print - I'm not using this challenge as an excuse to be a recluse. (That challenge comes later) So, if I am invited out, I will go places where electricity is being used, but I will not actively use electronics, and I will limit the amount of times I go out per week. I will allow small use of texting only for the coordination of a rendezvous. I want this to be a challenge. I want to see the results of this experiment. I really don't want to fail my first challenge back.

Time to turn out the bright lights. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

September & October Results

It has been awhile hasn't it? I have been attempting to live challenged this entire time, but as you three are well aware, I have taken some time away from the blog. This entry is going to be short and sweet but the posts should be coming in regularly again. 

September's challenge was a skills challenge. Thanks to a good friend, I am now in possession of my own copy of "Things Everyone Should Know How To Do Before Turning 30". The book initially belonged to him (I wonder who gave it to him) but is now WELL above the age of 30. The book has many great skills that a person would find useful in life. If not useful, at least an interesting conversation starter. I took to this book to learn some skillz this month, as well as some interesting skills that many of my friends suggested I learn. 

After the month was over, I was attempting to help a coworker fix her broken cubicle. I struggled to fix it and began looking around for help. She looked at me with her brow furrowed and said, "didn't you just learn a bunch of skills?" 

Yes, I did. Many of the skills learned required science. Some required critical thinking. Some required me to just "man up". It probably took me about 30 seconds to fix her cubicle after she posed the biting question. But the fact remains, there are many many skills to learn, so though I consider this month a PASSED this challenge is far from over.


October. I was meant to write letters/notes. 30 of them to be exact. I'm still not ready to blog about this month because I'm very curious about my behavior for this challenge. I wrote about 18 notes/letters. FAILED. I sent/delivered about 6 of them. One person I wrote to but didn't mail the letter out to has died. I don't know whether to give it to his family or keep it myself. I've never had something to say to someone and had them pass before I got the courage to say it. 

There are some notes and some letters still to be written and they will be. This challenge will be revisited. I will further examine the results of this challenge, my psyche during this month and what derailed this challenge.

Friday, October 28, 2011

King Whiskey

Sorry to keep you waiting! I should have something for you shortly. Stay patient, you won't be disappointed.

Rest assured I'm still living challenged.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Nine months into living challenged, I am thrilled to say I've tested myself, I've overcome obstacles, I've failed,  I've succeeded and I've learned. Each challenge has evoked different responses from me some reactionary, some emotional. This response, however, is a first.

Yes. The people living in that unit did
come out while I was working.
Last Sunday, my good friend, an adroit skills master and apartment manager welcomed me to come by the apartment complex to learn some handyman skills. Most people who have never had ties to an apartment manager might not understand the tasks they have to deal with. "Oh, free rent? And all I have to do is collect rent checks and tell me people to turn down their dub step after ten at night? Sign me up!" It isn't that easy. Fancy yourself a modern day Mr. or Mrs. Roper, and right before you get into your 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air to drive to a BBQ, a pipe breaks spilling sewage everywhere. Time to get out and make the necessary phone calls or fix it yourself. Tenants in #11 keep leaving the light on in the laundry room, time to deal with it. Water keeps leaking through the roof; what are you going to do about it? Unit #1 hasn't had air conditioning in three days and its smoldering outside. Insinkerator in #9 is get the idea. It isn't an easy job, and sometimes a phone call to have someone fix it is either too expensive or will be too long of a wait.

Apartment managers have some great skills in their arsenal so I joined Fred Mertz to do a few tasks around the complex. I replaced a shower head, changed light fixtures and fixed a tenant's door. Replacing the first fixture and the shower head was simple, but gave some good experience using different types of pliers. Slip joints not working so well? Let's give the vice-grips a try. After initially installing the new shower head, we noticed some water dripping from the faucet. C'est la vie, we are in a recession, be happy to have a shower, lets move on. Negative. This manager does it right. I take the head off and we examine the teflon tape I applied. The tape was applied in the right direction (it matters!) but perhaps a little more can be added. After applying more tape and not putting the shower head on so tight the problem was solved.

Moving on from there we grabbed a sander and some tools to fix a door that kept catching when the tenant tried to close the door. The door also squeaked. It was an annoyance to the tenants. Being friends of those tenants, it was my honor to be able to come by and fix the issue. My teacher is an auteur of precision. For him to sit back, teach me, watch me and not take over is worth noting. We fixed the squeaking and the two problems causing the door to catch. And even though my hand is still vibrating from sanding that door like a boss (pronounced: b-auce), it was well worth it.
After sanding, we noticed a metal fixture attached to the bottom of the door needed to be removed, manipulated then reattached. Many of the screws had stripped the wood but this only gave me an opportunity to learn. Stick a toothpick in the hole and break it off. Now the screw has something to catch when you drill the screw back into the wood.

All that was left was some light fixtures in the carport. A light introduction into the world of electrical work. What a great day! Wait what? Who did what?! Just before moving onto the final task of the day, Mrs. Roper, with a pleasant smile on her face, presented me with an opportunity.  A new challenge approaches?!

I've got something for you to learn how to do. 

I washed my hands vigorously like I was prepping for surgery. I was honestly very excited to have the opportunity to learn how to properly change a diaper. My only other diaper experience involved my friend and I tossing his little sisters diapers on the roof of our apartment complex. Learning how to change diapers and properly dispose of them could come in handy one day. But as I sat there in front of the little one, I froze up. She was so tiny and delicate, just a quiet inquisitive princess relaxing on a blanket. I didn't want to do anything wrong, I didn't want to hurt her. This is their first child! What if I put too much baby powder on her? I did. What if I hurt her tiny legs? I didn't. What if she started to cry? She didn't. Kelly, the mother of this bundle of joy was loving every second of my awkward encounter. The night before I cleaned military rifles. I had just gone Bob Villa on that apartment complex and I can't man up now?! Granted when I cleaned the guns, it didn't reek of mass destruction.

Kelly took the role of the primary teacher as Scott, the father of the child, mostly watched and snapped photos. "Take pictures of him," she laughed, as I recoiled at any slight movement from the tiny challenge. "Is this okay," I often asked after every task.  To my surprise, it wasn't that big of a mess. I had heard some horror stories, so I was relieved this task was so manageable. I was shocked at how I could lift her to get a new diaper under her, more her this way, more her that way, and she sat there and just gave me looks. She wasn't uncomfortable or unhappy at all. But I suppose she's done this before.

I did the job. Not necessarily like a boss (You know how to say it now right?) but I got the job done. All that's left to do is close this diaper up! That is until I had (paraphrased) the following conversation:

Kelly: Did she just pee?
Me: Are you serious?! Can that happen?
Kelly: Totally! It can happen at anytime. 
Me: She did this on purpose!
Kelly: She wanted to help you get the full experience. 

I'd like to think I did a better job the second time around, but you'll have to ask the little one. Ha! You can't so I have creative license. I am the world's greatest diaper changer. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

October Challenge!

While September's challenge doesn't officially end until October 15th, I'm going begin work on October's challenge immediately.

This challenge has by far been the most requested challenge to date. Easily 2/3 (two-thirds or two out of three, either way you read it you'll be correct) of the readers have made their voices heard and believe it would be a good challenge for me to write a note/letter once a day. As much as I resisted initially, I must agree it is a challenge and one I NEED to undertake.

  1. My handwriting is horrible. - This challenge will either improve it or embarrass me enough to never write again
  2. I haven't KIT'ed. - The common initial-ism used in American yearbooks to remember to "keep in touch". I have lost contact with many of the people I appreciate. 
  3. A little note goes a long way - I believe a handwritten note means more in 2011 than an email or even a verbal acknowledgement of appreciation. 
  4. Its better to receive than to receive - In the last year, I have received two cards and one letter in the mail from my peers. Unwarranted and unexpected. Triplehandedly the best thing to happen to me via my mailbox since the court sent me that letter that all the charges were dropped.
  5. I'm not a good writer. - Shocking. I think this will help me with my writing skills. I'd like to go George Washington on you guys with my letters.

I don't come from the school of thought that a handwritten note needs to be sent every time someone has you  over for some grub or has a meaningful conversation. If I say thank you, I mean it, however, I appreciate the handwritten note, and believe it should be used wisely to keep its credibility alive. The reason why a written note means more than email is because email is so commonplace.

I won't be blogging much at all this month, I'll be doing enough writing already.

Lastly, I have been meaning to reach out to someone I consider to be a great friend. I've wanted to update them on my life, find out more about whats going on with them but I have failed to do so. I'm honestly not sure if he is even one of the three people that reads this blog but he deserves the first letter and he will get it. I'm sorry for taking so long my friend.

As for the other 29, I'm not sure who will get one or how I will decide. Given the events that occur this month, it will probably include some lonely or ill brothers and sisters. Not receiving one doesn't mean you don't meaning anything to me. And receiving one doesn't mean I'm using this as an excuse to reach out to my secret crush. Unless your name happens to be

There are many others like it, but this one is mine.

It started like most typical weekend evenings in Los Angeles. A dinner made up of fresh ingredients, most of which came from the hosts garden. Bottles of wine, an assortment of cheese and grapes were on hand as the kids performed tricks on their newly acquired scooters. I respect evenings like this, I love them which is partially why I dress up for them. I acknowledge, at least to myself that I like being a yuppie in Los Angeles. But something was different about tonight. As I mentioned, the wine flowed, the amazing conversation and laughs were there but something was definitely different. I was there not just for an evening with friends but to learn a skill.

After dinner I found myself staring at a Marlon Glenfield Model 60 .22 Caliber and an Australian Jungle Sniper Rifle - Enfield .303 Caliber. Sure, I’ve shot guns before, I live in Los Angeles, but never before had I taken a gun apart, understood the mechanics and cared for a piece of machinery.

Learning from the master. Notice how he holds the gun down.

When I asked my host to teach me something unique, I jumped at the chance to learn how to properly take apart and clean a classic weapon. I saw us sitting in the jungle taking apart our rifles, cleaning them before a hunt. In reality, we sat comfortably on the living room in front of the other guests as they watched Pirates of the Caribbean. This honestly added a nice addition to learning this, if I make a complete mess of myself with the oil, break his gun or handle the rifle like city boy, there will be witnesses. Some of them...lady witnesses.

We took the guns apart and my host explained how each gun functioned, what each part was doing when the user took an action. The mechanics of it all were fascinating, but holding thing really made me want to go out and shoot down Pepsi cans. I wouldn't say the skill or experience was hard by any means but it was a thrilling experience. There was something satisfying about working with my hands, that I had forgotten about until recently. When I was putting the gun back together, I was having difficulty sliding the bolt back into its proper place. "What does it take to get this thing back down", I asked, defeated. "Confidence", my teacher replied. Touché, Paul Hogan. I could explain in detail the instructions given to me and how to take a gun apart and clean it, but I suggest you go out and learn also. Also, I probably wouldn’t it justice.

Working with hands might have been the central theme of the night. Not all the men were on the ground getting dirty and greasy taking apart a machine and putting it back together. While some were reloading bullets with one hand (me) I found another comrade working diligently with his hands, learning a difficult skill. 

Add caption

I can't exactly teach you all everything I learned, but I can share some of the key words I remember.

Words I remember:
  • Gun
  • barrel
  • safety (seeing red means its...on?)
  • stock
  • sight
  • bolt
  • magazine
  • bolt sliding thing?
Overall a great experience and I’m very happy my hosts took time out of their lives to show me this skill. Though this entry doesn’t do the evening or the learning experience justice, I am confident in my ability to disassemble and clean a rifle. I have gained an understanding on the inner workings of a rifle.

The only thing I’m confused about is what light reading has anything to do with bullets.

And with that horrible joke, I bid thee goodnight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Challenge!

Bottom of the third quarter and we are all tied up at 4. Not the score I wanted but I look back so far and smile at what I've tried. I'm reminded of the famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem In Memoriam.  One of the MANY reasons why this all started was to learn a thing or two. After visiting the Ranch and learning several foreign skills that are commonplace for a manual laborer, I desired to learn more skills that would help me now, in the long run, improve the quality of my life, be fun to know or just be something a guy should know.

Many have suggested it, and I agree...

This month's challenge is a skills challenge.

I will seek to learn several skills this month. Many of those skills will be determined throughout the next 30 days, but include learning how to:

Sew on a button
Change a diaper & wrap a baby in a blanket
Determine north without the use of a compass from anywhere.
Change spark plugs
General household handyman maintenance.

As usual, I recommend you challenge yourself. Are there any tasks you have always wanted to learn? Anything you should learn to improve the quality of your life? Anything that would at the very least be interesting to experience?

Turn off the video games, close off your Netflix, put down your sandwich and tell her you will call back later. Its time to learn some skillz.