Monday, August 9, 2010

An Encounter with Darkness.

My summer adventure-ministry is over and now I'm back with the Augustinian community. For those who didn't know: I volunteered for the summer to live as a Innkeeper in a Christian transitional house. It was a great experience and I learned a lot in the process.

I moved back into the community on July 28th, but I was supposed to do so on the 30th. The reason why I did will be explained in this post. Without giving too much detail, there was one young guy who was living in the transitional house who was apparently going through too much trouble. He seems naturally rude and rough in his character. He is a constant liar, almost pathological liar. I suspect that he suffers from Histrionic Personality Disorder, an attention seeker. The last couple of nights that I was there he outright disrespected members of the community, making a big drama show about it, full of Bible throwing, knife pulling and name calling. And the air around the house felt heavy.

The leaders of the transitional house are a deeply devoted and committed couple. They live within walking distance from the transitional house. They sent us a text-message regarding the heavy air, calling us to prayer. I decided to pray the Rosary, but when I decided to do so, a horrible fear invaded my soul. I think it is important for you to know, dear reader, that I'm not one of those fanatics who see the devil in everything. I do believe in the devil and darkness, as Catholic that I am, but I'm very moderate in my beliefs. Some conservatives would call me something close to a Liberal, but I consider myself a moderate. I adhere to the Church's teachings, but I'm not a conservative Catholic. Nor am I a Liberal Catholic who supports abortion, same-sex marriage or even contraception.

Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, onto the story. The fear was telling me to stop praying, that I shouldn't be involved in this. It told me to leave this to those who are more spiritually mature. I wasn't strong enough to deal with this...darkness, this horrible presence that was now pressing against my chest at the recitation of every Hail Marys. I felt its anger, it was getting angrier. There came a point where I was breathing with difficulty. Continuing with the prayer was getting harder. The words didn't come out easily. And the fear, what a horrible thing it was! You feel like there's little you can do about it. It is not the kind of fear that impels you to fight or run. It was a disabling fear. Not the kind that prepares you for battle but weakens you. One that threatens you to a corner and hide your face between your legs and simply hope for the best. It is not one that is taken away by the switch of a light bulb, or by the presence of others. It follows you whenever you go, like the darkest shadow of yourself. It was not in me, but whispering at my back. I have never been so afraid in my life.

It was past 1am in the morning, and I finally finished the rosary. I was afraid of finishing it, fearing that the prayer was the only thing protecting me. I called one of the Innkeepers, who was sleeping. "I don't feel comfortable being alone, can I talk to you?". He kindly accepted. I went to his room and told him "You know I wouldn't wake you up unless it was a serious matter", and told him what had happened. The darkness was still whispering at my back, following me. One of the young guy who lives in the community came to the room as well, expressing that the air felt heavy. We were talking for about fifteen minutes when I heard someone coming into the house. I came out of my friend's room and into the hallway and found out that it were the leaders of the community. The devout couple had come, apparently, to pray. When I met them at the hallway, I asked the leader, who we would call Carlos, if he felt "that". He simply replied, "No, I'm fine." Then he looked me in the eyes and said "Get on your knees". I did, and he went to the living room to pray with his wife. I prayed for a few minutes, still afraid, still with that darkness on my back.

After my brief prayer on the hallway, I went into the living room where I found Carlos praying, prostrated face down on the floor. His wife was in the dining room, talking with the young guy who was previously talking with us. The living room was dark, with only the dim orange lights of the dining room next to it shining softly on the background. As I entered the living room, Carlos got on his knees and looked up to me and said: "I feel your soul very disturbed, what's going on? are you okay?". I told him that I didn't feel good, explaining everything that had happened. He told me to get on my knees again, and he started to pray for me. As he was praying he said "Yes, I feel something heavy" showing me with his hands where it was. Right next to me. He tried to impose his hands on me but couldn't. It was as if something was pulling him back. He tried again but nothing, this time he pulled his hands and shake them in pain. "I can't do it" he said crying. He then called for his wife for help in prayer. The wife came and started praying for me. The young guy, scared, got on his knees and started to pray as well. Through the wife's prayer (and I believe the young's guy prayer as well), Carlos could pray over me again. He extended his hands toward me, almost laying them on me. This time, nothing was pulling him back. As he did, I close my eyes. I felt a force pushing me away from Carlos' hands. After about 15 to 20 minutes of prayer, we felt that the darkness stopped following me. Almost at the end of the prayer, another Innkeeper came down from the third floor above us. He came and prayed for the young guy who was now not feeling so good. We prayed for him, and he started to cry. I was terrified throughout the whole process. But I prayed. I sat down for a while, and started to pray. The young guy, with his eyes filled with tears, looked at me and with an almost commanding voice told me:"Kneel and keep praying". I did so, remembering CS Lewis' view on the importance of position while praying. We finished the prayer with an Our Father. And we all felt better. The darkness was no longer following. But I still felt it, hiding somewhere.

"So should we tell him?"asked Carlos to his wife. She looked at me and said, "we decided to come here because I had a bad feeling about you. We feel that for your security, it is okay if you leave tomorrow instead of Friday". Tomorrow, being at the moment present since it was around 2am in the morning, was Wednesday. The young guy told us that he heard Jesus while in prayer ,telling him that if he wanted Him to liberate him and me, that he should get on his knees, face down, not only asking for it, but imploring it. That he needed to show Him that he has fear of the Lord. He also told us that when we were praying the Our Father he could hear our voices, but another voice as well. It was the most beautiful voice he has ever heard. I still felt the fear, this time more distant, away from me. I felt as though I had just wakened up from a terrible sickness. A similar feeling one feels the next morning after a whole night fighting with a sickness. It feels like you can finally rest, glad that the experience is over. You feel comforted, but still shaken up about it. The feeling continued the next morning. The whole community gathered for prayer the next morning, asking the Holy Spirit to come upon us. It moved in us, and we felt better. I did not sleep in my room that night. I couldn't sleep alone after the experience, but slept in the same room of another Innkeeper. The next day, following the recommendation of the leaders, I moved out of the transitional house.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nintendo DS survives almost certain death.

At my new home, the bathroom has a window that leads to a nasty, 3 floor fall. I had made the bad habit of taking my Nintendo DS lite to the bathroom. Sometimes I put it by the window, as its shelves seems deceivingly appropriate.
The view from the bathroom window.

One night, I forgot that I had left my DS by the window, and by accident, I knocked it down! In seconds that felt like minutes I heard a "barababaaang!" that signaled that my poor, old and trusty DS had crashed against the cement. "Oh no" that's all I said. It was dark, so I couldn't see the end result. It's probably broken in pieces I thought. I went downstairs to pick it up, hoping to save the game that was inside (FIFA 10 if you are wondering) and to my surprise, the DS was still in one piece! The shell was open, standing normally as if on a shelve. And when I tried it, it worked perfectly! Even more, a small glitch that turned off the screen if the DS was held in a certain position seems to be almost gone! Of course, the DS didn't come out unharmed from its brief clash with death. There are several cracks on the device that I will show you with pictures. This definitely goes to show the quality hardware that Nintendo does.

The DS works perfectly!
Add Image

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nervous laughter- Has it ever happened to you?

For some reason or another, I always had problems with nervous laughter. From laughing in the middle of class in High School to even laughing in the middle of community prayer. Of course, there's always a reason for the laughter, but once it starts it is hard to control . The more you try to stop the laughter, the less is your control over it. It is an odd dimension of the human mind, the stubbornness in which it refuses to stop doing what is inappropriate. Anxiety is not calmed by simply telling your mind to "stop worrying", fear is usually not dispelled by telling yourself "don't be afraid", impure thoughts takes more than a "no" to your mind to chase them away. And so it can be with laughter, at least in my case.

This is the second time it happens. We are seating inside the chapel, praying the liturgy. It is the feast of St. Rita, a solemnity to Augustinians. We use a separate book in conjunction with the liturgy of the hour for the antiphons, readings and intentions. This creates a mind bending confusion as you have to bookmark your prayer books in many different areas. I was in charge of the Antiphons. I was hopelessly confused. It comes the time after the hymn that I need to jump start the prayer with the 1st Antiphon. I'm lost between my bookmarks. The brother next to me tries to help me find it, and he gets lost as well. After a few seconds that seemed like minutes, I find the Antiphons. I say it, and in the middle of it, the brother next to me laughs. He tries to control his laugh, and I find his almost failed effort somewhat funny. I laugh a little. To which he laugh even more.

I'm able to carry through the first psalm, but I'm already sweating cold in my down spiraling efforts to simply not laugh. The brother, apparently, finds my efforts all the more funny. He laughs uncontrollably for a few seconds. I try to find the second Antiphon, running through the prayer book. I gather all the strength within me and I'm barely able to say the second Antiphon. The brother is holding his mouth, looking away to the wall. By this time, I'm not even able to completely pray the second psalm. Everyone is looking at us, thankfully smiling and not with angry faces. I was literally sweating cold. When I was not holding my breath, trying to control the overwhelming surge of laughter that screamed to get out of my lungs, I probably looked terribly afflicted, embarrassed.

By the time of the third Antiphon, I'm not even able to say it smoothly. Words are competing with laughter. For the Antiphon for the Canticle of Mary, I'm not even able to finish the Antiphon. Father looks at me with amusement, as if saying "What's going on with them?". He did not know how the laughing nightmare started. Father crosses himself, continuing with the Canticle of Mary without me finishing the Antiphon. In his effort to control the laughter, and find the right bookmark, a bunch of loose paper gets out from the brother's prayer book. Afflicted, he picks up the papers, and he laughs at himself. Finally, for what it seemed like an eternity, the prayer ends.

I wonder, has this happened to any of you? Or am I (along with the brother) just an immature kid? Perhaps I am. But if it had happened to you, I would love to hear your experiences.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New blog: The weight loss challenge blog.

Hello all:

Just wanted to inform everyone that I will no longer post my weight loss challenge post in this blog, because I created another one solely for that purpose. So, if you are looking for that blog, you can find it here:

I will continue to post on this blog on random things. I felt that my weight loss challenge was too specific for this blog. I had thought about this for quite some time, and was very reluctant in creating a new blog. But now I feel it is the right time to do it. See you all there!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Red : Innocence and Instinct review

When I first heard of Red, It was from a promotional sample CD that I received. In it was Red's single "Breathe into me". As I listened to the single and the lyrics, I said to myself "umm, this sounds Christian". Months later I learned that Red was one of the few Christian rock bands that had some crossover success to mainstream radio.

The album kicks off with "Fight Inside". Listeners of Red's End of Silence will feel right at home with this song, as it is very similar to the sound of their previous album. This is one of my favorite songs in the record, as it creates a sort of relaxing and yet dark ambient, with minor chords and tonalities that run through this song, and not surprisingly, to the rest of the album. Then "Death of Me" changes gear into a more fast paced Red, the drums being the main ingredient in the song. "Innocence" has one of the best uses of strings arrangement that I have ever heard in a rock band. Its use nicely complement the music, adding an extra layer of depth to the sound. The strings are now deeply entrenched in Red's sound, being an integral part of their new sound, and not merely a nice flowery finish.

"Start again" is a good example of how the strings are an integral part of Red's new sound. And talking about the sound of Red in the new album, it has changed somewhat since the release of "End of Silence". The sound is harsher and darker, and in my opinion, much better than before. Red has matured and found their own unique sound, distinguishing themselves from other bands that had obviously influenced them (the best example perhaps being Linkin Park). Sure, there are some catchy tunes, but they all are framed within the context of their new sound. "Never be the same" sounds like the next perfect single, as it is one of the most catchy, and radio friendly songs on the album. It is even somewhat formulaic, but deliciously haunted by the harshness and darkness that fills Innocence's songs.

"Shadows" is another highlight of the album. The guitar riffs are very harsh, making it one of the heaviest tracks on the record. Even the strings are more subtle, leaving most of the work to the band, and particularly to vocalist Michael Barnes, as he screams his way through parts of the song. Things slow down with a cover of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World". It works surprisingly well. Red's sound permeates the song, making it more dark and harsher than the Duran Duran's original. Then comes one of my favorite songs of the album, "Forever". This endearing and yet hard-hitting song talks about redemption and how God can rescue us from darkness, even if we perceive Him late. It expresses a kind of redemption enjoyed after much sourness spent in darkness.

The album closes down with "Take it all away". It starts very slow, with a "dark" piano sound setting up the ambient of the song. Barnes' voice is barely audible, the words almost slithering out, until the chorus comes asking God to "Take it all away". In the middle of the song, the piano and the strings take charge, repeating the melody in which it started. After that, the band slowly ups the tempo, a crescendo that explodes emotionally with Barnes repeating "You take away". Perhaps the best song of the album.

Album grade: A-

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 12 of my weight loss challenge.

It's been too long since I last wrote, and for that I want to apologize. It is not that I discontinued my weight loss challenge. Neither is the case that I was too busy. I was certainly busy but I could have made the time to write. I've been simply caught up in other things. But here I am, for those who are reading (I know there might be a couple readers out there, though sometimes it feels like screaming to a vast empty valley), I promise to keep up reporting my journey.

It's almost the end of the semester, thank God for that. It's been a tough one, but a very satisfying one. God willing, I will be transferring to San Francisco State University to pursue my Bachelor's degree in Philosophy. I feel this is an important milestone in my life. I actually never thought this moment would come. I've been in College for 6 years, studying part while working full time. Being with the Augustinian community has finally enabled me to finish college, and I still can't believe that this important moment is just around the corner. It's been too long, but I'm finally almost there.

But why really, do we think this way of our distant goals? I remember when I was working and studying. The goal of finishing College seemed so distant that I almost felt it was impossible. Paradoxically, I continued studying with limited motivation, even though deep inside of me there was a voice who was telling me "I don't believe you will finish this". There is the almost constant motivation that I should study, it is the right thing to do. I should at least try, even though I was not convinced that I would finish. Perhaps I thought I wasn't good enough, or that someone as lazy as myself would probably not be able to invest the time necessary to achieve such goals. Worst of all, I got used to the idea. I got used to the idea of being lazy, and living life as it came.

When it comes to weight loss the exact same thing would happen. Weight loss was always one of my goals. So distant that it was, and so much work would I need to put into it that a lazy person like me could hardly begin to do it. I would sign up for the gym, go at it for a week, and then simply forget about it. I should at least try, it is the right thing to do. But did I ever believe that I would ever do it? Hardly. I got used to the idea of being fat. My ideal future was always of a thin graduate. That idea was always in my mind. But if I was asked to be realistic, would I think I will be there in a couple of years? No, honestly no. I know I'm capable of much. My past experiences tell me so. But I also know how comfortable it is to be complacent, and simply let life be, while you sit on the couch with the T.V on. I know how hard it is to get out of the comfort zone.

But here I am, some pounds thinner and about to finish College. It is possible and perfectly doable. It's often been said, "don't ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do it". But I say, don't ever let that voice inside of you tell you that you can't. You are capable of much. God has given us this incredible power to change things within us and around us. You already have what you need because the maker of Heaven and Earth has already given it to you. If you have a goal, however big it is, however impossible it is, be realistic about it and say "If I want to achieve this, this and this is required of me" and then plan the next step to do it with discipline, but most of all, with the motivation that comes with the knowledge that this is possible and doable.

But enough of that, here is the weigh in for week 12:

Week 9 weigh in: 304.
Week 12 weigh in: 299.
Total pounds lost: 17.

It's been more than 6 years since I've been under 300 pounds. This is an important step for me. When I started this, I wasn't sure if I would be able to accomplish my goal. I was more inclined to think that I would probably fail. But here I am, under 300 pounds and almost finishing college. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Week 9 of my weight loss challenge.

This was a good week. This was a busy week. This week I have proven myself that simply being busy is not an excuse to not get fit. It certainly makes things a little bit more difficult, but it is surprisingly doable. In the Harvard Medical School guide to Men's Health, Dr. Simon says that we can break down our exercise time into segments and we would still get the same benefits that we would if we were to them in a single try. This means that If I only have time for a 1o mins. walk at the moment, I can perfectly walk for 10 mins. with the hope of having a 20 mins. walk later in the day, amounting to 30 mins. of exercise for the day. I believe this is very important for all of us who are busy. It is so easy to procrastinate doing exercise when we are so busy that we can get caught up in our own excuses/lies that we finally decide not to keep up with our plans.

I didn't have a lot of free time this week. But I somehow made time for exercise. If I only had time for a 20 mins. walk for a given day, I walked those 20 mins. I would later compensate with an extra walk in the day. Some days I chose the long way home from College just so I could get those extra steps. It feels like cheating, but it really works. At the end of the day I had the feeling that I did not exercise enough just because I didn't do my walking in a single try. But in the end, all those steps amount to something, and no step is ignored or forgotten by our bodies. I had somewhat surprising results at my weight in, mainly because I wasn't expecting much of a change.

But enough of that. Here is the weigh in results for week 9:

Week 8 weigh in: 307 lbs.
Week 9 weigh in: 304 lbs.
Total weight loss: 12 lbs.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I thought my scale had gone nuts and I weighed myself 3 times, getting the same results. I can't wait to get under the 300 lbs. mark soon! My vocational director even told me that we would have a party whenever I break that mark! Thank you all for your support and see ya next week!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Week 8 of my weight loss challenge.

It's been a tough week. It was my first week of class after the Spring break, and I found myself buried in homework. There were days when my mind and body were dedicated in study from rising until 9pm at night. Sometimes I lacked the time to exercise, other times I simply lacked motivation. I still managed to exercise a couple of days, but not nearly as much as I would have wanted it. And to top it all off, we had a priest from the main province visiting, which meant dining out 3 times this week.

I finally have a break today, and the time to exercise and relax. I went for a 4 mile walk today to dowtown, and I enjoyed every minute of it! First I went to a famous park where the "Full House" houses are (that's how I call them):

Then I went to the majestic Civic Hall, which to me feels like a small piece of Europe in San Francisco:

Boy do I really need a haircut! I've been neglecting and delaying the imminent visit to the barber shop. This morning I went out with my old black jeans, a simple shirt and jacket. I didn't comb my hair, and it was an unholy mess. I don't "dress out" for exercise. Needless to say I wasn't in my best style. Apparently, there is a group of Christians that go into the city visiting the homeless in downtown, offering a "good morning", a smile, a snack, and a "God bless you". Great job these guys are doing! I was very happy to see this needed work being done. The thing is, a couple of them confused me as a homeless and offered me a snack! I got a good laugh out of it. I didn't get mad or ashamed, because I honestly don't think myself as "better" in any respect to the homeless in the city, but I thought it was a good and funny indication that I really need a haircut (btw, all these pictures were taken with my phone on my walk).

But enough of that. Here is the weigh in for week 8:

Week 7 weigh in: 307.
Week 8 weigh in: 307.
Total pounds lost: 9 lbs.

Was I disappointed? Yes and no. I was disappointed because I could not exercise as much as I wanted. I had a stressful week, and I'm glad is over. But then again I was not disappointed because I was actually expecting a weight gain, but I managed to maintain my weight. I promise to step it up for the next week, and I expect big weight loss for the next week! Thanks again for your support and see ya next time!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A chat on the bus with an Atheist...

It was a beautiful afternoon in Concord, CA. The imposing sun radiating, its warm rays hued in golden painted the atmosphere, giving life all around it, and erasing the memories of the gray, rainy, cold winter. I was walking out of the movie theater in downtown, went for a walk to a bookstore, and bought the book "The Collar, A Year Inside a Catholic Seminary" by Jonathan Englert. Enjoying the beautiful afternoon with a walk through downtown, I finally arrived to the bus stop at the BART station. Next to me was young person. Latino, around 5 feet and 9 inches. His hair was neatly combed backwards, casually dressed, but surprisingly presentable. I opened my new book and started reading the introduction. He looked at me, then at the book title and read it aloud "a year inside a Catholic Seminary" said he with an air of dissatisfaction, as if saying "I wouldn't want to be in a Seminary". "Are you very religious?" he asked in Spanish. "Yes" I replied, "matter of fact I'm a seminarian myself". He opened his eyes, his head nodding a few times., "What about the sexual abuse scandals?" he asked. "I don't understand the question" I responded. "It doesn't concern you?". "Well, yes it does, I think it's terrible what those priests did". "What I mean with 'it doesn't concern you' is that you are not there for that reason, it has nothing to do with you" he clarified. "Yes, of course, I'm not there for that reason". "You know, I'm an atheist". "Oh really?" I responded. The Atheist looked very surprised at this and said "You are the first person who reacts this way, interesting". "What do you mean?" I asked smiling. "Usually people call me names and stuff when I say this".

Our bus arrived. He started telling me a bit about his life. How he had tried out some churches, was taught to be a Christian but eventually fell off the wagon. About his kid and her mother, and how she pleaded for him to be at his son's baptism. "I told her that I don't have to be there, it doesn't mean anything f to me". An old friend got on the bus, one that I haven't seen for years. We talked for a bit, but then went back to the Atheist. He then started questioning me about my vocation (or rather my present discernment of this vocation, which I may or may not have). "Obviously, since I am an atheist, I don't believe in the love of God, but one must be much in love with God to be a priest" "Yes" I responded. "Is it love for God the reason you're pursuing this?" "Yes" I responded, knowing that my love for God is not as strong as it should be, or as I want it to be. "Did you have a romantic disappointment?". "No, well, I did have a disappointing relationship with my ex, but I spent 2 years alone discerning whether I want this or not, its not because of that that I'm here". "I'm asking this because too many go into seminary because of these sorts of disillusionments"." I know" I said, and added, "I think that's a terrible mistake" Being on the topic of love, I remarked that I didn't know how people called him names and mistreated him for being an atheist. He said that sometimes people thought he was incapable of loving. "But I am loyal, I know about love, and have morals" he asserted. "Obviously" I said, "as a believer of God I believe that he is the source of love, and you are not outside of this love. I dunno why people think you are incapable of love, why they treat you like an almost inhuman just because you are an atheist". "Yes, inhuman, some think I am like that". After that he received a call, "I'm on my way on the bus" he told the other person on the phone. Our conversation ended and he continued talking on the phone.

I honestly don't know if the Atheist was being truthful or not. Was he playing the victim? But the scenario that he painted was not very unrealistic. I have seen it unfold a few times in my life. We don't have many atheists in Latin America, and is always surprising to find one. I do think that this conversation, though, can be a warning to how Unchristian we can be. Jesus calls us to be loving. I'm not preaching tolerance and being accepting of everything, but simply accepting and loving of others. So many times do we fail to love the sinner and hate the sin. We fail to see that atheists are atheists for a reason. Some have emotional scarring, others intellectual reasons. Some, sadly, are atheists because the behavior of Christians too often doesn't reflect the love of Christ. We can be hypocrites, condemning "holier than thou" Christians, failing to see that we are here by His grace. We are Christians because we are sinners. We fall. We commit the very sins we denounce in others. We fail to love as Christ loves all of us. No human creation of God is incapable of loving, whether he or she believes in God or not. But we Christians can fail in loving others when we don't reflect Christ in our lives, but rather our own darkness disguised as light. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it. May we do the same as His disciple.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Week 7 of my weight loss challenge- The joy of walking.

This was a good week. I finally have my Spring Break from school and now I have more time to exercise and relax. Yes, I find it amazing that I can now say in one sentence the words "exercise" and "relax". But I find exercise relaxing. I will go one step further, I fell in love with walking. I used to hate walking, now I love it. It is amazing how your mind expands while you are walking. You pay attention to little details you normally ignore if you are driving. If you are walking in the city you appreciate the city even more. You find new things, new paths, new parks that you didn't know existed.

This was my experience this week, where I found one of the most beautiful park in San Francisco. San Francisco is for me, the perfect city to walk through. Last Thursday, coming back from College in the bus, I could see a park one block away from Masonic, on Haight street. I never explored that part of the infamous hippie street. But I decided to explore the park in my next walk. I thought I would find a small, uninteresting park, but instead I found this huge hill, with all sorts of beautiful trees and flowers. Just perfect for hiking. And so I did, not knowing what to find. Midway through the hill, I stopped to catch my breath and I was greeted by this beautiful view:

After a few minutes of resting, I decided to continue my hike. Turns out I was just in the middle of the hill, and I had much to hike. The park was beautiful. Imposing and leafy trees casting a relaxing shadow on my path, the sun's ray carefully squeezing in between the leafs, leaving bright spots on the ground. Pushing myself harder I finally arrived to the top. where I found a small open grass area. Someone was sleeping face up on the ground. A couple was kissing and hugging, a lady was calling her dog to come. The view was again, beautiful, this time revealing the western part of the city, the Golden Gate bridge as my background:

I discovered the joy of walking, and now I'm looking forward to new places to explore. Yesterday I walked through UC Berkeley and Berkeley's downtown. Today maybe SF downtown. But who knows? Maybe I'll explore a city I don't know very well. The possibilities are vast, and I keep my mind open.

But enough of that. Here is this week's weigh in:

Last week weigh in: 308.
Week 7 weigh in: 307.
Total weight loss: 9 lbs.

So there it is! I was really hoping to lose to 2 pounds, but in all honesty, I'm not too worry about the scale anymore. I'm more interested in making a lifestyle change that I can pursue and enjoy for the rest of my life, instead of enduring a painful, temporary diet that will leave me powerless once I lose all the weight. I'm more interested of being healthy. Losing weight is only a secondary side effect. My goal is no longer to lose weight, but to be healthy.

Thanks for your support and see ya next time!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Before and after photos showing my (small) progress in weight loss.

It is not a big difference, but you can tell the difference. The first picture was taken in August of 2009. The other this past Saturday. If I can get a photo from 4 years ago where I was my heaviest, there will be a big difference. I will do that whenever I find that picture..

Week 6 of my weight loss challenge- A new challenge also an Android app review.

I apologize again for posting this a few days late. This Friday I had my monthly reunion with the vocation director in the community. He had a challenge for me. A challenge that involves my religious vocation and my health: When I reach 210 lbs., he will promote me as a pre-novice in the order. At first I was shocked, but later I was actually happy with the challenge. It gives me extra motivation to reach my goal. A mental image I can chase while I exercise and while I'm trying to avoid unhealthy food.

On a different note: I often heard Fr. Roderick and many others recommend the Loseit! app for the iphone/ipod touch. But I don't have an iphone! I used to have an ipod touch but I ended up selling it after the many frustrations I endured with itunes But before selling it I had already tried the Loseit! app. Right now I have an Android phone and I'm very happy with it. Looking for an Android alternative I found a pretty good app called Weight loss trainer. In this app you don't have to count your calories, but it measures up your caloric intake automatically by your weight loss (or gain) for every week or day. You do have to "record" your exercise. You can manually add exercise as in Lose it! or you can record one using GPS and a pedometer. If you are walking, for example, the app records your exercise through GPS, giving you the pace, how many miles you have walked, how many minutes you have walked, and how many calories you are burning. I love it! It's so easy to use and really encourages you to exercise. It's perfect for walking, running, riding a bike and hiking. It also has a worldwide high score, where you can compare your progress with others around the world. It shows you for example, that in the last 7 days you have walked 7 miles and also your corresponding ranking (for example I'm in position 1300 with 7.1 miles walked in the last 7 days, the no.1 position has 99.1 miles!). I personally love this feature, as it gives me a competitive push to record more miles. It only accounts for miles recorded using the GPS, and not for exercise entered manually (as in Loseit!), to avoid people putting extraordinarily figures in order to be in a high-ranking position. Here is the website for the app:

Enough of that. This is my weight in for week 6:

Week 5 weigh in: 309 lbs.
Week 6 weigh in: 308 lbs.
Total weight loss: 8 lbs.

I also changed my profile photo with a more recent photo. In it you can already see a bit of change from the old picture. Maybe I will post a blog with the two pictures for comparison. Thanks for your support. See ya next week!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sometimes I fear losing my father...

Sometimes I feel like I'm not going to have my father for long. Whatever the validity behind the poignant feeling, it is one that leaves me powerless; with little to do but at the same time with a sense of obligation to do something about it. Like me, he is morbidly obese. Unlike me he has done little to change this problem. Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with my weight. I still go back to my bad habits from time to time. Sometimes it feels like I move 2 steps forward one day, and the next I move one step backwards. But the truth is that I'm still moving forward. Painfully slow but forward. The truth is that ever since I was diagnosed with Diabetes a couple of years back, I had lost a total of 46 pounds.

By the time I was diagnosed with Diabetes, my Dad was diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes. Back then, he was starting to gain a lot of weight. He was also starting to fall asleep at times when he shouldn't, for example, when driving. A few months later he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which the doctor said was reversible if he lost the weight. He changed his eating habits for a few months, lost some considerable amount of weight, and was feeling much better. But he stopped. And gained the weight back, and then some. Much more. Unfortunately, being obese for him has a far greater negative effect than what is the case for me. He falls asleep whenever he is not active. He falls asleep almost everyday while driving to work, while being at mass, while watching t.v.. It is almost impossible for him to finish a movie. It is almost impossible for him to not fall asleep unless he is standing, or worse, eating. I've seen him on his days off work sleeping all day and night, waking up just to eat, then try to watch t.v. for a while, and falling asleep after a few minutes of trying.

He promised he would change all of this for this New Year. He told me not to worry. He even crossed his heart. But we are more than 3 months into the year, and still little to no change. He continues to gain weight. He is having trouble breathing. When he is trying to tie his shoes his breathing problems becomes painfully evident, as you can hear his throat blocking the air. Normally, he breaths as if tired, as if out of breath. I feel like he might not last in this state for long. Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe not. He could fall asleep while driving on the freeway, on his way of work. I have seen him do this, sometimes I had to wake him up while he was driving. I told him he shouldn't drive anymore, but he ignores my pleas. He could get a heart attack. He could develop Atherosclerosis, if he hasn't developed it yet. He is probably Diabetic by now. This afternoon, after a hearty BBQ lunch that we had with my family, we decided to watch a movie. He of course, fell asleep before the previews ended. He woke up looking for ice cream, served himself some and then proceeded to check something on the internet. He finished his ice cream, and fell sleep without finishing whatever he was doing on the internet. How much lower does he needs to go before he finally wakes up? How much longer until he finally listen? I thought all these questions, sad. "Enjoy you dad as long as you have it" said my mom, "There is nothing you can do other than pray to God for him to open his eyes". "Yes I know" I responded. I know because I also didn't want to listen when I was weighing 355 pounds. I didn't want to listen until I decided to listen and make the changes that I'm still struggling to master. What should I do? I honestly don't know what to do, other than watching him slowly deteriorate until, God forbids, he dies pre-maturely.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week 5 of my weight loss challenge.

This was another busy week. But I cannot continue on with this excuse anymore. It is true that I have been busy, but it's also true that it was possible for me to find a time to exercise more. As the old saying goes, when there is a will, there is a way. It's not that I didn't exercise for this week , but I didn't exercise enough.

So here is the results for Week 5:

Week 4 weigh in: 309.
Week 5 weigh in: 309.

My exact weigh in this morning was 308.8 lbs. Rounding up the number it gives me 309. If I lost weight this week, it was probably minimum. Needless to say I am disappointed. If I have to look this from a positive angle, I could say that at least I didn't gain any weight, but that's simply not good enough if you weight 309 lbs. Of course I won't give up and continue my challenge. I had made important changes in my life that I hope will be beneficial in the long run. Thanks for the support and comments, and see ya next week!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Week 4 of my weight loss challenge.

It's been a busy week. I had my time clogged with midterms and papers for my college. Exercising has been a little difficult, but doable. Stress is mounting, but I'm finally seeing a relief starting with this week. I apologize for not posting my weight loss on Thursday. But I did weight myself this past Thursday, and after getting back from a visit to my parents, I think it's about time for me to post this.

Week 3 weigh in: 310.
Week 4 weigh in: 309.
Pounds lost this week: 1.
Total pounds lost: 7.

So yeah, I was mildly disappointed with this result, but at the same time I was glad I lost a pound, since I didn't have much time to exercise as much as I would like to. On a more positive note: this past weekend I visited my old parish church, and I saw many of my friends who I haven't seen for 3 months. They had very positive comments on how I looked. They said I looked more thin, and much more healthy. The parish pastor even joked about it, saying, "they aren't feeding you well in San Francisco". See ya all soon for week 5! Thanks for the support!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week 3 of my weight loss challenge.

After the fall of week 2, I decided it was time for me to take this seriously, and with the help and support of the community, I was able to step it up this week. And boy did it pay off! Again, I reduced my portions. I walked almost everyday, trying to walk 30 minutes a day or even more. One day I even jogged, which felt surprisingly good. So here is the result of this morning weight in:

Previous weight: 316.
Current weight: 310.
Total pounds lost: 6.

So there it is! I'll see you next week, hopefully a few pounds lighter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What happened to Week 2 of my weight loss challenge?

First of all, I want to apologize for not posting Week 2 of my weight loss challenge. My commitment to weight loss still remains, but now I know it will require more effort than initially thought of. Let me explain. Week 2 was a rough week. Succumbed a couple of days to my old habits, overeating on those days. If that wasn't enough, I cut down on my exercise. This is the worst formula for losing weight. As a result, I didn't lose weight. I was afraid of weighing myself. And when I did, I got 316, which, unfortunately, was my starting weight on Week 1. My first thought was of hiding away, make the best effort for week 3, and post the results for that week , ignoring week 2 completely. Bury my mistakes away, pretending it never happened, and maybe my mind will somehow overcome by sheer necessity. This is a mistake I had made in the past, where procrastination plays a big role in it. When a change is in need, I always procrastinate, waiting for the "right" opportunity in an uncertain future, effectively ignoring my responsibilities at the most important moment, indeed the only moment we have: the present.

I will give one personal example of this: Before moving into the Augustinian community, there were (and still are) some habits that I knew I needed to change. I thought "Oh, moving into the community will be the perfect opportunity to change this, I will simply step it up, and pretend I never had the habit(s)". One of these bad habits is that I am a very disorganized person. My room is almost always a mess. I knew that keeping my room clean was important when living in community, but I never made any efforts to completely eradicate the bad habit. I thought "Oh, I'll simply start cleaning my room once I move in, and all this bad habit will be forgotten in the past". I convinced myself and fantasized that the simple act of moving in will have an almost magical effect of changing my persona, reborn in a new person, where the old habits were not overcome, but forgotten, and somehow eradicated in the process. But your habits follow you whenever you go. They move with you whenever you are. This old baggage we cannot leave hidden in our old house, hoping that it would never resurface in our new house. The only way of breaking this old baggage is by replacing it with something new, something better. And that's creating a new habit to replace the old. And this takes time and effort. Making the long story short, I cleaned my room for the first two week, but then stopped doing it. I didn't replace the old habit by creating a new one.

Disappointed, I shared my struggle with my brother Frank in the community. He used to be fat, and was showing me pictures as proof that he was. He encouraged me to keep forward in my plans. He told me that he wanted to lose a few pounds as well, just enough to reach his ideal weight. He proposed that we work together in this, and I agreed. He quickly drew up a chart, with my name to the left, his to the right. In it included my weight for that night, (he weighed himself as well), and the dates for the future weeks and space to put our weight for those weeks. We posted the chart in the main bathroom of the house, for all to see. That was last Thursday. Since then, I had greatly improved my eating habits, and exercised a lot more. I expect weight loss for this week, the weight in being tomorrow (Thursday). So yeah, my weight ins are changed from Monday to Thursday. And tomorrow I will post the results for week 3.

In the end I decided not to shy away from my mistakes and share this with all of you. Instead of ignoring week 2 completely and post the results for week 3, I thought that this can only help us to learn from my mistakes. It is better to share our struggles, instead of screaming on the mountains our achievements. If all of you know my struggles, my human brokenness, then we can all better enjoy our achievements, when we finally meet our goals. This goes not only to weight loss, but more importantly, in our lives with Christ. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I love Simcity 4 soundtrack!

Video game music has come a long way. From its 8 bits nostalgic glory to the fully orchestrated, Hollywoodish soundtracks of most AAA titles nowadays. Video game music is mostly cherished in a way, but artistically under appreciated outside the hardcore-gamer sphere. It can be like pop music, wildly popular and liked at times (who can't remember that classy Super Mario Bros tune?) but hardly anyone would celebrate it as art. As an avid gamer (gamer-wise, I'm just a shadow of what I used to be now that I joined the Augustinian order) and as a fan of music, I have always been of the opinion that Video game music is heavily under appreciated. Sadly, this is due to the general idea that Video games, are just, well, games. Toys. Something to play with. Or even worse, something for kids. This is partly due to the name of this entertainment medium, as its second name "game" sells itself too short, and can't possibly do justice to this wonderful, interactive expression of art. Yes, I've just called Video games art. For this reason, many in the industry have pushed and called for a new name for this entertainment medium. But enough of that. My main point is that there is much more to Video games than that which its name reveals.

And one big, important part of Video game is the music. I've been recently addicted to a game: Simcity 4. One of the things that I love about this game is the music. From playing other Maxis' video games (like the Sims), I know that Maxis takes good care of the music for its video games. Jerry Martin and Andy Brick used a 70 piece orchestra to record and compose parts of the songs for the game (specifically with its Expansion pack,, Rush Hour) in the Czech Republic. One of my favorite pieces of this is called "Wheels of Progress".I absolutely love this piece, it starts slowly with an almost haunting and barely audible harp melody, a beat set by what seems to be a bass trumpet of sorts (sorry I'm not an expert in identifying these numerous instruments), slowly the violins (possibly the viola) joins with trumpets and strings setting the main, carefree, and apparently disorganized melody; a flute introduces a second melody, quickly contrasted with the first melody by the strings, the orchestra mildly and slowly exploding into a third melody that can act as the "chorus" of the piece, returning with the quiet and calming harp and bass trumpet (or whatever instruments set the beat), and then proceding with different variations of the melodies. There is an interesting article on the New York Times about Andy Brick, the composer of this beautiful piece"andy%20brick"&st=cse

Even better, you can download the whole Simcity Rush Hour soundtrack in the Simcity 4 website Other favorites of the Soundtrack are "Morning Commute" and "Metropolis". Check it out, its free. Give video game music a chance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

End of Week 1 Weight Loss Challenge.

I was supposed to post this on Monday, but I was too busy playing Simcity 4 that I forgot to weigh myself. I did so yesterday, and returning from a visit from parents, I decided to finally post it. So there you go, that's my excuse.

So this the result of the end of Week 1:

Starting Weight: 316.
Ending Weight: 314.
Pounds lost this Week: 2.
Total Pounds lost: 2.

So there you have it! I know that 2 pounds is not too much, but I want to lose weight in a healthy manner, unlike my last time I did so. For this week I reduced my serving portions. I did some exercising (walking) but not as much as I would like, and so I'm going to try to step it up this week. See you next week!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The start of my weight loss challenge -Week 1.

As part of my New Year's resolution, I finally decided to start losing weight (in contrast to just deciding to lose weight). As a way to keep myself motivated, and possibly motivate others to do the same, I will start posting weekly weigh-ins, and if I lost any weight, say how I did it. I am a busy student. I'm also living in the Augustinian community as a pre-novitiate candidate. I have many obligations that can make this weight loss journey difficult. But if I can do it, lazy and busy as I am, then indeed anyone can do it. And I know I will do it. I had done it before. When I was living in my native country, Nicaragua, I was 70 lbs. overweight. I decided to make a change. I lost the 70 lbs in just three months. Unfortunately, the weight loss was too rapid to be healthy, and after one year of maintaining my weight, I regained it all back, and then some.

My Goals: But no need to cry over spilled milk. The future is always before me, if God grants me the grace to do so. My goals will be to lose between 1 and no more than 4 lbs. a week. To attain this goal I will do the following:

-Reduce my meals portions.
-Never miss breakfast.
-Have small snacks (no more than 100 cals.) between meals.
-Exercise a minimum of 3 days a week, and if my schedule permits, 5 days a week.
-Try, as much as my class schedule permits, to never have dinner after 6pm.

About the exercise: I am fully conscious that exercising a minimum of 3 days a week is not enough for me to lose weight. I will try to exercise more days. Unfortunately, I am a very busy student (with tons-load of homework) that leave me little time to exercise. The odds seem to be against me, but I know I will do it. At the beggining, my exercise will be simply to walk. Later I will try running. Gym will not be my primary way of exercising, not only because I have limited gym access, but I know many people have limited gym access. Gym is not neccesary to lose weight.

My first weight in: I weighed myself this morning. My starting weight is: 316 lbs.
If you want to know how I look with this weight, just look at my profile picture. I have not changed much since I took that picture.

See you all next week! God bless!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Favorites Music Albums of 2009

Musically, 2009 was a great year for me. I came upon some great albums, some of them I came surprised that I ended up liking. There were a few disappointments (Skillet's Awake was incredibly inferior to their past efforts), but in the end, there were some great highlights.

2009 Favorites (In chronological order) :

Viva La Vida by Coldplay: This is the first album I ever bought from Coldplay. They never been my favorite, as they appeared to me a little, um... cheesy (for lack of a better word). But I had heard and read great things about this album, and Viva la Vida is a beautiful song that stuck to me by the end of 2008. And so I decided to buy this album very early in January, and it did not disappoint. The atmospheric and relaxing ambient sounds of Coldplay seem to mature to create this memorable album. "Lost!" is one of my favorite songs in the album, Chris Martin singing in the chorus "you thought you might be a ghost, you didn't get to heaven but you made it close." Another hightlight (and probably my favorite song of the album) is Death and all His Friends", with Martin's soothing piano guiding the melody and ambiance, then slowly, the guitar takes control, with the piano following closely. At this point the song ups the tempo, turning into a happy and sunny tune, but quickly erupting into a sad tune, with crying guitars and Martin's voice singing "I don't want to cycle or recycle revenge, I don't want to follow death and all his friends".

Dance or Die by Family Force 5: When this album arrived to my mailbox as part of my monthly recommendation of Christian Rock from BMG music club, I was sort of dissapointed, as I thought, this isn't Rock. It is an odd combination of alternative, rock and dance. The end result is a shiny, candy colored (if such thing is possible) dance-rock. A little bit wacky, pop-ish, but fun. The song "Dance or Die" is instantly likable and catchy, and unlike most catchy pop songs, it has a lasting appeal, as there is more depth to it than initially thought of. The whole album is a fun electric ride, which is not a bad thing.

Working on a Dream by Bruce Springsteen: I never thought I would like this album, at least not to the extent that I do. Reading the good reviews, I decided to give it a try. At first, it was hard to get into it. Not that I didn't like it, but alien to what I'm used to. But then, and almost suddenly, the songs started to grow on me, to an almost magical extent. I listened to this album as I was reading "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the songs are filled with this magical realism the book is famous for, but in their own romantic way. The songs that most express this sense of magical realism for me are "This Life" and "Kingdom of Days".

No Line on the Horizon by U2: My first U2 album. I liked U2, but not as much as to buy an album from them. This album changed my perspective on U2 and now they are one of my favorite bands. This is definitely one of my favorite album. And as Rolling Stones put it, this is U2's masterpiece. I'm surprised and puzzled that the album didn't sell as well as it was expected (and that Magnificent wasn't a radio hit!), but then again, many great albums are unappreciated. From the majestic and serene happiness of "Magnificent"and the devotion of "Moment of Surrender", continuing with the military and yet soulful commands on "Unkown Caller" and the gray-winter atmospheric feel of "FEZ-Being born" to The Edge's crunching and hopeful guitar in "Breathe", this album is quite an experience from beginning to end. There is a raw feel to the whole album, which is more apparent when you read about the recording process. Certainly one album you cannot miss.

Elephant by The White Stripes: Another masterpiece. Certainly an acquired taste. I already wrote briefly about this album in another post (Music I've been listening lately), but my taste of it has somewhat matured since I wrote that post. White's guitar playing is easier for me to appreciate now. His crying (no, more like whining) guitar can be hard to like, but once I did, it really grew on me. I discovered the passion behind it, and how the guitars simply overflows with emotion. Now my favorite song is "Ball and Biscuit" , one that I previously didn't like, but one song that it expresses White's passion about Blues. Definitely recommended if you want to expand your music tastes.

Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K: Probably my favorite album of the year. I also wrote about this album in my post "Music I've been listening lately". Since that post, one song (well the last two songs can be combined to form one) has really grown on me. "This is the end" and "(If You Want It)" is truly a Relient K masterpiece in itself. It starts with Thiesen's moody and ambient piano filling the beginning of the song, quiclky interrupted by the band in a loud punk-rock style. The lyrics talk of a possible end of a relationship and the hurt associated with it. The second part of the song slows the tempo, the piano guiding the song, the guitar subtly following by the half the song as Thiessien sings "I met the devil and I stared her in the eyes...I took the fire escape and made it out alive, yeah I still burn from time to time but I've a healing hand against my side". It finally slows down, Thiessen tenderly singing: "Blisters on my feet I crawled back home, Frozen from the sleet burned sand and stones, Nourished back to life by life alone, With one shake of the main regain the thrones". There's no better way to end a record.

Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot: And finally I ended the year with Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane. This is a departure from Switchfoot's previous releases. With a change of label and more artistic freedom comes one of the best of Switchfoot's album, and that's saying a lot. It has a more rough and harsh sound to it. "Mess of Me" is a great single, and talks of how we can be led astray by our sins. This album has a more atmospheric and yet harsh sound to it, mixing the electric guitar with synthesizers. This is more evident in "Sing it out", my favorite song of the album. It starts slow, with a synthesized sound following Foreman's voice, the guitar is subtle at the beginning, letting the strings and synthesizers leading the atmospheric sound, but all that changes by the end of the song, with the guitar and the band kicking in and finishing the song. I really recommend this album, although it takes some time to appreciate and adjust to the new sound of Switchfoot, specially if you are a fan of their previous releases.