Author Archive for Troy Smythe


Back from the Dead and Ready to Party!



Things They Don’t Tell You About Weight Training

1.  It takes a long time to get big.  Years.  I’m not talking Hulk big, maybe Aquaman  or Flash, whoever, it still takes a long time.  And when you reach 40 your testosterone levels drop and even with a lot of work, the average person will only put on about 5 lbs of lean muscle.  SO, start young.  I really don’t need more than 5 lbs of lean muscle added each year.  In three years, that would be 15 lbs.  That’s plenty big for me.  It’s not a bad thing that it takes a long time, but if you are just starting out, don’t lose heart.  Just keep at it.   If you are in it for the long haul you’ll get less frustrated.

2.  Six packs are mostly a nutrition thing.  They show up when you have a low percentage of body fat.  There are bathroom scales that measure body fat percentages (around 30 bucks).  I have one, and it’s cool.  Oh,and if you want valleys and ridges in your six pack (once you are lean–I’m not yet) you’ll need to work them the way you do other muscle groups, with weights once a week pretty hard.  You can work them every day, too, but your muscles will develop differently.  Someone who runs every day will have strong legs ready for endurance stress, but they probably aren’t as likely to get as big as the guy who does squats and dead lifts.   From what I can tell, your abs work the same way.

3.  Muscles aren’t built when you lift. That’s when they get beat up.  They get bigger when they recover and come back stronger.  When do they do that?  While you sleep, so get a good night’s sleep or you won’t grow.

4.  If someone looks crazy big they are probably using steroids.  If you want to look like them, I wouldn’t bother asking them for advice because unless they really trust you, they’ll just make something up.  Why?  Because steroids are illegal.  I don’t judge guys who juice though.  In my opinion it’s just another supplement.  I won’t  be using them because with my hypotrophic cardiomyopathy, I can’t imagine it being a good idea.  From what I hear, once you stop using 90% of what you gain fizzles anyway.

5.  You have to be careful about the way you cut weight if you want to keep the muscle you’ve worked hard to gain.  It’s not as easy as eating less and moving around more.  In fact, at my current weight (195) I have to eat about 2200 calories to lose a pound of fat a week.  Anymore weight than that is supposedly cutting into your storage of muscle.  Having said that, I’m not sure you can really believe any thing you read about calories and nutrition.  There are a bazillion theories about “what works” and some are contradictory.  I do know I’ve lost weight while strength training in the past and did it pretty fast, and my muscle growth was lame during that time.   I’ve decided this time around to focus on gaining mass, so that means I’ll focus on eating enough of the right kind of calories, doing cardio 30 minutes a day, keeping my workouts mixed up and getting plenty of rest (the hardest part for me, actually).

6.  If you are not breathing hard and struggling to push out the last rep of each set that you do, you probably aren’t challenging your muscles enough for them to grow.

I seem to discover new things no one told me about strength training every week, so I’m sure i’ll add to this list as time goes by.  If anyone has any of their own surprises, please share.  A good dose of realism goes a long way in this hobby.


Workin’ on my Fitness: ‘Supp Protein

Anne at Henry’s coffee shop is giving me the stink eye for ordering my latte with non-fat milk. I can’t get mad at her. She makes sure I get out with all my stuff. I tend to leave things behind. I don’t care about the scowl. I just put my headphones on and turn on vintage Dreadful Yawns, which is my favorite band to listen to when it’s insanely gray in Indiana, as it will be for the next three months.

So Tony asked me to keep a log of my progress and experiences with lifting. Tony’s my trainer. I’m a big fan. He’s a hard worker, lets me play with his bulldog, Stafford, and is always giving me “suggestions.” I figured out that if I don’t follow his “suggestions” I tend to stay unmuscley, so I decided to write the damn log.

I will include some food stuff, but I find looking at food from the body management angle to be a HUGE eye-glazer. It starts to sound like a Little Britain Fat Fighters meeting so fast. Not saying I don’t pay attention to food. It’s way more important than I wish it were when it comes to adjusting your muscular form, but I don’t have an interesting way to write about it yet.

I can, however, start with protein supplements, which are technically food, bizarre, food with wacky packaging. Supplements sort of deserve their own posts anyway since there’s a million of them out there, all with well paid marketing departments who convince you that your dog will die if you don’t take theirs. Unfortunately their research departments don’t get the same love from the boss man (very few peer-reviewed studies), which makes knowing which proteins to suck up tricky to figure out.

I should say right here that my approach to researching supplements is to do a number of “review” searches on the internet when I hear about something I “should” be taking. Kind of hypocritical of me to slam the lack of science thing, isn’t it, but there you go. I have a pretty well honed bs detector, and eventually you start to figure out when a “study” or claim is bogus. Just look for signs of selling (like who published the info and where), and you’ll get an idea of how objective the source is. Oh, I also got over the fear of looking stupid and am happy to ask Tony or other successful weight trainers about what I’ve found and what works for them.

Two things that the fitness community tends to agree upon is that weight lifting is not actually what makes muscles grow, and your body is gonna need more protein than a sedentary person typically consumes. Your body needs the extra protein because lifting tears your muscles (a good thing when done correctly), and protein is what it uses to repair itself and grow stronger. Muscle growth actually happens after you hit the gym IF you have the right proteins running around your body.

From what I can tell you need two kinds of protein in your stash:

1. Quick digesting proteins (eggs are a good source, and “hydro” protein powders)–I take these before and right after a workout.

2. Slow digesting proteins (meats, cottage cheese, and powders that contain a mix of proteins). I take these when I won’t be breathing hard for a while and before bedtime.

As I said, most in the fitness industry agree that your muscles repair (aka grow) while you sleep (after they’ve been stressed in some way). I’m supposed to shoot for eight hours of sleep a night, especially on lifting days. This is turning out to be one of the hardest obstacles for me to overcome, and it’s kinda stressing me out. More on that some other time.

So how much protein do you need? This is where experts disagree and people seem to be making some educated guesses, which you then have to sort through. And let me tell you, the amount of information will make you crazy as a shit-house rat in no time. Until I’m convinced to do otherwise, I’m sticking with a little over 160 grams of complete (animal) protein a day. A general formula I’m comfortable with is .80 times your ideal lean body weight. Ideal body weight is pretty subjective for me at the moment, since I don’t even know what body fat percentage I’m shooting for yet (I know it will be below 19%, but not sure how much).

Okay, even I’m tired of talking about proteins for now. I’ll get to the other supplements I’m taking later, but protein is a good place to start figuring out what will work for you. If you’re not giving your body enough extra bricks, it won’t build you a bigger house no matter how hard you work.

Lee Hayward has a decent breakdown of the protein theories and the science behind them here. Even though he’s using the article to sell his book, his ideas seem pretty even-handed. No time like the present for you to start sorting through the amazing world of protein supplements for yourself.


Welcome Oprah!

Okay, as a muscle bear in training I don’t eat a lot of simple carbs, but once in a while I have an Oprah moment and dive ass over tea kettle into a pile of dinner rolls.

It’s hard to find good bread at home these days. Here in Indy, Breadsmith bakes the best commercially, but homemade table bread worth the insulin spike? Let’s just say it’s hardly a daily indulgence at our house. Some families are lucky enough to have a roll baker in their family tree. John’s mom makes excellent crescent rolls from scratch, but if we’re honest, on most home tables Sister Schubert should get the credit for most of the yeast bread found there.

In my family it was my Great Grandmother Cora who made the rolls, and they were impressive enough that even as a kid I found them remarkable. When she died none of our family bakers had the heart (or the guts?) to take on the task of making rolls. Who could blame them? Those warm, fragrant, light (plus any other adjective you also could apply to heaven) clouds were how family memories were made. The standard was set a bit too high, perhaps.

After all of these years of dinners sans homemade rolls (at least the meals I’ve made it to haven’t had them. Maybe my Arkansas relatives make them when I’m not around), I’m starting to believe that even efforts that miss the mark might be better than Sister’s go to freezer options.

Just as I was longing for something more, Aunt Judy and my mom presented me with an instantly treasured Christmas present–a family cookbook. OUR family’s cookbook. And right there up front, humble but proud just like her, is my Grandmother Cora’s roll recipe. My aunt had the presence of mind to watch Grandmother make them one day before she died back in the 1980’s.

I’ve tried making rolls before. They were tough, didn’t rise and tasted nothing like Grandmother’s. I wondered what it would be like to give it another shot with the magic spell right in front of me.

As with many amazing foods that have only a few ingredients, I discovered that technique matters as much as ingredients. For example, I saw the word mix, but no mention of a mixer. I asked my mom about it, and she said Grandmother never owned a mixer. She would have used a wooden spoon. That simple fact explained a lot about my past failures. I’ve tried mixing and kneading old roll recipes in my stand mixer, but have always had my doubts about using the times recommended. So, I decided I would use a wooden spoon, a big chunky one good for bossing around a stiff dough.

I used my favorite Oxo rubber footed mixing bowl to keep the bowl from sliding on the counter as I stirred. After a few tasty, but otherwise unimpressive runs at the recipe, I realized I could use a lot less flour if I kneaded the dough on my silicone baking sheet. Nothing sticks to it, so there’s no need to cover the surface with a ton of flour. Just a little here and there to keep your hands from getting too sticky. Less flour used means more tender rolls.

Since our kitchen is cool, I have to place the dough on top of a warm stove to get it to rise. I use a thick, ceramic bowl on top of an aluminum cookie sheet turned upside down to keep the heat evenly distributed. The dough gums up around the bottom in a thinner bowl and takes too long to rise if I just set it on the counter. Such is the rigging you have to figure out for your own kitchen. My advice is to buy yeast in bulk (it’s cheap), and don’t be afraid to fail. Consider it part of developing your own personal style, which all good home cooks have to do anyway.

So here is how the best batch I’ve made so far looked.

Grandmother Cora's Yeast Rolls

Honestly, I was pretty happy with them, happier than with any other batch I’ve baked. They tasted good, too. Not as good as my Grandmother’s, but as my Aunt Judy says, that kind of taste comes only with baking bread every week until you are in your 80s, which Grandmother did. But at least now, on that fateful day when Oprah pops down to Indy from Chicago I can offer her something I’m not ashamed to serve.

Here’s the annotated recipe, from our family to yours. Happy New Year!

    Grandmother Cora’s Yeast Rolls

In a 1/2 c of warm (not hot) tap water, stir together:
1 tbs sugar
1 package (2 1/2 tsp) yeast.

Let bubble until doubled in volume. Stir down and let rise until doubled again.

While yeast mixture is rising, warm until melted:

2/3 c milk
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c shortening
1 tsp scant salt

Stir mixture and set aside.

In large bowl, put:

3 c all-purpose flour
1 egg, room temperature

Add yeast mixture and milk mixture.

Beat well with a large spoon, adding just enough extra flour to make dough stiff and prone to pull away from the sides of the bowl, but still pretty glossy.

Pour dough out onto a silicone baking sheet to knead for eight minutes (I set a timer). Here’s a quick video to show you how to knead (not hard). Note how the dough looks when she pours it onto the counter. That’ll give you an idea of what yours should look like after you’re finished beating it.

Place kneaded dough in a large greased bowl. I like to use a bowl that is tall enough to give the dough some head room as it rises. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then with a clean towel and place in a cozy warm spot to rise until its volume is double. I heat my oven to 375, place an overturned aluminum cookie sheet on the top vent and then place the bowl on that. The dough seems to really like it.

When dough is doubled in volume punch it down a few times with a fork and let it rise until doubled again. About rising times: don’t be in a big hurry to make your dough. Regular rises typically take a couple of hours, maybe more or less. If you need to slow things down (say you’re going out to eat), just put the dough in the refrigerator and take it back out when you get home. You can even leave it in over night. The dough will taste better, in fact, but leave yourself plenty of time for it to warm back up to room temperature. By the way, dough smells awesome while it’s rising, not just while it’s baking. We bears know how powerful scent is in creating positive experiences.

After the second rise, melt about a half stick of butter and pour it into a 9×13 cake pan.

Pinch off 24 golf ball sized pieces of dough and shape your rolls. I’m gonna come clean right here and tell you that I’m still learning how to shape rolls. I like simple and round rolls. Grandmother’s rolls are very soft, so handling them lightly is key. My friend Naomi is practically an Amish baker when it comes to shaping rolls, and when I get her technique down, I’ll try to put it on here (or have her do it). I used it when shaping the ones above, and they turned out fine.

Here’s a video of another way that I haven’t tried but that looks promising Let me know how it works if you give it a go.

Dip the tops of the rolls in the melted butter and then space them evenly in the pan (four rows of six rolls). Let the rolls rise one last time with the pan covered loosely by a piece of wax paper.

Then bake on a middle rack at 375 for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Aunt Judy starts hers out on the lower rack to get a browner bottom crust. If you do that, don’t open the oven until the rolls have baked for at least seven minutes (a good rule of thumb for most baked breads), and plan on adding a few extra minutes to your baking time to account for heat that leaves the oven when you move the pan.

I’m not gonna say roll baking is easy the first time out, but if I can get the hang of it, I know you can, too. And believe me, the other bears in our den LOVE having fresh yeast rolls to eat. So give it a try and let me know what you learn.


Bear Den

So somehow all of us in the Smythe-Moore-Garcia home have acquired bear names. We have lots of nicknames for Carlos. Somewhere along the way I started calling him “Little Bear.” He calls me Papa Bear and John is Daddy Bear (even though I’m “Daddy” in other contexts). Our Newfoundland, Elvis is Baby Bear and little Claire is Claire Bear.

Elvis (Baby Bear) and Claire (Claire Bear)

In the gay world, John and I are both considered bears (actually he’s more of a wolf or otter). Bears are guys who are on the bigger side of things, typically hairy. Bears are known for being friendly and accepting of all kinds of physical types (though I’m not sure this always holds true).

Until recently, I’ve kept in touch with the bear world via online articles, etc., or with friends who happen to be bears. And I clap really loud for them at Pride parades. As I’ve more consciously integrated myself into the gay community, I’ve tried to make more of an effort to get to know “my people.” Somehow that has carried over into our home life.

I like bears as a metaphor for family. They are strong, protective, cuddly, and the human bears are in principle friendly and accepting of differences. Who wouldn’t want their child to pick up those traits?

I’m in the process of trying to become a bit more of a muscle bear (a subcategory of bears–I know, crazy, right?). Part of that is just about being in shape, confident, attractive to John and able to wear the clothes I want. But an even bigger part has to do with Carlos.

When Carlos came to live with us, his biggest fear was that we would die suddenly. He talked about it constantly. Any time John or I got sick, he would shift into a hyper-caretaking mode that in part is his sweet personality but is also a manifestation of his hope to keep us from slipping away and leaving him alone again.

I know I don’t have enough control over the world to promise Carlos that I won’t die sooner than he’d like. We don’t really talk about that when he asks if I’m gonna die soon. I typically just laugh and tell him I plan to be around a good long time since I want to live long enough to spoil his children rotten so he can deal with the aftermath.

But the reason I’m moving into muscle bear territory is to ensure that the parts of my life that I can control (my body and environment) are giving me the best odds possible for long life. I think big bellies are hot (seriously), but with my family’s history of heart disease, they aren’t healthy for me. And frankly, there’s nothing all that sexy about being dead.

So don’t be surprised if the language of bears and gym talk starts showing up in this blog. Just consider it an extension of the food, health, and relationship parts of home.

Oh, yeah. As a bonus for you, the picture below is one I’m hoping to turn into a tattoo on my calf in honor of Carlos. It will probably just have the image of Smokey and Carlos’s initials beneath his feet. It’s a surprise for him, so, shhhhhhhh! Will be a few months before I can save up enough money for it anyway.

Smokey the Badass


Brown Christmas

Earlier this season I popped up to Allisonville Nursery in Fishers, Indiana for their Holiday open house.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of what Christmas would be like if the only box of decorations I drug out were for the tree–no sit around stuff, none. Any remaining decor I’d put out would be natural wreaths and and hanging greenery. I nearly went that route this year, and it was MUCH easier. I’m also dreading clean up a lot less since all I have to do is walk around the house with a trash bag to collect the dried stuff. Maybe next year.

But while I was looking at naturals, I noticed some other at least natural looking things there that reminded me of my friends Duane and Dave who use natural items, colors and textures in more carefree and unstudied ways than I can typically pull off.


Backing Up

Sugar skull from Day of the Dead altar

Stomps the snow off my feet and walks back through the door.

Phew!  It’s been awhile.  It isn’t that nothing’s happened, it’s more like a life’s worth of stuff has.  Trying to unpack it all this second though makes me tired to think about, even though it’s all pretty awesome.  I figure most of the important things will pop into posts as needed.

So what’s with the skull?  Well, I’d planned to start posting again back in October, and my visit with Carlos to the Indianapolis Art Center’s Day of the Dead exhibition was going to be the jumping off point.  Oh yeah, Carlos!  He’s officially our son now!  Getting through the adoption process was a big chunk of what was going on all this time.  Anyway, he and I always take a trip on his Fall Break to see the DOTD exhibition.  It’s always so touching, and beautiful, and at times a bit bizarre.

We had a special reason to go this year since C and I decided to make an altar at church in honor of our friend, Parker who had died earlier in the year. So we visited the exhibition and paid a visit to Parker’s widow, Margaret to learn more about his life and borrow some of his things.  I wish I had a photo of the final piece we made.  We were satisfied with it.  Margaret said it meant a lot to her and her family, which made us very happy.

I do have some photos of the other altars at the Art Center.

I think I like Day of the Dead so much because I love the idea of recalling our loved ones.   That it happens in the fall when the air is cooling and the earth is putting itself beautifully to bed makes perfect sense.  I also like that these altars are sort of visual poetry, full of distilled thoughts, rich emotion, and striking imagery.  And it seems like a great act of hospitality for the maker to invite me into these little personal memorials.

This altar was made by a woman in honor of her mother and father.  It was full of all of these these tender love letters they wrote to one another over the years, and I swear you could feel their affection alive and well.  This was one lucky daughter.

An altar from a daughter in honor of the love between her father and mother. Their old love letters frame the altar.

Altar for Jimmie Dean

The one above is in honor of Jimmie Dean, the sausage king who died earlier this year.  I love the pig and fork.   That’s another thing I like about DOTD altars.  They typically have some humor thrown in there to keep you from getting too caught up in melancholy.   The pairing of humor and death is a good way to get over the fear of  it.  Maybe that’s what the sugar skulls are about, too.

It took me years not to link DOTD to Halloween.  They are not actually related except for the spots they share on the calendar.  Don’t get me wrong. I like Halloween, too.  Candy!!  Kids (and dogs) in costumes?  Please, what’s not to love?  But I like the memorial quality that DOTD brings to the season and since Carlos’s roots are in Mexico, I want to try building that tradition into our home a bit more.

Anyone want to help us make sugar skulls next year?