Archive for July, 2009

to my health

I recently turned fifty-nine, only one short orbit of the sun away from a big decade milestone. A snapshot of the moment shows a man who is overweight, out of shape, living an unsettled life, and lucky if he actually makes it to sixty. Well, my friends, I not only intend to make it to sixty, I expect to make it to sixty healthier than I have been for the last ten years.

That is a big goal and judging from my past attempts, a smart man would be betting against me. The truth is, however, that it is not so much a goal as a necessity. I imagine there are many of you baby-boomers out there in the same condition. You have let your life become a bit too sedentary and have put on some (a lot of?) extra pounds and have lost muscle tone and mass. Getting out of a chair isn’t as easy as it used to be, and getting down on the floor and up again without holding onto something is darn near impossible.

Our changing hormones have not helped us with that either. For us guys, declining testosterone levels set the stage for reduced upper body strength, not to mention a general lack of libido. Supplementing with testosterone medications can lead, as it did in my case, to conditions conducive to prostate cancer, so unfortunately that isn’t a magic solution to the problem.

As we age, our bodies think that they need to hang onto body fat more tightly than in our youth, so we start our efforts to lose weight and gain muscle with a built-in handicap. Throw in the handicap of bad knees, hips and backs and no one would blame you for thinking that you might as well give up before you start. Well, many people do.

For good measure, let’s throw in one more road block – depression. With the ultimate end staring you in the face, knowing that you are not getting out of this alive, and knowing that you will never be the young person you once were, it can be easy to just say, “Why bother?” Good question, and I an afraid that I don’t have a single, all-purpose answer. I can come up with every platitude in the book, but in the end, we each have to find the spark somewhere within ourselves to want to carry on. I will offer only one hopeful thought – when you get into better physical shape, your mental state also improves, so if you can fake the desire to improve your situation long enough you may just find that it becomes a self-fulfilling situation.

So, here I am looking at a rather daunting task and trying to decide where to begin. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve done this, but hopefully I can make the lifestyle changes that will help me avoid the endless reruns of the same old story. Unfortunately, what is new this time is that my body is no longer that of a young man, or even a middle-aged man. As difficult as it is to accept, and believe me, it IS difficult to accept, I realize that I am at the early edge of being a “senior.”

I can’t just rip into myself with a hardcore approach to bodybuilding or I’m going to hurt myself so badly that I will only wind up setting myself back. I have to ease into this and, as much as I wish I could do this instantly, I need to accept the fact that it is going to take time. I also have to accept the fact that no matter what I do, I will never be able to look like some twenty-year-old hard body model, either.

So, here is where I am beginning – books and DVDs. I suppose that finding a personal trainer skilled in dealing with senior bodies is a good alternative, but I can’t afford that, even if I knew where to find one. Besides, it’s like having your house cleaned; you clean your house before the cleaners come so that they don’t think you live like a pig. I would have to be in better shape to go to a gym or to present myself to a trainer.

First place to go for me is Amazon.com. A search on “senior health” (and yes, it hurt to type that in) brings up several books and DVDs. A few additional searches and much reviewing later and I have ordered two books and three DVDs –

Strength Training Over 50: Stay Fit and Fabulous
Stretching, 20th Anniversary Revised Edition
Essential Yoga For Inflexible People
Yoga For Inflexible People
Energy Boost for Seniors

You will note the emphasis on flexibility. I think that this is very important as we get older. We tend to move a lot less than we used to and that serves to shorten and tighten muscles. We can be as skinny as a rail or as muscular as a pit bull, but if we are not flexible we will eventually wind up in a wheelchair or bedridden. Flexibility training also improves balance, which helps prevent one of the senior citizen’s greatest health threats – falls and broken bones.

You don’t see anything about diet listed, do you? That’s because I know what I need to do, and it really is simple. Eat less, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid high carbohydrate, refined foods. I’ve been reading and doing the diet thing for years. I have had success but I have also yielded to convenience and emotional eating, which has brought me to my current state. Knowing that I have lost weight in the past gives me confidence that I can do it again.

As a side note, my wife is going to laugh at a lot of this. She’s been pushing these ideas for years. She will particularly get a kick out of me buying the book on stretching – a book that she has owned for years and that I never looked at even once. Then again, she’s not allowed to laugh until she is in as great a shape as I will be.

My books and DVDs are supposed to arrive today, so I expect to start developing my plan for getting into shape tonight. Actually, I’ve already started with the improved eating, but that alone will not fix my problems. The biggest pitfall I face is my past failure(s). It is very, very hard to start this with the expectation that I will succeed when my past record shows anything but. Still, if I stop before I start I won’t get anywhere. (Now there’s a deep thought.) I will also have wasted money on books and DVDs.

I cannot allow myself to think this way, and to tell the truth, it is getting to be a true life-or-death situation. I am no longer just playing with my health; I am in hand-to-hand combat with it. If I don’t beat the status quo, if I don’t defeat my complacency, if I don’t absolutely squash my inertia, I might as well just lay down and die now. It would be much less painful than the future that awaits me in the condition I am in.

I know this was a long post, and one that is pretty boring and self-centered, but I can’t help believing that many other boomers are fighting the same battle. I hope I can provide a little inspiration. In the worst case, I can be the bad example. Either way, here I go. Follow along with me if you wish.

musical memories

In terms of music, I’m glad I grew up when I did. I was just listening to a collection of Henry Mancini music while I was working on the computer and heard Moon River. It has been one of my favorite songs from the day that it first came out. Granted, I was only eleven at the time, but somehow that song spoke to me as much then as it does now.

I remember one time when I was in my teens, probably my early teens. The exact details are a little foggy, but my mother and I had to go someplace about an hour away from home, perhaps to a doctor or something. On the way home we turned on the car radio. Back then it was mostly AM radio. I don’t recall if we had a vote on what to listen to, but my mom put on WAIT – “The World’s Most Beautiful Music.”

The truth is that while I was a rock-and-roll kid, I also enjoyed the music on WAIT. As I recall, their record library was a mix of show tunes, movie themes, popular (but subdued) songs from the day and even a little before then. It was always their suggestion to “try a little tenderness.” I guess you might call it “smooth music” or “easy listening” today. It exposed me to songs that I would not experience in my daily listening to WLS.

It’s odd that that is my only memory of listening to the car radio with either of my parents. The only other time we had music in the car was when we were on a long trip and my mother would sing a little bit. Maybe my father joined in, but I don’t remember clearly. Perhaps he was a bit looser when he was younger because he surely would not have done so later. Maybe it was all she knew, or maybe they were her favorites, but she used to sing Red River Valley and Down in the Valley a lot. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember her singing any other song. Well, except one – she used to sing My Buddy to me sometimes when she put me to bed, my nickname being “Buddy.” (And I should not have gone there – it took me more than a few minutes to recover from that memory.)

Anyways, I enjoy a wide range of music, though I will have to admit that I’m not up-to-date on (nor appreciative of) all of the current music. Perhaps I have passed some of this onto my son because he seems to have an appreciation of a wider range of music than others his own age. I hope so, because people who confine their music listening to only one genre or one era sure do miss a lot.

back to the past

It’s amazing how the simplest things can evoke long dormant memories. There was suddenly some vague hint of a smell and I was taken back to when my mother used to make a cake (and how often is that done any more?) and have too much frosting left over. She would take the remaining frosting and spread it between two graham crackers to make cookies – yummers!

Last Sunday I was watching a couple of old Charlie Chan movies on television. For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, Charlie Chan is a Chinese detective (created by Earl Derr Biggers) in movies that were made mostly in the 1930s through the 1940s. I used to watch these movies on television when I was a kid.

While watching, suddenly I was transported back to being a kid again, just whiling away time watching a Charlie Chan movie in my parents’ house, waiting for mom to call me to dinner. It hit me with such a strong sense of nostalgia that it almost physically hurt. I wanted to be back there so badly that I couldn’t bear the idea of being here and now. It took me a couple of hours to recover from that.

I can see where some people, particularly as they get older and the youth of their memories is far more appealing than their current condition, can get lost in those memories and just stay there. Dementia? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just an uncontrollable desire to live in a better time.

what’s the rush?

For the life of me, I cannot understand what the big rush is to get a Medical bill passed through Congress before they go on vacation at the beginning of August. Of course, I still don’t understand the rush that they put on the “Cap and Trade” bill the House passed last month. This stuff is major legislation with very far-reaching consequences. Why don’t we all get to be involved in the debate over the issues? Why must legislation like this be written and passed in what amounts to a secretive manner?

Of course, those questions are rhetorical. We know the reasons, and they are stated within the questions. The president and Congress do not want the average person to have an opportunity to learn what these bills contain or how they will affect their lives. They want to pass these things into law before anyone knows what hit them. The objective isn’t passing laws that are logical and productive, but rather the accumulation of greater power by those already in power.

Both the medical and “cap and trade” bills would create massive government agencies that would be essentially impossible to get rid of once the bastard birth takes place. What gives politicians more power than bloating government welfare? And what else would you call the jobs they create with this kind of legislation other than government welfare?

As far as a medical bill is concerned, I, for one, do not wish to have the government dictate ANY part of my medical care. I want my doctor(s) and I to determine what is best for me, not some government bureaucrat sitting in an office in Washington checking off boxes on some form with my name on it.

And I’m happy with my medical coverage, so don’t go messing with that! I admit I’m not some homeless person who hasn’t the means (and perhaps the desire?) to take care of myself. I’m an employed person working for a company that recognizes the value of providing health care coverage for their employees. That’s a big part of the reason I work here. If the government passes legislation that gives me less medical coverage than I have now I will be one pissed voter.

Of course, no matter what they pass it appears that I will not be happy. Someone is going to have to pay for this, and as much as they say they are going to soak the “rich” for it all, there’s no way that is going to be the answer for the long term if for no other reason than that the laws they are busy passing are going to eliminate the “rich” taxpayers in this country and all of us “middle class” taxpayers are going to have to pay the bills (and no, I don’t believe the “rich” should be paying any more of this than anyone else in the first place).

I guess the government doesn’t have to worry about where it is going to get the money to pay for everything they have been putting into law. I suspect that any day now Congress will take control of the money supply and start printing money on their own authority. I don’t know how else they are going to get out of the huge hole of debt they are digging. In the end, of course, that would be economic suicide, but can you tell me that Congress has brains enough to realize that? No, I didn’t think so. Man, we are in for some tough times.

thoughts on another year

Once upon a time I drew strange, enigmatic, ink drawings flowing with stream-of-consciousness randomness in tune with psychedelic music. A would-be hippy with concrete bound roots, that branch lost its leaves, withered, and almost died. Poems, too, stuffed with rigid rhyme found in the back of the dictionary. Desperate missives aimed at no one except someone who could feel the rhythm and beat of the heart within. Effort wasted and the voice gone quiet, but still the dream lives on.

Hard lines set the limits of my life but the draftsman uses my hands. The ruler rules but gives no comfort. There are no washes of watercolor, no splashes of brilliant oils, no enthusiastic smears of pastel. At best the pencil line mocks the hard and fast image, but even that is more imagined than real.

Even unto these days the spark is there, though feeble and lacking tinder. Perhaps it is the open end of life that brings a breath of air to that feeble flame. My mother found it and fanned it and though her will rarely ever found the way at least she tried. Will I ever loose the shackles and, like some yuppie Prometheus, find the tinder for my own flame? I don’t know, but the timeline grows short and sooner would be better than later.

a waste of time

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings started today. In her opening statement she said, “The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law.” This is in direct contradiction to public comments she has made elsewhere. Who in their right minds think this is anything but spin?

In fact, why are they bothering with hearings? This appointment is a given and nothing is going to stop it. Judge Sotomayor has been extensively coached and everything she is going to say has been carefully rehearsed. The whole effort will be to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – to make an activist judge look like someone who actually respects the rule of law. There will be little truth to be found in the hearings.

no shake and drying your hands

Why is it that when you go to McDonald’s and want to have a shake, 90% of the time it’s, “I’m sorry, our shake machine isn’t working right now.” How the hell can so many different McDonald’s stores be suffering from the same malady? Either someone should look into the shoddy equipment being purchased, or the employees just don’t want to bother with shakes. I know, who gives a rat’s ass, and I very, very rarely want a shake, but still, what’s up with that?

And while I’m at it, what about those paper towels that are only a micron away from being toilet paper? My local Wal-Mart, as well as several other stores I frequent, has these. You know, the kind that you pull down out of the dispenser, like you are pulling them from the inside of a roll of them. I suppose it is an attempt to save money, but by the time I get done yanking out the fifteen yards of paper towel I need to effectively dry my hands, I somehow doubt they are effecting any savings. It’s damn hard to dry your hands well with them, too. Or maybe I’m just becoming a cranky (crankier?) old man.

compromise

One of the primary requirements for maintaining a marriage, or any relationship for that matter, is the ability to compromise. Unless you enjoy being in a master and slave situation, you not only want to have a voice in a relationship, you expect the other person to respect your opinion. You expect that any decision, action, or whatever, that will affect the relationship will be openly discussed and an agreement reached based on what is acceptable to each party in the relationship. Sounds like an ideal situation, doesn’t it? What is more civil, and more conducive to a harmonious relationship, than the give and take of compromise?

Those who promote the ideal of compromise express the view that everyone wins, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the fact that everyone also loses. At what point does one not compromise? At what point does the price of what you would need to give exceed the benefit you would get in the compromise? At what point in a lifetime of compromise does one finally say, “Enough!”

I would guess that many people, if not most people, would say that compromise is what mature people do. Only those young enough to have not yet learned that they don’t know it all can afford to eschew compromise. Typically, one begins life’s journey with ideals which stand as inviolable, but which eventually give way to the necessities of reality. All things devolve to quid pro quo.

My original intent when I started this piece, and what I will get back to in a moment, was to discuss compromise in marriage, but as I started to think about the subject I found many avenues to pursue. The issue is one that affects all of mankind in all of his (or her) social relationships. I will have to follow those other avenues later.

In terms of personal relationships, perhaps the view that compromise is not for the young holds some weight. I might suggest – hell, I am suggesting – that the time to do things your way and the hell with anyone else, is when you are young. Get it out of your system, because if you survive past your twenties you will find that you have no choice but to temper your all-or-nothing approach.

Or, you can get married as soon as you can and learn what compromise is really all about. It will be rough at first. You will still believe that you are right and your spouse is wrong, but after ten years or so you will come to realize that a) you’re not always right, and b) it doesn’t matter if you are right. You will eventually learn that right or wrong has nothing to do with compromise. Maintaining the relationship is the be-all and end-all.

Compromise can cover so many different categories, from the mundane to the life-altering. You don’t want a pink bedroom? Too bad. Think there is too much being spent on shoes (or tools, or pets, or . . . take your pick)? Why? Who needs savings? You want six kids but I don’t want any, so maybe two will have to be the answer. I do all the cooking and cleaning. Yeah, and I do all the child care. Well, I do all the maintenance. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and on and on and on. Yes, it all seems to work out in the end, but to whose real satisfaction?

Now picture yourself thirty-plus years into a marriage. Your spouse has finally found the weight of all those compromises too much to bear and, well, that’s that. You find yourself living alone, making your own choices without having to compromise for what may be the first time in your life. Feels good doesn’t it? Sure, you miss the good parts of a relationship, no doubt about it. It’s damn lonely and you really want someone in your life. But you start to wonder if you can handle having to think twice before you spend any money, or trim that bush, or paint that wall, or . . . . again, you chose.

That is why I suggest that you leave compromise for your later years and run like you know where you are going when you are young. Get it out of your system because when you reach my age you will find yourself choosing between companionship with compromise and loneliness with independence. It’s not where you really want to be.

where do you fall?

As one whose shit is scattered far and wide, I have to admit that I admire people who have their shit together. You know who I mean. The people who get up at four in the morning and hit the gym for an hour or go for a run and then return home to an invigorating shower and a breakfast of some kind of healthful food that would choke a mere mortal.

Of course, this paradigm of shit gathering is upbeat and happy, shall we even suggest “bouncy,” throughout these early morning activities as well as the rest of the day. A natural optimist who arises each morning raring to meet what the day will bring. A man among men, admired by most.

An affectionate hug and a kiss with his wife and optional 2.3 kids and he is out the door to work, anxious to tackle the projects waiting for him there. A nose to the grindstone kind of guy, not because he has to, but because he loves his work so much that it is a pleasure to immerse himself in it. A quick break for a healthy lunch and then he powers his way through to the end of the day having accomplished much. He takes a few minutes to organize his next work day and then he is off for home.

As much as he loves his job, he doesn’t work a lot of overtime. He has his priorities and his wife and optional family are equally important and he has no desire to shortchange either faction. Besides, he is so efficient and thorough in his work that he rarely has anything pressing left at the end of the day.

Arriving home he has a variety of options, but always in the schedule is cooking dinner with his wife, involving the optional kids when possible, as well as doing a little housework or yard work. If the child option is in play then he also spends time with them helping with homework or otherwise engaging in some kind of character-building family activity.

After the optional kids are in bed he spends an hour or so reading, sits with his wife and discusses both of their days and making plans for the future, checks the locks on the doors and heads for bed. After a pleasurable little romp in the sack with his wife, he falls asleep peaceful, happy and content with his life, with an eagerness for the next day to arrive.

Yep, I sure do admire those people. Where would the world be without them? I mean, what if, instead, this guy was divorced because his wife just got tired of his continual pessimism and lack of excitement, and his kids never bothered with him because he never had, or took, the time to do anything with them? What if he had to drag himself out of bed every damn morning and fight with himself not to just turn off the alarm and stay there whole day? Exercise? Who are we kidding? Let’s stop at the fast food place for breakfast on the way to the job we have done for so long and that is so routine that we could do it in our sleep, and do it just as well.

After struggling through the day he is finally are released from that hell known as his job and he is free to do as he wishes. Hmmm, no plans for that. Let’s see, maybe he stops at a bar on the way home, but maybe he doesn’t drink. He picks up fast food again for dinner because god knows he has no reason or desire to cook at home. Maybe a quick stop at the store to pick up a bag of chips or something for a snack later. When he gets home he at least does a load of laundry – he has to or else he won’t have anything to wear tomorrow since all his clothes are in the hamper, just as all his dishes have been sitting next to the sink for the last two months waiting to be washed (no, he doesn’t own a dishwasher).

What to do now – choices, choices, choices. Well, the usual sounds pretty good. Plop down in the chair that is now molded to his body and turn on the television. What’s on tonight? Doesn’t matter, he will just channel surf if he doesn’t land on something halfway entertaining. At some point that bag of chips starts calling his name so he grabs them and polishes off at least half a bag. Time for bed. He will get up and brush his teeth, go to bed, and turn out the light, but maybe he has already fallen asleep in his chair and will sleep there until some loud commercial wakes him up, whereupon he will stumble to bed to sleep the remainder of the night, only to start the whole process over again. Sometimes he does wonder why he bothers.

With which extreme are you most able to relate? I’m not suggesting that any reader of mine would necessarily fall to one end or the other. I suspect most of us fall somewhere in between. I think, though, that the world would be a better place if the first example were the largest part of the bell curve. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems that our second example may be the greatest bulk of our society. I sure hope not. Maybe that’s just my natural pessimism showing through.

4th of July

It is the Fourth of July today. Here in the United States it is the time for picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, parades, flag-waving, fireworks and all things patriotic, and not necessarily in that order.

I received an email newsletter from my city alderman today with a schedule of events going on in town. Included in her email was a reminder to take some time during the day to remember all the military people who have fought for our freedom. A little later on the radio, I heard a commentator say something similar – that we would not have our freedom if it were not for all the brave men and women who have fought over the years to assure our freedom.

Without a doubt we would not exist as a free nation today without the efforts of the military, but I found myself thinking that the real purpose of our Fourth of July is the celebration of the citizens, not the soldiers, who were willing to stand up to a power ostensibly much greater than they, risking all that they had, including their lives. Even today, a civilian – our president – is in charge of our military, assuring that our soldiers are answerable to the citizenry, not to some military regime.

I wonder what our founding fathers would think of our country today. I’m sure it has taken twists and turns that they couldn’t even imagine back then. I do think, though, that they would have expected, or at least hoped, that the principals of our founding would have remained constant over the years. Unfortunately, some of those principles are a shadow of what they intended. Still, I’m pretty sure that they would have expected some kind of change. After all, even they were divided over many issues, particularly the debate over federalism versus states’ rights. I guess there are some things that never change.