A Return To (Almost) Normal

A week from now I hope to be traveling through some of America’s national parks again. There was a PBS series a few years ago by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

Video formats for Ken Burns'

Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” available for purchase in various formats.

I couldn’t agree more.  I’ve written before (I think) that on my 60th birthday I drove to Great Falls Park and purchased a lifetime senior pass.

NPS Lifetime Senior Pass

National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass for 60+

I still maintain that was the best birthday present I could have given myself!

The COVID pandemic caused innumerable lockdowns and travel restrictions.  Cruise lines halted operations, and getting into and out of countries became a game of chance.  The nastiness isn’t over yet, but there seems to be some semblance of normalcy returning.

I said, “Some.”  I have been alerted that I will need to wear a face diaper (mask) during my air travels, and when required in public areas.  My trip will take me to California, so I can expect to have to wear the darn thing a lot, despite being fully vaccinated.  I don’t like it, but I’m not going to let it be a deal-killer, because my travel bug has bitten me, and I must go.

This will be my seventh Road Scholar trip.  A few months ago, I saw that the company had once again started their in-person study tours (like everyone else, they had gone to Zoom during the lockdowns).  The trip is titled, “Four Jewels” and encompasses Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Death Valley.  Believe it or not, it was the Death Valley mention that sold me!

Road Scholar Image: Death Valley

Road Scholar image: Death Valley

I have already begun my preparations.  I’m making sure my camera is fully charged, I have plenty of storage (a 32GB SD card has done me well on other photo trips), I bought a new pair of 5.11 Decoy Convertible pants (lightweight, SPF 50+, packable) and am deciding what apparel I need (weather in the parks can go from hot to cold in the span of hours).  But that’s part of the fun!

I expect to have photos and observations to post here upon my return.  Stay tuned.

The Age-Old Problem of Old Age

Having just celebrated my 30th year without drugs or alcohol,

30 Year Medallion

Fancy 30 Year Medallion

and with my 70th birthday fast approaching, I’ve decided I am not prepared to go gentle into that good night.  With my blood sugar now an issue, the best treatment I’ve found, according to experts, is diet and exercise.  Well, I refuse to completely omit some foods from my diet (after all, I don’t want to live forever, and I don’t want it to feel like I am, either), but exercise is something I can do something about.

When I was a teenager I was a passenger in a car that hydroplaned into a tree at about 45 mph and as a result, suffered a compression fracture in my spine.  Six weeks in a body cast during the August-September time frame was no picnic, let me assure you!  Doctors told me I would likely have arthritis and rheumatism by the time I was in my mid-twenties.

There were a few setbacks, but overall, my back didn’t hinder me at all.  In my forties, after having shaken the alcohol demon, I started running.  I thought it was easy and cheap (all you need are some shoes and shorts, right?).  Traveling a lot on business meant I could go for a run outside my hotel, and it became a way of sightseeing, too!

I ran my first marathon when I was 54.  The next year (2006) I ran my best marathon, in 4:32:56.  Not an earth-shaking time, but that’s a 10:25 minute-per-mile pace, and I’m quite happy with it.

Over time, my hip (and knee) began to slow me down.  Before COVID-19 shut down the world, I was having issues completing even a 5K distance without pain.  I stopped trying during the lockdown.

But I’m back at it.  I went out today for the second time this week.  OK, I know a layoff takes a while to come back from, so I’m perfectly fine with being slow and having to take walk breaks.  I finished a 5K distance today in 47:26, for an average of 14:42/mile.  Which I actually find a bit surprising.  I thought i’d be slower!

During the run, I started a checklist of things I have attempted to remedy my hip/back/knee problem.  Here’s a partial list (there may be others I haven’t yet remembered):

  • Physical therapy.  Several times, with different therapists
  • Chiropractic
  • Yoga
  • Trans-dermal Electronic Stimulation (TENS)
  • Theragun massage gun
  • Shoe inserts
  • Adjusting pace/shoes

I do not have the time or money to dedicate to treatment such as professional athletes receive.  I have gone to a physical therapist who trains many (shout out to Dr. Keri Webb and Resurgent Sports!), though.

Ten years ago, I took a distance training course through the Potomac River Running store chain.  During one of our training runs, I remember my coach Caitlyn telling me to hold up and end my run.  She had seen a “hitch in my giddy-up,” as she put it.  Yes, it’s been an issue for quite a while.  When I was younger, I could tough it out and run through it.

But the plain truth of the matter is that as I’ve gotten older, the injury of my youth has finally caught up to me.

I’m still going to try.  I need the exercise and I just like being out on the trails and paths.  I just won’t be setting any records.  Still.

On This Day in 2021

Nothing happened.

The Occupant of the White House kept America’s credit card in his pocket and didn’t spend money (that we know of).  The Washington Nationals, as a result of a four game winning streak, moved into a first place tie with the NY Mets.  But they’re only 24 games into a 162 game season.  And their record is 12-12.  (It is fun to watch future hall-of-famer Max Scherzer pitch, though).

No riots have been reported, and COVID-19-20-21-22 is not the leading story in the news.  Oh, the rule makers are still trying to play it for all it’s worth, but it’s more and more obvious it’s a “plan-demic” as opposed to a pandemic.

Wait.  Hold the phone.  It just hit the news wire:  Bill and Melinda Gates have announced they are ending their marriage.  First it was Jeff Bezos, now Bill Gates.  I guess the pitfall to being the richest man in the world is that marriage is unsustainable.  I doubt this will affect many outside their circle.

All my computers, cars and appliances are functioning normally.  All my guitars are strung and playable.  I get my daily exercise and have now been twice vaccinated.  In two weeks, I’ll be on vacation.  Today, nothing happened.

But I felt like writing about it.  🤓

There He Goes Again…

Fully aware that I tend to take on a new project or a new pastime by diving head-first into it, only to have it subside — if not die out completely — after a while, I’m now spending some time researching my future.

I recently received a statement from the Social Security Administration (SSA) reminding me I should make my annual review of my statement and projections for what I expect to earn once I reach retirement age.

A few years ago, I would have shrugged off the idea of retiring. Or of even being near retirement age. But that was then, this is now. The fact is, I’m 68 — soon to be 69 — and the way things are going politically, economically, and culturally has gotten me very concerned. There is an election coming up this November that may be the most important in my lifetime; the outcome of that could really push me into going. Or staying.

Going. To this point, I have pretty much set myself to staying put. I bought my home three years ago, and I like it a lot. It’s in a nice neighborhood, has all the amenities I want, and is a 30 minute drive away from my daughter and grandkids. But, calculating realistically, my retirement savings, stocks and Social Security will put me into a new “quality of life” category. My needs aren’t great, but the cost of living when my regular paycheck stops may be too high to keep me here.

So, where to? That’s what I’ve been researching. I love to travel, as I’ve documented here many times. Could I move to another country and live comfortably there? Thanks to the Internet, I can do all the research I want from the comfort of my sofa!

One of the best sites I’ve found, and visit often is International Living. This may be the granddaddy of ex-patriate (expat) living, since it’s been around since 1979. Today, it’s a pretty data-rich web site that offers a subscription service on top of its free articles. I may take advantage after some more investigation. I started out with a couple of places in mind, but only one I’ve been to and the other is likely too expensive to live on a pension: Costa Rica and Austria. Surprisingly, though, some other countries have popped up that I want to look into further. They are

  • Portugal. This seems to take the top spot every year for expat retirement living.
  • Panama. With the U. S. Dollar as its currency and ties to the U. S., this ranks high.
  • Costa Rica. Beach living or mountain living. It’s all there, and it’s al Pura Vida.
  • Malta. European/Mediterranean. I know little about Malta, but its location is gravy!
  • Belize. English is the official language (it was formerly British Honduras). I didn’t see any expat communities when I was there, but I know they are in off-the-main-road settlements.

What about staying in the U. S? Well, once again, the November election might have a big influence there. One site, Best Places To Live has a quiz that you can enter your likes and dislikes, and it will suggest locales that have the specifics you’ve entered. Three times, in my limited experience with the site, has Hot Springs, Arkansas been the result. It even shows real estate listings, and some of the homes there going for less than half what my home costs, look quite nice.

I don’t have to make that decision right now. But the SSA says I have to start taking distribution of my allocation when I turn 70. Better to start planning now, right?

Staying Sane @ Home

The Coronavirus, COVID-19 as it’s now called, has put the world into a never-before seen situation. All around the globe people are being told to stay indoors, as this new strain of virus makes its way among us. Since it’s new, no immunities or vaccines are known to combat it, so the dire predictions of mass fatalities continue to grab the headlines.

From what I understand, “coronavirus” is a name for a group of respiratory diseases that can affect birds, mammals and humans. The “common cold” is a mild form. SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 are more lethal forms.

COVID-19

That the world has been shut down is remarkable. That it is/was necessary is debatable. At least to me. All the talk is about “flattening the curve,” which suggests a more drawn out infectious time frame, but fewer casualties as a result.

I’m not in the position to debate. Like most people, I think, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, I’ve resigned myself to staying in my home for the most part. Going outside only for exercise, a quick grocery shopping trip, or a walk to the mailbox. But you know what, that’s pretty much what my life was like before this quarantine. Except for the working at home, that is.

So, how do I get by day after day without going completely bonkers? First, I turn on my Apple TV (fourth generation) that is connected to my 55-inch TV and fire up the EarthCamTV app. This is a fabulous app I’ve used frequently in the past, but now it’s on my screen daily! As the name suggests, it’s a site/app that displays live webcam feeds from around the world. The scene changes every few minutes, and is a virtual “window to the world.” What I find most amazing these days are the scenes of locations that are usually teeming with people that are now desolate. The Las Vegas Strip, New York’s Times Square, L.A.’s Hollywood & Vine. Eerie. But fascinating!

Check it out: https://www.earthcamtv.com/

While I’m watching the world go by, I’m usually listening to, or playing music. I enjoy the four-hour radio program Night Tides, which is broadcast live every Sunday night, but is available for streaming immediately after until the next program. I’m also a subscriber to Ambient.Zone, a podcast that is created by a Dutch expat living in Cyprus. I’ve listened to TC’s podcasts for nearly 15 years — good stuff! Available also on Mixcloud and where podcasts are found.

Since I have a lot of time at home due to not having to commute, I’m always able to take a minute, pick up my guitar and spend a few minutes playing. I’m learning a bunch of new old songs (or old songs new to me), and I can’t begin to describe the joy I feel when a new song comes together under my fingers!

I have some guitars to choose from, and each one inspires me in a different way.

The Guitar “Studio”

Maybe the next project I’ll undertake, since I’m spending so much time at home, is cleaning up the “studio” so it doesn’t look like a disaster area!

Love In The Time of Coronavirus

It had to happen. Everyone else is talking about COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus has been designated. So I might as well join the crowd.

First, I’m writing because this slate has been blank for a while, and it needed updating. Second, because I went on vacation, which meant that I was supposed to self-quarantine upon my return. Which is what I’ve been doing. For the most part.

So, to rewind a bit…

Every first Saturday in March is the annual Salvador Dalí Museum dinner. I’ve written about it before, so no point in re-hashing that part. Since I was making the trip, I booked a Caribbean cruise to extend my vacation time, and thus, off I sailed. Two of the ports of call I’d visited before, so I had no desire to go on any excursions there. Two others were new to me: Mahogany Bay (Roatán) and Belize. I booked a visit to the Mayan ruins in Xunantunich in Belize.

Belize is the former British Honduras, and as such the official language is English. Given that all of the neighboring countries are Spanish-speaking, the majority of Belizeans speak Spanish. The signs are all in English, however. The ruins at Xunantunich (the “X” is pronounced “SH”) are spectacular! I was glad I made the trip. Getting there meant driving the full width of the country (about 68 miles!), since the ruins are near the Guatemalan border.

Xunantunich Pyramid

Two days out from Tampa I learned that due to the spread of the Coronavirus (I still don’t know if it’s supposed to be capitalized or not), the major cruise lines had suspended operations for 30-60 days. I had no doubt I was going to be allowed to disembark, and as I did, it was strange to note there were no passengers waiting to come on board for the next sailing!

The flight home — on a full flight! — gave me no reason to think things had changed, but once I arrived home and went to the grocery store to re-provision, that’s when I noticed the empty shelves! Since I’d been overseas, the CDC recommendation was to self-quarantine for 14 days. I had no problem with that, because I had planned to spend the next two weeks at home conducting online training, so it was a nice synchronicity.

Here I sit, on the eve of my fourteenth day. I have taken the opportunity of being home to spend more time playing guitar and adding songs to my repertoire. While on the cruise (I took my KLŌS travel guitar), I started going back to my “roots” and learning or re-learning songs from one of my favorite bands of the 1960s: Love.

Love was kind of a hipster band. They had only one minor Top 40 hit (which I believe made it to #37), they refused to tour, and their leader, Arthur Lee, was quite idiosyncratic. But I loved the music they made, and their third and final album, “Forever Changes” has been ranked as number 40 on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Love – Forever Changes (1966)

Thus, there is rhyme to my reason. Or method to my madness, if you will. The title of this post is a play on “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a 1985 book by Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez

A New Decade Beckons

2020, a new decade

2020 will usher in the seventh decade I’ve existed on this earth. Wonder of wonders, I never thought I’d get to this point. And 2019 showed me that it won’t last forever, so I have a renewed appreciation for God, life, liberty and family.

Despite some of the tougher issues facing me this year, overall I have to say 2019 was a darn good year! The economy has been gangbusters, and this has benefited me in every way: salary, investment, retirement saving! I had some great travels, took some nifty photographs, acquired new guitars and guns, and enjoyed spending time with my family. My daughter blessed me with a new grandchild, and now I have two I can watch grow!

I will start the new year by traveling to California for the annual company meeting. This is not one of my favorite trips, as California doesn’t appeal to me (heresy, I know!), but it’s unavoidable. In March, I plan to once again attend the annual Dalí Museum dinner. After that, we’ll have to see. No long-term plans at this time.

So, that wraps up my end-of-year offering. I discovered earlier this year that there are actually some people who have come across this site, and have read some of the posts. If you’re one of them, I wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The Year of Living. And Dying.

It occurred to me recently that 2019 was the year I started to die.

Now I need to explain that somewhat morose comment.

Throughout my life I’ve been blessed with extraordinary health. Oh, I’ve had the broken bone or two, and some residual effects from them, but I’ve never had an illness or internal problem. For 67 years, I’ve been invulnerable. Oh, I know no one lives forever, but I never considered dying.

Contrast that with my daughter, who’s had allergies and a variety of health issues, even resulting in the removal of her gall bladder. Her mother also, had thyroid problems and other odds-and-ends health problems through the years. But not me.

Until this year, that is.

In late January, spurred on by a comment made by my dental hygienist, I visited a doctor for a checkup and was given the bad new: My Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) was through the roof and my cholesterol was way high . HbA1c is a measure of glucose adhering to blood cells. A reading of 6.5 or higher denotes a diagnosis of diabetes. Mine was twice that: 13.0!

So now I had Type-2 – sometimes known as adult-onset – Diabetes. I knew little about the disease, and what I learned was twofold: #1 – It’s a “catchall” disease, causing a myriad of problems – neuropathy, kidney failure, heart attack, even cancer. #2 – It’s self-inflicted.

Well, okay, #2 is my take on it. In essence, I believe its cause is poor diet and lack of exercise. Put another way, as Dr. Jason Fung states (I’m paraphrasing), “Diabetes is a sugar disease. The cure is to stop putting sugar in, and to burn the sugar that’s there.”

Six months after my diagnosis, my HbA1c is down to 5.6, which is just a hair above being non-diabetic. I’m sure some of the credit goes to the medications given me, but I want off of them, and I’ve been altering my lifestyle. I’m eating whole foods, avoiding sugars and processed foods, and I’m running again. I lost 20 pounds (which was not in my plan, and which I didn’t want to lose. But now I’m kind of happy that I have).

But here’s the truth: Once diagnosed as a diabetic, you never stop being diabetic. It’s like being an alcoholic: You can stop drinking and live a happy, productive life, but you’re still an alcoholic. If you drink again, all bets are off. I will have to read labels, watch my diet and get plenty of exercise for the rest of my days. At least as long as I’m able.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Two Viewpoints

Over the past several weeks I have been feeling like a ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between opposing viewpoints.

No, this is not a post about politics, although the same case for the same could be made: Two diametrically opposed points of view; each professing to be “right” and the “only way.”

When I was first diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), I knew precious little about the disease. Oh, I knew it had deadly consequences, and that it had to do with excessive sugar in one’s blood, but that’s about all I knew.

Life isn’t as simple as that, and neither is the human body. I found Understanding Type 2 Diabetes, a fact-filled web site written in a quirky manner by a man who, like me, had found himself diagnosed with no understanding of the meaning of that diagnosis. I have been reading it (and other sites) copiously, and my understanding of diabetes has grown enormously. Ken Stephens (the author of Understanding…) got me to thinking, and I had previously been drawn to the work of Joel Fuhrman, MD., so I began to explore. I joined a private Facebook group based on the writings of Dr. Jason Fung, and hints from Stephens.

So, I started following the diet regimen there, which consisted of eating a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet, excluding processed foods, added sugars, and “white food” (pastas, rices, breads, etc.). I thoroughly enjoyed having bacon and eggs for breakfast, although it saddened me a little to think I couldn’t eat fruits and some of the more “comfortable” foods. This is, essentially, a keto (short for “ketogenic”) diet.

Then came a webinar I joined, from a Fuhrman reference, I think. Here were two actual diabetics talking about reversing insulin resistance through eating whole, plant-based foods. They offered a year-long program and guaranteed that it would work. Well, I wasn’t born yesterday, so my belief in Internet guarantees is that they’re worth the paper they’re written on, but I made a decision: Here was a structured program, guaranteed to improve my diabetes condition. This was no time to play cheap with my health, so I took the plunge.

The program is called Mastering Diabetes (MD), and its co-hosts are Cyrus Khambatta, Ph.D. and Robby Barbaro. Theirs is an online course, Internet webinars, a private Facebook group, and lots of helpful printouts and tips.

But Mastering Diabetes is all about high carbohydrates and low fats. The similarities are the expulsion of “processed” foods, sugars, and “empty” white foods. Another similarity is that both Fung’s philosophy and this is the concept of intermittent fasting.

I’m on my second week of MD. I haven’t fasted on this plan yet, but I did several times on the “keto” diet. Water and green tea were all I needed to get me 18-20 hours of fasting.

What I’ve discovered in this short amount of time is that both programs have worked to lower my blood sugar. All of my readings for the past four days have been in the “green” zone (80-140 mg/dL (4.5-7.8 mmoL). This pleases me to no end, but I want to improve to the lower end still.

Mastering Diabetes gets my nod because their focus is less on the level of glucose in the blood, than on insulin resistance, and the causes behind it. High blood sugar is like the fever exhibited when one has an infection. You can either treat the fever or treat the infection. I choose to treat the infection!

Now, I may be a bit premature and/or presumptuous, but here’s my initial take on both programs: They both work. Maybe it isn’t so much in the details, but their similarities strike the right chord: Get rid of junk food, processed food, and sugars (hidden and otherwise), and things tend to straighten out. The epidemic of diabetes is such because too many people have taken the “easy” way, and eat junk food, fast food, and boxed food. I’ve gotten back to using my kitchen (which I actually enjoy) and I’m already healthier as a result!

But Seriously, Now…

The past month has been one long read-and-research experience. Along with my learning about diabetes, I’ve been undertaking dietary and fitness changes in an effort to reverse the diagnosis. Considering I feel great, it’s hard sometimes to realize that I’m now dealing with a life-threatening condition that affects every part of my body.

Information on reversing Type 2 diabetes seems to be everywhere, and there’s a lot of agreement (except on the part of the established medical community, ironically) that it can be done. It’s the “how” that differs from viewpoint to viewpoint.

Most superficial descriptions of diabetes rely on the translation of the term, “diabetes mellitis,” which means in essence, “sugar urine.” In other words, too much sugar in the blood.

It now seems to me, based on my reading, that high blood sugar is a symptom of diabetes. The underlying cause is insulin. Lack of it (Type 1) or too much of it (Type 2). Even that is a bit of an oversimplification. But consider: if you are running a fever, do you treat the fever or the underlying cause of it? This is to me, the heart of the matter.

My doctor hypothesized I might be “insulin resistant.” This term could be taken one of two ways: either the cells that are to receive the glucose the insulin is trying to deliver to them are refusing it, or there is simply too much insulin in the system. Either way, the high blood sugar is the result of insulin trying to “force” glucose into cells that are already filled with it, thereby refusing it. Dr. Jason Fung has a great analogy for this in his book, The Diabetes Code.

The Diabetes Code, by Dr. Jason Fung

Well, my self-treatment has been going very well. At least peripherally. I discarded all the processed foods in my pantry, eschewed all “white” foods (potatoes, pasta, breads, sugar, etc.) and went more and more to a Keto diet, with intermittent fasting. In four weeks my blood glucose readings have been trending down (the two outlyers are post-pho lunch. Sadly, it looks like I need to eliminate that from my diet.

But, as I mentioned earlier, blood glucose is only part of the story. It’s possible to have a good blood sugar reading and still have insulin resistance.

And that’s when I decided to get serious.

Last night I watched a webinar. As with most “snake oil” presentations, I was very skeptical. But it was compelling, and a 100% guarantee was offered. I went to investigate further today, and saw another webinar was scheduled to start in just moments. So, I pulled out some earbuds, plugged in, and spent another 90 minutes watching and learning.

Much of what was presented was in line with what I’d already read and learned. I decided that since I was getting a modest tax refund (and more importantly — this is my LIFE I’m talking about), I’d spring for a year-long program.

I am now a member of Mastering Diabetes, an online coaching, teaching and support system. It’s a structured approach, and the results are promised to be evident almost immediately. I’ve seen dramatic improvement doing it myself for four weeks, so I think a systemic approach may be even better. Stay tuned…