Monday, September 30, 2013

Wish Me Luck, Unless You're Uncomfortable Helping Me Pee . . .

By the time you read this (if anyone does) I'll be peeing and bleeding for half-million-dollar stakes.  Sounds kind of exciting, doesn't it?  And also gross?

Well, it's not very exciting by normal standards; I'm just taking a physical so I can buy term life insurance, because I am a wild thing.  Exciting for me, though, 'cause a year ago I was too fat to buy term life insurance.  That might seem like I'm exaggerating, but I applied through a broker and was told that because of my high BMI measurement, no company they contacted was interested in offering me life insurance.  I knew I was in a bad way, of course (my BMI would have been 47.5 at that time, if that means anything to you.)  But I had hoped that being alcohol-free, tobacco-free, with no personal history of diabetes, heart trouble, or other disease would count in my favor.  It probably did, but it didn't erase the marker with "180 pounds over healthy BMI range" written on it.  

Recently, though, I met with some financial advisors to get my retirement accounts squared away.*  I mentioned that I'd like to start looking for term life insurance, too, and they were eager to sell me some. Both were shocked to hear that I'd been turned away over weight, but then, neither has seen the photos from before I made my magical transformation from Morbidly Obese to Merely Obese (I've lost over 100 pounds, but my BMI is still about 35.  I have to bring that down to 29.5, losing another 55 pounds or so, before I can claim the coveted title of "Overweight."  They've basically made their offer; I think at this point I'm down to checking for undetected dry rot and termite damage before they place their bet on my survival.  

Anyway, long story short, when I realized that I'd allowed myself to get so fat that nobody was willing to make a bet that I wouldn't die in the next twenty years, it was one of those sobering moments you hear people whine about.  I didn't like it.  This is boring, white-bread, First-World stuff, but it's a whole lot better feeling.  If you can't leave a pretty corpse, leave a rich widow, I always say.

*No, I don't trust the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.  Didja know they have two of those?  Yeah, the Chicago teachers have their own separate system.  Whatever your feelings about public pensions, the hard fact is that Illinois government does not pay its share and hasn't for years, so while we continue to pay into the pension fund, each new generation of teachers has less and less reason to expect to be paid a pension from it.  I intend to plan retirement such that I can do it from my own investments; if we get pensions, it'll be like somebody's rich aunt died and we'll perform the indicated response.  What do you think a boat will cost in 2053?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Fear I May Do Something Drastic . . .

My Bride has successfully lured me into trying a little ACTING! on the side this fall.  I'm going to be playing the grumpy, non-religious skinflint in a happy little Christmas play about some awful people who learn about the true spirit of Christmas. I think it's going to be a lot of fun, actually, if I can pull it off.

Anyway, I've been settled into My Look for awhile now; a full red beard and mustache with a bald head.  Like, really bald.  It's not exactly pretty, but it comes close enough to rugged.  I like it pretty well and it's low maintenance.  The only thing I'd prefer would be simple, short hair . . . . but alas, I can only manage that around the sides, these days.  The top of my head is like a weedy garden; if I grow it out, I'll have patches and areas and zones, none of which will have the same length or thickness of hair.  I just administer a mercy shaving every week or so, accepting my fate with the grim determination and steely resolve of a pudgy, balding viking warrior.  But now . . . my character in the play will be "Tom," a "blustery accountant in his mid-fifties."  He's kind of a jerk, but don't worry, he probably comes around in the end.

Anyway, I'm thinking . . . would Tom have the big red viking beard and the cueball haircut?  I'm thinking . . . nope.  I've stopped shaving my head for now.  The play is in mid-November; I think, a couple of days before, I'm going to shave the top of my head so I'll have that classic fringe of hair around the sides with the shiny naked pate on top, and shave everything but the mustache off my face.  By that time, I should have a magnificent, Lawdog-esque red push broom under my nose.  If I dress the part, I should be able to become Tom for a couple of days before I revert to Donnie in time for deer season.

Now that's settled, next question:  does Tom wear polo shirts, cardigans, or Christmas sweaters (ironically, of course?)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Flying and Camping and Acting and Fishing and Dunking Firemen in Ice Water

Weekends be crazy, y'all.

I hear The Internet loves lists of things, so here are Seven Things I Did This Weekend (And No Reasons for You to Care About Them.)

  1. The Zelmer Airport Fly-In Breakfast.  I actually did that one twice; I showed up with my youngest boy, Sean, on Saturday morning, which was the wrong day.  The local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter was having some kind of meeting, but they greeted us warmly and invited us to look over their planes.  One pilot even took time to come out with us and let The Little Bear sit in the driver's seat and put on the headphones.
    "But don't turn it on!" Little Bear warned him.
    "Nah, I wouldn't do that to you," the pilot said.
  2. Then it was time for the Steven Snodgrass Fundraiser.  Steve is a young (very young, and usually very excited, but it would be wrong to call him Scrappy Doo, so I plan to stop soon) police officer, firefighter and ambulance EMT in our little home on the prairie where the coach road and the railroads once crossed. I like Steve.  So, after the fly-in that wasn't, we came back to town and Sean and I took a walk to the town square.  I walked up with a considerable sum (for us) in my pocket, and we managed to spend it.  All Little Bear cared about was the dunk tank.  It was the first cool day of the year, so it probably wasn't necessary to add so much ice to the water, but that's how our fire department works: when in doubt, make the men suffer.  He spent more at the dunk tank than I spent anywhere else, but he also dunked the poor kid three times.  He was happy, I was happy.  We returned to home base to prepare for the campout.
  3. Little Bear joined the Cub Scouts this year.  I have my reservations about the Boy Scouts, but they did most of the right thing this year when they decided (despite considerable pressure from frightened people) not to eject gay boy scouts from the organization.  They still won't accept (openly) gay scout leaders, but it's progress, and our local group doesn't discriminate.  I'm not entirely comfortable with the religious touches, but that's the kind of thing Sean will have to negotiate for himself one day no matter what.  For now, I'm satisfied that he got to go camping overnight at the lake with a bunch of other kids.  We fished, we put up tents, we built fires, we played ball, we roasted hot dogs and s'mores and some kind of crazy thing that consisted of an ice cream cone stuffed with half a banana, some peanut butter, and a marshmallow, then wrapped in foil and roasted over the fire.  I don't know what it's called and I didn't sample one myself, but it appeared to make an impression.  In the morning, we struck camp, did a little more fishing, played a short and whiny game of sandlot baseball and got out of there; it was time for the fly-in.
  4. There, the boys split up according to their interests.  Thing One came with me to sign up for a flight in a Cessna 172, which was pretty cool--we were so close to the lake that we flew over it.  We even picked out the Cub Scout camp from the air.  The day was perfect, and I don't know what it is about looking down and watching the shadow of the plane chase along over the fields, but I've never gotten over it.  Little Bear was adamant that there would be no flying, but he'd only had a Hershey's bar and a muffin for breakfast so far, so he and mom hit the chow line for pancakes and sausage.  Thing Two continued to sit at home, presumably either moping or playing video games, having declined to leave the house for items 1-4 on this list.  If someone could design a video game with a realistic moping engine, I'd probably never see that kid again, but I digress.  After we'd fed the kids, flown over the prairie (I still forget sometimes how utterly flat the land is here) and looked over all the cool airplanes, from "Experimental" homebuilts to a beautiful Stearman Kaydet trainer, it was time to pack everybody up and head for home so we could get all the chores and schoolwork done.  
  5. At home, The Wife tried to catch a little sleep while the boys and I unloaded the car, did a few chores, and tried to get dinner started.  At about 4:00, she headed off to her first practice for this year's community theater production, The Regifters.  It's the heartwarming tale of three couples of really very bad, greedy people who don't understand the spirit of the holiday season, plus some mother-in-law jokes and a stolen baby Jesus lawn ornament (well, found, really.)  At about 4:30, she called me up and asked me to come audition for a part.  It turns out that one of their favorite male actors can't do the play this year, so they called in a replacement . . . but that guy can't do it either, and neither could their next few choices.  So they went down the line and eventually decided that they were desperate enough to pull me in, since there was no singing required.  I spent a couple of hours reading through the play with the cast, and for my first time, I think I held my own.  Whether I'll be able to hold it together in front of people without a script is an open question . . . but I'll know in November.  The important things are already settled; the play is being performed a little earlier this year, so it will definitely not interfere with firearm deer season.
There was a time when I thought I had successfully "slowed down."  Now it's clear that I'm back to running around like a squirrel desperate to save a moose from a Communist assassination plot.  But I don't know what I would have wanted to cut out of that weekend, so I didn't cut out anything, and here we are.  I'm not actually getting any less busy, but it's 3:00 a.m. and the dogs have barked me out of bed so that I could let them out--again--so I figured I might as well write something.  It may not be the most artful thing I've ever set down on electrons, but hey, if you're reading this, then I did sit down and write it.  That's the third week in a row of actual blogging, and if I can ever get the photos off the camera, I might even post about this stuff twice in the same week.  I do understand that the rest of the world spins on just fine without my little blog, but I used to enjoy writing it, and maybe I could enjoy it again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

IL Supreme Court Kicks MAIG/ICHV/LCAV While They're Down, Leaves Marks

The Illinois Supreme Court says it read Moore v. Madigan and it sides with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Thus, in People v. Aguilar, the court finds that the 2nd Amendment not only protects the right to keep and bear arms inside your home, but also outside it.  That can't be welcome news if you're still recovering from your cheap-tequila hangover at MAIG headquarters or the ICHV intern desk today.  "The Colorado Thing," as it might delicately be put in the presence of such people, couldn't have been less than a crushing defeat.  They had it figured out!  They just knew it was going to work this time!  That roadrunner can't keep getting away forever!

And then, this.  Now, I'm not personally certain how much impact this will really have on most peoples' lives.  It certainly made a difference in young Mr. Aguilar's life; and I can imagine finding that the main benefit will be to people previously convicted under Illinois' now-defunct Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon statutes. 

Less widely reported, probably because it was always an extreme long shot, is the fact that Aguilar also challenged Illinois' "Unlawful Possession of a Firearm" statute.  It was under that law that he was convicted of possessing a handgun while 17 years of age, and despite noting his argument that bearing arms was not limited to 18-year-olds in the colonial/founding era, the court ruled that this one is constitutional.  The case was remanded back to the lower state court for that reason; the lower court has been directed to sentence Aguilar for his UPF conviction, with the provision that they credit him all his time served for the AUUW conviction and also that he cannot be sentenced to a longer term than he would have served for the AUUW conviction, if they'd left it standing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's 9/11 again.

My 7th-grade student was born in 2001.  To him, this isn't even a memory.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Christian Nation: Dueling Reviews of a Book I Haven't Read

Hey, check this out!  Weekly content, baby!  Two weeks in a row!

So, I haven't read this new alt-history book, Christian Nation.  Tam read it, and it's not always easy to tell, but I don't think she was impressed.  Like Tam, I've read a relatively large number of these kinds of books, in which Not My Side gets control of the country and wrecks it.  She even mentions my favorite: Heinlein's classic Revolt in 2100, the story of the revolution against the twisted theocrat Nehemiah Scudder, complete with secret cave bases and plenty of fight scenes and pretty girls.  She omits my second favorite, which I admit I favor mostly for its hipster obscurity: Tom Clancy's Executive Orders, in which he kills off the President, most of the Cabinet and Congress, and makes Jack Ryan President.  One can only hope this is the Harrison Ford version.  Anyway, I don't think most people think about this one in connection to Ayn Rand or Matthew Bracken, but it's basically the other side--finally, a common-sense guy gets total power and promptly solves all the world's problems.  That may not be entirely fair--I know President Jack Ryan struggled with the press a little, and maybe his solutions weren't as perfect as I remember them--but the clearest memory of that book, for me, is of reading about President Jack Ryan deciding that violence in Palestine/Israel has gone on long enough, so he'll ask the catholic church to send the Pope's Swiss Guard into the region as peacekeepers.  Someone reports back to him that the Swiss Guard are so imposing--they're big, tall Swiss guys in serious body armor--that nobody dares mess with them, and violent unrest in places like the West Bank is thus just about over.
Uh huh.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about Tam's review of the book (prompted, in turn, by a post at Ace of Spades.)  But I ran into another review from a very different perspective at Susan K. Perry's "The Creative Atheist" blog on Patheos.  Perry loves the book; for her, it's a look at a very real, possible future that was avoided only narrowly by the defeat of John McCain.  She makes an important point: leaders who do crazy things, if you go back and look at what they were saying before they got into power, have often been giving surprisingly frank warnings of what they were about for years before they had the power to do any of it.  People do have an alarming tendency to disbelieve the crazier pronouncements of fringe (and not-so-fringe) elements, then put them into power, then react with dismay when they do what they said they would do.  George Bush said he would walk a fine (some would say dishonest) line on the assault weapons ban if elected, and then he did.  A lot of gun owners reacted as if surprised by this, demanding that he come out and squash the AWB flat, but that wasn't what he'd said he would do.  Similarly, President Obama said he would work to make fossil fuels, especially coal, more expensive; he wants alternatives to get to economic competitiveness faster.  He's done some of that work, and it's no surprise.  Whether Sarah Palin has been saying that she'd put people like me (filthy, baby-eating atheists) into Re-education Church Camp (do you think they make God's eyes during craft time? Is there canoeing?) is another matter, I guess.

Interestingly, while Tam struggles to find the so-bad-it's-good comic fodder, and Perry ponders what she can do in the real world to stop the nightmare prophecy of Frederick Rich from coming true in her lifetime, they do agree pretty closely on some aspects of the story.  This paragraph of Perry's review could have come from Tam's:
One of the main characters is gay, and there is a lot of homophobia and homosexual oppression, even brutality, by the new extremist Christian government. The only major female character is a social climber, an ambitious player, wholly unsympathetic, which allows her to be dispensed with fairly quickly. I detected what seemed to me to be a homo-erotic charge between best friends Greg and Sanjay, though it’s never acknowledged as such.
Interestingly, Perry mentions all this, but makes no judgment upon it.  I'd been looking forward to seeing whether she would notice the same dearth of female characters as Tam did.  Apparently she noticed it, but it wasn't enough to dampen her enthusiasm.  Both reviewers agree on a few things:

  • A little stilted and didactic, but briskly paced and plotted.
  • Total sausage party; almost no female characters, zero to root for.
  • Competent Other-Guy-In-Power dystopia.
But that doesn't mean the worlds merged when they collided.  Perry ends on this note:
I’m curious as to whether non-extremist Christians might read this and think, “It wouldn’t be so bad if all this came to pass, but of course without the torture and killing.”
While Tam is slightly less charitable:
Anyhow, if you can stomach it, it's a chance to see what an Ivy League corporate attorney in Manhattan thinks of you when he's pretty sure you're not going to read it. Because he thinks you can't.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fitness: Hitting the Reset Button

The ticker on the left side of the blog changed today.  It now says I have 70 pounds to lose with 125 lost already.  A few days ago, it said I'd lost 125 pounds and was five pounds below my goal weight.  Simply put, the goal weight has changed.

The ticker says I've lost 125 pounds because it's been keeping track since the first time I recorded my weight with it.  I've been telling people that I've lost about 100 pounds in the last year, but I've been fighting this back-and-forth battle for years.  My heaviest documented weight was 396 pounds, which I rounded to 395 for some reason when I first set up that ticker.  Last year, when I set up the ticker again, I set my goal weight at 275 pounds, even though that wasn't actually my final goal.  I chose 275 as an intermediate goal because I thought it would allow me to do three things:

  • Take my kids to Six Flags and ride every ride, even the one or two that I'd never been able to experience because I simply could not fit into the safety restraints.
  • Join the others from my gym, HIPE Fitness, in riding the Grafton Zip Lines in the hills near Grafton, IL (right on the Mississippi River, near St. Louis.)
  • The real excitement: buy term life insurance.
More on that later; the short version is that the Six Flags trip was fantastic, I talked to a couple of guys about the life insurance yesterday, and the zip lines are up in the air because it's a little hard to tell what their weight limits actually are anymore.  That was frustrating before, but now that I've got this surgical wound to recover from right in the center of my core, I suppose it's moot.  They could send me a free ticket, but it would still be foolish to go riding down a zipline in the next couple of months.

Anyway, the new goal is probably not my final goal, either.  The new goal is 200 pounds.  Why that nice, round number?  Aside from its pleasant roundness, which ought to be reason enough:
  • I still want to jump out of an airplane, and the two local jump schools with the best safety records require a maximum weight of 220 and 225 pounds, respectively.  At about 200 pounds, I can wear what I want, drink all the water I want on the day, and know that I'll still make weight.
  • I still want to get back into BJJ, and that includes competition.  If I do, I'll roll with everyone, of course, but I don't want to compete against people 6 inches taller than I am.  I'm only a little over 6 feet tall, and at that weight, I can compete with people my own size.
  • I started this thing with 220 as the goal, but the more time I spend with actual athletic people, the more I realize that even that is not necessarily my best weight.  Honestly, when I reach 200, there's a chance that I'll want to go a little lower; it'll depend on how muscular I am by that time and how low I can go without sacrificing strength.  If I can walk around at 185 pounds . . . why not?  But we'll start with 200.
My goals keep getting revised . . . but they're being scaled up, not down, and that's good news.  I've needed to reset my ideas of what is "normal" and "reasonable" for a long time; the idea that it's "unrealistic" for a man about six feet tall to weigh about 200 pounds is ridiculous.  It belongs on the ash heap with a lot of other silly things I taught myself as a young man.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blogging and Fitness: Progress and Setbacks

So . . . how've you been since March?  Good?  Probably good.  You're not even reading this, are you?  You've stopped checking for updates, just because I stopped posting content, right?

Quitter. You are a quitter. Now let's talk about me.

The Good News:

The last time I wrote about my life, I was trying, not for the first time, to lose a lot of weight and get fit.  There's good news and bad news on that score today.  First, the good news: I've now lost over 100 pounds. I'm stronger than I've been in a long time, maybe ever, depending on how you measure it. I'm capable of balance and grace that I really thought were impossible for me. My blood pressure is around 120/80 most days, which is the upper end of normal, but normal. My resting heart rate is consistently between 50 and 60 BPM, which is lower than normal but consistent with hard cardiovascular training ( recently had my vitals taken regularly over a period of several days--more about that in a moment.

The Bad News:

The reason I had my vitals taken so regularly was that I had a small problem that had to be repaired with emergency surgery, followed by a short hospital stay. Years ago, when I was at my very most morbidly obese bodily volume, I had mysterious abdominal pain and a mysterious lump above my navel. One doctor diagnosed this as lipoma, a small fatty bump that forms under the skin on some people, but that's generally painless, and this was painful enough to cause nausea.  Other doctors diagnosed a hernia with fatty tissue (morbid obesity, remember?) becoming "incarcerated" and "strangulated" when it poked through.  I had surgery to repair it early in the summer, reasoning that I would have time to recover before school began.  I took the few weeks before surgery as a time to diet and exercise (with no coaching or guidance, of course.)  On the morning of the surgery, I weighed 396 pounds in a hospital gown.  I can't prove it, but I'll always be convinced that I once weighed over 400 pounds.  The surgery was an apparent success, but recovery was tough.  The standard advice is not to lift anything over 10 lbs. in weight for six weeks after hernia repair, and to avoid bearing down with the abdominal muscles.  There is no way to follow that advice without a powered lifting chair or bed when you weigh 400 lbs., so I did my best but screwed up repeatedly.  Still, I thought I'd recovered, and although I wasn't certain the hernia was gone, I told myself that I would exercise like a madman and lose the weight ASAP.  I'd get down to 300 lbs., maybe even a little lower!  I began exercising again about two months after the surgery, and for some reason that now eludes me, I decided that I would begin by running on the bleachers at my school. No, I can't think of any reason for a 400-lb. man to do that, either, but it turns out I didn't hurt myself doing it, because before I'd been doing it a week, an infection at the surgery site broke loose and I spent another week in the hospital, followed by a month at home giving myself anti-biotics through a PIC line (basically a fairly permanent IV line the patient can use to administer IV drugs at home.)

When I'd recovered from that, I went back to have the hernia repair repaired.  I was told that the last surgeon had tried a newfangled technique, but this guy was going to do something brutally simple, just sew a big mesh patch in place.  That would leave a big scar and the incision would hurt more as I recovered, but it would be strong like bull and I'd never see that hernia again. That sounded perfect to me. And I'd lost a little weight by that time, down to . . . about 350, I think?  Not enough, certainly. Again, I did my best, but getting out of a chair or off a bed was a major effort, and I couldn't afford to be bedridden.  I don't know whether I messed up, or they did, but it was clear almost immediately that the hernia was still there.  I went back to my doctor, who told me that if I could "reduce" the lump--squeeze it down until it went back inside, basically--I could put off attempting the repair again for a long time, maybe forever.  I never intended to wait forever, but I did think I'd wait until I got into better shape. Along the way, I lost and gained weight like a yo-yo; I went as low as 290 pounds, but I gained again until I was over 330 pounds.  Then, desperate, I joined Overeaters Anonymous, which turned out to be a bad move; I ballooned to 370 pounds before I gave up on that one.  Last year, after I left OA, I decided that I would go back to the only "diet" that had ever worked--low carb--and find a trainer to guide my exercise program. It worked.  I got lucky with my trainer, Wayne Carrels of HIPE Fitness, and I made rapid progress.  This summer, I plateaued around 280 pounds, but I could tell I was losing fat and adding muscle.  I considered going back to schedule a hernia repair, but by that time, I'd been living with it for years, and I was confident that I'd be much lighter and stronger next summer.  

That seemed smart until last Tuesday, when I found myself in nasty pain from warming up, then reached the point of dizziness a few minutes into a light workout.  I left the class and tried to reduce the hernia, tried to rest, tried to throw up.  Nothing helped much, and I allowed a friend to drive me to an Express Care (I still thought I'd end up reducing the hernia and breathe a sigh of relief.)  By the time we got there, I was fading in and out, pouring sweat, and apparently quite pale.  I was just trying to breathe slowly through the gut-twisting pain, but I heard people saying "BP 85 over 55" and "get two IV's, 18 gauge on both" and "America says the ambulance is a few minutes out."  It began to occur to me that I was in real trouble.  Long story short, nobody was able to reduce the stupid thing, and I had emergency surgery to remove 15cm of bowel and repair the hernia at 3:00 a.m.   It was the first day of school for my students.  I was not there.

The Silver Linings:

So here we are.  The hernia repair isn't the strongest; they couldn't use mesh because it raises the risk of infection (don't I know it?) and the bowel surgery is already an infection risk.  There's a possibility that I'll have to have the repair re-done yet again if it doesn't hold.  That means I've got to handle this recovery as well as I can.  But there are some bright spots here, mostly because my fitness level has changed so much:

  • I weighed 268 lbs. yesterday.  That means I'm about 125 lbs. lighter than I was the first time I tried to recover from hernia surgery, and although this procedure was a lot more disruptive than that one was, the recovery has been a lot easier so far.
  • I was up and walking much faster this time, out of bed the day after surgery and walking two days after.
  • I have some pain, but I haven't had to use any of the Tramadol they sent home with me.  I don't get much more than a dull ache with the occasional sharp jab, and I'm afraid to dull it too much, lest I cause some damage without realizing it.  I'll use it if I find that I need it, but I think the recovery is better without it.
  • I can't go back to the gym until at least October, and I won't be able to work at the level I was before for at least six months, maybe more like a year.  But I've kept my diet clean since leaving the hospital and begun to take long walks again.  Walking won't build muscle like the Turkish get-ups and pullups at HIPE, but it'll strengthen the injured area without causing damage, and it should let me continue to lose fat.
  • I didn't die, and I don't have to accept any permanent loss of function.  All I have to do is be smart and a little lucky while I recover, and I can still reach all the goals I had before.  It's just going to take longer than I'd hoped.