Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review: 2013

This is the last line from last year's Year in Review:

My plans for 2013 include losing weight, quitting smoking permanently (I've had way too many false starts), and finishing my book on political party history in the United States.  We'll see how I've done come next December.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.  Funny thing is, if you'd asked me last year, when I made that post, which one I thought would be most likely to get accomplished, it would have been the book.  Turns out, that's the only goal I didn't reach.

But let's start at the beginning.

I stopped smoking cigarettes on December 30, 2012 (or maybe it was the 29th? - either way, over a year ago now).  I began using an e-cigarette exclusively after that, and gave up the e-cigarette (and thus nicotine) at the end of March.  I can say with a very high degree of confidence that I will never be a smoker again.

In January, in an effort to follow through on the above-mentioned plans for 2013, I started making some dietary changes and started doing sets of sit-ups and push-ups every day.  Not surprisingly, this lasted until the first part of February and then began to fade.  I did lose 10 or 12 pounds, but once I started drifting back to my old habits, what little weight I lost began to return.

In January, we also celebrated my oldest daughter's 11th birthday.  Her favorite present was roller skates, which smell like band-aids, even a year later.  


As usual, my sister-in-law's kids were perfect angels at the birthday party:


I've written a number of times about my heart attack and don't feel the need to rehash it all here.  If you want to know the details, read this: My Life-Changing Saturday.

I was more than 50 pounds overweight, but I looked about 100 pounds overweight in this picture. Double chin city.

I had the heart attack on March 23, and after that I made radical and immediate changes to my lifestyle.  Beginning that weekend in the hospital, I gave up caffeine and nicotine cold turkey.  I stopped drinking soft drinks (except for an occasional diet caffeine-free).  I gave up fast food.  I began tracking my daily calorie intake and exercise routines, and began eating a largely fruit- and veggie-based diet.  I cut meats down to just a few percentage points of my overall weekly caloric intake, and cut red meat down to where it's basically just an occasional treat.  

I lost weight quickly and steadily and by October I had gotten down to 199 pounds - over 50 pounds from where I was at the beginning of the year.  My cardiologist had told me after my heart attack that he wanted me "under 200 pounds," so hitting 199 was a big deal.  

Because of my heart attack, we didn't go on vacation this summer with the rest of my wife's family - like we usually do.  I was not, at the time, up to making a long trip.  Instead, the best we got for a vacation was a few trips down to her parents' lake house.  Unfortunately, even those trips were not particularly restful - at least not for me - because I was anxious the whole time.  I guess it was a sort of agoraphobic thing: I didn't like being away from my comfort zone at home, and, more importantly, my hospital and cardiologist.  It also rained both times we were there.


In May we celebrated my younger daughter's birthday.



She got a doll with a broken leg and crutches.  For Christmas this year, she got a wheelchair for the same doll.  Pretty sure we've got a future nurse on our hands.  

In July I saw my 7th Rush concert.  It was the second time I had seen them on the Clockwork Angels tour (the first time being in Indianapolis in 2012), but that first time I had been sick the whole time, so it was nice to enjoy the show without a raging sinus infection. 


In August I woke up on a Sunday morning with a hangover, had a panic attack, and fainted.  On the way down, I hit my head on something and did this to it: 


That's twelve stitches, if I recall correctly.  Kind of a bad year for me.  

In October, I had my long-awaited nuclear stress test and echocardiogram.  The stress test tests your heart's function during exercise and rest, and the echocardiogram tests how well your heart is beating and pumping blood.  I passed both tests with flying colors - there was no abnormality in either.  Six months down the road from a heart attack - even a "small" one - I was very happy with those results.  I didn't even see my actual cardiologist at the follow-up appointment.  I only saw the nurse practitioner - which means my case isn't "serious" enough to require a face-to-face with the cardiologist himself.  He didn't use these terms, but I basically got a clean bill of health.  Keep on doing what you're doing, and all that. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went quickly and now here we are at 11 pm on New Year's Eve.  I did make a little headway on my book about political parties this year - I even took off work 2 days in November to work on it - but I have not managed to get it finished yet.  I did, however, lose a bunch of weight and stop smoking.  Of the three goals, those were the two most important.  

I don't want to get too cheesy on here or be silly and sappy, but I have learned a few lessons this year.  I said earlier this year that my heart attack had made me suddenly feel "older" than my younger friends at work.  That's still true, but I also feel like I've grown a little wiser.  Maybe grown up a little.  I've started meditating a lot again - something that used to be really important to me, but which I had slacked off on in recent years.  I feel more spiritually-connected, more introspective.  In a way, I feel like I've learned a lot about myself this year.  I'm more aware of what's important and what's really dumb and not important.  I've had a number of "epiphany" moments this year, where I suddenly gained some new insight or clarity on a given topic.  I've found that I'm less likely to be a push-over; less likely to let people walk all over me. That particular thing has led to a couple of "disagreements" with a few people over the last 9 months, but that's better than sitting on those emotions and stewing over them for days, as I frequently did in the past. 

In the end, I'm not sad to see 2013 go.  I used to wear #13 in baseball, and always said it was my lucky number.  Turns out, not so much.  But I also realize that a lot of good has come out of my troubles this year.  I'm thankful for what I've been through and where it has led me.  I'm thankful for being healthy, fit, and feeling good.  I'm thankful to be over my nicotine addiction.  I'm thankful for my family and my friends, but especially my family.

I've been promising all year to post before and after pictures of my weight loss.  In January, when I started trying to lose weight, I took some "before" pictures, because I'm always thinking ahead.  So tonight, I took some "after" pictures.  I still want to lose a few more pounds; in fact, I've gained back a couple of pounds over the holidays.  I was 204 this morning.  Still, I weigh now about as much as I did when I was 25.  

So here you go.  January 2013 on the left, December 31, 2013 on the right.  




  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Thoughts on the Duck Dynasty Uproar

So A&E has suspended Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for bashing gays in a recent article in GQ.  I won't quote the whole thing, but he likened homosexuality to sex with animals and adultery and said he just doesn't get why a man's "anus" is more alluring than a woman's vagina.

He also talked about how all the black people he knew in the South prior to "welfare and entitlement" were "godly" and "happy" and he never saw any of them treated badly.

Now we can debate about whether A&E should have suspended him (after all, what did they expect from such a person?).  Supporters, of course, are talking about free speech and what not.  But free speech has nothing to do with it.  He's not being jailed for what he said.  And I'm sure that there is probably language in his contract with A&E that gives them the right to suspend him from the show if he does or says things that reflect poorly on A&E.  The same way that you'll probably get in trouble if you say or do things that reflect poorly on your place of employment.

An evangelical Christian on Facebook likened this "censorship" of Phil Robertson to the silliness of people's reaction in the 1960's to the Beatles and Elvis.  Which I find odd since it was evangelical Christians who wanted to censor the Beatles and Elvis.  But anyway,  no one is "censoring," or even calling for the censorship, of Phil Robertson - as evangelical Christians did with the Beatles and Elvis. Being suspended from your reality show for making offensive comments in national media is not "censorship."  No one is burning Duck Dynasty DVD's.

Furthermore, how do you suppose, for instance, that TBN (an evangelical Christian network) would respond if one of their employees made comments in national media that were offensive to an enormous swath of TBN's viewership and not in keeping with TBN's own views? Keep them on the air?  Or suspend, or even fire, them?  I think we all know the answer.  

But what really annoys me is how so many of Robertson's supporters are acting like he's being persecuted or treated unfairly because of his views.  A friend of mine (who will likely read this post) referred today to Mark 13:13 in regards to this issue.  That verse has Jesus "predicting" that people will persecute (actually, it says "hate") future Christians because they follow Jesus.

Let me be very clear here: Phil Robertson has not gotten in trouble because he's a Christian or Christ-follower.  He's gotten in trouble because he's an unapologetic bigot.

Being an unapologetic bigot against gays is not part of what it means to be a Christian.  In fact, it's decidedly un-Christian in every sense of the word.

And I could care less what anyone thinks Paul said about homosexuality in 1 Corinthians or 1 Timothy or Romans.  After all, Paul also said, in Ephesians: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up."  Why are no evangelical Christians condemning Robertson for tearing people down with hurtful words, likening their human relationships to illicit sex with animals?

I don't like Duck Dynasty.  It's amusing at times, but it's heavily staged and scripted and I'm not much a reality TV fan anyway.  Be that as it may, I couldn't care less what the stars of the show believe or think or do or say.  They have become heroes to evangelical Christians and that's totally fine with me.  Everybody needs their heroes.  It wouldn't have bothered me if A&E had not suspended Phil Robertson for what he said.  As I said above, what, exactly, do they expect from such a person?

But please don't act like these people represent Christianity, or all Christians, or act like Robertson's punishment is equal to censorship or persecution of Christians.  That's just nonsense.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Exercise and Calorie Intake

As most of you know, I've totally changed my dietary and exercise habits over the last nine months, thanks to a totally unexpected heart attack in March of this year.  I've lost about 50 pounds or so and have been maintaining my weight at about 200 pounds for the last few months (though, in all honesty, I wouldn't mind losing some more - my original goal had been 195).

Even though I'm not actively trying to lose weight anymore, I'm still counting calories to ensure that I am not overeating (it doesn't always work, of course).  My current calorie goal is about 1750 per day.  If I exercise on any given day, then my calorie goal goes up by however many calories I burned doing exercise.  So, for instance, if I burn 500 calories on the elliptical trainer, then my daily calorie goal goes up to 2250 for that day. 

Despite that, I've discovered that when I exercise, I actually have a much easier time keeping my daily calorie intake below the baseline of 1750 than I do on days when I don't exercise.  I frequently go over the calorie baseline on days when I don't exercise, or, at the very least, I have to struggle all day not to snack and not to overeat at meals.  On days when I do exercise, however, I typically stay under 1750 without any problem, even though I could have up to 2250 or however many extra calories I burned in exercise.

The point of all this is to say that when you exercise, not only are you doing good for your body and your organs, and not only are you burning calories and thus burning fat, but you also are regulating your metabolism so that it is easier to control your urges.  

That's been my experience, anyway.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Notes from the Cave


Very little of note has been going on of late.  I've been thinking for a while about doing a post about Christmas - seems like I do one or two every year - but I can't really think of anything that I haven't already done somewhere, sometime before.  I had been thinking of doing a sort of reminiscent post about Christmas in my childhood, but when I started writing it, I decided it would be totally uninteresting to anyone but me and possibly my family.

The girls were off school today for a snow day, which happened to coincide with my day off (I work this weekend) so I've spent all day with the family, which is unusual on a Tuesday.  Working second shift, I don't typically see them at all during the week.  We drove around tonight looking at Christmas lights and the girls made cookies and brownies today.  Syd and I watched an episode of Lost, and I took pictures and videos while the girls played in the snow.

Back to work tomorrow and it will be the first day of a 9-day stretch for me.  I've been trying to tell myself not to focus on the fact that it's 9 days in a row because that will just make it worse.  The unfortunate thing is that this is pretty much going to be a regular thing for me because of the way the scheduling always pans out.  When I work a weekend, I pretty much end up with an obscenely long string of days.  In other three weeks, I've got an 8-day stretch.  I'm gonna have to talk to the boss about seeing if there's something we can do to solve this predicament.

My parents will be visiting for Christmas this weekend from Texas.  Unfortunately, I work all weekend so I won't get to see them very much.  But the kids will get to spend some time with them, so that's good.

Yes, I realize this is probably the dullest, most boring Notes ever.  Sorry about that, but I did kind of warn you at the beginning by saying that nothing has been going on lately.  I really meant it.

For a post that is WAY more entertaining, try this one from two years ago: Christmas with the Christmas Family, or this one from 2010 that features me in high indignation mode ranting about people who get offended by "Happy Holidays."

Or how about this Black Friday meme I made:

 

I've already finished over 40 books this year.  This will be the most I've finished since 2006.  If I can get through five or six more before the end of December, it could be the most ever, but I don't think I'll be able to finish more than two or three.  I'm currently reading the popular and, naturally, controversial book about the historical Jesus called "Zealot," by Reza Aslan.  I'm only on chapter two, but it is already shaping up to be a fantastic history book.  When I'm finished, I'll probably do a whole post on it, assuming it maintains the momentum it has started with.  I've read a lot of books about the historical Jesus, so it's been a nice surprise to discover a new one that actually keeps me highly engaged, even if most of the information is stuff I'm already familiar with.  

Okay, that's it.  Gonna go watch the second half of the UK game.  Peace, we outta here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Notes from the Cave: Thanksgiving Edition



I'm in the middle of a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving, which I think is probably the first time I've had that since 2009.  I like it.  I highly recommend it.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I KNOW a bunch of you are buying stuff from Amazon this year, and when you do, please remember to access the Amazon website through the ads on this here blog.  You don't have to buy what's being advertised.  Just click the ad, it takes you to an Amazon page, then you can surf, search, and buy whatever you want.  And I get a commission as long as you don't click away from Amazon before you purchase something.  I'm an X-ray tech and my wife is a teacher.  So help a brother out.

We had a typical family Thanksgiving at my wife's aunt's house in Cincinnati.  To understand what this tradition is like, imagine 25 people, two-thirds of whom are children, stuffed into four connecting rooms within a relatively small house, with four different tables in three different rooms to hold everyone, and it's about 85 degrees and some kid somewhere is screaming every second for four solid hours and you can't decide if you want to die because you ate so much or because your life sucks.



If my Facebook and Twitter feeds are anything to go by, "Frozen" is the movie to see this Thanksgiving.  We saw it too yesterday in a sold out theater where we had to sit down on the floor level and crane our necks up for the whole movie.  Like any Disney movie, it was cute and had a nice message and I was glad when it was over.

After the movie we had Penn Station (that's only the second time I've allowed myself to have Penn Station since the Great Cardiac Apoplexy of March '13), and it was so enjoyable I napped for three hours afterward.  Last night we had a hot tub party with my wife's sister and her family.  There's nothing quite as invigorating as getting into a scalding hot spa when it's below freezing outside.  A 7-Up and Woodford Reserve helps too.

I've recently started a photography project on Tumblr and Twitter.  It's called Scenes from the Bluegrass, and it's basically just a way for me to showcase my landscape photography, which is a little private hobby I've been enjoying for about 7 years now.  So if you have a Twitter or a Tumblr, check it out.  Scenes of the Bluegrass Tumblr Page  Scenes of the Bluegrass on Twitter

We've had our Christmas stuff up since the middle of November.  This is the earliest we've ever put it up.  We've always been a strict "after Thanksgiving" family, but I had a 4-day weekend earlier this month (yes, I've had two of those this month) so it was a good time to do it, and frankly I'm glad it's done because now I don't have to do it today.



As you can see from that picture, I've been using Google's picture editor a lot lately as well.  It's kind of fun to poke around with.  I posted some "vintage" photos on Facebook a few weeks ago. These are photos I took, but I doctored them to make them look 19th century.  Here's one:



I like it.  It's fun.  You should try it.

Okay, that's all.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Song: Time Traveler/Lullaby

I've recently put the finishing touches on my 8th song.  It's called Time Traveler/Lullaby, and it's definitely my most ambitious creation to date.  I spent quite a bit more time putting this one together than any of the previous ones.  It's nearly 8 minutes long.

As the name implies, it's sort of two songs in one.  This song started its life as a classical guitar solo I wrote for my daughters as a lullaby six or seven years ago.  I hadn't played the song in years until I started re-learning it recently, and I decided the chord progression would make for a good hard rock song.  So I turned it into that and added lyrics.  However, I have retained the spirit of the original by throwing in a classical guitar reprise at the end of the song.

As with several of my previous songs, I have used a MIDI controller to record the drums and bass on this one.

The lyrics reflect a bit of my own journey in learning how to cope with depression and anxiety.

This is a link to the song on my Tumblr page: Time Traveler/Lullaby  Just click where it says "Listen."

These are the lyrics:

He came up to me
A time traveler
I told him he seemed
Quite familiar to me
What do you see
When you look deep inside
A lonely frightened child who
Hides unsatisfied

CHORUS:
You can’t
Change what’s passed
Only what’s to come
Repaint your heart
Smooth the ragged parts
And find your redemption

Would you like to be
A time traveler
Would you like to see
What the future holds
Look to the past
When you feel afraid
Learn from mistakes you've made
On the way

CHORUS

I turned out to be
A time traveler
Always stuck in the past
And the future
But I learned to be still
In the present hour
I learned to embrace my life
In the now

CHORUS

Friday, November 08, 2013

Being "Non-Religious"

Many of you know that one of my favorite religious scholars is a retired Episcopalian bishop named John Shelby Spong.  He is one of the leading voices in progressive Christianity and his books have really gone a long way toward shaping my own religious views and beliefs.  Even though he's in his mid-80's now, he's still publishing new books (his most recent, which I haven't read yet, is on the Gospel of John), and he does a weekly Q&A via email newsletter, which I subscribe to.  

I thought this week's edition was worth re-posting. 

----
Question
What do you mean by the phrase you use so often "for the non-religious?" Do you mean those who don't go to church or do you mean those who don't believe in God? Or something else?

(Spong has written two books with this phrase in the title: "Jesus for the Non-Religious," and "Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.")

Answer: 
It is not that easy. Lots of people who do go to church are "non-religious." Lots of people who say they don't believe in God are profoundly spiritual and searching people.
What I seek to describe with the phrase "the non-religious" are those for whom the traditional religious images have lost their meaning. There is no God above the sky, keeping record books, ready to answer your prayers and come to your aid. There is no tribal deity lurking over your nation or any other nation as a protective presence. There is no God who will free the Jews from Egyptian slavery; put an end to the Inquisition or stop the Holocaust. If these goals are to be accomplished, human beings with expanded consciousness will have to be the ones to accomplish them. This means that the category we call “religious” is too narrow and limited to work for us in the 21st century.

The question I seek to answer is that when we move beyond the religious symbols of the past, as I believe our whole culture has already done, do we move beyond the meaning those outdated symbols once captured for us, or is the meaning still there looking for a way to be newly understood and newly symbolized? The word “God” is a human symbol. I believe though that the word God stands for a reality that the word itself cannot fully embrace and that no human being can define. To worship God in our generation means not that we must move beyond God, but it does mean that we will have to move beyond all previous human definitions of God. So to be “non-religious” is just a way of saying that the religious symbols of the past have lost their meaning. That does not mean the search for God is over; it means the quest for new and different symbols has been engaged.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poem: Precious Peaceful Moments

Of the 500+ poems I wrote between 2005 and 2007, this is one of my favorites.  It's from the summer of 2005 when I went with my 3-year-old daughter to visit my parents in Houston.  This was when M and I were separated, and before Syd was born.

------

the cell phone doesn’t ring when i’m here.
i’ve been down here four days,
and it hasn’t rung even once.

i sit here in the study
behind a laptop,
little cricket sounds
issuing from the speakers
at random intervals,
my daughter standing at
my side
as thunder rumbles outside.

it’s raining.

the rain splatters on the window,
dripping from the big
trees overhead,
flicking the leaves of the foliage
in the landscaping beyond the window.

a bird squawks somewhere high above.
either calling for his mate,
or pissed off at being wet.

little pools of water ripple
in the grass.
it’s flat down here,
and there’s nowhere for the water
to run-off.

my daughter lays her little head
on my leg.
she’s tired.
trying to have a bowel movement
for an hour
will do that to you.

the bird is squawking.
still pissed off.
the rain has slackened,
but still falls with
those big gulf coast drops.

everything is soaked
and dripping.
the day seems soggy.

and yet it’s serene;
peaceful
in a meditative
sort of way.
the thunder is just
a gentle rumble
in the distance,
deep in the belly of the
white clouds nesting overhead.
the rain is kind,
not harsh.
and the wind
brushes the leaves with baby’s fingers,
testing,
prodding,
curious.

the hanging clock in the study
tick-tocks away,
the only sound in the house
besides my typing.
it’s older than i am –
it has been a part of this family
since before
i was conceived.

pissed off bird still squawking,
but it’s not insistent
or grating.
it only adds to the
serenity.

a car motors by outside,
windshield wipers moving
in a flurry.

my daughter has walked away
and i go to search for her.
i find her standing before
the big windows in the
family room,
staring at the rain
as it falls from the gutter
overhead,
a waterfall splashing
against round rocks in the
bed behind the house.
she’s running her fingers
across the window,
following the streaking
lines of water
as they run down the glass.

she’s calm,
unconcerned.
just like the day itself.
at peace,
with the worries
of the world
far away
and insignificant.

on a day like today
only the now matters,
existing
in this little corner
of the world,
where the rain
falls down from white clouds,
and the thunder
tumbles around overhead,
and a bird squawks in the branches,
and a clock
ticks off the seconds
of this soon-to-be-gone
peaceful moment.
 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Notes from the Cave



We've started a new weekend rotation at work and thankfully I will no longer have to work third shift on the weekends.  I might have mentioned this in my last update, now that I think about it.  Either way, it's officially started now, so my weekend night shifts are done.  Thank God.

For those of you interested in hearing my original music, I haven't been posting new songs to Serene Musings lately, because I can post them to Tumblr instead in audio file format.  It's just a better medium for it.  So if you want to hear my latest stuff, click here.   I bought a MIDI keyboard device, which allows you to use computer software to generate just about any virtual instrument you can think of and play it on the keys.  So I have been adding more instruments to my arrangements.  The last one had virtual drums, bass, and honky tonk piano, along with my own vocals and guitar playing.  

I typically try not to talk politics on NFTC, but I hope you'll indulge one comment on all the criticism surrounding the problems with the federal exchange website, Healthcare.gov.  This is the site where uninsured people can go to purchase health insurance under the new healthcare law.  Users have apparently been experiencing a lot of bugs and glitches and various other problems.

Originally, the healthcare law envisioned each of the 50 states setting up their own state-based health insurance exchanges.  Federal grants would be given to those states that followed through and set up their own exchanges.  For those states that were unable to set up their own exchanges, there would be a federal exchange website people in those states could go to.  This is what Healthcare.gov is.  It's the federally-run health insurance exchange for people in those states that don't have their own state-based health insurance exchange.

The problem is that way more states ended up not setting up state-based exchanges, not because they couldn't afford it or didn't have the resources, but because Republican lawmakers in those states essentially refused to do it out of spite over the existence of the law itself.  In the end, only 14 states ended up setting up their own healthcare exchange; 36 did not.  This is far more than what the original law envisioned.  

It's little wonder, then, that the federal healthcare exchange website has been experiencing problems.  There are way more users than what the developers of the site originally envisioned.

I also think it's ironic that Republicans scream the most about states' rights and how states should control their own destinies without interference from the federal government, etc., etc., etc., yet they willingly deferred to the feds on the healthcare exchanges, and now are sitting back with looks of smug self assurance saying, "See, I told you so, the federal government can't do anything right."  Then maybe you should have set up your own state-run and state-operated healthcare exchange! The federal exchange was never supposed to be the primary way health insurance was purchased by uninsured Americans.  It was supposed to be largely state-based and state-run with the federal exchange just there as a backup for a handful of states who legitimately didn't have the resources or funds to start their own exchange.

For what it's worth, my home state of Kentucky (whose governor is a Democrat) does have it's own healthcare exchange, and it's working just fine!

Okay, I'm sorry.  I didn't intend for that to go on so long or get so heated.  I'm sure half of you skipped everything I just wrote anyway :)

Now for the story of my stress test and echocardiogram, which I had on Wednesday.

I was scheduled for the echo (an ultrasound of the heart) at 9:15 and the nuclear stress test at 10:00.  The stress test is where you walk on a treadmill and they take your blood pressure and monitor your heart.  It's "nuclear" because they also inject you with a radioactive dye and give you two heart scans, one before the treadmill workout, and one after.

I had the echo, and then went in to get the IV started for my stress test.  I was nervous about this, because I sometimes get faint when I get blood drawn.  I was also a bit nervous about being injected with this radioactive dye.  In addition to that, I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything that morning, and I tend to get jittery and become more prone to anxiety when I have low blood sugar.  I wasn't even allowed a drink of water.

Long story short, the tech tried to start the IV in my hand (which I wasn't happy about), but missed the vein.  He didn't want to poke me there again, so he went to my elbow next and successfully got the IV started there.  I was fine up until he started injecting the dye.  At that point, I felt faintness come on me very suddenly, and within seconds I fainted dead away to the floor.  The tech apparently had to catch me and let me down.  I have a sore back from flopping over.

I woke up flat on the floor with someone holding my legs up, and about six other people standing over me calling my (first) name ("Byron!  Byron!").  I was apparently out for a minute or two and didn't respond immediately to the smelling salts.

Ah, life as B. Scott Christmas.

After a short time with some oxygen and a saline drip, I started feeling better and was able to complete the stress test and nuclear medicine scans.  I was able to get all the way up to my heart rate limit (182 bpm), which a lot of folks apparently can't or won't do.  

I don't have the results back yet.  They told me my cardiologist looks at the results immediately, and if there is anything urgent, I would be contacted.  Otherwise, he'll go over it with me at my next appointment, which is in November.

This was two days ago, and I haven't heard from them since, so I assume no news is good news.  I might call them next week to see if I can move my appointment sooner than November 20.

My weight, by the way, has been holding steady at about 199 pounds.  I DID finally break that 200 pound plateau that I complained about in the last edition of NFTC, but was not able to achieve my goal of 195 by the time I had my stress test.  Oh well.  Not a big deal.  


Monday, October 07, 2013

10 Fun Facts About John Tyler

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States

1. Born in March of 1790 in Virginia, about a year into George Washington's first term as president, John Tyler was the first U.S. president born after the adoption of the Constitution.  His father, also named John, was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, a prominent slave-owning politician and judge, and served as Virginia's governor in the early 1800's.  The house Tyler was born in, which was built by his father in the mid 1770's, still stands in Charles City County, Virginia, and is known as Greenway Plantation.

2. After attending the College of William and Mary, Tyler studied law and was admitted to the bar at only 19 years of age, opening a practice in Richmond.  He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates just two years later at age 21 and served until 1816, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  In 1813, Tyler married Letitia Christian.  Together they had seven children.  When Letitia died during Tyler's presidency, he remarried in 1844 to Julia Gardner, the first president to marry while in office.  She was 30 years younger than him and together they, too, had seven children.  Tyler's 14 children are the most by any president.    

3. While serving in the House of Representatives, Tyler distinguished himself as independently-minded, a firm opponent of federalism and the national banking system, supporting the notion of states' rights and a limited federal government.  He was one of the main opponents to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which limited slavery to only southern states.

4. After briefly leaving politics in the early 1820's, Tyler served two 1-year terms as Virginia's governor, starting in 1826.  During this time, he delivered the funeral address for his father's old friend Thomas Jefferson, who died in July of 1826.  In early 1827, he resigned as Virginia's governor to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate.

5. Choosing what he believed was the lesser of two evils, Tyler sided with Andrew Jackson over John Quincy Adams in the contentious presidential election of 1828 and thus allied himself with Jackson's new party, the Democrats.  It was an uneasy alliance, however, and during Jackson's second term, the independently-minded Tyler broke with the new party and joined into an equally uneasy alliance with the emerging Whig Party of Henry Clay.  This angered the Democrats of Virginia, who managed to force Tyler into resignation from the Senate in 1836.

6. Tyler was nominated by the Virginia Whigs for the vice-presidency in 1836, running together with Tennessee Whig Hugh L. White.  They placed third in the final voting, and Tyler returned to private life.  In 1838, however, he re-entered the Virginia House of Delegates as a Whig, where he was unanimously elected Speaker.  Two years later, he supported Henry Clay for the Whig nomination for presidency.  However, Ohioan William Henry Harrison was nominated instead, and Tyler was nominated again for the vice-presidency.  Though now representing Ohio, Harrison had been born at a sprawling plantation in Virginia just down the road from where Tyler was born.  "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" won the election in a landslide and swept into office in 1841.  

7. Just one month after assuming office, Harrison became the first president to die in office.  Though the Constitution stipulated that the vice-president would assume the powers of the presidency upon a sitting president's death, it was unclear whether the vice-president would actually become the president or serve merely as the "acting president."  Tyler immediately asserted that he was, in fact, the new president, and took the presidential oath of office to confirm that fact.  After several months of debate, both the House and Senate confirmed that Tyler was, in fact, the 10th president of the United States.  Despite that, many continued to think of his presidency as illegitimate, and his detractors began referring to him as "His Accidency."

8. By the end of his first summer in office, Tyler had completely alienated the Whigs by vetoing two banking bills the Whig-controlled Congress had passed.  All but one of his cabinet members resigned in protest, hoping to force Tyler, himself, to resign.  When he refused, the Whigs officially expelled Tyler from the party - making him the only genuinely "independent" president since the advent of the 2-party system.  During his contentious term in office, he had more Supreme Court nominations and more cabinet nominations rejected than any other president in U.S. history.

9. Tyler was forced to form an independent third party in order to run for re-election in 1844, but after realizing that his chances for winning were slim, he dropped out of the race in August.  Democrat James K. Polk went on to win a slim victory over Henry Clay.  Tyler retired to his plantation in Virginia, named Sherwood Forest, where he spent his final years farming.

10. When the secession crisis broke out in 1861 following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the elderly Tyler took part in attempts to solve the crisis.  When those attempts failed and the Civil War finally broke out, Tyler (along with fellow ex-president Franklin Pierce) sided with the Confederacy.  Elected to the new Confederate House of Representatives, Tyler died on his way to the opening session in January of 1862.  Because he fathered children late in life, Tyler is the earliest U.S. president who still has grandchildren alive today - both were born in the 1920's.  One still owns and maintains Sherwood Forest in Charles City County, Virginia.     

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Discussion of Circumcision

Sounds like a rousing subject, no?  I thought so too.

Believe it or not, this has been a major topic of conversation at my place of employment this week due to a protest that took place a few days ago.  The hospital I work at has been doing research on the merits of different circumcision devices, and an anti-circumcision group called Intact America staged a protest outside the hospital.

OMG, right? 

In discussing this situation with various co-workers, it struck me that there are a lot of misconceptions about circumcision, its use, its purpose, and its history.  So, naturally, I decided a blog post was in order to provide a little education on the subject.

Though circumcision today is most commonly associated with Jews and Muslims, it has been practiced among humans for thousands of years.  The ancient Egyptians were practicing it, to one degree or another, as far back as 4,500 years ago.

This is a diagram of a carving in a tomb at Saqqara, Egypt, dating from around the time of the pyramids.

It's likely that the ancient Jews picked up the practice from their Egyptian cousins.  In the book of Genesis, when God establishes his "everlasting covenant" with Abraham, he establishes the practice of Jewish circumcision as a requirement for all Jewish males on the 8th day after their birth.  Circumcision, in fact, is not just "a thing" Jews are to do, but it is actually established as the very outward, physical mark of what it means to be a Jew: "it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you" (Genesis 17:11), and "any male who is not circumcised shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (v. 14).

In Luke 2:21, the infant son of Mary and Joseph is circumcised on the 8th day and given the name Jesus, in keeping with Jewish law and custom.

In his teaching life, Jesus is never depicted speaking or teaching about circumcision.  Like other Jews of his time, Jesus would have accepted the practice as the social and religious norm, required by God as a sign of his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people.

It was not until after Jesus's death that circumcision became an issue for his followers.  Like Jesus himself, the earliest Christians were all practicing Jews.  They followed all the Jewish rules and customs, ate only kosher foods, practiced all the sacrificial rites, and celebrated the traditional Jewish holidays, including the weekly Sabbath.  Like all Jews, they circumcised their sons.  However, when Christianity began to spread outward from Palestine into the larger Greco-Roman world, many Greeks and Romans were receptive to the message of Jesus, but not at all keen on "becoming Jewish" - that is, on following Jewish dietary laws or, especially, getting circumcised.  The Jewish leaders of Christianity at that time, namely Peter and James, insisted that new Greek and Roman converts must also get circumcised and become Jewish.

This soon became the source of a major rift among the early Christians, with the apostle Paul leading the charge against circumcision (in the book of Philippians, Paul calls Jewish Christians "dogs" and "evil workers" who "mutilate the flesh.")  According to the book of Acts, James and Peter eventually changed their minds and decided to allow new non-Jewish converts to forgo circumcision, as long as they followed certain dietary laws (Acts chapter 15).

Although conversion to Judaism, along with its required circumcision, continued to exist in small circles of Christianity for the next few hundred years, mainline Christianity after the time of Paul gave up the rite and began regarding it as part of the "old covenant" through Abraham, superseded by the "new covenant" through Christ.  Around A.D. 150 (roughly 100 years after Paul's arguments against circumcision) Justin Martyr wrote that circumcision had become a sign not of the covenant between God and the Jews, but a sign that Jews are "separate" from Christians and the rest of the world, and so that Jews, alone, would receive their "just punishments" from God, which Justin equated to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and other Jewish towns.  These circumcised Jews, according to Justin, deserved to have their towns and cities destroyed because they crucified Jesus.

This vicious anti-Semite is one of the most beloved of the early Church fathers

A papal bull issued in the 1400's by Pope Eugene IV specifically outlawed the practice among Christians and established that it was a mortal sin which would cause "the loss of eternal salvation."
        
Like Christianity before it, Islam also has roots in Judaism, arising in Arabia in the 7th century A.D. (about 600 years after Jesus).  Islam reveres Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as prophets, but not Paul.  As a result, unlike Christianity, Islam never rejected circumcision.  Muslims, from that time to now, circumcise their sons as part of a religious rite.

With all this history in mind, why then do so many modern Americans, who are neither Jewish nor Muslim, circumcise their sons?

From the time of Paul, up through the end of the 19th century, circumcision was virtually unheard of outside of Muslim nations, Jewish communities, and Coptic Christian communities (a form of Christianity practiced in north Africa).  Folks like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, not to mention their millions of fellow countrymen, were virtually universally uncircumcised.  The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1876 described it as a "bodily mutilation" practiced by Jews and Muslims and generally abhorred by Christian nations.

You know you're picturing it.

However, beginning in the late 19th century, doctors in mainly English-speaking nations began promoting circumcision for a variety of health reasons, claiming it could cure or prevent everything from kidney stones to joint disease.  By the first few decades of the 20th century, the practice had become widespread in places like the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia (it did not ever spread in any significant fashion to mainland Europe, Asia, or South America).

As time passed, however, and medical science progressed, it became apparent that the earlier claims for the health benefits of circumcision were not just untrue, many were patently absurd (one very prominent physician claimed the practice could cure childhood paralysis; another popular theory was that it somehow prevented masturbation).  As a result, circumcision began to decline rapidly in England after World War II, and eventually Canada and, to a lesser degree, Australia, followed suit.

In the U.S., however, circumcision has remained common.  Circumcision is practiced more widely in the U.S. than in any country on earth outside of the Middle East and northern Africa.  The practice is very rare (with rates less than 20%) across Europe, Asia, South America, southern Africa, and Central America.  The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 70% of the world's male population is uncircumcised.  Among those who are circumcised throughout the world, roughly 70% are Muslim.  Among non-Muslims and non-Jews, the U.S. has almost as many circumcised men as the entire rest of the world combined.

Even within the U.S., the practice is not geographically equal: it is far more common in the Midwest and Northeast, and less common in the South and (especially) the West (in the last decade, rates have been has high as 80% in the Midwest, and as low as 35% in the West).

Midwesterner, Rick Santorum.  Probably circumcised.

Westerner, Nancy Pelosi.  Probably not circumcised.

Advocates generally argue that circumcision prevents the spread of STD's and is a form of good hygiene.  Both of these claims are controversial.  According to various studies done in recent decades, STD infection is more likely among uncircumcised men.  However, opponents of the practice argue this is not a good enough reason to remove a portion of the penis, since simple safe sex practices can virtually eliminate the risk of STD's.

As for hygiene, though most acknowledge a need for increased care for uncircumcised people, opponents again argue that this is not a good enough reason for removing part of the penis.  The simple fact is that most human males throughout human history, up through the present day, have not been circumcised, and they've managed their personal hygiene just fine.

Despite how supporters of circumcision point to hygiene and STD prevention as reasons for circumcising boys, a WHO study in 2007 found that, in the United States, social conformity is the most commonly cited reason for parents choosing to circumcise their sons.  The same study showed a strong correlation with the father's circumcision status: 90% of circumcised fathers chose to circumcise their sons, compared with just 23% for uncircumcised fathers.

CONCLUSION

I have two daughters, so I never had to make this decision for my own children.  However, if I had had sons, I would have had them circumcised, and I would have made that choice primarily for social conformity.

Despite that, I am with the opponents of circumcision in spirit.  There simply doesn't seem to be any legitimate reason, in a First World nation, for widespread circumcision of male babies.  Safe sex practices and good personal hygiene eliminate the primary biological arguments for circumcision, and if we stopped circumcising, then the social conformity issue would quickly disappear too.

The simple fact is, the very thought of "female circumcision" is shuddered at and referred to as "ritual genital mutilation" (see this fact page from the WHO), yet the same standard is not held for mutilating the genitals of boys.  The foreskin is not an evolutionary accident; it's there for a reason.

In my opinion, there really doesn't seem to be any good argument for continuing its practice on a widespread basis, especially in developed countries where safe sex practices and good hygiene are the norm.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Notes from the Cave



It's way past time for another update from the Cave.

You may recall a few weeks ago that I blogged about a new CD I've been listening to by an indie band called Terminal Union.  I got to see them live recently and they were exceptional.  If you like folksy Americana music, you'd love their stuff.

The fella on the right is M's cousin's husband.  I guess that makes him my cousin-in-law?

A lot of new faces at work in the last few months, and some old faces gone.  That kind of sucks and, quite honestly, I don't enjoy working there as much as I used to, but I suppose that's just the way it goes.  I've never adjusted well to change.  The good news is that beginning in mid-October, I won't have to work third shift on the weekends anymore.  I'll be straight second shift all the time.  I'm really happy about that because I have come to dread those third shift weekends.  I used to love them, but now that I eat cleanly and sleep normally those third shifts are hard to endure.  I've just got one more to work before the change.

Thanks to my mother, I got a new car recently.  She was replacing her old car, so she gave it to me.  Nice, eh?  It's a 2006 Honda Accord, but it only has 29K miles on it and it has all the bells and whistles: leather interior, 6 CD changer, Sirius/XM (paid up through the middle of next year!), sun/moon roof, etc., etc.  M is now driving my Altima (she didn't want to drive the Honda because it's a manual transmission) and we sold M's car, which had over 170K miles on it.  Still, we got $1500 bucks for it, so we're pretty happy.  Added to the 1200 bucks we got from the Kentucky State Treasury Division of Unclaimed Property, it's like we've had a nice fat autumn tax refund.   

If you haven't been listening to the songs I've been writing and recording, you really should.  They are FANTASTIC.  Just kidding.  But seriously folks, I've done 4 so far and you can listen to all 4 of them at my Tumblr page: Click Here Now. And tell all your friends to Click Here Now. And if you know any record company executives, tell them to Click Here Now too.

I've hit a major plateau in my weight loss, and I can't help but think that there MUST be a psychological element to it because I'm basically stuck at 200 pounds.  200.8 to be precise.  I just can't seem to get below 200.  I've said all along that 195 was my goal, but these last five pounds have proven to be unbelievably difficult to lose.  Over the last three weeks or so, I have weighed in at EXACTLY 200.8 pounds at least four different times, including today.  Several times I've been slightly higher than that, but never lower.  I just can't seem to break that level.  

In any case, I have until October 23 to get to 195.  That's the day I have my stress test and echocardiogram.  Since I scheduled it back in early August, I've been saying I wanted to have my weight loss goal completed by then.  Thanks to this plateau, that's in jeopardy now. 

Part of the problem is that I haven't been walking as much, and the reason for that is because my foot is injured from walking so much.  It started out as a problem at the ball of my left foot (I self-diagnosed it as sesamoiditis), but now it's moved into what must be a tendon or ligament along the anterior-medial side of my foot (that's the top-inside for you non-medical types).  I can still move around just fine, but it hurts, and when I actually go for a power walk, it flares up even worse.  So I've not been walking as much in an effort to let it heal, but it's not healing very quickly.  Of course, I also am on my feet 8 hours a day whether I walk in the mornings or not.  I got some inserts for both my walking shoes and work shoes, but I can't tell if they are helping or not.    

It sucks getting old.    

In any case, once I DO get down to 195, I'm going to post those "before and after" pictures I promised earlier this summer.  I had taken some "before" pictures of myself in January, when I still weighed 250, planning on starting a New Year's resolution workout routine.  That didn't pan out so well, but then the heart attack happened and the weight loss finally started for real.  So ladies, just keep waiting with bated breath for those topless Scott pics.




Monday, September 23, 2013

New Song: What I Can't Undo

I don't like the guitar solo in the middle. It sounds underwater and it doesn't really fit the song. Otherwise, however, I'm happy with how this one turned out. I added drums for the first time and tried to get a bit fancier with the mixing.  As you'll notice, I also made an actual video this time, with more than just one picture.  These are just random pictures I selected from my computer.

Enjoy!




I have seen the writing on the
Wall you left for me
And I know I had it coming but I
Swear I couldn’t be what you
Needed what you wanted what you
Thought a man like me should always be.

I know there are times when you
Feel your world implode and you
Think your hope for happiness has just
Eased on down the road but your
Happiness is not my own it’s
Yours and yours alone it’s not borrowed.
Happiness is just a dream, a dream
Like some old crazy scheme downstream.

If you ever wonder why the
World is so unkind or you
Wonder why your heart is always
Feeling left behind you should
Look into the mirror see things clearer
See the life you predefined.
Just look into that mirror just step
Nearer be sincere see what you find.

When I think of all the times I tried to
Be someone you loved tried to
Be the one who held on tight when
Push came down to shove
I realize there’s just one thing to do
Just let go of what I can’t undo.

Someday when you’re out there doing
All you plan to do and you
Think of me and what we lived
And what you put me through you’ll just
Smile and shake your head and go to bed
           Dream of the life you just outgrew
But I’ll still know the truth know how we
           Loved know how your promises fell through

When I think of all the times I tried to
Be someone you loved tried to
Be the one who held on tight when
Push came down to shove
I realize there’s just one thing to do
Just let go of what I can’t undo.

I have seen the writing on the wall.
And I know I had it coming. 

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