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.