The Shape I’m In

By | May 30, 2013

If you haven’t listened to “The Shape I’m In” by the Band recently, go do that. Then come back and read the rest of this.

Today was a bad day. Not because of anything that went wrong at work, because nothing did. (I’m in Aurora, Colorado, doing training at one of our customers. The classes today went fine. Nothing whatsoever is wrong vis-a-vis work.) But despite the sunny day outside, I’ve been sitting here like a bump on a log for 90 minutes and counting, too lethargic and morose to get up, get in the rental car, go back to my hotel and change, and then go do something.

The last few months have been an absolute fog. If it weren’t for my Outlook calendar, allowing me to go back and say “what the heck did I do the third week of April?” I’d be in even worse shape than I am. A blend of various kinds of depression has sidelined me; I’ve done very very very little with my life and I’ve basically been on automatic pilot.

I last had this problem — to this extent — about five years ago. I felt like my life was going absolutely nowhere and had no real meaning. My friend Sandy challenged me to come walk the DC 3-Day with her, and more out of “what the heck” than anything else, I signed up, did the fundraising, did the walk, and was glad of it. I spent the next five years enthusiastically fundraising and walking in 3-Day walks, gradually becoming fairly widely known among the larger 3-Day walker and crew community.

But for some reason, I am finding it hard to get the same fire in the belly this year. And it’s not because cancer’s been cured or anything like that. In fact, I’ve seen more friends and acquaintances pass away from breast cancer this year than I have in any prior year. For some reason, I’ve been trapped in a perpetual “mañana” attitude. I’ll blog tomorrow. I’ll train tomorrow. I’ll do this tomorrow. I’ll do that tomorrow. And then I never do.

My 3-Day fundraising has suffered for it — I’ve been stuck at $1199 for over a month now and no new donations have come in. Even when I have posted about the event and my fundraising goal, no one’s donated. Would I feel more enthused if people were donating and I was nearing my $2,300 minimum? Maybe. But I doubt it. I’m just swimming in molasses.

I do have things that potentially might motivate me and get me fired up, much as my initial plunge into the 3-Day did back in 2008.

For example, I ran my first-ever relay leg in a marathon on Sunday. I did okay — I ran/walked 5.5 miles in 53 minutes. In the pouring rain and temperatures in the 40s, I might add. Philosophically, I’d like to set a goal of running a marathon next year; it seems like I ought to be able to do 26 miles in 6 hours or less if I can do 5.5 in 53 minutes. (I only mention the 6 hour figure because that’s the cutoff for the Vermont City Marathon. I don’t know what cutoff other races use.) But I’m never going to get faster and develop more stamina if I don’t run.

I should be out running now. I’ve already located a good running trail in Aurora and I’ve had more than enough time to leave work, go change, and head back out to run. But right now I feel so down I could just about cry.

I feel that my depression is almost entirely biochemical in nature. I don’t think it’s due to my personal life issues, although they could be contributing. It’s been very stressful dealing with a very sick cat, and it’s also very stressful coping with my wife’s unemployment.

It may be unfair of me to say so, but I do feel that she could be doing much, much more than she currently is to look for and find work. I know, however, that she‘s dealing with depression, and that doesn’t make it easy for her either. While she’s unemployed, she tends to take out all her frustration and stress on me. Furthermore, she tells me that she has no interest in hearing anything I might have to share, which is at least open and honest of her even if it’s depressing at the same time. I don’t even bother telling her about work or about what’s going on in my life. I’ve tried to tell her about running, but she instinctively tunes me out. According to her, my talking about running makes her feel bad about the bad shape she’s in; she simply finds it impossible to be happy for me that I’m trying to get myself in better shape.

But as I said, she’s dealing with her own depression, and it’s not fair of me to demand perfection from her. Or even a middle-of-the-bell-curve level of attentiveness. She is who she is, and I am who I am, and that’s unlikely to change.

Yes, I am taking medication. I’ve recently been encouraged to double my dose of citalopram, and I’m still taking a nightly trazodone to help me get drowsy and possibly help with depression at the same time. I’m also taking gemfibrozil and simvastatin for high cholesterol (thanks to heredity) and losartan and hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure. It seems possible to me that one of the aforementioned drugs could be impacting my depression, but how do you determine which? Drop off one and see if I start doing cartwheels? How long do I have to stay off said drug before I can be sure it was making a difference? What if it’s some odd combination?

I know that running a lot would probably help my mental health. But there’s the whole catch-22 thing: if I ran a lot, I’d feel happier, but I don’t run a lot because I don’t feel happy enough to do so.

I’m concerned about my lack of energy and about my overall fog. I’m contemplating trying to blog once a day, just summing up what the heck I did with my day, to sort of force myself to take stock of things and not drift through life as much. And, as a side benefit, it’d make it possible for me to look back and go “what DID I do that week six weeks ago?”

Normally, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the days getting longer and I used to bounce out of bed early each morning, ready to go out and seize the day when the sunlight came spilling in and 5:30 a.m. — but not any more. We each get only so many springtimes in life — and it’s driving me crazy that I’m throwing this one away.

 

 

Buying a Sermon

By | May 15, 2013

I’m a member of Faith United Methodist Church in South Burlington, Vermont. It’s a good church — not the largest church in the area, not the best attended, but generally supportive and full of a sense of community spirit. Each year we have a spring ham dinner and silent auction to raise funds for the church, and the last couple of years our minister has auctioned off a sermon. (For all I know, this has been going on for centuries, or at least since the church was founded in the 1960s.)

For some strange reason that I can’t really put my finger on, I decided this year that I was going to be the winning bidder on the sermon. Seriously, I have no idea why. I’m a big fan of our minister, Krista Beth Atwood. She’s a few years younger than I am, very brainy, and always does a very good, thought-provoking sermon. But I don’t particularly know why the idea of getting to choose the sermon topic struck my fancy.

I spent years as a member of Toastmasters International, starting in the late 1980s and continuing until the mid 1990s. I got to be reasonably good at public speaking along the way; perhaps that’s why I’ve spent the last 18 years working as a professional software trainer. One of my favorite parts of a Toastmasters meeting was the section called “Table Topics”, in which the “Topicmaster” of the meeting assigned topics to other members for short, off-the-cuff, one-to-two minute speeches. Some people absolutely hated Table Topics: the only way they could stand to speak in public was with weeks of rehearsal and preparation, and being forced to speak off the cuff took them into deep water. Other people loved Table Topics and delighted in taking the topic in a direction that the Topicmaster could never have imagined. When it was my turn to be Topicmaster, I probably spent more time thinking of fun, whimsical, borderline-cruel topics to assign than the participants actually did delivering them.

So maybe that’s involved in my desire to call the tune for an entire sermon. Or maybe not. But in any event, come the night of the spring banquet, Carole and I were on hand helping run the thing; Carole was selling tickets and I was taking the tickets and assigning people bid numbers for the silent auction. I took a few minutes during a lull to wander around and look at all the donated goods and services that were up for auction and, frankly, didn’t see much of anything I wanted. Carole and I are trying to watch our spending; she’s been unemployed or marginally employed for quite a few weeks now and we really can’t afford to blow $100 on something we don’t need, even if the money does go to the church and could be considered a charitable donation. The one item I kept drifting back to was the sermon.

I put down an initial bid of $25. A few minutes later, I’d been outbid by bidder #40. I upped the bid by $5 and sat back down at my table. Every few minutes, I’d wander back over to check, find that I’d been outbid again — by bidder #40 each time — and I’d up the bid again. I checked my notes to see who bidder #40 actually was, and oddly, the name didn’t ring a bell at all. Carole and I have been members of Faith UMC for about three years now and there are still some members whose names I’m not entirely sure of; hardly anyone in our congregation actually wears their name tags. I assumed that bidder #40 was one of the people who comes at Christmas and Easter and odd Sundays in between but wasn’t otherwise super-active in the church.

Whomever they were, they were persistent: each time I upped my bid, they upped theirs. I was there to the end, right up until the “last bids” call at 7:30 pm sharp, having put in one more bid that raised the going price to $85, and was expecting our mystery bidder to come up at the last possible moment to bid over me. But they didn’t. I’d outlasted them.

$85 for a sermon isn’t exactly “me practicing financial discipline”, but in a sense, it’s like a very very targeted offering. Unlike the items that actually bore tangible value, I’m pretty sure 100% of the $85 can be considered a charitable donation.

The people there wrapping up the auction — my fellow churchmembers and family members who were cashing people out and setting aside things that had been won by people who hadn’t stayed to the end — asked me what I was going to ask Krista Beth to preach on.

My response?

“Cheese!”

That might have seemed weird and off-the-wall to most people, but as I said, I’ve been a member of the church for three years or so now and most of them have worked out that I have a strange, pointless, and fairly inane sense of humor. So they didn’t press me for details.

But truth to tell, that is what I want her to preach on. Or, to be more precise, on what cheese represents to me.

You see, I have a problem with cheese. I can eat virtually unlimited amounts of it. I can spend a day watching my calories and exercising and taking all things in moderation, but if there’s cheese in the refrigerator, the odds are high that I’m going to shamble out of bed in the middle of the night and have some. And not just a little. A lot. I’m with cheese the same way a lot of people are with chocolate. Or alcohol.

G.K. Chesterton was the same way: in his essay “Cheese” he begins with the immortal phrase “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese” and continues, noting “If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living.”

But cheese isn’t my only problem. I have lofty ideals for how I should live my life. For how I should get the most out of my time and avoid things that are wastes of time. Unfortunately, just as I vow to avoid overindulging in cheese, and fail completely, I fail almost every time I resolve to do more with my life.

Long ago I came up with a Grand Theory of Time Classification. Setting aside time spent in the course of doing one’s job and looking only at discretionary time, all time can be divided into four categories:

  • Category X: Meaningful and necessary chores. Unloading the dishwasher, shopping for groceries, mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, paying bills, etcetera, etcetera. Things that have to be done but that aren’t necessarily enjoyable.
  • Category Y: Meaningful and useful self-development. Running, walking, bicycling, kayaking, making tie-dyed shirts, practicing music, etcetera, etcetera. If you bake because you enjoy it and because you learn something each time you bake, then that’s definitely Category Y.
  • Category Z: General recreation: watching a TV show that you particularly like and enjoy, going to a movie that you really want to see, reading a good book, spending quality time with a friend or friends, etcetera, etcetera. “Appointment TV” falls into this category.
  • Category W: W is for waste. W is watching hours and hours of television, watching shows you don’t even like, just to avoid having to stand up, get off autopilot, turn your brain on, and do something with your day. W is sitting at a computer surfing the net for hours, not in order to learn something specific or shop for something you actually need or something else that’s actually productive. but just aimlessly following links. W is playing endless games of Spider Solitaire or Freecell. W is going to out to the garden to weed and somehow losing track of time in an obsessive-compulsive nightmare and suddenly realizing that it’s six hours later and the sun’s going down.

One of the big problems with my life (and, if I may be so bold, with the life of a lot of people I know) is that things that might appear to be safely located in categories X, Y, or Z can ooze into Category W. Playing one game of online backgammon on your cell phone after work might be relaxing or even fun. Definitely Category Z material. But if you leave work and you pull out your Droid and start playing backgammon and suddenly it’s 10 o’clock at night and you have no idea where the time went… you’re in the Category W zone.

It’s like the way that a very small dose of a poison may have a therapeutic effect, but the same substance is deadly in larger quantities. Heck, even oxygen can be toxic at high enough pressures. Something that might be good for you, pleasurable, relaxing, and enjoyable ceases to be “good” when you take it to an extreme.

It’s bad if a workaholic stays at work late every night and neglects his family. X becomes W.

Visiting quaint little antique stores in search of furniture to restore might be category Y. Until you’re spending all your time in quaint little antique stores but never actually buy anything and never restore anything. Then it’s just an unhealthy obsession.

Watching a favorite TV show is fine. Watching TV for hours and hours every day, using it like a drug… at that point Z becomes W.

What falls into Category X, Y, and Z for each person varies from person to person. I can go weeks without watching a minute of TV. It just doesn’t fall into any of my categories as a good and enjoyable way to spend time. And I don’t judge someone who does like four or five (or six or seven) programs and can’t imagine going a week without watching them. But when TV watching becomes compulsive and takes up so much time that categories X, Y, and Z are neglected… that’s when you have a problem.

There are all manner of things I would like to do with my life. Running is high up there. Writing is up there too. But ask me how many nights I’ve told myself “I’ll go running tomorrow for sure” and stayed at my computer, just browsing the web and watching the minutes tick by.

I want to be a kinder, more considerate, less judgmental person. I need to spend more time working on that as well. But far too often, I let my temper get the better of me and I say mean, thoughtless, dumb, or cruel things. I should be working on meditation and reflection: classic Category Y stuff. I should be volunteering more in my community and doing what I can to be the kind of person I want to be. But I don’t.

And there I am at 3:00 am, standing in front of the refrigerator, eyes glowing with a fiendish lust, rummaging in the deli drawer for the last half of a block of Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar. But tomorrow I’ll stop binge eating. Tomorrow I’ll use my time well and go for a run after work.

Yeah. Tomorrow.

St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, put it this way: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” 

I can’t stand the way I watch my life flit away on garbage. On waste. On pointless pursuits and useless endeavors. And I’m not equating “time not spent on actual work” as “wasted.” Not all “fun” is Category W.

Pointless effort, mindless effort, directionless effort — that’s what takes us into Category W. And while it’s easy to blame the Imp of the Perverse for my tendency to fritter and fribble my life away, ultimately, I have to take responsibility for what I do with it.

Is it sinful to waste the lives we’ve been given? I don’t know. Consider the Parable of the Talents. I’ve been given great gifts. And yet I do so little with them. Not in the celebration and service of God. Not in the service of my fellow man, or of myself. In many cases, not at all. And I constantly set goals for myself that I fall short of, not by trying and failing, but too often, by simply failing to try.

“Cheese” is just a metaphor for my constant failure to live up to my goals and promises. I have a feeling though, that if I ever developed the strength of character to resist the siren call of cheese in the refrigerator, all my other problems would evaporate as well.

“Cheese As a Metaphor for Personal Weakness and Failings” may be one weird sermon topic, let alone as a Toastmasters “Table Topic”, but … we all have our angels and demons that we wrestle with. This one just happens to be mine.

Lifetime Piling Up

By | April 17, 2013

Since my last blog post on furrs.org, life has been … frustrating, to say the least.

My father’s doing MUCH better, thank you — that’s not one of the frustrating things. He has recuperated very well from his emergency hip surgery in mid-February. He got over the delusions that he was plagued by post-surgery and he’s gotten to the point that he can walk without a walker.

I’ve been struggling with severe depression, absolutely unrelated to Dad. There have been days that I sat at my desk in my office for four hours after quitting time, just aimlessly web-browsing and thinking “I should go to the gym and run” and then, once finally in the car, just heading for home and crawling into bed. I’m taking citalopram and trazodone every day and seeing a therapist a couple of times a month. I know that the trazodone has been not so good to a lot of my friends because of the drowsiness factor, but that’s actually why I’m on it. I gave up coffee a couple of years ago (and try to avoid caffeine in general) and that really improved my sleep, but there have been too many nights when I lie awake, fretful and restless. The trazodone helps with that… much more so than the Ambien they had me on a couple of years ago.

My depression is biochemical in nature. It’s (probably) not due to life stress, although there’s certainly been plenty of that. The depression waxes and wanes even when life conditions stay constant. I’m aware that my body is fighting my brain and saying “DO DUMB THINGS. OVEREAT. DON’T EXERCISE. SIT HERE IN YOUR OFFICE AND FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF.” It’s one thing to know that and another to actually be able to fight the urge.

On another front, I was going great guns on running at the start of the winter. My speed was increasing and I had gotten to the point that I no longer had to walk at all during a 5K session on our local indoor track. I ran in the Shelburne Spring Fling 5K on the first day of spring and did amazingly well — I finished in 28:27, by far the fastest time I’d ever had at that point in an actual road race.

Then metoprolol happened. I’ve been concerned about my high blood pressure for the last year. Prior to last May, my blood pressure was pretty amazing. Then ugly personal events happened in May (which I may never blog about, but they were pretty bad), and my blood pressure went straight through the roof. We tried lisinopril, which gave me a bad cough, then switched to losartan, which helped somewhat, but not a huge amount, then added hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic), which also helped a bit, and then there came a day when I absent-mindedly checked my blood pressure at work and got a reading of 190 over 120 or something. And I freaked. And next thing you know I was on metoprolol, which lowers your blood pressure by turning you into a heavily sedated zombie of some kind. I liked what it did for my blood pressure, but when I tried to run after about a week of metoprolol, I found myself running 5K in thirty seven minutes. I could barely run at all. Most of the distance was spent walking. I felt like I was on heavy anesthesia.

I had a choice — I could punt on any thought of running, or I could opt out of the metoprolol. I decided that I didn’t want to have healthy blood pressure at the cost of feeling winded when I climbed a flight of steps, and simply stopped taking it. It took a few weeks to get entirely out of my system, but I seem to finally be “back”. I’m back to the point where I can run 5K on an indoor track without stopping to walk at all, and I’ve run several sub-30 minute 5K distances in a row in the last week. Today I had my personal best time ever at that distance: 27 minutes, 50 seconds. First time I ever got below 28 minutes.

Now I need to start working on distance… upping the distance run to 10K and beyond. Fortunately, spring is finally coming to Vermont and that should be possible.

But with every step forward, there’ve been multiple steps back. Our dear little cat, Thursday (it’s short for ‘The Cat Who Was Thursday’, a reference to a work by G.K. Chesterton) has been very very sick lately. She started avoiding food and showing no energy whatsoever last week, and I insisted on taking her in to the vet (Carole initially though that she was just being finicky). Turns out that she’s essentially suffering from chronic renal failure and her BUN and creatine levels were unbelievably unhealthy. They kept her for about 48 hours on an IV and got her back to the point where she had an appetite and would take solid food. But we’ve been giving her subcutaneous fluids and potassium and an antacid and an anti-nausea drug, and that’s helped a bit, but today she’s been back to refusing food. We think it’s because of mouth ulcers — she’s got bloody ulcers in her mouth and occasionally drools blood… and I suspect that it just hurts too much to eat. We’re going to beg the vets tomorrow for something to help with that.

We know that she may get to the point that she’s “better” and can live for a year or two more. Friends with cats in this sort of condition have gotten their pets past the hump and to a stable condition. But on the other hand, if Thursday’s quality of life doesn’t improve (case in point: she’s not cleaning herself and her fur is matted if we don’t wash her ourselves) and she just lies around feeling too sick and ill to move, we may have to make a very hard decision. I know many of you have faced that same decision in the past and some of you may be thinking “it’s cruel to keep her alive and in pain”, but again, lots of cats have faced this and mostly recovered. We don’t want to give up hope yet. Thursday has been with us 15 years and we love her very much.

My so-called life

By | March 22, 2013

Never let it be said that I don’t lead a glamorous life.

I’m currently on my way back home to Vermont from a business trip to Austin, Texas, which went well, all except for the motherboard in my work laptop apparently suffering some sort of infarction that left it unable to draw power from the AC adapter. So, the battery ran dead, and the laptop won’t run when plugged in…

All of which would merely be annoying if it weren’t for the fact that I fly back to Texas on Sunday morning (to scenic Lubbock this time) and won’t be able to get my laptop fixed by the support team at work. My coworkers apparently dug up a laptop I can borrow but they’ve got to overnight it to me from Plano, Texas. I hope it gets to me; it’d be awkward being on a business trip with no access to work email or files for four days.

Assuming I make it home today, I’ve got an action-packed weekend planned.

I’ll be spending this evening stuffing candy into about a thousand plastic Easter eggs for next weekend’s hunt at my church (I volunteered for the job, no idea why).

Tomorrow I’m signed up to run in a 5K: the RaceVermont.com Spring Fling 5K/10K, which ironically had its route changed from rec paths to public streets after 10 inches of snow fell this week. They’ve informed us that the streets will not be closed to cars so we are requested not to run more than 2 abreast. Um, yeah. I have a feeling that no personal best times will be set tomorrow.

When I’m done with the race I’ve got to grab my camera and head out to spend the day photographing Vermont Maple Open House Weekend … or at least the first day of it, since I’ll be flying all day on Sunday. I’m on the marketing committee of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association and I run the Vermont Maple Syrup Facebook page (75,000 ‘likes’ and climbing).

And then it’s time to pack again and head back to Texas. Hello, Lubbock!

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Exciting discovery today

By | March 3, 2013

I go to Faith United Methodist Church in South Burlington, Vermont. We get newcomers there all the time. We do our best to make them feel welcome, and I think they do, because we have a lively and friendly church, with a congregation well-distributed over all ages.

One woman who started attending a few months ago was Bridget. Pretty young woman, but we paid more attention to her baby, who is called “Pippi,” and we all went nuts over the “Pippi Longstocking” connection.

Well, today I came to find out that Bridget was my first yoga instructor!! This was several years back, at the YMCA in Burlington, and I was just crazy about her. I haven’t gotten attached to another yoga instructor since; though I’ve attended many different classes, none of them were quite right. So I was thrilled when I realized it. When I told her, she remembered me, too… and she said that I’d looked familiar, but she couldn’t quite place me. I knew I hadn’t recognized her, and eventually realized that she wears glasses now, plus her face looks different — thinner, somehow older — she had a baby face when I first knew her.

Anyway, I found out where she teaches now. Shelburne Health & Fitness, on Monday night. I’m hoping to give it a visit tomorrow. 🙂

Beta blockers and “warming up”

By | March 2, 2013

In recent months, Jay and I have both had some troubling blood-pressure readings and have been put on hypertension drugs by our doctors. As luck would have it, we are both now taking metaprolol, one of the family of “beta blocker” medicines. Beta blockers have the general effect of slowing down the sympathetic nervous system, aka the “fight or flight” or adrenaline response. This means that when events would previously have caused your blood pressure to rise, it rises much more slowly; this of course has the effect of lower average b.p., which is the point. Another effect, though not the one being sought, is that your heart rate stays lower on average.

And therein lies the problem. Exercise requires a “warm up” interval, during which the heart rate is being brought up to a functional speed for aerobic exercise. Now, I don’t know much about the physiological reason for this, but I have found in the last few years that if I want to get a really hard workout, it is extremely hard for me to keep going for about the first half-hour, and then it suddenly gets easier.

It’s like, when I make a demand on my heart, it goes, “NO! NO! NO! SLOW DOWN! I CAN’T TAKE IT! I’M GONNA EXPLOOOOOOODE!!!!” at first. But then if I keep pushing through it, my heart finally says, “Oh, well then, if that’s what you want.” And stops protesting.

Now, the problem? The beta blocker slows everything down. This means that I am working hard for even longer to get through the “NO! NO! NO!” period. It also seems that I must work much harder during every minute to get my heart-rate up into the “Fat Burning” or “Aerobic” zones … you know, the ones you calculate as a percentage of your max heart rate? Like, take 220 minus your age (178 for me) then multiply by 60% for fat-burning (107) or 70% for aerobic (125). But I’ll be honest, now that I look at these numbers, I think I was spending much more of my time than I realized in the 80% range before now. I mean, I know when I went bicycling, I was routinely up to HR of 150.

So anyway, now, I have to recalibrate my efforts. It feels as if I have to work a lot harder just to get to the 60% mark (because I guess I was getting there too easily before), and I’m having a hard time with that. Jay is also feeling this effect, according to what he wrote about his running yesterday. Of course, his problem is on a much different scale from mine. He’s reasonably fit; I’m about as close to couch-potato as I can get.

Metoprolol effects on running?

By | March 2, 2013

I had an absolutely awful run yesterday. It was outdoors, on roads near my office, in near-freezing weather. I absolutely could not get ‘going’ — I seemed to have no stamina. I took 36 minutes to run/walk/plod 5 kilometers. The route was fairly hilly and the first stretch is all uphill — but I don’t think that should have caused me quite so much distress.

And while I was glooming about it this morning to Carole, Carole pointed out that perhaps the beta blocker medication I started a couple of weeks ago (to combat high blood pressure) may have played a large role in what happened yesterday. I had some good runs at the gym last week, but I’d only been on the metoprolol a few days at that point. Now that it’s had more time to really get into my system, who knows? Maybe I’m going to have to work very hard to get warmed up before starting running from now on.

A quick Google search after Carole and I got home from running errands indicates that there’s something to the theory. People said “just because it’s harder doesn’t mean that you can’t run — people have run marathons on beta blockers.”

So I need to avoid despair — and just work really hard on getting warmed up before I launch into a run. I hope that makes the difference.

Well, isn’t that my dumb luck

By | February 21, 2013

As those of you who follow this blog know, I’ve been trying to become more of a runner, trying to improve my stamina and speed and be less of, well, a joke.

In the last couple of weeks, I really haven’t gotten out and run much. Last week I was in Florida, where one would think I’d have taken advantage of the warm weather to run nearly every day. Unfortunately, I was not there on vacation; I was there to look after my father, who’d had emergency surgery after falling and breaking his hip. I had to stick around the house pretty much all the time, and when I wasn’t at the house, I was out buying various things to help in his recovery. I only got out to run once while I was there.

This week I was playing catch-up at work. The first time I was able to get out and run was today. But, fortunately, my time away from running doesn’t seem to have hurt me. When I showed up at the gym in Essex Junction to run, I felt good. Strong. I was raring to go.

But when I got upstairs to the indoor track and turned my Garmin Forerunner 305 on to track my laps (indoors, the GPS isn’t much use, but it still works to record my heart rate and I can manually press the ‘lap’ button each time I go ’round), I was greeted with the annoying message: “LOW BATTERY”. I’d charged it last week, but somehow it’d gone almost dead. Presumably it’d gotten turned on by accident while in my luggage, and I hadn’t charged it since getting home.

So what was I to do? I wasn’t wearing my watch; it was down in my locker. I had my Droid phone with me, and it had a stopwatch app on it, so I shrugged and figured I’d use that to time myself. No problem, right?

An actual lap counter would have been even better, but I didn’t want to take the time to search for and download one. (I had visions of fumbling with the touch screen every sixty seconds, trying to record a lap when I should have been focusing on running.) So, I shrugged and just kept count in my head.

Now, it’s not always easy to keep track of laps in your head. You start going “11 11 11 11 11” and then think “wait, did I just finish lap 11, or am I on lap 11?” I tried hard not to lose count — that’s about all I can say.

I did not look at the stopwatch as I ran. I just kept my head down and focused on running. I felt good. I felt like I had a good stride and didn’t feel the fatigue setting in that I normally feel. From a standpoint of how I felt, it was probably my best run ever.

But here’s the punchline: when I finished the 25th lap (making 3.125 miles) and came to a stop, I pulled out my phone and looked at the readout: 22 minutes 53 seconds.

Twenty two minutes and 53 seconds?

When my best time ever was 28 minutes and 30 seconds?

Okay, I have to have lost count. But did I lose FIVE WHOLE LAPS?

Sigh. Just my dumb luck. I may have had my best 5K run ever, and I have no way of knowing how I really did.

I’ll be back tomorrow night… WITH a fully charged Forerunner. We’ll see if tonight was a complete fiction, or whether I really have improved!


This August I’ll be taking part in the Michigan Susan G. Komen 3-Day, walking sixty miles in 3 days to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. I have to raise a minimum of $2,300 to take part, but I’ve set my goal even higher: $5,000. Will you sponsor me and help in the fight? If you’re willing to help, please click here: http://www.the3day.org/goto/jayfurr — and thanks!

Dad’s status, two weeks after hip replacement surgery

By | February 20, 2013

My father had emergency hip replacement surgery two weeks ago. I flew down to be with him in Florida the weekend after the surgery and was down in Brooksville (north of Tampa) for a week. Dad is 80 and not super-strong, so as you can imagine, I was, and am, concerned about him.

Dad is bit by bit getting stronger as a result of the in-home physical therapy that he’s receiving, which is good. At the same time, there’s been a big worry: confusion and disorientation. Dad has had days where he’s just out there … where he believes that he was made to lie on the bed for three days and was ignored by all and sundry, where no one would give him anything to drink, and so on.

Finally, on Sunday night, it clicked — we needed to find out if the painkiller he was on, Tramadol, might be causing the confusion. Various websites and anecdotal evidence from friends, plus input from a few actual pharmacists and doctors on my Facebook friends list, led us to conclude that the answer was somewhere between “probably” and “yes”. We took Dad off Tramadol that night — in the sense that we didn’t give him any more after that.

Monday was a “good day” in that he was awake early, rested, and had plenty of energy. But yesterday, Tuesday, was another “bad day” in that he had no energy, no appetite, didn’t want to get up, and was, frankly, depressed. I was worried.

But apparently yesterday’s drowsiness and lassitude was apparently the result of Tramadol withdrawal. Today he’s MUCH better. Much more energy. And, while he unfortunately still remembers all the delusions that he experienced, he’s able to cognitively process that they weren’t real. And he’s very embarrassed by the stuff he said, felt, and did. We keep telling him not to be, but no one likes to think of themselves being delusional, especially when you’re elderly and worried about the possibility of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

My sister Julie came down yesterday from North Carolina and will be there through the weekend to keep him company, help out, and in general provide love and support and coaching. I’m really glad he’s there. My cousin Anne has been a rock as well and we’re all so grateful for everything she’s done to help Dad.

An occupational therapist has been coming this week and Dad has been able to, with help, take a shower. He has a bit of difficulty getting into the shower because he has to lift his leg up to get over the lip of the shower, but once in, he’s good. He’s using a brand new shower chair with back and hand grips and good gripping feet that I bought him last week.

So I think we’ve turned the corner. Hopefully tomorrow will be another “good day” and all days from here on will be “good days”. He has an appointment with his surgeon tomorrow and I believe they’re going to see if it’s time to take the surgical staples out. I counseled him to tell the surgeon that he has an heated pool that he’d like to use to continue getting stronger, and to ask the surgeon if the incision is to the point where he can expose it to pool water. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready, but I know that pool therapy will be very good for him once he is ready.

I thank everyone for their prayers and support during this difficult time. I know many of you have had similar experiences, either yourself or with your own parents and relatives, and your advice is much appreciated.

What is love? Part 2

By | February 14, 2013

It’s Valentine’s Day.

I’m in Florida looking after my father as he recovers from a broken hip. My wife of 15 years, Carole Furr, is back home in Vermont, working part-time doing accounting for a local firm, looking after our three kitties, and trying to keep from going nuts during the long dark cold Vermont winter.

We spend most Valentine’s Days apart, thanks to my job which has me traveling three weeks out of every four, or sometimes even more often. I’d like to say that I find a way to make the day memorable somehow, every year, but the fact is, I don’t. Some years I order her flowers, some years I order her chocolates, and some years I take her at her word and order neither in order to save money. Sometimes we go out for a nice dinner when I get home at the end of the week, and sometimes, best intentions notwithstanding, we simply never get around to it.

Carole and I have been married for fifteen and a half years. They haven’t always been easy years. We sometimes don’t get along at all. Carole suffers from depression and some rogue form of ADHD, and she’s simply not always easy to stand. And for my part, I have a bad temper and sometimes get a lot angrier about her mood swings than is reasonable, or even sane. But I’m working very hard on that these days. And I think she’s putting in some effort toward being more considerate of my need for peace and quiet in the evenings when I actually am home. Bit by bit, a step forward and a step back and another step forward, we’re learning how to get along with each other. Maybe by the time we’ve been married 50 years we’ll actually be mature enough to be good partners to each other.

Do we love each other? Yes.

But do we always like each other? No.

But we’ve stuck with each other to this point, even though at times it seemed like insanity to do so.

In the end, you know why I stick with her and she with me?

I think it’s because we feel so comfortable being silly together.

I’ll spare you a long litany of examples (although I could post one if I was so inclined and not so tired) and simply give you a classic bit of Jay-and-Carole silliness:

Our old house in Essex Junction had a large kitchen with an open archway leading to the dining room. The dining room had a glass door leading to the back yard and another open archway leading to the living room. The living room in turn had open archways leading to the dining room and to the kitchen, and then a hallway leading to the bedrooms and such.

In other words, you could walk from the living room into the kitchen, bear left, walk through an archway into the dining room, bear left, walk through an archway, and be back in the living room. (I miss that kitchen. It was about five times larger than my current kitchen, although everything else about my current house is better in every way.)

We put the topography of our house to use in a particularly strange ritual about once or twice a month. Specifically, Carole would decide to chase me. I would run (slowly), howling in fear, from kitchen to dining room to living room and back again to the kitchen, looping around over and over as she gamely pursued me. She would chant “I’m gonna git ‘cha! I’m gonna git ‘cha!” I’d go “AAAAAAAAAAAAAH” and so on.

Reasonable enough, so far.

But what made the game really special was what happened after about five or six laps. Carole would suddenly turn around and suddenly she’d be in front of me as I came around the corner into the kitchen. And while I obviously could have reversed direction myself, that wasn’t the point. She’d raise her arms in the air and go “I’M GONNA GIT ‘CHA” and I’d run right into her and *pow*, she’d grab me.

And she’d hug me and I’d whimper pathetically.

But bit by bit, I’d relax and, in my gormless way, realize that this wasn’t so bad, and I’d return the hug.

All couples do that, right?

So if that’s not love, what is?