Unusual Things
After nearly two weeks of waiting, a meager $100 of investment, and the tossing of one bicycle in the garbage, I now have a working bicycle. The tires are still shot, and the cyclometer is dead, but it should be good enough for spinning on the trainer. Hopefully that will help me burn just a few extra calories every week and allow me to accelerate my weight loss.

Yeah, I still haven't pulled the bike out of the trunk of my car, but that's beside the point. The point is that I could exercise if I wanted to.

When I went out to pick up my bike, I also picked up a new swimming suit, which means I'm prepared now to hit the pool. Not only did I bring the swimming trunks out of the car, I also managed to make it to the pool today. I won't claim that I swam 50 laps, or did anything resembling exercise, but I did manage to do something not resembling being a couch potato. A little activity can't hurt.

Besides, I needed to de-stress from the destruction my dog had wrought while I was shopping. That animal in a menace when left alone. It's amazing how relaxing just being submerged can be.

Last weekend I did something different: I went out on a Saturday night. The amazing thing about the evening was the people I went out with. There were four of us altogether, but each of us knew exactly two of the others, yet had never met the third. I knew Kurt and Julia, but had never met Julia's sister Jen. Kurt knew me and Jen, but had never met Julia. Julia of course knew her sister, as well as knowing me, but had never met Kurt. And although it's redundant to say so, Jen had never met me.

The odd thing about this is where and when we all met. Jen and Julia are sisters and knew each other forever. Kurt and Jen met in high school in New Jersey in the early 80s. I met Kurt in graduate school in Philadelphia in the early 90s. Julia and I met in the mid 90s in Kentucky.

We might never have known that well all almost knew each other if it hadn't been for facebook. Only by writing stuff on each other's status updates did we make the connection.

Small world.

Some Excerpts of Reality
Last week I decided to repair my bicycles and get back into cycling. Not only is cycling a cheap leisure activity, it's also healthy. Returning to cycling would be a good thing.

Unfortunately, my bicycles did not cooperate. The repairs required to return my road bike - my good bike - my expensive bike - turned out to be so costly that purchasing a new bike would be more cost effective. Wonderful. I never quite got enough miles on that bike (only a few thousand) to make it seem worth it, so I'm sad to see it go. Nonetheless, I tossed that bike into the dumpster on Sunday evening. Bummer.

My older bike, the sturdy and trusty one that has survived all year cycling, commuting, car accidents, and - most dangerous of all - Kentucky, managed to also survive idleness with limited damage. I will still need to pay about $100 bucks to get it back on the road, but that's much cheaper than the cost of a new bike. Ironically, this bike, which only cost $200 to start with, has lasted almost 20 years and has covered over 12,000 miles. And yet, here it is, still indestructible and ready for more.

I've started dating again. After many phone calls and a couple of dates I've decided that I don't enjoy dating. I'm ready to call it quits for another few months.

Despite their claims, internet dating sites don't really seem to have that magical ability to find a perfect mate for you. Those 90+% matches make for great friends, and maybe good roommates, but relationships require a little chemistry in my opinion. As far as I can tell, nobody had developed a computer algorithm that will determine that.

I have seen a nice play and gotten some decent meals out of the experience though.

My diet is working. I've lost 11 pounds so far, although I do bounce around a couple pounds every day.

Facebook #1: I've got a facebook friend with really ugly kids. I'm talking scream and look away, try not to lose your lunch ugly. For the most part, I don't care about her ugly kids, or that she posts their pictures on facebook, because I usually have the option not to look at those pictures... except the one that she made her profile picture. Now every time she posts something I catch a glimpse of that horrid malady that she calls an offspring.

I'd hate to put her on ignore for that.

Facebook #2: Is anybody else getting these advertisements about "Helping Addicts find Christ"? Aside from being shocked that facebook's ad selection algorithm paired them with me, I'm totally offended and revolted that these ads exist in the first place.

For one thing, religion doesn't cure addiction. And let's identify this scam for what it really is: taking advantage of people who need help in order to convert them. This is the M.O. for almost all of these christian aid organizations. (Sending bibles to Haiti, anyone?)

Each time I see one of these ads, I click the X and check off that it's offensive, because it is offensive. Taking advantage of someone who's in a bad place, just to foist some religion on them is a reprehensible practice. If those people really cared, they would help those addicts without trying to convert them.

Work is exactly what one would expect for June. In the past six days, I've worked 2 hours. Most of my students have disappeared because the last SAT of the school year with last weekend. Once the exam was over, they had nothing to study for ... at least until they get their results. Meanwhile school is ending for the summer all over the county, so there's no more homework help either.

In a couple of weeks the kids will start coming back. I'll be working 9 to 5 preparing them for the October SAT and giving a few kids a head start on next year, but for now all I've got to do is ... nothing....

Nothing but ride my bike, that is.

Personal Growth
Today I became a better writer. I doubt that you will see anything obvious here on the blog, but if you are fortunate enough to any of my other writing forced upon you, you might notice a difference.

A few days ago Felicia Day (whom I totally admire without having a crush on) posted an entry on her melange called 10 Simple Ways to Double the Speed of your Writing... Right Now | Write to Done, although she wasn't the original author. Today I finally got a chance to implement some of the techniques and found that - lo and behold - they seem to work.

My biggest problem as a writer is that I get stuck. Even though I have a general idea of what I want to say, I find it very difficult to get the entire thing down in words. I can usually manage to write a paragraph or two, and sometimes put it all together to form a nice page length essay if I've given it enough forethought, but when I attempt to write anything longer I tend to get stuck. Those first couple of paragraphs will come easily, and then I will find myself muttering to myself: "Ok, I know I want to say this but I just can't figure out how to say it."

Based on the 10 points presented on Felicia's Melange I've discovered that the cure for this is not to stare at the screen, or get up and pace, or even have a voluntary attack of Turret's syndrome, but instead to put the computer aside, get out a pen, and take some notes. I believe that the key here is that now trying to write in two steps instead of one. That is, instead of writing a few paragraphs about what I want to say, I am first writing what I want to say in semi-comprehensible gibberish, and THEN converting the gibberish into some well written paragraphs. Consequently, I've written more today than I've written in ages.

Have I doubled my writing speed? Sort of. In terms of words or pages per hour, I'd say no. By that metric I've certainly slowed down. On the other hand, it's now much easier to write several more pages per day because I won't get stuck. Instead of writing for an hour and finding myself stumped, I can work for hours and hours to create much more than I would normally. In that sense, yes, I've doubled my productivity, even though I am producing at a much slower rate.

Hopefully that means I'll end up posting more here.

Let's try this again
Now that it's into May, I find that I've regained all the weight I lost in March. I'm totally sick of this. I think I understand how it happened, but that doesn't really help the problem.

The first problem I have is pizza. There is a pizza shop next door to where I work, making it just to easy to grab a slice or two before work or at lunch. I could probably get away with doing that once each week, but I'm visiting that place 2 or 3 times during the week. I'm probably their best customer.

Since I can't seem to regulate myself, pizza is just going to have to go completely. I don't understand why I am this way, but even though I can cut things totally out of my diet, I cannot manage to ration out certain problem foods. Apparently that's not unusual. From what I've read about dieting, lots of people have certain foods or flavors that they just cannot resist. Our only hope is to keep them out of our lives entirely.

The pizza, however, isn't the only problem. I'm also eating like a madman these days. I believe there are two contributing factors to my lack of control. First, I am facing extreme boredom. No matter how much I clean, or cook, or read, or whatever, it seems that I just have too much time on my hands these days. I'm doing what I can (meaning what I can afford) to keep myself entertained, but there's always more time than things to do. I can only walk the dog so much. The carpet isn't going to get any cleaner if I vacuum twice each day. I can only afford so many books.

So I eat. I've always been this way. Eating is a kind of entertainment. Got nothing to do? Have a snack! That takes up time.

But I also believe that my allergies, which happen to be horrendous this year, also contribute to over-eating. I don't completely have this one figured out, but I think that eating helps me breathe. By eating more frequently, I help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by my allergies. I certainly know that I drink more when my allergies attack, so that can be another source of calories right there.

Of course it could also be that when my allergies are bad I am less active, leading to more boredom, which in turn leads to more eating as discussed above. In any case, I know that when my allergies are bad I eat more.

To combat the over eating, I'm going to switch my foods around. I'm going to go with lower calorie drinks, such as plain old water. That's unfortunate because I don't enjoy water all that much, but that's mostly because local water tastes like swill. As much as I hate to spend money on water, I'm going to have to resort to bottled water.

I'm also going to have to eliminate certain foods - not just pizza. I'm going to go with more salads and vegetables in general. The idea is to get less calories per unit volume, while at the same time increasing dietary fiber. It's time for beans and leafy greens.

Hopefully these changes will help. I could really stand to lose more than a few pounds, and am honestly getting a little desperate.

Return of the Stick
Back in January I began a semi-ritualistic attempt to improve my life by promising myself to do three things every day that somehow made things better. The definition of "things" is very loose. At the time "vacuuming the carpet" might count as a thing that made my things better because I wasn't vacuuming very often. That, however, was the entire point of the exercise: to do more of the little things that people do that help keep their lives from turning into a disaster. Healthy, sane people keep their homes free of filth, or have constructive hobbies.

Over the past several months I haven't always kept up with my Three Things ritual, but these days it's going strong. In fact, I'm often find myself completing my Three Things rather early in the day and end up doing four, or five, or even more things just because I'm motivated.

I suppose a simple way to put it is that I'm starting to give a crap about my own life, which is something that I haven't done for some time.

One of the three, four, or more things I've been doing lately is playing my Stick. Distressingly, I find myself worse at the instrument than the day I bought it several years ago. Somehow my overall musical ability, or at least the strength of my fingers, has declined over the last few years. This month, however, has brought renewed enthusiasm for playing.

To that end, I went out and bought myself a book of lessons specifically for the Stick. The Stick is a strange instrument. There are only a few thousand of them world wide. As such the probability of finding an instructor for it is approximately zero. Most Stickists are to a large degree self trained, although there are books and videos that help.

Until recently, I never considered myself a serious enough player to invest in a book. Looking back, I realize that made no sense at all. Why spend a couple thousand dollars and a musical instrument, but not spend 2% of the cost on a few teaching aids? If I'm serious enough to buy the instrument, I should be serious enough to buy a book and a video, especially if they come packaged together.

So now I have lessons... finger strengthening lessons, fingering lessons, and who knows what else. I've only read through the first 24 lessons, and briefly scanned some of the ones that come after. The author loves presenting a simple lesson, and then following up with exactly every possible permutation, so this book is loaded. I haven't even bothered to look at the later material until I master some of the earlier.

At the moment, I suck. Horribly. Like I said, worse than the day I picked up the instrument if that's possible. But now I've got an honest regiment for improvement. Someday, I might actually be able to play.

Yesterday I visited the doctor who continues to forget my name, despite the fact that he's got it printed on a folder sitting right in front of him. Even though he seems to be a competent doctor, he continues to provide evidence that he is actually a douchebag.

I arrived 10 minutes early for my appointment and sat myself in the hallway outside his office. A sign on his door stated that patients should knock to alert the physician that they have arrived, but out of politeness I wait. I saw no need to interrupt his current consultation just to let him know that I'm ten minutes early.

So I sat there. And sat there some more. I tried reading some of the various magazines scattered about the table next to me, but found them to be generally lacking. Apparently Sports Illustrated is written for six-year-olds, whereas Parenting just couldn't interest me with its guide on determining when my daughter is ready to babysit. Apparently sons do not babysit.

Time passed.

Once the clock on my phone indicated that my appointment was less than one minute away, I went into action and knocked on the door. Dr. Douchebag opened the door and responded by giving me a minor scolding - something to the effect of "we sometimes get behind here."

My actual appointment was relatively non-productive. We talked briefly and determined early on that altering my medication so soon after altering my medication would be unwise. The best course of action would be to wait and see what my condition was in another month or so. Of course, I had determined that myself. Dr. Douchebag merely confirmed my belief.

He did however prove himself useful by evaluating my response to the drug and determining if I had any of those pesky negative side effects, presumably the ones that would indicate my immediate death was just around the corner. Plus 2 points to the doctor for trying to avert my death.

Then he kicked me out early, with no other patient in sight, and handed me a blank payment form that I needed to fill out myself. All the other doctors are professional enough to fill out my name, the date, and a brief description of the need for my visit, but this guy ... nothing. I get to fill out the form myself. Since all the other doctors manage to fill out their forms, I can only surmise that this guy is either lazy, or feels that he's above such things.

In other words, he's a douchebag. Although he appears to be a competent specialist, he doesn't seem to give a rat's ass about the little details like learning my name, being on time, or filling out a silly form. I can't wait until my medication regime is settled and no longer have to see him.

28 Days Later
I went to see the specialist again yesterday, exactly 4 weeks after the last time I saw him. He ended that appointment by telling me that he could see that I was "in great pain." Really? Glad I got a professional to let me know. What he didn't do was change or augment any of my prescriptions. Whatever pain I was in was just going to have to wait until the next time I could schedule an appointment.


So yesterday when I visit his office he starts off by introducing himself because he thinks that we've never met. After giving him a meaningful scowl, he checked my folder to discover that I did indeed see him.

Now I understand how hard it can be to keep people's faces and names straight. At work I probably see close to 50 different kids every week. Many of those change their schedules so I'm really trying to juggle 75 to 100 people around in my mind. I forget names and faces, so I understand that the specialist might not remember me. On the other hand, I do check the folders each time I come to work to refamiliarize myself with each student before I meet with them. Why couldn't this doctor do the same thing?

So far he has failed to impress.

It only took about 10 minutes of discussion though for him to decide upon some medication for me that would augment my current regimen. I have my doubts, but I also have an open mind. Honestly, I really hope that adding some new medication will dramatically change my life in some way, but I'm also concerned about side effects. Every medication potentially has side effect. The question becomes which ones will I get and can I live with them? I guess that's really two questions, but I'm sure you can figure it out.

So at this point, I just need to wait and see what happens. Will I be pain free in a couple of weeks? Or will I exchange my pain for perpetual constipation? Perhaps I'll be one of the unlucky few who suffer from a stroke as a result of the medication. Or maybe nothing at all will happen, and we'll need to start over.

Not Dead Yet
According to the doctor I have lost seven pounds, never mind that they weighed me fully clothed on a scale that is supposedly accurate to the quarter pound. How can they take those measurements seriously? I could change shirts and lose a quarter pound.

In any case, the doctor encouraged me to lose more weight, which I intend to do. I don't know if I will be able to keep the pace of two pounds per week up, but I should be able to maintain a steady loss for the next 3 months. The summertime will be a challenge.

My blood pressure returned to normal. The high readings of a month ago were an anomaly, cause unknown. I'm not going to complain. Even if the measurement was just a fluke, it still managed to motivate me to get off my ass and drop some pounds. Good things can result from responding to bad information.

Meanwhile, work had been uncharacteristically busy. Last week a co-worker as on vacation, so I picked up some extra hours. This week has been just plain busy, with lots of new students. Even though there is an SAT coming up in two Saturdays, I don't expect business to drop off too much. Many of our students plan on making several attempts at the SAT, plus we've had a recent influx of younger students who need help with schoolwork. Both of these groups should stick around for awhile.

I even have several books to read in my spare time, so everything is looking good.
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One Month
I've somehow managed to go an entire month without posting, probably because I haven't had much to say.

When last we left off, I had just visited the doctor for some kind of general check-up, because said doctor wouldn't allow me to see a specialist without a routine check-up. Apparently I hadn't seen the regular doctor in over a year. Can I help it if all my medical issues are special and not routine?

Regular doctor, however, determined that I had high blood pressure, which for me was abnormal. Although she approved my referral to a specialist, I needed to make a return visit to the not-so-specialist in one month to recheck my blood pressure.

That month has passed. My blood pressure check will be Monday.

In the mean time I've done all I can to get my blood pressure down, which basically means I've been trying to lose weight. My principle strategy has been dieting, which among other things has involved eating a lot of pasta. The important factor with the pasta has been making my own sauce, which is better tasting and healthier than any canned or jarred sauce - less salt, less sugar, more vegetables, and no acid reflux. In addition to the pasta plan, I've also cut cheese from my home diet: no cheese in the apartment, but cheese from other sources is acceptable. Along those lines, I've reduced the amount of pizza I eat, and replaced it with Chinese food. I don't know why, but Chinese food helps me lose weight.

After one month, the effort is a success. I've lost ten pounds, which is about as much as a person my size can safely lose in four weeks - slightly less than 1% of my body weight each week. It's not clear yet what impact this will have on my blood pressure, but it certainly can't hurt. Even if my blood pressure hasn't improved, I'm going to beg the doctor to let me go another month to see if my weight reduction scheme has any impact. I'd rather just make myself healthy than rely on medications, if possible.

This issue is non-trivial. Although many people can live with high blood pressure for extending lengths of time, I am in a very high risk group for heart disease. My father died at 46 from congestive heart failure. His brother, although still alive, suffered 4 heart attacks in his 50s. Their father died of a heart attack in his early 60s. Meanwhile, my mother died from what was probably a stroke in her early 50s. The deck is stacked against me... way against me. I'm in serious trouble here.

Hopefully, there will be good news on Monday. Good news or no, it's time for me to start dealing with the issue more actively. The weight need to come down and stay down (instead of bouncing back up the way it normally does), and a few of those problem foods need to be avoided much more aggressively.

More Fun with Doctors
Today I made a trip to the doctor's office, which was only mostly a waste of time, as opposed to a complete waste of time.

To begin with, I grabbed my mail out of the mailbox and tossed it in the car before I left for my appointment. I have a habit of not checking my mailbox for weeks on end, so it tends to get stuffed. In my defense most of what it gets stuffed with is bulk mail that goes directly into the trashcan. Typically I get a total of five letter sized envelops that contain anything useful. By volume that makes less than 3% of the total mail I receive each month.

Today, however, I found that after several months of my refusing to remove the junk mail from my mailbox, the mailman seems to be adjusting his behavior and not stuffing it in there once the box is about two-thirds full. That dramatically reduces the number of store circulars and bulk mailings that do nothing but obscure any useful post he might deliver. The evidence that the mailman might be learning is encouraging.

Still, I did have several weeks of mail that I needed to sort through today, so I dumped it all in the front seat of my car. I sorted it while I drove to the doctor, tossing the valueless mass-mailings onto the floor of my car each time I stopped at a light. By the time I had reached the office, I had accomplished my first useful task.

I also remembered to bring one of my few unread books with me, so I could make use of that time between checking in and actually seeing the doctor. That includes the time in the waiting area before being escorted back to an examination room, time in the examination room waiting for an assistant to come and check my temperature etc., and more time in the examination room after the assistant had left while waiting for the doctor.

Fortunately, this particular book was a bit of a heavy read, which is why I haven't yet finished it. Some books you can pick up and burn through the pages without a moment's pause, but others require you to stop and think every couple of pages - or maybe every few sentences - about what you've just read. This was one of those stop and think kind of books, so the interruptions were not inconvenient.

And so I had already accomplished two useful things before seeing the doctor.

In contrast the visit with the doctor was not particularly useful. For the most part, the doctor determined that there was either nothing wrong with me, or that there was nothing to be done. No medicines prescribed. No further tests scheduled. No recommendations for lifestyle changes. Nothing. Please carry on as normal.

The only thing resembling a red flag would be my blood pressure, which is uncharacteristically high. Despite being overweight for most of my adult life, my blood pressure has always been within acceptable levels, except today. Is this a cause for concern? Not necessarily. It's merely something to keep an eye on.

OK. I'll keep an eye on it. In fact, I'm going to be pro-active and try to do something about it, even if it's not a problem. I know that I need to get more exercise, and that I also need to lose some weight, so I might as well use this as an excuse. My dog will love me if we spend more time outside going for walks and such. My bank account will appreciate it if I eat less pizza and have peanut butter instead.

So, if I keep to my plan and actually lose some weight and exercise more than the visit to the doctor will accomplished something explicitly... maybe. After all, I did announce yesterday that I would be economizing by eating less pizza. I might have done that anyway. And I have been spending more time outside with the dog lately too because she loves the snow so much.

So maybe this trip to the doctor wasn't really worth my time. It's a close call.


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