Malvern, Arkansas

So, for work I am about a week in to a 2 week sojourn in Malvern, Arkansas, a small community less than an hour outside of Little Rock. As the floodwaters rise back in Fort Smith, I’ve looked around this community and seen a devastation that continues to grow.

In many ways, it’s the typical story of the heartland: factories close one by one, and the drugs move in. The hotels are up on the Interstate, the shining false front that the tourists see. It was only by accident, by taking the first exit, rather than the second, that I was able to come across the reality that is Malvern for many of the residents.

I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that every step, every breath, is for a purpose, and it is my sincere hope that my time in this small community can somehow turn into a blessing for the people who live here. Yes, there are needs back in Fort Smith, but there are eyes there, too. We will be fine. There are no eyes in Malvern, and the tourists who come here to book a cheaper rate for proximity to Hot Springs will never venture beyond the false fronts.

I will post up pictures later, but for now, a day off gives me time to try to connect with the community and see what I can do.

Riding the Storm Out

I haven’t posted in the past week because I’ve had little chance. On Saturday, May 18, my workplace was hit by an EF-1 tornado and there was fairly extensive damage, closing the center for an as yet undetermined amount of time.

We’ve experienced heavy rains both here and upstream, and we worked on cleanup on the Monday following. We have used social media to stay in communication, and my employer is paying for our time while we are off. As we began discussing options, realizing this would not be a short time off, they offered to send us out to work on the road with extra pay so that our location could stay up and running in the meantime,

While I am in Arkansas, I remain #OklahomaStrong, and you do what you have to, so I took the offer. Wednesday was preparation for a two week absence (this may be adjusted later), and Thursday morning we had to be packed and ready to go. It was blistering hot, humid, and 3 hours to our destination, and we arrived out without incident, but tensions have been high as we have been adjusting to our new surroundings while our families remain 200 miles away as the floodwaters rise.

Record flooding, the fears of a dam holding against barges floating downriver (thankfully, it held), and then last night devastating tornadoes striking just west of us in Oklahoma. This has been one for the record books, and we are not finished yet.

On Thursday morning, just 110 hours and some change after the tornado struck, we were up and running, thanks to the combined efforts of a lot of people. Two days of taking calls later, and we are getting a chance to rest, to breathe.

It’s not coming without cost. I am missing my son’s birthday, and we wake to daily news footage of the deluge that is destroying what we know.

We will rebuild. The story of my family throughout multiple generations has been the story off people who rebuild. The story of people who never let circumstances destroy them. At times like this I think back on my grandfather, who in Depression era Indiana invested the last of his family’s money in some carpentry tools to get one of 5 construction jobs available, despite no experience in carpentry and a candidate pool of over 500 applicants. He got the job because he had the tools, sparing him the wrath of my grandmother.

Years from now, we will be asking each other, “where were you in the flood of ’19”. And it will build us and make us stronger.

But for right now, we need to stop and take a breath. Hoping that the water stops coming soon enough to let us breathe.

Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like it’s 1989

OK, so today I went in for my checkup. I was ready for this one, because I wanted an official weight. I had weighed myself at public health kiosks, but I’ve chedked those out and found they have a variance of +/- 7 pounds. Still, even the numbers I had gotten were encouraging, consistently falling in the 250s

My official weight: 255. This is down from 292 in February. Blood pressures have been amazing and consistent; blood sugar levels even more so. Because I knew I was due for an A1C, I held off eating so that I could head down to the lab after the dr. visit. My last A1c, also in February, was 11.1.

As a sidenote, I have not been at this weight level since the FIRST Bush Presidency, which ended in 1993! So pretty soon we’re going to party like it’s 1989!

But I’ve been a good patient. My daily blood sugar readings are consistently below 100, and I deliberately take my postprandial reading an hour after eating, because I want to see just how fast things are working. IF I wasn’t on medication, you couldn’t tell my numbers from a non diabetics.

We are at the point where he is discussing scaling back my medications, which is my ultimate goal. Right now, today, I walk/run 1.8 miles at a 2:1 ratio. That’s over a half mile of running daily, a level I am trying to increase in steps.

This journey has been amazing, and I can’t wait to see where I am when I cross the finish line. I have already committed to a beer in Okemah if I cross the 250 threshhold, and with 6 pounds to go, it’s a near certainty, if I just stay the course.

And I have only about 30 pounds to go before I drop below a BMI of 30, meaning I am no longer clinically obese (although still overweight.

Here’s to Gettin’ Young!

Not Getting Easier Yet.

SO we’re still down and waiting word from work from the tornado damage on Saturday (It was an EF-1, but it was a direct hit on the building). Yesterday we spent doing cleanup; today we’re in a holding pattern as bad weather is predicted, but the plan is to head out tomorrow and do more.

In the meantime, my daily routine remains unchanged. I rose up this morning and put in my 1.8 miles. For just over a week now, I’ve been running 1/3 of it, and unlike the previous increases, this one is not easy. Part of it is that I need to increase my caloric intake for the extra work. I’m not going to lie; I’m hesitant to do that until I am under 250, or Thursday’s Dr. visit, whichever comes first. I’m eager to begin scaling back medications, and I have to show consistent results to do that.

I gave myself an out when I added the extra 2/10 last week. I was originally planning on increasing on June 1; since I am ahead of schedule, I decided there would be no shame if I went back to the much more attainable 4/10.

I’ve given myself that option, but haven’t used it, yet, although I’ve fairly dragged myself across the last running section.

So now, the reward: one large steaming cup of black coffee, some awesome 80s/90s music on the playlist, and preparing to go take the off work opportunity to visit my friends’ new shop.

In the Eye of the Storm

This past week ended on a harsh note. I was at work on Saturday and at around 2 pm, we were hit directly by an EF-1 tornado. Even those of us who have lived our entire lives selecting rentals based on the available shelter options were a little shaken. The roof was caved in not 20 feet from where we were sheltered, and we watched as the water began caving in. Because of a gas line rupture, we were unable to retrieve our things, and so I was left with family in three different parts of the city, no way to contact them, and no idea of the path or the strength of the tornado.

As I drove around in the aftermath, encountering multiple road obstacles, it was clear this was significant. On the city’s southside, I did not notice any evidence of electrical power until I crossed the primary road that separates the city’s northside from the southside. Fortunately, the northside, where I live, was not hit by tornadic activity, and I was able to reach my family members and assure them of my safety, as well as assure myself of theirs.

It was a stressful day, especially for those who are not accustomed to this weather. For those of us who grew up here, it becomes routine, as you can’t live here long without knowing someone who has suffered significant loss at the hands of these storms.

It’s too much for some. And, although I currently live across the state line in Arkansas, it is what makes me proud to be an Okie. Because, for whatever flaws we have, we are a strong people. We stand together. We rebuild. And we don’t back down to the worst that mother nature has to offer.

We’re preparing today for another round of storms, and it’s my hope and prayer that everything passes by with minimal property damage and no loss of life. Because that is what truly matters.

Although I am temporarily displaced from my job, they are paying us while we are shutdown, and offering to give us options to travel to other centers to work if this shutdown is extended. So we’re not in a worry financially. We just have to heal the mental wounds.

Leveling Up

Radical change can never happen while you are comfortable. That is an immutable truth I have learned time and time again.

I’ve explored different levels to up my fitness game through the years. I have in the past walked 4-6 miles a day, never achieving the results I have experienced this go around (but, in the case of last year, experiencing a fall that took me months to mount a complete recovery). This time, when I reached 3 laps (1.8) miles around the park, I decided to try a different approach.

And the results, so far have been promising. To put things in comparison for those who don’t know me well, here is a picture of me from 2 years ago with musician, poet an all around inspiration David Amram:

2017 Amram

Now, for a not quite perfect comparison, a picture of me taken this past weekend:

mini me

My stomach is flatter, my blood pressure and blood sugar are lower, and I am well on the way to healing.

The approach I took was to begin running a portion. The course is conveniently marked off in 1/10 mile increments, and so it was relatively easy. I started running 1/10, then mustered the courage to run 2/10, then 4/10.

The original plan was to level up to 6/10 on June 1. But I’ve been feeling brave, and wanted to go up over a week ago. I decided to hold off until the middle month, and to give myself a backup plan to scale back to 4/10 if needed.

Today I ran 6/10. over 1/2 mile, and 1/3 of the total distance. Not a huge leap in the big scheme of things, but one small step on my way to a goal of reaching the best health of my life.

As I headed into the coffeeshop, Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” was playing on the inhouse radio.

Thanks for the assist, Sir Reginald!

The Peaks and the Valleys

I’ve been feeling a bit puny the last couple of days. From what I’ve been reading, I simply need to make a few diet adjustments, and I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but coupled with a few days without walking, I felt a bit puny today. I still got the walk (and the run) in, but I had hopes of extending my running distance on May 15; it’s starting to appear more likely that I will hold at this distance until June 1 as initially planned. I am strongly considering a 5k on June 8; since it will be my first in many years, my only goal is to stay below my previously established (walking) time of 44:46. That should not be a tremendous task.

I weighed myself again. Despite the frustrating inconsistency of public health kiosks, I have enough measurements I can safely conclude that my weight is in the low 260’s. Blood pressure still very good at 121/81, and fasting blood sugar was 90 this morning, which is pretty much the norm these days. So those vitals, in particular, are good.

I’m hoping to get down to 250. For those looking to make their own progress against diabetes, I found this handy BMI calculator. Like weight, BMI can be misleading, but it’s a good start.

Meanwhile, if you are reading this, I am interested in your thoughts. More links? Recipes? Videos? What would be useful content on this page that would encourage you to recommend to a friend? I am interested, as I am hopeful my journey can help and inspire others. Feel free to contact me here or at handofjustice@hotmail.com with your input.

Keto or not Keto?

For those of you who have followed my progress on social media, one key has been the keto diet. I have completely eliminated processed sugar from my diet, and eat a negligible amount of carbs.

The concerns I had about keto are similar concerns I have heard about the healthfulness. In fact, it was an ANTI-keto meme that got me started down this journey. The meme suggested that people were ignoring scientific research that advises against high protein, low carb diets simply because of Google research. Not having a horse in the race, I decided to give it a try.

There are a good number of articles on keto diets, not surprisingly giving wholly conflicting information. But I needed answers, and the slow progress I had made earlier never netted enough forward momentum to maintain me on a healthy path.

I needed solid, peer reviewed research to back up the diet. So it wasn’t long before I found a link to NIH, which has published many studies, including the link found here (don’t worry; it opens in a new tab, so you can read it right away).

Promising. But what about blood pressure? For those who weren’t there, my blood pressure in February was a whopping 180/110, and it had literally been years since my diastolic (the bottom number) numbers had been below 100. In fact, the small dose of lisinopril I had received before had negligible effect. Again, the NIH to the rescue.

Now this is, of course, not medical advice. I can only tell you my experience. And there are certainly some considerations to be made, such as doing it right (for instance, no, I don’t eat a ton of bacon. In fact I don’t eat pork at all). In my case, I focus less on fatty foods and more on lean proteins, specifically affordable ones.

And I’m settling in to a new normal. From 292 pounds to 260 in less than 3 months; blood sugars reduced from an average of 250-300 to fasting blood sugars of 85-90; blood pressure rarely ventures far above 120/80. Of course, medicines and medical advice (this is key; PLEASE consult your doctor, not the Internet!) have aided in this, as well as exercise (I do 1.8 miles daily and now run .4 miles in that stretch), so it is, at best a COMPONENT of a healthy lifestyle, but I have done the exercise and the medicines before without near the results.

If you have questions, I would be happy to answer. You can find me on Facebook or email me at handofjustice42@hotmail.com, and I will answer any questions you have. I will also be producing some videos, which I will embed here. They should not be a substitute for medical advice, but if you can achieve even a fraction of the results I have, I guarantee it will be worth it!

Tale of the Tape

Today begins my journey.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this coming year and what it means. When I was younger, I didn’t expect to live past 30. And considering the fact that I buried 2 brothers by the age of 23, that was a reasonable expectation. I’ve put a lot more miles in than I expected.

And then I got to thinking, the 50th year is the year of Jubilee in Jewish tradition (as it should be in Christian tradition as well). The year debt are forgiven. The year chains are broken. And I’ve carried a lot of debts and been encumbered by heavy chains for a lot of years. So I’m going to claim that!

every journey must have a starting point. This is mine. And so I’m recording my stats for next year to compare

Weight: 262
BP: 113/73
Blood Sugar: 85
Waist size: 38

I’ve come a long ways to get to this point. But I still have miles to go before I sleep.

A New Look

This blog is very much a lifestyle blog. As you may be able to tell by the new URL, we are heading in a new direction, an exciting one. I’m not ready for the big reveal yet, but I am hoping you will join us on this journey.

A LOT has happened since I last posted. We finally had to move to a new city, I’ve been on unplanned hiatus from the music, travelled to DC with the Poor People’s Campaign, fought high blood pressure/blood sugar, and have been doing quite well in finally having my medical care managed. In short, it’s been quite a ride. And there’s even more in store.

Over the next (roughly) 48 hours, I will be doing a lot of work for the relaunch. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. In the meantime, I have been using the hashtag #GettinYoung on Facebook, and I invite you to explore it.

Here’s to new beginnings.