An Unexpected Ally

24 Aug

yogurt

Before I get in to my latest offering, a bit of history is in order.  In the tenth century A.D., an inventor (at best) or (more likely) scientist with a severe lack of cleaning skills stumbled upon what is now known as yogurt.  Pliny the Elder has the earliest writings about it, saying that the Turks he encountered discovered a way to knew how “to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity”.  Look it up.  I don’t make this stuff up.  I’m sitting here typing away.  My mental image of Pliny the Elder in my head makes him look a bit like the Roaming Gnome from the Travelocity commercials.  I could be off.

So Pliny was wowed by Yogurt as he sat scribbling, no doubt, around a campfire or a candle’s glow late at night.  He had taken in this dairy delicacy in all its glory, and felt compelled to write about it.  As someone who has battled yogurt several times in the past, I’ll admit that the only words I’ve ever used to describe it are of the four letter variety.  There was one brand of yogurt that I ate as a kid once in a while that I actually asked for at grocery store time, and that was Old Home’s Soft Whip.  It was a perfect blend of soft-serve-ice-cream texture with Pixie Stik flavor and, I’m sure, sugar content.  It was absolutely delicious!  I craved it, and as an alternative to the Yoplaits of the grocery world, it wasn’t half bad!

But Soft-Whip went away and was probably replaced by Go-Gurt or Danimals, or something better suited to a Saturday morning cartoon commercial break.  And at that point, I stopped eating the stuff.  Because everything that wasn’t Soft-Whip was nothing more than curdled milk.  It stunk when I opened the lid.  It had *shudder* that nasty, watery liquid on the top that only occurs in things that are spoiled!  So for the past twenty five years, I have had a healthy aversion to the stuff.

I read today that cereal with milk is in danger of losing its place atop the list of most-eaten breakfast foods – to be replaced by yogurt and granola bars – and it bothered me.  I grew up on three cereals as a kid, with three others occasionally brought in as treats.  Cheerios, Corn Chex, and Kix.  While Wheaties, Kellog’s Corn Flakes, and Rice Krispies made up the ‘others’ list.  I always felt a little twinge of excitement pouring a bowl of Chex (still my favorite) and anticipating the exact moment when the crunch/soggy ratio was just perfect.  I’d tear in to the bowl with the tenacity of a raven on a roadkill skunk!

Nowadays it is a totally different story.  Parents routinely have chocolaty, marshmallowy, neon colored, gimmick cereal in their pantries!

And so we turn to yogurt and granola?  Really!?

When I decided to transform my diet routine I read up on yogurt and decided that it might just be time to give yogurt a try again. When I imagined what my reaction would be, I couldn’t help but get the image from the Pet Store Scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure out of my head. Pee Wee (me) finds that the pet store (my refrigerator) is on fire, and rescues the animals from certain death (breakfast). However, he passes by the snakes (yogurt) while saving each and every other animal, until finally only the snakes remain. At this point, he takes a deep breath, grabs the snakes (again, yogurt), and runs out, hands full of snakes, spins, and topples to the ground.

However, my real life yogurt experience hasn’t turned out this way!

I’ve found that I actually like it! And I’m not even talking about the high sugar fake healthy yogurt stuff. I went Greek. And I went Greek with several different brands! Chobani, Greek Gods, Dannon Light-n-Fit Greek, Oikos, You name it, I like it! Now, don’t get me wrong here. I still have to look away from the yogurt when I first open it, until my spoon has a couple seconds to get that watery gunk off the top, and I still have a hard time with the smell. But I’ve found that I really do love the taste. If I add my own fruit such as raspberries, blueberries and pineapple, I have a hard time thinking of anything else I’d rather eat!  And the best part? It’s actually good for me!  So the lesson of the day is that while we may have deeply held beliefs about food that we may have tried before, don’t be afraid to go back and try again.  Maybe it’s a matter of maturing senses, maybe getting tougher as we age, or maybe just getting over the small fears.  Whatever it is, it’s worth a try.

Taking a (Healthier) Lunch Break

21 Aug

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August  au*gust  –  adj. marked by majestic dignity or grandeur.

 

Majestic Dignity or Grandeur.  I’ll put that out there one more time so we can all see the definition.  As a commercial flooring installer (my occupation for the last 21 years), August is anything but majestic, dignified, or grand.  It is a time when we push ourselves well beyond the physical, mental, and emotional limits of good taste.  It is a time when jobs must get done – life be damned!  We put aside commitments.  We put aside relationships.  We put aside our health and well being for thirty one days of Hell.  And we do it with a smile, knowing that the dollars earned in this month will let us get through the lean months a little easier.  So we work weeks on end without a day off.  We work long hours.  Sometimes forgetting at the end of the week where we were at the start of the week when it comes time to turn in our time.  Our joints stiffen.  Our knees and hands callous to freakish proportions.  Our cheeks get rosy.  Not from cold weather, but from the non-stop reactionary wipe of sweat on to shirtsleeves.  We suffer short rests between bursts of adrenaline filled performance, collapsing nightly into our beds, awaiting sleep which is neither deep nor restful.  We lie in bed aching.  We ache in our knuckles, which have been battered against every imaginable surface.  We ache in our knees which have knelt on countless rocks, nails and screws.  We ache in our backs, which we have abused, yet expected to hold us upright.

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We ache in our bellies.

We ache in our bellies because we have no time or will to care for them.  In a life where everything is on the go, we make choices on our diet,  In August, time is of the essence, and making time for a good meal is secondary.  We are told that taking time to eat our meals is part of a healthy diet.  In August, we must eat quickly so we can get back to work.  In August, the convenience store and the drive-thru are our best friends because we can be in and out and back to work before the sweat dries on our brow.  Double Quarter Pounders and Whoppers and gas station pizza and roller grill hot dogs – all of these things are staples of the construction workers’ diet in August.  In one particular August, back in the late 1990’s, I literally ate three quarter pound roller-dogs with sauerkraut, mustard and ketchup every single day for lunch for a month straight.  Not because they were so incredibly tasty.  Not because they were good for me.  Not because I wanted to set a record – although, judging by the looks the cashiers were giving me after the fifteenth day or so, I may have been close.  The only reason I ate these pharmacological wonders was that they were the closest, easiest food for me to eat so I could get back to work again.  Ninety (at least) roller dogs with fixins.  That’s a total of over 30,000 calories in a month’s worth of lunches.  That is 87,000 milligrams of sodium.  Not to mention the nitrates, fat, rodent hairs, bug droppings and other unimaginables!

All in the name of getting back to work in a hurry.  To make more money.  To live a nicer life and be happy.

But something happened on the way to the hot dog stand.  I was no longer feeling healthy.  I was no longer able to work the long hours I had been used to working.  My knees ached on days that I didn’t work.  I had packed on an extra 40 plus pounds since high school.  I excused it by saying that, like my (obese) father had claimed to be, I was a late bloomer.  I had gained this weight because I was too thin and was just now starting to fill out.  Truthfully, my metabolism and age were already catching up to me.

So now, twenty years later, I am beginning to understand that I can’t operate in that manner and expect to be the lean, mean, fightin’ machine I always had been at work.

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 I discovered that – in the very stores where I would load up on awful food every day – they also sell things like bananas, yogurt, fresh salads, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks and veggie trays.  And get this – I actually enjoy it!  I see the roller grills, and the junk food sandwiches – and don’t get me wrong, they smell damn good – but I go get my salad and fresh fruit and an egg or cheese stick and I am just as full, just as happy, and feel ten times better than I did.  And all it took was the willingness to walk past the junk and get to the good stuff.

 

So bring it on, August!  I’ve got new armor for this battle!  I have a job to do and, by God, I’ll do it!  I’ll do it in a way that may just let me do it well in to my 50’s or 60’s.  And rather than sweating out the oils, salts and poisons of junk food, I’ll sweat off the extra weight of twenty years of abuse and neglect.

Beginning a lifelong journey

15 Aug

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On the last day of Fireman Training, we were lucky enough to – safely – play with fire.  We had over a hundred hours of training, learning every known technique for beating the living, breathing creature that is fire.  We sat through countless powerpoint presentations.  We gained intimate knowledge of all the equipment used in fighting a fire.  We learned proper behavior, both on scene, and in public – representing ourselves as professionals, though we are “only” a volunteer department.

So that’s me in the picture, second yellow helmet from the left.  In the middle of the action.  Which is exactly what I envisioned when I signed up to be a member of Kelliher Fire & Rescue.  KFR is a small department – between 20 and 25 members strong – but we are fortunate to have great community support and we generally can be considered as a well funded department.  We pride ourselves on being very well trained, and very well run.

As a fireman, I learned that the number one killer of firefighters is not smoke, fire or anything else related to a burning building.  The number one killer of firefighters are heart attacks.  From the adrenaline rush of the sound of the pager going off when we are totally at rest in the middle of the night, to the fact that in full personal protective equipment we add nearly 100 pounds of extra wait to our bodies, to the fact that we are lugging equipment into superheated environments, much is expected from a firefighter’s heart.

Every other year, we are required to have a physical exam including an EKG to make sure that our bodies are able to withstand the rigors of the fire scene.  We do a fit test with our SCBA masks to ensure that our masks don’t leak.  We have our blood pressure checked.  And that is where I first realized that I needed to make some changes.

On March 15th, 2012 I had my final cigarette.  I had been a smoker for twenty two years.  My dad was a smoker.  He died at age 57 of a heart attack.  He was overweight.  I am overweight.  When I graduated high school, I was a very fit 180 lbs.  Several years later, after getting married and beginning my career as a commercial flooring installer, I crept past 200 lbs.  After our girls were born, I reached 220 lbs.  This spring, I reached 275 lbs.  Two.  Hundred.  Seventy.  Five.  Pounds.  Whether it was from quitting smoking or a cumulative effect from years of poor eating, I put on too many pounds and needed to make a change.  

We had our physicals and I was deemed physically fit for fighting fire.  The technician that did the testing told me that my blood pressure was 128/88.  Not high, but definitely not low.  130/90 is considered pre-hypertension, so I could see that the writing was on the wall.  A slow, steady climb in weight coupled with a steady rise in blood pressure.  The warning signs were there.  I was a heart attack waiting to happen.  All I needed was a catalyst.

And not too many days later, just as I was laying down to go to sleep for the night, the pager went off.  The shrill piercing tweet of electric adrenaline rush.  65 beats per minute to hyperdrive in seconds.  I was dressed and out the door and down at the fire hall in less than a minute.  As one of the first arriving firefighters, I donned my PPE and raced to the engine, which was waiting outside the hall.  We enter the engine in a first-in fashion.  As such, I would be one of the first firefighters in to the structure when we arrived – my first chance to go in to a live fire!  With that, I had a secondary adrenaline rush and on the way out to the fire, and noticed that my heart was racing and my hands were shaking.  We ran through our twenty minutes of air and fought the fire, and came back out to the truck for a bottle of water and a new bottle of air for our packs.  As I sat resting, I realized that my heart was racing.  I felt fine, so I don’t believe I was in any danger for cardiac arrest.  But I sat there, watching the next crew enter the building and thought to myself that I needed to get in to better shape.

And what is the easiest way to get healthy?  Eat right and exercise, right?  Right.  It’s that simple.  There’s no secret.  So what you are reading is my journey to a healthy life.  I will try and keep things light and humorous if possible, but I also am doing this so that I can show myself that it can be done.  I hope you enjoy the journey with me!