Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pedaling Through a Pandemic

It is hard to stay a course with great cheer during this Year of the Pandemic that is trying on so many fronts. On top of that, as I write this, we are socked in with what is shaping up to a week's worth of off-and-on tropical downpours. Nevertheless, let us power on and think good thoughts.

I am deriving some joy from a new fitness gadget I found on the Internet: a "Magnetic Under Desk Elliptical." Caught my attention with the declaration that it came "fully assembled," a plus for a Dad who spent many a Christmas Eve struggling to help Santa put toys together. And indeed it did come completely assembled, and tightly packed so as to keep all parts intact:  Pedal-ready right out of the box. As the name suggests, you can place it under your desk and get in a little pedaling exercise while you do things like update your social media. However, even more ideal, I find, is syncing with a lift recliner like the one I purchased for recovery after my open-heart surgery last September.

The lift will take you up high so you can stand up without having to put any strain on your arms. I found the upright position the perfect angle for pedaling the portable (25-pound) elliptical. For a little upper-body work at the same time I use some stretch bands that physical therapists have gifted me over the years. 

Obviously this is far from a complete fitness program; however, it is a nice supplement to my daily dogwalking, and something that can be done at home when Covid-19 still makes visits to gyms problematic. I might get a recumbent exercise bike, too, but this mini-elliptical doesn't hog space like an x-bike does. You can find this gadget and others like it on Amazon, if you're interested. The company is Sunny Health and Fitness.

Below is a selfie of my grizzled legs grinding away on the elliptical, from an upright position in the lift recliner.

This little gizmo also has an exercise computer that gives you: speed, time, distance, and calories. And there is easy-to-use knob to adjust tension.

During stay-at-home recommendations (or orders), I see many adults, even of my advanced age, out pedaling bicycles on the neighborhood streets. Good for them! However, my own preference for outdoor exercise is walking. I can enjoy the sights and sounds more that way than if having to worry about being blindsided by a kid riding a motor scooter recklessly or an inattentive motorist failing to give space to pedalers. And my senior dog likes me to walk her.

May you find your own rays of sunshine in these rather gloomy times. And stay safe.

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Storms Challenge Life

So after weathering the big storms last Monday, the nest that the female cardinal built has been unoccupied -- 'til this morning, when I see that sweet beak, very still, just peering over the top. 

Evidently she's incubating her eggs and will be for the next 11 to 14 days. Time for the papa cardinal to feed mama breakfast (and lunch and dinner) in bed. 

Can you imagine being confined to nest that long to hatch your chicks? Makes you think about what human mamas go through to bring precious new life into the world. In the words of the famous Johnny and June Carter Cash song, "May the circle be unbroken...." 

Worries do not cease, though. A storm system is forecast to rip through this area tonight and Monday morning much like the one that spawned deadly tornadoes exactly one week ago. We escaped a tornado (though only by a few miles), but we did have 60 mph straight-line gusts and torrential, sideways rain. The cardinals' nest came through the ferocious storm unscathed, but can the mama cardinal and her eggs come through another one, if strong thunderstorms hit here as forecast?

If all goes well and the chicks are hatched, the next drama may come when mama and papa kick the chicks out of the nest. I have a part-Chesapeake Bay retriever that is a natural-born hunter, so while I am doing my best to be a non-interventionist human, I may have to stand guard in the backyard to keep Ellie from having home-hatched chicks-fil-A.

                      © Robert Gray Holland

Saturday, April 18, 2020

In the Basket of Vulnerability

Fellow vulnerables, rise up! You have nothing to lose except your sheltered status. 

Okay, if "deplorables" can achieve noun status (thank you, Hillary Clinton), so too can "vulnerables," meaning those souls currently packed into a basket of vulnerability for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

On the bright side, fellow vulnerables, our country may have reached at least a tentative consensus that our lives still have some worth. (At times, that hasn't seemed to be a given.) We are atop the CDC's list of vulnerable people who need extra  protection from the severe illness that COVID-19 can inflict. 

People 65 and over, all of them; that's us. Vulnerables all. You could own a health-food store and run ultra-marathons. No matter. You are a vulnerable. Lockdown for you.

True, there are other people of varying ages who have medical conditions making them high-risk also. Those immunocompromised, or having chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, diabetes, or kidney or liver disease. "Serious" obesity (defined as a body mass index 40 or higher) also makes you a vulnerable.

In these trying times, is it good to be a vulnerable? Well, yes and no. It is nice to be deemed worthy of protection, I suppose. Indeed, the plan to beat back the pandemic logically could have centered aggressively on the over-65 population given that as economist David Stockman deduced from NewYork data, three-fourths of pandemic victims are Medicare beneficiaries. 

Nevertheless, if that means being confined inside four walls week after week with little opportunity for fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and social interaction, I'm going to venture that that kind of existence is not necessarily healthy for vulnerables or anyone else.

Consider the Trump-plus-Governors plan for gradual recovery from the economic crash caused by the pandemic freak-out and shutdown.

In Phase One, people can start going back to work, and to restaurants and gyms when precautions like "social distancing" are practiced. However, "all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place." Not only that but when workers come home, the government says they should "isolate from vulnerable residents." 

What a happy life, huh, fellow vulnerables? Go to your room and take your evening pills. Watch the Andy Griffin Show or I Love Lucy. Go to bed early and we'll see you at breakfast. Oh wait, we'll leave your breakfast at your bedroom door before we leave for work. What about a vulnerable who has gotten in decent shape by working out at the gym regularly? Can't go there, even if keeping a distance from others? Guess not. 

Must all be pushed into victimhood even if many still have plenty of vim and vigor?

Even in Phase Two, when the pace of life greatly accelerates, the government asserts that "all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place," and when others come home they should "isolate from vulnerable residents." All means all. That's the way government rolls. One size fits all.

 Finally in Phase Three (however far down the road that may be), vulnerables can resume some "public interaction" but must minimize "exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practiced...." So a hug would be out of the question. Maybe earn you a fine or solitary confinement.

This supposed vulnerable has stayed home a lot and ordered groceries online for the first time ever. However, I do escape into the great outdoors every day, in the company of my trusty walkin' dog Ellie. 

Today, I even shook a hand (a distancing no-no) as a friendly guy jumped out of his pickup truck to congratulate me on a defense of senior exercise I wrote for a community online forum. In that piece, I took offense at an anonymous letter shoved into my mailbox that mocked me for walking my dog "with great difficulty" and not cleaning up after her. The truth is I always scoop the poop and deposit it in a dog-waste station our HOA provides. But what really irked me was this guy (or gal) belittling how I walk -- with a walking stick and a back brace for a little extra support. 

My takeaway from the unsigned letter was expression of an attitude of contempt for elderly people. I'd be glad to compare vitals (bp, cholesterol, etc) any time this person might want to emerge from behind the cloak of anonymity and have a neighborly conversation. After two open-heart surgeries, a total knee replacement, and a continuing battle with spinal stenosis, I think I am walking pretty damn well. And I am not as vulnerable as some might assume.

                       © Robert Gray Holland 2020

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Cardinal Principle: Life Goes On

In the early morning hours of Easter Monday, a powerful springtime storm inflicted a lot of pain on South Carolinians. Communities from the Blue Ridge foothills to the Atlantic coast took hits from several major tornadoes. One of them struck about 30 miles north of Charleston, then headed up the coast, up our way. Fortunately, it veered slightly east when it reached our county, heading out into the ocean, and missing us by maybe 5 miles. These twisters killed at least nine people, and caused massive property damage, but we were spared. The weather radio crackled warnings for hours in the predawn darkness. I am saddened for the horrific losses so many suffered but grateful we were so fortunate this time.

We did receive wind gusts approaching tropical storm speed. So checking the backyard later in the day, I was amazed to find the nest I had been watching a female cardinal build twig by twig for a week had survived intact. It is wedged into a fork in one of our fig trees, and is so large you'd think this mama-to-be fancied a two-story house. When time comes, she will incubate her eggs for 11 to 14 days while the papa cardinal does some work finally by feeding her. When the chicks arrive, ma and pa cardinals will share the feeding duties. About 10 days after hatching, the redbird chicks start getting flying lessons. 

It has been a joy to watch this renewal of life unfold. The nest is only maybe 5 feet from my bedroom window, and it is adjacent to the backyard patio, so I can see a good bit of what's happening without being an intrusive human.

What a blessing it has been to follow this saga. For a while I forget about the virus and threats to public health and economic well-being. Here, in my now-peaceful backyard is reassurance that life goes on.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Breaking Out of February Doldrums

It is 02/20/2020. Let's be happy, shall we?

I know this February is a bit of a downer.

There is politics. Less said, the better. At least on this politics-free blog.

There is rain. And rain. And rain. And flooding, such as the major inundation in Jackson, Mississippi.

And snow -- in the Carolinas tonight! A local TV reporter spoke of a bad 4-letter word, meaning snow. No. The bad one is 3-letter: Ice. That's the one that causes falls and crackups. Be careful!

For my part, this February brings a nice transition -- from the conclusion of 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation to the return to senior fitness class at our local core fitness club.

I was a regular in Sarah Parker's class for close to three years until last spring when medical imaging showed that I had a dangerously large aortic aneurysm, a prime candidate for rupturing. So I had to suspend class in order to prepare for surgery and have the surgery at UNC/Chapel Hill and recover and rehab from it -- all of which separated me from the best fitness class I have ever had. For close to 10 months I was a no-show - and, boy, did I miss this class!

So yesterday, 02/19, I returned -- and what a welcome I received! -- from our teacher and from the guys and gals in the class. Many of them have had their own major health challenges: open-heart surgeries, hip/shoulder/knee replacements, and other medical adventures that come along during our life journeys. But on this day, they made me feel special. How fulfilling it is when you find out you were missed and you are welcomed back with open arms.

Sarah, who has had extensive training in senior fitness, guides us through 50 minutes of exercises geared to improving strength, flexibility, and balance. We laugh a good bit, too, while modifying exercises to our own capabilities at any particular time. And laughter is maybe the best medicine of all.

So for me this February is about a joyful comeback. Exercise makes me happy. I wish happiness for all this February even when days are gloomy.

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Show the Wild Birds Some Love"

Looking for a fun way to celebrate Valentine's weekend with your honey? If you are Nature-lovers, consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which begins tomorrow, St.Valentine's Day, and runs through Monday. 

I lifted my headline for this blogpost from the official GBBC news release. "Show the wild birds some love." Thought that was pretty catchy hype for organized birdwatching that begins on the day of hearts and flowers and true love.

Volunteers in approximately 100 countries identify and count the birds they spot while watching at least 15 minutes a day on one or more days of the event. Of course, you can bird-watch all day each day if you want. 

My participation will be mostly while dawgwalking this time. We used to have a backyard bird feeder; however, we took it down because bears from a nearby nature preserve now roam our neighborhood in search of yummy feeders. I did not want my Junkyard Dawg to take on a bear, as she undoubtedly would. We still see a lot of birds hanging around our cedar trees and sometimes nesting there. 

In addition, Elliedawg and I usually see lots of bluebirds, robins, and chipping sparrows on one of our woodsy walks, and of course there are gulls, sandpipers, and pelicans galore at the beach. Rarely does a day pass that we do not see a snowy egret on a nearby pond. Moreover, eight swans now have adopted a lake at the cardiologists' office as their home. Ah, another heart connection!

The GBBC is more than just a recreational activity. Scientists use data from all the counts to assess movements of bird populations and their health.  During last year's GBBC, volunteers submitted 210,000 bird checklists with 6,850 bird species recorded. The event is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. 

You can find more information and sign up at birdcount.org. It's free and it's fun!

Happy Valentine's Day! 

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

February -- "Why Can't You Be True?"

A good sign that this was not a normal February day came when my Junkyard Dawg balked at my idea of taking an afternoon walk. (I needed a calorie burn after chowing down at Mama Jean's, a Little River eatery that serves up delicious country cookin' aplenty.) Elliedawg hunkered down on the sofa and gave me a "go away old man!" stare. However, when I rattled the leash by the front door, she finally ambled over, though without enthusiasm.

Before departing, I checked with Alexa, my authority on the weather and much else. She said the temp at 2 p.m. was 77F. So wow, way above average for the dead of winter, even in South Carolina. So maybe my dawg is smarter than I am? Could be. Anyway, we did a slow lap around a big complex of baseball/soccer fields and Ellie wanted to turn around at the halfway mark and go back, but that didn't make any sense to me. So we slogged on, sweatin' and pantin'.

Anyway, The Weather Channel (TWC) is tracking the latest winter storm as it heads east, and when those cold winds clash with our unseasonably hot air, some major thunderstorms will break our February heat wave and have us in no time leaving trickles running in faucets to prevent them from freezing up overnight. That's the norm we expect from February, though granted it can be a fickle month. (Think of those candy hearts you never got from your grade-school crush.)

Meanwhile, what's with TWC's uninspired naming of winter storms? The latest is Mabel, a perfectly fine name but not one to conjure visions of wild weather ahead. How about, instead, Chuck Berry's "Mabellene." I mean (to quote a few of the lyrics), "Mabellene, why can't you be true?...You've started back doing the things you used to do." Or fire up Waylon Jennings lament about Lucille: "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille...." Or The Oak Ridge Boys "Elvira": "My heart's on fire for Elvira...." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVY93pWazks

Come to think of it, if I had golden oldies like those in my ear, I could get fired up for walking even on a hot afternoon in February. My senior dawg -- maybe not so much.

© Robert Gray Holland   2020

Pedaling Through a Pandemic

It is hard to stay a course with great cheer during this Year of the Pandemic that is trying on so many fronts. On top of that, as I write t...