Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Blog's Back -- At Least for Now

This blog --- I thought it was gone, gone, gone forever. Some geekspeak about domain registration and a big price for renewal. That was in January. Maybe my problem is I don't speak Google. Anyway, tonight it's back to me, magically, inexplicably. In the interim, I began starting a new blog elsewhere, but I'll go with this one as long as it lasts. Loads of memories here. And maybe the lesson is that life in cyberspace is like life in our earthly realm: Transitory. Unpredictable. Changeable. Here today, gone tomorrow.

I came to terms with my own mortality almost 15 years ago. A complex surgery replaced my catastrophically leaky aortic valve and grossly enlarged aortic root (an aneurysm that wouldn't have gone much longer without rupturing). In these overtime years, I have had blessings galore, many of which I have blogged about here. Now comes another surprise: another aneurysm might be popping up. It will take a more sophisticated medical test, a CT, to be more certain. Then again, maybe it is nothing; just a burp in the echo scan. More uncertainty. That's the way we roll.

The one certainty for believers is that God is in control, not us and certainly not Google. So let us enjoy every day and think about truths that are eternal -- and beautiful realms that last forever and ever. And always be on the lookout for the angels that look after us.

                                       © Robert Gray Holland  (2019)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Birthday Thoughts on Armistice Day; 

Marching on From Armistice Day...
(Updating Veterans Day, Armistice Day, birthday recollections and ruminations before I forget any of all this. -- RGH, 11 November 2018)

In my youth, I did not give much thought to my birthday coinciding with Armistice Day, to be honest about it.

It was an interesting factoid that the Allies and Germany agreed to cease hostilities on the Western front -- effectively ending World War I -- as of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. And neither Brian Williams nor I were there when it happened; believe it or not, I hadn't been born yet.

Instead, I learned it in history class, which still was de rigeur for an educated person back in the '50s.

The Second World War was dawning as I was born in Savannah, where my mother took me about every day to crawl and play on the beach with a big ol' white dog ("Whitey") as my playmate. The infamous attack at Pearl Harbor happened just a month after my birth. As America again entered the war "over there," German U-boats sometimes appeared off the Georgia coast.

After Armistice Day evolved into Veterans Day to recognize all men and women of the armed services, I came to feel more and more honored -- even blessed -- to be able to share my birthday with this important occasion when we recognize all who have worn the uniform and helped protect our liberties so diligently, and sometimes valiantly.

Right out of college in the summer of '63, I became a newspaper bureau chief in Southside, Virginia (covering, among other things, the civil-rights movement). Our forces were involved in Southeast Asia, but Vietnam had not yet blown up into an all-consuming war.

To fulfill my military obligation, I decided to join the local Army National Guard chapter in Farmville. I did so not with any intent of avoiding combat duty but with a desire to keep my budding career on track while serving my country.

On the afternoon I took my armed forces induction exam at a military office near Richmond, the examiners called me in to ask what university I had attended. Whether they thought my test answers were outstanding or disappointing, they never said. What they did tell me next was that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

Vietnam started heating up that that.

My most vivid memory of basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, was camping out in pup tents in some of the coldest winter weather I have ever experienced. Later, during advanced artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, it felt as though there was nothing between you and the Canadian winds sweeping down the plains.

Back with my unit, our training intensified as it appeared we would be deployed for duty in Vietnam. We went so far as to start packing our gear. Then came word that President Lyndon Johnson had decided against activating Guard units for Vietnam. Pundits speculated (probably correctly) that LBJ made a political calculation to avoid adding to public discontent with this war in communities around the nation.

Instead, we received much training for domestic riot control. After the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, we were sent to Richmond to protect against potential rioting. Thank God, none occurred and no one was hurt. Perhaps Dr. King's powerful doctrine of nonviolent civil disobedience helped keep us all safer.

So basically, yes, I am a veteran (and proud of it) but I make no claim to having achieved heroic status or anything close to it. I am confident that each and every member of my Guard unit would have served as ordered by our commander-in-chief; none would have gone AWOL. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many Guard units have been repeatedly called up and asked to perform perilous duty. We should honor their service and sacrifices even as debate rages in our democracy about the proper balance of diplomacy and force in resolving international conflicts.

Reflecting on my November 11 birthday, I feel a connection with Armistice Day/Veterans Day. I pray for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, and Marines who protect our country. I pray their steadfast service will preserve peace because war is hell. Three cheers for the men and women who have served, and who serve still.

Finally, this day is, in many ways, my real Thanksgiving Day. I give thanks for our free and independent country, my wonderful family, good friends, and the blessings of health after three-fourths of a century on Earth (now, 3/4 plus 2 - the big 77!). Best wishes to all!

Happy Veterans Day!

                                     © Robert G. Holland  2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Gymnastics 2018

It was fun to see all the children decked out as their favorite characters (scary or otherwise). But -- wow! -- was Halloween ever an endurance test this year!

We have hundreds upon hundreds of trick-or-treaters in our beach community. They come in wave after wave. My task was to greet and treat each and every one arriving at our door, while keeping our family's two retrievers and one cat from bolting out into the madcap darkness.

Me & energetic grandson Brooks
To accomplish this, I peered out the window adjacent to the door and, upon the seeing the colorful goblins coming up the walkway, grabbed the candy bowl, and gently nudged each dog aside with one foot while opening the door and managing to slide out without falling down. I then sat down and dispensed the candy to the kids (practically all of whom said "thank you"!). After two hours of this, I felt like I had done 400 squats with leg balancing moves in the wonderful senior workout class I take at the Core Fitness Club. I call it "Sarah's Challenge," after our great teacher, Sarah Parker.

You know what? -- by coincidence, Sarah had led us through such balance training this morning, hours before the Halloween endurance test. We did all sorts of moves off the Swiss ball and with weights while lifting one foot off the ground, to the best of our ability. These are not the easiest exercises for me, given orthopedic and inner-ear conditions that make me something of a Weeble. You know, "Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down."

At least we hope they don't. That was the underlying importance of this class -- to help prevent falls, which are atop the list of devastating accidents for those of us in our golden years. So at the end of the day, I feel very tired, but also blessed to have the benefit of this kind of fitness training as I approach my 77th birthday on Veterans Day.

Here's hoping all who participated in Halloween 2018, young and old alike, had a lot of fun and stayed safe.

                                                 © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Heart Walk 2018, Done; Bring on 2019!

A little resurgence of warm and humid weather seeped into the 25th annual Waccamaw Heart & Stroke Walk today adding extra challenge met by the roughly 1,000 walkers. It was the same course at the North Myrtle Beach sports complex that was used for the 2017 Walk so I knew it well. This marked the 10th straight year since moving to this area that wife Allyne and I have participated in this community-spirited and joyous event for benefit of the important work in research and prevention done by the American Heart Association. (Allyne, a stroke survivor, helps run the Survivors' info tent while I  walk the Walk.)

Unfortunately, my spinal stenosis, which I have been battling the past 15 years, is becoming a steadily bigger obstacle for me to overcome. So for this walk, I decided not to accept the invitation to be one of the survivors up front at the start of the walk. I knew from experience that being there inclines you to stepping up your pace to unsustainable lengths trying to keep up with all the young folks doing the walk. Instead, I tried my best to be the very last person walking the course. I succeeded so well that at one point I (all alone by then) could see the frontrunners across the lake, and I thought to myself how cool it would be if I swam across to catch up with them, thereby cutting the course in half. I restrained myself though; didn't want to become the first drowning victim at a Heart Walk.

Me and Walking Stick in 2018 Heart Walk
Anyway, I did survive the Survivors' course, which my reliable Garmin tracker tells me was actually six-tenths of a mile longer than advertised. It sure felt like it. The walk made me realize how much more taxing it is to walk solo as opposed to walking a senior dawg that stops to sniff about every third blade of grass.

Alas, a race organizer snapped a photo of me and my walking stick toughing it out. And seeing my mid-section bulk I am reminded of something I could do without surgery to ease the spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar region). And that is shed some of that belly fat that has accumulated over the years, thereby lessening pressure on the back. This, of course, is easier said than done here in The Land of a Thousand Buffets.

Anyway I did stay the course, and I will celebrate that. This has been the one community event that I look forward to more than any other each and every year. So, with the 2018 Heart & Stroke Walk in the books, I am making my training plans now for the 2019 Walk.

                                             © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rejoice! Walking Season Has Arrived!

Prime dawgwalking time arrives at 10 a.m., after I've gotten my creaky old body sort of together and functioning.

Here are the important weather stats at that appointed hour on this 18th day of October, 2018:

Temperature: 66F.

Relative Humidity: 43%.

Wind: 15 NNE.

Visibility: From here to eternity, all Carolina blue (South as well as North).

Ah yes, it arrived later than usual this year, but today was the first real day of walking season --  cool, crisp, invigorating, absolutely heavenly. Blessedly low humidity and dewpoint! No more heat index of 90-degrees-plus. Did Elliedawg and I walk farther than usual? Oh yes, we stretched it out!

 Walking weather should be fairly well in place for this Saturday's annual Heart & Stroke Walk (waccamawheartwalk.org), even though there will be a slight bump in afternoon temperatures before another cold front arrives.

Walking this morning, I felt the presence of our angel of the morning. She probably got going a little earlier than we did this morning. We did see her a couple of mornings ago and had a pleasant chat, and the three of us even walked together a while. (Addendum: And because it was too wonderful a day not to double-up, we did a second dawgwalk at dusk, and did meet the walking angel. We had a talk about life and mortality. Really ... angelic.

The heavenly morning walk had ended with the sudden appearance of a gorgeous little bluebird just a few feet in front of us. It grabbed a bit of grub from the ground and then perched briefly on a display tractor before flitting off. It was a perfect touch of beauty to end the first walk of walking season. Brought to mind the legendary Louis Armstrong and these lyrics from Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah": "Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder/It's the truth, it's 'actch'll'/Everything is 'satsfactch'ill."

                                              © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Barking Muscles Prove You're Alive

What a difference a few weeks make. And a few good core fitness classes.

On September 17, I could feel my heart fluttering as we tried to remain calm in our hurricane haven of choice, Richmond, the capital of Virginia, as it experienced an historic outbreak of multiple tornadoes stirred up by the very hurricane we had fled. Some of the twisters tracked very near us. The week before, I had the same kind of heart distress as we worried if Hurricane Florence's swipe at Myrtle Beach, SC, 325 miles south, would send some of our pine trees crashing down on our home. I had never had heart palpitations -- or "a-fib" before. Had all this stress been a trigger?

Back in my senior fitness class at the Core Fitness Club this first week of October, I feel reassurance along with the sensation of being pleasantly fatigued. The heart is perfectly calm. All is well. After my first class upon return from the hurricane break, instructor Sarah asked if my muscles were angry after our workout. She had broken out a new version of planking for us -- a squat plank, progressing through moves somewhat similar to burpees. They were challenging -- but I felt great the next morning.
Today, however, Sarah introduced us to a whole series of new moves to work on balance, with some new equipment for us to master -- and no planking!  And this afternoon, muscles -- ones I didn't know I had  -- are barking at me like my Junkyard Dawg does when she wants to remind me of my obligation to walk her once, or preferably twice, a day!

Now, the temptation is great just to settle into a recliner and watch playoff baseball virtually nonstop through October without angering any of those muscles further. And watch many of those games I most assuredly will. However, we know that while some rest and recovery are in order -- indeed are part of the fitness process -- it is important to keep bones and muscles active, lest they stiffen up and atrophy. So we will plan some stretching and planking between innings, and a few solo visits for workouts at the fitness club prior to next Monday's class. I also have the annual community Heart and Stroke Walk on October 20 for which to prepare, so there will be dawgwalking aplenty. "Heartwalking" for the American Heart Association has been one of my annual highlights since we moved here nearly 10 years ago. It is a tremendously happy community event, with so many heart-surgery survivors staying the course.

My mended heart heartedly approves.

                                         © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Re-ordering the Routine, Post-Hurricane

Few phenomena can disrupt your life more than a hurricane. And that is true even if you are not one of the thousands of folks in the Carolinas who have had their homes or businesses flooded out as a result of Hurricane Florence and its slow-motion torture by rising water. Certainly, those people are the real victims who deserve any help you can donate. However, even a mere dawgwalker like me is out of sorts because of how his routine was discombobulated for this whole month of September.

Early in the month came tracking of the hurricane, with anxiety steadily mounting as it grew to a Category 3 and even Cat 4 while it was boiling up in the Atlantic. It stayed pretty much targeted at Wilmington, N.C., up the road about 75 miles, so I was thinking our family would shore up the homeplace and ride out the impacts we received here. However, in the final hours forecasters confidently said that after hitting North Carolina, the very slow-moving storm would slide down our way in Myrtle Beach and bring high winds and torrential rain. That is when I decided to evacuate with my wife to Richmond, Virginia, our long-time home. Our son Bobby insisted on staying at our home and taking care of the dawgs.

Our refuge in Richmond was anything but relaxing. One day we spent dodging Florence-spawned tornadoes in the worst outbreak in Virginia's capital city in modern times. Other forms of insecurity dominated as well. Back south, the main route back, I-95, was flooded and impassable while many NC/SC alternate routes were being closed to flooding almost hourly. So my son flew to Richmond to drive us back, and then had to drive an exhausting route via western-Carolina (Greensboro/Charlotte) before finally getting to the river city of Conway, SC at dusk, only to find the main bridge was just then closing. So then we spent 3 hours going 4 blocks to make it over the Waccamaw River bridge in the city's historic district. We did all that without stopping for lunch or dinner because we knew roads and bridges were closing. We were lucky to make it that night, though thoroughly fatigued.

My paid work is by monthly quota, so I have struggled to catch up and will never make it. In the process, my workout schedule -- so important to me at age 76, almost 77 -- was thrown way out of kilter. I haven't been to core fitness class except maybe once in the first week of September. I had heart palpitations during stressful episodes during the hurricane so I have wondered if it is even safe for me to return. Meanwhile, I have had to reintroduce myself to my faithful walking dawg, Ellie.

Our reunion walks have been as humid as others during the summer of '18 (and even more mosquito-ridden), but last evening I had a moment of inspiration to dispel my thoughts of just quitting everything. My walking angel reappeared. She first came into my life when she introduced herself when we were each shopping at Krogers a few weeks before the hurricane struck. She said she had seen me walking my dog and said I probably didn't recognize her because she wears something quite different when walking. It was obvious that she is an avid and fit walker. This young lady (who reminds me of another angel who helped me through last October's Heart Walk)  must see how I struggle with my spinal stenosis to continue walking and she wanted to encourage me. She asked my first name, and twice gave me hers so "I would remember it." But maybe because I was so taken back, I didn't remember it with certainty. I hadn't seen her the past six weeks, but she spotted me yesterday, and we chatted again about walking. It is good for the spirit when you struggle to walk but  have a smiling angel who cares that you continue. Oh, and now I do know her name.

As a result, I have stopped the idea of just quitting everything. I will do two-a-day dawgwalks except on Mondays and Wednesdays when I will do Sarah's amazing senior Core Fitness class (if they'll let me back in after such a long lapse) and just one cool-down dawgwalk.  When I did two-a-day dawgwalks in the months after I rescued Ellie two years ago, I lost some weight. My cardiologist was impressed. I need to drop some pounds now in addition to strengthening the core.

So now I have my new schedule and I feel better.

                                           © Robert Gray Holland  (2018)

Blog's Back -- At Least for Now

This blog --- I thought it was gone, gone, gone forever. Some geekspeak about domain registration and a big price for renewal. That was i...