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 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...."

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

Walkin' Against the Wind

It was a solid day indoors but kind of an unsteady one outdoors. On our afternoon walk, Elliedawg and I battled wrap-around, leftover winds from a massive winter storm. Gusts of upwards of 50 mph made me wonder how large a snapped tree limb it would take to knock you out cold, or worse. The weather people said the "real-free" temp was 47F; however, walking against a gale lowers that to sub-freezing.

As almost always happens on a dawgwalk, though, we found notes of cheer. We saw flocks of Robins, in my book a much surer harbinger of Spring than a groundhog pulled out of its burrow in Pennsylvania. We walked in a wooded section behind the community swimming pool and found it gave some welcome protection from the winds. The fountains of water were going full blast in the pool, thereby creating pleasant visions of outdoor aqua therapy only a few months from now.

As for indoors, I felt some sense of accomplishment in wrapping up the next to last week of cardiac rehabilitation at Grand Strand hospital, Friday being the 33rd of 36 scheduled sessions. I will graduate on Valentine's Day. I need to think of some little heart-felt token of appreciation for the wonderful nurses there. Maybe candy, even though that wouldn't jive with the nutritional guidelines we received when we took instructional breaks from exercise.  Maybe a basket of fruit, or an edible arrangement?

Thinking ahead, I called the Core Fitness Club to see what I would need to do to take out a membership again so I can resume the senior core fitness class there on the Monday after rehab ends. I have not been able to go to that wonderful class since last Spring when the cardiologists and surgeons diagnosed me as having a dangerous aortic aneurysm -- now blessedly a thing of the past. To my surprise, the club still has me in its fold. I just need to tell the front desk to reactivate my key fob.

It is nice, very nice, to be remembered!

© Robert Gray Holland 2020

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A February Stroll on the Beach

A few blocks away, the Junkyard Dawg aka Ellie Mae got all excited. She knew we were near the beach. Her original "master" -- uh, human companion -- must have taken her to the ocean often. Shame on me for not doing it more often, settling instead for neighborhood strolls. After all, the great Atlantic Ocean is only a 7-minute drive away.

So Miss Ellie, our rescue angel for the past four years, got some sand in her paws, and tried to bark another retriever off the sandy shores. She thinks no other dawgs have a right to go on a walk.

Take me to the Beach -- Now!
Got to do this a lot during February, barring any ice storms, because beach access is still wide open to all and free 'til March 1 when the city's $2-an-hour rip-off parking fee goes into effect, lasting 'til November. Personally, I think this municipal money-grubbing is short-sighted and counter-productive. How much more welcoming Myrtle Beach would seem in visitors' eyes were beach access to be devoid of parking meters!

And of course when the parking fees go into effect, there will be other venues to explore -- North Myrtle Beach, for instance.

All in all, a February stroll on the beach is quite refreshing. Next time, though, this old man needs to remember to bring a jacket. It may be 65F in the neighborhood, but the ocean breezes drop the real-feel quite a bit.

© Robert Gray Holland 2020

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

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 ...