St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

River Road Ramblings: Week of Jan 1, 2012

Happy New Year! We had a nice Christmas and New Years at the Hanson hilltop estate here in rural Pine Island, out in the edge of the Great Plains of MN. The weather was mild, although windy, and not speck of snow is around. Santa was good to us getting high speed Internet and Netflix so we can waste time very fast this year.

New Years really should be a time for renewal. Folks should think about the past year and vow to do better. Some years, I have been so near perfect the past year, I really had little need for resolutions and so made ones like “I will not take up smoking this year.” This year I have two things to consider: continuing with the RRR column and improving my health.

Seven people wrote, called or emailed me saying overall they wouldn’t be bothered if I continued the column, something I took to be in favor of continuing it for another year. Of course, with 7000 newspapers sold in a good week, seven responses is about the same percent as the interest we get on our bank CDs. However, the quality of the seven folks was very high!

The milestone of turning 65 coupled with my limited knee mobility drove home that I am in the declining part of my life. My lifestyle, put into an Internet life expectancy calculator, gives me 15 more years. I tried adjusting the factors—adding a higher level of exercise, losing weight, and other life style changes, but at most, they added a single year. Of course, this is the average, so some of us 65 year old men will make less and some more. What I could do, I found was improve the quality of the years ahead of me (and no, that doesn’t mean getting a new wife).

Micky Mantle, who came from a family of men who died very young, said as he reached his 60s "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken a lot better care of myself."

Well, I have taken care of myself pretty good except for being overweight much of my life. I was born on the hefty side. Mom tells me when I was a baby and growing up, I was always hungrier than my three brothers (who, like my parents, were relatively slim folks much of their lives—a few expanding a little after retirement). When I look back, I was just as active as my brothers, just I always wanted to eat more before I was full. I think of it as one of the way we were different—like how we favored different music and liked different school subjects and had different hobbies.

Two times in my life, I lost weight and for some years, was in the normal range. The first was in getting in shape my HS senior year when I finally got permission to go out for football (my parents thought farm work was more important than after-school sports and worried I might injure a knee, which I did). The grueling HS workouts starting at home in July and extending into the fall in addition to the farm work brought me well into the normal range.

I started to fill out again in college, and so one summer while working at Stokely’s in the field crew driving a bean picker did a month on the Metrecal liquid diet. Metrecal came in cans—each tasted like a flavored milkshake. I drank four cans per day for a month and dropped the extra 20 pounds and then was able to stay close to that weight for several years until after I got married.

Women seem to have built into their nature the urge to feed. It shows up in feeding people, animals, birds and cash registers. I had controlled my weight by carefully keeping only limited types and quantities of food available in my refrigerator and cupboard coupled with being a student with jobs that kept me too poor to eat out. I know myself—if there is rich food around, I eat it. I believe it is a genetic predisposition I have, like Bill Clinton’s inability to stay away from women and George W Bush’s need to start wars.

Mom is an excellent cook. We grew up with wonderful food. Mom was always entering and winning recipe contests. She wrote a weekly food column for many years. She continues to experiment with new recipes and loves to bake cookies and other things to give to her children and grandchildren. She makes food that looks and tastes very good! Having diabetes the last few years, she has to be careful of her diet, but she certainly gets a lot of joy out of serving rich food to others. If you visit, you must eat something before you leave. She didn’t always have food as a child, so wants to make sure we don’t ever have to go through what she did.

For Mom, 1930 was a hard year. Her father died in the spring, leaving her 25 year-old mother with 5 children to care for and no income other than a pittance from the county. By December, her mother couldn’t take it anymore—probably had a nervous breakdown—and abandoned the family without saying anything after a last meal of soup made from potato peelings from the neighbor’s garbage.

Mom, at nine, was the oldest. She begged food from the neighbors to feed her younger siblings including a baby, expecting her mother to return anytime. After a week or so, when a neighbor found out, Mom and her brothers and sisters were collected by the sheriff and adopted out.

I have told you this before, but although Mom was adopted into a good home where food was good and plentiful, I think she never got over having gone hungry and feeling the responsibility to keep her younger brothers and sisters alive. Her granddaughter, Amanda, collected her recipes in a cook book called “You Look Hungry,” something she tells us whenever we quit eating before we are stuffed.

At home on the farm, there was a lot of work that burned off the calories even with large meals. When I married and became a teacher and later a computer programmer, that changed—I had a no exercise job. I had to force myself to exercise, something that has been hard to do—especially in the winter when your daylight hours belong to the boss.

That coupled with a wife who, like my mother, enjoyed cooking and always believed in full refrigerators and cupboards, I let my weight gradually creep up. Mostly I was moderately overweight—not serious enough to limit my activity or bother my health.

Two years ago when I fell and broke my leg and messed up the knee, my life style changed again. No longer could I walk comfortably and do the things that normally kept me busy, and with the inactivity I expanded to where it is actually changing my health for the worse. I can tell it without my doctor telling me, although she feels free to let me know too.

So hitting age 65 coupled with 2012 getting underway I am ready to try to change. My resolutions are to drop some weight and resume a more vigorous lifestyle. In February, when I get a new knee, the second part should be easier. I always liked walking. As a scout leader well into the 1990s, I did a lot of backpacking and hiking and was quite active overall. I miss it.

My goals are modest: lose 25 lbs in 2012 and be physically active for an hour per day (walking, cutting wood, gardening or something where I actually get my heart rate up).
My left knee, the one that has never been injured, is perfectly fine, so if the right one works again, the exercise part should be much easier.

I talked to a dietician who encouraged me to aim for a 20-25 lb drop in weight over a year, I suggested liposuction as a lazy man’s way to lose the spare tire. It seems ideal; go into the hospital, take a nap while a vacuum cleaner sucks out the fat, and walk to the store and buy a new belt.

“Your insurances won’t cover it. It can cost between four and eight thousand dollars. For some reason, weight loss done that way doesn’t seem to help your over all health. In a study a few years back, medical researchers found that abdominal fat is an indicator of cardiovascular health (the more you have, the more at risk you are for heart attacks, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc). This in mind, they performed liposuction on a group of people with abdominal fat in order to see if it helped their degree of cardiovascular fitness. Unfortunately, they discovered that the belly fat is just an indicator of cardiovascular unhealthiness, but is not a cause -- there was no change in their health. You are much better off to lose it the old fashioned way!”

Well, I am even cheaper than I am lazy, so the idea of spending as much as $400 a pound to lose the weight by surgery is unthinkable! However, money is a good motivator. It gave me an idea.

“Margo, it will cost me $400 a pound to have liposuction. That would really wreck our budget. How about if I instead go for a $100 a pound reward for losing it myself and when I lose 20 lbs I can spend $2000 off budget?”

Margo has been getting worried as she has watched me expand and my mobility has decreased and my life expectancy lowered. If I die ahead of her some of the retirement income will drop—all of my social security for instance. She also worries about having me dependent on her or in a nursing home, so she made a proposal.

“If you lose 25 lbs and keep it off for six months, then I will take $2000 out of my Thrivent Lutheran life insurance policy and give it to you.”

When she was born, her father started paying $32 a year for the premium on a $2000 life insurance policy for her. When we married, he turned it over to her and so for 64 years the premium has been paid and with interest has built up to $12,000 in the event of her death.

According to Margo’s rules, January 1, 2012, I am to weigh in at the certified scale at the local feed mill and the project gets underway. Each month I return and get a signed weight ticket. When I lose 25 lbs I continue for six more months to prove that it stays off. Then I get the money.

Since I am aiming for two pounds per month, it is unlikely any of you except Mom will notice I am wasting away right in front of your eyes. What I expect to get out of this is not a longer life, but a more healthy and vigorous one as I tumble into my declining years.

Heaven, if I ever get there, will be filled with the most delicious foods imaginable. I will be able to eat my fill without worry of gaining weight and turning off my 70 virgins.

Here’s hoping I become a less substantial person during 2012!