Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dropping a Few Pounds

I know I'm far from alone in fighting the battle of the bulge.  You can hardly pick up a newspaper today without finding an article somewhere that talks about how overweight Americans have become.

I've spent a good deal of adulthood hovering somewhere in the BMI defined "overweight" category.  Whomever invented that scale must have been rail thin, because even at my "skinniest" I can only barely seem to creep into the upper end of the "normal" range.  Or maybe the inventor is simply sadistic.  Although I've been a regular exerciser for many years, I've always managed to eat enough to easily replace whatever I've burned off in calories.

For most of the last ten years, however, I've had things pretty well under control through regular distance running -- particularly with regularly scheduled marathon races in my future.  That all came to an end a couple of years ago with a knee injury.

I tried the normally prescribed fixes for the knee -- rest and recovery.  Over the course of a couple of years, no matter how much cross training I did, and no matter how long I laid-off, it just seemed to get worse.  That finally resulted in a trip to the orthopedist, and knee surgery this summer.

With a repaired knee, I was mentally ready to run again.  Except my body was far from ready.  I'd added almost twenty pounds since my last regular running activity, and was forty above what I considered a "running friendly" weight (the one just on the BMI normal borderline).  So I promised myself I'd diet, and reward myself with a return to running upon success.

That was six weeks ago.

Dieting is a funny thing, at least for me.  I find myself able to restrict calorie intake, at least for a while, but frequently run out of gas as I reach the point of diminishing returns, and mental and physical fatigue.  The failure usually starts as small "cheats" on the diet, which grow on a day by day basis until I'm no longer really following it at all.

And another oddity I've noticed -- I almost always do better with a new diet regime, than I do trying to repeat an old one, even one that's been successful before.  Not sure exactly what that's about, but it does appear to be a fact.

So this time I'm using a Bodymedia fit monitor, and receiving daily emails from a nutritionist.  So far, I've lost seventeen pounds, but have hit a stretch where things are getting more difficult.  It's not so much that I don't know what to eat or how to exercise, it appears to be more a question of accountability.  I'm liking this system, at least thus far, even if constantly wearing the Bodymedia does sometimes make me feel like I'm somehow under house arrest.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Four hours to install? Really?

I've always loved giving birthday gifts to my wife, Paula.  After 26 years of marriage, and another six years of gift-giving prior to that, I can still seem to come up with new ideas for presents that express how much she means to me.  Admittedly, some of them might seem a bit odd, but they're all original, and all meant just for her.

I give this introduction to help explain why I bought her a beach umbrella for her birthday this year.  You see, we live on a lake, and our little kids go swimming almost every day during the summer.  And while they're in the water (for three hours, sometimes) an adult ends up sitting on a small concrete pad close to the water, baking in the sun.  A little shade would have been welcome, especially during this year's extremely hot summer.

And I didn't give her just any old beach umbrella, but instead bought an 11 foot, telescoping, European side-hanging, fancy-pants umbrella.  I had it shipped to my office, and managed to sneak it home, unpack it, and even had it partially assembled on her birthday.  She loved it.

It survived less than three weeks.

I guess the fancy-pants umbrella designers have never visited Nebraska, where we get a little wind now and then.  One fine day, Paula opened the umbrella in a modest breeze (circa 15mph).  A gust caught it as it was popping open, and despite 250 pounds of sand in the base and three sandbags on top of that, it still went down.  The main shaft was twisted, damaged beyond repair.

That's when the idea of the pergola came up.  These things are designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. Certainly, it could survive "normal" Nebraska weather.  I hoped.

Anyway, after a few adventures with the homeowners association which entailed getting another concrete pad poured an additional five feet from the water's edge (long story there), I ordered a Pergola kit from "Average Joe's Pergolas" in Melbourne, Florida.  The kit said it would take two inexperienced people four hours to install.

Now admittedly, our pergola was probably a bit bigger than average -- roughly 18' x 23' -- so I figured 5 hours.  That seemed perfectly reasonable to me.  Maybe even padded.

The kit arrived Wednesday of last week, and we had a family get-together planned for Sunday at the house. Usually everyone hung out down by the water while the kids swam, so I wanted to have the pergola up by then.  After all, it was only going to take two guys 5 hours, right?  No problem.

Well, it took at least an hour to unload the truck, and another two to get all the materials into the back yard (thank goodness for ATV's, it would still only be half moved now if I'd had to carry it).  Then I needed to drill holes in the concrete to anchor the pergola -- took three charges on the battery powered hammer-drill to get those done, despite having a brand new drill bit.

By Friday morning, when Bill came over to help me, I already had five hours into the project, myself.  The two of us worked on the assembly from 11:00 until 3:30, and had it more or less done by then.  As a footnote, the stainless steel screws we used to secure everything were quite difficult to put in.  The heads stripped unless a constant heavy pressure was consistently applied to the driver, which can be hard to do when you're on top of a Pergola, sitting on 2x2s and the structure is wobbling all over the place.  When you strip one, you get to use a hack saw to cut it off, and then try again.

I did the wrap-up/clean-up work on Saturday, including cutting off all the remaining stripped screws, and picking up the site.  Total time was about 16 man-hours, twice the advertised time.  And it was tough.  And I'm still finding splinters.

But the pergola looks absolutely great.  Here it is -- tell me what you think...