Sunday, May 31, 2020

The beat goes on ... for now

So I'm one of those guys now - the one wearing a FitBit on his wrist. Bought it as an early Father's Day present.

I've generally turned up my nose at them as I found them a bit pretentious. Like, hey, look at me, I work out and count my steps. Frankly, most people who look at me probably figure I already work out or that I'm malnourished. And, as I've written before, I don't need any help counting my steps.

But, the past couple years I've had a little issue with my ticker. After all the tests were done it was determined I have Premature Arterial Contractions (PAC). I'm told everybody has them; it's just that I had A LOT of them. Basically, the heart skips a beat and then does a double-beat to catch up. It feels like a thud in my chest. It's an electrical thing. The heart muscle is more than fine. So says the doc. I take a half a beta blocker pill a night and the problem went away for the most part.

But it's made me want to keep better track of my heart rate and I finally succumbed to the only thing that could monitor it for me, daily, by the week, by the month.

Turns out I like it, though it's caused its own issues.

For instance, it has a sleep monitor and provides you a sleep rating every morning from 1-100. So far, I hover around the 90 mark, which is good. But, like the other night, I woke up at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, solving the world's problems, and then started thinking: "Dang, this is really going to mess up my sleep rating! You better get to sleep! Go to sleep, idiot! Sleep! You're going to hurt your rating!"

Sometimes, being a competitive person is not a virtue. Even competing against yourself or your FitBit.

It's also a bit of a bother when I run. I shouldn't even look at it, but I do. Again, "What? Your heart rate is only 130. You need to pick it up buddy! You aren't pushing yourself hard enough. Get it up to 150!"

I remember when I first had the PAC issue and got it looked it. I was in pretty good running shape. In fact, the only time I felt good was when I was running. The docs got me wired up and put me on a treadmill and wanted me to get my heart rate up to 140. It started as a walk on a low incline. For about five minutes the techs stood staring at the monitor as it sat at 90-100. Then eight minutes. Not much movement. Finally, I told them: "Not to brag, but we're going to be here all day if you don't crank this thing up."

They did, gradually. I guess they've had too many people pass out or go into cardiac arrest. Soon I was sprinting hard and at a 40 degree angle and we hit 140 after 14 minutes. Then I needed to maintain that pace for a minute to get the fluid they'd pumped me with running through the veins. They were impressed, but that was then and this is now, where I run much slower and not nearly as many miles. That's more because of a bad back than a bad heart.

Then there's the corny part of the FitBit, where it emails you badges saying "Congratulations! You made 10,000 steps today!" But, even that isn't bad. At 55 a guy doesn't get a lot of "atta boys!" anymore. So you take 'em where you can get 'em.

I do wish it would give me like a cardiogram of my heartbeat so I can actually see when/if I'm skipping beats rather than just beats per minute, but I think I have to upgrade to a "premium" package for that. Of course.

Still, it's been fun and I enjoy having it. Not being a competitive runner anymore, as if there were any around to run in anyway, it does give me incentive to go harder on my jogs; even if it means that by beating myself and getting first place I also am in last place.

As long as it's still got some Beats Per Minute to read tomorrow, I'll be happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Bird watching is for the birds

I'm a lazy, novice bird-watcher and enjoy it.

Lazy, because it's not like I hike around the Black Hills or prairie with binoculars and Nikon camera, craning my neck for the rare Canadian albino warbler nest or crawling on my hands and knees to peek over the hill for a glimpse of a burrowing owl. Lazy, because I hang a couple bird feeders outside my kitchen window, fill them up once in a while and watch the birds while I eat my Mini-Wheats in the morning.

Occasionally, I lift my phone and take a picture of a pretty bird through the dirty window and wonder why National Geographic hasn't called.

Such was the case the other day when I saw a bird I've never seen before or don't remember seeing before. Sure, I could've seen it yesterday and forgotten, but I really don't remember ever seeing this kind of bird in South Dakota or anywhere. Ever.

It was black, with a yellow head. About the size of a blackbird. Real pretty. Kind of regal. Just one. Not in a flock. Didn't seem to have a girlfriend. I'd never seen one before. In fact, I wondered if anyone had ever seen one before. Perhaps I'd discovered a new species. If one does discover a new species, are they like stars where you get to name it? The Haugenbird, maybe. Or the Flying Mark. The Soaring Black Mark, yeah, that's it.

Before calling National Geographic or the CIA or whoever you call with a new discovery, I consulted my handy-dandy "Birds of the Dakotas" book I keep on the end table. My wife thinks it's nerdy, but it sits next to her Soduko book, so let's be real about nerd status in this house.

I like the book because it's so simple an idiot could use it. The birds are organized by color. There's even a color code on the side of the pages. But do I look under yellow or do I look under black?

There was nothing under the yellow pages, so my anticipation grew as to what this black bird with the yellow head might be called, if it had been discovered at all. What would they call such a rare bird? Probably something clever, as ornithologists are very clever people.

I began paging through the black pages. And there I found it, my heart saank. It had been discovered, probably by Lewis or Clark or maybe Custer.

And what unique name did they come up with for this yellow-headed black bird? So many options. Well, the geniuses, named it, get ready for this: the Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Really, buddy? How long did that take you?

My respect for ornithologists just dropped.

I should not have been surprised. After all, these are the same people who named a bird after the baseball team in St. Louis.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Being smart was fun while it lasted

For a couple weeks last month I looked smart.

If you walked into my library/greenhouse/office and looked at my desk you would see I was reading two books: a biography on Albert Einstein and a collection of columns by Charles Krauthammer. Both were deep thinkers and fascinating men. I even felt smarter holding the books.

But if you walked in last week you'd have seen that I returned to dumb old me with a serial killer novel and then a book from the dumbest series of all by Tim Dorsey.

Oh, well, being smart was fun while it lasted.

I enjoyed the Einstein book by Walter Isaacson. While some of it regarding his theory of relativity and other theories was over my head no matter how hard Isaacson tried to dumb it down, Einstein lived a fascinating life. He struggled with his religion, his politics, his wives and his girlfriends. But, hey, haven't we all? He was offered the presidency of Israel, but turned it down because he recognized he wouldn't be good at it.

One of the most interesting things I learned is that when he died his brain was preserved to be studied. But not by just anybody. It was carried around for 43 years by just a regular old shlub of a mortician who sold it off piece by piece with no real rhyme or reason to whom. Some to study, some for the heck of it. Weird.

Krauthammer's book, "The Point of it All," is a collection of his columns he had almost finished compiling before he died. His son finished the project. Charles was also a fascinating man, deep thinker but able to put it in layman's terms. He loved politics, medicine and baseball. It's one of those bathroom-reader type books where you can knock off a column or two while doing your business. And read another couple when you just have a few minutes and don't feel like diving into a novel.

From there I took up "Thirteen" by Steve Cavanagh. I gave it a 7+ on the Haugenometer. It's about a serial killer who works himself onto a jury to convict a guy of his own crime. I liked the clever premise and enjoyed the book.

Lastly, I finished with Dorsey's "The Pope of Palm Springs." I gave it a 5. I've read close to 20 of his books featuring the adventures of Florida whackos Serge and Coleman. They're all pretty much the same and hadn't read one in a couple years. They're Dumb and Dumber go to Florida. I probably won't read any more of them because they're getting so lame and hard to differentiate one from the other; though I'll probably keep buying them to finish off the collection.

So much for being smart, eh?

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Happily waving goodbye to the handshake

You probably need another article about the 'Rona like you need a hole in the head, but I see one positive coming out of this mess and figured I'd take a shot.

It looks like hand-shaking will become a thing of the past. More so in some areas than others. My relatively remote part of the world is slower to change but I'll be happy when it does.

See, I don't like shaking hands. I'm not good at it.

I was raised to give a firm handshake but mess it up half the time. Ideally, you want to go in so the webbing between your thumb and index finger jam into the other guy's webbing between thumb and index finger. But for some reason I miss half the time. Sometimes I end up grabbing the guys thumb or going in between other fingers. I think I'm concentrating on looking them in the eyes while doing it and am not coordinated enough to look one direction and grab something in the other.

Or, some guys go for the bro handshake where you bend elbows and grip around the lower part of the thumb and your four fingers wrap around it. Never shall the two different versions meet. It gets awkward.

And some younger friends opt for that latter method but then pull you in for a man-hug chest-bump type thing. Trouble is, I never know which of the three types of handshake is coming.

Then there's the odd person at church during the "Peace be with you" portion. I go to shake their hand and they pull the "I don't shake hands" crap on you after you've reached out to them and they leave you hanging. It makes me want to wish them something other than peace.

To make me even more skittish about it, there's a fella I run into a couple times a year who lost his thumb years back in a calf-roping mishap. I always forget and go in for a hearty rancher handshake and end up with my hand sliding up to his elbow since there's no thumb there to stop me.

About the time I'm a total mess on the hand-shaking thing, I run into one of my non-Scandinavian friends. I never know what kind of fancy three-hand-shakes-in-one they're going to pull on me or if they're just going for the straight-up shake. I end up looking like an even whiter white guy as I try to be cool but end up waving my arm around like I've taken a handful of muscle relaxers.

So I'm all about the fist bump now. I just need everybody to get on board with it, because if that goes wrong, uncoordinated me will be punching people in the chest. And that can go wrong in even more ways.

If the fist bump doesn't catch on I'm all for the simple wave or the bow. Just let me know in advance what we're doing because I'm getting a complex about it.