Routines: Short-Sighted or Salvation?

So many perspectives shift as we age and I was just ruminating about one such shift in my own life; that of the value of routines.  While in college I became deeply immersed in the philosophy of the Don Juan/Carlos Castaneda series of books.  One of the things Don Juan railed against was the human predilection to develop routines within our daily lives.  I remember him chiding Carlos with his apparently very realistic imitation of a factory whistle which signaled when it was time to start work, stop work, take breaks and finally go home.  At the time I found his arguments extremely compelling regarding how routines limited human freedom and the ability to experience new and unexpected things.  I could see how the development and implementation of routines could be viewed as limiting the human experience and even be the product of a lazy mind.  In this perspective allowing one’s self to succumb to routines was a very negative practice to be avoided at all costs.

Fast forward four decades and my, my but my perspective on routines has changed!  Without question the major shift is based upon aging as from an intellectual standpoint I can still see mainly negatives to establishing and utilizing routines.  But the realities of aging have caused me to rely more and more on routines to manage my day to day existence.  Sure, life continues to become more complex and that means more technology which requires more willingness to learn and retain said learning’s but I also cannot ignore the fact my mental ‘edge’ is nowhere near as sharp as, say, fifteen years back.  In response to pieces of this increasingly complex lifestyle I have come to rely on some basic routines.  In addition, I also use routines to insure I undertake activities and events which I might otherwise skip or put off.  A classic example of the latter involves my stepping; I currently take anywhere from 11,500 to 13,000+ daily steps.  Across the first five to seven hours of my day, when I am largely at my system, I also take between 1,000 and 2,000 steps each hour – generally at the bottom of each hour.  This routine forces me to get off my fat butt at least once an hour and perform a bit of exercise.  Because I am, and have always been, a very lazy person regarding physical exercise I really fought against the daily urges to put off my stepping.  But with the advent of my hypertension diagnosis, and then exacerbated by my late onset Type 2 diabetes, I knew I had to become more active and said physical activity had to be on a daily basis.  The only way I knew to virtually guarantee I fulfill my exercise requirement on a daily basis was to turn those first 2,000 to 3,000 morning steps into a routine.  Within about two months I had made getting up in the morning and quickly getting in those initial steps a habit; once I get those steps done it just ‘flows’ into doing the remainder of my quota.

In this sense the routine of arising and almost immediately doing those first 2,000+ steps  is a healthy habit and really helps me get at least some daily exercise.  Across the last month and a half I’ve turned my daily morning blood glucose testing into a routine.  When tracking one’s blood glucose it is important to do one’s ‘stick’ at the same time each day to avoid introducing variability into the measurements.  As I prepared to add the blood glucose (BG) testing to my morning/evening blood pressure measurements it occurred to me I should combine the BG testing with the AM blood pressure measurement.  I’ve now standardized on taking my morning blood pressure around 05:50 and my daily BG test around 06:00.  I also record these values in spreadsheets which help make it even more difficult for me to forget to perform these daily requirements.  Once again, I view these routines as invaluable aids that help me handle some daily requirements which have become crucial to my health.

I suppose I could set schedules on my cell phone and/or network regarding these important functions but is not doing so the same as making them a routine?  As an older human being I find comfort in my routines; they offer me a degree of ‘consistency’ in what appears, at least to me, to be an increasingly inconsistent world.  And they are also rather like ‘old friends’ who’s presence is somehow reassuring and pleasurable.  But mostly, they insure I perform activities and handle events that are a necessary part of my existence; events and activities I might otherwise forget or forgo.  In the latter sense my routines are making up for a lack of real commitment and willpower on my part.

Given all this I have to admit to really shifting my valuation of routines based mostly upon my aging.  But I remain vaguely uncomfortable with the whole concept because I can still recognize that to rely on routines more and more does, indeed, begin to limit one’s ability to really ‘push the envelope’ and be willing to try new things.  Without question, this entire topic is one which really evokes a sense of ambiguity within my soul!  Most likely, the best way to resolve this ambiguity would be to accept that with age some ‘routine reliance’ is a good thing and probably healthy but – as with all things in life – needs to be used in moderation.  The real trick is understanding what said ‘moderation’ involves and then living it…

 

routine-spirals

The trap of routine behaviors

Proud ‘Poppa’..?

Since May of 2014 I’ve been working towards the goal of establishing as much ‘natural’ mosquito control as I can ‘round the ole homestead.  I live within the boreal forest and given the right conditions – a mild winter followed by a wet, warm spring – the mosquitoes can be miserable.  Without question Mother Nature plays a huge part in our mosquito populations so I decided to attempt to enlist some of her handiwork in controlling said populations.  This caused me to do some basic research as to local animals that utilize mosquitoes as part, if not all, of their diets.  I discovered two potential sources of said natural mosquito control; Tree Swallows and Little Brown Bats.

Without question the Tree Swallows looked like the best option; they are voracious mosquito eaters and they are very common in this general area.  These birds migrate to the northern latitudes in middle spring – up here we see the males in early to mid-May with the females a few weeks behind – where they breed and raise their young before heading back south to winter.  I’d seen these gorgeous birds around the village of Talkeetna across summers; their bright, iridescent plumage makes them almost impossible to miss as does their extremely acrobatic flight maneuvers.  The Little Brown Bats are much less common in this area although they have been seen.  Their range includes a large portion of south central Alaska and I was surprised to learn they are year-round residents.

Not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket – pun intended – I researched the nesting and sheltering needs of both animals.  I then constructed three swallow boxes and purchased a recommended bat house.  The swallow houses were then given a tough varnish coating.  Finally, I looked to locate each of the three in places I thought the birds might find attractive regarding nesting.  As mentioned, living in the boreal forest means I lack large, open areas but I do live just 80 to 90 meters from a small lake.  I diligently located what I hoped would be good spots and placed the nesting boxes.  I then had a friend mount my bat home a year later.  And then I began my waiting period.

No Tree Swallows showed interest during the summer of 2014; I thought perhaps the smell of the rather new varnish was putting them off.  The same happened across the summer of 2015 so I assumed my placement of the boxes wasn’t suitable.  In the fall of 2015 I relocated the boxes to what I hoped once again would be attractive locations.  The summer of 2016 came and went with no activity and I was becoming disappointed.  I decided if nothing happened in the spring of 2017 I would once again relocate the boxes.

Come this spring I was just starting to look for some new locations when one morning I saw an iridescent blue flash disappear into one of the boxes!  I froze and held my breath waiting its re-emergence from the box.  Sure enough, in a minute or so a male Tree Swallow flew out of the box and into the trees to the east of my place.  I continued to remain motionless and maybe two to three minutes later I saw him fly back to the box with a twig in his mouth.  I was just ecstatic as he was obviously constructing a nest!  I watched him at work for almost a week marveling at the size of his loads.  As my Alaskan malamute – Anana – had just started blowing her coats I removed handfuls of her fur and spread it around by the tree containing the box so he could incorporate that material in his nest.  Over the next few days something definitely picked at the fur but I couldn’t verify it was the Tree Swallow especially as many other local birds will utilize the fur in their nests.

Then came the time I began to see the male spending a lot of time perched on my wind vane.  From this location he was well above the box and could survey the land all around it.  I began to see him there almost continually and I wondered if he had been evicted by his mate.  If this was the case then she was most likely incubating eggs.  I had never seen her, although to be honest the genders look very much the same unless you can observe them when not in motion, but I’d seen him try to enter the box numerous times only to give up and return to his lofty perch.  I became more and more convinced his mate was caring for eggs/hatchlings and I was thrilled.

Then came the glorious day when I saw both he and his mate perched upon my wind vane; while I watched the pair two more Tree Swallows landed on the instrument and I had my first look at the family!  I was just ecstatic!!  Since that time I’ve seen the female and at least three offspring doing their acrobatic flying around the house.  Indeed, one morning when I was walking with my canine companions – Anana, my 112 female Alaskan malamute and Qanuk, my 88 pond male German Shepherd Dog – down the driveway four Tree Swallows buzzed the dogs.  As the male was perched on the wind vane I knew the nesting pair had reared at least three offspring.

I’m hoping the nesting pair will return next spring and maybe some or all of the young will follow their lead and set up house in the other Tree Swallow boxes.  Heaven knows there is a smorgasbord of flying insects around here and most are the favored mosquitoes.  I am just so proud of that initial pair I feel like a ‘proud poppa’ myself!  Now, if I can just get the attention of some Little Brown Bats I’ll be well on the way to establishing some solid mosquito control around my place.  To this end I’ve applied some bat attractant – which is apparently made from their urine – to the ‘landing area’ of the bat house.  Here’s hoping..!

Male Tree Swallow atop my weather vane

A male Tree Swallow perched atop my weather vane in the back yard

The Kidz in snow outside the house

Anana and Qanuk frolicking in the snow; just above the front porch along the ‘long’ side of the house you can see the bat house tucked under the eves.

Diabetes: Desperation or Deliverance?

As some of you may have noticed my blog postings dropped to zero across June; to be quite frank I’m unsure this trend will not continue.  On May 24th I received the results of a routine blood workup and the results truly threw me for a loop!  My previous blood screening was on March 30, 2015 just prior to reconstructive surgery on my severely fractured left radius and ulna; it showed no abnormalities other than some very slightly elevated cholesterol values.  However, the latest results showed an A1c value of ‘14’ and a blood glucose (BG) value of 383 mg/dL; my A1c in the previous blood sample was ‘5.5’!!  I was crushed to learn I now was a diabetic dealing with late onset Type 2 diabetes.  Just three months earlier I was diagnosed with hypertension and had been working via meds and lifestyle changes to get that under control.  But now I was hearing from my doctor I had two months to get my BG values down into the 95 mg/dL to 115 mg/dL range or we’d be having ‘the i-word’ discussion.  To say I was in shock would be a bit like calling Denali a ‘big hill’.

For three days I remained in denial just unable to grasp what this meant and paralyzed by the concept of being insulin dependent.  Then I finally retreated from my fog, decided I had no choice and immediately started clearing the house of all high carb foods especially those composed of simple carbs.  I needed almost a week to complete this process during which my canine companions feasted on ice cream, peanut butter and crackers among other items.  From some friends who were dealing with the disease and from a couple of diabetes forums on-line I began my education regarding the disease while awaiting the arrival of my Bayer ‘Contour Next USB blood glucose meter’, lancets, test strips and similar.  To my surprise I learned managing diabetes starts with managing one’s carbs; calories just don’t factor in.  I’d tried the Atkins Diet in the 90’s without success as I just couldn’t handle cutting my carbs (CHOs) to double digit grams per day.  While I have a real sweet tooth I discovered far more than sweets I craved starch while on the diet; I truly missed breads, rolls, corn, peas, most kinds of squash, potatoes and, of course, the sugars from apples, bananas, oranges, pears and similar foods.  Knowing this I girded my loins to once again face their absence but this time I was driven by the fear of becoming insulin dependent rather than just trying to lose fifteen pounds.

I’ve now put in a month of monitoring everything going into my mouth – yes, even water and no CHO foods – and 24 days of morning testing of my BG levels.  About two weeks into this lifestyle change I met with a nurse at the local clinic to review all my data.  Being rather AR coupled with a love of analyzing data via spreadsheeting and graphing I had kept fastidious logs and she was very pleased.  I talked with her about dietary options, ‘substitutes’ for high CHO foods and how this was going to become not just a diet but a complete lifestyle shift.  I’d already made such a dramatic lifestyle change when, after starting my hypertension meds, I began a program of stepping and within seven weeks had worked myself up to between 11,500 and 13,000 steps/day, every day.  Now I was faced with another major lifestyle shift; the days of unfettered or even controlled consumption of simple CHOs were history!  I made these lifestyle modifications not because I wanted to but because I had to do so.

For me, and I’d bet this is true of other ‘new’ diabetics as well, the most frustrating thing about the disease is its ‘person specific’ nature.  Sure, ya know you have to monitor and control your daily CHO intake but just what is a ‘good’ amount of daily CHOs?  I found some info on a medical hospital website suggesting for someone of my size and weight somewhere around 140 grams CHOs/day was a good number; I set this as my target.  Hah, eating this many carbs kept my BG levels in the 160 mg/dL to 180 mg/dL range!  I visited a couple of online diabetes forums and found many attendees claimed to being forced to drop their daily CHO intake to under 50 grams CHOs to really make a dent in their numbers.  Seeing this I decided to set my daily limit at 40 grams CHO/day.  Success!!  Within five days my morning (fasting) BG levels were in the 95 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL range which for me was a huge shift.  For the first time since given the diabetes diagnosis I was feeling I could beat this disease through just diet and exercise.

Then I learned of the ‘person specific’ piece of the puzzle.  I’ve come to recognize managing the disease isn’t just about total daily carb intake; it is also about the kind of carbs, how your body deals with said carbs and even when you eat these carbs.  Because of this I’ve started a ‘Do Not Eat’ list of foods I’ve learned will really spike my BG values.  My first experience with this concept was when I was just craving something sweet so I had two tablespoons of Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter in the evening.  At the time I was trying to hold to an under 140 grams CHO/day target; those two tablespoons contributed 38 CHOs and I finished that day at 151 total grams of CHOs.  But, much to my chagrin, when I did my morning ‘stick’ the next day my BG had jumped from 254 mg/dL to 283 mg/dL!  I was flummoxed until I remembered hearing that everyone is a bit different regarding how their bodies handle certain sources of carbs.  I had just seen evidence that my body couldn’t deal with all the sucrose in the Jif!  That remains entry number one in the aforementioned ‘Do Not Eat’ list.  This also reinforced the importance of logging everything one eats in excruciating detail until you have a good understanding of foods with ‘good’ carbs versus those with ‘bad’ carbs.  I’m also beginning to understand that time of day can play a definite role in the next morning’s BG reading when consuming carbs.  I can get by with a single slice of bread but only if I eat it early on like right after I do my morning stick which is around 07:00.  If I wait until noon or later it will elevate the next morning’s reading.

And, finally, there’s the natural variability of one’s system to toss into the mix.  I’ve seen a couple readings which were elevated for no discernible reason.  Wonderful, on top of all the other puzzle pieces we can now add the dreaded ‘unk-unks’ (unknown unknowns)!  But this is all part of managing diabetes.  One must be very aware of one’s dietary regime and understand the impacts – negative and positive – that our food choices have upon our bodies.  Just a month into this lifestyle shift I already look back fondly to the days I just tried to stay roughly aware of my daily calories in an effort to exert a modicum of control over my weight!  But I’ve also learned about the very real damaging effects diabetes can produce and I want no part of those along with insulin dependence.  So I’m struggling to manage my late onset Type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise along with Metformin HCl.

To this point it appears I am succeeding although I still struggle with ‘peaks and valleys’ regarding my daily BG levels; I often joke the graph is beginning to resemble a profile of The Alaska Range.  Most of this is due to my continuing learning process regarding what are my body’s ‘good’ carbs versus ‘bad’ carbs.  Sadly, this is a very tedious and slow process but if one wishes to learn about the aforementioned one can only change one variable at a time regarding foods, total daily CHOs, time of day consumption and similar.  For now I appear to be able to hold my daily CHO intake to a minimal 40 grams; this means a very restricted diet and often leaves me feeling a bit weak and spacey in the morning as well as dealing with fatigued legs when I start my stepping.  But I can push through these inconveniences and if I just eat something like a few ounces of fresh strawberries these symptoms disappear.  At such a level my weight loss, originally initiated when I started doing 9,500+ daily steps, has really accelerated.  I desperately need to lose more weight both for the diabetes and especially for the hypertension.  However, I do not believe I can hold this daily CHO level for a long time – and it probably wouldn’t be healthy even if I could – so my current plan is to continue this limit across the next few months while I learn what constitutes my ‘good’ carbs versus ‘bad’ carbs.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even drop another 15 to 20 pounds!

If there’s any real value to this lengthy piece I hope it will encourage others out there dealing with Type 2 diabetes to really try to manage the disease via lifestyle changes.  If I can do so – and believe me, I’m the poster child for ‘age accentuated inertia’ – then anyone can!  At least, for those who are younger, you are more flexible regarding making major lifestyle shifts.  A friend and fellow diabetic shared something with me which really resonated; she said ‘as diabetics we do not seek what works but rather what doesn’t work’.  This is so spot on!!  If my morning BG level is in the acceptable range I probably will not review what I ate the previous day but if it is above that 125 mg/dL limit I will pore over my food logs seeking an explanation.  To this point I’d have to say the desperation brought about by my diabetes diagnosis has now turned into a kind of deliverance; deliverance from an unhealthy lifestyle and habits.  If I can live out my ‘golden years’ in better health and with more lust for life simply by eating better and exercising more than my diabetes diagnosis could truly be my deliverance…