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…



The trap of routine behaviors

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…

Firsts for May 1st

I’ve been meaning to get this brief piece finished and posted since the first couple of days in May but ‘Mr. Murphy’ and outside commitments conspired to make that a pipe dream.  Given I now have a bit of free time after completing my last 1,355 steps – I try to put down at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour from 05:00 to 11:00 with a current target of 10,000 plus daily steps – I decided to get this piece done and posted.  My blogging has kinda fallen off across the past four to six months; not sure why other than to observe my creativity just hasn’t been flowing.  Of course, dedicating almost a quarter of each hour during the mornings to stepping does eat into my available time and the fact that I am a morning person and hence do my best work before noon only exacerbates this situation.

Anyway, as we rolled into May I was struck by some ‘firsts’ which I’d observed during this time.  Some are reoccurring while some are just new activities/observations.  One of the former variety involved observing my first American Robin of 2017 on April 24th in the early morning while walking with my Alaskan malamute (Anana) and my German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk).  Actually I heard him – I’m pretty sure it was a male as it was well up in a birch and singing loudly so probably marking territory – first and then was able to visually locate him.  There may well have been other robins around earlier but this was the first I’d heard and then seen in 2017.  For those of us who observe birds in this area the arrival of robins from the lower 48 signals spring is definitely here.

Another reoccurring observation was awakening in the wee hours of the morning of April 27th to the ‘tap-tapping’ sound of rain on my metal roof.  I love that sound but in a normal year one doesn’t hear it from mid-October to mid-November until April because most precipitation that falls during that time period is snow and the roof has a coating of ice and snow.  I look forward to many more upcoming rainy nights as I love to lie in bed and listen to that sound.  It also fascinates me to listen to the ebb and flow of the rain rate; in this area we don’t usually get a steady rain but rather experience rain bands of varying density.  This can produce what is almost a melody if the bands are spaced in a continual pattern which is repetitive.

As to some firsts that are truly ‘firsts’ on April 30th I completed 35 consecutive days of 5,000+ steps per day.  More than half of said 35 days involved putting down more than 8,000 steps and have helped me push my daily steps to their current 10,612 steps/day average.  I’m fighting hypertension and obesity so I had to find some form of exercise which I could, and most importantly ‘would’, do at least six days a week.  As of this writing I’m working on 44 consecutive days of at least 5,000 steps a day.  Much of the daily morning muscle/joint pain and stiffness is now just a distant memory and I just realized I haven’t had a bout of depression since I began this regime.  I saw no weight loss until I reached 9,500 steps per day; now the weight is very slowly beginning to disappear.  My goal is to push myself to 12,500 steps per day; given 10,000 steps is the equivalent of around 4.9 miles for me such a goal would see me putting down at least six miles a day.  I intend to continue walking at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour between 05:00 and 11:00 in an effort to keep my system ‘energized’.  I’m aware stepping as I do it is not a true aerobic activity but it does ramp up my system and it forces me away from the monitor and into motion once an hour.  With luck as I drop more weight I’ll be able to start bicycling which will help my overall condition.  Of course, my canine companions love my lifestyle change and are now completely expectant of at least one long walk every day.  For anyone interested I use a Garmin Vivofit 2 wrist fitness monitor; the ‘Garmin Connect’ web-page is wonderful for tracking steps, calories burned, hours sleeping and similar!

A final ‘one time first’ for me occurred on April 14th when I sat in with my good friend Randy during his Friday evening classic rock music show at KTNA.  Anyone following this blog knows I spent almost three years doing both newscasts and music shows at KTNA but I decided I’d come to philosophically based parting of the ways with the station at the end of December, 2016.  While I’d done shows with other folks sitting in this was the first time the roles were reversed.  It felt great to be back behind a mic and during Randy’s two hour show we received three calls complimenting us and our performance.  All told it was a lot of fun although given it was a two hour show running until 23:00 it was a bit past my bedtime!

I put together this blog as a kind of celebration of life; not just my own but that of Nature and other folks as well.  I’ve been so blessed to experience a two decade dream of living in semi-rural Alaska but coming up on my fourth full year of such an existence I’ve noticed I’m becoming a bit blasé regarding this situation and that both angers and saddens me.  I know it is human nature to become ‘used’ to situations but I do not ever want to become ‘used’ to the majesty and splendor of my Alaskan home.  If writing this helps me re-energize the awe and wonder I feel almost daily when I walk outside and immerse myself in Alaska’s magic then it has served its purpose.  If it does so for others, regardless of where/how they live, then so much the better!

Tek Robin

An American Robin atop a black pine at Teklanika campground in Denali NP&P