Monday, October 31, 2011

1 Percent

When I started sewing my first project was to make a floppy leather briefcase. This was when I lived in New York City and was discovering first hand how expensive it was to live in “the city”. And how expensive floppy leather briefcases were.

One of the first things I learned about sewing leather was that once you make a hole in a piece of leather it doesn’t go away - when sewing cloth you can rip out a seam and the cloth doesn’t show holes where you have sewn. But, with leather you don’t have that luxury. Either you make sure your design is right, and that you get your seams where they belong, or you buy more leather.

Talk about attention to detail! But, it is attention to details - like these - that make one truly exceptional in ones work. I have entitled this posting “1 Percent” not because I am fascinated by the political machinations that are currently plaguing our great country, but because I believe anything that is worth doing is worth doing not just right - but as absolutely perfectly as possible. As in the top 1%. I suppose you could say I am railing against mediocrity - and in fact, I probably am.

My experience has taught me that it often doesn’t take a lot to achieve a really phenomenal result - just a bit more effort - not giving up when something doesn’t quite go right, slowing down when things seem to be going in a direction you don’t really want to go... Funny thing is, if you start this kind of behavior when you are young it really does get easier with each new project. And, on the flip side, if you start accepting a half-done job early in life it becomes more difficult to get things right with each succeeding project.

Sometimes I find myself thinking of the various skills that combine to let me finish projects today. Almost as if each project is the culmination of all the previous projects. Hmmm - does that mean that projects get easier - in some ways, but it still took me 15 hours on my hands and knees with paint remover and steel wool to get the old finish off of the slate on the front landing. I won’t have to do it again to get it right, and it will be gorgeous, but it was still serious work.

And, as I write this I periodically answer the door to dispense candy to the brave souls that trekked up the hill for their Halloween spoils. And, each time I look at the slate I am glad I took the time. OH - watch the slate - it is slippery!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Guy Thing

OK - I admit this posting will probably be pretty goofy, but none the less - I am feeling pretty stoked. Good workout - but it was the camaraderie that really gave me a warm fuzzy today. Four different young men - this time I am referring to guys in their teens and twenties - went out of their way to acknowledge me today - slugs in the shoulder, fist bumps (new one for me - two guys knock fists together as a form of greeting), inquiries on our latest strange exercise moves - and a couple of older guys - kind words on this blog, questions about how I have gotten so ripped (ripped is a good thing in the athletic world - it doesn’t necessarily mean having a lot of muscle, you can have a little muscle but have VERY low body fat, making your muscles look super defined)...

I guess part of why this feels so good is because I was not into athletics in highschool or college - sure I rode a bicycle a lot, but no team sports, no working out in the gym - this is all new to me. And, to be so accepted by both young men and old - it really makes the work-outs worth all the effort.

I suppose I should be up front about workouts. They are really hard work - yes, it all sounds like fun and games when I talk about them - and yes, Michael (18 year old soccer player who has been working out with me for 5 months) and I push each other, but they really are hard workouts, and leave me pretty beat. Make that very beat. But, like so much in my life, giving it my all pays fantastic returns in satisfaction and happiness. Doing things leads to satisfaction and happiness!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Over the years I have talked to a surprising number of people who once worked out, but were hurt and no longer felt they could work out “until they healed”.

And never got started again.

Or, when they did get back into working out found the challenge daunting. Each time I do my best to help them understand, and come to believe that they can in fact get started again, and have a chance to again get fit.

Reminds me of an older gentleman I’ve talked to a bit over the last month. Rotator cuff injury, used to be able to do 60 one-armed push-ups - recovering, but giving up on the pushups - too difficult any more. Makes me sad to think that his injury is resulting in a cut back on the exercising he is doing - back to the concept discussed in an earlier post - we are either growing, or dying.

There are a lot of accidents that are truly not avoidable - and there are things we can do to help avoid accidents. I like to think that my focus on core and balance will help me avoid some of the falls that can result in bruises, sprains, and in later years, broken bones and joints. Especially it seems hips.

Lenny’s shoulder injury got me thinking about something I hear a lot in the gym - not from the women I talk to, but from the guys - all too many of whom have had rotator-cuff injuries and now can’t get back to where they were. Or are waiting for their injury to heal.

Which brings me to my concept of sustainability. I meet a lot of men who’s focus in working out is seeing how much they can bench, curl or squat. Being a competitive sort, I can readily understand the allure of being able to bench more than your friends. It is something that is very measurable, and which carries a very immediate reward. Funny, I never hear about how many chin-ups or push-ups they can do.

The challenge is that there is never really enough - until one hurts oneself - then it is a whole new ball game - at best waiting for the damaged joint or tendon or ligament to heal, or, at worst, giving up on working out.

The reality is that lifting ever heavier weights will one day snap something. Which is clearly born out when I see some of the heavy lifters using straps to protect their wrists - pity there aren’t straps to protect the next most vulnerable joint - the shoulders.

I suppose I am bringing all this up because I think it ratifies the approach I have been developing - unbalanced exercises focused on developing the core, and body-weight exercises with a focus on reps, not weight. Granted, doing unbalanced exercises increases the chance that one can fall over while exercising - this is definitely an area where one wants to progress slowly and maintain a safe approach to doing exercises that demand greater balance. But, the payback is significant - improved balance reducing the risk of falling, and strengthening the core so that the back is not as readily strained.

This is a subject I plan to think more about - and hope you will share your thoughts about how one can best avoid the exercise-related injuries that can make working out problematic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Working the Core

Most of us will never achieve 6-pack abs like my nephews - I doubt I ever will. Hence his having his shirt off in this photo, and my leaving my shirt on. But, most of us will have lower back pain at some point. Picking up something heavy, or picking it up with poor technique, packing excess body weight, even cardiovascular workouts can make our lower backs hurt. The important thing to realize is that excess stress on your lower lumbar regions (lower back) can be reduced if you have a strong core. As Wikipedia puts it “lack of core development can result in a predisposition to injury”.

The standard fare for developing the core are sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts and hyperextensions. If you need to, just type in any of these terms into your favorite search engine and you will find pictures and videos showing you how to do them.

All of these exercises work - and I do all of them. In addition I try to find ways to incorporate a “core element” in many of my other exercises. I do this by finding ways to do things with one hand rather than with both hands. For example, most folk do curls with either barbell they can hold in both hands, or they use a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. They then curl with both arms at the same time, or curl with one arm while letting the other hang at their side. Either way, their core is not fighting an imbalance. But, if they only pick up one dumbbell and do curls with one arm at a time, then the core has to work to maintain balance when only one side of the body is curling a weight. This is the basis for my making curls into core exercises. Bench presses are an even better example. When you are laying on a bench and using only one barbell to do presses your core is responsible for keeping you from falling off the bench. The work your core does is directly proportional to the weight you are using, so, as you slowly increase the amount you can curl or press, you also increase the work your core is doing.

Even exercises done with machines can be changed to incorporate a core element - if you forgo the two-handed approach and instead find ways to do each exercise with only one hand at a time. This will force your core to stabilize your body and increase your core strength.

The other thing I like about doing unbalanced exercises is they are harder to do - so you use lighter weights - thereby reducing strain on joints. I typically find that people have to reduce the weight they use in each hand when doing a balanced exercise by as much as 25 percent when they switch to using only one hand.

As with any change in your workout routine, be careful. Unbalanced exercises, whether sitting or laying on a bench, or standing, pose more of a risk for falling than do balanced exercises. That is the whole point of unbalanced exercises. Start with light weights, and low reps, build the number of reps until you are comfortable with 25 or 30 repetitions, then increase the weight by small increments. And, if you have a history of back problems, talk to a trainer and/or your doctor. And always remember, start light and have someone spotting you when you first try an unbalanced exercise.

I was thinking about Lenny - the gentleman who damaged his shoulder recently. And I was thinking about how sustainable his exercise routine is - as in how he can continue to improve his strength as he ages when his focus is lifting ever heavier weights. Tomorrow I want to talk a bit about sustainability.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Surviving Your Exercise Routine

Being committed to exercising for the last 30-something years has allowed me to develop a few ideas on what routines are best for me. Granted, I have overdone it a few times, but, for most of the years when I had my day job I pretty much focused on keeping in reasonable shape, doing primarily body-weight exercises.

I am not sure why, but I just didn’t get into doing heavy bench presses, curls, and squats. Instead my focus over the past 3 decades has been on body-weight exercises - chin-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups...

Most gyms are centered around the aerobic exercise machines (bicycles, treadmills, stair steppers...), free-weights and exercise/weight machines - the latter (free-weights and weight machines) being focused on specific muscles with the potential for some pretty strenuous exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, 60 pushups is strenuous - but not in the same way as benching 315 pounds, which brings me closer to the point I want to make with this post.

Earlier I was talking to Derek - one of the young men at the gym (35 years old - when did I start calling 30 year olds “young men”???) - when I found out why I hadn’t seen his work-out bud for a couple of weeks. Derek showed me a picture of Lenny’s shoulder - which featured a fairly comprehensive array of blues and purples. Lenny had been pressing 315 pounds when his shoulder sort of gave way. Ouch, double ouch, OUCH.

A quote comes to mind: “When muscles and joints compete - joints loose”. For all of us aging weekend warriors, with each passing year the competition between joints and muscles becomes more lopsided, with muscles in the ascendency.

One of the big advantages of maintaining a work-out regimen is you have a pretty good feel for what will make you sore - what it takes to strain your muscles. In my mind, I have to strain enough that once in a while I will have sore muscles - otherwise I am not pushing hard enough to gain strength and stamina. Those who’s goal is significant strength and muscle bulk gain tend to increase weight instead of increasing reps. Which is great for building musculature and looking truly amazing, but not so great if something lets go.

I suspect Lenny will be nursing his shoulder for perhaps 6 months - the doctor told him it could have been worse - for which he has Derek to thank in that Derek caught the weight before Lenny dropped it on his chest.

I plan to discuss my exercise routine more tomorrow - focusing on how I try to incorporate a core and balance element in all of my exercises. For today I want to make a couple of points:

If you aren’t working out now, talk to your doctor to see if they have specific advice on limitations you need to be worried about. Then get a trainer, agree on a set of goals, and develop a routine to achieve those goals.

If you are working out already, GOOD FOR YOU. As you age, consider shifting your strength training from the weight machines and traditional bench press/curls/squats kind of routine toward more body-weight exercises. And, incorporate as much core and balance work as possible. Don’t forget the aerobic component of your routine - another great quote - this one from the book “Younger Next Year”: “Aerobic exercise does more to stop actual death, but strength training makes your life worthwhile.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Self Image

Kelly and I try to take an evening off every couple of weeks to watch a movie - we used to watch them on a small laptop computer, but we finally broke down and bought a 22 inch monitor and a DVD player. It’s funny today to think back on our watching an 11 inch screen - but it did pretty much guarantee we spent those moments close to each other.

When watching movies I used to bemoan the challenge of living up to the reality we saw on the screen - men with rippling abs, women who were stunningly beautiful - and, once again, Kelly came to the rescue, explaining that I too could look like a hunk if I spent most of my day in the gym.

OK - at 57, I am not going to look like a 20 something adonis, but it is hard to explain how much my self-image is bolstered by the improvements I have made to my physique.

Kelly calls me her soldier boy. Little thing - but means a lot. Then there was the 4th of July picnic here in the neighborhood - a group of retired navy men wanted to know if I was an ex-marine. Or the retired navy seal at the gym asking if I was ex-military - answer is no, but heck, he asked.

Or the ladies today who asked if I was a retired gymnast.

Which is why I am writing about self image. I don’t see myself as anything but a fairly nondescript old man - but, with a third of America being obese, putting time in at the gym can make a fairly nondescript old man look pretty good.

And the kind comments from others just make it all soooo worth it.

Working out - hard, and often, can revitalize your body and your self image. What is more important than that?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Investing in yourself

One of my goals in the years leading up to my retirement was to own the tools I would need to pursue my hobbies and ultimately my post-retirement job. Whilst I suppose this could be read as justification for buying lots of tools, I tempered this by buying tools as I needed them to do projects - typically projects that saved money because I did them myself. While I started with a pretty simple project for my first woodworking task - refinishing two junk dressers - later projects got a lot more involved - I suppose the most complex one was remodeling the kitchen in our old house, and adding a bedroom/bathroom upstairs. It was a year long project, one that taught me a massive amount, and one which allowed me to buy tools I have been using ever since. We sold that house in 2010 just 4 days after it went on the market - I like to think because of the upgrades I put in place. Fortunately the virtual tour of the house is still on the web - see what you think. Virtual Tour

Oh, please realize we were pretty much camping in the house after getting all the clocks and furniture in the garage - ready to load on trucks. Hence the paucity of furniture and stuff.

So, one sold house, lots of tools for ongoing projects, a heck of a lot of work, and a massive dose of satisfaction.

My 24 year old nephew is starting down what I hope is a similar path - a young engineer, he is learning more about maintaining his Toyota pickup - with 197,000 miles on it. He has now bought the basic tools needed to do maintenance, oh, and a clutch job. I can almost feel the frustration he will come up against as he loosens tight bolts that are way up there inside the truck where he can’t quite see them. And as he tries to figure out how to undo clutch hydraulic lines, and the funny little clips holding things in place... But, he will also start learning the how’s and why’s of the way vehicles are put together. And will be a better engineer. And will be able to take better care of his vehicles. And will be on his way to having the tools needed for so many other projects.

I suppose it is important to point out a rule that I have always tried to live by - don’t buy a tool unless you are going to use it. This comes from seeing people who love to buy tools but never use them. This really isn’t investing in yourself - or investing at all. It is just another way of seeking fulfillment by buying things - which doesn’t really work all that well.

Don’t get me wrong - I don’t want to sound harsh about buying tools for the pleasure of buying tools, it’s just that it will not make it easier to retire.

Investing in yourself means not only tools, but books, college courses, heck, all manner of learning. When I first became enamored with clocks and watches I decided to take a 2 week watchmaking lathe course up in Ohio. This was the most important thing I did when getting into what turned into my retirement job. The next most important step was convincing a retired railroad watch inspector to introduce me to the skills needed to do pocket-watch restorations. It turned out the only way I was able to get him to teach me was to buy out his collection of tools and parts. Big investment - yes - but even bigger return.

It was somewhere along about then that my wife gave me the much needed encouragement to “stay the course” in my desire to develop horological skills - when she told me I was “investing in myself”. That expression has stayed with me, and formed the basis for where I am today - doing things, finding satisfaction and happiness in my retirement job!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reinventing - An Ongoing Reality

When I first moved to New York City there was no money for the many things a new graduate wanted/needed. So, as discussed in a previous posting, I made a briefcase, and I refinished trash dressers. And discovered I enjoyed both of those tasks.

Those simple beginnings included a lot of mistakes, and a lot of learning. And resulted in two of my hobbies that I still enjoy today. A number of the skills I have developed resulted from my not having the money for things I wanted. So I took the time to develop the skills necessary to restore something into what I wanted, or I learned to make it. And, with each new project, and each new skill I built on my previous knowledge.

Funny that, back then learning meant going to the library for a book. Today, with the entire world at our fingertips it is so much easier. Yet, when I look around me, I don’t get the idea that people are really getting into doing things, and learning how to do things any more than in the past. In fact, I get the idea there is less of this going on.

I guess I should be careful with that overly broad statement - computer gaming is way up - as is social commentary and social networking. But, the skills and abilities I am talking about, the skills that give me a lot of satisfaction today, the skills that gave me options for new careers when I retired, not so much.

I know there are careers that can be built on social networking and gaming - don’t get me wrong - and if people can use these to reinvent themselves - fantastic. In fact, I hope that people who read this and who have found their second careers in these fields will communicate with me - so I can share their successes.

For myself, getting to this point in time has involved learning many skills that I can now use to not only save money (by doing things myself) but also generate the satisfaction that makes my retirement so rewarding.

The above really suggests that I am focusing this posting on younger people who have the years to develop a wide range of skills. But, honestly, it also applies to the people who have been able to retire and now have so much more free time - allowing them to develop skills. And start finding satisfaction in each task they conquer.

Tomorrow I am going to continue this thread by talking a bit about investing in yourself - a concept my wife introduced me to years ago.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reinventing - Talk the Talk

Back on September 26th I posted a bog - “My Retirement Job” - in which I discussed the conscious decision I made to change hobbies so that one day I could retire. What I didn’t discuss was the fact that I wrote a business plan, identified strategic risks, marketing issues - I tried to put a firm basis for the concept I was working with - having a “job” when I retired.

I am still amazed that the plan worked.

But, that is not the subject of this posting. As soon as I started “walking the walk” by building a relationship with a clock dealer in Salzburg Austria I also started talking the talk. By that time I had already sold perhaps 15 grandfather clocks, so it was legitimate for me to start telling people I met that I was an antique dealer. Rather than saying I was an engineer with an oil company. Looking back, it is amazing how important that really was - getting my mind started down the road to being ready to let go of my day job.

Today I think back to the years that I had two jobs - restoring antique clocks evenings and weekends, and engineering for the 9 to 5 weekdays. By treating my hobby as a job, with a commitment in the business plan to plow all revenue right back into more clocks, I was able to buy original clocks in Austria and build a quality reputation based on the fantastic pieces we found.

I am still amazed at how the business plan worked out. And, how, with that business up and running I was able to handle the transition from engineer to antique dealer. I suppose more than anything else, getting the chance to retire at 53 was a big relief - going from 2 full time jobs to just one was an even greater relief!

In retrospect it all seems so obvious - that’s the thing about looking back, we forget the nights worried about the last money transfer - worrying whether we would be able to build sufficient clientele - worried about packing, shipping, insurance, damages...

And all this while holding down a 9 to 5. But, since I did have a day job I was able to draw on experience of people at the oil company to help me understand some of the ins and outs of international finance. And shipping. And insurance. Or, as my Austrian buyer often said, and, and, and...

Most importantly, when I was given my freedom (otherwise known as walking papers) I was able to step into a functioning business - I was in fact an antique dealer!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's never too late to reinvent yourself

The above is a quote from Judith Jamison, a noted American Dancer and Choreographer which I found in Whole Living. The rest of the quote follows: “ to do whatever it is you need to do to rekindle your life”.

About 15 years ago I joined a business development group in the company I worked for - making a bet that the young VP in charge of the group could revitalize said company. Instead he managed to get sideways with the president of the company, whereupon he was given the opportunity to pursue a different career. Two weeks later his group was given the same option. Which meant I was out of a job.

Even though I knew of two groups who wanted to hire me back into the same company, I was for a time unemployed. And, even with the assurance of another position with the same company, I still went through some pretty intense stress - see, I had never been in the position of not being able to say “I’m an engineer with an oil company”. That is what I was - that is how I defined my self worth - which is not the same as being an unemployed engineer.

I was fortunate that I had just started reassembling the engine for my 1970 MGB: I had plenty to keep me busy while negotiating my return to the company. Plenty of time to think about who I was, and to start realizing that I needed a better definition than the one I listed in the previous paragraph.

I plan to discuss in tomorrow’s post how I coped with this need to “reinvent” myself. For today I want those of you who are still in the work force to think about how you introduce yourselves to others - and to decide if that really is the way you want to define yourself (making the assumption your response is like the one I used to use). Heck, at this point in your career your job may be the most important thing in your life. But does it define who you are? And, if you are already retired - do you use your past career to define yourself?

I was talking to a retired contractor earlier today - he is an avid woodworker and has been retired for 15 years. He told me that it took him two years after he retired to find himself - during which time he went through some serious mental stress - and hey, he was a self-employed home-builder. Even being self employed and deciding for himself that he was ready to retire - he still had a serious identity crisis. Just think how much impact it can have on a persons sense of self worth, especially for someone who is proud of their career, when they find out they have just been laid off because the company is downsizing, rightsizing, or whatever.

Retirement - perhaps it is a good idea to give some thought to this game changer before you find yourself cast in the deep end. I plan to explore this subject a bit more this week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

My first job upon graduating from college was with Caltex Petroleum, an international oil company. After a year with them in New York City, getting to know the company, and seeing where best I might fit into their structure, I was off to Cape Town South Africa. Apparently their conclusion was my best fit was as far as possible from corporate headquarters.

A year or two later the corporate office sent a veteran engineer to the various refineries around the world to talk to the young engineers. He entitled his presentation - “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”.

Said old engineer told us about his career, about his fight with alcoholism, and about the things that made his life worth living. I suppose it is a bit trite to say he lived for his job, but, that was his message - with the caveat that his job gave him the chance to work on difficult problems, and to find solutions to these problems. He described his solving problems as his “eureka moments”. His greatest satisfaction came from moments when the light came on - all the disparate facts would come together and he would “see” the answer to the problem.

Now, as an old engineer myself, I can understand his point of view. And, as an old engineer, I am telling young engineers that this is a large part of what has made my career so special - the chance to dig into difficult problems, to gather facts, to draw ideas together, and, ultimately, to see the real issues, and to then find the solution.

While I was paid for the work I put in as an engineer, sometimes it seemed like I should be paying them - given the satisfaction I derived from solving interesting and challenging problems. Right - I didn’t actually ever suggest they shouldn’t pay me, but you get the point.

There is an old saying - “Curiosity killed the cat”. But, this is only half of the saying - the other half is “Satisfaction brought it back”. In my world today, there are many times when it would be easiest to let the “professional” solve a problem, like when I have a problem with one of the newer cars we drive. But, each time I dig in, find the issues, use the internet if needed to help me understand what is going on, and then solve the problem. Each time I feel a massive sense of satisfaction.

And with this I can finally show how this rather disjointed posting ties into previous concepts - Taking the time to dig into a problem while believing that you can in fact solve it (the “do something” part) brings satisfaction, and ultimately happiness.

Most of you are not engineers - but every day you face problems that demand solutions - my message - take the time, learn a bit more about the problem, research it, and see if you can’t solve the problem yourself. It might well amaze you how many problems you can resolve, and, I assure you, the satisfaction makes the effort so worthwhile.

Now I am the old engineer talking about “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


When I first started thinking about this blog I naturally thought my audience would be folk like myself - retired folk in their 50's, 60's and 70's (and 80's if they have kept active - 90's anyone?), young enough to improve their health and well being by pursuing hobbies and working out. But, the more I thought about how I got to where I am, the more I realized that I needed to connect to people in their 20's, 30's and 40's.

Back on September 27th I talked about skills - and the concept of a Renaissance Man - which translates today to a Renaissance Person. I suspect one can not start when they retire and build up the skills I am talking about. And, besides, these skills will help you decide what it is you want to be/do when you get the chance to retire from your day job. OK - a very generic concept, retiring from the day job. But, hang in there - I am basically saying that there will come a time when you have the luxury, and hopefully the motivation to devote a lot more time to doing things you really want to do, instead of in those odd moments when not busy with job, kids, wife, pets... It will help so much if you already have skills you can draw on.

Woodworking - I remember when I moved into my studio apartment in NYC - my first job. No furniture, nothing. But I found two dressers in the apartment complex - in the halls, waiting to be taken to the trash. Many coats of paint, and a bit rough, but good wood under it all. First stop was the library for a book on refinishing furniture. Then off to a hardware store for steel wool and paint remover. And a piece of plywood for the sides of one of the dressers. And a hand saw, and a hammer, and paint brush, and finish, and stain.

These two dressers are in my bedroom today. From these simple beginnings I have developed the skills necessary to restore antique clock cases. And am in fact now teaching others how to faux finish, carve, make molding...

Around the same time I decided I really needed a brief case - and I saw one I really wanted, a lovely leather floppy case. OK, $200 was out of the question. But, I had the old black sewing machine a friend gave me in High School when her mother got a new machine. So, off to Tandy, and I made my own. Which I will still periodically carry. I have had to re-stitch it when the cotton thread died, but this simple start has allowed me to move on, and make things like bomber jackets with fur collars, camera bags, car interiors...

On the exercise front - it is so much easier to start when you are 25. But, so very rewarding when you only start in your 50's, 60's, 70's, well, you get the idea. I was lucky - I started working out when I was 25 and kept at it. Not at today’s 2 to 2.5 hours a day level, but enough to get me to retirement so I could really get serious about getting stronger and more fit.

Audience - Anyone who wants to one day retire into a fulfilling life. Or, anyone already retired who wants more out of their life. By doing things, which gives one satisfaction, which makes one happy!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Kelly and I moved to Portland a year ago, thereby becoming one more family that has been uprooted and gone somewhere where they really knew very very few people. OK, granted, we wanted to move here. But, it was still daunting.

I think that our society, with all of its mobility, leaves a lot of people feeling very alone, or, frankly, lonely. Granted, Kelly and I have each other - and we are both very thankful. But, how does one meet people in a strange city?

How is it that we seem to have more friends than we can say grace over, after just a year?

I suppose I could say that this blog is all about finding friends - as I look back over some of my posts there is a recurrent theme: Happiness comes from satisfaction which comes from doing things. My point here - doing things opens up the potential for making a lot of good friends.

You will discover with time (or perhaps right now) that I do not consider going out for a drink as doing something. Yes, it is social, but it is not what I mean by doing things. Likewise watching TV - I love it when I get calls from pollsters seeking my opinion on TV shows - a few comments about TV’s being the “spawn of the devil” usually suffices.

When I talk about doing things I am talking about developing physical skills, learning, teaching others, getting into motivational speaking, assisting others, writing, doing something you have always wanted to do... Let’s see - playing a musical instrument - have met perhaps 30 people, restoring clocks, perhaps 20 people, working out - hmmm, 30 or 40 people, cars - not really developed yet - not enough time to focus on my passion for old jags, sewing/tailoring - again, not even touched that one yet, bicycling - not yet, kayaks, wood carving, stained glass, none of these either - not yet. But, even with our relatively short time here we have the basis for a bunch of friendships - and are enjoying building these new relationships.

I especially like the fact that the people I am coming to know span a range of ages from their late teens to their 60's, and beyond.

I have been told many times that, before I start a project I should outline my goals - and I have to confess that I have not done that with this blog. In truth, it really is a work in progress. I know that I am very happy with where I am, and I hope to be able to share some of the things that have worked for me. My audience? Perhaps I should write about that tomorrow - I have a cat demanding my attention - it’s time to sit back and let said cat fall asleep in my lap while I read.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Muscle Memory

I ended yesterday’s post saying I would next discuss balance, and why it means so much to me.

When we learn to walk we develop the ability to automatically coordinate a large number of muscles so that we can move and balance without having to focus on the individual activities that are involved. It is theorized that new neural pathways are created in the brain to allow us to walk - these pathways give the muscles a sense of ("Muscle Memory").

Unfortunately, as we age we tend to loose muscle tone, muscle response, and, if we don’t work on it, our ability to balance.

I read a Scandinavian study on tripping and age. The conclusion was that people in their twenties trip as often as people in their 50's - but people in their 20's recover from their trips while older folk have more of a tendency of going down.


So, rather than focusing just on strength training, and building big muscles, I focus on my core and building better balance. To this end I do a lot of my exercises, like curls and presses, while either standing on a Bosu Ball or laying back on an inflated exercise ball. And, I only do one arm at a time - which puts my body in an unbalanced condition - along with my standing on a Bosu or balancing on an exercise ball.

Yup, after years of working at this, I can in fact stand on one leg and do curls. DON’T start out on one leg on a Bosu. Start with one leg on the ground and one on the Bosu. As you develop your stability, shift weight to the Bosu. Since you are only using one arm to do your exercises you can use the other hand to hold onto a wall or piece of gym equipment. Once you can move both feet to the Bosu you can start focusing on being able to let go of the wall/equipment. And, with time, you will hopefully be able to shift to one leg.

Why does it matter so much - because one hard fall can break a 50-something or 60-something’s hip - which is all too often the start of serious challenges.

By doing unbalanced exercises on a Bosu you are also developing your core muscles - which help support your back and help minimize back injuries.

Amazingly this regimen also does a wonderful job of strengthening your overall physique and toning your muscles - providing you with a much more balanced musculature.

And, hopefully, when you find yourself tripping over a step or hose or dog toy, you will catch yourself before you fall!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


When I start working out with someone I talk to them about monitoring their progress - because progress can be a major motivator. Whether it is being able to do an exercise, fit into a pair of pants, increase your endurance, increase your lean muscle mass (while reducing fat levels), increase your bicep size - you really won’t remember where you were unless you first document where you are when you started.

Photo’s, measuring your waist, thighs, biceps, chest, outrunning your kid sister who has always kicked your backside, even documenting how many reps you can do of specific exercises. These all allow you to track your progress. And, if you want to be a bit more scientific, learning to determine your bodies composition is a great way to get down to the nitty gritty - just how much of your body is fat. Here is a link to a site we use to determine our body composition based on measurements with a "fat caliper" - they offer a caliper for $14 that has worked great for us - body composition caliper.

I will be the first to admit that my religiously making it to a gym for the last 32 years has not been trivial. When I still had a day job, it was tough to make real progress on 30 minutes a day. But I tracked how many chin-ups I could do. It helped.

With time I will be discussing my focus on building core strength and balance. I bring this up because my current milestones are focused on doing exercises on balls - like push-ups with my hands on one basketball, and my feet on another. I’m up to 12.

Please, don’t get me wrong here - a year ago I would have never, ever believed I would be able to do these push-ups. And I am not trying to brag - though I am very proud of what workouts have done for me these last 3 years (since I retired and was able to spend more than 30 minutes per day). My point: I have kept working out, which has built physical strength, which has helped provide the motivation to keep working out. For me, increasing my ability to do specific exercises is a significant motivator - and challenge. Part of my goal of being younger next year.

Tomorrow I will go more into balance and why it matters so much to me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being Friendly

One of the things that I enjoy about the gym is the number of people who say hi, hey, hello, how ya doing and the like. Michael, my work out bud, will comment once in a while that I must know everyone in the gym.

Nope. I don’t. But I do go out of my way to make positive comments when I see someone doing something well, or doing something challenging - or just showing up consistently.

Hey, we all like to be recognized. If you don’t have a work-out bud to help keep you motivated it really can be tough getting there every day. But, if people acknowledge you, smile, make kind remarks - it is amazing how much faster a work out seems to go, and how good you feel about being there.

So, why do so many people say hi to me? Because I say it first. Usually. OK, sometimes someone will see me doing something really off the wall and introduce themselves so they can learn more about what I am doing. But, most of the time it is up to me. And that is fine.

I remember when I lived in New York City. Everyone complained about how cold people were - wouldn’t talk to you, or help you. And I can remember smiling at people, and getting a smile back. And stopping people to ask directions, and having them walk me 3 or 4 blocks so I would be sure to find what I was looking for. But, I had to make the first move.

Gyms are like that. People are there for a reason, some really want to focus on their goal - and may not want to have any social contact. But, all too many really would like to be recognized, maybe get a little encouragement.

There are also folk there who are fighting a debilitating condition, or perhaps recovering from a stroke or the like. Or who are really a bit overweight. I think it is by far the most important thing I can do at the gym - to recognize them for the effort they are making. It doesn’t take but a second - and in a week or two, their smiles when they see you will truly make the gym a warmer and wonderfully friendly place.

Smile at people, say hi, looking good, you’re looking like a pro, heck, say, just say something nice - in no time you will find that you are repaid many times over with warmth and kindness.

And you will have one reason to really like working out. In the next couple of posts I will talk about some of the other reasons I enjoy working out!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overdoing It

I have often read the admonition “Check with your doctor before beginning and exercise program”. Here is a good link to a Mayo Clinic discussion on this subject: Mayo Clinic

I wholeheartedly agree with this advice. To which I will add my own advice - start slowly, and build as you can.

Which really is not the subject of this posting. As I gradually became more fit I regularly found myself comfortably on a plateau - not really advancing in my strength or fitness, but not bad either. I can go back over the years and enumerate the specific events that broke me out of these routines and got me back on a growth curve. One in particular comes to mind - I had watched a very fit, very strong young man for several weeks doing some pretty heavy lifting. And he had noticed that I did a lot of body-weight-based exercises - push-ups, chin-ups and the like. One day we got talking and I asked him to show me his leg routine. He did the next day. The day after that I could not walk up stairs. Or bend over. But, he showed me that I was in fact strong enough to do much more - I just went a little far with that first step.

Reminds me also of a young man who one day asked if he could work out with me - interestingly, also a leg work-out. He was pretty strong, and did some good exercises, some hard exercises. Then I didn’t see him for a week. He was so sore the day after our workout that his wife made him promise not to work out with the crazy man ever again.

While I wish I had a magic formula to offer, I don’t. I know that I am stronger now then I was last year, and, was stronger last year than the year before that. In fact, each of the 3 years that I have been retired have seen significant increases in my strength and endurance. And have seen specific episodic periods when I over did it as I took on a new routine or took an existing routine to a new level.

In fact, Monday of this week was just such a time - the first day that I worked out with Olympic exercise rings - or gymnasts rings. Let’s just say that Tuesday justified a light workout, and today was still not up to full speed. But, and I have to stress this, I can tell that rings will move me up to a new level that is unbelievably higher than where I am now.

One resource that I can recommend is the book “Younger Next Year”. It will help you begin to understand the physiological rational behind pushing your body with rigorous exercise routines. And it will tell you more about my goal - which is to be absolutely more fit, stronger, and yes, younger next year.

The bottom line of this posting is that you will have to over do it once in a while to keep improving. With time you will get a lot better at knowing your body, and its limits. You will learn which muscles you can readily strain badly enough that they will hassle you for weeks. And you will come to relish the soreness that tells you that you are transcending a plateau. Start slow, learn your body, both its strengths, and weaknesses, and then do everything you can to grow, and become truly younger next year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Making Mistakes

I suspect growing up without a lot of money is one reason I have gotten good at doing a lot of different things. But, that is not the focus of this posting, though it does have some relevance, as I will attempt to explain.

When I think back on all of the mistakes I have made working on cars, it is a pretty long, and very daunting list. Some would say paying $30 for a car that you have to tow home so you can start working on it was a mistake. But, that is not what I would consider a mistake. Because it gave me the chance to learn auto-mechanics, and also gave me the experience needed to restore a 1970 MGB, a 1966 Jaguar 3.8S, and a 1969 Jaguar XKE, and to maintain our BMW’s.

This post’s focus is on the mistakes I made which taught me the things not to do. Which makes me better at doing things today.

Let’s take pliers for instance. When you start working on things you find that pliers are a sort of universal tool - great for gripping stuff. OK, they don’t grip very well, and they tear things up pretty readily, but initially they are the perfect tool. Until you tear up a tight nut so badly that now a wrench will no longer work, and the pliers are not getting it loose. This is an excellent example of the kind of mistakes I had the chance to make at a young age. Or maybe there was the time I was wiring up a transformer and accidently touched the terminals with the back of my finger. I was eight at the time, and the scar from that arc is still visible.

Sometimes I will be helping someone and it just hits me - the reason I am good at so many things is because I have made so many mistakes. Each mistake teaches another lesson, and, I like to think, gives me a better chance of applying that lesson to a number of areas.

Something else I have noticed - it seems like any more, when I do something new, wow, it just works better than I ever would have imagined. I suppose because of all those mistakes.

We are never too old to make more mistakes, or to learn from the mistakes we make. If we are to grow, we have to get out there and do things - preferably new things. Making new mistakes. And, if we have children, while it is so very hard to do, we have to let them make their own mistakes, and be there to help them - after they make their mistakes.

I suspect those who have made the most mistakes are the ones with the most options for finding hobbies/occupations/avocations that will be fulfilling and provide the satisfaction that is an integral part of being happy when they retire. And they will be able to fix faucets, broken furniture, and their own cars, making their retirement a lot more affordable.

Monday, October 3, 2011


So far my posts have pretty much focused on the reasons I am so satisfied with my life. By now you may be thinking either there is something wrong with me, that my rose-colored glasses are really effective, or that I am doing some really good drugs. Needless to say, everything does not go according to my plans. In fact, I suspect I have as many oops as the next person. But, I like to think I have come a little way in learning to handle the challenges that pop up.

This came to mind when I caught myself going back over the events of the day - a day spent putting up a gutter to catch rainwater coming off of a deck. When we bought the house rainwater drained down the outside of a column supporting the deck. Being the Pacific North West, columns with water draining down them begin to grow various colors of mosses, fungi, and other things best left to the imagination. After putting in 5 or 6 hours I was not finished with the task, and had run into several little surprises that made the job more challenging. And I was tired.

And I caught myself - actually, rather surprised myself when I realized what I was doing. Yes, I was frustrated that the project was not done. But, rather than dwell on my frustration, my mind was going back over the day and enumerating the things that went right - how the cute little stainless rivets went in so perfectly, how the color of the paint matched the exterior of the house, how well the deck cleaned up when I took the time to scrub it... Subconsciously I was salving my frustration, and shifting my mood from frustration to satisfaction.

Subconsciously, except I caught myself.

I really wonder where I learned this technique - perhaps having to write status reports on projects that were part of my day job. While it was always important to list the challenges, it was also important to point out the successes - and it was vastly preferred if the successes at least gave the impression they outweighed the problems.

Lying to myself - in a way - but, as discussed in an earlier post, sometimes lying to oneself is not just ok, but even desirable.

Satisfaction - from doing things.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Taking Chances

When Kelly and I moved to Portland we were very pleased to find a vibrant group of people playing the Hammered Dulcimer. For those of you that don’t know the hammered dulcimer, it is a musical instrument with a gazillion strings that you play by striking the strings with really small hammers.

Here is a shot of Kelly and I at our hammered dulcimers a couple of years ago.

We promptly joined a monthly jam session where the focus was on playing fiddle tunes - which are meant to be played fast, and form the basis for a lot of traditional dancing.

Wow - these people can play - so Kelly and I started learning fiddle tunes. But, my real focus with the hammered dulcimer is to play slower, more complex songs. So, with this in mind I proposed that a second session be set up each month - with a focus on playing songs that include harmonies, songs that are just more challenging to play.

We also proposed that the sessions be held at our home. Which was a bit of a challenge because we live north of Portland, and pretty much everyone else lives south or Portland. One lady drives in from Eugene - 130 miles from our home.

And, heck, after being here only 6 months, and really not knowing any of the people in the other group all that well, it really did feel awkward proposing an alternate session - not only had we not been here long, but pretty much everyone else at these sessions have played longer, often 10 years or more, compared to our 3 years. And here we were trying to rock the boat - saying we wanted to focus on more challenging music.

But, none the less, we got these sessions going.

The reason I am focusing on this tonight is because we just finished our fifth session and can now safely say the sessions have a good chance of making it.

There were nine people here earlier - and we had a great time - figuring out variations, comparing different versions of songs, learning to play the various parts of songs, and even working up an arrangement written by one of the ladies at the session.

In the overall scheme of things is all this a big thing. No. But, in my little world, where I had taken a risk by proposing an alternate approach to a session - YES. It is a BIG THING.

In earlier posts I talked about satisfaction, happiness, and doing things. Kelly and I are finding ourselves welcomed into a fantastic group of musicians, gaining from their expertise, learning new music, making friends, and getting a chance to contribute to the group.

Satisfaction - doing something, now I add, taking a small chance. Bottom line, happiness!

And tomorrow - my new gymnastic rings showed up yesterday so Michael and I will be learning to use them tomorrow at the gym!!!