Try to imagine living on a net monthly income of about one thousand dollars a month. It would create a constant struggle to meet even the most basic needs of food and housing. In the Houston area we have a lower cost of living than most places, but even here it’s difficult to find housing for less than seven or eight hundred dollars a month. Just paying rent alone takes a huge chunk from such a meager monthly budget, and when utilities are added to the bottom line there is very little left to take care of other basic needs.

Sadly there are very good people who work but still don’t manage to move past the level of poverty. Then, of course, there are the elderly who are no longer physically able to hold down jobs whose monthly checks provide them with ever diminishing spending power. To offset the hopelessness of living in such situations the federal government instituted the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP.

Recipients of SNAP benefits must certify that they meet the standards of one hundred percent of the designated poverty income levels. They may have a home but no more than a few thousand dollars in savings and other assets. Once they have been verified they receive an EBT card that has been preloaded with funds that they may spend at designated grocery stores for the purchase of food. Eligible recipients are free to choose the items that they prefer but may not make nonfood purchases with the card, nor may they include certain products like beer or wine. SNAP requires individuals and families to continually certify their financial status to insure that eligibility requirements are being met.

While it is generally known is that many Americans are lacking proper nutrition in their diets, the SNAP program does not restrict particular food choices, even if those include soda, candy and other questionable snacks. Studies have shown that enforcing nutritional standards would make the program far too costly, as well as creating paperwork nightmares. Efforts to improve the delivery of wholesome foods to those needing assistance have been mostly unsuccessful. Recently President Donald Trump recommended a major change to the program that would take the element of choice from those receiving the benefits. He proposes a system that would send boxes of nonperishable food items to individuals and families each month rather than reloading funds into an EBT card. The suggestion has created a firestorm of criticism and concern.

Obviously the cost and logistics of delivering the food would be enormous. There are a number of nagging questions about how to make such a system effective, and many concerns about whether or not it is even possible. Take for example the situation of someone who is not home when the box arrives. Does the delivery person just leave the food hoping that it actually ends up where it is supposed to be, or does he notify the recipient to reschedule? How efficient would such a system be when deliveries have to be made to far flung rural areas? Who will be in charge of the distribution process? Will this kind of system require whole new staffs of people?

Of course the most obvious question literally becomes one of taste. Each of us has certain dietary preferences. I can’t imagine not having the freedom to decide what kinds of foods I might purchase, and I find it insensitive to think that the poor should not be allowed the same liberties that I enjoy. I also prefer fresh fruits and vegetables and the idea of only having canned varieties is a very unpleasant one.

My mom was a widow who never made a great deal of money. There was only a brief period of time in her life after my father died when she enjoyed a high standard of living. Most of the time, especially in her later years, she was only barely above the one hundred percent poverty level. At the time of her death she missed that standard by one hundred dollars a month. Even though she owned her home by then, she barely scraped by. She reached a point at which she was stretched to the maximum and yet she was not spending money frivolously. She rarely purchased new clothing or shoes. She did not own a car. Her house needed major repairs that had to wait. Much of her income went toward utilities, medical expenses, insurance costs, and food. She pinched every single penny, especially when it came to purchasing food, and yet she always managed to have a very healthy diet. Her secret was in choosing very carefully. Rarely did she buy canned items. Instead she bought seasonal vegetables and cuts of meat that were on sale.

My mom used the skills of meal planning and her knowledge of nutrition to prepare healthy meals. A carton of eggs lasted for a week and gave her a good breakfast to eat in six of the seven days. She searched for the stores that had the best prices and always bought her food for a bargain. She regularly chose meats that would provide her with multiple meals and vegetables that would be sides as well as ingredients for soups. She loved dried beans and there was rarely a week when she did not prepare a large pot of some kind of legume that would serve as lunch or dinner for many days.

I took my mother grocery shopping on Friday evenings and she would spend hours determining how to get the most bang from her buck. Rarely did she spend more than twenty five dollars and yet she managed to get bags and bags of items. She made it a kind of challenge to walk out of the store with a wonderful variety that she had purchased at a very low cost. In fact, she often urged me to join the competition and would raise an eyebrow at any extravagant purchases that I made, pointing out that the sale apples were just as good as the more expensive ones that I had chosen.

It was difficult for my mom to make it on her low income, and yet she did. She was profoundly independent and she was proud to be able to be the mistress of her own budget. She sometimes grumbled that she was just shy of receiving some assistance from the government, but she would not have taken anything away from those who did because she understood their plight. I suspect that she would have allowed more treats in her diet had she been given a bit more purchasing power. Mostly though she enjoyed the ability to choose. I think she would have found it distasteful to have someone insinuating that she was somehow ignorant or less than able to be her own mistress simply because her income was so sparse.

I understand all of the arguments from people who worry that the taxpayers’ money is often wasted on frivolous items that don’t seem to be necessary components of a healthy diet. What I find hypocritical is that some of the very same people complained loudly when First Lady Michelle Obama helped create nutrition rules for school lunches. They voiced their objections to being told what their children might eat. Many of them often insist that their private decisions should be their own, and I agree with that concept. I just don’t think that it is right to exclude the poor from the right to determine what will be on their tables at dinner time. It’s not up to us to make decisions for them even when they slip in a bag of cookies for their children. It’s good for the soul to have a treat here and there. Why would we want to deny them?

I am open to the concern that some of the SNAP funds are not being spent properly, but I just don’t believe that we need to be nannies or create programs that will become more complex than they need to be. Let’s think of better ways to help people bring nutritious meals to the tables of our fellow citizens without insinuating our own preferences on them. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and demonstrate a bit of understanding. But for circumstances we might one day find ourselves in their shoes.


Who Will Hear Our Cries

pexels-photo-170840.jpegAs a mom, a grandmother, a teacher, a human being I grieve over the violence in our world. As a problem solver I wonder what we might do to lessen the number of tragedies that our society must endure. As a realist I understand that most issues are far too complex to be successfully resolved with simple solutions. As someone who prefers getting things done to continually ignoring situations, I am frustrated by the bickering among our lawmakers that seems to perennially end in stalemate. I have grown weary of being able to predict the various responses to the major concerns of our time. I find myself searching in vain for leaders who will set aside their own quests for power to become the heroes that we so desperately need. There are so few profiles in courage in our precarious times. Where is an Abraham Lincoln, a Martine Luther King Jr. or a Gandhi? What will it take for the wars of words to stop and the work to begin?

We find ourselves at a perennial impasse. We struggle to even set governmental budgets that allow us to live within our country’s means. We know that we need answers to questions about immigration, but when good souls attempt to forge compromises, the “all or nothing” crowds shoot down any possibilities of resolution. We bow to the bullying demands of the outliers rather than listening to the reason of the middle ground. We can’t even make a deal to insure that all Americans have access to rudimentary healthcare. Again and again we lower our heads in grief, shame and prayer over mass shootings that surely might be mitigated if only we were willing to set aside all of our prejudices and simply build a plan.

On the very day meant to celebrate love, a deranged shooter entered a high school at the end of an academic day and began randomly shooting. He was indeed a troubled soul whose history had alerted many who knew whom. He had been adopted by a loving family but in spite of their efforts to provide him with the nurturing that he needed, things went awry. His father died when he was still a young child. His mother did her best to raise him alone but struggled with his emotional and behavioral issues. She sought the help of therapists and even contacted the police from time to time hoping to find answers to her concerns about her son. He was different, withdrawn, violent, frightening to many who knew him. Fellow students joked that he had the mind of a mass murderer. His school expelled him. A stranger noted one of his posts on social media and even reported him to the FBI. In November, his mother contracted the flu, then pneumonia and died. He was on his own but found shelter in the home of a friend. There were so many clear indications that he needed heavy duty counseling, maybe even medication but none of it was demanded or even offered. Instead he freely purchased guns even as his online posts became more and more foreboding.

There were so many individual measures that might have been taken with this young man that were not. Whether they would have prevented the massacre that he inflicted on innocent students is debatable, but at the very least there would have been attempts to curtail the ticking of the time bomb that was exploding in his mind.

The mental health system in this country is broken. Getting needed care is costly, time consuming, and ultimately frustrating. The cards are stacked in favor of doing nothing, leaving countless individuals and their families and friends feeling alone and even betrayed. All too often it becomes easier just to give up and let the cards fall where they will. The financial and mental energy needed to ameliorate mental health issues is far more costly than it needs to be. It is difficult to find doctors willing to take  on particular cases. The cost can be prohibitive and even with insurance the coverage is spotty at best. The patients themselves more often than not fight against treatments. They can become violently opposed to any form of needed therapy, resulting in a tendency to ignore the obvious and just look away. Even when a family manages to insist on medical intervention or hospitalization the science of mental health is still almost experimental. It takes time and patience to find the right keys to health. Most mental difficulties are chronic so the difficulties become a lifelong struggle. It can be a lonely and never ending fight for both the person affected and those attempting to help him/her.

We desperately need for both our political and medical community to face the realities of the mental health epidemic that plagues us. it is real, not imagined and it is well past time for our society to embrace a well reasoned plan for insuring that nobody is left to deal with such illnesses alone. it will take money, but that is not the only resource that we need. There must be more doctors, more research, more support systems. better coverage of mental healthcare, more facilities for rehabilitation, more openness in discussing these very real illnesses.

Every school needs additional counselors devoted only to the mental health of the students. In far too many instances those designated as counselors are too busy creating class schedules, coordinating testing, and serving as college admissions advisors than actually working with the mental issues of students in conjunction with their parents and teachers. In so many cases teachers are the first to notice warning signs and these should be taken seriously. The counselors should be ready to investigate and draw up plans for addressing concerns. If a student has a history of behavioral problems the counselors should be involved in all discussions of what to do. No student should just be expelled without being also sent to therapy as an additional requirement. If indications of violence are present this may even necessitate informing law enforcement. Under no circumstances should this process be so hidden from view that the individual has the freedom to purchase guns and ammunition.

We do not allow anyone under the age of twenty one to purchase alcohol and yet we allow teenagers as young as sixteen to buy certain weapons as long as they pass a background check that most likely does not include an accounting of their emotional difficulties at home or school. This needs to be remedied immediately and parents who circumvent this law by encouraging their knowingly disturbed children to have weapons should be held accountable for such egregious transgressions. When a parent is worrying about how a child is acting to the point of calling police or seeking professional care for them, it should be apparent that giving access to guns is the last thing that should happen. Even the most stable of youngsters should be supervised and limited in their contact with weapons.

There are common sense laws that we might pass with regard to types of weapons and ammunition clips that should be allowed as well. Nobody other than law enforcement officers and the military needs an arsenal nor do they require weapons that fire rapidly. Furthermore we need to make it more difficult to purchase weapons without some form of training and a more in depth background check. We require anyone driving an automobile to receive driver’s training and pass a test in order to earn a license. That license has to be renewed periodically as well. Perhaps it is time to initiate such a program for guns. Nobody should be able to legally purchase a gun without qualifying for a license after fulfilling age, training,  mental health and testing requirements. 

I am no fool. I understand that if someone wants to kill others that person will find a way. I also know that there will always be an underground community willing to provide guns and ammunition illegally to those who can’t get what they need within the law. No plan will ever be one hundred percent perfect. Nonetheless such arguments are not reason enough to do nothing at all. We craft many laws to make untenable situations better all of the time, and yet when it comes to issues such as mass shootings we wring our hands as though frozen in fear that anything we choose to do will be so flawed that it is better to do nothing at all.

As I cry for the lost souls and the people who loved them I worry that we will just keep kicking the can down the road and responding to our fears by arming more and more people. I shutter as I listen to the snarky comments being hurled back and forth from the differing points of view that do little to instill calm and reason. I wonder when we will come to our senses all around. Surely we can get past our differences and at least try to make things better. How many more need to die before we act? Who will hear our cries and step up to lead us?

The Balancing Act

BalancingThere it was, a meme that spoke to me more than I cared to admit. “You’re killing yourself for a job that would replace you if you dropped dead within a week.” It’s a rather simplistic thought that generalizes a bit too much, but it’s point is thought provoking. It’s main thrust might be applied to almost any situation in life with just a few changes of words. The fact is that we sometimes become so over involved in certain situations that we lose sight of what is really most important in our lives. Our work ethic overtakes us to the point of wearing us down, and then we grieve when we realize that perhaps our efforts were not appreciated nearly as much as we had thought. Finding that sweet spot that allows us to achieve balance in our lives is one of our greatest challenges, and one that is far more important than we might imagine.

We are taught the importance of hard work from the time that we are quite young. In today’s world those lessons begin earlier and earlier as very small children are enrolled in early education programs, sports clubs, music lessons and a host of activities that keep them busy from the time that they awake until they fall into their beds at night. Some tiny children have an endless round of appointments designed to develop the best of their talents. Parents and nannies help them adhere to carefully orchestrated schedules. Admittedly there are many children who thrive in such circumstances, but there are others who begin to show signs of stress in the form of crying fits, behavior changes and exhaustion.

I have seen such children hanging limply onto their parents with vacant looks and sometimes even fear. When I worked in an after school program for pre-schoolers and kindergartners it was sometimes difficult to keep them awake because they were so tired. Many of them had arrived at the school at seven in the morning and would not be picked up by their parents until six in the evening. They were grumpy and probably would have benefitted more from play time at home than the all day structure that ruled their little lives. Smaller doses of opportunity generally work better for little ones, but we all too often adopt a more is better philosophy forgetting that all of us need respite from the daily grind now and then.

As children grow older the demands on their time and energy only increase. Not only do we plan their hours, but we also introduce them to the glories of competitiveness. We expect them to perfect their skills and talents so that they will eventually become champions. Of course there is nothing innately wrong with that, but often in our quest to help them to become their best selves we over extend them so that their hours are filled, leaving them with little time to explore and create on their own. Sometimes down time can be more powerful in helping youngsters to begin to know themselves than keeping them so busy that they can’t really think, It is when they are on their own that they organically develop and learn through trial and error.

By high school the pressure on our teens can be overwhelming. Not only are they expected to do well academically in as many Advanced Placement classes as possible, but also to participate in extracurricular activities and community service. As one young man recently noted, they generally have about seven hours to themselves each evening if they stay up until midnight, less if they go to bed earlier. If they are involved in athletics or other organizations that number of hours may be reduced by two or four hours each day, leaving them only a short amount of time to study and just relax and be a teenager. Research has shown that most high school students are sleep deprived from attempting to pack so much into their daily schedules.

One of my grandsons decided on his own to remedy the trend of over extending. While he was in high school he achieved balance by carefully limiting the number of activities and advanced classes in which he was willing to participate. He realized that he was more often enriched by discussions at the family dinner table or late night intellectual conversations with his father and older brother. He understood the importance of quiet times without obligations attached to them. He saw that far too many of his peers were crashing and burning because they were carrying way too much excess baggage on their shoulders.

When we finally go to work we want to impress our supervisors as well as our peers. We are often willing to go an extra mile to demonstrate our loyalty, which is all well and good if we also remember our own personal needs. When our job becomes an obsession then we may want to step back just a bit. if we see that family and friends are suffering because we are continually absent, a real problem is beginning to brew. When we can’t even rest without dwelling on our work, we may have become over involved. 

I’m not particularly someone to give advice regarding work life balance because there were multiple instances when I became so focused on studies or work that I totally neglected those who really loved me. I have been competitive to the extreme at times, and sadly my efforts were not always noted and appreciated by my superiors. Luckily those dearest to me were always there to pick up the pieces of my disappointments. At some point along my journey I finally managed to find a kind of work/life balance that made me far healthier than I had ever before been.

I am a living example of someone who looked outward and did my best to impress people who no doubt would have quickly found a substitute for me had I dropped dead. I worked so hard to be the valedictorian of my high school that I missed many of the joys of friendship and adventure that are an integral part of growing up. My achievement was soon forgotten and I found myself having to prove my mettle again and again in real life. I strove to be that person who demonstrated a willingness to be the last woman standing in pursuit of the goals of those for whom I worked. When others went home, I stayed behind to help, sometimes even when my own children needed me to be with them. I regret that I pushed myself so hard, but I am also thankful for dear friends like Pat and Bill who gently counseled me to learn how to focus on what was most important in my life. With such guidance and the support of my family I eventually found ways to have it all. I was able to clock out from work and leave it behind while I luxuriated in the warmth of home. It took me far too long to get there.

If I had one bit of advice for young men and women who are just beginning their careers or for new parents it would be to follow the wisdom of one of my teachers from long ago. He told us that we all needed to be fully present in whatever we were doing, never allowing ourselves to dwell on other things that were bearing down on us. He emphasized that we should work hard and play hard with equal vigor. He cautioned us to adjust whenever we found ourselves too preoccupied with any one thing. Keeping that balance, he suggested, would make us both healthy and happy. His was a message that all of us would do well to hear. Unfortunately I ignored his message for far too long. I’m glad I finally got my head on straight.

Right On Target

targetI’ve never been entirely sure how tall my paternal grandmother was at different times in her life. By the time that I knew her she was already in her seventies and had a very pronounced hump on her back caused from a serious case of osteoporosis. At that moment her height was under five feet, but her body had been so twisted by her disease that I suspected that she might have once been taller. She always used to tell me that I was exactly like her, and as I have aged I have begun to believe that she was absolutely correct. I seem to not only resemble her in appearance, but also am inclined toward many of her health problems. I’m bolstered by the knowledge that she was a high energy woman until shortly before her death at the age of eighty eight, and even that might have been prevented until a later time had she paid more attention to the symptoms of cancer that were slowly stealing away her life.

My mother had three sisters all of whom suffer with problems from osteoporosis. One has been wheelchair bound for many years, another has had major hip surgeries and walks with a cane. The third one does a bit better, but still has all of the symptoms of the disease that destroys bones. Only my mother was never diagnosed with osteoporosis, and her body structure was very different from that of her sisters who tended to be taller and leaner. Since I have always been shaped more like my aunts than my mother I assumed that perhaps I might carry more of their genetic tendencies. This combined with my strong connection to my grandmother made me wonder if I too would one day be afflicted with the same bone destroying disease that they all had.

I began worrying when I was in my late thirties when I noticed that my back began to curve just a bit. I talked about my concerns with my doctors, but they assured me that I was way too young to worry about such things, and they also noted that my health insurance would be unlikely to cover the cost of a bone scan simply because I had a family history of the disease. They urged me to be patient and wait until I was of an age more suitable for thinking of such things. It was not until was in my late forties that I relayed my fears to a new gynecologist who took over for my doctor who had retired. He found a way to get a bone scan for me, but he also insisted that I was probably more worried than I needed to be. The images proved him wrong. I already had a great deal of deterioration that was abnormal for my age. The doctor insisted that I take a high dose of calcium each day and eat foods that might increase my daily intake of that vitamin. Since women are only allowed to get a bone scan every two years it was going to be a while before I would learn whether or not my situation had improved with my new regimen.

The next scan showed even more problems, so the doctor prescribed the drug Fosamax which was a frightening experience because I was told that if it got stuck in my esophagus it might do permanent damage. Because I have a naturally occurring narrowing of that area I often begin to choke on pills and some foods. I literally held my breath and prayed to God each Saturday when I attempted to swallow the medication for my osteoporosis. Luckily I never once had a bad reaction, but I nonetheless had to wait another two years to find out if I was doing any better.

When it came time for me to get another bone scan my doctor referred me to an osteoporosis specialist who put me through a battery of different tests. At the end of the process he announced to me that I was doing great and didn’t even have osteoporosis anymore. It seemed almost too good to be true, but he insisted that I was in great shape. In spite of his reassurances I was not convinced because my body seemed to be slowly changing, and when I mentioned this to him or any of my doctors they essentially suggested that I was being silly, insisting that I looked just fine. I kept taking my calcium and my Fosamax and hoping that they were right and I was wrong.

I was already in my sixties before I found a great Primary Care Physician who takes everything that I say quite seriously. When I told him that I was becoming as bowed as my grandmother had been he studied my stance carefully and ordered a number of tests, among which was another bone scan. He found that my bones were in a fragile state, and told me that I still clearly had osteoporosis. He also noted that I have scoliosis and wondered why nobody at any point in my life had suggested some form of therapy. I cried when I learned that I was no longer five feet six and a half inches tall, but rather only five foot four. He felt that the problems that I have with my knees were an outgrowth of my changing skeletal structure and told me that my legs have bowed because my body is compensating. He also assured me that I was not crazy in thinking that I had somehow lost my formerly long thin waist because my spine had collapsed. He not only took the time to listen to me, but he also agreed that my body had indeed changed dramatically, and he set about crafting a plan for me. It was the first time ever that I felt as though someone considered my worries to be important. He also assured me that my fear of ingesting Fosamax was exactly right.

For two years now I have injected Forteo under my skin in the hopes that the drug will rebuild my bones. I have taken my little injection pen and needles everywhere that I have gone, and I suppose that I will soon find out how effective the medication has been. My doctor has guided me in diet and exercise as well. In fact he is my conscience when it comes to religiously performing the weight bearing routines that are even more important than the medication in building bones that will keep me strong. My appearance is what it is, however. I will not grow tall again nor will the bend in my back become erect. I might make my legs stronger which will somewhat help the bow in them, but essentially the way I appear now will be the way I will always be, and it saddens me that I was ignored for so very long. Perhaps I need not have endured most of the problems that I have had.

I’m not a whiney woman, nor do I generally complain about my status vis a vis that of a man, but I do believe that there are times when simply by dent of my sex I have been ignored. I definitely think that my concerns about having osteoporosis went unanswered for so long because to my doctors I sounded a bit hysterical in my belief that I was following in the footsteps of my elders and doing so at a relatively early age. I didn’t help my case by mentioning that some of my female friends were also worried about the way they observed me carrying myself. They pushed me to speak with my doctors, and weren’t satisfied when I told them about the reactions that I had received. I was caught in the age old trap of males thinking that women sometimes overreact. I was patted on my little head and sent away because they felt that they were dealing with far more serious problems. Now I am older and more likely to struggle with this disease and its devastating effects for years to come. Had more been done when I was younger I might not have become so deformed.

All of my aunts are clear headed and healthy save for their osteoporosis which has forced them to live in assisted living and nursing homes in their twilight years. They have endured painful operations and rehabilitations and have seen their independence dwindle because of the same disease that I have. They fight with all of their might, but like me their own conditions were not diagnosed until they were older and their symptoms had grown.

There are things that every woman might do to prevent their bones from becoming brittle and eroded like swiss cheese. From an early age weight bearing and resistance exercises as well as a healthy diet are essential at least three to five days a week. Joining a gym or the YMCA is an investment whose worth can’t be measured. Eating green vegetables and other sources of calcium every single day is a must. It’s never too early to have regular physical checkups and to discuss any concerns about body changes with a doctor. If the physician doesn’t seem to be listening, then go to someone else. Talk with family members about their own medical histories. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and genetics play a huge role in our overall health. Mostly, no woman should be afraid to take charge of her situation. Each person knows better than anyone how they feel. Those instincts are usually right on target.

Living A Good Life

Gym-equipment-pic.jpgI’m relatively healthy given my age. I’m more likely to need dental work than any type of medical procedure. I take vitamins and a medication for GERD which is produced in my case by a hiatal hernia and a very narrow esophagus. My grandmother once told me that everyone in her family lived to an old age, but eventually died of “gut” trouble. So far I seem to be proving her theory to be correct, but a few years back I decided that it might be a good idea to have a Primary Care Physician, someone who would coordinate all of my issues in one place. I had no idea where to start in choosing someone, so I asked my husband’s and mother’s cardiologist to suggest a few outstanding physicians that he knew. I decided on a fairly young doctor with high marks and a most interesting name. I mean who would not be intrigued by a name like “Septimus?” I figured that at the very least I would have no difficulty recalling such a moniker, and besides I had to meet this person with such a regal sounding handle.

I’ve been with Dr Septimus ever since, and it’s a good thing because he is exactly the kind of person that I was seeking. He is very serious, hardly cracking a smile or a joke, but he knows his stuff and he’s inclined to share it all with me. He is unwilling to overlook any little aspect of my health, including my exercise regimen. In that regard he has recently demanded that I join a gym and work out at least five times a week. Luckily my new Medicare Advantage Plan includes membership at a variety of places. Dr. Septimus felt that I would feel the most comfortable at the YMCA, where I might avoid the muscle bound devotees and be around folks more like myself. After reviewing several possibilities I found myself agreeing with him, and so I joined a couple of weeks ago. I have to say that it has been a grand experience. Even the personal trainers are not intimidating.

The local YMCA is a short drive from my home and everyone there is quite friendly. I received a personal training session and a fellow up as part of my membership. A very nice woman told me which machines to use in the beginning and how to set them to my personal specifications. At first I felt a bit odd because the truth is that I am a virtual blob of flab. My initial encounters with the weight machines proved how much I needed them. I had to keep reminding myself that nobody was watching me, and I thought of a business proposal that some of my former students once suggested which involved creating a special exercise space for very unfit individuals. I was thinking how nice it would have been to be surrounded by a bunch of blobs like me, but then where is the motivation in that?

Once I got over my self consciousness and nerves I realized that all of us are in the process of improving ourselves. There are young folks who are amazingly fit and people older than myself who are barely able to move. The point is that all of us are after the same essential goal. The trainer told me that I would see results more quickly than I thought, and she was quite right. The first thing I noticed was how much more energy I have. I am no longer experiencing that afternoon let down that made me want to take a quick nap each day. Instead I am moving so constantly that achieving ten thousand steps a day has become a piece of cake. I get more done in a few hours than I ever imagined would be possible. The only difficulty that I have experienced has been working the gym time around all of the other appointments that I have. I don’t like to go there when it is really crowded, but I suppose that I will learn how to balance all of my demands eventually.

So far I’ve managed about an hour and fifteen minutes of exercise five days each week. The chest press that seemed so difficult initially is already reaching a point of comfort that tells me that I may need to increase the weight. I’ve begun to overcome the elliptical machine which originally ate my lunch. I dream of wearing summer clothes with a bit more pride, and I suspect that I will be successful in that regard as long as I keep up the routine. I’m thankful for Dr. Septimus because he is not about to let me off of the hook. I can’t get anything past him. He monitors me like a hawk and gives me the kind of evil eye that a parent or teacher might invoke whenever he realizes that I am slacking.

I don’t know why we humans allow ourselves to become so unhealthy. I guess there are just too many temptations urging us to cheat. I’ll be the first to admit that given the choice between a big bowl of chips and cheese dip versus a big juicy apple I would tend toward the worst of the two. I have to work hard to stay within the most reasonable eating norms, but I have been quite diligent in that regard. The result has been that when I do fall off of the wagon I feel rather sick. My body just doesn’t like me when I feed it junk food anymore. It has adjusted to a routine of fruits and vegetables made with spices but no salt or added sugars. I’ve become such a regular at Sprouts, the Farmer’s Market and the produce section of HEB that Quicken notes my expansive use of finances for good food.

I find myself wondering how the very poor are able to fund healthy food, when I realize how much more it costs to invest in it. I think of their inability to join a gym, and feel a bit guilty that I have privileges that they don’t. I remember my mom putting back apples because she had estimated how much she had to spend and didn’t have enough. I feel so fortunate to have a doctor who cares enough about my welfare to push me to exercise and eat well. I am lucky to have a medical plan that pays for him and my gym membership. I have enough retirement income to bring fresh vegetables into my home. I have everything that I need to feel younger than I am because I am living a good life. I need to remind myself of the next time that I begin to falter.