Big Loser 
...but I know that I am not the biggest loser. Even though I proudly watch no prime-time TV, I must admit am familiar with that television show and I must admit of all the reality TV out there, that show is probably the only one that encourages people to better themselves.

As I wrap up one year of a dedicated diet and exercise routine, one that has shed me 30 pounds, I will make a few observations.

1. Don't wait until you have a problem. Start a diet and exercise regimen today. Walking and cutting the salt and sugar are good ways to start.

2. Salt - cut salt from your diet. Whenever I tell people that I cut salt they usually reply "I never salt my food." Ha. Neither have I but I was taking in waaaay too much. If you do salt your food, that's nothing compared to the salt that's in processed, and all the frozen, foods out there. Let's not forget soup. A can of chicken noodle soup itself accounts for 80% of the recommended daily allowance. If you eat at restaurants more than once a week and never order off their 'healthy' (snicker) menu, fast food vs. sit-down makes little difference, you might as well as inject yourself with a salt IV. Salt is in everything that pre-packaged. Everything. Read the labels and cut the intake, now.

3. Sugar - cut that, too. Switch to wheat and whole grain bread. Start eating wheat pasta, too. Soda? Soda is instant weight-gain in a can. Diet? hahahaha yeah right; no sugar, maybe, but no sugar != instant weight gain. Trust me. I don't think I've had a glass or can of soda since August.

4. Stairs - if you have to go to the fourth floor lower, take the stairs. I have always adhered to this. It my not be much, but it does add up. I work in building that has four floors and I refuse to use the elevator and over four years, I'll admit that have used it a few times, but only if there is a reason, like a mild sprain or pain. The library is on the fourth floor and always hike it (and I always beat those to the top to who I see getting on when I enter the stairwell too).

5. Drink water. Drink a lot. Drink it with every meal. I do.

6. Beer/alcohol: my biggest weakness. Some people like candy, some like potato chips, I like my beer. I have noticed that light beer does make a difference but being kind of a beer snob I don't like light beer very much so I alternate - one case normal beer and then the next light beer.

7. Strive for the "five a day." Fruits and vegetables are good for you, to say the least. Potatoes and derived products don't count. Neither does ketchup.

8. Stay away from fast food. Not only is it a salt overdose risk, it's expensive. Regular restaurants, while usually better in taste and quality, aren't much better when it comes to salt and glop either.

9. Beef - I have significantly cut back the amount of beef I eat. While I love a good hamburger (we only buy 90/10), more often than not, hamburger night has turned into turkeyburger night. We use ground turkey or ground chicken for lasagne, sloppy joes, tacos, and so on. Ground turkey and ground chicken are more expensive than ground beef but it's worth the extra cost. Going vegan is an option, too, just not for me.

10. It's OK to treat yourself. Moderation is key.

11. I never thought that by the end of the year, I'd be running regularly and realistically looking and being able to run a 5K within six months. Your goals may be different but even if you start small, like I did, try it and build yourself up and see what difference a year can make.

Have a happy and HEALTHY new year.

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The Runs 
I am now down to about 21:00 for 1.7 mile route I have mapped out for running. It's a simple run through my neighborhood with some downhill and uphill segments. I have no estimate yet as to when I think I can do it twice; twice being slightly more than a 5K. Initially, I was hoping to try a 5K in late spring and that is still be a viable goal.

I also want to extend that route to make it an even two miles. I would like to be able to get a two-miler done in under 20 minutes as well.

Overall, so far so good with the running. It's hard, yes, but it's good for you, physically and mentally.

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A Full Day 
Woke 3:35 am
Left house at 4:20 am
Arrive at Philadelphia Int'l Airport about 5:55
Park, get shuttle to terminal, get to gate at 6:20
Board plane for Pittsburgh at 7:05
Plane leaves 7:29
Arrive Pittsburgh 8:30
Meet my ride, grab a coffee at McD's
Arrive Heinz Field about 9:35
Meet friends for tailgating 10-11:40
Walk to stadium, enter, go to my seat 11:40-12:00 (kickoff was about 12:10)
Watch Pitt beat WVU, 19-15
Meet friend outside stadium for ride back to Airport
Arrive at gate at 4:45 pm
Board plane at 5:10
Take off for Philadelphia ~5:25
Land, exit plane in Philly about 6:20
Get shuttle to car, get on Schuylkill about 7:00
Drive towards home, stop one township over for another friend's surprise birthday party 8:45 (someone I haven't seen in about 15 years)
Home by 10:30 pm

Long day.

Pitt played well for the first 3 minutes and the last 8 with 49 minutes of futility in between; moved the ball ok but couldn't score - scored on opening drive and then twice in the last 8 minutes. Game was capped with an exciting finish: Pitt scores with less than a minute left to take a 19-15 lead but WVU got the ball back and got to about the Pitt 20 for a 4th and 1 pass play, as time ran out, that ended with an incomplete and an offensive pass interference call. Game over. (And worth the trip).

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Run 
I decided to try upping my usual brisk walking pace and turned it into a light jog. I literally hit the road running and I ended up running one mile without stopping. I clocked it, loosely, at 12:00 which isn't bad at all since I don't think I have ever run a mile before without stopping. I continued on for another 1/4 mile or so before slowing down to a walk. Now that I cleared this major hurdle, I think that with a little work I can beat 20:00 in two miles; of course, I need to show that I can run two first. But, I think I can do two with no problem and I am even thinking long-term about a 5k by next summer.

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Fitness 
Since I haven't been biking as much, I've started lifting weights and doing sit-ups and push-ups to continue my pursuit to get in shape. Actually, let me amend that - to stay in shape. I also fit in a 1.5 to 2 mile walk a few days a week.

Bench press - usually do 5, 3, and 3 on the bench. Five sets of 10 reps followed by 3 of 10 and another 3 of ten; 80 lbs. I hope to up this to 100 by early January. All sets are 10 reps below, too.

Curls - 5, 3, 5; 10 lbs each arm

Legs - 5, 3, 3 of 40-50 lbs. I can do more but walking and biking make up for it.

[Thanks to my neighbor Steve for letting me use his weights]

I also measured myself against US Army fitness standards for someone my age. In my first timings, I did 38 sit-ups in 2 minutes and 50 push-ups in 2 minutes. The former just met the goal and the latter exceeded it. For my age, the standard for a 6.2 mile bike ride is 26:00 which I am sure I can do. The standard for a 2-mile run is 18:18 which I don't think I can do. I was never a runner; I get winded too easily and even as a teenager I never did well in running when we did it in p/e; even the smokers beat me and I was in fine shape then. I could probably walk 2 miles in less than 30 minutes so maybe a real brisk walk with some light running interspersed - maybe I could do 2 miles in reasonable amount of time but under 19 or 20 would be a stretch. But biking? Heck, 10 miles is no sweat. Maybe it's my feet because it's not my legs.

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Dead Squirrel in my Golf Bag 
Since the title pretty much sums up what happened, I will expound.

Little over a week ago, we had a squirrel in the garage. Our garage has a typical door and a people door. The squirrel came in through the people door because the car door was closed. Whether the cat brought it in*, chased it in, or it got lost, I don't know. I noticed the cat starting at one corner of the garage (having a cat alerts you to certain oddities). I shooed him away and scooted him inside when I saw the squirrel, cowering behind a boom. I immediately opened the garage door thinking it's a no brainer he would run out through the generous 9x7 opening but no. He scurried along the wall, climbed some (they can scale concrete walls), and shot around and when up the mast for our dinghy. I picked the mast up and was going to lay it out on the lawn but the squirrel jumped out and did another loop. This time I lost him and didn't hear nor see him. Assuming he got out, I let the matter go.

Well a few days ago a stench emerged. After day or two without subsiding, I finally poked around and noticed that an old golf bag was laying on its side. So I picked it up and took it outside. Pulled the clubs out, gently, and then turned the bag upside down and, plop!

The bag, which is now in the trash, is small and narrow - maybe 5" diameter at most.

So, I learned that squirrels don't have good turn-around skills like ferrets do and when scared, will go into any opening, no matter how narrow to escape. These two items, coupled with the fact that he failed to leave through a large opening, passing by it twice, I have concluded that squirrels are pretty dumb.

But a question remains - assuming he lived for while, maybe a week, in the bag, why didn't we hear him trying to escape? Why didn't our cat, an expert hunter with keen senses, not sense him and sit and stare at the golf bag? Granted, the bag was behind a stack of stuff and somewhat hidden but still, I don't know why the cat, at least, didn't clue us on to the squirrel.



*Over the weekend, there was another squirrel in our garage. The cat got this one. When I scooped it up with the shovel, I was surprised to see it move its head, rather lethargically, like he was drugged or, more likely, severely beaten. It was alive but barely so I scooped it up and threw it, like I did with our golf buddy, in back into the woods.

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Food Debauchery 
We went to Pittsburgh this past weekend and, as is the case when you travel, it's hard to eat right. So, chronicled what I ate and it isn't pretty. It's hard to believe that I used to eat like this all the time, sans the salads and fruit.

Roy Rogers on the turnpike:
Chicken sandwich, side salad, iced tea

McDonald's Friday night after we exited the turnpike in Cranberry:
BBQ chicken wrap

Hotel room:
two beers

Saturday morning at Eat 'n' Park:
veggie omelette, home fries, rye toast, orange juice, coffee

At the Pitt game:
split a nachos and personal-sized pizza, water

Saturday after the game:
a peach

Saturday evening dinner, Max's Allegheny Tavern in Pittsburgh:
garden salad, schnitzel, mashed potatoes, two Penn Pilsners

After Max's, we went into Oakland for some drinks at bar owned by a friend of mine.

Sunday morning:
coffee (my usual breakfast, for many, many years, except when we travel)

Sunday lunch, Wendy's in Carlisle:
99 cent hamburger and 99 cent chicken sandwich, side salad, iced tea

For dinner Sunday, we ordered Chinese as we never cook on Sundays when we come home from traveling.

Naturally, a binge like this just loads one up with salt and fat and all kinds of glop. The food was good and it's always a highlight when we travel but I'll be glad to get back into my normal diet and exercise routine this week.

The reason for the trip was to go to the Pitt-Iowa game. It was my first game in our new seats. We moved down from the 500-level endzone to the 140's, corner endzone. We are up enough so that we can see most of the action. Pitt won 21-20.

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Alexandria, VA 
I spent a few days in Alexandria and Washington this past week. My wife and I managed to get a few days away without the kids. Since we had both already seen most of the major DC sites, including Mt. Vernon, we took our bikes and biked along the Mt. Vernon Trail which runs along the Potomac on the VA side; running from Teddy Roosevelt Island to Mt. Vernon. We did not do the entire trail as it's 18 miles long and Alexandria is near the middle; so we biked a few miles north one day, past Reagan National, and then several miles south the next.

We did an Alexandria Ghost Tour which was excellent. I don't believe in ghosts but those types of tours are always entertaining and give you a good history of the area. Alexandria is a quaint town with some good restaurants along King St. If you're ever there, I highly recommend Cafe Salsa for some Cuban and Puerto Rican type fare.

We did go into DC for an afternoon and then went to the Nationals game at night. Since I had last been to DC, the WWII Memorial had been built so we got to see that and, since it's so close, we walked over to the Lincoln Memorial, which is my favorite of the DC memorials. I took some photos and I will probably post some on the Web once I get to it.

We did very little driving once there. We took the hotel's shuttle to King St. one night and then walked back to the hotel. For our trip into DC, we did the Metro (took a taxi back from station to hotel at night), which as you know if you've ever been on it, is very well run and very convenient to use. A one-day rail pass is only $7.80 too so it's economical as well as eco-friendly.

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America on Wheels 
A friend of mine from Pittsburgh was passing through town and wanted to got to the America on Wheels museum so we ventured into Allentown to check it out yesterday. The museum features cars, bicycles, motorcycles, trucks (heavy on Mack, as expected), and even has some odd stuff like a bar-stool racer, a Segway, and a lawn-tractor racer. The muscle car exhibit on the second floor was impressive with some beautiful and rare cars. As expected, there is an historical overtone that helps one understand and follow the progression of wheeled-transport in America over the past 120 years or so. I didn't know that early in the 20th century, there were quite a lot of electric car manufacturers but the museum credits (blames?) Henry Ford for doing away with those by making affordable and reliable automobiles running on cheap and plentiful gasoline. The museum also has some futuristic themes as to what we may be using as fuel in 20 or 30 years with, perhaps, Air Products leading the way as a major hydrogen producer. At $7 admission for adults, it's less than a movie and much better for your brain.

After the museum, I thought a trip to Willy Joe's at 15th and Liberty would be in order. They were closed, again. What's with them being closed on Sundays and, like last year, the Saturday during Memorial Day weekend? Bah. We opted for the Yocco's on Catasauqua Road since it was on the way home. Great dogs, just as good as Liberty St. or Hamilton Blvd.

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32W 
For the first time since around 1990, I actually bought a pair of pants (shorts, actually) with a 32" waist. I fit into them. I also bought two medium shirts, too. Many of my clothes are now too big for me. I guess losing 22 pounds will do that to you.

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Hold the Line 
This morning I tipped the scales at 20 pounds less than I was on January 3rd. I might actually hit -21 or -22 this morning yet because I don't eat breakfast; except for one or two days a month or when I'm away on vacation, breakfast is coffee only. Dinner between 6 and 7 and then nothing until after 11 the next morning is the norm for me and has been the norm for about 20 years. I've really been holding steady at about -16 to -18 for the past month but the past week I've picked it up and really watched my diet and kept up the amount of exercise I've been doing. Now, I have to hold onto my losses. I've been pretty good about exercising and getting in either a 1.5 to 2 mile walk or a 5-8 mile bike ride in five days a week. Dietetically, I haven't really changed too much. I think if I cut down the number of calories I consume and imbibe I could hold down the losses easier. Speaking of imbibe, I drink coffee (morning), water (throughout the day), juice (one glass), and beer (2 a day, night only). I stay away from soda. Soda is nothing more than easy weight gain in a can or bottle. Yes, beer is too but beer tastes better and might actually be better for you than soda in some regards. I think a lot of people only focus on what they eat and not what they drink when it comes to watching diet. What you drink, or don't, is just as important.

So, I need to keep on keeping on and see if I can knock another five pounds down. If I make -25 that would put me at a weight I haven't seen since around 1990.

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10.9 
Santa stuffed a little bicycle odometer/speedometer thingy (called a 'cycle computer' on the packaging) in my stocking a few weeks ago so now I am able to measure more accurately the distances I cover when biking. Since I was born with flat feet and I can't run very well (even in high school the smokers would beat me in the mile. I could barely do it in under 10 minutes then), so biking is how I exercise.

It turns out my standard route is 10.9 km, or about 6.5 miles, round trip. I had estimated about 5-6 miles going by the mile posts on the path and then adding in the route to the path that runs along the river and is only about a 1/2 km from my house. The terrain locally is fraught with hills and it's uphill to my house so it's a hard 10.9 too and it's steep enough that I have to walk some of it on the return trip home. Some parts of my usual ride are difficult to maintain a 20 kph speed.

Anyway, the device is called a 'cycle computer' because it also tracks your speed, distance, average speed, calories burned, tells the temperature, and a few other things. On my last ten-point niner, the computer said I burned 355 calories which doesn't seem like a lot. I think taking the terrain into account, I can add at least 75 to that. Still, though, 430 calories is only a few beers or a hot dog. I know you burn calories throughout the day doing the daily things one does and little things can help. One thing I never do is take the elevator. Four floors or less, I walk it, unless it's a situation where the elevator is the only option, or I have the kids and strollers and such with me.

In the warmer months, I try to bike at least three times a week. In the winter and early spring, I have to sneak in a ride when weather permits. Exercise is important. More Americans should do it.

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