Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lift 'em up, put 'em down

Entering week 7 (or maybe 8) of the "eat right and get your ass the gym" regimen. Here are a few things I've discovered over this time:

I like spin classes. Of course, I've only taken two and I felt like a limp noodle at the end but I like biking and I like being around people to keep me on task so spinning seems to work for me.

It's a bit frustrating that there aren't always enough bikes for everyone who wants to be in a given spin class. I was first alternate for a class tonight (never got the call so I guess everyone showed up) and am first alternate for a class tomorrow night (hoping I make it into that one). I think the hardcore spin addicts are sitting by their phone at 5:00 AM waiting for the gym to open so they can call in their reservations for the next day.

I actually don't mind the elliptical trainer so far though I haven't moved up to using the arm portion yet (still working up my shoulder strength due to an ancient yet occasionally quite painful shoulder injury). I am, however, increasing the resistance, etc. every time I'm on it and plugging through 30-minute interval training.

It's a good thing I don't like to watch TV when I exercise because I've gotten into the habit of leaving my glasses in the car when I go in the gym because otherwise, the bridge of my nose gets sweaty and they slip off. Luckily, my eyesight is such that I'm still fully functional without the glasses.

Treadmills suck. I've always hated running and the whole "pounding along the treadmill doing interval training" thing is a miserable experience. Of course, I also hobbled off it on Monday absolutely unable to get my right calf to stretch out despite stretching before getting on, and then hobbling around for two days until it recovered. So I guess I'm just bitter.

Running on a track by yourself sucks even more. On day 1 of the Fitness Challenge, we had to run a mile and while I was blowing like a bellows at the end, I finished strong and kept a pretty steady pace throughout. Last Sunday I tried to do that at our local track by myself and while my time was a little shorter, it was a miserable experience. I had no one to pace myself against and, with no witnesses, I had to struggle against the "oh, it's OK if I walk a one can see me...who will know?" bugaboo. Many years and even more pounds ago, I used to swim competitively (source of the aforementioned shoulder injury) and every time I crossed a major threshold with regard to time, it was because I was pacing myself against someone just a bit faster, who I knew could swim the time I wanted to achieve. I think I need that when I'm running.

Someone at last Friday's team session joked about using ExLax before the official weigh-ins. At least, I thought he was joking. Maybe not. I know that my official weigh-in would have been a damn sight better at 6:30 AM on Monday if I'd indulged a bit the night before.

Scales are like economists. Talk to two of them about the cure for the economic malaise and you'll two different answers. Scales are the same way so I've found the scale that I like and just keep going back to visit that one so I know that the numbers I'm seeing are moderately consistent. Of course, it's then a shock to step on the "official" digital bathroom scale at our gym and have it consistently read 3-4 lbs heavier than the standing scale with weights and balances in the locker room. Damn scales...

I undo my belt now and my pants and shorts fall off my hips. Anyone need a collection of Columbia cargo shorts and Dockers khaki pants?

Here's a special shout-out to the jackass chatting loudly on his cell phone while on the elliptical...the gym is a no cell phone zone, dork! There's a sign saying that 5 feet away from you and we really don't want to hear about whatever you're blathering on about.

iPods and audiobooks...the perfect way to plug along and ignore the time when on the bike or the elliptical or (shudder) the treadmill.

Days are getting shorter and colder...not as much time to ride my real bike outside but I'm not packing it  away any time soon.

I wish I was a morning person. It would make going to the gym at 6 or 6:30 AM so much easier. However, going after work is a nice way to exercise (or exorcise) any frustrations out of the day.

Hmmmm...I appear to have misplaced roughly 30 pounds. I'm not looking too hard to find them again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just pocket change, I guess

Something is seriously out of whack when Meg Whitman spends $119 million out of her own wallet in an effort to become Governor of California. Really? Is it that important? There wasn't something better to spend this money on?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tell us something we don't already know

To the shock of no one living in RI, the state's highways have been ranked dead last in performance and cost-effectiveness. I hope they didn't spend much time and money on this research. They could have just called me or any of my friends and family. We would have told them that for free.

Perils of Losing Weight

My wedding ring is too large now. I lost it briefly in the supermarket on Sunday (found it in the green bean bin after a frantic search...does that elevated heart rate count as cardio?) and am not sure I can keep wearing it until it's resized. The only problem is that the design of the ring doesn't lend itself to resizing. Geez...probably new clothes soon and now a new wedding ring?

Monday, September 13, 2010


"The time has come," the Walrus said, 
"To talk of many things --
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax 
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether I can get rid of my fat ass."

- with apologies to Lewis Carroll

I won't go into the gory details but basically, at the start of August, I finally realized the obvious -- I was over forty, I wasn't immortal, I couldn't keep eating pizza and nachos like I did when I was 20 (thank God I'm not a serious beer drinker or I'd have been really screwed), and it was time to do something about it. Oh yeah...I am also hoping to become a dad someday soon and I don't want to be out of breath while trying to chase my kid around.

So I decided to get off my fat butt, started going to the gym and riding my bike as often as possible, and began the South Beach Diet. Due to chronic shoulder injuries suffered while swimming competitively in college, I also signed up with a personal trainer specifically for shoulder work. Due to my work schedule, I am also doing all of these things at the hellacious time of 6 AM. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I'm a miserable morning person but can work until all hours of the night so the fact that I'm getting up that early must mean I'm serious. My lovely wife is lending moral support while doing her best to get into shape as well, all while chronicling her own efforts in this regard at 80 Sticks of Butter.

The results after 6 weeks...26 pounds down and a fat ass-load to go but I'm feeling good about it. So much so, that I want it to happen faster and so signed up for the Fall Fitness Challenge that's run by our gym and its 3 other locations. Sunday was Day 1, involved lots of paperwork, an official weigh-in, and a 1-mile run. Hmmmm...if I was feeling like that after 6 weeks of biking and elliptical trainer, I hesitate to think how I much more I would have been sucking wind if I'd tried it a month and a half ago!

I've already had to get a new belt that's tighter, this will be the last summer for this particular collection of my favorite Columbia cargo shorts, and I'm going to need a new wardrobe pretty soon as my work clothes are starting to feel baggy. Who knew that losing weight could be so expensive?

Further updates as workouts and weigh-ins warrant...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Other Family

I was a pretty active kid in middle school, high school, and college -- swim team, theatre, speech team, baseball, and just messing around with friends -- but from the time I was 10 and a half until my sophomore year of college, there was an unbroken thread running through my life: Troop 82 Providence and Scoutmaster Donald C. Dewing.

Don founded the Troop in 1927 and was its only scoutmaster until his death in December 1988, just hours after attending a Troop meeting. Don was the heart and soul of 82 and, more than that, he was a friend, mentor, guide, and father figure for the almost 1,000 boys who passed through the Troop's ranks. When I joined the Troop in the summer of 1979, some of the assistant scoutmasters had themselves been scouts in Troop 82 in the 1940s. In many cases, it was a family affair with multiple brothers having passed through the ranks and then returned with their sons, at least one of whom was explicitly named in honor of Don Dewing.

We spent at least one weekend a month at the Troop's cabin in southern Rhode Island where we swam in the pond, were warned not to fall into the well, visited (or tried not to visit) "5023 in the Valley" (the eternal name for any latrine that the Troop used in recognition of Don's license plate number and the fact that old plates always got hung up on the outside of the latrine), and played "Manhunt", "Capture the Flag", and "roofball". At night, we sat around the campfire or, if it was winter, around the long central table as Don would read stories that always had a lesson of some sort at the end (case in point..."A Message to Garcia", which Don always pronounced "Gosha" and used to illustrate the virtues of initiative and self-reliance). There were trips to Mount Monadnock and Mount Chocorua, bus trips to Washington, DC, games in the basement of the Troop's home at Church of the Redeemer, and even one evening where the Troop was turned out to help search our section of the city for a young girl with learning disabilities who was lost.

We camped for two weeks every summer at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, spending the first week at Campsite Wuttah (the giant "82" banner stretched between two trees along the lakefront proclaiming to everyone that 82 was in camp) and the second week at Campsite Dewing, given by the Troop and supporters in honor of Don's more than 50 years as scoutmaster. While that was one summer before my time with the Troop, I'm told it came as a complete surprise to Don when it was unveiled and formally inaugurated in front of more than 1,000 scouts and their families during the Sunday parade in the summer of 1978.

After five summers as a camper, I then spent five years as a staff member at Yawgoog, first as a lifeguard and then as the assistant director and director of the Ashaway Sailing Center, or as we on the staff preferred to call it, the Yawgoog Yacht Club. While I loved being on staff, the highlight of the summer was always the two-week visit by the Troop, during which my buddies would come hang out or I'd spend an evening or three sitting in the leaders' tent, often snagging a slice of contraband pizza, and enjoying the opportunity to sit with the adult leaders and other senior scouts.

And with that rank and age came responsibility. I learned how to lead by watching the older boys and the adult leaders and then advancing in rank and responsibility from just a member of a patrol to assistant patrol leader to patrol leader (go Screaming Eagles!) and then eventually to Senior Patrol Leader, the senior position a scout can hold who hasn't turned 18 and moved into the ranks of assistant scoutmasters.

The Providence Journal's coverage of the Eagle Scout ceremony for me and Philip Speare with Don congratulating Philip. I still cringe at the thought of the speech I gave. One should never actually use the phrase "when the going got tough, the tough got going" seriously but I was 15. What the hell did I know?

More so than almost all of my friends from school, I had and still have a stronger connection to those boys, now men, because of the time and adventures we enjoyed together. We worked on projects together, swam and fought and tormented each other (usually in a good way). It was a camaraderie unlike any other I can recall because it was built over 10 years of shared experiences, seeing each other every Tuesday night for Troop meetings, searching for firewood, pitching tents, racing to be the fastest to tie knots or run an obstacle course, or win the award for best costume at Halloween.

Boys and adult leaders came and went, moved away, headed to college, and got married. But Don was always there, fiercely dedicated to his boys, the Troop, and Scouting as a whole. Shortly after I joined the Troop, my family moved to a new house right around the corner from Don and I often found myself over at his house visiting or helping with projects. On snowy days, several of us would gather to shovel Don and his station wagon out and then enjoy cookies and soda in his basement as we warmed up and dripped melting snow all over the place. His office in Narragansett Council HQ was on the other side of my high school's athletic fields so I'd often drop in to say hello when school was done for the day. When my parents separated and then divorced when I was 15, Don was there for me as a stable anchor in my universe, serving as a sounding board when I needed to talk, never judging, and always with a kind and caring word for my parents when he saw them.

Don left us midway through my sophomore year of college. I'd talked to him a week or so before about getting together for lunch over the Christmas break. When I landed at the airport following my flight back from Minnesota, my mother broke the news to me that Don had died two evenings before. Sitting in the parking lot at Logan Airport in Boston, I couldn't stop crying. Returning to Providence, the first thing I did was walk around the corner to Don's house where I found 3 or 4 friends from the Troop gathered to sort through Don's memorabilia, slides, photos, and more. Sitting in his small study where I'd spent so much time over the years, I wept again, a friend's arm around me and another friend saying, "It's OK, go ahead. We've all been doing that for the last two days." 

Days later, there was a funeral service. The church had to open another wing to accomodate the overflow crowd and it was still standing room only with more people outside unable to get in. I sat in a pew next to a former member of the Troop. He had to have been in his 50s, we'd never met before, and the two of us wept along with hundreds of other people. Then the current and former scouts gathered by the gravesite and quietly sang "Gather 'round the Dying Campfire", the melancholy song of love for Camp Yawgoog that we would always sing to close out every campfire during those summer weeks.

Don never married. He never had children of his own. Instead, he devoted his life to helping raise and guide almost 1,000 boys over the course of 61 years. Don was no saint, of course. He could be irascible, impatient, and demanding as he asked for the best out of us. He never did it for the money or the acclaim. Instead, I believe he did it because it was his calling, like some who become priests or know from an early age that they're supposed to be doctors so they can heal people.

For some boys, Scouting and participating in Troop 82 were just things to do because their parents signed them up. I'm not sure what lingering memories or connections they might still have. But for many of us, Donald Cushman Dewing was much more than just the leader of a Tuesday night activity. He became a beloved member of our families and, in our own way, we were his family. Losing him was a terrible blow to us in the same way losing a parent or grandparent might be. The Troop forged on for a few more years and then, eventually, faded away. However, the memory of Don Dewing remained, along with the family he helped to create.

Gather 'round the dying campfire
Lift your voice in song
Sing the praise of old Camp Yawgoog
Sing it loud and strong

Scouts and scouters stand in friendship
'Neath the starry skies
We will long remember Yawgoog
As the years roll by.