Weight loss: By the Numbers

Making a chart of the changes you make to get to a better, healthier weight has two distinct advantages. One advantage is purely psychological, a physical reference that can be referred to providing positive reinforcement and proof of a desire to change. In addition, capturing quality data on a daily basis will give direction to our efforts by correlating our actions to actual results. Of course, the more data that we have, the better job we can do.

My weekly chart

If you look at the first column, each row marked ‘Week’ shows the distance that I walked first thing in the morning on the day at the top of the column. The first two weeks I was only concerned with that particular data as I was tracking the increase in distance to my 3 mile a day goal, just in case my intended gains were too ambitious. For Week 3 I decided to also track my morning weight and start logging my calorie intake during the day, mostly as a guide to help me learn better food choices.

As I have said before the weight number is initially going to be used as a tool to examine how my body is handling hydration and it looks like that is working well. Notice that all of the weight numbers are very close together and vary by 5 pounds throughout the week. My hydration is just under 1 gallon of water a day, I am drinking mostly water, no milk yet and only an occasional diet coke, no judging. These numbers do not show any significant weight loss but it does show that my hydration is were it needs to be. Always check the color of your urine at least once a day, yellow is good, lighter yellow to clear means you are getting too much water, brown or red, go to the hospital.

Having all but eliminated bread of any kind from the food I eat, I did have some french fries last week and tortillas for breakfast once, but the rest of the time I stuck to fiber, fat and protein without any difficulty. Bacon was my new best friend the third week, 4 eggs, 4 bacon is 420 calories and very filling. When you consider that my basic breakfast runs around $2.50 and the lunch salad of spinach, zucchini, onion and tuna about $3 a day, changing eating habits are also saving considerable amounts of money as well.

At the extreme right of the table I use columns for weekly totals, distance, calories burned and calculated fat loss from diet and exercise. These will not correlate directly and that is OK, they are references only, as I have said before, your weight will vary with water before fat. The chart will make more sense as more data is added to it, by the time we get into week 7 the weekly numbers will begin to show where the results are headed and changes can be made if necessary. We are changing things and everyone responds differently to stimulus, even if the stimulus is the same.

Making Weightloss Habitforming

When developing new habits there are times that for whatever reason I cannot continue, my daily walk was interrupted the other day by torrential rain. No big deal, until the rain stopped. Getting back on the horse was a very big deal. Motivation can be pretty illusive, the brain can almost instantly conjure many excuses to not continue on course, really the only way through is to put my head down and get on with it, get workout clothes out and put them on one piece at a time, put socks on then shoes, stand up and walk outside. It is harder to not start something once I have already begun doing it.

One of the advantages of keeping a journal containing all of my diet and fitness numbers is the ability to make good decisions when something unexpected happens. Losing a day of walking would impact my weekly numbers but I still end up with more miles this week than last and that is perfectly OK. Progress not perfection as they say.

By logging all of my calories each day I can track whether I am eating too much or not enough. Eventually, with steady hydration, the calories in/out will roughly follow the daily weigh in. This is why it is important to get on the scale first thing in the morning before I eat or drink anything.

Net calories = Calorie intake – (Basic Metabolic Rate + Calories from Work) -1417 = 1280 – (2397 + 300)

Using the equation above I can evaluate where my weight should be week to week and eliminate some confusion caused by water weight variations. It is still not perfect but it will enable me to ignore incorrect assumptions from daily weight numbers.

Just to be clear, I am not writing this blog to tell my readers how to lose weight, I am leading by example, all of the charts that I post and the numbers for workouts, etc. are mine. I am your example, if I am writing about it, rest assured, I am doing it. Any one can write about ‘you can’, I write about ‘I did and you can to, here’s how’. Now, I used to be a real workout junkie, Crossfit addict, Oly lifting geek, but life and work and everything else sort of jammed itself in there and I stopped working out entirely about 4 years ago. And now it is time to get back on that horse and ride like there is no tomorrow, because if I just laze around the house all of the time, there isn’t. The thing is, I can’t motivate you. Only you can do that, it has to be a conscious choice, heck, I can’t even motivate me. When I get up late, or didn’t get really good sleep, or just don’t feel like it, I just have to do it, or it doesn’t get done. Sorry if I said that already but there it is.

I am planning to go up to 3 miles a day every other day next week and every day the week after. This is snail slow progress but it has to be this way to prevent injuries that would bring progress to a grinding halt. Once I get to 3 miles a day I will add cycling to the work mix, I really like it and it will be a new way to burn off some of the padding.

Weight Control Made Easy

A simple spreadsheet to keep track of my morning workouts helps me stay on track and gives me an idea about how I am progressing and where I can fine tune things. I have modified this to include daily weight and daily food intake in calories to get a better idea of how I am progressing. There will be additions to the table once I start to include additional workouts.

As I have said before, the daily weight figure is there for reference only, there is no reason to obsess over that number, the numbers to pay attention to are the daily workout numbers and the daily calorie number. Being consistent is how we control this and get to the goals we have set for ourselves.

As we get older it becomes more important to find ways of staying active that are not as demanding on our bodies and I really enjoy cycling, it is nearly zero impact and I never get tired of putting miles on my road bike. Most larger cities these days have incorporated bike trails into their municipal parks and it is a great way to burn serious calories if you just budget some time for it. Sunup to sundown, except for days with rain or severe wind is perfect for a bike ride. Once you get comfortable putting in a few miles a day, contact your local bike club and see if you can get together with some of their members for a morning coffee ride or an evening no-drop spin. Club dues are very reasonable and can come with some very nice perks. Our local club gets hefty discounts at all of the local bike shops and they sponsor picnics and a yearly swap meet. Believe me when I say this, fresh air is very addictive.

I use a tool from the WebMD website to calculate calories in the food I eat, the address is https://www.webmd.com/diet/healthtool-food-calorie-counter. I try to do this at home and if I am away from the house I have a notebook to keep track of anything I eat out. Keeping a strict log of every thing that I eat helps me train my eating habits and helps me stay away from things that just don’t belong in my body. It also lets me know when a small treat is in order, it is very important to maintain your BMR calorie intake to keep from getting so hungry that we might be tempted to undo the work we have begun.

A word about fat loss. Being happy in our skin is the goal here. Looking for results can be frustrating and here is why. Fat is stored in the body relative to blood flow, as the level of sugar in the blood climbs, insulin is released to signal fat storage is needed. The areas of increased blood flow also receive the most insulin, so more fat is stored there. The reverse is also true, when your body starts to burn fat, it burns it from the areas that have the most circulation. By walking in the morning we increase the circulation in the legs and torso, a large percentage of the body’s mass, when fat burning occurs as a result of this it is going to be very generalized, only when the fat stored in these areas is reduced substantially will fat start to be burned in other areas. This is why patience is so important to good long term habits, you have to KNOW that what you are doing is working, your eyes cannot see the differences as the changes that occur happen over a very long period, but they are working. Over time you will see the correlation between your caloric intake, the work you do and your weight, that is what the chart will tell you. And in time you will see the results. Best of luck, keep trying to be the best you, every day.

Bit by Bit We Get Better and Better

This morning as I was getting ready for the morning walk, I noticed a little muscle soreness in my backside, no doubt due to the daily walks. I was half expecting this, it has to happen as muscles that haven’t been used in a while are called back to work. This is easy to fix and here is how. Since there is some discomfort I only did one mile and afterward I used airsquats to stretch the muscles involved to keep the blood flowing and allow healing. Your quads and glutes, the backs of your legs and your ‘sitter’ are some of the largest and strongest in your body and they also recover faster than most. To do an air squat you stand erect with your feet a bit more than shoulder level apart, arms forward and parallel to the ground, tighten your abs and push your butt back while sitting down and then stand back up. If this is too hard then simply bend at the waist and try to touch your toes, ten times will do it, your done.

If you have been weighing yourself every day you may have noticed that there is a substantial difference during the week. This swing has nothing to do with fat loss, it is all about water weight. Once you get really regular with your hydration, that will settle down. Remember, if my calorie intake matches my BMR and I walk 1 mile a day it will take me 8 months to lose 10 pounds, this is a long game, changing bad habits and developing life-long good habits. Once I get to my goal of walking 3 miles a day, doing just that while maintaining my BMR will burn off 30 pounds in 8 months and keep it off because I have made positive changes in the way I eat to manage my weight. The best motto I have for that is, “Well begun is half done.”

All of that may seem a like a bit of a wet blanket but that is because you are looking at a number on a page. To get an idea of what weightloss really looks like lets take for example an 8 pound fat loss. What does 8 pounds of fat look like? Look closely at a 1 gallon milk container, that’s the size of 8 pounds of fat, almost exactly. Now losing a pound or so a week begins to look much better.

Having changed my second meal of the day to a salad, a bowl of greens doesn’t sound too attractive after 3 or 4 days of the same. I get creative, use 3 or 4 ounces of chicken or tuna, add a spiral cut zucchini, avocado, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, etc. Spicy Italian dressing is my go to, only 60 calories per serving, 2 Tbsps doesn’t sound like much but you would be surprised. Spinach, onion, Zucchini, a can of tuna, sunflower seeds and dressing runs about 400 calories, can’t go wrong. Starting next week I will be starting a food journal to keep track of the calories I eat, showing changes that I make to vary my energy intake.

Fight the urge to do too much at once. Every change you make should be in a positive direction, things that get started and then left by the wayside are distractions from the direction that you are trying to go towards. Small steps repeated over and over are the key to good habits that will serve you well going forwards. The first week I planned to walk a mile a day and I did exactly that, 7 miles for the week, total calories 1050. My second week I was tempted to just double it and I didn’t because I wanted to keep my goal small and achieveable, as a result I walked about 2 miles only half of the time but never less that 1 mile a day, the result, 1600 calories burned in the second week. I believe that continuing success is much better in the long run than trying to exceed your current capacity and risk injury or frustration in the beginning of the process.

Monday is the start of Week 3, I will outline the whole journal process and things will start to take shape.

Diet and Exercise

If you did the groundwork from the last post you have a calorie intake target, a general idea of good carbs and bad carbs and starting point for getting more fit and less fat. Lets start right in on fitness, that morning walk I took every day for the first week was good. Got up, cranked up the circulation and did something for 20 minutes first thing putting up 150 calories on the work side of the fit/fat equation. Monday of the second week I wanted to know what my walking speed was so I could increase my walk a bit without spending all day at it. I use an app called MapMyRide, been using it for about 10 years and it works like a charm for stuff like this. Here’s how it works:

  1. Open the app and click on add workout
  2. From the dropdown menu choose walk
  3. When you are ready hit the start button and it does the rest
  4. After you have finished hit stop and Bob’s your uncle.

For the second week I did a 2 mile walk in 40 minutes, that works out just fine. Now the second day, Tuesday, my knee was feeling a little weird so I only went a single mile, didn’t want to start any issues and Wednesday’s walk was fine, no more knee problems, logged about 1.75 miles, different route. I will listen to my body and alternate 1 and 2 mile walks for the time being. Sometimes less is more. The point of the morning walk every day is good habit building, nothing more. I will show you why here.

I am trying to work off fat, with diet and exercise. One pound of fat is about 3500 calories. The one mile walk every day will burn off one pound of fat in 24 days if I stay below my BMR of 2400 calories a day. But, as I become more active, my BMR will go up and fat will be metabolized faster, but only if I keep doing what I am doing every single day. I should be able to move to 2 miles a day by the start of next week, barring injuries, etc. My goal is to get to 3 miles every morning, walking, not running, there are too many negatives to a running program and frankly the extra calories burned by running instead of walking just aren’t worth it.

We fixed breakfast last time so now lets get with lunch. You want your second meal of the day to be a salad, get that good fiber and some tasty add ons and get to munching. Iceberg lettuce is useless, there, I said it. No taste, no nothing. Enough said. Spinach. Fresh spinach in a 10 oz. bag, about $2.50 and good for 4-5 salads, easy. Put a big handful into a bowl, chop some onions, olives, pickled okra(you knew I was from Texas, right?) green peppers, throw on sunflower seeds, chop up some raw peanuts or cashews and drown the thing in Ranch dressing, or whatever your favorite is. Do not buy Light, or fat free dressings, they have lots of crap that you don’t want in our body in there to replace the calories they take out. Cut down calories from dressing by using less dressing, simple. Get creative, leftovers can be a great change of pace ingredient in a salad.

Hydration is essential to good health and something that a lot of people take for granted. Don’t be one of them. I keep a clear gallon pitcher of plain water in my refrigerator. Not that I am going to drink the whole thing in one day but I fill it every night before I go to bed and at any time during the day I can look at the pitcher and tell if I am getting enough water or not. Again, simple.

There it is, walking a little farther, salad for lunch and hydrate. Next time we’ll dig a little deeper but this should be plenty for now.

Weight Management

I’m in my 60’s, it is not as easy as it once was to manage the ups and down of body weight, especially the ups. You see, the good things in life that I used to indulge without a second thought, breads, pastries, doughnuts, dooooooooonuts, pies, pizza, etc. are not my friends any more. The simple truth is, it is a lot easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. Sugars and simple starches are taken in, broken down into simpler sugars, entering the blood stream where the body adds insulin and is then stored as fat. Simple and easy. Once stored, fat has to be broken down in a multitude of steps until it finally leaves the body through the lungs as carbon dioxide. Not easy on a good day!

The basic method to control your weight is diet and exercise. Rule #1 is this, throughout the day your body uses a set amount of calories to function. Depending upon your age, weight and level of activity this amount varies. Getting an idea of what your caloric need is is the first step to getting your weight under control. There are many websites that have very simple calculators that will give you a very close calorie number in only a few keystrokes. Do this right now, open a new window, google daily calorie needs, fill in the form, profit.

1. Get your daily calorie number, memorize it for later use.

*** https://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html ***

  1. Choose US units tab
  2. Enter age(61), gender(M), height(6’5″), weight(325#), Activity(Basal Metabolic Rate/BMR)
  3. Hit Calculate and my number is……2397 calories per day to maintain my current weight
  4. Your turn.

There are 3 components to all of the foods we eat, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. As far as calories are concerned, carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 calories per gram. Starting with carbohydrates, there are two basic categories, simple starches and fiber. These names describe their activity in the body rather than anything else, I use them strictly for illustration. Simple starches like cereal grains, breads and sugars are a major concern to us since they contribute directly to the production of body fat.

Rule #2 cut down on simple starches.

For example, don’t eat doughnuts, pastries, cereals and the like first thing in the morning. Juice is bad as well, most juices have a ton of sugar added. If I start my day with a cinnamon roll and a glass of OJ I get: roll, 310 calories, 9 grams of fat, 54 grams of carbs, OJ, 8 oz. Tropicana, 120 calories, 28 grams of carbs. A total of 82 grams of carbs!

Change your morning like this, substitute a couple of eggs and some bacon and a glass of milk instead. 2 eggs, 143 calories, 10 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs, 2 pieces of bacon, 87 calories, 7 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, 8 oz. milk, 149 calories, 8 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbs. A total of 19 grams of carbs, some difference, huh? Instead of relying on carbs to get you going, the change is almost all protein and fat, the good stuff. 430 calories versus 379 calories but the real story here is how we have backed off on carbs, from 82 to 19.

2. Carbs are bad, fat is good, change your diet for the better.

Now that we had a little bit of diet, let’s talk exercise. For the purpose of this discussion, exercise is anything that you do that you don’t have to do. Keeping it simple, walking is hands down a great way to get yourself going. Having said that, how do you get going? Pick a time, earlier is better, when demand on your personal time is low. Mine is 4-5 a.m., simply because it is before I have to get myself together and get going for the day. Here is how it works, I wake up, get out of bed and immediately put on sweats, t-shirt and my workout shoes. I don’t do a lot but I do it every single day. I start with a 1 mile walk, I don’t worry about time, just relax and keep going. I have a figure 8 loop around two blocks in my neighborhood that is exactly 1 mile and all I have to do to increase my workout is to do an extra lap. Walking in the early morning there are very few cars on the road but you should wear a very bright colored t-shirt or windbreaker anyway so that you can be seen.

3. The hardest part of working out is starting. Get up, get dressed, get going.

Let’s review: We have a number that represents how many calories we need to maintain our weight, we can change the way we eat our first meal and we have a plan to get more active, every day. Is this something that you can do, it sure is. Let’s see what we can do.

Greatest Story Ever Told, But Not By Me

We turn back the pages of time today, all the way back to July 4, 2015, to the outskirts of a town called Burkburnett, Texas. The scene is a metal barn on rural land full of tractors and four-wheelers and implements of every size and description, scattered about in no discernable pattern as if each had simply stopped on their spot and been left there to slowly fade into ever thicker and ever taller weeds. Several men are huddled around an older model SUV, two looking under the hood and another removing the drivers seat. I pull my black F150 into the tail end of this mess and park. Soon enough, the guy I am here to see pokes his head out of the barn and hails me.

Greg Carpenter, known to millions of fans the world over as Dr. Danger, stuntman-slash-daredevil-slash-showman extraordinaire, closes the distance on me with his rangy 6 foot plus frame thrusts out a hand and gives me a serious handshake and a hearty slap on the back. He never stops talking as he leads me up to the SUV everyone is so intently working on and explains the show he is giving tonight in every minute detail. He says that there is supposed to be a news crew here to do an interview and before I can ask when, a news crew arrives. This is pure Danger, when he is around, stuff just happens.

No sooner than the talent and her cameraman are through, Danger asks me if I can do him a favor. Sure, I’m your huckleberry! There is a woman coming in for the show and we need to pick her up at the airport, in DFW, she should be there in an hour. To smooth over some of the more unnecessary details, DFW airport is about 115 miles from where we stand right now, we have an hour to get there, we made it with about 5 minutes to spare. To be fair, we didn’t have to go into the airport, Greg had called ahead and had her meet us at some restaurant just off the airport.

Pulling into the parking lot I notice there are no cars, the place must not open ‘til 5 when the dinner rush starts. No sooner than I get the truck stopped, Greg is out of the truck, has his banter turned up to max and is hustling this girl and her stuff into the back seat of my truck. Greg gives me the thumbs up and we are off to Wichita Falls again. The ‘Falls are about 100 miles northwest of Dallas/Ft. Worth on US 287, a 4 lane divided highway that transitions rapidly from high density urban to scrub oak and the occasional hereford in very short order. All this time Danger is talking a mile a minute still going over the nights show and I am taking it all in when I look in the rear view and our passenger, Christy Spangler, is looking around at the scenery, I guess, what do I know, I’m driving? And then she asks, “Where are all the people?” To which I reply, “What people?”

I could have been more sensitive, really. This woman who knows Danger but has never laid eyes on me, just flew 1,000 miles from a rather robust metropolis and is stuffed into this pickup truck screaming down the highway at around 80 miles an hour with nothing more than an occasional utility pole or passing freight train to reassure us that we were indeed in the twenty-first century.

To Christy’s credit, what happened next was nothing short of amazing. She told us a story. Not just any story. This was a story about family. It was a story about adventure. It had action and suspense, it even had a police chase. Greg and I were both speechless. If I were to give it a name I would call it, “How I got a $5000 ticket for eating french fries in Yellowstone Park by Christy Spangler,” and leave it at that because I could never retell that story with the emotion and the animation that she used to describe each little detail. I almost had to pull over, but the show had to go on.

As the night drew near and the show was upon us, I still marvelled at that story and the effect it had on me. Soon it was apparent that the only way to top it was to dress her in a set of water-soaked coveralls and motor cycle helmet and set her on fire. Show business baby! One of these days I will have to get her to tell that story again the way only she can.

(This is a very small portion of a much larger tale whose many parts are not done yet…)

A Day Off Is Just What I Needed

A Day Off Is Just What I Needed

Wow!! I feel so good today, like I’ve had a spiritual shower and been toweled off with imagination and pushed out into my creative space to spill my thoughts onto a freshly created word file. Would you look at that beautiful white space just waiting for me. Comfy chair, monitor tweaked just the way I like it, desk space uncluttered and nothing to distract me. The phone is ringing.

Hello Rachel, no, you are not bothering me, I lied. Would I mind doing a short survey? Yeah, I would. Let me let you go, my train of thought is leaving and I want to go where it was headed, really. I know you will keep calling, I just don’t care right now. I’ll unplug the phone, yeah, that should take care of that.

The first sentence is always the worst, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just type a bunch of random letters for a line or two, throw on a period and then come back and fix it later, just to get going. Which would probably work but as soon as I got up to answer the phone my elusive, secretive, almost never seen in the light of day kitty has taken up residence in my chair. Prrrrrrrrr, says kitty. Shoo, says I, picking up his fluffiness and depositing him on the floor. I believe the name of the look I got was ‘reproach.’

Settling back in and getting ‘writer mode’ enabled once more I let the creative juices that had been simmering come to a boil and spill out onto the page. Spill onto the page. I said… Crap. Where was this going? It was so ‘there’ earlier. Where was I? Got up, grabbed a shave, then a shower, got dressed, was thinking about, what? A mental image of Curly Howard saying, “I tried to think, but nothing happened!” I sort of stare into space hoping that the thought would circle around and I would catch it on the next lap and the cat settles down onto the middle of the keyboard. I stroke the little darling a couple of times and then I see that he has been making the letter ’s’ the whole time, three pages of the letter ‘s’. Well at least he is getting something on the page. He does this when he is hungry, I will feed him and maybe he will go to sleep somewhere and let me alone for a bit.

The cat actively paces all about the counter and underfoot as I fill a dish with his favorite canned food, place it on the floor and watch him attack it. My exit is silent and unnoticed by the cat, he, after all, has priorities.

Got to get centered, go to the bathroom, grab toothbrush, toothpaste, ritual two minute tooth scrubbys. Mouthwash, swirl, swirl, spit. Water back. Spit. Towel. Check the shave. Shave is good. Grab a random cologne from the basket, spritz! Now, back to work. Sit down, delete three pages of ‘s’ and start fresh. Fresh. Damn, that cologne smells good. Really good. When I was single, if I smelled like this, I would sleep with me. What? Shut up!!! Focus. Damn, that was a good movie. Love me some Will Smith. Great, now that song is in my head. I hate listening to music when I write, or try to. Only one thing worse.

Bark, bark, bark, bark.

What do you want?

Bark, bark, bark!


Bark, bark.


Bark, bark, bark.


Bark, wiggle, wiggle, bark, wiggle, wiggle…

Let’s go! Easy enough to figure that out. Great day outside. Fresh air, sunshine. Blank page. No. Don’t go there. Don’t even think it. Not the words. Writer’s block. There. Now you’ve gone and done it. Might as well go to the hardware store and get the new lock for the back door and while you are out you were going to design a shaving grotto for the hallway bathroom and the wife needed some stuff from Wally World. Because you thought it out loud.

Block, block, bo bock,

Banana fanna fo fock,

Fee fi mo mock,

Writer’s Block!!!

That’s it. Concentrate. Stare at the page until the thoughts come. Then type like crazy until they are all on the page. Concentrate. Concentrate. Sleeeeeep…

O. M. G. It is 2:30 in the afternoon. My neck hurts. I am soooooo hungry. I think my butt has grown into this chair cushion. I give up. Somebody feed me.

Gone, Long Gone

Gone, Long Gone

My friend Pete wasn’t home this Saturday morning. I had pulled into his driveway just as the sun had come fully up into the sky, about 8 a.m. this time of the year and was dismayed to realize that his truck was absent from it’s usual spot, snug up against the ages old wooden shed parallel with the back of the house. There was no use looking to the shed, the truck would not be there. Although it was big enough it was as old as the house, built in the ‘10’s and ‘20’s of the last century by Standard Oil of America to house the oil workers employed on company leases situated on the southern bank of the Red river, a place loosely referred to as Boomtown, more particularly Burkburnett, Texas. The shed was defying the pull of gravity by virtue of countless coats of latex paint and Pete knew it, never would he risk the finish on his precious truck by parking it inside.

He was off today, he worked strictly Monday to Friday but I knew without doubt where my friend was, washing his truck at the carwash several blocks down the street, he did love that truck and he was predictable to a fault. I backed out of the driveway and reversed carefully along the extra high curb peculiar to this particular neighborhood until I was even with Pete’s front door. As I pulled the keys out of the ignition, intent on waiting instead of leaving and coming back later, a sign in the next yard caught my eye. For Sale-Open House the sign read.

Ordinarily the sign would not have rated a second look but 10 years ago Pete had, unbeknownst to him, purchased the house next door to the house my grandparents had bought in 1936 for $3500 from the widow of my grandfathers boss. My grandfather had passed away in the house in July of 1976 and my grandmother stayed in it until cancer and heart disease forced her into hospice care in 2001. I personally hadn’t been inside since I helped my mother sell the place and the Open House invitation pulled me by a thousand invisible strings inexorably to the front porch.

A tin box held to the bottom of the mailbox with double-sided tape yielded a key that opened the deadbolt that could have been installed in the front door yesrterday, it’s brilliant finish bore no resemblance to the dark brown brass knob of the large rectangular mortise lock. The door shuddered slightly as the deadbolt slid back, years of shrinking and swelling with the seasons and humidity changed the geometry of the door and it’s relationship to the jamb so that the latch of the mortise barely lined up with the original striker plate. A light push and the door swung inward until the sweep reached the untramped shag carpet stopping it just short of the quarter round trim of the front wall. The pier and beam floor gave a bit under my feet as I stepped off of the concrete porch into the house. As my eyes adjusted to the dim, reflected light of the front room I began a quick left to right inventory, nothing at all was familiar, all of the old landmarks were long gone, no recliner, no armrest-high ashtray, reading lamp gone, huge console television and floor length window treatments all gone, the 10 foot high ceiling the sole reminder of where I was. I was a bit saddened when I came to the entrance of the dining room and saw that someone had used nails to fasten a strip of thin wood over the room divider hidden into the wall that could be pulled out to separate the living room from the rest of the house so that tired guests could turn in before the rest of the household has gone to bed.

Disrepair was a word that came to mind but was almost immediately replaced by ‘misrepaired’ a more correct description of the half-hearted plywood nailed over the dining room window covering the opening that years ago housed a 2-ton Fedders swamp cooler in an age that had not yet been introduced to refrigerated air. The heavy squirrel cage fan of the unit would roar to life around noon on a summer day and blow a steady stream of air cooled by the evaporation of water continuously streaming down a set of exselsior pads on the outside. On the opposite wall someone had capped off the gas line that had fed a large Dearborn heater, now long gone, that functioned as the other half of grandpa’s central heat and air system.

The air was all wrong, it was if the house, once full of life had lost it’s character. The dining room smell had once been a delicate balance of food from the kitchen and whichever device was moderating the temperature, Dearborn heater in the winter with it’s ever present hint of methyl mercaptan from the natural gas it consumed, the moist mildewy note that gave the swamp cooler it’s name or morning breezes coming through the open side door mixed gently with the perfumed scents of the flowers grandma had planted along the driveway next to the house.

Nothing stayed the same, it was gone, the house was dead to me. The memories still lingered inside me but this place was forever changed. No reason to look further, there was no one here to maintain the character of the place, no one to understand or appreciate how a child’s memories are formed. I no longer cared if the clawfooted tub was still in the bathroom, if somehow in the intervening years my grandmothers Lazarus plant still sat in a glass saucer, unnoticed and unmolested on the screen porch, waiting for me to pour water on it and sit, transfixed, as it opened up once more. I could hear Pete’s truck pull in next door, it was time to go.

It’s Just a Family Tradition

In the early sixties my grandparents Virgil and Irene were in their early sixties but that is germane only as it pertains to their positions in the following tale. Virgil was a telephone man, that is to say that he left the house at the same time everyday, switched his Chevrolet for a phone company truck at the central phone company office downtown and went to his jobsite where he worked until he got off for lunch, switched vehicles again and drove home. This had been the established pattern of his Monday through Friday existence since he began working for the phone company in 1926. Irene had had a heart attack just before her 60th birthday and was forced to quit her part time position at the neighborhood grocers where she cut meat three days a week, she was thereafter a housewife, cooking, cleaning, fussing after Virgil, two dogs and two parakeets. At approximately 11 a.m. of a weekday this part of our tale begins.

As mentioned above, Virgil and Irene had two dogs, one named Butch who was an English bulldog in the neighborhood of one hundred pounds and his dearest buddy and pal Tiny, a well named rescue that weighed little more than your average alley cat. These were outside dogs, they had their houses and their dishes and all the things that dogs need in their backyard kingdom, they stayed in the backyard. And that’s were they were as the story begins.

Late morning found Irene unfolding the ironing board in the kitchen at the back of the house and ironing Virgil’s shirts for work the next week. She always ironed in the kitchen because the heat of the day came on early in North Texas and with the side door of the house open a breeze blew through the front of the kitchen and out the other side through the screen porch facing the back yard making a normally hot, sweaty chore bearable. At this time it is important to know that Butch, the enormous bulldog was also aware of the heat and he lay on the back porch step next to the screen door letting the cool concrete keep him comfortable. He could sleep for hours there, and usually did.

The only hard and fast rule my grandparents had about their house when we were young was that if you opened the screen door onto the back yard you had to immediately latch the door behind you so that the dogs didn’t get out. This particular day someone forgot. And this happened.

Butch the bulldog had two thoughts that ruled his waking life, food and out. He would routinely smack his considerable backside against the screen door to see if it bounced open against the spring, meaning someone forgot to latch it from the inside. Seeing that little bit of daylight put him straight into ‘go’ mode, he began tossing his head against the door and as soon as he got his nose into the gap the game was on. One hundred pounds of bulldog came screaming through the back porch, little Tiny in hot pursuit, indoor/outdoor carpet providing friction enough for maximum acceleration right up to the kitchen door and the kitchen floor, the linoleum floor, and no friction whatsoever. The ninety degree turn necessary to navigate the other kitchen door never happened, Butch was sideways on the linoleum, sliding on a collision course towards Irene and the ironing board. I can only imagine a scene of cartoon proportions with my grandmother and the ironing board left in a heap on the floor and Butch barreling through the house’s side door, it’s stout spring closing it again before Tiny could make his escape as well.

Soon enough Virgil pulled into the carport and was surprised to see Tiny laying on the mat at the side door. He picked the dog up, carried him straight into the house, through the bathroom and the back bedroom and out the screen door, latching it after. He walked through the screen porch into the kitchen to see Irene still in the floor amongst the ironing, “What happened here?” he asked.

“The dog got out,” she said. And like that he was behind the wheel of the Chevrolet and gone.

Butch had taken off in a more or less straight line as fast as his short little legs would carry him and Virgil found him thus, his speed reduced to a crawl about a mile from the house. He pulled ahead of the dog, parked, opened the back door and when he had caught up, wrestled the exhausted animal into the car and drove him back to the house. Only after securing all avenues of further escape did he return to the kitchen to see after Irene, thankfully she had only broken a hip.

Fast forward about thirty years and we find Virgil and Irene’s daughter, my mother, dogsitting for my bestest buddy and pal, Brain, a loveable Chesapeake with a bad case of hip dysplasia.

My mom is likewise retired or as I call it, house robe bound, she doesn’t shuck off the slippers unless there is a mighty good reason. This day finds Brain’s dysplasia acting up so Mom has to ‘help’ him in and out of the house by bending over and supporting his hind end. To get from the back door to the kitchen of my mother’s house there is a very small entry and two steps up into the kitchen. As mom has gotten the dog in the door and worked her way around behind him she supports his weight from the back and he walks up the two steps, mom following. As she steps up to the kitchen her trailing slipper gets caught in the trim of the second step and she falls into the kitchen floor on top of the dog. Not too much later my sister comes in the house from the front door and sees the tangle in the kitchen.

“What happened?”

“I tripped and fell on the dog.”

No sooner than the words came out of her mouth my sister was out the door, into the driveway and opening the rear door of her car. She matter of factly strode into the kitchen, knelt down beside our mother and ever so gently picked the dog up and carried him to the car.

Returning from the vet an hour later with a seemingly unaffected Brain she found mom still in the kitchen floor, unable to get up with a broken wrist. That’s just how we roll.