Boot Prints in the Mud

I walked here a moment ago.

I left an artifact, a boot print in the mud. 

Our boot prints make trails for others to follow. 

Together we build artifacts for fellow explorers

so they can see what we have seen

and add their boot prints in the mud.

It's the same mud where I will be buried someday.

In time, it's the same mud I will become.

I will be of little value to people then.

But to a seed I will be life. 

My boot print,

the artifact I left here today,

will be buried under other boot prints

it will soon be forgotten as I am

but the trail, the artifact we made together

It will live on. 

I walked here a moment ago.

No one will know I was ever here.

But they can follow me.

Eat Small, Get Small

Eat Small Get Small: A Weight Loss Travel Guide

I scooted the scales a few inches away from the wall and weighed again. Between my feet was a horrible glowing red number.  

Leeroy the cat meowed impatiently as I tried to see around my belly. He’d only get fed after my morning ritual. It was his job to speed up the weigh-in ceremony by pestering me. Soon as I’d write my weight on the calendar, he’d raise his tail and lead me to the kitchen where I’d heat his fish flavored feline paté. The microwave “ding” fired him up like a starter’s gun. He’d dance back and forth triumphantly, strutting tall in figure eights and meowing loudly and frequently until I set the steaming bowl before him to inspect and eat. It has been this way every single day ever since he was weaned.   

My brother gave me Leeroy after my skydiving accident. I was stuck in the wheelchair for unknown weeks or months and the prognosis was not good. I’ve heard about therapy dogs but I felt that the wheelchair would make it difficult to be a good dog owner. Leeroy turned out to be a good therapy pet that purrs.  

When we met, he wasn’t weaned. He was smaller than the palm of my hand. I’d warm milk in his bottle and he’d fall asleep half finished. I’d put the bottle on the coffee table, and then I’d fall asleep. This is bonding at its very best. We were soon friends. We both got stronger. I graduated to a walker, then crutches, then a cane and eventually I could walk on my own two legs. He was the classic playful, clumsy kitten who grew into a perfect killing machine. Red dots beware.

Waiting for my weigh-in ceremony always irritated him. On January 1st, 2017 we were both irritated. I was irritated by the number. He was hungry. I removed the dry erase marker from its cradle as I looked for today’s square on the calendar.

“269.8! Damn!” I muttered. “It’s your fault, cat.” It was my fault and my shame and I felt it deep that morning. It was my responsibility.

Leeroy meowed and jumped up, excited about breakfast. When he saw me back on the scales, he gave me a look and flopped back down on his pillow. I was tiptoeing on the scales. Right then, right there, I made a decision was going to weigh less than 200 pounds this year.

That morning’s 269.8 marked the beginning of a 15-month marathon. Unlike millions of other weight loss resolutions made all over the world on Jan. 1st, this one stuck. This resolution wasn’t a nice something I thought up to accomplish. It was more like it walked up and slapped me in the face. The idea said, “Do this or die - 199!”

I knew I would do it. I didn’t care how. Just thinking about how 199 would feel made me smile. I grabbed the red pen again and wrote “199 by Dec. 31” at the top of the whiteboard.

“What do you think, partner?” I asked Leeroy. He stood up and said, “Meow.”  

“That’s what you always say,” I chuckled. “When will you learn English?” “Meow.”

He starts dancing the tango around my ankles. “You want a snack?” “Meow.”

I toss a few kitty nibbles to Leeroy and head to the kitchen.

I kept seeing the finish line - 199. I thought how much more I’d enjoy things when I didn’t have 70 pounds of Jell-O strapped to my belly. I thought of long mountain hikes with plenty of energy for the next hill. I thought of hunting and fishing, lots of fishing. I love the idea of kayak trolling for giant striped bass or hauling in double digit catfish out of the churning water of a spillway. All sorts of fun, active, energetic activities danced through my head. The extra weight was preventing me from having the adventurous lifestyle that I dreamt of. I could be living that life right now if it weren’t for the weight. It was a dream killer. The weight was in my way.  

It was more than that. I weighed 269.8 pounds. My cholesterol and blood pressure were beginning to worry my doctor. The weight had to go. I win or I die. I was at what some call a decision point. Getting fatter was easy and delicious. Like any trap, it’s easy in but hard to get out. It led to daily misery and an early death. Losing weight forever was harder, sure. Anything worth having is worth working for. I want a long, active, exciting life. I want to live beyond my 111-teenth birthday. At that birthday party, I’ll be strong, healthy, agile and energetic. I’ll dance with my lady, my daughter and whoever else thinks they can keep up.

None of this will happen if I die first. I’ve allowed fat, the enemy, to infiltrate my body. I got to do what I got to do to get my health back. I see many people get caught in the tar-baby trap called heart disease. It’s what took both my grandpas, my dad and several aunts and uncles. Recently my plumber canceled his appointment because of chest pains. He’s recovering from triple bypass surgery. I’ve got to take my life away from these bad numbers before the trap gets sprung. I’m in a bad place and I have lots of company.

Obesity can affect pets too. I used to give Leeroy a full can of paté every morning and dry food all day. He ate! Eating became his number two activity, right behind napping. Before long I had a pot-bellied cat. The poor fur-ball had a bald spot on his belly from dragging it on the carpet.

I couldn’t tell when Leeroy was hungry, but I could tell how much he ate. If there was food in his bowl in the morning, I knew I had fed him too much. I started by cutting his canned food in half. I measured his dry food. He voiced his opinion, but I want us both to live happy, healthy, long lives.

I still might die tomorrow even if I get in shape. A baby grand piano might fall from the sky and kill me with incredible sound effects. The sooner I get in shape the more good life I can enjoy between now and then and the better I can dodge those falling pianos.

This was war. I don’t know how to surrender. In Army basic training, I got in trouble for tearing out the section of my “Soldiers’ Guide” about being a prisoner of war. Not knowing when or how to quit is sometimes a curse, but more often a blessing.  

The first challenge is getting started. If you want to see a big number of search results, try typing “diet” in your search engine - analysis paralysis. I decided to use simple logic instead. Did I say simple? Simplistic might be a better adjective.

I look for simple solutions to complex problems. If ever there has been a subject overly ‘complexicated’, it’s weight loss. It’s simple, really. There are only one or two things you have to do. Eat less and/or exercise more. That’s it! It really is that ridiculously simple. I wanted to see immediate results. I don’t like exercising so I did the next best thing.

I quit eating!

Immediately I was losing weight. I was actually a little proud of myself. Genius is the ability to make the complicated simple. Look at all those doctors with their PHDs!  They spend millions of dollars annually for decades and generations trying to figure it out. After pondering weight loss for less than a minute, I started losing weight. All I had to do now is figure out how long I wanted to starve.  

Triumphantly, I said out loud, “eat small, get small! I’m a genius!”

Leeroy heard that and meowed. “Hush fur-ball. You’re not helping.”

Now I needed a plan.

I like to nibble when I think. Now I have to think without nibbling. Right away I could tell this diet thing was going to be tough. How I eat is a big part of who I am. I have to change that. I don’t want to be a fat man. I don’t want squishy, gelatinous yuck in my body to define who I am. I don’t want to wake up in a hospital racked with guilt for not taking care of the body God gave me. To stay out of that cardio care unit I need to change.

I’m used to eating three big meals a day with snacks and whiskey too. When I was a soldier, I didn’t gain a pound. I was burning calories so fast they didn’t have time to turn into fat. Those days are over.

It was time for me to take command. My friend, Bhavin, took command of his eating. He eats five times a day: five little snacks. He has a protein bar for one meal, a shake (not the delicious kind) for another. He throws kale, celery and other greens into a blender with protein powder and calls it yummy. He is lying. It’s awful. If I wanted blended greens, I could scrape it out from under my lawnmower.

He makes a detailed meal plan for every day. We’ll be right in the middle of a conversation and his Dick Tracy fitness watch reminds him it’s time to eat. Then he pulls out a bag of fruit chips and chews dried apricots. He measures his body fat and lean muscle mass daily and posts pictures on Facebook where friends praise him for his well-defined trapezoids.  

I can’t diet like Bhavin. I don’t want to plug numbers into an algorithm on my smart phone. I had to find my own way.

Simple and flexible sounds good. The only number I want to watch is that scale. I remembered a book about eating only when very hungry and then only eating a very small meal, a fistful of food. That diet plan allowed me to eat any food I want.

I got my tactical plan. Next I prepared the battlefield, my kitchen. My goal was to get rid of the chemical shit-storm of processed foods. I threw away the sugar frosted carb flakes and other ridiculously bad food. I kept some semi-bad foods. Thankfully my hobbies fill my freezer with organic meats: trout, bass, catfish and venison.

This plan puts my body in charge of my body. I decided I’d start with two simple rules: Eat only when I’m really hungry; Eat only a fistful of food. I had no idea that such simple ideas would work so well.

If an idea works it’s not so bad. I had to be careful to include good vitamins. I got whole food vitamins. I’m not sure how “good” they are but so far, no scurvy.

Starting right meant allowing myself to get hungry, very hungry. I needed to know that my stomach was actually empty. Hunger is something Leeroy and I are not accustomed to. His meals are definitely determined by me and the clock. Of course, if I’m even a few minutes late he will pester me, so he never goes hungry and I’m a pushover for his snacks.

The first day, I didn’t eat at lunch or dinner time. I drank water and waited for hunger to arrive. Leeroy, however, decided to torment me. He’d high tail it to his dry food bowl, crunch some kitty chow, then beg then crunch more. Eventually I banished him to the bathroom, locking him in there with his food, water, bed, and box. It only worked for a few minutes. Once he realized he was trapped, he started singing opera. He stopped messing with me for a while.

The next morning, Leeroy was doing his feed-me-now dance during my weigh in ceremony. I stepped on the scales and waited for the lights to stop flashing. When it stopped, the numbers on the scale were a little smaller.

“Hey buddy, guess what?” I asked. “Meow?”

I swear, it sounded like a question. “I lost two pounds.”

“Meow.” Cats have such poker faces.

Then I changed the pitch in my voice. “Breakfast?”

“Mee-yow!” Off he trotted, tail held high, leading me to the kitchen.  

My hunger didn’t return until late that afternoon. Interesting. I didn’t have a nibble for about 24 hours and didn’t feel bad. I drank water and waited for hunger.  

When I finally got hungry, there was no question; this was it. I was far from my kitchen. I had packed a protein bar in my bag. I wolfed it down, barely chewing. “That’s it?” The protein bar was about the size of my fist, so that’s all I allowed myself to eat. I stuck to the rule to see how it worked. In about a minute, the hunger was gone. It stayed gone all evening. I wasn’t even hungry standing on the scales again the next morning. I’d lost a couple more pounds. My diet plan was working. I impressed myself with my “genius”.

Leeroy was not impressed or even interested. He gobbled his chicken parts paté and licked his bowl clean, then he munched some dry food. It was like he was rubbing it in that he could eat as much as he liked. He kept returning to the bowl so I could hear the crunch. Satisfied he had tormented me long enough, he dragged his bed to a sunny spot and settled down for a nap.

This was a workable plan. I could lose 70 pounds in 2017 and be free of their burden forever. All I had to do now is stay on track. I did not.

Through the 260s and 250s I was off track most of the time. However, my favorite Winston Churchill quote kept repeating in my mind: “We will never surrender.” This battle was willpower vs. temptation. Time to kick temptation’s ass.

The first 20 pounds came off fast. I celebrated with each 10 pounds lost. When I weighed less than 260 pounds, I rented a DVD and popped popcorn. Leeroy claimed his throne by my hip. As long as I’m warm and can make kitty nibble magically appear - he’s good. I think he likes action hero movies best.

At 250 I didn’t include food in my reward. My love of the outdoors sent me to buy better binoculars. This encouraged me to get on the hiking trails. I knew better than to take Leeroy. His Kitty Yoga is quite impressive but walking on a leash … Nope! I tried to leash train him. He would lie down and imitate a penguin sliding on ice. I carried him back to the car – victorious.

I drove through Townsend and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Armed with new binoculars, a walking stick and boots from the bargain rack, I took the first hiking trail I found. It was fairly level, about two miles, and didn’t have a name. I was huffing and puffing but I did it.

It was the beauty more than the exercise I became addicted to. Hiking became a semiregular activity. The plants, the streams, even the rocks seem prettier in the park.  The first time I hiked at Cade’s Cove, I saw more deer in one day than in five years of hunting. One afternoon I came upon a blooming bush covered with lightning bugs. The park is a magical place.

As the weeks and pounds fell off, I didn’t have to catch my breath as often. I found steeper hikes. After a while I almost started believing I was no longer handicapped. What a liberating idea.

My primary care doctor was proud of my progress. She wanted me away from the bad numbers too. She focused on blood pressure, cholesterol and other numbers. She sent pills and I returned them.

I found out what foods were loaded with cholesterol and made a “no-go” list for the fridge. That was a lot of food. I guess I like cholesterol.  

I decided to eat the bad stuff and not replace it. Throwing it all away would have worked better, but my plan tasted better. That was such a delicious week. Leeroy liked it too. He got little samples dropped in his bowl. Soon the high cholesterol food was gone forever or strictly restricted. Butter, for example, was limited to cooking only and halved for recipes. I can’t tell the difference.   

I still bring butter on fishing trips. There’s nothing like campfire trout.

Velveeta has staying power. Leeroy and I both love it. The day we shared our last slice he mourned. I felt bad for him. Some Sundays, He finds a slice of Velveeta next to his stinky steaming lump of fish paté. I’m such a good pet owner.

Tracking my weight loss wasn’t a pretty mathematic curve. It’s more like the zigzag line of a seismic recorder during an earthquake. Some days I’d gain three pounds for no reason; other days I’d drop four. I slipped, tripped, stumbled and fell in the general direction of my goal. I did my part: be stubborn and focus on 199. God did the rest.

Every morning at 5 I’d wake, push Leeroy off the bed, shuffle to the bathroom to weigh in and record my weight. I almost always weigh twice because often the numbers did not match. If you got a cheap scale like me, you know what I’m talking about.

Leeroy is never amused when I reweigh. He’d push against my shins or step on the scales with me to hurry me up. Through this entire weight loss odyssey his impatience has been a constant source of amusement. He was there every weigh in, doing his part.

My weight zigzagged through good and bad days. I had to lose the same pounds over and over. I’d retreat, advance, retreat and advance. Over and over I’d lose the same pounds.

It was discouraging sometimes. For motivation, dancing as a 111-year-old teenager was often on my mind. Sometimes that wasn’t enough. The mile marker awards worked well. I kept earning rewards for moving down the scales. I kept the reward under $100.00 until I weighed less than 220. Then I earned a change of clothes.

Success feels good. My pants started falling off without a belt. “Check it out, bud,” I’d say as I let go of my zipped and buttoned pants to see them drop around my ankles. He was never excited by this because to him it was simply a delay for his breakfast. However, it was very exciting to me.

When I’m cutting inches off my belt, I know the fat is melting. I got new pants and shirts and finally replaced the extra-large t-shirts with my new size: “large”.   

2017 was ridiculously amazing. I bought a home, got engaged, enrolled in a tough college and dumped pounds forever. I spend more time in the great outdoors than ever.

It worked. Not by my birthday, as I had hoped, but I didn’t allow myself to quit. I got there in March.

Leeroy was there the morning the scales declared my victory. He was preoccupied with eating. He paid attention enough to stay out of the way when I broke into my victory dance.

The diet plan was childishly simple and flexible. Weight was the only number I tracked. Did I break my own rules? You bet! I had to forgive myself and get back on track at least a hundred times. That’s why it took 15 months. Was it easy? Yes, compared to recovering from triple bypass surgery.

My blood pressure is under control. My jeans went from size 44 to 36. Even my shoes fit better. I got lots more energy and shortness of breath is a thing of the past. My quality of life is better and it’s likely to be longer. I’m looking forward to dancing with my great grand-daughter at my 111-teenth birthday.

This happened without meds, yucky shakes, harsh workouts, dangerous pills or complicated rules. I had one inflexible rule: “Never, never, never quit.” I’m not bragging but I am satisfied. Diet is the eating part of lifestyle. It’s our choice.

My next health goal is ambitious but my confidence is high. I explained it to Leeroy over breakfast. He stopped eating long enough to give me that look. You can guess what he said.