How Now, Mr. Cow?

My primary goal this month is being a more consistent writer. I’ve set a bar that determines my day’s progress: 1000+ words. Writing that much can be tricky, but I’ve figured out a few things that help me get it done.

 1. Write at the right time. I tend to write better — and more — if I write around mid-morning.

 2. Write in the right place. I sit at the dining room table with my laptop when I write. It means I’m out in the open, accessible, while I work. The alternative is sitting on the bed with the laptop, in my room, alone. Which of the two do I think is safest and most likely to be blessed by God? The dining room has worked well so far.

 3. Write. I can sit there for an hour and scratch my head looking for something to write about. It would get me nowhere. So I just write. Maybe I open up a file with a story I’m already working on, or maybe I start a new one to work on a line of thought. The important thing is that I write during the time I’m able to.

 Next on my list is building a healthier me. That’s tricky. I have years of bad eating habits to overcome, plus the double-whammy of bad knees and a shoulder that doesn’t support me well during push-ups or planks. The final kicker is that I can’t afford a gym membership right now, especially not anyplace with a pool.

So what am I going to do?

I’m glad you asked. I turned to Google. Several results came up for people with bad knees. If you’re in the same boat I am, you want to focus on results that have lots of pictures or videos, so you can see the exercises being done. You don’t want to try exercises you don’t know on injured body parts based on one photo. That’s just a bad idea.

Several sites suggested I ride a bike for cardio. Cycling definitely doesn’t have the impact issues, but having raced for a few years, I know you can stress your knees riding. It’s important to place your feet properly on the pedals, adjust the seat height and position yourself properly above the pedals. Correct body position on the bike will help alleviate any potential pain.

I swam in high school and played water polo and swam for Kutztown University before I joined the Marines. I love swimming. Sadly, my shoulders are yet another part of my body that got wrecked while I was serving, and you need them for swimming. Not so much for aqua aerobics, though. It’s not something I can do right now, but I’ll be looking into them if we reach a point when we can join the local Y. Low impact exercise aimed at raising your heart rate and maybe pushing your heart and lungs to work harder is a good thing.

None of this is easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It requires discipline and it requires accountability. You need a friend or family member who will keep you on task.

Today has been a strong case-in-point for my writing how. I know what time of day works best for me. I didn’t use it. I let it drift away, making even 500 words a difficult chore. Looking back, though, my distraction led me to write a lot more than I realized on a topic I had not planned. So, sometimes God will make the most of our failures. In this case, I wrote a personal piece to two high school seniors who plan to make a 13-week visit to Parris Island, S.C., after high school, encouraging them for their future endeavors and providing some suggestions for how to make the most of the time they have before boot camp.

I hope that my sharing about the things I am doing in 2014 helps you make a change and stick with it. What are you doing differently this year? You’ve read about my what, why, and how. Tell us about yours.

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Pneumonia and new lessons for a new year

It’s ironic, don’t you think, that I make a post about being a more consistent blogger and then don’t post for a few weeks?

Mister Murphy came to visit shortly after I hit publish and gave me a wonderful gift for the holidays – pneumonia.

I know what you’re thinking, “Jay’s being sarcastic about this ‘wonderful gift’ business,” but no, I’m not.

Pneumonia has been a learning experience for me.

Foremost, it has given me a gift of understanding. I have a daughter with several chronic health issues, some of which are respiratory. The constant coughing, especially the first few days, became painful in my abdomen as well as my throat. It had been a long time since I had worked my abs hard enough for them to be that tender. Also, the coughing was keeping me awake. Heather is in the room closest to ours and I can hear her coughing at night, so I don’t even need her to tell me that she’s not sleeping well. Coughing that much leaves you weak, as well. When Heather’s cough is at its worst I know she won’t get up for school in the morning, or if she does, she’ll probably be too worn to go by the time she gets ready. I’m Daddy; I love her and take care of her through all this. I have the head knowledge gained from watching her that knows how she’s doing and how to respond. Now, however, I have a better understanding of just what she goes through and how it feels. I’m sure I’ve probably had these feelings at other times in my life when I’ve been sick, but not in the context I’ve had them this time.

Not only have I gained some wisdom, understanding and empathy through this, but so has Heather. My wife came down with respiratory issues, as well, and Heather said she’d take care of us because we take care of her. The result? She has an idea of how hard it can be to take care of people when they are sick, both emotionally and physically. Finally, her sister joined in with being sick, too, and we’ve all talked about this. The level of understanding of each other has really changed. I thank God for this, his tendency to turn a mess into a message.

Once I got past some of the fever and “God, please just kill me” stuff I had a lot of time to think. I got a lot of reading done, learned some new technology, and just reviewed a lot of things. When I was younger, especially during the yearly years of my time in the Marine Corps, my life had a lot of structure. Today, however, I make my own way, as it were. I don’t get in trouble if something doesn’t get done at a certain time, usually.  I have certain commitments and I show up for them. I have deadlines for a few things (bills, for example) and I meet them. There are a lot of other things, however, that I tend to just let slide. I think it has made me sloppy and undisciplined.

You may not think you need discipline in your life, but the truth is that we all do. It’s what keeps us on the path. I’m not saying straying from the path is a bad thing, but if you move off the path you need a plan to keep yourself from being lost. Our lives, especially as we grow and gain more responsibilities, require more discipline. Finances require a plan. The household diet requires a plan. Chores require plans. Spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth require plans. This may be cliché, but clichés are the result of time-tested truth, so when you fail to plan you plan to fail.

I’m working to put my discipline into my life in several areas. I chose work (writing) as my first focus, as I hope to finish several short stories and a novel I’m working on in order to publish them and make money. I realize I need to be more consistent about my writing, so I’ve set a goal of a minimum of 1000 words daily for the next month.

The next area is physical fitness. I have some knee, shoulder, and neck issues that are service related. The knees have reached a point where I’ve been told I should join the aqua aerobics class with the senior citizens at one of the county pools. Seriously. My kids all want to increase their fitness, as well, so they have asked Mom and Dad to join them in spending time exercising each day. I’m committing to 30 minutes, daily, of exercise.

Spiritual fitness is another important part of my family’s life. I’m fairly intentional about this for myself, but not really living up to my job as the spiritual head of my family. That is changing, too. I just asked my 15-year-old daughter if she knew the story of Rachel and Leah. Her response, “the only Bible story I really know is the little guy who kills the big pickle.” This from a member of the youth group worship band. Obviously I have some work to do and I’ve a plan for that, as well. Thank you, YouVersion!

Many Americans fail to plan properly in the area of finances. Carolyn and I have gotten better at this, with a lot of help from Dave Ramsey, but we need to tighten our belts and do better. Again, back to the basics. If you don’t have a budget, you’re not controlling your spending, your spending is controlling you. Think about it. That moment when your card gets declined and you’re like, “Where did it all go?” It is painful to even imagine, isn’t it? I don’t like that either. Having some financial discipline, though, is what makes it possible to still pay the bills when something bad happens. My local VA clinic is at 400% or more capacity. When I called about my pneumonia I was blown off as having a cold and an appointment wasn’t even set. Later that day I was in a walk-in clinic paying out-of-pocket for an exam and, later, for medications. It wasn’t cheap and it was totally unplanned for, aside from the fact that we work at keeping some control over how and what we spend. Things will be difficult the next couple of weeks, but we will make it. I was also able to find that my expenses will be reimbursed. Thank God.

I could go on, but I think you understand the importance of having discipline in your life. I think, too, that there is a good case for how discipline in various areas of your life can work together. A healthier me that didn’t get pneumonia would have meant a me that wasn’t worried about minor expenses right now.

I have a lot to thank God for as a result of being sick. I’ve probably left some stuff out. That said, while I wish you all the best at the beginning of 2014 and I wish you the benefits of someone else’s hard-won knowledge, I do not wish pneumonia on anyone.