2014 In The Life of Little Old Me: A Brief Review

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MY LIFE IN THIS ABOUT-TO-BE-CONCLUDED YEAR

(Don’t worry, it won’t take long)

It’s always interesting how things can happen and change in the course of twelve months.

At this time in 2013, I was diligently covering sports – UCLA and otherwise – online for L.A. Sports Hub.com and not worrying that much about the state of my heath, feeling that although I was overweight, I liked food too much to really get serious about doing the things necessary to lose such weight.

Plus, being that I walked everywhere, which is what doctors recommend, and doing upwards of 1,000 crunches and sit-ups a week, I figured that I was healthy enough.

Today, after something happened that made me sick and tired of writing for other people’s websites, I have my own blog which I started on July 7th, which you are reading right now.

And after a scare that made me think I was on the verge of having a stroke – and subsequently, dying – and finding out that I was a ticking time bomb with my blood pressure being off the charts, I finally got serious about my health and getting my weight down to a more appropriate level.

I started doing cardio four and five times a week and changing the ways I ate to the tune of giving up processed meats, cutting way down on sodium, and eating more fruits and vegetables; actually choosing celery and carrots to buy at the supermarket, which is something I had never done before.

Starting all of this in the middle of October, I proceeded to lose over 20 pounds (so far), which proved once and for all that hard work does pay off.

Even during the holidays I tried to be careful in the treats I ate, doing my best to choose only dark chocolate  – which is supposed to be good for you – candy and other various things.

Though I’m not where I need to be yet as far as weight and health, it’s evident that I’m not where I used to be, which I suppose is a good thing.

But enough about that…

I guess I could categorize 2014 as one in which I began to make some changes in my life, and 2015 is a year where I am planning to make even more changes, God willing.

First, I fully plan to have my book detailing my struggles as someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) in the neurotypical world, “MY ASPIE LIFE”, finished and (self) published by the end of July.

Next, I will possibly begin my own independent sports fan page on Word Press, covering the sports scene and various teams in Southern California, thus being able to separate sports from other things and issues on this “Hartland Chronicles” website.

It won’t be a previews/recaps thing like so many other fan pages, but will emphasize commentaries, opinions, and editorials on what’s going on with the state of the different athletic events and teams in the Los Angeles area.

In short, by doing this I am, in a way, starting my own business, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time as I’ve always preferred that over working for someone else.

There are other changes that I hope to make in this new year that will begin in roughly 72 hours, but I prefer to keep those changes private for the moment because they are sort of personal.

All I can do is rely on and trust in God to make these things happen for me.

And speaking of God, the first thing I will do on January 1st, as I’ve been doing for years, is to thank Him for blessing me and allowing me to see another year.

There’s nothing more to say but…

Happy New Year, God Bless, and Keep Holding Good Thoughts For Me.

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This picture doesn’t have anything to do with this post; I just like photos of mountains a lot. Hope you like this shot…

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My One Favorite Christmas Memory (and my one Christmas wish)

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December 25, 1979. Around 2:00 a.m.

Woodcrest, a rural community (much more suburban today) located just south of Riverside, CA, which is 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

I was a tall, fairly awkward 12 year old with an unruly afro, spending the Christmas holiday with my grandparents. I had lived with them before moving to Santa Monica, CA three years before, but I continued to spend every school break with them as for the next several years it was like I had two homes.

Of course my belief in Santa Claus was long gone, but I was enjoying myself with my family’s modest festivities all the same as like previous years, since roughly age seven, I was in charge of decorating the Christmas tree in front of the big picture window in my grandparents’ living room, which overlooked the street.

That was a very enjoyable task for me;  I was attracted the different colors of the ornaments and like any other kid in that situation, I liked being put in charge of something as important as decorating the family tree.

I did it with gusto, and everyone always talked about how nice it looked when it was done.

However…

Surprisingly enough, decorating the Christmas tree was not the memory I wanted to reminisce about.

Getting back to the wee early morning hours of the 1979 version of Christmas Day, I was sleeping in my old bedroom when all of a sudden I heard a noise that was VERY loud, almost like a car alarm only it was a lot of bells and dings.

I threw on some clothes (or maybe a robe, I forget) and headed out into the family room to see what was up when I saw on the patio to my left my grandpa playing on a pinball machine.

Now at that time I was on a pinball kick,  going to various places and arcades around my area of Santa Monica when I could to push those side levers and hit that little metal ball to various spots to get as many points as I could get.

To make things clear, the pinball machine that Grandpa was playing on wasn’t of the arcade-type quality – no electricity or lights or anything like that. I’m sure he had bought it from a K Mart and assembled it himself.

But to an impressionable 12-year old, that didn’t matter in the least as I stepped out into the very cold early morning – it was probably in the low 40s at best  – and after Grandpa obligingly stepped aside played to my heart’s content, my breath quite visible in the cold air.

I would have kept playing until the sun came up, and likely past that, if it weren’t for my mom and Grandma ordering me to bed at around 4 a.m or so; that’s when I reluctantly got back under my covers, only to wake up a few hours later and get right back on that machine.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, this Yuletide memory is a rather ordinary one, a memory not unlike those of countless youngsters the world over.

However, this is one Christmas memory that I can say is mine.

I think that’s what I like it so, and I can say the same thing for the best memories of everyone.

The fact that it reminds me of a time when I didn’t have to worry about my money evaporating like a snowman in 90 degree heat due to buying overpriced presents and navigating the overwhelming hordes of shoppers at the malls or dealing with all the cheesy capitalist commercialism that Christmas – and all holidays for that matter – brings…

Well, that should go without saying.

At the risk of sounding cliched (which I sorely dislike), this remembrance is something that I enjoy when it pops into my gray matter because it’s from a (relatively) carefree time.

It’s certainly my hope that when it all becomes too much – songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” that become annoying because they’re played way too much, or praying that the toy or computer or X-Box game that your child has asked for in utter desperation is available when you go to Toys R Us or go online – memories like what I just shared will help to calm you down, make you feel better about the day which commemorates the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Oh, one more thing…

The title to this article said that I would state my one real Christmas wish in this article, so here it is, summed up in one word:

PEACE.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

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My Top Five Christmas Songs

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YULETIDE TUNES THAT I PERSONALLY PREFER OVER ALL OTHERS

Like more or less the whole world, I’ve heard “Joy To The World”, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, and “Silent Night” roughly a million times.

To be honest, after over four and a half decades  – my whole life, really – I have grown a little tired of these tunes as there are other Christmas songs, songs that are not quite standards like the above mentioned and others such as “O Christmas Tree”, that I find more enjoyable for one simple reason:

They are extremely well crafted songs. I put together my personal top five of these tunes, which in my view are classics in their own right.

Here they are, in descending order:

5. HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER), JOHN LENNON & YOKO ONO (1971)

I couldn’t exclude this holiday number from the late great former Beatle and his wife due to the fact that it wasn’t just a Christmas song, but part of the non-violent peace campaign that Lennon and Ono were doing, featuring large posters and billboards saying “War Is Over – If You Want It” in cities throughout the world.

With the Vietnam War raging at that time, this song was a more than appropriate gesture.

And considering what has been going on in Afghanistan and the Middle East the past several years, it’s more appropriate than ever.

4.  CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE, VINCE GUARALDI TRIO (1965)

This simple but brilliant classic, featuring only a piano, drums, and a standup bass, is a significant reason why I consider the animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas the greatest cartoon ever made.

I think it was the simplicity of Guaraldi’s arrangement as the jazz pianist created a near-perfect theme song to Charles M. Schulz’s animated feature that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.

And if you like this lyrical version with the children’s voices, I think you’ll like the six-minute instrumental version of this song more, which is on the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.

This song, along with the other classic that became the Peanuts theme song, “Linus and Lucy” is the biggest factor of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” songtrack being the one Christmas CD that you should buy if you can only buy one such CD in your lifetime.

3.  LITTLE DRUMMER BOY/PEACE ON EARTH, BING CROSBY & DAVID BOWIE (1977)

Even at ten years old, when this song was released as part of a holiday TV special, I thought this pairing of the glam rock singer famous for hanging out with some Spiders From Mars as Ziggy Stardust and a singing/movie legend from Hollywood’s Golden Era was unusual, to say the least.

It was hard for me and I’m sure millions of others to figure out why such an old school star like Crosby would want to associate with someone like Bowie.

Those thoughts went a long way to being eradicated upon hearing this duet, with Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” being written specifically for the TV show.

The fact that this was Crosby’s last public performance as he passed away a month after filming this piece made it significant as it’s safe to say that this entertainment legend went out in style.

2.  DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?,  BAND AID (1984)

I remember, as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, being quite upset that I didn’t get the chance to buy this record when it dropped thirty years ago, when I was a high school senior.

Written and produced by the Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof, this song has the distinction of being the first to feature an all-star cast that was put together strictly for the sake of charity, as the millions of dollars in proceeds that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” generated went for famine relief in Ethiopia and inspired other endeavors of this type, most notably Live Aid and USA For Africa’s “We Are The World”.

And on top of everything else, it was a great song, featuring an African-style drum beat and cameos by 1980s British pop stars such as George Michael and Boy George.

Putting it another way, though both songs were for a great cause, I take “Do They Know It’s Christmas”  over “We Are The World” any day.

Just my opinion.

1.  GABRIEL’S MESSAGE, STING (1987)

In my humble view, this is the greatest Christmas carol ever.

In fact, until I first heard this brilliant classic, part of the album “A Very Special Christmas”  which was made to raise funds for the Special Olympics, I didn’t really have a number one favorite tune that’s played around this time.

Beautifully sung by the ex-frontman of The Police, this version of an old traditional song first sung centuries ago gave me chills, and I don’t chill over music that easily as I consider myself quite the critic (Don’t get me started on Justin Bieber!)

Most importantly, this song described perfectly what Christmas is all about, or should be.

I don’t expect everyone to completely agree with my choices here, but I certainly hope that you enjoy these songs as much as I have, and always will.

The One Bad Thing About Christmas

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SOMETHING THAT I WOULD GIVE BAD PEOPLE INSTEAD OF A LUMP OF COAL IF I WERE SANTA CLAUS

Being that the day that we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior is only a couple of weeks away (as of this writing), I wanted to share the one thing about this enjoyable holiday that I do not like.

The one negative thing about Navidad:

FRUITCAKE

In my humble view, one of the nastiest foods on Earth.

My animosity toward this so-called “delicacy” goes back to when I was a young child and living with my grandparents in what was then a rural area outside of Riverside, CA, approximately sixty miles east of Los Angeles.

My grandmother used to buy those wretched loaves from the supermarket, and while I was quite the foodie at that time, there were a few foods that I simply could not eat, the taste was so bad in my mouth.

Fruitcake was one of them.

As sure as I’m sitting here writing this, you must asking right about now…

“Why such hatred of fruitcake?”

I think it’s the fact that fruit does not belong in cake as every time I tried to eat some of the stuff as a youngster, I always found myself picking out the different green and red, well…I don’t know what it was.

Which brings me to this other point:

The “fruit” in the cake is not even fruit; or doesn’t seem to be to me.

Plus the cake part of the fruitcake wasn’t so much “cake” in classic terms, but more of a hard pudding-like substance that – from what I remember of it – took a long time to chew.

In any terms, it was and remains to this day the one thing about the Christmas season that I truly dislike.

Luckily for a young boy like me this loathing of fruitcake didn’t take anything away from the holiday, as the fact that there were all sorts of fun goodies waiting for me under the tree on the morning of December 25th, along with the egg nog (or “Nog Egg” as I like to call it, in a play of those words) and A Charlie Brown Christmas and all those other children’s animated specials on TV which more than made up for the nastiness of that dreaded so-called “cake” with seemingly fake fruit in it.

I’ve always felt that parents – or Santa Claus for those little kids who are still inclined to believe in that right jolly old elf in this day and age – should not threaten their offspring with no presents or a lump of coal in their stocking on Christmas Day if they misbehave.

This is what they should say:

“If you’re not good, you’ll be getting fruitcake, and the worse you behave the bigger the fruitcake will be, maybe a whole one if you’re bad enough!”

“And instead of the pie (or whatever our Christmas dessert will be), you’ll be eating that cake!”

Believe me when I say that while I was generally a decent kid, I would have straightened up real quick with the threat of finding that so-called food in my stocking.

To put it another way…

There is a reason why that ridiculous dish that doesn’t deserve to be called food seems to always be passed around among various family members this time of year as I am far from the only person in America – or the world for that matter – who has an aversion to fruitcake.

Please don’t misunderstand – I like Christmas a lot, because there’s so many great things about that holiday. It’s just that for me, and I’m sure many others, fruitcake is the one thing that keeps the commemoration of Jesus’ birth from being absolutely 100% perfect, and that’s okay – nothing’s perfect in life.

Just something to ponder and perhaps even find a bit of humor about as the merriment commences.

Happy Holidays!

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Another Belated Review: NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!”

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ONE PERSON’S BELATED OPINION OF NBC’s SECOND LIVE BROADCAST OF A BELOVED MUSICAL (after 2013’s “The Sound of Music” of course), WHICH INCLUDES COMPARING IT TO VARIOUS “PETER PAN” PRODUCTIONS OF THE PAST.

 

I’m about to reveal what has been a – well, I won’t exactly call it a guilty pleasure, but it has been a bit of a peculiar one for the vast bulk of my life…

I’ve been a fan of the book/movie/musical “Peter Pan” since NBC showed an encore of the 1960 version of the Broadway smash, with Mary Martin playing the boy who won’t grow up, when I was around six years old.

Since that time, I’ve seen quite a few versions of Sir James M. Barrie’s story, including the one where – shockingly – Peter actually does grow up: the 1991 movie Hook featuring Dustin Hoffman as that sinister pirate and the late Robin Williams (rest in peace) as the adult Peter Pan who has to return to Neverland to rescue his son and daughter.

I’ve tended to look at the Peter Pan productions over the years with a critical eye, as it’s in my nature to do so; some of the productions I’ve liked more than others.

While the 1953 Walt Disney cartoon version “Peter Pan” featured an actual boy (Bobby Driscoll) in the lead role, the two huge objections I have about that animated film are the liberties and omissions that Disney is notorious for, and especially the grotesquely stereotypical way the Native Americans were portrayed. It was akin to Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic silent which showed African Americans as less then human, in that context.

As for the Mary Martin version, which debuted on Broadway in 1954 and produced for television several times over the next few years…

I fully understand how Martin is seen by virtually everyone, particularly in the baby boom generation, as the quintessential Peter Pan, but I’m sorry – I just didn’t feel it.

Martin was a forty-someting year old woman playing a ten-year old boy, and I felt that she failed to exude the spirit of a rambunctious, adventurous elementary school-aged male as even at age six, her mannerisms seemed more like an extremely effeminate ten-year old girl; right down to the micro-minidress she wore.

And much like the Disney Version, don’t even get me started on how the Native Americans were portrayed as the pronounced stereotypes that were exuded greatly upset me, so much so that I loudly wondered why various Indian tribes like the Navajo, the Sioux, and the Iroquois did not sue those producers for making them look so bad and making the issue of Native American sports nicknames seem like a big, fat not-a-big-deal compared to this.

Cathy Rigby, who first donned the green tights in 1990 and set the record for the most times playing that flying boy, was in my view a much better Peter as although she, like Martin, was in her forties and fifties playing a young boy, she was far more effective in conveying that masculinity.

I liked Hook a lot due to the fact that it finally answered the question I’m sure many people were asking, at least to themselves: “What if Peter Pan grew up?”  It certainly answered that question for a naturally curious guy like me.

And no one was a better choice than Robin Williams to tackle that role.

The 2003 live action movie version of Peter Pan is my choice of the best version of that tale ever as in my view, no one was a better Captain Hook than Jason Issacs, no one was a better Wendy than Rachel Hurd-Wood, and nobody portrayed Peter better than Jeremy Sumpter – and not just because he was actually a boy, either.

In fact, I wish this line could have somehow been added to that film:

“Unlike some other Peter Pans, I am an actual boy.”

The first-love angle in that film was particularly impressive as the kiss that Wendy gave Peter on the pirate ship was the best first kiss in movie history, and certainly the best first kiss on any screen since Kevin Arnold kissed Winnie Cooper on that rock in the first episode of TV’s “The Wonder Years”.

That brings us to the recent NBC production that was hyped to the ceiling and starred veteran actor Christopher Walken as Hook and Allison Williams, from HBO’s “Girls”, as the forever-a-kid.

I was anticipating this live televised play and fully intended to watch it with a critical eye, to see how Walken and especially Williams fared in those iconic roles compared to those legends who had gone before them.

I sat in my reclining chair to watch it, and after three hours and what I thought were way too many commercial breaks (although the Walmart ones featuring Melissa Joan Hart of “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” fame and her family were nice), here’s what I thought of the whole thing:

1. Walken was okay as Captain Hook as many of his lines were quite witty, but I felt he could have been bit more forceful as there were times when he seemed to desperately want to turn over his captaincy to his main assistant, Mr. Smee (played by Christian Borle, who also played Mr. Darling in a departure from tradition that dictated that Hook and Mr. Darling would be played by the same guy).

In other words, he seemed tired, like all he wanted to do was go into his quarters and take a nap.

2.  The sets were excellent, and I liked the fact that there were new songs, including “When I Went Home” which detailed how Peter found the window to his bedroom locked when he tried to return to his home, receiving loudly and clearly the message that he was forgotten.

And I liked how they replaced that utterly offensive “Ugg-a-Wugg” with “True Blood Brothers”, and how a member of the Cherokee Nation, Alanna Saunders, played Tiger Lily.

3. The Lost Boys should have been called “Lost Young Men” as they were WAY too old, looking like they were growing up despite Neverland’s number one rule. The producers should have casted boys at least five years younger.

 

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Peter Pan (Allison Williams) fighting his eternal arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Christopher Walken)

 

4.  All right, I know you were waiting for this…

What I thought of Allison Williams’ portrayal of Peter:

I give her an A+ for effort and a B- for effectiveness and performance.

From the moment she first flew through the Darlings’ window, I could tell that this was a dream role for the daughter of the NBC Nightly News anchor and that she dearly wanted to give it everything she had, which I felt she did as she succeeded in giving off a sense of masculinity, unlike Martin.

And her voice, which not exactly at the level of Christina Aguilera or Ariana Grande, was good as I particularly liked her version of “Neverland”.

However, there were a few flaws, two in particular which led me to proclaim Cathy Rigby as the one who remains the best stage version of Peter Pan in my book…

The fact that she portrayed Peter as a mature 17-year old high school sports captain instead of what Peter was supposed to be, a ten year old boy with a form of ADHD, and that she was much too mellow in her portrayal as I felt that except for the “I Won’t Grow Up” and “True Blood Brothers” numbers, she desperately needed far more energy than what she gave.

That was especially the case in the final showdown scene between her and Walken as their sword fight looked as if it was done by two ninety-something year old ladies in a rest home.

Indeed, it was all I could do to not jump into the screen and give her caffeine pills and a huge bowl of Frosted Flakes to get her energy going.

Other than those issues, I enjoyed Allison’s interpretation as it was interestingly different from Martin’s, or Rigby’s, or anyone else who donned the green outfit. Her Peter seemed more of a leader than the previous Peters, more in control emotionally when the situation dictated.

The problem was that there were times where the emotions needed to come out, like when she finds out that Wendy (played by Taylor Louderman with Minnie Driver portraying the adult version) had grown up with a child of her own. And it wasn’t there.

The Bottom Line…

I felt that considering it was a one-shot production with no chances for do-overs, though it had a few flaws “Peter Pan Live!” was adequately done as in the grand tradition of “Siskel and Ebert”, I give it one thumb up and one thumb to the side.

Would I recommended it to youngsters, which J.M. Barrie geared “Peter Pan” for in the first place?

Sure, I think they would enjoy it.

Here’s a clip of what I felt was a highlight of the show:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My High Blood Pressure Issues: Another Update

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ACTUALLY, THE NEWS IS QUITE ENCOURAGING…

 

There I was, walking towards the self-opening glass doors of the local Kaiser Permanente medical offices around the corner from my home, where I had an appointment for my blood pressure to be checked that cool, overcast afternoon.

It had been six weeks since I approached Kaiser’s emergency room roughly four or so miles away with the right side of my head feeling that it was going to squeeze some brains out like pulp while making orange juice.

Six weeks since my right hand was feeling so prickly and numb that a needle poking into it wouldn’t have hurt much.

Six weeks since my blood pressure was found to be so high that I was legitimately afraid that a stroke was imminent, with the nurse doing the testing agreeing.

And six weeks since my weight was found to be not unlike Fat Albert’s of “Hey Hey Hey!” fame.

Though I shouldn’t have felt that way as I spent those six weeks taking my medication without fail…

Doing cardio like crazy – as in five times a week – doubling my sit-ups & crunches intake, and eating foods which I found (via the internet) were effective in lowering this high blood pressure of mine while forsaking stuff I liked such as sliced turkey cotto salami, turkey kielbasa, hot dogs and other processed meats,

Not to mention other delicious delicacies like Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo and Buffalo Chicken soups,

And all fast food places except for Subway, El Pollo Loco, and Campos, a local Mexican place whose food I grew up on and was fiercely loyal to because it was so good (and even then only as a very special treat)…

I couldn’t help but feel a bit of anxiety that all my efforts to get my weight and my blood pressure numbers down wouldn’t be as effective as I would like as my pressure headaches and my extremity tinglings, while considerably less than it was, had not completely gone away.

I was afraid that the doctor would find something that the folks in the ER missed, like a major artery blockage or a brain tumor.

So I arrived at the medical offices a bit early, and after an hour of reading a book that I had brought, I went to check in for my appointment.

Because the person at the desk was taking too long and was testing my patience, I decided to forgo the old school face-to-face-with-the-receptionist style of checking in and joined the 21st Century in that regard, using a ATM-like machine to make my co-pay and get myself situated.

I entered the doctor’s office, and about five minutes later the nurse called me in. “Gee, this is going fast,” I thought.

She then proceeded to waste no time in doing the two things that I was anxious about…

That’s when the good news came in, as I found that:

1.  Thanks to my zealous approach to my cardio work, I had lost 22 pounds and was on the verge of going below 300 pounds for the first time since college!

and…

2.  My blood pressure numbers dropped to what the doctor set as a goal, no doubt due to my medication and my choice of foods as I found myself eating things like carrot sticks and celery for snacks, which I had never done before!

And which showed I was serious about all of this.

Feelings of gladness and relief at the good news were obvious as I mentioned to the nurse, “Hard work really does pay off.”

“True that,” she replied.

After I was sent to an exam room and the doctor checked my lungs and discussed the improvements I made, I was sent home with orders to continue what I was doing.

Which I fully intended to as a voice inside me – I’m sure it was God – was firmly telling me to “Keep it going!”

“Don’t stop now!”

“You can do it!”, like what Rob Schnieder said as a catch phrase in that Adam Sandler football vehicle The Waterboy, which I incidentally considered one of the worst sports movies ever made but which mattered not in regards to my situation and motivation.

I knew I wasn’t all the way there as far as my weight and health goals; that’s why I ran about a mile and a half and did some reverse crunches earlier that morning.

And that’s why I plan to do another full cardio workout featuring the stair master and a stationary bicycle in the basement of my condo complex’s clubhouse as soon as I finish writing and posting this.

At this rate, it seems like I’m well on my way to being the healthiest and lightest I’ve been since the late 1980s.

With God’s help, I can keep this up and not get lazy as the holiday season is now upon us.

As always, hold good thoughts…

 

 

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A big part of my cardio workout plan; hitting the stair master