Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some recent pics

The wife (6 months pregnant) and the X Man.

Me and our friend Tavares at his birthday party a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What I'm eating...

I'm living proof that you don't have to starve yourself or give up food that tastes good to lose weight or get back in shape. I'm very fortunate to be married to a woman who is probably the best cook I've ever known. Anything my little heart desires, she can whip up in no time. This has particularly come in handy since my recent scare has forced me to drastically change my diet. I spend a lot of time online researching which foods are best for losing fat and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and such and the wife dutifully incorporates them into dishes that are delicious and healthy. Mainly I have to increase my intake of fiber - especially fruits and vegetables - so salads have become a big part of my diet. But these are not your mother's salads; the salads my wife makes are impressive meals unto themselves. Another thing that is working very well is eschewing red meat in favor of fish.

Here is a small sampling of some of the typical meals that make up my diet (click image to enlarge)...

Spinach salad with black beans, red peppers, red onions and avocado slices. Black beans have become a staple in all my salads as they are very high in what I call the holy trinity of BP-lowering nutrients: potassium, magnesium and fiber. And high in protein as well. I buy organic vegetarian black beans which are much lower in sodium than the regular kind and only cost a few cents more.

Grilled cuttlefish and a green salad with peppers, tomatoes, black beans, zucchini and red onion.

Here is my typical breakfast on the weekends or on my days off: 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg, scrambled. The wife then adds red and yellow peppers, red onions, garlic, olive oil and parsley and serves it in a whole wheat fajita. Very tasty.

Two of my favorites: grilled tuna and grilled eggplant. I've always loved eggplant so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it has been effective in treating high cholesterol. Also a good source of folic acid and potassium.

Grilled swordfish and whole wheat pasta with broccoli, parsley and garlic. Whole wheat pasta is a lot healthier than the regular stuff and the wife is so adept at cooking in the Mediterranean style - garlic, olive oil, basil, etc. - that it still tastes delicious. Parsley is another wonder food; many herbologists recommend it for lowering high blood pressure. One of the main reasons why is that it helps the body rid itself of excess sodium while also helping it absorb more potassium.

Smoked salmon. The heart-healthy benefits of salmon are well documented. It's loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are the healthy fats that help lower blood pressure. It's also credited with everything from building lean muscle to combating depression. Smoked salmon is pretty cheap here so we eat it once or twice a week with lemon. Salmon is one of my favorite foods.

Grilled salmon and a green salad with tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, the ubiquitous black beans, carrots and walnuts. As I said, salmon is one of my favorite foods and since it's so healthy, I usually buy it at least once a week. The wife has several recipes for salmon and they're all great. Walnuts have a lot of health benefits too; they're high in omega-3's and also help keep the blood vessels elastic. I try to eat a small handful each day.

Poached tilapia with green beans, tomatoes, red peppers, red onions, thyme, black pepper and garlic. I had never tried tilapia before this but it really is quite tasty. Like most fish, it's also very low in fat and high in protein. The way she served this dish was quite inventive, she spooned the vegetables and broth into a separate dish with a few other ingredients to make this:
Black bean salad with tomatoes, green beans, red peppers, walnuts and red onions.

Sometimes the wife doesn't feel like cooking. When this happens, she usually prepares this salad which is quick, easy, tasty and very healthy. It's just the basic salad with the usual suspects; spinach, red peppers, carrots, black beans and a handful of walnuts with tuna on top. For the tuna, we use Chicken of the Sea brand, packed in water because it's the lowest in sodium.

As I said earlier, that's just a small sampling of the kinds of dishes that the wife prepares for me. My new diet is paying dividends too; not only is my weight dropping, but tonight I had one of my lowest BP readings yet. The most important thing is to make the change permanent. I still enjoy wine with my meals sometimes and occasionally we go to our favorite Italian restaurant and enjoy some cucina Italiana. I even enjoy a couple pints at the pub while I'm watching the matches sometimes. The difference is that these things are now more than canceled out by my newfound healthy lifestyle.

Now wait til you hear about my adventures in juicing...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New sideline feature.

Well, as you can tell my diet and exercise routine has been paying off considerably thus far, to the tune of 13 pounds in the past three weeks. I can't even begin to describe how much better I feel. I've gone down a full pants size and I'm rediscovering clothes in my closet that I'd forgotten about. The best part is that even at my heaviest weight, I still hit the weights regularly so in addition to the fat, I had also added some bulk in the form of muscle; now that I'm losing fat, the muscle is starting to show more and more, revealing some pretty good definition in my upper body. Despite this, I'm laying off the heavy weights right now and concentrating on cardio and fat loss. A lot of people are remarking to me that they can tell I've lost a lot of weight, mostly by my face which looks thinner.

So anyway, rather than keep writing updates on my progress, I've decided to chart my progress on the left side of the blog. When I first started, I set a goal of losing 20 pounds. But, since I'm already more than halfway there after three weeks, I've decided to be ambitious and shoot for a total loss of 25 pounds. If you wanna be a bear, might as well be a grizzly, right? Once I hit the magic number of 25 pounds lost, I should be right where I want to be and my blood pressure should come down right along with the weight. If 25 goes well, who knows, I may just decide to shoot for 30, but that's a long way away; right now 25 is the goal. Can't wait to get there.

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying getting my old body back...and so is the wife...HEY NOW!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Here's a general update on all things us, for anyone who cares:

* Baby continues to be healthy and extremely active. The wife is still suffering from lack of sleep because the baby jabs, sticks and moves all night. And most of the day. I think he will probably arrive early, my prediction has been May 16 or 17. We're still no closer to picking a name.

* We are looking into putting the X Man into a German kindergarten. We're doing the paperwork now to figure out the cost but we're hoping to get him in there soon. The kid is really ready for school and he has no friends his own age so it'll be good for him.

* My new diet and lifestyle change is continuing to pay dividends. It was three weeks ago today that I was in the emergency room and as of this morning, I've lost 12 pounds, an average of 4 pounds a week. I'm fitting into clothes that I haven't worn in over 2 years and will probably have to buy a new wardrobe soon if I continue on this pace. My BP is doing better but is still high. I take it several times a day and it's averaging around 145/95. Lately the bottom number has been around to 90 which is encouraging. The only pills I've been taking are the water pills that make you pee a lot so that means I'm doing a good job of lowering it naturally.

* It's Easter weekend so I'm taking Friday and Monday off to relax and recharge a bit. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I'll be able to get out and do some hiking. It's been so cold and crappy out the past few weeks that I haven't gotten nearly as much exercise as I need to. Hard to believe I've dropped 12 pounds in three weeks by just changing my diet and taking walks a few times a week.

* I'm also looking at options for my Masters Degree which I hope to start sometime this year. My health scare has me contemplating the idea of a career change to something a little less stressful but it's easier said than done. Who knows what the future holds.

Not much else to tell. Our lives are pretty boring these days...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Life lessons from a walk.

I do a lot of walking these days and I'm very lucky that I live where I do because it's hard to imagine a more picturesque town to go walking around in than Heidelberg; there's a reason why this is one of the top tourist destinations in all of Europe after all. Those of you who have been here know exactly what I'm talking about. If you've never been here, there's a ton of videos of Heidelberg on Youtube and an endless number of pictures online.

Last week I was doing my usual walk and I was striding along and my total focus was on people I was passing or looking down at the sidewalk to avoid dog crap when suddenly I happened to look up and the view of the Altstadt from across the river with the huge castle overlooking everything just hit me hard. It was a view that I've seen hundreds of times but it still gave me pause at how beautiful it was.

In that moment, what occurred to me was that I was so concentrated on my walk and focusing so intently on watching the ground 3 feet in front of me to avoid stepping on dog crap or tripping over something that I almost missed the real beauty that I was surrounded by. It was there, all I had to do was look up to see it and enjoy it.

And so it is in real life. So often we muddle through our days so focused on what is right in front of us that we never take the time to look up and see the beauty around us.

My walks are a lot more enjoyable now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I have no regrets.

One might expect, in light of the events that transpired a couple weeks ago, that I would be filled with regrets about letting myself get in such bad physical shape that it almost killed me.

The short answer is, I don't.

If you know me, then you know why I joined the Army and came to Europe 10 years ago. I got tired of living a mundane life, working a mundane job and was dying to experience life in all it's glory. I longed for adventure, for new experiences, for stories to tell my kids someday. And looking back over the past 10 years, that's exactly what I got in spades. Leaving for Europe back in 1998 was like starting my life over and I'm satisfied that I grabbed every little bit I could. Sure, there are places I still have yet to see and things I probably will never got to accomplish now but I've had a great run.

I've seen the best Europe has to offer. I've experienced the best life has to offer. When I think back over the life I've had since coming to Europe 10 years ago, I feel many things but I gotta say, regret is not one of them. When I think about what life was like before I joined the Army and came here, it makes me shudder to think of where I would be had I not made the great leap of faith and chucked it all for a new life.

Remember the book that I started writing last year? I had to scrap the project for various reasons but before doing so, I managed to get the first several chapters written, about how I came to make the decision to join the Army and come to Europe. I've been rereading it a lot lately and it's reminded me of how miserable I was in my former life. It's coming up on the 10th anniversary of the day I arrived in Europe so I guess it's fitting to reminisce.

Perhaps I'll post some of the story on here in small bits at a time so some of you can reminisce with me...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Finally, some good news...

When we had the ultrasound a couple months ago to find out the sex of the baby, the doctor found a little white spot in the heart so he asked us to do a follow up appointment to make sure it's nothing to worry about. We had the follow up today and the little white spot has turned into part of the valve in the heart. The baby is healthy and doing well. The doc says he's currently 2.6 pounds and he's very active - the poor wife can't get any sleep because the baby kicks, punches and somersaults all night long.

And in case you're wondering...we still don't have a name.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


It was a exactly a week ago today that I got the scare of my life. As you can imagine, I've made quite a few changes since then. For one, I have a blood pressure machine in the house now and I take a reading 2-3 times a day. My BP is starting to come down a little but I've still got a ways to go. The good news is that I'm off to a decent start. Here are some of the changes I've made over the past week:

* Eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. Fortunately I'm married to a woman who is a fruit and vegetable fanatic so this hasn't been that hard to do. And thanks to our time in Italy, she has learned how to make a salad taste like a full meal, Mediterranean style. I've been reading a lot about how potassium and magnesium are key to lowering BP so I'm eating more bananas and other foods high in each of these minerals.

* No red meat. This is temporary of course as I am an avowed carnivore. However, there are some things that I've decided to cut out altogether until my BP comes down to an acceptable level and this is one of them.

* Fish fish fish. I love fish so this is another easy one. Only problem is that it's impossible to find good fresh fish here so we have to rely mostly on frozen. A typical week will include salmon, mahi mahi, cod, swordfish and tuna. Occasionally some trout, cuttlefish, shrimp or scallops. The wife usually puts tuna in my salads, just like we used to eat in Italy. Being born in the Philippines and spending most of her life in Hong Kong has made the wife a master at preparing fish.

* No alcohol. As with red meat, this is only temporary until I get my BP down to an acceptable level. It's difficult for me to eat a nice meal without the requisite glass of vino.

* Exercise. I'm actually doing less exercise at this point but that's only because I'm under doctor's orders not to exert myself too much. However, I'm realizing that exercise is a major key in bringing down my BP and I'm planning on starting to build up to a good level here soon. This week has been extremely tough because it's been either raining or freezing cold which prohibits me from doing much outside. But fortunately for me, Heidelberg is the quintessential city for walking. And as the weather gets warmer in the next few weeks I'll be getting back to my hiking in the mountains around the house. Last spring and summer I dropped 20 pounds mostly from hiking. If I can do the same this year, I'll actually weigh less than I did when I got out of the Army a few years ago.

* Juicing. We bought a new juicer the other day and have started juicing regularly. I've always been a major proponent of juicing so this was an easy one. It's amazing how much better you feel after just a couple days of juicing (fruits and vegetables, Gino, not steroids...).

* Apple cider vinegar. In my research online about lowering BP, one thing that kept coming up was people touting the use of apple cider vinegar as a home remedy. So much so that I figured why the hell not? I take 2 teaspoons with a glass of water once or twice a day.

The upshot of all these things is that I've already dropped 6 pounds in the past week and am currently at my lowest weight since coming to Germany. My gut is shrinking, my pants are starting to feel loose and I have a lot more energy. I'm so motivated that I'm chomping at the bit to start hitting the weights but for right now I'm resigned to just taking long walks. The biggest thing I need to work on now is my patience. The healthy diet is one thing but I'm finding that stress is the biggest contributor to my high BP.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

God rubs it in.

There's one part of my aneurysm episode that I hadn't mentioned to anyone yet because it still freaks me out a little bit. In fact, I just told the wife this morning. As I was laying in the ER waiting for my CAT scan, I had plenty of time to sit on the table with nothing to do except think about things as they had a backlog and I ended up waiting for almost a full hour. The first thing I thought about was my wife and what would happen to her if...well...if. Then my thoughts turned to my two boys - the X Man and my unborn son due in May. What would it be like for them growing up without me, who would take care of them? Who would teach them the life's lessons that I haven't had time to impart to them yet? You can't help thinking about these things when you're in a situation like that. You think about not having a chance to watch the X Man grow and see what kind of a man he will become. You think about never getting to see your unborn son and that you'll never get to see what he looks like and what he'll be like.

I realized that I wasn't doing myself any good with this kind of thinking so I tried to relax and clear my mind. And just as a I did that, I suddenly heard the song that was playing on the ER radio. The song was called "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics. But what was so freaky was that, just as I tried to clear my head and think about happier things, this is the verse that just happened to be playing:

I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Needless to say, I almost lost it right on the spot. I managed to hold it in until I was released and got to my car by some miracle. I still get choked up thinking about it. Either it was proof that God has a sense of humor or he was just rubbing it in. Whatever it was, he certainly got his point across. And I don't ever want to hear that freaking song again.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Taking Stock.

It's been a few days now since my aneurysm episode and while I'm still getting over the initial shock of it all, I have certainly had time to ponder things. My first thought was, how the hell could this happen to me? Sure I've put on some weight since getting out of the Army but I'm still only 36 and it's not like I'm grossly obese, hell, I'm only about 20 pounds (10 kg) overweight. I'm still pretty active, I lift weights, work out regularly with my kettlebells, and when the weather is warm I do a lot of hiking in the mountains that surround our house. I also go for a walk everyday at work after lunch for about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile I see people all around me who are exceedingly overweight, eat like pigs, never exercise and yet they seemingly have no health problems.

Looking back I probably should have seen this coming. Way back in 2000 when I got transferred from Germany to Italy they did a medical screening on me and told me that I had borderline high blood pressure and that I should be careful. Now this is back in 2000 when I was in the Army at the peak of physical condition. I did PT (physical training) 5 days a week and had very little body fat. I was in the best shape of my life and yet my BP was borderline high. So I guess it would make sense that it would go up considerably when I got out of the Army. As my friend Don said, aneurysms are hereditary, there's nothing you can do about them, but BP is the trigger that can set them off - and you can do something about your BP.

So that's where I'm at. Major changes to my diet and cutting way back on alcohol. I'm taking my pills but, as I told Don, I HATE taking drugs for anything. I much prefer to do things naturally and since my wakeup call I'm finally taking this seriously. I'm doing extensive research online about all kinds of foods and such that will help me lower my BP. I'm already down a few pounds the past couple days just from taking it easy and watching what I eat (and when I eat it). I've got the top number on my BP down to around 140-150 which is still really high but a hell of a lot better than what it was the day of my episode - a whopping 190. I need to get it down to around 120 to be normal but I'll be happy with anything between 120-130.