Monday, November 19, 2012

On the road again, in style!

Many of the people in my industry are...not in my industry anymore.

When it comes to broadcasting, syndication has replaced your local DJ and your local program host. Budget cuts have reduced radio and television newsrooms to one or two-person operations. And that's for the stations that even bother with local news.

Internet technology has replaced production specialists and both audio and video editors. A radio station that's staffed with local DJs, local reporters, local news anchors and local program hosts is certainly a rare and special thing anymore. The loss of local media harms local communities, but it is a sign of the economic times.

I always try to keep these realities in mind because, for some reason, I'm blessed to have two radio jobs and one of those includes my producing and hosting a television show. I'm no more deserving than hundreds or thousands of others, but I have the opportunity and I'm taking it.

The television show is recorded in the St. Louis area, at Lindenwood University. It's just under four hours of driving, one way, from my Grandview home, twice a month (we record three or four shows at a time). That's a lot of driving. I crunched the numbers and it's actually cheaper in the long run for me to just rent a car for the trips.

I actually enjoy that because, in the wise words of Mama Gump: "You never know what you gonna git" when it comes to a car. Most of the time, I get a basic sedan. I always reserve the cheapest car possible: economy in order to save money. I've never been hung up on driving the coolest car. I like my '97 Camry because it's dependable and gets good gas mileage and I don't care what car I drive back and forth on I-70, as long as it has cruise control.

I don't need to impress anyone and my car is paid off. I REALLY like not having a car payment.

Today, though, I found myself falling into that guy stereotype. The one about guys and cars.

I walk in to the Enterprise office in Grandview and the rental agent says "Mr. Ferguson, we actually have an economy car this time. Or we can upgrade you, if you don't like this one. It's a FIAT."

I wasn't even sure what a FIAT economy car is and told them, it's ok, I don't need to look cool. I'll take the economy one.

That's when another rental agent offered (insisted) that I take a look at both. I learned what a FIAT economy car is: a box that is slightly larger and barely heavier than the Hot Wheels cars I used to race on little plastic tracks in the 1970's.

G.I. Joe would fit inside this thing.

I was worried that a bird would land on the roof and crush it. If that happened, the firefighters wouldn't need the Jaws of Life to save me; they'd need a can opener.

Then, he tells me " For six more dollars, we can put you in this..."

THIS is a brand new Dodge Challenger with less than 6,000 miles on it.

Um, yeah. For six bucks, I'll take the challenger and it's muscle-car looks, unnecessary engine power and cool factor in which I'm out of place.

I don't know what came over me. Mr. Save-every-penny and Mr. Get-the-best-gas-mileage who is also Mr. I-don't-care-if-I-look-cool suddenly jumped at the chance to, well, look cool. Hey, fake it till you make it.

Here's the funny thing: you don't just feel like you look cooler in a car like this. You do look cooler in a car like this.

It's really been interesting today. I pull into the gas station and get stared at, almost reverently, once I step out of the Challenger. I pull through the drive-through and the female employee, after looking over the vehicle slowly, thoroughly and almost sensually became the friendliest food server I've ever experienced.

There was a line of cars behind me in the line but she wanted to strike up a conversation. About anything. With a lot of eye contact and giddy smiles. As long as I didn't drive that car away...

I'm not used to getting much attention from women but that car and I sure caught some eyes today. I've even had complete strangers walk up in parking lots, praise the car while just wanting to talk to me. This is in one day.

Are people that shallow that a person's appeal is judged by the car they drive? Well, yeah, maybe, but I'm not going to harp on it because I'll admit I ate it up. Not only did a piece of machinery change how people looked at me, it changed how I projected myself to others, knowing they were looking at the car.

I don't know why, other that it's been fun. I know I'm not a high society guy and I'm never going to be rich (and I'm ok with that) but getting a little taste of what it's like has been a hoot.

The car goes back to Enterprise on Tuesday, and I go back to being just me, with an old car. I'm ok with that, too. The real Mike still doesn't need a car to define who I am.

But I'll take the Challenger for an extra six bucks again next time, if offered.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The only constant change, so they say.

Who are "they", by the way? "They" are quoted more than anyone else in history but I've never quite figured out who "they" are.

But, I digress, as they say.

Anyway, it looks like I haven't posted here in over a month and a half. Here are some updates:

My trek back to full strength continues, but I'm not there yet.

I've fallen off the wagon when it comes to my cardiac rehab workouts over the last few weeks. I haven't been perfect on my diet but I'm still eating alot better than I did before the heart attack.

Somehow, I haven't put back the weight I've lost over the past few months.

Here's me now. I'm about 198 pounds in this picture.

And here's me shortly before it all happened, at about 221 pounds.
So, there's that. That's some progress I'm happy about although I still have a ways (about 15 more pounds) to go. And I still plan to complete that Insanity workout program. It's not even so much about the weight loss and strength gains promised in the infomercial - it's about the principle of meeting a challenge I set out for myself and it's about proving that I am, in fact, back to full strength and recovered from the heart attack.

I think that I'll feel like that entire episode is behind me once I'm back to full strength.

In other news, the little project David White and I started in 2007 called "Missouri Viewpoints" may be coming to a radio or television near you soon.

My public affairs project that began as short interviews with camcorders in the now-defunct Hard Bean Cafe is not being recorded in an HD studio at Lindenwood University. That happened through the partnership with Missouri News Horizon, my other job, and the university.

We're making the show for both radio and television and already have one radio station on board in St. Louis. One cable channel in St. Louis has also agreed to air the program weekly as well. There's also been interest expressed by two other television stations in the state...and this has all happened before we officially launch the program and begin our marketing effort!

As I type this, three full shows are already "in the can" (completed) and we'll have three more done after I do new interviews this coming Tuesday.

The program will not be just political. We're going to also highlight health, economic and cultural issues that affect the state. Frankly, this project has been alot of fun so far. I should probably not have any more heart attacks for the time being, because I don't want to get behind on this one.

The target launch date for the show is December 1st.

I remain blessed to be able to work at KLJC in Kansas City as well. I'm now hosting the afternoon show solo (3:00 - 8:00) because my partner-in-broadcast crime, Leslie James, moved to the morning show after one of the hosts had to leave due to health reasons. It's turned out to be a good move for the entire station.

I'm now down to one kid in the house, as Austin has chosen to go live with my ex-wife in Florida. I covet your prayers for him as a result.

Otherwise, I am close to having a schedule as busy as before with the radio show in Kansas City (not to mention my role as Program Director here), a television show in the St. Louis area, anchoring news and directing a non-profit news organization as a part time job and even working in a little writing for Kansas City's Christian newspaper, the Kansas City Metro Voice, sometimes.

But, the change I'm struggling with the most right now: I now have a Mac.

Yep. I'm a Mac-snob-in-training, assuming I ever figure out how to work this blasted thing.

My FIRST night with the Mac? Election Night. So, I was trying to post news coverage of Congressman Todd Akin's election watch party on a computer system I've never used. Reporters from four different organizations took pity on my and showed me enough of the Mac basics to get through the night. One of them was a direct competitor of ours but media types tend to help each other out at times like this.

I couldn't thank them enough and I'm sure they appreciated the amusement of my staring dumbfounded at the contraption most of the evening.

That's about it for now. There are many things ahead for me and Amber that we'll be learning from and sharing here. Until then...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To Beard or Not To Beard... that the question?

Right before I was about to start my Insanity workouts, I joked with my mom when she asked when I was going to shave my beard that I'd do it when I weighed under 200 pounds.

I was over 220 at the time.

Of course, that was shortly before my heart attack in late July that kept me in the hospital into early August.

I'm told that when I went in for the second heart stent, my folks tried to talk the doctors into shaving me while I was incapacitated. It didn't work.

I haven't started the Insanity program (yet!), but I have been losing weight. I'm doing cardiac rehab three times a week. That's basically supervised cardio workouts where nurses constantly check my vital signs and blood pressure.

I've got a couple months of that left.

I've also dramatically changed my eating - lots of vegetables, no more frozen meals that are loaded with sodium and lots of water. It's all coming together to work. This morning, my scale at home read 203 lbs. That's 18 pounds lost in less than a month and a half.

The funny thing is that I remember how excited I was when I finally got to 200 pounds. I was really into weightlifting and was trying to build muscle for baseball when I played in the Kansas City Men's Senior Baseball League in my mid 20's through early 30's. I hovered around a very lean and strong 205 to 210 pounds for the prime of my baseball playing days.

I drank protein shakes like they were going out of style and supplemented with sane amounts of creatine and glutemine. I also lifted some heavy weights. I wasn't the fastest guy on the base paths (hey, I was a catcher, so that didn't matter) but it was hard to bowl me over at the plate.

After I stopped playing baseball, I stayed in the gym (off and on) and went from being in decent shape up to 230ish pounds at one point. I've been in the gym regularly these last few years, which may be one of the reasons I'm still breathing and typing this right now, but I focused on weightlifting and did cardio just to warm up or as a break from hitting the weights.

That's not a way to slim down. It's a way to stay strong, but not a way to drop pounds. This new process has been a big change for me and, obviously, it's working.

So, I'm probably a week or so away from permanently descending below the 200 mark for the first time in over 15 years.

So, what do I do? Do I buzz the facial hair I've had for over a year now or do I keep the beard once I'm under 200 pounds for good? Here's a side-by-side comparison:

I'm nowhere near being done with the weight loss. I figure I can probably drop another 15 pounds over time in a healthy way. Since there's no permanent damage to my heart, I expect to be cleared to push myself physically - which means I may still take on that Insanity challenge.

If nothing else, it would be to prove something to myself.

The question it, will I prove it with or without my whiskers?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Progress and frustration

I'm now closing in on the one-month mark of my "cardiac event". That's a nice way the medical types use to refer to a heart attack, which happened to me on July 27th.

So far, both stents are doing what they are designed to do with no side effects and follow-up tests (EKG, ultrasounds, etc) indicate that there's no permanent damage to my heart. Praise God for that!

The progress is that the cardiac rehab is going well. I'm not back to the level of exercise I was doing just a few months before"event" but I'm far stronger than I was when I first started a couple weeks go. I guess I think I'm stronger than I really am, though.

More about that in a moment.

I did pack on some pounds recently. I was out of the gym for the most part from late May to early August. Before that, I was working out 3-5 days a week and working out pretty hard, focusing on weight circuits to both tone up and trim down after many years of weight lifting and little cardio.

But, that approach has changed this month. Now I'm doing almost all cardio workouts. It is working...check out this comparison:

I was just over 220 pounds the day of the attack. I'm now just under 210. It's not a huge difference yet, but it's a start.
I am eating better. I thought I was eating well before but now know that just because a frozen meal has the word "Healthy" in it's brand name doesn't make it good for you. I never worried about salt/sodium before - but those things are often loaded with it.

I've switched to fresh and frozen veggies and I'm now - ugh - cooking the meats myself and am trading out pastas for brown rice or baked potatoes. (side note - top the 'tater with plain Greek yogurt instead of butter & sour's really good...)

OK, now the frustration.

I never did go through the depression the hospital said I would after the attack. I guess I just recognize that this happened for a reason and God's doing something to me or through me with it. I'm not going to whine about it.

I have found myself frustrated with how far behind this has set me when it comes to being athletic and in terms of my personal strength. Remember, I was planning to start Shaun T's Insanity workout program just three days later when it all happened.

This morning, while trying to push myself on the elliptical machine, one of the nurses in the cardiac rehab center got on my case "You need to slow down. That's too many steps per're going to raise your heart rate too much."

She was cheating because she looked at the computer screen. They have me hooked up to that little electrical octopus-looking contraption that measures my heart rate and other vital signs in real time.

I felt fine and know that I'll have to go all out for three minutes at a time if I do ever get strong enough to try Insanity. I'm just trying to move forward and get back in shape.

"Slow down!"

Grrrr......fine. I'll slow down. A little. For now.

Then, after my cardio workout, she said those sweet, sweet words I've been wanting to hear from her for a couple weeks now: "Do you want to do some free weights?"

I thought you'd never ask.

I was so excited to get back to some weight training. I camped out at the weight rack area while she finished up getting blood pressure readings for one of the octogenarians on a treadmill.

When she was done, she came over and got me started on my "weight training" by handing me....two five-pound dumbbells.

Five pounds.

Seriously? I''ve got books at home that weigh more than that. Five pounds?

It's hard to concentrate on your arm curls...that I was doing with 30-pounders a few months ago...with little more than a Q-Tip on steroids as my resistance. She wasn't budging, though. If I wanted to do this, I was doing it with the dumbbell that she was ok with. Not the one I was ok with.

So I did the routine in all of three or four minutes and called it a day at the gym.

Patience is not my strong suit, obviously. This leads me to Romans 5:1-5.

1) Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2) By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3) And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulations worketh patience. 4) And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5) And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

So, my question for you: what trouble, trial or difficulty ("tribulation") are you experiencing that you may be viewing incorrectly?

God may not be punishing you. He may be strengthening you or preparing you for something later in life.

He may be putting you through a tough time because someone else needs to see you remain strong in faith and needs to learn from your journey through it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Climbing Back Up to the Past

I'm now in my second week of cardiac rehab, and it's an interesting experience.

The first and most obvious thing about my thrice-weekly workouts is that I'm generally the only one in there who is under the age of 105. I'm also the only one in there who was bench-pressing 250 (on a machine) just three months ago.

That's part of the frustration I'm dealing with, post-heart attack.

I was on a roll when it comes to my fitness up until the end of May. That's when I moved back to Grandview and, unfortunately, stopped going to the gym because of time constraints.

Working out has been part of my lifestyle for most of my life. I've studied fitness, subscribed to the magazines and used a variety of exercise approaches. I've also had times where I got out of the habit and got out of shape...but have always been able to refocus, get back in the gym and get back in shape.

It's not that simple this time.

I've been shocked, repeatedly, at how tired I get now. It's frustrating. The doctors and nurses keep telling me I can make a "full recovery", but right now I feel like that's light years away. I'm doing a fraction of the cardio workout I was capable of just a few weeks ago.

And that "full recovery"? That's apparently not an absolute term. One of the nurses told me today that I'm not going to be able to go back to weight circuits and heavy lifting. I'm supposed to be content with cardio machines from here on out.

We'll see about that.

Even though I'm just two weeks removed from a serious heart attack, I'm already deciding what fitness and work and spiritual goals I should be setting for myself. I'm still eyeing that Insantity workout that I just received - we'll see how my recovery goes, but I'd call it a victory to complete that program within a year of my "cardiac event".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Serious as a...

"You are lucky."

Those three word are among the little I remember of Friday, July 27th. A nurse said that to me very matter-of-factly. I'll get to that shortly.

I keep meaning to blog more (more than once a year). I might have a reason to be on here regularly now. I have some surprising challenges ahead of me in the next several months. I turned the big 4-0 last December and it really wasn't a big deal to me.

Everyone tells me a look younger than I am and I'm in better shape than most guys my age. Up until the time the kids and I moved back to Grandview in late May, I was in the gym 4-6 times a week and was on pace to lose the extra weight I put on in 2010. I'd gotten up to about 230 pounds and was weighing in around 210 when we moved back home.

The last few months have been a mix of immense blessing and trials. Just a few days before moving, an accidental fire damaged the home we were moving from. No one was hurt, praise God, but there are ongoing issues regarding the insurance and finances.

Other than that, it's been a great time. I'm now the Program Director for KLJC and am half of the afternoon show team. I've also managed to get a part-time job as the News Director & radio anchor for Missouri News Horizon. MNH is a non-profit journalism organization that provides statewide news coverage to radio, tv and newspaper outlets around Missouri.

I get to keep my hand in news and work full time in Christian radio! My children get to go back to Blue Ridge Christian School and we've been able to resume attending Southland Baptist Church - our church family.

Things were settling into place better than I could have imagined. I was even ready to start Shaun T's Insanity home fitness program on Monday the 30th. I was ready to amp up my fitness routine and take on a new challenge.

Boy-oh-boy did I get one. Just not the challenge for which I planned. Back to that Friday I mentioned above.

I took my car in for an oil change and then walked over to a fast food place. Suddenly, I wasn't feeling well. Have you ever had that feeling? A lump in your throat when something's wrong or you're worried or have some other emotion. I'm talking about that physical feeling. Tightness, pain, dry throat, discomfort in your upper chest.

Crank that up by 10. That's what I felt for a few minutes.

Then, waves of pain shot through my chest and, at times, my shoulders.

I managed to get my car, pop a couple aspirin and drive home. By then, it felt like a red-hot vice was squeezing my chest and pain was shooting down my left arm at times. By now, it was hard to breathe.

I sent my brother, Chris, a nonsensical text. He called, came over and then took me to the E.R.

At  the ripe old age of 40, I was having a serious heart attack. I remember some of the E.R., the tests and then an ambulance ride to Research Medical Center but much of the day is fuzzy.

I remember waking up on a table in the room where I was being treated. I asked how much was left in whatever was happening and was told they just finished up. As I was being moved from the table to a stretcher/hospital bed, the nurse looked down and said very plainly "You are lucky."

I didn't know what that meant until everyone filled me in later that night and the next day: there was a 100% blockage of one of my heart's arteries. The doctors had put a stent in me in that room. Another blockage was still happening - 90% - but that would have to wait until Monday. It turns out that I was still having the heart attack during the procedure, so they didn't want to push my body that far.

So, I rested for a couple days and, instead of starting my Insanity workouts, I was having a second cardiac stent installed in my chest. I could barely walk to the bathroom.

It didn't make sense. I'm 40. I've never been a smoker, have a history of being an athlete but a bad family history on my dad's side of the family is what trumped when it came to my health. Lousy genes, basically, won out over weight room circuits and bench presses.

So, I have to decide where I go from here. I choose to deal with it as both a reality and as a new challenge to get past. God has a reason for things like this. I don't know what it is but He left me here to accomplish something still.

I'm amazed at how quickly I get winded and how physically weak I am, so there's a great deal of physical rehab to do. The doctor says I should, eventually, make a full recovery if I'm smart about my next several months.

I've also, because of this heart attack, been reminded of just how blessed I am. I see other parts of my life clearer.

My church family is checking on me each day and has provided meals and other help that's been, literally, a Godsend. If you aren't involved in a church that cares for people like mine, then send someone over to visit with us. We'll show you how it's done. Southland's people are eager to serve others.

Both of my jobs are giving me the time off needed to recover. My parents and brother stepped up to run errands and drive me around when needed. From grocery shopping to just getting things from the kitchen when I was too sore to get them myself for a few days, I've been very fortunate to have this much help. That is lucky.

Sometimes, God uses what we think are bad situations to enact His greater plan. It's easy to forget that and it's easy to wallow in self-pity. Easy, but wrong. Giving God the glory in ALL things is what we often say we want to do...when times are good. Keeping that same outlook when times are rough is harder, but still what we should want to do.

I don't know why I had a heart attack at a young age. I don't know why my personal goals are being delayed (or maybe derailed) by this. It might be to bring about a change in me. It might be so God can impact someone else through my situation.

I don't know and God doesn't owe me an explanation.

For now, I'll focus on 1) getting healthy, 2) getting back to work and 3) keeping my mind and heart open to any direction regarding how my ordeal should be used for God's glory.

Oh, and I'm not sending that Insanity workout box back just yet...