Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday, I'm not buying it

Remember the days when your parents would tell you to wait until Christmas, especially when you'd ask them for some special gift.  Maybe it is just my imagination or perhaps I am old school, but waiting doesn't seem to be part of the equation any longer.  We just celebrated Thanksgiving, but there were some who camped out waiting for the early morning bargains at the expense of spending the holiday with family or friends.  I remain puzzled by this phenomenon.

Charlie Brown had a wonderful line in the Peanuts Christmas video, " doesn't anybody know what Christmas is all about"?  Linus, of course, answered by saying, "Sure Charlie Brown.  I'll tell you what Christmas is all about", and he proceeded into a soliloquy about the Nativity scene recounting that famous night.

On this Cyber Monday, remember that the holiday season is about far more than the material gifts we may give or receive.  The retailers have created Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they actually have no control over whether any one of us "buys" into it or not.  To that, you can just say, "No thanks, I am only looking, but thanks anyway".  Regardless, have a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bad form runners are on pace to be good

When I began running years ago, my running partner friend said, "would you just pick a pace and stick with it".  At that time, I couldn't appreciate what he meant because I was just running along and didn't realize I was changing my tempo at all.  Now that I have been running through parts of 5 decades, I have a greater understanding of pace, however, what has become painfully apparent is that loss of speed.  Oh well, at least my friends and I are enjoying ourselves, and we are still participating and not just talking about those "glory days".

As part of our ongoing efforts to improve, one of our friends, whose brother is a proponent of Good Form Running, enlightened our group on Thanksgiving morning with a brief seminar on GFR.  Anyone can access their website to get additional details about this concept, but essentially it incorporates 4 basic fundamentals, posture, mid-foot strike, cadence, and lean.  Like in so many other sports, there appears to be an optimal technique which actually may make us better runners, and here I thought running was just about repeatedly putting one foot ahead of the other.  For the last couple of days now, we have tried to blend in these elements with our running, and although it makes sense, it isn't an easy task.  After all, we have been practicing "bad form running" for so many years.  Nonetheless, we are all excited about trying this out because with better form, perhaps, we can avoid all those annoying injuries that we "old folks" seem to get.

In so many areas of life, fads seem to come and go and in sports, they are equally as common.  However, until there is more experience, widespread acceptance, and proven benefit to these alternatives, fads will remain just that, fads.  In the case of GFR, I believe this will become the standard, and for an aging group of runners, it is time for us to run to the beat of a "different drummer".  In fact, if we stand tall, hit the road with our "mid-feet", "run" to the beat, and lean into it, I believe we can become good form runners too!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Wish

Thanksgiving is, perhaps, my favorite holiday because it remains the quintessential day.  Generally, it is about gatherings of family, friends, or maybe even both, but it is, nonetheless, about getting together with the people you love.  The turkey, typically, gets put in the oven early to avoid an unplanned late dinner.  This might be followed by a little exercise,  maybe a walk or a run, maybe even a game of touch football, followed by any additional food preparation and perhaps then, watching a game of football with your feet up.  Then, most of us will sit down to a delightful meal and hopefully, enjoy some stimulating dinner conversation.  This day is about relaxing and enjoying the company of  "family", whomever they may be today.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and may the spirit of this day be ever present each and every day throughout the year!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beauty and the Beast or First Song on Belle, they are the same in my mind

Most people are familiar with Disney's version of "Beauty and the Beast".  Of course, it is a wonderful love story with the classic fairy tale ending you'd expect.  The Disney channel aired it this evening as part of their holiday scheduling; but what I am reminded most about Beauty and the Beast is not the story but the memories of watching it with a very special young girl, my daughter and let me share the story.

Naturally, like so many parents, I watched a number of Disney movies with my daughter when she was a preschooler, some more than others.  However, Beauty and the Beast became our favorite because of its introductory song.  Even though we may not have had time to watch the entire movie each time, we frequently would watch it through Belle's opening song.  Then, it might have been off for a bath , a bedtime story, and a rendition of "star of the day" from the old Community Opticians before tucking her in for the night.  As a result of only watching that first song on those occasions, "Beauty and the Beast" became known to us as "The First Song on Belle".

Holidays are frequently about traditions, and watching "Beauty and the Beast" reminded me of a tradition that my daughter and I developed many years ago.  Although we no longer practice this particular one, it was quite easily resurrected in my mind with nothing more than this visual cue, and all those same wonderful memories resurfaced almost immediately.  Even though "Beauty and the Beast" is one of Disney's all time classics, it will always be known to me as "First Song on Belle", a real life fairy tale for me, no matter how I look at it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Race day at the Ironman, nothing but a picnic on wheels

Several years ago, I received an unexpected phone call from one of my longtime friends, and he shared with me that the organizers of the Ironman were going to hold their first mainland IM event in Lake Placid and suggested that we ought to apply for entry.  Before my brain could shift out of first gear, I responded with an emphatic, "OK", and that's precisely when I realized that this was no small commitment.  Fortunately, I had already been committed to a healthy lifestyle filled with regular exercise, so I didn't have to start from scratch.  My exercise group was engaged in a weekly routine of swimming, running, and biking, so at that point, it was simply a matter of "ramping" up the workouts over the coming months in preparation for the August 15th race day.

There were several critical issues I faced as part of the training leading up to the Ironman.  First, I was particularly concerned with how much of each discipline should I incorporate into my training each week.  In my research of other IM finishers, it seemed that on average about 18-21 hours of training were necessary each week in order to accomplish the desired goal of finishing with a modicum of respectability.  Naturally, that was divided between the 3 sports, but it was also quite important to have at least one full day of rest built into the schedule.  Therefore, I had to achieve a minimum average of 3 hours a day to accomplish this goal.  Next, having run several marathons, I recognized that I would have to run about 35 miles per week to comfortably finish the marathon portion of the race.  From here, I worked backwards and determined that I needed 3-5 miles of swimming and approximately 180 miles of biking per week of each to see this through.  Initially, all I planned to do was supplement the base with those additional miles.  That strategy worked quite well, but as the weeks and months "rolled" by, I kept getting this uncomfortable feeling that I hadn't done enough training.  Fortunately, my friend and I stayed in frequent contact to provide emotional support and too, we shared trade secrets about our training which helped immensely.

Additionally, during all this time, I was experimenting with my diet.  I tried various supplements, sports drinks, but what I kept coming back to was the good old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  In the meantime, my friend came up with a homemade calzone that seemed to work for him.  In the end, the PB and J, coupled with a few Starbucks coffee flavored cappuccinos worked remarkably well as my race day diet.

After months of training and when it was all over, I realized that completing an Ironman triathlon was indeed quite an accomplishment.  At the time, I had read that, globally, there have been only 100,000 people worldwide who had ever achieved this feat, so I felt an ever greater sense of personal satisfaction.  As I reflect back on that day, I now wonder, how did we ever do that?  Then I say to myself, it was nothing but a little swim and a run with a picnic on wheels in between!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One of a kind , a "Classic" indeed

Most of us are familiar with the classic book by Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird".  When it was written 50 years ago, it became in instant classic, but for the author, this was the one and only piece of literature she ever published.  In spite of its significant impact, Lee has commented very little on it since then, and therefore, its meaning has perhaps become a far more personal reflection than simply a story.  One of the book's main characters was "Scout", and although Lee's depiction is as unique as her book, I have a niece, nicknamed Scout, who is equally as unique, in her own way.

Just 6 weeks before she was born, her mother and I enjoyed being showered with gifts, as we were both on the verge of becoming first time parents.  Her cousin was born on October 30th, and she followed just over 3 weeks later.  Her arrival came shortly after the doctors told my sister and her husband that "Scout" had stopped growing, however, by all accounts, that was last time they were ever told this.  Naturally, she was going too get that much needed stimulation from her parents, but her environment in Yellowstone and with the vast number of relatives, there was little doubt that this child would not be "left behind", and she certainly hasn't been.

Her neighborhood school just down the street served as her academic home for those early years.  What an environment for a young child, Elk roaming through her yard, Big Horn sheep watching her play out on the school playground, and a whole host of other wild creatures just down the road in Lamar Valley or at Tower.  Who needed a field trip when you are living, quite literally, in the fields and valleys of Yellowstone?

Because of the obvious appeal and attraction to Yellowstone, many family members visited over the years, both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and of course, the cousins.  When she was just 8, her grandparents from Massachusetts came to visit.  During dinner, her grandfather got up to use the restroom, and when Scout recognized that he hadn't come back in a timely manner, she queried, "where is grandpa"?  This observation turned out to be lifesaving, as her grandfather had had a stroke while he was away from the table and couldn't alert anyone because his speech had been affected.  Thanks to his granddaughter, the 2 of them have been able to enjoy many more years together, and for that matter and so have all of us.

Now that high school is over, and she off to college, there is little that my niece hasn't experienced compared to other kids her age.  She has raised rabbits, hamsters, and Julio the steer as part of her 4H projects.  She has had dogs, Hazard and now Ruby.  She has helped kids stricken by cancer at Camp Sunshine in Maine.  She even left the gas nozzle in my car last summer as we drove off  to Wilson Pond for some water skiing with the relatives.  She has tried to her hand at snow skiing and for the first time last summer, she swam in the ocean.  Yes, the list could go on, but for my niece who celebrates her 19th birthday today, I believe this is just the start of a long list of contributions, experiences, and accomplishments she will have in her lifetime.  Scout, you are most definitely a classic just like your "namesake", but more importantly, you are kind, the kind of young lady I am proud to call my niece.  Happy Birthday EG.  We love you!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Biking under IBR

If you are familiar with flying, you understand that there are rules for flying with instruments or without.  If the visibility is sufficient, the pilot flies under VFR or visual flight rules, while if the visibility isn't adequate, the pilot will fly under IFR or instrument flight rules.  Unlike the captains of the "friendly skies", my friends and I biked this morning using IBR, instinctual bike rules, well, because we encountered some low lying "clouds".

This morning was no different than any other Saturday has been for the last 10 years; my friends and I had plans to meet for some sort of morning exercise.  The predicted temperatures were favorable for a morning bike ride.  We have agreed that a wind chill temperature of 18 degrees is "survivable" with the proper clothing adjustments, like foot and hand warmers.  However, even  in the cold, there is nothing like a refreshing morning ride with friends and the anticipation of a hot cup of coffee when it's over.

Today was slightly different than most days though, in that we all wanted to attend a walk through of the city's new community center.  Consequently, we had to map out a route that we could finish easily enough and still get our cup o' joe and head to the site.  However, in addition to the usual weather elements, we encountered some rather heavy fog.  This wasn't the first time we rode in the fog, but the visibility this time was a mere 50-100 yards.  Of course, we still went through with our plan and rode for an hour or so.  What was so eerie though was this feeling that we weren't going anywhere, even though we knew we cruising along at 15 miles an hour.  Although the Sun was peeking through from above, at this time of year, it couldn't quite heat things up enough to clear the air.  Nonetheless, we finished up on time, enjoyed ourselves, and most importantly, there was no one "MIA".

So, the next time you go out for a bike ride with your friends, be sure that at least one person in the group has their autopilot set to "IBR", instinctual bike rules, because if the weather isn't cooperating, then you can still enjoy a ride and return to base camp safely.  In our case, we knew that we would be welcomed home and the coffee would be a lot warmer than we would be!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Always putting his best foot forward

Undoubtedly, you have heard of the expression, "put your best foot forward".  According to one source, the meaning is:  1. to do something as well as you can   2. to start to walk more quickly.  When I think of one of my good friends, this is the phrase that epitomizes his approach to all aspects of his life, and let me explain.

Several years ago, when I was walking through the lobby of the local  hospital, my friend approached me and  asked whether I was still swimming in the morning.  I said, of course we were, and he then wanted to know what our schedule was.  Naturally, I shared all of this with him, but was curious as to why he wanted to know.   He told me he had a degenerative joint in his foot, and consequently, was forced to give up his running.  However, being as athletic as he had been over the years, simply necessitated a change in sports; it was time to become a swimmer, and he has.  Not only has he become a swimmer, but he has become a very good swimmer.  His kids chuckled at his "unorthodox" swim strokes, but now that we have been swimming together for 12-13 years and they were to see him swim today, I suspect that they might have a slightly different opinion about it.

During that time, he also started to join us on our Saturday morning bike rides.  Even after a surgical fusion of his ankle, swimming and biking seemed quite doable, but his real exercise passion was running.  With all the physical therapy we prescribed, his foot pain began to diminish, and this allowed him play golf more comfortably, but also allowed him to join us in his first passion, running.

Ever since our first discussion in the hospital lobby, GLK has been a titan regarding his regular participation in our training program.  However, not only is he a regular with us, he and wife have been tireless supporters of  local civic groups and can regularly be seen at local athletic events to watch their kids during their participation in school sports.  Yes, as my friend celebrates his birthday, I would just like to wish him Happy Birthday from all of us.  Through your determination and dedication, you have shown us and everyone else that you have defied the odds.  That comes as no surprise to us because you have always put your best foot forward, and because of your hard work, you have 2 best feet!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another round of "brainstorming" for the table, please

Have you ever been part of an organizing committee for some event  or to tackle some community wide issue?  Undoubtedly, if you have, you are familiar with the term "brainstorming".  It was first introduced in 1953 to describe a group of individuals who got together to discuss and develop ideas, and ultimately, see those plans come to fruition.  Of course, the end result of a successful "campaign" gives its member a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction.

Merriam Webster describes brainstorming as:  a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; also : the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem

For a very dear friend of mine, we have made "brainstorming" a nearly weekly ritual for several years.

In 1995, Delaware, Ohio became the new family address; when I was introduced to the neighbors down the street, an instant bond was formed, and we have been kindred spirits ever since.  What was particularly intriguing then and is still apparent today is the "thrifty" attitude that my new friend and his wife possessed.  Coming from New England, the maxim, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" couldn't have been a more appropriate description for them, and although they weren't from New England, they understood this very important concept.

Over the years, we have been to woodworking shows together, tackled wood working projects together, painted houses together while listening to Garrison Keeler, formed our personal "tool library" for tool exchange, but perhaps the most meaningful sessions have been the times when we have "broken bread" together where we discussed anything and everything.  We have had ideas that have ranged from the floating eye glass strap to pieces of kitchen "furniture".  The origins of the "blogntweeter"came from one of these "brainstorming" chats, and it has become an invaluable presence in my life, just like our friendship.

So, to my good friend TC, Happy Birthday.  I have cherished the time we have shared together "retooling" a friendship that is sure to last at least as long as that barn you recently restored.  Our "brainstorming" has paid dividends far greater than any fine the "tool library" would ever levy against you, and I ought to know because I am its head librarian.  Are you hungry?  Why don't we order up a couple of frozen Margaritas and discuss a few ideas I had over dinner?  What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Veterans Day is an annual United States holiday honoring military veterans. A federal holiday, it is observed on November 11. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, falling on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended WWI. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice).

To all those who have served or are still serving in our military, thank you for your honor and courage in protecting and defending our freedom.  Our gratitude to these men and women should be as great as our desire is to live peacefully throughout the world.  WWI was supposed to be the war to end all wars.  Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.

As "we the people" of this country and the world move forward, let's hope and pray that we can put our differences aside, settle our disputes civilly and peacefully, but most importantly, recognize that "all men are created equal".  Thomas Jefferson wrote this so eloquently when our great country was founded.  Let's all be veterans to promote peace, not just today but every day.  Let our actions and words ring out the value of freedom and justice for all, so that we can have lasting peace on Earth!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The prototype for the GPS

With the advent of the microchip, computers have become steadily smaller and yet, more powerful.  There are "apps" for just about anything you can imagine, and many of them are right there at your finger tips.  The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based global satellite navigation system that provides reliable location and time information in all weather and at all times and anywhere on or near the Earth when and where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver.  If you own a Garmin or Tom Tom, you are familiar with the utility of these devices.  However, long before these became available, most men felt that they already had an internal compass which was equivalent to the modern day GPS.

How many times have you been witness to a man driving around the block, looking for a destination that he knows he can find?  I remember many times passing a pedestrian who could have assisted me with directions, but either my pride or my "guyness" got in the way.  Certainly, if you are driving alone, who is to know that you are "lost"?  If you are with a group of "guy" friends, then you can imagine that asking for directions would be a remote option at best, under those circumstances.  However, if the passenger is female, it seems more likely that, if the car isn't taking the proper route to its destination, there might be a suggestion to get the accurate directions before mutual frustration sets in.  Does this sound familiar?  That's when it occurred to me that GPS doesn't stand for Global Positioning System; it stands for "Guy Positioning System".

So, if there was any question as to the origins of GPS, I believe this discussion should put those arguments to rest.  However, few doubt that these newer devices are more accurate and reliable than their biological prototypes; and if you follow the directions properly, you shouldn't get lost and thus avoid driving in those circles ever again.  Would you like to bet on that?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Milk, it's what we had with breakfast, lunch, and dinner

The National Milk Mustache "got milk?" Campaign is one of the most recognized and respected advertising campaigns, having earned a place in advertising history. As the "umbrella" campaign for print, radio and TV advertising, as well as public relations, promotions and other initiatives, the "got milk?" message is one that's on everyone's lips across the U.S. Since its inception over 10 years ago, this fun and compelling message has helped boost awareness of the nutritional aspects of milk, and was the impetus to expand the availability of milk to more consumers than ever before. If the folks who drafted this ad only had spoken with my parents 50 years ago, they would have come up with it long before that.

Like so many people in the 50's and 60's, we had our very own milk man; his name was Roy Brown, Mr. Brown to us kids.  He'd show up early 2-3 days a week and bring us enough of that white "mucous" to get us through until his next delivery day.  The glass bottles would rattle in his carrying tray both to and from the house.  He generally would go right on into the house and place the bottles neatly on the shelf in the fridge.  My mother had the rinsed empties perched right there on the stoop ready to be taken back for "refueling", and he'd wave good bye as he drove off while standing upright in his milk truck.  Of course, there were few major advancements in his industry until he arrived one day with the "box" of milk.  It was about a 2 or 3 gallon bag of milk with a spout for pouring.  That worked beautifully for about a week and then one of us failed to close it completely, and the flood of milk ended that "experiment".

When the corner gas stations gave way to "quick marts", the era of the milkman came to an end, so we waved goodbye to Mr. Brown for the last time.  If my mother didn't pick up the customary 3 gallons of milk when she was at the grocery store, my father would run over to the hospital and pick up a few of those "personal" sized cartons, so we could at least  have a bowl of cereal before school.  The milk ritual developed into a trip to Richdale's every other day for those 3 gallons of the white stuff.  My parents even had an extra refrigerator, just to keep a "cache" on hand.  It may have been more economical to have had a cow, who knows?  No matter how you look at it, if there wasn't enough for supper and the morning cereal, you can imagine someone would have had a "cow" anyway.

Yes, the milk was always flowing at our house when we were kids, and that trend has continued for some of my brothers and sisters families even today.  With all the options that we are confronted with today, doesn't a nice, tall glass of ice cold milk sound great?  It sure does to me, especially if you enjoy it with a stack of cookies!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Barefoot running? Either way, runners have both "soles" covered

With the New York City Marathon approaching, the CBS evening news presented a segment the other night that really caught my attention.  They had profiled a group of runners who had, quite literally, given up their "soles", but they most definitely haven't  stopped running.  Evidently, there is a movement "afoot" to shed that footwear because, according to a select few, it seems to be contributing to some running related injuries.  Naturally, for a group of runners, this provided us with an excellent topic for our morning run and discussion at coffee.

Ever since the running craze took off in the 70's, the shoe industry has introduced concepts which have lured runners and recreational athletes alike to try on their latest wares.  Oregon's legendary, Bill Bowerman introduced the famous Nike "waffle trainer", and if you had ever seen the movie, "Prefontaine", you can appreciate how it derived its name.  Perhaps you remember those muscular calves adorning the cover of Jim Fixx's, The Complete Book of Running which was considered one of running's early epistles.  However, in all my years of running, which formally began in 1973, if you thought of running, it was all about "lacing" up the shoes, not shedding them.  Having said that, Abebe Bikila, in the 1960 Olympic Marathon, ran barefoot to a gold medal, no surprise that someone could do this given this latest trend.

During the discussion, we also analyzed our respective gaits, and to no surprise, we all ran somewhat differently.  Some of us are heel strikers while others are mid to fore foot.  I had long subscribed to the notion that heel striking was the most logical, but more recently for me, the mid foot strike seems the most relaxed.  We also reviewed the merits of the popular "Chi" style of running, as well as "Good Form Running" which incorporate several common themes.  In "Chariots of Fire", Sam Masambini said, " overstriding, death to the sprinter", so maybe there is something to this new idea.  It is always fascinating to think about the evolution of man since some of  those first Hominids were unearthed at Olduvai Gorge by Louis Leakey.  What's even more remarkable is that, for a bunch of "running geeks", we are discussing Early Man.  Running and exercise, in general, sure can cultivate the mind and body.

I certainly am no expert and still need to weigh the evidence regarding this "barefoot" running phenomenon, but one thing is for sure, our society has to move in order to avoid this obesity epidemic.  We are faced with a "huge" public health problem, and if we don't "defeet" it soon, it won't matter what is worn on those feet because there won't be much walking or running anywhere.  As for my friends and me, running has given us the opportunity to grow our friendships, and it is absolutely clear that each of us has benefited from that.  If you consider all the arguments, and additionally, exercise with a group of friends who truly enjoy it, there just might be something to this.  Regardless of how this all plays out, one thing has already been well proven ; exercising regularly with your friends may wear down your soles, but we all agree, exercise is pure health food for the soul!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Decision 2010

As Americans, we have the freedom to vote and choose the men and women who we think will best represent us in Washington and in our state and local governments.  It is a privilege that, unfortunately, not all eligible Americans take seriously.  On the eve of this election day, I urge all registered voters to get out and cast your ballot.  There have been an unprecedented number of negative campaign ads; however, let's leave all that negativism behind and move our great country forward.  When it comes to making your decision, be confident, be positive, and remember, we are free to make our own choices.  I have made mine; I am at peace with my decision, and now it's time to move on.  Take a stand, AND vote!