2.26.2019

Surf Rock Sunday

Miraculously, 80% of my surf rock band, BANANA HAMMOCK, got together today and rocked a few tunes in the guitarist's cold, clammy, dank basement...about as far removed from a sunny, palm tree-lined surfing beach as you can get. The concept for the group was to be able to punch a hole in the fabric of the Wisconsin winter and let some warm vibes shine through. The group still has a ways to go before we can achieve that metric, but the vision is there, on paper.

Prior to surf rocking, I was at the gym for about an hour, putting my cool new running shoes through their routine of running five kilometers (3.2 miles) on a treadmill. I don't know if it's the shoes or the fact that I am 40 pounds lighter than I used to be, but I was easily able to maintain a 10 minute mile pace, with intervals of 8 minute mile bursts (albeit for only about a fifth of a mile). It's probably a combination of the shoes and the weight loss. Whilst running, I read some of the textbook for one of my classes, killing another proverbial bird with one stone.

Speaking of weight loss, I spent most of the rest of the day cooking food. I made a mango coconut curry recipe and baked a loaf of bread in our breadmaker (the machine did 95% of the work...I just put the ingredients into it). I have been baking bread loaves on Sunday for the past few weeks. The bread thusly manufactured is usually gone by Tuesday, because it's delicious. However, this week it will be gone by Monday because some mischievous gremlins got into the loaf while I was out surf rocking.

The food manufacturing today was precipitated by the delivery of a bunch of groceries from Whole Foods. Deborah and I have been experimenting with online grocery shopping via Amazon Prime Now (aka, Whole Foods, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Jeff Bezos). It's been rather awesome, if I'm being totally honest. You fill up a virtual online shopping cart with items you want, click a few settings, check out, and groceries magically appear at the front door during a pre-defined time window. There's a bit of a fee, and this fee has three important characteristics. 1. It's not exorbitant. 2. It's balanced against the convenience of not having to go to a store and deal with undesirable people (aka, people). 3. I think we net save money notwithstanding the fee due to the fact that we are not compelled to impulse buy things we don't need. Bullet 3 is really mission critical. Going to a regular grocery store, we often buy things we see cleverly displayed that we don't really need. This doesn't happen with online shopping and home delivery. We only buy what's on our list and the online store interface saves our past purchase history so we can easily re-order necessities. Sometimes an item or two are out of stock and if it's an important thing, I sometimes go get it at the conventional grocery store by our house. Even so, that is usually a quick operation that doesn't necessitate a length ordeal waiting in checkout lines. Enough said on that subject.

I have an intensive week ahead. Stay tuned. Stay warm. And leave a comment!

2.18.2019

EFF YEAH or NO - STRONG OR WEAK SAUCE?

One of my role models for advice on how to prioritize priorities in my life is Derek Sivers, who has a simple rubric for deciding when to take on new projects. Does the project make you say, "@#$% YEAH! I want to do that?" Does it fill you with drive and passion? If so, do it. If not, say NO!
On paper, my vision for my instrumental surf rock band, BANANA HAMMOCK, is a definite @#$% YEAH! However, the reality of it has proven to be somewhat below expectations and in practice I am now leaning toward NO on the current incarnation of the project, for a variety of reasons.
I had hoped to have the project up and running by the end of February, but it now appears that metric won't be met, in part due to weather delays (my hatred of winter was an impetus for starting the band). Other factors include differences between members about the vision, which I am a bit uneasy with. It's hard to put a concrete metric on that, but it is kind of just a gut feeling that something is off. I have been around the block enough as a musician to follow those kinds of gut feelings and cut bait before things get too far off the core vision.
My bandwidth is finite, and if I am channeling it into inefficient projects, then I am not giving my other @#$% YEAH projects their due diligence. That being said, BANANA HAMMOCK doesn't demand a huge investment of time or effort on my part. I play bass very well and surf rock is not difficult, so I can put minimal time into learning material. The band rehearses fortnightly, so I have every other Sunday afternoon free for my more assertive projects. I also don't have to host the rehearsals at my house, which is a huge relief.
So, I may go against Sivers' advice on this one and just let the surf rock band float, rather than put it on ice until I can revisit it again. It's only drawing a very small fraction of my mental CPU and the other participants seem even more laissez-faire about it than I am, so they aren't making unrealistic demands on my time. If that changes, I may have to apply a freeze ray to the operation.

2.16.2019

Tough But Fulfilling Week

This week was a tough one. Lots of hours at my internship. School and writing assignments. Gym workouts. Making meals. Valentine's Day. All good things. But a lot!

So I am happy that things are winding down for the weekend. I just submitted an assignment under the wire for the online writing class I spontaneously signed up for a a few weeks ago. It was my second to last assignment, a structured plot outline of my novel, pivoting off two prior assignments - a novel premise and a protagonist character sketch. My final assignment will be to submit 10 pages of my novel to the instructor for a critique, some time in March. The three exercises thus far in the course have basically been prep for this, to make the story sparkle and have direction and momentum.

Blah, blah, blah. You don't care until the novel gets published. I get it. Have a great weekend.

2.10.2019

VENDOR REVIEW: Fleet Feet (Middleton WI)

Guess who got a new pair of running shoes?

Me! That's who.

There is something very satisfying about getting into a comfy, new pair of sneakers. But that's not the main thesis of this post.

I want to give a rave review to the Fleet Feet running shoe store at which Deborah and I procured our new foot gear yesterday. It was one of the smoothest and most effective shoe shopping experiences I can ever remember having.

It went down like this: 

1. Salesperson Curtis interviewed me briefly on what I was looking for (a comfortable, best-value, entry-level running shoe so that I could start running again, a little bit, nothing serious) and if I had any injuries or handicaps that might influence my shoe selection (arthritis in my left big toe, currently in remission, but often exacerbated by exercise, specifically running). 

2. Curtis had me step onto the disinfected platform of a fancy looking device that took 3-D measurements of my feet. 

3. From the image and data produced by the machine, Curtis gave me a run-down on what he saw as the important aspects of my foot physiology (not unsurprisingly, my feet were quite average, which was good as far as available shoe selection). The details of this are quite inconsequential. What is important is that Curtis used the hard data to retrieve from the shop's inventory three models of shoe in my size that he hypothesized would satisfy most metrics of my perceived running shoe needs. It did not hurt that my foot physiology was very similar to Curtis's own, sans the arthritis, so he also had some additional experiential expertise to apply to the equation.

4. Model #2 of the three presented to me was selected based on how my feet felt in them overall, how protected my injurious toe felt in them specifically, and how they faciliated proper running gait, as determined by Curtis's observation. I tested all three pairs out by running on the treadmill that was in the shoe shop. I also mixed and matched pairs on alternating feet for a compare and contrast. I have to say that all three models were very close to each other as far as my assessment metrics, and Curtis hit the bullseye on all of the shoes presented. They all fit perfectly on the first go. They were all superior to any running shoe I have ever had, by a vast margin. The hardest part of it all was trying to discern the minute nuances between the three shoe models that eventually landed me on model #2, a pair of Saucony Rides (see image above).

5. The shoe shopping experience also landed me three pairs of running socks. I had never given much weight to the importance of socks when running, but it makes common sense that they would matter, and sock technology has come a long way since the last time I bought running shoes (I cannot actually remember that long ago, so it was probably easily 20+ years). I don't know anything about running sock technology, notwithstanding Curtis' brief explanation about this subject. However, at this point in my shoe shopping journey, my trust in and comfort with Curtis was high enough to bank on his sock knowledge.

The Saucony running shoes I got were modestly priced. I didn't think or ask about price while I was trying on the shoes, because I did not want my frugality to bias my selection, and Curtis was aware of my need for a best-value running shoe early in the process. So, he did not bring out anything exorbitantly egregious, price-wise.

After leaving the store, Deborah and I went to the gym to give our new footwear a spin in a real world scenario. I ran two miles on a treadmill at a medium-low pace to see if that level of activity would inflame my arthritic toe. I am writing this about 24 hours after that run and I can report that there has been no increase in toe pain from baseline* as a result of the exertion. So these shoes have a lot of promise for my gradual return to the running realm. I do not think I am every going to be running a marathon or anything, but running is great aerobic exercise that I will probably intersperse with bicycling, depending on time and place. 

In conclusion, I give Fleet Feet (8440 Old Sauk Rd, Middleton WI) a 5/5 star review. I have no idea how many of my readers are runners for whom this review is useful, but there you have it.

*Note: As a consequence of being on a vegan diet for over a year now, my arthritis inflammation has practically disappeared. My current baseline of pain is very close to zero on a 0-10 pain scale, where 0 is no pain at all and 10 is the most excruciating pain imaginable. I rarely notice pain or burning in my injured toe anymore, and when I do, it is usually following consumption of an inflammatory food, such as whole wheat pasta. Before starting on the vegan diet, my toe would always hurt, ranging from about a 1 to a 4 or 5 on the pain scale, depending on the day. At night it would sometimes throb and burn, making it hard to sleep. And it was most painful after a lot of activity on the joint, like walking or running. I started to notice the toe pain was no longer noticeable about two weeks into the vegan diet and at six months, it was virtually gone. I am not condoning or encouraging a vegan diet for anyone, but there is evidence that it's a good diet for reducing arthritic pain. The mechanism of action seems to be an anti-inflammatory effect of the diet. Arthritis is essentially an inflammatory disease where the immune system attacks the damaged tissue in the joints. In some cases, it can be auto-immune, where the immune system begins to attack healthy tissue that it thinks is foreign.

2.07.2019

Gym Nasties

January and February are trying months for going to the gym. It's not because of sh!tty Wisconsin weather, although that has been trying too. In fact, the hot tubs at the gym are an attractive respite from this sorry excuse for a winter.

No, the gym is trying because of the massive influx of New Year's Resolutionaries. Health clubs know that the new year is a great time to recruit customers and they market accordingly, offering membership specials and discounts. I can't fault the clubs for exploiting a resource that becomes highly abundant after the holidays - couch potatoes. And the harvest was bountiful this year.

There are pros for me as a year-round fitness consumer. The influx of cash for my health club means new and upgraded equipment. It also helps keep my annual membership fee lower. This almost outweighs the cons, but not quite. The biggest con is the overcrowding in the locker rooms, on the gym floor, and in the hot tubs. It's not even worth going to the gym before 8 PM during the first quarter of the year. New member resolve declines from about mid-January to mid-March as they begin to realize their goal was too ambitious relative to the time and effort they have for trying to achieve it. It really plummets in March and by April, gym attendance is close to being back to the pre-new year baseline. As I have documented elsewhere, a good deal of the variance in this drop off is explained by the biological fact that exercise doesn't have a lot of immediate benefits. In the long term, exercise is great for longevity and chronic disease prevention. But most people joining a gym are looking for instant gratification, usually in the form of weight loss. The current research posits that exercise is not a very good strategy for weight loss, for two reasons: 1. People tend to compensate for burned calories by eating more. 2. The body tries to maintain energy homeostasis, such that the increased metabolism of muscle tissue is balanced by decreased metabolism in other parts of the body. These two factors make it quite hard to lose any meaningful weight through exercise alone, and most people don't consider the much more important role of a healthy, reduced-calorie diet in weight loss. So, they don't see a lot of measurable benefit from going to the gym and after a couple weeks or months, they quit coming.

In addition to the overcrowding, new gym members are often oblivious to important health club etiquette. First, never talk politics on the gym floor. You don't know how others identify politically, and everyone hates you for this, even if they share your sentiments. Second, never talk at all in the locker rooms, especially if you are completely naked and swinging your ding-dong all over the place. The only exception to this is literal 911 emergencies. I had to talk a guy through a burst varicose vein once, both of us butt naked. Those veins can really firehose out a significant amount of blood. I had him put pressure on the bleed with a towel while I literally called 911 and let the experts take it from there. Third, respect the personal spaces of others and don't be a dick. The other day, a Trump-supporting* old white guy tried to get on the exercise bike I was using before I had even finished cleaning it off. He tried to shoo me away, saying, "That's good enough." I was not to be shoo-ed though; I finished wiping off the machine, giving him a sour look. I pity whoever rode that bike after that guy, based on his low standards for hygiene.


*Note: Only a Trump supporter would be such a douchenozzle as this guy was. QED.

2.03.2019

February Album Writing Month 2019

It's three days into February Album Writing Month (FAWM). I had given this songwriting challenge some thought in December and January, but entirely spaced it when it started on February 1st, in large part because I was focused on some gigs that I had the past two nights (subbing on bass with YOUR MOM band).

In fact, I was supposed to have a rehearsal with my embryonic surf rock band this afternoon, but I canceled it when 2.5 of it's five members said they could not make it. The 0.5 refers to the fact that one of the players could only be there for a fraction of the scheduled rehearsal time. I am OK with rehearsing when one participant is absent, but two or more is a challenge, especially for surf rock, which has so many interdependent, synergistic parts.

So, long story short, I am redirecting the mental bandwidth and time that would have been spent surf rocking to writing FAWM songs instead.

Loafing

I tried my hand at making another loaf of bread in the automated breadmaker yesterday. This time I tested the hypothesis that all-purpose flour can be applied to the purpose of making bread, in lieu of bread flour. Conclusion: All-purpose flour works just fine for bread. Discussion: The recipe I used was half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. All-purpose flour contains less gluten, the protein that glues bread together, than bread flour. However, the whole wheat flour may also contain more gluten, compensating for the lack of bread flour.

Anyway, my experiment produced a very edible loaf of whole wheat bread.

KEYWORDS: best bread recipe, homemade bread, how to use a breadmaker, stephen king, duma key