Downtown Champaign sunset

downtown-champaign-sunsetWe were downtown for drinks and dinner at Seven Saints with Barbara and Rosie, and I noticed a rather spectacular sunset (click for larger, more spectacular version).

A merely fair picture of it—it was more spectacular in person—but good enough, I thought, to share.

And, in relation to my recent post on pelvises, among the Halloween decorations inside Seven Saints, I happened to notice another depiction of a skeleton with iliac crests dramatically smaller than an actual skeleton’s. Look at that! Surely no one could expect a lifetime exposure to such misleading representations to do anything other than produce a whole range of body dysmorphic issues.

another-small-hips-skeleton

A walk around the block

At Country Fair, we had route for a walk around the apartment complex that we could do almost entirely on sidewalks that we called “walking around the block.” It took 7 minutes, so I figured it was about a third of a mile. Most nice evenings we’d go do that walk, often going two or three times around.

One of the first things I wanted to do at Winfield Village was find a similar walk, and the situation is actually a bit better here: At Country Fair the old part of the complex had its various sidewalks connected so that you could walk in a big circle. The newer part of the complex wasn’t like that: It had sidewalks from each building to the closest parking lot, but they’d not been connected to one another, so there was no good way to go for a walk—you constantly had to either cut through the grass, or else walk through the parking lots. Here the whole complex is well-connected with sidewalks.

The most obvious way around is a bit over half a mile, but has the disadvantage of taking us out along Curtis Road, which doesn’t make for an especially pleasant walk.

It’s easy to skip that leg, staying inside the complex, but that shortens the walk, making it a bit less than half a mile.

Happily, there are some additional segments of sidewalks, connecting the sidewalks that run to the backs of the parking lots to one another (exactly what was missing at Country Fair), meaning that it’s pretty easy to put together a connected walk around the perimeter of the complex.

We went out for just that walk today, and I tracked it on Endomondo to see the length, and was pleased to find that the most obvious way to walk around the perimeter of the complex, starting and ending at our townhouse, is exactly one mile.

Here’s the map:

It’s not crucial to have a defined walk to call a “walk around the block.” It would be just as good to just go wander around, turning whichever way we feel like on any particular day, putting together different segments in a different order each day. But I like having a particular walk that we call a “walk around the block.” It’s comfortably predictable.

I expect we’ll take that walk pretty often.

Misleading pelvis depiction

I mentioned a couple of posts back about being surprised by how high the top of my iliac crest was—nearly as high as my navel.

small-hips-skeletonAs chance would have it—not such an unlikely chance, with the date approaching All Hallows Eve—I happened upon a depiction of a skeleton outside a local shop. And look! That poor guy’s iliac crest comes no higher than his coccyx!

I present this image purely in an effort to spread the blame around. My ignorance of pelvic configuration is an ignorance deeply rooted in inaccurate depictions in popular culture.

I told this story to one friend who was baffled that I was so misled by these sorts of images. “Just look at any bikini model,” he said. “You can plainly see how the top of the iliac crest is nearly as high as the navel.” (Which is true—search for bikini model at wikimedia commons and see for yourself.)

The topic under discussion shifted at that point to optimal waist-to-hip ratios, after which it started getting strange. But all that is beside the point: Is it any surprise, in a world where plastic Halloween decorations cheap enough to leave out on a public bench are this inaccurate, that I might be confused about this particular aspect of anatomy? No, I say. It is not.

Moving one last time!

All our moves this summer—from Country Fair to our summer place to our winter palace—were in support of a plan to move to a townhouse in Winfield Village. That plan was looking a little shaky along about mid-summer, when we were still far from the top of the waiting list for a townhouse and needed to find a place to live when our sublet ran out, but our plan has come to fruition! We are now members of the Winfield Village coop, and yesterday we picked up the keys to our townhouse.

We’ve spent the last two days scoping out the new place—measuring doors and windows, updating our furniture plan with the new information, etc.

The movers come Monday to move all our stuff out of our winter palace and into what we’re tentatively calling our country estate.

More updates as things progress. There’s a lot of cool stuff out that way, some of which I was completely unaware of. (For example, there’s a gorgeous reconstructed prairie just a few minutes walk from our front door.)

Normal weight

I’ve been losing weight for the past few years, and wanted to share a small milestone: With a body mass index of 24.9, I am now in the range the National Institutes of Health consider “normal weight.”

It’s been a strange process. Subcutaneous fat departs on its own schedule—probably mostly genetic, but probably other things as well—so I’ve had the experience of bodyparts changing shape at unexpected times. A few months ago I noticed something hard in my side, a couple of inches down from my ribs. It took some seconds of poking with my finger, tracing out the contours, for me to realize it was my pelvis. (For someone who assembled a Visible Man in elementary school, I had a surprisingly poor conception of where the pelvis is. I thought of it as being down by my hips, but the top of the iliac crest comes up to the height of the navel, I guess.) I had similar, if less startling, experiences with other bits of my skeleton, including my ribs and my cheekbones.

I wish I had a better understanding of what changed. I’d been overweight essentially all my adult life. I’d been trying, largely without success, to lose weight for 40 years. Then, a few years ago, something changed, and the weight started gradually coming off.

I did make an effort to eat less, and to exercise more, but I’d done those things a hundred times before.

I know some of the things that changed. I quit working a regular job, so I had more time for exercise, and more flexibility in my schedule to schedule the exercise. I started studying taiji, which is not an especially vigorous exercise, but which I now do almost every day—and consistency has a vigor all its own. Jackie’s willingness (and creativity) in producing healthy meals that conform to my odd preferences has been a big help.

One other thing that was different from all the other times was that this time I didn’t have a goal weight.

All the other times I had an idea in my head that I wanted to lose 15 or 45 pounds, and I’d calculate how many weeks that would take if I had a calorie deficit of this or that amount. Then I’d track my weight, and be pleased or disappointed as it progressed along or deviated from that track.

This time I didn’t do that. Instead, I decided that my goal was simply having a downward trend to my weight. Being in calorie deficit would (I figured) improve my blood chemistry, and probably right away get me most of the health benefits of losing weight.

Since I don’t have a goal, I’m not at an inflection point here, now that I’m at “normal weight.” I can just carry on doing what I’ve been doing. I’m in no danger of becoming underweight any time soon. (The National Institutes of Health suggest I’d be “underweight” if I lost another 40 pounds.) So, I’ll go on gradually losing weight for a while. I expect it will become more and more gradual over the next year or two, before I eventually stabilize, probably not too far from the midpoint between “underweight” and “overweight.”

There’s no evidence for a health benefit to weighing less than I do now, but probably some health benefits to being in calorie deficit—so it makes sense to prolong that phase.

There are, of course, the other benefits to losing weight. There’s an aesthetic benefit. (At least, I think I look better now than I did 40 pounds ago, and expect I’ll look better still if I lose another few pounds.) There’s a convenience benefit. (Society has upsized almost everything as Americans have gotten larger—the main exception being coach seats on airliners—but being slimmer still makes almost everything easier and more comfortable.)

If I lose another 15 pounds or so, I’ll be at the same body mass index as Jackie. She’s most fetchingly slim, and there’s a certain symmetry to us matching that way, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a goal. Just a whimsy, really.

I promised a while back that this wouldn’t becoming a weight-loss blog, and I think I’ve kept that promise, but this was a milestone that I wanted to share. I’m not sure there’ll be any more, though. Since I don’t have a goal, there’ll really be nothing to announce.

A night out on the town

Jackie and I had a night out last night.

We went to the Art Theater to see “A Most Wanted Man,” the latest John le Carré film. Spoiler alert: What a depressing story! Good film, but geez.

After that we went to Seven Saints for Whiskey Wednesday and sliders. This has become our go-to night out while we’re living downtown, because it’s reasonably cheap—half-price whiskey—and not too many calories (as long as we don’t order waffle fries, which we don’t).

Yesterday was “Irish and International whiskeys.” The last two international Wednesdays I’d had Japanese single malts—once Yamazaki and once Nikka, both excellent. This time they were featuring an Irish whiskey from Powers Distillery, so I tried that. It was good, but not as good as either of the Japanese whiskeys (which are both as good as the best Scottish single malts I’ve had).

After sliders, we went to Dublin O’Neil’s, a newish restaurant that’s trying to go for the feel of an Irish pub. We don’t eat there much, because they bring way too much food, but on Wednesday evenings a bunch of local musicians show up for a jam session of Irish music. It’s an odd mix of people and instruments—there are many more squeeze boxes of various sorts than you’d usually put together in a band—but pretty good music played with enthusiasm. Last night there was also a flute, a fiddle, a 4-string banjo, and a guitar.

We ordered beers (Harp was on sale cheaper than Guinness, so we ordered that, although I think I’ll go back to Guinness next time) and listened to Irish music for most of an hour. The musicians were still going strong, but it was past our bedtime, so we headed home.

A loaf of white bread

Jackie and I bake all our own bread. I can’t remember the last time we bought a loaf of ordinary bread, although we buy other kinds of bread products from time to time (croissants, english muffins, etc.). We take turns baking, and are pretty jealous of our turns. Except for when Jackie broke her wrist and I got to bake all the bread for 7 or 8 weeks, I don’t think I’ve baked two loaves in a row more than a couple of times, and I think Jackie got two turns in a row only once.

We’ve had a sourdough starter going for at least fifteen years now. (We call her Bubbles.) I wrote about how we bake sourdough bread in a Wise Bread post a few years ago.

Every loaf is different, of course. Some have butter or olive oil, others don’t. Some have sugar or honey or molasses, others don’t. Some have salt or baking soda, but usually neither. Some include large or small amounts of rye or barley or oats or other more exotic flours, others don’t.

Still, most of my loaves are pretty similar—a cup of bread flour, up to a cup of non-wheat flours, and then the rest whole wheat flour. But it occurred to me a couple of days ago that in fifteen years of baking—probably 400 loaves over that time—I’d never baked a loaf of white bread.

So, a couple of days ago, I decided to bake a loaf of white bread.

I read a few recipes for French country sourdough before I started, just to see what they all had in common, which is how this loaf ended up with a little salt and a tablespoon of white sugar. Except for two tablespoons of flax-seed meal, the flour content was entirely bread flour.

What a great loaf of bread! Not so much with the fiber, I guess, but tasty. We immediately thought of all sorts of things that are especially good with white bread—garlic bread (which we had last night with spaghetti) and french toast (which we had that morning with grade B maple syrup). This loaf went so quickly, I got special dispensation to do a second just the same (or else I wouldn’t get a grilled turkey and cheese with mustard sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).

We won’t be switching to white bread of course. There’s a reason we’ve made whole-grain loaves for fifteen years. But I’ll remember this loaf. Once or twice a year seems like a much more reasonable frequency for white bread than once or twice every fifteen years.

New Salem and Washington Park

Jackie and I went to Springfield yesterday, to visit our old friend (and my officemate for many years) Chuck McCaffrey.

We had a great time. In the morning we went to Lincoln’s New Salem, a sort of reconstructed frontier town of Illinois in the 1830s. Except for their sad lack of exhibits on witch trials, it was excellent. In the afternoon we went to Washington Park, a public park in Springfield, which is a great park. Mostly it was just a chance to spend a few hours with Chuck—we don’t see him nearly enough—and a chance to do some walking.

Today, in order to make up for the woefully deficient coverage of witch trials in New Salem, we went to an exhibit at the Rare Book Room here at the University of Illinois Library called Fire Burne & Cauldron Bubble: Witchcraft at the Dawn of Modernity, which was mostly an exhibit of books that advocated and justified the witch trials in England in seventeenth and eighteenth century England and Scotland.

Our next place

jackie-winter-palace-celebratory-beer

So, we’ve not been making progress on the waiting list at Winfield Village. Actually it’s worse than that: We’ve been making backwards progress.

When we first got on the list, we were #5—but they said we were #2 to be called next, because several of the people ahead of us had already been called and had passed because they weren’t ready to move yet.

Then next time, we were #5.

We stayed at #5 for a while, but then a few weeks later, we were #7. How can that be? Well, two ways. First, several people who had been waiting for townhomes had decided to give up and move to the list for apartments instead, and they order people by the date their application became active, rather than the date they asked to be on a particular list. Second, people who already live at Winfield Village who decide to move within the complex skip to the top of the waiting list.

Last week we checked and learned that we were #10.

This was not as discouraging as you might think, because it actually simplifies our life. We had talked about various strategies for temporary housing to span a gap between when we needed to move out of our summer place and when our new place was going to be available. Clearly, those plans would not need to be actualized. Any possible move-in date was far enough off that there was no reason not to just go ahead and sign a one-year lease.

Of course, this necessitates yet another name—for our next place, after our old place and our summer place, but before our new place at Winfield Village.

My propose, which Jackie enthusiastically accepted, is that we call our next place for after our summer place our winter palace.

We’ve so much enjoyed living right downtown that we focused our search on this area. Jackie found a place about a ten-minute walk from here—two blocks further from West Side Park, but about five blocks closer to the library. I called right after lunch. We went to see the place at 2:30, read the lease standing out by the landlady’s van, signed it, and I wrote a check for the damage deposit.

Our winter palace will be ours starting August 1st.

After we signed the lease we walked to the library (I had a book on hold), then to the Blind Pig Brewery where Jackie bought us celebratory beers, which we drank in the beer garden:

jackie-winter-palace-celebratory-beer

Livin’ TV-free

For reasons too tedious to go into, Jackie and I never upgraded to a digital TV. We had an old cathode ray tube Sony, and were still watching TV on that.

One reason that we hadn’t upgraded was that our old TV was heavy. The two of us together just barely got it up the stairs and into our apartment. I was literally afraid to try to carry it back out, even with two of us. We’d about resigned ourselves to buying a new TV from some local store that would do delivery and setup, because those stores will generally haul away your old TV as part of the deal. (Around here you can’t just put a TV into a dumpster; you have to recycle it in some way.)

As part of moving, though, we donated a bunch of stuff to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which will accept old TVs and other electronics, and for $10 will send a truck to pick up your donations. We jumped at the chance.

The TV went about two weeks before we moved into the summer place, but we’re still TV-free, because the summer place doesn’t have a TV either.

Since we were getting rid of the TV and packing up the DVD player, we went ahead and turned off our disk subscription with NetFlix. We kept our streaming subscription, and have actually watched one thing since moving, mainly as test that it would work.

Aside from that, though, we’ve been livin’ TV-free.

In the short term, it’s great. We could watch stuff on the big desktop screen (although there’s no good place for a second person to sit in front of the computer), or on the laptop screen (although it’s kinda small for two people to watch, unless they sit right together and put the laptop right in front of them), but we don’t.

Instead, we’re reading books. I’ve read more fiction in the last three or four weeks than I’d read in the previous three or four months. (Oh, and once we went to the theater! The local Art Theater had a late showing of Serenity. What a great movie to watch with an audience!)

I don’t expect we’ll stick with our TV-free lifestyle once we have our own place. We’ll probably get a bigish flat-screen TV. Maybe a blueray player. Probably turn our NetFlix disk subscription back on. We enjoy watching the BBC and the Nightly Business Report and the PBS Newshour and various TV series. We enjoy watching movies on disk and episodes of old TV series on streaming.

But in the meantime, we’re enjoying livin’ TV-Free.