Greencastle Fiber Event and Turkey Run pictures

Jackie used to go to Greencastle, Indiana for the Fiber Event every year. (I think it was under different management back in those days; they called it a fleece fair.) We hadn’t gone the past couple of years, but Jackie wanted to go again this year, so we went.

Although a lot of what Jackie would buy there would sit in her stash for years, it was also a place for great finds—one year I spotted some roving made from a baby camel/merino blend that was on sale cheap because (so the vendor said) it had short fibers that made it hard to spin. But knowing that Jackie has no trouble spinning short fibers, and seeing that it was a beautiful camel-colored roving, I pointed it out and Jackie bought a bunch of it.

This year, Jackie got some yak/merino, and the vendor insisted on giving her a sample of some yak/silk blend as well.

Before coming home, having made it to that part of Indiana, Jackie and I visited Turkey Run State Park.

This time of year is a great time to visit. For one thing, there are wildflowers:

turkey-run-flowers
Bluebells, spring beauties, and may apples (not yet in bloom)

It’s a great place. My family has a long history with it—the first visit I remember was when I probably only 7 or 8 years old, and I’ve been back many times. I’ve stayed in the lodge, stayed in the cabins, and camped in the campground. And always, I’ve hiked the trails.

So, here’s a picture of me on one of the trails:

pb-in-turkey-run
Philip Brewer at Turkey Run State Park (photo by Jackie Brewer)

Here’s a picture of Jackie, taken not too far from there:

jb-in-turkey-run
Jackie Brewer at Turkey Run

More long walks

Jackie and I have continued to work up toward being able to take our planned very long walk in mid-June.

Our previous outing was planned for 15 miles, but we actually did about 17. For yesterday’s outing we came closer to hitting our target distance—planned for 20 miles and came in at 20.61 miles.

It was a pretty good walk. The temperature was a bit cool, but stayed steady for the duration, so we weren’t having to adjust clothing repeatedly.

We walked through Robeson Park and then to our old neighborhood where we had lunch at El Toro. Then we went up the Greenbelt Bikeway and visited our old garden plot near Parkland College. Then we angled our way to downtown Champaign, passing near both our summer place and our winter palace, pausing for coffee at Pekara Bakery. Finally, we walked to the University of Illinois Arboretum (where the cherry trees were just blooming) and then headed home through south campus and the research park.

We held up pretty well, perhaps because the distance was only 3 miles beyond our previous long walk. My plan is that we’ll do 26.2 miles for our next walk, sometime towards the end of April, but we’ll see how things go. We have time in our schedule if we want to take that jump in two steps.

We haven’t been getting in as many of the medium walks as I’d hoped, mostly because of problematic early-spring weather. With the weather shifting to more of a late-spring pattern, I’m hoping that won’t be a problem going forward.

One thing I’d like to do is start including some faster miles in those medium-length walks. We can walk fast enough, but we tend to slow down late in the walk. That’s fine, but if we have very many miles at 20+ minutes per mile, it will make for a very long day on the Kal-Haven trail.

Here’s the details on this walk:

And here are the details for the previous one:

The singular of dice

When I was a boy, the word dice was used in the singular. I had a book of magic tricks that emphasized that “die” was the proper singular, but nobody talked that way, so it sounded totally weird. I never, ever heard anyone use the word—until I came upon Dungeons and Dragons when I was in eighth grade or so.

In the decades since then, the word die has been completely re-normalized. In fact, I had almost forgotten that “dice” used to be universally used as singular as well as plural until coming upon this very funny fashion article about Fran Lebowitz, which is not about dice, but in which she uses the word in the singular, and I was “Oh, yeah. Everybody used to talk like that. People my age who never played Dungeons and Dragons probably still do.”

my dice box
My dice box

 

Fresh squoze orange juice

Last spring, while helping my Dad clear out our old house, we came upon the old family orange juice squeezer. I asked if I could have it, and managed (I think on my next trip) to get it home. (It’s a huge, heavy, steel contraption, from the days when things were made to last.)

Some of my very earliest memories, from before I was four years old, are of my mom using this squeezer to make my dad orange juice. They switched over to frozen concentrated orange juice when I was about that age, and I don’t think the squeezer got much use after that.

We packed up the squeezer when we packed to move, so it was unavailable all last summer. I think we used it once last fall as soon as we got it unpacked, but juice oranges are expensive compared to frozen concentrate, so we just did one bag of oranges and then put it away. This spring, though, I’ve been watching to see if juice oranges ever go on sale, which they don’t seem to do.

So, despairing of oranges on sale, I started just checking the bags themselves, and decided a couple of days ago that they looked particularly good—small, but heavy for their size—and got a bag.

The earlier times we’ve used the squeezer, it suffered from the oranges being too big. I’d figured it was just a matter of fashions in agribusiness—the squeezer is sized for the oranges in general commerce in the 1950s—but perhaps it’s also a seasonal thing. At any rate, the oranges in this bag are exactly the right size—the squeezer gets all the juice out in one go. (The bigger ones I had to squeeze, and then shift and then squeeze again.)

These oranges are also extra juicy. Before I was squeezing three or four oranges to get juice for two people, but just one orange apiece is enough with these oranges!

And, oh fresh juice is good! So much better than frozen concentrated. Better even than the “premium” not-from-concentrate juice you can buy these days in the grocery store.

If this is a seasonal thing, and not just a fluke, I’m going to be very tempted to keep getting fresh oranges all season.

oj squeezer

Jock or geek

Jackie recently expressed a concern related to my expanding interest in fitness: “We were both nerds together at Motorola, but now you seem to be turning into a jock.”

I assured her that she was mistaken, pointing out that I have no new interest in team sports, nor in spectator sports—two key markers for jocks in my mind.

But I did see how she might be concerned. I was putting a lot of time, effort, and attention into this fitness stuff. I was also writing about it and taking about it a lot. (Enough that I felt I had to move some of the writing to my Esperanto-language blog, where it would bore fewer people.)

Most recently, I’ve been looking at some Natural Movement stuff, in particular at MovNat. They have roots in the same source as parkour, but without the urban bias. They also have a broader perspective—parkour is all about getting from point A to point B, dealing with obstacles as efficiently as possible. MovNat is about rediscovering a broader range of human movement skills—not just running, jumping, climbing and balancing, but also throwing and catching and swimming and diving and fighting.

Aware of the fact that I’m in that brief phase where some new thing is all shiny and interesting, I try not to spend all my time talking about it, but I still talk about it enough to bore any ordinary person. (Jackie recently let me go in for some minutes about one of these things and then said, “You should write something about this on your Esperanto blog!”)

Yesterday, while we were out on our long walk, I was once again going on about this or that aspect of movement skills. Jackie listened patiently, then said, “I take it back. You’re not turning into a jock. You’re becoming a geek about parkour.”

We were both reassured.

Another long walk

Today was our nicest day of the year so far, and Jackie wanted to do another long walk, so that’s what we did.

It seemed kinda early for a long walk, just 4 days after our last long walk. It was also kinda soon after my little parkour adventure yesterday. But the weather was great.

I had rather expected to be too sore after yesterday’s parkour—and I had noticed in the night that my core muscles were pretty sore.

Did you know that your core muscles are critical to turning over in bed? If not, I invite you to spend an hour on quadrupedal motion, precisions, and vaults, after which (unless you’re already a highly trained traceur) I’m confident you’ll be able to observe the fact for yourself. But when I got up, I discovered that I was otherwise fine. My feet, ankles, knees and hips were all fine, as were my calves and thighs. So, if Jackie wanted to do a long walk, I was okay with that.

We did it on kind of a whim, so we didn’t have a route planned, but that was fine: We just winged it. Today was a taiji day, so we started by walking to taiji. After taiji we walked to campus, where we decided to eat at Ambar India on campus—it’s a buffet, so we wouldn’t have leftovers to deal with. Then we walked to the Nutritional Food Store, the only place we know of to get freshly ground peanut butter. Then we walked home.

It came in at just under 13 miles, but we were tired enough and sore enough to not want to walk another couple of miles around home just to hit the 15-mile mark. We’ll do that later in the month, closer to the planned time. (Instead we sat out on the patio and drank beers. It was the first day warm enough for patio sitting this year, and we enjoyed it a lot.)

Here’s the details on the walk:

Practiced with a local parkour group

I’ve been following the local University of Illinois parkour club via its facebook page since last year, but what with being busy moving and such last summer, had never gotten out to train with them until today.

I had a great time! We practiced our quadrupedal movement via a game called QM Tag, we practiced our precisions, and they taught me one vault and showed me several others.

They’re a great group—focused on their training but eager to teach me stuff, careful not to push me (or one another) to do things we’re not ready for.

I bowed out early, after a bit over an hour, but except for having skinned my knuckles in the QM Tag, I believe I escaped uninjured. I’ll definitely be back—and I’ll definitely be stepping up my own practice in the meantime. I want to do more.

Playing on the slackline

Most nice days there are some folks on the quad with a slackline—a strip of nylon webbing perhaps an inch wide pulled fairly tight between two trees. You—if you’ve got pretty good balance—can walk the line from one tree to the other. Today for the first time, I gave it a try.

My first attempts were not a success—I was able to get up on the line, but not able to balance myself without an assist, nor walk more than a step even with an assist.

I did, however, learn a lot.

The balance work I’ve done as part of my taiji practice—single-leg standing—has been very different. All my experience in taiji has been about establishing a stable base on the standing leg. If you do that, then you can do pretty much whatever you want with your arms or your other leg.

The slackline is completely different. There is no stable base, and trying to establish one is pointless. Instead, you need to just accept the fact that your base is unstable: You need to actively provide your own stability, by constantly adjusting to the constantly moving slackline under you.

I only had a few minutes to experiment before my Esperanto meeting, so I didn’t figure out the trick before it was time to move on. But I think I’ve got the intellectual part figured out. Just like a tray is balanced with your hands and arms and not with your eyes, you need to trust your feet, ankles, and legs to do what is necessary without staring at the line: the feedback via your eyes is simply not fast enough to be useful.

To attend my Esperanto meeting, I’ll be wandering through the quad most Saturday afternoons all spring, so hopefully I’ll get several more chances to play on the slackline. I expect I’ll get it figured out before summer.

Running, walking, etc.

I went for my first outdoor run of the year on Sunday. It was the first day that the paths were clear enough of ice and snow to make it possible.

Although the paths were mostly clear of ice and snow, there was a lot of melt water, flowing across the path in hundreds of rivulets. I found myself integrating into my run hundreds of small leaps, in a (partially successful) effort to keep my feet dry.

I was well aware of the leaps as I did them—I remember making a conscious effort to refrain from favoring one side over the other, trying to execute each leap with the most natural foot leading, based on my current point in my stride as I approached.

For some reason, all those leaps were not the first thing that came to mind the next day, when my calves were as sore as they have ever been. I was just sad at how much more out-of-shape I must be than I had realized, to be so crippled by a simple three-mile run. (They hurt a lot more than when I actually tore a calf muscle a couple years ago.) It was only late Tuesday, when I was heading to teach my taiji class, that I jumped over a similar stream of water in a parking lot—one calf screaming when I launched, the other screaming when I landed—that I realized that it was the leaping that had done such a number on me.

With that reassurance I felt much better, and by Wednesday my calves were feeling much better, which was good because Wednesday Jackie and I went on our first long walk of the year, part of the series of long walks we’re taking to prepare for the 33.5-mile Kal-Haven Trail walk that we’ve been meaning to take for a couple of years now. We’re quite determined that this will be the year.

For our first long walk we walked to taiji, attended our class, and then walked on to downtown Urbana and had lunch at Crane Alley (good beer). After lunch we walked back through campus. Having exceeded our planned distance (we wanted to do 10 miles and got in 11.5), we caught a bus at the south end of campus to go the rest of the way home. (The walk home from the south end of campus isn’t far, but there’s no good footpath. I think during the summer, when it’s possible to walk along the side of the farmer’s fields, it’ll be a fine walking route, but yesterday it would have been too wet and muddy.)

It was warm enough that I was able to expose my forearms to the sun!

My training plan, such as it is, covers just the long walks—we’ll include many shorter walks in our daily activity, and plenty of medium walks as well. But the long walk plan looks like this:

  • first-half March: 10 miles — done
  • second-half March: 15 miles
  • first-half April: 20 miles
  • second-half April: 26.2 miles (because why not?)
  • first-half May: 30 miles

The main event is planned for roughly June 18th, but it will depend on the exact schedule of when we go to visit my dad and what the weather looks like those days. I figure we’ll be fit enough to do a very long walk of the planned distance any time after mid-May, so that gives us a month’s cushion to allow for any glitches.

I’m kind of excited about possible medium-length walks from our new house, here south of town. All of south campus is reasonably close, including, for example, the Arboretum with its cherry trees, which should be in bloom in about a month. It might make sense to walk there several times in early April, to keep up with the progress of the cherry blossoms, and take the opportunity for both haiku and photographs.

The most obvious way to walk (starting with the exact route from south Campus that I rejected yesterday) would be about 3 miles each way, the first half along the sides of country roads. As I say, it should be an entirely satisfactory route anytime the ground isn’t too wet.

Here’s the details for Sunday’s run:

And here’s the details for Wednesday’s walk:

Like it was written just for me

If you made a short list of the things I’ve taken an interest in just lately, and then added knife-throwing to the list, you’d pretty much have the table of contents for Christopher McDougall’s new book Natural Born Heroes. It’s like he’s been following me around to see what I’ve been researching, asking about, and talking about. But, you know, not in a creepy way.

The book isn’t out for another six weeks or so, but he’s got a fascinating series of little articles and videos over at Outside Magazine’s website that hits some of the high points—parkour, lifting, standing, foraging (most of which are already tags here on my blog)—with the bonus addition of the knife throwing, which is now a tag for this post, and will get some more attention in the very near future (because how cool is that?).

The book itself is coming out in mid-April, and is available for pre-order at Amazon: Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.