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.

Sidewalk shoveling

As is typical for these parts, we had our biggest snowfall of the year on March first. I don’t know what the official snowfall total will be, but just eyeballing the snow right here, I’d have to say it was about 10 inches.

If the metric is clearing snow and ice off the sidewalk, Champaign-Urbana may be the least neighborly place in the world—I’ve never seen so many sidewalks left impassible as I see in virtually any neighborhood in Champaign or Urbana, the only exceptions being campus and right downtown. But local ordinance requires apartment complexes to clear their sidewalks, and Country Fair Apartments did so, promptly and thoroughly.

Here in Winfield Village the complex clears the sidewalks as well, including right up to the door for the apartment buildings—but not for townhouses. Townhouse dwellers are supposed to clear their own walk, just from the door to the main sidewalk.

My sidewalk, shoveled
My sidewalk

My sidewalk is perhaps ten paces long and a typical width for a private walk—a bit narrower than a public sidewalk. Unless there’s a lot of snow, I can shovel it clear and put down some salt in less than ten minutes.

After 20 years in which I had no sidewalk to shovel, I have to say that so far I am enjoying my tiny bit of shoveling immensely. It makes me feel connected to my neighborhood. It also adds a whole second layer of righteously smug self-satisfaction when I become annoyed at the people who can’t be bothered to clear their sidewalks. And there’s not much I enjoy more than getting a good smug on.

Sore foot

I’ve had a slightly sore foot for a while now.

It hasn’t been a big deal. It doesn’t hurt when I run. It doesn’t hurt when I walk (except sometimes when I walk really fast). It doesn’t hurt when I stand, or when I’m just sitting.

Mostly it hurts when I use my foot as a brace to turn or twist, such as when I brace the side of my foot against the mattress to turn over in bed. Sometimes it hurts when I’m standing on my other foot, and touch just the toe of the sore one down to catch my balance.

It sometimes hurts for the first few minutes right after I get up in the morning, kind of like plantar fasciitis, but a different part of my foot: the medial edge, just posterior to the ball of the foot.

Even then, it doesn’t hurt much.

However, it has been persistently hurting occasionally, just a little, for a long time now. Months.

I had been doing basic, conservative care. I was wearing supportive shoes, avoiding things that hurt it as best I could, and figuring it would eventually get better. But it hasn’t.

So, a couple days ago, I decided to step it up a notch: I decided to treat it with a placebo. (The effectiveness of placebos is well-established. They’re effective even when people know that the treatment is a placebo.)

My initial plan had been to add in some sort of cream or ointment. I thought of something like Aspercreme, but it doesn’t hurt enough to justify the use of even a mild analgesic, so I thought I’d get something like Bengay or IcyHot: just some sort of counter-irritant that would make it clear that I was “doing something” to treat my foot. Then I saw Walter Jon Williams’s recent post on Tiger Balm, and knew that I’d found the right stuff.

Jackie discovered Tiger Balm several decades ago, during her travels in Asia, and it has long been a staple item in our medicine cabinet, but we’d let ourselves run out in the run-up to our several moves, so we didn’t have any. Fortunately, the closest store to our townhouse is a CVS, and they had two varieties of Tiger Balm in stock. They seemed almost identical (a one-percentage point difference in menthol), but the one they were marketing as their “ultra strength” “sports rub” was $1 cheaper, so we got that one.

I’ve been using it for two days now, and I’m imaging that my foot is feeling better.

Perhaps because I’m finally doing something about my foot, I also remembered something else. For years now I’ve been wearing a pair of slip-on Birkinstocks as slippers. I started wearing them when I first got plantar fasciitis, and found that it was crucial to never go barefoot on our hardwood floors. Along with other supportive footwear, they solved the problem.

Usually I only wore them indoors, but very occasionally I’d wear them outdoors for very short trips—if I was only going as far as the mailbox, for instance. One or two summers ago, I tried to wear them for a walk around the block, and found that they really hurt the joint at the base of my big toe. I couldn’t make it even as far as around the block—I had to turn back and hobble home.

They never hurt my foot when I just wore them around the house, which I continued to do.

But now that I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that maybe they were hurting my foot, just not enough to notice unless I did something out of the ordinary.

Since the plantar fasciitis hasn’t bothered me since I started doing taiji, I decided to retire the slip-on Birkinstocks.

I’m also adding some calf-stretching, as well as some calf and shin strengthening activities.

I suspect some combination of those activities will do the trick. But just in case, I’m also rubbing some Tiger Balm two or three times a day into the side of that foot, from ball back almost to the heel.

I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and by the way—the main reason I haven’t been posting much here is that I’ve been posting most of my exercise-related stuff on my Esperanto language blog, mostly as a way to improve my grasp of the exercise-related vocabulary (which is surprisingly poorly developed in Esperanto). I have a sense that most of my friends and relations have heard about all they want to about my exercise and fitness. And what better way to make sure almost nobody is bothered by my yammering on about it than to do so in a language almost nobody speaks?