The vitamin D window has closed

Me in the Snow
Me in the snow. Photo by Jackie Brewer.

Seven or eight years ago, I became aware of research that suggested that vitamin D deficiencies were a possible cause of seasonal depression. As I have long suffered (albeit mildly) from SAD, I figured it was worth trying a vitamin D supplement, and it did seem to help.

I worry just a bit about taking a supplement, because there are dangers with excessive doses of vitamin D. (A random site on the web suggests that doses over about 10,000 IU per day are dangerous, if continued for a period of months.)

So, I prefer to get my vitamin D via sunlight. A pale-skinned person like me can make upwards of 10,000 IU of vitamin D in just a few minutes of mid-day summer sun—but there’s no danger of getting an overdose: your skin keeps making it as long as you’re in the sun, but once saturated with an optimal amount, it starts un-making it as fast as it makes it.

But it’s the UVB light in the sun that makes the vitamin D, and at my latitude (I live at almost exactly 40° north), little or no UVB gets through the atmosphere during the winter. Specifically, the vitamin D window closed this year on November 20th. It’ll open again on January 20th—although of course it’ll be too cold to expose much skin to the sun for a month or two after that.

This past summer, I spent more time in the sun than in years past, and found that it made me feel especially good—like the opposite of seasonal depression. I imagine it’s the extra vitamin D, although I don’t see any way to tweeze evidence for that hypothesis out from the many other possible reasons. Perhaps it was just more bright light (as opposed to the UVB in particular)—surely the sun is the world’s best light box. Perhaps it was just being more active (I tend to get my sun walking or running, not sitting or lying in the sun). Perhaps it was the endocannabinoids produced during the longer runs in particular. Perhaps it was more time in nature (I spend a lot of my outdoor time walking or running in our local prairie and woods), which is known to be good for the mood. Perhaps it was the extra “together time” Jackie and I got on our very long walks. Perhaps it was the solitude of walks and runs by myself, providing space for meditation.

Whatever it was, I miss it in the winter, and I fixate on a vitamin D deficiency as a possible culprit. Maybe I’ll up my supplement dose. Of course, I won’t do just that. I’ll use my Happy Light™. I’ll go for long walks in the cold and snow. I’ll get out in the prairie and the woods. I’ll try to cover all the possibilities. But I’ll keep taking my vitamin D.

More Flickring

I’ve been putting my photos on Flickr for years now—my first photos were uploaded in 2004. I didn’t upload all my photos, just the ones I particularly wanted to share. (In those days, you had to pay for a Pro account to share more than 200 photos. By uploading only occasionally, I stayed under that limit almost until it was lifted.)

More recently, I configured my phone to upload all the photos I take with it to Flickr, but to make uploads private until I go and publish them. I don’t do that for privacy or security. (I figure once a photo is uploaded, it’s effectively public anyway.) I do it this way so that my photostream is a list of photos that I’ve chosen to share, rather than just all my photos.

I think I once had a “Flickr badge” with some of my photos on the sidebar of my blog, but it seems to have gone away at some point. I forget whether there was some technical reason, or if it just got lost when I changed themes or something. In any case, I once again have a widget on the sidebar, showing my most recent shares to Flickr.

It’s pretty far down on the sidebar. In case it’s too far to scroll down, here my most recent Flickr photos, as of this morning:

Preying Mantis

Prairie path in fall

Wooly bear

Jackie weaving squares

Prairie sunset


Hill repeats, wall traverse, brachiating

I ran 7.73 miles a few days ago. As best I can tell from my fragmented records, that’s my second-longest run ever, after an 8-mile run I did in 2004 while getting in shape to do the Lake Mingo Trail run that year.

In an email discussion, my friend Chuck lamented that he wasn’t currently in shape to match my feat, blaming part of his circumstance on trying to add mileage too quickly, leading to hurting himself. Looking at my running log, I was surprised to see how few runs I’ve taken this summer—I’m really just averaging about one run a week. I knew in theory that long walks would replace runs to a certain extent, in building and maintaining the fitness needed to go for long runs, but am surprised it replaces them to this extent.

One thing I don’t get enough of around here is hill climbing—it’s just too flat. However, there is one reasonably large hill close to me, in Colbert Park.

The hill at Colbert Park
The hill at Colbert Park

I’ve long wanted to do hill repeats here—run up the hill hard, recover while jogging back down, and repeat. But it’s just far enough from home that on my previous runs to the park, I didn’t manage to do repeats—just up the hill, back down, and then home again.

Today, though, I did five runs up the hill.

Both to and from, I pass Prairie Fields Park, which has a pretty good playground, including a climbing wall.

Playground climbing wall and Prairie Fields Park
Playground climbing wall and Prairie Fields Park

On the way to the park, I paused to do a short wall-traverse, just working my way around the corner there. After I did it, though, I realized that I’d cheated—I’d climbed up to where I could use the top of the wall as a handhold, which made it too easy. So, after my hill repeats, I returned here and did it again, this time avoiding using the top of the wall. I worked my way around the corner okay, but found myself stymied when I wanted to traverse the next segment, where there’s a gap in the bottom. I’ll have to try that again next time.

Back in Winfield Village, I visited one of our playgrounds, where there’s some bars set up for brachiating.

Bars for brachiating at Winfield Village playground
Bars for brachiating at Winfield Village playground

I’ve been working up to being able to swing from bar to bar, but had imagined that I’d need to be able to hang from one hand to be able to do it. Turns out, to swing from one hand to the next you only need to be able to hang from one hand for a moment, and I can already do that. I went from the ladder to the platform, turned around and went back about two bars, but didn’t make it all the way to the ladder. Next time, or maybe the time after.

From a different playground, the one right behind our townhouse, I practiced jumping down, first from a lowish level, about two steps up, and then from slightly higher, about three steps up.

All in all a very satisfactory morning of movement. Plus, in the afternoon, we got in a bit of a walk with Jackie’s mom in downtown Champaign.

Here’s the view from the top of the hill at Colbert Park. It looks like there’s yet another playground going in there as well!

Looking back down the hill
Looking back down the hill

Views from a run

I used to feel that it was very important to maintain a steady effort during a run. (I would always note in my log if I’d had to walk for a bit.) I’ve completely gotten over that idea. I no longer hesitate to walk or stop for any number of reasons.

Partly it’s that I rarely have to slow to a walk because I’m out of breath—something that was a common occurrence when I was so out of shape. Now I slow down or stop for other reasons—if I step wrong and get a twinge in an ankle or a knee, to traverse a challenging bit of trail with care, to hack an Ingress portal. Or, as I did at several points today, to take a photo.

The run I’ve taken most often since I moved to Winfield Village makes three passes through this prairie:

Prairie Sunflowers on the middle path at the Lake Park Prairie Restoration
Prairie Sunflowers on the middle path at the Lake Park Prairie Restoration

Just a few yards from where I took that picture, I saw this handsome zothie:


After that I cross the ditch that separates Winfield Village from the subdivisions south of us, and run in the Lake Park forest. Today, just after crossing the weir, I saw this little snapping turtle:

snapping turtle
Snapping turtle just south of the weir over the ditch just south of Winfield Village

At the southeast corner of the forest, there’s a patch of thistle. I tried to get a picture of a thistle flower, without much success. This picture of the patch as a whole does a pretty good job of capturing the purple flowers and the reddish grass that was growing with them:

thistle patch in forest
Thistle patch at the southeast corner of the Lake Park forest

So, there you go—views from a run.

It’s a bit over three miles (including a second pass through the prairie after the out-and-back in the forest). With the picture-taking, it took just shy of an hour, giving me an average pace of 18:26. A pretty slow run, but speedy enough picture-taking, and a whole lot of fun.

Dayhiking the Kal-Haven Trail

Two years we trained for this particular very long walk, without getting it together to make the trip to Kalamazoo during the few summer weeks when the days are long enough to through-hike the Kal-Haven Trail in a day. This year we made it happen.

At the trailheadWe meant to be at the trailhead by dawn which was 6:05 AM, but breakfast and final checking of gear took a little longer than we’d hoped. It was almost one hour later when we posed for pictures in front of the sign. We were walking just a few minutes later. Jackie started Endomondo at 7:06.

My brother, Steven Brewer, had offered to drive support, and did a great job. He drove us to the trailhead, met us at four or five points along the way to provide fresh, cold bottles of water, laid out a sumptuous, bounteous feast for lunch, and took pictures along the way. (He has written his own account of the walk.)

We made excellent time through the morning, clocking out a whole series of sub-18-minute miles, and reached Gobles a few minutes before noon.

The crushed limestone surface was great—smooth, level, hard enough for efficient walking, gentler than concrete. (There was one stretch in Bloomingdale that had been resurfaced with asphalt, which was much harder on the feet.)

photo_18363558004_oThere was one downside to the surface, though. Almost as it it were designed that way, my tread caught the limestone and pitched it forwards into my boots. I had to stop every few miles and shake a teaspoon of limestone grit out of my boots.

Still great for walking on, and kinda pretty.

I had made sandwiches, and Steven had gotten all sorts of stuff to go with them—german potato salad, red bananas, hummus, flat bread, raspberries, raw veggies, and brownies for desert.

Trailside FeastBehold our awesome lunch, served trailside, complete with cloth napkins.

It took some minutes to loosen up after we got started going again, but we were almost matching our pace, carrying on with sub-20-minute miles right along until we hit mile 25.

I was still feeling pretty good then. We had slowed down a bit, but as we passed mile 27, I tweeted, “Has blown through marathon distance and is pressing for 33.5 miles. South Haven here we come!”

Pretty much just about then, though, I started dragging a bit. We had walked farther than we’ve ever walked before, and the last few miles were tough.

We pressed on, walking at perhaps a 22-minute pace. Jackie held up better than I did, as you can perhaps tell from this picture, taken very close to the end of the trail. Steven had suggested that we smile, and both Jackie and I did our best:

Approaching South HavenAt that point it was merely a matter of trudging on. We wrapped up at 33.41 miles as measured by Endomondo, and Steven popped us into the car and drove us to the restaurant for a celebratory feast.

At about that point, my body seemed to have lost the ability to thermoregulate—I was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering in the slightly cool air of the South Haven evening.

Jackie wrapped her arms around me to keep me warm, and Steven got this picture as well:

18964591362_299df20f06_oAfter a good night’s sleep, a big breakfast, and a nap after lunch, I think we’re all largely recovered. I stiffen up a bit if I sit still, but am not really even very sore. In the morning we got out to play Ingress, and I was able to walk around pretty much as usual. I’ll take at least one more day off before I go for a run, but basically I feel fine.

We have no plans for even longer walks, but we’ll certainly keep walking, perhaps expanding to multi-day through-hikes of the sort where your gear is schlepped for you from B&B to B&B.

It was a great experience!

Rediscovering quadrupedal movement

I don’t know when I quit crawling. Probably around first grade. I’m not sure why, either. Because it was something babies did, and I was grown up, I expect.

I don’t remember my parents trying to get me to quit crawling, but I’ve seen other parents try to convince their children to stay off the ground, in the interests of either propriety or cleanliness.

At any rate, most people who crawled all the time before they were five years old have so completely lost the habit it doesn’t even occur to them as a possible way to get under or through something.

When I trained with the local parkour group, the first thing the group practiced was quadrupedal movement—crawling on hands and feet.

After that practice session, I added quadrupedal movement to my own practice, and the first time I went out to do it, Jackie decided to come with me.

(It happened like this: I told Jackie I was going to go play in the woods. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Crawl and roll on the ground,” I said. “Can I come?”)

We did some rolling, both just rolling sideways and shoulder rolls. We also did some crawling, both prone (bear crawl) and supine (crab crawl).

The actual amount of time spent crawling was pretty small—I doubt if it added up to as much as 5 minutes—but it turned out to be a surprisingly successful bit of practice, because just in the week since then, it has usefully informed the way we dealt with obstacles repeatedly.

The first time was last week at Fox Ridge State Park. At one point the trail was blocked by some fallen trees. There was more than one trunk, making the geometry a bit complex for climbing over. There was enough space underneath the bottom trunk that it would almost have been possible to just do a “step under” move, except we were wearing packs, meaning that we needed another eight or ten inches of clearance.

If I hadn’t just practiced crawling, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that the easiest way to get under the trunks was to crawl on my hands and feet. We’d probably have done something complex, like both take our packs off, have me step under the barrier, handed both packs through (or over), and then have Jackie follow under the barrier.

With the recent reminder that crawling is simple and effective, that’s what we did. I tried to step under, found that there wasn’t clearance for my pack, so crouched down further, put my hands on the ground, and crawled on through. Took about five seconds. Got my hands a little dirty. Worked great.

Yesterday we hiked the backpacking trail at Forest Glen, which presented a problem for which supine crawling made an excellent solution.

steep pathIt’s hard to capture the steepness of this bit of trail in a photo. Not only was the trail steep, it was also wet, and the mud was slippery.

Jackie went down first, and quickly found that the combination of steep and slippery made it too dangerous to attempt to go down bipedally. She dropped down and did an inverted foot-hand crawl (aka supine crawl or crab crawl). It made for a quick, efficient, safe way down the steep bit in the path.

I followed behind, just the same way.

Rediscover quadrupedal movement. Besides being a way to get under or through something, it’s also very stable—perfect for dealing with loose, rugged, steep, uneven, or slippery ground.

Eating at the dining table

For various reasons, having to do with trivialities like the layout of our old apartment, Jackie and I had gotten into the habit of dining in the living room, often in front of the TV.

At each of the places we’ve lived since then, the layout was more conducive to dining at the table. Our summer place had a kitchen table in the kitchen, and we took nearly all of our meals there. In our winter palace, we put our dining table in the area of the living room that was obviously intended to be the dining area—closest to the kitchen, with a lamp over the spot for the table—and continued to eat at the table (even though much of the space was occupied by boxes).

tie-dye-tableclothHere at Winfield Village, we have very nearly a full-fledged dining room, complete with a sliding glass door to the patio.

Although we’ve pressed a good bit of it into service as a pantry, there’s plenty of room for our little dining table, and we’ve continued to eat at the table.

Our old tablecloths had held up pretty well because they got little use, but now that we were using them all the time, Jackie wanted some new ones. She made one from a lovely piece of batik cloth that I’d brought home from a business trip to Singapore, which I declared probably the best tablecloth in the western hemisphere—until Jackie took some heavy muslin (that we’d previously used as a dropcloth to protect furniture against the depredations of the cat at our sublet), cut it to size, and dyed it some lovely spring colors.

After years of lazy, uncouth behavior, we are feeling very civilized.

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:

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:

Philip Brewer at Turkey Run State Park (photo by Jackie Brewer)

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

Jackie Brewer at Turkey Run

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.