Writing in 2018

My writing this year ticked along at a low level, so low I was almost tempted not to bother reporting on it.

I continued to work on fiction by fits and starts, but I don’t think I finished a single story.

I want to be sure to thank Elizabeth Shack whose Thursday evening writing group, even though I didn’t make it as often as I meant too, still got me writing more than I otherwise would have. (It’s not a critique group at all. It’s a way to make writing a little bit less of a solitary activity. We gather in a coffee shop and spend a couple hours quietly working on our own stuff, with a few minutes of conversation at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. It’s all very companionable and I miss it when I don’t go.)

I can’t even say I’m disappointed in myself for not writing more (which I used to be): Every day I get up and do exactly what I want all day. Sometimes that’s writing, and when I write I really enjoy it. Other days it’s something else, which I usually enjoy as well.

I used to put a lot of effort into arranging my life with writing in mind—making sure I had large blocks of time to write, making sure I had time to write every day, making sure I could get started writing early in the day. I think that worked after a fashion, perhaps more so for the non-fiction than the fiction, but I have largely given up on fussing about that stuff.

Along about the middle of the year I got email from the admins at Wise Bread saying that they were “switching gears” and would “no longer be commissioning articles” as they had been.

Once again, I’m not really disappointed. I was much more suited to their old model where I wrote whatever I wanted and then posted it. There were good reasons for them to hire editors—and the editors they got were great—but the way you have to work when you have an editor didn’t suit the way I wrote. (If I wanted to pitch stories and work on deadline I could make a lot more money writing for magazines.)

Before that shift I did publish two stories at Wise Bread:

I also did a ground-up rewrite of my old post “Treasury Bills for Ordinary Folks,” which they published under the old URL but with inexplicable title Why Treasury Bills Are Always a Worthwhile Investment. (I say inexplicable because the whole reason it was worth a rewrite is that, after 10 years during which Treasury Bills were a terrible investment, they were were finally once again paying a competitive rate.)

I have one more post that they bought, but which hasn’t gone live yet. They say it’s currently scheduled for early January, so I guess I’ll be able to include a Wise Bread section in my 2019 end-of-year post as well!

One place I have been writing pretty actively is here on this blog. A quick count just now found 67 posts published in 2018, and I may post another one or two before this post goes live.

Some of that number are trivial status posts—for which I have the glimmerings of plan. I’d like to post everything which goes to social media here first, and then share it on social media. Working out the logistics has proven problematic, which gets me discouraged. (My glimmers of a plan involve my microblog at micro.blog, but I don’t quite have everything working yet.) When I get discouraged, I go ahead and post stuff on social media—but almost always I end up regretting it. That’s when there’s another small flurry of status posts here.

Besides those, there are plenty of more substantial posts here as well. Since you’re here reading this, I assume you don’t need me to link to those.

Wild-caught salmon from Sitka

Shortly before the solstice we happened upon a woman at the farmers market selling CSA-style shares in the output a collective of small Alaskan fishing boats, and bought their package that will give us salmon (and other Alaskan fish) in May, June, July, and August.

Part of the deal was getting their “holiday gift box” for free. That box, with two kinds of salmon, a generous amount of cod, some spice mixtures, and some recipes, arrived (frozen and packed with dry ice) in time for a solstice feast, but we had our various feasts for the solstice period already planned, so we initially just put our salmon in the freezer.

Now that our planned solstice and related holiday feasting is done, yesterday I decided to go ahead and cook one of the big pieces of salmon from our holiday box.

More or less at random, I pulled a piece of coho salmon from the freezer. (I wanted salmon, since that’s what the whole thing is all about. We’ll eat the cod in due course.) The holiday box came with some spice mixtures, but today I used a recipe from Mark Bittman called 4-spice salmon that Jackie found a while ago.

It turned out really well. I served it with some Uncle Phil’s long-grain and wild rice (easy to make, as long as you remember to start the wild rice an hour before time to start the long-grain rice).

I neglected to take a picture until I was half done eating, but you can still see how it came out in the photo above. We actually only ate 4/5ths of what I cooked. We saved the biggest 5th to go on a chef’s salad today.

If you really like salmon, and can afford to invest a bit up-front to get a steady supply, and you live in the Midwest, you might want to seriously consider Sitka Salmon Shares. We’ve only had one meal so far, but it was yummy. I’m really looking forward to substantially upping the amount of wild-caught salmon in our diet this coming year.

Minimalist wallet in use

I have shifted (most of) my wallet contents into a new minimalist wallet.

After seriously considering the Ion minimalist wallet, I ended up going with the Travelambo minimalist wallet. It was one-sixth the cost—cheap enough that I figured I could try it as an experiment, even if I ended up not liking it.

Mainly, though, I went with it because it has a transparent window for an ID card on the outside of the wallet. I flash my i-card as a bus pass multiple times per week, and up to now I’ve had to open up my wallet every time to display the card.

I’m looking forward to not having to do that just to catch the bus.

ID-window side of new wallet

I think I like it. I’ve had to eject three of the cards I’d been carrying (AAA, AARP, FOID), but I haven’t needed to show any of them in a long time (and I have the AAA card on my phone if necessary). My library card and health insurance card are in the pocket behind my ID cards. My credit cards are in pockets on the other side:

Credit-card side of new wallet

So far it’s been pretty satisfactory. I’ll update if I end up being especially delighted or disappointed.

Red bridge detention area

Jackie and I went for a hike at Lake of the Woods yesterday. One thing I particularly wanted to do was get a new photo of the red bridge in the Japanese garden area, and use it to illustrate an Esperanto-language haiku.

We parked outside the Museum of the Grand Prairie, and walked around back, through the botanical garden, to where the Japanese garden was, only to find that it is currently being renovated. The red bridge is there, but seems to be under detention for some reason:

Red Bridge Detention Area

And it wasn’t the only thing in detention. There was another big detention area seemingly devoted to landscaping elements of various sorts. I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but among them were these rocks:

Landscaping rock detention are

We escaped the detention area without being detained ourselves and walked a ways along the bike path, only to come upon the red bridge’s big brother:

I’m suspecting plans underway to mount a prison break, but you didn’t hear it from me.

At about this point Jackie checked out the map for the Lake of the Woods, which suggested that, aside from the bike path (which is paved), there aren’t very many paths on that side of the forest preserve. And reminded me that she particularly wanted to walk on some non-paved paths that day.

So we turned around, spent a few minutes walking on the (unpaved) path in the Rayburn-Purnell Woods, then crossed the road to walk in the Buffalo Trace Prairie. It has lots of (unpaved) paths, with signage suggesting ways to arrange your walk to add up to a variety of distances, up to 5 miles. We just hiked the main loop around the perimeter of the prairie, to cover 2.6 miles.

One the trail we met a cute li’l pupper who was momentarily standoffish, but when we and the owner paused to converse for a minute, the dog decided we must be okay, and trotted up for pets from me and then from Jackie.

The image at the top is of a circle of standing stones at the edge of the botanical garden. While admitting that I did not check, I do not think they are sun-aligned.

My insurance company can’t quite get my healthcare.gov application processed in time to bill me before the end of the year. But the law only guarantees coverage if I make the first payment before the end of the year. So every year I have to track down the amount and scramble to make a payment despite not having a bill.

But now I have done so for next year. Phew.

Finished reading: Past Tense by Lee Child, ISBN: 9780399593512

Finished reading: Past Tense by Lee Child, ISBN: 9780399593512

Finished reading: Port of Shadows by Glen Cook, ISBN: 9781250174574

Finished reading: Port of Shadows by Glen Cook, ISBN: 9781250174574

Weird (horrifying) study of human movement

A couple of weeks ago the New York Times linked to a new study on age-related declines in human movement. It’s an odd study, but not because of the result (which shows that children start moving less at age 6), because that seems entirely predictable to me, despite the general understanding previously having been that the decline started in adolescence.

Rather, what makes the study seem odd to me is the weird blind spot the researchers seem to have about when and how organisms (including humans) choose to move.

In the study itself the researchers make clear that they had considered the obvious presumption—that kids start moving less when they start going to school: “The overt explanation for this earlier decline could be the increased sitting times due to school.”

The  blind spot I’m talking about is presented in the next sentence, where they immediately qualified that:

However, time-specific analysis of [physical activity] has revealed that in addition to the increased [sedentary behavior] during school hours, there was also a distinct decline on weekends, out-of-school days, and during lunchtime.

Schwarzfischer P, Gruszfeld D, Stolarczyk A, et al. Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior From 6 to 11 Years.Pediatrics. 2019;143(1):e20180994

What’s weird and horrifying is that they make that statement seemingly without it occurring to them that forcing children to sit still for hours on 5/7ths of the days of the week might affect their behavior on the other 2/7ths of the days.

Right off the top of my head I can think of four obvious reasons that would be true:

  1. The required behavior in school normalizes the behavior of extended sitting.
  2. Even a few weeks of enforced extended sitting will result in the kids becoming deconditioned aerobically, making physical activity more difficult and less appealing.
  3. Extended periods spent in any static posture—especially the static posture of sitting—will begin the process of reducing their range of motion (they’ll pretty quickly lose the ability to squat, for example), again making physical activity more difficult and less appealing.
  4. The addition of “physical education” to the kids’ daily schedule sets the pattern of replacing movement with exercise—a time-bound, regimented activity which attempts to pack the health benefits of a week’s worth of movement into just a few hours. (I’ve written about this before.)

Just one instance of this blind spot is bad enough, but it shows up again in in a key reference. The researchers say that it is accepted that physical activity declines with age: “A natural and biologically determined decline of total [physical activity] throughout the life span seems likely.” They support that assertion with a couple of references, one of which looks specifically at movement in non-human animals.

Unfortunately that study (Ingram, D. K. Age-related decline in physical activity: generalization to nonhumans. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 9, pp. 1623-1629, 2000, which is sadly behind a pay-wall.) has exactly the same blind spot: All the animals studied were captive animals. That study looked at how animal movement varies when an animal is moved from its “home cage” to some other cage. I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised the behavior of those captive animals closely resembles the behavior of children moved from home to school and back again.

I would be very interested in studies that included some free-range animals. (Which isn’t something I can do, but which seems at least possible now that accelerometers  are cheap.)

Of course school isn’t the only factor that inhibits children from moving more. The restrictions on self-directed play so well documented by Lenore Skenazy of Let Grow no doubt feed in as well.

So it would be great if there were studies of movement in free-range kids as well.

The final weird and horrifying thing isn’t anything new, but is something I hadn’t really been aware of before: The assumption that an age-related reduction in movement is “natural and biologically determined,” has led directly to public policies that normalize it:

This decline is also represented in recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO): preschool-aged children should accumulate a minimum of 180 minutes per day of total [physical activity], children and adolescents (4–17 years old) at least 60 minutes per day, and adults only a minimum of 30 minutes per day in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

To which I say, “Argh!”

I probably wouldn’t be so struck by this if I weren’t already tracking my own movement. (Cheap accelerometers again.)

For some time now I’ve been working to a goal of 105 minutes of movement per day, and over the last few weeks I’ve come pretty close, averaging just over 102 minutes of movement per day, according to Google Fit. (This number, based primarily on steps, somewhat underestimates my movement. In particular it gives me almost no credit for the time I spend teaching taiji, because although there’s plenty of movement, there’s not much stepping.)

The WHO recommendations make me strongly motivated to upgrade my goal for movement to 180 minutes per day.

Why should kids under 6 get all the fun?

(The image at the top is topical only in that it is is a photo from our afternoon walk yesterday.)