Clarion 2001 poster

clarion-2001-poster-framedAll the writers who taught at my Clarion did readings at the Archives Book Shop, a local bookstore in East Lansing. To advertise the readings, the Clarion office folks printed up a poster with the names and dates. And, as one of our little perks, we each got a copy signed by all the writers (and by our special guest editor).

I’ve had this poster for more than 10 years now. I always meant to get it framed so I could hang it up, but it was one of many things that I kept not getting around to. But for some reason, this past week it suddenly seemed to be the thing to get around to next, so I did. I measured the poster, went to a local shop that sells ready-made frames in standard sizes, and picked up a frame the right size. It was just what I wanted (simple, black, wood frame), but instead of a proper hanging wire, had some crappy metal bracket for hanging the picture, so I also had to buy a kit with some screw eyes and picture hanging wire, but that was cheap.

It still took a couple of days to get it all put together—picture in frame, screw eyes in frame, wire strung between screw eyes—but now it’s done.

I’m pretty pleased. Maybe having it up will help inspire me to keep at my fiction.

Click through for a picture big enough to read all the details.

Snowy day at Kaufman Lake Park, with coyote

Jackie and I decided to celebrate the snow with a walk around Kaufman Lake park—a walk that yielded more wildlife than usual. (There are larger versions of all these pictures except the one of the coyote, which is already full-size.)
Snowy scene

This spot is just 5 minutes walk from our apartment, part of the Greenbelt Bikeway, but on the other side of the Copper Slough from Kaufman Lake.

From there, we crossed the bridge to the ring road around Kaufman Lake.crossing the snowy bridge

After crossing, we turned right and did a circuit of the lake. The only picture I didn’t take and regretted was one right there. The road around the lake is not really narrow—there’s room for 8 or 10 people to walk side-by-side—but in that spot, with the brush that lines the sides of the path in the summer having been cut back, exposing the steep slopes down to the lake on the left and the slough on the right, it looked really narrow.

We saw a lot of wildlife on this walk. There was a great blue heron on the lake that I spotted from a distance, and then saw take off as we approached. A kingfisher landed on a tree just across the slough, then took off and flew down the length of the slough, giving its distinctive chattering call.

Best of all, though, we saw a coyote! The first one I’ve seen since we moved from Philo. (Not that they were common around Philo either.)Jackie looks at coyote

You can just see the coyote there where Jackie is looking, above and just to the left of the center of the frame. It was really too far away to photograph with my little camera, but here’s the best shot of the coyote that I got:coyote

That was probably the peak of the walk, but we were only halfway around the lake at that point. We proceeded around.

I got a couple of pictures looking back across the lake. Here’s one with Jackie:Jackie looks across the frozen lake

And here’s one taken later, looking back toward the bridge through some snowy branches:bridge from across the lake

At the point where the ring road reaches the south end of the park and curves east and then back north, there’s a little picnic area. I thought it was funny to see it buried in snow:snowy picnic spot

Just before we got back to the bridge and headed home, we passed the two fishing piers near the boathouse, and I got this picture of the sign which, if I remember correct, has the daily fish catch limits:fish catch limit sign

Again, I thought it was funny covered with snow.

As we approached home, I let Jackie walk in front of me, so I could throw a snowball at her. She seemed quite outraged that I’d do something so nefarious. And I can see that it would be a surprise. I’m not sure I’ve ever thrown a snowball at her before. If I did, it was probably 20 years ago. In any case, far too long.

She retaliated, as is only appropriate.

Boring post: Fiddling around with my website

I started having odd troubles with the theme I’d been using for this website, so I thought I’d look into alternatives.

I tried quite a few, most of which had one problem or another. Among the things that made me reject themes today:

  1. Header image was completely integrated into the design, so it couldn’t be changed.
  2. There was no way to show the full text of each post on the front page.
  3. Post titles were forced to all-uppercase.
  4. A full third of the page was dedicated to showing a featured image for each post, except my posts often don’t have a featured image—in which case the theme showed a dumb icon instead.

This theme isn’t perfect either. In particular, when I use an image in a post and mark it as the featured image, it appears twice, which is usually not what I mean to have happen, but I’ll experiment for a bit and see how I like it.

Intended as a placeholder, the header image is a photo I took of plaster casts made of the Elgin Marbles. (The casts, on display at the Spurlock Museum, were made before the ill-fated cleaning attempt that so seriously damaged the originals. Scholars come from far and wide to study our plaster casts.) Now that it’s up there, I kinda like it. I may just leave it like that.

Harvesting flax

It’s hard to decide when to harvest flax. If you harvest early enough to get the finest fiber, you get no seeds. If you harvest late enough to get seeds to plant next year, you get coarse fibers.jackie harvesting flax

The books suggest various compromises. One suggested 30 days after the peak of flowering, if you mostly care about fiber, and two weeks later if you mostly care about seeds.

Flax flower

We decided to harvest half of our plants today. We think it’s early enough to get good fiber. Indeed, some of the plants are still in flower. But there are plenty of seed pods that look like they’ll be full of seeds.

flax seed pods

Depending on how things go, we’ll harvest the other half in a week or two. That may get us some more or better seeds. At least as important to me, it adds a bit of redundancy—if something goes wrong with the processing of this batch, we’ll have another batch that won’t suffer the same fate.

Jackie has suggested that we not try to save seeds to plant, but rather eat the seeds we get. (I assume she means to grind them up to use as flax-seed meal, which we do buy at the store and put in bread and such. Even if every seed pod turns out to be full to bursting with seeds, we’re only going to get a few tablespoons of flax-seed meal, but that’d be enough for several loaves.)

The first step to turn flax into linen, after growing the plants and harvesting them, is to dry them. The books suggest that you tie the stalks into bundles, then arrange the bundles into loose stacks for drying.

That’s where we are now:

sheaves of flax

Hiking at Forest Glen

jackie-looking-back
Jackie looking back along the trail.

Jackie and I went for a hike at Forest Glen today.

There was a Spinners and Weavers Guild event there, and our plan was to go early, go for a hike that would take 4 or maybe 5 hours, and then get back in time for a late lunch and a couple hours at the event.

Turns out, our timetable was a bit optimistic.

For one thing, having failed to get all packed up the night before, we left an hour later than we’d intended. Plus, getting to the venue took a bit longer than we’d planned. So, instead of starting our hike around 8:00 AM, we didn’t hit the trail until about 9:15. On top of that, our hike ended up taking a full 6 hours, instead of the 4–5 we’d planned.

Our socializing after ended up being with just the last 6 or so die-hard spinners.

jackie-hiking-up
Jackie climbing a ridge.

Still, it was a great hike. Unlike our urban walks, Forest Glen is non-flat.

It’s kind of hard to see in that picture (click through for a larger version), but Jackie is there right in the middle, hiking up the side of the ridge.

There’s not a huge amount of elevation change, but the trail makes good use of what there is. According to Endomondo, we stayed between 407 and 644 feet above sea level, and yet we managed a total ascent of 1330 feet and a total descent of 1287 feet.

There’s quite a bit of wildlife in and around Forest Glen. In trips past we’ve seen owls, several kinds of woodpeckers, turkeys, vultures, pheasants, and deer. We saw several of those this trip as well, but we also saw something that was common when I was a boy, but has been quite rare in my experience for more than twenty years: a box turtle.

box-turtle-in-forest-glen
Box turtle just off the path at Forest Glen.

Apparently the Forest Glen box turtle population has been at some risk—a few years ago, tens of box turtles were found dead, all in the same area. They’ve done quite a bit of research on what happened without a definitive result, but the best guess is that some infectious disease took them, possibly passed to many individuals when a large number of turtles were caught and then held together for a local charity event that included a turtle race.

Apparently the local organizers have agreed to drop the turtle race, as a way to protect the turtles. (The race had been held for 49 years without incident, but so many dead turtles all at once was a strong sign that there was a problem.)

A great hike, albeit a bit tiring, and some very pleasant (albeit a bit brief) socializing after. Here’s the details on Endomondo:

If you’re familiar with Forest Glen, it might look as though we hiked the backpacking trail, but we didn’t—because that would have been against the rules, which require that you register a week in advance and pay a fee. Instead, what we did is scout several segments (well, all the segments) of the backpacking trail in advance of some future hike. Before trying this trail with a backpack full of camping gear, we thought it would best to know just how rugged it was and how hard it was to follow the markings. (And it’s good that we did. Our urban walking has not quite conditioned us adequately to manage this trail safely with camping gear. We’d have almost certainly made it, but several spots would have been tough—maybe even dangerous—if we’d been carrying heavy packs. Also, we did miss one turn. By the time we’d backtracked and gotten back on the trail, we’d added a good half a mile to our total distance.)

My sore calf never hurt throughout the hike, although I could just perceive the injured spot as slightly tight, slightly tender on some of the more aggressive downhill bits of the hike.

Tomorrow will be a rest day. If today’s activities don’t produce any soreness, maybe I’ll try a short run on Monday.

Kal-Haven training walk #4

Continuing our series of long walks to prepare for a possible through hike of the Kal-Haven trail, Jackie and I walked 16.72 miles today.

We walked to the University of Illinois’s arboretum, and then on through south Urbana to Milo’s where we had lunch. Then we walked to Meadowbrook Park and along the trail that goes along the south and west edges of the park, then through married student housing to the old Motorola building (where OLLI is now) to refill our water bottles, and then on home.

Jackie has asked that I specifically mention that we got a very close look at three juvenile Stufflesbeam (the plural of Stufflebeam, which is what we call ground hogs), just on the west side of the railroad embankment where Stadium Drive crosses Neil. One in particular stood just a few feet away, eating grass with great enthusiasm, close enough to give us a great view of his little nose.

Here’s what my tablet captured via Endomondo:

Jackie and I took a couple of pictures of one another with one of our favorite sculptures. We like this sculpture for various reasons, but one is that the very first time we came upon it, suddenly and unexpectedly as we took a turn in the path, we both had the same thought—and we both knew that the other was having that thought: “Anya wouldn’t like that!”

The picture Jackie took of me is pretty good—that’s what I look like. It’s of some interest to me because we took pictures with this sculpture a few years ago, and I didn’t like the pictures of me because of my weight at the time, and there was no way to crop the picture to hide my stomach and yet keep the rabbit sculpture.

I like this one better.

phil-with-rabbit

And, although Jackie just got an ordinary good picture of me, I managed to get a great picture of Jackie.

jackie-with-rabbit

It’s a perfect picture of the Jackie I know—the Jackie I’ve been married to for 21 years.

Barefoot running—with shoes (and a ladybug)

I decided that I wanted to try barefoot running.

Of course, I didn’t want to actually run with bare feet. That seems stupid (although I suppose it’s another capability that might be worth developing, just in case circumstances arise where I might really need to run in bare feet).

No, what I wanted to do—like many people who have read Christopher McDougall‘s book Born to Run—was try running with the stride that one would use if one were barefoot.

The natural running stride, it turns out, is quite different from the walking stride. In walking, you land on your heel, then rock forward and push off with your toes. If you wear cushiony, padded running shoes, you can run like that too, but it’s not the natural way to run.

The natural running stride is easy to experience—just run in place for a few seconds. You’ll land on your forefoot, absorb the impact with the muscles of your calf and thigh, and then launch yourself off again with those same muscles.

I’ve been trying to run with more of a forefoot strike since I started running again this spring, but it’s hard to do if you’re wearing ordinary running shoes. The heel is not only all cushiony, it’s thick. That means that, unless you exaggerate your forefoot strike, you’re still going to land on your heel.

So, I went to the shoe store, meaning to try out one of the many new “minimalist” running shoes with thinner heels and less cushioning that are now on the market.

Happily, we have a great running shoe store in town called Body and Sole. After trying on three pairs of shoes with progressively less padding and structure, I tried on a really minimalist pair, which felt wonderful. I tested them in the concrete parking lot, taking a turn around the outside of the building, and then a second turn, and then a third. I told the salesman, “That first pair was fine, and I would have bought them. But this pair was the pair that made me want to keep running laps around the building.”

So, now I need to adjust to this new stride. It demands a bit more strength and endurance in the calf muscles (and no doubt in the muscles that keep the bones of the foot correctly arranged as well).

The shoes I ended up, a style called the Road Glove, are made by Merrell, which also provides an extensive website on barefoot running. They feel just like you’re barefoot, except that there’s a sole to protect your feet from sharp/hard/abrasive road hazards.

Following their advice, I just ran half a mile yesterday. I certainly feel it in my calves today. They don’t feel bad, though. Just tired and sore like I got a good workout yesterday. And my tendons and joints don’t feel sore at all.

The timing is perfect for doing a few low-mileage days. On Sunday I ran 5.25 miles for my long run (in my old shoes), so Monday and Tuesday would have been light running days anyway.

Plus, on Tuesday we went for a long bike ride. We rode to Philo and met some friends for lunch at the Philo Tavern. That’s a 28-mile round trip, which we did in an even three hours. (I wrote about an earlier bike ride to Philo in my old Clarion journal.)

Here’s us, on the road to Philo:

Cyclists on the side of the road
Me and Jackie on the road to Philo

And here’s a pretty ladybug that I noticed while we were paused to get that picture:

Roadside Ladybug

I’ve already sent that picture to the Lost Ladybug Project, which is trying to gather data on the native ladybugs, whose distribution is changing due to the importation of non-native ladybugs and climate change.

Today’s sunflowers

We went to the garden early, to harvest and water. (Right now, anything you want to do has to be done early, because of the heat.)

We took a lot of sunflowers—and these are on top of the flowers we got two days ago, and the ones from a couple days before that. We’d given away a bouquet to a woman with a garden plot near ours, and two bouquets to Jackie’s mom (one for a neighbor of hers), but we still had so many flowers that Jackie had to be quite inventive to find enough containers to use as vases, and enough places to put the vases.

So, I thought I’d take a picture of each bouquet, and then take a spin at using the blog’s ability to display galleries of images, and show off the many sunflowers currently decorating every room in our apartment. They’re not the best photographs ever, but with such a pretty subject as sunflowers, it’s possible to get nice pictures anyway. Click an image to embiggenize it.