Prairie burn

They burned the prairie behind Winfield Village this afternoon. While I was out for a run, I got some pictures:

 

Running with the hawks

All last year I ran less than in recent years. Initially it was simply because of all the walking to prepare for our big hike. A very long walk takes a very long time, so it was harder to fit in runs. Plus, I learned the hard way that after a very long walk I’m prone to injure myself if I try to run too soon.

I didn’t want to quit running. I enjoy running, and I want to be able to run, both of which seem like good reasons to run. So what I did was drop most of my short and medium runs in favor of walks, but keep the (ideally) weekly long run.

Over the winter I haven’t been getting my long runs in weekly. I’ve just been running when the weather made it seem like it would be fun, which has worked out to just a couple of times a month.

Yesterday was one of those times.

Fairly often I see wildlife when I’m out running in the woods and prairie near Winfield Village. Unless it’s a turtle, I don’t usually manage to get a picture, but yesterday there was a hawk on a branch directly over the trail, and he sat there long enough that I did mange to get a photo (at the top of the post).

Of course, it’s almost pointless to take a picture of a bird unless you have a very long lens, but here’s the photo anyway—zoomed in enough that you can tell that I actually did see a hawk.

zoomed hawk

Barefoot walking (and a little running)

A couple of years ago, I switched to “barefoot” running—with those quote marks there because I was not actually running with bare feet. Rather, I changed my stride, trying to match the stride of someone who was barefoot, landing on the forefoot rather than the heel.

I bought two pairs of minimalist running shoes (Road Glove and Trail Glove, both by Merrell), both featuring thin, flexible soles with zero drop (that is, the sole was the same thickness from the heel to the toe).

The changed stride demanded a lot more strength and endurance in my calf muscles, which took most of the summer to develop, but it felt natural right from the start. In my third summer of “barefoot” running, I’ve had no hint of running injuries, while hitting distance benchmarks that I haven’t hit in years.

However, my ongoing explorations of natural movement have convinced me that walking and running with actually bare feet probably offer some advantages.

The interwebs are full of advocates of barefoot walking and barefoot running, and frankly they’re kind of scary. They tend to be hugely invested in the idea that everybody who wears shoes is totally missing the boat. Their articles on the subject are full of references to the number of bones in your feet (26) and the number of joints (33), with the point being that there are extensive structures in your foot to deal with the challenges of walking on uneven surfaces. Wear shoes all the time, and those structures lose that capacity. The joints adapt to scarcely bending, the small muscles in the foot adapt to the tiny range of motion available inside a shoe. These things are arguably bad, even if the tone of the barefoot advocates sometimes seems a bit overwrought.

I started walking outside with bare feet some time in the late spring. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember going easy on the barefoot walking in the couple of weeks leading up to our big hike, so we must have already been doing it by early June. (My concern was that even a very minor injury—stepping on a thorn, bruising my foot on a rock, stubbing my toe—might be enough to keep me from being able to walk 33 miles.)

Once the big hike was over, I resumed my program of gradually increasing my barefoot walking, first just around the block that includes our townhouse, then more broadly in Winfield Village, then to nearby parks and natural areas.

And somewhere along the way, I started to understand the fervor of those barefoot advocates. Walking barefoot is a transformative experience, in a way that’s hard to make sense of if you only walk in shoes.

First of all, it brought back memories of being a little boy. I spent as much time as possible barefoot as a boy, and (because my parents thought that was fine) that ended up being a whole lot of time. Crossing the parking lots here in Winfield Village—walking on the small bits of grit and gravel that accumulate anywhere cars drive—hurt my feet in exactly the same way they hurt each spring the first few times I crossed Huron Street at the beginning of barefoot season when I was a boy. Crossing blacktop that’s been baking under a hot sun is another pain that’s as fresh in memory as it is distant in years. So is stepping on a thistle. Those things—and the wonderful feeling of stepping from hot asphalt into cool grass—were all things I’d not thought of in 40 years.

Second, the adaptations to walking barefoot are different than I’d imagined them being. Somehow I had the idea that I’d “toughen up” the soles of my feet, and that would protect them from pointy rocks and such. That is happening, but it turns out to be the least important part of adapting. Much more important is recovering enough range of motion in those 33 joints to allow the foot to conform to an uneven surface. Experiencing that process—feeling joints in my feet move in ways that they haven’t moved in decades—has been fascinating.

Third, paying some extra attention to my feet has made me notice that I don’t have nearly as much control over my feet (and especially my toes) as I ought to. For example, although I can raise or lower my big toe independent of the other four, I can only just barely move the other four as anything other than a group. My toes don’t bend back far enough for me to be able to transition from a deep knee bend to kneeling. (This is something that was noticed by instructors a couple of different times when I was studying a martial art of the sort that involve kicking, but the observation never came with a plan for how to improve my toe flexibility.) They’re also quite inflexible bending forward.

Bare feet on the concrete weir in the ditch behind Winfield Village.

Fourth, bare feet are more stable. I mentioned in an earlier post that crossing the weir behind Winfield Village was challenging. I’ve been practicing, and have gotten pretty good at it in both hiking boots and in my minimalist running shoes, but it sure is easier in bare feet.

The adaptations to barefoot walking are taking longer than I remember them taking when I was a boy—or maybe they aren’t. I mean, it probably took me two or three years to go from crawling to being a toddler, to running around the yard barefoot, to being able to walk across the street barefoot. Perhaps now, after 40 years of virtually never going outdoors with barefeet, I should not be surprised if it ends up taking two or three years once again.

Finally, today, three years after switching to “barefoot” running, I actually tried barefoot running. I didn’t run very fast or very far—I spent 33 minutes to go about a mile. I walked parts of the path, as well as stopping to take pictures, and to exercise my squats briefly on the other side of the weir. Even with the caveats: barefoot running.

Oh—I also saw a Great blue heron, and got some nice pictures of the prairie. Here’s one:

our prairie 2

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:

Zothie
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.

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.

Achievement unlocked: Marathon distance

Over the past three years, Jackie and I have done a lot of walks where the distance came in at around 20 miles, but we’d never actually reached 26.2. Yesterday we did.

In many ways, this was just another training walk for our planned Kal-Haven trail walk—which is why we hadn’t hit this distance before: We’re much more concerned with not hurting ourselves before the big walk than we are with hitting any arbitrary distance in advance.

Still, I’m glad to have finally walked 26.2 miles, because now I don’t have to feel like an imposter when I wear my rain jacket:

me-in-marathon-rain-jacket
Me in my marathon rain jacket. Photo by Jackie Brewer.

I got this jacket long ago—at least 15 years ago, maybe longer. I remember finding a gore tex rain jacket in the Sierra Trading Post catalog at about an 80% discount. I think it was so cheap mostly because it doesn’t have a hood, which is a deficiency for a rain jacket, but the large marathon graphic on the back may also have put off some people who were not marathoners.

I snapped one up immediately. Only after I had secured mine did I share the catalog with a friend at work who I thought would also be pleased with a cheap gore tex jacket. (He bought one too. For years we were occasional twinsies on warm rainy days.)

All these years it has been my main rain jacket, and all that time I’ve been just a little uncomfortable wearing a jacket so prominently marked as being for marathoners. Now, finally, I can quit worrying about it.

We were walking rather than running, so we were on the road a long time—almost ten and a half hours. (The people who win marathons run them in a little over 2 hours; middle-of-the-pack runners tend to finish in 3–4 hours.)

It was a great walk, although we were feeling pretty tired the last few miles. We went up to our old neighborhood and walked around our old apartment complex. (It looks a bit more empty than when we were there.) We walked up the Greenbelt Bikeway, then headed east to our summer place. (It looks exactly the same as it did when we lived there last year.) Then we walked through the water amenities at Second Street, and onward to Busey Woods. Then down Race Street to Orchard Downs and across through the arboretum and the research park. We went north to Florida to cross the railroad tracks, then headed south along the Boulware Trail and on into Savoy. We went west just a bit to take the path along Prospect down to Curtis and thence to home, taking a slightly long route through Winfield Village (with a tiny diversion into our prairie) to be sure we hit the target mileage.

In the end we went 26.4 miles. Here’s the Endomondo data:

Making a note here: Huge Success

What a wonderful party! (“I’m making a note here: Huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.”)

elephants
That’s Wellington on the right and Alexander the Grape on the left.

Thanks to all the folks who braved the elephants to attend! (Here’s a picture of a couple of the elephants that people had to brave.)

Jackie and I had never thrown a party together (if you don’t count our wedding reception, which was really thrown by Jackie’s mom on our behalf). Our apartment at Country Fair was too small and too cluttered for us to want to show it off. I did have a similar sort of open house party at my house in Philo when I bought it, before I met Jackie, and it was a pretty good party, but not as good as this one (because I didn’t really know anyone to invite except coworkers).

We had a great turn out. There were a bunch of taiji folks, both from the class that I attend and the class I teach, and there were a bunch of former coworkers, and a bunch of Jackie’s spinning and weaving guild members, as well representatives of the local speculative fiction writing and Esperantist communities. We had a lot of spouses and kids as well, so it was a very interesting group.

Everybody commented on how open and light our new place is, and how well it suits us. (It seems that anybody who’s lived in Champaign-Urbana for more than a few years knows somebody who lived in Winfield Village. I was initially surprised by this, but it’s so universally true, I’ve almost come to expect it.)

There was a great deal of interest in Jackie’s loom (something that you don’t see in just every house) and her spinning wheel and the yarn and woven items displayed all over the house. We don’t have much of our art hung yet, but the few pieces we have up all drew favorable comments.

I didn’t get to talk to anybody as much as I’d have liked, and barely managed to talk at all with a few people. I think future parties will be a bit smaller, so there’s more time to spend with each guest. (Sorry if I neglected you! Send me some email! Let’s do lunch!)

Pre-party preparations were a big deal of course, involving as they did unpacking all our worldly possessions and finding places for everything. Happily, post-party cleanup was almost trivial. (Because we just served snacks and deserts and not a real meal, and because we didn’t invite any undergrads.) We were mostly done cleaning up before the first Superbowl ad.

Now we have way too many deserts left over. Too much wine as well, but the wine will keep until we’re ready.

Projects for winter and spring

We have a bunch of things we’re hoping to do this year, and most of them require some amount of preparation—preparation which will have to occur in the winter and spring.

My plans stretch out to the end of July, because the last week of July I’ll be in Lille, France to attend the 100th Universala Kongreso de Esperanto.

As preparation for that, I really want to spend half an hour almost every day practicing my Esperanto. That should be plenty—I already read and write the language and I’ve attended international Esperanto gatherings in the past. But just a bit of practice listening to spoken Esperanto (podcasts and such) and a bit of practice actually conversing (with my local Esperanto group, and such other folks as I can find) will go a long way toward making attending this kongreso a rich and satisfying experience.

About a month before that will be the solstice, and right around then—second half of June or very early July—is the only good chance do the Kal-Haven trail walk that we’ve hoped to do each of the last two years. (In those weeks because only then are the days long enough to finish the walk in daylight.)

As preparation for that, we need to go on several walks each week, including a very long walk roughly every other week, working our way up to being able to walk the 33.5 mile trail.

Several months earlier—just one month from now—we’re going to have a little party for people to come see our townhouse. We’ve fixed the date as February 1st, and are thinking of it as a celebration of Groundhog’s Day Eve, or  Imbolc, if you prefer. Invitations are forthcoming. If you don’t get one, it is surely an oversight—let me know.

As preparation for that, we need to finish unpacking!

Without a specific deadline, but very soon now, I want to finish revising my novel so I can get it out to first readers.

As preparation for that, I need to spend an hour or two every morning writing.

Normally at this time of year we’d also be planning our garden, but Jackie has convinced me that working a garden plot this summer will be more than we can manage.

Writing in 2014

I haven’t published any fiction this year, but I did finish the zeroth draft of a novel.

I hesitated to claim this milestone, holding out for a proper first draft that I can share with a few select first-readers. But the end of the year has arrived and my novel remains (as it has been for several months now) this close to being a first draft. Still—a zeroth draft is something.

We moved. Granting that moving is not writing, and acknowledging that this post is where I review my writing in 2014, I’m still going to mention the fact, because moving takes so much time and effort. And we didn’t just move once. We moved three times: To our summer place, then to our winter palace, and finally to Winfield Village. Because of that, I totally gave myself a pass on productivity for the summer and fall.

However, I officially revoked that pass as of the solstice. I really, really want to get the novel out for people to read, and the only way to do that is to work on it every day. To that end, I’m back to working on it daily—and did in fact work on it every day for the last 10, except that I gave myself Christmas Day off (hat-tip to ol’ Ebenezer).

I’m actually quite confident that I’ll get the novel done (that is, in a proper first-draft state) in fairly short order. Confident enough that I’ve started to do trivial stuff, such as tweaking the formatting. (I’m assuming that most of my first-readers will want an ebook, rather than paper, so I’m fiddling with Scrivener’s ebook generation parameters. When I finish, I want to be able to generate a book right away, and not have to spend three days on ebook configuration to get what I want.)

I did a few other small bits of fiction writing. In particular, I wrote a very short story in Esperanto and submitted it to the UEA Belarta Konkurso. It didn’t win a prize, so I should follow up by submitting it to some Esperanto literary magazine, but I haven’t done that yet.

I wrote a lot less for Wise Bread than I have in past years, but they did publish 6 of my articles:

Very late in the year, that last article got featured on Business Insider as The Simplest Way to Live Simply and Cheaply.