Archive for February, 2011

My 12 minute ultramarathon

I read Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner this weekend and could hardly put it down. I’m always drawn to stories about running, probably because I’ve always been scared of running.

I suppose that fear originated in elementary school, where we had to do 12 minute runs every year. Even though we worked up to the 12 minutes gradually in the preceding weeks, I never had the stamina to run 12 minutes without stopping. That, plus having to do it in the gym, crowded by other students, many of whom seemed to run effortlessly, made it the opposite of fun, as did the switch the teacher would flick at us if she saw we were being sluggish.

After one of those 12 minute runs my teacher the next period was so alarmed by my flushed cheeks she wondered if I should go to the nurse’s office and possibly be sent home. From that point on I believed that I just wasn’t cut out for running, that maybe something was wrong with my body in that regard.

Then came junior high and the basketball team. I loved basketball but the brutally long stair lap workouts dehydrated me to such a point that it damaged my body and I had to quit the team.

I had to confront my running fear yet again in high school as the track coach approached me every year and asked me to join the team because he thought I had the right physique for hurdles. When I found out the practices included long grueling runs, I had flashbacks to the 12 minute run and the basketball stair laps and declined.

I happily never had to confront running again, until last summer when I discovered barefoot running. Although I only ran short sprints, I found it very energizing – and painless – to run in bare feet on grass. But I still wasn’t convinced my body could handle anything more than sprints.

In UltraMarathon, Dean Karnazes said his high school cross country coach told him after he won a big race, “If it feels good, you’re doing something wrong. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.”  In the middle of a 100 mile ultramarthon a few decades later, an Indian chief told him, “Pain is the body’s way of ridding itself of weakness.”

This reminded of what author and Jungian analyst James Hollis says: “Surely one of the most telling tests of our lives is whether we are living in a way which is driven more by challenge than by comfort, one which asks more of us than we had planned to offer.”

So I’m going to try to run my own “ultramarthon” – a 12 minute run. Following this 9 week guide, and using a treadmill, I should be able to run 12 consecutive minutes in five weeks. We’ll see.


Six Word Story #35 plus a book recommendation

75. Divorced. Their history was history. – Six Word Story #35

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says before you write a novel you should come up with a situation for the story. The situation is best described in a “What if… ” statement in a sentence or two. He says don’t bother writing a story until you have a good situation.

For The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a novel I read recently, the situation is: “What if a wealthy 78-year-old man divorced his 75-year-old wife after almost 50 years of marriage?”

This situation intrigued me so I decided to read the book. Also, it’s set in Connecticut and I knew reading it would make me feel wistful for New England (in my 20s I lived in Massachusetts for four years) and I felt like revisiting New England in that way. Plus it’s February so I was in the mood for a book that wasn’t minds-on but that wasn’t mindless chick lit either.

Here’s a front page review the New York Times gave of the book and explains the Jane Austen type elements of the book, which give it a lot of charm. As the review says, “Schine is perceptive, and even breathtaking, in her observations.”

Now if only I could go visit New England again for real. Someday, I hope.


Six Word Stories 33-34

“Hello. Mello Yello Jello poisoned him.” – Six Word Story #33

Today while eating lunch with my youngest daughters, they decided to be a bit more rambunctious than usual. Lots of non-stop laughter, which would’ve been fine, except we were in a public place and I didn’t want them to choke.

To distract myself from their silliness, I decided to come up with as many words as possible that are spelled like Mello Yello (I was drinking one at the time). I know, the things I’m reduced to as a mother at times.  It’s a wonder I have enough little gray cells left to even string six words together. The story above is a line I imagined Captain Stottlemeyer saying to Detective Adrian Monk over the phone about the victim on a case the are working on (or substitute the detectives of your choice).

For kicks here’s another six word story (#34):

Quiet, personal camouflage protected her childhood.

Suffice to say there wasn’t any camouflage or quiet during this particular afternoon of my youngest daughters’ childhoods. ;-)


Placebo storytelling

I’ve written before about the importance of storytelling in the doctor’s office.

The stories a patient tells himself are important as well and new research shows the role placebos play in this storytelling process.

In the past, placebos worked because the patient didn’t know he or she was taking a placebo. Healing through deception, in a sense.

But new research indicates that placebos work even if the patient knows it’s a placebo. Say what?

It seems counter-intuitive, but apparently the ritual of taking a pill and going through the motions of  getting a glass of water, opening the bottle, swallowing the pill, etc. triggers a self-healing mechanism inside the body.

We’re also discovering that the power of narrative is embedded deeply in our physiology. Perhaps that’s not surprising. In the long centuries before doctors discovered antibiotics, they often had little else but an observant eye, a listening ear, and a bag of nostrums with names like decoction of barley and compound infusion of roses to offer their desperately ill patients.
Our study points to something that a number of people have suspected, but has been hard to demonstrate under controlled conditions: We have the capacity for healing physical conditions through psychological means. First, we have to accept that. Studies of placebo effects are great demonstrations of it.
This award-winning article in Wired about placebos is also worth reading.
Ironically, Big Pharma’s attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn’t care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That’s potent medicine.

Potent indeed. One could also reflect on how this indicates the power of ritual in general. But instead of reflecting on that I’m instead wondering if the placebo effect could work with, say, my cars. If I pretend my 1995 Dodge Neon is a 2011 Mini Cooper placebo will it run more reliably and stylishly? :D


Cleaning out the closet of stories with Facebook

More and more it seems to me that what it means to be human and connected to people is simply to be a collector of stories. As this “Facebook: A Spiritual Experience article indicates, for those of us who use Facebook, Facebook has changed the way in which we collect some of those narratives.

For example, it’s kind of ironic that, as my oldest daughter is on the verge of high school graduation, and #2 daughter has begun her first year of high school, I’ve become reacquainted with some high school classmates through Facebook and forced to think about my own high school experiences anew.

Prior to Facebook,  I was so Done with that part of life, hadn’t attended any reunions, and wasn’t in contact with anyone from high school anymore anyway so what was the point.

But, as I’ve started to notice now that I’m middle-aged, and am on Facebook, I realize that even though I may think I’m severed from my high school past (and other parts of my past), I’m still connected to the people – especially the ones I disliked or was close to but am estranged from or drifted apart from. I’m connected to them because I still know some of their stories and secrets.

As actor Vincent Kartheiser (who plays Pete Campbell in the TV show Mad Men) once said:

I mean, there’s people in the world I hate and they know things about me that the people I love the most in life don’t know, and because of that, there’s a more special bond between me and them, even though I really do dislike them.

Yep. Funny how that happens.

In the Facebook: A Spiritual Experience article, the writer says that Facebook demands honesty, which is why she says it can be a tool for spiritual growth.

On Facebook you have so many of your worlds colliding in one place – colleagues, neighbors, old classmates, close  friends, church acquaintances, family members, etc.  Because of that there have been many times I’ve posted something on Facebook but blocked the post from some individuals/sets of friends, not because the post would offend them, but because it would either bore them or perhaps make them uncomfortable. I’m tempted not to do that anymore, even though there have been countless times I’ve read someone else’s posts and been so disappointed to find out their viewpoint on something or found it to be TMI (Too Much Information):

Slogging through old hurts is one thing, but Facebook elicits a communal shadow reaction that many don’t foresee. A hyper-distilled family reunion, digital social display leaves many users feeling forced to confront old demons, not just face the demon, but do so with the demon’s posse looking on. Also, where many have enjoyed the anonymity of a raucous Internet social life, for Facebook to work as intended, you have to be honest in the personal data you feed it. To that end, some have pioneered into lifestyles and experiences that are upsetting to those still at the old stomping grounds, or to employers or potential clients. And then there’s the base embarrassment in friending Aunt Bee, who’s scanned your adorable fifth grade yearbook picture for the world to see…

There’s been plenty of fun and even therapeutic storytelling via Facebook too, however. A few weeks ago an old high school classmate friended me on Facebook and we messaged at length about many things from the high school past and swapped stories. It was therapeutic and a way to recycle some of the stories in my closet of stories that I normally don’t have opportunities to bring out and add new ones.


Those 4000 bus rides finally paid off

Those “When I was your age” moments in parenting, when your story of hardship trumps your child’s story, are always one of those most satisfying moments as a parent.

I had one of those this morning. Because one of our vehicles had issues yesterday due to the extreme cold, there was a likelihood my oldest daughter would have to drive the youngest two daughters to school and drop them off a half hour early.

From the perspective of one of my younger daughters, this was considered a hardship of the highest order. “I’ll have to wait in the cafeteria for a half hour? That’s so boring!”

I knew I’d have to hear that again this morning, so before she woke up I calculated that when I was a kid I took the school bus to and from school each day for 12 years, for a total of 4000 bus rides.

The first thing my daughter said upon arising was, “Did the van start yet?” I told her I hadn’t checked yet but if she does end up getting an early ride, I’m not going to tolerate any whining because when I was her age I took the bus 4000 times and not once during those 4000 bus rides did I have fun. Her eyes widened and she was silent for many minutes. Yes!

I went out to try to start the van and it fired right up. Dang. I was so disappointed because I was already prepared with a comeback. You see, one of the other triumphs of being a parent is being able to use your own parents’ hardship stories that you were forced to listen to as a kid. It’s a fun way to recycle their stories. So I was all prepared to tell my daughter:

“When I was your age I didn’t complain about those 4000 bus rides even though we had a second car and my mom was a housewife and home all day and theoretically could have given me a ride and spared me the boredom of the bus. Why didn’t I ask her? Because my mom would have said, ‘You think walking to the end of our short driveway and hopping onto a school bus is a hardship? When I was your age I had to take a *city* bus all the time. The bus stop wasn’t anywhere near our house, either, and I had to walk many blocks just to get on the bus. We didn’t have a car, so we had to do this not to just go to school but anytime we needed groceries. Yes, that meant schlepping those groceries in a little pull cart for many blocks, even when the sidewalks were icy and it was freezing cold outside.”

As a kid I learned how to not trigger those stories but now as a parent I would have loved using that story of my mom’s as a trump card this morning. But that reliable Toyota didn’t give me a chance. Oh well. Maybe at least I can count on my 4000 bus rides story getting recycled in 30-40 years.


Another way we’re making winter less tedious around here

For some reason, even though it aired for eight seasons from 2002-2009 and was the most popular cable show ever, I only recently discovered the show Monk, which is about an Obsessive Compulsive Detective.

All the episodes are available on Netflix’s instant viewing so we’ve been watching an episode or two most evenings. I’m trying to carefully space out the episodes so they last us all winter. That all four of my girls like the show is proof of its broad quirky appeal.

Tony Shalhoub is the actor who plays Adrian Monk and knowing he was born and raised in Green Bay, WI adds to his appeal. I found out yesterday he helped produce and starred in the indie movie Feed The Fish, which was filmed in Door County, WI.  It’s only available to watch on Netflix instant viewing (the film never saw a wide release) and it took no convincing to get my daughters to watch it with me this evening.

All the scenes in the movie of the snow-covered Wisconsin landscape would’ve been enough to make me feel wistful, except I’m currently smack dab in the midst of Wisconsin and snow right now. The piles of snow are so high it makes turns at intersections an act of faith, where you hope there’s no car there to smash into you, and the temps have plunged back into the single digits during the day and below zero at night, so things like intellectually stimulating conversations and reading substantive books just aren’t happening right now, as we’re too busy burrowing in under the afghans my grandmother made and watching Monk. Oh, wait. Wasn’t this post supposed to be about making winter less tedious? Oops. :D

P. S.  I liked this interview with Tony Shalhoub. If you’re already a Monk fan you’ll like watching it too.


Bourbon Balls: One way to make snow days less tedious

Today Betty Givan from Betty’s Kitchen posted a recipe for Bourbon Balls, so I made sure to buy those ingredients while out stocking up before the storm arrived tonight.

Hey, it gave me an excuse to buy some bourbon. :D I hardly ever buy alcohol so when the clerk asked for my birth date, I was confused, and just said “May 31.”  And I hadn’t even had any bourbon to drink yet. Ahem.

Betty says Bourbon Balls are very popular in the south. I made them tonight and I can see why they are so popular. Or maybe it’s because I drank some Wild Cherry Pepsi with bourbon while making them that I came to that conclusion.

Here’s her video.

Here’s the recipe:


1 pound box confectioner’s sugar
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup bourbon whisky
6-oz. semisweet chocolate chips
pecan halves for topping (optional)

In a large bowl, combine 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar, ½ cup melted butter, and ½ cup bourbon whiskey. Stir until smooth. Refrigerate for about ½ hour, until workable with hands. With your hands, pinch off about a rounded teaspoonful of cold mixture and roll it into a ball. The ball can be up to 1-inch in diameter, but you should make all balls approximately the same size. Place the ball on a waxed paper lined pan, and continue making the balls until all of the mixture is used. Place the pan in the refrigerator or freezer, until balls are very cold, but not frozen. Melt 6-oz. semisweet chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler. (You may add ½-oz. paraffin to the chocolate, if desired.) When the chocolate is melted and the bourbon balls are cold and firm, use a toothpick to dip each ball into the melted chocolate. Swirl it around to completely cover the ball, and then remove it quickly and place it back on the waxed paper lined pan. Immediately place a pecan half on top of the chocolate dipped bourbon ball and press to set. Continue dipping until all bourbon balls are completed. You may leave the pecan off half of the bourbon ball for people who do not care for pecans. These are really delicious for a party or for a late-night snack. You may keep them at room temperature on serving day, but you should store them in the refrigerator or freezer for long-term storage. You can also place these in a decorative tin for Valentine’s Day gift! We love them and hope you will, too! –Betty

And here’s a silly Six Word Story that I wrote about bourbon balls (hey, there’s a blizzard here and I’ve both eaten and imbibed bourbon, so that’s my excuse):

Six Word Story #33

Death by frozen bourbon balls. Whodunit?