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March 31, 2005

My first year of bicycle commuting

Last year in March I had decided that I was going to commute to work by bicycle. I had been sitting in front of a computer every day and most evenings and began to see my health deteriorate. I knew I had to do something as my eyes got worse, my middle section was ballooning out and walking a flight of stairs left me winded.
In my view commuting by bicycle was the perfect answer because if I was going to be exercising anyway, I might as well make it practical and combine my exercise with getting to a destination. Riding a bicycle is a good form of exercise because it is not hard on the knees and it can really work the cardio-vascular system. Over the past year Iíve experienced many benefits, like increased mobility, fitness and happiness. Yes, riding a bike is fun! I wonder how many times in the past I could have said I was having fun commuting to work in my car.
I rode my bike almost the entire year, even in the winter. I started out riding in the Spring, and by June I was extending my rides before and after work. Part of the reason I extended the distance was because I started getting in better shape and it felt good. I discovered the joy of exploring alternate routes on my bike and it wasnít killing me.
Now looking back on the year, I ask myself, ďWhat was it like riding a bike all year?Ē Here are some answers, or relevant facts about bicycle commuting as I experienced it:
1. I saved a lot of money on gas. I have logged in over 4000 miles on my bike in the past year. My car gets about 15mpg or less, so I would have used 4000 / 15 = 266.666 gallons of gas. At $2.00 per gallon that would be a whopping $533.33 dollars I have saved. Of course these numbers are conservative and could fluctuate, but itís a real savings that would have been burned up by my car had I been driving. What could you do with 533 dollars? And that does not even include wear and tear on the vehicle and maintenance savings. Iíve found there is very little that can go wrong with a bike that needs major work, so repairs are simple and minor and a lot less expensive than most automobile repairs.
2. I feel better. After my first year of bicycle commuting, I am in better shape than when I started. When we have a practice fire drill at work, I handle the stairs without dying. When I ride now, I can go much longer distances without feeling like Iíve been through the ringer. Iím now contemplating several one hundred to one hundred fifty mile bike tours, which I wouldnít have even dreamed about a year ago.
3. I am seeing the city like Iíve never seen it before. Once last fall on my way into work I was riding along the beautiful bike trail on Shepard Road, close to Fort Snelling. There along the path, about 20 feet away from me was a fox. He was just standing there watching the wheels go by. What a beautiful sight that I wouldnít have even had a chance to see if I had been in my car. It made my day. I am also getting to know the terrain of the city much better because navigating on a bicycle, I am much more connected with the process of travelling from point A to point B. I know where every hill is and every downhill and blind curve is. The colors are more vivid and I see things I had not seen before. In a car I felt much more isolated and the hills were effortless so I didnít notice the changes as much.
4. I stopped complaining about Minnesota winters. As impossible as it seems, I rode my bike almost all winter and it was not impossible. It was only really bad about 4 days out of this year. Dressed properly, like for any winter sport, itís pleasant. When Spring arrived this year, I wasnít dreading winter so the transition was different. It meant I could wear less layers, but I had been having the fun of riding my bicycle all year. Spring didnít mean the Ďbeginningí of the bicycle commuting season but a continuation in my enjoyment.
5. It doesnít take a lot of gear to bicycle commute so itís not a huge investment like a car is. There is of course the bike. Bikes run anywhere from Free to expensive. $1500 dollars is a very nice bike. That seems like a lot, but considering a bike is not just a fun toy, itís a vehicle, a mode of transportation, thatís cheap! Bikes also require a lot less maintenance so annual costs are lower than cars. But I didnít spend that much on my bike. I bought my bike for about 250 dollars used and itís been really great. Then I had to buy a helmet because I didnít want to fall and crack my head open. That was about 20 some dollars. We often see people wearing special cycling clothing, which is nice but not really necessary for bicycle commuting. I often just wear street clothes or when I want to work hard and get some serious exercise in, Iíll dress for exercise and change when I get to my destination. I didnít need to buy a special license to ride a bike, just hop on and go. For added carrying capacity a person could buy special racks and bags for a bike, called panniers, but for almost everything I just used a backpack. It was easy and portable and handled the things I needed to haul back and forth to work.
6. The air we breathe is a little cleaner because my car has been contributing less and less pollution to the environment we live in. If everyone commuted by bicycle even just a few times per year, itís a significant break for mother nature.
7. I have met a lot of new friends this year. It seems that people with bikes have a special connection. Itís also easier to socialize with other cyclists as we meet on the streets because we arenít as isolated by car windows that provide a barrier.

What was it like riding my bike all year? It was a great year for me and I had a lot of fun doing it! I hope that I have many more. As I begin my second year of bicycle commuting, I may make some minor adjustments and improve my carrying capacity, but other than that I think it will be another banner year. Like the saying about riding a bike: once you learn how, you never forget. I hope that others would just try it a few times and catch a glimpse of what I have experienced this year. I feel like itís actually changing my life. It is good for the mind, body and soul!

Posted by carl1236 at 5:07 PM

1963 Raleigh Sports Menís 3-Speed

As I mentioned, I was trying out eBay to buy a bike. Below is a history of the bidding that went on. It only shows the others outbidding me and all of my counter bids are not listed. My limit was set to $50 dollars, which in my opinion was more than the bike is really worth. Iíve seen similar bikes that are in near-perfect condition that are selling for $120.00. This bike needs a LOT of work and cash to remove the rust, repaint and restore it to that kind of condition. If I had actually won this bid at 50.00, the minimum it would have cost me would be $80.00 with shipping, maybe a little more. How much does it cost to strip and paint a bike frame, two fenders and a chain guard and have it look professional? Letís say conservatively $100.00 for that whole process. That puts the cost of this bike for me at $180 dollars and rising. New cables maybe, or possibly $10.00 for new brake pads? Maybe the tires are dry-rotted. If I buy standard road tires for this bike at $30.00 for both, then my cost of ownership just became $220.00. Is this rusty old bike really worth $220.00 to me? And then the current high bid is at $66.00 so if I happened to be able to hold on to a $70.00 bid, that cost would actually be $240.00! No. Iíll let someone else restore this one. I donít think even a collector would spend that much for this bike in the poor condition that itís in. As a collectorís item even repainting detracts from the value as an original specimen. Anyone have an old English-made menís 3-speed they want to give to a good home or sell to me for a reasonable cost? I might start looking at all the thrift stores and garage sales.
So far I have not had much luck with eBay. I have only tried it two times before and both times someone bid all crazy-like on items I thought were not worth as much as they were bidding. Either they know something I donít about the value of an item, or they want it no matter how much it costs. And they will get it.

robisama ( 0 ) US $66.00 Mar-31-05 12:29:36 PST
aloyse_2 ( 0 ) US $65.00 Mar-31-05 12:20:11 PST
aloyse_2 ( 0 ) US $60.00 Mar-31-05 12:17:10 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $55.53 Mar-31-05 10:32:57 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $53.53 Mar-31-05 10:31:28 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $50.53 Mar-31-05 10:28:51 PST

MY HIGHEST BID: ( 0 ) US $50.00 Mar-28-05 19:27:59 PST

robisama ( 0 ) US $40.53 Mar-31-05 10:27:59 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $30.53 Mar-31-05 10:25:43 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $23.53 Mar-31-05 10:24:57 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $18.53 Mar-31-05 10:24:25 PST
robisama ( 0 ) US $15.53 Mar-31-05 10:23:38 PST
bbburke ( 31) US $10.00 Mar-29-05 22:46:22 PST
bbburke ( 31) US $5.00 Mar-29-05 22:00:46 PST
bbburke ( 31) US $2.00 Mar-29-05 22:00:21 PST

Some observations about my experience with eBay shopping:

1. It encouraged compulsive behavior in me, checking the site more frequently than I really had to in order to see if I was still winning the bid. But having someone surpass my highest bid solved that problem! ;-) Now I donít have to check anymore.

1. The cost of shipping is stated in most cases, but it is something to consider when bidding. Depending on the item it could be more expensive than the item itself.

2. Because Iíve been outbid a few times now and my upper limit has been too low, Iím going to find a way to check the actual value of items before I start bidding on it. Maybe Iím wrong about my reasoning, but it would help me to know this value so I donít feel bad about sticking to my highest bid number.

3. I was getting kind of excited about doing a bicycle restoration project and rebuilding something from frame up. But now I have to put that on hold until I find the right bike. I donít need to do it, but the experience would be good for me, and it would give me a piece of history to ride around on for nice leisurely day trips in the English touring style, purposefully making as many stops as possible and sharing the company of other riders. Even if it takes all day to go 30 or 40 miles! Haha. But now that the bidding is over and I donít have a bike that needs restoring that daydream will have to wait.

4. If people are so willing to spend their money on eBay items and pay for shipping, I should try selling some things up there. My sister does it all the time, and she says itís easy. One of my co-workers does it and he says itís easy. So all that stuff I didnít sell at the garage sale thatís taking up space? Ebay? Anyone want an old electric typewriter? To me it sounds like more work than taking my things to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. If they donít want it, then itís probably not worth anything to someone on eBay. But then again, someone wanted to spend $66.00 for a really rusty Raleigh 3-speed that I was hoping to buy for .99 cents plus shipping.

Honestly I did feel kind of a let down when those other two bidders out-bid me. Itís ok, it was an experiment for me anyway, but I did still feel like I lost a contest or something. Iím actually glad I did not have to spend what I put down for a maximum bid, because I was feeling like that was even too high for that item. But then when I saw someone over-bid that maximum, I did think about raising my bid. That would have been irrational though, I think, so it was a fleeting thought.

I wonder if there are people who do not control themselves on eBay and end up getting a bad deal? Iím not saying this bike wasnít worth what it will go for because I donít really know the collectorís value of a bike in this condition without somehow looking it up. I guess any object is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.

This experience was valuable to me and I didnít actually have to buy anything. How nice is that?

Posted by carl1236 at 5:02 PM

March 30, 2005

Working on bikes

Tonight I helped build a bike. I strung new cables and put a brake together. I took off a rear sprocket assembly and replaced the chain guard. I also learned how handlebar shifters work as we put on new cables.
Tonight riding home in the rain, I wore rain gear for the first time and I got hot and sweaty as I suspected. The other problem I had was my brakes did not work so well when wet. I'm not sure what to do about that. New pads maybe.
Tomorrow night I'm going to explain my experience with buying a bike on eBay. Or not buying a bike, whichever the case may be. We'll see. Aren't bicycles fun?

Posted by carl1236 at 11:25 PM

March 29, 2005

Last night's entry that died

Last night I did not post a blog entry, not because I didn't write anything, but because my computer decided to keep crashing on me. I lost everything I wrote. It was getting late and I was tired and didn't feel like trying to remember everthing I wrote, so I decided to call it quits and get some rest.
I call this the spirit of allowing ourselves to be flexible. I can be pretty demanding on myself and have stayed up into all hours of the night, even through the next day completing things that had to be done. In this case, I gave up and went to bed. For my sanity, sometimes it's better to just give myself a break and start fresh again at another time. But allowing this is sometimes difficult when we hold onto things too tightly. I have to let go of things sometimes and not beat myself up over it. I think it's a good attitude, because otherwise we take ourselves too seriously and end up miserable. But also, giving up on my blog entry for a night doesn't mean throwing it out the window. It means taking a break and writing two entries the next day! ;-)

Last night's blog entry, before my computer so kindly killed it, was about buying a bike on eBay! I'll tell you more about it when the bidding ends and if i get it.
Now I'd better not push my luck and have this crash again. Have a great night!

Posted by carl1236 at 11:16 PM

Corky Siegelís Chamber Blues

Tonight I went out with my cousin and his wife and my aunt to see a concert and have dinner at the Dakota Jazz Club/Restaurant on Nicollette Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Itís a nice place with good food, although a bit pricier than Iím used to. But the food or the place is not the real reason we went. We went to hear this band because of one of the members, Mark Agnor. My aunt and Markís mother are good friends from Ohio and since the group was here playing at the Dakota, she took the opportunity to go see him. My aunt thought it would be fun for me to see Mark play also, since we have a slight connection. Mark and I are about the same age and when I was in elementary school my older brother and I went to visit my aunt in Ohio. During that trip we went canoeing with Mark and his brother. It was a fun trip. We had a great time, but now thirty some years later those memories for me are very vague. In fact, I donít remember the canoe trip at all. haha.
They say that with age, there are two things that go. The first one is memory, and I canít remember the second one.
Seriously, it was a very nice evening with good food and really good music that had harmonica, drums, violins, viola, piano and an amazing washboard. We also had a good chat with Mark Agnor. Markís been with the group for about six years full time, but before that he subbed for them. When he played, I could really see he enjoyed what he was doing. He leads a busy life, traveling all over the world performing, mostly in concert halls. Next week heís going home, then turning right around and flying to Arizona. Here in Minneapolis, they have only played at the Dakota. The last time they were here they played in the old Dakota club, before it moved.
Itís interesting to me to see how other people my age are finding their way through life. Mark looks really happy and is a calm peaceful guy, not to mention gifted with music. This is one thing I keep trying to tell people: Follow your dreams; in the grand scheme of things there is no right or wrong career choice for you, except when you are miserable. Really life is so much better when we do what we love. Mark seems to have found what he loves to do.
Although I donít really remember Mark, I do appreciate the chance to go see him play tonight. I am really happy that my Aunt decided to invite me. I got to see another kid like me after he grew up. And Iím glad things worked out so well for him.
They were putting on another show after we left tonight, then tomorrow they have a special guest rhythm and blues singer with them for the first time. Then I guess theyíll be playing Chamber Rhythm and Blues. haha. I liked one line that Corky used during the concert, ďOne of the most common questions I get is Ďwhy?íĒ Everyone laughed at his joke, but in truth Chamber blues is a very interesting and stimulating combination. The harmonica mixed with the violin is an awesome sound. And I loved the animation of the drummer. He played several percussion instruments, but most memorable was the washboard. I never knew anyone could get such a great sound out of a washboard! And he just plain looked like he was having a blast up there!
Corky Siegelís chamber Blues group has a new CD out and you can find out more about it and about this type of music on their website: http://www.chamberblues.com/

Posted by carl1236 at 11:01 PM

March 27, 2005

Today's ride(s)

Today I did it. I got up in time to ride my bike to work and it was a very nice ride! At work today I hung out and cleaned and watched a little TV while I was sweeping. OLN had an adventure sport on. That was cool! These people were doing 10-day races with kayaks, mountain climbing, orienteering, mountain biking and running. They had wheels on their kayaks and were running with those strapped to a harness on their bodies! Wow. It's amazing what you can live through. I might have to try one of those sometime.
The ride to my sister's house from Burnsville to Hastings was awesome! I rode 23.133 miles at an average speed of 18.9 mph. At one long stretch of downhill I rode about a quarter mile between 30 and 35mph. That was fun! And I only had two 8mph hills to contend with, the rest were 12-16mph hills or relatively flat. So I had a good rhythm going riding above twenty on the flats.
But now I'm tired from eating too much dinner at my sister's house, and the great 43 mile day I had. Tomorrow's a running day and then Tuesday I'm going to ride up Minnehaha/West river road, turning at lake street and going back toward St. Paul on East River road to Summit. I'm looking forward to this route again. It has a familiar look and feel, since I rode it a lot last year. Tuesday will be my first day going that way since last Fall.
I can't even express how good that ride felt today. It was warm enough for short sleeved shirt and cool enough that I could ride harder without overheating.

Posted by carl1236 at 8:44 PM

March 26, 2005

A beautiful Sunny Day

Today was a beautiful Sunny day, but this morning after all that talk last night, my legs hurt too much and I had a hard time getting going. But tomorrow I'm still a go for anice long bike ride. Now I can see I needed the rest today. My body was telling me.
This is something that seems to confuse a lot of people, knowing what is a real issue and what is just an excuse. If it's just another excuse for not doing something then motivation has a lot to do with it. But I'm glad I listened to my body this morning.
And as far as attitude goes, I won't beat myself up over it. I'm a firm believer in do your best and move forward. Today is another opportunity. Now tomorrow, I'll be riding from St. Paul to Burnsville in the morning, 20 miles. Then after working I'm riding to my sister's house in Hastings, another 30 miles (I think). My bag is packed and I'm ready to go. And tomorrow I might just be able to wear shorts! Do you think? Now I'm off to bed so I won't oversleep and have to drive my car.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:20 PM

March 25, 2005

Iím Getting Whiplash

Today I had every intention of running at lunchtime. I had a meeting to go to at a consultantís office at 10:00am, which I walked to. It was only about 8 blocks, on the other side of downtown St. Paul and it was a beautiful sunny day for it. By the time the meeting ended and I walked back to my office it was 5 minutes to 12. I still had a little lingering pain in my right inner thigh, but the pain was gone from my left leg totally. I was hungry and talked myself out of running, saying maybe if I feel better tonight Iíll run.
So after work I rode my bike (the SUV of Bikes) back home, and then stood there talking to my wife about work, and about her day, then I had to decide what to do about running. I plan on riding my bike to work and back tomorrow, which is 40 miles round-trip, so I knew I wouldnít feel like running tomorrow night. Then on Sunday we are going to my sisterís house right after I get done with work to eat dinner and hang out with my parents and siblings. We probably wonít get home until later and Iíll be full from dinner, so I wonít feel like running then. That would make it so my next run would have to come on Monday, meaning a five-day gap in my running. I didnít want that long of a gap in my running. I feel like Iím just starting to break the barrier between starting to run, and running as a habit and I donít want to give up that momentum and have to start over with running at a later time, climbing up from the bottom. My intentions are to keep running all through the year. At the end of April Iím doing a duathlon and in August a Triathlon so I have to be prepared for it or I will suffer, or give up the idea.
Between the thoughts trying to talk myself into running tonight, I had competing thoughts like, ďIím hungry,Ē and ďMy leg still hurts from that race. I should give it another day to heal.Ē I told myself that I needed to let my muscles recover, which is true, but itís been 2 days since I ran, that should be enough. I also donít want to get a running injury that will take too long to heal and ruin my bike-racing season, which has not even started yet. At the end of next month all the action starts for me. Iíve heard of people having to sit out a season because of injuries. But when I ran on Wednesday, it only hurt for the first mile, and now the pain in my left leg was completely gone and the pain in my right leg is less than it was on Tuesday.
So there I was in the kitchen talking to my wife and I must have been thinking all of this out loud, because she said, ďIím getting whiplash listening to you go back and forth!Ē We laughed. I know sometimes itís very difficult to motivate myself. Sometimes no amount of self-talk can change my motivation level. I use logic to help me, I use fear of losing something to help me, I use rewards like, ďyou can eat a lot of good stuff when you get back home!Ē hehe. Most of the time I can make myself do something if I have enough time to talk myself into it.
But at lunchtime today, I got back to work 5 minutes before 12 and I felt like the lunch hour was already started and that by the time I got down to the locker room, changed clothes and got out there it would mean getting back to work late. I felt pressured for time, which was just another nail in my motivationís coffin.
So tonight I pulled out a map and tried to figure out a 5-mile route from my house. I have only run short distances from my house before and I know a couple of mile and two-mile loops that are fun, but I was having a hard time judging how far 5 miles would be and which route would be good so I donít have to run over the same road twice. I like loops and donít like backtracking. Itís more interesting that way and prevents me from turning around too soon.
Once I had the route planned I was psyched enough to run. I put on my clothes and headed out the door. It only took 4 blocks before the pain in my legs totally disappeared. I had a good steady run, not too strenuous but hard enough where I was breathing at a moderate to heavy rate. I was in a groove and the route was absolutely beautiful and challenging. Now I have a good 5-mile route to run from my house and I did not have to have more than a two-day gap in my running. I ran that 8k (5-mile) race on Sunday, ran 5.5 miles at lunch on Wednesday and 5 miles tonight. It feels good!
What motivates human beings to do anything? Itís very fascinating to me and I know these sports are a good experiment to help me gain insight into this area of thought because they provide so many opportunities to need motivation.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:40 PM

March 24, 2005

The racing bike comes out

Tonight was a beautiful night for a ride. This is only the second time this year that Iíve ridden my racing bike. This time it wasnít quite so wet from snow runoff. But I found out that the trail in Mendota along the cliff under Highway 13 is still covered with glaciers. I ended up riding up Highway 13 itself back home.
Anyway, I rode this bike to work because Dan said he wanted to ride with me after work. And it was fun, but harder than I expected. For a few moments when he got way ahead of me, I felt a little discouraged, like all of the exercise I was doing is not going to be enough for me to do bike racing. But it faded quickly as he got stopped at a red light and I had a chance to catch up.
I rode 20 miles and it felt really good overall! We rode from Downtown St. Paul along Concord Street, found the bike trail entrance at Butler, rode along the river to South Saint Paul, went up the hill by the Library, along Southview Blvd. to Mendota Road to Highway 110. Then we rode along 110 to the Mendota Bridge. Thatís where Dan and I split. He rode across the bridge and continued North along one of the River Roads, and I went North East along Highway 13, back to St. Paul. I bet by the time Dan got home, he hit 40 miles. My ride was only 20 miles total.
By this experience, I can seriously say that Iím in better overall shape than I was last year, but not in the greatest shape for riding yet. I need more mileage I think. This was a good start. The 20 miles did not seem to hurt though. Now tomorrow I plan on riding the Great Schwinn Suburban Touring machine for a nice easy ride. Then at lunchtime Iíll run 5.5 miles. Then Saturday and Sunday Iím going to ride 40 miles on my racing bike from St. Paul to Burnsville and back. That ought to keep me out of trouble. I think Iíll be back up to 100+ miles per week in no time. My peak came last year in August when I had some 200+ weeks. But with running and biking this year, Iím still waiting to see how it will work. I will have to see how much energy all of this will take and how Iím progressing.
In the mean time, I am done with winter and Iíd better go find a backpack cover so my stuff doesnít get wet when it rains.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:24 PM

Where will the oil go?

I don't think any of us like to be deceived. But it's so easy to feel that way sometimes when we don't know if we can trust our politicians. When they are elected we trust them to be making decisions and taking actions with honesty and integrety. But sometimes we find out about alterior motives, like a president who swings deals to make his buddies rich, or sweeting his own holdings. Of course it's never so public and my guess is we don't hear about a lot of the things that go on unless someone gets caught.
Last night I felt a twinge of being deceived. Someone asked the question, "With this new drilling, where is that oil going to go?" Then they answered their question, "That oil is going to be sold to Japan and other countries overseas."
I had not heard that viewpoint before and if that's the case, then the only reason we are drilling there is to fatten a cash cow. And it's not reducing our dependence on foreign oil, because since the new oil is being sold, we still have to obtain oil from other sources to feed our country's consumption. On top of that, we'd be increasing these asian countries dependence on our oil.
This is why I feel like President Bush is deceiving everyone. I'm sure since we elected him he's going to act with integrity and honesty right? I'm almost afraid to find out where this oil is going.

Posted by carl1236 at 7:59 AM

March 23, 2005

Homeless Bikes

Today while running my eyes were drawn to something yellow, way down a steep hill in the woods. It looked kind of like a bike so I decided to take a little detour and run down there to check it out.
When I got there I found two old bike frames with a few wheels and tires laying around, off the bikes. The chains were rusted from being out all winter and one of the seats was laying upside down on the leaves with water collecting inside. Just over a little bit in a small clearing was a little camp, complete with an old back seat from a car for a couch. I'm not sure how that got here, but maybe someone carried it on the top of the shopping cart parked next to the couch. There was an old metal gas can with a funnel on top of it and various other oddball items. It reminded me of some of the hideaways we built as kids to hang out. But we never had 40 or 50 empty alcohol bottles and cigarette butts laying around our camp.
One day last week when I looked over the hillside, I saw a man sitting on the couch eating something. I was tempted to go down there then but I was timing my run and decided to do that another time. He wasn't there today, so I had a good look around.
But since these bikes are obviously abandoned deeper into the woods and rusting out, with no wheels on them, I'm going back next week to salvage them. I'm going to strip off the crank arms, brakes, handlebars, shift levers and derailers and then send the frames to the scrap heap for recycling the metal. That will be the end of these homeless bikes.
But in an interesting twist of fate, next week I'm helping two homeless guys build up two bikes so they have transportation to their new temp jobs.
In the mean time, I'm on day two of riding my Schwinn Suburban 5-speed bike. I find the totally upright postion and fat, spring-loaded seat very comfortable. "That''s a sweet ride," one guy told me today.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:54 PM

March 22, 2005

Living with Death

There are a lot of ways that people deal with death. Most often what we are feeling is a loss of someone close to us. Or anger at the way a good personís life was taken too soon. When we are not going through it ourselves itís easy to say what a good, bad, right or wrong way to deal with it is, or even if Ďdealingí with it is an appropriate word to use, as if something is wrong with us and needs to be fixed.
I know in my mind that when people die from this physical life, they donít just disappear but are transformed into another state. The body is dissolved and the spirit or soul goes on. But thatís not always comforting to us when we continue to live without the person that died. All kinds of thoughts go through my mind, like recognizing my own mortality and how I donít really know when my time will be up.
Sometimes the way people die is very tragic to us and seems unfair. Young children die of a disease, or a mother in her 30ís gets breast cancer and dies, leaving her children behind or a kind, gentle man who is really doing wonderful things in the neighborhood gets gunned down a block from his house by a person in a neighborhood gang. This week a young man shot nine fellow students in Red Lake. It is tragic because it seems like they should have their whole lives ahead of them yet. But we donít always get a full life, whatever that length of time is supposed to be.
I donít know Ďwhyí death happens, can anyone really explain it? Can we really understand it until we go through it ourselves? Many people have tried to explain it. Sometimes these explanations can be a comfort to us. For instance, understanding that itís all part of the circle of life is one way of explaining it. All living things are born, live and grow, then die and become the seed for future life. We see this in the way plants grow from a seed, then reach itís maturity, releases itís own seed, then die away, become mulch, which fertilizes future growth or provides food for other living things. It all happens so naturally.
But sometimes even if we can grasp and understand the meaning of life, or the intricacies of all living things in the galaxy itís not comforting at all because we are experiencing pain from a loss.
I do know that we are designed to have feelings. We bond with other people, we love, we hate, and we overflow with happiness and sometimes with sadness. This is also natural. We are certainly capable of emotions and do experience them, whether we admit it or not. In my experience, itís not healthy to deny our emotional experiences. That to me is a lie, which leads to more pain and suffering although we may not recognize that pain and suffering as the consequences of not living truthfully.
Up until a few years ago I did not recognize or allow for this in my life. I never made the connection between living truthfully and allowing myself to have emotions, especially sadness, grief, loss, anger, and so on, which many people often consider Ďnegativeí emotions that need to be eliminated. There was a trigger event that led me to my way of living with death.
I might have told some people about my experiences with being a Scout Leader or a youth leader. But I have mostly kept it to myself. For about 7 years I put my heart and soul and resources into running the program and working with the boys and their parents. This was a great experience, but also overwhelming. Even with the few others that were true hard-chargers, we couldnít maintain a quality program without sacrificing something. We kept trying to get the parents involved, but it was difficult. As a result all of us leaders put in heroic efforts to keep it going. By the time I stopped doing it, I was dedicating 3 or 4 nights per week working on something Scouting related, plus monthly campouts and a weeklong summer camp every summer. When I finally stopped doing it I wasnít relieved. I was sad. I was worried what would happen to these boys, and I was feeling guilty for stopping. When I told the few dedicated leaders that I was going to stop leading this unit, they were also devastated, but realizing the short-staffed situation we were in, no-one wanted to take over my position. The whole unit folded with about 40 boys losing out. But I couldnít continue working the way I was, and I saw the deterioration of the quality of our program so I did what I had to do. It was very sad. I was so involved, then it came to a stop. All of it. I didnít know what I was experiencing until one of my coworkers said to me, ďYou have to give yourself time to mourn.Ē That hit me like a ton of bricks. That was it, I was mourning my loss. When we pour our love into other people or things, we feel a loss when they are no longer part of our lives. I lost about 40 members of my family at once. I went through depression, anxiety, sadness, grief, whatever you want to call it, and didnít understand why I wasnít relieved to be done with it. I had to go on living with a large part of me missing.
Mentally I knew that these boys and their families would all move on. Some would find other programs to join. They would all grow up and become adults without my aid. But emotionally I was mourning. When I finally allowed myself to mourn and recognize and feel the loss, I eventually accepted it and was healed of my pain. And the healing process was probably faster and more complete than if I tried to deny myself this loss. I didnít just deal with it; I learned how to experience loss and to live with it.
And just as I experienced a deep loss, those boys did also. They all handled it in their own ways. I still think itís an unfortunate and untimely death, maybe even unfair to the boys. But it happened. It takes time to heal hurt like that.
About 3 years into the program as a leader, an old-time scouter named Bob Plant passed away. Everyone knew him in the scouting world and I could hardly claim I knew him better than they did. I was only involved in scouting for a short time, but he was involved for something unbelievable like 30 years. Maybe Iím forgetting the actual number, but it was a lot. He was well respected and helped to mentor a lot of boys and adult leaders. Bob was a woodcarver and he gave me my first woodcarving knife and took the time to show me how to use it, which I still use. But now his handwritten name is worn off the handle and the blade is worn down slightly from keeping it razor sharp as he taught me. He was also the man who got me into Scouts by telling me that he believed I would be a great leader. I spent the next seven years trying to improve my skills and myself, and be able to show him he was right. When Bob passed away, I was very sad. I felt the loss of a close friend and mentor, which he was to many people.
The boys in our scouting unit had to learn about death also. I had to set an example. Often at the same time we are trying to cope with loss and continue living our lives, we are expected to comfort others who are also experiencing a loss. What do we say that can comfort them, when we are not comforted ourselves? As far as I can see, the best answer is, itís ok to feel sad and cry about it if we want. We canít always explain why people have to die at any specific time, but we can allow ourselves to recognize and feel our pain as we begin the healing process. It helps to allow ourselves to mourn while we continue living.

And then there is the recognition of our own mortality. When we see someone close to us die, we recognize at some level that it could be us. Especially if we are older and see someone younger die. I have taken this to heart. I realize Iím lucky to be alive. I could have been a victim of a shooting or have been hit by a car, and I still could get cancer or have some other complications like heart disease. When I see someone close to me die, I know itís real and inevitable. But thatís not always easy to digest. When I was younger I had a mentality that I was invincible. Life was an endless summer. But experiencing the loss of someone we love is a rude awakening. I remember when my Grandmother died of Cancer. It was a traumatic experience for me. I was in elementary school when it happened and I had to help take care of her when they moved a hospital bed into their house. I didnít realize at the time that she was home to die and that the cancer would never be Ďcured.í I did not know how courageous my grandmother was facing that and not being able to tell me that she was going away. I cried a lot then. When we face our own mortality, most of the concerns of this life seem to be a little less important. My grandmother tried to spend as much time with us as possible, but she was so sick and weak and the radiation was killing her. When she was at home in that hospital bed, I helped feed her and helped change her bedpan. I think in retrospect that was one of the most difficult times of my life. I did learn something about helping someone maintain their dignity while dying. My grandmother was embarrassed to have her grandson help her eat and use the bathroom. And she didnít want to be remembered that way. I also learned that I would die someday also. But at that age I didnít think it would be for a long time, at least until I was old like grandma. But later as I grew I realized Grandma wasnít really that old when she died. My parents started having children when they were really young, right out of high school basically. But my older brother and I spent a lot of time in those younger years with my grandma and grandpa. I have a lot of favorite memories with my grandma. After my grandma died, I spent a lot of time with him learning how he carried on without grandma. He taught me how to make malto-meal, because that was one of the meals he could make on his own and it became one of our favorites together. I wonder how many meals he ate with Malt-o-meal and buttered bread. He also made a lot of oyster stew because he loved it and knew how to make it. I learned to love that too. Grandma used to make that.
Over the years Iíve experienced other losses and have lived on without someone I loved. I know that even with the medical technology advances of today, that I could still have an accident on my bike and die, or get shot by some crazed gunman, or get caught in a building that a terrorist decides to use for a statement. But unlike before when I was afraid of my own death, a subtle acceptance has crept over me. Before, fear made me Ďhandleí death more like something to be avoided at all costs. Now I have learned how to make Malt-O-Meal and Oyster Stew and get on with life. That doesnít mean I donít miss that person, it means that I accept their death as part of life and know I donít have to fear it. I only hope I can be courageous like my grandmother when I go. Or if I die from a freakish accident or act of violence, then let it be quick and painless. I would still like to maintain my dignity I think, and not be remembered as weak and unable to care for myself. In the mean time, I know that life in this form could be very short, and how I live with death is just as important as how I lived with the people I loved when they were alive. I accept it but still cry and allow myself to mourn. I miss them and keep memories of them in my mind and heart. I donít stop loving them but I realize that we wonít be interacting in the same way anymore. I no longer fear their death as I did before and I have learned to appreciate the time right now that I have to live my life and try to make the most of it.

Posted by carl1236 at 5:54 PM

March 21, 2005

King Boss

This morning started out ok, but after I got to work things turned worse. We had an incident today of abuse by our boss toward one of my female coworkers. He was yelling at the top of his lungs at her in a closed conference room and everyone within 20 feet of the room heard it. We could even hear our coworker crying and saying, "I didn't do anything."
After this went on for a few minutes I had to do something. I went and pounded on the door then opened it. I told my boss that this was unprofessional and that everyone could hear what he was doing. He basically told me to get out, that it was not my place and I didn't understand the circumstances. Then he forced the conference room door closed. I saw my coworkers face covered with tears, face and eyes reddened.
He calmed down after that, but continued to meet with this woman. One of my coworkers called our Human Resources department, who called my bosses supervisor, who came and talked to me about what was happening. I explained what I experienced and heard and told him who else heard it and expressed concern. He reassured me that he was going to talk to my boss after he was done with that meeting.
That's not the end of the story by far because now the union is involved and a report is being filed for workplace violence against my boss. I did not see my boss the rest of the afternoon, but everyone in our department was shook up about it and was having trouble concentrating. I tried to focus on my work but as the day went on, I developed a headache. Finally the day was over and I rode my bike home. Thank God it was nice outside and I was riding my bicycle because the fresh air really helped clear my mind from what happened today. What my boss did was inappropriate. Nothing we do at work is so critical that it's worth bringing an employee to tears over.
I had to step in and stop what was going on, and my coworker thanked me several times today for helping her. She told me she wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for me opening that door. She didn't know what she was going to do. But now as I'm going to bed I wonder how my working relationship with my boss is going to change. They won't fire him. They'll probably repremand him, and tell him not to do that again. Or something. I'm not sure what will happen actually, but I have a strong feeling that our whole department will have to continue to work with him.
So now with my headache, I'm going to bed to try to get some rest. Maybe that will help me think clearly tomorrow on how our team will carry on from this point forward.

On a lighter note, tonight I put two new tires on my old Schwinn 5-Speed bike and oiled up the chain for my retro-commute to work in the morning.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:30 PM

March 20, 2005

Be Human, Be Spiritual!

Iíve said this before, itís not separable. We cannot be just human or just spiritual because we have these physical bodies and physical life requirements like eating and breathing and sleeping, and because we have these spirits that can love and feel and think and make choices.
At the most basic level I believe that our breathing, eating and rest are instinctual or biologically driven. If we are exhausted eventually our bodies crash and get the much-needed rest. If we are hungry we get hunger pains we know what to do with that. If we try to hold our breath or strangle ourselves with our own two hands, even if we did have the shear determination to stop our breathing, we would pass out and our hands relax and our bodies resume itís breathing automatically.
At the most basic level I believe our spirits also have some aspects that are automatic. We like to love and be loved, and we donít really want to hurt other people. Of course just like our physical life, we could override these things. We could choose to be cruel, abusive, greedy or possessive. We could choose to end our own lives. But letís say we donít and we choose to continue living our lives. Well we live, spirit and body together, making choices until we have no more choices to make. Eventually our bodies or minds will crap out on us and we go on past this form of life. But while we are living and making choices, what do we choose to do?
This is where spirit-humans diverge on ideas. Some people really get it and some people really get off course and try to override our most basic instincts. Philosophers can debate the meaning and purpose of life all we want, but life as a human being with spirit goes on and we have to make choices about what to do with our allotted time, gifts, talents, and resources. Even the nature of God or even if God exists can be debated until we are blue in the face, but we cannot debate that we exist, because we are here, living, breathing, eating, sleeping, thinking, loving, hating, making choices and life goes on whatever the verdict is.
I love living life, and that is a choice. No matter what happens I know that my physical body and my spirit are inseparable until the time of my death. No matter what happens then it will be then not now. Since Iíve chosen to continue living until my natural or unnatural demise I choose to be happy about it and continue on. I can be happy about life by living it as close to my natural, automated instincts as I can. The more I try to override these, the closer I come to suffering and the end of living. Do you know people who are so miserable that what they are doing cannot be considered really living? Yes physically they are alive, but spiritually they gave up, or have overridden their desire to give love. They may still want to be loved, but thatís a different story. Right now Iím talking about the quality of our lives. We are alive in body and spirit and we can choose to live.
Other people can tell us that, ďoh no you canít really live until you believe this or believe that!Ē Or, ďyou canít be truly happy until you believe this or that!Ē But guess what? No matter what the philosopherís verdict is, we go on living, body and spirit, inseparable for the amount of time we end up with. In this way we are all equal. None greater or less valuable. And no one else can actually jump inside of us and breathe or think for us. Even if someone is very controlling and tries to dictate how we think, and we let them tell us what to think, we still have to choose to think that, because itís our brain and our spirit, not someone elseís! In this way we are each unique. One person cannot be another person and do life for them.
Now that brings me to todayís 8k (5-mile) ďB-Human, the Human Race,Ē which is really a Spiritual race because the two are inseparable. About mile 4 I was wondering why I chose to do this particular activity out of all my millions of options. hehe.
Before the race started I struck up a conversation with a guy older than me. He was about 54 I think he said. We talked about the race and I asked him how long heíd been running, and how he felt for todayís race and if he had been doing other races. He asked me about my running and about other races and I told him about my run last week at the Lake Johanna 4-mile. I told him I was just starting and we shared a few moments of pure joy over our mutual experiences as runners. He had been running for a lifetime, and had a lot to say about living a lifestyle of fitness and training. He was in really good shape and was exited about starting the race. So was I, well, at least the getting started part. Then as it got closer, I lost him in the crowd of about XXXX thousand other spirits who wanted to get going at being human. Why are all these people choosing to do this? To talk to them, itís a spiritual thing. Itís a love of living life. After the race I was sitting on the St. Thomas field house floor stretching out and the young guy next to me was also stretching and just hanging out waiting for the final results and eating snacks and drinking water. We were less than 3 feet apart so I started talking to him. Heís an avid runner and today his hopes were to just run 7-minute miles. He was really happy that he did it, and surpassed his goals. And he should be happy! It was his choice to run the thing, and he should be happy about doing what he chose to do, and itís good to be happy about surpassing our expectations! When they finally posted the official results on the wall, I pointed over there and told him they just put the results up, so he threw his shoes on and excitedly walked over there. There was already a crowd there trying to see their official time. Let me explain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up. ;-) Times were being read off at every mile so we had a good idea about how fast we were running, but those times were started when the very first runner passed the starting point. We each had a chip on our shoe that recorded our actual start and stop time. With thousands of runners, it may have taken several minutes to just get to the starting point, but it didnít matter because our actual times were recorded and our official results were posted on the wall.
When that young guy came back from looking at the results he had a smile on his face. I asked him how he did and he told me he came in 69th or was that 96th place? He ran a pace of 6 something per mile. He was happy with the results. He told me next week he has another race to run. Then I went over to check my time and placement.
Now tonight as Iím writing this, my legs are stiff and I have a hard time walking because I have some pain in my inner thighs. Itís not critical, but it reminds me that I am still in the beginning stages of my fitness plan. I ran my fastest time yet. I did the whole 8k race in 35:35, which is a pace of 7:10 per mile! I came in at 316th place. Before I did it, I told myself that my goal was 7:30 per mile for all 5 miles. This was a mile longer than last weekís race so I didnít know how fast I could run that last mile. By the third mile today I was exactly at 21 minutes, just like last week, but this time when I hit the fourth mile I was just over 28 minutes. I was slowing down and I felt like I was going to die. ďWhere is that finish line?Ē I thought. ďWhy am I doing this?Ē ďIt has to be soon. Itís only one mile, I can make it.Ē Then when it was over I thought, ďThat was fun!Ē And, ďThat wasnít so bad.Ē
As I was sitting on the field house floor stretching I called my wife to tell her I was still alive, and then talked to my son who was just headed back to college after spring break. He said, ďGood job dad, Iím really proud of you. Thatís really good!Ē
After the top finishers were announced and a few people got up and spoke it was over. I got on my bike and rode home. On my way home, I was happy I had chosen to ride my bike, because it gave me a chance to loosen my muscles and keep them warm. I took a shower and a short nap to recover a little, then ate dinner and watched the Van Helsing movie. He said, ďI fight evil. Thatís what I do.Ē
No matter what our choices are in life, we have to do what we do to the best of our abilities. We have to make choices no matter what anyone says we should do. Go on living, make your choices. You have to anyway, so make the best of it. My choices? My spirit tells me to fly, and how can I expect to fly if I cannot yet run? But Iím getting closer.
In my race packet there was one piece of literature that is a possible answer to my question from yesterday. It is inspiring if I choose to be bold enough. Be human, be spiritual. Donít forget the part that loves others and thinks and feels in everything we do and in every choice we make. Life is worth really living.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:32 PM

March 19, 2005

Short Timerís Attitude

Iím the only person I know that has put in a two-month notice at a job. Who would do such a thing?! I told the supervisor some specific dates I needed off this month and next month, and then Iíd be done working there. Last Saturday was my first day off when I ran the Lake Johanna 4-mile running race. Tomorrow is the second day off, when Iím running the Human 8k (5-mile) race. Then in April Iím doing the Iron Crotch 60-mile bike ride on the 24th, and finally April 30th Iím running in the Get in Gear 10k at Minnehaha Park. Also on the 30th, Iíll be at the TCBC swap meet at Southtown Bingo staffing a display table for the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. Then on May 1st Iíll be working my last day at that job. After that my schedule becomes really intense and Iíll be gasping for time to breathe.
I gave two months notice because I donít want to leave these people stranded. I work at a group home every weekend and itís hard to find people for these jobs. Most people have better things to do on their Saturdayís and Sundays. And many people donít have the patience or stomach for it. I remember my first week on the job when I took all four of them to a restaurant and one guy decided he needed to use the bathroom. Then he made a mess all over the bathroom and himself. Being new to the job I really wondered what I got myself in for. I did the best I could to help him and he kept saying to me, ďIím sorry. Iím sorry.Ē And I did my best to reassure him help him maintain his dignity when he walked out of that bathroom. This past year working there has been a huge benefit to me. But now itís time for me to move on. I canít sustain working 7 days per week forever, and I want to experience some new things. Although as far as jobs go, I could manage working every weekend because it really was like taking care of a family. I cooked, cleaned house, did laundry, took them to movies, the library, the fair, birthday parties, shopping, to get their hair cuts, etc.
Another advantage was that I became a good housekeeper. Today for instance my coworker came back from her break and the first thing she said was, ďWow, the living room looks great!Ē I had dusted, swept, shook out the rugs, mopped the floor and put it all back together before she had returned. I also had the laundry done and made dinner. The experience of doing all of these things with this group-home has made me a better person with more skills and has changed my life. I can clean a bathroom top to bottom, bathtub, shower and toilet included in fifteen minutes. ;-)
And my ĎShort timerís Attitudeí is NOT ďI canít wait to get out of here!Ē but more like, ďI donít know how I will be able to handle leaving these wonderful people!Ē I should have put in a one-week notice and then I wouldnít have to think about leaving, for another whole month. Iím used to seeing them every weekend and I know their personalities and likes and dislikes and little quirks. I will miss the hugs and their excitement to see me when I get there each day (and my excitement to see them).
With two monthís notice though, they should be able to find a replacement for me. But with one month to go, Iím feeling sad that I wonít be able to replace them in my life.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:24 PM

March 18, 2005

The great snow adventure ride

tonight I rode my bike home from work and it was really an adventure! I got one of my greatest workouts ever! I'd say on a difficulty scale this was about equal to a 3-4 mile run. And I learned a few tricks about balancing and staying upright when the bike is sliding all over. Like purposefully turning the wheel to maintain balance. After getting out of downtown I couldn't ride on the side of the road because it was too thick and my fat mountain bike tires were just floating over the snow and sliding all over the place. So I rode in the ruts where the cars were driving and for the most part It was slushy and I hit pavement. I made pretty good time going home but I was drenched with sweat by the time I reached my house. I couldn't ride up my block because it gets very little car traffic, so I had to walk a hallf a block to my house pushing my bike.
So if my coworker called me crazy for riding my bike in this weather but I made it home safely, got a great workout and had fun doing it, is it crazy?

Posted by carl1236 at 9:12 PM

March 17, 2005

Palagummi Sainath revisited

On March 1st I wrote about the Journalist from India that was speaking at the U of M, Palagummi Sainath. I first saw an article from an Asian news source, then did a search online for his name and found an article by Brian Kaller in the ĎPulse of the Twin Citiesí newspaper.
Yesterday morning I had a meeting close to the UofM with one of our consultants. As I was walking out of their office building I saw some racks with most of the Free papers and magazines in the Twin Cities, like the Rake, City Pages, the Pulse, etc. I thought it was cool because I really enjoyed that one article by Brian Kaller, but had not had a chance to read the Pulse before that and this was a good opportunity to try it.
My first impression of this newspaper is that I can really identify with many of the things they write about and the way they present them. For instance in this issue, March 9th, they had an article about Virtuous businesses ďwhose success is measured in more than profit.Ē For the bicycling fans reading this, they talk about Peace Coffee, which delivers coffee by bicycle and Spokes Pizza, which delivers pizzas by bicycles. Also they highlighted other good businesses like the Grease Pit Bike Shop on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, a nonprofit bicycle collective that provides free bike repair lessons and a public shop with the tools and the facilities to fix and build bikes from salvaged materials, like the Sibley Bike Depot in St. Paul. Then I saw the letters to the editor section and I got sidetracked. I still havenít read the whole newspaper, because there was a letter from someone responding to Brian Kallerís article about Palagummi Sainath. And the writer of the letter, Doug McGill from Rochester, provided a link to his blog, Local Man where he also wrote about Palagummi Sainath. I followed the link and behold, a brand new viewpoint. I found it interesting.

Oh, and Brian, I loved your section in the Pulse, ďIn case you missed it...Ē I did miss hearing about the Department of Homeland Security experimenting with making immigrants who are applying to remain in the United States wear electronic monitors 24 hours a day, like rapists and other convicted criminals wear on parole.
And I especially liked that you put the link in there to the story by National Public Radio. I havenít had time to read it yet, but Iím already appalled at what I just read about. Imagine if we went to another country, like France, Germany or England and their government made us wear those! We would think Hitler won the war.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:23 PM

March 16, 2005

A gift from a friend

A long time ago I became friends with a sculptor. His work mostly is meant to make a statement. He has done a lot of work related to slavery and equal rights and issues related to discrimination. When I first met my friend he was working as a security guard at my office building. Several years ago he was working on the piece that he gave to me today as a gift. I would stop by the guard desk and chat with him and see how the work was progressing. It was very interesting to see his whole process from beginning to end.
Over the years I have helped him in different ways, like photographing his work and editing his letters and grant applications, cleaning up his computer, getting his scanner to work, helping him to create brochures, helping him move his sculptures into showings, etc. And because of my friendship with him I also helped out his studio building during the St. Paul Art Crawl by volunteering as a door greeter. Iíve hung out at his studio having long discussions with him about life and family as he was working on his projects. He is a statement artist. Most of his sculptures are related to the plight of the African Americans from slavery to the present. His work has been shown in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and other prestigious places. I can really relate to him as a sculptor because Iím a sculptor at heart. Except my sculptures are done in wood as a woodcarver. I can see his vision as he is creating a piece and appreciate the composition as itís revealed during the sculpting process.
When he gave me this gift today, I didnít really know how to react. I am not really a good gift receiver. I love to give things to other people, but I donít need anything. I donít crave things or desire things for myself. Iíll buy things myself, but when someone asks me what I want or need, itís hard to say, because I usually donít know I want it until I see it. Iím really a poor consumer because Iím much too content with life without things and I donít crave anything. My friendís sculptures made me think. I appreciated the craftsmanship and vision in his designs. But I didnít particularly have a burning need to have one. Now I received a piece I consider to be one of his best. I tried to refuse, but he said, ďI know I donít owe you this, and that you wouldnít ask for anything in return, but youíve helped me so much I want you to have this. I know you like this piece so I want to give it to you.Ē So I accepted. He wrapped it up in bubble wrap for me and I carried it back to my office. I still donít know how to take this gift. I am thrilled to look at it, because itís a very interesting relief sculpture that tells a good story. I like the bright color and it has a hopeful message.
On the way back to my office two people stopped me to see what I had. They were stunned to see I had one of my friendís sculptures. This sculpture would sell for about 450 dollars. But I didnít buy it, so I had to explain that I didnít buy it. This compounded my guilt in receiving a gift of such value. And I certainly donít want to incur any special favors because of things Iíve done. All I was trying to do was be a good friend to someone who needed a friend. And thatís what I did. Thatís what friends are for. I listened, I helped out where needed and I gave advice when asked. I never expected anything in return. Just because friendship doesnít really expect a return. I think thatís why I have an easy time giving gifts but a hard time accepting them. I donít want anyone to think I have expectations of a return. In my view, friendships are about giving to and uplifting another human being, helping them to live to their potential. I believe in my friend to keep creating his artwork and doing what heís doing to help people see a different view on life and reveal how we often treat each other as human beings. So I accepted his gift and now am wondering what I should do with it. Itís either going to hang in my cubicle at work or in my new library. My friend suggested I hang it in my library because itís new. And this piece talks about the value of life and friendship and lifting up our friends when they are down or downtrodden.
To me, this piece of work as a collectorís item has no value, but as a gift from a friend that shows his appreciation and that he values our friendship, itís priceless. I think before I move it to my new library at home, Iíll display it at work so everyone can see the message of hope in it. Then after a while, Iíll bring it home and keep it by my computer to help me think of my friend and his lifeís mission to get people to think about racism and itís effect on our fellow human beings. Regardless of where it hangs, his gift to me is really his declaration of friendship, which I will never forget. Here is my friend Frank J. Brown's sculpture:
P3170004.JPG Copyright Frank J. Brown

Posted by carl1236 at 11:17 PM

March 15, 2005

Friends helping friends

I always believed that I should help my friends whenever they were in trouble, whether that was needing encouragement or a few extra dollars to make it through the month. I never looked at my friends as Ďneedyí or having any less value because they asked for help. I felt the opposite because I know how hard it is to ask for help.
I did have to turn some friends down for financial help in the last six months and I felt bad about that. But I really didnít have the resources to give at the time. Now someone has asked for my help, and itís not much, but still it will be inconvenient. So, do I sacrifice a little and help or turn my friend down? The answer for me lies in the meaning of friendship for me. Itís not really about the money.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:51 PM

March 14, 2005

Exertion and Motivation

Heavy physical exertion can lead to a lack of motivation. I've been finding when I work out really hard, I don't have much energy left to do or think about anything. I just want to veg out in front of the TV or pick up a book and be alone for a while. I certainly don't feel like studying, doing work or working on projects. I just want to rest, which my body needs.
I think physically demanding jobs would have the same effect. I don't have one of those jobs but I add in my own physical exertion each day. The exercise usually is very stimulating during the day but by the time I get home, my energy level is down and so is my motivation. I don't mind giving myself the rest though, because I know I need it to get stronger. My brain also needs it.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:37 PM

March 13, 2005

Rolling Billboard

Today I picked up my St. Paul Bike Racing Club Jersey. As soon as it warms up outside enough to wear this, I'll be a rolling billboard. As far as I can tell, Sponsorship is one of the main ways some of these types of organizations can do so many things like sponsor races and elite teams and so on. And I suppose it adds to team spirit and motivation to be all dressed in the same jerseys. Just picking it up today made me wish April was over so I could start my Beginner's Racing Program. Spring Fever, haha.
In the mean-time, tomorrow I will go out and run with a new-found enthusiasm after Saturday's confidence builder. Hopefully in a month and a half my lungs will be in much stronger condition.

Posted by carl1236 at 7:58 PM

Language Links

Елизавета has a new site with a lot of great information and links on learning Russian. She just posted the updated link in a comment to one of my posts. One thing I find fascinating and encouraging is to see people like her that are learning languages on their own. I originally found her site through a Korean language learnerís site, 강미, who also has a self-study program and a blog about learning the language. Елизавета also speaks French and has a lot of knowledge about Linguistics which is my major at the University. If you are studying Russian or Korean these are good sources. Iím adding a link to Елизаветаís site and 강미ís site to my link bar so itís easier to find.

I have seen in their blogs many of the same kinds of language learning and motivation problems Iím facing. Often I get off track and let it slip for a while, but then realize itís been too long and have to redirect myself onto a continuous learning program, daily in order for it to be effective. And essentially Iíve already determined that Iím going to learn these languages, so there is no better time than now. There is no-one else who can learn them for me; it takes a concerted effort on my part.
If you are learning Russian or Korean, or just interested in languages, check out these blogs. They have a lot of good tips for language learning.

Posted by carl1236 at 7:43 PM

March 12, 2005

Lake Johanna 4 Mile Race Results

Today I surpassed my original goal of 7:30 miles. This is a major accomplishment for me, considering that I just started running about 10 weeks ago and was running 10 minute miles. The first mile I ran today was at 7 minutes. The second mile was at exactly 14 minutes. The third mile was at 21 minutes! I was running 7 minute miles and that was motivating, but then I hit the hill! That almost killed me. But I kept going. It was about 3/4 miles long and slowed me down, mainly because I couldn't get enough oxygen. My legs seemed fine though and I picked upt the pace to run the last mile in 8:04, for a total time of 29:04 for 4 miles. That met my overall goal of under 30 minutes total, with almost a minute to spare! In two weeks I have the Human 8K race at St. Thomas to look forward to. It's a longer distance but almost totally flat. So I'm going to try for 7 minute miles in that race. Now I have to figure out how to train for the next two weeks.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:47 PM

March 11, 2005

Event of the day

My most significant event today was finding a cellphone on the road while riding home and managing to find out who's it was and returning it to the owner. I never found out how it got there but the owner seemed to know how it happened. In any case he was happy to get it back. It was a good day.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:26 PM

March 10, 2005

Soft-Core Porn (Marketing)

Jim posted an interesting topic about soft porn in magazines. For instance, he posted a picture of the Outside magazine that had a picture of a nude woman strategically covered, who is a rock climber, and he mentioned the bicycling magazineís sex issue, which showed nude, but covered women bicyclists. Jim brought up a good point: Why do these magazines feel they need to show that?
I posted two responses about the magazines, one that was mostly about the lack of real deep content, which I think Jim was also saying when he talked about the Outside magazine, ďAnyway, Outside doesn't do interesting pieces like that anymore. Now they do a bunch of shit that looks like it could be found in any men's health magazine: what to eat, what to wear, how to get laid more, pictures of unnaturally muscular men doing Tai Chi. And they also have become a purveyor of soft-core porn.Ē
Jim has a valid point.
Then I posted a second time talking about the advertisements to identify who these magazines are being marketed to. I did not even go into the types of articles being written for a target audience, but I think that applies also. Perusing the magazine rack, there seem to be more and more soft-porn articles also, like in one of the menís fitness magazines Jim mentioned carrying an article titled, ďThe orgasm almanac: How to keep her coming back for more.Ē I look at magazines like that and see that itís mostly about body building and according to the many advertisements in the magazine for supplements to build Ďbulk,í Iíd guess these magazines are targeted toward young male body builders.
Then posted to a comment on Jimís article, I listed the advertisements in my Time magazine, in which I did not see any soft porn, but according to the advertisements, that I think itís targeted toward aging baby boomers with a good income. You have to read Jimís post and my comments to see what I mean on that one.

Now Iíd like to continue this idea with a different magazine to see how the advertisements indicate the audience intended for the magazine. An interesting discovery came out of this for me, in that I did not pay attention to the ads when I bought the magazine and I did not expect what I would find in the Psychology Today magazine, mainly because Iím highly interested in psychology and I enjoy their articles, so I would have expected to be part of the target audience, but Iím NOT according to the advertisements:

Premium Fresh Step Scoopable Kitty litter Ė Step into a fresher house.
Capella University degreeís online featuring a woman outdoors with sun reflecting off her hair looking into the distance. The caption said, ďExtend a hand and see what a difference you can make.Ē
Judy Singerís MetaSystem weight loss pills showing a before and after picture of a middle aged woman and a quote, ďI went from size 16 to 8 in 3-1/2 monthsĒ
Better Eggs (lower fat, less cholesterol) ad showing a woman holding up a plate of eggs smiling
Barbaraís Bakery Multigrain Shredded Spoonfuls cereal, saying ďSometimes Smaller is betterĒ
Hidden Valley Ranch dressing showing a young girl running through a grassy field holding a carrot dipped in the dressing.
CIIS New masters degree in integrative health studies
BehaviorialScienceBooks book club
Glad ForceFlex stretchable strength kitchen garbage bags
True.com Ė Find out what True Love feels like Ė Find your soulmate
Yogi Tea Ė Organic Womanís Teas Ė Supports Breast Cancer Research
Neuromins Dietary supplements DHA showing a woman drinking a cup of coffee or tea smiling.
Lyc-O-Mato Dietary supplement
LycoMato Tomato Lycopene Complex
The i-ching Book of answers ďif you have ever doubted what action to take in a situation, this book will end that doubtĒ
Two Perennial Currents books called, ďHow can I forgive you?Ē and ďAfter the AffairĒ
Estroven Menopause Monitor home test kit
Concerta once-daily methylphenidate HCI ďWith Concerta, I see Matt. Not his ADHD.Ē
Zand Changes for Women Day and Night formula
Natureís Path Optimum Choice organic cereals showing a woman riding fast on a dirt trail on a mountain bike smiling.
Zzone Sleep Solution showing a woman with fist raised in the air, the caption reading, ďUnleash your personal power.Ē
National Mental Health Association asking the question, ďHow can you make a REAL difference?Ē
Shen Therapy Institute, True emotional healing is much more than merely releasing emotion.
The Psychology Today bookshelf, advertising itís books
An ad for Stephen Levineís book Unattended Sorrow.
Clayton College of Natural Health, Celebrating 25 years educating the Leaders of Natural Health
409 deep-cleansing formula for a kitchen so clean it shines
Tempur-Pedic Pressure Relieving Swedish Mattresses and Pillows
Clorox Disinfecting Wipes Ė donít just clean. Clean and disinfect.
Find a therapist! You want to talk to someone...but how do you find the right person? showing a woman sitting in a soft chair looking on her laptop Ė psychology today dot com.
Tilex Mold and Mildew remover with pictures of super models, saying Their homes have mold too.
RosettaStone language learning software showing a woman at a table with a laptop
Glad Pressín Seal food wrap
MHP Thyro-Slim complete weight loss program Ė Breakthrough formula is making women smile!
EstroLogic Natural Estrogen Balance Herbal Supplement
Whole Ground Flaxseed meal containing Omega-3 fatty acid
Zand liquid formula Glucosamine and Zanergy showing a woman rock climber on the face of a cliff
CortiSlim As seen on TV weight loss dietary supplement showing a series of pictures of one woman going from fat to slim with her arms up in the air smiling saying, ďThis has already been the BEST YEAR of my life!Ē
Poise Pantiliners

Iím probably not saying anything new here, because it may be pretty obvious that magazines and advertisers target specific audiences. They want buyers and subscribers. But something I havenít said, is what kind of a message are these magazines sending to their target audiences? In Pscychology Today it seems to be that a womanís job is still in the home. In the Time magazine it seems to be that to be successful you need to buy luxury vehicles and invest your money wisely. In the Menís fitness magazine it seems to be get more muscle, get more power, get more women.

Is that what life is all about? Have we had our fill of soft-core marketing?

Posted by carl1236 at 8:49 PM

March 9, 2005

Testing our way to a goal

Often along the way to our goals we have to test ourselves to be able to tell what we are capable of and to reassure ourselves that we are really on the right track. In preparation for the Lake Johanna 4-mile race on Saturday morning, I wanted to see if I could really run 7:30 miles for four miles. Thatís 30 minutes total. The last two times Iíve been running, Iíve been doing just over 8-minute miles for 5.5 miles. The other day I said I predict that on Saturday Iíll run the four miles in 30 minutes. So today at lunch I tested myself.
I ran the same 5.5 mile loop that I have been running except this time I timed myself at the two-mile mark and the 4 mile mark. I ran harder than normal and was really working hard. I think I hit the maximum I was capable of at that moment. My lungs couldnít seem to take in enough air and I was breathing as hard and steady as I could. Somehow the oxygen was getting to my legs and brain because I kept going.
At the two-mile mark, I was at exactly 15 minutes. Then I started on the long upward climb toward the 4-mile mark and I passed it at 31 minutes! That was one minute short of my goal, but I consider it achieved, because at the beginning of the course I had to wait for two stoplights to get out of downtown. So actually I must have had a faster pace for the beginning two miles after I got past those. Then the second two miles are all uphill, so I did well to hang on to that pace. So, on a more level course that doesnít have stoplights, I know Iíll be able to run it in 30 minutes. I proved that I could do it.
When we talk about motivation, for anything, even my job, I sometimes have to test myself to make sure I am on the right track and progressing. Even if itís just for reassurance that I could do it. When I was doing software training, I almost always went through all of my training material from beginning to end to make sure I didnít have any surprises and to make sure I was prepared. Itís a horrible feeling to be teaching and not have an example work the way itís supposed to work. Iíve had it happen and itís no fun. Yes, we can call this preparation, but itís also testing ourselves to make sure we can handle it and make sure we are on the right track. While practicing the event, Iíve often discovered things I needed to fix before the actual event. I then put in the time to prepare and I knew what to expect. In the case of running on Saturday, up until today I was guessing Iíd do better during a race than when running by myself, but I had not run that fast yet on my own. It was an educated guess. But now, unless other problems pop up like a physical injury or something, I know I can do it and have confidence. Saturday Iíll run hard and make my goal of 30 minutes for the 4 miles.
This is one method Iíve used to ace my vocabulary quizes in the past. I would make up mock-quizzes and time myself to fill in the translations from Korean to English and from English to Korean. I would get the feel for doing it quickly and I would know I was ready. I tested myself and had confidence. This is very motivating. And when Iím not ready, I know what I need to work on, so focusing on being ready can also be motivating.
Also today I didnít have any motivation problems getting started running like on previous runs because I knew I was testing myself and was focused on doing that. Was it hard? Yes, one of the hardest things I've done, but I didn't lose motivation for it.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:48 PM

March 8, 2005

Time and ability to do it all

I've kind of let my language studies slide these past two weeks, even though I've had a plan, although kind of loosely designed. But Tonight I have restarted and maybe this weekend I'll try posting again in Korean and russian.
One interesting thing that happened though, was my wife bought me a pair of "Smartwool" socks for running (very unexpected, sweet of her and much appreciated) and on the container there were several language translations talking about the product. Every one of them used the word for 'Marino Wool' except for the English language which used the registered trademark name, 'Smartwool' :
* Only 100% Smartwool next to your skin
* Uniquement 100% de laine de merinos de categorie fine contre votre peau
* Nur 100% feinste Merinowolle direkt auf Ihrer Haut
* Solo la mejor lana 100% de Merino junto a su piel

Also today I bought a Time magazine off the newspaper stand because of the title and found it very interesting. It's a good article about the science of the brain. I think it's worth reading if you can find a copy of it. March 7, 2005 issue of Time: The Math Myth - The real truth about women's brains and the gender gap in science.
I think this is a good answer to Harvard University President Larry Summers' ideas about gender disparities. For instance, statistics by the National Science Foundation show that more women are receiving bachelor's degrees in science fields than men now and that the trend increasing. Also they show that the balance in the Doctoral gap is slowly changing as more women persue advanced degrees. 30 years ago 1 in 10 PHD's in Sceince and Engineering were women as opposed to 2002 when 1 in 3 were women. Also an interesting part of the article is about how the brain differences in men and women are not static but change and adapt in response to differences in input.
I think one reason why I instinctively react to statements that try to oversimplify and divide men and women into categories, especially in the area of capabilities is because I recognize the ability and choice of human beings to use anything they can find against other people to justify their beliefs about the world they live in. This applies to other areas of life besides gender, like sexual differences, religious beliefs, race, nationality, social status, wealth, etc. People who want to divide will find a way to rationalize it and try to find divisions instead of uplifting other people and finding ways to minimize inequalities in the way people are treated.
Anyway, I found this article very good and worth reading. There were also a couple of interesting articles in the current issue of the Psychology Today magazine related to gender differences and how those differences are changing based on experiences, especially the changes in mens brains based on their more intimate relationships in the family now verses previous generations.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:31 PM

March 7, 2005

Rat Tales

Today I ran 5.5 miles again at lunchtime, again at exactly 45 minutes. My new shoes did absorb more schock, especially on the downhill runs. An interesting part of today's run was how cold it was compared to yesterday. It was strange trying to stay warm and keep cool at the same time. I get hot and sweaty when I run, and my head and hands get very warm so I usually end up taking off my hat and gloves after the first mile. But today the wind was so cold and strong, it hurt to run without protection from it.
My motivation today was not sagging before the run. It did drop when that freezing cold burst of air hit me hard. I wanted to quit and go back. Then running up the long hill I thought my lungs would burst and my muscles were burning and felt week. I wanted to quit then.
But I didn't quit. I kept looking at my goal and thinking I have to get better at this. Saturday I have a 4 mile race, which I'm looking forward to. I predict I'll run that with about 7:30 miles, at least that's my target, which I think I can do.
But today about 3/4 of the way through my run I almost stepped on a dead rat that was huge! It was bigger then two of my cats! It must have been uncovered by the big thaw yesterday. When I saw it, I almost stepped on it, but it shocked me so bad, I jumped into the air and let out a yelp. haha, then after I calmed down I looked around to see if anyone had seen me do that. No-one was around though. After seeing that dead rat I didn't have any more motivation problems running back to the office. I think my pace actually increased.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:35 PM

March 6, 2005

My first longer ride of the season

Today I rode the 20 miles from St. Paul to Burnsville where I work at the group home, then back again tonight. Those were two very interesting and wonderful experiences. Spring is awesome! I rode over Glacial flows where big sheets of ice were encroaching on the road, through countless rivers of water from the melting ice and found a few hidden potholes that jarred me to the bones. I also remembered why I dislike flat tires. I got one on my way to work this morning and it totally broke my pace. And to make matters worse, I did not have a patch kit in my bag. But thankfully, my intuition kicked in this morning and told me to throw that extra tube in my backpack. It was a last minute thought before I ran out the door. So I wasnít stranded, but it did take me 26 minutes to change my tube and get back on the road. I really need to speed that process up a bit.
Coming home it was dark. I had lights, but I also remembered why I donít like riding long distances in the dark. I could not tell what was ice and what was water, so I slipped in a few places but didnít go down. Also, potholes hide very nicely under those puddles of water! It didnít seem to damage my rim but I sure felt bent out of shape, haha. That hurt! This is the same reason I stopped riding long distances last Fall after the daylight-savings-time switch. I never did invest in a super bright 20-watt headlight but maybe before next Fall Iíll do that. Also, another strange thing about riding at night is that it feels like Iím going faster than I really am. On my way home I only averaged 16mph for the 20 miles, when it felt like I was going about 18-20mph. Haha, maybe that was wishful thinking. But maybe because my sense of sight was limited, I was more tuned into the feel of the bikeís motion.
Now Iím tired and ready for bed, but Iím looking forward to running tomorrow at lunchtime in my new running shoes. I think Iíll be able to tell on that 5.5 mile course if they feel better than my old shoes and if some of the shock is absorbed better.
This was my first ride on my road bike this season, so it felt a lot different than my mountain bike and it didnít feel right the whole ride. I have to adjust a few things for proper fit. For some reason I could not tell it was not set up properly last year when I was riding it, but now I can tell. My handlebars are not high enough and my legs are bending too much, so Iíll have to adjust my seat also. So thatís on my list of things to do this week.
I think overall I felt really good on this ride and did not feel like I had been sitting around all winter, which I wasn't. I felt really strong on the hills. I think that is the running paying off, plus my daily commute up the Ohio Hill probably helps ;-)

Posted by carl1236 at 10:46 PM

March 5, 2005

Why the Ďwet testí is not very accurate

So Iíve been looking for running shoes and have done a fair amount of research into what I really need. Several people I know have told me to just go to a running store that has knowledgeable staff that can find the right shoe for me. But in my reasoning I felt like I should know what I needed before buying expensive shoes that may or may not be better for me. I looked online and in the Runnerís World magazine and asked people that I knew what they thought of the things I was learning.
In the Runnerís World magazine they rate shoes and even give advice on how to select the proper shoes for our foot types. According to them there are three basic foot types, based on your arch: 1. Normal (medium) Arch, 2. Flat (low) arch, and 3. High Arch. Normal Arch people are normal pronators, Flat-footed people are Over Pronators and High Arch people are underpronators. This has to do with how the foot rolls when it strikes the ground. According to the running experts, each shoe is designed with a particular type of body and stride in mind. But really thatís mind washing because all the sales people, and the magazine articles really look at is your arch.
There are motion control shoes, neutral-cushioned shoes, stability shoes and performance training shoes, each designed with a particular arch in mind. Runnerís World magazine had this test online to determine what type of arch you have. Following their guidance, I put my bare foot in water then stepped on a brown grocery bag to make a print of my foot. This shows how much of your foot strikes the paper. After reading all about pronation and arch types and shoe types, I thought I was wise enough to go into the store and know if they were selling me any old shoe. I thought I had normal arches with normal pronation, which should mean I would wear a Stability shoe. According my Ďwet testí I have normal arches, neither high nor low.
When I got to the store, the place was really busy. I was told this store in particular was run by runners and they really knew what they were talking about. It makes sense that if they have a lot of experience, they should be able to help me better than a more general sporting goods store where they sell everything and their salespeople donít actually use the products. I waited for help, mainly because I didnít want to select any old shoe just by appearance, and I wanted to hear what they were going to recommend. When it was my turn I told the saleslady that I wanted a running shoe that had more cushion than my current shoes because my legs felt like they were getting pounded. Then I made the mistake of mentioning that I took the Ďwet testí to check my arches already. She wasnít impressed or remotely enthused. She was probably thinking, ďOh God, hereís another one that reads something in a magazine and thinks they are an expert runner.Ē She insisted I take off my shoes and she would check for herself. She informed me that the Ďwet testí is not really accurate because you have to look at the arches to see how high the arch is off the ground, not just whether it touches. I thought, ďYeah, that makes sense. A really low arch could be off the ground but low enough that it needs extra support. A high-arched foot could have more surface area on the ground, but the arch could still be very high.Ē So what I thought were normal arches, she said were flat. That means that I should be an over-pronator and require a motion-control shoe to control that excess pronation. According to my research these shoes are better for runners who are flat-footed or strike hard on their heels and for heavier runners who need support and durability. Iím not heavy and I donít strike hard on my heels. Also based on the wear on my shoes, my feet are rolling off in the center of the toes, which means my pronation is very normal, not over or under rolling. But I saw her point about how low my arches looked. So I just let her bring on the shoes that were supposed to fit my arch type.
After trying on about 7 pair by several manufacturers I finally eliminated the Nikeís, Adidas, New Balance and some other shoe and settled on one pair of Asics. Out of all of these, this one pair seemed like what I was looking for. It felt good. According to my research though, She should have been selling me a Motion Control shoe, when what I ended up with was a Stability shoe. Thatís what I originally determined I needed for a normal arch. I donít actually think there is much difference between these two shoe types anyway, but it did leave me wondering how much knowledge is enough. I got some new running shoes that feel good and have good cushion and arch support, so I guess I can keep running. I could have just skipped my research and took the advice of the experts and bought what they told me, and saved myself hours of reading time.

This reminds me, another one of my daughterís journal topics was, ďHow much education should a person get? Why? This question sounds like itís asking for a grade level or how high of a degree a person should achieve, and if thatís the case I think the question should be rephrased to something like, ďWhen should a person stop learning?Ē I think we all are perpetual learners and can never assume we know everything, because there is always more to learn. I didnít waste the time I spent learning about shoes, because I learned more by having a basic understanding already. I also learned that even the experts donít know everything and sometimes contradict each other. In these cases the only recourse is to either take their advice or leave it. When I get out and run with my new shoes Iíll learn even more about the construction and function of specific shoe types, by experience. How much learning should we do in our lifetime?
The 'wet test' is not very accurate because it's not enough.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:42 PM

March 4, 2005

Human Motivation and desire

Today I ran the same 5.5-mile loop at lunchtime. This time I ran it in 45 minutes! Thatís just over 8-minute miles. I ran three times this week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And I actually felt stronger and recovered quicker after this run than I did the previous two times.
But what motivated me to do it? Today I didnít feel like running at all. I really was wishy-washy and unmotivated to go running. On Monday when I ran I felt like quitting three times but today I felt like quitting before even starting. Part of the problem was that I told myself that I didnít really need to run today. This is after all the most Iíve run since beginning to run about 9 weeks ago.
I asked myself, ďHow do I motivate myself to do something I donít have to do?Ē This applies to other areas of my life also, like language learning, playing my trumpet, cycle racing, house cleaning, book editing, blogging, reading, experimenting, volunteering, working, etc. Well, some things a person could argue have to be done, like house cleaning. But even that is a choice and life goes on even in a messy house. I donít have to do it, so sometimes I let it slide. Thatís the idea behind this topic. I let it slide because I donít really have to do it and I know it.
But that doesnít mean that I want to let things slide all the time. Some things like cleaning, I donít let slide because I want a clean house. The desire to have a clean house overrides my lack of desire for cleaning. So it seems to me that even in the case of physical training, if I want to motivate myself to do what I donít have to do, I should look at changing my desire. I may want to be in better shape and be able to compete well in bicycle races, but if I know I donít really have to do this, which believe me I am fully aware of, then itís easy to let it slide. ďJust this once wonít hurt. I can start again on Saturday or Sunday.Ē
When troubleshooting anything, Iíve learned to look for the root causes, and not just treat the symptoms. For instance, the running itself is not the problem. Cycling is not the problem. Once Iím out doing that Iím loving it. Exerting myself on the hills is not the problem, because I really get into exerting myself and pushing myself beyond my known limits. The problem lies in my desire to do it. Do I really want to do it or not? So to solve this problem, I have to look at my desire to run, be fit, improve, get stronger, get faster, etc. If I really want to do those things I will do them. If Iím not doing something I think I want to do, then I have to ask myself why I donít want to do this. I didnít want to run at lunch today because I was being lazy, and because I forgot my overall goals and how important continuous training is for those goals. In order for me to get stronger and in better shape, I have to exercise regularly and not let it slide. Continuing this troubleshooting process I realized that I had to remind myself what my goals were in order to keep things like my fitness from becoming a lower priority than doing nothing. In fact, I can flip that around and ask myself, ďWhat kind of a priority am I placing on sitting at my desk vs. going out and running?Ē and ďWhy is that a higher priority than running?Ē
Do I still want to improve my fitness level? Yes.
Do I still want to get faster? Yes.
Do I want to continue running all year to prepare for that triathlon in August? Yes.
Do I want to be stronger and faster in cycling? Yes.
Do I want a well-balanced fitness approach that combines multiple forms of exercise that target different muscles? Yes.
There are some other reasons or higher motivations I didnít list here, but I also said, ďYESĒ to those.
I thought, ďMan, If I want all these things, then why am I sitting here on my butt?Ē So I went out and ran and it felt great! I even pushed myself a little harder to make it in 45 minutes.

I guess you could call this self-talk, but itís also troubleshooting. There was a problem, and it was not with the running itself, it was with my desire to do it and the priority I made it because of that desire. So to solve the problem, I had to change my desire. I did this by reminding myself of my overall goals. Again, seeing the bigger picture and putting this one task in that light helps me change my desire to do it. I also looked at what the alternative to running was doing for me and asked why that alternative should have a higher priority than running. Sitting at my desk during lunch today was not what I wanted when I wanted all those other things.

Posted by carl1236 at 5:04 PM

March 3, 2005

What's it like to be in a parade?

Here is another one of my daughter's Journal Topics. It's really interesting to write something on a topic of someone else's choosing within 6 sentences. It also is an interesting way to get ourselves to think about who we are and what we believe.

Iíve been in parades before and one sensation is that itís a lot of walking and standing around on your feet and by the end of it your feet ache. Another sensation is that you canít really see individuals in the crowd when you are concentrating on doing what you are doing and the crowd is so thick itís easier to just see a mass of people and not any one person. Another thought is that not one of those people sees my daily life, well, except for my family who is there somewhere watching and may get my attention by yelling or jumping out of the crowd. Otherwise, being in a parade is like having strangers look at your photo album and imagine and wonder at what itís like to be in those pictures. The pictures go by and the pages turn and the parade is over and they go home and they never did get to know the people in the parade; And I never did get to know the people who came to look.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:30 PM

March 2, 2005

Cycling vs. Running

Nathan asked me to compare cycling with running, including costs, health benefits, potential, etc. Also if I had to give up one, which one would I give up? Iím by far not an expert on either subject, but hereís my experience so far:

On March 16, 2005 Iíll have been cycling for one year. I started out slow, but by June I was riding faster and farther and decided I liked cycling for fitness. I was commuting back and forth to work every day and to get more miles in I found Ďalternateí routes. The first one was seven miles, then I found a good 13 mile route, then I found a 20 mile route, then on some nights going home, I would end up riding about 30 miles. At that point I knew I wasnít just commuting anymore, but it felt really good. Somewhere in August I peaked at about 210 miles per week, then tapered off again after Labor Day, until shortly before Christmas when I rode the bus. Then I decided I didnít like exercising in the house, so I bought a mountain bike the week before Christmas and started riding it to work the following week.
Also at that time I decided I needed to start training for bike racing coming up in the Spring so I made up a schedule that included running, commuting by bike and an upper body workout. Thatís why my earlier blog entries about running were under the category of cycle racing. To start running for me was a monumental hurdle. First of all, Iím 42 years old and I used to be a good runner when I was in my teens and early 20ís. My fastest timed run was a 10:24 two-mile race when I was 19 years old in the Army. I ran a lot then and it was kind of required for my job. All of my friends got into fitness and I loved running in groups. We used to run 10 miles at a 7-minute mile pace, in formation, everyone in step. That was fun. Anyway, we never competed in 5k or 10 runs with the public, but we had to do this 2 mile run, along with as many sit-ups we could do in two minutes, and as many pushups as we could do in two minutes. I maxed out at 72 perfect pushups in two minutes. If our arms did not break the horizontal plane the pushups werenít counted. Ah, but that was then. Iím older and not nearly close to that kind of shape. Along the way, I got out of the military, quit running and working out, and poured all of my free time into the vacuum of my computer career. Ever since quitting running cold turkey, I have not been able to start again. I had some kind of mental block against it and it was excruciating to even try, which I did on a few occasions. I used to love running, but then I couldnít. Mentally I think it had a lot to do with my leaving the military and putting that behind me. I would not be able to go back to that either. But something changed in me since giving all that up.
I realized that I needed to get myself back into shape and have regular exercise for many reasons. First of all, I was sitting behind a computer desk every day at work and every evening at home. I started to fall apart physically. I wasnít very healthy and I wanted to start exercising. So about a year-and-a-half ago, I rode my bike a few times to and from work. That felt good, but then it was Fall and I rode the bus. At that time I was changing my views on commuting and car use and was starting to ride the bus. For me that was liberating in itself, even without the freedom the bicycle offers because I was still free of my car. Then last year as I was used to riding the bus every day to and from work the bus strike happened. I had to figure out how to get to work. I think I drove a couple of times and had to find and pay for parking, and got a few rides, but then I decided to pull out my bike. On March 16th, 2004 everything changed. I started riding my bike, I started my fitness plan and Iíve been riding since then.
Another reason I started exercising is because regular exercise is good for our mental health. It helps fight depression and anxiety and relieves stress. Physically it helps lower cholesterol and decreases our risk of heart attacks. But the mental benefits are reason enough to stay fit. To have a well-balanced life, I believe we need to include adequate, regular exercise in our lives.
To me cycling is just pure fun. When I was a kid we rode our bikes everywhere. I donít know why we are so willing to give up something thatís so fun and so good for us. And combining cycling with commuting to and from work is a natural fit for daily fitness. It saves time and money. You donít even have to buy a club membership for that.
About halfway through the year, I became more serious about my overall fitness and started to feel more like an athlete than a casual rider. I liked that feeling. It reminded me of my younger physically fit days, and I could feel the improvement in my daily life. I could take six flights of stairs without dying. I could walk to work, which I did on several occasions, without dying. I had more energy too!
Iíve written about a lot of these experiences before, like the adventure involved in riding a bike. Adventure is good for the soul too. Finding and discovering the city like Iíve never seen it before is worth the effort! Now here is what Iíve learned in the past year about what it takes to ride a bike all the time: The bike does matter. Although itís not what you might think. Iím not advocating or pushing any high-priced trendy or yuppie bike. Iím also not advocating a one size fits all bike. I found out that it depends on what you want to do with the bike. In my case I wanted to ride faster and farther. It was really hard keeping up with the fast cyclists for 30 miles on my old metal Schwinn bike that weighed 30 plus pounds. That bike was good for short rides and more leisurely rides, but I needed something lighter and faster. I wanted to do that. It wasnít forced on my by high pressured bike salesman. But when I started to look for a faster bike, I did run into the expense wall. The faster lighter bikes all started at around 500 dollars for the cheapest models. Then I went to a bike swap in Minnetonka where I found a 500-dollar, entry-level aluminum-racing bike that had only been ridden a few times, for 300 dollars. That was really more than I could afford, but I bought it and it made a huge difference in my speed. I started to be able to ride 25 miles per hour and hold that pace for a while. That was a major breakthrough for me, and got me thinking about trying bike racing. So I made a plan to try that this year. And thatís where Iím headed. To ride in the winter I bought a mountain bike because of the knobby tires and straight handlebars. I donít regret that switch, because I think thatís much better suited to riding in the snow than my racing bike. I felt much safer and have ridden through a lot of crap I wouldnít have wanted to ride on with my racing bike. And then since I had a mountain bike, and I found a class on making studded snow tires, I decided I would actually try that ice racing! It was really cool! It was a boost to my confidence and I think my racing bike would not have been as good as this bike on the ice. This year, I also have two mountain bike races scheduled so I can experience that.
I know everything Iíve said about cycling so far is why Itís such a good fit for me. Itís not hard to get into and any old bike will do to get started. Itís a cheap hobby and fitness aid as long as you are not into buying all the latest and most expensive gear. Shopping around really helps. You can find deals on the good gear. I didnít know that at the beginning. But I didnít care either until I wanted to push my limits and go faster. Learning to repair your bikes helps. Mainly just flat tires. Itís horrible to get stuck way out somewhere and not be able to fix a flat. It does happen. I think Iíve had about 10 flats this last year. Those skinny tires go faster but they are also more prone to flats, because they are so thin. Buying the right gear and bike for your purpose is something that you can ease into once you decide what that purpose is. But even so, in my experience, my purpose changed and so did my needs. Now Iím getting rid of my two Schwinn bikes and just keeping my racing bike and my mountain bike. Iím getting road tires to put on the mountain bike for grocery shopping and other rugged tasks, like hauling paint from Menards, or hauling my aluminum cans to the recycling center, etc. I also bought a second set of wheels for my studded tires, so Iím going to put the road tires on those rims for the summer and I can quickly and easily swap to my mountain bike tires for my off road adventures. Then in the winter Iíll take off the road tires for that set of rims and throw the studded tires on for ice adventures. That way I can use one bike for multiple purposes. I bought the rims for 10 dollars apiece so itís worth the investment to me. I also had to buy a toolkit for my bike. I hate getting stranded.
Overall the cost is still way cheaper than running my car and paying for parking. Itís good for fitness and itís fun. Now about running. Iím doing it to make my bike racing a better experience and to be able to do a duathlon this Spring and a Triathlon in August. I used to love running when I was younger and now itís still a challenge to me. But itís getting better and more enjoyable the better shape I get into. I used to be a runner, so I know I used to like running a lot. Itís definitely a good workout. The first thing I noticed about running after having cycled for almost a whole year is that it uses different muscles. I was stiff and sore the first few times I ran, and then each time I increased the miles. With cycling I didnít feel that way until I hit 20 or 30 miles at a good pace. To compare, after running 5.5 miles today, I felt about like I did after the first time I rode 30 miles at one time with no breaks. Every muscle in my body felt tired. Running also forces us to breathe much harder, more continuously, than when riding a bicycle. In cycling we can coast some and regain our breath, but in running there is no coasting. The heart has to keep pumping hard enough to maintain the exertion. I do find that my breathing is getting easier when I run slowly, but itís still breathing hard. I think our bodies need more oxygen for running. Well, except in the case of cycle racing. Then I think itís about equal. I felt the same physical sensations when I was doing that ice race as I feel when Iím running my 5.5 mile loop. But racing is a much greater exertion level than normal bike commuting.
Now that Iím running, just using my K-Mart bought running shoes, I realize that I need a better pair of running shoes that provide better cushion, so now Iím shopping around for the right shoe for my needs. Iím looking at 80-90 dollar shoes. When I was younger I invested in a good pair of Brooks running shoes because I got shin splints once with my older, cheaper shoes. The new shoes made a huge difference and actually stopped me from getting that injury again. Shoes are the only major investment a runner needs to make, and I feel itís necessary to prevent injuries. Iím going to have to buy some better shoes eventually. But itís cheaper than buying a new bike and the workout is definitely hard.
Iím not choosing to give up one, as I posted yesterday in the comments section, because I am purposefully doing both. I think itís good to have a more well-rounded fitness plan. Iím not in this for strictly one sport; Iím in it for overall fitness and health. I will also be adding swimming to my fitness plan as soon as it gets warmer outside so I can start swimming in outdoor pools and lakes. I want to prepare to do my first ever triathlon in August. I also donít like to have monthly bills, as much as I can help it, so I donít want to join a health club. Both running and cycling I can do with minimal investment and no monthly fees. Of course it gets more expensive when our purpose changes and we see that we need some more specialized gear for a particular purpose. As a citizen athlete, I am going to enjoy all of these sports. Weíll see where it takes me.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:23 PM

March 1, 2005

ďMcJournalismĒ of the elite media

I am sad that I missed the talks given this last weekend at the University by Palagummi Sainath, one of Indiaís most respected journalists. If any of you saw him in Blegen Hall this weekend, let me know what you thought. Since I missed his talks, I went online in search of information to share with you about what Palagummi Sainath has to say.

Brian Kaller, in the ďPulse of the Twin CitiesĒ magazine, wrote and excellent article about Palagummi Sainath that I thought was worth reading. Some people who read this will be outraged at the light it puts the wealthy in, and some people who read this will be outraged because they did not know this kind of poverty existed. And some people who read this will probably think the poor deserve what they get. Or maybe we agree with everything said, but feel like there is nothing we can do. But as Palagummi Sainath said, Ďseeing it is a choice.í Itís easy to pretend poverty and abuse doesnít exist when we live in our society, where the trend is moving toward shutting out the harsh realities of life.

In this article there is a good interview, so if you missed the talks at the University like I did, see for yourself what Palagummi Sainath has to say:

ďPoverty is not a natural state. It is not a disease. It happens because of what human beings do to other human beings.Ē

ďTake the gap between the richest fifth of the world and the poorest fifth. In the last 20 years, the gap between those groups more than doubled. In 1998, the top fifth consumed 86 percent of all goods and services. The bottom fifth had to make do with 1.3 percent.
Itís very simpleówhen you have gross inequality in any society, you do not have democracy. You cannot have democracy when a huge section of societyís best hope is to become the servants of another group. If you are absolutely poor and absolutely incapable, people stop treating you as a human being. You are a subspecies.Ē

The Excellent PULSE Article by Brian Kaller

I wish we had more reporters like Palagummi Sainath, and Brian Kaller. I especially liked this sentence, ďIn articles and lectures he has harshly criticized the ďMcJournalismĒ of the elite media, urging his colleagues to instead get out among the people and focus on giving a voice to the voiceless.Ē

Posted by carl1236 at 8:24 PM