Giving Thanks and Being Fabulous

I wouldn't say that I'm in the habit of giving thanks on this blog, but I do often try to acknowledge thanks where appropriate.  Last year, around Thanksgiving, I wrote a post on giving thanks and since then, I've written two other public thank you notes.  One was a letter to the editor and the  other was a dedication on this blog of people who have been so helpful in getting me to finish my first marathon.

Those who know me, know that I am generally a positive person with a very sunny disposition.  I am rarely in a bad mood and if I do find myself in a darker mood without an extremely good reason, I can pretty quickly transcend it.  But what does the sunny disposition have to do with being thankful?  The sunny disposition comes from being thankful on a very deep level.

Whenever people ask the obligatory question, "How are you?"  I often answer with a "Fantastic!" or "Fabulous!"  That isn't just the automatic response that we all have to the question that nearly everyone asks but no one actually thinks about or even considers before answering and asking in return.  (How many times have you witnessed this circulate conversation?  Person 1:  "Hi, how are you?"  Person 2: "I'm fine.  How are you?"  Person 1:  "I'm good.  How are you?").  When I say "fabulous," I genuinely feel it and I feel it because I am thankful.

Thankful For Everything

Image:  Thank you.  Image Source:
So what am I so thankful about that I can so easily and so often answer the question with such exuberance?  The basic answer is EVERYTHING.  But clearly, that needs some unpacking.  If we look at the world, it is an extremely random and chaotic place.  Never mind, that over 7 billion individual human agents are interacting among one another with exponential random results.  There are myriads more germs and other micro-organisms also travelling from human to human, animal to human, etc.  That is coupled with living on giant (and no so giant) land masses that float on plates that regularly knock into one another.  And I won't even mention weather and climate (except that I just did).  Then we throw into the mix all the ways in which modern society has created further hazards for humankind such as war, environmental degradation, and unexpected negative byproducts of "human progress" (e.g. the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Great Pacific garbage patch).  None of this even touches upon the fact that we're essentially on a giant spaceship with a limited shield hurtling itself through space in a giant circle around a massive heating station always subject to whatever objects are hurtling through space in our direction.  All of this is to say, existence is extremely unstable.

Now, that seems to paint an awfully dark picture.  One would think amidst all this chaos, there is little to be so thankful for, but I would argue that this is a misapplication of the frame.  People view the myopic picture above and say, how can there be anything to be fabulous about?  I would flip that question and say, despite the reality of the things mentioned above, we are still a world full of people wherein the vast majority do the right thing more often than not. That is to say that things go right far more often than they go wrong.

The challenge is in recognizing all of the things that go right.

Here's a good example.  You are reading this post right now and if you've made it this far in the post, that probably means you're somewhat interested and are being provided with something that's engaging.  But can you name the millions of things that had to go right in order for this asynchronous exchange to happen?  Let's look at just 3 elements within this communication: me, you, and the blog.

In order for me to write this singular blog post, here is just a sample of the things that needed to go right:
  1. To be taught to read and write at a high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep me alive these past 34 years.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep me alive but to protect my body and mind.
  4. To have developed the self-awareness to be thankful in the ways that I am in order to write this post.
  5. To have access to electricity.
  6. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  7. To have access to the Internet.
  8. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  9. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for you to read this singular post, here is a just a sample of things that needed to go right for you:
  1. To be taught to read at a level of high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep you alive long enough to read this post.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep you alive but to keep your mind functioning well enough to read this.
  4. To have access to electricity.
  5. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  6. To have access to the Internet.
  7. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  8. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for both of us to be here on this blog (at different moments), here is just a sample of things that needed to go right:
  1. Written communication had to be created.
  2. Telecommunications had to be created.
  3. The internet had to be created.
  4. The Internet infrastructure had to be vastly developed which includes many many mainframes and connections.
  5. Computers had increase in productivity while decreasing significantly in cost.
  6. More interactive tools (Web 2.0) had to make interacting on the Internet more feasible (to the point of almost free).
  7. Blogger had to be created.
  8. Blogger had to be bought by Google.
  9. Google had to keep Blogger alive.
  10. Blogger had to maintain and hold onto all of the blog posts of all of its customers.  
That may not seem that much, but again, each item listed could be further broken down to highlight all of the things that had to go right.  For instance, consider all the things that could have interfered with either of us becoming literate?  That was rooted in millions of direct actions (our family, friends, and surrounding people affecting us from the womb to the present) and indirect actions (cultural decisions such as public education, what to do with children, etc).  When you try to tally it all up, you will come up with an almost infinite list of things that went right in order for just you and me to interact on this blog.

And that's the piece that many of us don't see.  We are more aware of bad things happening because of their rarity in our lives.  The fact is, that if you are waking up in a bed, are fairly certain where your next meals are coming from, and capable of reading this blog, you are far ahead of the game.  Your life in totality is good.  That's not to say that bad things won't happen and that real serious bad things shouldn't be acknowledged.  But to only acknowledge the bad and never take time to recognize all of the things that went right, is to wrongly stack the deck.

Something as simply as arriving to work carries with it a range of things to be thankful for.  First is that you arrived safely.  Consider all the things that could have gone wrong from slipping on ice on the walkway to your car malfunctioning to being hit by other drives to being mugged or suffering an illness on the way to work.  But no--you arrived safely and soundly.  There is the fact that you are employed and have a means of income.  That someone values you enough to pay you to do something.  (I recognize this is a harder nut to swallow but given competition for jobs and resources--there are after all amply people qualified to do any job that you are doing--regardless of whether you dislike your job or believe you are underpaid, you are being trusted and paid for services you are providing; not everyone is so lucky).

I do my best to stack the deck rightly so and acknowledge as much of the good in my life as possible but also recognizing that I'm probably only seeing a fraction of it all.  In that, I mean I recognize that for everyone 1 thing I can tangible recognize as going well for me, there are probably at least 5 things that went well that I didn't know about directly.  In truth, it is impossible for us to be fully aware of all the things that go right in a given moment, hour, day, etc.  There are just too many different things to account for.  Look at driving:  Each car is composed of hundreds of moving and interacting parts that allow you to drive.  Multiply this by the amount of cars on the road.  Throw in the road infrastructure (roads, signage, lights, guard rails, etc) and random pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc.  It's nearly impossible to comprehend all the things going right and that's just driving.  What about when we sit in our homes or work-spaces?  But all of it goes well 99.999% of the time.  Yes, that's a statistic that I just made up but I wonder if it's not far off the mark when we consider all the factors surrounding us that could do us harm.

Which brings me back to why I feel fabulous so often.  There's much to be feel fabulous about.  So many things in our lives, goes extremely right and for me to be anything less than fabulous undervalues all those things that goes right and I don't want to do that.  Because in valuing all those things that go right--in being thankful to those myriad positives, it makes the negatives much less potent.

However, in the last few months, I been trying to take that thankfulness to a new level.  First, my partner and I introduced a new idea into our relationship.  Before bedtime each night, we share about what we're grateful about.   It's big and small things.  Sometimes, there are clearly important things to be grateful for.  Yet other things regularly make the nightly list (my kitties and partner being regularly acknowledgments). People who say their prayers at night are not new to this idea but one does not need to be religious to be thankful for the many good and great things that we have to be thankful.

But again, I find myself wanting to take this idea of thankfulness one step further.  In August, I had the pleasure of hearing Carrie Stack, from the Say Yes Institute speak at an event at North Shore Community College.  One thing she emphasized that has stuck with me is to reach out and to say thanks to people for the things they do and be willing to go the extra step to make that thanks public.  That is, make you publicly acknowledge when someone has done you a good service and especially, if it relates to someone else's work--be sure to not only let that person know but their employers.  As Stack emphasized in her presentation, giving such public thanks goes far for you, for the person you are thanking and equally important, for others who may be present.  We have plenty of examples of people griping and complaining, but maybe what we need is more examples of people saying thank you to people.

So what are you thankful for?


About 2 hours after finishing the post, this TED Talk showed up on my newsfeed and I feel in many ways, it sums up my experience.

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Other Publication: Sitting at the Grownups' Table: PW Talks with Ross Ballard II

Recent interview with Ross Ballard, a narrator, director and publisher of great audiobooks.

As producer, director, sound engineer, and narrator, Ross Ballard II wears many hats for his small, independent audiobook publishing company, Audiobooks. His most recent production, Screaming with the Cannibals by Lee Maynard, came out this summer, and I had the opportunity to talk with Ballard about the company and his experiences as a small publisher in the booming audiobook industry.

How would you summarize what Audiobooks offers?

Audiobook Narrator Ross Ballard
We consider ourselves a boutique audiobook studio that can spot the diamonds in the rough, undiscovered books that the large Oprah Book Club type publishers won't touch. We give voice to works that would never see the light of diction if it weren't for us. I'm constantly amazed at how many really good authors with good books are going begging for attention from publishers that don't appear interested in discovering new writers. They seem happy enough to just continually pound their audiences with the same genre and slap a known name on every book their selling...We record a different set of "night fighters" -- authors who toil away at their day jobs then burn the midnight oil creating wonderful characters and storylines. They are not artists starving for their breakfast. They are artists starving for attention....

For the rest of the interview, check out Publishers Weekly.

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Tales of Running: The Two Demons I Run With

Whenever I take up a run, be it a 3 mile trot down the street or a marathon, I always have to face down a demon.  I call it, the Doubt Demon.  Even though I have now run over 550 miles this year and seen great improvement over the last two years as well as found an absolute love of running, I still have to face down the Doubt Demon every time I get ready to run.

Cthulhu - Image source:'lyeh.jpg
This is probably what my
Doubt Demon looks like
So who is the Doubt Demon?  The Doubt Demon has been with me for decades.  I couldn't say exactly when the Doubt Demon first appeared but it was likely born around my later elementary and middle school years.  It was here that the physical differences between my peers and me became most evident.  Besides being overweight, I was also a "late-bloomer".  Historically, I had a record of coming in dead last with every run at practice I've ever attended (or close thereto).  Thus, when it came to athletics, there was little self-confidence and a whole lot of doubt and it was here that the Doubt Demon was born.  (The demon has shown its head in other walks of life, but there are different origin stories for those areas).

The Doubt Demon is a sneaky bastard.  It finds ways to disrupt and distort my view and at times, even convinces me that I shouldn't run.  The Doubt Demon has regularly interfered with my running.  It tells me that I don't have enough time to do the run I want to do (and thus shouldn't run at all) or that I'm not running as fast as others so why bother or that going to the race today is just a waste of time.  It tells me that I'm too slow or that because I didn't run the speed that I did last time that I should just give up, because clearly, I suck.  It tells me that it's too cold or too hot or too perfect weather to go for a run.

What sucks about the Doubt Demon is that it stays perched on your shoulder throughout a run.  It's often the Doubt Demon I'm battling with throughout the longer runs to keep a steady pace or just to finish.  It taunts and mocks me as others past me or I see my time is not where it is supposed to be.  It ignores that I've just run 10 miles and ridicules me for not running mile 11 at my best.  It's a pernicious bastard that feeds on insecurities and does everything it can do to convince me to stop.  When I turn the corner and see that hill that I wasn't expecting, it says that I'm too tired, too out of breath, or just too damn lazy to make it up there.  It finds those little aches within my body and exploits them in histrionic fashion to convince me that I should not go one step further.

So what do I do with this demon?  How do I fight off the barrage of negativity emanating from the Doubt Demon?  How do I keep going despite its preying on my weakness?   I invite in the Other Demon.

Who is the Other Demon?  I hesitate to call it the Rage Demon or the Anger Demon.  Maybe I should try the Tempered Demon?  The Other Demon is the focused and channeled energy that I feel coursing throughout my body.  It's fueled by both the good and the bad in my life.  It's a balanced energy, taking all that has been and is within me and channeling it into my running.  I know the power of fueling my runs with happy thoughts.  I also know that anger can be a great focus for channeling energy to.  Combined, these two make a powerful force to push myself to further heights and conquer the Doubt Demon.  The best way I can describe this is as I approached the finish line for the marathon, it was the Other Demon that drove me.  During this final push, my emotions ran the gamut from grunting and growling to weeping and laughing.  It blazed within me and despite the exhaustion, it drove me through the finish line.  

The Other Demon seems to be a bit of everything but its most valuable resource is the strength and power it feeds into me. Sometimes, it comes of its own volition and sometimes, I must summon it. However, it doesn't show up without a reason.  The Other Demon needs to confront or focus on something.  That something is usually the Doubt Demon.  

I know when the Other Demon is present.  I feel energy coursing through me, even if I'm far into the race and should be exhausted.  When it arrives, it often feels like a weight being lifted from my shoulders or the blinders have been removed.  On occasion, when it's through a rough patch, the Other Demon's presence is so palpable that I find myself grunting (almost growling) to make my way through it.  When the Other Demon is present, the Doubt Demon has no chance.  It shrivels up like a raisin and all but disappears.

But the nature of the Doubt Demon is never to entirely disappear and it is likely to veer its ugly head again (and again).  However, knowing that I have the Other Demon within me helps me defeat the Doubt Demons more times than not.  It won't always be there when I need it, but it continues to show up to squelch the Doubt Demon's attempts.    

To be clear, none of this is to suggest that I've got mounds of rage and anger within me to fuel my runs.  I'm not running on rage by any means and I think this is the part that not many people can get.   There is much in this world that we can find upsetting, frustrating, trying, etc.   Coupled with this is a culture that doesn't allow for easy express or outlets for such emotion.  So yes, I can see how people might read it as such.  But the Other Demon is a mixture of positive and negative elements of life.  And rather than let those negative things eat away at me as it does so many other people (and take away from my general sunny-disposition), I channel them into something positive.  I use them to squelch other negative things (That makes a certain sense, right?  A negative neutralizes another negative mathematically).

I imagine that many other people have their Doubt Demons.  How do you keep them at bay?  What tactics do you have in slaying the Demon?

Note:  This is metaphor.  Please spare me any communication questioning my grasp on reality.

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Going the Distance with Vibrams

I started running about two years and four months ago.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, I was in a hate-hate relationship with running for the 30+ years prior to that.  But after seeing Vibrams around and brought up in several conversations in the months prior, I decided to get a pair, just to see how they fit and what benefits could be had from them, even just for walking around.

The Challenges
There are three challenges that come when you acquire your first pair of Vibrams.
  1. Getting the damn things on!  The first month or so, it could easily take me 2-3 minutes to get them on.  Nowadays, I can get both pairs on in less than 30 seconds.  But my toes weren't as used to the feel and the need to spread out as they are now, so trying to get each toe into each slot proved a bit challenging.  
  2. Dealing with the looks, because you will get looks.  In fact, I think the social challenge for many is the biggest hurtle.  It feels quite challenging to walk around in Vibrams because they don't look "normal".  This is amazingly ironic since most foot apparel does not look "normal" by any means (in relation to what the foot looks like).  I wonder sometimes how it is that Uggs, Crocs, and stilettos are somehow more "normal" than a pair of shoes that replicates the foot.  
  3. Oh, Hi there muscles that I never knew I had!  Realizing that changing to a shoe that reinforces the traditional ways in which our feet actually operate can be painful in that there will be muscles that have been vastly underworked now trying to catch up with muscles that may be overdeveloped because of the ways traditional shoes work.  
The Questions
Coupled with these challenges, I also get these questions:

Question:  Doesn't it hurt your feet?
Answer:  To start running in them, yes.  I got tired and sore feet as well as my share of blisters.  But the foot was meant for walking and running, barefoot.  It's designed to move barefoot.

Question:  But what about rocks and glass?
Answer:  Running in Vibrams or barefoot does mean you need to pay more attention to the ground.  But that's a good thing because it often takes your mind off the distance.  But rocks and glass are not as traumatic for Vibrams as they may appear.  Glass or metal, unless it's stick up at a crazy angle is not likely to do harm with the Vibrams on.  Rocks can be trickly.  But something that happens when you start running with the Vibrams is that though your foot toughens up with some callouses, it remains extremely sensitive.  I cannot count the number of times that I came down on a rock and was quickly able to switch balance because I sensed and reacted quickly.   Your feet are amazing sensors when given the opportunity to response.

Question: Doesn't that do harm to your knees and back?
Answer:  I've actually found my knees and back doing much better since I've started using them.  Knees and back hurt because as runners or general walkers we land harder than we should on our feet.  We don't realize this because our shoe cushions our feet.  It doesn't cushion our knees or back which still feel the impact of hard steps.  However, with Vibrams or while barefoot, we can't slam down, we have to purposefully plant and absorb the step and it relieves the stress on the rest of the body.  What's actually has happened is that my foot and lower leg muscles have seriously developed so that they receive each step, lessening the pressure on the rest of my body.  The only place this is challenged is when I run down hill where the pull of gravity delivers a bit more pounce with each step (which is why I actually enjoy running up hill way more than I do down hill).

Question: Doesn't it feel weird to run in them?
Answer:  Initially, it certainly did.  But now, it feels natural and right.  I love that I feel the impact of each step and that I can feel such balance, grip, and centeredness because of my Vibrams.

Keeping Stock
Clearly, I made it through these obstacles and am now an ardent fan of the shoes to the degree that I (when possible) buy them in bulk when they are on sale.  (Let's not talk about the fact that I've turned into that running person who buys such things in bulk--another post for another time, I suppose).

Newest to oldest; left to right
I just started on my third pair of Vibrams in September.  My second pair of Vibrams probably still have decent mileage on them, but I wanted to start with a new pair and break them in fully before I did the marathon in October.  However, what's great with the Vibrams is that you literally can wear them down until there are holes in the soles.  In fact, I still have my first two pairs of Vibrams and will use them substantially this winter for runs on the treadmill.  In this way, I can maximize the life of the three pairs and hopefully have the third pair carry me well into the next year.

My first pair.  I'm still able to use them on the treadmill.

Starting to show some wear,
but still has a few hundred miles left in them.

The new pair, ready to go.

Going the Distance
A lot of runners I know who are interested in Vibrams tend to be reluctant for a few reasons.
1.  Knees and back.  Many are concerned about how it will hurt their knees and back.  As mentioned, my experience is that it has improved these or at least taken some of the stress off of them.
2.  Retraining.   Switching to Vibrams will mean a loss of progress for some.  It will take a while to build up to the mileage that one is used to if they have already been running.
3.  Loss of Speed.  You trade in speed for stability and strength when you switch to Vibrams.  You are much more limited in your speed because of the impact factor.  For people who race for speed, this is a major detriment but for the rest of us, it just means adjusting your goals and recognizing that though you might be slower, you're getting more punch out of each step.

However, if you are flirting with running, I highly recommend the Vibrams.  The biggest benefit that it gave to me while building up to my marathon and beyond is that it kept me from running ahead of myself.  With shoes, it's very easy for us to outrun our bodies and thus mess up our breathing and rhythm.  Because I needed to start very slow with the Vibrams to get used to the new running style and the impact of each step, it means I was able to slow down significantly so that my body and breathing could work together to get me to the distances that I wanted.

In the end, I will never be a fast runner.  Of course, I never expected to be any kind of runner besides a non-runner.  But with Vibrams, I will always be a runner.

So what are your experiences with Vibrams, barefoot running, and other types of minimalist running shoes?

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Trading Tools: Fitbits & Basis

I've talked about before how I'm a big fan of Fitbit.  I've had one now for about 2.5 years now and it's provided me with a wealth of information about my daily movement habits that have helped me stay in much better health than I probably would have otherwise.  Much of my journey through health the last few years has been a focus on environment and a better accounting of what I'm actually doing (as opposed to what I perceive I'm doing).  Fitbit's ability to graph out my motion over the day annd account for the steps I've taken day after day, week after week propels me to keep up my movement and allows me to recognize when I have not been as active when I should as well as celebrate or appreciate when I have been hit high levels of activity.

It's a great tool and I still highly recommend it for people starting the get a grip on their health and looking for some solid data to make better decisions--particularly if you take advantage of the calorie counter app.

But I recently have taken to an upgrade (largely as the result of a gift) that I'm liking a lot: the Basis.  I first came across Basis last spring in an article on one of my feeds.  It sounds quite interesting and so I put myself on the waiting list for one or at least to be notified when they were going to be sold.  A few months later, an email came to announce that I was eligible to purchase it.  The price tag wasn't ideal.  Actually, given the robust things it does, it was ideal but it wasn't justifiable given that my Fitbit still worked perfectly.  I'm not a fan of disposing of technology because a newer shiny thing is available but the prior technology still works in the ways in which I acquired it for.

The Basis kicks things into a higher gear in terms of the information it makes available to me.  The Basis records heart rate, steps, skin temp, perspiration, and sleep as well as gives you an ongoing read of calories burned since the start of the day.  Clearly, there are not likely to be perfectly accurate, but they do give me a lot more feedback than I otherwise would have  been able to accumulate in such a timely and cohesive fashion.

As a physical tool, the Basis is pretty great in what it records but more importantly, it's in my visual sight, so I can check it much easier than my Fitbit (which is usually on my underwear band).  At any time during the day, I can look to see how far along I am and this too has proved useful.  The clock feature has a small progress bar at the bottom with a stick figure on it.  This indicates how close you are to your steps-goal for the day (10,000 steps).  If you attain your goal, there's a little trophy icon at the end of the progress line.  I can go and check the actual amount of steps taken or calories burned but this progress line gives a very quick and clear indication of where I am for the day.

But where the Basis becomes quite robust is with its online interface where you find a lot of different opportunities for feedback and ideas on how to improve your overall health.  The first feature is the "My Habits" section of the online interface.  This section presents, updates, and encourages self-selective habits (such as getting up at least once an hour between 9 and 5 or setting a daily step-count to achieve).  As you achieve these daily goals, they eventually give you more points to unlock other habits.  This is an ingenious practice as it requires the slow accumulation of habits so that people don't go all out (and usually fail).

The Insights section reveals how many habits you've hit, how many steps on a given day, how many calories, the resting heart rate, amount of sleep, the quality of sleep, and the amount of sleep interruptions.  What's obsessively fascinating is that I can examine so much of this data further.  I can look at breakdown of my sleep in terms of heart-rate, calories burned, skin-temp and perspiration (which are what are used to calculate the quality of sleep).

Data can be a fascinating exploration into patterns and curious finds.  There, I can find a day by day breakdown of all the information laid out on interactive charts that allow me to compare and contrast different data.  The patterns section can provide me with weeks of data compared to recognize, well, patterns.
Step patterns for the last week.
Overlapping data of heart-rate, steps, and activity levels.  

I'm rather enjoying though there are some drawbacks.  The price can be hard for some.  However in some ways, it gives way more information and feedback than you may receive from going to a personal trainer or someone else to help you with your health.  It's color and style range are limited to black and white square watches (which isn't a drawback for me, but for others who consider such things).  I find it hard to get used to a watch since I haven't worn one in over a decade.  The need to charge it every 4 days for a few hours can also be challenging, not because it's hard to charge but then there is a loss of gathering information about me for a few hours.  The Basis interface online doesn't have a calorie consumption (to account for food intake) or even weigh in area (that can help graph weight changes).  They have stated reasons for doing so but I still think it's a useful element to have rather than sending me out to use other programs.

But in the end, those are all minor elements.  It's a solid tool and I'm enjoying the insights its affording me.  For those of us trying to get a hold of our health, what tools do you use?

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365 Books a Year Challenge: 27 Books in October

I'm in the final stretch of reading this year with just two months to go and 332 books read.  It seems safe to say I will make the 365 book mark and in all likelihood pass it.  This will put me at over 100+ books than last year.  Not a bad year in terms of reading I would say.  Clearly, this month I didn't make the 31 count to match the days, but since last month I hit 47 and October was incredibly busy, I'm ok with that. 

What I'm less ok with is that I didn't read any traditional books but graphic novels and audiobooks.  I am into some degree of at least 4 books that will make the list for November in all likelihood but I'm sure some people are snickering at my claims of "reading" 27 books despite they not being traditional "books".  Of course, interestingly, if I read every one of Shakespeare's writings, those also would not constitute "books"--they are plays and poetry collections.  

In terms of works that stuck out this month, there wasn't a lot.  There were a few disappointments (The Design of Future Things by Donald A. Norman and Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff) but only three that stuck out to any degree.  

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

To be fair, I've read Bartleby before but it came through as a title to review this month and it had been a while so I figured another listen was worth it, since I do enjoy it.  I'll save talking about the narration as that's part of the professional review I wrote.  But Bartleby is on of my favorite Melville stories and I love to teach it.  The tension and consternation of the narrator with Bartleby is wonderful to watch as he knows not how to deal with such a direct force as Bartleby and his "preferences."

You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Books like McRaney's are great as I find them to help center me and keep a wide open perspective about how people come to see the world (including myself) and how even when we may think we are right or see something clearly, we are substantially bogged down by external and internal forces that lead us to believe we know more than we might.   It earned a 5-Star rating (meaning I think it's required reading for everyone!) because I think so much of dialogue on so many different subjects could be enhanced through learning about the different ways in which despite our best efforts, we often fail at communication.

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2) by Stephen King

King returns to the world of one of his most famous and classic books with Doctor Sleep and it's a great trip.  King manages to deliver another story in the world without it being a sequel per se but rather, a continuation of the journey started in The Shining.  He loads it with his typical features (supernatual, characters devoid of morals, cross-country treks, and good folks with power never quite sure of what they are supposed to do).  I continue to enjoy King for his dedication to the story and writing style; he tells great stories that are always worth listening to.

So there are my highlights from this past month.  For those keeping track, here's the full list of books thus far (or check it out on GoodReads):
And for those who want to know what books I enjoyed, here is the list:  


  • Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage Audiences by Connecting Television to the Web, Social Media, and Mobile by Mike Proulx
  • Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2) by Stephen King
  • Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist by Bill McKibben
  • The Design of Future Things by Donald A. Norman
  • Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
  • Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. by Delia Ephron
  • You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney
  • Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff


  • Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Vol. 1 - Force Storm by John Ostrander 
  • Domovoi by Peter Bergting
  • The Last of Us: American Dreams by Neil Druckmann
  • Bandette Volume 1: Presto! by Paul Tobin
  • Wonder Woman, Vol. 3: Iron by Brian Azzarello
  • The Answer! by Mike Norton
  • Daredevil: End of Days by Brian Michael Bendis
  • X-Treme X-Men, Vol. 2: You Can't Go Home Again by Greg Pak
  • Wolverine Volume 1: Hunting Season by Paul Cornell
  • The Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 2: A Troubled Mind by Dan Slott
  • Star Wars, Volume 1: In the Shadow of Yavin by Brian Wood
  • Superman Beyond: Man of Tomorrow by JT Krul
  • Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1) by John Jackson Miller
  • The Defense of Kamino and Other Tales (Star Wars: Clone Wars, #1) by John Ostrander
  • Star Wars: Vaders Quest by Darko Macan
  • The Ahakista Gambit (Star Wars: Rebellion, #2) by Rob Williams
  • Star Wars: Jango Fett by Ron Marz
  • Star Wars: Chewbacca by Darko Macan
  • The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice by Mike Carey

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Tales of Running: The *Gross* Body Edition

So I've talked about the many great and amazing things that running affords me:  achieving new goals, making new friends, feeling the power of my body to propel me into the future.  All of that's great!  Despite my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed approach to running, there are some more ugly aspects of running that people don't always talk about.  I'm the first to notice the positive physical impact of running on my body but like many, there is a hesitancy to discuss the less appealing elements of running.  But here we go!

I imagine many runners face this but particularly because I run in Vibrams that I see a lot of callouses on my feet.  This is actually really good for several reasons (internal foot cushion being better than external when it comes to running, at least for me).  But I will definitely never be a foot model.  In and of themselves, they're not particularly caustic, but one becomes mildly aware of them.

Again, it's something all runners must deal with but one that has the possibility to be exacerbated by Vibrams.  This is where callouses actually prove useful.  I find that the callouses actually reduce the amount of blisters I get (which makes sense) but also, reduces the pain or annoyance that are caused by the blisters.  But especially if you're new to running and trying long distances, you can anticipate your fair share of blisters.

Chaffing, or what I like to call it, "the motion that burns, but in an annoying non-STI way" is a challenge for many people but particularly for us that are of a larger nature.  Typically, it's the thighs and groin area chaffing away.  Chaffing doesn't always happen--some circumstances can improve it or make it worse.  Cooler weather can increase chaffing since there is less sweat to easy the friction.  There are ways to work around this by using spandex or other types of tight clothing to ease the friction, but they don't always work well and you can still end up with some tender skin.  Sometimes, you don't actually notice the chaffing until that supremely disappointing moment when you peal off your clothes and get into a hot shower and find various stinging throughout your body.

I would imagine at this point, you're not particularly grossed out.  After all, these top three topics are fairly common challenges had by most.  However, the next three might have you feeling a bit squeamish, so I'll understand if you feel the need to depart at this point.

I blow my nose like an elephant.  It's loud and abrasive and some people go looking for the pachyderm when they hear me clear the nasal passage.  I can't help it; I need an unobtrusive nostril for maximum breathing.  But I find in running, particularly in colder weather, I'm regularly snorting back snot because I don't have anything to blow my nose on.  There are many different ways that people deal with this.  I'm still trying to find my preferred method.  Some of the methods I've seen used include:

Some will carry tissue or napkins with them to pull out and use.  Others will grab the bottom of their shirt and pull it up to blow their nose.  In colder weather, I've seen people wearing cotton gloves blow their noses into them.  By far, my favorite (at least for drama, not necessarily to try) is the Snotrocket:  The runner moves to the side of the road.  The runner blocks one nostril and blows with all of his or her might to send snot projectile out the open nostril and then repeats with the other nostril.

Hot Air
There's also gas to contend with.  All that shuffling about and sure enough, we have the potential for some serious gas.  That can vary depending on what foods you loaded up on prior to the run, but it's likely to be there.  Now, depending on how you run and where you are in the race, it may not be an issue.  After all, later in the race when things are spread out a bit more, you may never need to pause to let loose.  However, some races don't necessarily allow for much spreading out (depending on distance, pace, and number of participants), which then makes releasing a bit challenging.  If you're in with a good group, they are going to understand and probably be relieved if you relieve yourself first as it gives them carte blanche to release their own (like something out of a Mel Brooks film).

That's not a food stain up
on the right there.
Bleeding Nipples
I remember watching the movie "Run Fatboy Run" with Simon Pegg and learning about bloody nipples.  I had never been at the point of such an experience until last year, shortly after I completed my first 30K.  I've experienced it several more times this year.  In fact, I became so aware of bloody nipples (which in fact is just a more extreme version of chaffing) that when I ran the marathon I prepared for it.  First, by making sure I had a loose shirt.  Tight shirts will exacerbate friction against the nipple which is likely to be erect for much of the running.  I also took to putting petroleum jelly on my nipples before and during the race.  They were still sore and tender by the race's end, but they were not bleeding, which was the important piece.

Waste Removal
Ok, this is a challenge I know that plagues a lot of people because new runners and old have these conversations with me regularly (and I swear, I don't seek out this line of questioning).  But when it comes to the long runs, balancing the body's needs is challenging.  3-4 hours of running means you're not only taxing your body a lot, but you're processing a whole lot too and your body is going to need to an exit strategy for said processing.  Urination is fairly easy for men; they often find a tree and have at it.  Women typically need to rely on the toilet stops along the route, though I've known many to take to the side of the road (slightly removed) to take care of business.  But the big process is just hard to balance, especially if the route is more public than you might otherwise like.  Sometimes, that works to your advantage and you can pop into a gas station rest stop, but sometimes, it's just miles of residential and no toilet in sight.

So what other body issues do you confront when out on your longer runs?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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Recent Blogpost on LETS Blog: The Digital Assignment

Here's a recent blog post I did for the NSCC LETS blog:

"When I look back even 5 years ago, I've seen a significant change in the ways in which faculty take assignments. I know faculty have been taking digital assignments as far back as the 1990s but it often seemed the exception whereas now it feels much more like the rule. We all remember the frantic whirlwind of getting an assignment to an instructor (often after waiting until the last minute to write it) by battling printers or lines at the printers, traffic, crowded hallways, etc just to get that paper in before the end of class, only to repeat this several times each semester.

While there are many benefits to taking online assignments (less chance of losing it, time stamps, environmentally friendly, less redundancy, etc), there are definitely some drawbacks and every person has their own method of doing it.  Below are some of the different methods of taking digital assignments that you may be using or considering using."

For the full blogpost, click on through to the NSCC LETS Blog.

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Seasons According to Vibram and Barefoot Runners

We're all familiar with the regular seasons here in New England but the seasons take on a different meaning for a runner. To the typical runner, the seasons run as such.

Length: Two months if we're lucky, but usually two weeks in April or May, crammed in between wintry cold and humid heat.

Characteristics:  A perfect-medium temperature that suits many runners.  Great scenery of an awakening natural landscape, birds chirping, and all that good stuff.

Running Experience:  Often a season of empowerment for the runner after being trapped on Dante's Inferno (also know as "the treadmill") at the gym for months with the person to the left of you, humming and singing every third or fifth word from "Eye of the Tiger" and the person to the right of you, running at 2-3 mph faster than you and not even breaking a sweat.  You're out on the road gaining mileage and feeling the fresh air and thinking how wonderful the world is.

Length: Usually several months from late May until early September.

Characteristics:  Hot.  Humid.  And the occasional lightning bolt to avoid.  Highly aromatic due to the interwoven mix of tar and roadkill sprinkled with the occasional hint of skunk (unless, of course, the roadkill is the skunk--then it's like triple word score on Scrabble).

Running Experience:  "DEAR LORD, why is it so damn hot?  Seriously, when did I end up in hell?"  Be prepared for having high expectations crushed by crippling heat.  It's also the height of hallucination season, so there's that to enjoy.  If the Spring runner was working towards bathing suit season, it's only because one might as well be running in a bathing suit during the summer given the amount of sweat produced.

Length: September to Thanksgiving (no negotiation there; it's officially winter).

Characteristics:  Crisp air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, long sleeve shirts, and regular infusions of nostalgia produced as the icons of Halloween and Thanksgiving begin appearing everywhere.

Running Experience:  It's great to be a runner.  It's also useful to burn off more energy now because we know the feasting of HalloThanXMas is coming.  Motivation for running is usually present, even if time is at a minimum.  You're also constantly fighting the urge to play in the piles of leaves you pass by (ok, that's probably just met).

Length: Thanksgiving until March (at least).

Characteristics: DAMN COLD!

Running Experience:  The season most runners find themselves seriously challenged to be inspired with their running.  You've got roughly three types of runners for the winter:
  • Hibernator:  "That's it, see you next March when I'll be working off this newly acquired 10 pounds."  Giving up the running in full or part, these folks lose motivation to run outside but can't suffer to get on a treadmill (and no one can blame them).  
  • Gymbers:  "I guess I should use this gym membership I've had all year."  Returning to the gym and climbing up on that treadmill or maybe cross training during the winter.  
  • Polar Bears:  "Oh, it's -10 degrees?  I can't wait to see how quickly  my spit freezes."  These runners are almost gunho about the winter and love to get out and log in the miles.
Of course, Vibram and barefoot runners may experience these seasons a bit differently because of their foot apparel (or lack there of).  In many ways they experience all of the above, but because they also experience the seasons much more through their feet, the seasons hits them in other ways:

The Foot Experience:

  • Rocky:  Street sweepers are my friend; but they generally don't cover sidewalks.
  • Squishy/Mushy: Reminiscent of treks through the swamp as a kid, but still unsettling.  Except when it's not (such as when your feet desperately need the rest of softer ground).

Catch phrase:  "A beautiful spring day!  Look at the budding flowers--OW!  Goddam rocks and debris!  Oh crap, that was a puddle."

The Foot Experience:

  • Hot:  When the you're never quite sure if your blisters are from the barefoot running or indication of burning because of the boiling tar.

Catch phrase:  "OW!  Goddam hot tar.  It's cool, I mean, do I really need a sole?"

The Foot Experience:

  • Crunchy:  Leaves, branches, and nature's debris clutter the sidewalks making for disguised pitfalls.
  • Slippery:  Wet. Leaves.  Ew.

Catch phrase:  "What beautiful folia---OW!  Goddam acorns under those leaves!  Ahhhh...I almost slide onto my ass back there--damn wet leaves!"

The Foot Experience:

  • Cold.  FREAKING COLD!:  It's not until you get home if you decide if your feet are still there or worth saving.
  • Slushy:  The worst for the barefoot and Vibram runner.  It's enough to send us back home, immediately and give up till spring.
  • Rocky:  No street-sweepers till March and plenty of rocks, rock salt, and torn up roads from snow removals.

Catch phrase:  "BRRRRRR!  What happen to my feet!"

What are your favorite running seasons?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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