Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Terror That Squeaks in the Night

An interesting confluence of bloggy circumstances had me dashing up the stairs the other night like a little girl, which is to say fast, knees high, squeaking in terror. First: a post on Lucy’s Football got me thinking about horrors that stalk the night, particularly little monkey horrors that might or might not glow in the dark and have long, scimitar claws. Secondly, the death of Ray Bradbury reminded me of the book Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was one of my earliest *can’t turn out the lights–the monsters on the loose will get me–read on read on* books. Then, I read a funny post by sillyliss which related one of her own experiences with conjuring up nightmares from books. I read this last post as the rest of my family were already sound asleep in their beds, oblivious to a horrendous thunderstorm which was shaking the house.

In our house we can turn off the upstairs hall light from the downstairs switch panel by the front door, but we can’t switch off the downstairs hall light from above. So, unless I wanted to potentially wake my mate by flicking on the upstairs hall light, (I didn’t) I either had to sleep on the couch downstairs or had to take the stairs in the utter dark, illumined only in sporadic but frequent flashes of lightning. Here’s the thing. Ages ago, I wrote a short story about a woman in either a mental health or supernaturally induced crisis (you be the judge,) and there is a bit that reads like this: I was watching the strobe of the lightning fill the kitchen and I could see the road, too, through the sidelight by the front door. I stood there, mesmerized by all the light and the oddness of being up at that hour, and I must have gone into some kind of a waking dream, had to have, because I heard a voice at my ear calmly say, “There is a gentleman at the door.” And there through the sidelight I saw a very tall gaunt man with misshapen legs, like the hind legs of the deer my husband brings home from hunting, only withered and knobby like sticks. He wore a fitted red jacket and a top hat tipped forward that hid his face. Seeing him in the flashing light almost made my heart stop, but watching him become invisible in the dark was even worse. The voice in my ear whispered, “I wonder what really happened to Grandpa?”  (If you want, you can read more, here.)

Maybe that just sounds weird to you, but the image is VERY REAL AND SCARY in my head and I about popped a ventricle getting up the stairs before I saw it for real, or got snagged by a mutated monkey claw. My point? I don’t have one, I think, other than that except for a little caffeine, I really don’t require drugs for entertainment. I got a whole amusement park going on in my head, powered by the ideas of my fellow writers. So, thanks for the kicks! And the palpitations! If I can return the favor I will be sure to do so!

So, what chases YOU up the stairs in the dark of night?

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A Love Letter to Discover

Discover magazine, how do I love thee? I love thee a lot. Even when I don’t understand thee, I love thee. I recently received the July/August issue of Discover, which appears to be very biology-centric. This makes me happy because biology is like the hot boyfriend with a little bit of an accent and colloquialisms that make communication somewhat difficult, as compared to the gorgeous boyfriend of physics who speaks a completely different language but I don’t even care, I could just lustfully listen to him spout incomprehensibility all day. Science turns me on, yo. I have been a subscriber for years and even though I haven’t lately been able to read every issue cover-to-cover, I do try. I have gotten ideas for stories and plot twists as well as general information and entertainment from the magazine and it makes me feel better than reading People magazine does. Kind of like when I choose to eat an apple over a doughnut. As Bill Nye says, “Science rules!”

So far two articles in this issue have gotten me excited. The first, “Superhuman Vision” is about a mutant cone some women (maybe a lot of women) are carrying around, a fourth cone that allows them to see an exponential number of color variations not visible to other humans. It is kind of like the Bizarro World version of the green/red color blindness that diminishes color perception in some men. How cool is that?! Mutant powers! X-(wo)men! The thing is that many of these women probably aren’t aware that they are seeing anything the rest of us aren’t because the nature of perception is so individual. Imagine trying to describe red to someone who can’t see red or provoke someone who doesn’t taste chocolate or tobacco in their red wine to do so. Difficult. I want them to make the test they describe in the article available on the internet. Maybe I have super vision! Actually I suspect that the only thing special about my vision is the degree to which I am frazzled by floaters, which isn’t very special at all.

The other article was “Earth’s Last Unexplored Wilderness Is…Your Living Room.” I love articles which immediately make me change my behavior. I wasn’t even halfway through the piece when I jumped up and opened all the windows on the main level of my house. For fifteen minutes–until the heat and humidity (already? at 8:30 a.m.?) forced me to close them again. Now, science reveals some uncomfortable truths, that maybe not all of you want to know. Far be it for me to expose you to graphic information that could gross you out for life, so two things: you might want to disinfect your showerheads, and wash your pillowcases with bleach in the hottest water you can. As I am. That is all.

It isn’t like Discover has never led me astray. I preached the anti-high fructose corn syrup gospel for over a year based on a quoted scientist who described it as a “metabolic disaster.” Further study showed no such thing, of course. Sugar is sugar, and we are getting way too much in all of its forms. But that is part of what I like about science. People make hypotheses and test them and share the results and other people say, “Hey, that is interesting! Are you sure?” and re-test the results, using what comes to leap to more evolved hypotheses, and we are all better for it. We grow from knowledge and experience. Ideally, science is all about open-mindedness, and using evidence to guide us toward knowledge. Some also use the lack of evidence to deny the existence of things for which we cannot test, like God for instance. In earlier generations, the existence of germs and sub-atomic particles and dark matter was considered ludicrous. I wonder what fascinating things we will know for certain in the future that are unimaginable to us today? I can’t wait to read about them in Discover.

Three Random Things

My work adventure this past week became a family affair. Our newest client had a big event which will occur in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday and they needed 850 drawstring backpacks to be stuffed with a summer skills workbook, ruler and pencil. These backpacks had to be counted and sorted by grade level (as the workbooks varied,) and there were two sets of thirty backpacks that needed slightly different contents. Nearly everything needed to assemble the backpacks arrived on Friday. I did the setting up and called in my teenage boys to do most of the stuffing, which took them four and a half hours (with my support.) Then, because we finished too late to ship that night, they and Mr. Wortabulous took an hour of their Saturday morning to help me get nineteen boxes to the post office. Seventeen of those boxes weighed between 50-55 pounds each. The other two were a little lighter. We express shipped them all to arrive in Brooklyn on Monday. This impresses me so much. 900 pounds of stuff leaves a Minnesota post office on noon on Saturday and arrives intact at a Brooklyn school on Monday. Hopefully. Really, really hoping. Trying to let go.

Friday’s staging for the Great Backpack Stuff-a-palooza.

In honor of Father’s Day I would like to thank Mr. Wordtabulous for being a great dad and husband. He discovered a small rabbit lurking in our strawberry bed today and called out our older son (who loves animals devotedly and had told us he had seen a bunny in the yard earlier; since he rarely speaks in sentences, at least to us, this was notable.) Older son came out and the two of them captured the rabbit. Before the little fuzzball managed to scramble away, there was a bit of bonding going on in the garden.

 

 

 

 

Finally, I was in the car listening to Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday when I heard that Ray Bradbury died. I read my favorite of his, Something Wicked This Way Comes, for the third time recently so in honor of the man I read my friend Kelly’s fave, The Illustrated Man. In the introduction, Bradbury writes: What I am trying to say is that the creative process is much like the old-fashioned way of taking photos with a huge camera and you horsing around under a black  cloth seeking pictures in the dark. The subjects might not have stood still. There might have been too much light. Or not enough. One can only fumble, but fumble quickly, hoping for a developed snap…My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 a.m. So as not to be dead. Here’s to you Ray Bradbury, and your legacy which will endure.

The Numbers Game: Wordtabulous Meets MOTOACTV

When I bought my first bike as an adult, my friends encouraged me to get a cycling computer, a small electronic device that was wired to a little plastic doo-hickey (I am pretty sure that is the term) which registered how fast a magnet attached to a front wheel spoke swept past it. The computer gave me numbers for how long a time period I rode, distance I covered, my current speed while riding, my average speed over the entire trip, my max speed, and an odometer that collected all the miles I ever rode (when I remembered to turn the thing on.) I hadn’t even been sure I wanted one of the things–they seemed suspiciously fancy, but once I had a computer, I was hooked. Suddenly I was ALL ABOUT wanting to ride longer distances faster. When I got tired, I could see the numbers getting lower as I slowed, and it inspired me to fight through the fatigue and press on. When I wanted to be done, but saw I only needed three more miles to hit a nice, even number on the odometer, I’d add a side trip to get a little more distance. Training involves at least as much mental dedication as it does physical toughness, and numbers are a way to distract a person from the discomfort of a grueling workout, or help them focus on the results they want. Numbers are our friends.

I have had several different computers over the years, but they were all pretty much on the same level as that first one. Priorities shifted, and I started riding more sporadically. When I did get out my rides were slower and shorter. For a time I was taking a lot of group fitness classes like Kettlebell and Pilates and TRX, but when I got a job (in addition to the freelance work and the domestic engineering I already do,) my new work schedule and life in general conflicted with the classes. I began spending more and more time sitting in front of the computer or on the couch. When I rode the Tour de Cure last weekend, it seemed obvious to me that my new sedentary lifestyle had taken a toll. Fortunately, a friend at work had a connection to someone at Verizon Wireless, who was willing to loan me a Motorola MOTOACTV device for a week, to see what I thought. Great opportunity! So here’s what I think:

The package I got from Verizon Wireless included the MOTOACTV device, which is about 1.75 inches square, and the following accessories: a wristband, an armband, a belt clip, earphones, a bike mount, and a USB cord and wall charger. The device charged up in less than two hours. It was pretty easy to navigate through the various menus. There is one for Settings, where you can sync the device to a heart rate transmitter, and add personal information like height, weight, gender and age. There is a Workout menu under which you can choose to look at data from recent workouts or start a new workout by choosing running, cycling, walking, elliptical or step machine. The Main screen shows the time, date, estimated calories burned (either for the day, if you are using all day monitoring, or for a workout you are doing if you are trying to conserve battery life,) and a pedometer readout. There is a Music menu (I loaded a playlist from my iTunes,) and Notifications, which I never used. The device is cool, but where things got  amazing was when I hooked it up to my computer (to load music and see what there was to see,) and then went to the MOTOACTV website (https://motoactv.com/) From then on, the device synced all my data wirelessly and automatically.

I used the MOTOACTV for four workouts: a 45 mile long bike ride (Tour de Cure,) a three-mile walk, a fit-test run (I know-me running? I am a very dedicated data gatherer,) and a 21 mile bike ride I took by myself. I had trouble getting things rolling at the Tour, I was leaving the start line on a winding path and since I’d only gotten the device the day before I was unfamiliar with it. There was the GPS to connect to, and the start button to hit–no biggie but a little bewildering the first time, particularly with other bikers riding alongside. I had left the device on “all day monitoring,” the bluetooth was activated and I hadn’t charged it again since the day before, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when it died 28 miles in. There was a lot of data flowing when it WAS working: all the usual stats mentioned above, plus  data for speed broken down by each mile ridden. When it shut down, there were 28 discrete pieces of data waiting for me to analyze, and when I recharged the device, it was still there along with a tiny little route map!

When I checked on the website, the info was waiting for me, no cables or button pushing required, all wirelessly updated. Nice. I borrowed a Garmin heart-rate transmitter from a neighbor (thanks, Lynn!) to do the Fitness Test (an eight minute run) so the website could set up my Carmichael Heart Rate Zones. Within a hundred yards I was reminded of how much I dislike running, but I cranked out my fast-as-I-could-go for eight minutes and was rewarded with a bunch of new data that seemed very compatible with the  “perceived exertion” levels I generally use. In a Wordtabulous first, I am inserting a video below to show you my favorite features.

Things I didn’t try, but wish I had: the device will compare what music you are listening to, to how well you are performing which can help you build a list of power music. Competition could be fun, although I would be more likely to compete with my own results rather than someone else’s, which is an option they offer. I didn’t use Notifications or link the device to my smartphone, but I am curious how that would all work.

Things I would want that I either didn’t figure out or the device doesn’t offer: a workout setting for monitoring heart rate and calorie burn during group fitness classes. I also think it would be interesting to see heart rate over the course of the day so you could assess your true resting heart rate and exactly how stressful certain times of your day are, but the only heart rate info I could find seemed to be attached to workouts.

In summary, a week was only long enough to dip my toe into what MOTOACTV has to offer but I was really intrigued by the versatility of the device and the wealth of data collected and organized. The battery running out was a newbie user issue not a product problem. I loved the wireless syncing aspect and the GPS tracking and route display. If I owned this device, I KNOW I would get out and do more. The belt clip made the device unobtrusive for all day wear, and the wristband is comfortable and kind of attractive in a chunky way. For my purposes I would want the bike mount and heart rate monitor, but not being totally hard core I don’t know if I would need the cadence meter. The MOTOACTV is spendy at $249.99, or $399 with the sports pack including accessories, but if numbers and high tech visual affirmation of your effort help get you off the couch, it could very well be worth it.

Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the device!

It’s OK, Red Rider. You Can Take a Break Now.

Saturday, June 2 was a beautiful day in Minnesota. In fact, it was absolutely breathtaking, which made it so much easier to get up early, load up the cycling accoutrements and head off to Minnehaha Falls Park to ride, party and kick diabetes’ ass.

Last year, I rode with a team I didn’t know very well. I met up with teammates at one rest stop and at the end. I raised $500 dollars. I was really impressed with the ride, the organization and the people involved. I loved how, every time I passed or was passed by someone wearing a red jersey that said “I Ride With Diabetes” we all called out “Go, Red Rider!” I knew I wanted to ride the Tour again but also knew after trying the 64 mile route I needed to either train more or ride less distance for full happiness.

This year, I had my own team of seven people (including two Red Riders.) I rode with one of my teammates and used my phone and texts to stay in touch with everyone else. Three of my teammates were brand new to the event. I only had one teammate who got sick and was unable to ride, but all of us raised at least the minimum and we surpassed our fundraising goal. I rode 45 miles and instead of making conversation with total strangers as I did last year, (which was cool in its own way) I got to reconnect with the friend who rode with me. We had an excellent ride and were pleased with our route choice, which was long enough to be a challenge (since once again I hardly trained at all) but not so long as to give me a screaming migraine, which unfortunately sometimes happens. We hit all last year’s great landmarks: Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, the Target Center and the Stone Arch Bridge, the Greenway, Grand and Summit Avenues, the Cathedral of St.Paul, Kellogg Ave, Harriet Island, Fort Snelling and back to Minnehaha Falls. We took advantage of the rest stops when we felt like it. At one stop, we took the opportunity to get our photo taken with the Winter Carnival royalty who were very colorful and friendly. And, right to the finish line, we called out “Go, Red Rider!” as the occasion arose, which really helps a person stay focused on the cause.

Yes, we are wearing leis. You DON’T wear a lei when you ride a bike? Weird.

Once we were done, we got together with as many of our teammates as we could gather; one needed to leave early and one we had difficulty connecting with due to phone issues. We got our free lunch (I had a turkey burger and chips and a Zevia, which is a zero calorie fruit-flavored carbonated beverage naturally sweetened with stevia) and there was free beer (thank you Schell!) for drinkers 21 years and older.

A word about beer. I don’t LOVE beer, but there are situations that call for it: baseball games, German food, and post ride. Especially that last one; beer is like a post-cycling miracle beverage.

We got a picture of the four of us that convened at the beer garden. I am so proud of everyone on my team, for saying yes to the event and and supporting the American Diabetes Association, and am so honored they chose to sign up with my team! I only wish I had a shot of all of us together plus all our fabulous friends and family who donated to support our efforts, but their faces are all engraved on my heart.

Don’t we look happy? Wouldn’t you like to ride with us? I don’t know who that guy in the black T-shirt is, but I think he wants to join our team!

Even BEFORE drinking the beer, we agreed we all would be riding the Tour de Cure again and–even better–one might start his own team, and recruit friends to start more teams! The only downside of the day would have to be the fact that I was forced to face the fact that I am definitely not as strong as I once was. The ride itself was great, but I was a limp rag the entire rest of the day, when in the past, I think I would have been fine. Maybe a little tired. I think the “repetitive nap attack” might be blamed a little bit on the midday beer, but the truth is that I really need to get back to the workouts.

One additional upside to the day was that I got to try out a new toy! Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the MOTOROLA MOTOACTV! I will have a review of the device later this week. I will be using it to jump start my enthusiasm for additional workouts. I CAN tell you that by mile 28 of yesterday’s ride, I had burned an estimated 1,073 calories. Sadly, due to user inexperience, the unit’s battery died at that point, so I am not sure how many calories total I burned. Still, exciting!

Thanks for hanging in there with me through this report of Tour de Cure 2012. Eat right, exercise, and send your pancreas positive thoughts so diabetes doesn’t darken your door, and if it does (or already has,) know that there are thousands of people out there pedaling for you and for a cure!