Friday, April 24, 2009

April 24th: Weekly Highlights

Health, training, and fitness highlights from around the web.

What are friends for? Turns out that not only will they bail you out of jail at three in the morning, they also help you live longer.

The Power of Friendship

When asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there.” But maybe if he hadn’t spent so much time at altitude, he would have come up with something more specific.

Mountain Climbing: Bad for the Brain

Some of us jump out of bed, others need a bucket of cold water and a pry-bar to get out from under the sheets. If you’re in the first camp, here’s a look at getting the fuel you need before breakfast.

Nutritional Strategies for Early Morning Risers

Pasta has always been a staple of endurance athletes, but there’s a lot of folks moving towards a gluten-free or low-gluten diet. (Me, I’m a big fan of not over-indulging in any one thing, no matter how crazed everyone else is, nor banning anything completely from the table. All things in moderation, including, of course, moderation.) For the average weekend warrior, it’s not a big deal, but for the maniacs out there, there’s some evidence that lowering your wheat intake helps recovery by reducing inflammation. Willy Balmat, Lance Armstrong’s long-time team chef, is now working with Dr Allen Lim on the Garmin-Chipotles team, and over the last year, the team has been pushing more risotto and less pasta on the dinner table, and more rice cakes and fewer pastries in the mussett.

Lots of stories all over the place:

Movable Feast

Dr. Lim’s Rice Cakes

Many years ago, I gave up meat for Lent. Wasn't that hard, and when Easter had come and gone, I found myself, due to sheer inertia and a bit of laziness, to be what I called a social vegetarian: one who doesn't put any effort into making meat dishes, but won't refuse them if served at someone's house or if the special at a restaurant looks especially good.

Bittman's kind of doing the same there here with his Vegan-Until-Dinnertime movement. It's not anti-meat, it's just about saving it for the main course, once a day.

Back To Basics: Good For You, Good For The Earth

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Johnny Dangerously

The boy likes climbing, I believe we have established. He bounces from the ottoman to the chair and up the back like a bonobo. He clings to window sills, feeling below with his toes for an edge or nubbin so he can launch himself up. Manteling is second nature for him, and he seems to understand leverage and cantilevers.
(Left: climbing into his playpen.)

And this week, at 13 months and 30 inches tall, he decided that he's too big to crawl down the stairs backwards. He wants to go down Aussie style, walking forwards like a big boy.
(Left: up and over the back of a chair.)

Never mind that each step comes to about waist high on his string bean little bod.

(Left: trying to climb into his toy box.)

I'm thinking we're going to have our hands full in a couple or ten years, once he finds out that there's a rock climbing club in our high school. Until then, I guess he needs to stay roped up any time he's near the stairs.

(Left: urban spelunking, in and out of the chair rungs.)

Thoughts from Afghanistan

I have to share this piece from a college buddy of mine who is currently in Afghanistan. Scott is a 23 year military veteran who is now serving across the big pond as a military adviser, trainer, and mentor to the Afghan National Security Forces.

Please read his thoughts on the educational vacuum that exists over there, and who seems to be doing a better job filling it.

Afghan Astrolabe: Inspirations.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Slowing It Down, part two

A couple of articles at the pediatrician's office caught my eye the other day. Each covered a different aspect of every day life, but they all came to the same conclusion: we all do better when we slow it down and sit down to a family meal as often as possible.

I was startled at first by several of their statistics, but after a quick pause and ponder, I realized that I should not have been surprised. Most teenagers only eat 3-4 dinners per week as a family. That's a lot of time alone or off with friends, and when you consider that practically no one eats breakfast and lunch as a family, that's a big hole in the "family time" section of their DayTimer.

Only about one-third of all teenagers eat breakfast. One-third. Which explains why all of my kids come into second period clutching a Monster, RockStar, or Red Bull.

We all worry about our weight, but most folks from my generation didn't start worrying about it until they hit their 30s. Today, 70% of teenage boys and 85% of teenage girls report that they tried to lose weight in the last year. While there is an upside to health consciousness at an early age, there is a definite downside to weight obsession.

Computer usage is on the rise, physical exercise on the decline. Teenage boys want killer abs, but they want them by popping MegaMass 5000 pills and then starving themselves, not by getting outside and playing.

The hours spent watching television is either falling or holding steady, depending on the study, but these hours are not being replaced by exercise. The web and gaming is getting these extra hours. But even if television consumption is not rising, there is a correlation between the presence of a television in a teenager's bedroom and his health and grades. Kids with TVs have half of a grade lower GPA than kids without. Kids with TVs also eat one fewer meal per week with the family. Interestingly, poorer kids are more likely to have a TV in their room than richer kids.

We can't fix this with all at once or with a miracle pill or silver bullet. But a step in the right direction has to be slowing it down and spending more time around the dinner table. Take advantage of those weekends with a big family breakfast. And get the kids involved in the meals.

(I know... easier said than done...)

Read more here and here.

Weekly Wrap Up

Make your own yogurt? It's easier than one would think.

The case against cooking shows. (Hear, hear. The article focuses on the difference between cooking on TV and cooking in real life. Personally, I can't stand any show where someone is voted off. The focus seems to be on ridiculing the guy whose soufflé fell instead of showing us how to do something right.)

How many push-ups can you do?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Flu and Cold Season

Whew! It’s been one heckuva winter, and just when we thought it was over, the weather dude says to expect six to twelve this weekend.

I don’t mind another couple of weeks of winter, but I can’t wait for flu and cold season to get over. I can’t speak for the rest of the economic sectors, but the antibiotic manufacturers have got to be flourishing, thanks to our family of both two and four legged critters. Seems every time we turn around, one of us has something new. Between my time standing in front of snotty-nosed little kids and Z’s time at day care, hanging out with my snotty-nosed kids’ younger brothers and sisters, we’re always bringing something new into the house.

In the movie The Lost Boys, they claimed that a vampire is powerless unless you invite him into your home. That’s definitely not the case with viral critters, who don’t care a lick about welcome mats or the host’s feelings on the living arrangements.

Even Zo is in on the act. He’s had a stomach bug all winter, more than likely thanks to eating snow of the less-than-driven variety. (Pure as the driven snow? What exactly does that mean? When you drive on the snow around here, it gets brown real quick like.) He’s been surprising us by losing control all over the garage floor, and industrial strength antiobiotics of the Liquid Plumber variety seem to fix him for a week or so, but it always comes right back. The dear boy is nine and a half, which is around 90 in Great Dane years, and he has been living with arthritis for about the last five and has survived tumors in his stomach and tail. There are days when he can barely get up without whimpering, and then days when you had better not be in his way when he charges out the back door, because anyone on the lighter side of William Perry (the football player, not the SecDef) is going to be put on his backside. He still sounds like the Lion King when he’s alerting us to a dangerous intruder, such as the FedEx guy, but when he’s done protecting the front door, you can tell he’s glad he doesn’t have to do that more than once or twice a week.

But we’re all getting older, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Good Magazine: The 7 Best Bike Cities

Spring has sprung nearly everywhere, so it's time to get the bikes out and start putting miles under your wheels.

Of course, some folks more hearty than yours truly (which is just about everyone but the intensive care ward of your local hospital) bike year round. To those proud individual, I tip my chapeau.

For instance, take a look at these noble warriors from Montreal and Minneapolis, two nearly arctic villages that made Good's Top 7 Bike Towns.

If you're like me and getting your bike out for the first time this year, don't forget to follow the late, great Sheldon Brown's advice on chain cleaning and lubrication.

Happy trails...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We're Losers!

Took the boy to day care today and forgot it was picture day. Pretty sure Calvin and Hobbes covered this ground: hair sticking up everywhere, Cheerios still stuck to his chin, and nothing but expressions of exasperation as he tries to make sense of being told to sit under these lights with nothing to play with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Country Music Ain't What It Used To Be

This article in Newsweek caught my eye:

Don't Call It Country, by Steve Tuttle.

It starts with this gem from Bob Newhart:

I don't like country music, but I don't denigrate those who do. And for the people who do like country music, denigrate means "put down."

As a kid and young adult, I never could stand to be in the same room where country music was playing. Or at least, that’s what I thought. I thought that I didn’t like country music. It was too twangy, and it all sounded the same. Nearly every song was based on a bad pun or a bizarre metaphor that was trying too hard to be folksy (eg, Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goal Post of Life). You take a dog, a pick-up, a train, and an ex-wife, and throw in some steel guitar, and you had a hit country song.

And there was something just plain weird about the performers. All of these guys who claimed to be hard working, blue collar, salt of the earth types, but who spent more on hair care products than the GDP of Switzerland. The women were all clones: tall, size 2 jeans, blond, and the exact same voice.

But I was getting this impression from my limited exposure to the genre. I only heard country music on the rare occasion in which some public place happened to play a country top-40 radio station. I was getting corporate country music, which is to real country music the way a Big Mac is like a cut of Argentine bife de costilla.

It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville that I realized that the pasteurized, homogenized, sterilized, and mass-marketed drivel is but a tiny slice of the “country” pie. Although a good part of the Nashville community was (and apparently still is) dependent on producing this McMusic, I found that the big Venn diagram of “country music” contained so many closely connected sub-groups that one quickly realizes that labels are a waste of time.

This is both country’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. There are unlimited blends of the various flavors of country: country, country-western, traditional, folk, alt-country, Americana, rockabilly, roots, or as the late, great magazine No Depression used to say, whatever you want to call it.

If you go to the Wikipedia page for the bands on the fringe of country, you’ll find that most describe their music with at least three labels. Uncle Tupelo is a roots, alternative country, and Americana band. Steve Earle is a rock, country, rockabilly singer-songwriter. The Drive By Truckers are alternative-country, Americana, and southern rock band.

Are the Jayhawks “country? If you call them “Americana” instead, does that change the way they sound? Does it matter if Old 97s is labeled as country, alt-country, or rock? Where does Lyle Lovett and his Large Band fit in? Is he country by himself, and something else when he has a horn section? Can you put any kind of label whatsoever on Steve Earle, who never sounds the same on two consecutive albums?

Instead of making country a big tent organization, all of these different flavors seem to have forced the establishment to insist on watering everything down to a plain vanilla blandness when it comes time for their top-40 list and annual awards. In the world of country, there seems to be an inverse relationship between critical acclaim and record sales. Everyone loved Whiskeytown, but they couldn’t keep a label. Anyone who’s anyone in Nashville will tell you that Townes Van Zandt was one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but he sold relatively few albums (at least while he was alive), spent most of his career playing in dive bars to audiences of about 50, and was never even nominated for a CMA award.

Take a guy like Steve Earle. Thirteen Grammy nominations with a bunch of wins. Rolling Stone gave him their Country Performer of the Year award. A Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC. But not a single CMA nomination. How is that possible, that everyone outside the country community thinks this guy is one of the greatest country performers, and the country establishment seems afraid of him?

Would Johnny Cash have ever made it big if he had been born in 1970? Most assuredly not. There’s no room in the top-40 for shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die. And even his late-career resurgence was engineered by a man more closely associated with rap than country, and the records were produced in LA, not Nashville.

I’m guessing this is not unique to country music, that every genre has a disparity between the critically acclaimed and the popular. But it seems especially odd that country, with its strong feelings for tradition and roots and respect for its elders, does the least to promote those performers who do their best to honor these traditions.

I left Nashville in ’96, with a completely new appreciation for music of all kinds. But to this day, I’m still not quite sure how to answer the question, “Do you like country music?” Well, sort of… but it depends on what you mean by “country”…

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday Supper

It's a gray, damp, and drizzly day, but everything's warm and sunny inside today. Z got to run around the house looking for his "hidden" Easter eggs, and M's folks joined us for supper.

Ham is about Z's favorite meat... actually, it's the only thing on four legs that he'll eat so far. So any excuse to put a pig in the oven is fine with him.

Baked cauliflower with a squeeze of lemon juice, sweet potatoes, a fruit salad, and a strawberry-rhubarb pie rounded out his first Easter dinner.

Then after eating, it's time to burn off those calories with some intense Wheelie-Bug scooting.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Coffee Talk

I love coffee... just love it... from the ritual aspect of grinding the beans to the smell of the kitchen when it's brewing to the smoky combination of flavors when it's finally in my cup.

So one would think this would be great news for me, right? Coffee makes you faster, stronger, better looking, and all that.

See, but here's the thing: Is your goal a PR at the next race, or is it to live to be 100?

Look at it this way: integrating some caffeine can make you a bit faster or increase your endurance... but only compared to yourself, to your pre-caffeinated self. But that doesn't mean it's making you a more efficient machine for the long haul. I think everyone here would agree: there are no magic bullets. There is no single supplement that's going to let you chow down all you want and still look great come the first trip to the beach.

Is small amounts, it can help you burn some fat, tapping into fat as an energy source. It can make you a little bit faster, and make you go a little bit further.

But it's not a substitute for hard work and watching what you eat.

So be careful out there. If your goal is to live to be 100, moreso than just setting a new PR at this weekend's 10K, there's no need to add an extra cup to whatever you're currently doing. And if your goal is to set a new PR this weekend, remember the singular most important rule of racing nutrition: don't ever eat or drink anything on race day that you haven't tried during training.