Marathon training

As I mentioned in my list of goals the other day, my BFF and I made a pact to run a marathon this year — his first; my first in a decade.

We started our training program yesterday with a three-mile run and continued today with a four-miler. Both runs were fairly easy, mainly because I’m using the Jeff Galloway approach, which involves building in walk breaks at planned intervals to help reduce the risk of injuries and maintain a sustainable pace for the duration of the run.

I used to base my intervals on time: Run five minutes, walk one. I know other runners who base their intervals on distance: Run a mile, walk a minute. Both methods have their merits, but this fall, I began experimenting with the idea of basing my breaks on steps rather than time or distance. I may never bother with a stopwatch again.

Your mileage may vary, but here are the advantages I found on my runs using the step-counting method:

1. More consistent effort expended between walking intervals. When I use the stopwatch, I end up running a lot more steps in five minutes at the beginning of a run than I do at the end.

2. More effort in general. If a quicker pace gets me to my break faster, I’m probably going to run harder between breaks, and I’m less tempted to slow down when I’m tired. Theoretically, running a specific distance between breaks would accomplish the same thing, but distance is harder to measure reliably.

3. It’s easier to keep track of, especially in cold weather. I have an iPhone with a stopwatch and GPS on it, but I have no idea where I put my touchscreen-sensitive gloves, so if I’m trying to track time or distance on my phone, I have to take off my gloves and coax it out of sleep mode every time I want to check. Instead, I use a cheap mechanical lap counter, logging a “lap” every 100 steps.

4. It makes a long run feel more manageable. I have something to think about besides how tired I am as the mileage increases, and I get a little psychological boost from clicking the lap counter every 100 steps. Never underestimate the value of a mental lift on a long run. Distance running is more mental than physical, and every little nudge helps.

Emily

“You’re ugly.”

NOTE: I started writing this a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing it and posting it. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post on ageism, so I’m sharing it now.

I was involved in a Twitter conversation a while back in which a misogynist attempted to debate an online friend of mine, got his arse handed to him, and then — when I tweeted my friend a reaction GIF — responded by informing me, “You’re ugly” and then blocking me before I had time to reply.

I find it interesting that the average misogynist’s first line of defense, whenever he feels threatened by a woman, is to attack her looks, as if his opinion of her physical appearance ever has had or ever will have any effect on her life.

Why bother?

Because nothing makes an insecure man feel better than attacking a woman — particularly a woman he views as being strong, confident or intelligent. Because women are conditioned from birth to believe our value depends on our attractiveness to the cishet-white-male gaze, a cheap shot at a woman’s looks is often the easiest way to rattle her confidence and call her value into question.

This weak attempt at psychological warfare works only if we let it.

I don’t consider myself ugly, but I’m fully aware some people do. That’s fine, and I want my nieces to know that’s fine. Everybody has different aesthetic preferences, and that’s OK. But I also want the girls to know this:

Being told I’m ugly has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do.

I'm not everybody's cup of tea. That fact has never kept me from enjoying a glorious afternoon in the Mojave.
I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. Neither is the Mojave Desert. If she doesn’t mind, why should I? Being appreciated is nice, but our existence doesn’t depend on it.

It didn’t cost me any scholarships. It didn’t hurt my grades. It didn’t adversely affect my career. It didn’t discourage Ron from marrying me. It didn’t keep me from crossing two marathon finish lines, adopting a houseful of pets, or publishing a novel.

I’ve done exactly as I pleased for most of my life, and I’ve done it with an oversized Celtic snout and a mop of messy curls that don’t quite meet some people’s standards for feminine beauty.

I want my nieces to know that, because they are going to encounter hateful people who don’t like the way they look, and they need to know those people’s opinions don’t matter. They need to know they can go after their dreams, and no amount of lip service from ignorant misogynists can stop them.

They need to know. And I’d be a lousy aunt if I didn’t teach them.

Emily

Look as good you will not

“When [59] years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
— Yoda

In case you’ve been under a rock: Fanboy trollgeek jackasses have been inundating Carrie Fisher with unsolicited critiques of her appearance ever since The Force Awakens was released.

Apparently they’re mad because the last time they saw her in a Star Wars flick, she was kicking ass in a metal bikini, and it made them feel funny inside, like when they climbed the rope in gym class. Three decades later, she looks like a grownup, and the fanboys are apoplectic, because this means either A.) they have to quit lusting after Bikini Slave Girl Leia, or B.) they have to admit they’ve spent years cherishing vivid fantasies about a woman who’s old enough to be their mother.

Rather than spend a little more time listening to Fountains of Wayne songs and embracing their inner Benjamin Braddock, they’ve taken to Twitter to vent their discomfort on Fisher herself.

She responded pretty much as you’d expect:

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
— Tweet from Carrie Fisher

The Force is strong with this one.

Not surprisingly, I’ve heard exactly zero complaints about Harrison Ford’s appearance. By any objective measure, he looks neither better nor worse than his costar — yet while people are attacking Fisher for aging, the general consensus among Ford’s fans is still something along the lines of “Don’t come a-knockin’ if the Falcon’s a-rockin’.”

Why? Because men are allowed to age, but women are expected to conform to the demands of the (cis, white, hetero) male gaze indefinitely. Age a few years beyond the narrow and wholly unimaginative standards of that gaze, and you’re liable to disappear entirely.

People aren’t mad Carrie Fisher aged. They’re mad she refused to disappear so they could cling to their Return of the Jedi-inspired fantasies forever. They’re mad she had the nerve to show up, 32 years later, and force them to acknowledge they’ll never get to touch the girl in the gold bikini.

Face it, young Padawan: If all you saw in her was uncomfortable lingerie and a bondage kink, you were never going to be good enough for the fictional Leia — and you damn sure aren’t worthy of the accomplished, intelligent woman who portrays her.

“Aging gracefully” does not mean “trying like hell to look 25 forever.” God bless Carrie Fisher for using her considerable reach to advocate for all of us who understand that. Blowing up the Death Star was pretty cool, but starting an international conversation about women’s right to age on our own terms? That’s the sort of rebellion that can overthrow an Empire.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Spreading the gospel

It’s good to live an environmentally responsible lifestyle. But it’s even better to share your experiences with other people, because Madison Avenue is doing its best to convince people they need to consume more — of everything, from space to energy to food to material possessions — when most of us would be just as happy with a lot less. I think a lot of people know that, deep down, but they’re afraid to step outside their comfort zone and try a simpler life.

That’s why we participated in the Solar Home Tour in Tulsa a few years ago. It’s why I do this Eco-Saturday feature. It’s why I never, ever said no to anybody who wanted to interview us about our grid-tied solar power system at our old house, and I’ll never say no to anybody who wants to talk to me about anything I’m doing here to shrink our environmental footprint. And it’s why, a few weeks ago, I submitted some information and photos of our house to Lloyd Kahn, author of Tiny Homes, for a new Shelter Publications book he is doing about people who live in houses that are small but not tiny. If it’s as good as his other books, it should be a great resource for people looking to downsize without giving up creature comforts.

He emailed me back and asked me to get somebody to take pictures of Ron and me in our house to give readers an idea of how it looks with somebody actually living in it, so I swapped our awesome photo editor, Laura Simon, some beer and a bowl of green chile stew for a photo shoot one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to give away everything, just in case some of it ends up in the book, but I thought I’d share a few of the images she got.

Lillian wasn't thrilled by whatever I was doing on the computer.
Lillian wasn’t thrilled by whatever I was doing on the computer.
Family portrait, minus Walter, who was hiding under the bed because he's scared of strangers.
Family portrait, minus Walter, who was hiding under the bed because he’s scared of strangers.
Pouring myself a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I don't know what Ron is doing. Looking busy, I think.
Pouring myself a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I don’t know what Ron is doing. Looking busy, I think.
Songdog gets some airtime as he jumps up to take a dog biscuit from my hand.
Songdog gets some airtime as he jumps up to take a dog biscuit from my hand.

If you’re not familiar with Kahn’s work, The Shelter Blog is a good place to start looking. Pick up a copy of Tiny Homes if you can. It’s a great source of inspiration and ideas, even if you’re not quite ready to commit to life in a micro-house.

What are you doing to shrink your footprint? Share your ideas. The more people we can get to take steps to live a more planet-friendly life, the better off we’ll all be.

Emily

Goals for 2016

The other day, I talked about what I’m doing to put us in a financial position conducive to moving to Tucumcari in a few years.

Money isn’t the only thing we’ll need for a cross-country move, of course. I’ve organized two of them, and it’s a stressful proposition. Most of the stress comes from uncertainty: How long will it take us to find jobs? How long will it take to sell our old house? Will all our stuff fit in the U-Haul? Where will we buy necessities in our new town? There are a lot of moving parts, and the more I can take care of in advance, the better.

To that end, I have a list of projects I want to complete between now and 2021. It’s a pretty long list, so I’m breaking it down into six shorter lists, each of which can be completed within a year. They aren’t exactly New Year’s resolutions, but here are my goals for 2016:

1. Shop only at stores with locations (or equivalents) in Tucumcari. Tucumcari is considerably smaller than Cape Girardeau, with considerably fewer shopping options. If that’s going to be a problem, I’d like to know before I move so I can plan workarounds.

2. Repair all the cracked drywall joints in this house. The previous owners made several “improvements” that were anything but. The drywall is the worst of the lot.

3. Replace the kitchen floor. The shoddy tile job is another of those “improvements.”

4. Steam the carpets. I have a feeling “replace the carpets” will be on the list for 2017, but a good cleaning should buy me some time.

5. Replace the water heater. It’s 26 years old and showing its age.

6. Dump AT&T. Our contract is up in April. Changing to Cricket will save us about $1,500 a year.

7. Apply for a New Mexico teaching certificate. The amount of bureaucracy involved could be massive, so I need to get a head start on it.

8. Learn Spanish. This will increase my odds of landing a teaching job, and it also will come in handy in a newsroom.

9. Scan all my old 35mm photos and ditch the prints that are taking up closet space.

10. Run a marathon. This doesn’t directly affect my Tucumcari plans, but regular exercise seems to help normalize my sleep patterns, and a marathon training program is a highly structured way to get plenty of exercise. A normalized sleep schedule would free up some morning hours, which I could use to advance my other goals.

11. Go vegetarian. This should free up another $500 a year or so (grains and legumes are way cheaper than meat) and fuel my marathon training nicely.

We’ll see how this goes. What are your goals this year?

Emily

Looking ahead

I was standing in a garage at the Blue Swallow Motel with a paintbrush in my hand one bright afternoon in April when the managing editor of the local paper dropped by to talk about the mural I was working on. When he found out I was a professional journalist, he mentioned he was planning to retire soon.

One might, at this point, question why I am posting this from Cape Girardeau and not from Tucumcari.

The answer: I’d have had to take a 30 percent pay cut, and the income just wouldn’t have been enough to cover two car loans, two mortgages and the $5,000 transmission bill we’d gotten stuck with last winter. We live pretty frugally, but I know from experience that moving cross-country is an expensive proposition when you already have an existing mortgage.

A few weeks after we got home from Tucumcari, I picked up a book called Possum Living, which is about a young woman and her father who spent several years living without any sort of regular income. I loved it, partly because it validated my long-held belief that a sensible financial plan depends more on eliminating expenses than amassing wealth, and partly because it inspired me: If I paid off our debts, I could afford to move without undue stress.

I did some quick math and realized the best way to accomplish that goal would be to stop eating meals out.

In the span of five years, we’d eaten the equivalent of a new Volvo. If I took the money we were spending in restaurants and applied it to my credit-card bill, we could pay off the transmission by spring. With that paid off, we could use the newly freed-up money to pay off the car — then roll that money into the mortgage. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we could be debt-free by Oct. 15, 2021, at which point we could start shopping for land in New Mexico to build the tiny house of our dreams.

Since early August, we’ve sent about $1,850 to the credit-card company. Every time I cook at home, I write down what that meal would have cost at a restaurant, and once a week, Ron sends the credit-card company the money we didn’t spend on dinner. It adds up fast: We’re averaging about $100 a week, and I expect that to go up in April, when our cellphone contracts will expire and we can switch to cheaper phones with cheaper plans.

I’m also losing weight (I’ve dropped 20 lbs. since July) and generating less trash via paper wrappers and cardboard boxes, which is better for the environment.

If we keep going at this rate, we should be debt-free in 2,119 days. Go, us!

Emily

Who knows where the time goes?

“Before the winter fire
I’ll still be dreaming;
I do not count the time.”

— Sandy Denny

Ten years ago, trying to cope with the onset of winter and the quiet depression that seems to settle over me with the first frost and stay until the first baseball player reports to spring training, I decided to set up a blog where I could record whatever nature happened to be doing in my yard every day. I thought winter might seem more tolerable if I spent a few minutes in the garden every day, looking for signs of life.

A decade later, I’m still looking, and although there have been some periods of extended silence here while I worked on other projects, I keep coming back. In many ways, this blog has become a kind of touchstone in a life prone to sudden changes and unexpected adventures.

I can’t begin to list everything that’s happened, but it’s probably worth mentioning that since I set up this site one cold, clear night in Red Fork — a cup of Red Zinger at hand, a rat terrier curled up on the floor beside me, and visions of spring dancing in my head in lieu of the more seasonally appropriate sugarplums — I have lost twin nieces; gained two nephews and two nieces; lost and regained a career; spent four years teaching sophomore English, a job that nearly killed me the first time I tried it but probably saved me the second; lost Scout; gained Riggy, Walter and Lil Miss; painted an artcar; learned to play guitar (badly); moved 450 miles; gleefully turned 40; and last but certainly not least, written and published my first novel.

A decade later, it’s a cool, rainy night in Cape Girardeau as I sit at my desk 450 miles from Red Fork, a cup of Wild Berry Zinger at hand, a different rat terrier curled up on the floor beside me, and dreams of spring still dancing in my head. The details are different; the essence is the same.

“I have,” Sandy Denny once said, “no thought of leaving.”

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring

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