Monday, August 31, 2009

Barefoot Running

Sometimes, I get a little overeager about things. Nothing really illustrates this more aptly about my latest experiment with barefoot running. 

See, I'm reading a book called Born to Run, the story of the Tarahumara ultrarunners, who run ultramarathons through canyons in Mexico -- barefoot.  And the strange thing about these people? They don't have injuries, depression, heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.  They are happy when they run; they are happy because they run.  

The point of this study is to bring to light ever-increasing evidence that the tennis shoe is ruining our feet -- and our backs, knees, and ankles -- because it deprives us of our natural pain-sensors.  When you put your foot in rubber and foam, it doesn't know the proper way to hit the pavement, so it strikes heel-first and as hard as possible in search of something solid.  But when you take off your shoes, your pain-sensors (there as many in your feet as in your groin) tell you to roll your feet from the inside out, to spread your toes wide, to tuck your legs under your hips, and to avoid striking the heel at all cost.  People who have tried it have found they no longer suffer pain in their knees, feet, or back -- in part, because we were all (at some point) engineered for running.  

So, the more I read of the book, the more stories I heard of people taking off their shoes and suddenly being able to run 80 miles instead of 2.  As someone who has been forcing her way through 2 or 3 miles a day for 15 years, I was eager to give it a try.  

Totally inspired, I kicked off my tennis shoes and socks.  Andrew, wrapped up in my hypothesis, decided to try it, too.  Exhilarated, I shot forward onto the pavement and smashed my heel into the ground.  My foot instantly corrected itself -- VERY wrong form, it told me immediately -- and I felt my toes spread.  I waited for a sensation of flying, of freedom.  I waited to feel like I could run a marathon in 15 minutes with nothing on but flip-flops.  

Instead? In my zeal, I pounded my pampered, pansy little toes onto the suburban sidewalk, cutting and bruising feet that have never run barefoot and rarely go dirty. I'm brought up short by the sharp gravel I have to cross to get to my driveway. Rather than flying, I'm tiptoeing around the loop in pain.  My teenage neighbors look at Andrew and me askance.  

"I could've gone much longer!" Andrew says, smiling, apparently unscathed. I hobble past him into the house, to soak my feet.   

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cereal-Box Decoder Rings for the Code of Life

Adjusting to a new place involves more than just finding a house or making new friends. It means breaking the code. 

Here's what I mean. Yesterday, I attended 11 hours of meetings, 4 of which were about health care benefits.  While I knew this was very important information, I missed much of it because it was delivered in code.  We had a rather self-important representative -- self-important people love to speak in a code only they can decipher -- and her presentation sounded like this to me: 

"Your options are to sign up for the PPOL, the PPOH, or the PHMO. The VLETS  -- don't worry about what VLETS are -- will tell you that PPOs are better than the PHMOs, but after a quick glance at your W4s and I9s, I can tell you the VLETS don't know what's best for you. I do. I've worked with Barb here for 15 years."  Here she stops to pat Barb, whose name is Joan, on the head.  "She can vouch for me."  

Needless to say, I left that orientation, disoriented.  But really that's not the only code I've struggled with since moving here.  For example, I've just begun to crack the traffic code.  On the road, "big construction switch" means "plan to sit still on this road for 3 hours." At work, the words "highly recommended" mean "mandatory for those who'd like tenure."  At home, the term "HOA dues" translates to "fees you pay your neighbors for tattling on you."  

Working through a code is typical of any move, and it always takes time, which makes me wonder -- why doesn't anyone make cereal-box decoder rings to crack open the code of life? 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Junior Faculty

The first day I heard I'd have an office, I was ecstatic. I get a job and an office I don't have to share with 15 other people? I just couldn't wait. I called every week I could, asking if my keys were ready, if the furniture was moved in, if the paint had dried. Finally, I got the room number. The person who gave me my office assignment laughed a little when she gave me the keys, but seeing the confusion on my face, she pulled herself together. "Well," she said as lightly as she could, "No one will come to bother you there."

I did not know what that meant.

At least, I did not know what that meant until I moved in. Andrew and I loaded about 6 heavy boxes of books and other paraphernalia and set off for the fifth floor of the building where I work. What with required ADA compliance, I didn't even consider the possibility that the elevator only stopped at the fourth. I should have.

Forty-five minutes later, all of the books had been hauled upstairs to a stifling attic with no air conditioning. The ends of the hallway were littered with "take me" books and discarded waste bins and broken filing cabinets. The lights were out.

But I didn't care. I was excited to see what the view from the fifth floor looked like. And, anyway, I'm healthy. I can take stairs.

I flung open my office door and was greeted with a view of . . . the roof. A rusted nasty debris-littered roof whose slopes and angles hindered any view of the city or its river. My furniture was peeling, the handles on my office chair brown with rust. My carpet was filthy, and my desks and bookshelf were covered in a fine layer of gray dust, no doubt courtesy of a long stay in a storage building. I felt as if someone had poked a hole in my elation.

I channel my mother, and wonder what she'd do. She certainly wouldn't whine, not after all it took to get to this dusty attic office. So with Andrew's support and the downtown Ikea, we reconstructed it. And these were our results.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Lawn Seats

I have a short bucket list that contains some pretty strange but not wholly unusual things. See the pyramids of Egypt. Go scuba diving. Try windsurfing. Visit Italy. See a Bollywood film in India. See Dave Matthews move his feet in a live concert.

So I crossed off the latter last night, when we went to the Dave Matthews concert and sat in the lawn seats. I should say it's been 10 years since I've been to a concert, and the last time I attended one, I made up some incontestable truth about seeing live concerts only when you could sit in the lawn seats. I must've been thinking something about stars, romance, a cool Tampa Bay breeze.

Apparently a lot can change in 10 years. Suddenly the people who helped you create that community of music when you were 20 -- those people who let you know you belong in the world because you all know the same words to the same weird songs -- at 30 become slovenly naked weed-smoking drunks. When did this happen? Young twentysomethings tripped over my beach blanket and poured margaritas on my bare toes, giggling as they did so. Rather than apologize, they did things that didn't belong to their generation at all, like yelling "right on" and holding lighters in the air. One guy came up to us and said, "Have you seen Waldo? WHERE'S WALDO?!" which wasn't as strange at that point in the evening as it was obnoxious.

The people my age weren't much better; they arrived harried from rush hour and sloppy-drunk to make up for it. Most of them spent much of the concert thumbing through their blackberries, pretending to be bored. If they weren't doing that, they were yelling at the spouses they never should've married in the first place, and saying things like, "Well if you'd REMEMBERED it, I wouldn't have to go and buy one now, would I?" and "You've turned into such a SCHMUCK."

This pretty much ruined my idea of romance and cool breezes and recapturing the feelings I had when I first listened to DMB about 15 years ago. My conclusion? You probably think it has something to do with getting older or becoming jaded but I have decided to adamantly deny what is probably the truth. Instead? I've learned to just give in and buy a seat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

I used to dread grocery shopping. Even at midnight on a Thursday, Wal-Mart, which was often my only choice in the small towns I lived in, was unpleasant. The aisles were narrow, the carts large, and the people pushy. Children screamed and wallowed in the floor, begging for some toy they didn't need. The vegetables were rotten by the time I brought them home, and the chicken I marinated and pounded was still sinewy by the time it reached the dinner table. But I now know grocery shopping doesn't have to be this way.

Because of the growing interest in organically grown foods, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is getting more and more notoriety, even though it's certainly nothing new. CSA programs allow people to buy a share of their local farmers' crops, and in return, they can pick up (or have delivered) fresh, organically-grown produce at 1/2 the cost of what they'd pay for the same products in their local Whole Foods store.

CSAs work something like this: you pay a fee (in my area, half-memberships are $400 and full are $725) that provides you with about 4 bags of fresh food -- this includes veggies, fruit, and herbs, and occasionally chicken, eggs, flowers, and cheese -- either every other month (for a half membership) or every month (for a full) during the growing season. In Florida, that can be year round, or, typically, November through May.

The benefits are endless. Not only do these programs make buying fresh, healthy food affordable but they also mean you're sure to buy in season. This means your lettuce will always taste like lettuce, rather than styrofoam, because you won't be trying to eat some chemically altered lettuce-like product shipped in from Chile in the middle of January. It means you'll be doing something for the environment without even trying; by not paying someone for the gasoline and manpower to ship lettuce in January from Chile to your grocery store, you've helped, in a small but significant way, minimize your carbon footprint.

But most important of all, you get to know exactly where your food comes from because you buy it directly from the farmer. The added bonus, in my opinion, is that many CSAs require you put in 4 volunteer hours (over the course of the year) in order to join the program. That means you pull weeds, dig in the dirt, harvest the crops -- you get to have a hand in growing what you eat, all the while getting to know the people responsible for growing the food that sustains you and your family.

And beyond all of those liberal, granola-crunching reasons, it's pleasant to get your groceries this way. The farmers/merchants are happy to be handing over their hard work to people who appreciate it, and as a result, they're usually happy to see you (as opposed to the stockguy at Wal-Mart, who just wants his next break). Many CSAs also run farmer's markets, and so when you pick up your groceries (if you don't have them delivered -- how awesome!), you might find music or artists, which you can enjoy while sampling goods like freshly-baked focaccia or organic herbed cheeses.

Sound appealing? Go to to find a CSA or farmer's market in your area.