Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Sports and Recreation

Thank You Vin Scully

“You tricked us into thinking you were just a sports announcer, when really you were a poet…when we were lost for words, you were Norman Rockwell.” -Kevin Costner

Costner delivered a fine speech tonight that old Dodger fans will never forget, one that will forever remind us that we were blessed to have our lives inspired by the best poet sportscaster who ever lived, one who painted portraits in our mind with cadenced sentences of joyous prose.

I  sometimes listened to games lying on a linoleum floor with the stereo speakers low so my brothers could watch our small black and white TV.

My Boyle Heights summers were filled with baseball and the Dodgers, with him calling games and pitching Farmer John.

In the third grade my teacher had a shelf of baseball books for kids, books about Mathewson, Ruth, Cobb and more — I read these all and fell in love.

I first picked up the LA Times to read of baseball; of Garvey, Lopes and Penguin Cey.

These last few days I’ve been falling asleep sad-hearted to the games, still called by him as they marched towards the pennant, this in his last year.

Baseball will go on and so will I, his music, though, will neither cease nor die inside my mind.

For the rest of my life it will not be hard for me to close my eyes and hear his music as I always did, from boyhood until my 49th year.

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Shattered Hopes and Next Time (There will be a next time)

Today I’m supposed to be in Panama City, Florida competing in my first Iron Man triathlon. That ambition died in August thanks to a heel spur beneath my left foot. At that time, it was not clear whether or not I’d be able to get sufficient training in to brave the event. By the time I shut down training the heel had significantly reduced my ability to run regularly at the appropriate tempos. Still, there were other issues too, particularly with my back that was forcing me to periodically get off my bike to stretch for a few minutes to alleviate acute pain. Oddly, the swim – which had caused the most concern initially — was the least of my worries. Even under injury-free conditions, it would have been a close call to the end, a close call I was relishing even if the probability of disaster was real. By disaster I mean that I would not have run the marathon respectably.

As I take inventory of what happened, I do so with an eye looking toward a future where middle age health issues will be even more challenging. So this year, beginning a few weeks ago, will be one of conditioning my legs and core so I can train for long distances effectively for the rest of my life. Last year I was much too cavalier believing that mostly prepping the events themselves would do the trick. I learned the hard way that this is inadequate for me. For weeks now I’ve worked closely with my physical therapist on batteries of exercises for my legs and core that I must keep performing several times per week to strengthen my legs and back in order to balance asymmetries in strength due most likely to excessive weight and cycling. These exercises now are part of my weekly routine and I have resumed running short distances.

All I plan to do between now and spring are my leg/core exercises and running, to slowly build a base for long-distance running as best I can. The goal is to begin cycling in the spring and get in some swimming in the summer. But the main emphasis this training year will be on strength and conditioning for my legs and core so I can become an effective long distance runner. I am most vulnerable to running injuries so it’s imperative that I make marathoning a strength before I entertain the thought of Iron Man training again. It might be two years before I can become an effective marathoner.

Get Happy

On Happiness

Drawing on available empirical research, Erik Barker and Belle Beth Cooper have compiled a list of factors that research correlates with happiness. Happy living is certainly better than miserable or — even worse in my view — indifferent living. Unfortunately, the Barker and Cooper essays are disorganized and point at too many factors that matter. This essay organizes their insights and identifies priorities. (For more details on the science behind them, consult the essays and citations in Barker and Cooper, here and here)

The factors that contribute to happiness fall into four overlapping categories: 1) Physical and Mental Wellness; 2) Companionship; 3) Attitude; and 4) Purpose. I list the individual factors correlated to happiness and add a thought or two on each.

I suggest an approach for setting priorities and working on self-improvement. It is not hard to identify issues to work on from the four lists, each according to his or her needs and priorities. By way of conclusion, I argue for focusing on habits as a practicable framework for improvement.

Physical and Mental Wellness: Exercise, Rest and Recover

Exercise more. Research suggests that 7-10 minutes of intense exercise a handful of times per week might be enough to make you happier and fitter. Nonetheless, a regular and rigorous exercise regime burns more calories and contributes significantly to wellness and a positive outlook. In my own life the correlation between fitness and happiness is unmistakable. It helps me to beat back depression and melancholy; it improves the quantity and quality of my sleep; and it improves my outlook. A sustained exercise regime, moreover, seems to produce what economists call positive externalities – good “spillovers” — into other aspects of life.

Sleep more. Do whatever you need to do to get a good night’s sleep. New mattress, more exercise, warm milk, etc. Do research and get professional help if necessary. Physical rest is crucial. Nap when you need to.

Clear your head periodically. Some people golf, some gamble, some do yoga, and some meditate. In addition to sleep, make it a point to power off from time to time even during busy workdays. According to biographers, Churchill was a glutton for work. Even during the war, however, he took time to dine with colleagues and friends as a way of unwinding and recharging his batteries. While enduring the most terrible pressures, he understood the need for break and he almost always managed to get a good night’s sleep. Do whatever you need to in order to clear your noggin from stress and worry. Films, sports, books, and much else help me to clear my head of debris. Visualization, see below, can be helpful.

Visualize: “Plan a trip (but don’t take one)” This one is about the importance of visualization and treating the object of your visualization as something real. Planning a vacation can be relaxing and uplifting, as many have noted. But so can lots of things. Visualization can be soothing and relaxing – a form of meditation that helps us to rest and rewire our brains. Think about achieving important objectives or important steps along the way. It goes without saying that you should not overdue this. Over indulgence can be a form of sloth and procrastination. I think a lot about the touring motorcycle I will purchase during my next mid-life crisis, probably in 3-4 years.

Spend time outdoors. Go for a hike, go on a bike ride, go for a walk, or go for a jog somewhere pretty. I don’t take advantage of my lovely neighborhood enough. It is incredibly pleasant for walks. I love trees and birds. I enjoy the scenery on long bike rides. Cows make me smile and I sometimes greet them with a moo. Go smell roses. During the war, Lincoln took carriage rides. He loved visiting the field. Part of the motivation was politics, part was statesmanship, and part was relaxation and socializing with his commanders and interacting with the troops.

Companionship: Friends and Family

Spend times with friends and family. It is important to sort out who those are that you love like family and seek them out for companionship. Rely on the philosopher Kant for some guidance: you know someone is a true friend when you prize him or her intrinsically rather than as a means for something else. Meaningful sociability with friends does interact with other factors. It helps with rest and recovery. Friends can inspire and motivate.

Attitude: Kindliness and Gratitude

Help others. Kindliness and magnanimity to others is essential for happiness. Being a giver is incredibly rewarding and, paradoxically, one of the most selfish things you can do to boost happiness.

Practice gratitude towards others. It makes a positive difference to be kindly and grateful towards others. I would add the obverse to this, which might be just as crucial. It’s important to let go of slights, resentments and ill will towards others, real and perceived. This is difficult and I fail regularly at this, but one must try to develop patience, empathy, and understanding with nasty and unpleasant folks. Harboring ill-will towards others is as toxic as it is unnecessary. My role model on this is President Lincoln, who bore malice towards no one. This served him politically and personally. Lincoln helped and promoted whomever he could even though these had treated him shabbily or even conspired against him. This not only yielded enormous political dividends for him, but it also gilded his immortal reputation. Lincoln, too, had steel and when it served him he was not shy about marking enemies out for destruction.

Smile and laugh. This one caught me off guard. But the more I thought of it, the more it made me realize that it is not simply smiling. Humor, joking, and laughter are extremely important for happiness, particularly under duress and hard times. Historians agree that this was Lincoln’s great weapon to lighten the crushing weight of the war, politics, and personal tragedy during his presidency, not to mention his melancholy persona. Though an inveterate workaholic, Lincoln made time to joke, tell stories, and laugh with everyone around him, especially his good friends, Secretary of State Seward and his aids, Hay and Nicolay, which he loved like family. This buoyed him and he lifted those around him during the trials and tribulations of politics, civil war, and marriage.

Be optimistic. Delusion and optimism can pay dividends. They can keep one motivated and focused on ambitions and goals. I call this the Quixotic impulse. There is something to be said for remaining grounded even as we remain optimistic about the future as we plod along towards our goals and aspirations. An old friend of mine likes to quote the African proverb: “When you pray, move your feet.” Having dreams and ambitions can be the most essential life preserver when one gets rudely tossed about an unforgiving sea.

Don’t dwell on regrets (but don’t ignore them either). If you dwell on regrets you are certain to be miserable. Regrets from failure stir fear and pusillanimity. However, it is important to remember and learn from mistakes, failures, heart-breaks, etc., particularly if they motivate you to focus on goals and dreams. Pain, constructively channeled, can be invigorating and inspirational. But don’t dwell on the bad stuff lamenting that you could have done things differently or that life isn’t fair. This is poison. Remember Shakespeare: “Tis good for men to love their present pains.” Pain can be a prudent counselor if we listen.

Purpose

Have faith and strive. Being industrious and ambitious is fulfilling. It keeps you focused and happy. Have a big goal and think of stepping stone goals along the way. Faith is critical. One must have faith in oneself, one’s maker, one’s muse, devotion to family and or some sense of purpose to keep one buggering along.

Practice what you are good at as often as you can. As a professor, I’m lucky that I enjoy what I do – reading, writing, and teaching. This, I imagine, is why professors don’t mind being less well off than lawyers, doctors, and bankers. Find work that is meaningful and enjoyable. If you are stuck at a job that you need to support yourself and family, figure out ways of making it more enjoyable. For example, research suggests that having an excellent friend at work is correlated with happiness at work, more so than other factors. Develop a strategy to prevent work from becoming cancerous.

Be plodder not a sprinter. Have ambitious goals; say, to run a marathon. Do relish the training runs and the goodness that comes with the small accomplishments and positive spillovers from exercise. Do plan on writing that book, but break it down to component parts end enjoy the steps along the way. Talk with friends about your projects. Be accountable for your progress. Research shows that holding yourself accountable to others increases the likelihood of making progress on projects.

Savor as much as you can as often as you can. Smell the roses, yes, but focus mentally and do so on particular activities. In other words, work when you are working, rest when you are resting, and enjoy others when you’re supposed to being doing that. Don’t let your mind wander too much while moving through your day. Be exuberant about what you are doing when you are doing it.

Conclusion: Purpose and Habit

Given the list of factors, where does one begin reprogramming one’s life to boost happiness? I recommend beginning with elements from the last category, purpose. You have to live deliberately for something, whether it’s to quit drinking, a religious calling, your vocation, raising your kids, redemption of an unrequited love, etc. And you have to do so with faith in yourself and, if you believe in one, your maker. Machiavelli wrote: “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul.” Without inspiration, purpose will not motivate one sufficiently to sustain the herculean effort required re-tool one’s patterns of behavior – or habits – and sustain changes during hard times.

The key to change, as Duhigg has argued in this magnificent book, is learning to understand how habits work and to tinker diligently and systematically to re-program oneself out of bad habits and into new ones. Together with purpose, one must have goals, big and intermediate ones, and one must have concrete measurable steps along the way for making progress. The research on habits notes that group accountability, together with faith and passion in oneself and one’s purpose, are key ingredient for reorganizing one’s life activities to create new habits.

To change habits, one can focus on any of the factors listed above depending on one’s needs and priorities. That said, as Duhigg demonstrates, is that changing habits is extremely difficult and time consuming even if one is self-aware both about the need to change and the methodology for doing so. So, one’s best bet is to attempt to implement or change one big habit, one that generates large positive spillovers into other activities. If work is miserable, focus on making a good friend or two there. Some studies show that having a good friend at work can make you a lot happier. If you are addicted to cigarettes or booze, focus on regulating or quitting those activities. If you’re fat or unhealthy, focus on diet and or exercise. Whatever you do, keep systematic track of your activities and find a friend or a group to report to on your progress. Be conscious of failures in your effort to implement change and don’t give up. Here is where inspiration and purpose matter: these should provide you with the fuel to press on and, when necessary, to reach out for life support from friends and or support group.

Good luck.

Training Update: 11.5 Weeks to Go…

Until a couple of weeks ago I mostly focused on base-building and stretching out the distances in the pool and on the run. I have endured several minor setbacks, minor injuries and stress related issues. I have transitioned now to interval and tempo-type training during the week with long sessions during the weekend. The long sessions will either be a swim followed by a ride or a ride followed by run.  These are not  tempo type activities. These long workouts will gobble up the chunk of a day.

I will in the next couple of weeks find out if I’m prepared to endure the type of training I will need to do during these next 11.5 weeks on the way to the finish line. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll make it. The good news is that I’m holding up physically. I’m not struggling with any major issue at the moment.

Today was a good day. I rode 87 miles and jogged 3 miles afterwards. I got it in my head during the ride that I would try to jog 6 miles but then thought better of it.  At the moment, I need to add running mileage with care. Two things scare me about preparing for this event. One is getting injured running. The other is that swimming in the pool, fitness aside, is not doing anything to prepare me for a long swim in the ocean surrounded by other swimmers and all the weirdness that goes with that. I’ve identified a half-iron man in Tennessee in late September. If all goes well, I should be overprepared to complete that comfortably.

Training Log #1, June 2, 2013

Recently I gave this advice to a friend:

“Learn to like hills — pop it into an easy gear and think of the goodness that comes from climbing.”

Late last fall I decided that I would brave a grueling triathlon and the quote above is now my mantra. I have been plodding to try and get my middle-aged body in shape and find myself staring at my November 4, 2013 with joy and trepidation.

Where am I at?  On the negative side of ledger, I am much too heavy with only 5 months left to train, including a 10 day taper leading up to the event.  Diet becomes extremely important going forward, since I need to shed roughly 3lbs per month. Also, I have not cycled enough to this point and have not done so because I’m comfortable on the bike, though it will be a real challenge to get my average mph up. The focus has been on running, because I’ve been cautious about extending my long jogs because of injury-risk.  Swimming worries me too, because of a bad right shoulder and because it’s not something I have done systematically in the past (like cycling and running).  Also, I’ve only swam out in the open ocean a couple of times and was anxious doing so.

On the positive side of the ledger, I should be able to complete the event if I can stay healthy, control my food and booze, and stay on track with training and regular rest.  I have been training for the last six months, mostly focusing on building a running and swimming base since these are the weaknesses. 6+ hours on a bike doesn’t worry me in the slightest (but it is terrifying to think about this in the wake of a brutal ocean swim). Running is coming along as is swimming. The task for the next 21 weeks is to begin to stretch out the long days on each event; incorporate speed workouts; and incorporate transition workouts to get the body used to doing one event right after the other. I estimate, conservatively, that if I were to taper and rest that I could swim an hour and 15 mins, ride for 3 hours, and run for an hour at a half at an easy moderate pace. These is not a bad base to kick off the 21 remaining weeks and get to the finish line.

My hope though, is not just to finish the thing.  I hope to do it under 15 hours. (2.5 hr swim, 7.0 bike, and 5.5 hr run).

Gulp.

Dixie with Dolores

My old friend Dolores joined me in Dixie this last weekend.  She arrived late Wed. eve and returned to Los Angeles on Sunday morning. It was great having her here and she made me realize that I do need to do more outreach to friends to come and visit because a good time certainly can be had here.  I’ll say more about the weekend later .  For now, though, I wanted to share these pics.

Me with the Uzi and suppressor:

This is Dolores, having way to much fun.  Flaming liberals seem to enjoy shooting more than most…

Here is Chris Carr with a scary looking and extremely rare shotgun:

Say hello to my little friend…

Got this for $300.  I have learned that the gun market is robust and that this would not be hard to re-sell for roughly the purchase price thanks to the family discount I got from my friend.  I would resell it only under economic duress.  

Me and Guns

This is me at a shooting range for the first time.  If you want to see the full set of pics they can be found here.  We drove to the shooting range with all of this stuff in a Prius.  Really.

John Hall 50 Mile Ride

John Hall 50 Loop by gaofla67 at Garmin Connect – Details.

The link above maps where I rode today.  It was a brutal ride.  The folks I pedaled with were much fitter than me and I paid the price.  All was well through mile 37 or so and then I got cooked, quite literally.  As we headed towards the our midway stop at a country store, the heat was wearing on me pretty good.  I felt myself overheating.  I knew I was in trouble because I had to force down fluids and a small sandwich I brought with me.  This is a bad bad sign and I was more than a little bit concerned.  But after a few minutes rest in the shade I felt better.  I hung in with the group for another 10 miles or so when I finally bonked.  There was short cut back to the car that I unwisely eschewed.  Instead, I followed a group that actually picked up the pace.  I hung in for a bit before I tanked and got dropped.  I limped all the way back to the car.

The folks — who I had just met that morning — were kind and kept me within eyesight to make sure I got back to the car.  Here I must note that I have now ridden with cycling groups in several places, including L.A., Boston, Chico, and Mexico City.  Cyclists in general are friendly and supportive.  Montgomery cyclists are the nicest I have ever encountered.   The worst, let it be said, are those in Mexico City.  They are elitist snobs (mamones) who deserve the awful riding they get in that city.

The stop at the country store was weird.  There was a cute albeit depressed white goose in a small cage in the sun.  The water was bad and it had no food.  One of the lady riders got a water hose and poured lots of water into its bowl and hosed her down.  The goose, thoroughly enjoying herself, quacked with relish and took in fresh water.  I shared some of my sandwich with her though it was clearly more thirsty than hungry.  We were all delighted to perk up the bird’s day though we were all disgusted with the careless owner who had left her out to suffer.

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