Category Archives: reviews

matcha taste test smackdown, round two!

I have been blessed with matcha bounty.  Seriously, it’s coming out of the woodwork, I’ve got to drink tea faster.  And since Sophie and I had so much fun with our first Matcha Smackdown, clearly it is time for a second.  Let the drinking (of tea) begin!  WOOT.

Here are today’s contenders:

matcha taste test

Such pretty little tins.  Here’s the list from left to right:

From O-cha, Kiku Mukashi ($20 + shipping for 30 grams).  From Maiko teas, Matsu no Midori ($20 + shipping for 40 grams).  From Itoen teas, Koto no Tsuki, ($20 + locally bought so no shipping for 20 grams).  And from ZenMatcha, their “Premium” tea ($19 + shipping for 20 grams).

Actually there was one more that we added half-way through (so it missed the initial photoshoot), the O-cha Kiri no Mori ($14 + shipping for 30 grams).

matcha taste test 4

The Kiku Mukashi was my first purchase (as I reviewed first here) with just enough left in the tin to participate in today’s face off, the other O-cha my second purchase.  The Maiko I got to be my “next tea” when that was gone.  But then I stumbled upon a local tea shop where they had the Itoen tea, three days past it’s freshness date so they sold it to me for half off, $10, couldn’t say no to that!  And then Eric Newman over at ZenMatcha sent me a tin of his best matcha for review, very cool Eric!  Thank you!

Time to make tea.

matcha taste test 6

In the name of Science, I made each bowl of tea with 1/2 teaspoon of sifted matcha (using a measuring spoon instead of the little bamboo hook thingy that came with my whisk) and heated the water to 170 degrees.

matcha taste test 3

Aren’t Sophie’s wheelthrown bowls lovely?  She’s 10, by the way.  She rocks.

Anyway, Sophie and I took turns keeping our eyes closed and tasting the teas while the other one took notes.  As with our first test, she and I seemed to have the same preferences/experiences.  Except that in our first test, the two teas seemed noticeably different from each other, whereas with this group of teas, there was much more similarity.  Towards the end, we also roped SuperCoolHusband into the test. He is a total matcha virgin, so this was his first hit.

Blind, we described the Itoen as very sweet, mild, mellow, “I can drink this all day.”  No bitterness at all.  Round.  Smooth.  Lots of what I think is what they’re talking about when they talk about the umami, this interesting yum-factor that makes me smack my lips and make a spontaneous “mmm!”  A hint of sugar snap peas.

We described the Maiko as sweet, slightly grassy.  It reminded Sophie a little bit of that green, hay-like scent that henna has.  Maybe what I’m going for is a bit of seaweed flavor, not unpleasant, just a little stronger.  No bitterness, mild, with that hint of greenness in the center of the flavor.  Lots of umami.

The O-cha Kiku was very similar to the Itoen only perhaps more mild.  Mellow, sweet, a fresh green flavor.  Lovely umami.  Less grassy than the Maiko, a touch yummier, maybe.  Hubby said this one was richer than the others.

The ZenMatcha, had a stronger flavor.  Some bitterness, a bit harsh.  Definitely good, but next to some of these others, not as sweet, not as…luscious, whatever that thing is that matcha can have, that complex yumminess inside the flavor.  It was easy to tell this one apart from the others whereas with the other three, I really wasn’t sure which one she had given me.

The O-cha Kiri no Mori was the mildest, easy to drink, even for the virgin.  A bit less complex.  Very nice.  A simpler flavor but not overly so.

Overall Itoen stood out slightly as the sweetest and…roundest.  What IS that flavor in the center of the flavor, that round, interesting, magic flavor in great green tea?  If I had to rank them by that flavor/experience/thing/umami then I would say the Itoen had the most, then the Kiku, then the Maiko, then the ZenMatcha, then the Kiri.

matcha taste test 2

So much delicious tea!  After we did several rounds with straight tea, we added a bit of stevia and some cream and finished the bowls off.  We were quite buzzed after we had downed it all.

Final verdict, the Itoen was Sophie’s favorite straight.  The ZenMatcha was quite nice with a few drops of stevia and a splash of cream—it’s stronger flavor wasn’t washed out by the additions, but it was a bit bitter for me on its own.  The Maiko, delicious on its own, stood up a bit better with the cream and stevia also, that smoky, grassy flavor cutting through the additions.  For me, the Itoen was amazing with cream and stevia, like the richest, mellowest, most complex green tea ice cream flavor.  But it was hard to tell the difference between the Itoen or the Kiku, and either could be my daily bowl of heaven.  I would probably choose the Maiko if I wanted more of the matcha flavor, a grassier flavor kick, and the Itoen if I wanted a smoother, sweeter brew.  The Kiku is somewhere in between.

How about by price?

The Itoen and the ZenMatcha are the most expensive at $1.00 / gram (not including any shipping since I didn’t pay any shipping for these, you should do your own math with your own shipping to get your per-bowl cost).  A gram is about how much is used in one bowl of tea (1 gram or about 1/2 a teaspoon), so a dollar a bowl.

The O-cha Kiku is in the middle, price-wise at $.83 /gram.  (price includes my shipping of $4)

The Maiko is quite affordable at $.63 a gram  (price includes $4 shipping).  Remember that the Maiko came in a 40g tin where the Itoen and ZenMatcha are in 20g tins, O-cha in a 30g tin.  I’d say the Maido is probably the best bang for the buck. [Edited: it looks like the price of the Maiko has gone up since I bought mine, from $20 + shipping to $23 + shipping.]

The least expensive is the O-cha Kiri, at $.48 a gram (price includes $4 shipping).  Although it wasn’t as rich and complex a flavor, the Kiri really held its own against tea that was twice as expensive.  You could tell the diff, but it was no slouch.

I feel like I’m splitting hairs a bit.  At least with the Itoen, Maiko, and Kiku, they were all luscious, delicious tea, sweet with no sweetener added, slight differences in flavor, sweetness, and mellowness, and grassiness, but on the whole, very close.  The ZenMatcha stood out from the bunch as a bit bitter, a bit harsher, still nice, but for me needing a little stevia and cream to tone the flavor down a bit.  The Kiri stood out as the most mild.

And that’s it!  I’ve got a lot of tea to drink with all these tins open.  It doesn’t stay fresh for long.  Oh, darn, better go have some right now.  After all of this is gone, I’d like to try some matcha from Ippodo, another shop that comes highly rated.

Traditionally a potent and beautiful sweet is served with matcha.  We didn’t have any of these gorgeous little treats, but we did have…

matcha pocky


Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker review…plus! heartrate and calorie burn of Ashtanga Yoga

[Updated 5/7/2015, one year of wearing the Vivofit.]

You know I’m a gadget whore.  So when I got a chance to play around with a Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker, of course, I got to experimenting, starting with several Ashtanga Primary yoga sessions.  This post will start with the Vivofit review, then move to what I found out about my yoga practice.  Proceed as you see fit.  And if you know Primary, definitely scroll down to see the cool graph.

The Vivofit

The Vivofit tracks your movement with an accelerometer (super cool demo of how an accelerometer works) and your heart-rate if you pair it with an ANT heart-rate monitor—which I happened to already have, yay!  Between the two sensors, the device attempts to give you actionable data about your steps taken, distance walked, your sleep, and your daily calorie burn.  I don’t know how they crunch the numbers to come up with all that, but they give it a fair go.  The Vivofit also has some motivational “Move More!” features, like the Bar O’ Shame, as well as software to connect you up with people you know for competitive challenges, etc.  More about that in a minute.

First Steps. I think the whole concept of “steps” is not so much about the actual number of physical steps you take, but more an attempt to quantify movement. This makes some sense as the majority of people’s daily life centers around walking and sitting.  And in the gamification of fitness—which is think is one of the main goals of fitness trackers—moving more is the goal, the Vivofit is a score keeper, and “steps” are the points.  However “steps” aren’t the best or only way, of course, since, for example, cycling, swimming, and yoga (all my kinds of exercise, boo) use no steps, and so don’t get counted.

But steps are what we’ve got.

Having said that, the Vivofit’s counting of steps seems (1) very accurate if striding in a regular manner, as on a walk (100 steps will read as 99 or 100 or 101, or so), (2) accurate-ish if taken in a general sense over the course of a day, and (3) downright terrible if taken over a few minutes of start-and-stop walking as one does in the house while, say, cleaning up, or grocery shopping.  This is especially true if you have a small house (re: yurt) where you (and by you, I mean me) never really take more than seven or eight steps in a row (before coming to a wall) and often less.

The Vivofit also miss-counts if you are a ninja and sneak around a lot.  It is perfectly possible to take a hundred steps lightly and sneakily, and slip past the notice of the Vivofit.  Wake up, Vivofit!  Pay attention!

I think “steps” are best used as a number compared to itself, as in: did I move more or less than yesterday?  What’s my score?  For this, the Vivofit is pretty fun, as long as you don’t sweat the details.

Speaking of steps, let me jump over to one of the motivational features of the Vivofit that I find surprisingly effective: a red bar that appears over your step count if you haven’t moved (taken a registered step) in the last hour.  Oh the shame of it!  I’m surprised at how compelling this shaming is!  Much more than praising, a la fitness trackers that give you an increasing bar showing you how many steps you’ve taken and how close you are to your goal, like a glass of water being filled up as the day progresses.  I’ve found I have no problem ignoring those pat-on-the-back indicators.  (Tracker: “Come on, Maya, you’ve done so well, just a bit more!” Me: “Buggar off.”) but man, that red bar shows up, and I’m up taking Henry on a walk right away.  AH!  The Red Bar!  Quick, Henry, we’ve got to go!

Henry is so confused lately.  “Why are we walking again?” he says with his big brown eyes.  “Didn’t we just do this?”  “Yes, Henry, sorry to interrupt your nap, but there’s this red bar, you see….”

Distance is, I reckon, the Vivofit making a guess based on average stride length times your “steps” score.  Meh.  It’s kind of fun for a second to say, oh, cool, I walked X.Y miles today!  But I have no idea how close it is to reality and I don’t really care.  As with “steps”, it’s more valuable as a comparative than as an absolute value.  If you really want to know how many miles you actually walked, get a GPS watch.  But it’s nice, a bit of psychological lift, giving a physical distance to all those “steps” to try to make them seem more real.

For Sleep, you tell the Vivofit when you’re going to bed by holding down the button past the SYNCH screen and into the SLEEP screen.  You deactivate sleep-mode when you wake up.  While you sleep it tracks your movements…by which you can infer the depth of your sleep, I guess.  I don’t really get much from any of this.  Perhaps if it was really extreme in one direction or the other, lots of movement (“Oh, yeah, I really tossed and turned last night,”) or very little movement (“Slept like a log…”) it would be corroborative, but who cares?  I don’t see how I would use that information for anything, honestly.

Experiment time!  What happens if I sleep with my heart-rate monitor on?  Yes, I did this.  It was cool as far as it went—my heart-rate bobbed around 70 for about an hour and then zoom! shot up to 100 for about fifteen minutes…then back down.  A dream?

Unfortunately, the heartrate monitor quit after 90 minutes.  Maybe the contacts didn’t stay connected?  Bummer.  Maybe I’ll try again.  Duct tape?  No, that’s probably going too far….

Calorie Burn comes next.  The Vivofit gives a guess about calorie burn based on age, weight, and “steps.”  But an accelerometer just gives data about motion, it can’t tell anything about effort.  For example, lifting a feather and lifting a twenty pound weight are basically the same motion, even though one takes more work (and presumably uses more calories).   Same with yoga—holding navasana is nearly zero motion, but some serious effort…and the accelerometer alone can’t detect it.  Add the heart rate monitor, however, and the picture improves.  Now it can tell something about how hard my body is working and, presumably, the calories burned number gets more accurate.

There’s no way for me to know how accurate, of course, but, as with “steps,” it’s probably valuable in relation to itself.  The Vivofit told me last night that the hour of easy biking on the trainer while I watched Veronica Mars burned 400ish calories.  That’s a heck of lot more than it’s telling me I’m burning sitting here typing this.  I mean, duh, I already know that, but putting numbers to it gives it heft and weight and lets me put it on colorful, motivating graphs.

I love colorful, motivating graphs!

Which brings me to the Garmin Connect software.  It works, I haven’t had any problems.   Synching is very easy, either with my ipod 5 or directly to my Macbook.  As for the social part, I couldn’t care less about competing with anyone else or posting my “steps” or activities, etc., so that component doesn’t do anything for me.  But the software does make some nice graphs and pie-charts, for example, the heart-rate graph that I post an example of below.  I like me some graphs.

What would make the Vivofit better for me

Biggest one: if there was a way to pair the Vivofit data with something like LoseIt, an app for tracking calories IN, that would be cool, and much more useful than just the calorie OUT info that the Vivofit offers.  Calories expended is, after all, only half the picture.  It’d be compelling if I had both in one place, with more of those colorful graphs.  Maybe they are working on it.

Second, if there was a way to get some “steps,” that is, some “credit,” some POINTS, for swimming in my pond, riding on my trainer, or doing yoga, that would be a big plus. To have a relatively complete picture of my daily activity, it really has to include these things.  Yes, I can put on my heart-rate monitor for improved calorie tracking during these times (except the swimming), but still.  In the game of Vivofit, I want my points, people.

But here’s what I realized:  I already know I’m active during those times.  After a week on the Vivofit, the All Mighty Graphs have shown me that 30% of my time is spent sleeping (or in bed awake), 10% of my time is spent “lightly active” by which I think it means walking around, and 4-5% or so is “highly active” by which I think it means my heart rate is elevated zone 2 or beyond.  It’s the remaining 50freaking% where I’m sitting on my ass, reading, writing, hanging with the kids, and driving, that could use some attention.

I mean, I do all this active stuff….but that still means I’m 50% sedentary.   Crap!  To the rescue comes the Red Bar O’ Shame and walking Henry or something comparable, once an hour to break up the physical inertia.  As a result, I’m definitely moving more.  And possibly upping the amount of low-level daily motion is, in some ways, more valuable than increasing the intensity of the hour or two a day I spend exercising.

A few bits and bobs.  The Vivofit doesn’t need to be charged!  Big Plus!  It runs on a coin battery, which should last a year.  Also, it’s water proof, so you can swim/bathe in it.  These two together mean you really can pretty much put it on and leave it on.  It’s a watch, too, so that’s useful.

It doesn’t have a backlight, which might bother some.  For me it’s irrelevant.  The only time I’m in the dark is when I’m sleeping and I don’t need to know my step count then.

Bottomline: For tracking actual hard-data numbers for various activities, the Vivofit is pretty bad.  But for addressing that sedentary 50% and getting me moving more during those non-exercising, sedentary parts of my day, the Vivofit is pretty good.

Having written that, I can’t help but think of people who do physical labor for subsistence living and I imagine how NUTS this whole thing must seem to them.  Rich, fat Americans wear devices on their wrists to remind them to moveWhaaaat?  Yeah.  We kind of do.  It’s fun, a game we play with ourselves.  I can’t explain it.

Anyway.  ON TO THE YOGA.

Ashtanga on the Vivofit

Having just said that the Vivofit numbers seem relatively iffy to me, I’m still going to give you some.

Context.  I’m a 43 year old, 115 pound woman doing an easy-going, full Primary series with 5 years of Ashtanga experience and conditioning under my belt (so it isn’t killing me to get through it any more, if that makes sense).  I don’t work super hard because I’m concerned about injuries (at my age they take forever to heal)(and I’m also lazy), but I work hard enough to feel tired and a bit rubbery at the end.  I do not do vinyasa on alternate sides (to save my wrists), something I picked up from David Williams.  But still, I have to keep it moving pretty briskly to get through all those asana in 60 minutes.

Note: Ashtanga is a meditative practice, a breathing practice, for some a spiritual practice.  For me, too!  But it is also a physical practice and sometimes it can be fun to look at it from that angle.  So don’t get weirded out by me looking at ashtanga as exercise for a few minutes.  I’m not saying it isn’t all those other things.  /end note.

Okay!  Given all of that context….

The Vivofit says the calorie burn for my one hour primary varies from 180 to 240.  (These numbers from four tracked primaries this past week).  (Number does not include basal metabolic burn.)

So low!  Seriously?!  Because if you’ve done Ashtanga, you know it’s an intense freaking practice.  You might be as surprised as I was by these low numbers.  Is this a casualty of the intensity problem, i.e. asana are motion-less, even if you are working very hard, and so don’t read as “high effort” to a tracker?  Maybe.  But this data was gathered while paired with the heart-rate monitor, so it should be more accurate to effort.  (“Steps” are irrelevant, obviously, although the Vivofit registers a hundred or so.)

So what about that heart-rate?  I’ve crudely tracked heart-rate during Primary once before, but that was me writing down my HR at various points as the practice progressed.  Here we can get a continuous line graph….

Heartrate during ashtanga primary

Isn’t this a cool graph?  I find it cool, anyway.

And I can start to see why the calorie burn might be lower than I thought.  During yoga, we see my heart spending some time at 120 (hopping up for each vinyasa, for example), but it spends just as much time below 100 (dropping down for each forward bend).  Let’s compare that to the bike trainer ride I did last night, about 60 minutes at a fairly steady heart-rate of 120 while I watched tv, or twice as much net time at 120 as the yoga practice.  The Vivofit says an hour of 120 bpm cycling on the trainer burns around 400 calories for me.  Twice as much.  Twice the heart-rate, twice the calories?

(And then there are rides where I do intervals that pop me up to 170…haven’t tried one of those on the Vivofit yet.  Maybe tonight…?)

What’s interesting to me is that despite this apparent difference in calorie burn and heart-rate, I get off the bike energized (if sweaty), whereas after my yoga practice, I’m relatively wiped and have to recover.  I wonder what’s going on there?  Are all these numbers bunk?  Or is yoga more exhausting for some obvious reason I’m missing?

So there you have it.  My experiment this week attempting to quantify my yoga practice. I’m going to call it…inconclusive.

Oh no!  Since I’ve been writing this, the RED BAR OF SHAME has popped up!  Come on Henry, quick!

in which i gush about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

We just caught up with Phil & Co in the season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and can I just say, WOW.  (This will be a spoiler free post.)  We saw Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 in close succession, followed by a pile of S.H.I.E.L.D.s recently, the eps right around the Captain America cross-over and then on through to the end….and yeah, wowowowowowow!

Agents of SHIELD

We are SO enjoying this huge, multi-platform story!  I can’t think of anything that’s ever been done like it, hmm, maybe Star Wars with the movies, and books, and then the cartoon series?  Except Lucus keeps changing what “canon” is, so it’s hard to trust it…and then, I dunno, after the sparkling wonder that was the first Star Wars trilogy followed by the sour-tasting let down that was the second trilogy, I haven’t really kept up with that world.  (I hear they’re starting a new trilogy with old Han, old Leia, and old Luke!  Interesting, maybe?  I’m not sure….)

But this one, the Marvel Universe of the Avengers, (my review of the Avengers movie here), with its high-tech, magic, gods, aliens, super-heroes, mutants, all in this huge world with hundreds of characters and overlapping stories, tied together by over-arching plots….the way they’re handling it is just, gah, it’s just TERRIFIC.  And it’s gotten better, starting with the first Iron Man (some comments from me here in a surprisingly popular post) with its more cartoon-y feel (although I still enjoyed it) to the most recent Captain America 2: Winter Soldier (with its surprising realism)…I think they’ve just really held a dedication to character, and an avoidance—even when they are hip-deep in crazy super-hero shit and the jokes are flying—of falling into camp and silliness.  (For the most part.  Stan Lee cameos, anyone?)

Anyway, we’re all in at this point.  (Which I totally was for the second trilogy in the Star Wars world, which just goes to show, you can let your audience down and lose them, even with what feels liks rock solid Buy In…)

Back to  Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.   There were several gasp-out-loud moments for me in the season finale, plus a few tears, and one actual SHRIEK.  If you’ve seen it, you know the shriek moment, when that certain someone offers a helping hand…?  And the end when Coulson finds that thing he was looking for, “I told you it was in here…” HAHAHAHA.  I’m sorry, I’m trying not to be spoilery.  But what a great episode!  I was so worried it would be stupid or leave me in a terrible cliff hanger, but no, it was awesome.  Highly recommended!

PLUS: did you know that Ming-na Wen, the hottie who plays the bad-ass, fantastic, gorgeous, smart, hard-as-nails, martial arts master of the team…is FIFTY YEARS OLD?  That’s right, the biggest action hero of the show is a middle aged woman!!  I LOVE HER.


Okay, the first half of the season was good.  Enjoyable, but a little…meh.   There were some dud-ish episodes in the mix, and it did have a tendency to be a freak-of-the week show for a while.  Then it was Skye-searches-for-her-parents, which I did not get into—Skye is the hardest character for me to like, honestly, and I put a lot of that down to her look (sorry I am so shallow), all styled hair and eyeliner…she was a hacker living in her van, for heaven’s sake.  She should look a little…scruffy.  And she’s so sweet and cheerful…anyway, whatever, that stopped being an issue for me somewhere around the time she got shot…and then the second half of the season got rolling.  Because then things started focusing more around Coulson.  Ah, Phil, Phil….

Plain, suit-wearing, fanboy, non-sexy (in the usual ways), big-hearted Phil Coulson!

Okay, I’m just gushing.  And isn’t this the best fan-song ever?  What, you didn’t click on the video yet?  Go on, clickie clickie!

Oh!  And then that thing happened with Ward.  Oh, Ward, Ward.  And now I’m all worried about Fitz!  I love Fitz, he’s such a sweetie.  Omgoodness….

So look.  If you liked Avengers and you saw Captain America 2, (which was awesome! I can’t believe I didn’t write a review of that one), I highly recommend you dip into Agents of SHIELD if you haven’t already, (and can I stop putting in the damn periods now?  It’s exhausting.), because the show has become a really, really a great time.  Seriously, if has shifted into turbo mode since Captain America 2 gave it a kick in the pants.  (Hmmm, I wonder what would be a kick in the pants like that for the novel I’m working on right now?  Like maybe, a nuclear war?  No, post-apocalypse is so over.)

But hey, if you don’t want to do all the catch up, you can probably get away with watching the pilot and then starting in around episode 13, which gives the necessary stuff to really enjoy the Captain America 2 cross-over and everything that comes after, which is when the show got SuperPowGood!  (Oooo, I just found a great article over at io9 about this very thing—they pretty much agree with the episode 13 thing—about which episodes to watch if you want to skip through to the best parts.  Some spoilers, be warned.)

AND we can rejoice because Agents of SHIELD got a second season, yay!  I’ll certainly be tuning in.

become untethered! LG Tone cordless bluetooth headsets are awesome

I went looking for cordless earbuds because I wanted to hear my yoga videos without having to negotiate jumpbacks with a cord dangling about my person.  I also wanted to cycle (on a trainer with TrainerRoad) to my beloved Sufferfest videos without a cord going from my ear to my  laptop, probably resulting in me pulling the laptop off the shelf by my bike and crashing it to the ground, whereupon I would have to commit hari kari because, as a writer, I cannot live without my laptop.

Anyway, I found several cordless earbud setups out there, but most were $100 (too much for me) and didn’t give the option of dangling one earbud out without destabilizing the whole deal.  The LG Tone Wireless Bluetooth headset is around $50 (hmm, seems to have gone up to $60 since I got mine) and has this odd neck portion that acts as a homebase for the earbuds, a system that works surprisingly well.   I may have purchased these earbuds for my athletic pursuits, but I like them so much  I find I wear them all the time for audiobooks, podcasts, and music…I even find myself wearing them when I’m not listening to anything at all, but might want to later.  Which is…kind of weird.  I guess I like to be prepared.

lg tone headset and momoIsn’t this a cute picture of MoMo?  Sophie took it.  I’m listening to a Japanese podcast through the LG Tone thingies (it’s kind of stupid name, I dunno, I feel stupid saying “LG Tone.”  Whatever).  Okay, see around my neck, that black, shiny thing?  A short, black cord goes from that around-the-neck-thing up to each earbud.  On the neck-thing there are volume controls and skip-forward/skip-backward buttons, which is nice.  It connects through bluetooth to the ipod in my pocket.

Cool feature: the yellow tips of the neck-thing are magnetic, so when you don’t want one or both earbuds actually in your ears, you can pull ’em and they suck into the neck-thing where they are magnetically held in place.  This is great for me because I often want to be able to hear the kids with one ear while I’m listening to my ipod with the other ear.   This is such an improvement over the old strategy of tucking one or both earbuds into my bra strap where they would inevitably end up in my armpit.  Magnetic earbud holders for the win!

lg-tone-wireless-bluetooth-stereo-headset-black-alternate-view_2Although the neck thing is a little dorky looking.  All winter it was completely concealed because I tend to wear a scarf around my neck from November to March.  No one knew I was wearing the neck-thing on under there.  But now that it’s warming up, the neck-thing is much more visible.  Not sure if this will matter to me, although I’ve noticed people looking at it curiously in the grocery line.

Very important: it’s super comfortable.  As in, I completely forget I’m wearing it.  It is a bendy, soft, wire, not a hard loop.  It just drapes around your neck, no bother.  I often find I’m taking it off when I’m getting into the bath, after having worn it all day.  Ready to ipod at a moment’s notice….

It plugs in to get a charge—I’ve never had it run out of charge so I’m not sure how long it lasts, but it seems to be several days of on/off use through the day.  The sound is good—I’m no audiophile, but it works, no crackles or hissing, music is enjoyably clear.

Most important: For cycling, the LG Tone is perfect.  For yoga, it’s pretty damn good.  It’s stellar for vinyasa.  It flops around a bit for standing forward bends (when your head goes upside down), although hasn’t come off yet and it works fine, I just notice it flopping at that moment.  It disappears for standing poses and the seated poses and the jumpbacks between them.  But it has to be tucked into my tank-top strap for a minute, or taken off completely during backbends to keep from falling off, and it tends to fall off for inversions, so I usually take it off for Finishing.  Nothing’s perfect.

Still, it definitely solved the problem I bought it for—a comfortable, cordless alternative to regular earbuds that I stays on for (most) of my active stuff.   I’m pleased.

Sidenote for phone users: you can answer calls with it, and talk.  That seems pretty cool, as you wouldn’t have phone rays zapping your brain.  I don’t have a phone so I can’t comment on quality.

Tech note: I have paired it with all our ipods, ipads, and my Macbook, no problems, although sometimes I have to turn things off and on again to get them to repair if I’m switching to a new device, or press and hold the phone button while turning on the headset to get it to pair to additional devices. The ring around the phone button will flash blue, which is kind of stupid since your finger will cover the lighted ring when you’re pressing down. But even so, it’s easy. And I f it’s the same device as I was using last time, I just make sure the headset is switched on and go to setting to tell the device to connect.  No bother.

Recommended!  I haven’t used my regular earbuds since I got these.   Except when my daughter is using them and won’t give return them.  “They’re just so much better,” she says.   Yeah, gimme those back, kid.

why are the commercials on Hulu SO BAD????

I got sick this week, one of those drippy, annoying colds that make you drag your ass around like you’re in the desert searching mirages for water.  That pretty much flushed the whole seven days down the toilet, except for a bunch of extra tv watching, because there was the tv, right in front of the couch.  I can’t complain too much because I wasn’t sick much this winter except for that terrible flu that nearly killed me, but that was back in the dark ages of last fall, so, yeah, not complaining.  Much.

Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that the commercials on Hulu SUCK ASS.  What is wrong with these people?  I mean, I get that Hulu has to have a business model that actually brings in some cash besides the measly $7 bucks a month I’m paying for access, so I’m resigned to commercials.  Hulu still beats the heck out of $130 to DirectTV for a bunch of shit I don’t want to watch, even if you can’t fast forward the ads and they suck.  I actually love Hulu and Netflix and you can pry them out of my cold dead fingers.

But here’s the thing: Hulu plays the same damn commercials over and over and over and IT MAKES ME WANT TO HIT THESE PRODUCTS WITH BATS THEN SHOOT THEM WITH NUCLEAR MISSILES AND THEN SEND THEM OFF INTO SPACE.

And I’m a peaceful person.  I am.  I don’t think nuclear missiles are a good idea in any other application.

I’m come to believe that most of these ads were designed by people who are stuck in the broadcast tv model where maybe you see the same ad once a night or something, and that only if you’re a big TV watcher.  They don’t realize that if you are going to subject someone to your “message” five times in a 45 minute show (when you are already annoyed at having your show interrupted so many fucking times to begin with i.e. a hostile audience), you’ve got to totally rethink your design.  That kind of repeat kills even the best, cutest, funniest commercial.  Kills it dead.  And the already semi-annoying ads becomes torture devices guaranteed to make the viewer hate that product with the fire of a thousand suns.  Trust me, name recognition is not a good thing when it means, OH YEAH, I HATE THOSE GUYS.

For example.  Ford has some really nasty ads full of actors paid to pretend to be brimming with fake-sincerity “real people” giving their “honest experiences” but the whole thing is just ONE BIG LIE and we all know that, so no one is buying this little ruse, okay, Ford?  DUH.  “Brandon” wants me to know “I’m always telling people, look at what Ford has to offer.” FUCK YOU BRANDON. NO ONE EVER SAYS ANYTHING LIKE THAT.  And don’t even get me started on “the truck guys.”  Those truck guys can suck my dick.  And I don’t even have one.

Surprising side bonus: Actually, Brandon’s phrase has turned into some hilarious jokes around the house , I’ll give it that.  Luc doesn’t want to eat dinner?  “But look at what broccoli has to offer.” Sophie’s staying up super late?  “Look at what the bed has to offer.” DearHusband is complaining about my lack of housekeeping? “Hey, look what my foot up your ass has to offer.”  It does have remarkable applications.  I stand corrected.

Second example: I really hate the State Farm ad with the terrible, depressed, overweight, miserable married couple having a late night fight because she’s caught him talking sweet to the State Farm guy (why the fuck would anyone talk to the insurance company in the middle of the night, anyway?) and thinks he’s having an affair.  This is so awful, to imagine being a wife who has so little confidence in her marriage that she jumps to that conclusion, or the husband who just takes it like the hen-pecked shmuck he is.  I don’t want to see this scene from their terrible marriage even once, much less FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES.  Is this really the market State Farm is aiming for?  Fucking depressing.

Oh, and I can’t tell you how disturbing the “bacon in your burger” ads are for a vegetarian, what with the genetically modified cow/pigs and the square-dancing nightmare Stepford wives probably ready to eat me next.  Fucking nauseating.  We have a standing rule that if you sing that song to anyone in the family, you have to pay them a dollar in damages.

I could go on and on.

There have been a couple of good ads that have miraculously retained their not-torturous-ness through repeated viewings.  The PS4 ad with the guys singing “you just keep me hanging on” (song is Perfect Day) is still funny, and the other PS4 one with the band of guys waking up in new costumes for each game, culminating with the pirates, that one rocks.

Oh, and there were some ads for the Daily Burn, some kind of subscription exercise tv-show-class, that were fun because Paul started the practice of dancing around like a hilarious idiot whenever they came on, saying that was his work-out for the day.  Thirty seconds of him mimicking the moves of those aerobics instructors got me laughing pretty much every time, so much so that I started looking forward to the ads.  “It’s the daily burn!  Time for you to work out!” I would say, and he would long-sufferingly get up and do his moves.  “Whew, that was a tough one,” he’d say, settling back onto the sofa for more tv.  I was sad when they stopped playing those.  Plus, quick shots of gorgeous bodies doing interesting gyrations apparently has a much longer half-life than most other things.

Take Away Message:  Advertising people, please.  Have mercy on us.  Realize that your Hulu ads are, in 90% of the cases, causing us, your potential customers, to detest your products.  Reinvent the visual ad so that seeing it ten times in a night doesn’t make us hate you and the horse you rode in on.  Keep them short.  Not insulting.  Great music helps.  Interesting visuals are good.  Stupid tag lines, puns, annoying jingles, fakeness, all of these flaws burst the seams after a few repeats.  And we have to watch them many, many more times than that.

And just in case you think I’m against all ads completely, I’m really not.  They can be these amazing tiny stories.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ads of all time, in no small part because of the terrific music by Four Tet.  You might remember it, Raining Runners?  I love this 60 second story….

…the moment when the runners are all playing like kids in the rain?  So lovely!  And the message/story is actually in line with what the product is actually for.  For once.

Please, People-Making-Ads-For-Hulu.  Try to be kind.  Try not to torture us.  I’m begging you.

bike saddles for women, or, the joy of cycling in not-agony

And by cycling, I mean bicycling.  And by bicycling, I mean pedaling my bike while it’s up in a trainer in my yurt.  It’s a kind of meta-cycling, is what I’m getting at.

But back to the Not-Agony.  Actually, my initial riding attempts of any longer duration than, say, ten minutes were not Not-Agony, they were just plain Agony.  My heart rate loved it, my energy level loved it, but my wrists, my sit bones, and my lady parts were most definitely NOT loving anything about it.

Wrists turned out to be an easy fix by adding some handles that flange out, giving a wider pressure base than a typical round handle bar.  Boom.  Surprisingly comfy.

bike saddle 7

See how the whole palm has support here, instead of a circulation-destroying bar?  It’s cool.  I thought I would need aero bars or something, put the pressure on my elbows instead of my hands, but nope.  This worked.

The Down There issues, however, took more tweaking.  I’m talking about my bike seat.  And by seat I mean  saddle.  And by saddle I mean, torture device designed by the devil himself.  When did they start calling it a saddle, anyway?

Here is a picture of mine, the one that came with my bike:

bike saddle 6

They say you have to become “conditioned” to your bike saddle, so I tried toughing it out for a while, but f that.  It was awful.  So, in between icing my sit-bones, I hit the internet.

Here is an amazing blog post at Lovely Bicycle! with over 200 comments by women talking about the various damages and attempted solutions their bike saddles have visited upon them.  Chaffing, bleeding, swelling, infections, numbness…  The two standard fixes are gooping your works up with greasy lube called chamois cream and tipping, dipping, and angling the saddle, all with mixed results.  Women cyclists everywhere are suffering.

Then there is getting a different saddle altogether.

Enter the inventors.  There are a ton of saddles with these funny little cutouts that I find it difficult, nay, impossible not to mock.  Here is the Team Estrogen—haha, love that name—page on bike saddles for women.  There are a ton of them, from $20 to $200, from hard to soft, all with variations of The Cut-Out.

Bottom line, they look like a v-jay.

bike saddle 2

They even come in pink, emphasizing the effect.

bike saddle 3Don’t you just want to get a sharpie and draw a clit on there and be done with it?

Maybe we’re going for some kind of sympathetic magic in action.  But seriously?  This is what we’ve got?  Where’s the injection molded, internet powered, anti-grav saddle? Come on, aren’t we living in the future?  Cut-outs?  This is the answer?

When I first started looking into upgrading my saddle, I thought for sure I was going for the Comfy-Bun, something with a fuck-ton of padding, like, strapping a bed pillow to my bike.  I mean, when if feels like you’re sitting on a rock, padding definitely sounds good.  But everyone says no, no, padding is bad.  To which I whined, are you sure?

Because I was mashing my labia so much I tended to ride with my pelvis scooped forward to reduce the pressure, which put my neck in a stretched out position and gave me shoulder pain.  My seat—I mean saddle—was giving me a pain in my neck.  Not to mention the terrible pain my sitbones were in…it felt like two circles of bruised, mashed meat where the bones were taking most of my weight.  Ride the bike and then sit on the ice-pack.  When does that get fun?

Fine, fine, said I.  I decided to try one of the vagina shaped seats.  With the cut-out.  Mock, mock, mock.

I got this one because it was on super sale at Performance, $20, and my budget is, like, negative 4 bucks.  Heck.  I was desperate.

bike saddle 5

The Forte Contour XFS.  The fellow at Performance who helpfully led me to the saddle section was super professional, and charmingly managed to find just the right mix of practical advice delivered with delicate language…all the while his ears and neck were a brilliant, and I mean brilliant, red. We were talking about my genitals after all.  It’s not something that comes up in conversation with strangers very often.

And why is that anyway?  It’s bizarre if you think about it.  Half of humanity has a vagina, and a large percentage of the other half spend a decent amount of time in contact with one, it’s not like its a secret or anything.  Why would we wipe a body part from existence and pretend like it doesn’t exist?  What, are we Barbies?  Imagine if we did that with ears?  Or knee-caps?

Anyway, I got the seat, stuck it on my bike and…well, hand to heart, no longer will I mock the cut-out.  Those cut-outs are fucking brilliant.  No pressure on the squishy bits, which is fantastic, a revelation, hey, it doesn’t have to hurt!  And no pressure means no humping my lower back, which means no shoulder pain.  Winning!

Well, maybe I’m going to mock a little.  How about a vibrating seat attachment?  You could power it with the peddling action of cycling, faster for stronger vibrations, slower for a gentle buzz.  You could have orgasms while you get your exercise and never struggle with motivation to get on your bike again.  I’m just saying.

Here’s a seat that has taken the cut-out to new levels, the Infinity seat, not specific to women, that recently scored nearly $200,000 on a Kickstarter.

bike saddle 10
Aren’t they cute?  I’m very curious to try one, but too expensive for me.  Maybe in my next life.

So, the cut-out is a big win.  That’s half the problem.  But the sit bone issue….with the new seat the sit bone pain is better, for sure.  But not great.  This is Not-Agony, remember.  It isn’t Bliss.  I can ride about 30 minutes before my sit bone start aching, which is an improvement—telling you how bad the other seat was.  But since I rarely ride for longer than 45, it’s doable.  For Price-to-Relief-Ratio, I’m going to give the Forte Contour a thumbs up.  It is light years better than my previous seat.  But it isn’t rocking my world.  It doesn’t vibrate or anything.

Honestly, I don’t know how the gals going out on four+ hour rides are surviving.  I could not do that.  Just thinking it makes me weep.  No wonder there were 200+ confessional comments on that blog post.

Doesn’t this seem like a shocking oversite?  How could there be this amazing, designed-out-the-wazoo, device, the bicycle, and the best we can go for is Not-Agony?  I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

the sublime maira kalman and my perfect french onion soup

maira kalman 1I made a giant pot of French Onion Soup for this cold, cold weather, and we ate it with the bread soaked in and the cheese bubbling over on top while reading The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman out loud.  This is such a wonderful book.  Ms. Kalman is an illustrator of New Yorker covers who’s children’s books we read years ago before I knew anything about her.  Max Makes a Million has been imprinted on my brain for all eternity, I’m sure, after the number of reads we gave it.  She has such a whimsical, dear, funny, heartbreaking view of the world!  Every contact I have ever had with her work makes me adore her even more.

Principles of Uncertainty is kind of a memoir, a visual journal, a bit philosophical, asking the big questions in the most childlike way, very New York, and it is utterly, utterly charming.  It’s about being moved by the effort that humans make—the often bizarre efforts (funny hats!  superb tassels!) to just plain old walking when we are old and walking has become  a trial—to get through our days.  Life is so hard and yet it is also full of moments of beauty, and joy, and wonderful desserts…do we need to ask the big questions when they seem to be unanswerable?  (Yes.  Maybe.  I don’t know.)maira kalman 2

Highly recommended.  Will crack you open in a sweet, delightful way.

Then, after the soup and the reading , I found a piece of paper where Sophie had written:

When you misplace something you can’t replace, like setting down a a friend, like setting down a piece of yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not, don’t pretend to have feelings you are not feeling, I try to be my best but I slip up sometimes.  Don’t we all.

…and it took my breath and made me remember when she was ten months old, TEN MONTHS OLD, and she told me about the rain falling on the window and on the flowers outside, and how it was pretty, using sign language, because we did that (it was awesome), and it was so astonishing to realize there were deep thoughts and powerful experiences going on inside that tiny person.  I mean, of course there are, but so often people are opaque, we can forget, and then the curtain draws back for a moment and we see inside each other…

Maira Kalman makes me feel like that.  She is all about seeing those glimpses.

Here is Maira herself, giving a talk about some of her work, simply delightful:

And here is my recipe for sublime French Onion Soup, seriously it is that good.  There are these remnants from when I worked as a cook in my late teens and early twenties, like the few George Winston songs my fingers can still somehow play on the piano.  Mostly I don’t cook now, but sometimes I pull something out like this and my family gawks at me like I’ve started speaking flawless Swahili.  Yes, children, your mother knows how to cook, she just prefers not to….

FrenchOnionSoupSublime French Onion Soup

Thinly THINLY slice several large sweet onions. (Number depends on how much soup you want.  I did 3.)

Melt a half stick of butter in a large, dutch oven or soup pot and stir the onions around in it until they are coated.

Cook these on low-med heat for a while, stirring occasionally.  Maybe 45 minutes.  You want them to caramelize and you want some nice brown crusties to develop on the bottom of the pan, the more the better.  Not black!  Brown.

When the onions are translucent and the bottom of the pan is mucked up with brown, pour a generous cup of wine in and stir, getting all those brown bits off the bottom and dissolved into the wine/onion/butter mix.  I used some cheap marlot.  White wine will work, too.  Add a few minced cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves.  Keep stirring until the wine is mostly absorbed.  Some people add a few tablespoons of flour to this step, to make a roux, but I like a more clear broth, so I leave that out.

Add stock, veggie for vegetarians (it will be a little less rich, but still wonderful), or beef if you eat meat.  Enough to cover the onions and then some.  Add a couple of pinches of dried thyme.  Add salt until it tastes good to you.  This will depend on how salty your stock was.  I also like a bit of fresh ground pepper.  Simmer until it starts to smell wonderful.

Dish out onions and broth (which should be a rich brown color) into bowls.  Put in thick slabs of hard-toasted French bread, and grate cheese on top, Mozzarella is lovely, maybe a bit of Parm.  Some people use Gruyere.  Melt under a broiler for a few minutes.

Eat.  Try not to burn your mouth (I always burn my mouth).  It’s amazing.  And not very hard.  Maira, if you are ever in North Carolina, please come over for some of this soup. You would be most welcome.

MELT method of self massage treatment, YUMMY

I’m all about doing bodywork on myself, for example here or here where I talk about trigger point massage using a rubber ball. Especially after hurting my hamstring again last fall, I’ve been doing a lot of self-massage, with some success. Then, a bodyworker friend of mine turned me onto the Next Great Thing: gentle massage/compression techniques using a soft foam roller to rehydrate one’s fascia…that is, Sue Hitzmann’s MELT Method. After some initial poo-pooing (I won’t lie, I had a reaction against the book cover) I have fully embraced MELT and am now a proselytizing convert. Mom! You should totally try this!

MELT-Method-bookOkay, it’s NOT foam-rolling like the kind they do in physical therapy offices, but it DOES use a soft, bendable foam roller… although you don’t do a lot of actual rolling. Basically, MELT is the invention/discovery of Sue Hitzmann, a bodyworker in NYC who was trying to come up with a way for her clients to self-treat between sessions with her.

So, it’s a heck of a lot like using the roller as a pair of “hands” with which to give yourself something not unlike a Swedish massage. Long strokes, short circular strokes, compression, friction, these could describe the basics of both Swedish massage and MELT, except one is done to you, and the other you do to yourself on the roller. It’s easy, painless, takes 10 or 20 minutes….

Although, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. And while you’re doing it, it feels nice, but not earth-shattering or anything. But afterwards…I stand up and feel all soft, that sort of groggy feeling (good groggy) that you get after a massage, delicious, relaxed, happy. Fifteen minutes and I’m all mushy and relaxed! It’s wonderful!

The book is decent, and my primary source of info. A bit heavy with the “astonishing!”s and “amazing!”s, but that’s just me. Some interesting science and then some breakdowns of how to do the actual massage. Won’t lie, I skimmed a bunch of it—get me to the good parts! And, okay, I usually am repelled by anything that is a “method” with a TM after the name, especially if it comes with special, branded products. Bleh. But for this, I’m overlooking my usual knee-jerk, branding squeamishness. Sue herself says, hey, use a rolled up towel if you have to. So that helps. Aside from the book I think there is a DVD on the way (wish it would hurry up), and there are defintiely instructors and classes all over the place. My bodyworker friend gave me a 10 minute lesson to supplement foro sports tracker android the book. Visual and hands-on is a lot easier for me than words for groking physical movements.

The big deal for me: MELT is fantastic combined with yoga. Ashtanga often leaves me achy and a ten or fifteen minute MELT session spy phone sms forwarding seriously reduces my post-practice soreness. It also did magic wonders for my hamstring injury pain. I can’t speak for chronic pain, as I don’t have that (knock on wood, I’m doing pretty well these days), but I can imagine it would be hugely impacting. Not to mention that you can self-treat every day and not have to pay a massage therapist. Sorry massage therapists, but you are expensive.

Plus MELT is way better than a glass of wine for a happy relaxed evening, and, anecdotally, MELT treatments seem to improve my sleep—I wasn’t expecting that.

Here’s another anecdote for you: I did the foot treatment on one foot, then did a forward bend, and on the side I had treated my hand was easily two or three inches further than the other hand, resting effortlessly on the floor. That blew me away. I don’t really get it, to be honest. I mean, two minutes of work on my foot had this much of an effect on my spine?!? Or maybe it was my whole back body that was effected, leg length, bendability, I’m not sure what all else…? How much does a full treatment do, then, to the whole of me? (A lot.)

You can get the roller and balls (balls are for the hands and feet treatment) from Sue on her site, or you can get the OPTP version of the roller for half the money (get the pink one, it’s the right softness), and use soft bounce balls (I like the Pinky ball) for the feet and hands that you get at a toy store (I wax poetic about my own Pinky ball in that link at the top). The OPTP roller is a tad firmer than Sue’s official version and 6″ instead of 5″ in diameter. My friend has the MELT roller so I’ve compared them side-by side: the MELT roller is very nice, I’d get one if I had the bucks, but the other does a good job, too, and is the one I’m using. My understanding is that the pink OPTP roller is Sue’s prototype that they are still selling.

It’s ridiculously easy. To show you, here is Sue MELTing her neck. phone number tracker with location Warning: I told you it doesn’t look like much is happening. The AFTER is when you get the big bang of mushy goodness.

I kind of love that Sue is in her 40s. She looks about 25, but nope, she’s my age. Maybe there is hope.

Plus, here is Sue in a great interview where she gets to say more than just a two minute sound-byte about her work. She sounds smart and passionate, worth a listen if you are interested in fascia, pain, body-work, or Sue.

Highly recommended. Especially if you are an athlete, a yogi, or having any kind of chronic pain. Seriously, give MELT a go. I’ve been doing a nightly sessions while the rest of the family here watches a bit of tv. Plus I’ve been doing my feet while I brush my teeth (I have one of those electric brushes that don’t require you do to much but stand there anyway). Won Der Ful.

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 and review

Back in November when it got colder, I started riding my bike on an ancient trainer.  This was awesome because 1) the trainer was free and 2) did I mention the trainer was free?  But there was a downside:  NOISE.  That trainer was freaking loud.  For the 30 minutes I rode, conversations were shouted, tv volume had to be blasted, it was annoying.  Plus the tension adjuster thingy was broken, which wasn’t such a big deal because you can just change gears, but…it wasn’t ideal.  Except for the free part.

Enter Santa!  Because under the tree I found a shiny green Kurt Kinetic Road Machine 2.0.  WOOT.

kurt kinetic trainer

This trainer is QUIET.  People on the other side of the yurt (that’s ten to twenty feet away, on the other side of a standing bookshelf) don’t even know if I’m riding or not.  As in, it’s so quite, they can’t even tell that I’m riding, that I’m, in fact, blasting it over here, dripping sweat on my foam letters, unless, maybe I moan or something.  The trainer makes a little hiss and, being a fluid trainer, an occasional bubbly sound.  That’s it.  At 20 mph there is a hum, but folks ten feet away watching tv tell me they don’t feel like they have to turn it up.  At 30 mph, they have to turn it up, but I’m a wimp, I never ride it that fast.  At my normal <20mph speeds, the fan by the radiator next to me is way louder than the trainer.  I’M way louder than the trainer.  PERFECT.

The Kinetic is also super smooth, like riding on brand new asphalt, almost slippery.  Really nice.  Plus it’s rock solid.   No wibble wobble, even when standing up on the bike.

Super successful Christmas present!

BUT THEN… Part Two:  In the box was a coupon for a free month with something called

Hmm, what’s that?

Simple version: TrainerRoad is this nifty program that turns your bike into a game controller, with the game being  hit the target  (power, heart rate, etc), second-by-second, on a workout schematic ( intervals, climbs, etc, they have hundreds or you can make your own).   So it 1) tracks whatever sensors you’ve got (heart rate, cadence, speed, power), 2) projects a workout schematic, and then 3) plots what you’re doing along that schematic as you go.  No cheating because there is the data, instant feedback, did you hit the target or not?

This is so cool.  It’s like Sophie’s Piano Marvel program that does a similar thing with learning piano.

But wait, THAT’S NOT ALL.  In addition, TrainerRoad gives you virtual power meter data, which is awesome because who can afford a spendy power meter??  Not me.  That’s for those pro-athletes training in wind tunnels and shit.  I’m just on a trainer in my yurt, you know?  But no, I get to train with power, too.  Because it seems there is math for specific trainers (like mine!) that can determine what your power output is at different speeds.  Boom, training with watts for peasants!  Meaning, um, me.

PLUS you can do a test, a time trial, to let TrainerRoad grok your current ability, and then it will match your chosen workout schematics to your level.  Watching one’s level go up by an objective measure is SUPER MOTIVATING.

If all that wasn’t enough, it’s also set up so that I can drop in my beloved Sufferfest videos and TrainerRoad will not only play the vid with all my data across the bottom of the screen, but it will also match it’s workout schematic with what is going on in the Sufferfest video...when the vid climbs, TrainerRoad’s graph has me climbing, when the vid does intervals, Trainerroad gives me intervals.  IT’S MAGIC.

GAH.  I just love this thing.

And they only charge $10 bucks a month!!  Sorry, sorry, I know I’m sounding like a freaking commercial.

Thank you Santa for my lovely green trainer, and for the brilliant people at TrainerRoad for concocting such an awesome package and, wow, for making it affordable.  I’m really digging my cycling routine these days.


daily rituals: the ways artists work by mason currey, review

dailyritualsDaily Rituals is a compendium of brief descriptions taken from interviews, biographers, and the artists themselves, of the nitty gritty of the daily life of an impressive array of creative people.  It’s based on Mason Currey’s blog of the same title, but goes further, and includes more folks.  From Mozart, Flaubert, and de Beauviore, to Matisse, Hemingway, and Freud, people long dead and people still living, painters, composers, and writers of all kinds, all revealed through their oh, so specific routines—routines that help/ed them get through the day, and more importantly, get through their work.

As a writer with a long time interest in creative process (see my author interview series on same), it will come as no surprise that I love this book.  I’ve been listening to the Audible version the last few days and have found it funny but also nourishing and delicious.

Firstly, it’s so wonderful how they are all so different! Early risers, late night owls.  Those who need uppers—lots of coffee in this book!—and those who need downers—lots of liquor, too.  Hedonists, vs those with monk-like lives.  Those surrounded by family and friends, vs. loners.  Work in bed, work in the perfect chair, work in cafes, work in the family room surrounded by chatter, work in isolation in a stone hut in the woods.

Human beings have created things in every conceivable configuration.

Listening to this book soundly dismisses the idea that there is a right way to be an artist.  It also routes the idea that “getting my shit together” is what will help with my writing.  A huge number of these people are neurotic messes, either falling apart, or holding it together through iron precision.  The great masterpieces of the world have not been created because their authors had their shit together!  On the contrary!  Life is a mess, a disaster, and we create along the way as best we can.

This comforts me.

Workaholics and procrastinators, clockwork schedulers and the absence of any structure whatsoever, the rich with servants, the destitute with no resources at all…all interspersed with sometimes bizarre rituals that have been found to support that particular person’s process—Beethoven’s 60 beans of coffee each day come to mind, but there are many, many.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.

How many times, in listening, have thought, “I do that, too!” or, even more frequently, “Maybe I should try that…?”

Small complaint: I wish there were more women.  I’m glad every time a woman is mentioned. I don’t know that this is a failing of Mr. Curry, or, more likely, that the Big Name Creators have been 99% men for the much of human history.  There are more women as the dates become more and more recent, for which I’m glad.  I crave the women’s voices.

Best quote so far: Joyce Carol Oates.  “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose

I know!!!

The biggest takeaway: there is no right path!  There is no Answer!  There is only doing your work in whatever way you can manage.

Read this book for solace, laughs, insight, and support.  I feel like I’ve just discovered that I’m part of an army of humans who have been struggling with these same questions—how can I work? how can I make it happen in the midst of all the things that block it? (Jobs, family, money concerns, health issues, anxiety, writers block, boredom, depression, business, distraction, ETC, everyone has had their share.)

So many cobbled together solutions have been put into play by so many of the greats.  I love hearing about them all, from the noble to the perverse.

We all do the best we can to muddle through.  Highly recommended.