Category: Life

The November Fitness Review

So, November was the first month I really wanted to stick to a written training plan. Ultimately, that training plan, while not very ambitious, was something of a stretch goal. I didn’t get it done but did do more than I would have without it.


I’m counting the fact that I still try to get my plank workout in each day as a success. It doesn’t always happen (happened early today, I’ve learned that I’m more disciplined in the morning) but it happens more often than not. And, as an extra plus, my back, shoulder and arm pain is much improved, if not yet eliminated.

My foot hurts less severely and less often. I’m chalking that up to the foot exercises and will continue them.

The realization that running form matters. While out on what should have been a hard run, I decided to focus more on form than intensity, because my food had been acting up. I was surprised that it was just as effective — as measured by speed — as focusing on intensity would have been, but not quite as mentally draining. (Focusing on actually doing something seems easier than just trying to push myself.)


For a variety of lame reasons, I only hit my three-times-a-week goal twice in November. And, that was evident in the fact that I slowed down for the first time ever in my monthly 5k for time. It was 28:38 this month, as opposed to 24:37 in October.


It’s ridiculous to think I’ll get a lot of exercise in in December. December is the month that I spend the rest of the year trying to work off. Still, the experiment was good enough that my next step will be making a plan for December. At least, for the time up to the holidays.


November Training Plan

So, here’s a thing I’ve been doing: I’ve been running 5k for time as my weekly hard run for the last several months. And the times have been improving. As in, I’m running at speeds I’d never run at before. (I’d do so much better at the APFT than I did back when I had to do it!)

Check out the October run time:


The November plan:

For core fitness, I’m starting simply by trying to expand my current plank-a-day workout to a 5m plank workout every day. I discovered that in this lifehack article (fun fact: all the photos are of women in revealing workout clothes… but when it comes time to teach you something, of course, there’s a man in the video)

Because I have had foot pain, I thought another good place to start was by resolving to do three of these activities each day (I might revise that down to two).

Lastly, as I’ve had a ‘function’ for my Tuesday runs (traditionally, they’ve been my hard runs — see this month’s planned hard runs below) I’ve decided to make Thursday my ‘goofy’ run, which is to say, I’m going to try and run while stopping intermittently to do other exercises. (Like this one, which I don’t think I could do in good conscience in my apartment.)

Here are the four Tuesday hard runs I have planned.

Hard runs:

  • Intervals: Max interval at 23:00 5k pace (4:36/km)
  • Mile repeats: Pace 4:36/km
  • Intervals: Max interval at 22:00 5k pace (4:24/km)
  • November 5k for time

I’ve really only resolved to try this monthly training plan thing this and next month. And this month is really mostly about experimenting with habit-forming. We’ll see how it goes.


You might want to file this under “Toby processes another Twitter exchange in blog post format” and move on. That’s basically what this is.

I understand that I’m not great at social skills. I’m not bad at them, in the way Sheldon Cooper is, it’s just that I keep thinking I’m having fun and being told, after the fact, that I was a jerk. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” Is something I said often as a younger man.

Now, I mostly avoid social situations with people I don’t know and — life hack! — the problem has solved itself.

Except, I try to relate to people, and it’s hard.

Weirdly, I think I can relate to some of the people I really don’t like: Donald Trump, John McCain. The creative writer in me can write backstory, fill in details for these people, such that what they’re doing makes sense from their point of view.

It’s the people who I mostly get along with, or who share my ideas and ideals with who are hard for me to relate to. Ultimately, I think that’s because I think we share a point of view, and I don’t invest a lot of time into thinking about theirs.

And, a lot of my conflicts comes down to this: Why don’t you set some priorities?

In my private life, it’s the divorced/separated dads who say they do everything to be with their kids… but are ‘forced’ into making choices that limit their time with them. (I’ve learned to not say it, but I still think “If the kid’s a priority, just say ‘sorry, that interferes with my goal of spending time with my kid.'”)

With liberals, it’s the agenda. If you care about stopping the ‘radical GOP agenda’ (not sure why I used quotes there, but it feels better than straight up calling people I used to like radical), make that a priority.

That brings us to the twitter exchange I mentioned at the top:


That ‘This Tweet is unavailable’? That comes from me being blocked by the user in question. Because I stuck to my guns on an idea that seems logical to me: if our top priority is stopping the President’s agenda, then we need GOP politicians to ‘switch sides,’ and if we want them to consider switching sides, then we have to incentivize their switching sides. And, if we want to incentivize their switching sides, then we have to accept that making them suffer for their stupidity — or gloating over ‘we were right and you were wrong’ — is a secondary priority and just won’t get to happen.

In the discussion — my first, long, prolonged discussion on Twitter with several people — everything was civil (except for the user who eventually blocked me calling me racist for not hating Sean Spicer sufficiently) but nobody’s opinion was changed.

I drew on every example I could think of where Dems understand that one thing is a priority over another: decriminalization of marijuana, gun buybacks, the embargo on Cuba. No dice.

And I wonder, what would a person who is as right as I think I am but also possessed actual social skills have done? Or, is Twitter just not a place where opinions are changed? Or, am I straight-up wrong?

Revisiting Tomato Paste

So, if anybody is curious about the results of the infamous tomato paste experiment, I’m declaring it a success. As a really quick recap, I spent the summer grossing out friends and family by eating a table spoon of tomato paste every day in the hopes that it would let me avoid using sunblock.

Of course, I have no way to objectively measure the degree of my exposure to the sun, but it was a sunny summer, both in the U.S. where I spent the hottest four weeks, and here in Germany. And, in that time, I never used sunblock. To be fair, I didn’t try to maximize my sun exposure (it was hot!) except in some early mornings, late evenings. But, neither did I ever say “I can’t go out, I’m not wearing sunblock.”

So, there is bad news for my kids. Next summer they’re stuck eating tomato paste, too. (Though I’m not the only one who decides and when and how much sunblock they have to wear.)

The Tomato Paste Experiment

A tablespoon of tomato paste

So, forever ago, we came across a documentary on YouTube which seemed to suggest that the lycopine in tomato paste helped your skin protect itself against sunburn. And, while the article I found to link to expressly says “that doesn’t mean you should stop using suntan lotion,” that’s what I want to do.

I’ve been opposed to the stuff for a while and never use it myself, unless I’m going to go shirtless in the sun for quite a while (the beach!). But, even then, I’d rather just be that guy who bathes in his t-shirt.

I very seldom get sunburnt, which I attribute to being out in it quite a lot running and just being alive. But, we do still slather suntan lotion on our kids, and I don’t like it.

So, this summer I’ve been taking a tablespoon of tomato paste every day. If I get through the summer without sunburn or sunscreen, I’ll start forcing it on my kids next summer. (And, believe me, I can’t wait for that battle every morning.)

Still, we’ll see.

First Latin Progress Update

So, it’s been a little over a month since I sat down and filled out my own copy of the ‘motivation worksheet‘ here on the blog, and I thought it was time for a brief update.

First things first: Latin is still going, but not always going strong. I’ve noticed that it’s a good bit of concentration to do some Latin exercises, requiring a bit of prep (get everything out, clean up a workspace) and time with few interruptions. I don’t think my motivation has waned, but the newness certainly has. And, with it, the number of days per week I invest in Latin.

That said, I’m still going. Something that’s really worked well for me has been the rule that I have to do my exercises on Memrise before I look at Facebook. That gives me a decent ‘bare minimum’ so that I know that I’m not wasting the day, and I’ve done okay at that.

However, Memrise is not enough to actually make progress. Something that’s helped me — and this shouldn’t surprise anyone — is invented (and expensive) social pressure. I selected Chegg almost at random from the sites that offered online tutoring and started making appointments with a woman in England who’s studying classics. She corrects the exercises I do during the day and answers my questions, giving me little lessons and pointers. (She, however, also thinks I’m crazy for wanting to speak Latin. Apparently I’m a decade or two too late for that craze.)

What has not worked is the idea of getting up early to start my day with Latin. It’s a long-term goal, but when I get up early, it’s to prepare myself in a state of panic for the coming day. I’d like to make that part of my routine, and that seems like the part of the day that I can best set aside for myself, but, I don’t know.

I don’t know if I have a takeaway from all this for my language students. First, obviously, it’s hard. I’m a professional and I know how important the ‘a little every day’ aspect is, but I just find it insanely difficult to make the time. Second, bundling works: the only thing that I’ve been able to stick to consistently is combining Memrise with Facebook.

But, on the other hand, I think that I’m convinced that the method I set out for myself does work: experiment, but set reminders to go back and reflect upon how it’s going. I’ll be setting another reminder for in a month. We’ll see.

The challenges of being super-dad!

This post is a little bit about how life has changed (yawn) since I was a kid, a bit about television and (yawn) how hard it is to keep my kids away from it, and mostly about me dumping what’s going on in my life right now.

Let’s dive in.

A while ago, I decided not to forbit my kids to watch TV. The reasons are legion: it’s a great sedative when mom or dad need a break, it exposes them to more English, I like some TV and want to share it with them.

But, I do turn the TV off, and I do compete with it from time to time.

The thiings is, my kids — like me — are basically couch potatoes. And — like me — they feel better when they’re outside. We just don’t always think to go outside, and, I’ve found that I often go outside wrong.

I discovered the outdoors via hiking and jogging. (Well, I knew about the outdoors from having been sent there — mostly as a punishment — by my parents. I’m talking about discovering that there’s something therapeutic about being outside.). I’m carrying a bit of baggage from my initial experiences with the outdoors: I have an obsession with measuring the time I spend outside in kilomters, in steps.

I drag the kids out and I make them walk. They want to stop to poke at a bug on the ground and, after a minute or two, I say it’s time to keep going.

I do it wrong.

My kids, like me when I was a kid, are happiest to just go into the woods and start poking around, dragging sticks from one spot to another, trying to build a fort. Or, collecting leaves or bugs. Realizing this, I remembered the hours we spent outside as kids just goofing off and getting dirty.

The things is, my parents could send me out unsupervised. Or, only supervised by the rest of the group. I don’t know if I can send my kids out without supervision, but I know that i won’t. (If something does happen, I don’t think I’d be able to forgive myself.)

So, I have to head out, with my kids, and find a way to distract myself while they entertain themselves. And, the thing is, it’s usually me who wants to head back home. It irks me that I’ve found something that they genuinely enjoy doing more than television, and which I think they should do as much as possible, and the only problem is me.

For the rest of the week, we’re all off (Germans have so much vacation! And even our daycare closes for Easter break) and it’s on me to keep being super-dad. But, it turns out that that means it’s on me to find a way to distract myself in the woods — where, really, I enjoy being.