Friday, October 11, 2019

Montreal Day 4 - All The Pretty Flowers

[Composed 8/16/2019]

When Shira and I visit a city, we almost always find our way to the local botanic gardens. They tend to be a great mix of beauty, local culture and chill atmosphere. And so when we learned that Montreal had such a garden we were psyched to take the girls.

We accidentally parked on the 'wrong' side of the gardens and ended up touring it essentially backwards. We started with a long walk through the arboretum, which was uninspiring. Then we made it to a play area, which had a variety of paths and structures for the kids to play around, but still didn't include any display of flowers. After an epic game of hide and seek we made our way to the Japanese Garden, where I tried to get the kids excited about a 100+ year old bonsai tree and the rock garden. They were only moderately impressed. And then we moved on to the Chinese Garden, at which point the garden really started to shine as a kid friendly destination. The Chinese Garden has wonderful structures and water features to explore, and finally some really pretty flowers. From there we made it to the Alpine Garden, where the kids loved both the interesting plant life and fun to explore paths. They could have spent hours running around this section of the garden. And finally, as we were leaving, we started to see huge displays of flowers.

In the end, it was a fine experience and the kids enjoyed it. Though, this was definitely one of those times when a little extra planning would have paid dividends.

After the garden we made our way to Jean-Talon Market to pick up fruits and veggies for Shabbat. The kids were skeptical about a trip to the market, but once they saw all the colorful produce and cute stands, they were all in. Each kid was put in charge of picking the vendor for a different item of produce, and they totally got into it.

As had become our habit since the trip started, Shira and the kids looked forward to coming up with some fun hair braids. But before Shira could work her magic, she needed me to comb out tangles. Since the week had started, I'd done a lot of hair brushing! It was G, however, who had deftly turned detangling from a chore to an activity we looked forward to. During our first comb out session she noticed the similarity between the desk chair in one of the kids room and a salon chair. She plopped herself down, draped her hair over the chair and laid back. I asked her if she wanted some spa music, to which she replied absolutely. I then dimmed the lights for effect. And so began spa time! We enjoyed the calm music together, and just like any good hair stylist, I tried to keep the conversation going as we talked about all that was going on in her life. These spa sessions became something I very much looked forward to, and were a highlight of our trip. What a lesson in the power of changing your perspective on a seemingly tedious activity. Thanks G!

Monday, October 07, 2019

9 Miles of Hiking in the Patapsco Stream Valley State Park

This past weekend Shira and I hiked a 9 mile loop in Patapsco Stream Valley State Park. The loop combines the Log, Morning Choice, Lewis and Clark, Cascade Falls, Ridge, Rockburn Branch, Hop the Snake and Belmont trails and was published over at

On the surface, there's nothing remarkable about this hike. It has no breathtaking views or challenging rock scrambles. However, it strikes me as impressive that you can log 9 miles of forest hiking, with only occasional glimpses of suburbia, so close to Washington, DC. We've hiked Patapsco a number of times, and yet with the exception of a segment of the Cascades Trail, this was all new to me. If you don't mind hours of driving to and from the trail, then by all means, head out to Shenandoah and the like. But if you want to log miles without the schlep, Patapsco is hard to beat.

I could definitely see using these Patapsco trails for training purposes. You could load up a backpack and get an authentic hiking or trail running experience in, in a fraction of the time it would take you to do the same exercise in a remote location.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Saying Goodby to Plantar Fasciitis. For Real.

My pronouncement that I was cured from my first bout of plantar fasciitis turned out to be wishful thinking. I thought for sure I'd kicked this condition, and yet pain in my left foot kept coming back after runs and long walks.

Using the night splint my friend Sue recommended helped, but still the pain refused to abate.

I promised myself that I'd give it one more month of stretching and then I'd return to the podiatrist for a followup. Fortunately, Shira ignored my timeline. She made me an appointment with Antonio at Full Motion Life and Sport, a local chiropractor who she'd talked with at her gym. He suggested he could help alleviate my symptoms.

I won't lie; I wasn't excited about going to a chiropractor. I had silly visions of strange procedures being done on my foot.

After chatting with me and assuring me that my injury could be dealt with, Antonio produced an ultrasound machine and rubbed the wand over my foot. After what seemed like 15 minutes of this, he turned off the machine and switched to messaging my foot. After another 15 minutes, my appointment was over. I'd relished Antonio's optimism, found the ultrasound and message to be pain free, and liked that I was taking active measures against my foot's condition. I was in. Antonio guessed that in 6 weeks I'd be running pain free; I was skeptical to say the least.

For the next five weeks, twice a week, I repeated the above treatment. While I felt my foot was healing, the process was far from linear. During this stretch I avoided running and only did a bit of light walking. Finally, after 5 weeks I cracked and went for a run:

The distance was short (about 3.5 miles) and the pace was glacial (11 min/mile), and yet I couldn't have been happier with the run. For the first time in months, I'd run pain free!

Two days later, I logged a 5 mile run. Again, no pain. And then I logged a 6 mile run the day after that. Still, no pain. I followed these runs with two back to back 8 mile runs.

I've now logged over a 120 pain free miles since that first successful run and can officially declare my plantar fasciitis resolved. Antonio worked his magic one week ahead of schedule.

Curious about the ultrasound technique, I did some poking around and found two studies on the topic: How effective is therapeutic ultrasound in the treatment of heel pain? and Additive Effect of Therapeutic Ultrasound in the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. It appears that in both studies the ultrasound wasn't particularly effective. As the second study concludes:

The addition of therapeutic ultrasound did not improve the efficacy of conservative treatment for plantar fasciitis. Therefore, the authors recommend excluding therapeutic ultrasound from the treatment of plantar fasciitis and agree with results of previous studies that stretching may be an effective treatment for healing plantar fasciitis.

But here's the thing: the process worked. So whether it was the ultrasound, message, rest from running or simply time that corrected the issue I can't say. But after months of being sidelined, I don't much care. I'm just glad to be back to running! If injury strikes again, I'm definitely heading back to Full Motion Life and Sport for relief.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

When Life Hands You Gourds | A New Year Wish

As we've done for the last few years, Shira and I returned to Homestead Farm to pick apples for Rosh Hashanah. Homestead continues to impress: they promised a diverse variety of apples, and delivered in terms of both quality and quantity. As we were walking to the checkout area I noticed a table full of ugly distinct looking gourds. Having a vague recollection that gourds, like apples, were a symbolic food eaten on Rosh Hashanah I bought a few.

When I got home and Googled the topic, my memory was confirmed:

Everybody knows about dipping apples in honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah for a “sweet” year. But in the Syrian tradition, we have an entire seder before the meal. There are actually many symbolic foods we make blessings on for the Jewish New Year.

In one of these prayers, we ask God to tear up any enemies’ decrees against the Jewish people. The Hebrew word for gourd, kara, resembles the word karaa, which means to rip. Before eating the gourd, we say, “May it be your will, Adonai, our God, God of our forefathers, that You tear up the evil edict of our judgment and may our merits be declared before you.”

Instead of eating the gourds, we opted to have kids decorate them. All it took was some hot glue, googly eyes and a healthy does of glitter glue and the kids turned the haphazard collection of fruit into an adorable family:

And so this is my wish for you in the upcoming year: not only should the evil decree be torn up, but when life hands you something ugly, you should rally together with friends and family to make something beautiful out of it!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Let's Drink | Slow Energy Fast. (And portable, and cheap)

Mixing a a couple of scoops of maltodexterin and water gives you an excellent source of on-the-go energy. The combination is cheap, highly portable and has neutral taste. Nutritionally, it's dead simple as it's nothing more than quick absorbing carbs and hydration.

I got to wondering: could I replicate this profile but with slow absorbing carbs? This would make for a drink that was useful for less intense activities, like a day of hiking or traipsing through the outlet mall.

I'm not entirely sure where I got the idea, but I eventually found myself on Amazon searching for Oat Powder. The idea being that oatmeal has the slow-carb nutrition profile I'm after. Sure enough, Oat Powder is a thing and the reviews were encouraging. Here's a sample:

I rode the D2R2 180km route using whole oat powder + Nuun in my water bottles. Here are the positives and negatives


It did the job and I felt great consuming about 40gm of carbs per hour via oat powder. Carbs were diluted to 5-6%. I was able to keep my stops short because I would just refill my bottles, eat part of a banana, and go.

It's super cheap. It costs about $0.50 vs perhaps $5 for 40gm of carbs from energy bars.

It's complex carbs. I didn't have any highs or lows. I could just have a gulp of water every 5 minutes and I was getting the right amount of water and carbs.


It's messy. I used condiment containers to hold the oats, which was great for portioning, but a bit messy to get into the bottle. I need to find a better way to transfer the right amount into a bottle.

I had to shake my bottle before every drink. It doesn't mix evenly for very long.

If you don't like oats, well, don't even try this. I didn't find it to be as gross as it sounds, really, but you do taste oats in liquid form.

Inspired by the reviews, I grabbed some generic rolled oats from our pantry and scooped them into our blender. I pressed the blend button for 30 seconds, and just like that, I had oat powder. I scooped it into a water bottle and gave it a good shake. Appearance wise, it looked nasty. Taste wise, is was essentially neutral, with a hint of oats (no surprise there). I found that shaking the bottle between swigs helped distribute the bits of oats. Cleanup wise, refilling the bottle and drinking the remaining oats left my water bottle debris free.

By the time I finished drinking my first batch of powdered oats I was hooked. This stuff is awesome.

Since my early experiments, I've refined the process. I grind a bunch of oats ahead of time and store them in a big 'ol Ziploc bag. I find the larger cap size of a Bodyarmor sports drink to be more convenient for mixingthan a standard disposable water bottle. The spout end of a soda bottle makes for a perfect funnel, and at home I'll use this to make preparing a bottle of oat energy drink mess free. When on the go, I cut off a corner of the Ziploc bag that stores the oats and use that as an improvised funnel.

So how closely did I come to my original goal?

Cost - powdered oats, if you can take a few minutes and grind them at home, are beyond inexpensive.

Portable - 40 grams of powdered oatmeal stores nicely in a snack size Ziploc and takes up minimal space. The powder doesn't melt or get impacted by the heat. You can mix up a batch in a few seconds, either at home or in the field. I've mixed, shaked and consumed immediately and I've waited hours before drinking; either way works.

Taste - Oats and water makes for a crude version of oatmilk. What little taste it has is quite palatable.

Nutrition - 40 grams of oat powder has 27 grams of slow-release carbs, no sugar and even a bit of protein and fat to round it out. Oatmeal is a proven source of slow energy, so you're getting the benefit of a high quality food without sketchy add-ons. Finally, you get the bonus of hydration due to this being a drink-based mixture.

For a slow source of carbs, powdered oats is hard to beat. I'm surprised it's not more of a thing. My new favorite on-the-go meals is to combine the oats with a protein bar and a fruit strip:

I get slow-carbs and hydration from the oats, protein from the bar and quick energy from the fruit snack. The bar also contains sugar and fat, which makes the whole meal more tasty. The meal fits in a sandwich sized Ziploc and can be easily consumed on on the go.

DC at Dawn

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review: Underground Airlines

I randomly selected Underground Airlines by Ben Winters after finishing a book on the history of the Civil War. It turns out, I couldn't have made a better book transition if I tried.

Underground Airlines is a mystery set in current day, USA. The catch: it imagines we didn't fight the Civil War. Instead, we agreed to the Crittendon Compromise. This proposal was made in 1860, and sought to save the Union by altering the Constitution to guarantee the permanent legality of slavery. In real life the Crittendon Compromise was shelved; not so in Underground Airlines.

As you can imagine, this relatively simple device has profound implications. Winters paints a picture of an America that's both recognizable and dystopian. Through sanitized terms ('Person Bound to Labor' instead of slave), farcical legal protections and the all mighty pursuit of compromise, Winters shows us how something as horrendous as slavery can be justified by a modern society. In short, the juxtaposition of everyday America with the cruelty of slavery is stark and terrifying.

The mystery at the book's core, as well as the characters are well done. Sure, some of twists and turns were a bit of a stretch. But overall, the book was so good that as soon as I finished it, I Googled to see if there was a sequel. (Alas, there isn't.)

Perhaps the most import aspect of the book is how it forced me to face how I personally deal with injustice. For nearl the entire book my mind wrestled with the thought experiment that Winters created. What would have happened if I'd been born into an America that practiced slavery. What would I do? What would I demand society do? Why, I'd charge in guns blazing and demand that they free our oppressed brothers!

Then it hit me: surely there are countries in the world that practice slavery today. Heck, there are no doubt those in the United States who are being crushed by similar injustice. Why aren't my guns blazing for them? Where's my outrage?

I don't know how to square the clear anger and call for action that I felt for those in the Underground Airlines' universe, with the the blissful ignorance I embrace in real life. But I do appreciate how Winters' novel has forced me to confront this disparity.

If you want a clever and thought provoking book, then Underground Airlines is for you.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Shiver Me Timbers | Pirates on the Potomac

Years ago we took our nieces and nephew on a Pirate Adventure in Annapolis. It left us with such a positive feeling, that five years later, when we were considering what to get S for his birthday we decided to do another pirate cruise. This time, however, we opted to leave out of Georgetown.

When we made the reservations, I cringed at the late September sailing date. I imagined a cold and dreary day at sea. In fact, yesterday was perfect sailing weather and if anything I was wishing for overcast skies to provide some relief.

The pirate adventure followed more or less the same script as the one from five years ago. There was a simple story of a run-away pirate who stole the keys to the treasure. The kids had to man the water canons on the side of the ship to convince the wayward pirate to give up the keys. S enjoyed the water guns and exploring the boat. He brought along a foam pirate sword, and did a bit of swashbuckling with other kids who had brought their own pirate weaponry. At one point, all the water guns were occupied and S couldn't get in on the action. One of the staff members took S's hand and helped him find a spot; it was really sweet.

While the experiences were both positive, we recall the cruise from Annapolis was done better. I suppose it was about some of the small touches: they gave each kid a pirate name, and did a little dress-up and face painting before boarding the boat. Once on the boat, they managed to maintain the kids rapt attention. The whole thing made for a more immersive experience. I've got no idea if the Annapolis experience is still this good. And it sure is hard to beat the convenience of driving to Georgetown over Annapolis.

Most importantly, S had a ball. And when it came time to pick the treasure that he'd take home he was decisive: he selected two packages of Smarties. He wasn't interested in any of the plastic schlock. He's smart enough to know that good old fashion candy is where it's at. Smart man.

If you're looking for a fun activity for your 4 or 5 year old, a Pirate Cruise is hard to beat.


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