Thursday, July 22, 2010

Necessary extravagance

Are there certain things in your life that you'd pay just about any price for?  I think we all have a short list of things that we absolutely have to have - and are willing to pay top dollar for. Some people might be willing to buy wine in a box but would never compromise on toothpaste. They'll settle for a store brand for canned tomatoes but would never accept a generic breakfast cereal.  Like many (most?) guys, I will pay full price for stuff that my wife would never in a hundred years buy, if it weren't 'on sale'.  Over the course of nearly 30 years of marriage we're probably even.  I've paid full price for some things, but she's bought quite a few more things - on sale.

As we age our tastes and preferences change.  We hopefully eat a bit less (because we are less active), and we will have a glass or two of wine with dinner, but not a bottle or two - with a companion - as we might have thirty years ago. Having quit drinking coffee a few years ago, I am no longer in the market for the premium products associated with the caffeine habit.  No more five dollar 'cups' of coffee, all kinds of brewing paraphernalia and mugs of a dizzying variety.  Nowadays, my only real extravagance is tea and specifically South African rooibos 'tea' (herbal) and Chinese white tea.  My rooibos comes mostly in tea bag form, purchased at a highly inflated price from a local deli started by a South African couple back in the late 1970's.  If they increased the price of the rooibos by another 30% or so I would likely still buy it.  It just seems like too much trouble to try to find an online supplier for something as mundane as tea bags.  Likewise the Silver Needle white tea, which I purchase in bulk (2 lb bag) from Teavana at the Galleria. At about $18 per 2 ounces, the stuff is definitely pricey but worth it.  It is very low in caffeine and famous for its slightly sweet, subtle taste and pale infusion.  Fortunately the same leaves can be used several times over and I often make 4 or 5 infusions.  The recommended water temperature for white tea is 180F.  Don't scald it!

Last night I made a really nice bean salad (Smoked Paprika Corn salad with butter beans & cherry tomatoes) - found the recipe on the 'No-meat Athlete' blog.

A few days ago I tried a recipe (found it on the internet) for a Quick Lo-Mein with tofu; I think it is from 'Vegan on the Cheap'.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back on the rowing machine

Where do I rank the C-2 rowing machine as an acceptable, dare I say 'fun' method or instrument of exercise?  Just one pull ahead of rehab swimming, which I think is the worst.  There are very few things quite as frustrating as thrashing around in the water while going absolutely nowhere.  One of them is thrashing away on an ergometer, cranking like a madman.  Is it exercise?  Of course.  Is it effective?  For sure.  Is it fun?  No no no.  A better option might be to get a kayak and lug it down to Buffalo Bayou about a mile from here, and get a real rowing workout.  Complete with murky brown water all around you, floating trash, snakes, hordes of mosquitoes, assorted airborne pollutants and gun-toting trigger-happy landowners just waiting for you to set a foot on the riverbank. I think I'll pass.
Yesterday though, I had no choice.  It was the rowing machine or nothing.  I literally could not make it down the drive-way to the road which leads out of our townhouse complex.  Even the slowest of plodding jogs was uncomfortable.  Clearly a cortisone shot in the painful area (apparently an ITB issue just below and to the outside of the knee) and a 7-day lay-off are not doing the trick.  I am continuing with regular daily knee rehab and stretching/strengthening exercises, but it looks as if the hiatus from running might end up being a bit longer than anticipated. At least Kathleen is getting her regular daily quota done, completing a solid 7-mile pace run (9:07) and a 10-miler today. 

On the movie front, some early Oscar contenders are starting to show up such as 'The Kids are all right' which Kath and I saw today at River Oaks.  The story revolves around an aging gay couple Nic and Jules (portrayed by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and how the dynamic of their marriage is impacted by the arrival on the scene of  Paul (Mark Ruffalo) the biological father of both their children.  There's plenty of laughs, some tender and some bitter-sweet moments, and the whole is made thoroughly watchable and enjoyable by excellent acting.  Bening is brilliant in what is likely an Oscar contending performance.  Moore's natural quirkiness befits the role,  Mia Wasikowska delivers a beautiful low-key performance and Mark Ruffalo is impeccable as the erstwhile sperm donor who stirs up a hornet's nest of emotions.  Go and see it.  But do mind the 'R' rating; strong language and some very graphic sex scenes. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Running hiatus

It is a little depressing not to be able to run at all, and the knowledge that I actually do have a tear in my meniscus also weighed rather heavily on my mind over the weekend. I'm not one to dwell on misfortune though.  By Sunday afternoon, after a 30-minute medicine-ball workout, I was feeling pretty good and almost starting to enjoy the mini-break from running.  Almost.  Kathleen did her 14-mile long run (Higdon Intermediate II program) on Saturday with some Houston Striders, starting at Memorial Park at 0630.  Apparently it went very well, with great support by John DiMarco and Bob Pattan.  Thanks to both of you guys!   Hopefully I will be able to do a long run again soon.  Kath added 7 miles this morning along Terry Hershey Trail at well under 10-minute mile pace, which is good going.  I really think she is well on her way to breaking 4 hours at the Mohawk-Hudson in October, weather permitting.

We did manage a couple of movies again, this weekend.  On Friday we saw the Joan Rivers documentary, "Joan Rivers, a piece of work' and it is quite riveting.  In parts - especially when Joan is doing stand-up comedy - the movie is hilarious.  But mostly it is an amazingly honest look at the unbelievable drive that keeps this 77-year old dynamo performer in a perpetual state of motion, willing and wanting to do absolutely anything and everything to just keep working.  All her worst fears, intense anger, moments of tenderness and generosity, loneliness and odd relationships are on the screen in close-up view, no holds barred.  The movie is superb and likely to garner considerable critical acclaim and industry recognition.

This morning we went back to Angelika in downtown for 'The Girl Who Played with Fire', the second movie in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, based on the books by the late Stieg Larsson.  While the movie is not nearly as good as the first one in the series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), it was very enjoyable and totally absorbing, with excellent performances by both Noomi Rapace as Salander and  Michael Nyqvist as journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  I thought that the script had some believability issues but they are not fatal and the story moves along fairly briskly, despite some unnecessarily long detours here and there.  It just does not have quite the same level of intrigue and tension as the first movie, or the pay-off.  Worth seeing though, especially if you have or are planning to read the books.  I started Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Saturday morning and rattled off 230 pages in no time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The risks of surgery

I have an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow to go over the results of the MRI.  It will be good if the pain in my left knee is caused by tendinitis or some other transitory issue, bad if I have some abnormality such as a meniscal tear.  Problem is that someone my age has around a 40% chance of showing some abnormality in a knee, runner or not.  And no guarantees that the suggested remedy - such as surgery - will necessarily relieve the pain and solve the problem. 

More likely than not, I will opt for a cortisone shot in the short term, see how that goes and then re-evaluate the situation in 6 months or so.  Right now, my knee is hardly wrecked.  In fact I ran 6 miles (easy) this morning with minimal discomfort.  I'm convinced that with a regular daily program of stretching (especially the overly tight hamstrings!) and some quad strengthening, I can avoid any potentially risky surgery.

Like everybody else in this predicament, of course I have been surfing the net in search of pictures of MRI's of normal and abnormal knees, normal and torn menisci, accounts of meniscus surgery and so on.  There's both good and bad out there, and I came across some rather disconcerting reports of failed surgery.  One  unfortunate Canadian had a small lipoma removed, which became a more complicated procedure when it proved to be a cyst.  In the end the guy ended up with a very nasty permanent scar on his leg.  It reminded me of our first Boxer - Homer - who had a benign growth on his head. I dropped Homer off at our local vet and picked him up again later the same day,  seemingly ok except for two big band-aids on the very top of his head.  Unfortunately, when it came time to take the band-aids off, it became clear that our beautiful dog now had two massive Frankenstein’s monster scars on the top of his head. From show dog to mutt in a couple of days!

Update:  It appears I do have a horizontal tear of the posterior horn of the medial (inside) meniscus.  Oddly enough though, this is not what is causing the pain in my knee.  The pain is on the lateral (outside) of the left knee, and is likely caused by friction where the iliotibial band attaches to the tibia. The doctor gave me a cortisone shot for that - and I will have to lay off running for a few days to let things settle down.  Will continue with quad strengthening program and upper body & core workouts.  Until the medial meniscus tear becomes symptomatic, I am not considering surgery to repair it.  Let sleeping dogs lie. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

5th of July 'holiday'

Weird holiday today, 'officially' celebrating the 4th of July a day late.  What are we supposed to do - another round of (vegan) hamburgers? Maybe just the beans will be ok.  More fireworks?  I know of course what I should really be doing - going through my closets and throwing out stuff I haven't worn for like 12 years.  Clothing go in and out of fashion while hanging untouched in our - pretty small - walk-in closet.  So maybe I will gather up a bit of enthusiasm for the Sisyphean task and have at it this afternoon.  Just not right now.  First I have to have a cup of white tea, finish reading the newspaper, and lounge around for a while.  After all, that (and going to the beach!) is what holidays are for - not for sweeping up leaves on the front porch, re-arranging closets or painting the bathroom.

I managed an easy 6 miles with Kathleen yesterday (Sunday, the 'real' July 4th) morning, after she had run (and I took some pics) at the Run Wild 5K in Uptown Park near the Galleria.  Kathleen did very well with a first place in her age category; many of our other Striders club members did equally well including a first overall by Bill Blancett and age group wins or places by Tom King, Steve Reddy, Anne Ahrens, Julie Rutledge, Judy Loy, Barry Chambers and Jim Peiffer.  Well done! On Saturday (July 3) morning Kath and I slogged our way through a 6 mile pace run (9:10 mile pace), having to improvise on our route as we could not get across a flooded footbridge along Buffalo Bayou, at the start of the Terry Hershey Trail at Beltway 8.  During the pace run my heart rate was mostly around 140 to 142 or so except for the last mile (when it started to get really hot!) when it increased to 150+. 

We saw two movies this weekend:  Solitary Man with Michael Douglas in the main role and Winter's Bone with Jennifer Lawrence as a 17-yr old with huge responsibilities, in search of her missing father.  Winter's Bone, set in a modern-day rural backwater of Missouri, is a brilliantly made movie which is scarily realistic in its depiction of pervasive poverty and drug abuse.  There's never a maudlin or saccharine note while dealing with a story line that could easily have gone that way.   Jennifer Lawrence is superb - and the movie is likely to get an Oscar nod for director Debra Granik.  This is not a 'feel good' movie, but worth seeing just for Ms. Lawrence's stellar low-key performance.

Solitary Man is all about Michael Douglas as Ben Kalman, a one-time auto dealership tycoon gone to seed.  Douglas is always entertaining and this movie is no exception, except there's not much fun there.  It is mostly like watching a slow-motion train wreck of gigantic proportions.  A memorable performance by Danny Devito and several spot-on contributions by Mary-Louise Parker as Kalman's girl-friend and Imogen Poots as her daughter, Susan Sarandon as his ex-wife and Jesse Eisenberg as a college student help to enliven things a bit.  Michael Douglas plays this role to perfection, and if you're a big fan of his, then you'll no doubt enjoy it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A bump in the road

Or more correctly on the side of the knee.  Despite regular strengthening and stretching exercises, the pain and discomfort in my left knee (suspected tendinitis, hopefully not a tear in the meniscus) has not gone away.  In fact it has gotten worse, to the point where I have not run a step since Monday. I went to see Jack Jensen MD but apparently the X-ray doesn't show anything; I'm scheduled for an MRI next Tuesday.  Will see how that turns out. For the short term I am much more inclined to take a cortisone shot than to resort to anything more invasive.  Especially anything to do with the meniscus.

Kathleen is also hurting, tight calf muscles being the issue. So we are both struggling a bit.  I have been a runner long enough (40 years!) to know that most injuries come and go.  This is my first 'real' go-around with a knee injury though, somewhat concerned about that.  Isn't running fun!

Happy 4th of July!  It will be my first one as a citizen of the USA!