My Garden Shed

All the shed’s parts and pieces shipped from Canada and arrived several days later on two pallets. The manufacturer’s step-by-step Assembly Manual claimed assembly would take “two to three days to complete with a helper.” Their equation did not figure on me being the helper and surely they didn’t count on the job-site being fourteen steps up.

We had inquired all around town to hire two men for two days. They’d feign interest, after which my husband would send them a video detailing the process, and we’d never hear from them again. Eventually he convinced me we could do this by ourselves, and I believed him. We worked nine days in a row.

Day One

I’m a perfectionist. My husband is not. Regardless of which description best fits your personality, I’m sure nothing more needs to be said about that.

He prepared the foundation on the first day. The floor frame was set onto four 4×6 pressure treated lumber beams, and the plywood floor set atop all of this. It took some time to ensure the whole thing was square and level so I did gardening work that day – which gave me very little say in this part of the process. We moved on to the next step anyway.

Day Two, Three & Four

By Thursday afternoon we had set the studs and secured all the wall panels, installed the windows, and attached the front and rear gables.

Days Five, Six & Seven

We assembled the two roof rafters down below and carried them up one full piece at a time. Each side slid into place and locked into a groove. We just stood there for a minute marveling how easily they had locked in place. This accomplishment seemed to bolster our confidence regarding the roof – the heaviest of all the pieces. When my muscles still wouldn’t rise to the task, my husband lifted the roof panels onto his back and walked them right up the steps.

The six roof panels with cedar shingles already attached, a rafter support beam, gussets, and 6 Polygal panels on the greenhouse side were attached and secured by Saturday afternoon.

All that was left was to install the door and attach the trim pieces. Never underestimate the details.

Days Eight & Nine

On Day Eight, we hammered a million-gazillion trim pieces into their rightful places. Mysteriously, we had a few pieces left over.

The last day we put together flower boxes assembly-line style and we were done!

The instructions suggested painting the plywood floor, so we checked the ‘oops’ paint options on our next trip to Lowe’s. Sure enough we found a can of high gloss white interior/exterior paint there the next day. I have wondered about the outcome had there been a can of green or blue instead. The white was perfect.

There’s still work to be done on the Kung Fu wooden dummy, the plumber will connect the water and hopefully install a sink, the electrician will wire in an outlet or two, and there’s the delightful chore of filling the flower boxes. Moving in is always a process.

It seemed likely we might die pushing the roof panels in place, I smashed my finger once with the hammer, and he fell off the ladder when it slipped down the hill. Every project has its moments, but hey! We built a shed!

Young Dog, Good Dog, Old Dog

I married my husband later in life when children had already come and gone. It must explain why we have adopted so many dogs.

I’m aware of the stages of a dog’s life from puppy to senior, and that each dog moves through each stage at their own pace. But maybe it’s possible that all these life stages could be narrowed down to just three. A young dog becomes a good dog (usually), and a good dog unfortunately becomes an old dog as time goes along.

We’ve had one dog in each of these stages for the past 2-1/2 years. Bentley is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and our youngest dog. Mr. Boggs is a Great Pyrenees/Mastiff mix and Dudley, a Standard Poodle, is the oldest.

Bentley joined our family with the sole purpose of promoting recovery after the loss of our last oldest dog. It’s as if he understood and accepted this job immediately. He still plays with toys, chews sticks on our best rug, attacks my feet when I walk around the house in socks, and dusting the furniture invokes the very worst of his wrath for whatever reason.

He is the definition of dramatic, which means I can’t help but smile whenever I look into his little face. And he instantly found a friend in our next oldest dog, despite their obvious differences.

Mr. Boggs left his adorable puppy phase to become this oversized teddy bear. True to his breed(s), he’s territorial, protective, fearless, patient, loyal, and stubborn. He’s also a really good dog.

Dudley is one of the most stunning of all dogs, and at 16 years old he’s our oldest dog. This perfectly coiffed exterior, however, belies his inner strength and resolve. He’s fought a bear, a Great Dane, killed countless rodents, and spent days at a time roaming the mountains where we live. I wouldn’t say he’s ever lost a fight, but he has come home slightly ruffled from time to time. Nothing has ever intimidated him.

He went to guard dog school for six months when my husband decided he should stand guard over the back door of my store. He was just six months old at the time. The trainer assured us it wouldn’t change his personality, but warned it could make him more intense. That was true, and it also meant he grew up fast.

We learned to talk to him in German, and he went to work with me for the first few years of his life. Then he retired to the life he loved most.

Sometimes I’d sleep on the sofa waiting for him to come home from his latest adventure – like a wayward teenager. In the wee hours of the morning I’d find him waiting patiently on the porch exhausted, thirsty, and sometimes wounded. He could ruin a $100 haircut in a few short hours, and he did so often.

He was my running partner when I trained for my first marathon, and my hiking partner in his later years. All he ever wanted was to be outside. I could relate. We were kindred souls.

Dudley went to heaven a few weeks ago. His body had traveled as far as this earth would allow him to go. You’d think losing a four-legged child would get easier after all this time, but it never has.

Whether it was the training or how he was born, Dudley was certainly intense – I couldn’t imagine him any other way. He was aloof, but not unloveable. He was passionate about being on the hunt – his sport, and nothing distracted him from doing what he loved. There was much to learn from this child. I think he would tell us to always be brave, follow your heart, and don’t back down.

There was a sign in the room at the Vet’s office: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” It takes some time to get past the don’t cry part. Dudley’s hips got weak and he started losing his balance. This past year he couldn’t stand up long enough to be groomed and he started looking scraggly. Getting old is not always pretty, but he was the same wonderful guy we loved and I’m so glad he happened into our life.

A Garden is Born

The excavation phase of our project is finally over leaving us with a blank slate in terms of gardening, and I have never been more intimidated. One of the songs in my running library is Emmit Fenn’s, “Lost in Space.” It’s the perfect description of my garden.

The area under siege is behind the fence in the photo below. As lovely as it may have appeared, this land gradually climbs to a road up above where most of the trees were dead or dying – in other words, a major threat to the roof of our house. Our plan was to create enough level ground to accommodate a one-room addition to our house while also cleaning things up a bit.

 

We cleared the trees out last December, although the excavator didn’t pull the stumps out until the first day of April. Then they spent the next two weeks moving dirt. Everyone that stopped by to examine our progress remarked on how wonderful the dirt was. Unfortunately, it was that perfect top soil that got hauled away day after day. Underneath was icky, ugly, rock-filled red clay.

Eventually we were left with mulch-covered 2:1 graded slopes from the upper road that also incorporates a swale for drainage, four boulders, and fourteen stone steps that reach a level area at the top where the greenhouse will be positioned. I didn’t completely grasp the significance of landscaping a 2:1 slope until the project was complete. Now I can tell you that gardening on a 2:1 slope is not for the weak spirited.

Water and electricity have been pulled to the upper level for the greenhouse, and all that’s needed are a few good men to help us lug the greenhouse pieces to the top and assemble. It’s easier said than done actually. We’re also thinking of adding a shower up there – it’s really pretty shocking how dirty a person can become while working in all this mulch.

While most informed landscapers will plot and plan their garden design, my husband and I have employed our usual strategy: we stop by the local garden center’s discount rack almost daily to see what we can find. I call it the ‘E.R. Cart’ because every plant is distressed to one degree or another, but if it’s a perennial we bring it home. The hole in this strategy is that you can’t exactly plan your design.

So far we’ve planted two fig trees, three ‘red hot’ crape myrtles, a cypress, blue spruce, raspberry and rose bush. Six different types of ornamental grasses are planted along the swale while the rest of the slopes are filled with tulips, daffodils, white and pink azaleas, early sunrise coreopsis, two hydrangea, four lemon sunset evening primrose, lilies, iris, red thyme, bellflower, twelve lavender bushes, two bags of wild flower seeds, and several plants that I can’t remember their names.

We found evergreen bushes for $10, big liriope was divided and transplanted from the side yard, and I salvaged a trillium and two additional flowering bushes from the swale minutes before the excavator destroyed them.

Several summer phlox seeds must have drifted over from the native garden next door last year and had sprung up in the front this spring. I’ve transplanted them to the slope by the greenhouse along with a half dozen other plant varieties I bought on Saturday at the native garden’s annual plant sale. I’ve been waiting on the day my husband exclaims there’s no more room for plants! But that’s rarely true in my world.

I wish I had taken a picture before the foundation was poured, but it’s good to see the landscape taking shape – if only in my own eyes.

Some day these distressed and doomed plants will blossom and reach their full potential, and my garden will no longer be lost in space.

A Cottage Update

We were only a few days away from the start of construction last December when I wrote about a planned one-room addition to our cottage. Then it rained nonstop. It was a miserable winter. Exterior work came to a screeching halt, and we spent the winter working on interior projects instead.

The Kitchen

September 2017: the kitchen and living room had been added onto the cottage in the 70s, and never touched again. It’s really better that way I think. The seller had left the cottage furnished, including a rooster in the kitchen – which you can barely see above the door in the photo below. The paneling had darkened around the rooster over the years, and I put him back in exactly the same spot after the remodel.

October 2018: our initial plan was to put the cottage on the vacation rental circuit for a few years. This picture was taken just before we changed our mind and decided to live here ourselves. The kitchen’s footprint is the same, but it seems larger with the wall fully opened to the living room.

I really loved the look of the kitchen, but it had practical issues. It was difficult to completely conceal the patchwork done to the paneling after closing off the original door and window on the back wall. A marble backsplash hides this world of sins.

The next issue was the appliances. Since the refrigerator was not counter depth, it extended too far into the room. Same problem with the dishwasher – when the door was open it was impossible to move around. The ice cream parlor table and chairs are adorable, but miserably uncomfortable and too small for everyday use.

April 2019: Over the winter, we replaced the standard dishwasher with dishwasher drawers, added the Bosch refrigerator with black glass door panels, switched out the chandelier, and exchanged the rug for a cowhide. We also re-stained the vent hood a shade darker than it had been, changed out the table and chairs, and opted for blinds instead of the ‘all-or-nothing’ shade. I’m on the hunt for swing-arm sconces, and a black stove is on order.

Living Room:

September 2017: the living room was in pretty good shape. I’m not sure the fireplace had even been used. I love all of the wood in this room and the large front window. However, the fireplace isn’t center on the wall, which makes me a little crazy. And the paneling had darkened around the bookshelves leaving an outline of the shelves when they were removed – just like the rooster. Eventually we painted the back wall white, and then re-painted it a pale shade of grey-green this winter. With great hesitation, we painted the fireplace too.

January 2019: We liked the fireplace painted white, but it seemed harsh – almost too white. My husband remembered a container of black glaze in the closet from another project, and we used it over the white. This last step softened the white just enough and allowed more of the brick to show through.

We snapped this picture of Bentley playing with Mr. Boggs in January when the wall was still white and before we experimented with the fireplace.

 

After four days of excavation last week the rain started again. Dump trucks came one after the other all day every day to export dirt from behind our house to some unknown location nearby. A couple of days into the process I remembered to ask them to leave some of the rocks for landscaping, and now we have a pile of rocks so large we’ll never summon the strength to move them ourselves. The sheer number of these large rocks leave us all convinced there was a rock wall at some time in this land’s past. Otherwise, the only buried treasures were a handful of old bottles and a tire.

By this time next week, we hope the dirt will be gone, the back yard will be flat – or at least partially flat, and there will be endless days of gardening ahead of me. Said differently, I’ll be in heaven.

Building Proper Posture

Recently I injured my shoulder by exercising poor judgement at the gym. One thing led to another, and I found myself at the mercy of a physical therapist. On my first visit, she explained that shoulder injuries are always treated by first addressing posture deficiencies. . . regardless of age, she hesitantly added. I reminded her that I had sustained my injury exhibiting super-human strength at the gym, not because I was old. She had no reply.

Proper Posture Devolves Over Time

Athletes suffer from the SAID Principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Any given sport will produce adaptations specific to the activity performed. If you’re a figure skater, you’d adapt to the specific strength demands required for figure skating. For runners to develop the endurance for long distances, we must train by running long distances. Adaptations occur in the muscles and systems that are stressed by that activity.

With repetitive movement (or non-movement such as prolonged sitting), the muscle and soft tissue remodel to become stronger in the direction of stress. This is good as it relates to our sport, but long term repetition can create muscular imbalances that slowly devolve into poor posture. As posture deteriorates, joint movements become restricted allowing muscles to weaken. The joints then try to compensate causing pain, stiffness and loss of mobility.

A quick review of exercises that improve posture yields a variety of core strengthening exercises. Most athletes rely on a strong core, and we already spend a fair amount of time on the effort. However, good posture is not only derived from a strong core, but also from the neck, shoulders and hips. Although my strengthening exercises were effectively targeting the core, they were not targeting these other areas that are also essential to good posture.

The Crossed Syndrome

Photo: Triathlon-Hacks

A cyclist‘s position on the bike causes tightening of some muscles while the opposing muscles lengthen and become weak resulting in upper crossed and lower crossed syndrome. Both have negative effects on posture and efficiency for cyclists.

Pinterest Photo Origin Unknown

Upper Crossed Syndrome occurs when the back muscles of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius, and levator scapula) become extremely overactive and strained. The muscles in the front of the chest (the major and minor pectoral is muscles) become shortened and tight. Potential injuries include headaches, biceps tendonitis, rotator cuff impingement and thoracic outlet syndrome.

With Lower Crossed Syndrome the gluteals (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus) and abdominal muscles become weak or inhibited, and the hip flexors (rectus femoris and iliopsoas) and lumbar erector spinae become tight. Injuries can include hamstring strains, anterior knee pain and low back pain.

One-sided rotational sports (such as tennis, golf, hockey, baseball…) can also cause this type of muscle imbalance, although all athletes are at risk of injury from muscle imbalances regardless of the cause.

Uncovering Posture-Enhancing Movements

Over these past few months of recovery, I’ve formulated a routine that stretches and strengthens those muscles that cause our posture to devolve over time while also targeting the core muscles that are normally part of a runner’s strengthening regimen. The goal was to create a sequence that was easy to remember, could be completed in about 10 minutes, and wouldn’t require equipment.

There’s dozens of exercises that target the neck, shoulders, core and hips, so it’s easy to add or substitute other exercises to more intensely target one area or another. This basic routine provides a good starting point, however, as to the types of exercises you would want to include in a personalized program.

This program hasn’t completely replaced my regular strengthening program, but it’s been an effective way to build core strength in a way that also helps support proper posture. The 10 movements include:

  1. Standing Half Forward Bend
  2. Camel Pose
  3. Child’s Pose
  4. Classic Plank
  5. Side Plank – Left
  6. Push-Up
  7. Side Plank – Right
  8. SpiderMan Stretch w/T-Spine Rotation
  9. Up Dog
  10. Child’s Pose
Disclaimer: If you are just beginning an exercise program, you’re dealing with a back, neck or shoulder issue, suffer from high or low blood pressure or have other health issues, please consult your physician or a physical therapist before performing this or any other exercise regimen.
Hold each position for 30-60 seconds, for 5-10 breaths, or as long as you can. Perform 1-3 complete sets.

1. STANDING HALF FORWARD BEND

Courtesy: Pinterest

Uttanasana: Sanskrit word combination: ‘ut’ means Intense, ‘tan’ means Stretch, and ‘asana’ refers to Posture.

Primary muscles involved: stretches the hamstrings and low back.

Tips: Keep feet shoulder width apart and parallel. Bend at the hips (not the waist). Beginners should bend the knees if necessary, but don’t worry if you can’t touch the ground. Go as far as you can. Don’t forget to breathe.

Variation: STANDING FORWARD FOLD WITH HAND CLASP

Courtesy blog.myfitnesspal.com

This pose stretches your hamstrings and low back, while the hand clasp opens the chest and shoulders. Keep a soft bend in your knees and use a strap or towel to make the pose more accessible. If you can, keep your torso long and your knees even.

2. CAMEL POSE

Courtesy: yogabycandace.com

Primary muscles involved: Shoulders, Chest, Core, Hip Flexors

Tips: Keep the legs vertical, and push the hips in the forward direction. Bend the head and the spine backward without straining, and don’t allow the shoulders to extend past the feet. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

Variation: an easier variation of this pose is to position the palms on the lower back while slightly bending the head and spine backward. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

3. CHILD’S POSE

A relaxation and resting pose that normalizes circulation, and gently stretches the hips, thighs, ankles and spine. Leave the arms stretched out in front, or rest palms beside your feet.

4. CLASSIC PLANK

Courtesy: lifehack.org

Primary muscles involved: biceps, neck, and shoulders

Secondary muscles involved: arms, biceps, core, thighs and gluteus.

Tips: Keep your torso straight and rigid, the body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending. This is the neutral spine position. Ensure your shoulders are down, not creeping up toward your ears. Your heels should be over the balls of your feet.

Variation: TALL PLANK

Courtesy: wikihow

5. SIDE PLANK – LEFT

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

Lean on your left elbow and forearm in a side-lying position, with your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Place your right hand on the hip. Hold the position without letting your hips drop.

Primary muscles involved: deep abdominal muscles (obliques, transverse abdominis), quadratus lumborum (muscle in the lower back)

Secondary muscles involved: erector spinae, adductors, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus.

Variation: SIDE PLANK ON HAND

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

6. PUSH-UP (perform up to 30 reps, or as many as you can)

Courtesy: healthline.com

The New York Times says, As a symbol of health and wellness, nothing surpasses the simple push-up. The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness.

Starting from the tall plank position, keep the pelvis tucked in and the neck neutral with palms directly under the shoulders. Keep the back flat while lowering the body by bending the elbows until the chest barely grazes the floor. Extend the elbows and repeat as many reps as possible.

Primary muscles involved: chest muscles/pectorals, shoulders/deltoids, back of your arms/triceps, abdominals, the “wing” muscles directly under your armpit, called the serratus anterior.

Variations: bend your legs at the knees to make the pushup easier. If necessary, start out doing the exercise against the wall instead of the floor or from the edge of the kitchen counter.

To make the pushup harder, adjust the position of the hands either wider or more narrow, use the fingertips instead of the palms, or place your feet on a high surface such as a bench to increase resistance.

Advanced: The Hundred Pushups Training Program (a 6-week program)

7. SIDE PLANK – RIGHT

Courtesy: plankexerciseroutine

8. SPIDER-MAN STRETCH W/T-SPINE ROTATION (perform 10 reps each side, or as desired)

Courtesy: skimble.com

According to the renowned strength coach Mike Boyle, the Spider-Man is extraordinary because performing it to one side simultaneously develops mobility in both hips. The movement requires you to tilt your pelvis backward, which prevents your back from arching and forces you to stretch the opposite side’s hip flexors, Boyle says.

Take a long lunge forward. Place fingertips or palms on the ground in line with the front foot. Make sure the knee is on the outside of the arms, not between them. Keep back knee off the ground. Look up and create a neutral spine. Step through and repeat with other leg. After attaining a neutral spine, lift the outside arm towards the sky. Watch your hand as your lift the arm.Attempt to create a straight line between your arms.

9. UP DOG

Courtesy: yogabycandace

Stretches the chest and abdominal muscles while strengthening the shoulders, triceps, forearms, and low back.

The palms should be aligned under the shoulders, the shoulder blades engaged and pulling the shoulders down and away from the ears, the chest open, and the eyes looking forward.

Only the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet should be touching the floor. Push strongly into both.

Primary muscles involved: Chest, shoulders, abdominals, triceps, forearms, low back

10. End with CHILD POSE

Read More:

Yoga For Runners, Darebee.com

8 Neck and Shoulder Stretches to Relieve Pain: Work and play both stress the neck and shoulders. Here’s how to recover; OutsideOnline

5 exercises to correct lower cross syndrome in cyclists, Canadian Cycling Magazine

The End of an Era

A few years ago my husband gave me a choice of getting a new Jeep, or a facelift. Not the everyday, run-of-the-mill decision. The conversation was prompted by his proprietary spreadsheet, which plots out the timing of our major financial decisions. The spreadsheet had told him it was the prime time to replace the Jeep. Or, alternatively, we could take care of a few wrinkles here and there. I wasn’t at all unhappy with the Jeep.

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My husband found it at a dealership in Atlanta, and negotiated the deal by phone during our last few weeks living in Ecuador. When the day came to move back to the U.S., we drove from Cuenca to Quito with our four dogs for a midnight flight to Atlanta. Our first chore after landing the next morning was to pick up my Jeep. I didn’t take it for a test drive. It was perfect, and me and that Jeep have weathered some wonderful years together.

This year seemed like the right time to finally make a change though, and we’ve retired the Jeep for good. My husband cleaned the glove compartment a few days ago, and I thought we might get a kick out of what he found. These contents seem to tell the story of the last 6 years.

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Every good EMT is taught to keep a pair of latex gloves on hand in case of an emergency, and there’s a tube of lipstick that may or may not have been used in several years. Same with the sunglasses, which were last used during kayaking class in 2014.

Occasionally I’ve taken private lessons from my Kung Fu Sifu using a favorite weapon, one of which is the knife. And the dog collar was around Bentley’s neck when I brought him home (in the Jeep).

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My husband insisted on buying the Mace pepper spray to attach to my waistband on long runs. Dogs are plentiful and run free on the quiet back roads of these mountains, and they scare the living bejesus out of me – I never did wear that Mace on my waistband though.

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My long runs have always started at the top of the mountain where I’d leave the Jeep in the Balsam Community Center’s parking lot.

You never know when you might need a pair of gloves, or what degree of thickness may be warranted. And if it was an especially cold or windy run, I’d tie a bandana around my neck. There’s never too much chapstick, and I’d be really mad with myself if there was a little niggle that I had forgotten to tape. Mad money was a staple, whether a couple of dollars or a twenty-dollar bill.

I have to remind myself not to wave at every Jeep I encounter these days – there is a protocol for that you know. And, by the way, I didn’t get a facelift either. You never know though, that spreadsheet could decide some day that it’s the prime time.

 

Continuations of Thought on Arbitrary Topics (writing a blog)

Artificial Intelligence has been newsworthy for some time, but never before has my curiosity been more piqued than when Jeremy Kahn (Bloomberg) published a story this week in Fortune: “This Article Is Fake News. But It’s Also The Work of AI”.

The story explains that OpenAI, a non-profit artificial intelligence research group in San Francisco, has unveiled a machine learning algorithm that generates synthetic text, or fake text, after being prompted with arbitrary input. The program even adapts to the style of the input – chameleon-like in generating realistic and coherent continuations about a topic of the user’s choosing.

In Kahn’s example, only two lines became the input: “A train carriage containing controlled nuclear materials was stolen in Cincinnati today. Its whereabouts are unknown.”

With no human guidance, the language model finishes the story by explaining in great detail that the incident had occurred on the downtown train line, which runs from Covington and Ashland stations, and that the U.S.Department of Energy was working with the Federal Railroad Administration to find the thief. It claimed the stolen material was taken from the University of Cincinnati’s Research Triangle Park nuclear research site, according to a news release from Department officials, and ended with a quote from the U.S. Energy Secretary, “We will get to the bottom of this and make no excuses.”

OpenAI’s company website reveals other fake news examples generated by the program, including reporting on a war of the orcs, Miley Cyrus caught shoplifting on Hollywood Boulevard, a remote herd of unicorns discovered that spoke perfect English, and JFK has just been elected President after rising from the grave.

In every case, the language model finishes the thought with a completely unexpected, relative and captivating narrative – sometimes on its first try. The implications and potential abuse of this new technology are frightful, but I can’t help being intrigued by the program’s ability to create such colorful stories from a random thought – perhaps because this is also the most compelling challenge of your everyday blogger.

In six years of writing to this blog I don’t think I’ve ever created a cohesive narrative on the first try, no matter how unexpected or captivating the topic. And while it seems like writing a big, fat, fake narrative would be fun, fiction seems to be the most difficult of all writing endeavors. I realized early on that my writing would be limited to reality.

Fortunately even the most mundane ’real’ topics seem fascinating material in those early years of blogging – and they flowed like water.

I had only published 30 posts when I decided to write about my foot. A quick search revealed the Statue of Liberty had been designed with toes just like mine. I named the post, ‘The Normal Variation: A Lesson On Morton’s Toe,’ and the rest is history. That post was the number one read post on this blog for the first five years. Bloggers everywhere will probably understand when I say, who knew?

But you never really know which topic will interest readers. I’ve written two poems – they were both about a day in the life of one or all of my dogs, and I’ve written extensively about my personal running adventures. When there was nothing of interest to write about within those topics, I’d go fishing for a topic.

On one such occasion my searching uncovered comments made at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in June of 1999 by Dr. Stephen Seiler. He had coined the phrase, the “black hole” of training, which, in the athletic world, meant the no-man’s land of mediocrity — a place where an athlete’s high-intensity effort is performed too slow, and the low-intensity effort is performed too fast, resulting in every training effort being performed at medium-intensity…. which accomplishes nothing. I could completely relate to this newfound advice, and wrote a passionate study on how to avoid the moderate middle of training. ‘Training’ became the topic of choice for several years as I explored the depths of distance running myself.

I became enthralled with Arthur Lydiard’s base building philosophy after a Kung Fu classmate had mentioned it in class one week. I spent months working through the program and writing about each phase. That’s about the same time I began to realize just how many runners across the World are also interested in all things running. Readers have visited from over 100 countries, and I love that no matter where we live, we have things in common.

When I went back to school in 2014 I wrote about kayaking, hiking and climbing, but I also learned about Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome that year, and wrote how that theory, and our response or adaptation to stress, can help athletes in their training. Life provided the blog topics, and for awhile it seemed they’d never dry up. Eventually they do, even if only temporarily.

This is where I imagine the OpenAI language model could have stepped in and turned this little blog of mine on its head. I could provide dozens of arbitrary thoughts, and AI could create a captivating post; although the easy answer is not always the right answer.

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Eventually I had a crazy idea to write an entire series about runner’s injuries – taking them one body part at a time, and ‘The Anatomy of a Runner’ was born. The first post I wrote was loosely titled after Meghan Trainor’s song, “It’s All About That Bass,” and it took over the number one spot last year for the most read post. I was nervous about taking on human anatomy, but it has been the most challenging and rewarding writing I’ve done so far.

Beginning this blog has changed my life most unexpectedly. I love to write. To tell a story. And it doesn’t really matter the subject. I’ve risked alienating my fellow runners by writing about my garden, the dogs, our life, or my interior design adventures. It is always a tough decision to do that, but every topic requires that you adapt your style of writing somewhat, and I like that challenge.

I’ve wondered lately how blogs end. Do you plan that last post, or maybe you write a post one day and never return. Maybe the problem is that we run out of ideas, or life no longer seems exciting enough to write about. Maybe life gets too busy to write, or the reason you started blogging in the first place isn’t going so well. Who wants to write about something they no longer do or enjoy.

In 2013 I created a document on my iPad that I named ‘Draft.’ I write my entire post into that document, and edit it several times before I paste it into WordPress (where it undergoes another several gazillion edits). Sometimes my draft document also contains random thoughts or ideas I’ve found to use in other posts.

At the top of the document right now is a quote from Nordstrom’s co-president, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, and an idea for the title of a future post. There’s also a reference from a study about the known predictors and injury rates of recreational runners who steadily train in long-distances, and the remnants of a post I started last week about our living room, but then deleted out of frustration. Sometimes my draft document is completely empty – correctly reflecting the number of ideas in my head at that time. As my husband says, “Close your eyes.”

There’s dozens of potential topics left to explore though, even if only the first two lines of thought have been generated. As the saying goes, the only way to get better at writing is to write – to encourage yourself to go ahead and write about that arbitrary topic that came to mind in the middle of the night. After all, practice is the only way to get good enough to write an unexpected and captivating story on the first try – without artificial intelligence, of course.