Monthly Archives: July 2021

Summer break

Polifinario is on a two-week summer break and will return on Saturday, 7 August 2021.

Until then, you can browse the archives, or even better: go outdoors and inspect your own, personal Backyard Wildlife College associated campus and check what you can do to support your local wildlife!

Cartoon of a sleeping panda with little yellow Zzzz over its head
Source: screenshot from Canvas #Elemess

Not much to report, so let’s look at the garden!

For those of you worrying about my family when you saw the news of the floods in Belgium and Germany, they’re in a different part of the country. It’s been wet everywhere, but no flooding for them, thankfully. The images I’ve seen from the affected areas have left me speechless.

It’s been one of those weeks with ups and downs for me (fortunately mainly ups), but none of it is suitable for publication on the blog – maybe you’ll get to hear some of it later. That means I haven’t got much to write about, so here are a few flowers from my wildflower strip:

Pink poppy with multiple layers of petals
Pink poppy
close-up of the flowers of Evening Primrose, a yellow flower with four petals.
Common Evening Primrose, beloved by the bumble bees and occasionally visited by Hummie
Safflower (yellow and orange “thistles”), poppy, cornflower, and ? a Black-eyed Susan that’s been nibbled on? or is it a transmogrified coneflower? with some others I don’t know the names for!

They are teeming with insect life; when I watered them a few hours later than usual the other day (I prefer early mornings), clouds of small flying creepy crawlies lifted off, annoyed by the unexpected shower. It sure is a nice micro-habitat!

What’s growing in your garden?

Have a great week! I hope to have something more substantial to share next week.

Kung Fu Panda LARPing*?

* LARP: “Live-action role play”

Training!

Just killed a 7M run-walk-run, the first in the new training plan towards a half-marathon. Adjust your training to what works – I have zero interest in exercise-induced migraines or over-use injuries, but Jeff Galloway’s training regime works for me for summer time heat. It wasn’t fast, but that’s ok. I feel great 😀

Still a lot of work to get to full Kung Fu Panda, though. My kungfu kicks need some extra attention because it’s been a while, and I’ll have to work on this cool move on one side only rather than alternating between both arms as Panda and Shifu do here.

Shifu and Kung Fu Panda face each other and do alternating single-hand push ups, supported by only one finger.
Clearly neither of these two is recovering from shoulder surgery

No regular planks or push-ups for a good while I reckon, as part of post-shoulder-surgery recovery. Those makes me reach for the nearest jar of Aleve within three hours, and for the next three days. But hey, my single-right-handed plank/push-up should be awesome if I really dedicate myself to this! I also have a long-standing relationship with stairs as a form of exercise. Not quite my enemy though.

Kung Fu Panda out of breath at the top of the stairs - text says "Ugh, stairs"
How to spot the difference between me and Kung Fu Panda: our attitude towards stairs (even if we look exactly the same at the top)

The secret ingredient

I finally got round to making for the very first time a family classic and family favourite: Aalsterse vlaaien (no links in English to be found, that’s how local it is!). It has been so long since I last ate it, I didn’t even remember what it was supposed to taste like! When I tested the spice mix in the batter before it went in the oven it took a few seconds 😱 before it clicked but phew I remembered.

I was very worried about getting it just right, because I wanted to share it with one of our freshly graduated Mules, who had seen this in Belgium but couldn’t fit a taste of it in her brief visit. And… I did not have the secret ingredient, mastellen.

Mr Ping, the Duck and father of Kung Fu Panda is about to reveal the secret ingredient in his famous noodle soup broth.
Feeling there is some truth to Mr Ping’s statement here…

These are bone-hard, dried little breads seasoned with spices. They’re specific for making vlaaien and even locally in and around Aalst increasingly hard to find, and bakers seem to be sworn to secrecy because we cannot find a recipe anywhere. (The ones we have found online are a different kind, not suitable for our purposes.) Mum suggested rusks, or ships biscuits might do the trick, but I couldn’t find those either, so I replaced all of that with… white bread, dried in the oven.

It worked beautifully. Fresh jars of Mace, and Organic Vietnamese Cinnamon probably helped, as well as the original brown sugar and sugar syrup imported from Belgium. A taste of home, recreated here on the other side of the Pond.

And now I know the secret ingredient (à la Mr. Ping), I also know I have ingredients for 3 more pans of this deliciousness. Perfect:

Kung Fu Panda stuffing his face with baozi

News update: Backyard Wildlife College Responds to Mysterious Bird Disease

(Backyard Wildlife College, Allentown PA, est. 2017)

“More than just fluffy bunnies”

Male Gold Finch at a bird feeder, looking over his shoulder
Rocco the Gold Finch in happier times at his local: the tube feeder was the hub of social life for the Feathered Creatures Division.

A mysterious and fatal bird disease is spreading among song birds in the eastern US, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission has recommended all feathered creatures observe social distancing and extra hygiene measures.

Backyard Wildlife College in response ceased dining operations for our feathered faculty, staff and students at all feeders, with exception of Cafe Colibri. (Only Mrs. Ruby-Throated uses this facility and so far, no reports have shown her species to be affected.)

At this moment, there are no known cases or fatalities on Backyard Wildlife College’s grounds of this mysterious disease, but we are treating this situation with the utmost seriousness. Birds afflicted by this disease often have “eye swelling and crusty discharge”; other symptoms can include breathing trouble, blood from the mouth, and weakness and neurological issues. Most birds sadly die. Please report any cases (dead or alive) on this form from UPenn, as the human scientists are trying to get to the root of this.

The groundskeeper has immediately taken the following actions: the window feeders and the squirrel-proof tube by the backdoor of the human dwelling have been taken down and washed in a 10% bleach solution (as recommended). The bird bath has been removed, and similarly sanitized before storage. The Organic Protein Bar on the west side of the human dwelling, also known as the expanded wildflower strip, remains open for foraging to all creatures. No agreement has been reached with the Creepy Crawly Division now housed there, but they have been made aware of the situation and reminded of their position in the feeding chain. Our groundskeeper follows the situation carefully and will reopen the dining facilities as soon as the situation is deemed safe again.

Grass remains available at will for rabbits and groundhog, and peanuts can be requested by squirrels.

We realize this is a big blow to the community, as our dining facilities were the hub of the local social wildlife, where House and Gold Finches, Chickadees, Juncos, Sparrows, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Robins, and the odd Grackle, Catbird, and Cowbird and many more congregated. We hope together (though not physically together) we can stop the spread of this pernicious disease.

However, we have only in the past 16 months seen how a deadly virus ravaged through the human community, and we must try to learn some lessons from that event. We hope that by acting before it’s too late, using a data-driven approach, and erring on the side of caution, we can soon resume our previous convivial chats over sunflower hearts in safety.

Whatever you do as a feathered creature, don’t make our editor create the bird-version of this meme. Remember, we’re better than humans. And usually cuter too.

three cats look out of window, first cat says: "so if everyone isolates and keeps clean and follows instructions everything will be ok?" Wise-looking cat in the middle says "Yes, the future of the planet depends on the intelligence of the human race" Small tuxedo cat on the right with worried expression thinks "We're fucked"
Our groundskeeper was rather fond of this meme…

Be safe, be well, keep your distance. (And if you’re human: get vaccinated when you can & wash your hands!)

She’s BAAAAAAAACK!

Back off the sofa, and onto the road (into the back of the pack), that is.

Surgery on 19 Jan. –> Cleared to try out if you can run 3 months later, on 19 April. I did a 5 min test jog on 18 April, and since my arm didn’t fall off, I decided to pick a “couch to 5K” training plan to sync with my Garmin 245 watch. (It’s pretty phenomenal what the watch will do, short of making coffee and porridge in the morning to get you fuelled up for your runs).

Screenshot with a coloured line indicating speed, running along a river. The map also shows features such as a railway line and nearly roads.
Today’s time trial – map is a screenshot from my running log on Fetcheveryone

During that test jog and the first “run-walk-run” my shoulder did feel a bit stiff, but nothing to worry about: it was just increasing my range of motion, but not asking it to do anything it couldn’t handle. Both PT and assistant were very excited about me taking it very steady with this approach: there was a benchmark run (“run as fast as you can for 5 mins.”), and then a lot of “walk-run” repeats, with equal amounts of walking and running.

The plan adjusts its length and workouts based on how well you’re doing, but I have to admit that by the end of May I was getting a bit bored with the regular fare and I felt good and the plan too easy. I have quite a few years of running in my bones, and worry less about overdoing it for my joints compared to somebody fresh off the sofa for the first time. I’m very good at spotting niggles before they become injuries, and have no shame in dropping back if I need to. In fact, I suspect I err on the side of caution more than necessary, but let’s talk again about this when I’m still running well into my seventies and many others are sidelined, shall we?

I switched out the plan for a time-oriented goal: a 35 min 5K. I mean… should be possible, right? My best 5K is 30’32” from many, many years ago, a more recent one 33’05” (another post-shoulder-injury return time trial) and someday I hope to get under 30′. I definitely had more fun with the tempo runs, intervals, and even hill repeats in the early morning heat (reducing the number because I’m not looking for trouble) in this plan, and I was getting better at sticking to the requested paces.

So eleven weeks after I was cleared for running, I went to the D&L trail near Laurys station, where the path is nice for running, well drained, there is plenty of shade, and I should be able to keep an even and steady pace. Even the weather cooperated! After a horribly oppressive hot start to the week, the rains had come and it was a most pleasant 17C/62-63F. A half-mile walk/run warm up, and off I went.

I immediately could tell that today was not the day for heroics; and it would be hard to hit the 11’16″pace required to get to my target 35′. Oh well, I’d just set off reasonably fast with a 4 (paces) out-2 (paces) in breathing pattern, with a Podrunner mix at 171BPM. The common race strategy for a 5K is: “start fast and hold on for dear life”, after all. First mile: 12’23”, not too bad, but I need to be faster. Haha, doesn’t feel like that’s in the legs! And indeed, mile 2 clocked in at 12’39, despite upping the breathing pattern to 3out-2in. At the start of mile 3, I turned around (I had to get back to the car after all!) and took a breather walk to get my heart rate down a bit, and I took another walk break about half a mile later, so mile 3 came in at 13’18 (breathing pattern in “hard work modus”: 2in-2out). But there is always something left in the tank, the final 0.11 I squeezed out the equivalent speed of a 10’48″mile but ooooh boy I was glad when my watch beeped to signal the end! 39’29”

Graph with X axis showing distance, Y axis showing speed, and the line in colours indicating speed as well.
Pace graph of my time trial, screenshot from Fetcheveryone training log

Conclusions?

  1. The race predictors on my Garmin watch are big liars for me: my watch claims there is a 30’xx” 5K in me. Erm yeah… Though I think the Fetcheveryone predictions are more accurate. (see pic below)
  2. The slightest hint of an uphill and I notice and I will need to work on that to even out things (viz. mile 3. Imperceptible to most, but I notice…)
  3. Not a terrible time, but definitely four and a half minutes slower than I wanted.
table with predictions for 1M, 5K, 5M, 10K, 1M, half marathon, 20M and marathon in total time and average mile
Fetcheveryone predictions for common distances, based on today’s personal time trial

Where next?

On to the next training plan: I’d like to get back to the point where a 10 mile run every week is nothing special, or I can do two 10Ks in a weekend (not racing, just getting round). That is a few years and a few pounds/kilos ago but there is no reason I can’t get back there if I focus.

Why “doubles”? Because the real thing that itches, the ultimate goal is to get into shape to take part, somehow, in another SLMM or other Mountain Marathon in the UK. I just bought the lightweight tent and camping stove we’d need. 😬 Anybody interested to be the other half of a team? Drop me a note, we’ll talk!

P.S. If you like the stats and maps you see here, check out Fetcheveryone.com. Free and fair site for all your training needs with awesome analytics, run by one man. Imports data from Garmin (and other places) automatically and then makes the most amazing graphs and useful analyses, without you having to lift a finger. I love it so much I pay a small contribution to keep it going (so it’s ad-free for me 😀 ) Thanks for all the work you put into the site, Ian!