Author Archives: polifinario

About polifinario

Flemish Belgian formerly living in the US, now back home. Eternally amazed at the world around her. Knitter, (sometimes) yarn spinner, returning long distance runner, ex academic historian of China and East Asia. Opinionated about chocolate and beer.

Keeping it clean

I haven't really had a problem going out for a run the entire past year (viz. my previous post). I still wanted to try something a bit different this year and dug around in all the different games available on Fetcheveryone - that wonderful site that keeps a nice log if you link it to your GPS watch, and where for many a year before I had such a thing, I added my runs manually without any trouble. Data: beloved by runners.

It seems runners also like games! You can opt into a couple of games that use GPS coordinates (you can manually plot your route and take part if you're not there with the tech), encouraging you to explore the wider world. Conquercise is all about grabbing and keeping squares from your opponents but as the only Fetchie around these parts, I'm quite happily owning my "lawn" and retain the right to rename my little squares I visited as I see fit. So I am not yet entirely sure how it works but that's ok.

Photo of a typical Flemish rural landscape in winter, with trees lining the meadows, some distant buildings dotted near the horizon, and in the foreground green poking through the ploughed field. The sky, taking up about 3/4 of the image, shows sunny blue behind large dramatic clouds that threaten rain.
Flanders is rather flat, in case you didn't know.

The game I am enjoying most is Fetchpoint. I think it's a bit similar to Pokémon, but without the need to stop and battle things. You just run past and as you import your run later, behind the scenes things get figured out and you get your points awarded or deducted. The set-up is simple: you set a home circle with a 1 mile radius, and stuff to collect or get rid off appears. You can compete over ownership of some items with other Fetchies. Again... Unless my cousin in the next village starts to take part, not much of that will happen.

In my two runs since I joined I have already made a detour to squish a bug (run past, and then carry it out of your circle), and tried a completely different route from my regular two or three to get rid of some bugs, because they cost you daily points until you get them squished. I planted a few flowers by running outside my home circle. And this afternoon on a walk with mom I also collected some additional gems and a nuclear point. Fortunately this one was worth eight points – it may do something devastating but you just don't know until you have collected it and it's too late.

Above all, I want to keep my circle squeaky clean, without bugs. It's ok if it sparkles with gems for me to pick up as I move around but I enjoy not having anything dragging my score down!

So if you're looking for a fun game that gets you moving - and all movement counts: cycling, swimming, walking, hopscotching all are fine - this might be just the ticket. It's definitely doing it for me. What's got you moving in 2023?

That’s a lot of miles!

I've completed the challenge I set for myself about a year ago: run, however slow, and by whatever means possible, 1000 miles during the 2022 calendar year.

Screenshot of website that shows training target
Target Completed! Yay!

A lot of this was run-walk-run, because if I spend a lot of my time on my feet in too high a heart rate zone I invite migraines in, and they're no fun. (I have meds that work, so I'm lucky, but my doctor and I still prefer prevention.) Run-walk-run counted with regular runs and intervals as running. On average, it took me 14:03 minutes to complete a mile this year, and that is faster than I walk a mile. I’ll take it.

What have I learned from this experiment?

  1. It looks daunting but it comes down to 2.75M per day, or 19.2M per week and some people run that weekly mileage for fun on a Saturday morning. (Looking at you, ultrarunners.)
  2. It breaks down to a tiny bit every day, but it's easy to get behind if you let it slip for a week or two, as I did with lower mileage in February-March (reentry into the US from Belgium) and no mileage in June (conference+holiday in Ireland, I could have run but chose not to)
  3. You can claw back from a deficit but it takes dedication and planning, including getting up early in the hot months to beat the heat, sneaking in 2 miles when you don't have time for 3 but can't do 5 the next day, or going late at night after work and meetings because otherwise you don't meet the (new, higher) target for the week and you can already see in July or September how you won't make it to 1000M by December.
  4. There are days when you don't want to run but you do it anyway because the spreadsheet tells you. The run is actually perfectly fine.
  5. There are days you want to run but your legs and body scream no and you need a rest day or two.
  6. You get to know your neighbourhood and local trails really really well. As in: where specific patches in the pavement are, what weeds grow where, who is the great and the lousy gardener on the block, and where you're likely to encounter a fox or a deer at what time of day.
  7. Stretch and foam roll your way to an injury-free year. I also kept up my regular visits to the chiropractor as part of my regular maintenance.
  8. New orthotics help: my previous ones were seven years old and my feet had changed a bit. If you've got old ones and niggles start to appear, maybe it's time for a visit to the orthopedic clinic.
  9. There is no shame in going slow or run-walk-run if that is what your body tells you. I still got faster as the temperatures dropped, and as I built up a bit of endurance: my 4M runs going "slow and running through molasses" are now faster than harder efforts over the same distance at the start of the year. I guess I have improved!
  10. It helps to have buddies who believe in you, even if they don't have the same goal. Just sharing my updates and getting a thumbs-up from them, and thinking how I did not want to share "I abandoned my target" when they knew I could do it if just got off the couch, that helped me to get out on those days I didn't want to.
  11. I definitely couldn't have done it without the motivation of the numbers adding up, and The Line on Fetcheveryone. Thank you, Ian, for building a website that works for runners, plain and simple. You have my eternal gratitude. (And my annual contribution. Reader, please note the site is free to use, but I love it so much I chip in to help.)
Screenshot of the target line and the actual completed runs plotted against it
Wobbly completion but I got there!

What's next?
I guess… Another year with 1000 miles? But going a bit faster would be nice. Not much, just a bit. It still has to be fun, after all.

Tomorrow (31 Dec) is a rest day, I think I've earned it. On 1 Jan I'll go for an easy 3 miler with my little loop along the river, because I try every year to set off the new year like I mean to go on. And I'll be 0.25 of a mile up on my target, of course.

Photo taken during a November 2021 run
One of my favourite routes in Belgium (photo from ‘21 but still hoping the catch a rainbow whenever I run there!)

Crickets 🦗

I know it's been awfully quiet on the blog but could Backyard Wildlife College PLEASE STOP SENDING literal crickets into my flat on a near-daily basis? Thank you!

Also, if you could not send singing crickets that chirp in the middle of the night, that would be grand.

I'd like to use the Westmalle beer glass for its intended purpose, not as a rescue dome for crickets and their massive antennae (not fully visible on this image). Maybe when I get a chance to finally have that beer, it will indicate I have time, and inspiration to write something here. I've been busy with work, putting a tenure file together, and just hiding from the world for a bit. No need to send in the crickets!

Mrs. Cricket waiting to be released outside. You can tell it's a Mrs. because of the ovipositor, the long end that sticks out at the back.

Sixth flutiversary

If you find today a bit heavy, courtesy of the one year anniversary of a certain event, you can instead join me in celebrating my sixth flutiversary!

I wrote about my lustrum last year during my lunch break, and published it right as history was unfolding, and I can't blame my readers for paying more attention at that point to US politics than my blog for once. I hope this year there are no such distractions.

I already wrote elsewhere about how learning to play the flute has made me a better teacher.

This year, I am proud to announce I am finally closing in on 700 hours of personal practice time. That's not counting regular lessons, 45 mins a piece, which puts me well over that threshold of combined fluting time. I also had 5 months time off after shoulder surgery in 2021, my longest hiatus – turns out you hold flutes at a very awkward angle and they are heavy instruments so recovery is a bear. And my flute is extra heavy: nice silver and heavy walled, for that deep sound. Nearly a year after surgery I can still get fatigued during a session, although I regularly practice for up to an hour and it doesn't hurt, unlike before the surgery. Progress!

Scale exercises
Scales in thirds

So what does (almost) 700 hours get you? I'm afraid I'm not ready to give any recitals yet. Maybe if I had started aged 12 we'd be there, but for adult learners, development is at a snail's speed. According to my teacher, though, adults have the advantage of having a more developed sense of music, and I have to admit that usually I am most frustrated because I know what the music is supposed to sound like, I just can't get my fingers and breath to cooperate and play it like I hear it my mind's ear.

I am currently working my way through the final parts of Bloch's Suite Modale, and have made a gentle dent in the first movement of Hindemith's Sonata for Flute, but I am unable to play them as a single flowing set of movements that connect neatly. For the time being, Telemann's Fantasias are in the background but I have played through a couple of them (they're fun but hard, like all the rest), and I've played a couple movements of his . Currently I have my eyes on the Mozart prize (either of the two flute concertos will do). But really, the ultimate goal is just all of CPE Bach's flute repertoire. I am not sure if I want to perform or play with other people, I am just having fun as is right now and still practicing without further incentive so we'll see. If I get round to performing, you'll hear about it here!

Out with the old, in with the new!

Squirrel jumps away from the camera with an elegant leap, on a green patch of grass.
Woohoo! Leaping into a new year!

I know there are a ton of new year's resolutions being made, and about to be broken. I have a few aspirations and goals myself, but above all, I am just happy to be done with 2021. It wasn't a great year in many ways, although I did manage to achieve some things. But rather than a retrospective of all that, I thought I'd share what I did today to help celebrate the arrival of a new, fresh start tomorrow. (To be honest, I'm pretty good at treating any day of the year as a fresh start.)

There was baking from me, and a small ton of cooking lovely food (incl. for tomorrow) from mom, with me as sous-chef providing dish-washing support. Nomnomnom!

Woman with a tie-die T-shirt placing biscuits on a baking sheet
Shortbread biscuits! (Cookies if you're in the US)

I have a long way to go before I will take part in the Great Whatever Bakeoff:

Sheet of biscuits with white sugar piping glaze
My first attempt ever at decorating with sugar glaze/piping

Dinner was our traditional new year's eve dinner: homemade pizza. When I am home, it's mom's pizza on this night or it's not 31 December 😆

Pizza with courgette slices, capers, anchovies, and sliced red pepper and cheese on a baking sheet with a pizza wheel in the background
Homemade pizza is the best

There was knitting on the gansey, under supervision of Hippomiena, the grandmother of all toy hippos:

A grey toy hippo perched on the top of the sofa appears to look pleased at the light purple knitting in progress, with a complex textured pattern, on the seat of the sofa.
Gansey in progress in foreground, hippo looking contentedly at the progress

And there was a little beer to lubricate final proceedings (writing this blog post and some more knitting, before diving into my jimjams)

Grey toy hippo next to a glass of amber-coloured beer, in a glass with a label named "Palm"
Hippomiena checks out one of the local(-ish) brews

Miracles still exist

End-to-end rainbow from one river bank to the other, against a dramatic sky threatening with rain. A long tow-path runs along the river.
Along the river Dender

This image does not look anything like Pennsylvania, and that's because it's taken along the Dender near where my mom lives. Just under four weeks ago I finally managed to make my escape from the US, and touch Belgian soil – first time back since 7 Jan. 2020. Miracles still exist, because the very next day after I got home, the news of Omikron (Omicron) broke. We all realised how just one small thing can throw off the plans that were in the works since mid-October, when the US government first gave a firm date for reopening its borders, allowing me to return after a potential visit to Belgium. The borders have remained open, but I feel the need to add "so far!"

I'll need a few more miracles: as a Belgian citizen registered with the New York consulate, a Kafka-esque situation has developed around my e-ID. I was extremely lucky a friend extracted the piece of paper from my flat in the US with the PUK code. The alternative was to send the codes to... the US consulate where my ID is issued. But (see final paragraph below) I won't be in the US for months and as a Belgian citizen I need the e-ID: to have my test results delivered before I can board a plane! Fortunately, that circular nightmare was avoided and after a trip to a nearby town hall the chip is activated. Now I need to find out where to correct my birth date for the Covid-safe ticket, because there's no online option to do that. At least I'm not in a hurry to go out dining and wining. It's also still a mystery to me how I can register in Belgium for my booster jab: the online registration sites don't even allow me to register, because my domicile is not in Belgium.

Cockroach in bed meme, text "Another day of sorting out covid-related paperwork in Belgium"
Not feeling like a full Belgian citizen when confronted with bureaucracy...

But for now, I can enjoy a well-deserved break on home soil. After our fourth pandemic semester I can feel my batteries recharging, courtesy of the exquisite care from "the mothership".

simple drawing of a person sleeping on a couch with above them a battery loading to full.
Recharging ☺️

I don't quite know when I'll be back in the US, thanks to a borked immigration system that takes ages to deal with my visa, something that used to be a 2-week process. But mom and I are enjoying our time together, and for once it's ok to have bureaucracy grinding to a halt.

Press release: Dining Facilities reopen at Backyard Wildlife College

Backyard Wildlife College catering and housing services is pleased to announce we have the green light from the state Game Commission to reopen our all our dining and bathing facilities for feathered creatures! On Friday, August 13, restrictions on bird feeders and bird baths were lifted in Pennsylvania, where our small but cute campus is located.

We are excited to bring all feathered creatures our usual weekend spread of Supreme seeds, in the tube feeder by the backdoor and at the window feeders, as of this morning.

male House Finch and female American Goldfinch at a tube feeder
Mr. House Finch and Lady Goldfinch at the feeder, in the Birds' before Times (April 2021), sharing sunflower hearts and saffron seeds.

We are trying out a new location for the bird bath, closer to the human property but more sheltered from view than the parking lot. We know they will visit when the humans are not present. It will also prepare them for the winter set-up, when the heating goes on and the bath needs to be near an electric outlet.

We congratulate all birds on successfully navigating through these difficult weeks, a big feather in their cap! In early July, health and safety concerns for feathered faculty and students at the college forced our hand, with compulsory social distancing measures leading to the closure of the dining and bathing facilities for all feathered friends in multiple states. Although the exact cause of the mystery disease has not yet been identified, the R-number has decreased sufficiently, and it appears that feeders and baths play no role in transmission. We are grateful to all affected birds for their patience and cooperation during this unprecedented health emergency. We remain, of course, saddened by the loss of so many birds, and hope that scientists may soon find an answer to the questions that remain.

We also note that the press release from the Game Commission points to the good work done by the local communities of humans in responding to emergency and health situations among wildlife, and we couldn’t agree more. From contributing to pollinator pathways and providing service stops for migrating hummingbirds, to being peanut purveyors for squirrels and now responding to the mystery disease, many humans help the wildlife in their immediate environment. Now make sure to tell the humans to get their feeders and birdbath up and running again, because the birds are back!

For the eagle-eyed among you (though no eagles attend our college at the moment), we reassure you we are observing the recommended hygiene rules and cleaning tips for our facilities.

Stay alert, save lives:

All feathered creatures should remain on guard for the feral cat prowling the campus grounds, because it is a known bird hunter. Our groundskeeper/campus safety officer tries to keep it off campus, but unfortunately the open nature of our grounds makes that very difficult. Please use your alert calls to attract attention; campus safety will respond if on the premises. (Look, it’s a one-human part-time job, we do the best we can with the funds we have!)

Back from my jollies

I'm back from my little trip! Did you miss me? Of course you did!

It was a three night camping trip at Gifford Woods State Park in Vermont, followed by a visit to a friend in Brattleboro, where I was kindly allowed to stay the night, and then another visit to a friend in Hartford, CT, where I also spent the night.

Conditions were not optimal for the fair-weather campers among us. Fortunately, I am not one of them. But I do know my limits! The first night, a few hours after pitching my tent, darkness was approaching, and so was a massive storm. I tucked everything away inside my spiffy new tent (it comes with a rainfly, still under 1kg!) or in the car and zipped myself up for the night. But within minutes, the lightning was so close and continuous I wondered if I had mistakenly checked into a nightclub instead of a camping ground. I decided that I was pitched uncomfortably close to a tall tree and it would be far safer to be inside the car than inside the tent for the duration of this thunderstorm. Just twenty minutes later I could return to my tent, which had survived its first big storm without problem. Little did I know more trials were to follow...

After an uneventful night, accompanied by the endless pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the tent canvas, an early morning beckoned. I had a little stove and gas cannister, and a bialetti, so nothing stood between me and a cup of coffee!

cartoon image of a coffee mug. Text says: Instant human: just add coffee

Except I accidentally bought coffee beans instead of ground coffee when I shopped for camping groceries earlier in the weekend 🤦🏼‍♀️ Tea it was, until I I got into nearby Killington's little supermarket for some much needed ground-up black gold.

That afternoon, I went for a "walk by car" in the wider area, because the heavens opened up again, and tested my tent's waterproof claims once again. The tent is fab.

The inside of a tent, with rain drops on the outside of a translucent cover, and a small maple leaf stuck on the outside of the tent
A very familiar view before the end of my camping trip: the inside of the tent, the outside speckled with little raindrops

When I got back, I built a comfortable little nest and dove into my stack of books. I hoped that the rain would dispel the smoke from the Canadian wildfires that caused air pollution and covered the green hills with a greyish haze, but every day it came back.

On Wednesday, no rain! I tried to go for a short hike in the woods a bit further from the campsite. Map, compass, everything to navigate. The only thing I did not have was phone reception (generally not a problem). About a mile into the path, something brown and furry, but lower than an average coffee table, turned around on the path in front of me and ran off. I couldn't quite see what it was, but we had been told there are bears in the state park and the State Forest it's attached to. Was this a (black) bear cub? Highly unlikely, especially at that size for the time of year. But then I am not familiar with bears, I only caught a glimpse of the furry thing, and IF (admittedly a big if) it was a cub, a mama bear would be around.

A landscape, depicting a river with rocks and boulders, surrounded on both banks by lush green trees
Bear-free picture, but not entirely bear-free woods.

However unlikely that scenario was, I'd rather not run into that while out on my own without connectivity to the rest of humanity, so I turned back, and explored the area around the camping site instead. I was told by people who know what they're doing Vermont-wise that this was the right decision.

Because of the rain, Vermont is not only the Green Mountain State, but also full of mushrooms:

(If anybody can help to identify these various fungi/mushroom things, please drop a note in the comments! Click on the pictures to see the larger view.)

There was also a pond nearby for fishing. Looks like it would be great for downhill waterskiing if only they'd allow it:

Panorama stretch picture of a body of water, but with a mistake in the rendering, so the water flows uphill
Oops. Something went wrong with the Panorama function on my phone!

Overall, despite the rain and the near encounter of the furry kind, I had a great time. I do enjoy being out in the quiet of the woods, even when the weather isn't that great (minus thunder and lightning). So I already booked another weekend away here in PA, to make sure I get my dose of vitamin O(utdoor), and to make sure the tent feels loved. How are you recharging your batteries?

Landscape of green meadows framed by trees, in the distance green wooded hills. In the center a horse is grazing.
Green "mountains" of Vermont
Big wooden barn, against a dramatic sky
Barn on a farm on a small road off VT-100

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