Yoga for the Proud 42 year-old Male

Last Sunday, I went to my first Yoga class in twenty years. My wife Steph asked me if I would go with her to a studio nearby, and I figured that might be a good idea. I’m running 25-30 pounds overweight, I could stand the exercise, and I used to really, really enjoy yoga. Of course, that was twenty years and several belt notches ago.

Still, my memories of my yoga years are good ones. I loved the classes, kept a good practice on my own for a few years, and found myself well-suited to the challenging poses. My stubby legs meant my toes were always easy to touch, and I enjoyed the casual litheness of the average twenty-something.

And besides, my wife and I were scheduled for the “gentle movement” class, which sounded like it might be for seniors and the otherwise physically infirm. How hard could it be?

Auspicious beginnings

My wife and I registered for the class and entered the studio, which featured dim lights, a faint scent of lavender, and some kind of pan flute music. We followed the lead of the four or five other women already in the studio by setting down on our mats and relaxing.

I felt a pleasant calm flow over me, and the smug appreciation that I was doing something good for body and soul. Only a couple of nights previous I was parked on the couch with a glass of wine and a box of Cheez-Its. Look how far I had come!

The instructor arrived, and with a smooth voice she guided us through our first poses. She introduced us to “Child’s Pose,” a stance which found us all tucked over on the ground in a relaxing, almost worshipful submission. “You can return to this pose if the movements get too intense for you,” she said. Pish! As if.

The more challenging poses followed, and my body responded admirably for a semi-decommissioned battleship of 42 years. I thought, “This is going to be so easy!”

It starts to be not so easy

The first sign of trouble was the sweat. Now, I don’t mind a little sweat. I think a nice sheen of perspiration is a good sign when shoveling snow or taking a brisk walk. “Hey!” says the body. “This is mildly challenging work! Let’s cool things off a bit.”

My level of sweat quickly graduated, however, from glistening patina to alarming flood. The drops were beating on the mat as I strained against my back legs in “Downward Facing Dog,” a pose I could have done asleep in my twenties. “This is a restorative pose,” said the instructor. “No it isn’t!” said the intensifying shower of sweat slickening my mat.

There was some twisting, some squatting, some triangle-ing, and something about my sit bones. Pretty sure those are on my butt or hips somewhere, both of which were increasingly sore and tender from all of the ‘relaxing movement.’

About 45 minutes into the practice, I noticed the clock on the wall to my right. It hadn’t been 45 minutes at all. It had been 20.

Revenge of the snacks

I labored on for what seemed like another twenty minutes (but who can really tell?), completely aware that all of the women around me were taking the class in stride. I, however, was a giant lump of meat experiencing pain in places I wasn’t sure were actually parts of my body. I swear to Pete, I was experiencing a ball of discomfort floating six inches above my face. Was this the undiscovered male pride chakra? Was it glowing a humiliating shade of green?

Then, once again fighting through downward dog, I noticed a smell. It was coming from my chest. I had been very careful to apply deodorant in all of the usual places, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was smelling. It was salty, with a weird whiff of… baked snack crackers?

Oh no, I thought. My body is sweating out Cheez-Its.

The dizziness hit pretty quickly after that and I soon found myself bent over on the ground in what I thought was Child’s Pose… but might just have been the aftermath of me collapsing on my face. While the rest of the class continued to explore relaxing movement, I stayed down until I was completely back in my body. I wasn’t going anywhere until I was sure that a rain of Cheez-Its wasn’t going to spill out of my shirt upon standing.

The rest of the class was a bit of a blur. I was supposed to do a standing flamingo pose of some kind where one leg was bent and the foot rested above my knee, but my interpretation involved me standing on both feet and trying not to pass out.

My favorite part was the end, when we lay down on our mats in “Savasana.” This is apparently known as “The Corpse Pose.” Another ten minutes and I may have provided a more literal interpretation.

Will I go back? I suppose I should. Will I buy Cheez-Its again? Never, ever, EVER.

You Only Yurt the Ones You Love

In the waning days of August in 2015, my family and I trekked northwest to Glendalough State Park. Formed in 1991 with acquired private land, Glendalough is Minnesota’s youngest state park and one of the few to feature the rolling prairie that dominates much of the state. Situated next to a few small lakes, the campgrounds feature a lovely mix of water, woods, and endless fields of grass and black-eyed susans. It is also popular with bicyclists due to its well-maintained and fully-paved trail system.

Those are not the reasons we traveled there. We went to go stay in a yurt.

A what now?

A yurt is a Mongolian-style semi-permanent tent structure traditionally fashioned from wood and canvas. If you were in a Mongol caravan, I suppose the yurt was a little like a pop-up camper: slightly better than a tent, but you wouldn’t want to grow old in it.

That description is more or less what we found after hiking for a mile on a rolling trail. Glendalough features two modern yurts, built with layered canvas, a solid wooden floor, and a conical roof terminating in a small plastic dome (that can be raised and lowered to regulate airflow). The one we stayed in was furnished with three bunk beds, a small family table in the center, and a wood-burning stove.

We arrived on the windiest day of the year, and were pleased to find the yurt was both comfortable and unmoving in the violent drafts. The effect was not unlike being in a deluxe treehouse, but on the ground. I half considered hanging a sign on the door that said “MARTIN KLUBHOUSE: NO ADDMITTENSE,” but didn’t think the park rangers would appreciate it.

Roughing it (sort of)

Since the site was at least a couple of miles from the nearest flushing toilet, my family discovered what kind of sad city-slickers we have all become. We drew drinking water from an iron pump a hundred yards away from the yurt. This exercise created a fondness for tap water I have never, ever felt. After three days we all had bulging biceps and a ringing in our ears from the under-greased iron contraption.

The bathroom facilities were generously entitled “vault toilets.” This is a euphemism of Shakespearean proportions. “Stinky shack built over poop chasm” is a more accurate description. The facility made relieving one’s self in the woods seem significantly less barbaric than usual.

Those features aside, the yurt experience was a lovely one. Since the wind gusts would have sent our regular tent vaulting over the treetops with us still inside, the solid structure made welcome shelter. The bedding was very comfortable, and the “YURT MANUAL” told us everything we needed to know to keep our temporary home in good repair.

The Swear Boat incident of 2015

Recreation itself was more eventful. Annie Battle Lake lapped against a shore not fifty yards from our front door. Once the wind died down, we tried our hands at canoeing and row boating. My wife took our two daughters, ages 12 and 14, in a rowboat, while I canoed with my ten year-old son.

Now Toby and I are no great shakes at canoeing, and with our conflicting personality types it took us quite a while to negotiate a peace treaty. Once we got going, though, we couldn’t help but notice that the rowboat was still close to shore while we had made it nearly to the middle of the lake.

We turned around and closed in on the rowboat, which seemed to alternate between going in circles and somehow moving backwards. Once we were close enough, we heard a profusion of swear words clouding the air. Now, since my wife swears like a sailor, this wasn’t too shocking.

On this boat, however, EVERYONE was swearing.

Not only could the three of them not figure out rowboating, Steph had decided that the humble craft was now dubbed “Swear Boat.” As long as the three of them continued to circumnavigate a stubborn patch of weeds close to the shore and no further, swearing was fair game even for the younger two.

“Can we make this a swear boat, Dad?” asked my son.

“No,” I said. “Doesn’t seem fair. Things are going too well on our boat.”

In time, they reached the shore and swapped out “Swear Boat” for “Swear Canoe,” which was a much more pleasant experience for them.   

Everybody yurts

Our nautical mishaps notwithstanding, we all agreed that yurt life gave us a comfortable base from which to slowly erase our ignorance of the great outdoors, and to spend time together as a family. I highly recommend the experience (though boating lessons ahead of time may help).

Modern Man vs. Mini-Van

I am a 42 year-old American man who drives a mini-van. I don’t feel weird about it. I like my mini-van. I would like it a lot more if it had better gas mileage, but hey, we are who we are. My mini-van happens to be a large, red, gas-guzzling vehicle that transports my children and IKEA flat-packed furniture with equal aplomb.

I’ve discovered, however, that most men don’t like to drive mini-vans. This was based on anecdotal evidence (i.e. pretty much every man I’ve asked about it) until I bothered to Google it. Then I found a study that announced “Men Who Drive Mini-Vans are Less Attractive than the UPS Guy.” Only “mail truck drivers” fared worse in the survey’s attractiveness scale than “men who drive mini-vans.”

What the heck? First of all, my UPS guy is awesome! Second, my mailman is a mailwoman. Deal with that, Kiplinger-research-associate-with-an-agenda!

My concern isn’t that the mini-van is some kind of vehicular pariah.  I would simply like to know why I don’t feel the same way.

The research, backed up by dude-bros

My conversations with other men have borne this trend out. My brother has sworn that he would never buy a mini-van, and only drove one at work out of sheer necessity. Some men must be threatened with unemployment before they will drive one.

I asked my co-worker, a responsible young man and adamant mini-van opponent, what circumstances it would require to get him in a mini-van. “If someone gave one to me, I would totally drive it.”

Ah! Makes sense.

“Until I sold it, of course,” he continued. “I would sell it right away. But I would be okay driving it until then. But I wouldn’t tell anybody I was driving it.”

Ah.

The root of my masculine tone-deafness

Perhaps one’s opinion of mini-vans is a function of gear-headedness or lack-thereof. When it comes to mechanical or automotive matters, I know nothing. My aptitude is nil. I first became aware of this fact in 1988, when I was a freshman in high school.

My father, a barrel-chested manly man who used to fashion engine parts out of scrap metal, drove a 1970 Ford Mustang fastback at the time. A very sporty car. A very manly car. Once, after my dad dropped me off at school in the Mustang, a huge athletic boy happened to be walking by.

“Your dad’s car is sweet!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, I guess” I said. “He likes it.”

“What size is the engine?” asked the young man.

My mind raced. “Ummm, V-4?” I offered, mashing facts together in my brain for an answer that I hoped would impress him.

The boy snorted (literally) and went on his way. I told my dad about the encounter later. He shook his head gently.

“Scott,” he said, “There are no V-4s, at least not in America.” He opened the hood and showed me the eight cylinders lined up in a V-shape, and gently explained that four-cylinder engines usually align the cylinders in a straight line, not a V. I then asked him what a cylinder was.

This is my automotive background, for what it’s worth.

The Prince of Ignorance or the King of Not-Caring?

When it comes to the mini-van’s reputation as the less-than-manly-mobile, I can’t decide if I’ve missed the pulse of masculine taste (again), or if I have known it all along and I just don’t care. I would like to believe it’s the latter.

Because dammit, I like what I like. I enjoy seeing over the little cars as I’m driving along, and not having to drive a mega-pickup truck to do it. Honestly, what would I do with a mega-pickup truck? Drive around a construction site until someone hoisted a pallet of cement blocks into it?

No, give me the non-threatening mini-van any day. I enjoy roominess. I enjoy pulling up next to sports cars at stoplights and not engendering a drag race. And if that puts me in the same category as UPS drivers and United States Postal Service mailwomen, then so be it. We’ll be out in our vans, getting stuff done.

The Pasty, Overweight Man’s Guide to Water Parks

My family went to a wonderful water park at Wisconsin Dells this Spring break. It was undeniable fun, and we all had a great time. Unfortunately, as a self-consciously pale and overweight man, I had to face a few personal demons in order to have a good experience. Here is a short list of my suggestions for my bigger, paler male friends to enjoy themselves while rocking a completely uncomfortable outfit.

Leave plenty of time to get a new swimsuit

If you are large and an uncomely shade of bleached peach, you may avoid swimsuits as much as I do. Do not assume that your old swimsuit will fit you. Fortunately for me, I tried on my old suit a week before we left on our trip.

My old swim trunks fit perfectly… over one leg. Apparently my old waist used to be the diameter of my current thigh. Did my old self actually eat food, or did I subsist on compliments and air?

No matter. I found a local retailer that sells swimsuits in inches instead of M – L – XL sizes, and after confirming that my waist size is a large multiplicative of what it once was, I was on my way for a week of watery fun.

Control your mental dialogue

Once at the waterpark, pale and resplendent in my new trunks, I found it critical to control my inner voice. For example, while tubing in a large, funnel-shaped attraction, I suddenly pictured a large marshmallow being flushed down a toilet.

Now is that a helpful way to think of one’s self, especially when one is on a water ride after half a pizza and two beers and is already kind of sick? No! I recast my thoughts to imagine myself as a smaller marshmallow in one of those little spittoons next to the dentist’s chair. Much more complimentary.

When I emerged from the ride, I tied a towel around my neck, let my magnificent gut hang forth, and christened myself Captain Pasty, defender of larger dudes with crippling body image issues.

Big dudes rule in the wave pool

My nine year-old son’s favorite attraction was the wave pool, which is a nice name for “Terrifying Generator of Temporary Tsunamis.” During the break times, the wave pool is a nice, calm, zero-point entry pool with lots of floating merrymakers awaiting the next cataclysm. Then an ominous horn sounds, the eight (yes, eight) lifeguards on either side of the pool stand, and all hell breaks loose. Huge waves roll forth, and a frothy mess of humanity is bashed into one another.

Sharing a float with my son, we were quickly surfed out to the shallows with the great-grandmothers and toddlers. This would not stand! I hopped out of the float, and bullishly drove the craft through the maelstrom and back into the most violent whitecaps, leveraging my weight against the pounding waves. I’m not gonna lie; I felt straight-up Poseidon-like out there, and my son whooped and hollered with delight.

Could a ninety pound pencil-neck have done that? If so, don’t tell me. My mental dialogue is on a roll.

Pale is in

As for my unnervingly pale skin… well, I’m a Minnesotan. As I stood in the water park full of Midwesterners on holiday, I felt that our collective reflectivity rivaled a square mile of polished aluminum. The building should have installed solar cells on the ceiling to profit from our glow.

Yes, I haven’t seen the sun in eight months and I’m pale… but I was also in good company, so that was much less of a concern than I thought it might be.

Fun for all ages (and sizes)

If you’re like me as a person of generous weight, reflective skin, and self-conscious disposition, you don’t need me to tell you that we should all make healthy choices in life. But I do hope that, on your journey, you get to enjoy a water park at least once regardless of where you are on the weight scale. There’s a place out there for bigger dudes (and dudettes), and we should be proud whether we’re holding fast against the pounding waves or being flushed helpless down an undeniably toilet-like water attraction.

The Internet of (Needless) Things

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Internet of Things. You may have such questions as: What is the Internet of Things? Why should I care? and Didn’t I tell myself not to read another article by Scott?

I can answer at least two of those questions. The Internet of Things (or IoT, if you want to be all acronymical about it) is the growing network of electronics embedded in commonly used physical objects. These electronic enhancements are made to increase the object’s usefulness. Since I am not even sure what I just said, let’s look at a famous example of IoT usefulness together: the thermostat.

A regular thermostat controls the heating or cooling in your house, right? (Mine does. Yours may be installed incorrectly.) A thermostat networked as part of the Internet of Things, however, can receive commands from your smartphone miles away (to cool the house before you get home) or can check the weather on its own to see if it needs to adjust the temperature (if you’re out of town, for example, and don’t enjoy having your pipes burst by a sudden freezing spell).

Yes, the Internet of Things is truly coming into its own, and the impending release of the Apple Watch will drive this phenomenon to new heights. Not only can our watches give us the time, but will allow us to talk into our wrists and not seem like we’re roleplaying a Dick Tracy comic strip.

I have a number of ideas for expanding the usefulness of the Internet of Things. Patents are pending, mostly because I don’t know how to file a patent and am much too lazy to learn.

SmartCup

Ever lift a cup to your lips for a refreshing sip, only to find that you had finished the drink several hours before? ME TOO! With SmartCup technology, however, this tragedy need not befall you.

Your wirelessly networked cup will track the progress of your drink consumption, and send you a text message warning when the fluid level in the cup has reached 25% gone, 50% gone, and 75% gone. At 90% consumption, a gentle voice will remind you to refill your drink. It will also list some of the side effects of dehydration, simply as a health service benefit.

The SmartCup will retail for a suggested price of $395 per cup. Gold SmartChalice models will start at $10,000. You’ll never go thirsty again!*

Loose Shoelace Tracker

Untied shoelaces have claimed more lives than all other shoe-related tragedies put together.* Why risk an embarrassing or possibly fatal spill? Shoes equipped with Loose Shoelace Tracker technology sound an alarm when your knot comes loose, alerting you to imminent danger and/or social mockery.

If the knot remains untied for too long, the laces send a warning to local law enforcement officials with your exact GPS-supplied location. The police officer is also sent a short lecture to give you when he/she locates you, assuming you aren’t already in need of medical attention due to your dangerous behavior.

MoodHat 2000

Sometimes, when you’re in a bad mood, there just isn’t anyone around to provide the pep talk you need. With the MoodHat 2000, this concern is a thing of the past! This fashionable ballcap watches your face with advanced MoodHat technology (batteries sold separately), and identifies when you’ve been frowning for more than 45 seconds.

Like magic, the MoodHat 2000 will pipe encouraging comments in your ear such as:

“You are one special guy/gal!”

“You sure do look good in your MoodHat 2000!”

“That step was the first step toward a better life! So was that one! That one, too!”

If your frown persists for more than five minutes, the MoodHat 2000 dispatches a flying drone to drop confetti and party hats in your path. This is virtually guaranteed to put you in a better frame of mind.

The future is here, with even more future coming after that

I know these ideas are amazing, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Chronic thirst, unsafe shoes, and frowning are the defining challenges of our era, and the IoT will certainly help us solve those and many other problems that we don’t even know we have.

* May not be true.

Emerging from Purgatory: School Band Music

An odd feeling settled over me while attending my eighth-grade daughter’s band concert. I had just sat through the seventh-grade performance, which was… unique. Brave. Exploratory? I’m at a loss to describe the quality of the show, but it was truly something only a parent or a grandparent could enjoy. Having no participants from my gene pool in the earlier performance, I was transported back through years of attending band concerts and recitals, and noticed a pattern.

Cheering our budding musicians with relentless, false hope

These shows are simultaneously wonderful and terrible. And of course, they should be. During the first fifth-grade concert where the band works up to a grand finale of “Hot-Crossed Buns,” these poor children have had a maximum of five months playing their instruments. It is unreasonable to assume that their performance will more than occasionally resemble music are we adults know it.

The only thing more fun to watch than those fifth-graders creasing their brow over the simplest of melodies is their genuine surprise at the applause. From there, a great many of them are hooked. They are prepared to take their entire families through a veritable purgatory of song.

Oh, Muses! What have we done to thine aire?

I have attended band concerts since that first fifth-grade show with a potent mixture of resignation and daydreams. You can see it in the parents and grandparents at any one of these events; the reason that so many of them are taking video of the event is not out of a sense of duty, but to give themselves something to do. If an adult is not mentally engaged during the low points of these musical events, there’s no telling what brain damage the sound could cause.

And what a sound! Drums clatter in rhythms counter to each other and any control the conductor hopes to achieve. The flutes are a half-measure behind. One valiant trumpet player is carrying the rest of her huffing cohorts, and the French Horn corps has tacitly agreed to only appear to be playing along. The result is a patchwork of cacophony, a stuttering stop-start of missed cues and squeaking woodwinds.

Elementary band directors should each get a Nobel Peace Prize on a weekly basis.

Four years later, the clouds begin to clear

Still, with a parent’s pride and a martyr’s sense of duty, I have attended each of these concerts without fail. And this week, something unprecedented began to happen.

The eighth-grade band launched into Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain after a student introduced the piece by calling it “That other famous song from Fantasia.” As I settled in for a protracted mental vacation to the Bahamas, my ears were assaulted with… a completely recognizable fanfare leading into the introduction of the dramatic piece. Tympanies rumbled! Low bass horns blared in support of the trumpets’ climbing flights! Woodwinds didn’t squeak!

As the band leaned forward into the faster movements, a snare player kept the band in lock-step with capable, chugging rhythm. Flutes trilled and threatened, and the bass drum rumbled like a mountain full of angry dwarves. I thought to myself, What is happening in this concert space? It’s getting downright Russian up in here!

Whether it was the cumulative efforts of all of the patient band directors before them, or simply a good few rehearsals… I was blown away. It was the first time I would have enjoyed a school band concert whether or not my child was involved. My heart swelled with pride.

What have we learned?

There will be dark times, band parents. There will be moments when the bellowing practice from the bedroom or the early drop-off into a maelstrom of tuning instruments will make you wonder: should I level with this kid? Should I tell him that I’m done listening to Stars and Stripes Forever being inexplicably morphed into some kind of avant-garde jazz death march?

The answer is no. Because someday, years from now, your child may help to create a sound so glorious that you might weep a little. It will be good, and not in an ironic or “incrementally better than last time” kind of way. It will be music. And your patience will have been a part of its creation.

Wintering in a Wonder Walking Land

Shackleton visits Minnesota in winter.

After complaining for much of the winter of 2013-2014 (with good reason), I made a solemn vow that I wasn’t going to be such a crybaby if the winter of 2014-2015 was equally treacherous. I decided to continue my summer tradition of daily lunchtime walks into the winter months, regardless of what the weather is like on any given day, hoping that would toughen me up a little.

The early onset of subzero temperatures in November tested my resolve, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time. Here are some of the lessons I learned while walking through the tundra.Continue reading →

What I Learned from Sibling Roughhousing

With Thanksgiving safely behind us, I reflected this weekend on what I enjoy most about spending time with my siblings (two brothers and a sister). Things have changed since we’ve grown older and more frail, and chief among those changes is that we no longer “roughhouse.” I define roughhousing as “beating the crap out of your sibling in the presence of parental supervision.” If parents (or other authority figures) are not nearby, then roughhousing may degenerate into a full-on beatdown. Of you. You wussy.Continue reading →

Does Your Culinary School Need a Team Name?

When culinary schools need mascots

It has come to my attention that most culinary schools don’t have athletic teams or mascots. How can this be? Culinary arts students are missing out on a crucial aspect of college life: a team to rally behind (or, in my college experience, totally ignore).

Since I’m sure that culinary school deans everywhere will read this and realize their error, I have provided a list of possible team names, mascots, and battle mottos that can be used immediately. Bon appetit!Continue reading →