Strange Fruit : Racing for Real

ravenswood run

Yesterday morning, I ran a 5k. More specifically, it was the Ravenswood Run in Chicago’s newest yuppie neighborhood. With doggie yoga shops and puppet shows for canines abound, this several block stretch of cobblestone is a winning lukewarm combination of inauthentic Thai restaurants (read: Polygon Cafe) and upscale dive bars (@mosphere).

The race was sold out this year. 3,499 runners and I were feverishly doing our last-minute stretches at the starting line. Earbuds were in, scaredy-cats were out. As we began our slow progression through the shut down streets, it struck me how bizarre it was to be doing the exact same movements as so many other humans with the aim of finishing first, with no other true motivation than personal glory and accomplishment. ravenswood run starting line

Yes, the race benefits the local food pantry and Episcopal church, but people participate for their own reasons. Community, health, goal-setting, companionship, boredom. I like the competitive aspect of it all. This particular event spurred me to set a personal record despite the fact that I drank too many liquids beforehand. I pushed that thought out of my mind as I kept pace with a lady wearing a neon orange sports bra, her skin a wrinkly reminiscence of tanning salons and leisurely pregnancies.

As we fidgeted impatiently before the 8 AM foghorn, the announcer asked us to give a prayer before we ran. It was unclear whether it was to honor the Boston Marathon victims or because the run was affiliated with the Church. Either way, I looked around and wondered what it would be like to live in a truly secular society.

Crossing the finish line, I saw crates upon crates of ripened bananas, big boxes of bottled water, paper cups overflowing with Gatorade, and gooey complimentary cinnamon buns further down the street. Why not have water taps ? Don’t they know that you don’t need electrolytes after running a 5k ? What did they do with the extras ? You would think the food pantry got them, but it’s hard to tell.

After I got my gear and changed, I opted to make breakfast at a friend’s house instead of paying $10 for mass-produced pancakes soaked in syrup. They could have been tasty, but I’m skeptical. Have you noticed ? Although it felt good to finish the run and know I did something to help the community, I think next time I’ll try and do something a little less high-impact for the sake of my joints. That, and eat less salt.

Wall to Wall: National Geographic Goldmine


My humble abode used to be plastered with images. Each section of the walls in my room was dedicated to a theme : pinups of women from fashion magazines, breathtaking landscapes, giant posters, inspirational quotes, and a shoe collage. As time went on, I cared less and less about clothes and materialistic items, so I tore down the fashion and shoe smorgasbord. The National Geographic photos stayed because they provided an escape for me when I stared at my walls (which I still tend to do), begging them to take me somewhere else.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

Nowadays, my decorating scheme is minimalistic. I have a small, geometrically-shaped arrangement of volcanoes and constellations from National Geographic, a few postcards from my travels, a couple photos on my bookshelf, and the Desiderata quote next to a dry-erase calendar and a cork board.

Instead of visual chaos, it’s visual stimulation. Whoever walks in to my room should feel at ease when they look at the palm trees on my curtains and the coral reef fold-out above my bed. The last thing I want is for them to cower due to sensory overload.

My sanctuary is the ocean waves crashing over the Caribbean sand. I’ll be there someday soon…

Holistic Healing


Serendipity is not dead. And I don’t mean the romantic kind, either. On my way in to the gym today, I sauntered over to the complimentary massage corner and asked the masseuse his name and if he would be finishing up soon. He smiled and said he was almost done. His name was Michael. I could hardly wait to get the tension out of my body.

Michael took 15 minutes instead of 5 because he said I had so much heat coming off my neck and shoulders. There’s something to be said about feeling the energy of another person when your bodies interact. Michael told me that heat was coming off of my torso in waves. Educated by a naprapath, he attended the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. He chopped my back and arms while using traditional Chinese massaging method that he claimed would simultaneously prevent carpal tunnel, loosen the joints, and relieve stress.

It was a glorious 15 minutes. After the session, Michael advised me to go out and buy some Epsom salt. The magnesium, he said, would loosen my muscles and prevent me from being sore tomorrow morning. From my limited kinesiology background, I knew he was right. He also said it was important to drink a lot of water to hydrate my muscles before and after the workout. There was a lot to talk about–I mentioned Amos Soma’s book Stretches in Bed and Tough Like You, must-reads for any health and wellness experts. Holistic health is not just a fad, it is a legitimate alternative for people who are disappointed in their Western medical practitioners. Skip the chiropractor. Educate yourself.

Stretches in Bed

Amos Soma

The AlchemistPaolo Coelho’s book The Alchemist says that if you want something badly enough in life, all the world will rearrange to help you achieve your dream. Maybe that is what’s happening here. My dream of helping people get healthier minds, bodies, and spirits by spending less time in front of screens and more time in the natural world is slowly becoming realized. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’.

Eastern medicine gets a bad rap, but the truth is that it treats the root of your illness instead of the symptoms. It looks at the entire picture. Western medicine has its triumphs and benefits, but for those of us that are looking for a different path, holistic health is a credible alternative. Chinese medicine is rooted in a tradition that goes back much further than anything we have in the West. It has been tried and true for centuries, so giving it a try will not hurt anyone. What do you have to lose ?


Down with Food Porn


My greatest internet weakness is food blogs. See, boredom used to propel me to go on my WordPress reader and RSS feed to check out the latest dishes random people had made in their kitchens, and then proceeded to devour. This was me trying to be rational, trying to counter my consumer impulse to buy by eating with my eyes.

Is it possible to be addicted to food porn ? Yes, yes it is. At my last job, I would send my boss links of food porn weekly until he said I had an obsession. He wasn’t half-wrong; I would look at pictures of dishes and discover new recipes until lunchtime. Don’t worry, I still got my work done. Instead of schmoozing on Facebook, though, I would look at creative concoctions and send them to people, hoping they got the hint and that some fresh pumpkin tiramisu would be waiting for me when I came over at the end of the week.

So eventually, I realized that my boss had a point. This was an odd hang-up. It would be a better use of my time to find things that contribute to my well-being instead of leaving me disappointed with the lack of gourmet goodies in front of me. The technological addiction had a deeper root, as well.

Victor Frankl says that we are driven by our most basic desires when our lives are lacking meaning and purpose. I pondered my situation and realized that outside of my 9-5 existence, I was not helping anyone or working towards a larger goal. I vowed to dedicate my time spent staring at aioli casserole and cayenne chorizo to making some kind of difference in my community. I was arrested in development, too focused on my own little bubble and not enough on the world around me. Once I got home, I enrolled in a volunteer program and started tutoring people. Ever since, I’ve been enjoying my food more and salivating in front of screens less. That, in my book, is progress.

Running Away from Home in the Rain can Soil a Reputation


Home is unknown and vague, like crashing waves after a rain. The power is enough to make me remember all of the houses in which I grew up, all of the towns and cities I’ve called home, and all of the people I left behind when I moved somewhere new. Movement, change, reinvention. These seem to be the themes of my life. I have no place to call home anymore, because the domicile in which I currently reside is strange to me. I’m physically here, but my post-graduate existence is feeding in to my ‘anywhere but here’ mentality.

Soil – to make dirty. Worms crawl through the dirt we fall in as children, happy to make contact with earth and its mineral substance. Back when we were tabulas rasas, our lives revolved around catching butterflies, snack time, and make-believe. The only difference between now and then is that we walk on concrete. I’m a true believer in the effects of the mediums on which we walk. Those who walk on soil are more in tune with nature, while those who walk through the concrete jungle are pawns of that masterful steel chess board.

Rain, the most cleansing of all weather combinations. In a storm, you can embrace the sheer monstrosity of the currents, or you can sit inside dry and never experience the tempest. Nothing is as raw as feeling the thunder in the marrow of your oft-forgotten bones. It’s detox for the non-believers, rain is. Stand outside and soak it in, run through it, feel the icy pricks on your skin and know that you are alive. For the first time in a long time, flow with the gales of wind and be free, even if it’s only for a split-second.

This is your prerogative. Even with gravity and physics acting upon your body, you are exercising your free will, and no one is stopping you from rolling in the wet soil when you reach an attractive field. We’re only human, so why not indulge our animal side every once in a while ?

via marioreyes

(6 Reasons to) Throw Away Your Instant Coffee


This is about real coffee. You know, the kind that comes in the form of beans, runs through a machine (or a mortar and pestle, if you’re into that) and is freshly ground, emitting heavenly scents with every whiff you take. This is for all the people without a coffee-maker.

1) Stop punishing your taste buds. Let’s face it—real java tastes better than the instant kind. Don’t have a coffee maker ? Get a French Press. Not only are these relatively cheap and all over Craigslist, but they add more body (see below) to your blend. You can even make your own with a pitcher and a plate with holes in it. If someone asks what it is, just say you’re building a fake UFO to trick aliens into landing on your window-sill. If they show up, you can welcome them with a classic cuppa joe.

2) Buy fair trade. We are all struggling, but our struggles are more or less first-world problems. They are not so bad compared to the people who grow and harvest coffee beans in developing countries. Are you really going to miss that extra 80 cents ? Just skip dessert and buy some quality brew instead. Almost every brand has its own version of fair trade so that you can support decent working conditions and sip without guilt.

3) Consider body, aroma,  and fruitiness. These three factors don’t really matter with instant coffee, which often has fake flavoring and chemicals in it.
Body refers to the way the liquid feels in your mouth. Is it light, full, heavy, stale, syrupy, watery ?
Aroma is the flavoring in the coffee. Java is often described as spicy, while aged coffee is musty or woody with a cellar-like aftertaste. Herbal coffee is earthy and can be a bit bitter, depending on the tones. In general, the higher the altitude, the earthier the tones.
Fruity coffee is usually from Africa. It’s slightly sweet with a high acidity, and it’s not ‘chick coffee’. Anyone that tells you so is a narrow-minded coffee snob.

4) Travel the world through your coffee mug. No, I’m not talking about some Alice in Wonderland type trip. I’m talking the Andes mountains, the Hawaiian groves, the Sumatran foothills. Leaving your comfort zone has never been so easy.
Arabica blend is not from Arab countries. It originated in Ethiopia and Yemen and spread to Europe because of colonization. Some punk stole a plant from Louis XIV’s garden and hid it on a boat heading to enslave the people of Martinique. From then on, Arabica plants would be harvested by the natives in the Caribbean and South America.
Peru and Jamaica (Blue Mountain) have low acidity blends, while Costa Rica’s is much more acidic. If you have acid reflux, stick with tea.
Africa is the birthplace of coffee, but it tends to have Robusto blend because of the rough weather conditions, although it does still have Harrar, Moka, and the famous Kilamanjaro blend as well.
Hawaii’s most well-known varieties are Kona and Java, both of which have smooth, full-bodied flavor and hints of local spices.
India is famous for Mysore, which is dark, acidic, and really popular in Great Britain. Rich, thick Sumatran Mandheling is also popular with the Brits. If you’ve only ever had Arabica, you should try Mandheling–it’s the exact opposite in terms of body and texture.

5) Experience oral Kama Sutra. Aside from all the different blends, the variations on coffee are endless. From Freddies to Americanos to Turkish coffees to espressos, let your mood dictate your palatal pleasure. Just make sure to keep moans to a minimum when you’re in public.

6) Stress less. By now I’m sure many of us have read at least one study in the health section of the newspaper explaining that women who drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day are less likely to become depressed and have a longer lifespan than those that don’t, making this one addiction that might not be so unhealthy after all.