Monthly Archives: November 2011

The art of remaking me

If only it were this easy.

Caterpillars have it easy; weave a cocoon, go to sleep, and, voila! wake up a butterfly. I, on the other hand, have my work cut out for me.

My ten-day fast was intended, not only to cleanse my body and short-circuit some bad eating habits that had developed, but also to give me the chance to “strip down to the chassis” and start over. Before the fast, I wavered between 156 and 158 pounds; about ten pounds over the ideal weight for my 5′ 7-3/4″ frame; most of the extra was around my waist. I wanted to take the extra strain off my legs and come out of the fast ready to become stronger, faster and more durable.

Yes, this was an all-out declaration of war on Father Time. And, yes, I know it is a conflict I will ultimately, some day, lose. But there a lot of battles that I can win before that day comes.

Eight days have gone by since the end of the fast. My strength has grown every day. On each of those days, I’ve added additional core exercises and reps, started doing push-ups, ate healthier… and I feel better than I have in a long, long time. The arthritis in my hands has still not returned. My legs are still pain-free. I have returned to what I consider my “ideal” weight of 147 pounds (from a low of 141).

My run yesterday was everything I hoped it would be at this stage; ten relaxed miles that did not feel as fast as they were. My stride was lighter and smoother and the pace was quicker than any run since my marathon on September 17 and this run was easy. A 3:15 Boston marathon is within my grasp if I stay the course.

I am struggling mightily (and, in part, unsuccessfully) to avoid falling back into the black-hole of snacking. For now, I’m managing to stick (mostly) to healthier whole nuts, but I know I have to dig deep and find the discipline to limit even these to healthy-size portions. And there are some good habits I would like to acquire, mostly having to do with stretching and self-massage, things that I know can help me stay injury-free.

All-in-all, I am pleased with the rebuilding project so far. There may have been a bent nail  here and there; some of the walls still need to be squared-up. But I’ve squeaked by the first inspection and hope to do better on the next one.


Filed under Fasting and Health, Personal, Running

236 pages and a QR code

Zhminnan wiki url qr code

A couple of important milestones on the way to the release of Harvest of the Heart were passed today. I approved the digital proof, got the page count (and therefore the spine thickness), and uploaded the final, high-quality PDF of my cover. Now there is only one important step remaining before my debut novel will be officially on the market. Sometime in the next two weeks, I’ll receive the actual physical proof of my book. Once I approve, it will only be a matter of a day or two before my book is on Amazon for all the world to buy. To say the excitement is building is an understatement.

And something else pretty cool happened today. When I got the final PDF of my cover, it had the ISBN/Barcode on it, as well as the QR code that I generated. I was able to hold my Blackberry in front of the book cover image on the computer screen, scan the QR code, and my Blackberry was directed to How amazing is that? When my book eventually reaches libraries and book stores, any person with a smartphone could scan that code and find out so much more about the author than could ever be squeezed onto a book jacket. You can publicize new releases, personal appearances, special offers… a whole host of mobile marketing potential is available through that little box of black and white squares.

If you are an author and have the opportunity, it would be well worth your time to get a QR code of your own, link it to your author website, and include it wherever you can. The QR code generation and image production didn’t cost me a penny. The only expense I had was in the time I spent researching and setting it up. Google “free QR code generation”, it’s easy.


Filed under Publishing and Marketing, Writing

Writing Fear

Now that I am a famous chef with an original recipe that has been studied by thousands (or at least glanced at by dozens), I feel obliged to occasionally use cooking analogies in my blog.

Fear, in all its myriad forms, is to writing in the way spices are to cooking – a basic and necessary ingredient.

Whatever genre you read, or write, fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter; I propose fear as an elemental force that is common to them all. Racing to the most extreme example, even those syrupy-sweet, unrelentingly-positive, “life is beautiful if you’ll just think like me”, self-help books have overcoming the fear of ultimate failure at their core.

As with the potency of spices, fear runs the gamut from very mild to “sweat-pouring down your face and your body roasting in the fires of hell.”

Why the sudden interest in fear? Apart from the fact that the genre of my first book is heavily-seasoned with fear, an incident on the Friday after Thanksgiving brought a new fear into my life. The temporal distance of two days has allowed me to look at what happened with a small degree of detachment, and I hope to use what I went through to better understand the nature of fear.

My daughter gave birth to my fifth grandchild three weeks ago. The joy in our household had been continuous and unbounded for twenty-one wonderful days. The deep contentment that I feel holding my infant grandson is one I’ve felt before; holding my other grandchildren and my own children before that. It is an assurance that life will go on… my life, through them, will go on.

On Friday afternoon my son-in-law, Sid, came up to me moments after I had returned from a run and, with the words “Carrie’s in trouble”, triggered a nightmare. Carrie delivered her baby naturally, with no medication of any kind. She is as tough as they come. To find her crumpled in pain, barely coherent as a result of the agony she was suffering, was terrifying. The range of symptoms she exhibited were even more frightening; severe back and abdominal pain, very low temperature, pale and clammy extremities. A frantic google search turned up dire possibilities.

When she began to have trouble breathing, only a father’s protective instinct kept me functioning. I made the necessary calls, answered questions, passed along instructions… and kept things as calm as possible. Once the ambulance arrived and rushed her away with Sid at her side, the prop of fatherly instinct was kicked from under me. From the edge of the abyss, I viewed the blackness that awaits a parent whose child is taken from them.

Empathy is part of my nature. I believe it is what allows me to write realistically from a variety of viewpoints. It gets me “inside the head” of my characters. This wasn’t empathy, this was fear, the real thing. Trembling that clenched fists could not stop, breath that hitched, caught… and stopped, leaving me gasping for air; tears that welled and spilled down my cheeks. Fear of this flavor had never touched me before and it was powerful.

In the end, my daughter was fine. The attack, or whatever it was, passed as quickly as it came. She came home from the hospital smiling and embarrassed. The cause of her ordeal wasn’t discovered and that doesn’t bring much comfort. Her cheery resilience leaves us with little choice but to forget the incident and move on.

My fear has been stored away. But now, when one of my characters is faced with, or endures, a heart-shattering loss, I will not only empathize… I will remember. The spice I add will be all-natural, home-grown… and potent.


Filed under Personal, Writing

Happy Thanksgiving, Have a Dream

Meet “Pokie” Williams, born seventeen days late to an unwed, welfare mother in a hardscrabble East Texas town. As a pig-tailed fifth-grader, her winning smile and bright determination convinces a wealthy Texas industrialist to replace the crumbling auditorium at her elementary school. While just a freshman, she starts an academic club that, by the time she is a senior, has transformed her failing high school into the top-ranked school in the state. Pokie is destined to become the first woman President of the United States. But she carries a dark burden, and a malevolent force stands in her way.

I encountered Pokie in a dream last night. Her story, is in some ways, the reverse of Stephen King’s Dead Zone. Yet another book I hope to have the opportunity to write, should “Harvest of the Heart” give me the chance.

On this Thanksgiving, besides my health, my wife, my kids and my beautiful grandchildren… I am thankful for my dreams.

May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.


Filed under Personal, Writing

A Chance to Start Over

It is difficult to reflect upon the past ten days because I am now eager to discover what the next few weeks will bring. I have a chance to change my eating habits, re-form my body and recharge my running as result of this cleansing I’ve undergone.  The post I really want to write will focus on the future – my expectations and my goals. But I promised an honest reflection on my experience and so here it is:

This fast was not hard. You might find that difficult to believe, but it is true. My memories of the hunger in the first few days, the mild headaches, the cravings and other minor side-effects are already fading. They vanish like the memories of pain and exhaustion during a marathon in which you cross the finish line exhilarated at achieving some long-desired goal.

Now I am going to qualify that “not hard” statement. Refusing to eat was the easy part. As I said in an earlier post, I even felt like I was cheating when I ate the few calories that I was allowed in order to partially fuel my daily run. Lots of things were challenging during the fast, but skipping meals wasn’t one of them.

“Give it up!” you say. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

And you are right; I need to come clean on the hard stuff. At times, the running was physical and mental torture. I tend to look on the bright side in my Dailymile posts, but here I’ll be completely honest and say that, while I was doing it, sometimes it really felt insane to be out there running at all.

Other negatives:

The sleeplessness of the first few nights was hard on my wife and left me more drained during the following day than I really should have been. This put a crimp in my enjoyment of some of the positive effects of fasting.

For almost the entire fast, I had a very low-level pain or tightness across the front of my body between my shoulder blades and under my neck. I got used to it and it often went unnoticed.

And yes, I was tired for most of the ten days. I attribute this to my running, which consumed a lot of calories and kept my body from fully engaging its “hibernation” mode. Maintaining the high level of mental and physical energy that I was asking was a strain. A lot of people who do these fasts report an elevated energy level and I did have periods of that, but they were not long-lasting.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had to wear a lot of clothes during the fast. My body did not want to waste any calories keeping me warm!

But that is it, and so I am in a quandary; a delicate situation where I want to be careful about what I say about the positives of the ten-day fast that I concluded last night. Many of the comments I received during the fast were in the line of “Fine for you, but I could never do that.” How can I disagree without encouraging a person to do something that, if not done properly, has serious health risks? Hence this disclaimer: If you have a screw loose like me and my posts have made you consider a fast such as this, do so for your own reasons, after careful research and at your own risk. Google things like “fasting for health” and “negative effects of fasting” and make your own decision.

On to the positives! The primary, overwhelming and, to me, most miraculous effect of this fast is the elimination of almost all joint and muscle pain in my body. The laundry list of aches and pains I have accumulated at fifty-five years old include: achilles pain, knee pain, IT band soreness, arthritis/stiffness in my fingers and wrists and a variety of other tiny ailments that bother me every so often. When you start getting old, you learn to accommodate and ignore this stuff. A lot of you are in the same boat, I’m sure.

I am working at the computer now and my hands feel better than they have in years. I can massage my achilles tendons and feel no pain at all. All of the little bodily burdens that I usually ignore…  seem to have disappeared. Once again, part of this is attributable to the reduced strain on the joints, tendons and muscles as a result of the lost weight. But I am now a true believer in the cleansing and detoxification effects of fasting.

Another positive is the increase in mental toughness I believe have achieved. It should mean good things for my running. Leadville again? Maybe. Maybe more.

Although losing weight wasn’t the purpose of the fast, the sixteen-plus pounds have allowed me to start over; to rebuild. Imagine you are a skinny sophomore in high school wanting to develop into a strong, fast athlete. I’m now at the same weight at which I started high school. Yeah, I am getting carried away here, but I feel like I have that chance again. If I eat right and follow the right exercise regimen, I can, even at fifty-five, be strong and fast again.

I have also felt very productive these past ten days. Not preparing and eating meals certainly gave me extra time to get things done. New ideas for stories and blogposts were delivered regularly into my mental inbox. So much so that I need to resist getting carried away with my posts. I’m learning to store them for a rainy day.

Getting the chance to improve my act from an eating/nutrition standpoint is another big plus. All that junk is cleared out of my system. It is up to me to keep it clean. This one will be the hardest to sustain. Even ten days is not enough to rewire my brain. I still love all the food I used to love. All that stuff that I KNOW isn’t good for me. And, despite the fast, despite Leadville, despite all the hard things I’ve done in my life, I’m not as strong as I’d like to be, especially in this area. How can I go ten days resisting all food and not be able to resist the bad stuff? It’s different, believe me.

As they say, I could write a book…

Needless to say, this post has gotten too long. Where’s my editor?

In conclusion (really?) I’m certain to do this again. Maybe it will even become my annual “Fall Cleansing”.

Feel free to comment or ask questions


Filed under Fasting and Health, Personal, Running

Ending the fast with Mike’s Red Everything Soup

My fast-breaking meal (not the whole pot of course!)

The people spoke and I listened. My poll to choose the meal with which I would break my fast garnered almost 100 votes. The winner by 13 percentage points was the homemade vegetable soup.  After looking at a handful of recipes online (and not writing anything down!), I had a fantastic time gathering ingredients and cooking. I started early in the evening when the soup had a comfortable lead in the poll. It narrowed somewhat, but was never seriously challenged.

Because of the large red beet, the broth and many of the vegetables end up tinted a bright red. I can picture this served in green, decorative bowls and being a beautiful and delicious appetizer for a fancy Christmas dinner.

My recipe is entitled “Mike’s Red Everything Soup” and I am slowing devouring a small bowl of it as I write this post. It is the best vegetable soup I have ever tasted. (So says a starving man.) I used pretty much every vegetable I could find in our pantry or fridge.

Ingredients:       Notes:  1. None of the vegetables were peeled, just scrubbed thoroughly. 2. All sizes and measurements are approximate. In other words – I guessed at most everything!

6 cups of water                                                                       1/2 cup+  sliced mushrooms

1 large red beet cut into 1″ cubes                                                      1/4 cup brown rice

2 large potatoes cut into 1″ cubes             3/4 Tsp onion salt (or 1/2 med. onion)

1 large carrot cut into 1/2″ chunks                                                          1 teaspoon salt

1 small zucchini cut into 1/2″ slices and quartered        2 chicken bouillon cubes

2 medium broccoli crowns cut into bite size pcs.                                1 Tsp olive oil

1 stalk of celery, sliced 1/4″ thick                                                1/2 Tsp black pepper

1 healthy handful of fresh baby spinach leaves            1Tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 medium tomatoes cut into bite size chunks                         1/2 Tsp minced garlic

1 can of green beans (or 1-1/2 cups fresh)        A healthy sprinkle of parsley flakes

1/2 large green pepper cut in small pcs.               A healthy sprinkle of basil leaves


1. Combine water, beets, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, the bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce, and all of the spices in a large pot, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for as long as you want, (but at least 45 min to 1 hour). I cooked this soup for a total of three plus hours, so that all the vegetables would be soft and easy to digest. This what you want coming off of a fast. You may want to adjust the cooking times to suit your taste.

2. Add the broccoli and celery after 45 minutes. Continue simmering for another 45m to 1 hour. (Add green beans & onions now if fresh)

3. Add all remaining ingredients and simmer for another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

This should serve 8-12 people with some left over. That is unless everyone comes back for seconds!

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Filed under Fasting and Health

So many choices! What to do? Have a poll!

If you haven’t been following my crazy 10-day fast during which I’ve extended my running streak to 45 days, you can catch up by clicking on “Fasting and Health” or “Running” in the Categories on the right column.


Filed under Fasting and Health, Personal, Running