Friday, December 21, 2007

On the Journey To Swimming's Holy Grail

You might recall that I've been working on swimming's "Holy Grail", the high-elbow catch. Recently we all showed up for Master's swim practice in the morning and the pool was closed for repairs. Our coach took the opportunity to show me an exercise you can do in the gym (or at home with exercise bands) that allows you to build the muscle memory and strength into your arms to accomplish this maneuver. The idea is to keep your upper arm flat and elbow high when you start the catch, and you can verify that you're doing this with a mirror while you perform this exercise.

I'm sorry for the crack in the mirror right in the middle of my arm in these photos, but hopefully you can see what I'm talking about.

Reaching forward like your hand has just entered the water.

Make sure as you pull your hand toward you that your upper arm stays parallel to the floor and your elbow remains high. You can repeat just this part of the catch over and over until it feels natural to your muscles.

If you want, you can rotate your hips to the other side and follow through with the rest of the stroke. I like to do five catches, then a full stroke, and repeat that. You can add weight or thicker bands for resistance.

And yes, that's me as the Black Knight above (you Python fans will know from whence this scene hails. One of my 365 Days of self portraits.

It's just a flesh wound. I'm invincible!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recipe Makeover: Yummy Holiday Cookies

I took the following recipe (which is scrumptious in its own right) and made a few substitutions to make some reasonably healthy cookies that everyone in the family loved.

First off, I substituted coconut oil for half the butter. Since the cookies are coconut anyways, I think it actually enhances the taste. I doubled the eggs (because I often do when I use more whole-grain flours - it helps bind them together more and helps them rise more). For 1/4 cup of the flour, I substituted flax seed meal, and used whole-grain flour (Spelt/Wheat mix) for the rest. I upped the coconut from 1 1/2 cups to 2 1/4 cup. And I substituted xylitol for half the sugar.

Here's the original:

Coconut-Cranberry Chews


About 1½ cups (¾ lb.) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups dried cranberries
1½ cups sweetened flaked dried coconut


1. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat 1½ cups butter, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in egg, until well blended.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture, stir to mix, then beat on low speed until dough comes together, about 5 minutes (see notes). Mix in cranberries and coconut.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on buttered 12" x 15" baking sheets.

4. Bake in a 350°F regular or convection oven until cookie edges just begin to brown, 11 to 15 minutes (shorter baking time will yield a chewier cookie; longer baking time will yield a crispier cookie). If baking two sheets at once in one oven, switch their positions halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then use a wide spatula to transfer to racks to cool completely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Leaping Into the Unknown

This is looking like it might just be a Lite Tri year. Yes, Lite as in Lite beer, as in Not Too Much Of. I'm spectacularly unmotivated right now to do any kind of wintertime tri training. I have worked back up to running four miles, so that's feeling a bit more okay. Swimming is, well, there. It's always there, though, so that doesn't count for much. Bicycling - there have been some days lately where I'd love to be outside on my bicycle, even in the cold. But it seems like the amount of stuff I have to get done in those same daylight hours (the hours when, unfortunately, businesses are open and such) has been overwhelming me and I haven't made it outside. So it's grudging trainer miles on the bike. Not Much Fun. In the last few years, I've had some pretty big goals to keep me moving through the winter - marathons, Half-Irons, Iron, trying for a personal best in the Half-Iron.

I've kind of run out. Of goals, of time to accomplish them, of impetus to make new goals. I think this year will be the Year of Fun. I might do some sprints, I might do some Oly's. I might not. I might play lots more volleyball and concentrate on Karate - I played two hours of volleyball this morning after a hard karate workout yesterday (40 jumping squats - aiiiiyah) and I'm sure it's keeping me in good shape still. I know we'll be doing lots of cycling with the kids, getting ready for our big touring vacation in September.

I'll be busy with Team in Training, helping others accomplish their triathlon goals in the new year, and I'll be training with them along the way. It feels weird to read everyone's blogs with their races already penciled in for next year. Normally, I'd be doing that. But I guess I'll just have to wait and see what shakes out for me in '08.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A First On My Blogs

For the first time ever, I'm going to duplicate a post across all three of my blogs. Usually, I keep them pretty separate, figuring that athletes might not be all that interested in my vegetable-growing and chicken-farming adventures. Or that people interested in my family's unschooling days might not care what kind of swim workout I'm using these days. But this one post cuts across all lines of interest in my life. It's about homeschooling my kids and the amazing things we get to do, it's about alternative energy, and it's about teamwork and fostering a positive approach to competition. And I'm so proud, I'm not just going to post a link, I'm putting the whole thing right here as well:

So, my kids' robotics team, the Solar Dragons, went to the regional tournament last weekend. I knew that they were very well prepared, their robot was solid, they had put in a lot of time perfecting their programs, their runs on the challenge table, their research project and presentation, and I knew that they were operating as an exceptional team with respect for each other and for the other teams. What I didn't even imagine in my wildest dreams is that they would WIN THE WHOLE TOURNAMENT! Yep, that's it. They really did it!

First of all, their runs on the robot table went very well. They practiced their approach so many times that there was no fumbling or nervousness at the table, just a smooth running of all the things they needed to do (remove and replace attachments, add cargo, aim robot, select program, run robot). They had decided that they would all run their programs at the table, but according to Lego competition rules, only two of them could be at the table at any given time, so they took a tag-team approach. They helped each other out, and as each kid was done with their turn, they tagged the next.

They also faced three panels of judges. One teamwork panel that asked them questions about how they worked as a team (my favorite moments, when they asked things like "who is your team leader" and the kids said "we operate by consensus", LOL.) One panel was technical judging, where they had the kids run their programs and asked them about their programs and robot design, and a third panel evaluated their research project (they had five minutes to do a presentation, and another five minutes of Q&A - they actually knew their stuff so well, the panel ran out of questions to ask them!). When we saw the research projects of some of the other groups of kids, I knew that our kids would do really well. Many kids from school teams had used their classrooms or part of their school building for the energy audit. While this was probably technically admissible, I think the real goal from Lego FIRST League in setting this as a project for this year was to get the kids out and interacting with the community. Since our team really did choose a big and complex public building to audit, and researched extensively on alternative energy solutions, I knew they'd wow the judges (and they did!).

I am proudest of the fact that they scored a perfect 100 on teamwork. I know they're a great group of kids and they have worked so well together and have had so much fun together, it really showed. Whenever they've made a team decision, it has almost always been unamimous. I think it also really speaks volumes that we have two pairs of siblings on the team (not always the easiest to work with your own family members!) and that the kids come from different educational venues (two different schools plus some homeschoolers). They also got the highest score on their research presentation, something they've put so much time and effort into (see my previous post for a description of what they did). The got the 2nd highest score on the robot table as well, garnering 195 points with their seven mission programs.

So without further ado, here's some pics of these magnificent kids in action!

Here's the table setup in the main competition hall. Two teams compete against each other in timed table runs.

Their first run at the table, Claire and Asa work together to send the robot out on a mission to plant trees.

Time for their technical presentation. Whoops, I forgot to bring the folder with printouts of their programming. Good thing I'm a trained runner!

Waiting for their turn.

Mackenzie and Daniel get the power lines in place, the rest of the team waits behind for their turn to be tagged.

Waiting outside the presentation judging room. It was cold enough to snow and the poor kids were shivering. They're holding the photos for their research presentation.

Presenting to the panel of judges.

We were all so impressed with this kid, Thomas. His entire team backed out, but he came and competed all by himself!

We can't believe it, we won the whole thing!