Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ana's Running Tip for Marathoners

We recently heard from an alert reader who runs marathons from time to time, full 26+ mile marathons. She had been reading one of the best books on running that she had ever found, she said. The book is Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall, published in 2009. Because this reader knew that Ana Darcy was a marathoner herself, even running an Olympic marathon, she wanted to tell us about McDougall's book, which does indeed look remarkable.

The entry for the book at Amazon contains an interview with the author, which includes, in part, this question and answer:

Question: Born to Run explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world. What are some of the secrets you learned from them?
Christopher McDougall: The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.
Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. ...the most important thing I picked up from my time in the Copper Canyons [was] the understanding that running can be fast and fun and spontaneous, and when it is, you feel like you can go forever. But all of that begins with your feet. Strange as it sounds, the Tarahumara taught me to change my relationship with the ground. Instead of hammering down on my heels, the way I’d been taught all my life, I learned to run lightly and gently on the balls of my feet. The day I mastered it was the last day I was ever injured.

This was not news to us. Remember: McDougall's book was published in 2009. The description of Ana Darcy's Olympic marathon may be found on page 148 of Distant Cousin, published in 2005: "Darcy seemed to be running on her toes, not her whole foot, like the other runners."
Whether Ana learned that technique from an Olympic coach or whether it was common practice on her home planet Thomo is uncertain.

In volume 5 of the Distant Cousin series (forthcoming), we meet husband and wife thusly: "The man, a head taller than the woman, had a bandanna tied around his head. The woman had her hair tied back in a pony tail which swung this way and that as she moved. Both ran on their toes, without their heels touching the packed dirt."

What I do know is that I myself used to run, in my salad days, back in the 1960's and 1970's. (Later, I converted to bicycling.) I always ran on the front part of the foot. I never had an injury either.

If you are a runner, you might try this technique, from Christopher McDougall and the extraterrestrial gold medalist, Ana Darcy Méndez!

Distant Cousin at Smashwords (free sample includes passage cited above)

Reader Comments: 1 2 3 4 5

Meet Ana Darcy!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poem: Doing What Needs To Be Done

Ana has always had a straight-ahead manner about doing what needs to be done. That's evident from her stories, and it's also a trait appreciated by many of her neighbors. If something needs doing, say, at the local community center, she'll dig right in, while welcoming help from like-minded people.

Not everyone works this way, however. Some want to call meetings, elect officers, and talk over problems endlessly. Not Ana. A few people--we all know some--are put off by her independence and initiative.

Most likely, she learned this growing up in Thoman society, with its highly structured clan system. No matter how specialized one individual may be, all are responsible for the whole. That's probably a major difference between her culture and our own.

Ana said the poem "To be of use," by Marge Piercy, would be popular on Thomo.*

(The photo shows Ana speaking to a college sociology class.)

Poem: Caring for Others

*Sadly, a bunch of poem pages this blog linked to have been taken down. But there's a workaround!
Please see the workaround!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Rather Strange Salad

We're not sure where Ana got this idea, and we have to admit it sounds pretty weird to us. Several guests who tried it loved it and several others did not (but were diplomatic about it).

Salad recipes are generally easy to modify, so if you are tempted to try this one, feel free to improvise. We think that's what Ana did. Bell peppers of several colors, anyone?

Here's her list of ingredients:

Watermelon chunks
Fresh tomato chunks
Avocado chunks
Cucumber cubes
1 t. Cilantro (and/or basil, chives, tarragon)
1/4 t. coriander seed, ground

Dressing: whisk the following to taste and pour over the combined ingredients above:

3 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 T. balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper

See also:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Distant Cousin Separation Syndrome?

It's been several weeks since we've posted comments from readers--with the two exceptions of our extraordinary commuters and the annoyed bride--so maybe a few recent reader impressions might help convince the wavering to give these fun stories a try.

Special thanks to these readers, who took the extra step to drop us a line!

"I have started reading Distant Cousin and I am charmed. It's been a breath of fresh air."

"I finished your book! Thank you. I had lots of fun with it. Loved the very true to form tex-mex culture, loved the characters, had a great great time. I got hooked at about 30% through, then it all went flying by...But you know what I enjoyed most about it? I finished it and spent a while thinking, why I had felt it go by really quickly and why I had had such a pleasure reading it... what was it? The characters were nice sure, but that wasn't it, the story was intriguing and exciting, but why did it make me feel good? And then I knew... it's because [snipped! sorry! can't spoil it for anyone!].Thanks again! Not many books I've read like that...."

"I was just galloping through this excellent novel by Al Past on my iPod touch when BAM! I came to the end of the sample. "Oh no," I said to myself. "I thought I bought this book!" Well, I guess I hadn't, but I've fixed that oversight, and now I'm ready to race on toward the ending. Thank you, Al! Both for writing this book, and for enabling a generous sample."

"Some months ago, I swiped DC1 from [my husband's] night stand table (he hardly ever reads fiction; it's just a lost cause) and dropped it off at my mother's house. Apparently, she was recently looking for a book to distract her from the summer heat (102 today) and picked it up. She called me this afternoon to rave about it. She's really enjoying it and wanted to know all about you and find out if you had written any more books."

"I...was entertained by the unusual, always-surprising plot and the good, page-turning writing. It's hard to write simply and inoffensively for a wide audience, but Past does it very well. There's humor and suspense, as well as romance here, and just enough science to keep it interesting. I especially liked the ending, which was a natural segue into the sequels to come."

" I like this series. It's original, and entertaining. This one, in particular, is one of the few American English novels you'll find where large portions are in idiomatic Spanish. The meaning is usually translated or otherwise obvious in context. I also enjoyed the West Texas settings. Past is a talented writer with a gift for plotting and characterization. Recommended."

"Al, I finished your book early yesterday morning and I am still suffering from separation syndrome. Nothing can take its place. It is a great book! You handled everything so well, especially when you switched to another set of characters and what they are doing and thinking. The transition was instantaneous and natural. You have gotten better, smoother--and I don't see how you could improve in style or plot, certainly not in plot, which pulls the reader in immediately and keeps him there. I think I will read something really dull, with the hope that it will put me to sleep. Maybe that will help me recover from the separation syndrome. Congratulations! It is a superb adventure, novel (I don't like to put it in a category), with new depth."

A reader finds his place in the universe with the help of Ana Darcy

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Small Variation on the Méndez Family Frijoles Recipe

The traditional Méndez family recipe for frijoles, practically a staple dish in their household, is based on a recipe given by an actual chuckwagon cook who cooked on trail drives in the late 1800s. It was cited in an old edition of The El Paso County Historical Association Journal, if we remember correctly. It uses standard pinto beans, and the spices employed, not counting the peppers, are enough to perk up the most jaded palate.

Which can be a problem, if the frijoles are to be served to folks who are used to the rather blah, plain Jane frijoles commonly served by barbecue places. We had our own family reunion recently, a bit smaller than the Méndez family had in Distant Cousin: Regeneration, and barbecue and beans were among the dishes on the menu. We decided the safest course was to dial the spices back a little, leaving just enough to suggest the the colorful taste of the full recipe yet still make them stand out from the norm.

So we used the same basic recipe given here, but we halved the amount of oregano and used the barest dash, perhaps a quarter tablespoon, of comino, while keeping the same amount of garlic. And to be on the safe side, we omitted the jalapeños altogether. Instead of salt pork we used diced bacon. Everything is better with bacon. We made two pots with four cups of pinto beans per pot, and put half the bacon in each pot. We neglected to note the weight of the package, but you can be sure it was not an honest pound. More likely it was 14 ounces, or even 12.

The beans were NOT greasy. They were savory and the liquid was heavenly. The beans got many compliments. There remains, in the refrigerator, perhaps one cup of beans in two cups of liquid, and very little grease has congealed on top. They are not quite a low-fat food, but neither are they a high-fat food. One day soon, the leftovers will be made into a truly excellent soup, the making of which is also described in Distant Cousin: Regeneration.

Those who feel the original recipe might be a little too adventurous for their families might consider this slightly less spicy variation. Beans are cheap and good for you!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Update from the Commuters

It's been a while since we've reported on our commuters. To review, this was the husband and wife who drove a long distance to and from work through the mountains of Colorado, where radio stations rarely penetrate. For some inexplicable reason, the wife began reading Distant Cousin out loud to her husband as they drove. She even managed different voices for different characters, complete with accents. They loved it. Sometimes they even stayed in the car once they'd arrived home just so they could finish a scene.

The husband was kind enough to drop us a line every once in a while to report on how it was going. The first report is here.

Recently, their pace through the books has slowed somewhat, due to their taking separate cars several days a week and to the fact that their business is booming. Still, we've heard from them several times. Here's a sampling of their comments as they finished Distant Cousin: Reincarnation (DC-3):

"We met the lynx last Saturday!"

"We finished DC-3 a couple days ago. [My wife] and I truly enjoyed the ride. I liked the way you pulled [it] together at the end. [She] hit it right on with the [end].

"We start DC-4 today!!"

"I just wanted to take a moment to thank you again for DC-4! [My wife] and I have a lot of fun on the ride home. We ride together about 3 days a week now. We had fajitas last night, inspired by our Ana. [My wife] says: 'Ana is really a good cook; of course her daughter can cook!'"

"We are still in the good times.... I have to say, I admire your philosophy. The message in DC is a lesson in living, in my opinion anyway. Way to go dude!! Your fiction is like sugar coated medicine that we all need, but don't want to take."

"We are going to the (DC-4) world conference...Still! Work gets in the way."

Take your time, we say. It's good that the business is humming along. If you take enough time finishing DC-4, perhaps there'll be DC-5 by then!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Meet Ana's Favorite Musician!

We have mentioned Rebecca Pechefsky, of the Brooklyn Baroque trio and internationally known harpsichordist, before. Ana has met her and heard her perform several times, and she was kind enough to perform and record Ana's "Musical Puzzler." Another piece from her splendid recording of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier struck Ana as what the universe would sound like if we could listen to the engine.

The harpsichord might be thought of as the grandfather of the piano (or the grandmother, perhaps). It has a beautiful, clear stringy sound that cuts to Ana's heart. Now there is a music video of the harpsichord that not only does justice to the sound but is visually stunning as well, and Rebecca Pechefsky is the performer!

See and hear her perform the French Overture by Johann Krebs, right here!

(The photo shows Ms. Pechefsky's Italian harpsichord. In the video she performs on her Flemish double harpsichord. You can even follow along in some of the music!)