The Sandhill Crane Migration

It was a beautiful, clear day when we decided to venture out to Crex Meadows for the sandhill crane migration. Although the birds were roosting further away, we did get to see them flying quite close overhead. Unfortunately, my video footage is not nearly as good as my video of us chasing capuchin monkeys, but I did take some good photos.

If You Are Here, This Is For You

If you are here, this is for you. That was the name of the one-man performance art show written by Rob Horne, which I saw it performed by Brian Ora Coya back in 1998.

I met Brian at Cleveland Food Not Bombs, where I’d show up every Sunday to help cook soup for the homeless. Brian was passing through on a two-day tour. (The second day he performed in Chicago at the amazing Hotel Kafka; read the Chicago Tribune review here.) Brian rode freight trains and did performance art, and he sold copies of photographs he took while he was traveling.

Although I’ve never wanted to hop trains myself, I was drawn to his ideas on freedom and following your dreams and finding your way in the real world, not the one that has been created for you. And yet there was such a strong sense of restlessness, discontent and longing… It was raw and honest and grating and real. I wanted to share some quotes from the script. I’ve left the typos, etc. intact to maintain the spirit of the piece.

“once, it was said of me that i showed promise, of what i am not certain, but i felt early on that this promise, in the world of those who would say such things, could only mean a slow spiritual death for me, and that if i were ever to assume the raiment of my true self that this promise must remain unfulfilled in the eyes of the world. in this way it could gain some sort of a meaning, even for me.

i have tried entering the gates of the spectacle, mingling with the guests, engaging in late night barroom confidences & drunken feats, great sudden pooltable smirks like a mongol in a mall, a haj in detroit, a flame under water. there is nothing there for me, nothing but laments, sighs and unsung dirges and from these i am tired unto wakefullness. i must leave….” [Read more…]

Yael’s Variety Hour

I’ve been inspired by Marissa Bracke’s Friday Menagerie, Havi Brooks’ Item! posts and Eric Cressey’s Random Friday Thoughts, and I want to play! I tried to come up with a good title, but words like smorgasbord and random miscellaneous came to mind, and that just wouldn’t do. Anyway, here’s my collection of random thoughts, observations and recommendations.

Life Skills
I went to Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Book Tour in Minneapolis last Sunday night. Chris wrote this amazing book called the Art of Nonconformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World and is currently in the process of visiting all 50 states and 10 provinces on a a whirlwind book tour which you should check out if he’s coming to your town. It was nice to see so many people come out to hear Chris’ message of living a meaningful life of purpose, and I was particularly moved by seeing so many young people there who are already asking the right questions and trying to figure out how to set their own terms for living–but in a thoughtful and nonconfrontational way. (I did the nonconformity thang as a teenager, but didn’t pick up on the latter part until much later in life.) Anyway, I’d highly recommend the book, and wrote a review up on Amazon.

Creative Writing
I am teaching a series of three creative writing workshops in Chippewa Falls, starting tonight, for the next three weeks from 6:30 to 8. I’ll be drawing on the work of  Natalie Goldberg, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge and Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK). I am pretty excited about helping people turn blank sheets of paper into those filled with prolific, insightful prose… in three very different ways. If you know of any other writing experts with great practices, please leave their names in the comments.

Contemporary Social Issues
I actually enjoyed the book Eat Pray Love, but I also thought this interesting article, Eat Pray Spend: Priv-lit and the new, enlightened American dream, offered some pretty thought-provoking analysis.

I found an interesting article on what is called Suburban Warrior Syndrome in Psychology Today. It describes how fantasy movies can tap into our impulse to be heroic. My favorite quote? “Quiet heroism is showing up for your child’s school play when it’s  difficult to get off work, or being honest and ethical in the face of  someone’s disapproval or scorn,” says Tessina. “That’s the kind of  heroism that really counts in life.”

Dean Rieck wrote an excellent post on Copyblogger entited 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success. Definitely worth reading.

Phys Ed
Got tight hip flexors? Check out some tips from Coach Keats on assessment and self-massage.

Wired magazine had an amazing article entitled Sex! Hackers! Embellishment! The Inside Story of the Facebook Movie. Not only was the movie fascinating, this article is so craftfully written that it made me wish I only read Wired and magazines like it.

Extra Credit
I wrote a guest post on ProBlogger, Five Ways to Prevent E-mail Overload, which you may want to check out if that’s an issue for you.

Thanks for reading and, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments–feedback on these articles or anything else I posted, interesting items you’ve found so far this week, or anything at all, really…

Book Review: The Paleo Solution

Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution has already made the New York Times bestsellers list, and was virtually sold out before it even came to print. He’s already made waves on T-Nation, Tim Ferriss’ blog and public radio and, of course, was featured prominently in Eat This: The Ultimate Food Resource Guide. I almost feel like a book review is overkill, but I definitely wanted to add my voice to the choir.

Giving up grains and dairy isn’t popular, which is why this book is so necessary. It outlines the scientific evidence for the “original human diet,” delves into the harmful effects of Neolithic foods and details the practical application of Paleolithic eating with a masterful combination of ancient wisdom and modern science.

The Paleo Solution is both informative and entertaining, comprehensive and accessible. Whether you’re a science geek or a cave dweller, there is something in the book for you if you’re interested in understanding Paleolithic nutrition, wanting to lose weight and reverse disease or are simply chasing improved health and athletic performance.

Here’s what you’ll get if you get your hands on the book:

  • The hows and whys of Paleo nutrition, written in an engaging and accessible manner
  • The nuts and bolts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and hormones (including glucagon, leptin, cortisol and insulin-like growth factor)
  • Information on digestion, insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome and other disease states, and their relationship to Neolithic foods
  • Solutions for reducing stress and controlling cortisol (primarily through sleep)
  • The recipe for the infamous NorCal margarita (not ideal, but better than gluten-rich beer or “froufrou drinks with umbrellas”)
  • Specific information on which blood markers to monitor if you’re looking to track your progress
  • A very basic workout program, specifically written for beginners or intermediate exercisers (and a list of resources for those who are a bit beyond that.)
  • A one-month meal plan, written by the amazing Scotty Hagnas (who writes awesome recipes for the Performance Menu each month, and has some cookbooks out as well). The recipes look simple, delicious and nutritious.
  • Comprehensive information on some important supplements, including what they do and how much we need.
  • A boatload of references (30 pages of them, to be exact)

I feel comfortable offering a blanket recommendation for Robb’s book because it has so much for everybody. If you’re not into the nitty-gritty details, you can simply read the overviews on topics you’re interested in. If you’re a scientist, you can geek out on the more comprehensive information included. Need some support in making the transition? That’s why the 4 weeks of meals and exercise program would come in handy. (And if you’re not sold on the Paleo diet, you’ll learn exactly which biomarkers to track before and after a one-month experiment, so you can make a more informed decision.)

If you’re a fan of Robb’s blog or podcast, you will love the book. Already got your hands on it? Would love to hear what you think in the comments.

What is Excellence?

I’ve been a bit of a gypsy the past couple weeks, traipsing around Phoenix and Tucson, my old stomping grounds. It’s been excellent to meet new people and see old friends, and I’ve been humbled by everyone’s kindness and generosity.

While perusing calendars at one of my favorite independent bookstores this past weekend, I noticed that Earth Goddess imagery doesn’t do it for me anymore. Beautiful drawings of flower goddesses, women morphing into trees or hanging out with their Earth bellies is something I no longer find resonance with. This isn’t to say that I find it less valuable or would begrudge other people their favorite sacred images, but just that it’s something I’m no longer attracted to.

When I interviewed pagan theorist Starhawk back in February 2001, I remember she told me that the political was the sacred. That people putting their lives on the line to create systemic social change were acting in a sacred manner, whether they thought of themselves as spiritual or not.

One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” This always resonated with me because habits are controllable, unlike genetics. Whether trying to achieve athletic excellence, mastery of a craft or even improve relationships, habits are key.

I’m finding glimmers of excellence in all sorts of places. A mother who I noticed apologizing for her kids’ behavior, but rather than feeling critical I was actually noting how she was masterfully deflecting all impending arguments with compassion and poise. A personal trainer who had such an eye for detail that he could pick up on problematic movement patterns in mere seconds.  A bodyworker who literally refuses to charge unless his clients are 100% by the end of the session. A street musician rockin’ the resonator, making an extremely challenging performance look easy. Fighters who show such heart and skill even in practice, never taking a shortcut, never giving up.

While traveling I found myself noticing that I was attracted to the friends I’ve kept here for a reason. They come from different walks of life and have different professions: massage therapists, acupuncturists, writers, videographers, project managers, personal trainers, EMTs, editors, teachers. But what they have in common is that they don’t cut corners. They give things their all: their work, their families… their passions. I only hope that I can live up to the shining examples all around me and find myself manifesting the bright light of excellence to others on the path.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution,” Kahlil Gibran said. And I see that more and more all around me as well. It is internal strength and resolution that stops us from hardening our hearts and enables us to let the love flow–to our work, to our families and ultimately to one another.

Here’s to excellence.

What Are Your Fitness Questions?

Coming soon! Work It: The Ultimate Fitness Resource Guide.

My most popular post to date has been Eat This: The Ultimate Food Resource Guide. I compiled over 50 different sites and divided them into categories. Recipes, food activism, miscellaneous blogs and resources were all listed, and food lovers nation-wide can check out the guide and find specific information they’re looking for. The guide was a hit because it had something for everybody, and all in one place. Fitness buffs (and aspiring fitness buffs), you’re next!

Since Eat This was posted, I’ve been asked to do the same thing for fitness-related blogs. And so I’ve been working diligently on compiling information for a fitness resource guide, but I want to make sure that it includes everything you’re looking for. So far categories include beginner programming, specific sports (Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, conditioning for BJJ/MMA, etc.), specific gyms (gyms with chalk, etc.) mobility and recovery.

The Fitness Resource Guide will include free information found online, our favorite books and e-books available for purchase, equipment to buy and/or make, standards to work up to, and ways to find all good things local. In addition to helping you find programs to get you strong and fast and local training and resources to get what you need, I’ll also throw in links for finding the best bodywork (etc.) locally, so that you can work on niggling injuries before they become a problem or manage chronic issues with someone knowledgeable.

Like Eat This, Work It will include short descriptions of each resource listed, divided by category. But I need your help. What am I missing? Please tell me what I need to include to make this resource complete–the sooner, the better! I hope to finish the resource list by early October. Please leave your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the comments. What would you need in this resource guide to make it complete? What could I include that no other fitness resource guide has?

The Three R’s: Relevance, Rigor, Relationships

I spent a couple of years teaching middle school Language Arts. Although my writing career is much more up my alley, I’ve found a lot of crossover from the professional jargon we were inundated with, specifically the three R’s: relevance, rigor, relationships.


In the world of education, this is about being able to respond to the proverbial snotty-nosed kid (and we’ve all been that kid) who wants to know when he’s going to use what you’re teaching him in his life. The trick is to make associations with real-world applications, since trying to explain the importance of abstract reasoning to a 13-year old isn’t going to fly.

In writing, this has to do with making sure that your work is appropriate for your audience, or that you pick the correct audience for your work. But it really can affect every area of your life, from what you choose to consume or who you spend time talking to, and what you talk about. There is certainly a time and a place for pure entertainment, but there’s also the ongoing work of perfecting your craft.

As a writer, I get access to some of the best minds of this generation. As a born extrovert with a wandering mind, I need to constantly to find the discipline to ask relevant questions, instead of blowing the opportunity with habitual mediocrity. I also have to touch base with people outside of my sphere of influence, at times, and get back in touch with what is really relevant for the very specific group of people I might be writing for.


As a teacher, I was inundated with a workload that was unmanageable, for lack of a better term. Many obstacles presented themselves: lack of material and equipment, large class sizes, too many classes to prep for, getting caught up constantly putting out fires and constantly changing instructions from up high. Add a constant, underlying resistance to education and it becomes far too easy to hand students worksheets or give them art projects, but what students often really need is a challenge.

In writing, this rigor has to do with the quality of our content. Pumping out mediocre articles or blog posts for cash or prizes (SEO) may seem like an effective short-term solution, but it is my opinion that readers deserve much more than that. In education and in journalism, rigor is an uphill battle.


This is probably the most important aspect of teaching and also the one in which I had the most difficulty. Although I cared deeply about my students and went out of my way to help them in individual circumstances, my primary objective was always educational.

The emphasis on being a likable or popular teacher rather than an effective one is always ripe for debate, but nobody can deny the importance of creating a climate in which students at least feel safe and respected. The crossover for this principle in writing is often behind the scenes. It is about treating sources with respect rather than using them as a means to an end.

Luckily, it is possible to both write relevant and thoughtful posts and do so with integrity, honesty and respect. It may take a bit more elbow grease and fact-checking, but the results are well worth it.

Your turn

How do you use relevance, rigor and relationships in your work and life?

Things to Watch

This week’s blog post has been brought to you by YouTube.

Navy Clearance Diver Paul de Gelder 12 months after a Shark Attack

Words can’t describe how awe-inspiring this is. One of the worst injuries I’ve seen, and an amazing comeback from a man who truly never gives up. Not for the faint of heart.

How to Be Alone

As an all-out extrovert, I’ve definitely had to learn how to be alone. It’s something I’ve avoided and now I embrace it. This beautiful video features a poem on the subject written by performed by Tanya Davis and directed, animated, shot and edited by Andrea Dorfman.

And On a Lighter Note: Advice from a Cartoon Princess

I’m hoping that this becomes a regular series. First we got advice from the Little Mermaid, and now Belle. What are we teaching our children?

Internet Soup: Articles, Interviews and Announcements

I got to spend most of last week traipsing through Chicago. Instead of sitting at home and writing articles, for three days I wandered through my long forgotten neighborhoods of Logan Square and Wicker Park, trying to remember what it was I loved so much about them in the months I’d spent there.

I saw old friends from college, which was fabulous. I got my ass kicked at Scrabble after a lovely dinner at Revolution Brewing. (Living in Eau Claire I’d almost forgotten what an evening with good food, good service and good people felt like.) I hopped on the El and spent way too much money at Quimby’s and the T-Shirt Deli. I visited a bakery I used to work at. I stayed out too late watching fights at Bellator 25. I had breakfast with a friend at the Bleeding Heart Bakery. I got stuck in traffic, couldn’t find parking and got threatened with towing.

On the way to Chicago, I took a pit stop in Madison and was treated to a fabulous lunch with someone I’d never previously met. And on the way back I drank chilled tea at Dobra with an old friend from long ago, before stopping by at a cafe to answer emergency e-mails before driving back home.

I love taking trips. The frantic post-trip attempt to catch up on all the work that piled up in my three-day absence, despite attempts at remediation? Not so much. And although I don’t have burning revelations to express in written form this week, I did want to direct you to some of my writing that’s floating around, and a few other goodies.

I’ve written about former research biochemist and current nutritional genius Robb Wolf quite a bit, and now I have an interview with him up on T-Nation. We discussed the basics of the Paleo diet and a little bit about Robb’s book, the Paleo Solution, due out next month. (Robb’s actually having a giveaway on his site; pre-order his book by Friday morning and you can win a free Nevatear heavybag).

And speaking of interviews, I also asked Olympic Weightlifting coach and Performance Menu editor Greg Everett ten questions over at Straight to the Bar. Greg’s articles in the P-Menu and around the net are some of the best I’ve seen, so if you’re at all interested in getting bigger, faster and stronger it may be worth checking out.

On the freelance writing end, I happened across these hysterical Journalism Warning Labels by Tom Scott. Everything else has a label, it seems, so why not bad writing? If you’re upset with the direction in which media is headed, you’ll love these. You can even print them out on label paper and stick them on all appropriate articles. In the same vein, Daily Finance has a very funny piece up on the Dumbest How-To Content from Demand Media.

On a more positive note, I wrote a guest post for Freelance Folder: 15 Ways to Get Inspired. This is useful for writing articles and blog posts, but for those seeking inspiration in their art or design work as well.

If you’re an aspiring magazine writer in Minneapolis, or know someone who is, I’ll be teaching a workshop on December 4th and 11th entitled From Query To Print: Magazine Writing Basics. This Saturday is the Loft Literary Center Education Open House, where I’ll give a 15-minute presentation about the workshop at 12:30, and be available to answer questions at the Literary Commons from 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Please help spread the word!

Back next Wednesday with your regularly scheduled blog post.

Power and Corruption: Can We Skip That Step?

In light of Mark Hurd’s resignation from Hewlett-Packard due to ethics violations, author Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting analysis for the Wall Street Journal on the abuse of power. Although he was quick to point out that psychological research indicates it is people who are most likable that get put in positions of power, that’s only half of the story. “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power,” Lehrer wrote. [Read more…]