As I mentioned in my previous entry, Max came to us with a broken hip. He needed surgery, a hip replacement actually. I asked the vet if he’d been hit by a car, he said no, it’s a point of impact injury, as stick or a bat or something along those lines. I can’t believe there are people in this world that can abuse an animal like that. For about the first year he didn’t like people with sticks. He’s over it now.

His hip came out beautifully. I love our vet. He’s a top notch surgeon, and great at all the other stuff too, and the office is so animal friendly hat Max actually like going there. When I turn on a certain street he knows were headed to see Dr. White and he gets all excited.

Here he is looking all manly at the beach…There’s a lizard in that crack and I want it.      (Alabama Hills, California)

 

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MAX SOLEM

Max came to us through a friend. He was about a year old, and our friend took him away from a bad situation. He had a broken hip which had healed badly, so one of the first things we had to do for him was to have hip surgery. Here he is all dressed up for his first New Years party.

 

Visualize:

Imagine something. To form a visual image of something in the mind.

Create a positive mental picture of something. To create a positive mental picture of something such as a desired outcome, in order to promote a sense of well being.

 

We visualize all the time. When I start to clean up a messy kitchen I see, in my mind’s eye, a clean and attractive space. When I’m packing my truck for a trip to the mountains I look forward to being there.

Visualization is the first step toward achieving what Pilates called the mind-body connection. Visualization can be done before the action we are preparing for. For example, it’s common to see a boulderer standing in front of a rock moving her hands in the air imagining, visualizing, the sequence of moves she will do as she unlocks the problem she faces.  This kind of visualization can also be communicative. Say you have two boulderers studying the same problem. Now they are both moving their hands about as if they are climbing, but they are showing each other different possibilities, often quite enthusiastically.

Not all sports allow for such a demonstrative style of visualization as climbing. But an athlete in the locker room before a game can rehearse plays in his head. He can see himself eye to eye on the line of scrimmage.

I had a teacher who made a great analogy:

 Doing something without mental preparation is like trying to jump on a moving train while you’re standing still.

But how about visualizing our movements in real time as we take action. Seeing ourselves catch the ball as we do it re-enforces our chance of success. If this seems like a stretch, think about the opposite, seeing yourself drop the ball as you are in the moment of trying to catch it. 

I’ll try to describe this from a climber’s point of view. Movements are seen in the mind’s eye as we are performing them. We’ve all heard someone say “it was like I was on the outside looking in”, or I was “in the zone”. At the risk of engaging in psycho-babble, I’ll suggest that such an experience can be transcendental.

 

Some thoughts on motivation & progress…

Like many athletes I have a lot of personal experience with rehab; the process of mending the body and regaining strength following injuries, surgeries, and illness. The bad news about being in rehab is that it means something nasty happened. The good news? Rehab is the road back to health, and the process can be a great learning experience.

If I ask a group of people what fuels motivation I’ll hear things like enthusiasm, drive, and goals. We might talk about inspiration and incentive. But few things fan the fire of motivation like progress. Working at something with no gains will wear down even a highly motivated person. So as a teacher, an athlete, and a person with physical challenges this means I have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to be aware of even the smallest gains, both for myself and others.

It’s easy to see our progress when it comes readily. In training or rehab we experience periods when we advance well, and there are plateaus when progress seems to come to a halt. The more slowly we progress the more difficult it is to be aware of our gains, and eventually motivation fades. Looking at the big picture is overwhelming, so the key is to invent tools for measuring the improvements you can’t see in that big picture.

Using my own experience as an example, I got into neurological trouble in 2007 (the backstory is in my bio). The original procedure was a success, a year later I was climbing well and living well. But unexpectedly I developed inflammation and swelling, edema, in my brain. It was a real blow. One symptom was the loss of strength and dexterity in my left hand. I lived on dexamethasone for part of the summer; I was in a bloated stupor. My left arm was visibly atrophied, by then it was more than just a hand problem. Other muscles on my left side were not recruiting properly, if at all. But as the edema subsided I began to feel some improvement.

At first I responded well to exercise and my progress was good. I was confident that I could get back to 100%. Then I hit a plateau. If I was making any headway I was unaware of it. All I could see was that my left hand was impaired, I couldn’t climb, I was having weak sessions with my Pilates teacher, I was not recruiting those left side shoulder stabilizers, leaving me vulnerable to injury. I was looking at the big picture and I was overwhelmed, working away with no measurable gains. I was getting worn down, even depressed.

I am lucky to live in Monrovia, California, which is also the home of Yoga teacher Kate Garland. Kate taught me a practice of finger dexterity exercises which is quiet, meditative and centered on one’s breathing. Quickly I was freed from the frustration I was experiencing by doing finger therapy in a less mindful way. Frustration gave way to awareness and I began to see the incremental improvements I was making. My sensation, proprioception and dexterity were getting better. These simple, quiet, mindful sequences were the tools I needed to become aware that I was indeed getting better. I approached the other sides of my rehab the same way.

I invented specific reproducible routines which were benchmarks for progress and awareness. I was able to step back from the blindness of frustration and instead draw motivation from even the small bits of progress from one day, week and month to the next.

My situation was unique, so the takeaway here is not a list of exercises, rather an approach to designing training routines for yourself or for others. When progress is coming readily (I did not say “easily”) we feel good. But the rubber meets the road when we lose that momentum and things get hard. Frustration sets in. Nothing will cause a person to lose focus and awareness faster than frustration, and its partner, anger.

What I do now is choose an activity or exercise; maybe Pilates or Yoga, balance and agility drills, or climbing. I set the difficulty at a threshold where I will be challenged. I will have to make a high quality attempt to do well. Eventually it will become easier. Then it’s time to progress the exercise to increase the challenge in increments which are achievable. This strategy enables me to see that I’m making gains, however small. The means by which these gains are achieved, with mindfulness and awareness, without judgement and frustration, makes them all the more valuable.

 

 

Needles guidebook completed

In 2008 my friend Kevin Daniels, a climber and a publisher of outdoor books, asked me if I would be interested in making a climber’s guidebook for The Needles. I thought about it, and I was confident that I was familiar enough with the area to do the project justice. “Give me two years”. I thought that was more than enough time.

I started work the next year. Finally, in August of 2016, the book went to the printer.

Click and scroll over cover for details

What took so long?  I spent lots of time taking photographs of the formations. I worked hard to get some points of view which climbers would not ordinarily see including aerials from a small plane. I collected stories and historical tidbits from Needles climbers who led the way. I researched the history of climbing at The Needles; many great climbers have contributed to Needles climbing by doing standard setting climbs. Then I set about creating accurate and sometimes entertaining written descriptions of each and every climb. The book also covers The Needles stately neighbor to the south, Dome Rock, and their sister crag standing alone to the north, Hermit Spire.

Why put so much effort into a project like this? It won’t be on any best seller lists, and lots of information about the area is available online. What can a book offer that the internet sites cannot? It can offer completeness and context.

I’m a history buff, and over a period of more than 50 years adventurous climbers have left us a rich history of accomplishments at The Needles. Early pioneers explored the wild granite spires without keeping accurate records. An occasional old piton, or a pile of stones on a summit say “We were here before you”. Beginning in 1969 with the efforts of climbers including Dan McHale and Fred Becky, climbing at The Needles was defined by the day’s best climbers setting new standards. I gathered stories, comments, and recollections from many of these climbers, and included them as sidebars or in route descriptions throughout the book. This is one way to put Needles climbing into context.

The book also features numerous action photos by masters in the field including Greg Epperson, Kevin Powell, and Jim Thornburg.

Another thing you won’t get from websites is a complete list and description of every climb at The Needles, Dome Rock, and Hermit Spire. Since these sites are built from the contributions of individuals, climbs which are rarely climbed for a variety of reasons get left out. My book details every climb which has been established at The Needles to date. Many of these climbs which have fallen into obscurity are terrific. So the book should entice climbers to broaden their horizons, to seek out adventure and do more than just the most popular routes.

These were my primary goals in making this book; to create a historical context, to include action pictures by top photographers of the sport (visual context), and to place the popular climbs into another kind of context: their surroundings. And of course it also has to be an accurate guide, a resource climbers can rely on.

I had to decide how much detail to offer. A guidebook is expected to show how to get to the area and where to camp. It should show where any given climb is, what route it takes up the rock face, and give a reasonably accurate level of difficulty. If a climb requires highly specialized techniques or gear, or is exceptionally risky, this should be made clear. Lastly, details of the descent can be valuable. These are the basics. I think that the names of first ascent parties are important information, others dispense with that.

Many authors go into great detail, providing lists of every piece of equipment, perhaps even where it will be used on the climb. Some books even tell climbers how to do the hard bits. I chose to stick with the basics in my book for a variety of reasons. The nature of Needles climbing is such that no two leaders will protect a pitch the same way, and different parties often belay in different places. And the easiest way to have errors in a book like this is to give too much information. The Needles offer adventure climbing, and I was not about to make a book which dumbs the place down.

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Dome Rock and The Needles from the south. Photo, Kristian Solem

Grass fed, pasture raised, feed lot, or not? Heads up!

The industrial meat industry is hard at work, and the regulatory agencies which pretend to have our interests and health as their priority are bowing to their masters. The label “Grass Fed” means nothing now, so it is more important than ever to know the source of your food.

USDA cuts grass fed label

release-usda-revokes-grass-fed-label-standard

 

 

SOME OF MY FAVORITE RECIPES

 

Baked bacon:

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Heat the oven to 225-250. Lay out the strips of bacon on racks in a baking tray. You can pack more strips on than in my picture.

Since you’ll run your oven for at least two hours it makes sense to make two or three trays at once. Bake for a couple hours. Check every so often until you have your desired crispiness. After the bacon is done, pour the fat from the tray into a jar through cheese cloth in a big funnel. This pure fat, with no little chunks of meat, can sit out on your counter ready for use, just like Grandma did.

Crusty Mustard-Dill Meatloaf

I leave out the veal, just mix equal parts beef and pork. Substitute almond meal for the oats. I like doubling the recipe for this one. Also, the loaves form up better if you let the finished mix stand in a large covered bowl in the fridge for an hour or so.

Primal Bison or Beef Chili

I’ve never tried the bison, I like a 50/50 mix of ground pork and ground beef. It’s great. One pointer: Brown the meat in a wok or frying pan in batches, then transfer it to the cooking pot. This enables you to leave the fat behind, draining the pan in between batches. The dish has plenty of fat rendered from the bacon.

Really good chicken curry

The first time I made this I ended up with under-cooked chicken, and had to cook the final dish longer than I should have. Now I cook the chicken through in the first step (still tender). The little bit of corn starch is a minor sin. The trick of adding the peas frozen is great, I use this one in a lot of cooking.

The other day I made this, but I oven roasted the chicken ’till I could shred it and went from there. Really good.

Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts (to die for…)

What’s not to love about this combo. Easy to make, easier to eat.

Make your own super healthy fermented sauerkraut

Double or triple this one. It keeps for months. This food is a super pro-biotic.

Notes: Do not use tap water. Chlorine and fluoride will kill the fermentation process. Make certain that all of your jars and utensils are clean and well rinsed. Only use kosher or sea salt. Iodized salt will kill the fermentation process.

 

Catalan Style Stew with Pork or Beef

This recipe can be made with pork or beef. It takes some work to put it all together, but it’s one of my favorites for a special occasion. This is a modified version of a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs.

You will need:

A four – Five quart pot, thick sides for heat distribution, with a lid.
A heavy 10-12″ frying pan.
A 325 degree oven

Ingredients:

1/4 lp. bacon
1.5 cups sliced onion
1 cup white rice
1 cup decent dry white wine (never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink).
2 to 3 cups beef broth
Peel, seed and chop enough tomatoes to have about two cups (I start with two pound of tomatoes).
Spices: Two cloves smashed Garlic, 1/2 tsp. thyme, salt and pepper, bay leaf, pinch of saffron.
1 cup finely grated parmesan.

Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes:

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Trim and cut up the pork into 1.5″ cubes. For most recipes I’ll choose fattier meat and not trim it, but for this one I like to use the loin roast and trim it. We’ll render the fat out of the trimmings for future use.

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Simmer the bacon in a pot of water for about five minutes. Set aside to dry.

Get a few tablespoons of bacon fat heating in the frying pan and brown the bacon. When the bacon is brown but not crisp move it to the pot with a slotted spoon. Leave the fat behind. The meat is ready to go. The warm broth and the stew pot are on the right.

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Brown the pork in batches and add it to the pot with the slotted spoon:

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Cook the onions ’till translucent and add to the pot, again leaving behind most of the fat.

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Add fat if the pan is dry. Fry the rice in the pan for a minute or two until browned and set aside for later.

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De-glaze the pan with a cup or so of the wine. A straight edge wood spatula is perfect for scraping all the goodies up. The pan should be nearly clean. Transfer to the pot.

Add warm beef broth just to the top of the meat. Set pot, with lid, in oven for an hour.

Pull out the pot and mix in the tomatoes and spices, salt to taste. Back in oven for an hour, (hour and a half for beef).

Pull out the pot and mix in the rice. Bring up to a simmer on stove and return to the oven for twenty minutes. Do not mix the rice after the first time.

Bring the pot out and add warm broth or water if it looks at all dry. The original recipe says to stir in the cup of grated Parmesan now. I have found that this breaks up the meat and makes a mushy stew, so I mix a little in with each serving and have more on the table.

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For the greens on the side, look here.

The trick to frying in olive oil is to get the temp just right. Heat the oil under medium heat until it looks hot but is not close to smoking. Test it by dipping a spare piece of broccoli. If it sizzles you’re good to go. Never get olive oil smoking hot.

Back to the stew, this recipe doubles well for bigger dinners and the leftovers are awesome. Like lots of stews it seems to get better over the next few days.

I like to prep the tomatoes and meat the day before. My brother in France insists that the meat be trimmed and cut, then allowed to rest in a glass or stainless covered bowl in the fridge overnight before cooking.

Waste not – want not. The trimmings from the pork can be rendered down to fat for future cooking adventures, just lay out the trimmings in a tray and set them in a 225 degree oven for at least two hours. Drain the liquid through cheesecloth to filter out any bits of meat. If the fat is clean you can leave it out on the counter just like your grandma did. Tip: Since your oven is already hot, turn it down and set the fat in to render when you pull out the stew.

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Another great session with Roger…

Back in L.A. on Thursday I had my weekly session at Core Conditioning with my teacher, Roger. We have an interesting relationship since it is both professional and personal. I pay him as a teacher / trainer, and we’re friends. I’ve introduced him to climbing, which he loves. So, when I showed up for training and told him I’d just been out climbing for most of the week he was of course happy for me, but I could see by the look in his eyes that I was about to be tested.

He had me start with the usual warm ups, but added interest to the roll up / roll down series by mixing in a roll over each rep. Then he had me do the “Footwork” on the Cadillac, a setup which puts me in a confined position, testing my flexibility. It was immediately obvious that four days climbing, hanging from my hands and standing on the tips of my toes for much of the time, had left me with a shortened superficial back line (calves, hamstrings, back and neck.) At first I could not hold a neutral spine, but it felt great to get the stretch and arrive there. Next we moved rapidly through a series of more advanced exercises, and I noticed that we skipped over the strenuous “Series of Five,” sometimes called the stomach series. I was expecting he would throw this at me late, when tired, but he upped the ante by asking for a full set of “Teasers” (a very demanding core move,) transitioning from rolling like a ball without touching down. I focused on breathing well and floated the teasers in good style, but they wiped me out. We finished our hour with some demanding back extension work on the chair, side lying legwork in springs on the Cadillac, and wound down with the push through bar.

These workouts take every bit of juice I have, Roger sees to that. But my body doesn’t feel abused. I woke up the next morning feeling like I was floating on the bed. Spent and comfortable. And hungry…

Barbara and I and I are the humble servants of a Jack Russel Terrier named Max. This blog will follow the adventure of Max as he lives the dog’s life. Max was about a year old when he came to us. Somehow he had a broken hip which his previous owners ignored, so the bone grew back together all crooked. It was sad watching him try to stand on that leg while he lifted the other one. He’d just collapse, but wouldn’t give up. We found a great veterinarian, Dr. White. He did a surgery where he replaced the head of the little guy’s femur, setting his hip straight. Today he’s strong, healthy, and active. A 50 pound dog in a 20 pound package.