Chris Stratton’s first 100 mile unicycle ride

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Map of Chris Stratton’s 100 mile ride

There’s another unicyclist in town, and his distance riding puts me to shame. Chris Stratton, from Manhattan, who I rode with last year in the Brooklyn portion of the NYC Unicycle fest just completed his first century(100 mile) ride along the Putnam trail from the Bronx up to Brewster and back. What an amazing accomplishment! My longest ride is only 20 miles, also on the Putnam trail. You can read about his epic experience here: My First Unicycle Century

Boost learning with interleaving

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One of the things I love most about unicycling(and joggling) is that it’s a fun way to learn about learning. With all the different skills unicycling entails, and the difficulty of learning many of them, it’s a great opportunity to test some new learning strategies. Let’s face it, we all want to learn faster. One strategy that I recently stumbled upon is called “interleaving”, which involves mixing things up instead of focusing on one skill or area and repeating until competence is achieved. Interleaving appears to provide a boost for both academic and athletic training.

According to Scientific American, in The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning:

We’ve all heard the adage: practice makes perfect! In other words, acquiring skills takes time and effort. But how exactly does one go about learning a complex subject such as tennis, calculus, or even how to play the violin? An age-old answer is: practice one skill at a time. A beginning pianist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand. Learning researchers call this “blocking,” and because it is commonsensical and easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.

However another strategy promises improved results. Enter “interleaving,” a largely unheard-of technique that is capturing the attention of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). For instance, a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.

This sounds very promising. The research suggests it works best if you interleave similar skills. I’ve already been doing something kind of similar by practicing variations of the skill I’m trying to master, but usually on different days. However, interleaving isn’t about varying your practice every few days, it’s about variation within the same practice session.

These days I’m trying to learn how to juggle while idling one-footed on the unicycle(I can already do this with both feet on the pedals). I usually use a block approach, and after practicing this would sometimes do backwards juggling in figure 8’s, which is a similar skill that I’m much better at. This week I’ll experiment with an interleaving strategy and do 5 minute intervals of one-footed idling while juggling then backwards juggling, an ABABAB pattern and see how that goes. I hope 5 minutes is long enough. I wonder what would happen if I did intervals of unrelated skills, but I’ll try that out some other time.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re struggling with learning something, consider the interleaving strategy.

Related articles:

Variation is key to deeper learning

Learn To Study Using…Interleaving

Vegan Pastitsio

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One of the glories of Greece is that its native cuisine is either thoroughly vegan or easily veganized. Dishes that are already vegan include dolmades(stuffed grape leaves), gigantes(lima beans in tomato sauce), as well as many others. Spanakopita and tiropita can be veganized by replacing the feta cheese with vegan cheese. Meatier dishes may be more difficult to veganize but there are myriad ways of doing this.

One of my favorites growing up was pastitisio, which is essentially baked ziti topped with bechamel sauce and ground beef. This dish is typically served during big holidays or large gatherings and I must warn you it isn’t a fast, easy recipe. Reserve this for special occasions.

One of the things that gives pastitsio its distinctive flavor is the allspice or cinnamon in the beef. For most recipes I find that cinnamon and allspice are interchangeable, hence I used cinnamon which I had on hand. This may not be true of everyone but I think most people won’t notice the difference. I also decided to use vegan ground beef from Trader Joe’s instead of using lentils like other Greek vegans like to use.

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For this use a standard size lasagna baking pan, or something close to 12 inches by 16 inches and is 3.5 inches deep.

Ingredients:

Meat sauce:

  • 1 lb vegan ground beef(I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or allspice(or more)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Bechamel sauce:

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups cashews(soaked overnight)
  • 2 cups veggie broth(optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • black pepper
  • pinch of salt

Pasta:

  • 24 ounces of penne or ziti
  • drizzle of olive oil(optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Saute all beef ingredients in saucepan until onions are a slightly browned.
  3. Cook pasta until it is almost al dente. Remember you’ll be baking it later so don’t over-boil it. Drizzle with olive oil(optional).
  4. Thoroughly blend cashews in blender. Mix in other bechamel ingredients and cook in sauce pan for a few minutes until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
  5. Thoroughly mix about 1/4 to 1/2 beef sauce mix with pasta and put in lasagna pan(spray bottom of pan with oil first).
  6. Put the rest of the beef sauce mix on top of the pasta/beef sauce mix.
  7. Put bechamel sauce on top of all the other layers.
  8. Cover with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes in the oven at 350 F.
  9. Let it sit outside the oven for 10 minutes before serving to cool.

This was a hit when I last made it and I’m sure it will be in your home as well.

 

 

 

 

 

How to ride a unicycle

 

I thought I’d finally do a video on how to unicycle since so many people keep asking me how to do it. It’s really not that difficult if you devote enough time to it every day.

The key things to remember are:

  • Practice in a flat area along a long wall or fence — the longer the better.
  • Lean forward to gain forward momentum.
  • Try to keep most of your weight in the seat though this isn’t absolutely essential early on. With time you’ll likely end up doing this without thinking.
  • When breaking free from the fence or wall use your arms to help you balance.
  • Patience, practice and perseverance.

As far as which size unicycle to learn on, I say choose a 20″ or 24″ inch unicycle(for small children a 16″ may be best). These days most people learn on a 20″ inch unicycle — I learned on a 24″. I chose a 24″ because I wanted something that I could ride around town on, besides doing freestyle tricks. A 20″ inch unicycle is great for freestyle but it’s impractical for riding around the neighborhood. A 24″ also makes a better gateway to the larger size unicycles used for long-distance riding, like 29″, 32″ and 36″ inch unicycles.

Whatever size you choose, get plenty of practice! If you’re a runner, this is a great cross-trainer. Happy riding!

 

 

 

 

 

Juggling while unicycling backwards

Lately I’ve been working a lot on my juggling while unicycling backwards technique, particularly in circles and figure 8’s. It is extremely challenging to say the least, but I am slowly learning to do smoother circles. In essence, it’s the same thing as doing forwards circles and figure 8’s while juggling: leaning in the direction you want to go in, as well as pointing your shoulders toward where you want to go. Your body is just facing the opposite direction from where you’re going.

Beyond this it can be difficult to explain the how of it. This is because so much of the learning when it comes to this difficult skill is subconscious. Repeat the same task over and over again and it gets stored in your muscle memory.

Although I haven’t mastered this skill yet, here are some tips for those who want to know how to do this(this assumes you can already juggle while unicycling forward):

  1. Relax. Breath deeply before and while doing it to calm your muscles and oxygenate your cells. Try to achieve a state of mind that is both focused and relaxed.
  2. Try to find a large, flat, quiet area to practice in. Don’t worry if your circles or figure 8’s are over-large, with practice you’ll slowly make them smaller.
  3. Learn to idle while juggling first or while learning this. Idling and backwards are closely related skills. The better your idling, the better your backwards and vice versa.
  4. You’ll likely make the same mistake over and over again. Learn to fail better, try to do the opposite of what keeps leading to the same mistake. In other words, try making different mistakes.
  5. Don’t worry if you notice an asymmetry with your turning abilities, this is perfectly normal. I find clockwise backwards circles much easier than counter-clockwise. Just work a little more on your weaker side.
  6. Be patient. It takes a while to learn a skill like this. You may experience many learning plateaus or you may even regress before getting better. Take breaks if you get very frustrated.
  7. If you are a very self-conscious kind of person and there are people watching, just ignore them. Try not to care what others think and learn to laugh at your mistakes. Or just learn to get used to having people watch you.

 

The transition from forwards to backwards can be especially tricky when you first start out. Even if you can do it well without juggling it can still be a huge challenge. It’s almost like a separate skill in itself. The key to this is to isolate your lower body and upper body so your unicycling doesn’t interfere with your juggling and vice versa. This is a good approach to juggling while unicycling backwards in general.

With enough practice this should become a second nature. Happy riding!

 

Flying Free — Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze

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I just finished reading “Flying Free  Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze” by Lynn Braz(@air_dancer on Instagram), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Lynn Brazz is a Renaissance woman she’s a very talented writer, yogini, trapeze-artist, dancer, vegan and adventurer who tells an inspiring story of overcoming fear to become a trapeze-artist after a series of career setbacks and distressing life events. Her biggest fear for the longest time was a fear of heights and taking up trapeze many years ago helped her overcome this fear. She artfully uses trapeze as a metaphor for overcoming fear and things that limit us from achieving a more fulfilling life.

For as long as Lynn can remember, fear was omnipresent, and not just her fear of heights. Fear of failure was also a constant hindrance. Taking up trapeze was the ultimate way of challenging these deep-seated fears  climbing a ladder to a platform over 20 feet in the air then swinging on a trapeze at 25 mph, that takes some courage! Courage she didn’t know she had in the end, her fears were shown to be an illusion. Her fears are not completely gone; instead of being ruled by fear, she developed a healthy relationship with it.

This book is not a how-to manual on learning trapeze or a recommendation to take up trapeze. Rather, Lynn’s aim is to encourage you to take up enriching, meaningful activities that challenge you physically and/or mentally. In other words, endeavors that take you out of your comfort zone, that involve learning new skills that put you in the “zone” or in a state of “flow”(as described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi). It’s obvious that Lynn is in the “zone” when doing trapeze, or dance or yoga for that matter.

As both a joggler and unicyclist I can relate very well to Lynn Brazz’s story. In a way her book is a celebration of circus arts and how they can lead to a more fulfilling life. There are many sentences in this book where you could substitute “trapeze” with “unicycling” or “joggling” and it would make perfect sense. Unicycling also helped me overcome some of my fear, though that wasn’t the original reason I took up unicycling and joggling. There’s a kind of magic in circus arts, whether it’s trapeze, unicycling or juggling that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

It’s an understatement to say that trapeze is a great way to exercise. It goes far beyond that and Lynn Braz explains in her book how learning trapeze has influenced many other areas of her life for the better. After deciding she wasn’t going to be ruled by fear, she eventually traveled alone to Kashmir, then and now a volatile region that’s contested by India and Pakistan. I’ll definitely reread parts of this book whenever I struggle with learning new unicycling or juggling skills since her advice has relevance for doing anything challenging. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration to overcome their fears or discover hidden talents.

 

 

 

 

 

Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger

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There are so many choices these days when it comes to plant-based burgers, it’s never been easier to go meatless during grilling season.

One of my current favorites is Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger. It tastes great! It’s savory and kind of beefy, and it also has a “meaty” texture which I enjoy. I love it with tomato, onion and arugula. This was yummy and very filling. Also easy to prepare. Plant-based burgers or veggie burgers have come a long way over the past 2 decades. I remember when I first went vegan how bland most veggie burgers were, and there was little choice. Now there’s a plethora of options.

The Beyond burger, another one of my favorites, tastes beefy to the point that some non-vegans are fooled into thinking it is beef and some vegans find the beefiness disturbing or unpleasant. I think the Gardein burger is nearly as good as the Beyond burger, which is typically pricier.

What is your favorite plant-based burger? Or do you prefer to make your own? If you prefer making your own, please share your favorite recipe!

Wild Juggling relaunched as AcroTrekker!

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Wild Juggling is no more we’re relaunching as AcroTrekker to better reflect the new direction of the blog. As I’ve said before, the name “Wild Juggling” was meant to be temporary until I could come up with something better. In part this is because I’m no longer just a joggler, I’m also a unicyclist. “Acro” does a good job of representing both of these pursuits, with “trekker” suggesting adventurer, traveler or endurance sport.

I’m as committed as ever to vegan living and to a science-based approach to health and fitness. This hasn’t changed. What has changed is that I’ve become more of a scam-buster over the past year  I’m an ally of the anti-MLM coalition and will do more posts exposing these types of scams. Sadly, it seems few vegans are speaking out against this.

Other than this, things won’t be that much different. Expect the usual(or unusual) adventures, the inter-state runs, the vegan meals, the training plans, among other things. To those of you who have followed and supported me over the years, thank you for sticking around.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African-Americans from the Civil War to World War II

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Just finished reading “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African-Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon. This book demolishes one of the biggest misconceptions of American history – that slavery came to an end in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. In actuality, it lasted until the dawn of World War II.

This book was a real eye-opener. I learned a lot, and I was sometimes shocked by how brutal and systematic the new slavery was. While the author does discuss the oppression black sharecroppers endured, the main focus is on the convict-leasing system in the South and how tens of thousands of blacks were rounded up for petty crimes or no crimes at all, and forced to labor on farms and also in mines where many would die from disease, exhaustion, or the brutality of their supervisors. Besides this, there was also rampant sexual slavery of black women(this deserves its own book).

In many ways the neoslavery was often worse than antebellum slavery since their masters – who didn’t own them for life and could easily replace them – had little incentive to keep them healthy. Some of the stories rival what happened in Nazi death camps. The author goes into great detail concerning which individuals and companies benefited from the neoslavery and the loopholes they exploited to get away with it.

Early efforts at putting an end to the neoslavery either by the federal government or outraged locals were almost always futile. The federal government finally put a stop to it during World War II because they feared the German and Japanese governments would use the existence of neoslavery in their propaganda broadcasts, which they did.

Even after the Civil Rights movement, racism and discrimination are still with us and much still needs to be done, especially when it comes to law enforcement. Falsely believing that slavery ended in 1865 is a huge impediment to racial healing and understanding.

Unicycling and improved core strength

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As I often say, even if unicycling didn’t have any unique benefits beyond improved balance, I’d still do it because of how much fun it is. Us unicyclists often like to tout unicycling as a great way to strengthen the core, though there hasn’t been a lot of hard scientific data to support this.

Until now. Last year in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they did a study on the effect of unicycling on the trunk strength of children. They concluded:

Unicycling proved to be an effective and funny tool to develop proximal stability and strength, which prevents low back pain and improves the efficiency of energy transfer between body segments.

This is just one study, but it is terrific news. Hurray for unicycling! I admit I am very biased. Better core strength is often associated with better athletic performance in many sports, including running. Though this study was done on children, I can’t think of any reason this wouldn’t apply to adults, and it’s too bad they didn’t study juggling while unicycling. So if you want to strengthen your core, consider taking up unicycling!