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I got into blogging reluctantly. Too much time. Am already overloaded. Of what value? At the same time the process was fascinating. Plus I'm a blabbermouth. I am continually seeing stuff out in the world that I am continually telling people about...here's a way to tell more people...I started doing blogs on my last trip to Southeast Asia. From a dozen internet cafes, I emailed text to Rick in the office and he'd set it up as a blog. Now I've learned to do blogs on my own, and lately, to throw in photos. (Blog photos are more complex than email photos.) So I'm about to, for the very first time, blog directly from the road. As I finish this rather blabby blog, our Canadian Regional CRJ 170 jam-packed mini-jetliner (from Chicago) descends into Burlington, Vermont. Where it is, to my great anticipation, RAINING!

This is being posted from a wireless connection at a beautiful old farmhouse country inn in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Old Guys Navigating the Digital World

To give you some perspective of people in their '60s-'70s in this day and age: we grew up, graduated from college, married, had kids, and worked at a job for over 20 years before we even heard of computers. I developed skills in producing a book for press in what's now called "the old way." I won't bore you with details, but it was a well worked-out process that could produce high-quality results. AND then along came computers and all those hand-done hand-made methods of book production have become obsolete. We've had to learn a completely new craft. In this regard I've been lucky: since book production is now on the computer, I get to watch our Mac maestro Rick work his magic. He's light years ahead of me and and I continually watch what he does, ask questions, find out new ways to do things, cool software, up-to-date hardware, a steady flow of tips and tricks I'd otherwise never know. In this sense I'm way ahead of most of my contemporaries (Lowell, S. F. high school Class of '52). I can do basic work in QuarkXpress and Photoshop, have got my cameras pretty well coordinated with the office Mac G-5, I'm sailing along on the web (in Firefox). I can't believe how I can access information. A few days ago (see earlier blog re chickens) I wanted to know how much an elephant weighed. Zing! 13,000 lbs. And etc. If you're of the shall we say post-baby-boom generation, I'd recommend getting much and frequent help from younger computer geniuses. Things are moving (and improving) fast, and an hour tutorial once a week will produce marvelous dividends.

The Primary Principle of Strength Training

In 600 BC or so, the Greek strongman Milos started lifting the same calf every day and continued doing so until he was lifting a full-grown cow. It is the principle of "progressive resistance training," nowadays called by scientists "the overload principle," and it's the foundation of any kind of strength training: if you push the muscles beyond where they've gone in the past (not to point of injury) AND you allow the muscles to rest 24 hours, they will program themselves to rebuild stronger. That's why serious weight lifters will often do work upper body M/Wed/Fri and lower body Tues/Thur/Sat. How do you tell how much weight to lift? Choose a weight so that with the last rep (repetition) of a set you are straining. For example if you're doing 8 reps of a biceps curl, you select dumbbells heavy enough so that the last rep will be a strain. Then rest those muscles a day, and you'll be able to lift progressively more.

Body Maintenance for the Long Haul

Turning 70 is actually a big deal, let me tell you. It sounds so fucking old, for one thing. Eyebrows raise when I divulge my age. What follows is for you guys who are getting up in age, my experiences of late in trying to keep the parts working. I got out of shape for really the first time in my life, over the past 2 years. My running sucked, I had lost cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength, and didn't feel all that great. Ugh! About 3 months ago I started running more seriously, and joined a gym, especially for upper body workouts. You'd think I'd know better than to let things slip, after editing a series of fitness books and hanging out with athlete authors for over 10 years. Well anyway, do I feel better!

In running you've got to push the limits to make progress, and if you're going to compete in races, you have to administer pain in measured doses while training. I knew all this about running, from getting in and out of shape over the years; it was a familiar path. Weight training, however, was different. I hadn't worked out with weights since the '80s when I hung out with Bill Pearl for two years while we did GETTING STRONGER. This was the first gym I'd ever joined and I feel like a kid in the candy store. There are literally 100s of machines, fitness gizmos, a superb collection of free weights. I knew the basics, from GETTING STRONGER, and started doing 30-40 minute workouts 2-3 times weekly. Man! First was the upper body pump, something runners don't experience. Things started circulating in my chest and arms, and this felt good. In a very short time I started putting on muscle. Bill talks about this: in GETTING STRONGER, he says that weight training produces noticeable results in a month or less, and that's why it's so encouraging. So it is; whatever your age, it's never too late to put some of that muscle back on.

The Friendly Skies, Take Two

I just can't believe this: I got to the SFO airport 2 hours early and there was the usual around-the-block line at the United ticket counter, so I thought I'd try the "Electronic Ticket Check-in." After less than a 5-minute wait, I swiped my credit card in the slot and in another few minutes my bags were loaded and I had -- now figure this out -- an aisle seat in Business Class. I'd bought an economy class ticket; maybe my travel agent had figured a way to upgrade me, bless her heart. This new 737 is a fine craft and the United crew is super. A nice breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt, an edible almond croissant, and drinkable cup of coffee. How can this be?

Organic Publishing

Since finishing HOME WORK I haven't been sure what new project to tackle next. We did our childrens' book, WONDERFUL HOUSES AROUND THE WORLD, and we're just about finished with updating GETTING STRONGER and GETTING BACK INTO SHAPE. I've been gathering material, per usual, wherever I go, but I haven't been sure which of the following projects to pursue as The Next Big One:

  1. A book on Baja California, based on 12 years of photographs, exploration, hanging out with my 3 very different Mexican friends -- beaches, surfing, ranchos, hot springs, cave paintings, remote islands, old missions. I have a tremendous amount of material on Baja and could do a unique book, but I don't know if there's a big enough potential audience.
  2. A book on the barns of North America. Production of this book is not an "if" question, but rather "when." It will happen sooner or later; I'm mad about barns. I search for them whenever I drive in the country.
  3. A book provisionally titled SOUTHEAST ASIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY: TRAVELLER'S TALES. As of yesterday we have put together* a sample 14 pages from such a book and I'll be showing it to friends to get opinions on whether it will fly. It actually looks, ahem, pretty darned good. (Often the only way to tell whether a project will work is to start -- I learned the same thing years ago in building houses.) We'll get these pages up on our website (www.shelterpub.com) ASAP.
  4. A book titled BUILDERS, based on maybe 15 builders in different parts of the country. Builders who combine creativity and craftsmanship, who are a cut above the usual, who have a track record of good work for good people, who are also interesting in other parts of their lives. A funny thing just happened regarding this book. As I've prepared to hit the road documenting builders (am writing this on a United 737 on the way to Burlington, Vermont, to cover builders in the Green Mountains), people have been emailing and calling and telling me about builders -- in North Carolina; Santa Cruz , Calif.; Whidbey Island, Washington; Long Island, NY; other places. In a short time this book has taken on a life and is happening. With any new project I've found I can't force it, I just have to wait and watch for the signals. So the next book looks like BUILDERS. At the same time we'll keep accumulating material for the book on Asia.

*Note for book-tech freaks (others, don't read this, you'll be bored): We developed a new process in putting these 14 pages together: I'd make up rough layouts, using our 4-year-old bless-its-dependable-heart $250 HP color copy machine, with color pics to size, scotch-taped to the layout sheet. Then I'd pencil in areas for text, captions, heads. I'd write the digital file number on each photo so Rick would know where to grab it (pics already adjusted in Photoshop). Rick put it together in QuarkXpress, handed it back to me. I went in a resized pics, wrote text in place, wrote and placed captions. Unique for me in being able to compose text on the spot, to fit it around the photos, which are my main focus. I gave it back to Rick, he cleaned it up, and produced what is our temporary final version. It was like lobbing a QuarkXpress ball back and forth, polishing it each time (yes I am mixing metaphors), a 3-stage process of improvement.

Summer's here...

We had a lot of late rain this Spring, and California is green from head to toe. (LA has had 2-1/2 times normal rainfall.) Around here on the trails the grass is high and the poison oak is leaping out. Creeks on the mountain are high, waterfalls pounding. Things in the garden kicking into acclerated growth. The earth feels alive and pulsing.

We've got bantam chickens this year: Auracanas, Rhode Island Reds, and Partridge Rocks. There's one rooster, a beautiful Auracana. Who protects his harem: if I go into the coop and a hen gets alarmed, he'll attack me. I mean he weighs maybe two pounds. I weigh 150, 75 times his weight. It's about the same scale as me attacking an elephant (13,000 lbs.). Dude!

On Saturday mornings I've been running with a group of mostly gazelle-like runners on the mountain. We've been running on trails I haven't been on before, some steep uphill climbs, smooth single track trails through the redwoods, rocky downhills, fire roads. For 3 months I've been struggling, not in shape for this group, but the last couple of weeks have felt better. I'm not so far behind now, and the scenery is spectacular. We run for 1-1/2 hours min., some people go 2, even 3 hours. Right now pretty much all the runners I know are training for the Dipsea race -- the oldest cross-country race in America, and right in our back yard. 7.2 miles, starting with 672 steps up out of Mill Valley, down into Muir Woods, up over a flank of Mt. Tamalpais, then down through meadows and canyons to Stinson Beach and the Pacific Ocean. It's romantic. Runners get into a serious relationship with the trails and the views and the difficulties (and the shortcuts) of it all. This morning I just got back from my last run on the trail until the race two weeks from now. It was foggy and cool and I didn't encounter a single person. It was a great run. Went down to the beach and looked out at the ocean, bought some scones at the local bakery, and am signing off for now because I'm getting ready to leave for 4 days shooting photos of builders in Vermont and then to NYC for the big Book Expo. Ciao...