The story of a toe

A couple of weeks ago I had an unfortunate run-in with a dumbbell. Not the kind currently trying to take over social media, but the kind that you’re supposed to use to lift weights. And before the jokes start about, “That’s what happens when you try to do strength training”, I wasn’t even using the dumbbell for it’s intended purpose.

I was in the basement looking for a particular box. For some reason I had a 10 lbs dumbbell sitting on the table next to the boxes I was digging though. As I shifted one of the boxes the dumbbell rolled off the table landing squarely on my toe. Thankfully I was wearing some sandals at the time, so there was some cushion, but it still hit hard.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn’t good. However, I never cried out in pain, or heard anything pop or snap. I finished grabbing what I was looking for and then proceeded upstairs to asses the damage. I laid down on the couch and took a look, and sure enough it was already starting to go purple. The pain was starting to increase a lot as well. I checked out all of my toes and could tell not to go near the middle one. A light touch was all it took to realize that it had taken the brunt of the impact. The other toes around it seemed to bend and move just fine, but the middle one was in a heap of trouble.

I called the nurse line to get some advice, and they suggested that if I wanted to get an x-ray and make sure nothing else was wrong, to head up to the local orthopedic urgent care. So we hopped in the car (the wife drove) and headed over. As I slowly limped into the waiting room the pain started to get more intense. Thankfully, I had taken some anti-inflammatories before we left.

The athletic trainer took a look at it, and after a quick consult with the orthopedic, I got sent to x-ray (they were deciding if they should do the whole foot or just the toes). They took some pictures of my toe, and sure enough, the middle toe had snapped right at the tip. The x-ray showed a beautiful picture of the tip of my toe, completely separated from where it was supposed to be.

Then I got the bad news that it would be 6-8 weeks for it to heal, and until that time, running was a no-no. Part of the reason I wanted to get it x-rayed was to confirm a break vs. anything else. If it was just soft tissue damage, I could let it heal for a week and then live with any residual pain while it continues to get back to normal. With a broken toe I need to be careful to let it heal and not re-fracture it with a hard running strike. If I re-fracture it, I’m back to ground zero and the waiting time starts over.

Yet, it’s not all bad news. Biking has been working just fine. I just needed to be careful about how I set my foot down when getting off the bike or coming to a stop. I don’t need to push with my forefoot on the bike (if I don’t want to), so I was able to start biking almost right away the next day. I even managed a great 50 miler today.

Walking has been really slow to come back. My first attempts to go for a walk were painfully slow as I hobbled down the street. I kept it very simple for the first few days before slowly extending my walks further and further. I’ve been walking in very stiff-soled sandals which has helped a lot. However, I was anxiously awaiting the day when I could get back to feeling some more normalcy while walking, even if I couldn’t run for a while. That day was today.

It’s been 16 days now, and each of my morning walks has gotten better and better. I’ve been slowly getting back to my normal walking pace, and my walking form is completely normal again. So this morning I set out for a long walk. I still have things I want to do this Fall, but to do them I need to keep training, and building up stamina. Therefore, even if I only can walk, I need to start upping the miles and putting in the endurance work. I headed out, not sure how exactly how far I’d make it, but I knew it wouldn’t just be a simple walk around the park.

My son joined me, and we headed out on a route that would give him a bail-out point if he wanted it. However, he opted to stick it out with me, and by the time we got back home the watch was at 6.5 miles and I felt fine (well, a couple blisters I need to deal with). We even managed to keep up a really strong pace, and my overall average was under 18/min per mile. I’m really, really happy with how well it went, and I think I might be able to get back to the type of mileage I want rather soon (albeit slower than normal). I’ll probably stick to flatter surfaces for another week or so, just to be sure.

Some of the events coming up that I want to do will involve a lot of walking, so in many ways this is still really good training. Not quite the way I wanted to get my miles in, but I’m happy as a clam to at least have an option. Plus, being able to supplement with long bike rides, helps with all the cardio endurance I need as well.

That’s the story of my toe. It’s broken, but getting better. I’ve also managed to not let it break me.

Quick Review: The Outer Worlds

I’ve wanted to lose myself in a video game lately, and recently saw that The Outer Worlds was now available on the Nintendo Switch. It reminded me that the game existed, but the initial reviews of the Switch port were somewhat mediocre. So, I opted to pick it up on XBox One, which worked out in my favor since it was on sale on that platform.

The Outer Worlds is a first person RPG in an expansive set of worlds in the distant future. You’re awoken from cryo-sleep after being adrift for longer than intended. You wake up into a world where corporations control everything, and the colony you were destined for is struggling to survive. There’s not much time to figure things out before you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive.

The gameplay is typical for titles in this genre. You have typical first person shooter controls and weapons for battles, but it’s augmented by a deeper interaction system, as well as a robust skill tree system. You can travel around and interact with the environment in an open-world format, learning more and more about where you are, and why you’re there. You meet companions on the way, each with a backstory that you can delve in to and explore.

The game is structured around completing an every expanding series of quests that helps unfold the story. You spend time going back and forth between different locations (and different planets) fulfilling tasks that slowly build upon one another. However, your path through the story is unique to you, and your choices allow you to craft your adventure in a way that you see fit. You may decide to be a lone wolf, or maybe you want to be a jerk to everyone. You’re given options to go into situations with guns blazing, or try your hand at diplomacy. Although I haven’t finished the game yet, I’ve been told there are multiple endings that you can achieve. It reminds me a lot of Deus Ex (the original) which ushered in this genre of gameplay and storytelling in a FPS context.

In terms of issues with the game, the combat system is pretty simplistic (at least on normal difficulty). I miss not having thrown weapons, but thankfully it’s never left me feeling like I can’t overpower a situation. The time dilatation mechanic is cool, but sometimes feels tacked on. I also wish there were more options for getting up and down surfaces, instead, many places are simply blocked with a wall, and you can’t do anything about it.

None of this detracts from the engaging story though. I’m really enjoying learning more about this world, and interacting with it. The writers have done a great job in crafting an engaging place to play, and I’ve found myself staying up way too late following clue after clue. One of the best compliments of a game (in my mind) is not wanting to put it down, and sacrificing sleep to play more and more. The Outer Worlds delivers on this engagement front, and I’m anxious to see how the second half finishes out. When I bought it, it was on sale on the XBox store, but really, any platform you play it on should be fine, since the story is what’s key.

Seeking more health improvements through plants

Most people who have known me for a while know that I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs when it comes to general health (not any specific ailment). After my divorce I put on a lot of weight (I wasn’t terribly healthy before either), and found myself in a place I didn’t want to be. Back in 2010 I made some hard choices and overhauled how much food I was eating, and took up running. The difference was amazing. I lost around 40 pounds in 6 months and was running a half marathon by the end of the year.

Since that time I’ve kept the running going, added in biking, and generally managed to maintain a mostly healthy lifestyle. But despite all of that a few of my numbers haven’t ever been that good. In particular, my cholesterol tests has consistently shown me in the elevated range (over 200), or just right below it. After some issues earlier this year, I was sent in for a CT Angiogram. In this test they put you in a CT scanner and inject you with radioactive dye to get a clear mapping of your arteries and heart.

When I got the results back, I was told that I had a calcium score of 11. Now on a scale of 1-300 that’s not bad. However, with years of high cholesterol tests, it put me solidly in the “mild” category, and the with it came the recommendation to start a low dose statin. Not the words I wanted to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I know statins have worked well for many people, but I really don’t want to start a drug that is basically considered a lifetime drug. I decided that it was time for some radical shifts in diet, to see if this is something that I can get under my control. I opted not to start the statin, and instead have embarked on the journey of a plant-based whole-food diet.

We picked up a subscription to Forks over Knives meal planner (review coming in the future), and for the last few weeks I have cut out meat and dairy almost completely. The meal planner made this a lot easier than doing it alone, but it’s certainly been a big shift in our eating habits. I went from a pretty big meat eater, to a 99% vegan.

However, the one thing I can’t complain about are the results. When I started this diet I started tracking my blood pressure and weight every day, as well as journaled a few thoughts on how it’s been going. One other marker that had been inching a lot higher in recent years was my blood pressure level, so I was hoping this might have a positive effect on it as well.

When I started this my blood pressure was averaging around 125/76. Not bad, but the American Heart Association considers this “elevated”. In the most recent 15 days I’ve dropped that to 110/72, which is solidly in the normal range. In addition I started this journey at 177 lbs, and this morning weighed in at 165. That’s a HUGE result just over 20 days in.

On top of it all, I’m enjoying the food we’re eating. Some recipes have been flops, but we’ve found so many that are really solid, that I haven’t missed my old eating habits as much as I thought I would. In fact, what I pine for most often is “convenience”. I miss the idea of just opening a tasty bag of chips and scarfing that down, instead of doing the work of making something that is just as filling, but healthier. This certainly takes more work, but along the way we’re finding lots of things that bring back some of that ease.

The real test will be in August when I go back for a cholesterol test. If I am not showing any signs of improvement on that test, then I’m probably headed for a statin. However, if it looks like I’m making solid progress, then I’m going to keep going, and keep getting my lipids tested every three months for the next year, possibly going in to get another CT Angiogram at the end.

It’s full steam ahead on a change that is hopefully what my body has been asking for. And don’t worry, I’m not turning into an evangelist. I’m just looking for what works right for me, and right now, this seems to be what’s getting me results.

The privilege of my whiteness

I grew up poor, living with just my mother. My early childhood involved her working various teaching assistant jobs, before ending up on welfare, and eventually disability. The only reason we had an apartment in a duplex was because of the Section 8 housing program (government subsidy). Growing up, I knew that we didn’t have a lot of money, and I had to learn at a very early age how to be self-sufficient. I even remember helping to manage the family checkbook (starting around age 13), learning how to pay bills and balance a ledger.

We didn’t own a car until I was 15, and we were reliant on public transportation, and what rides we could get from friends. A friend took us to Duluth for a day trip once. I wasn’t able to go back until I was 17 and could drive myself. Our neighborhood was lower working class, with a few folks around who were trying to game the system, or getting hooked on the addition of the day. I still remember gunshots on a some occasions (some very close by), and all manner of poverty on display wherever I looked.

Yet, here I am today, a typical middle class professional with multiple college degrees. I own my own home and car, and have made a decent life for myself and my family. I had to start down this path when I was 18 and graduated high school. The Section 8 program wouldn’t allow us to keep the duplex once I was an adult, and my mom had to move into a small public assistance apartment in a high rise. I still remember the day I packed up my bedroom into the back of my used Plymouth Reliant and moved into a dorm room at college. Everything I owned in the trunk of the car.

I got through college, earning my B.A. in History, with plans to go on to Seminary. I worked part-time during the school years, and as close to full-time as I could during the summers. Because I had taken advantage of the Post Secondary Enrollment Options program in high school, I already had nearly two years of college credit under my belt. Thankfully, combined with various grants, I was able to get a degree at a private college, and come out of it with very little debt.

I spent some time in random jobs, and made my first attempt at Seminary, but eventually got married and took a full-time job working at the University of Minnesota as a copy cataloger. I was good with computers (because I had been given one when I was 8 years old) and managed to scrimp and save, and borrow money, for a second, better one, in high school. While I was at the UofM they needed a web programmer, and my life in the tech field began.

I’ve since bounced around to a few different jobs across the technology field, and made a career for myself. I was smart, had a good education, and a little luck helped along the way. But even more than luck, I had one advantage in my court that no one could take away from me.

I was white.

I hate the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. I especially hate it when people accuse poor people of being lazy or un-motivated. It is my firmly held belief that NO ONE pulls themselves out of poverty on their own. No one.

People look at my story and they say, “Wow, you’re really smart, it’s awesome you were able to do all of that yourself.” But the truth of the matter is? It wasn’t all me. Every single step along the way, I was helped. It might have been small things, like a family member buying me my first computer that got me started on this path. I might have been a friend from church who helped pay for that old Plymouth Reliant and made sure I had insurance on it. Or it was the friend who made sure that we could get to the grocery store every week so that we didn’t have to shop at the convince stores in our food desert neighborhood.

But here’s the even deeper key to it all. Every one of those people who helped me? They were white as well. They had good jobs, good educations, and had been given similar opportunities by those around them when they were younger. They built their lives on the legacy of wealth that was handed down to them through the generations. Wealth (even middle-class “wealth”) is built, and it takes time for people to be able to be comfortable enough to be able to help others. My story of being a self-made man, is a story of generations of a community coming together to make sure I was launched into the world right.

Because of this community I was

  • Able to have a computer and learn a skill
  • Eat decent food and not end up with childhood diabetes (though believe me I tried)
  • Had a car when I was old enough to drive
  • Never had to worry about getting arrested for doing stupid teenager stuff
  • Got financial support from extended family through college
  • Got my first jobs with references from friends and family

But it could have been different. Everyday, it IS different for people of color, especially if you’re black.

Take any one of those things on my list away, and my life would be different. Take away 2 or more, and who knows where I’d be. That’s what has been happening in black communities for generations. Imagine if when I was 12 years old they decided to bulldoze my neighborhood and put a freeway through. Because of Section 8 rules, it would have been very difficult to stay in that neighborhood, and we would have lost touch with that community. I might have ended up somewhere else, and having to completely rebuild our network.

Or what if the people who were helping me didn’t have 80-100 years of family support behind them, but were having to restart everything 20 years ago? How does someone like myself get support from my community when the community I’m in is still trying to set itself right, or rebuilding itself over and over again?

When we talk about white privilege this is what it means. It means that because of the color of my skin, our neighborhood was allowed to grow and thrive. It means that my family wasn’t forced to move around the country to escape persecution and racism. It means I had successful role models to pattern my life after. It means that we could actually exist in a community, and be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and no one was taking it away from us.

In our fast-paced world it’s hard to remember that racial injustices are not a thing of the distant past. Just because the TV footage isn’t in full color, or people are wearing bell bottoms, it’s not ancient history. These events happened in the history of our parents. In fact I still have some old 8mm footage that my mom took during the 1968 Chicago riots. We’re not even ONE generation removed from these events. Or the destruction of Rondo, which took place only 10 years before I was born. Even Black Wall Street and Rosewood were a part of my grandmother’s life.

If your parents or grandparents can tell you stories about being a part of these historical moments… it’s not ancient history. It’s just as relevant as yesterday was in your life.

This is my privilege. I was born white, into a country and society that has historically suppressed others who don’t look like me. I’m the benefactor of that destruction. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that privilege. It’s not fair that my black friends never had that, or if they did, they were one of the lucky ones. It’s time for change.

I know it may sound hard to be an ally, or fight for the rights of others. Not everyone is good at activism. But here is the absolute, drop-dead, simplest thing that you can do. Say that Black Lives Matter, and then shut up. No more “Ya, but…”, no more “But what about…” Just tell people you support folks trying to make a change, and then get out of the way of the people trying to make those changes. If you can do more than by all means, DO it. But at least put your privilege aside, and don’t be an armchair-roadblocker.

Let’s not pretend this is new

The current situation of inflamed racial tensions in Minneapolis is distressing and frustrating. The video of George Floyd being held down with a knee to his neck is sickening. The disregard for the life of another individual is the epitome of pure evil, and thankfully, charges have been brought quickly against at least one of the officers. 

There is hope that the riots and anarchy that has permeated the city over the past couple nights will start to calm, now that justice has started to turn its slow wheels. After all, what we really want is for things to go back to the way that they were. We want to get back to our lives and livelihoods. But, let us not for one second think that if the rioting stops that we’ve somehow turned a corner. Read this next sentence very, very carefully. 

This. Is. Not. New.

I grew up in Saint Paul, on the “Eastside”, which has never been known as a haven of prosperity and wealth (to put it mildly). I’ve been shot in the back with BB guns, been awakened by the sound of gunfire outside my house, and found passed out drunk people on the steps of our duplex. But even at age 10, there was one thing that all of us knew… we might have it bad, but at least we didn’t have to deal with Minneapolis Police. News reports of cops planting evidence on a suspect that they just shot, or roughing up people of color for no reason were not uncommon. Despite the fact that I’m a white male, it still gave me pause when my friend and I were pulled over just on the other side of the border for a broken taillight. I’ve lived my entire life with this central narrative about the MPD

Let’s take it back another step though. The history of the Twin Cities is not one that has been kind to people of color. Redlining was a massive problem here, as much as anywhere. Black people were required to stay in their neighborhoods, and were even protested when they tried to move into white ones. The black community also had to deal with institutional discrimination at all levels, which is most visible today in the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul and the North Minneapolis neighborhood. 

Both of these neighborhoods were irrevocably changed with the construction of Interstate 94. The Rondo neighborhood was bisected right through the middle, destroying dozens and dozens of houses, and forever altering the character of a neighborhood and a community. North Minneapolis was also hit with a new freeway through its neighborhood because it was “just working class people and negroes” and was labeled by cartographers as “Slums”. So strong was the prejudice towards people of color, that it was simply deemed OK to crush their attempt at community building. But yet, when Interstate 35 got too close to a very wealthy (and less racially diverse) portion of Saint Paul, no effort was spared to lock the whole thing up in lawsuits until it was turned into “35E Parkway” and the speed limit capped at 45mph

Minnesota has always been considered progressive. It’s a “liberal bastion” of the great north. Yet, that progressive spirit shouldn’t give us a pass when it comes to racial equity. Minnesota is 84% white (79% when subtracting hispanic origin), and our African American community is only around 380,000 people (6.8%) (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/minneapoliscityminnesota,MN/PST045219). That’s not a lot of diversity, and when you leave the Twin Cities area the percentages skew even more and more white. Yet, you would think that for as progressive as we’re touted as being, that our racial strifes would be minimal. That’s far from the truth, and it’s complicated by our “progressive” ideals and how we’ve responded to other races in our past. 

Minnesota and its progressive history is well known for it’s stance on refugees. In the 1970’s Minnesota took on a huge Hmong refugee resettlement initiative and now hosts the largest Hmong community of any metropolitan area in the United States. Again in the 2000’s Minnesota took on another refugee population and now boasts the largest Somali community in the US. We’re proud of what we’ve done for the world by helping these communities resettle in the frozen north. We wear it as a badge of honor, and we should be grateful for all the people who helped make these resettlements possible. But, when looking at our “home grown” minority populations, we’ve fallen way short. Particularly when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans. 

Our “Progressive Pride” has made us blind to the fact that we’re no different than many other areas of the country when it comes to how we deal with minorities, many of whom are living in poverty. We think that because we have historically generous social safety-nets, long-standing union support, and a strong love of multi-cultural arts, that we must be taking care of every one equally. In fact, we’re not really that different than anyone else. We have a sordid history with desegregation and school busing. We are home to the largest mass execution of Native Americans in history. And, we continue to show that our police forces struggle to treat people of color fairly. 

The first step in any type of change, personal or societal, is coming to terms with where we’re at. Many times when people want to lose weight, it’s because they’ve looked long and hard in the mirror and don’t like what they see. The same goes for people suffering with substance abuse, eating disorders, or any variety of mental illnesses. We need to first recognize the problem, as a problem, before we can even consider how to make a change. 

We’re at an inflection point Minnesota. We’re being shown the mirror of racial injustice, and we don’t like that fact that it’s our face starting back at us. It’s time to put away the excuses. It’s time to put away the “ya, but…” that we add to all of our pithy social media comments. It’s time to admit that we have a problem, and it’s not a new one. It’s one that we’ve been avoiding, dismissing, or outright denying for far too long. 

We’ve been given this moment in time to consider how we want Minnesota to look tomorrow and into the future. Let’s stop, reflect, and take a breath. Unlike Mr. Floyd, we can still breath, and history will be watching what we do next.