The Read Pile – An Update

It’s been a while since I’ve updated anyone on my current reading list or “the read pile” as I call it so here’s a picture of what I was reading back in May:

My read pile in late May.

My Reading Progress

The good news is that I’ve made some progress and have been finding more time for reading each day. Admittedly, sometimes it’s in the bathroom and almost always just before I fall asleep – I’m sure many of you understand. But in the past couple of months I managed to finish:

  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green – an interesting read and easy to read in bed as each chapter was short.
  • So You Want to Start a Podcast by Kristen Meinzer – an excellent book on podcasting and what makes a successful podcast.
  • Podcasting for Dummies by Tee Morris and Chuck Tomasi – more of a “nuts and bolts” book on the mechanics of podcasting.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon – a little difficult to read because of it’s format, but very worthwhile.
  • Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti – a contemplative trip through the Himalayas.
  • A stack of National Geographic magazines dating back a year through last month – these constituted most of my bathroom reading to be honest.
  • Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg – a harrowing true life tale of survival in the jungles of South America.

I ended up putting aside The YouTube Formula for now. I’m still interested in YouTube but podcasting has my attention at the moment and there’s only so much time in a day. However, I finally got my Ricoh WG-M1 Adventure Camera set up so there may be a few more hikes put up on my YouTube channel before too long.

My Reading Plan

In my current read pile you’ll notice that I’ve added a couple books which are in preparation for my trip to Egypt this October. Luxor Illustrated, is mostly pictures so that will be finished quickly. The same goes for Candy and Designing Disney. I’m reading Don’t Burp in the Boardroom at bedtime since it’s relatively light fare for management style books. I love Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, which all take place in USA National Parks. But, if I’m honest with myself this one may not get read until I board the plane for Egypt in October. I forgot how much reading I used to get done on airplanes during the pandemic.

My read pile today. I’m making some progress.

Suggestions Please

Since I do have a couple long international flights coming up in just a couple months now I’d love suggestions of some good fiction to read from everyone else. What are you reading that you think I might enjoy?

My taste are eclectic or at least I imagine they are so nothing is off limits!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

How Do Your Arms Stack Up to Other Gym Bros?

Note: I continue to collect data for the survey mentioned below. This post is updated as information changes.

There is an old saying that starts with “every man knows two sizes about himself” and if that man is a bodybuilder it’s a safe bet that one of those sizes is how big his arms are!

Based on the popularity of some of my earlier posts on what is the average bicep size (see When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? and How Do You Know if You Have Big Arms? for reference) I know that this is a topic of interest for many guys out there. So, let’s presume you’ve been lifting a while now and you know that you’re pretty big when compared to the average Joe on the street. But how big is that dude posing over in the corner of the gym and posting to his Instagram account? Do you match him? I don’t know, that guy looks pretty jacked…

Let’s see if we can get some answers to allay your fears and satisfy your curiosity.

Does Size Matter?

Photo by Timothy on Pexels.com

The short answer to this question is an emphatic…sort of.

It all depends what you are hoping to accomplish with your training. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when most men start lifting it’s for one of two main reasons: 1) they want to get stronger (aka the “Charles Atlas Syndrome”) or 2) they want to look better (aka the “what ‘chu doing tonight?” syndrome).

If your goal is strength then yes, to a large degree, size does matter. But not in the way you might think. In general a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. However, muscle size isn’t necessarily a good indicator of a man’s strength. I’ve known some 175 pound men who regularly outlift guys 50 pounds heavier. But, at some point size will be a factor. For example if a 175 pound man can bench 350 pounds he’s very strong pound for pound but has likely maxed out his capacity. Whereas if a 250 pound man can bench press 400 pounds he isn’t as strong per pound, but he’s got enough mass that he may be able to put up even more weight. It’s a matter of physics – it takes weight to move weight. There’s a reason that weightlifting competitions are divided into weight classes after all.

If, however, you are going for an aesthetic look of some kind. Perhaps to model, compete in bodybuilding, or catch the eye of a certain someone across the weight room, size does matter. You want to obtain proportions which show off your hard work in the gym and stretch your sleeves just enough to look good. But depending on your height and overall basic build you might be able to do this at a much smaller size that you think.

The Big Lie (or What to Really Expect)

The first thing you need to stop worrying about is the average bicep size of pro or any competitive bodybuilders. You don’t have to look far to find claims of exaggerated arm size which can lead to unrealistic expectations among natural lifters who are just starting out. Any bodybuilder worth his salt is going to claim that he has an arm which measures 20 inches (51 cm) or more. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, claimed he had a 22″ (56 cm) arm at his peak at a lean bodyweight of 235 pounds (107 kg) and a height of either 6’1″ or 6’2″ (187 cm).

However, even for one of the greatest bodybuilders ever, an arm that size is unlikely. I’m not saying that arms this big don’t exist, as I personally know a bodybuilder who has 20″ (51 cm) arms. But he is admittedly not natural and that measurement is flexed with a pump. To be frank, arms that big usually belong to men with high bodyfat percentages so they appear flat and without shape. Which in part defeats the goal of having big arms -which is to look and be strong.

The sad truth is that despite what you see on the internet or read in the muscle magazines (do they still have those?) you are not likely to get to a true 20″ arm with out extraordinary genetics and chemical assistance (prove me wrong guys – and more power to you if you do).

So, having said all this what can you expect. That’s were my recent survey came in.

Collecting Data

Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

Getting some basic information on the arm size of guys who lift for non-competitive reasons was a little difficult. This is in part because apparently hanging out at the men’s locker room of the local Planet Fitness with a tape measure in hand is not only frowned upon, but can even get you a lifetime ban from the place (don’t ask how I know)! These left me to approached men I know in real life and through social media and ask them how big their arms are. To my surprise, most agreed to help out as they were curious, too.

I want to stress that my survey is unscientific. To my knowledge all the participants have lifted for at least five years and some for considerably longer. Weightlifting and bodybuilding is not necessarily their primary athletic activity at this time, but it is included in their regular workouts. A few of the participants are actively trying to build their arms up (6), some are trying to maintain size (3) and the others are just lifting to improve/maintain their health (6). My sample group, though I think diverse, currently only has 17 men in it.

Testing Conditions

For the reasons stated above, all measurements were self-reported by the participants. There was no consistency in measuring tapes or techniques. The men range in age from 21 years old to 61 years old – but age is not factored into my results. The tallest are 6’3″ (190.5 cm) and the shortest is about 5’5″ (165 cm). I did not factor in weight, bodyfat percentage or other bodily measurements such as chest and waist. However, to my eye at least, all can be considered muscular even if a few are rocking the so-called “dad bod” or, in my case, the “grandad bod.” Most are Americans, but because I was able to gather information through social media some of the participants are men who reside outside of the United States.

Most of the men had a large arm and a small arm. For the purposes of this survey I took the larger arm’s measurement. Four of the men mentioned specifically that their arms had been larger in the past but they had lost size during the pandemic or for other reasons.

Most importantly, to my knowledge, most if not all are “natural” athletes who take nothing stronger than protein powder and pre-workout. I did not ask about the use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) though. These are just regular guys who lift on a regular basis. It’s intended to be a random sample of who you might meet in a typical gym and, let’s face it, in today’s culture you are likely comparing yourself to a couple of guys who are juicing but you don’t know it. Okay, I’ve got a couple ringers in my sample group who were once elite athletes and a couple personal trainers who lift for a living.

The Results

Photo by Pikx By Panther on Pexels.com

Let start with the numbers rounded to the nearest quarter inch or half centimeter:

  • Average Height – 70 inches (178 cm). Yes, they are a relatively tall group.
    Median Height – 70 inches (178 cm). Five guys are 5’10” exactly and make up the most common height. The next most common height it 5’11” (180 cm) with three men this tall.
  • Average Arm Unflexed – just under 15 inches (38 cm).
    Median Arm Unflexed – 15 inches (38 cm).
  • Average Arm Flexed – 16.25 inches (42 cm)
    Median Arm Flexed – 16.25 inches (43 cm)

Average Difference Between Flexed and Unflexed Arm – 1.5 inches (4 cm).

I threw the last measurement between the flexed and unflexed arm in for fun. Remember, when an arm is flexed the volume of the muscle doesn’t change, just the shape of it does. It’s my understanding that the difference in size between a flexed and unflexed arm can be an indication of how much fat is in the arm because you can’t flex fat. This is not true with the very lean man but may be true for those of us with a more substantial BMI. I’ve noticed myself that the leaner I get the greater this difference becomes. My difference is 2 inches (5 cm). The largest difference in the survey was at 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) and the smallest at a half inch (1.3 cm) which oddly enough was on a man who I know is very lean.

So what can we learn from the above information? I think the obvious take away is that if you lift you can expect your arms to get to at least 16 inches (42 cm) at a minimum regardless of height. Interestingly enough the tallest men in my survey, who were both 6’3″ (190.5 cm) did not have the biggest arms. That honor belonged to a man who stands 6’1″ (185.5 cm) with 18.25 inch (46.5.cm) arms. Likewise the shortest man at about 5’5″ (165 cm) had arms an inch larger, at 16″ (41 cm) than men 6 inches taller than him! However, in general, the men over 6 feet tall had larger arms.

And before you get concerned that a 17 inch arm is too small – go read my blog post on when is a man’s arm considered big that I mentioned earlier. You’ll find out that the average non-lifter’s arms are much smaller.

Conclusion

To sum everything up, it’s better to go for an arm that looks big than one which is actually big. Especially if you happen to be under 6 feet tall. Any man who is sporting a muscular arm that measures 16″ (41 cm) or more can consider his arms to be big. And likely, so will everyone else!

Stay lean, focus on the triceps as much if not more than the biceps, and you’ll be getting second looks because of the size of your “guns” soon enough. Tall guys, the good news is that you can likely build arms which exceed those of a man who is shorter. But, bad news, if you are like most of the tall men I know at least, you’re going to have to keep pushing on to 18″ (46 cm) to look really big.

If you need some tips on building big biceps check out another one of my blog posts The Secret to Building Big Arms Which No One Else is Willing to Share.

Well, what are you waiting for? Stop flexing in the mirror and go get lifting!

P.S. – do you want to participate in this survey? It’s not too late. Just comment or message me with your stats and I’ll add them into the sample group.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Amusement Parks or Theme Parks?

I’ve been listening lately to several podcasts and watching YouTube videos devoted to the histories and attractions of a variety of amusement parks. While I enjoy most of them I’ve discovered I have a pet peeve, or maybe just a peeve, that I didn’t really know I had before. Many of the hosts of these various shows seem to use the terms “theme parks” and “amusement parks” interchangeably. In my mind this is not accurate because although all theme parks are amusement parks not all amusement parks are theme parks. Amusement park covers a wide variety of entertainment venues which may or may not be specifically themed.

For example: Cedar Point, on the shores of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio, is an amusement park. Though it has various areas which are loosely themed, such as their Frontier Town and Frontier Trail, the bulk of the park is a collection of roller coasters, circular rides, and other attractions. I would argue that other parks like Kennywood, near Pittsburgh, and most, if not all, Six Flags properties fall into this category. Yes, they have some themed rides and attractions but no one goes to these parks with the idea that they will be transported to the wild West or Gotham City. The theme is secondary to the rides themselves.

The Disney and Universal parks are closer to true theme parks with entire lands devoted to creating the impression that you are in another place and time and attractions which stick to the theme. I think the best examples of these are Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge and Main Street USA, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and even Springfield (at least in Florida) at Universal. When you go to these places the enjoyment of being surrounded by what feels like another place and time is the main source of enjoyment. The fact that you get to escape from Gringott’s is almost a bonus.

Now, from a historical perspective I think I can make the case that the real theme parks are some of the smaller places which don’t really exist anymore. A couple used to be found in the Irish Hills area of Michigan. The Prehistoric Forest which attempted to make you feel like you’ve walked into the time of the dinosaurs and Stagecoach Stop, which still appears to be operating, is the recreation of a town in the American Old West, complete with shoot outs and stage coach rides.

Anyway, that’s what I think. What do you think? Am I being too picky in my terminology or do you think that we need to be a little more precise in our use of the term “theme parks?”

Let me know if the comments!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Why We Run

A Very Brief and Oversimplified History of Running

Sometimes the first mile is the hardest.

Running as a sport has been around a long time – at least going back to the ancient Greek Olympic games and possibly even older. Early on running served the practical purpose of conveying messages relatively quickly between communities and military forces, at least if the legend of how the marathon came to be is true, and then later it became something that people did for fun.

To my memory running and jogging as a hobby really took off in the 1970s in large thanks to people like Jim Fix, whose book The Complete Book of Running is credited by some as kicking off the entire fitness “craze,” and Thaddeus Kostrubala who wrote the Joy of Running. Because of these two men and other fitness gurus at the time millions of people discovered the health benefits of running as a way to increase cardio vascular health and lose weight. It was no longer something that only boxers did in the movies during a training montage.

Running For a Cause

At the same time that running for hobby was gaining popularity it also became linked with raising money for causes. One of the most famous causes that comes to mind is Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope in 1980. Fox attempted to run east to west across Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. And this after his own leg was amputated from the disease! Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers (3,339 mi) his legacy lives on with millions of people around the world running in his honor annually while raising funds for cancer research.

Other groups followed this lead and it became a trend. Today on any given weekend you can likely find any number of 5k, 10k, half marathons, or full marathons benefiting a worthy cause near your home.

There is no doubt that running has become a powerful tool to raise awareness and funds for various causes world-wide.

Why Running?

So when answering the question, “why do we run?” I think that on the surface there are several obvious answers: health, sport, and fundraising. I myself participate once a year in a 5K run in my hometown which benefits breast cancer research: The Rose Run. Interestingly, this race is run both in the little City of Petersburg, Michigan (pop. 1,200 or so) and in Burbank, California (pop. a whole lot more). I get a kick out of that for some reason.

However, even though I do not consider myself a true runner by any stretch of the imagination – unless a bear or another large carnivore is chasing me so if you see me running you better start running, too – I can tell you that it isn’t any of the obvious reasons which keeps people running. It’s deeper than that and some of the reasons are conflicting believe it or not.

Here’s my list of the real reasons people run:

Alone Time: just you, some tunes on the phone, and nature. What a better way to get out doors and clear your head of the days worries and troubles or just to think.

Camaraderie: there’s a certain friendship among runners. This is similar to the instant connection most everyone has when they meet another person who engages in the same hobby/sport that you do, but it seems especially strong among runners.

The Joy of Participation: I had the pleasure of running in this year’s Rose Run with my niece. Our shared experience over that 5K has given us stories that will last for weeks and memories that will last much longer.

It Feels So Good When You Stop: not just because you can breathe easily again and your heart slows back down to a reasonable pace. Once those endorphins kick in you really do feel better and happier!

Satisfaction of Pushing Yourself Towards a Goal: there’s a certain satisfaction that we all feel when you set out to achieve a goal and then go out and do it. Whether it be 5K or a full out marathon – you can deservedly pat yourself on the back. Even if you have to soak your feet afterwards!

So that’s it. My real reasons we run. I’d love to hear what yours are – leave a comment and share!

Finished the race and I’m still smiling!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Fitness Quest: July 2021 Update

Since we are now about half-way through the year and I haven’t done a proper fitness update in a while here you go!

Internal Health

The big news is that my Crohn’s disease continues to be under control. The bigger news is that my heart is working better, too. There was a concern in March that my heart function had decreased somewhat so my cardiologist put me on Entresto (you’ve seen the ads if you live in the United States) and it appears to be working. My ejection fraction has gone from 35% to 43% in the first three months. Since I tolerate the drug and am responding to it we are now talking about increasing the dosage a little to see if we can do a little better. From what I understand a normal ejection fraction is somewhere between 70 and 50%. So I’m almost back to the “normal” range. An unexpected side effect is that I could tell it was working because I didn’t have so many dark thoughts about death and dying as I’ve been having since this whole thing began. I’m thinking about the future again. The mind and the body are linked. If your body works better, your mind responds accordingly. At least that seems to hold true in my case.

External Health

I’m still staying active as possible and, according to my trainer at least, I’m doing things that men 20 years younger than me can’t do. Such as bench press more than my bodyweight. My weight is down since the beginning of the year and I see veins where I haven’t seen veins before (if you don’t know why this is cool, talk to your nearest gym rat). I’ve given up on ever having six pack abs for the simple reason that two abdominal surgeries have kind of mooshed things around. I’m still working on losing the layers of fat on my mid-section but between the scars and other issues I don’t know what I’ll find when that happens. Still a long way to go but my bodyfat is moving downwards with my weight.

Current Workout and Activities

Cardio will be a bit of a challenge as usual. My tap dancing is paused for the summer (we’ll start up again in September) and I need to get back to putting in my steps each day. I’ve been falling short of my 10,000 for quite a while now.

Like men 30 years my junior I’m still obsessed with arm size. So I’m in a little competition with another friend who lifts to see who can gain the most size on his arms in six weeks. In addition to this I am working chest twice per week and am currently going with a high repetition/low weight scheme on bench press. I’m working up to 100 reps over 4 sets at 135 lbs. (61kg) with my brother-in-law. I’m about 10 shy of the goal right now. Not sure what we’ll do next. Maybe back to 225 lbs (102kg) to see how we fare at that weight. I also workout with my trainer once per week.

I’ll be running – and I use the term loosely – in the annual Rose Run on July 10th which is a fund raiser for cancer research. I’m also doing a 25 push up per day challenge for the American Cancer Society. So it’s a busy month!

Summary

If I can keep up this pace I expect to end the year in a much healthier place than I began it. And with a more positive mindset, too. I don’t expect to win any marathons or bodybuilding competitions, but I sure as heck expect to be wearing smaller pants and lifting more weight! I might even be a better tap dancer too. A long shot I know.

I hope that you are all doing well in overcoming your fitness challenges and reaching your goals, too! Let me know about them in the comment section below.

Featured image by Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Why Reading is Still Fundamental

I find it ironic that by most standards literacy rates are at a world-wide high, but that interest in reading for pleasure or self-improvement still seems to be unpopular. I get it, so much of social media is visually oriented. Need to learn a new skill? Go to YouTube. Want to see pictures of cats? Instagram. Ideas to decorate your living room? Pinterest. Looking to waste an afternoon on mindless videos? Tik Tok. And so on and so forth. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to more traditional forms of entertainment like movies and television (cable, streaming, or otherwise).

I think that in a world with so many options for entertainment and information it’s easy to forget that reading is still fundamental. But I think it’s more crucial than ever and that our collective success depends on it. Here are a few reasons why…

Reading is Active

Read for pleasure.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

With visual mediums you are essentially a passive observer to the action. You sit there and take it all in. No effort is made on your part but to react. With reading you need to use your imagination. There are no sets, no drawings, no one showing you how it’s done. You have to create all the images in your head. And, bonus, reading fiction in particular makes you a kinder person by developing your ability to empathize and identify with other people.

Reading is Personalized

Unlike other mediums you read at your own pace. If you come across a passage that confuses you it’s okay. You can put the book, tablet, phone, or whatever down and think about what you’ve just read. You have time to think without affecting the overall experience. Pause a video too many times and you actually lose track of what’s going because pacing is part of the experience.

Reading Makes You Healthier

Read for others.

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Type in “advantages of reading” or “benefits of reading” into your favorite web search engine and you’ll find that various studies show there are actual physical and mental health benefits to reading, including but not limited to:

  • improving brain connectivity.
  • reducing stress.
  • lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
  • fighting depression symptoms.
  • preventing cognitive decline as you age.

And, bonus, reading makes you smarter too!

Reading Will Help You Get Ahead Professionally

Read to learn.

Photo by Rheyan Glenn Dela Cruz Manggob on Pexels.com

It’s true that you might find how to do some specific task through videos – I myself have used YouTube to get a quick refresher on how to create an Excel spreadsheet formula for example – but if you want ideas I think you want to read. Trade magazines, articles on subjects that interest you, books about a wide variety of topics, even fiction. You never know where that next brilliant idea is going to come from. My bookshelf is full or books that are business and customer service oriented.

One of my bookshelves – the black bar is a shelf support, not a book that’s blotted out.

What Should You Read?

The simple answer to this question is read whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. The beauty of reading is that it really doesn’t matter what you read. As I mention in the paragraph above, I personally think that everyone should read a wide variety of items. Currently in my “to read pile” I have a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, religious, comic, and professional development books.

It doesn’t matter if you prefer paper, which is my medium of choice, or a tablet. It doesn’t matter if you buy the book or get it from the library (one of our greatest underutilized resources). Just pick a few things out that interest you and get to reading!

My current read pile. Since taking this picture last week I have finished Jungle, The Anthropocene Reviewed, and Podcasting for Dummies.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Fanboy Adventures: Meeting Butch Patrick

If you read my earlier post (Addams Family vs Munsters: Can’t We All Get Along?) you know that I’m a Munsters Maniac going way back. So when my friend Mark invited me to go meet Butch Patrick who played Eddie Munster in the original series I enthusiastically said yes!

Typically, I’m not one to attend “meet the star” events but I realized that this was likely my last opportunity to meet anyone from the original cast as sadly most are now gone. Other than Butch Patrick only Pat Priest, who played the second Marilyn during the original run of the series, survives. However, since she is now 84 I suspect she doesn’t tour as much as she may have before.

Trivia tidbit – technically Butch Patrick is the second person to play Eddie. The role was played by another child actor, Nate “Happy” Derman, in the unaired pilot. Likewise Yvonne DeCarlo was the second Lily as she replaced Joan Marshall before the show aired. However, unaired pilots don’t really count in terms of television.

The Munster Koach

We met each other at Freedom Comics in Toledo, OH a few minutes before 2:00 PM which is when Butch was scheduled to appear. He had already pretty much set up and was taking pictures and signing autographs when we arrived. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Butch was traveling with a replica of the Munster’s Koach – which in my opinion is the second coolest car ever on television. The first being the original Batmobile from the Batman TV series, a show that also had a great theme song, and which, not coincidentally, was designed by the same person: George Barris. The Koach was kept in a trailer but we were allowed to go in and take pictures. The only rules were don’t touch and don’t sit!

The closest I’ve gotten to the Batmobile – my prized model. I think the highlights are red on the real thing.

Meeting Butch aka Eddie Munster

Me with Butch Patrick

We had beat the crowd and only had to wait a few minutes to meet Butch Patrick. Knowing that these days many (most?) of the stars from these fan favorite shows charge for autographs I had come prepared with cash. In fact, I had enough on me to purchase a copy of Butch Patrick’s Munster Memories which he did sign for me. We talked for a few minutes and remembering some advice I had gotten years ago about meeting celebrities I asked about his current projects. I was pleased to learn that he has several things in the works including a series of interviews with surviving WWII veterans, cars, and others. If you visit his Munsters Fan website, named aptly Munsters.com, you’ll find more information on what he’s been up to and working on.

Butch was pleasant to talk to and generous with his time. I’m impressed that while Mark and I browsed the comic shop and it’s wide-array of collectibles that the line to meet Butch continued to grow. Of course there were plenty of older fanboys like myself but a number of younger people, too. It was a testament to the enduring popularity of The Munsters. Possibly the popularity of Lidsville, but I don’t think so.

I got to visit with a friend who I hadn’t seen in person for over a year thanks to COVID, meet someone whose work I enjoyed as a kid (and today), and explore a comic book shop I hadn’t visited before.

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a couple hours on a holiday afternoon!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Dancing is Life – Things I Learned from Tap

I first took up tap dancing to add a new skill to my musical theater arsenal. I figured that someday my theater group would put on a production of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and I wanted to play the monster who, naturally, has a big tap dance number. Ergo I needed to learn to tap.

We never did put on the play, so far at least, but I enjoyed tap dancing so much that I kept up with it. In fact, I’ve been at it so long that it really is surprising that I’m not better at it – especially since I have an excellent, award winning instructor who has an unending supply of patience! But there’s only so much you can teach a moose. In case you are confused I’m the moose.

There are a lot of benefits to tap: improved cardiovascular health, improved coordination, it sounds cool, no one yells at you for making too much noise, and it’s just plain fun. However, over the years I have discovered that a lot of the lessons we learn in tap class also apply to life. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

  • Keep looking forward: if you keep looking back you are going to fall. What’s behind you isn’t what counts, it’s what’s ahead of you.
  • Working together is easier than working separately: if you can’t figure something out, get help. Supportive classmates (or team mates or work mates) can encourage you and the group to greater things.
  • It takes time to learn a new step: no one puts on a pair of tap shoes and dances like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. As with any new skill you start slowly, build on what you’ve learned earlier until it all comes together.
  • Ignoring the rhythm leads to disaster: if you don’t pay attention to the music and listen to the beat you end up with a cacophony of taps. But together in tempo you end up complimenting the music to create something greater than either sound alone could.
  • Paying attention to the expert makes learning new things easier: there’s no sense in seeking out the best help if you are only going to ignore it and go your own way.
  • Not everyone can be the star: sometimes you get to be the center of the dance number. Sometimes you are supporting someone else. As long as the end result is pleasing to the audience the goal has been achieved.
  • Smile, smile, smile: attitude makes a difference. Sure you can be upset during rehearsal but when it’s time for the show, smile and don’t let them see you sweat.
  • It’s all about balance: if you don’t find your center and keep it over your feet you will fall down. When everything is balanced life is good.
  • Stay focused – especially when everything seems to be spinning out of control: when you are moving in a circle, keep your focus on one point and you won’t get dizzy. Focus keeps you standing and will get you through even the toughest routine.

There you have it. A few lessons from tap that will also support you through life. Oddly enough, they are similar to things I’ve learned doing theater which will probably be a future blog post (go figure).

Now, go learn something new and have fun doing it!

My tap shoes.
My trusty tap shoes.

PS – if you live in or near Monroe County, Michigan and want to take up dance I highly recommend Destination Dance at Monroe County Community College with Director Kellie Lajiness. If she can teach me how to dance she can teach anyone!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

A Squatch In the Woods…

Anyone who has known me for a sufficient length of time – let’s say a week – knows that I have more than a passing interest in the Bigfoot phenomenon. But, do I actually believe that an eight foot tall primate stalks the deep forests and valleys of North America? Let’s explore that a bit…

My history with Bigfoot

Is there a squatch in these woods?
Or maybe in these woods?

The earliest memory I have of being introduced to the idea that we might share our planet with undiscovered primates is when I was terrified by the appearance of the Abominable Snowman, aka “Bumble,” during the annual airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The build up to Bumble’s appearance was so effective and scared me so much that I think it was several years before I actually had the nerve to look at him on our giant 24″ black and white television! Which might be more understandable if I didn’t happen to be 15 years old at the time…(just kidding, I was 4 or 5 at the time).

Flash forward a couple of years to a still young me, now out of therapy and able to watch Christmas specials on television again without hiding under the couch, reading the National Wildlife Federation’s April 1968 issue. This issue happened to feature an article on the Bigfoot mystery in Northern California. I could hardly believe my eyes – could such a thing be real? Unfortunately, unlike today where there is a new book or television show produced about Bigfoot just about every week, research resources were scarce in this pre-Google age. It wasn’t until my early teens when I stumbled across John Napier’s book Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. Napier was one of the first notable scientists to give serious attention to the Bigfoot phenomenon. His book provided some compelling evidence, but no actual conclusion that Bigfoot or the Yeti (the primate said to live in the Himalayas) actually existed.

A squatcher is born

Clearly this structure could not be made by human hands. Only one answer makes sense…Bigfoot!

Napier’s book only whetted my appetite for all things squatchy. I devoured anything that I could regarding Sasquatch or the Yeti. I studied any articles I could find, I watched movies, and I watched docudramas like The Legend of Boggy Creek. Heck, even today I’ll watch anything that has Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or Yeti in the title. No matter how good or bad they are (spoiler: most are bad). By the way, I found the 1957 film The Abominable Snowman especially frightening and fascinating when it ran on Saturday or Sunday afternoon TV. Either on Sir Graves Ghastly or Bill Kennedy at the Movies, I’m sure it’s one of those two because Rita Bell’s Prize Movie was on during the week when I was in school. Man, I miss shows like those. The closest thing today to Bill Kennedy at the Movies is TCM. I’m glad they are keeping the tradition of talking a little about the movies before and after the show alive. But, I digress…

Other interests develop

The search continues!

Along with this Bigfoot fascination I developed an interest in world geography. How could a Yeti survive in the harsh conditions of the Himalayas (spoiler – they can’t. Most sightings are actually in the valleys not the peaks of the mountains)? How vast are the forest of North America? Where else have mysterious creatures and monsters been found? I became interested in other things – Mount Everest and wilderness exploration and tales of survival for example. My own passion for the outdoors never let up either. Even today, whenever I’m hiking I try to observe everything. Not only for signs of giant primates but for signs of other things, too.

In short, my curiosity about Bigfoot led me to explore other things about the world we live in. So my seemingly irrational fascination with Bigfoot led to a very rational exploration of nature. Ranae Holland, of Finding Bigfoot fame, in her TED talk explains this type of thing better than I can. You can watch her talk What Bigfoot Can Teach Us About Curiousity on YouTube.

So, back to the question I asked at the beginning of the blog – do I actually believe in Bigfoot? Well, the rational part of me says that the chances of a giant primate roaming the forests and mountains of North America is very slim. However, that same part of me says that it is unlikely that all those foot prints are made by pranksters. More compelling to me, after watching all those movies, is that no one in Hollywood has made a costume that looks like the creature in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film. Were a couple of cowboys really that good at faking a Sasquatch’s proportions?

Do I believe?

I won’t go so far as to say that I definitely think Bigfoot is out there. I will go so far as to say that people are seeing something. Maybe grizzly bears spend more time walking upright than we think, maybe there’s a spore in trees which causes hallucinations, maybe…I don’t know.

But there is one thing I know for sure. I would rather live in a world where the possibility of something like Bigfoot exists than a world where people are so convinced of their own pre-conceived ideas of how things should be that they can’t even entertain the possibility that there are things beyond their comprehension. That the world still holds mystery and wonder. That they could possibly be wrong in their perception of how things are because they are focused on how they want things to be.

Because beyond the limits of what you “know” is where the real adventure begins.

My collection of books on Mount Everest.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Roller Coaster Prep: Tips to Better Enjoy Your Day of Thrill Riding

A friend recently asked me how he should prepare to spend a day riding roller coasters at a major amusement park. He asked this knowing that I’m an experienced roller coaster rider (I logged over 300 coasters before I stopped counting) and frequent visitor of theme parks all over North America (at least 70 in 25 states and 1 Canadian province). So even though my thrill ride days may be over on advice from my cardiologist, I thought it might be time to share some of my hard earned wisdom on how to prepare for a day of riding scream machines.

Tip #1: Pack as light as you can. You’ll be on your feet all day and most parks will not let you take anything on a coaster with you which isn’t strapped to your body. For this reason I’ve started wearing a small “fanny” pack with several pockets. These are good for keeping cell phones, portable chargers, glasses, credit/debit card, cash, keys and sunscreen on hand without weighing you down. An alternative to the small pack are cargo shorts with velcro or zippered pockets.

If you feel for some reason that you can’t pack light, many parks that specialize in thrill rides will have lockers located near the ride entrances. These are usually fee based. In the old days you could use a coin to rent a locker. Now days you will need a credit or debit card. Some parks, like Cedar Point, will also have “boxes” at the loading station that you can put your belongings in. You do use these boxes at your own risk, but I can tell you that I’ve never experienced a problem with someone taking my stuff from one of these boxes over the years. However, accidents do happen especially if you hat looks like another one in the same bin.

Walt Disney World parks are an exception to this tip. You can take a small back pack with you if you like as almost all of their rides have pockets or space for you to put the pack at your feet.

Tip #2: Only take your car keys into the park. There’s no need to risk losing anything more than that on a ride. Leave your house keys, etc. locked in your car and safely out of sight (glove compartment or under the seat). Likewise, I don’t take my wallet with me anymore either. Most parks now accept credit/debit cards at all their retail locations and if they don’t you can stuff a few bills into a pocket or the above mentioned fanny pack.

Tip 3#: Wear a hat. Especially for those of us who are “follicly-challenged.” However, don’t wear your favorite hat as you’ll want to sit on it when you are riding the rides (to prevent it from blowing off). I’ve lost a couple over the years because I’ve left them on the seat of the ride.

Tip #4: If you wear glasses pick up some sport straps to hold them onto your head while riding. The park may even sell them, but you can likely get them cheaper at a retailer near you. Be aware that some parks consider a few of the coasters to be so physical that you may not even wear glasses which are strapped on.

Tip #5: Follow the rules! They are there for your safety. Roller coasters on the whole are a safe form of amusement and you are more likely to have an accident driving to the park than on a ride. Generally when someone gets injured, or worse, it’s because they were not following the rules. For example: going beyond fences to retrieve a dropped item is an enormous risk and people have been killed doing this.

Tip #6: Check the park’s website before visiting. Most every park lists basic information regarding ride specifics (rider’s height and other physical limitations for example) and facilities (lockers). Taking a few minutes to “know before you go” will make your day more enjoyable.

Tip #7: Take breaks. Riding roller coasters can be physically demanding even though in most cases you are sitting down. Twisting and turning at high speeds can upset even the hardiest of us. Don’t be afraid to throw a dark ride or two into your day between thrills. This tip isn’t as crucial if you have to wait and hour or more between rides due to the length of the lines.

There you have them, my top tips to better enjoy your day of thrill seeking at your favorite amusement park. I’d love to hear yours – be sure to comment and share your top ideas.

Ride on!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr