Onward past the fog

I’d forgotten how truly important it is to have people who inspire you to be more than you currently are.  Simply to complete the Cap2K (www.cap2k.com) in reasonably good form will require a lot of work, and the physical training is just the groundwork for the mental preparation that enables normal people to wake up early on a Saturday morning, throw themselves into 69 degree water in the middle of an urban river, surrounded by a few hundred other swimmers, and race two kilometers just to be able to say “I did it”.  Up until today, it has been a more or less solitary pursuit for me, but I learned today that won’t get me where I want to go.

My training is going well.  My swimming is progressively stronger, and technically improved.  But even though I have a lot of energy lately, I could feel myself gradually not wanting to go swim this morning while at work.  Don’t know why.  That’s pretty normal in any sport, and just like in running I figured I needed to just push through it and I’d feel better afterwards.  Besides, there are only slightly over five weeks left to prepare myself for the race, so it’s not like I have a lot of opportunity to waste.  I considered calling a friend who is also doing the race for encouragement, but realized that I was just shifting the burden onto someone else’s shoulders.  So I sat in my car a moment, and thought about what I expected to receive from this friend, and why I needed to look outside of myself for that.  And that is when I realized that if this person were sitting next to me in the car, I wouldn’t even consider not swimming, that I’d in fact be eager to get out and work hard.  I wouldn’t have felt that way if it had been a friend from work, or a family member.  But it was a person like myself, who understood why I needed to prepare for the race, why I needed to race at all, and who would understand precisely the same things if I were considering going running or entering a writing competition.  I don’t need someone else to tell me that I should go swim, but I do need someone else who reminds me that it’s ok to be like that, to want to push yourself to swim or run or learn something new even when you don’t feel like it.  People who aren’t like that can never understand.

I returned to work from my swim exactly as expected:  it was a fantastic swim, much better, stronger, faster than the day before, which itself was better than the one before that.  I immediately made plans for my first cold-water open water practice tomorrow at Barton Springs, although I was completely aware that once the endorphins wore off I might begin to think more conservatively.  But everyone at work was supportive in the way that only truly non-athletic people can be.  “Oh, that’s nice” said one, and “I can’t believe you went swimming at lunch instead of eating” said another.  I’m ok with all of that, because first, I don’t need a cheering section, and second, these are people who are so far from envisioning themselves doing any form of exercise that it is like explaining an apple to a carrot.  They are fine with me out there doing my thing, as long as I am fine with never, ever asking them to participate.

And then I got home and shared my plan for tomorrow with my wife.  For those of you who know my outspoken wife, the following will come as no shock to you.  She probably means no harm.  And it is an accepted fact around here that I am going to do whatever I want to do anyway, so I think sometimes people say stupid things to me just to see if they’ll get a reaction.  But just the same, when I let her know I’d be getting up early to go swim at Barton Springs, her only comment was “you know there’s no chance you’re going to win this race, right?”  I am not sure if it would be possible to encapsulate a deeper misunderstanding of that part of a person who wants to get up before 6 am on his day off and go train for a race than my wife did in that short comment.  People who aren’t like that can never understand.

Gimme Shelter

Threw a random CD into the player while driving to the pool with Chris today, and by chance Gimme Shelter,  the greatest rock tune of all time, came on.  I don’t listen to music while I run or workout, but I do enjoy setting the mood on my way there.  I could listen to Gimme Shelter every day for a year and not get tired of it.   That was followed by Copperhead Road by Steve Earle, which is a magical composition because it touches the white trash deep within most American caucasians.  I don’t believe I have any moonshining ancestors, I did not serve in Vietnam, and I actually think the drug trade in all it’s forms is evil, but after listening to Copperhead Road I’m always ready to go out and rebel against The Man.  Finally, just before we arrived at the pool, Chris asked me to turn it up when Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of Voodoo Child came on, and I knew I had been a good parent and raised my boy right.  I think that’s the only remake I very much prefer to the original, and every time I hear it I feel like a total badass.  Then, of course, I realize I am driving a mini-van to the local YMCA, that I have to be careful not to over-do it because I have to be able to go to work tomorrow, and that I need to finish up at a reasonable hour because I need to work on the lawn mower when I get home.  I take my badass moments in tiny increments, whenever they are available.

My Disposable Rocket

“Inhabiting a male body is like having a bank account; as long as it’s healthy, you don’t think much about it.”  It’s my favorite John Updike essay, and I re-read it from time to time to keep track of where I stand in the story’s chronology.  This whole Cap2K (www.Cap2k.com) exercise is sort of part of that, particularly the effort to raise funds for prostate cancer research (which also plays a minor role in Updike’s tale).  I had promised earlier to tell about my most recent prostate adventure, and although the story is familiar to many in my workplace already, here goes:

One of the first things I did after moving back to the U.S. and getting a job with health insurance was to get a “physical”.  My employer provides pretty good insurance, and everyone always says you need a check-up yearly, especially as you age.  So, I made the appointment, showed up at the appointed hour, waited the federally mandated hour-and-a-half in the waiting room, and saw a doctor in non-emergency circumstances for the first time in about twenty years.  “Why are you here?” were his first words.  Admittedly, I am robustly healthy.  But he had already scheduled a solid ten minutes for my 30-minute physical, so we both said “why the heck not?” and did the check-up anyway.  Well, you don’t have to beat me over the head to tell me I’m not wanted, so that was the last physical I got for several years.

This last year, my employer and our insurance began strongly promoting preventive care, and offered incentives to undergo a check-up that included a biometric screening.  My initial reaction was to assume that this was a ploy to eventually weed out employees with a pre-existing disposition to various expensive ailments that might develop in the years to come, but on second thought I realized that I am not one of those people.  In fact, they might even consider lowering my premiums after a screening, so I signed up.  Amazingly, given the rapid advances in the U.S. medical field, that federal hour-and-a-half wait was still in effect when I showed up for my appointment, but everything else had changed.  First, I was met by an attractive young medical assistant who led me to the examination room.  One of the perks of being an old guy is that you’re allowed a limited amount of low impact flirtation with young women because you are obviously not a threat, so I took advantage of the opportunity during our short walk.  I find it relaxes me.  Anyway, she left and the doctor arrived, a very professional, very tiny Chinese woman.  I immediately liked her better than the last guy I had, because she seemed genuinely interested in giving me a physical.  So she did her thing, top to bottom, and then explained that it was recommended that a man my age get a prostate exam annually, and would I like to proceed with that?  I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before (I would have worn nicer underwear, perhaps), but I found myself again saying “why the heck not” in a doctor’s office and instructed her to proceed.  Again, a perk of being an older guy in this situation is that you are now theoretically mature enough to understand that the examining doctor is a doctor first, and being a woman doesn’t matter in the least, particularly when you think about the years of college and the enormous student loans she has to pay off.  So I began to drop my drawers when she says “wait one moment, I need to get an assistant”.  An assistant?  What did she have in mind?  I didn’t think my prostate exam would require even an entire hand, much less four of them.  Then I realized that perhaps her gender did matter, because she maybe needed a witness that nothing unprofessional happened.  We live in bizarre times.  And guess who the witness was?  Of course, the earlier victim of my suave flirtation.  I grew a great deal in maturity during that short examination.  I am a better man for it.  The doctor even felt things were going so well that she had me rotate forward to check for hernias at the same time (I really would have preferred a warning on that one for grooming purposes).  So there you have it, clean bill of health, plus an end to my uncalled for flirtation with women trying to do a difficult job.

Now my only remaining problem is timing.  I wasn’t planning on getting another exam this year, because I really am in a low risk group.  But strictly for the sake of my involvement with the Cap2K and this blog, I am leaning toward scheduling an exam so that I can share the adventure with everyone before I end this blog after the race.  Have to think about that one, because “a man and his body are like a boy and the buddy who has a driver’s license and the use of his father’s car for the evening; one goes along, gratefully, for the ride.”

Butt-ass nekid conversations

I get frequent comments on my gym bag, so I wasn’t surprised today when the nice looking 20-something guy in the locker room said “you’ve got a nice bag”. Image “They make all the cool stuff for kids” is my usual reply, because it’s true.  I really like my Sponge Bob bag, and the only thing that could make me give it up would be perhaps a really nice Mojo Jojo bag, or an especially deserving friend who would effectively be going steady with me after a gift of that magnitude.

I suppose it’s normal that people will talk to me in the locker room, because I work pretty fast and hard in the gym itself, and Imageif you wanted to say something to me, then the locker room is your only chance.  I don’t go to the gym to socialize, although I like what I perceive of most of the people there.  Incidentally, for you single guys out there, this is a very bad place to meet girls.  There are very few in there working out, and the ones who are there seem to be pretty much just like me:  they work hard, and aren’t there to socialize.

Of these conversations in the locker room, they pretty much all seem to take place while I am completely naked.  I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life basically naked all day

Image, and by now the condition is pretty unremarkable to me.  So I was (only slightly) taken aback when the young guy followed up his bag comment with “and you’ve got a terrific body”.  Umm…”thank you!”  But not wanting our conversation to end awkwardly, I added some fatherly advice that it’s important to start early, because “it’s much harder once you’ve got a family and kids”, after which he scurried on out the door.

My last naked locker room conversation was actually more uncomfortable.  A guy about my age struck up a conversation right after I’d undressed, and he was pretty skilled at casual conversation that was obviously going to lead to something else.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait for it long, because I smelled pretty bad and really needed to shower and get back to work.  We finally got around to his line of business, which was insurance, which he wanted to sell me, which made the whole thing easier.  This is what is great about business cards:  once you ask someone like that to give you one, the meeting is pretty much over.  You can both go on your ways, just don’t ever give them one of your cards (I’m sorry, I don’t have one of my cards right now because I’m completely naked.) in return.

Last big swim of the week tomorrow, then I’m forced to take Saturday off because of work.  Going to be able to do some family laps on Sunday if everyone’s in the mood, as it will be a day off.  I’ve realized that I need to continue sharing my prostate’s adventures with you, so tomorrow I’ll tell you about the only time in my life I’ve been naked in a room with two women at the same time.  All for the sake a research.

Too much mind

This week has been a slog through work, meaning no days off, go in at 8 a.m., get out sometime around 7:30, nine days straight.  The only good thing about it is that I can arrange things to step out for a couple of hours in the afternoon and hit the gym or pool, and I mean every day because it’s my only opportunity to get away from that place.  I immediately started noticing something funny (funny:  “ha-ha”) that seems to happen when I go straight from work to swimming hard:  as soon as I begin swimming free style warm ups, my legs almost immediately get a strange weak feeling, almost like they’re falling asleep.  I’ve attributed this to going straight from being on my feet a lot to going into a horizontal position and using a lot of upper body muscles.  It gets better after I push through it.  Today, I suppose I was a little tired, because the same thing happened but it was funny:  NOT HA-HA.  I was about four laps into warm-ups, out over the deep end, when it suddenly occurred to me that my legs couldn’t do anything and that if it progressed to my upper body (which was absolutely fine) I was going to instantly sink like a rock.  I felt fine as soon as I switched to kicks, but after that I believe I will begin warm ups with the kickboard first.

I’ve been trying hard to apply what I’m re-learning in Total Immersion, but it’s a mental game as much as a physical one.  If your time in the pool is limited (pretty much by definition, your time in the pool is limited), plus you’re really fixated as well on building a distance base, then it becomes easy to stop trying to practice new techniques to swim better.  Without realizing it, you’re just stroking the way you always have trying to hit whatever distance mark you’ve set for yourself.  I’ve already got a pretty good handle on the first two cardinal rules, balance your body better in the water, and make your body longer.  I was already doing that.  What I have not been doing is bi-lateral breathing, or breathing first on one side of a stoke, next on another.  The third rule, swim on your side, has suddenly made me realize why I should be doing that.  If I’m always breathing on my right, I do a pretty decent job of swimming on my left side, but because I never breath on my left I don’t get nearly enough rotation onto my right side.  This is going to take a lot of work, because my timing is all off when I try to breath on my left.

Today I began working on another piece of information I read last night, that I should not be trying to move my hand through the water, but instead should be using my hand as an anchor, as if I were grabbing on to the rung of a ladder and pulling the rest of my body forward.  To really do this right, you’ve got to start the power in your hips, which is one of those things that I seldom get right unless I think about it and when I do it feels amazingly effortless.  I was about twenty minutes into my swim when I hear a “Hi, Dad!”, and I look up to see my son Christopher has appeared.  What a great feeling!  I believe that’s the first time in a very long while that anyone has spontaneously come to join me doing something not mandatory.  I’m not complaining, that’s just the way things are any more because everybody’s got a lot to do.  But to see that it was Chris, who had his beautiful smile and sounded actually happy to be there, really made me feel great.

Anyway, Chris and I were sharing a lane, and as always happens when I start to tire, I had to concentrate more on my technique to avoid getting sloppy.  I was balancing my body, stretching really well to make myself longer, even trying to roll much more on my right to get more on the side.  Then I said to myself “now pull yourself up the ladder”, which actually worked pretty well although I think it is enough to say “start the movement in your hip” and I’ll get where I want to be.  But then I just had to remember another piece of information, that I should be a Front Quadrant Swimmer, meaning I should delay beginning my pull a bit so I’ve always got one or the other hand stretched out in front.  Thinking overload, and I instantaneously went from swimming fairly well to being a thrashing lump of spasmo half-way down the pool.  Turns out I already was a Front Quadrant Swimmer, and thinking about it just turned me into a dork.

I must have scared Chris, because he shortly afterward told me he had done his 1,000 yards (highly doubtful) and was heading for the whirlpool.  He had gone on to the weightroom by the time I was done, and I ended up eating a couple of sandwiches outside under the trees by the Y.  It was a beautiful way to spend a couple of hours, one of my better escapes from work.

It’s good to be tired

There’s a specific intersection on the way home from work where I always change.  My job requires me to be fairly aggressive, particularly during the last hour.  When I leave, I first have to get safely out of the danger zone surrounding my workplace, and then navigate on high alert as I risk my life jockeying amongst Austin drivers.  But once I hit the red light (it is always red) where I turn south for the last leg of my trip, I relax, lean my head against the side window, and allow myself to admit that I am very tired.  But this evening, as the first droplets of self-pity began to drip, I got a huge smile on my face because I realized that I was tired from swimming.

The weather has turned stunningly beautiful in Austin.  When I left home this morning, the fog was so thick (a rarity here) that I could barely see 50 feet in front of me. But it all burned off, and we were left with a cloudless sky and temperatures in the high 70s.  Even better, thanks to all our recent rain, the wildflowers are all blooming, including the bluebonnets.  So I organized myself to be able to sneak out of work for a couple of hours and swim.  I was initially going to the Townlake Y, because it was closer, but when I stepped outside and realized how beautiful the day was I decided that I deserved to be swimming outside.  Got in a good 2,000 yards (time to step it up a bit next swim) under the sun in Oakhill.  And for the first time, the adjacent kiddie pool had people in it, although there were plenty of lanes available for lap swimming.  I may have actually tanned my backside.  But the most rewarding part of the whole day was to realize the difference in being tired at the end of a day of working for somebody else, and being tired because you’ve accomplished something for yourself.

A minor hiccup

At precisely the same time that I was bragging to a friend that I never get sick or have allergies, I began to sense an irritation in my sinuses.  I thought it was probably the bi-product of some pretty spastic flip-turns that occasionally send a fair amount of pool content up my nose.  But by the time I woke up for yesterday’s karate tournament, I was miserable.  I don’t know what the heck the issue was.  Worse, my stomach was messing around, which may have had more to do with pre-tournament stress than anything else. Big karate tournaments involve a lot of waiting around, and this one dragged on forever even though there were a lot of fun people to pass the time with.  I was supposed to be done before noon, and my plan was to go straight to the pool afterward and then head home to spend a little of the first day of Spring Break with my boys.  I didn’t finish my first fight until after 1 p.m., and it wasn’t very clear when my next one would be, so I finally just said to heck with it and left.  The weather had turned, and it was cold and rainy the whole way home.  By the time I pulled into the garage, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed.  But the boys really deserved to do something fun, so we (they; Dads don’t get a vote in this sort of thing, apparently) voted on how best to spend the remaining time and the little bastards decided we had to go see The Lorax.  After sitting through this hit movie with a stomach in knots and a burning nose, I can definitively say that I would have preferred another colonoscopy.  Anyway, I shouldn’t have been in the pool in any event.

Even better, who the heck decided at the last-minute to change the time today?  I pride myself on being fairly well-informed, but this was news to me.  So, for the first time since I’ve had this job (11 years), I was seriously late for work, which is an issue because I have the keys to let everyone else in.  It ultimately wasn’t a big deal, but it did reinforce that “when it rains, it pours”.  Got out of work too late this evening to swim, but did have time to get in a pretty good weight workout (the pool closes 30 minutes before the gym), and I left the Y feeling suddenly 100% better.  So tomorrow it’s back to the pool.

A different tribe

I’m starting to feel like you meet some cool people swimming.  “Swimmers,” meaning people who identify themselves first by that tag, are like “Runners”, in that one physical aspect of their lives slowly defines them  Everything else they do all day long is either a preparation for or recovery period after that one activity.  Other than that, swimmers and runners are pretty different.  Seeing myself as a “runner” for years, I always tended to look at “swimmers” as some sort of weird sub-species, especially to good ones.  Their activity was so specific, and required so much work, and so much natural talent–and a pool–that they just seemed a little strange to me.  A little pretentious.  Even their bodies look funny, especially their skin.  Runners, on the other hand, as long as they don’t get carried away and turn themselves into one of those dried out old guys who pound out the same miles, week after week, afraid to race because it interferes with their “training”, mostly seem pretty unassuming to me.  Put on some shorts and just go.

But the more I swim, the more often I realize that I’m sharing the pool with someone else who is there because they love to swim.  It is what makes them happy in the most natural way.  Perhaps swimming was too much work for me until recently to even imagine that someone could find pleasure in swimming hard, well, and a lot.  My workouts are around 2,000 yards now, about four times a week, and although I’ve still got some progress to make I can feel that my physical and technical improvements are allowing my brain a buffer to conceptualize actually feeling the beauty of the thing.  Not there 100% yet, but I can see it coming if I let it.  I suppose that’s one of the most fulfilling things about practicing hard any sport:  you meet some really nice people.  Being passionate about something positive makes anyone more interesting, and it’s only by being around people like that that I realize there are times when that has been missing.

Cold and wet weather has hit Austin, and I’m really looking forward to swimming in the outdoor pool at the Oakhill Y on Sunday.  I always feel sorry for the lifeguard, but it is pretty cool to be swimming in a comfortably heated pool outdoors while everything above the surface is miserably wet and cold.  Reminds me of dives I’ve made in the past, where I’d look up and realize it was pouring down rain on the surface, while I was in a world where the entire idea of “rain” had no sense.

Wanted to mention that the longer I’m involved in the Cap2K preparations, the more I appreciate several very good people whose friendship and good will are a beacon to me.  My world is richer because of people like you.  You know who you are.  And it really does help that I’ve told you all that I’m going to do this, because I don’t want to disappoint you.

Finally, I may have mentioned this before, but I am amazed by all the people who have shared with me since I began this project their own experiences with prostate cancer, either their own or a family member’s.  Their courage and faith are humbling.

Ok, enough serious stuff for tonight.  Have a big day tomorrow, as I compete in a relatively heavy-duty karate tournament.  Once that’s over, I can focus more completely on swimming.  Karate’s a totally different experience, because talent is not always enough: judging counts for a lot.  I don’t have any particularly glaring level of talent, so let’s hope for kind judges and a minimum of blood loss.

Success is relative

Here is the link for the race I am training for:  http://www.cap2k.com/ .  Last night I checked out prior year results to get an idea how many 50+ year old swimmers are participating.  I’d assumed a fair amount, given that prostate cancer research funding is the focus of the race promotion.  Although the race literature points out that 1 in 6 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, I’d never really thought about all the men I know who have been through that trial.  I am inspired and awed by the courage of the many people who have shared their personal experience with prostate cancer with me since becoming involved in this race.  My father-in-law’s experience, in particular, has had a big effect on me, and I suddenly don’t feel so much like writing about it.  We’ll leave it for now at noting that sometimes life is extremely unfair, and that the quality of the medical care you receive in prostate cancer treatment is as important as your attitude and willpower.  My father-in-law had a difficult personality for many people, but I was always aware that he treated me differently.  It would be fair to say that I went from admiring that man, to loving him like a brother.  You had to know him.

I was also curious about prior year results because I like to measure myself.  I will state right now that I will not even come close to placing in my age group category, regardless of how many other competitors are in it.  It doesn’t matter if there are only two other 50-54 year olds, I don’t intend to even come in third.  Last year, the first swimmer overall crossed the finish line in slightly over 25 minutes, while my age group was mostly bunched around a 35-45 minute time.  I suppose I wanted to know how many 50 year olds were swimming in that time range, so that I could prepare myself mentally for humiliation.  Humility is a big part of my sporting life.

Also realized that the water on this swim was going to be much cooler than the pool:  69-72 degrees, as opposed to my nice 80 degree pool.  Once I get moving I’ll be ok, by I sink like a rock and will exhaust myself if I have to tread water for long before the start, plus borderline hypothermia is pretty much my base status even when I’m not in the water.

Been reading “Total Immersion” by Terry Laughlin in an effort to improve my stroke.  Had to read through three chapters of filler before I got to something useful–swimming faster comes down to three rules:  balance your body better in the water, make your body longer, and swim on your side.  Now I’m excited, because I seem to remember some of this from training for triathlons years ago, and I’ve already been working intuitively for a while on making my body longer in the water.  So far, those rare instances when I succeed have been the highlights of my swims, so I’ll keep reading the book and applying the lessons in the pool.  I suppose it is difficult to create a book-length work around just those three things, so I can’t really criticize the author for wanting to make something long enough that people will pay for it.

Woke up around …

Woke up around 3 a.m. this morning literally starving to death.  I knew I had burned up a lot of calories during my swim and workday yesterday, but I had eaten a pile of food when I got home last night so I thought I’d make it until morning.  By “literally starving to death”, I mean my body was consuming the flesh of my shoulders and thighs in an attempt to get more calories.  No way was I going to be able to swim in the morning in that state, so I tip-toed downstairs and made a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins, which did the trick for a couple of hours.

It may not sound appetizing, but I am being quite literal when I say I ate a pile of food: that is the usual form of my dinner.  I generally get home after everyone else has eaten, and no one even needs to get up off their asses in front of “American Idol” to tell me there’s a plate for me in the microwave.  I generally eat two piles about like this, plus a salad, plus two slices of pie with ice cream exceptionally last night (exceptionally because the rest of my family had not eaten all the pie).  My dietary rules are pretty simple:  I eat whatever I want.  The only thing to keep in mind is that I only “want” stuff that is generally pretty good for me.  I acquired my dietary preferences a long time ago, and I’m not going to stop eating tons of rice and pasta because someone decided it makes you fat.  I am probably the only person in America who eats so much fruit and vegetables that I occasionally have to force myself to stop because my body can’t process any more.  I don’t like refined sugar much, with the exception of sugar in my coffee and anything that is improved by adding ice cream, like potatoes for example.

Lunch is sort of like packing to make it through a mountain pass before nightfall.  I’m constantly moving at work, and rarely get to sit still long enough to really say I’ve eaten a meal.  Ideally, I’d eat a little all throughout the day, but usually I have to sneak off for twenty minutes or so in the back and shovel everything down.

In the upper right of this picture are my secret dietary weapons.  I generally inhale a couple of muffins around 10:30 in the morning to soak up some caffeine.  I’ve tried a lot of recipes, but this is my favorite.

  •                     1 1/2 cups wheat bran
  •                     1 cup buttermilk
  •                     1/3 cup vegetable oil
  •                     1 egg
  •                     2/3 cup brown sugar
  •                     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •                     1 cup all-purpose flour
  •                     1 teaspoon baking soda
  •                     1 teaspoon baking powder
  •                     1/2 teaspoon salt
  •                     1/2 cup raisins


  1.                     Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
  2.                     Mix together wheat bran and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.
  3.                     Beat together oil, egg, sugar and vanilla and add to buttermilk/bran mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended. Fold in raisins and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
  4.                     Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!

The only thing I change is that I substitute low-fat milk for buttermilk (who the heck keeps buttermilk around the house?), and I add a handful of raisins and another of pecan bits.  How much depends on how much you like pecans and raisins, and how big your hand is, but they sure improve the muffins.  Finally, the “Cool and enjoy” at the end is b.s.; I hide mine as soon as they come out of the oven or my family will eat them and there won’t be any left for me to take to work.