Monday, September 28, 2009

The grin

We had a terrific time with H, A, and sweet B this weekend. They continue gradually to move their belongings out of their apartment and into their new house. A colleague of H’s is organizing a “welcome to the neighborhood” party for them next Sunday, most of the painting, refinishing, and plasterwork has been finished, and the ultimate move is seemingly imminent. They will be what a friend of mine used to call “estatic” to be back in a house of their own.

Next week, H, sweet B, and I will be day-walking up in their neck of the woods, with, we all hope, at least a few days with A.

B is signing away like crazy, dancing whenever she gets a beat, naturally demonstrating stunning intellectual and creative powers, and, as you can see, is developing into a jolly gourmand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Semiseptcentennial? Tricenquinquagenary?

Woodbury dates its founding to an initial purchase of land from its original inhabitants (who had no idea what they were letting themselves in for) in 1659. I remember vividly the massive celebration of the town’s 300th birthday in 1959. (Fifth graders are supposed to study American History. We did...Woodbury is in America, and we spent the whole year learning about our town. I’m actually very glad we did.) This weekend we celebrated its 350th. A half-mile of Main Street was blocked off on Saturday, and the party played itself out right in front of our house. Great weather, high spirits, lots of old friends back for the event. I got a sticker!

(This put me in the middle rank. One gent was wandering effortlessly around wearing one that had “90” on it, and our oldest resident, 98, father of an old baseball teammate, has lived here all his life.)

Sunday morning we attended an ecumenical service held at Bethel Rock, a spot the Puritan settlers used for worship because the massive outcrop provided safety and a spot upon which guards could stand. A drummer beat a tattoo from Drum Rock as a call to worship.

Later, I sat on the south green for a ceremony with a dozen or so other former selectmen. In this context, at least, superannuation suits me to a T.

We had the Revolution...

...and the Civil War.

And, of course, lots of patting ourselves on the back for our old town’s historic wonderfulness, in all its nostalgic, funny stories, school pranks, good-place-to-raise-a-family glory. I must admit I favor the tales of murder, arson, runaway wives, disgraced clergy, and ancient Town Meeting brawls over who should pay for weeding the cemetery and whether the town should come up with the $300 bounty to keep its sons out of the Union Army, or force the lads to pay it themselves. (The boys had to pay it themselves...this is Woodbury.)

The committee did a superb job. Great fun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Boos for a “stark” Tosca at the Met

My favorite line from the review:

“Mr. Álvarez looked a little paunchy in his tight-fitting pants and coat….”

We must be cousins.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I’m still scuffling around in the back-back, and I’ve decided to completely finish the east side, right down to raking and reseeding, before continuing on to each of the other sides in turn.

Our property backs onto the elementary school, so I don’t use power tools out there until 2:30. I spent the morning raking the area clear of the last of the loose (and the not-so-loose) duff, roots, and vines, and dealing, awkwardly but adequately, with the large rotting logs I’ve been averting my eyes from. Late in the afternoon I spent an hour or so ruining an already dull chain by cutting stumps level with the ground.

The big news, though, is that I think I’ve finally pinned down a decent used chipper. If all goes well tomorrow, I’ll start chewing up all this detritus, minus those rotted logs (way too big) and the obvious firewood. It will be good to have this part of the mess cleaned up. I think I’ll just admire it for a few days before moving on to the north side.

After that, off to the mountains.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Putting the shot

I went out for a tentative shuffle this morning, my first in weeks. Extra very especially short and slow, but highly satisfactory. The offending body part has made its point (“don’t push it, Buster”) and returned to normal. So now it will be a gradual build-up back to the minimum level that seems to yield a noticeable fitness benefit. Which is good, because I’m tired of being Mr. Fatty.

Brits give their weight in stones, an arcane measure that I’ve never internalized, and that always sends me away to multiply something by 14. (Let’s see, if I do 12 times and then 2 times, is that the same as...?) I use the much more sensible shot units.

In the U.S., a girls’ high-school shot weighs eight pounds. The boys toss one that weighs 12. In college and beyond, the men’s shot is 16 pounds. My body weight recently has been a men’s shot heavier that the highest weight at which I usually begin to feel relatively fit. This means, in my mind, that I’ve been carrying around, just behind my belly button, a large, heavy, spherical object that, if I dropped it from that height, would break bones in my foot. This is a gross enough thought to get me to work shrinking that hunk of iron to high-school size, boys; high school size, girls; and eventually to accept the level of slightly chubby and lumbering fitness that seems to be the best I can do these days. (Otherwise I’d have to admit there are actually two Olympian shots in there, a horror I can’t quite bring myself to contemplate.)

The late, great Parry O’Brien puts the shot to its proper purpose.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Hampshire weekend

H had to work from 7 AM to 10 PM Saturday, and A was off for much of the day with two bruisers and a truck, moving boxes and furniture to the new house, so we were stuck with sweet B. As you can see, it was a terrible bummer!

There’s another NH baby-weekend coming soon, then a flurry of walks in the Whites in late September (with Paul) and early October (H gets a week off—we’re looking for B-friendly hikes).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The pie man

No work on the back-back yesterday, but we’d bought some lovely Greenings last weekend, so I baked an apple pie in the afternoon. My mother, grandmother, and aunts all made great pie, as did my mother-in-law. They are now all sadly late, as Precious Ramotswe would say. Did I ever go to the trouble of learning their little tricks? No. Now I fumble and bumble, following a variety of recipes and advice, resulting in one or another version of mediocrity. This one was a little dry, and the crust (the hard part) was more crispy than melt-in-your-mouth.

Of course, I eat the result regardless. I love pie. Apple is the standard, but it’s impossible to beat a (rare, oh, so rare) great peach pie. Except perhaps with a great rhubarb pie (with none of those damn strawberries to spoil it). Apple, though, is the iconic pie, especially in New England, as in this old wheeze:

To a foreigner a Yankee is an American. To an American a Yankee is a Northerner. To a Northerner a Yankee is a New Englander. To a New Englander a Yankee is a Vermonter. To a Vermonter a Yankee is a person who eats apple pie for breakfast.

And sometimes you hear this capper:

To a Vermonter who eats apple pie for breakfast, a Yankee is someone who eats it with a knife.

Of course, all true Yankees eat their apple pie with cheese...a chunk of good Vermont cheddar, naturally. And that’s a combo I’d take even over port and Stilton, any day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wine with your Cheerios, sir?

This article in today’s New York Times is a hoot. It’s about a guy called Gary Vaynerchuk, who has apparently become a sensation among wine people by way of YouTube videos. Suffice it to say that he’s not some pudgy old guy in a rumpled suit ruminating about Port vintages. (He does talk about Port, though—Episode 717.)

His Episode 734 pairs wines with breakfast cereals. (Von Kesselstatt Spatlese Scharzhofberger Riesling is “hedonistic” with Cap’n Crunch, but Cap’n flakes can be sharp, so be sure not to cut the roof of your mouth, because this wine is very acidic and it will sting. Landmark Overlook Chardonnay is “pretty darn good,” nay, “shocking...perfect” with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Clicquot Demi Sec, though, is a real loser with Lucky Charms.) He neglected to taste anything with Wheaties, “Breakfast of Champions,” and my morning favorite. (Hot tip: vomitaceous with warm Budweiser replacing cold milk in the bowl.)

One of his older videos, mentioned in the article, is with a “game” Jancis Robinson, who would probably be my favorite wine critic if I read enough wine criticism to have one. At one point they have a quick back-and-forth about the problems of wine experts tasting what they expect to taste, which I thought was actually pretty profound.

Vaynerchuk apparently rails regularly against “the oak monster” which has had its way with so many American Chardonnays. So despite appearances, he’s obviously a man of profound good taste.

If you watch an episode or two, you’ll see he’s inevitable if nothing else. (I happen to think he is something else.)

And, oh, the spit bucket.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creaking and cranking around

I’ve been unable to run for the last few weeks due to another outbreak of TABBS. This is making me really crabby—and really fat. I got into bad habits in England, drinking as much beer as I wanted and not worrying about what went down the hatch with it, so I’m fast becoming Mr. Rolypoly.

Oddly, the tweaks and twinges don’t act up when I’m wrestling brush and small trees, so the back-back project continues apace. I’ve gotten to the point at which a chipper is a real necessity. I went to look at a used one the other day, but the owner couldn’t get it started so I came back home without it. Renting is probably the best bet now, but I hate spending what I consider a lot of money without getting some version of equity. Gripe, gripe, gripe.

To cheer myself up, I’m stealing this photo of B from H and A.

She’s exploring a kitchen cabinet in their new house. She looks like a left-lead hurdler with a slightly off arm action, doesn’t she? Have I mentioned how terrifically athletic she is? Oh. (We’ll be seeing them this weekend, so I know my crankies will be over by Friday evening.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

On high hats and ice

I was watching an old move the other day in which the term “high-hatted” was used. I’ve always savored this bit of slang, which implies being ignored by someone who thinks he’s too good to know you. I love the whiff of old-timey white-tie types out on the town, looking down their noses at those pathetic enough to have to work for a living.

This is altogether different from being “cut” by someone for cause (imagined or real), which connotes a sort of purposeful shunning missing among high-hatters.

Due to politics, I have occasionally been cut, usually by wives who think I’ve done their men dirt. (I’m utterly blameless...No, really.) They have their own style, so frigid that the term I use for it is being “iced.” This was never common, and it is even less so now that I’m no longer really involved in local doings, but I was iced at the post office just a couple of weeks ago by a woman with a long memory.

Only once, long ago, did one of these ladies actually engage the issue and berate me. There was a time when I was decent in debate, but I have never known how to handle fact-free tirades. Maybe I should have high-hatted her.

Friday, September 4, 2009

More equipment

I wrote the other day about “wandering through the dangerous world of equipment catalogues.” That was outdoor gear—kit in Britspeak. Today I’m checking out a different set of tools.

Our largish backyard has two parts: The back and the back-back, separated by a woodsy little patch now perhaps 30 feet deep. (That “now” is the tip-off—it should be a single line of trees.) We have for many years used the back-back as an out-of-site-out-of -mind dump for lawn and yard waste: brush; leaves; the stripped, forlorn Christmas tree; the occasional obnoxiously drunk picnic guest. The result is a lawn perhaps half the size it should be, surrounded by scrap saplings and impenetrable bushes, all overlaying and intermixed with decaying piles of random organic detritus. It is, in short, a mess.

I’m determined to shape this up. Over 30 years ago, I spent a few months reclaiming several fields on acreage we’d bought out in the country long before the market went crazy. We eventually sold the land when we decided we liked living in town, but it turned out that, although I’ve never liked gardening, I do enjoy this sort of dumb, rough work.

But this dumb, rough work requires tools. The ancient, amazingly efficient and powerful Gravely Model L ...

... which ate saplings for lunch and tossed off random organic detritus as a snack, would have made short work of the mess, but is unfortunately long gone. So I’m going to have to make do with chainsaw, pole saw, hand-loppers, weed-whacker (weak, weak), lawnmower, the usual empowering salty language, and a borrowed, rented, or stolen chipper. I also just discovered that I need a bolt-cutter to deal with the ruined and rusty (1950s, I think—possibly earlier) wire fencing that an earlier owner for some reason strung from tree to tree in that woodsy patch.

Here’s a vision of the scene at the moment:

And here’s an architect’s vision of how it will look when I’m done:

Well, okay, that’s Merton College. But I’m definitely going for the croquet deal.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

So much for Vitamin I

I know that Ibuprofin is heavily, even ritually, used by many AT thru-hikers. This article in today’s New York Times covers research that suggests that its prophylactic use is counterproductive, actually inhibiting the healing of tissue and bone injuries. The study also indicates, though, that for its intended purpose—to reduce pain and inflammation from “an acute injury”—Ibuprofin is “very effective.”

So don’t pop it like a vitamin. It’s for after you get hurt. Of course, if this ancient body were thru-hiking the AT, that would mean popping it like a vitamin.

Good article, though.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Running shoes again, and a crabby adenda

It's time for me to start thinking about new training flats. The pair I’m wearing are fine, but they are the last of the multiple pairs I bought the last time I ordered. I used to buy all my shoes from one of two small shops owned by runners, but I got dissatisfied for a variety of reasons, and now generally order online, buying multiple pairs of the “last year’s” model of the Asics GT I’ve been wearing for years.

RoadRunner Sports puts shoes into categories: “Neutral,” “Stability,” and “Motion Control.” I’ve never paid attention to this, because I knew what shoe I wanted. This time, though, I thought I might want to try something a little lighter, a little quicker-feeling. So I perused the catalogue. The first thing I noticed was that my shoes are classified as “Stability”—explained basically as significant cushioning and some motion control for runners with medium arches. I wear orthotics, so I thought perhaps “Neutral” shoes—for runners with high arches, with less motion control, and some cushioning—might be better because my motion control in theory is already handled by my orthotics.

I got on the phone, had a chat with one of the “fit experts” on the other end (always polite and almost always helpful, in my limited experience with them). He confirmed my theory. So now I have a question to answer for myself. Do I leave the shoes that I’ve had a long and happy relationship with but are feeling increasingly dowdy, for a fling with some sexy new Neutral? I may have to go into counseling.

In actually perusing the catalogue, though, rather than simply calling and ordering the usual model, I noticed something that surprised me: A lot of these shoes are sold on the basis of a soft ride. As in, “The men's ASICS® GEL-Cumulus® has long been a favorite of runners wanting pillowy comfort at a great price.” Comfort? Yes, I suppose so, in the sense of no problems, but pillowy comfort? You can have it. I don’t want to sink into my shoes, because I don’t want to waste my increasingly rare and precious energy. I want some protection, of course, but I want to feel the road.

I bought a pair of Nike’s first air-cushioned flats (“Tailwinds,” I think they were called) in the late ’70s, and hated them for sucking away energy. I’ve tried a few other models, including the late, unlamented Air Huaraches (early ’90s), and haven’t changed my mind. In fact, I think gradually increasing “pillowyness” may be one of the reasons I’m becoming less happy with my Asics GTs.

A related article appeared in the New York Times the other day, largely covering issues that have been the subject of a number of recent articles elsewhere. It included this explanation of the development of the modern running shoe:

Things changed in the early 1970s, when Bill Bowerman, a track coach turned entrepreneur, created a cushioned running shoe that allowed runners to take longer strides and land on their heels, rather than a more natural mid- or forefoot strike. Mr. Bowerman and his business partner, Phil Knight, marketed the new shoes under the Nike brand, and the rest is history.

Yeah, bad history. The first Nikes were essentially Tigers (now Asics), Bill Bowerman was “a” track coach as Babe Ruth was “a” ballplayer, the waffle sole he invented wasn’t more cushioning than what had come before (it offered more traction and arguably lasted longer). Any training flat of the late ’60s and early ’70s (by then, the best were, in fact, Tigers) would have let any runner clomp down on his heels if he wanted to. There weren’t all that many runners on the roads then, and most of them were training competitively, and they weren’t heel-strikers. Now most runners are (like me) too heavy and are often horrifically imperfect biomechanically. We run slooow. Try that perfect, fleeting, midfoot strike at nine or 10 minutes a mile. Good luck.

But those wiggly-toe shoes look so cool....