Saturday, November 28, 2009


North to Concord this year (last year was in Rochester, Minnesota), to find that sweet B has a veritable Stonehenge of new teeth supplementing the two earlybirds we’d become so fond of. Eight in all! Thankfully, they don’t seem to be giving her much pain.

B decided on a more elegant self-presentation as the meal began.

...and was soon toasting around the table.

I wasn’t quite sure what this reaction to my pie meant...

...but since she kept eating, I guess all was well.

B is now saying lots of words. To her, I am “M”, which she enunciates with insouciant aplomb. She can say Mama, Dada (sometimes), Dickie (her great-grandfather). She can moo, baa, quack, meow, and arf. She can stick out her tongue to emulate a frog. She can, of course, manipulate a Fastex buckle. With a daddy-ride to help her with the very top, she can stack blocks...

...which she then knocks down with a series of karate-like chops and cries.

Before we left Friday, we met H for lunch at the hospital caf, where mommy and daughter spent a little time together appreciating the pretty fish in the aquarium.

We miss them all already. Because of H’s schedule, we won’t see them on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day will be a special treat this year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting a grip

I’ve written a few times about the relationship between me and my new Pacer Poles.

I used them on my Galehead walk with Paul, and liked them. I used them on my Wildcat Ridge walk with A, and had a problem that I’ve characterized as user error. Multiple user errors, really. The first one is simple: parts of White Mountain trails are simply too steep and rough for walking poles. I knew this already, of course, but now I know it, if not in my bones, then in my sinews. Not being a confirmed user, I’m still annoyed by the necessity to stop and stow/stop and redeploy. But I’ll get used to it.

The second one is both simple and complicated. Let’s start here: My former backcountry ski poles (and seldom-used de facto hiking poles) were Black Diamond Expeditions. I love the FlickLock mechanism, which is simple to use and essentially bombproof. (On the other hand, one of the Expeditions is now hanging, bent and broken, on my office wall as a trophy of a spill on the Tour du Mont Blanc.)

Like almost all other poles, Pacers use the more common (and to my mind, vastly inferior), twistlock mechanism, and they are very clear about the proper technique: turn the shafts, not the mechanisms, and tighten “steadily and firmly (not fast and abruptly).” But—perhaps it’s my general old age and decrepitude—I often had problems loosening these twisters once I’d steadily and firmly tightened them. So I started twisting them just a touch less firmly and tightly. The result was that, coming off Wildcat Ridge, gravity took a hand and loosened them for me. Fast.

But—ta-da—I now carry a small tool to handle these problems. It is this:

a jar-opener—one of those thin little rubber pads that allow you to get a good grip on a bottle top. Works a treat on pole twists, too. So now I’ll be carrying this little floppy disk with me.

My bottom line? Pacer Poles are mighty fine. They’d be slightly better if they supplied either jar openers or strong-armed walking partners—and perfect if they used FlickLocks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bushbaby Mini pack

Some time back, Darren posted on his site an interview with the people at Bushbaby, makers of child carriers and related items. I got a squint at the Bushbaby Mini pack, which incorporates a huge “haul loop” and a baby leash (“lead” to good Brits everywhere, “rein” to Bushbaby) into a small knapsack for children.

Over the years, I’ve run into some strong distaste for baby leashes here. People seem to feel that they are dehumanizing, as if you were treating your child like a dog. Leaving aside the tragic fact that that would be a vast behavioral improvement for far too many people, my reaction has always been “take a hike,”—in both the literal and figurative meanings of the phrase. In places where it’s unsafe or inappropriate for the little one to run free, a lead is a much surer and happier (and less wiggly and sweaty) solution than hand-holding or carrying. My mother had a leash for me, and I don’t think it made me turn out especially canine. We had a leash for H (if you have sharp eyes, you can see it below—I’m not sure who that guy is), and she barks, bites, and drinks water from a bowl on the floor only in extreme situations.

That old yellow cotton harness is still around. H, in fact, was using it for B. But the Bushbaby Mini has not only a useful little pack (good for a diaper/nappy, a snack, or a small toy or doll) but a Fastex-type waist-belt buckle, B’s current obsession. So I made a phone call, spoke to Kath, confirmed that Bushbaby has no distribution in the States, and arranged for a Mini to be sent direct to Concord. (Thanks, Darren!)

Two weekends ago, we motored sedately north (no traffic stops!). Poor B had a miserable cold, H is working the 80-hour weeks of a resident, and A is sinking his teeth into a major project at work while simultaneously putting in much of the effort of getting the new house squared away. To top it off, shortly after we arrived the peripatetic B took a spill against a milk-crate storage bin that resulted in a bruise and parallel cuts beneath her left eye. (After registering her objections, and briefly resisting a necessary bit of attention from her mommy the doctor, she was fine).

For all of that, we managed a nice evening meal together on Friday, tried to help at least slightly more than hinder in the house-arranging, and—with the brand new Mini on B’s back, took a fine afternoon walk on Sunday. (Not that B required the excuse of heading outdoors.)

The lead is a good way to give B some freedom of movement but also keep her out of the middle of the street and safe from traffic.

It’s also good for yoga.

(You can see that big grab loop here—so handy, under certain circumstances, to wildly lunging adults.)

But, of course, even B knows that leashes are really for dogs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy

The phrase is from a 1950s kiddie show sponsored by Buster Brown shoes and hosted first by Smilin’ Ed McConnell and then, more famously, by Andy Devine. At some point in every program Ed or Andy would wander over to a box on a table and chant the magic words, bringing forth the sound of a broken guitar string, a puff of smoke and Froggy, a malicious spirit who would croak, “Hi ya kids, hi ya, hi ya!”, before going on to say or do (or to get someone else to say or do) something devilish.

“Pluck your magic twanger” passes through my mind much more often than I’d like it to, because it’s the first non-expletive that presents itself when I tweak some once-reliable body part. The magic twanger that was plucked last week was my left achilles, which actually hasn’t been reliable for decades, but of which I am always deeply solicitous. My only explanation is that Froggy did it, the little bastard. I’m back to walking now, but won’t be able to shuffle for a few weeks, at best.

Which leads me to this recent article in the New York Times about running in the lousy winter weather that’s on the horizon: how to make yourself do it and why you should. (I love the Times. “My coach, Tom Fleming...” was one of the best American marathoners of the ’70s, and a two-time winner of the New York Marathon, back when it was run around and around Central Park. Like many runners in those days, we trained in the same shoes, New Balance 320s.)

Unlike some of those quoted in the article, I’ve never thought of any of my winter runs as “epic,” merely &^%$#@! cold and slippery, but I have always enjoyed running in slop for two reasons: it makes me feel deliciously smug, and it feels so great to finish, pull off the wet sweaties, climb into a hot shower, and eventually emerge into the world clean, warm, and virtuous. Unless Froggy has made me forget to tape my nipples.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dave Frishberg

Frishberg, who wrote “Peel Me a Grape” (yesterday’s post), also wrote “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song beloved by many of us older baseball fans. You can tell by the key it begins in that we’re headed for autumnal nostalgia here. My favorite moment, though, comes near the end when Frishberg climbs up into a kind of faux Irish tenor to sing “Hughie Mulcahy.”

Mungo was a standout pitcher for some bad Brooklyn teams during the 1930s, and was something of a wild man both on and off the field. He has perhaps the greatest of many irresistibly evocative baseball names. (Let’s not even get into nicknames. Oh, okay, let’s do.) Let’s also not mention hard-bitten Al Dente, the utility infielder for the Cubs in the early ’50s. (Not really—just a bad joke for pasta Friday nights.)

For fans with sharp eyes, yes, the first picture of Hal Trosky is actually the great fireballer Bob Feller, who came up to the majors at age 17 and was 91 yesterday. The second picture of Hal Trosky is...Hal Trosky, a fine first baseman for the Indians who was lost in the Lou Gehrig–Jimmy Foxx–Hank Greenberg shuffle of the late 1930s.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Champagne me

Diana Krall being definitive. She’s especially wonderful with a small group like this behind her own sophisticated piano playing, rather than in front of a bigger orchestra. Peel her a grape? Who wouldn’t?

Peel me a grape, crush me some ice
Skin me a peach, save the fuzz for my pillow
Talk to me nice, talk to me nice
You’ve got to wine me and dine me

Don’t try to fool me, bejewel me
Either amuse me or lose me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Pop me a cork, french me a fry
Crack me a nut, bring a bowl full of bon-bons
Chill me some wine, keep standing by
Just entertain me, champagne me
Show me you love me, kid glove me
Best way to cheer me, cashmere me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Here’s how to be an agreeable chap
Love me and leave me in luxury’s lap
Hop when I holler, skip when I snap
When I say, “do it,” jump to it

Send out for scotch, boil me a crab
Cut me a rose, and make my tea with the petals
Just hang around, pick up the tab
Never out think me, just mink me
Polar bear rug me, don’t bug me
New Thunderbird me, you heard me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Here’s how to be an agreeable chap
Love me and leave me in luxury’s lap
Hop when I holler, skip when I snap
When I say, “do it,” jump to it

Send out for scotch, boil me a crab
Cut me a rose, and make my tea with the petals
Just hang around, pick up the tab
Never out think me, just mink me
Polar bear rug me, don’t bug me
New Thunderbird me, you heard me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

—Dave Frishberg