Tuesday, November 30, 2010

System failure

Saturday, a delayed Thanksgiving. A house full of family, with a friend or two tossed in for seasoning. Great  smells in the kitchen as every pot and pan in the battery is brought into play for the grandest meal of the year. Dueling cooks bumping into each other. (Sips of this and that, of course.) Serving platters and bowls being rolled into service as mouths water and we gather ourselves to make the gradual move to the end-to-end tables set up in the dining room.

Then, from a wandering soul interested in the underpinnings of 18th Century New England houses, “Hey, there’s a leak down here.” And indeed there is. A waste pipe is cracked, and water is flowing over boxes full of old financial records, onto the floor of the cellar. Urgent call to plumber, and the water slows to a trickle as faucets are closed and most of us sit for the meal. I consult below with Wayne, who does his best for nearly an hour but admits defeat. The problem isn’t just that the very old pipe is cracked, it’s that the line is plugged, and his snake is too small to handle the job. We need stronger medicine. As he packs up, he hands me the phone number for American Rooter.

Short break at the table before Rooter Man appears, to bump his magic mechanism laboriously down the long stone stairway and we begin again. Rootings, interspersed with two more brief moments attacking my plate, and increasingly earnest chats with Justin as he begins to realize he isn’t the answer either. “I’m pretty sure your septic tank is full and it’s just backing up,” he says. Magic words on Thanksgiving, with a dining room full of banqueting house guests.

I am befuddled. The tank is serviced on a conservative schedule.* Nonetheless, an urgent call goes out to the septic company. But it’s Saturday evening by now, and we get no callback from their emergency contact system. (I learn Monday that “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”) We’re left high and dry. Very dry: No showers. No dish washing. No flushing. We’re lucky to have one toilet and small bathroom sink that drain into a different tank, but that’s it for eight adults and a two-year-old.

A, clearly understanding the priorities of the situation, washes the wine glasses in the bathroom sink, thereby confirming yet again that my daughter married the right man. Paul carries what seems like dozens of laundry-basket loads of dirty dishes and greasy pots and pans across the yard to wash in his kitchen. Everyone acts with heroic aplomb.

Much to my surprise, people don’t bolt first thing Sunday morning, leaving  just a streak of rubber and a whiff of exhaust smoke in our driveway, and we have a remarkably cheery few hours through breakfast and lunch before they have to depart. I’m grateful for this kindness, but can repay it only weakly as they leave: Kiss, kiss. Hug, hug. Shake, shake. Wonderful to have seen you all. Come back when we can offer you a shower and a place to pee.

* And this turns out not actually have been the problem. The old cast iron pipes carrying material out of the tank and into the septic field had lived their useful life and chose the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend as their end date. As I sit here writing this on Tuesday, I can see that the septic guys are just finishing up with their backhoe, which has cleared, not only the system but, inevitably, much of the garden. (They actually moved and replanted a holly bush for us—twice, since my first idea was not so hot.) And Wayne’s back in the cellar, replacing that cracked pipe. So be assured that when you visit I now can offer you a shower and a place to pee. Wine glasses are never an issue.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy days

Thanksgiving week. H and sweet B are here, much more family to follow, with the prospect of fine times. Lots of hugs and snuggles with B today, and a nice run with H (and, of course, Jasper the Wonderdog) to kick things off this warm morning.

I suppose things could be better, but you’d have to be really picky to sort that out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My fortune is made

Two evenings ago I discovered there was no white wine chilled in the fridge. Quelle catastrophe! I did the usual: two bottles of a nice Rueda into the freezer for 20 minutes or so. Then, distraction. Tonight, the inevitable: “Where did those two bottles of Las Brisas go? Ohhh.” Quick dive to recover the bottles, completely frozen, of course, with the corks pushed out and held in place only by the foil. Not-so-deft application of a series of tools: slender knife, ice pick, handle of spatula. Where are those kebab skewers? Shakings. Thumpings. Impatient waiting. Reapplication of tools and slightly improved technique. Et voilĂ !

Wine slushies, they’re the next big thing, I’m telling you.



Technica Wasp Mid.
No Gore-Tex.
Home run?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Maybe I could just hire a sedan chair

Paul and I were out walking in fairly foul conditions a week ago Monday. Cold, windy, and raining pretty hard on and off, it was another of those drowned-rat mornings—and I discovered that my boots are no longer waterproof. Bigtime. My socks, when I peeled them off, were a pair of dead fish.

I bought these Keene Targhee* Mids a couple of years ago, and used them on my abortive walk across Scotland (where, in extremis, they demonstrated a lack of ankle support I couldn’t really hold against them). I’ve used them since in the Whites and during the colder months on our morning walks. But they can’t have more than a few hundred miles on them. They still have good tread. They’re still comfortable, now that I’ve found the right innersole/orthotic/sock combo (pretty simple: Green Superfeet and Darn Tough Vermont Cushion). Even the original laces are still sound. But the Gore-Tex inner is seemingly shot.

These were my first pair of “waterproof” boots. It’s definitely nice to have dry feet after slogging through wet grass, sucking mud, or moderate puddles, but, from the beginning, like many other things made with the stuff, the Targhees didn’t live up to the other side of the Gore-Tex bargain: They’ve not been “breathable.” I haven’t enjoyed the sweating and the concomitant softening and potential blistering of my skin (though the socks I’m now using have ameliorated that a little).

I used to wear beautifully traditional Limmers, excellent for the rough and rocky White Mountains and “waterproof” the old fashioned way: superbly constructed of high-quality leather, properly treated.

My feet never got wet, nor did they drown in their own sweat. But my Limmers weigh over four pounds a pair, which is definitely overkill for the Great Tracks.

These days, I hike most often in non-Gore-Tex trail runners, accepting (though not especially cheerfully) the occasional soaking in return for lightness and relatively quick drying. They worked fine, for example, in the Alps. But we’re being asked to wear boots in New Zealand, and experienced friends have reinforced that advice.


I won’t say I’m stymied. But I’m pondering.

* I’m predisposed to love these boots. Two decades ago, we skied at Grand Targhee on “the sunny side of the Tetons” from the vastly more famous Jackson Hole. Fabulous skiing, great atmosphere, terrific in every way. So anything called “Targhee” gets my attention.

Monday, November 15, 2010

High times

Despite this run’s title, the Age Before Beauty 5K Cross-Country Run, lots of fit, young, fast runners lined up at the start, and not a single one of them stepped aside to wave me through or paid any attention to me whatsoever. (Well, they may have snickered out of the sides of their extremely fit mouths, with their slim little lips and their slender white teeth, beneath their thin moustaches.)

As we gathered at the start on this gorgeous, sunny, unseasonably warm morning a woman (maybe it was she who was gorgeous, sunny, and unseasonably warm ... no, probably not) took a quick look at me, did a double-take, and in one of those “eeew” voices, said, “You’re all sweaty already!” Sounding altogether more cranky than I felt (which was quite the opposite on this fantastic day), I replied, “I worked for this.” And I had, indeed, had an excellent warm-up. The plan was to go out easy, stay comfortable up the hill to the 1.5 mile mark, then press gently in from there, taking advantage of the downhill and the easy terrain at the bottom. This didn’t exactly work out as planned. The going out easy part was...easy; but the incline really stung, and I lost my cool coming home.

Here I am at the start, making my pudgy obeisance to the hill goddess in the hopes she would allow me to pass in peace. It didn’t work. Ten minutes later I found myself crawling up a virtual Matterhorn on my hands and knees, whimpering, leaking precious bodily fluids, and bemoaning my fate. Tiny children and ancient couples with picnic baskets were dancing lightly past me chirping, “Hang in there!” and “Not far to the top!” I would have snarled at them if I’d had any remaining oxygen, and in a fit of pique at the summit, I signed a secret pact with my tormentor, Gravity, bringing her over to my side and putting her to serious work. Utterly misjudging the distance home, I rolled downhill and found myself, with more than a mile to go, committed to a long slog surge at a faster pace than I’d anticipated. I passed those happy hill people, who were paying the price for wasting breath trying to be nice. My only “racing” of the morning, though, was in the last 100 yards.

I lost.

My 5K time was 23:45, and I won a platter of cranberry cookies. I think it was a prize for not spraining my ankle.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The world turned upside down

Using ice on injuries is no longer quite the thing. A poster on the VFTT forum I frequent passes this along:

Ice Delays Recovery from Injuries
More than 30 years ago I coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the acute treatment of athletic injuries. Now a study from the Cleveland Clinic shows that one of these recommendations, applying ice to reduce swelling, actually delays healing by preventing the body from releasing IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1), a hormone that helps heal damaged tissue (Federation of American Societies for experimental Biology, November 2010).

So the familiar RICE has now become RCE. Non-vegetative in more ways than one: I can now toss all those decade-old packages of green peas collected in my special part of the freezer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming up: A stagger in the woods

I’ve just discovered that there is a 5K cross-country race not far up the road Sunday morning, and I’m thinking of wandering a few towns north to jump in. There are lots more divisions than I remember from my last serious racing period decades ago: Open (through 29), Submaster (30-39), Master (40-49), Grandmaster (50-59), Senior (60-69—this is me), and...may I eventually make it this far...Exalted (70 and up). (Too bad you can’t be both Exalted and a Grandmaster...that would be true glory.)

For this event, there are none of what I remember as the usual youth divisions—probably because it’s billed as the “Age Before Beauty” run. Does this mean that the perfect bods in the Open category have to stand aside and bow us saggy people through? Will I be the only saggy person, despite running with others of my age, not to mention Exalteds? Will there be beards to pull?

I’ve coached and raced over this ground, but not for eons. Here’s pretty much the entire course description:

“...a hill at 1.5 mile mark with an elevation rise of 134’. Then it drops 134’ in elevation! There are plenty of leaves, roots, rocks, mud, and possibly snow. There are several outhouses. 100% Cross-Country!!!”

Since cross-country, with its smell of liniment at the line, its chilly, crowded starts, and its inescapable touch of anarchy, is the world's greatest sport, this sounds perfect to me. And this particular Senior particularly appreciates the outhouses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I had a wonderful run Tuesday morning, the best in months and months. I’d taken the weekend off, and Monday, too, so I had no excuse not to feel fresh. But I was surprised at how light and smooth it felt, with a touch of that wonderful lifting feeling that’s rare for us creaky old guys. Today wasn’t too bad, either. Maybe it’s just being able to run in the light now, thanks to the reversion to Standard Time. Maybe it’s listening to Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky. Maybe I’m actually 30 years old and this feeling of being decrepit is just a dream. (Yes, I think that’s definitely it.) Regardless,  if I can keep this going, slow and steady,  20-25 miles a week, I should really be ready to roll in New Zealand—which trip begins in 88 days, 7 hours,  53 minutes, and 12 seconds, though nobody would be so lame as to actually be counting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“Me done walking now”

Heading off from her house toward downtown Concord a mile or so away, sweet B was given a choice: stroller or walk? She chose self locomotion, and off we went...for about a hundred yards, after which she looked up and announced, “Me done walking now.” So, not having the wit or will to turn back for wheels, I had an armful of two-year-old into town and back. (“Not on shoulders. You carry.”) Naturally, I took advantage of the situation to load up on kisses.

It was a terrific weekend with the B, while her parents were away without her for the first time. (“Mama and Dada climb up up mountain?” “That’s right, Sweetness. Can you say Jefferson?”) All parties seemed to come through without undue angst. (Though Mama and Dada, who have been working too hard to get out all that much, report very sore quads.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Slow and easy, good so far

Paul was again away cosmopolizing a few weeks ago (can’t keep him away from the bright lights and high living), and instead of walking every morning and running every other, I ran every day. Very gently. Daintily. Full of fear and trepidation, expecting the worst. But all went well, and I had a couple of 20-mile weeks for the first time in over a year. So when he got back, I thought I should keep this up, levering myself creakily out of bed at 6:15 and out the door by 6:30 (Hey! It’s dark out here!) to get in an ever-so-gentle four miles in time to get home, cool down, change into dry clothes, chuckle at Doonesbury, and head back out for our walk at 7:30. Even though (because?) I’m hardly raising my heart rate on these shuffles, I’m shedding a little flab and gaining a little fitness, and I felt strong and light on the New Zealand crew’s shakedown in the Whites last weekend. This may sound like no big deal, but, as Bing might sing, it’s been a long, long time.

Excuse me while I go search out some wood to touch.

95 days, 9 hours, 51 minutes, 32 seconds, if Air New Zealand is running their railroad on time. But who’s counting.