Friday, December 30, 2011

If you crawl before you walk, do you swim before you crawl?

Paul and I are still walking our three miles almost every morning, a very good thing, as confirmed by this YouTube, which I posted on my Facebook account a couple of weeks ago. So right now, I would say, I’m fit for someone my age. Which is a pathetic standard in the age of obese, you’ll agree, and not a satisfactory one to somebody who actually wants to do stuff.

But this past November (always, always, and this year especially, my least favorite month, the bastard) broke off a good curveball, which didn’t strike me out, but which did make me flinch. I’ve had to step out of the batter’s box, tap my spikes with my Louisville Slugger, and try to reestablish the psychic order of my own personal universe. For me that means regaining a sort of physical self-respect.

So I’ve decided to learn how to swim.

I mean really swim. I can paddle around OK, and float on my back, and tread water for a while. But I want to get more comfortable in the water, learn an efficient crawl, and eventually be able to natate a full mile. H is floating the idea of triathlons (wouldn’t that be cool?) but right now, my goal is just to nail that mile. (I have a friend who regularly swims a kilometer, but I think he might be French.)

I’m also re-committing to my old strength and flexibility program, a really good thing for creaky old guys, and possibly a way to regain some of the lost leg power that has me crawling up hills.

And I’m working my way back on the roads. Here, obviously, a mile is no big deal, but right now a slow and ponderous one every other morning is my limit, though there seems to be no reason I can’t work my way back up to something useful. Yesterday’s shuffle was actually pretty good

What this means is that, along with the prize-winning reports on the sweet B, you happy few will have to put up with frequent and somewhat less scintillating complaints of sore muscles and endless lists of times, distances, and weights.

But it will be worth it. Next November I’m going to show that SOB who’s boss. Maybe we can fill a few lanes with people swimming a mile. Or a kilometer, if you’re French.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


The Mammut Stratus I wrote about back in March, 2009, has died.

It was getting pretty ratty anyway, but “Massive zipper failure” is what the doctor wrote on the certificate. (This was always the worst part of this unattractive but excellent jacket.) Naturally, I went looking for another, preferably on sale. Gone, gone, gone. In the U.S., anyway. Still apparently available, in a variety of slightly different versions, mostly hooded, in the U.K. and on the continent.

So I went looking for a duplicate. Here’s what I came up with: The Mountain Hardware Compressor.

Very similar: windproof/water repellent shell (which I can confirm is exactly that and no more), synthetic fill, high collar, no hood, handwarmer pockets and a napoleon, very light, easily stuffable. But no thumb loops. And I loved my thumb loops. And not on sale, though I applied my substantial REI dividend, which comes to the same thing, I suppose.

It does have a much better zipper — right handed, unlike the goofball Stratus thing, and smooth-working without a lot of fiddling, also unlike the goofball Stratus thing.

And it’s black, so I look dashing and fashionable, with a whiff of mystery and a soupçon of danger, both lumbering through the hills and staggering out the back doors of selected dives in town.

So far, so good.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Eve, and the Concordians should be just about starting their trek south to us. We hope to see them before midnight.

This is the first Christmas sweet B at least partially understands. Considerable excitement — mostly, it seems, less to do with gifts than with standing in her learning tower baking holiday goodies with mommy and daddy.

“Let’s make cookies!,” she exclaimed to H the other day. “I haven’t picked my nose today!” (Sent off to  soap and water despite admirable naso-digital restraint.)

And she’s apparently looking forward to more of the same (baking, not nose-picking) this weekend. “I’m going to make gingerbread with Deen, maybe,” she told her mom. “I hope she has all the ingredients.”

I think she does, Sweetness, but there might not be time between the hugs.

Peace, kindness, generosity, and understanding to all.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

That’s all

Some decades ago, one of us attended a fashion show at a no-longer-extant, moderately fancy department store. The ludicrously pretentious presenter insisted on introducing items and accessories as being perfect “for that of spring.” We, of course, stole the locution. Surfing, for example, is the perfect sport for that of summer.

And expanded upon it. A good session bitter is all I really want for that of England.

All this to explain how I can be looking so happily forward to the deep snows, frigid temps, and blustery gales of a New England winter. It’s because I am so profoundly glad to be done with that of fall.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reserve? What Reserve?

Sweet B’s precocious language use and the various manifestations of her outgoing personality (anything but the norm in this family) make us laugh and smile whenever we see her. They also make us wonder where all this came from.

Just after her third birthday during the summer, she initiated a conversation with a town crew replacing some drainage at the end of her street. Big trucks, a backhoe (Nirvana!), all sorts of deep holes, and piles of dirt.

“Why you dig hole?” “Why you turn back hoe around?” And many other queries and comments, utterly open and unconcerned she might be rebuffed. (H never would have done this. Neither would H’s parents.) The guys were great, answering her questions (and calling her—short-haired and not dressed in pink —“Little Buddy.”)

A few weekends ago, she shouted from her porch in her now improved English, “I had a lovely time with you,” as we began to drive away. Needless to say, we felt the same.

This past weekend, she was present for a preconstruction meeting with a local New Hampshire contractor we'll call ... Fred. Lots of talk about moving walls, raising roofs, proper insulation, plumbing and electrical, cost comparisons, and all the usual. B was present with her mommy and daddy, dancing around the chilly rooms and pointing out favorite (and not-so-favorite) areas. And as we wound it up and the contractor started down the stairs, she waved, gave a big smile, and said without prompting, “Good-bye Mr. Fred!” Charmed him, I think. Charmed me, anyway (though that’s pretty easy, I must say).

We’ll have them all here in Connecticut for Christmas this year. I think we’ll let her speak for us at the festivities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What was that?

I've been seeing delightfully more of a great good friend lately, and that’s inevitably reminded me of a trip he and I took into the Sierra in, I think, the late ’80s. I have no idea all these years later exactly where we were, but we’d stopped in a small town to buy some food, then driven to a trailhead and climbed into the those gorgeous mountains for a few hours to a granite ringed lake we had all to ourselves. Nothing to do but alternately splash in the frigid water and lounge on the warm rock. This remains my personal version of California Dreamin’.

After dinner and a long twilight, we tossed our bags down onto ensolite pads and turned in on a clear spot between the lake and the brush. Clear sky, a million stars, predictable profundities, drowsiness, sleep.


My eyes snap open. P struggles to sit up. I just lie, eyes wide, frozen. Tremendous noises behind us. Brush being shoved aside, branches snapping, heavy movement.

My first befuddled thought was: Moose. Then, atavistically: Bear. Then, within seconds, as the brain actually started to process what my ears were hearing: Horse. Hoof-like thuds back in the undergrowth. More crashing. More snapping, more loud rhythmic beats. Gradually, over a minute or two, the cacophony moved away and faded out of hearing.

What the HELL was that? Yes, possibly a horse or mule, but how and why loose out here in the middle of the night? Possibly, we decided, a big ruminant. They might make hoof sounds like that. We were clearly under no real threat. Our guesses degenerated. Wolf wearing hiking boots. Cougar in tap shoes. Escaped convict. Yeti. And so to sleep.

In the morning, nothing. We could find no evidence whatsoever of anything crashing around in the bushes. We still debate what woke us up. These days I lean toward Boris Karloff on walking holiday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I agree, so Outside must be right

Many decades ago, when I was, I suppose, a senior in high school, a slightly younger boy came up to me one day and asked, “How can I get to be a good runner?”

“Well, you could hop in with us and see how it goes,” I said.

“No, no, I mean I want to try it on my own.”

“Well, then I guess you could start running a few miles, gradually try to increase your speed, and see how that goes.”

Long pause.

“But don’t you think I could just walk on weekends?”

This came to mind when I saw that Outside is running a feature entitled “The 10 Biggest Fitness Myths”.

Myth # 8 is “Long and slow is the best way to burn calories.” This idea has always driven me nuts. It flies in the face of experience, common sense, and science. A slow 10 will burn more than a quick set of quarters, maybe, but won’t even come close to a strong 10. Over time, you can simply feel it. And if you track your training and your weight, your training diary will tell the tale. (Of course, if you’re old and creaky and stupid, you will hurt yourself trying to run hard. But we don’t know anybody like that.)

I’ve also got strong feelings about Myth # 1 (Stretching prevents injuries and improves performance) and Myth #2 (Running barefoot is better for the body), and from a runner’s perspective agree absolutely with Outside that we need to toss these dopey concepts into the trash.

Stretching a cold body is a terrible idea. Want to get warm for a race or strong workout? Just run. Start easy, build up, get sweaty. You’re warm. Stretching? Maybe. But afterward. When you’re warm.

Running barefoot I’ve already ranted about. Twice. Which will suffice. (Well, maybe not. Strained achilles! Strained achilles! Strained achilles! There. That will suffice.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

But where’s the tractor?

Sweet B helped set up a little crèche yesterday.

She calls it “the Jesus farm.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

R.I.P. Césaria Évora

She died today, at home in Mindelo, on her native Cape Verde island of Sao Vicente.  I wrote a little about her here a few years ago. What a singer.