Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy holidays

We had a gentlish Christmas here, with good friends, a smaller-than-usual Boxing Day party (bad weather), and, of course, H, A, and sweet B. No other gifts necessary. Tonight, we plan another quiet holiday evening with an old friend, and then tomorrow, extending open arms to the new year.

This was B’s gift to her great-grandfather, and it conveys a pretty accurate picture, physically and attitudinally, of our girl. B’s 4-1/2 now, and although she looks amazingly like her mother at the same age, it’s becoming obvious she has an altogether different personality than her reserved mom (not to mention being a stunning fashion plate). On my side of the family, at least, the relative she’s most like is my mother, who was open, outgoing, social, and anything but shy. Like her, B will talk to anyone at any time about anything. She expects to like everyone and expects everyone to like her. Which, of course, they do. My feeling about this is, basically, envy.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I love this photo, stolen from H and A’s blog, of sweet B playing UNO with her father. She learned the game from a favorite set of so-called grown-ups over Thanksgiving, with much hilarity from all concerned, and has become a four-year-old demon card sharp. You can tell from her body language that she’s playing for keeps!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

O Tannenbaum

We always get our Christmas tree late. When H was a little girl, we cut it (or bought it if we were feeling lazy) and put it up on Christmas Eve Day. H would always feel sorry for the scruffy lot remaining, and pick out the scruffiest of all to take home. This is how we learned that it really makes no difference how perfect or im the tree itself is; once it’s decorated, it looks festively wonderful.

We’ve also worked for 40-odd years to keep commercial trinkets off the tree. We made our own when we were young (and had parties at which our young friends could mix mucilage, paper paste, and wine in their preferred proportions). We now have a tree heavily hung with memories, some created by friends and family, some by kindergarten artists, some simply thoughtful gifts.

We don’t agree on lights. We do agree that arguing at Christmas is a Bad Thing. So once the tree is up and watered in its stand, I gracefully withdraw and spend the resulting free time looking for gifts I’m pretty sure I bought back in the summer and hid somewhere exceptionally clever. Sometimes I find them. Most of them, anyway.

We’re early this year. Heading out shortly to choose a scruffy fir and have a young man bundle it up and tie it to the car roof. Sadly sans H, who now has a life to live and won’t arrive for a few days. But we’ll save the construction-paper star for her. Tree’s not properly dressed until she tops it off.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Deacons

Jacob Ruppert was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame the other day. He was the owner of the New York Yankees who brought Babe Ruth to the team (Ruth called him “Colonel”), built Yankee Stadium, and established the Yankee dynasty. A worthy choice, and you can read a good article about it here. My favorite thing about Ruppert, though, is the name of the man he bought the team with: Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston.

I used to write quite a bit about baseball history, so I’m always interested when the Hall reaches back and chooses someone it missed in the past. This year, the special committee also chose a 19th-Century player I’m especially fond of. Deacon White was the first batter in the first game ever played by a professional league, and got professional league baseball’s first hit. He was a great hitter, and was generally considered the greatest of the bare-handed catchers, before the mitt came in. In a crude, rough, profane profession, White was, by all accounts, a clean living character, and got his nickname because he was an actual deacon in his church. None of this has anything to do with why I like him.

Here’s what I love: as major stars, he and a teammate once refused to report to a new team when their old one sold their contracts. After a big kerfuffle, they got half the purchase price—an unheard-of concession at the time. Questioned by the press afterward, the Deacon pithily expressed a deathless principle, “No man is going to sell my carcass unless I get half.”


My Uncle Bob was called “Deacon” as a boy, because he was once forced to stand up in church and give some sort of talk or reading. A less deacony person you would have been hard put to find. But he, like Deacon White was a terrific ballplayer. I was into my 30s before I stopped running into local characters who, when they found out who I was, would say, “your Uncle Bob made the greatest catch I’ve ever seen.” Always the same catch from the same game, sometime in the late 1930s. I’d always call and tell him. He loved it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Handsome is as handsome does

So, it’s getting cold again.

But not really. It’s funny how cold 30-ish feels when regular frosts hit in the fall. It’s actually late this year. But here I am, bedowned, bebuffed, bemuffed, and, I must say, impressively bebrowed, before heading out for the morning renewal of what is now a pretty long-running play. After something over five years, Paul and I still hit the road for three miles just about every morning at 7:30, still looking for dogs to get silly with, still envying the slender ladies who just glide on by, and still managing at least one good laugh almost every day. Which, in 2012, has been no small blessing. More whining later, no doubt. Right now, gotta get my boots on.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Upsy daisy

The blog rested this past summer and through the warm fall, dozing gently in the rocking chair on the resort’s veranda, cooled by soft zephyrs off the lake, sipping healthful drafts offered by the aged but solicitous staff, and lazily paging through the cheap paperbacks recommended by the second under-gardener's helper.

The blog is not, after all, as young as it used to be. That lap rug felt good as real autumn came on, for example, and staff wheels it (the blog, not the rug) quickly inside whenever, say, a historic storm hits, or a little early snow falls. Now, as the evenings pull in and Standard Time throws its cloak of blackness over supper and a snort, the blog returns to its squalid, ill-lit cubicle. It is coming to grips with the fact that it can no longer bring its A game, but, canny veteran, plans to play to its strengths:
  1. Plans for more good walks (fading but hopeful), 
  2. Superficial comments on complicated issues of health, relationships, politics, culture, and UConn Women’s Basketball. (Not a word on the Red Sox, per solicitous staff’s orders.) 
  3. Bitching and moaning, cleverly concealed as mordant humor, 
  4. Idiot on a bicycle, 
  5. (If fortunate) Spectacle on skis, and
  6. Sweet B. 
Insiders familiar with the blog’s thinking believe it is likely to concentrate on No. 6, but we’ll just have to wait and see. With bated breath. Or baited, if you’re chewing on a worm.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day weekend

Sweet B looking springy in Woodbury. So wonderful to have her here. (But we’re missing her mommy and daddy.)

Haircut tomorrow!

Friday, May 18, 2012

I probably should be more philosophical about this

I’ve been listening to Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Reason as I walk (Paul’s away cosmopolizing again) and clank away on my !@#$% TotalGym. It’s a history of philosophy, and yesterday I got to Zeno, who remains famous for his paradoxes. This reminded me that somewhere late in high school, we had learned about his “Achilles and the Tortoise” paradox, which basically says you’ll never catch up to someone running ahead of you, because you must first reach the point where he was when you began your chase. So you keep getting to where he was, and you never get to where he is.

The whole Zeno deal really tickled me as a high school runner. My favorite was a related paradox, which held that you could never reach the finish line. You just keep reaching half-way points. The distance to run keeps diminishing, but you still just keep reaching half-ways, right down to the infinitesimal, but never the tape. Lots of my races certainly felt that way, I’d cackle. Old Zeno gave me lots of laughs.

But when I go out these days to try and shuffle around the roads of Woodbury, I realize that the philosopher wasn’t just trying to set up his dialectic or make a metaphysical point. He was describing old age. I haven’t actually made it to the finish of a run in close to a month, thereby proving his paradox to my own satisfaction. Knees, achilles (how fitting that it was “swift Achilles” who played the runner’s part in the paradoxes), metatarsals, you name it.

Screw you, Zeno.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tri B

Beautiful weather in Concord this weekend, and sweet B  took advantage of it to emulate her parents, participating in her own triathlon.

She swam (you’ll have to use your imaginations here):

 She biked:

 And she ran:

We cheered and clapped, as required.

There were other activities as well.

She’s also into pink, princesses, and twirly dresses at the moment, but outer space and dinosaurs, too. She’s fascinated by the bigness of Jupiter. Carnivorous and “Hornivorous” have become part of her vocabulary. I don’t think she’s ever going to spend a lot of time doing her nails.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Back-back update

Slow progress on the job discussed here.

Still not looking great, but it’s much better, and coming along.

One more year, and it will look like this:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flame-tempered genealogy

I was raised an only child by kind and supportive parents. Sound middle-class values were expected, but discipline was gentle, love and respect evident, and abuse non-existent. This is my excuse for my inability to write good fiction.

Occasionally, though, stuff happened.

When I was in my early teens, the only thing that mattered in my world was baseball. School had always been a waste of time. Other sports were filler. Music was something I murdered on a dented trumpet. My idea of a terrific girl was one who could throw like a boy. (Come to think of it, that's still my idea of a terrific girl.)

One spring back then, I got a new bat. They were still wood in those days, and this one was a 34-inch, flame-tempered, Jackie Robinson model Louisville Slugger. I carried it around with me, hoping to fall into pickup games here and there. One Saturday my parents, on their way to a wedding, dropped me off in the center of our little town, where I was supposed to get a haircut. But some friends were playing ball on the North Green, across Pleasant Street from the barber’s. Naturally, my bat and I diverted to the game and played until it broke up. Then I wandered over to read ancient comic books at Kenny’s and wait my turn. Got my ears lowered ($1.25) and walked the two miles home. My parents had recently returned. My mother was in the kitchen working on supper. My father, oddly, was stretched out on the padded built-in next to our fireplace in the living room, talking to himself. Vehemently.

“Well,” I thought after a quick look, “I’ll go out in the yard and take a few swings.” It was then I realized I’d left my bat at the barber’s.

Now, my father was (and remains) a kind and even solicitous man. An oath would occasionally pass his lips, but only for good cause, and never directed at family. And although he made a mean whiskey sour and loved a cold beer on a hot day, and a good party anytime, he wasn’t a big drinker. I’d never seen him wobbly, let alone delirious.

But on this warm Saturday, one of his boyhood friends had married a woman he profoundly didn’t approve of. So, as I learned later, he’d drunk deeply at the reception to keep his mind off the horror before him, and he had now settled into this rude, high-decibel, semi-conscious, horizontal raving about the all round awfulness of the lady in question and the unfathomable blindness of the groom.

But I needed my bat. And as a monomaniacally preoccupied innocent I returned to the living room and made the request I would have put to him on a normal Saturday afternoon. “Dad, I left my new bat down at the barbershop. Could you drive me down to get it?”

This gave him the chance to utter the sentence that, precisely because it was so toweringly uncharacteristic, has rung down the years in our family to the present day, a kind of facetious epigraphic standing joke that we and our closest friends savor, a line I’ve told him I’m planning to inscribe on his gravestone. “Ah,” snarled my kind father, my partner in hundreds of twilight catches, the man who had taught me how to hit and field and throw. “Ah,” he said, sounding frighteningly mean. “Ah, go get your own goddam baseball bat.”

Stunned almost to tears, I retreated to the kitchen and told my mother. She laughed, which was characteristic and therefore reassuring, explained the situation, and took me to get the bat. Which I broke a week or two later hitting a weak one-hopper to short.

Cut to the present. Mom’s gone (and, my God, we miss her so). Dad’s now living in the apartment over our garage. Paul, in the cottage in the back yard, is not only my daily walking partner, but has put his expertise in genealogy to work on the families of many of his friends (gleefully disproving  treasured myths about Indian princesses and narrow escapes from Titanic tragedy). One day last week, he was talking at tea to my dad and me about the recent release of the 1940 census. This gradually brought us around to my father’s youth, his old neighborhood, and his old friends. He began to talk about this particular friend, and, inevitably, his horrible wife. My contribution to the conversation was the inevitable banderilla, “Ah, go get your own goddam baseball bat.” We all laughed, and Paul asked me, “When was that?” I said I knew it was in the early ’60s, but I wasn’t sure which year.

Then we had a flash. If Paul could use his tracking skills to dig up the date of the wedding, we’d know exactly when this famous family event had occurred. Tap, tap. Nope. Wait a minute. Tap, tap. Birth and death records, but no marriage record. Let’s try the woman’s name. Tap, tap. Birth and death, mention of marriage, but no date. Hang on. Tap, tap. Got it. The date on which my family’s own Gettysburg address was uttered: June 2, 1962.

So we have a 50th anniversary coming up. Party? You bet. You’re invited, dad. Just be sure to bring your own goddam bottle.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Sweet B, going on four, told me yesterday by iChat that she likes goat cheese. “Oh, that’s so yucky!” I shouted. “No, M,” she hollered back gleefully, “you’re wrong!” So my grandchild is an argumentative goat-cheese lover. What did I do to deserve this? (We did agree that cheddar is good, especially with apples, and the whole conversation, of course, was carried on in laughter with many funny faces, as she ate—and used as props—not only some cheddar and apple, but a banana, too.) Her mother, another goat-cheeser (god, it’s hard to live in this family sometimes), put her up to this, of course, and signed off right after a ticklefest based on the different tummy locations of all recently ingested material.

My goatees.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Horses for courses

Walkabout seems to be over. Anyway, I’m declaring it done, and we’ll just see what tomorrow brings.

I’ve been looking at the offerings here. I’ve long been fascinated by the possibilities of web-based learning. A lot of it is garbage. (“Send money ... Here’s your degree.”) An increasing amount of it seems quite good. David Blight’s Yale lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction, for example, have been transformative for a lot of iTunes devotees. You don’t get the deep understanding only grinding away on readings, papers, and projects provides, but the lectures superb and powerful on their own. And there are more and more great scholars from great institutions offering this stuff. Coursera seems to be trying to become a sort of hub. Right now, they’re offering courses from Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, and Penn. Many seem to be more interactive and demanding—a good thing if you haven’t yet joined me in dilettante-land.

Looking through the offerings, I see that the Calculus prerequisites include being “familiar with transcendental functions.” Pretty clearly, this has nothing to do with Emerson and Thoreau, so I am forced to take a pass. At college, I took Math 3 to satisfy a distributive requirement—pretty much math for dummies. It was, in fact, basic Calculus. I took it on a pass/fail basis, and was immediately deeply in danger of experiencing the negative option. My instructor took pity. He passed me on my promise never again to take a math course. He was a great man. Since then, though, I’ve become fascinated by the history of Calculus, the need for it which arose in the 17th century as Enlightenment scientists grappled with subjects that required the sort of sophisticated measurement it allows. (Don’t tell my British friends, but I’m a Leibniz fan—as bad as I was at Calculus, I’d undoubtedly have been worse at Fluxions.) Actually, I think if I’d been able to approach the subject from this odd historical direction, I might have done all right. Too late now, though. I can barely make change.
I have, however, signed up for a Penn course called “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry” which begins, like a lot of traditional college courses, in September. So a summer of wrestling pleasurably with Whitman, Dickensen, and William Carlos Williams will get me ready for ten weeks of Lorine Niedecker, John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Gertrude Stein, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Bernstein — most of whom I’ve never read.

Our prof, Al Filreis, also hosts PoemTalk, which features “three poets talking about one poem for 30 minutes.” He recommends we listen to specific episodes. Three people who love and create and read poetry focusing their conversation on a single poem for half an hour? Think you could learn much from that? Whole different worlds of limits, functions, and derivatives.

 I’m there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Video poetry

I like Billy Collins. He’s certainly not one of our most profound poets. There’s something about his work that often reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon. But he’s wonderfully accessible, and he’s no mere Ogden Nash. This is an interesting project.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The right word to write

I read a mostly anti-thesaurus blog post this morning that included this little 1986 screed from Stephen King:
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.
 I understand what King meant. Something along the lines of, “write out of your own experience and use your own voice.” Standard advice provocatively stated. But he was young in 1986. I wonder if he still feels there is “no exception” to this rule. There is at my desk. I use the thesaurus (online, of course) often these days, not because I’m looking for an impressive fancy word to replace a common everyday one, but because I can’t remember the word I know I need to use. In other words, I know I know the word. But my old brain can’t trigger the synapse to find the right drawer and pull it out. If it weren’t for a quick way to refresh my memory, I would have stopped trying to write years ago, because the right word—exactly the right word—is a great joy of writing and a key to the whole deal for me.

The trick with the thesaurus is to find a word to search on that’s close enough to the one you know you want ... not always as easy as it sounds, since you may be working off a vague definition rather than a synonym. Unfortunately, these days, the big Yes! of turning up exactly the word I’ve been blindly reaching for is too often a highlight of the working day.


I also admit I used a dictionary yesterday—to make sure I understood the difference between “bagatelle” and “lagniappe.” (In half a nutshell, a lagniappe can be—usually is—a bagatelle, but the reverse is not true. For the other half, look ’em up yourself.) This had nothing to do with any writing, though. Pure euphonious fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


A birthday and an anniversary yesterday. We’re promiscuous bubble-quaffers, and any vaguely celebration-worthy event soon finds us tickling our noses. So there’s almost always an inexpensive bottle in the fridge waiting for an excuse to have its cork popped. Usually, this it’s one of the ubiquitous Spanish cavas. Occasionally, it’s a Washington State Domaine Ste. Michelle, where we once spent a wonderful evening. Whatever it is, it’s usually a perfectly decent $10-12 bottle.

For yesterday’s double celebration, I went for double the price, a Roederer Estate Brut from California’s Anderson Valley. We’d tasted this before, when we visited the winery a few years ago, and we really liked what we’d sipped. To me, it’s indistinguishable from a good French bottle. Mighty fine.

I’ve had quite expensive Champagne. (I’ve even bought quite expensive Champagne. Every single year the Red Sox have won the World Series.) But, frankly, although I can tell the difference between a $10 Freixenet and the $20 Roederer California, I honestly can’t tell the difference between the Roederer and the next step up. So that’s my limit: $20 bubbly. Until the Sox win again.


One summer’s Saturday way, way, way back, we were participants in a mass cork-popping-for-distance competition in the little field behind my parents’ house.  Many, many bottles, many, many corks, many loud jests and bouts of raucous laughter. One of us actually won. It wasn’t me. A tremendous achievement, remembered and remarked upon to this day.

Distance events aside, I was taught long ago not to really pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne for fear of prematurely releasing all the bubbles. Someone somewhere suggested to me that the sound of a properly opened bottle was identical to “the sigh of a satisfied woman.” I’m clearly no good at one thing or the other. Maybe you’ve got to be French.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sweatiness report

An unusual run this morning, back from dropping my car off for service. This was on roads that used to be part of a long standard loop I ran, and it reminded me of three things. First, that I’ve strained one achilles or the other so many times on long, flat, quick, and also !@#$%, Bacon Pond Road that I think of it as trauma central. Second, that there’s an almost exact downhill mile from the top of the rise near the pond on Cat Swamp Road, down White Deer Rocks Road,  across Sanford, onto Bacon Pond, and back to White Deer Rocks over which you can fly. If your achilles doesn’t decide it’s had enough, thank you very much. And finally, that the not especially steep uphill back toward Main Street on on White Deer Rocks is the most annoying and least enjoyable quarter mile in town.

My first adult-lesson swimming session ended a few weeks ago, and I’ve been expecting a call giving me days and times for the next. I even called the Y a few days ago, but nothing. Perhaps they’re sending me a signal. “Come back when you can breathe properly, pal!” Maybe I should be practicing in the bath.

The machine stuff carries on. More clank, clank, grunt, grunt. I hate it. But, boy, do I need it. When I restarted, every muscle in my body ached, an admonishment for sure. Much better now, stepping up weights and reps gradually (very gradually!), and no more pain. Just that maxed-out, wobbly muscle feeling. And jaw-clenching boredom.

It’s a long way back. And “back” is relative.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ancient on holiday

Sweet B, leaning on my knee between bunks in our little tent/cabin on St.John: “M?”

Me: “Yes, B?”

B: “M, are you really, really old?”

Me, taken aback—my father’s still alive and kicking at 88, after all, so the double really may be overstating the case slightly: “Well, uh, hmm.” Surrender to convenience, reality, or both.“Yes, B. I guess I am.”

B: Quick nod of affirmation and back to play.

She later asked her grandmother the same question, got essentially the same answer, then followed up: “Are you 100?” I believe laughter and snuggles followed.

A few days later, she asked me why she cried when she popped out of her mommy’s tummy. (I wasn’t present at that exact moment, but I’m famed on multiple continents for a much-praised imitation of her screaming 12-hour-old self.) This eventually led to a reenactment of her birth, using a sheet as the womb. Demonstration of warmth and comfort therein, shock of bright light upon emergence, mock, tickling demonstration of busy pulling and poking by doctor and nurses, eventual discussion of umbilical cord and placenta (she’s a doctor’s child, after all, and has heard, if not registered, all of this before). We wound it up with expressions of amazement and joy at her current happy perfection, and kisses and a raspberry on her belly button.

I must say, she’s a lot more fun for really, really old people to play with now than then.

So that’s what I did on my vacation. (Pix eventually...they’re in New Hampshire.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Urgent listening

Pix and some words soon about white sand and blue water, but I’ve been on a Leonard Cohen kick lately. (See? I’m not just all Billie Holiday and Count Basie.) It’s not his swingin’ rhythms, obviously. Its his words and the shape and depth and humanity of his poetry. I love “I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch” from the omnipresent “Hallelujah”. And I’m knocked out by this:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Heading for the Rum Zone

Nice, sitting here watching the snow floating down, to know that I’ll be floating soon myself, off to a tropic isle with many of my favorite people, where we will all float languorously together in the warm azure waters of the Caribbean, before floating yet higher on a selection of naturally occurring rum concoctions and the fine local brew. There may be other plans, but these are mine.

The timing of this idyll is excellent, because it’s nice also to be leaving—temporarily at least—the Mephitis mephitis zone.

Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

And furthermore...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

National Pastime

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training some time ago, and the teams are edging toward their first exhibition games. I’m not the fan of big league ball that I used to be, but the essential game, the look and feel of it, the smell of it ... oh, perfection, oh, youth, oh, summer.

People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

Hey, I felt the same way ... when I was 12.

The cool flag is from Tom Shieber’s great blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Saturdays in Concord are a whirl of activity. First, the dawn patrol. “M. You awake, M?” Gentle pats on head and strokings of remaining hairs. “M? Are you making a joke, M?” Little pokes to see if I’m really asleep. “Let’s go downstairs, M.” At this point, I sometimes open one eye, look aghast at the clock, haul her giggling under the covers, and suggest we go back to sleep. Success is only occasional. Fallback position is often a brief tour of YouTube Sesame Street videos on my computer...but only after I hustle downstairs to turn the wireless on. Either way, we’re usually downstairs sharing our Wheaties sooner by an hour or two than I would have made a kitchen appearance if left to my own devices. We discuss the variety of cereal in the cupboard, whether she would prefer a little bowl or a grown-up bowl this morning, the milk choices available in the fridge (two soy milks, white milk, occasionally a little very special chocolate milk), and why I use lemon in my tea.

We then hang out in the living room until mama and daddy appear for their breakfasts. Afterward, the velocity of the day gradually picks up. Until, zoom: boots, coat, hat, mitts, and we’re off to the farmers’ market, which is held indoors at some distance during the winter. There’s almost always a small group playing music, to which B invariably responds, despite style or rhythm, with a sort of swanning ballet, before she cadges a bill from daddy or me to put in the bowl or instrument case.

Then quick, quick, back into the car, and the hustle back into Concord for the weekly swim lesson at the Y. Mama gets her ready and takes her to the pool, then all three of us watch the lesson from the balcony above. Waves exchanged. She’s gotten very comfortable in the water, is terrifically proud of being able to put her face under water, is down from four flotation bubbles to one, and still paddles and kicks off on her own when the teacher turns her attention to the four other kids in the class. Gentle pursuit and herding back to the edge.

Cafe (where she wants to study those options), home, lunch, nap. Phew. This is when Mom and Dad might head out for a run or ride. But the wind was whipping in New Hampshire this weekend, and they decided their club swim workout Friday night was sufficient.

In the afternoon, wind or not, though, it’s off to ski.We always manage at least one Stooge moment. This one involved my skis and B’s interlaced in a way you would assume to be impossible for rigid forms. H sorted out the spaghetti, though, and off we went. Today, H mostly held onto B from behind, using the reins attached to her harness. This meant that B was skiing on her own, without support and without anyone catching her if she began to fall. Which she hardly did at all. She was terrific, bending her knees and even turning, a little bit, sort of. But what she really likes is going fast. Super fun to watch, and big grins all around. Of course, we still needed a chocolate break (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for her, Nestles Crunch for me...and, well, that’s Crunch she’s eating in the picture, too.)

A great weekend.

But remind me to tell you sometime about our skunk infestation back at the old Woodbury homestead.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From pool to slope

I’m in Concord this weekend. After B’s swim lesson at the Y this morning, we walked a few streets over to a cafe for a bite. This place has a sort of display at counter height to show off its offerings. As H and I scanned the possibilities, B looked up and said, “Lift me up, mama, so I can see my options.”

B becomes an “Eel” in a few weeks in the Y’s progression. She’s moving along a lot quicker than I am, that’s for sure. (I’m still deeply involved in my battle to breathe.) But very soon the two of us will have a week floating together in the warm, tropical waters of the Virgin Islands, looking down at pretty coral and colorful fish. I, for one, will using a snorkel.

Later today, we’re planning on a near-opposite experience: a good ski at the local hill. We’ve had a stretch of unseasonably warm weather followed by rain (and sleet, and finally a little snow) yesterday, but the lifts are running. So this afternoon I’ll be trying to control my grin as I follow B down the bunny slope. For me, a pretty good option.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Downhill racer

B, three-years, seven months now, changes week by week—so far, I’m happy to say,  always in the direction of a highly verbalized open cheerfulness. (This last is either from her father’s side of the family or from my mother alone on our side. Certainly not from her Oscar the Grouch grandp√®re maternel.) Anyway, it makes doing things with her happy occasions.

For a variety of reasons, we haven’t been north as often as usual this winter, but we have hit the slopes with B and her mama twice. You may recall last year’s disastrous strangulation event. Hoping to avoid similar issues, I bought her a little harness that would help us keep her from harm while simultaneously allowing her a clear airway when in the clutches of her grandfather.

On our first outing, she was using her new but not-alpine equipment. General fun, but not great from the skiing standpoint. H decided we should rent her some true downhill equipment for our second go. Tiny skis (barely enough room on them for bindings), tiny  boots, and away we went.
The first run was mostly a series of falls, trips, tangles, and flops. And this was just me. The three of us provided Stooge-like entertainment to others on the little hill, and at the bottom, a slightly bewildered B decided, “I need a little break.”

Rest and chocolate geared her up for another try. This time H played a brilliant little game of  “Simon Says” with her at the bottom of the slope to get her more accustomed to the odd appendages she was dealing with. Then up the surface lift again, a careful tucking away of the harness reins, and H turned around to ski backward to be there to steady B without making her feel too much held. Result? Spectacular success. B flying ecstatically down the hill, waving us off as her mother narrowed her reverse snowplow to stay ahead of her and I fluttered ineffectually nearby, trying to stay within disaster-prevention distance. No worries. A few falls, cheerfully brushed off, and a vigorously expressed eagerness for solo speed. So now we have another skier in the family, if you don’t count knowing how to turn or stop or any of those other extraneous skills.

At the bottom of her second semi-solo run, B’s run-out took her toward the little bleacher seating area set aside for friends and family who want to watch their loved ones risking their dignity on the bunny slope. None of them knew B from Eve. But as she came to a stop, she gave everybody a big, excited smile. Everyone’s her friend, after all. “Did you see me? Did you see me ski right down the hill by myself?”

Then she turned to me and said, “M, I think I was very, very, very terrific.”

You know I agreed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Well, you hold one nostril closed with your index finger, like this...

Ha. Philip Werner has a blogpost here on an inelegant topic. It reminded me of my first day as a high school cross-country coach. The school was just beginning cross-country and none of the boys (just was the olden days) knew anything about it, or about running distance in general. We were jogging slowly in a group and chatting to get to know each other when one of them asked to be excused, and headed off for the school building. He returned quickly, then another boy needed to go in. When the third boy asked, I realized this couldn’t be what I at first thought it was. So I asked, and received their common answer with incredulity. They had needed to blow their noses. So my first lesson as coach was to teach my apparently virus plagued and ultra-fastidious crew how to manage this procedure without benefit of kleenex.

Runners, of course, also drool, froth at the mouth in hot weather, bleed from untaped nipples in cold weather, frequently produce odd noises from one orifice or another, and occasionally fall victim to poorly timed bodily functions. As a senior in high school, I beat a very good runner in very tough two-mile when he, ah, lost control of himself. In college, I ran with a half-miler who threw up after every race. And, of course, we spit a lot (sorry, sweet B), and often use our shirts as washcloths, bandages, or bar towels. We are a fairly disgusting crew taken all in all. Much worse than most walkers or hikers. Climbers? A toss-up.

And that brings us back to Philip’s post. In the winter mountains, I use a two-step process that relies on digital technique followed by handkerchief or tissue for occasional touch-ups. And if it’s something else, just go behind that bush over there.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nose bubbles

A minor breakthrough at swimming class the other evening. I’ve recognized that retaining any oxygen at all in my mouth wrecks my ability to inhale properly when I come up for air. I always think I’ve done this right, but usually haven’t. Clearly I need some mechanism to be sure that I expel all that O2. To work on this, I grabbed a kickboard, pushed off from poolside, brought my right arm down along my side, and from there gave myself a little “trigger” by pursing my lips and forcing my tongue hard against my palate to remind me to force whatever air was in my mouth into and then out of my nose, rotated, rolled my head up, and took a good breath. I was able to keep this going, breath after breath—a huge advance for me. Then I began to bring my right arm up and over to simulate a real stroke, while still leaving my left hand in place on the board. That worked smoothly, too.

Until it didn’t. Mine clearly wasn’t the only unattractive cranium in the water, and discombobulation inevitably raised its ugly head. Smart for a change, I just stopped the drill, decided I was happy with what I’d managed, hopped insouciantly out of the pool (class was almost over, anyway) and cheerily headed for the showers.

I think I had a breakthrough. Now I need to figure out the best way to  consolidate it and, eventually, build on it. Next week is the final class of this session. I’ve got to admit that I’m surprised and disappointed at how much trouble I’ve had with this basic skill of breathing. But now I’ve had this little encouragement, too. I’ll be sticking with it, of course, and getting in the pool more often to work on things. At this rate, I may not make my November mile, but I’ll get there eventually.

Stand by for a post or two about ski adventures with sweet B.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Over the Rainbow

How’s this grab ya? I think it’s terrific. (It took me a while to notice that’s a cello her accompanist’s strumming.)

I’ll be looking for more of her stuff.

Friday, February 3, 2012


My friends (and H) are urging me to learn to breathe to both sides as I swim. It’s apparently a good thing generally, and helps keep your technique from getting lopsided. Given that I still gag and sputter no matter which way I breathe, and that even a lopsided technique would be superior to the slap, wiggle, gag I now manage, I’m just going with the good thing approach.

The trick to good breathing while you’re swimming the crawl turns out to be exhaling fully first—weirdly and astonishingly difficult to do, especially when your face is in the water and you’re otherwise ineptly thrashing about. I admit to throwing a minor fit over this issue the other evening, which would have gone unobserved except for  the echoing crack the foam kickboard I was using made when it somehow slammed onto the surface of the water. It promises it won’t do it again.

One of the on-line sources I’ve checked on swimming suggests I try to run while holding my breath, and then to let it all out and breathe in again quickly to demonstrate how awful it is, and then I’ll be more likely to do it right underwater. Quite right, of course, from the points of view of both O2 and rhythm. But I don’t need to be persuaded, I just need to know how.

What I’ve decided is that I need to be in the pool more if this is going to work. So when I re-up in two weeks, I’ll get a full Y membership and try to get over there two or three times a week.

In other exercise activities, it’s getting almost light enough early in the morning for me to put away the blinky light and headlamp when I go out to shuffle. Probably about two more weeks for them, as well. No breathing problems to report.

In the small bedroom, I’ve collapsed sweet B’s redundant crib (she sleeps on a fold-out couch now), reestablished the Total Gym in its old spot, and begun pumping away. The usual tedious drag. But no breathing problems to report.

And in both these activities, I’m perfectly bilateral.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Going swimmingly

Swimming knocked me out yesterday evening, and I’m still beat this morning...and sore. Lots of stroke work and kicking, not to mention the all-important breathing. I’ve made enough progress to begin putting all three elements together. I’ve made nowhere near enough progress, however, to put them together properly, smoothly, correctly, or anything close. Chop, chop, thrash, flail, gasp. Maddening. When I was young, learning most of my sports, this would have driven me to a kind of frustrated rage, usually unattractively expressed in a kind of monomaniacal obsession. Now, though, I’ve achieved the wisdom that descends when frustration becomes a constant, rage requires too much energy, and obsession is a distant memory. So I’m trying to just churn along doing my best and, I hope, improving slowly.

On the other hand, when my teacher was talking to me about the way I was lifting my arms out of the water during recovery, she said, “there’s a drill for that, but I don’t want to get you bogged down with drills.” I imagined all my old friends laughing. I got my drill. Of course, having achieved the wisdom of old age, I’ll do it reasonably. Pretty reasonably.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My “S” words

I have a short list of words in a file on my computer, all starting with “S” and all tending to a similar meaning. But, despite the fact that they make up a sort of family group and some are considered synonyms, each has a slightly different connotation. Probably partly because of this (and partly because my brain has started playing that wonderful trick of keeping mental objects of desire just beyond reach), I can quickly and reliably call to mind only numbers one and three.

Here they are:

Seamy—Sordid; base, corrupt, unwholesome, morally degraded.

Seedy—Worn and shabby; unkempt, Somewhat disreputable; squalid, Showing signs of wear and tear or neglect: scrubby, scruffy, shabby, shoddy, sleazy.

Sleazy—Shabby, dirty, and vulgar; tawdry. Cheap, dishonest or corrupt; disreputable.

Sordid—Filthy or dirty; foul. Depressingly squalid; wretched. Morally degraded. Exceedingly mercenary; grasping.

Squalid—Wretched, as from poverty or lack of care. Morally repulsive; sordid.

These are pretty good definitions, I think, pulled some time ago from one on-line dictionary or another. I love the fine distinctions. Seedy is merely “somewhat disreputable,” for example, while Sleazy admits of no adjective. I’m also fond of Sordid’s “depressingly squalid,” and its “morally repulsive” as opposed to Seamy’s somewhat kinder “morally degraded.” Of course, all variations have been on my mind lately as I watch what is hilariously called the “Grand Old Party” choose its candidate.

Along those lines, I can’t resist noting that the current pace-setter, often touted by silly people as an intellectual, doesn’t know the difference between “grand” (“magnificent”) and “grandiose” (“characterized by feigned or affected grandeur”). Maybe he just needs a list

Monday, January 23, 2012

What a concept!

I walk in the morning, usually with Paul, though he’s been off cosmopolizing again. Every other day, I get up early and shuffle. Tripping along slowly—my goal right now—in real cold requires more layers than actually running. A baselayer top or two under a midlayer and a windbreaker or softshell. Shorts on the bottom, maybe longjohns, and always a pair of SportHills (oddly, nearly identical to Ron Hills—I wonder if Sport and Ron are brothers). But here’s the kicker. Before I go back out to walk, most of this has to be pulled damply off and replaced if I’m not going to freeze in wet insulation while I’m walking. So yet another baselayer top, under an R1 Hoodie, under my new Mountain Hardware Compressor jacket (which is okay, by the way, but not as okay as my old Mammut Stratus). On the bottom, longjohns again, under R1 tights, under a wind layer. And I also use multiples in headgear, mitts, running flats/boots, and all that. I don’t have enough hangers or cubbies  for all this stuff, so I have piles. (Well, I don’t actually have piles, thank goodness, but I do toss things into mounds. By the time I’m finished shuffling and strolling and have stripped down to enjoy breakfast, it looks like a bomb has gone off in a Siberian haberdashery.)

Hah! But now there is a drying rack in a corner of the kitchen! Brilliant. Amazing the things some people think of.

Friday, January 20, 2012

R.I.P. Etta James

The first dance of how many marriages?

It’s actually uncharacteristic Etta, with the strings and all, but it’s got her wonderful bluesy twist.

Great artists transform the mundane.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


After a few black mornings in the single digits Fahrenheit, I thought I'd have a great shuffle today with temps in the high 30s. Instead: worst run in ages. You can usually just push through to some rhythm and comfort—sometimes even an especially great run, but today I was grumpily back inside in less than 25 minutes, tail pretty firmly tucked between legs. My fallback position at times like this is what I think of as The Full Scarlett—“Tomorrow is another day!”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Memory of a triumph

I went to a Safeway supermarket today to buy some goodies for this hotel room in Phoenix. It reminded me that our standard market for three years in the early- to mid-’70s was a Safeway in Charlottesville, Virginia. This particular store kept a few bins of wine remainders near the checkout counter—the final bottle or two of cases that needed to be moved off the shelves to make room for more recent shipments. I often rooted around, looking for a decent bottle of something at a price we could then afford. Something, in fact, approaching $0. One day, I rummaged out a bottle of Chateau Carbonnieux, marked down to $3.79. I couldn’t believe it. Virtually all of my wine knowledge in those days was theoretical. I knew everything a book could tell you, but nothing I would have liked to learn from my nose and tongue. I knew, for example, that Carbonnieux was a Graves, and considered perhaps Bordeaux’s best dry white (not quite damning with faint praise, though I’ve heard it said to be so). I also knew it was selling in the U.S. for something astronomical ... approaching $10. Therefore, I was certain it had been marked at this price, and had found its way into this bin, by mistake. I overrode any scruples on this question and was out of the Safeway in a flash, waving my treasure over my head and crowing. Hugh Johnson had nothing on me.

We drank this bottle, I think, with friends back in Connecticut. I do remember that we liked it very much. Dry and crisp, and, of course, French and fancy. A few years later ... I think it was for Paul’s birthday (or was it my birthday at Paul’s house?), we had a party on a January evening, and we chilled our half-dozen bottles of by-then $12 Carbonnieux (we were all more or less gainfully employed by then) in the snow outside his door.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed the stuff a few times, but there are now so many more wines available from all over the world, and such decent quality at moderate prices, that we seldom turn to France anymore. I just checked, and a bottle of 2007 Carbonnieux is about $40. Maybe we should give another go, just for old-times sake. I’ll see if I can scrounge it at Safeway for, say, $10.

Friday, January 6, 2012

There’s good news and there’s bad news

Had a checkup yesterday: resting pulse 60, blood pressure 120/60. So pretty good. (I warned you about this.)

On the other hand...

I went out for a run in the dark of early morning. Put on my reflective vest, my red blinking rear light (I actually wear it snugged around my neck over my Buff), my headlamp, bundled up and took off. Safety first. Nobody’s going to fail to see me chugging along that long dark stretch of Washington Avenue. Good easy shuffle. Come home, pull off the lights, unzip my jacket ... and discover my reflective vest beneath.

Thursday’s score: Body 1, Brain 0.

          “But Mommy, I thought they were on the same team.”
          “Hush, hush, sweetheart. He’s a very old man.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Splish Splash ...

... I was takin’ a bath....

Wait, wait. I was actually takin’ a swim. But all the same I was a-splishin’ and a’splashin’, reelin’ with the feelin’, movin’ and a’groovin’. In short, my first lesson was Tuesday evening, and it was terrific. As you can tell by the great legs, that’s me on the far right. I can’t remember if we were reelin’ or groovin’ at the time.

I’m still, of course, a terrible swimmer, but I learned a lot, got a great workout, and confirmed that I will eventually be able to do something that roughly resembles this, if slowly and with little grace.

Our teacher (there are four of us grown-up students (the others are easily young enough to be my children) asked me if I had a problem putting my face underwater. “Not unless I try to breath at the same time,” I told her. Which actually wasn’t a joke. She did a double take and handed me one of those little foam boards. Soon, though, I tossed the prop and was submerging, blowing bubbles, kicking, and waving my arms around. In the past, this has usually meant I was headed down for the third time, but this time it meant, delightfully, that I was engaged in some facsimile of swimming.

I bought some goggles. (As with backpacking, style is everything in natation. One of those elastic hats is next. It’ll look good on the hills, as well.) I learned about taking a shower before you get into the pool. (Incredulous look meets obvious explanation.) I was reminded by nature that my trunks would fall down if I didn’t tie the waist string.

I learned two or three basic but vital tips no one had ever bothered to tell me and I’d never managed to notice. The most helpful to me was, “Don’t take a super deep breath before you submerge. Just relax, breathe in normally, remember to blow out under water, and come up for air when you need to.” This had the effect of making me feel more easy and comfortable in the water. (The coming up for air is still inelegant, and clearly will remain so for awhile, but when I get that head-turn coordinated, I think I’ll be off to the races.)

And I got a really good workout. That wonderful feeling of muscles (the few I have left) well-used.

Great stuff, really good teacher(s), fun classmates. A cool and useful new thing to learn. And a challenging goal that’s still within the realm of possibility. I really do want to swim that mile.

Ice might not be nice

There’s an article in the New York Times this morning that furthers doubt about the efficacy of icing sore muscles. I wrote about this a little over a year ago when an earlier study came out.

Basically, this study says ice is good at numbing pain, but that it also reduces a muscle’s strength and power for up to 15 minutes after icing is ended. So using an ice pack on a strain in hopes of getting back in the game may well be counterproductive.

Getting some sort of handle on this is particularly important for those coaching kids, I think. And also for us old duffers who never know day to day if what we laughingly call our muscles are going to be friend or foe. Those prime-of-life characters can fend for themselves.

Monday, January 2, 2012


My swimming adventure begins tomorrow, and I’ve posted on Facebook about ramping up my shuffles and grudgingly returning to the regular pumping of iron. I’ve done this, obviously, to put myself on the spot. Now it wouldn’t be merely lazy, pusillanimous, and self-destructive to quit on fitness, but much, much worse: embarrassing.

But there’s one more sporting goal on the list, and this will be pure fun. (I hope: it didn’t get off to a very good start last winter.) Skiing with sweet B. I’d been thinking I might put this off until next winter, but no. She’s been pronouncing for a few weeks now that she’s planning to ski “down the hill all all by myself” this year. And who would want to miss miss that? So after some early January travels, it’s off to New Hampshire for some prime sliding. I’ll stay close so it’ll be easy for her to help me up.