The Pitchy Blackness

I’m finally reading *Danny the Champion of the World* by Roald Dahl, which both family and friends have said is great. It is, not least because the book includes paragraphs like this one, which stopped me as cold as an unrideable hill in the middle of a fatbike race.

The Pitchy Blackness
The Pitchy Blackness

How Well Do You Know Your Dad?

I couldn’t resist this meme-y questionnaire that was floating around Facebook, and luckily the girls were into it, too. No real surprises here, which is probably good! (Neither one mentioned beer in any response!)

J = Julia, age 11, sixth grade
G = Genevieve, age 9, fourth grade

1. What is something I always say to you?
J: “How was your day?”
G: “I love you!”

2. What makes me happy?
J: Biking
G: Biking

3. What makes me sad?
J: Not biking
G: When I’m sad.

4. How do I make you laugh?
J: “By doing weird stuff.”
G: “By tickling and being super strange.”

5. What was I like as a child?
J: A fat baby
G: Chubby

6. How old am I?
J: 42
G: 42

7. How tall am I?
J: 5’10”
G: 5’10”

8. What is my favorite thing to do?
J: Bike
G: Bike and snuggle with me.

9. What do I do when you’re not around?
J: Bike
G: Bike

10. What am I really good at?
J: Biking
G: Cheering me up

11. What is something I’m not good at?
J: Punishing Genevieve
G: Getting mad [“You never get angry.”]

12. What do I do for a job?
J: Grantwriter
G: Grant writer at Carleton

13. What is my favorite food?
J: Pizza
G: Pizza

14. What do you enjoy doing with me?
J: Biking
G: Biking

Blue Belted

Today the girls did their tae kwon do testing for their blue belts. They had not had as long a training session as usual, and thanks to busy evenings and snow days had also missed a couple classes, but as the test approached they buckled down to learn everything they needed to know. As the only purple belts in this testing cohort, they did all of the various phases of testing with each other, which was fun to see. They nailed it! I’m so proud of them for their hard physical and mental work!

One Steps
One Steps

Blue Monday Art (Guest Post by the Girls)

**JULIA**: What a great morning: Muffins and art and snagging the window chairs at Blue Monday. It made me appreciate how pretty and quiet Northfield is on a Sunday morning. The red Raleigh outside the window had “Townie”written all over it. Northfield is a bike town, even in January. I have to admit, that bike is nice, but the owner would get more admiring glances if she rode a Salsa Beargrease. 🙂

Julia's version

**GENEVIEVE**:
A perfect morning always starts with a sketch, and a beautiful Northfield scene in the background lit a match of ideas. And so my drawing began there. The bike immediately caught my interest. It was my kind of challenging sketch: complex and not too colorful. Of course, I would have put more effort into the art (although I put plenty into this one) if it were a green and black Salsa Beargrease!

Genevieve's version

Word Girls

Being someone who makes a living with words, I’m very happy to see that my girls are word-lovers and lovers of manipulating words, too. Tonight was classic: I spent a half hour quizzing Julia for the middle-school spelling bee tomorrow night (she’s so nervous! so excited!) – infrastructure, esoteric, boycott, kaftan – and later fifteen minutes giving Vivi “hard words” to look up in the dictionary she got for Christmas: hibernal, speculative, theoretical, paschal, vernal

Grandma Cat

Sabine, the grandma cat, is visibly thinner and slower and sleepier even than even a year ago, back when she was a sprightly 20 years old. She must spend about 23 hours a day asleep, with this fire-worshipping spot being her definite favorite right now. Some days, she lies there even when the fireplace isn’t burning, just hoping, I guess, for us to turn it on.
Grandma Cat's Happy Place

When she’s not sleeping there or in her cozy corner behind the TV, she’s usually about twelve inches from Genevieve, whom she loves very, very much. If Vivi is on the sofa, Sabine is likely to be there too. Sabine always joins Vivi in bed at bedtime. And if Vivi hasn’t seen Sabine in a while, she’ll go find her and sit with her for a while, gently petting her and talking to her.

Sabine is – in "cat years" – about a hundred years old, but she is still a real individual. She loves Genevieve and the fireplace. She expects her snack at 3:30, her dinner at 5:00, and a bit more food at 8 (when I come downstairs after the girls go to bed) and about 11 (when I head off to bed). She also likes to at least investigate the garage if the door is open, though the concrete floor is too cold for her ancient paws in the winter.

And strangely or amusingly enough, she begs for the last few drops of milk in my cereal bowl each morning: planting herself at my right leg, pawing at my calf and meowing while I eat, and then eagerly lapping up the milk when I put the bowl on the floor for her – usually after an angry squawk of protest at my having been so slow.

Some mornings, I don’t have cereal, but she still begs, and I’d have to be a heartless jerk not to pour a tablespoon of milk into a tiny bowl for her to enjoy. She deserves it.

Snow Elves

Every winter, our townhouse association’s plowing service creates a huge pile of snow at the end of a cul-de-sac down the block. For years, my girls have loved playing on “Mt. Sunset” – making sledding runs, carving out caves, building tunnels. It’s a seasonal playground.

Every winter till this one, I’ve needed to go help them with the work, especially cutting into the compacted snow. (Other dads like Todd and Dave have helped too.)

This winter, though, is different. The girls don all their winter gear, grab our shovels, and trundle down the block, maybe meeting friends there. They return 60 or 90 minutes later, sweaty and exhilarated and thirsty, having enlarged an elaborate set of tunnels and ramps. It’s marvelous.

Mt. Sunset

Ballin’

I raced home from my race on Saturday so that I could go to Vivi’s first basketball tournament, which was being held conveniently at one of Carleton’s gyms.

Busy gym
Busy gym

I missed her first game, in which her team demolished its opponent, 40-something to 20-something, but I did get to see her second and third games: a loss to the best team in the tournament and then an exciting win over a much more evenly matched team. Throughout, the girls played hard and visibly enjoyed themselves, which was wonderful.

I felt a little weird being so fixed on Vivi whenever she was on the court. I suppose it’s just being a parent, but I couldn’t help but only watch her in action, even if there was more action elsewhere on the court. She did a great job playing defense, which she’s already identified as a strength and which she really likes. Being one of the smallest girls on the court, she couldn’t rebound too much, but my god she could dog an opponent with or without the ball. It was fun to see her strip the ball and run

In the last game, she had a particularly good play when she stole the ball from her mark near midcourt, ran up to the left wing, then smoothly passed the ball to a teammate who passed it around to another girl on the right wing, who got the bucket. Excellent team play.

Their effort over the course of the day earned the team second place in the tournament, and you haven’t seen grinning till you’ve seen ten fourth grade girls getting their medals.

Getting her medal
Getting her medal

 

Creosote

My maternal grandfather can be politely described as a distant figure. I didn’t know him well and was kind of frightened by him until one day when I was in my twenties on which I realized he was actually a pretty small guy with a flannel shirt over a barrel chest.

Grandma and Grandpa Jauquet
Grandma and Grandpa Jauquet

When I was a kid, he was an “owner-operator” at Jauquet Trucking, driving tractor-trailers for a living.

Grandpa in his truck
Grandpa in his truck

As such, during my visits to my grandma’s house he was usually on the road (hauling logs to the paper mills), working outside in his garages on his white and blue trucks, or asleep on the sofa.

My grandpa’s life then was as probably as far from my life now as two white guys’ lives can be, though of course his work (and my grandma’s, and my other grandparents’, and my parents’) made my present life possible. When I think about these facts of generational change, class mobility, and all that, I think that he would find my current life almost impossibly frivolous. Working indoors all day? In an office at a college? Not making my children work all the damn time? Spending my free time (free time!?) riding a bicycle?

And yet my bike has created an odd sense of connection to him. Being out in all weather? He might appreciate that, though he might also wonder why I don’t earn any money by doing my winter rides.

I’m hardly handy, but I handle some of the mechanical stuff on my bike now and then, and invariably I get grimy and have to wash up at the utility room sink with a dollop of citrus-scented pumice soap. That smell sends me right back to the kitchen at my grandma’s house, where I’d be sitting drawing or reading and waiting for dinner – maybe one of my Grandma’s homemade pasties. When Grandpa came in from the garage, he’d wash his hands at a tiny sink off the kitchen, scrubbing and scrubbing at the grease and dirt with a pumice soap that smelled faintly orangey.

the sink
the sink

His was a no-nonsense block of Lava soap, where mine is probably made from ethically-collected pumice and free-range oranges, but there you go. Once sufficiently (but never completely) clean, he sit down at his spot in the corner and we could all eat.

That indoors memory is complemented by an equally distinct but much less predictable outdoors memory. The truck garages were massive hangar-like spaces, dimly lit, full of trucks and truck parts and tools.

truck garages
truck garages

Their dirt floors were slick and black with oil, and the air was full of the smell of grease. My life now is as un-greasy as could be, except when I work on my bikes and at random moments out riding, when I encounter that same creosote smell. Sometimes it’s coming from wet railroad ties at the spot where some lonely road crosses the tracks. Other times, it’s coming from ties that someone’s repurposed for a bridge on a bike trail. Other times, it’s from telephone poles – maybe a stack of new ones awaiting installation or, like last Sunday, a pile of old ones stacked mysteriously at the edge of a marsh where I’ve paused to take a break. The melting snow was driving out an overpowering scent of creosote, and for the minute I was there, drinking water and pissing into the reeds, I was eight or ten or twelve again, standing in Grandpa’s truck garage. Luckily for me, there was a U.P. pasty waiting for me back home – not Grandma’s, but a good one just the same.

Dad-Bod Positivity

We’re eating dinner. I tell the girls that I put up their school pictures in my office and that I love them both. Each girl says she doesn’t really like her photo. I say that’s too bad because they’re great shots.

2015

I ask whether they like the way they look in real life. They both say they do, and I add that I like the way I look too. Julia looks at me incredulously and says, “Well, you obviously have bad judgment there.”

A Night with the Girls

Monday night was one of those almost perfect evenings with the kids that makes family life worth living. I came home at dinnertime and had a nice time eating and chatting with the girls while Shannon was on a run. They were full of funny stories and interesting questions. After we finished our meals, I cleaned up, Julia shifted to doing her homework, all of which she was excited or at least interested in doing (some relatively challenging math, studying for a science quiz), and Genevieve goofed around. When I asked them to take a break to clean up their toys outside, they did so without any protests and finished in about two minutes. Back inside, Julia practiced her guitar – always a lovely thing to hear – while Vivi and I played a complicated game she’s building out of other toys. Then we watched a silly but hilarious sitcom on Amazon before they took care of their bedtime routines, while I read a magazine. In bed by 8, they read until lights out. Not every evening goes this smoothly or well, but I’ll take them when I can get them.

River Bend Riding

On Friday, I helped chaperone a field trip by Julia’s sixth-grade cohort to the amazing [River Bend Nature Center](http://www.rbnc.org/) in Faribault, a half-hour south of Northfield.

Across the girls’ years of preschool and elementary school, this was maybe the tenth field trip I’ve taken to RBNC, and it was fun – orienteering, hiking, “fun challenges” like firestarting, archery, and slack lining, and generally being outside on a beautiful fall day.

RBNC on Friday

We even got to see some goats that the land managers are using to control buckthorn!
Goats!

Walking around all day, I decided I wanted to come back asap to ride on the trails, all of which are open to bikes and free to all users. Lo and behold, Julia was into it too, so we headed down this afternoon with our bikes.

Saturday’s weather was somehow even better than Friday’s, heightening our enjoyment – 70°F, breezy, sunny. From the parking lot, we headed to the remote trails on the south side of the Center, which we reached after going through a tunnel *and* over a bridge across the Straight River.
Straight River

Just on the south side of the river, we hit a long hill that Julia needed to work hard to climb. She made it up without stopping, though, and after a short break we tooled around on the flatter, easier trails that ran to the far edge of the Center’s boundary. The narrow trails and changing foliage were beautiful.
Chasing

Descending back to the river, I was happy to see Julia rip a couple steep downhills with no worry and considerable ease: she’d push her weight back, level her pedals, and then just drop in. Amazing.

Back on the northern side of the river, we headed to the Center’s big and gorgeous restored prairie, an expanse of browns and yellows draped over a gentle rise to the northern edge of the property. Riding now mostly on grass trails, we worked our way up to the Center’s high point, where (after a stiff little rocky climb) we enjoyed a gorgeous vista to the south:
River Bend Prairie

A herd of buffalo would have improved this view, but I was more than happy to have spent 90 minutes riding with my favorite sixth grader. In true cyclist fashion, she was even game to take a couple laps around the parking lot area to bump up our mileage to exactly 8 miles. Not a bad afternoon’s work. I’m eager to go back again soon.

Fall Wednesday

Today was a perfectly ordinary day full of perfect ordinariness.
Afternoon Trees

It was a Wednesday with nice fall weather – sunny, warm, and mild. The workday included three different meetings: one in the morning on a community project, one at dinnertime on an academic project, and one in the evening for our townhouse association. Being out late at those meetings, I didn’t get to see the girls till nearly bedtime.
I did plenty of miscellaneous work in between the meetings, some of which I did at the office, some of which I did at home or the coffee shop. Some of the work entailed finally finishing lingering projects, some nudged along current projects, some started new endeavors, and some was just answering emails. I ate a sandwich for each meal (though not the same sandwich). During my dinner at the downtown sandwich shop, a kid in the next booth started to melt down because he had onions in his sandwich. He stopped when his mom pointed out that the “onions” were actually peppers, and then had an actual meltdown when he didn’t get an “ice cream fudge” for dessert. I went to the gym and did poorly in a hard workout but bantered enjoyably with the other people in the session and our coach. I didn’t get to ride my bike much, though back and forth to work counts for something, and I was pleasantly cold in the way to work. I made some plans for winter racing. I heard the same REO Speedwagon song twice. I remembered to watch my favorite TV show at 9. And to have the last beer in the fridge.