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Pretend, But Not Too Much

Julia, putting on a yellow construction-paper ring: "This is my maaaagggggical ring, Daddy."

Me: "What kind of magic does it do?"

Julia: "Daddy, it's not really magic. It's just for pretend."


Julia: "When I take the ring off, the diamonds all DISAPPEAR!"

Me: "Wow! That's cool. Is that the magic?"

Julia: "Daddy, I told you it's just for pretend. They aren't really diamonds."

White Out

I went to the Upper Arb tonight to do an hour's ski in advance of this weekend's race. It was surprisingly hard (I can feel my shoulders and triceps aching already) and surpassingly beautiful, for exactly the same reason - an inch or two of fresh, dry snow. It felt like I was running in sand at about 45 minutes, but god, every tree branch was shrouded in powder, the fresh deer and rabbit tracks were perfectly formed shapes in the snow, every sound was muffled exactly right... A perfect night.


The 2008 Vasaloppet will take place on Sunday in central Sweden. The Vasaloppet is a big race in every sense: old (held since 1922), huge (regularly featuring 15,000 or more skiers from all over the world), prestigious (it's the New York or Boston Marathon of cross-country ski world - the race everyone wants to win), and looooong - 90 kilometers (56 miles: roughly St. Paul to Menomonie, Wisconsin, or Minneapolis to St. Cloud).

In terms of both participation and spectating, the Vasaloppet is one of the biggest sporting events in Sweden, and Swedish national TV has about a zillion different stories on the race and its week-long run up (including a lot of attention paid to the weather: they might get more snow the night before the big race, exactly the wrong time). Unlike the Super Bowl here in the States, "Vasaloppet Week" is pretty much about skiing: there are a good dozen different events over the ten days in front of the race, including freestyle and relay races on the full 90km course, 45km classical and freestyle races, and family-oriente skis and women's-only races along the last third of the course.

Given all that, the main event is also a damn good race, with lots of action every year. The 2004 race is a good example. A big leading pack had skied through the (almost) midpoint of the race at Evertsberg. Soon after, Anders Aukland (Norway, bib #177, bareheaded) and Raul Olle (Estonia, bib #6, in the white toque) broke away, working together to establish and extend a lead: 20 seconds at Oxberg (62km), nearly a minute at Hökberg (71km), nearly two minutes at Eldris (81km). Having shared the duty of pulling on the flats and the privilege of drafting on the downhills, the skiers had cooperated so well that when Aukland fell flat on his face at about 74km, Olle waited for him to get up rather than taking advantage of the misstep to establish an easy, possibly decisive, but surely cheap five-second gap.

But there were only 9,000 meters of snow between Eldris and the finish at Mora, so each knew that only a big attack could prevent the possibility of a sprint down the finishing straightaway in Mora - of settling the race rather than setting up a gamble. Just after the 7km-to-go marker, with 212 minutes and 83 kilometers of racing under their skis, the attack finally came.

Vasaloppet 2004 from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo.

(Full disclosure: the WIkipedia article to which I linked above included a lot of stuff I've added, including the table of recent female winners and the nerdy stuff about the male winners.)

Somee Funee

A friend tuned me in to someecards, a service that's like the other e-card services except that the "cards" are snarkier than hell - when they're not outright obscene. (The service's tagline: "When you care enough to hit send.") I highly recommend that you burn the next 120 minutes surfing the site, laughing out loud at every other card, and sending many to your friends - or to me (christopher at tassava dot com). To induce this unproductive behavior, I'll share a favorite of mine (touched up, because this is a family blog).

ee card

Here's a good one to read on the Leap Day.


It seems like every adult I talk to these days is suffering from Seasonal Pissed-Off Disorder. Across campus, around Northfield, and in the corner of the blogosphere I occupy, complaints are rife about the "gray days" (today was pretty sunny), the "long winter" (it's not even March, and we've only had snow since just after Thanksgiving), the "extreme cold" (it was in the 20s today).

Not that people can't hope for spring, but I just want to go on record saying that I wouldn't mind if we were still flirting with freezing and flurries on the first real day of spring. Winter - real winter, with long cold spells, significant snowfalls, good northerly winds, snowmen, white Christmases, sledding and skiing - is a rare thing, and perhaps a phenomenon we will see go extinct in our lifetimes. I think we should relish it while it lasts!

Now please excuse me. It's hard to type in these mittens.

Junior Francophobe

Out of nowhere - well, maybe out of her cracked interpretations of Richard Scarry books - Julia has hit on France and the French being the epitome of foreignness. I refrain from telling her, "Wait'll you learn about Iowa, man."

Anyhow, this past weekend, she refined her talk about "Mother Earth" by saying, with a half-joking expectation of an actual answer, "What would happen if a boy came up to me outside and said, 'Hello, I'm from France. There are ten Mother Earths!' What would I say?"

Indeed. What would you say?

Five Businesses Northfield Needed Yesterday

Or, five businesses which could separate this fool from significant fractions of his annual adjusted gross income:
  • Pizzeria selling New York-style pizza by the slice: Walk in, choose a giant slice of pizza (in all the usual varieties), throw five bucks down, grab your pizza and a soda, walk out. Two minutes, tops.
  • Outdoor-equipment store: Positioned conceptually midway between R.E.I. and Target, and to one side of the team-sports oriented store on Division, this would be a place to get good-quality gear for camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, skiing. A proprietor could make money hand over fist just by selling North Face stuff to the undergrads at the two colleges.
  • Convenience store east of Washington (on the northwest corner of Prairie and Woodley?): Because a) at nine p.m., it's a long way to Econo for a gallon of milk, and b) the zillion or so kids (like mine) who live east of Prairie need somewhere to walk to when they're older.
  • Brewpub: Good bar food + locally-brewed beer = license to print money. I'll even give away a good beer name: Cannon Ale. (Okay, not "give away" so much as "propose in exchange for a bottomless glass at the bar.")
  • Thai restaurant: Because pad thai is to the 21st century what the hamburger was to the 20th.

Pillow Talk

A conversation with Julia as she lay in bed after I finished reading her a story:

Me: "Now close your eyes and go to sleep, okay?"'

Her: "What if I just closed my eyes and had quiet time?"

Me: "That'd be okay as long as you didn't peep later."

Her: "What if I had quiet time all night?"

Me: "I don't think you would; I think you'd fall asleep."

Her: "Well, let's see about that."


Sitting down at my desk this morning, my right front pocket felt unusually packed with junk. When I removed the contents, I discovered a half-dozen used-by-the-girls kleenexes and two dryer sheets. And these were work pants. I can only imagine the quantities of crap in the jeans I wore over the weekend.


The girls' Nonna and Boppa are coming for a visit this weekend. In a thank-you email to Julia last week, she told her to tell me to the Scrabble board out. Julia knows that her Nonna and I play Scrabble whenever we can, so she understood this to mean that the visit was imminent. She turned to me and said, "I want to play Scrabble, too! I'm big now, so I think I'm ready to play." I told her that she had to know how to spell lots of words to play Scrabble. A little bit insulted, she said, "I can spell big words! G-E-N-E-V-I-E-V-E spells Genevieve!"

Race Liveblogging: Falun Relays

(Blogged, as the pursuits were, "live" from's webcast.)

women's 4x5km relay
start Thirteen women's teams are on the line for today's relay, the third of the season. Finland and Norway I are the favorites, though hometown Sweden I should be in contention, and the Russian and German teams will not fail to stay in contact. With only two women racing in Europe right now, the United States is not fielding a team, while Canada is. At the gun, Virpi Kuitunen of Finland takes off like a woman possessed, establishing a substantial lead after 60 seconds of racing. She then pulls back a little, allowing Norway I (in the form of young Ingrid Aunet Tyldum) and Germany (Stephanie Boehler) to catch up. The rest of the field is close behind, but there are huge differences in technique between the leading trio and everyone else.

1.6km Hitting this time check at the top of an early climb, Canada - with Sara Renner on this scramble leg - and Switzerland have bridged up to the Kuitunen group. The front quintet has 12s on the rest of the field. On the descent, Kuitunen edges ahead of Tyldu, and they get away from everyone else. Renner is pushing to get back in touch, but the leaders' skis look especially fast today. They zoom through the curves at the foot of the classic laps' biggest hill, and there Tyldum surges to come even with Kuitunen. They make the ascent side by side, striding the entire hill. Renner and Swiss Seraina Mischol are neck and neck, some seconds behind, and then Steffi Boehler is struggling along in fifth.

5.0 km The same positions hold as everyone comes toward the stadium and the first exchange. Kuitunen words hard to get out front, but it looks like Norway has better downhill skis, so Kuitunen rides the draft until the enter the exchange-zone straightaway and then doublepoles alongside. Just 0.1s apart, Kuitunen tags Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and Tyldum tags yesterday's pursuit winner, Astrid Jacobsen. Switzerland is in third, Canada in fourth, about 14s down. Saarinen and Jacobsen move steadily but quickly away from their pursuers. Just over a quarter of the way into the race, the top two podium spots might already be decided. Nobody, except possibly Germany, has an anchor leg racer who can close down a gap of 20s.

1.6km Saarinen and Jacobsen stride through this check side by side, nearly 30s up on Switzerland and Canada, whose Olympic sprint champion Chandra Crawford is getting some high-quality classic-technique work on this leg. Germany is 45s out. The front pair are visibly better than everyone else: their doublepoling and striding exude power and pace where others look to be just pushing along. Approaching the big climb, they jockey for position but end up ascending together.

5.0 km At the summit, Jacobsen does a little stutter-step that looks for all the world like Frode Estil's famous hill-climb technique and that gives her a crucial little gap as they descend toward the second exchange. Saarinen comes back to terms on the long flats toward the exchange, and they're together as they tag their third-leg racers. Behind, a group of four has formed: Germany has climbed back into contention along with Canada, Switzerland, and Norway II. Canadian Crawford looked slippy out there, but she rallied to hand a nominal fifth position to Madeleine Williams.

2.5km At the head of the race, Norway I's Kristen Stoermer Steira leads out Riita-Liisa Roponen for Finland. Each wants the lead, but then a huge mistake! Roponen misses a turn and skates off the course - or rather, onto the path back to the stadium rather than the route to the foot of the big climb. Somehow, she figures out where and how to get back on course, and does. Will she be disqualified, though? No matter- she's suddenly right back on Steira's tails. Behind, the chasing group is being strewn over the climb. Charlotte Kalla for Sweden I is gunning it, seeking redemption for her poor race in yesterday's pursuit. She has dropped Germany, Switzerland, and Canada to take a firm grip on third, which thrills the Swedish crowd. But putting Kalla on the third leg might have been a mistake, since Sweden I's anchor isn't as fast a skater as the anchors for Finland and Norway I.

Steira and Roponen go through the stadium well ahead of Kalla, and disappear into the woods before Kalla can catch a glimpse. Steira appears to be in charge, easily pushing the pace. But Roponen is moving smoothly, too, and surges past Steira as they approach the big climb. On the slope, Roponen does attack, opening up a 2s gap that lasts most of the way down to the stadium.

5.0 km As they start the run over the flats to the last exchange, though, Steira catches up and it's once again a two-abreast tag - Roponen to Riikka Sarasoja, a young sprinter, and Steira to the deadly-experienced Marit Bjoergen. This is not a favorable matchup for Suomi. 49s back, Kalla - turning in the fastest third leg - tags to Maria Rydqvist. Germany - Claudia Nystad to Evi Sachenbacher Stehle - tags in fourth, another 20s behind. As at the front, this exchange is unfavorable, with the German being far superior to the Swede. But 20s is a lot for even Sachenbacher Stehle to make up. 

2.5 km Going up the climb for the penultimate time, Bjoergen hasn't yet shaken Sarasoja, though the Finn looks less steady than the Norwegian. Rydqvist looks to be faltering a bit on the climb, and Sachenbacher Stehle is already close enough to see her just ahead. Norway I and Finland come through the stadium together; this race will probably be decided on the last climb where, surely, Bjoergen expects to use her jump-step climbing technique to break Sarasoja. Sachenbacher Stehle has cut her deficit to Rydqvist exactly in half already; she should catch and pass the Swede in the next 1000 meters. The race changes much sooner than all that! Bjoergen effortlessly drops Sarasoja even before they are out of the stadium, and is powering away up the easy climb. And Sachenbacher Stehle has already caught Rydqvist. Will she sit on and rest, or pass and drop the Swede, perhaps in hopes of making a play for second place? The former, it appears: she simply rides in Rydqvist's draft as they work their way up the hill.

With a big gap now established, Bjoergen is simply maintaining her advantage over Sarasoja, who looks to be trashed. At the foot of the big climb, Sachenbacher Stehle explodes past Rydqvist, instantly opening a 50-meter gap despite the Swedish crowd's exhortations.

5.0 km Bjoergen is just cruising into the stadium now. Relaxed, she gives a small wave to the crowd as she zips up to the line. Sarasoja comes across in second, 30.9s down, and then Sachenbacher Stehle sprints in, assuring her team's third place. Maria Rydqvist totters over in fourth and immediately sits down. All in all, this result shows that Norway still has the best team of racers on the World Cup circuit, even if four or five countries can advance the winner on any given day.

Postscript: Race officials reviewed the tape of Roponen's wrong turn and decided not to disqualify her, as the course was poorly marked at that point and as she did not obtain any advantage from her wrong turn. Rather, on realizing the error, Roponen pulled up, let Steira through, and then followed a few meters behind - exactly where they had been before the wrong turn.

men's 4x10km relay
start Sixteen teams are due to start today. As host, Sweden is over-represented with four teams. Norway is fielding two teams, either of which could win. The teams for Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, and France should all vie for the podium as well, each being studded with good racers. Both Canada and the U.S. have put together squads as well, each of which should put up a fight in the early stages of the race since Devon Kershaw and Kris Freeman are taking the first legs. I'd put my money on Sweden I for the win, largely on the basis of the home-snow advantage.

1.6km Off the line, high-tempo doublepoling quickly stretches the fifteen scramble-leg racers (one team didn't start the race) into a long double file, with Jens Arne Svartedal of Norway I (the current leader of the World Cup sprint rankings) in front. The steady upward tilt to the course is pushing a few skiers off the back, but at the first time check all the main teams are covered by 5s. Soon after this check, American Kris Freeman jumps into the lead and visibly ups the tempo with an easy but effective doublepole. It's surely a meaningless move with respect to the final result, but Freeman's obviously showing the best racers in the world that he can control their pace.

5.0km The field condenses on the downhill, as it will all day. Canadian Devon Kershaw takes the lead up the big climb. Everyone survives the uphill, and the whole field is within 3s as it reenters the stadium, although there's a lot of jerking and stumbling as racers clip each others' skis and poles. Exiting the stadium, Svartedal is in the lead again, and now looks to be trying to break up the too-large pack. He almost immediately creates a gap, and only Martin Jaks (CZE) can go with him, trailed by Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway II and Kershaw.

6.6km Svartedal, Jaks, Sundby have a couple seconds on Kershaw and more on everyone else. There's a long way to go, but already it's clear that Norway I wants to win this race. Jaks is hanging tough, trying to put the Czech no. 2, Lukas Bauer, a.k.a. the best cross-country ski racer in the world right now, in a good position. On the descent, the lead trio becomes a septet, as Canada, Germany, and Sweden II latch on. France and the U.S. are trying to bridge up, but on the big climb Svartedal explodes, zooming away from his companions. Again, Jaks stays with him - what a display by the rising young racer! - as does Sundby. The greatest thing about the relays are these early moves: Svartedal knows he can just bury himself now, burning off the hangers-on and clarifying the rest of the race.

10km Norway I…

Race Liveblogging: Men's & Women's Pursuits, or, Soedergren Still Can't Sprint

Thanks to the marvels of the internet and the fact that you can't even check your email on weekend days at home, I sat down at 8 p.m. on Saturday night without knowing yet who won the two pursuit races in Falun, Sweden, that morning. All the better, had already put both races up online, so I was able to sit down and blog them "live" from video, not from the archived text updates provided by the International Ski Federation. It's almost like being there! Only there's no aquavit, and I can't stand along "Mördarbacken" ("Murder Hill" or "Killer Hill"), the notoriously long and steep hill that features in all of the skating laps today and which will probably decide the race.

Women's 7.5km + 7.5km
start The young Swedish racer Charlotte Kalla must be considered the favorite for this race. Not only is she the best female skate racer on the World Cup, but the home snow should give her whatever she needs to overcome her main competitors, Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland) and perhaps Virpi Kuitunen (Finland). Kuitunen leads the overall World Cup standings, but has lately faltered in the freestyle races, to the extent that she earned no points in last week's short race in Liberec, Czech Republic - opening the door for Kalla to make a run at the overall title. The Ukrainian racer Valentina Shevchenko has a good shot at winning today, as well, and there's little reason not to expect Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen to vie for the podium as well. Three North Americans are in the race: the American sprint specialist Kikkan Randall is testing her distance legs, and Canadians Sara Renner (back from maternity leave last season) and Madeleine Williams are also in the field.

1.6km At this first time check of the first classical-technique lap, Kuitunen leads a tight and big pack; all the favorites are up there. If Kalla has a task for the first, classical half of the race, it's to stay close enough to the leaders that she neither lets another good skater escape in the second half nor has too much ground to make up on the leaders. Much more than half of the field is within ten seconds of Kuitunen's lead as the field winds toward the lap's big climb. As they start that climb, Finn Aino-Kaisa Saarinen takes the lead, but Astrid Jacobsen is right alongside.

5.0km The field, led through this time check by the unheralded Katrin Zeller (Germany) has stretched out; 24 skiers are within 10 seconds of the front. No big moves have emerged yet, with the classical leg of the race already two-thirds complete. Astrid Jacobsen has taken over the lead as the racers approach the big hill. The field is falling apart now - Kalla is well off the pace being set by the leading trio: Jacobsen a second up on Petra Madjic (Slovenia) and, amazingly, Marit Bjoergen of Norway - seeking, for the nth time this season, to get back into the form that made her almost invincible during the 2004-5 and 2005-6 seasons.

7.5km/changeover Zooming into the "pit stop" area to change from classical-technique skis and poles to freestyle-technique gear, the Jacobsen, Bjoergen, Majdic group has a substantial advantage over the rest of the field. Some quick changeovers by other racers shuffle the field, though: Majdic immediately falls off the pace, while Marte Elden of Norway scoots up to join her two countrywomen at the front. And just like that, the three red suits at the front motor away from everyone else! Just a few hundred meters into the freestyle leg, they've already opened up a ten-second gap on the chasing pack, led by Kowalczyk with what one would hope would be some desperation. Each of the skate laps ascends  Ascending the Mördarbacken for the first time, Charlotte Kalla is well off the pace being set by the Norges.

9.3km The three women are skiing easily and stepping well up the Mördarbacken. Jacobsen has put 2.6s into on Bjoergen, 4.4s into Elden, and a stunning 19.7s into Shevchenko in fourth. Kuitunen is almost a half-minute down, Kalla a stunning 48s. On the downhill, Jacobsen zips around the corners well in front of her teammates. With 5000 meters to go, this race should be hers to lose - and with both Kuitunen and Kalla being blown away, Jacobsen stands to gain a huge number of points toward the overall title. Not a bad prospect for the world sprint champion!

11.3km Bombing back toward the stadium, Jacobsen is extending her lead to absurd proportions. Her form doesn't look fantastic, but her sprinting prowess is a dangerous weapon to wield against anyone who bridges up. As they scoot up the climb out of the stadium area, Elden and Bjoergen both close down the gap, but then Jacobsen accelerates again. Her skate stroke has smoothed out now.

13km Going up the Mördarbacken again, Jacobsen keeps her poling motions short and sharp, working hard to maintain her lead. She has 8.5s on Bjoergen, and now Elden has been caught by Shevchenko at 11.4s; the Ukrainian is a superb skater who could eat up that 2.9s gap to Bjoergen but who also has to mind the pursuers behind. Coming through this check, Elden has dropped all the way down to ninth. This is will be an interesting last 2000 meters: Jacobsen won't lose, barring a fall on the descent, but if anyone can follow Shevchenko, we could see the other two podium spots change hands several times: places two through seven are separated by just over 10s. We could see a good bunch sprint for second and third, and a good sprinter like Justyna Kowalczyk could jump up several places on the last straightaway alone! But as they descend the hill, it's clear that Bjoergen - no mean sprinter herself - has fended off Shevchenko, and the Ukrainian is now leading a group of five, all of whom will desperately want that third-place spot.

15km Jacobsen skates easily around the final corner and up the straightaway, trailed distantly by Bjoergen. Behind them, a five-way sprint erupts! Aino-Kaisa Saarinen uses her sprinting skills to surge up the last little bump for third; a photo finish puts Sabina Valbusa (Italy) just ahead of Anna Hansson (Sweden) for fourth. Kuitunen winds up twelfth, and Kalla finishes twentieth, more than a minute down. Jacobsen now leads the World Cup distance standings with a comfortable lead over Justyna Kowalczyk and stands just 31 points behind Kuitunen in the overall standings, 69 points ahead of Kalla.

men's 15km + 15km pursuit
start 68 men are toeing the start line for today's double pursuit, which will take the racers over "Mördarbacken" three times. Five North Americans are racing today: Kris Freeman, Leif Zimmerman, and Garrott Kuzzy for the U.S. and Devon Kershaw and George Gray for Canada. Though none are likely to place in the top ten, Freeman and Kershaw should do well in this long two-technique race. The podium will almost certainly be occupied by men from the front of the field, with Czech Lukas Bauer being the easy favorite for the win. Axel Teichmann and Rene Sommerfeldt (starting second and fourth) are likely podium contenders, and home-snow racers like Anders Soedergren and Mathias Fredriksson will work hard to place well here in Sweden.

1.6km The start was fast and clean, and the entire pack is together, if strung out, at the first time check. Showing off his impeccable classic-style technique, Mathias Fredriksson leads here, as they wind through sparse woods on the way toward the the big climbs to come. The snow here in Falun is bad everywhere but on the tracks, which are covered with more than enough of the white stuff: there are four lanes of classic-style tracks, often next to a wide skating lane. All this space allows the field to spread out impressively as they make their way up and down the jagged course.

5.0km Only 19.7 seconds separated the entire field at the first time check, but the uphills have taken their tolls now. 37 racers are still within 10 seconds of the lead nominally held by Rene Sommerfeldt, but about a dozen have been spat off the back of the field even as the pace up front remains steady.

6.6km Now coming through on the second lap, Fredriksson leads again. As the racers swoop around the long, open corners that are a highlight of the course, the field is spread out enough that the head of the pack is well out of sight before the tail comes through. The climbs here are big and long, but much of the uphill distance is gentle enough that the racers can double-pole for long stretches - saving their legs for the more brutal climbs on the three skate legs that follow the changeover in 8.4km. Freeman and Kershaw are within a few seconds of the lead, right where they should be.

10.0km The descent from the lap's high point has strung the field out incredibly. As the racers zoomed through the feed zone just before hitting the stadium, the field must have stretched out for a full kilometer. All the favorites are up front, including Bauer and Sommerfeldt. Interestingly, the video which WCSN is webacasting includes Bauer's heart rates, which vary widely from the high 180s (about 95% of his maximum, according to the graphic) when he's working hard on the uphills to the low 150s when he's recovering on downhills and flats. The second lap was a bit slower than the first, but now the pace should increase quite a bit as the classical specialists try to get away and/or break up the field in advance of the three skating laps.

11.6km True to expectation, the pace is getting pushed quite a bit, and there's an obvious difference between the snap and power of the racers up front and those even halfway down the field. Bauer's up front at this check, but more than 30 racers are within ten seconds of him, including both Freeman and Kershaw.

15.0km/changeover Approaching the halfway point of the race and the "pit stop" to change from classical technique gear to skating gear, the field has well and truly blown up. As the racers follow the ridgeline above the stadium, Fredriksson leads from Bauer, whose heart rate is an astounding 98% of his max. In the stadium, everyone swaps their skis and…


Vivi (she who has so far preferred shrieking to speaking) this weekend added six words to her vocabulary - about one every three and a half wakeful hours:

  • flowers (which she used a few times months ago)

  • boot

  • Daddy (versus the former Dadda)

  • bowl

  • Bert (as in Bert and Ernie; she prefers the yellow one)

  • and, critically, bye-bye (she was ridiculously insulted when we noticed she'd nonchalantly said this as she walked away from a toy)

Retail Research

Julia, Genevieve, and I went to the big Cub Foods grocery store today to stock up on cereal and frozen vegetables - the consumption of which makes up a major part of the family diet. The girls rode in a "rocket cart," a regular shopping cart fitted with two seats and steering wheels for the kids, roughly half again as long as a regular cart, and about five times harder to steer and turn than a regular cart. So while I tried to avoid running down innocent bystanders, Julia and Genevieve amused themselves by grabbing each others' steering wheels (in a happy, "ain't we fun!" kinda way) and waving at other shoppers.

Julia also asked probably 100 questions about various items we saw, clearly trying to place the store's amazing variety of crap along her Food Comprehension Axis, which runs from "healthy" at the baby carrot end to "treaty" at the Keebler end. Far from being tiring, it got pretty entertaining to respond. She saw and asked about some things that didn't fit on the FCA at all: mascara, hair gel, cat food, a ginormous inflatable Winnie the Pooh Easter decoration. Others were easily classified: vegetables, chicken, bananas at the "healthy" end; Oreos, Cap'n Crunch, and brownies at the "treaty" end. The real fun came in processing other foodstuffs: olives in the bizarro gourmet-olive bar (healthy, but in small quantities), pretzels (ditto), chocolate-chip bagels (healthy at first glance, but actually fairly treaty), Oreo simulacra in the natural-foods aisle (still treaty, but marginally less so). She labeled the whole Easter-candy aisle as "extremely treaty," then assured me that if the Easter Bunny brings her a chocolate bunny that's too big, she'll break it in half and give part to Genevieve. Vivi agreed that this was a good idea.

As we wound through the store, I thought that an eavesdropping retailing researcher could have written a million PowerPoint slides about her questions. Basically, the bigger and more garish the display (like the ten-foot-tall cube of Oreos), the more questions she had about it. However, some of the marketing that is probably supposed to appeal to her actually did not: Cap'n Crunch, for instance, was not too enticing because, face it, the dude looks like a nutjob. 

Warm Weather, Blue Skies

You can't (or you could, but shouldn't) complain about a day with weather like this: high twenty-degree temperatures, blue skies, that crystalline feel to the air... Though the Tassavas had to do the usual array of weekend stuff, we also went to the Arb for a great family walk in the snow. A good time was had by all.


(Yes, that guy in the background is running in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirt. Idiot.)

Day o' Fine, Evening o' Weird

I spent Friday at home while Shannon attended an all-day psychology seminar up in the cities. Given the unpleasantness around here lately, I was girded for a bad day. Happily, it was anything but a bad day - though there was a rough patch when Vivi did her patented 50-minutes-of-screaming, 50-minutes-of-napping thing - which wrecked Julia's nap, too. Poor kids.

On either side of that, though, we had lots of fun putting toy rabbits to bed, reading and acting out Richard Scarry stories (mostly the obscure one about Pip Pip the Cat rescuing the Queen of England's ring), having snacks and lunch, wondering what Mama was doing. (Answer: trying to stay awake at her conference), and tromping around outdoors in the nice warm air (well, 15°F) - even making (after lots of coaxing) a crossing of the frozen pond down the block.


Back at home, Julia asked a litany of questions, like, "What if I was a sheep and your daughter?" and "Where did Jesus go poop?" Vivi made plain some of her dislikes (putting bibs on, taking bibs off, getting into her high chair, getting out of her high chair, being told she can't hit anyone when she's frustrated, not being picked up three seconds before she asks, taking naps). And both girls got to sit on the camel in the nativity scene across the street (yes, it's still up: the neighbors claim that the platform is frozen to the ground).


Getting up close and personal with the nativity scene naturally occasioned a great deal of discussion about Jesus and, after dinner, some role playing in which I was Joseph, Julia was Mary, and her favorite toy cat was Jesus. I'm doing a ridiculously bad job passing along my skepticism about religion to Julia. Or, come to think of it, maybe I'm not. A cat as Jesus?

After the girls headed to bed, I headed out for a ski. Opening the garage door, I was blasted by the smell of a skunk, to the extent that I wondered if the animal was actually lying, dead, in our driveway. It wasn't, but when I returned home ninety minutes later, Shannon reported that Julia had complained that she couldn't fall asleep because of a "bad smell." That kid has the senses of a wolf.

Just prior to coming home, I had stopped at the gas station to fill up. The clerk - a 20-something young woman - was obviously bored stiff and chatting up everyone in the store. She talked for a long time to the guy ahead of me in line, mostly comparing ages but also discussing his choice of to-go pizza slices. Me, she asked if I did "that skiing that's like running, only with poles?" and then, "Is that like mostly cardiovascular or is that like mostly... uh... uh...." "Strength?" I replied. "Yeah, strength. Is it mostly cardiovascular or mostly strength?" She seemed disappointed when I told her both, depending on what you wanted to get out of it. She did seem to like my late-1990s ski boots (electric yellow and blue). On disengaging from this conversation and heading back to my car, I saw the guy ahead of me in line, feeding the pizza he'd just bought to a black lab puppy.

Lenten Goodness

I am happily oblivious to the Judeo-Christian calendar. Happily, because I know it's Lent when my boss, who gives up desserts each year, passes to me the cookies he gets at catered lunches on campus. Thanks for the chocolate chip cookies, Jesus!

On the theme of omniscience and treats, the other afternoon I reached for my thermos  full of coffee at the exact moment that a message popped into my Gmail box with the words "coffee break" in the subject line. Jesus, schmesus. Google!


It was worth going outside every few minutes last night to watch the eclipse. I actually got to see the first quarter or so of it while I was skiing: quite a sight above the trail! Here's a nice amateur shot from the1pony, a Flickr user.


The Things I Carried

Bike commuting's fine almost all the time. Days when I have (okay, choose) to bring in a lot of stuff are harder, though. Today I squeezed all this into my small Mountainsmith daypack: two oranges and one apple (a stockpile for next week), two bottles of mineral water (ditto), a 600-page history book that needed to be renewed in person at the library, a thermos of coffee, and a ziploc full of Legos (don't ask).

Weekend Skiing

The American Birkebeiner, the biggest ski race in the United States and "the greatest show on snow," happens this weekend in northern Wisconsin. The 51km skate race and the 53km classical race both start in Cable, traverse some brutal hills and a lake, and finish in downtown Hayward. Part of both the American Marathon Cup series (along with 13 other long-distance races around the country) and the international Worldloppet series (along with 13 other races around the world), the Birkie attracts many of the very best skiers from around the world, and in fact that overall winners tend to be Europeans, with Italian racers being especially prominent in recent years.

But the Birkie is also the biggest of the big citizen races in the U.S.: about 6,500 people will ski the long races (and many hundreds more will participate in shorter races over the weekend). I've love to ski the Birkie, which is something of a must-do for serious (and not-so-serious) XC skiers in the U.S. Among other things, skiers like to say they've skied the course's evocatively named hills: Powerline, Seeley Firetower (the high point of the course), Bobblehead (where helmeted snowmobilers - bobbleheads - assemble to watch skiers crash on the descent), and Tourette's and Bitch (climbs that induce more complaining than other hills; the latter usually has a big crowd, including the Devil, on it). Someday...

This weekend's World Cup cross-country ski racing will take place in Falun, Sweden - one of the sport's classic venues and the host this weekend of the "Swedish Ski Games" (the name sounds better in Swedish: "Svensksa Skidspelen.") Falun's famous for its beautiful stadium, with an uphill straightaway to the finish line, but also for "Mördarbacken" or "Murder Hill," a devastatingly long and steep climb about midway through the course which the racers will go over and over this weekend during the pursuit races (15km for women, 30km for men) on Saturday and the relay races (4x5km for women, 4x10km for men) on Sunday. The course profile does a good job of showing the hill.

Last year's pursuit sealed the World Cup title for Tobias Angerer (GER), who won the race in a four-way sprint against home-snow skiers Anders Soedergren and Mathias Fredriksson and Frenchman Emmanuel Jonnier. A good little summary of the race - now with techno!

Quality Time

The 60 or 90 minutes between Julia's bath and her bedtime is usually wonderful. It's my chance to be alone with her, since her sister is in bed and her mom can go off and do other stuff. More often than not, we end up reading books and/or engaging in some sort of imaginary play (reading a Pooh story invariably leads to an elaborate round of acting out everything in the story), but we also spend about one evening every week doing "craft projects" (i.e., using way more glue than is really necessary and/or using scissors on everything we can) and about the same looking at her or her sister's photo albums. All fun things to do.

Lately, Julia has wanted to watch videos on the computer. Usually this means Sesame Street or even the Tigger song, but tonight it meant hunting down nativity scenes - a topic in which she is feverishly interested. So away we went to Google (which I think might as well be God) and good god there's a lot of nativity-scene videos on You Tube. We ended up watching this one several times, and each time the little glitch at 3:00 raised some questions - though on the other hand she was very impressed by the angel SFX.

Bumper-Sticker Irony

Seen at the Cub grocery store the other day, a late-model domestic car with three bumper stickers on the rear bumper. At left: "My daughter is in the U.S. Army." At right:  "My son is in the U.S. Army." In the middle: "Liberalism 101: Tax, tax, tax. Spend, spend, spend."

Where, dear neighbor, do you think the money for the wars and the soldiers comes from?

(Oh, yeah, I forgot - Chinese bond-buyers.)


Last night I uploaded to Flickr a bunch of photos from December, January, and February. View at your own risk: the cuteness can be dangerous to the unwary.

Half-Birthday Girl
Julia on her half-birthday last December.

Walking in the Snow - 16
Vivi on a snowy walk a few week ago.


I have three major vectors to the disease of Acquired Norwegian Identity Syndrome: my wife and in-laws (who are wholly or partly Norwegian), living in Northfield (which is home to St. Olaf College), and following international cross-country skiing (which is dominated by Norwegian racers). Yesterday, I knew I passed a critical threshold for the full-blown disorder when found myself willingly - happily - drinking coffee with lunch. Not after lunch, as a digestif, but with soup and some pretzels. No other beverage was consumed. (No, not even some aquavit.)

At least I drank good coffee, unlike most Norwegian-Americans I know. Somebody send me a hat, eh?

Little Treehugger

Thanks to frequent readings of two books by the artist Schim Schimmel - both slightly over-the-top paeans to environmentalism, both rendered in his signature "environmental visionary surrealism" - Julia has taken to saying that we all live on "Mother Earth." I like it.


Via a friend, a great (meaning good) blog post about a great (meaning horrible) picture that should suggest just what a McCain presidency would taste like.


"It Should Be Like That"

I just wound up a good day with the girls by tucking Julia into her bed and reading Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches the Egg. It's not Horton Hatches an Egg, as Julia reminds me when I slip up. No, but it is a great story: fun to read aloud, great to think about, excellent to discuss. You know that ol' Stan and Jan Berenstain couldn't blot Dr. Seuss's ink when Julia actually sat up, mouth agape, at the climax of the story - even though she's heard the story dozens of times (and, yes, has long stretches of it memorized). You can't spell "he sure was a genius" without S-E-U-S-S.

It was semi-surprising that the day turned out well, given that both girls skipped their naps - Vivi in a fit of pure toddler rage at the ridiculous idea that she should take a nap, Julia because who can nap with a screaming toddler next door? So I put them to work trooping through our subdivision delivering some paperwork from our townhouse association (which took near an hour) and then we went to the Arb for a Tassava Family WalkTM (well, almost: the oldest member of the family stayed home to catch a short break from the youngest pair).


Vivi, recovered from her naptime fit, engaged in various forms of adorable mischief over our 45 minute walk (which covered all of a third of a mile): removing her mittens at least a dozen times, trying to unzip Julia's parka and/or my jacket, and simply running the wrong way down the path - this last, so that I'd chase her down and scoop her up. When she learns to climb trees, we're going to have to stop visiting the Arb for fear of losing her in the upper reaches of an oak. Here's a bit of video to enter into evidence:

Vivi, Mischievizing from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo.

Tech Notes

1. With tax season up us, I just logged into my Sallie Mae account so that I could download last year's student-loan interest statement. Since I hadn't logged into the account in ages, the site forced me to do a bunch of idiotic security" stuff, including choosing five - FIVE! - "challenge questions" for use if I ever forget my password or whatever. Five questions? That's stupid.

2. Northfield isn't the middle of nowhere, by any means, but it's on the edge of nowhere. According to Apple, the nearest place I could go to buy an iPhone - if, say, I wanted to stimulusate the economy in that way, as I know the preznit would want - is in freaking Apple Valley, 20 miles away. If only such a glorious toy could be acquired over some form of world-spanning electronic communication and commerce network...

3. I love my new computer, but I'm surprised to discover that The Feature - the thing I want on my Windows machine at work - is two-finger scrolling on the trackpad: dragging the index and middle fingers horizontally or vertically to scroll through a web page, a Word doc, or what have you. It's so easy and right that I wish I could do it with all my computers.

Adult Privileges

Julia, Genevieve, and I enjoyed our morning snacks at Target this morning before we did some shopping. Looking at our victuals, I was struck by how much they displayed the privileges of adulthood: each girl was having half a string cheese and half a rice cake (both of which, honestly, they love), while I was eating a blueberry muffin and downing a cup of coffee. Sugar and caffeine - perfect.

Julia Reads Milne

As we used to comment upon quite regularly on the Tassava Amalgamated blogs, Julia has an excellent memory. Lately she's put it to use reciting chunks of Winnie-the-Pooh - specifically the story about the "expotition" to the North Pole. (I posted on our mutual fondness for this story a few weeks ago.)

In this clip, she recites an especially hilarious section (the text - more or less - appears below).

Julia Recites Milne from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo

"What I say," said Eeyore, "is that it's unsettling. I didn't want to come on this Expo--what Pooh said. I only came to oblige. But here I am; and if I am the end of the Expo--what we're talking about--then let me be the end. But if, every time I want to sit down for a little rest, I have to brush away half a dozen of Rabbit's smaller friends-and-relations first, then this isn't an Expo--whatever it is--at all, it's simply a Confused Noise. That's what I say."
"I see what Eeyore means," said Owl. "If you ask me--"
"I'm not asking anybody," said Eeyore. "I'm just telling everybody. We can look for the North Pole, or we can play 'Here we go gathering Nuts and May' with the end part of an ants' nest. It's all the same to me." 


The World Cup cross-country skiers are in Liberec, Czech Republic, this weekend for two sets of races - distance freestyle races today and classical team sprints on Sunday - which are test runs for the Nordic Ski World Championships, to be held in Liberec in 2009.

Trouble is, there's no snow in Liberec, so the organizers had to obtain snow elsewhere - and chose a protected nature reserve from which it's apparently illegal to remove anything, even frozen water. But they got enough snow to lay down a 1900-meter track (which one coach typified as "mud, rocks, and slush") for the races.

Sorta. Rather than staging a 10km for the women and a 15km race for the men (themselves, changes from the longer pursuit races which had originally been scheduled but which would have required even more snow to lay two sets of tracks), the organizers shortened the events to 7.6km (four laps) for the women and 11.4km (six laps) for the men. Each lap featured a single substantial climb at the midpoint - not a terrible slope, unless you have to ski it four or six times. The races were run, ironically, in light snow flurries, before substantial crowds (and why not? a 1.9km course practically made the race into a track meet - ideal for spectating), and amidst race personnel who dutifully shoveled the scarce snow into low spots created by the racers, picked stones out of the snow, and generally tidied up.

Truncating the women's race worked against pre-race favorite Charlotte Kalla, who excels at the full 10,000 meter skate race. She raced well, however, to finish third, gaining valuable points in her chase of Finn Virpi Kuitunen for the overall World Cup title. Ahead of Kalla, the Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen notched her second win of the season and her seventh podium finish. Down 6.6 seconds to the leader at the 4.9km timecheck, the reigning sprint world champion delivered a powerful last lap to win by 0.4 seconds over Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland). With the win, Jacobsen has clearly eclipsed Marit Bjorgen as the best female Norwegian racer, and now is within a few good races of taking over the leads of both the distance and overall World Cup standings. Kowalczyk's second place puts her, too, in the mix for the World Cup titles. With eight individual races left to go, all three of today's podium finishers will vie with Kuitunen for the overall title.

Czech racer Lukas Bauer - rather, Lukáš Bauer - started the men's race as the heavy favorite, both because he's leading the World Cup overall standings and because Liberec is home snow. Bauer skied his usual excellent race over the 11,400-meter course, and would certainly have won but for a once-in-a-lifetime effort by the unheralded Jean-Marc Gaillard, who finished the race 12 seconds clear of Bauer. Gaillard was nearly six seconds out of the lead at 3000 meters, but capitalized on the strange nature of the course to accelerate for the win. With a whopping 79 men starting at 30-second intervals, the 1.9km track quickly became densely packed with racers. Starting eighth, Gaillard managed to "catch a ride" with the Austrian skate specialist Christian Hoffman, who started 4:30 later but who was just heading out on course as Gaillard passed through the stadium at the end of his first lap. Being fresher and faster, Hoffman served as the rabbit for Gaillard for most of the rest of the Frenchman's race - and eventually wound up in third, 21.8s behind Gaillard. When Gaillard crossed the line, he bested the then-first place time by nearly a minute - a staggering gap.

With the bad conditions, the team sprint races on Sunday should be very interesting, if not outright violent.

Production & Recreation

I came home after a phenomenally productive (and concomitantly tiring) day at work to find Julia pretending to be a sheep in a pen (which Shannon had fashioned from a mattress and an unused crib bumper pad) and Vivi - the little sprouter! - eager to use my knee to climb onto the bed over and over again. Playing with them is perhaps the most perfect way to decompress after the workweek.


A few of the choicer things uttered today by my two Valentines:

- Julia, on seeing that I'd grabbed a pair of white socks for her: "Daddy, why do you always pick white socks? I find white socks rather boring!"

- Julia, explaining to her mother why she couldn't fall asleep until nine: "I was only talking because I had such an exciting day!"

- Vivi, on hearing me come in the door after work: "Daddddddaaaaa! Daddddddaaaaa! Daddddddaaaaa!" (I think she meant, "Happy Valentine's Day!)

- Vivi, trying out her new word:

Vivi "Animal" from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo.

Ain't she cute?

Ramped Up

I haven't skied much since the City of Lakes a couple weeks ago, but reading about the "Ski to the Clouds" in upstate New York New Hampshire makes me positively shivery with excitement. "Billed as 'North America’s Toughest 10K,' Ski to the Clouds will be held on March 9, 2008 and includes a climb of more than 2200 vertical feet over the final 6 kilometers." Wow. The race is reminiscent of the "Climb to the Castle" rollerski race this summer. Check out the course profile for the 10k:


Tough and fun to dream about trying. Maybe next year.


This could well interest only parents and other relations, but I post it nonetheless: Julia on Tuesday night, drawing faces in a "book" we made during the pre-bedtime relaxing time. Note how she draws each face - exactly upside down (from an adult's perspective), so that the chin is furthest from her and the top of the head is nearest her. I love her look of concentration. I wish I could concentrate half that hard on anything.


Today was a strange day, all things considered - prosaic to the nth degree. I started the day rather unpleasantly, getting doped up by the dentist so he could fix an old filling. The half-numb-face sensation is not a favorite of mine, especially when it's underestimated and leads to a mis-swallow of coffee. Oops. I spent the day at home, handling a bunch of those stray tasks that accumulate over the course of months. I occupied most of the morning playing with Vivi while Shannon visited Julia's preschool class; the poor baby was a weepy mess due to a low-level cold and more teething, but gamely played hide-and-seek for a while and then colored with me at the easel.

After Shannon and Julia returned, it was quick-fast through lunch and early naps for both girls. Check email, do some online teaching, and suddenly they were both up, and the delivery guy was here with the replacement for our defective dining table. Shannon headed off to an appointment and I set up the "new" table, then played with girls. Dinner reached the table soon enough, then shifted to bathtime and bedtime for Vivi. Julia and I made some "books" with markers and office paper (video forthcoming), and then she went off to bed, too. A nice long ski in the Arb numbed my whole face but felt great otherwise. Home, laundry and dishes, shower, blogging. Not exactly taxing, as days go, and nothing to write home about, but well worth posting on a blog.

Getting Here

Google Analytics are always good for a laugh, aren't they? 

Someone searched Google for "at what temperature can i wear a corduroy jacket" and then clicked through to my post about current Carleton fashion. Someone else searched "blowing and drifting tossava" to find the link to my page. Thank god Google could resolve their misspelling of the surname.


For the girls, this weekend was all about words. Julia happily sang a song from a Winnie the Pooh video in which Tigger bizarrely declaims, "The wonderful thing about Tiggers/Is Tiggers are wonderful things/Their tops are made of rubbah/Their bottoms are made of springs!" - and hit the "rubbah!" part hard, laughing every time. Later, she asked me to find out "where somersault comes from," and seemed satisfied with my summary of its etymology.

And then Vivi! She not only rocked the Vivi/Booah/Mama/Dada quartet, but joyously said "ball" (actually, more like "baaaaa") on Saturday and then "bear" (actually, more like "baaaay") on Sunday. More words, Vivi, more words!


I doubt, given the way the American dream is shaking out these days, that we'll ever have a "lake cabin" or anything of the sort. This is a shame, not only because having a backwoods retreat is great, but because when I was growing up, even my family - perched on the lower edge of the middle class - had a "hunting camp" (one room, no running water, outhouse, etc.), which I loved. And but so, the "Delta Shelter" - a 1,000 square foot weekend cabin of decidedly luxurious and unconventionally beautiful appearance - really strikes my fancy:Delta-Shelter-TB-056

Photo stolen from Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, where you can see many similar structures.


View Larger Map

Estonia is one of those countries that doesn't get much attention, sadly. Unless you know a bit about non-Indo-European languages in Europe (Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, for instance), read English-language news about the Baltic nations (Finland and Estonia, for instance), follow nordic skiing, or maybe know a little bit about the origins of Skype, you probably don't think about Estonia much at all. 

Not that you should, really, but my goodness does Estonia have some great words to its credit. Just to start at the top: in the native language, the country's name is "Eesti" - which is really quite euphonious. For another example, this weekend's big cross-country ski races are in Otepää, a tiny little town in the south of the country. I mean, who else has the guts to put two umlauted vowels next to each other? (Besides the Finns, I mean.)

But really, the national language comes to the fore with the personal names. Here are just a few of the home-country skiers competing in this weekend's cross-country events in Otepää (the first five are men, the last four are women):

Priit Narusk

Andrus Veerpalu 

Jaak Mae

Kaspar Kokk

Aivar Rehemaa

Madis Vaikmaa

Keijo Priks

Kaija Udras

And of course, Silja Suija

If ever a nation's citizens sounded like characters from a cool underground sci-fi novel, Estonia's do.

(Visitestonia, please contact me via the comments for the free round-trip family vacation to your fine nation next winter - Otepää will host another World Cup in January 2009.)

The Name of the Blog


We're getting some good February weather right now. Standing at the patio door around 1 p.m., I took some photos of the blowing and drifting. This shot was taken 20 seconds after another shot of blue sky over those crystal-clear trees, a couple hundred of yards away. Now, not so much. (If you want to see when the weather got heavy, check out the graph of the temperature and wind chill between 11 this morning and 1 this afternoon.)

A blowy, drifty, chilly day isn't a bad time to reach (thanks to some walking around downtown with the girls this morning) the halfway point in my quest to spend 150 hours outdoors this winter - though I still have to get 75 more hours before April Fools' Day!

World Cup "Liveblogging" - Otepää Distance Races

Otepää, Estonia, is one of the great stops on the World Cup circuit: a tiny town in a tiny country, but one totally focused on cross-country skiing at the Tehvandi ski complex
Otepää usually plays host to classical technique races, often in the 10km/15km combination used this year. The racecourses have been updated this year to feature a bigger, steeper climb that should prove decisive today.  Since the Tour de Ski ended in early January, the World Cup has only had one event, the four sets of races at Canmore, Alberta, two weeks ago. Owing to mid-season illnesses and the distance from Europe, the Canadian World Cups didn't feature fields as deep as today's races, which should be tightly contested affairs.

Men's 15km
start American Kris Freeman is second off the line in today's interval start race, and looking to return to the form that saw him place fifth at an early-season race in Finland. The middle of the start list probably includes the racers with a legitimate shot at the podium today, including Norway's Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset, Sweden's Anders Soedergren, Germans Axel Teichmann and Tobias Angerer, and the World Cup leader, Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic. Estonian Andrus Veerpalu starts toward the back of the field in this, his first World Cup race in almost two years; the 15km classical gold medalist at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, Veerpalu has been out of action with bad knees since late in the 2005-2006 World Cup season. My picks: 1. Hjelmeset, 2. Bauer, 3. Axel Teichmann (Germany)
0.9km Less than a thousand meters into the race, Lukas Bauer has a 3.7s lead over the rising young Finnish racer Ville Nousiainen, but fully 22 racers are within 10 seconds of the lead at this first time check.
2.3km Already, though, Bauer is showing that he is on good form again, having had to skip the Canmore races with illness: he now has put 11.4s into the second-placed racer at this time check - Estonian Jaak Mae. The native son has a narrow advantage over Nousiainen in third. Further down the field, Hjelmeset lurks in sixth, and Aivar Rehemaa, another Estonian, follows in seventh.
5.0km Coming back through the start area at the end of the first lap, Bauer is in control, running 10.1s in front of Mae, 22.4s on Nousiainen, and 25.8s on Hjelmeset. Andrus Veerpalu is moving up the field, placing 12th at this time check, 35.1s from Bauer. 
5.9km The exact status quo: Bauer, Mae, Nousiainen at the head of the race. Though there's a lot of snow to cover, the gaps are big enough that we might be seeing the podium already: Bauer has 11.2s on Mae, who has 12.5s on Nousiainen, who has 11.1s on Hjelmeset. A number of racers are clustered about 35s out of first - close enough at this point in the race to still be able to charge for the podium, but only just so. 
7.3km Just shy of the midpoint of the course, Bauer is extending his lead over Mae and Nousiainen as well as everyone else. Veerpalu is up to 10th now, and American Kris Freeman has climbed into 17th, just over a minute out.
10km Now two-thirds of the way through the race, only a disaster can alter the podium of Bauer, Mae, Nousiainen. But the Estonia crod must be elated to see Mae in second and Veerpalu in eighth - a great showing for both men. Kris Freeman is losing time to Bauer, but gaining it on many others, having climbed now into 14th place.
10.9km It's still Bauer, Mae, Nousiainen, but the Finn is slipping further behind and opening the door to the Norwegians Hjelmeset and Jens Arne Svartedal, who are running fifth and fourth, about 12 seconds behind Nousiainen - just in range. Hjelmeset, in particular, is a danger here, being an excellent finisher. Can Nousiainen hold on for a podium spot?
12.3km It looks like he can! With just 2700 meters to the finish, Nousiainen is maintaining a healthy lead over the fourth place Svartedal. Bauer is secure in first, Mae equally secure in second. Veerpalu is coming on like a freight train, though: he's now in sixth, having overtaken Hjelmeset and verging now on catching Svartedal and fifth-placed Anders Soedergren. Kris Freeman is steady in fourteenth.
15km Bauer wins commandingly, 13.7s ahead of Mae and 1:05 ahead of Nousiainen. Andrus Veerpalu barely misses the podium, winding up in fourth, 5.3s behind Nousiainen. Freeman finishes in 16th, just about two minutes down to Bauer, who is clearly rested and ready to make a run at the World Cup overall title.

Women's 10km
This race is the favorite of Finn Virpi Kuitunen, and it should be hers to lose. But Norwegian Marit Bjoergen, who abandoned the Tour de Ski with illness and then skipped the Canmore races, is looking to reassert herself, having recently won a Norwegian national championship at this distance. Pole Justyna Kowalczyk, the winner last year at Otepää, is another challenger to Kuitunen. Charlotte Kalla, the young Swede who won the Tour de Ski, will look to prove that she can race well in the classical technique, her less-favored style. My picks: 1. Kuitunen, 2. Bjoergen, 3. Kowalczyk
0.9km Kuitunen holds a 2.9s lead at the first time check, ahead of Norwegian Therese Johaug and German Claudia Nystad, but 20 racers are inside 10s of the lead.
2.3km A bit further down the track, Kuitunen has slipped to third, but remains within 3.5s of the lead, now held by the young Norwegian sprint star Astrid Jacobsen; Johaug remains in second. Marit Bjoergen is buried in 21st, and almost as many seconds behind. Some unknown racers from Norway, Russia, and France are in the upper tier of the standings at this time check!
5.0km At the end of the first lap, Kuitunen is back on top, 0.3s up on her teammate Aino Kaisa Saarinen. Johaug is in third here, Nystad in fourth. Justyna Kowalczyk has surged all the way up from 14th place and 16.9s down at the last time check to fifth, 5.1s out of first - clearly making a push for the podium.
5.9km The top two have flip-flopped: Saarinen, then Kuitunen at 2.5s. Kowalczyk is now in fourth, 10.6s from first and 6.3s from third, occupied still by Johaug.
7.3km At the last time check before the finish line, the two Finns have again exchanged the lead: Kuitunen now has 1.1s over Saarinen. Johaug is hanging in there, just 2.8s from first, but it's a long way down to the fourth- and fifth-place racers, Jacobsen at +17.2 and a fading Kowalczyk at +17.5. A huge push could get either of those two racers onto the podium, but they'd have to take advantage of a collapse by one of the three leaders.
10km It doesn't happen! Kuitunen, instead, mounts a huge charge to the line to win by 9.3s over Saarinen, who herself opens a big gap to Johaug in third at +17.6. With the win, Kuitunen retakes first place in World Cup distance rankings and extends her lead over Charlotte Kalla in the overall (distance plus sprint) rankings.

Last City of Lakes Loppet Post (Maybe)

The organizers of the City of Lakes Loppet put up a great little video recap of the weekend's activities, including the main race as well as other stuff like the kids' races and the skijoring event - in which dogs pull skiers.

Naming Conventions

For the past several days, Genevieve has amused herself while I speedily make her breakfast by standing at the open fridge and methodically touching each item she can reach while saying, overandover, "Bapdah, bapdah, bapdah," which is (best as I can tell) her way of saying "this" or "that."

She uses the same word to ask (well, demand) certain food items at the dinner table. But each morning, she just taps the mustard, then the ketchup, then the egg carton, then the milk, then the salsa, repeating "bapdah" each time. Occasionally, if there's some clear association between the item and one of us, she'll describe that connection, e.g. ketchup = "bapdah, Booah [Julia]"

She'll be so happy when she can talk our language.

Flop Sweat

Yesterday I had to get some ten-year old reports off a dusty set of 3.5" floppy disks. A friend said I should take note of the event, being possibly the last time I ever use a floppy (not to mention the first time I've used one in the better part of a decade). Photographic proof of the dead-media event:


They're pretty; you have to give them that much. On the other hand: I took four pictures of the disks, and each image is larger (averaging 1.7MB) than the capacity of each of these floppies.

Related, from the legitimately LOL "FAIL blog."

Birthday Girl

It's Shannon's birthday today! Happy birthday, babe! I'm glad to have celebrated so many with you, and I'm so happy to  be looking forward to many, many more!


Happy Year of the Rant!

Don't buy a Visa gift card for anyone you love; they're terrible gifts. I got one for Shannon (long story), and it's a huge headache to use. To check the balance, you have to activate it, but to use the card over the phone or online, you have to authorize it - only neither process is spelled out in the lit that comes with the cards, and both are hard to discover through the bank's website.

I should have just given her a stack of twenties (Canadian!) or deposited cash in her checking account.

Marcialonga, König Ludwig Lauf, Transjurassiene

The elite ski-marathon series has some well-named events: the Marcialonga, held two weeks ago in Italy, and the König Ludwig Lauf, held last weekend in Germany. (And don't forget the Jizerská Padesátka, staged in mid-January in the Czech Republic.)

The 70km (43.5 miles) classical-technique Marcialonga was won by Anders Aukland, the Norwegian long-distance specialist. Aukland broke away from a substantial pack about halfway through the course and stayed off the front for the duration, winning in 3:09:32, 2:48 ahead of his brother Jörgen and 2:57 ahead of Swede Jerry Ahrlin. Ahrlin barely edged the World Cup racer Mathias Fredriksson, moonlighting on the marathon circuit, for the bronze. Norwegian Odd-Björn Hjelmeset, another World Cupper trying the long-distance events, managed a poor nineteenth after falling twice; his former teammate on the Norwegian national team, Frode Estil, did a bit better, taking tenth place, six minutes behind Aukland. With the win - his second of the season - Aukland maintained first place in the men's Worldloppet standings, 75 points ahead of Ahrlin. 

The women's Marcialonga was a Swedish affair: Jenny Hansson won easily over Elin Ek and Susanne Nystrom, putting Hansson into second in the Worldloppet standings. The next weekend, Ek took first in the 50km (31 miles) classical-technique König Ludwig Lauf, winning by 1:11 ahead of the Russian Tatjana Jambaeva. Hansson finished third, 2:21 behind. Her second place was enough to push Jambaeva (with two wins and two second places in the four events she's contested this season) ahead of Hansson in the overall standings.

The men's König Ludwig Lauf ended in rare fashion: a big bunch sprint. The Swede Daniel Tynell won the double-poling fest, edging rival and training-mate Ahrlin by four-tenths of a second. The Czech Stanislav Rezac finished third, barely ahead of Mathias Fredriksson in fourth and Anders Aukland in fifth. The top five finished within four seconds - a tight span rarely seen on the Worldloppet circuit. Aukland's fifth was enough to keep him atop the overall standings, ahead of Ahrlin and Italian Marco Cattaneo. 

This weekend, the long-distance racers will head to France for the Transjurassiene, a freestyle race run over 76km (47 miles). While none of the Swedish and Norwegian classical specialists are trying the race, the recently-retired French biathlon great Raphaël Poirée plans to participate, as does Ivan Babikov, the Russian racer who just won Canadian citizenship. Italian Marco Cattaneo is also on the start list, ready to assume the overall lead in the Worldloppet series. 


Though it wasn't by any stretch bad, and in fact was kinda good, today was almost perfectly banal. Aside from IM'ing with friends, the high points of the day were eating a donut and getting a haircut. Much of the day was spent doing the sort of essential nonsense that is intrinsic to the modern bureaucratic job. If this day was a color, it would have been a deep gray - rather like the sky.

Ski Bus

This photo doesn't quite capture the sheer pointiness of the shuttle bus to the City of Lakes Loppet last Sunday.


God forbid one of those buses rolled over: there would be more puncture wounds than a hamster in a bucket of tacks.

Why Read When You Can Interrupt?

After a few months' hiatus, Julia has revivified her habit of interrupting any and every story with dozens or scores of questions - some good, some silly. A sample, from a poem in a weird teddy bear-centric anthology, with the actual poem boldfaced, her questions italicized, and mine set normally:

Little Bear brought chocolate cake

Who did?

Little Bear

What kind of cake?


Raggy Bear brought honey

In a jar?

No (pointing to the picture under the poem): in a pot.

Baby Bear brought ice cream,

What kind?

It doesn't say, but the pictures shows vanilla.

With butterscotch all runny!

What's butterscotch?

A kind of topping - kind of like jam or jelly.

Tough Old Ted brought cupcakes,

Silky Bear brought jello,

What color?


What kind?

Probably strawberry or raspberry.

Shaggy Bear brought cookies and

Egg sandwiches all yellow!

I don't like egg sandwiches. What are egg sandwiches?

A sandwich with a fried egg in the middle.

Off they set into the woods,

The Hundred-Acre Wood?

No, another woods.

A sunny spot they found

Was it a clearing?

Probably - maybe just a small one.

And had a teddy bears' picnic

As they shared the goodies round!

That sounds yummy. I would like a cookie.


I returned a little while ago from the Democratic party caucus here in Northfield. I didn't actually caucus, lacking the time and gumption to listen to hyperpolitical, hyperarticulate citizens debate Clinton vs. Obama. But casting my "presidential preference ballot" forced me to wade through a veritable sea of people, with a median age of perhaps 19. Youthquake, anyone? Judging by the Obama buttons, Northfield's Baracking tonight. The massive turnout meant that the site had long since run out of actual ballots, so I got a little blue slip of paper. Eleven uppercase letters later, I was on my way back out the door, having donated my pen to the cause.

(An aside: after getting to work late this morning, I decided to forgo my usual noontime tromp to the union for a Coke or a packet of cookies or whatever. It's more a reason to get out of the office than an actual provisioning endeavor. No problem, right? No, problem: I missed seeing SCARLETT JOHANSSON speechifying for Obama. [Flickr photoset here] Why didn't I need a cup of soup today!??!)


This little girl is lighting it up around here these days.


Sure, there's the whole deal with the naptime/bedtime screaming fits, but there's also:

1. Starting to sing along to "Elmo's Song" (you know the one) by warbling, "wa wa wa wa" when Elmo sings "La la la la."

2. Graduating to actual snowpants, big-girl mittens, and the adorable earflap cap above.

3. Trying to eat snowballs - but only to make me say "No, Vivi!" with pretend intensity so that she can then give me that sly little grin.

3. Saying her own name as "Wiwi," which is so freaking cute I can barely stand it.

2008 City of Lakes Loppet - Elite Wave Start

Sitting in a long meeting today and feeling my achy thighs and biceps, I thought quite a bit about all the volunteers out on the racecourse yesterday. The start was well staffed with folks handing out bibs to the racers, taking our personal bags to the trucks that would ferry them to the finish area, guarding the intersections between the track and pedestrian paths. Out on the course, the aid stations were very well supported, with at least a dozen or more vols patiently handing water cups to unsteady racers like me, even when they had to run (okay, jog slowly) to do so. And then at the finish, there were scores of high-schoolers doing everything from hanging finishers' medals around racers' necks as we glided over the line and handing out even more water to bringing our personal bags to us even before we could stagger up to the fence. I can only imagine all the (volunteer) labor that went into managing all these volunteers, and I thank every one of them (like those in this shot from for their work!

If the volunteers are the grassroots level of ski racing, here is the royalty: the start of the first wave of the 2008 City of Lakes Loppet. Note the hill! The eventual winner, Andrey Golovko of the Factory Team, is in fifth or so at this point, wearing a yellow suit. (See more of Golovko in this photoset, images 17-20.) Good lord but these men and women are smooth. The poor dude at the end got tangled up with another racer, lost a ski, and had to stumble back down the hill to retrieve it.

2008 City of Lakes Loppet - Elite Wave Start from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo.

Super Sunday

The City of Lakes Loppet freestyle race was a ton of fun. My thighs and shoulders are pretty sore right now, but that's just how they should feel. I finished the 33km race ahead of my two-hour goal, and skied at a pace of 3:17 per kilometer - much faster than I expected to ski. I finished in 321st place, just into the lower half of the 575 male finishers but above the average finishing time.

I was a bit surprised, on arriving (without any driving or shuttle-bus trouble) at Theodore Wirth park, the race venue, to see that the start line faced a rather substantial hill - which some oher racers assured me was the biggest one of the race. They turned out to be right, and after watching the first five waves go off, I concluded that it was not only climbable, but sprintable. Trouble is, my newbie racing skills came to the fore (or maybe I was dazzled by the incredible variety of heinous lyrca outfits), and I wound up in the second line of racers in my wave - not optimum for a good start. But when the tiny but very loud cannon fired, I managed to get off to the side and move up well, passing a few people before the top of the hill and giving myself some open track to ski.

From there, the first third of the race went smoothly. Those 10km or so were mostly on the Wirth golf course, which meant a few steep ups and downs but mostly lots of gentler slopes and many, many curves and corners - all of which were well marked with big, obvious signage. I was mostly skiing with a woman who had started in my wave, and we managed to pass quite a few more people, mostly backmarkers in wave 5. It was motivating to be catching people who had started five minutes ahead of me. My mind did wander once, helping me catch a ski tip and do a nice faceplant. That momentary dead stop aside, the trail was still wide enough that I could pass on the right or the left, and even use some doublepoling to zip past slower skaters. Thank god for those DP workouts I did this summer, fall, and winter.

Exiting the golf course section, the course went under Highway 55, across Wirth Lake, through the second aid station (where I dumped my Gatorade right down my bib), through the 15km checkpoint, and into the toughest section of race: a relentlessly hilly and even more cornerful 6km section through some woody parklands. The field kept "accordioning" - spreading out on the short, twisty downhills, then compressing on the sharp, straight uphills. Quite often I'd have to stop at the bottom of a hill and then slowly herringbone up the slope. It wasn't really conducive to developing a good rhythm, and since I didn't know the course, I didn't know when to down a drink and some energy gel. Somewhere in here, I lost my ski partner when she made a great move around a group of slow climbers, and never did find her again. But I passed when I could, and noted that I usually felt stronger and smoother than those I was passing looked. 

Legs and shoulders now burning from the effort, I was relieved when we suddenly popped out of the woods, zipped through the third aid station (at km 22 or so, where I managed to snag and drink two cups of fluid), and crossed Interstate 394 - which was bizarre: semi trucks blasting past underneath us? Shortly after that, we hit the main lake crossings: Brownie, Cedar (in two long sections), and Lake of the Isles. After the tight quarters and constant vertical while we were in the woods, the long, flat straightaways were a pleasant change. I sucked down some water, ate a couple packets of energy gel, and concentrated on keeping my V2 stroke even and smooth.

The V2 was helpful in eating up a lot of icy track, and I noticed that I was passing a lot of fourth-wave racers (who had started ten minutes ahead of me) as well as a few third-wave racers. Again, satisfying. The leg around Lake of the Isles seemed to go on forever, and it actually did last the better part of 4,000 meters. About the time I noticed some dismayingly wide cracks in the lake ice, I started feeling fatigue in individual abdominal muscles - one of the weirder physical sensations I've experienced, as if little squares of muscle were melting under my skin. For the first time in the race, my legs and arms couldn't always do what I wanted them to do. But I knew I was within the last 7 or 8km - almost done. And somewhere in here, the photographer took my pitcher:


And then all of a sudden, I passed a sign for 1,000 meters to go, just as I came up on a group which had been pretty far ahead of me when I hit Isles. I managed to pick up the pace just enough to move through that group and hit the finish straightway east along the Uptown Mall - a long, steadily uphill. One of my race goals was to not get passed after reaching the Mall, and I did go fast enough to gain a couple more places and not lose any. I reached the finish line in 1:48:15 - just as the public-address announcers read my name - a nice touch (even if they mispronounced TASSava, of course). I had aimed to finish in two hours or less, so I 

Unable to talk, I staggered around for a few minutes, drank what must have been a dozen cups of water and Gatorade analog, stowed my skis and poles, retrieved my bag of personal belongings, watched finishers ski in, and eventually made my way to the shuttle bus back home. On sitting down in my car, my legs started throbbing, and I discovered that I couldn't grip the steering wheel too well. So I called some friends to decline their invitation to stop by (sorry, Elise and Chad!), consumed all the food and drink I could find in my bag, and eventually headed out onto the road, roundly satisfied with my effort and with the fun. 

Dress Like It's Sophomore Year

Coming down the steps the other day, I crossed between two undergrads who were dressed remarkably the same, even though they were of different genders. What united them was the Carleton Hipster Look. A geezer's guide to duplicating it this February:

1. Start with skinny jeans. No, skinnier. Think "running tights," only in denim and stopping about an inch above your shoes. A very dark, almost purple color or a very light, almost white color is best, though a bright corduroy (mustard, orange, red) can do in a pinch.

2. Put on some white socks, and on top of those put on some insubstantial athletic-type shoes, the kind with almost no discernible sole. These shoes should be brightly colored, if not garish - like these.

3. You need a t-shirt, the more threadbare and ironic the better. Only lame-os get Threadless shirts; you need something hipper. In fact, go ahead and wear that Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt you bought back in high school as a sign of coolness; you can wear it now to comment on being cool. It's not a shirt, it's quotation marks.

4. Look outside and guess the temperature, then choose a jacket that would be appropriate if it were approximately twenty degrees warmer. A tracksuit jacket is good, so long as it's very bright-colored and/or foreign(-seeming) in origin, but you can also go with a very thin jean or corduroy jacket.

5. Find your hat and mittens, then put them away again. They ruin the look.

6. Put on your sunglasses, which should be either big ol' stunna shades (girls) or retro-looking aviators (boys). A red-brown tint to the lenses is good, but even better is a lens that fades from clear at the bottom to dark brown or black at the top.

7. Grab your bookbag - something flimsy, ideally - and hit the sidewalk!

Amped Up (Ski Nerdery Follows)

Perhaps it's an indication that I happily live deep in a wonderful domestic rut, but I'm practically quivering with excitement for the City of Lakes "Freestyle Loppet" ski race on Sunday.

I've been checking the race website a few times a day to read updates on the course conditions, see appalling photos from last year's race in terrible cold, and generally soak up the vibe of the race. The organizers recently published a revised map of the course, which I've been duly examining with maybe a little too much intensity.

And but so, I've learned that I'm in the last "wave" of the Freestyle Loppet and as such won't start ski-racing until 10:55 - twenty-five minutes after the gun for the first, fastest wave. That's okay, since among other things it means I have more time to get up to Minneapolis. (It sucks that I have to commute to the race - about one-tenth as much as that it sucks that Shannon has to be home with the girls all day, just like any workday. On the other hand, skiing this race is my birthday present, so...) I've also learned that the race appears to be 33km (20.5 miles), not 35km. That's fine, too. Since December 1, I've skied 42 times, building up 35 hours and 450 kilometers of on-snow time. I did a 35km session a couple weeks ago without dying, so I know I can handle the distance.

The downside to being in the last wave is that of 700 people registered for my race, almost 600 of them will start ahead of me. Assuming I can go with decent pace, this means I'll have a lot of people to pass (though, honestly, not that many - I'm unlikely to be finishing in the top half of the race.) With help from a knowledgeable racer whom I've only ever talked to online, I've chosen a race strategy: go hard for the first 5000 or 7500 meters to get in front of as many people as possible, then hang as long as possible with the fastest group I can find. My source says I'll go much faster in a pack than alone.

Given that I've skied about 99% of my hours this winter alone and about 80% after dark, skiing in the daylight with others will be a nice change of pace. Between skiing in a group, covering the shorter distance, and being fueled by raceday adrenaline, I'm hoping for a finishing time of two hours or less, which would come out to a pace of about 3:30 per kilometer. Trouble is, I haven't skied that fast in training except during interval sessions. We'll see if the body can do it for real.

Be It Resolved

Back on New Year's Eve, I blogged my four main resolutions for 2008. An update:

* I have successfully managed to avoiding eating any potato chips, though in fact tortilla chips are a paltry lunchtime substitute and Shannon may have a point that eating a pile of pretzels tortilla chips instead of a bowl of potato chips may be questionable w/r/t "success."

* Trying to keep up my fitness activities, I worked out 20 times in January, reaching my number-of-sessions goal but falling a bit short of the 20 hours goal. (I ended the month with 17:15:11 of workout time, mostly skiing. I might have reached 20 hours if I hadn't pulled back a bit as the City of Lakes Loppet got closer and/or if we hadn't had several way-too-cold days.)

* I did get substantially more organized, at least at work: I threw out about 12 shelf-feet of grad school-era photocopies of articles and books, sold almost all my academic books to a local used bookstore (making some decent money on the deal), and re-sorted and culled my work files. Next up - the hundreds of pounds of dissertation files sitting in the garage at home.

* Though I did get a couple volunteer-activity monkeys off my back, I didn't exactly cut down on non-family, non-work obligations.

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.