Blowing & Drifting

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

Blowing & Drifting

Hopeless but not serious here, there, and back here.

Eatin' Good in Your Neighborhood

On Thursday, Shannon and I used an Applebee's gift card (the official gift of new moms in Northfield to one another) to get dinner. My entrée was fine and Julia couldn't be bothered to eat her chicken sandwich, but Shannon's meal was horrible: a dried-out chicken breast, a dry bun, none of the promised sauce, withered mushroom, and a cup of old fruit.

We kvetched about it at dinner, but then at lunchtime on Friday I actually called the comment line listed on the bottom of the receipt. I went directly to a live operator, who listened carefully to my complaint about Shannon's dinner, repeated the whole trivial thing back to me, asked for my contact information, said she was immediately sending a "problem report" to the manager of the southern Minnesota region, and then topped it off by promising to send a $10 gift card "to encourage you to try Applebee's again." I was a little bit surprised: I half expected to get a computer-voiced mailbox when I called, and this was pretty much the opposite. The gift card essentially made Shannon's sub-par meal free. Which is fair, I guess.

The capper was that, not three hours later, the manager of the Northfield restaurant called me on my desk line to say breathlessly that he had just received the problem report and wanted to apologize and please please please use that gift card to come in again and please please please talk to him directly if there's another problem.

That's the service economy, I guess. I wonder how many person-hours were spent addressing my complaint, and how much more valuable those hours were than my paltry $10 gift card!

The Compleat Dangler

When you plop Genevieve in her high chair and she realizes that the food's coming, she starts clenching and unclenching her little fists and wiggling her fingers. You get about five clench/unclench cycles to get some food in her craw before she starts to cry.

Julia, on the other hand, uses her words to express her desire for food. Well, her words and her eyes. If you have something she wants - the last strawberry, a piece of bread with butter, a cookie just like the one she finished, et cetera - she looks intently at it and say, "Why am I staring and staring at [e.g.] Mama's pineapple?" Inevitably (because who can resist?) she gets at least some of the coveted item. The other day, though, I laughed when she was "staring and staring" at something on my plate, and I said, "I think you're angling for a bite." This new construction caught her fancy, and for a few days she said, "Why am I dangling for a bite of [e.g.] Daddy's broccoli?" I corrected her a couple times, and now she says it right, unless she's trying to be funny, like last night: "Why is Genevieve dangling and dangling for a kiss?"

Two Rules for Seeing the World like My Toddler

1. Whenever you see any group of four or more items, you should immediately put them in the four universal categories. In descending order of size, the first is Daddy, the next is Mama, the third is big sister, and the last is baby sister. For example, when playing with your blocks, "That's the Daddy bwock, an' that's the Mama bwock, an' this teeeeeeny one is yittle baby bwock an' this one bigger one is big sister bwock!"

2. The odder and more threatening the toy creature, the more you need to give it a nice commonplace name. Example: the roaring dimetrodon with a mouth full of gleaming fangs is to be named Gus and gently, gently, gently put to bed underneath a handy burp cloth, kitchen towel, or sofa cushion.

3. Make sure everyone understands that your favorite letter is queue:

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Peligro

When I see a strange (strident, overly specific, mysteriously worded, etc.) warning label on a package, I wonder what event - if any - precipitated the warning. After that infamous lawsuit in which a McDonalds customer successfully sued after being burned by hot coffee, I think McD's put rather ridiculous warnings on all of its coffee cups, and many times take-out coffee cups are positively emblazoned with warnings. Today, I was putting together a FedEx shipment at work, and noted again the bizarre and worrisome warning on the cardboard envelope, which is big enough to accommodate about ten or twenty sheets of office paper, but (unless you're a moron) obviously can't handle anything more: "Do not ship liquids, blood, or diagnostics in this package."

I'm glad I wasn't the FedEx guy who picked up the package that necessitated that warning.

Birfday

When I walked in the door this evening, later than usual thanks to a 4 p.m. meeting, Julia immediately yelled out to me, "Daddy, do you want a chocoyit cake?" Who doesn't, of course, but I was at a loss as to why I was being quizzed about this. Turns out, the three girls were talking about my birthday, and of course any right-minded toddler would turn her attention to cake. "An' ice cweam. Daddy, do you want chocoyit ice cweam wif your cake?"

I Thought I Could

Reading The Little Engine that Could to Julia tonight, I noticed in the front matter that "THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD, engine design, and 'I THINK I CAN' are trademarks of Platt & Munk" (the publishing company). Does this mean I violate copyright every time I remind myself that "I think I can"? Because if that's a crime, send me to Florence.

Twins!

Here are some extraordinarily funny parenting anecdotes relating to the difficulties inherent in having twins. (Elise, these are the stories I was trying to tell you at lunch.)

Boared

Last night my dad gave me the willies by blogging about the spread of feral hogs to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a place widely considered too cold to be good habitat for wild boars. As proof that this assessment was as wrong as a neocon in 2001, check out the photo and the size of the animal. Then Pa compounded my willies by sending me an article about wild pigs in Minnesota.

There are just so many reasons to be terrified. I mean, it's incredible enough that a boar, on escaping from a hog farm, can regrow its tusks. A. Pig. With. Tusks. Add to that the facts that pigs are smarter than dogs, and that they can tear up more ground that a rototiller, and that they are mean, mean, mean... shudder

Thank goodness there are more turkey farms than hog farms around Northfield. Nobody's ever been harmed by a feral turkey - though I did almost hit one once while out rollerskiing on Wall Street Road. Wait, no, that was a pheasant. The spectre of wild boars rooting around on my patio has ruined my memory! Perhaps it will come back if I have some BBQ.

Northfield: Coffee Capital

Two posts on Locally Grown, a Northfield blog, point out that the town has a lot of coffeeshops - an awful lot, so many that the Strib singles us out for an article on the topic. According to the Strib's per-capita calculations (which exclude the excellent coffeeshop in the student center at St. Olaf), we have more 3.3 coffeeshops per 10,000 people - more than Anchorage, Alaska, the big city with the most coffeeshops per capita.

Before we go and change the unofficial town motto to read, "Northfield: Cows, Colleges, Contentment, and Coffee," though, the powers that be oughta remedy one source of discontent: the paucity of good coffee at Carleton. The "coffee" served on campus is swill.

"No Impact," Little Blogging

I just realized why I've had to drag myself to this blog lately: thanks to my job, I've been writing all day every day for the past two weeks, and it'll be that way for another week, minimum. I just spent three hours of evening time working on two proposals I couldn't touch today! (Coincidentally, I had exactly three hours of meetings today....)

In partial compensation, here is an exceedingly weird and interesting article from the Times to read. It concerns a Manhattan family that is trying a "No Impact" life:

Its rules are evolving... but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Read the article to see how the "no paper" rule applies to bathroom tissue.

Gigi Sunday

This afternoon, Shannon and Julia went up to a tea party at Cafe Latté, a St. Paul landmark, a birthday celebration for our friend Tricia. They had a high time, as you'd expect.

I stayed home with Genevieve, who was rather charming, if pretty tired thanks to having her afternoon nap ended prematurely by a poopy diaper (awake + stewing in your own feces = bad). We did a whole bunch of housey stuff, from vacuuming (me) and making some very silly faces (me) to  drinking six ounces of milk in about five minutes (Genevieve; by my calculation, that's the equivalent of me drinking 48 ounces!) and spitting up about a half-doxen times. (Gigi again). More than once, though, she fell into  a funk which I couldn't readily reverse: I just spend too little one-on-one time with her to know why she's mad or what will make her happy. Once, I picked her up to cuddle her, and she gouged my face trying to push me away. (Turns out, she wanted to chew on a measuring spoon.)

Still and all, this is more or less the face I saw most often: her little semicircular smile with those two teeth jutting out. I'll do better next time, Giger!

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Well, Dat's Okay, Den

Finally, the "trolls" who live below the Mackinac Bridge in the Lower Peninsula are doing something worthwhile for the Upper Peninsula. A professor at Grand Valley State University is studying, and intends to write on, the U.P. dialect, which includes (besides a heavy accent) such funnities as saying "eh" at the end of a sentence, flipping around the meaning of "loan" and "borrow" (i.e., you say to someone, "I'll borrow you my truck for the weekend"), dropping certain prepositions ("I go mall"), and of course saying, "Holy Wah!" when you're impressed by something. Like a scholar bothering to study Yooperese!

Falun and Done

The last events of the 2006-2007 World Cup season went off without a hitch on the storied courses of Falun, Sweden - trails which feature the infamous "Killer Hill," a 700-meter long steep that, true to form, was important in every race this weekend.

With the overall and distance titles already decided for both men and women, the pursuits on Saturday had little meaning beyond some prestigious wins and maybe creating some motivation for off-season training. On the men's side, World Cup overall and distance champion Tobias Angerer skied at the front all day, first as part of a characteristically big lead pack and then as the destroyer of that pack. Showing the form that made him the far-and-away winner of this season's overall championship, and the first repeat champion in years, he used his ruthless kick to accelerate away from the other three skiers who tried to follow. Behind Angerer, the ageless Swede Mathias Fredriksson eked out the silver with a fantastic lunge, making the crowd very happy and relegating the rising French skier Emmanuel Jonnier to the bronze.

The women's race, too, saw a big pack get winnowed down over the last lap, until, on the last ascent of the Killer Hill, the group fell apart and just three racers went for the line. Of them, the veteran Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic) was expected, as she was racing her last World Cup event and has long displayed exceptional skill at the pursuit. With her, though, were two surprises, both wearing the red and white of Norway: the two-time World Cup champion Marit Bjørgen and the youngster Therese Johaug, who races with a kind of tireless naïvete. Inside the last 500 meters, Bjørgen showed the form that has been absent almost all year, and accelerated away for the win. Cannily holding off Johaug to take second, Neumannova waved to the appreciative crowd (she had planned to grab all her medals from friends on the sidelines and ski in carrying them, but chose instead to vie for the win). Johaug took a promising third place - nearly matching her stunning silver in the women's 30km at the World Championships. With new World Cup champion Virpi Kuitunen playing no part in the race, Bjørgen's victory was an indication that she still can do it - after all, she finished second in the overall rankings: only in Norway is that considered a poor season.

As team events, the relays on Sunday were almost entirely about national pride - with host Sweden having the most at stake. After a tight first leg, the women's race fractured midway through the second lap, with Virpi Kuitunen showing her peerless classical technique to create a massive 13.4 second lead. Finland's third leg was similarly fast, and as the anchor leg, Aino Kaisa Saarinen, took over, they seemed staked to an insurmountable lead with Germany, 14.6 seconds down, secure in second. But then Claudia Künzel-Nystad, the German anchor, took to the trails. In the first half of her leg, she cut Saarinen's lead almost in half. Künzel-Nystad caught Saarinen on the final approach to the finish, a brutally long, steadily uphill straightaway, and swept past to take the win by 9/10ths of a second. Sweden's main team took third, almost half a minute down, to save some home-snow face.

The men's relay included some similar come-from-behind feats. At the second exchange, halfway through the race, eight teams - fully half the field - were within four seconds of the lead, with Russia being the only favorite to be apparently out of it, 35.8 seconds down after an atrocious second leg. After the the third leg, six teams were still within four seconds of the lead - but the Russians were still way out of it. Having watched all of those teams' anchor-leg skiers hit the course ahead of him, Russian anchor Maxim Vylegzhanin burst onto the tracks and used every meter of his 10km leg to move up the field. By the halfway point, he had caught the frontrunners, skiing together in an unwieldy eight-team lead pack. Heading up the Killer Hill, Vylegzhanin audaciously attacked the group, and only Petter Northug of Norway I and Emmanuel Jonnier of France could follow. The trio quickly gapped the field and settled into a cat-and-mouse game to choose positions for the final sprint. Northug, possessesor of the world's best finishing kick, finally made a move, veering left and then right to come around his competitors and zoom to a narrow half-second victory. Vylegzhanin, riding a crest of adrenalin, hawked Jonnier at the line to give Russia the silver.

All in all, Falun provided a satisfying end to the season - and now there are only about 200 days to the start of the 2007-2008 season!

Springing Ahead

Spring is officially here: the ice has completely melted on Lake Heywood (the tiny, manmade pond at the end of our block), and even the biggest snowbank from last month's storms is now gone. This morning, Julia and I watched a massive fog bank roll down the ridge to the south, cutting off a few minutes of sunshine and presaging a gray day that ended after dinner in one of those long pelting spring rains.

But 58-degree temperatures can't be passed up, so Julia and I went through the afternoon haze to good old Central Park, where there were 32 other kids and adults enjoying the playground equipment. Thirty-two! Julia amazed me and herself by climbing smoothly and ably up ladders and jungle-gyms that she couldn't even try last fall. Getting a bit overconfident, though, she did fall off a step and land on her back. Tears, a bruise, and then up and running again, making "rock angels" in the gravel and going back up the "snake ladder."

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Swed-End of the Season

The penultimate event of the 2006-2007 World Cup season, classical-technique individual sprints around the Royal Palace in Stockholm, yielded breakaway winners in both the men's and the women's finals. The races, from the qualification rounds at the end of the workday through the finals around 8 p.m., were very well attended, and Swedish skiers claimed exactly half of the medals up for grabs - though no golds.

Half of the racers in the men's final (YouTube video) were Swedes, including Emil Jönssen and Mats Larsson. These two wound up second and third, respectively, in a great photo finish. But both finished well behind newcoming Russian Mickael Devjatiarov, the 2007 sprint champion of Russia and the son of a star Soviet racer from the 1980s. Devjatiarov took advantage of the first climb of the race to open a big gap on the rest of the field, stretched that lead on the long descent, and then double-poled like mad to keep out front. His win was the first World Cup gold of his young career. Though he didn't feature in the final, the leader of the men's World Cup sprint standings, Jens Arne Svartedal of Norway, earned enough points to win the men's World Cup sprint title - his goal since last summer.

The women's final (YouTube video) included only one Swedish racer, but Anna Dahlberg managed to hold off the young Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen to take the bronze medal. Ahead of her, the expected duel between Finn Virpi Kuitunen (the winner of the World Cup overall, distance, and sprint titles) and classical-technique specialist Petra Majdic (Slovenia) never quite developed. Having posted the fastest qualifying time and swept through her heats, Majdic was primed for either a blowout win or a massive collapse. She chose the former, opening up a lead almost from the starting gun, getting the pole position through the tight and messy corners, gaining ten meters on the field by halfway, and then coasting to an easy victory ahead of Kuitunen. If Majdic can find any kind of freestyle form over the offseason, she will be a formidable contender for any or all of the World Cup titles next season. In fact, if she can do well in the last individual race of the season, she could finish second in the overall standings, the same position she earned in the spring standings.

With all of the season's sprint events now concluded, the American team can take some satisfaction in its accomplishments. Kikkan Randall, the only American woman to compete throughout the season, finished 12th in the sprint standings, a good spot that will be better next season as her classical-technique racing improves. Torin Koos, who earned one podium finish on the year, finished 19th in the men's sprint standings; Andy Newell, who didn't make a podium but did finish in the top 15 in every race this season, finished sixth - the best American sprint result since sprinting was added to the World Cup circuit more than a decade ago.

The season's final races take place at Falun, Sweden, this weekend: men's and women's pursuit events on Saturday and relays on Sunday. he races will also be the finales for Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic, an excellent competitor with numerous medals to her credit. The races will also be the last World Cup events for my favorite skier, Norwegian Frode Estil. He has enjoyed a great year and ends his career as arguably the most successful racer of the 2000s, having earned three individual Olympic medals (one gold and two silvers) and six individual World Championship medals (one gold, two silvers, three bronzes), as well as a number of relay medals. My picks:

  men's pursuit: 1) Tobias Angerer (Germany), 2) Petter Northug (Norway), 3) Frode Estil (Norway)

  women's pursuit: 1) Katernina Neumannova (Czech Republic), 2) Kristin Størmer Steira (Norway), 3) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland)

  men's relay: 1) Germany I , 2) Sweden I, 3) Norway I

  women's relay: 1) Norway I, 2) Finland I, 3) Sweden I

Moose on the Loose

What to do if you run into a moose. Well, not literally run into one. More, if you encounter one in the Boundary Waters or Rogers or Edina. Takeaway: "You really don't want to stress a moose out. They're much bigger than you."

Spring Break in Minnesota

On my way to a lunch meeting today at Chapati, an excellent Indian restaurant that, in a serious lapse of Northfielderness, I'd not been able to visit until today, I walked across campus, which is largely empty owing to spring break.

I immediately thought of the four spring breaks I spent at Macalester - each, literally at Macalester. Added to the three summers when I worked on campus, I figure I spent a total of about ten extra months on the otherwise empty campus - basically another academic year. Among other things, that extra time on the college grounds really made me feel like I knew the campus. And I guess I did, since during all of that extra time I was working for the locksmith and carpenter. Carrying my saucer-sized ring of keys, I could and did get into lots of strange places that few other students saw. I was impressed by the seemingly-endless number of "secret" rooms behind doors that were almost always locked - machine shops, private laboratories, creepy storage rooms, hidden passageways between separate buildings. And then there were the attics: all the old buildings had attics, and they were all bizarre spots full of forgotten equipment, books, and - I half expected - students who should have graduated the year I was born.

The strangest place - the one I still have semi-bad dreams about - was the sub-basement of the science hall. The service elevator felt like a conveyance to hell: a creaky, malfunctioning metal box that always seemed suspiciously warm. The massive, low-ceilinged basement itself was carved directly into the ground, so that all the walls and the floor were solid, rough bedrock. And the whole space was full of desks, chairs, bed frames, bookshelves - whatever furniture nobody else wanted or needed just then. Along with the rest of the summer crew, I must have carried a hundred desks out of that elevator, across the "foyer," up and over a weird rock wall between the elevator room and the basement proper (and was there actually a little stream of running water there?), and then over to the first open spot. As we huffed and puffed, one of the regular employees - mostly great guys who would do the heavy lifting right alongside us - would inevitably retell the story of that one time when a biology prof had a giant snake escape from his lab, and they found it, much later but still alive, in the water at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

It was always good to ride that elevator back up to the ground floor and see some actual daylight again, even if there were no other students in it.

Snowblind

The Canadian cross-country skiing team had high expectations for the recent World Championships at Sapporo. Though those expectations weren't quite met, the team does still have three years (and another worlds) to prepare for their home-snow races at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Hoping to make the Olympic team then is the Canadian skier who had the best placings at Sapporo, Brian McKeever, the subject of an inspiring short profile in the Times. McKeever's speed and endurance are all the more remarkable for the fact that he is legally blind, owing to a condition called Stargardt disease, which causes the irreversible degeneration of one's central vision. An accomplished skier before the onset of his blindness at age 19, McKeever sometimes now skis with a guide (his brother), but at the Worlds, he had to ski alone, unguided, on some of the most treacherous trails in the world. In doing well, he stayed on track for the 2010 Olympics. Amazing stuff.

Ahead of the Game

Genevieve loves to play peek-a-boo, as most babies do. As her sister did, she enjoys the regular disappear-and-reappear variety, especially if I can hide behind something compelling to view, like Mama or a mirror. But Gigi also loves to play the game when I drape something over her eyes - a hand towel, a burp cloth, a onesie - and then magically continue to be right there when she pulls that something aside. She hasn't mastered removing the obstruction with a deft one-handed whisk, though, so while I "hide," she uses both of her chubby little hands to scrub, Three Stooges style, at the item until gravity pulls it down and there I am!

Royal Palace Sprints

Wednesday sees men's and women's individual sprints, the penultimate individual races of the World Cup, take place in a rather picturesque setting: around the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The classic-technique races will start at 5:00 p.m., ensuring a big, enthusiastic crowd for all the heats. These city-center sprint events are becoming more and more common on the World Cup, with at least four having been scheduled for the 2006-2007 season and at least as many for next season. And why not? It's a great way to get the racing in front of people who might not otherwise see it.

On the tracks, only the men's sprint title is still up for grabs, Virpi Kuitunen having long since sealed up the women's. Five Norwegians top the standings, with Jens Arne Svartedal holding a solid but not bombproof lead over Trond Iversen and Tor Arne Hetland; any of those three skiers could score enough points to take the title. (I think Svartedal will do it.) My picks:

  men's sprint
  1) Svartedal, 2) Andrew Newell (USA), 3) Emil Jönssen (Sweden)

  women's sprint
  1) Petra Majdic (Slovenia) 2) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 3) Lina Andersson (Sweden)

Windy

If it's spring in Northfield, it must be windy. On Sunday, Julia and I went for our usual quadrilateral walk around the subdivision. From the first bit of the stroll, I knew it was windy, but figured that we wouldn't encounter any headwind until we were just about home. I should have taken some warning from the fact that Carleton's wind turbine was stopped in a south-facing orientation, meaning that the wind was coming so strongly from that direction that the turbine couldn't keep up. When we turned north, that howling south wind hit us flat and hard from behind. Julia actually staggered a bit, grabbed my hand, and said, bewilderedly, "Daddy, what's pushing my back?"

One of the Chutzpah Cookies, Please

On our little jaunt with the girls to Rochester on Saturday, we went to a nice Panera Grill-type sandwich place. The food was good and the kids were charming, so all went well. As we were winding up, I went back to the pick-up counter to get a take-out box for Shannon, who was fulfilling her part of our longstanding dining-out arrangement: she always brings food home, I never do. I was carrying Genevieve, who attracted some grandmotherly attention from a woman waiting for her order.

While we chatted, I noted her husband behind her, munching on one of those saucer-sized cookies that every coffeeshop sells nowadays. When the person behind the counter called their number, the woman politely broke off our conversation and turned to grab their food. As she did so, her husband stuck his three-quarters-eaten cookie in her hand, muttered, "This was supposed to be chocolate chip, but it had raisins," and walked away.

Without missing a beat, she presented the quarter-moon of the cookie to the worker and repeated his complaint; the worker instantly scuttled off to get a replacement. I was boggled: I can see eating one bite or maybe two before realizing he had the wrong cookie, but the man essentially ate the whole thing, and then wanted the "error'" corrected. I guess that one's way to have your cookie and eat it, too.

An In!

Finally, I have one: More than half of all Finns want more immigration, especially to the metro center around Helsinki.

I'm young, highly-educated, professionally-grounded, and overly enamored of my Finnish heritage. I can even roll my R's!

And if Suomi doesn't want me, maybe Belgie/Belgique/Belgien will. (Though I'd rather try to leanr just Finnish than Flemish, French, and German.)

Awwwwww

It's too late already, and I'm too under the weather, to blog too much (my logorrhea about the fantastic Holmenkollen races notwithstanding), so by way of excusing myself, read this daddyblogger's post on why he finds it hard to write about his kids: it's their damnable cuteness.

But wait - who am I kidding? The big news here is the Genevieve has essentially night-weaned herself. About a week ago, we started cutting out her early-morning feeding (ca. 2 or 3 a.m.), and the process went fine. She cried, but she was able to get herself back to sleep each time after a few pats and songs from the non-nursing parent. Then, out of nowhere, she slept straight through the night last Thursday, dropping the late-evening session (ca. 10 or 11 p.m.), too! She still cries a bit, later on, and I'm sure I'm jinxing everything now, but jeebus - what a freakish and welcome turn of events. Good job, Gigi! (She's more than making up for the difference with some truly massive meals of "solids" - the ETA for real pizza is around her birthday.)

Holmenkollen Over

The men's and women's races at Holmenkollen were both barnburners. Very high temperatures - nearly 40 degrees F - made the conditions very wet and sloppy, and increased the difficulty of a racecourse that is already, by dint of distance and terrain, one of the hardest. The interval start system sent the racers out at 30-second intervals, which pitted the skiers more against the clock - in the form of split times, shrieked by coaches - than against one another.

The story of the women's event was the dominant performance of Finn Aino Kaisa Saarinen, an excellent racer who has ben overshadowed by Virpi Kuitunen all year long. Starting near the back of the field, Saarinen led at nearly every time check, and ended up taking first by 30.6 seconds over Kuitunen. German Claudia Künzel-Nystad ran much of the race in second place, but faded badly at about the two-thirds mark. Goaded on by coaches reading the German's dissipating splits to them, both Kuitunen and Petra Majdic (Slovenia) were able to push hard in the last ten kilometers and overtake Künzel-Nystad, pushing her down to a hard-luck fourth. Majdic's third-place position was about fifty seconds off Saarinen's winning time of 1:23:55.7. Kuitunen's second place all but assured her of the World Cup distance title, as she is 100 points up on second-place Katerina Neumannova in the standings. If, at the last distance race of the season next Saturday in Falun, Sweden, Kuitunen finishes worse than 30th place and Neumannova wins, they would finish the season tied. That occurrence is highly unlikely.

The men's race also featured some exceptionally tight competition. Starting nearly last, Norwegian Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, the favorite, turned in some of the fastest splits at every time check in the 50,000 meter race. Hjelmeset traded the lead with two Germans: Rene Sommerfeldt, who slowly slid out of the lead and off the podium over the second half of the race, and Tobias Angerer, who started last and fell as far as many as  41 seconds behind Hjelmeset at the end of the first 16.7km lap. Over the second lap, Angerer steadily trimmed Hjelmeset's lead until he surged into the lead as he came through the stadium before the last lap. Angerer held that lead almost to the finish, but Hjelmeset knew of Angerer's attack from the Norwegian coaches and had a secret weapon: his countryman Frode Estil, an experienced long-distance racer who willingly served as a rabbit for Hjelmeset over the last 10km. With Estil pacing and plowing through the melt, the Norwegian duo cut into Angerer's lead. Over the last 4,000 meters, their attack converted Hjelmeset's 6.5-second deficit to Angerer into a 9.8-second advantage, giving Hjelmeset a famous triumph and his second 50km win in two weeks, after the gold in this event at the World Championships. Hjelmeset celebrated his win by leaping up and over the finish line. Angerer finished second, Estil third in the last long-distance race of his career.

The other big race in Norway on Saturday - the Birkebeiner, run up north from Rena to Lillehammer  - was cancelled part way through when high winds made safe racing difficult. American racer Brayton Osgood has a good account of his aborted race on his blog.

Saturday

Today was a long and fun day; the high point was a wonderful visit with old friends in Rochester as they prepare for the arrival next month of their first baby. Thanks to their parents' need to get to Rochester today, neither Julia nor Genevieve was able to take a nap today - sorry, girls! But both of them held up well.

I knew the day had been a good one when, just before I passed G. off to her mama for her evening nursing, she buried her little apple-cheeked face in my neck and slobbered all over my shoulder - unabashed, total love.

A few minutes later, with Gigi asleep, Julia reinforced my sense that all was well. We were playing quietly in her room, basically just killing a few minutes until her bedtime. She interrupted the long process of choosing a fwiend for bed by suddenly walking back to me and saying, "High five, Daddy!" Laughing, I gave her a high five; she smiled and went back to her pile of toys.

Day Off

I took the day off today, being worn out from a some long, intense months of work and expecting a couple especially intense weeks while my boss is on vacation. I didn't do much except hang out with the girls, and it was great. Some high points:

Genevieve sleeping through the night for the first time, and waking up with a giant sleepy smile on her face.

Sitting in her exer-saucer while I made her breakfast, Genevieve heard the cat meow and exactly imitated it with a perfect "Ree-OW-er!"

Julia spent about a half hour this morning loading her bed with literally every stuffed animal she could find in her room or the upstairs playroom. Watching, I asked her, "Are you going to go downstairs and get the rest of your friends?" She turned to me and said coolly, "Yes, indeed I am."

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As she lingererd over her lunch, Julia described in great detail an exhibit we saw at the Rochester Art Center the last time we went to see our friends Kris and Kristi in Rochester - last May. The main topic of conversation was why the ceramic clown sculptures we saw had been "so stwange and confusing," but at one point, she asked me why one particular "cwown" had an "elephant nose" - accurately remembering one piece that evoked both a jester and Ganesha.

On an afternoon trip downtown, I asked Julia if I could have just one pretzel from her trail mix snack, she told me, "No, you can just drink your coffee, Daddy."

A few seconds later, Genevieve suddenly threw aside her teething ring, grabbed a tiny piece of cereal from Julia's trail mix, and threw it in her mouth.

Before bedtime, Julia decided that in fact she did want to read five chapters in a Kate DiCamilo book, rather than two of her regular (age-appropriate) books.

Now, they're both asleep and (thought I won't say it to Shannon, who went through the wringer with both of them this week) I kinda miss them both.

Holmenkollen Tomorrow

The 50 kilometer classical-style race at the Holmenkollen in Oslo is one of the oldest races on the World Cup circuit, and it's certainly the most prestigious. Norwegians have raced at the Holmenkollen since 1892, and have been staging the 50km race since 1898. Few races can draw royalty (the king of Norway typically attends the race), and few recognize especially great performances with a special prize (the Holmenkollen Medal is periodically bestowed - by the king - on certain worthies). And it's not like the races lack popular support. Not only do thousands line the trails to watch the skiers, the organization that stages the event each year has 50,000 members.

All in all, the Holmenkollen is the event that every cross-country racer longs to win, the event that confirms the stature of the greatest racers and stands on a par with Olympic and World Championship golds.  This year's 50km will be paired, as it has since 1988, with a women's 30km event; both are usually the longest races of each year's World Cup. (The Olympic Games and World Championships always feature 30km and 50km races, too.) The races will be the first time that the "pit stop" is used in competition; this innovation will allow racers to change skis as they come through the stadium, swapping skis with bad wax for new skis with good wax. Though it's anybody's guess as to whether this will provide a competitive advantage (changing skis will require time that might not be recouped on the track, even over 30 or 50 kilometers), it'll be an interesting experiment. If any team benefits, it'll be the Norwegian one, which includes a good number of on-form racers, has home-snow advantage, and is aided by a giant support staff.  The Norwegian racers should accordingly do pretty well, especially on the men's side. My picks:

  men's 50km classical-style, individual start

      1) Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset (Norway), 2) Frode Estil (Norway), 3) Mathias Fredriksson (Sweden)

  men's 50km classical-style, individual start

      1) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 2) Kristina Smigun (Estonia), 3) Kristin Størmer Steira (Norway)

Roger Rhino

This is Roger Rhino, an obscure character in an obscure Richard Scarry book. Julia has been obsessed with Roger Rhino for weeks now, regularly spending hours a day "being" Roger Rhino - which entails little more than repeating "I'm Roger Rhino!" with a big smile on her face and occasionally giving me a gentle butt with the "big horn" on the bridge of her nose.

Roger Rhino_2

Honestly, I can't figure out why on earth my sweet little blonde girl likes to pretend to be a gray-skinned, hardhat-wearing pachyderm with anger management issues and the ability to accidentally crush stupid Pa Pig's cars. Or maybe that is the explanation...

(Free bonus fact from Wikipedia: "the collective noun for a group of rhinoceros is 'crash'.")

Drammen Dramatics

The Drammen sprints turned out more or less as expected, with the women's final turning into a two-skier race. At the line, Virpi Kuitunen pulled away to take a clear win over Petra Majdic (Aino Kaisa Saarinen finished third). The win clinched the World Cup sprint championship for Virpi, which she can add to her overall World Cup championship. With a strong showing in Saturday's 30km classic-style race at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Kuitunen could complete the sweep by winning the World Cup distance title. (This outcome is likely: not only is Kuitunen almost unbeatable in classic-style events, but Katerina Neumannova, her closest competitor in the distance standings, is a relatively weak classical racer.)

Drammen also saw men's World Cup overall championship decided, but through inaction: Tobias Angerer, the men's overall leader, didn't race, but neither did the only skier who could catch him in the overall. In sealing the overall title, Angerer becomes the first man to win two consecutive World Cup overall titles since Per Elofsson (Sweden) won back-to-back titles in 2000-01 and 2001-2. (Angerer's title is the fourth in four seasons for a German athlete.) Angerer, too, needs to do well at Holmenkollen to win the distance title, as he leads Frenchman Vincent Vittoz by just 42 points. Though neither man is likely to win the circuit's most prestigious race, the competition between Angerer and Vittoz could provide an interesting subplot to a race that will see a number of big race men vying to win.

Back among the men who actually competed at Drammen, the final included a number of lesser-known racers, including Yuichi Onda of Japan, who has been skiing well since the Sapporo World Championships ended. Like the women's final, the men's final ended in a two-way contest, with Norwegian Borre Næss eking out the win by 2/10ths of a second over Swede Mats Larsson; the off-form Trond Iversen took third.

On Saturday, the racers compete at Holmenkollen, a massive park in Oslo which is a long-standing World Cup skiing venue and home of the single most prestigious - as well as usually the longest - race of the season, the men's 50km. In this traditional venue, it's fitting that the races will be run in the traditional classical style from the traditional interval start. They're serious about the racing, too. Not only will spectators line the entire race course (a yes, traditional long loop of 16.7km, - three or four times longer than the now-common 3.75km and 5km loops at many venues), but the event organizers are using helicopters to bring snow to the far corners of the course, where a warm winter has depleted the cover.

Fists of Hurry

Genevieve has officially gotten the hang of eating solid foods. Much like her sister was at eight months or so, she goes all in, leaning against the high-chair tray and eying the spoon with frightening intensity. When the spoon is in-bound, she opens her mouth precisely wide enough to admit it, then closes her lips tightly to hold it in place while her little tongue sweeps off the carrots or prunes or rice cereal or whatever. I can actually feel the spoon handle shift as she gets every last particle of food. Then the lips pop open again, the spoon's ejected, and she watches carefully as I refill.

Through the entire process, she keeps her two little pink fists up at shoulder height, shaking them gently if she's happy or forcefully if the food doesn't arrive fast enough - which is often. One night I jokingly told Julia that Gigi's cries were her way of saying, "Keep it comin', Pops!" Now Julia supplies that translation whenever it's needed, and even today said to Shannon while she fed Genevieve at lunch, "Keep it comin', Moms!"

Abecedarian Meme

A- Available or Single? No.
B- Best Friend? Shannon.
C- Cake or Pie? Depending on mood, either chocolate cake or apple pie.
D- Drink of Choice? Sipping: hot or iced coffee; with meals: Coke and mineral water
E- Essential Item? PowerBook.
F- Favorite Color? Navy blue, but only because biege is not a color, it's a lifestyle.
G- Gummi Bears or Worms? Yuck.
H- Hometown? Hancock, Michigan.
I- Indulgence? Jesus, I don't know - blog writing and reading?
J- January or February? Yes, please.
K- Kids and names? Daughters Julia Charlotte and Genevieve Rose.
L- Life is incomplete without…? Humor and anger, in a 3:1 ratio.
M- Marriage Date? August 13, 1995.
N- Number of Siblings? One.
O- Oranges or Apples? Oranges.
P- Phobias/Fears? Being electrocuted by power lines falling on my car.
Q- Favorite Quote? Talleyrand, via Isaiah Berlin: "Surtout, pas de zèle." - "Above all, no zeal."
R- Reasons to smile? My two girls and my wife, the ongoing exposure of corruption in the White House, the idea of snow.
S- Season? Winter.
T- Tag 3 people? Shannon, Beth, and Dad.
U- Unknown Fact About Me? In February, I quit biting my nails after doing it for my whole lifetime.
V- Vegetable You Hate? Cauliflower.
W-Worst Habit? Procrastination.
X- Xrays You’ve Had? Teeth, jaw, mouth, etc.
Y- Your Favorite Foods? Too many to name, but I'll always try the pizza, and probably like it.
Z- Zodiac? Aries.

Drammen Day

The classical-style sprint races in Drammen, Norway (forty-some kilometers southwest of Oslo) are a great event. In their fifth year this season, they're run right through the city center in the middle of the day, and Norway being Norway, the crowds are accordingly massive. The Norwegian men are likely to duplicate their success last weekend at Lahti, but the women's podium will feature non-Norwegian recent winners at Drammen.

  men: 1) Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, 2) Jens Arne Svartedal, 3) Eldar Rønning

  women: 1) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 2) Petra Majdic (Slovenia), 3) Astrid Jacobsen (Norway)

In other news, Laura Valaas, blogger extraordinaire, liberal-arts grad, and hella fast sprinter, just took the silver medal at the Under-23 World Championships in Tarvisio, Italy - a key stepping-stone to big-time success on the World Cup. Congratulations, Laura!

Making a Mocsery

It's too late for any kind of meaningful blog post tonight, so instead I'll merely observe that spring is officially underway, with all the usual clothing now appearing around campus and even in Richfield strip malls like the one where I had a meeting today. The most unusual clothing choice I've seen so far this spring is Minnetonka moccasins, worn by more than one undergrad woman.

I hadn't thought of them in years, but now I remember a certain poster for the brand in a shoe shop along the highway up to the U.P. from St. Paul. We'd drive by the shop every time I went between college and home, and I was always struck by the ridiculous, hideous cartoon "squaw" with her eyes closed, a big smile on her beet-red face, a papoose peeking over one shoulder, and bead-adorned mocs on her feet.

Spring Is Springing

Congress can go stick its harebrained idea for daylight saving time in some dark, corrupted recess of the Capitol, if you know what I mean. We sprang forward, and it was light later this evening, but there were no energy savings around here. Governed as they are by their bodies, not some stupid clock, the girls got up at exactly the usual times, went down for naps at the usual times, and went to bed at the usual times - meaning Julia was up until "nine." Luckily, it was nonetheless a good day and a good weekend.

Yesterday's post summarizes one key moment; today's high point (for me) was the old-fashioned chore of chopping away the ice on our sidewalks. I wore Gigi on my chest in our Baby Odd-Bjørn (renamed after my new hero), and Julia trooped around us in her "wainboots," trying to figure out what she could do "for fun" when everything she touched was cold, wet, heavy , or all three. Everybody cooperated long enough to clear the sidewalk and the driveway, which means I don't have to worry all day about Shannon wiping out as she totes the baby carrier to the car.

And in the backyard, Ski Man returned from his icy abode! He's in the kitchen now, enjoying a tiny mug of cocoa. He froze for sixteen day; the least you can do is watch his Flickr slideshow.

Lahti Recap

The cross-country races at Lahti turned out not to be quite the Kuitunen-dominated events which I predicted, but Virpi did wrap up the overall World Cup title by winning Saturday's freestyle sprint in fine fashion. Trailing her teammate Riita Liisa Roponen, as they entered the final straightaway, Kuitunen found that gear that no one else has and blew past Roponen to take a clear win; Anna Dahlberg (Sweden) finished third. In the small final, American Kikkan Randall wound up seventh on the day. The men's sprint final was an all-Norway affair, with Petter Northug winning easily ahead of Jens Arne Svartedal and Eldar Rønning. (Northug's win was his first sprint event gold medal - a forbidding suggestion of future dominance at every distance up to 30km.) (Video of the men's and women's sprint finals) Kuitunen's win ends the reign of Norwegian "skiqueen" Marit Bjorgen, who had the overall title in each of the two previous seasons and the sprint title every year back to 2002-2003.

With the World Cup title in hand, Kuitunen had little motivation for Saturday's 10km individual-start race. (video of the distance events) Despite it being run in her preferred classical technique, she hardly showed up, and finished twelfth. Estonian Kristina Smigun, who has had terrible form all season (even at Worlds, where she is usually contends for a medal), crushed the field to win by nearly 30 seconds. Olga Savialova finished in silver, a second up on German Viola Bauer, who took her first-ever podium spot.

Unlike the women's distance event, the men's 15km race had high stakes: German Tobias Angerer could have sealed his second straight World Cup overall title with a win. As it happened, Angerer finished third, leaving open the exceedingly slim possibility that Russian Alexander Legkov might overtake him by winning all four remaining events. Angerer missed second place by just six tenths of a second, permitting Eldar Rønning to take the silver medal, his second podium spot of the weekend. Ahead of everyone was newly minted 50km world champion Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, who skied consistently to take the win by 26 seconds. Clearly enjoying incredible form, it's not inconceivable that Hjelmeset might win three straight events (four, including the 50km at Worlds). His sprinting ability must make him a strong contender to win Wednesday's classical-technique sprint in Drammen, Norway, and his endurance ability must make him the favorite to win the prestigious 50km race at the Holmenkollen course in Oslo on Saturday.

Though no American male cross-country racer did well at Lahti, we did enjoy some success on the nordic combined (jumping and cross country) side of the extravaganza. American Bill Demong followed up his silver at the Sapporo World Championships by winning Friday's competition. In tenth after the jumping phase, Demong outskied everyone in the 15km cross-country race to win the event handily.

Compare and Contrast

The four Tassavas went for a "family walk" today. Shannon ran, I pushed, Genevieve rolled, and Julia jogged, sprinted, ran, waded, walked, and stagged (in roughly that order). I took a shot of Julia standing at a big rock embankment in our neighborhood, partly to commemorate the walk and partly because I dimly recalled taking a similar picture on a similar walk about a year ago.

Well, as it turned out, the pictures are almost exactly a year apart, and without design Julia stood in precisely the same spot for each (right down to the particular rock she's against!). The contrast makes me a little bit teary.

March 12, 2006

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March 10, 2007
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Finks

This post is one for the "write it so you don't forget it" category...

Julia used to love to play "topple" whenever I came home, but that activity has slowly evolved into a closely-related but more sedentary game called "finks" ("thinks"). We still take all the pillows and all but one of the cushions off the sofa (though now she points to the left one and says, "Move da yeft one, Daddy. Not da wight one! Da yeft one!"), but instead of flinging herself down on that last cushion over and over, she now does it once, then lays on it and exclaims, "Let's pway finks!" I have to then kneel (not stand, squat, or crouch - she checks!) at the end of the sofa nearest her (and always right there, not a little bit to one side) and "do some finks." This entails looking dramatically around the room, choosing an object, and then giving clues about the thing I'm "finking" of. Julia guesses until she gets it or gives up, but either way, she's usually elated to look around and finally see, say, the cat, or my biking shoes, or the flowers that have been on the kitchen table for a week. We could do this for an hour, if the conditions were right. Thankfully, Genevieve usually joins in now by sitting with me, and she gets impatient.

Lahti Skiing

The Nordic Ski World Championships in Sapporo are over. (just 712 days to Liberec 2009!) and the two big stories were Norway and Virpi Kuitunen. Norway won a total of 16 medals (5 golds, 4 silvers, 7 bronzes) in cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and nordic combined, far and away the most of any nation. (Finland was second with 8 [5/1/2], Germany was third with 9 [2/4/3]. orway won the event's first medals , the individual sprint golds of Jens Arne Svartedal and Astrid Jacobsen, and its last medals, Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset's gold and Frode Estil's silver in the men's 50km classical-style race. Virpi Kuitunen performed the same feat, more or less, winning a bronze in the individual sprint on the first day and a gold in the women's 30km classical-style race in the women's last event, plus two golds in between. Her performance in the women's 4x5km relay was perhaps the most dominant of the championships: skiing first, she blew up the race by the 500 meter mark and led Finland to the gold.

The world champs were, as always, a coming-out party, too. Norwegian boy wonder Petter Northug led his squad to the men's relay gold in fine style, and all-but-unknown Norwegian girl wonder Therese Johaug ran a tough race to elude Finnish veteran Aino Kaisa Saarinen and capture the bronze in the 30km. Even the U.S. got into the act: Bill Demong, racing in a nordic combined event, won a surprising and inspiring silver medal, the country's first in decades and the prelude to a win at the first NC event since the worlds, at the Lahti Ski Games today.

The Lahti event is a kind of mini-worlds, with simultaneous competitions in jumping, nordic combined, and cross country, and the results of the four XC races (sprints on Saturday, distance races on Sunday) are likely to echo those of the world championships. Racing on home snow, Virpi Kuitunen is unlikely to do anything but win, which could seal up her World Cup title, and I think the US is due for some big results.

women's freestyle sprint
1) Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), 2) Arianna Follis (ITA), 3) Kikkan Randall (USA)

men's freestyle sprint
1) Tor-Arne Hetland (NOR), 2) Andrew Newell (USA), 3) Petter Northug (NOR)

women's 10km classical-style, individual start
1) Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), 2) Petra Majdic (SLO), 3) Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN)

men's 15km classical-style, individual start
1) Sami Jauhojärvi (FIN), 2) Axel Teichmann (GER), 3) Lukas Bauer (CZE) - Kris Freeman of the US will finish in the top 10

Seat Yourself

Julia and I went to a meeting tonight at Northfield city hall on the engrossing topic of an upcoming road-construction project near our house. If everything goes as planned, next year the city will put in a bike trail and a walking path along the now too-narrow road from our subdivision to the main part of town. I'm in favor, hence my attending the meeting.

Julia on the other hand came along because she's a kid and has to go where her parents go. I fully expected her to be the model of decorum, and she was. For the twenty minutes or so that I talked with the project representatives, she simply climbed into and out of various office chairs in the meeting room, occasionally coming back to me to touch my leg. The only time she interrupted, it was to interject happily, "Why, I didn't know they were going to have chairs!"

Newr Flickr

New photos are just up at Flickr.

Bestymology

I know it's nerdy to have a favorite etymology (emblem, which via the Greek ballein ("to throw") is related to parable, metabolism, problem, ballistic, and diabolic), but it's even nerdier to have a second-favorite one: foist.

An early sense of the word "foist," now obsolete, referred to palming a phony die and secretly introducing it into a game at an opportune time. The action involved in this cheating tactic reflects the etymology of "foist." The word is believed to derive from the obsolete Dutch verb "vuisten," meaning "to take into one's hand." "Vuisten" in turn comes from "vuyst," the Middle Dutch word for "fist" which itself is distantly related to the Old English ancestor of "fist." By the late 16th century "foist" was being used in English to mean "to insert surreptitiously," and it quickly acquired the meaning "to force another to accept by stealth or deceit."

Parent Ethical

If I debate whether or not to blog here a great story which is potentially embarrassing to my eldest (as well as kinda cute), but then decide not to do so because it is pretty embarrassing, but then tell it in the comments to another blogger's post, have I violated my own confidence?

Target-Rich Environment

Yesterday, at the end of a long day of work at the office and/or at home, one of this family's adults had to go to Target. I took one for the team by heading over there at 8:15, a time at which I like nothing more than to be snuggled into warm glow of my PowerBook. The trip was pretty banal, though I did purchase an eyebrow-raising number and variety of paper products: toddler diapers, napkins, baby diapers, paper towels, overnight toddler diapers, toilet paper, a greeting card, posterboard.

As proud as I am of supporting America's noble paper product industries, the high point of the trip was unrelated to processed wood. On my way past the checkouts during one circuit of the store, I noticed a dad - clad, as such men often are, in a garish snowmobile jacket - standing with two 'tweenish boys (his sons?) and openly admiring the cover of the current Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. A few feet away, at the register, the presumed wife/mother in the family was busily unloading a hugely loaded cart while a little baby (boy #3) squalled in the seat. That's kwalitee parenting.

Tues-Much-Day

Man, it's only Tuesday and I'm wasted. I mean, look at the time! At work, I am frantically busy putting together a big proposal to the Department of Justice, and deepening my respect for the satanically complex ways and means of the federal government. All I have to say on that topic is SF424.

In contrast, things are more or less delightful at home. Genevieve had a (retrospectively) hilarious dinner tonight, which started with her eagerly opening her little pink mouth to devour spoonfuls of rice cereal and carrots and ended abruptly about five minutes later when she spat out a whole mouthful of cereal and then started wiggling and screaming in her high chair. Message received! The baby is full! Get her out of the high chair!

Julia cracked me up today with her over-the-top way of protesting various crimes and misdemeanors. Case in point: at bedtime, she said queryingly, "We can read two books tonight, Daddy." We had some time to kill, so I said, "We can read two books, for sure." Her little ash-blond head whipped around, already frowning. Leaning way back from the waist so her tummy stuck out, she tucked her chin into her chest and said, "I'm not Roger Rhino!" I was confused, but caught on. "Honey, I said, 'for sure,' not 'Roger Rhino.'" Tired toddlers are as hard of hearing as tired parents with mild-to-moderate deafness. That's my empirical finding for the day.

You Say Goodbye, and I'll Say Halal

I just developed film on a disposable camera that I've been toting around for years. On it, I found a set of terrible shots of things on my last day of my old, unmissed job. I also found this picture taken from the #21 bus one spring day in 2005.

411659873_a8f4323f2a_o

(See the picture's Flickr page for some good comments. Cross-posted on After School Snack: it's late, I have an unusually busy week coming up, and I really like this post!)

Snow Angels

Walks with the girls are always fun, but walks on beautiful winter days are even better, especially when you can stop to teach your toddler how to make snow angels, and she then makes the best one in recorded history.

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(Those are the maker's mitts in the right foreground.)

Ski Day

It was a beautiful high-winter day here today: crisp, cold, brilliantly sunny. I think the Tassavas had a good time of it. The gentlemen from NorthfieldWiFi came over to install out new "wi-max" system, whereby we'll get far faster internet service for the same price as we've been paying for Qwest DSL. Many YouTubed Sesame Street videos will be watched, I predict.

Unaware of this great electronic boon to her life (but very shy of the two installers), Julia pretended to be Roger Rhino, a Richard Scarry book character, almost all day. This entailed little more than informing us that she was still Roger, though she also very gently would butt me in the leg with her "vewwy yarge horn!"

Gigi's very early bedtimes during the week mean that I don't get to spend much unstructured time with her. But we spent many hours together today, and I was struck by her numerous new skills. First and foremost, she can effortlessly sit up for long periods of time now. A close second, she can roll over from back to front quite readily - especially when the being supine can help her streeeeetch out to grab some enticing toy, like the sippy-cup lids she loves almost as much as Mama. Though she's only intermittently verbal, she can really belt out the sounds when she chooses, with her high-decibel "dadadada" sound being perhaps a way to make sure her half-deaf dad can hear her. I can, honey. Don't worry. Most impressively of all, Geneiveive taught herself how to scoop up items that float by her in the tub. Just last weekend, she was immensely frustrated when a simple stabbing motion - so effective on dry land - didn't help her get a slick, bobbing rubber ducky. This evening, she expertly dipped a hand under the water, moved it underneath the object, and then raked upwards: a surefire way to get the ducky, the washcloth, or a few random stacking rings and linking beads. The technique was also effective for grabbing her sister's butt, which Julia thought was pretty funny. ""Gigi gwabbed my bottom! Hee hee hee. Why did she, Daddy?"

The adults in the house, both of whom have forsworn ass-grabbing, partook of Carleton College's recreational opportunities. Shannon ran on the indoor track in the rec center, while at midafternoon I "raced" in the Crazy Carleton Classic Relay, a ski race in the Arb. Every other racer was a Carleton student, so I was a bit out of place, but it was fun anyhow. I skied last for my team (two young women went first and second for us), and managed to catch the team in front of us, putting us in fourth on the day - both just out of the medals, and not last. Actually I caught that other team twice: once legitimately, after the course's longest hill, and once illegitimately, after their skier took a wrong turn, cut the course, and wound up in front of me again. No matter- it was a great time anyhow. The organizer - who, in keeping with the race's conceit skied in a lab coat, safety glasses, and purple surgical gloves - put the results online.

Sapporo World Championships - Day 11

Liveblogging the women's 30km yesterday was quite a bit of nerdy fun, so I'm going to give the men's 50km the same treatment. The 50,000 meter mass-start in classical technique is perhaps the biggest test on the World Cup circuit, so grueling that it's only run it at the world championships. I'm revising my picks from yesterday - 1) Veerpalu (Estonia), 2) Estil (Norway), 3) Fredriksson (Sweden) - in light of the fact that my hero Andrus Veerpalu isn't in the field. I'm going to instead predict this podium: 1) Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset (Norway), 2) Frode Estil (Norway), 3) Mathias Fredriksson (Sweden)

Start: 73 racers were listed in the starting field, with Tobias Angerer (Germany) front and center, as befits the defending World Cup champion and current number 1 in the World Cup overall. Flanking him are more world-class racers than can be named, although it's worth nothing that Frode Estil - who won this race at the 2005 Worlds - is seeded fifth, next to sixth-seed and red-hot racer Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, who scorched the field in his leg of the men's relay earlier this week. A few men in the field are very well known for their skill in at very long-distance racing, but they are further back in the starting order - not that kilometer zero matters to ironmen like Anders Aukland (Norway), Giorgio di Centa (Italy), or Mikhail Botwinov (Austria, despite the name), for the sheer duration of the 50km gives them plenty of time to "ski into the race" and into the front. As far as tactics go, I expect a massive pack to hang together until at least the 30km mark, if not 40km, and then to fracture under a series of attacks, first by racers with weak sprinting speed who need to create the conditions of a 10km time-trial to the line (Aukland, Botwinov), and then - if those initial attacks don't work - by any speedsters who might be in the top 15 at a late point (Angerer, Eldar Rønning (Norway)). And of course, who knows but that someone like Swedes Matti Fredriksson or Anders Sødergren can't mount a long-distance breakaway.

1.3 km: Fully forty-seven racers are within 10 seconds of the leader, and 65 within 30 seconds. (Only a few "exotics" like the Brazilian and Irish racers are further back than that.) Notably, Hjelmeset, Estil, and Rønning are the front trio.

3.9 km: It's still largely the same situation, though now the group within 10 seconds of the front is down to 28 - smaller than the group within that much time of the lead at 40km when this event was run at the last world championships.

5 km: Never mind! A tenth of the way in, the 10-second group is back up to nearly fifty. Now the race moves onto the a new section of the course, a 7,500 meter lap they'll repeat six times.

12.5 km: Now at a quarter of the way into the race, there are still 34 racers within ten seconds of the leader (Rønnning, for what it's worth). I note that Pietro Piller Cottrer (Italy) did not start the race, the biggest name among the four DNS racers.

14.2 km: The race is still tightly bunched, but American Kris Freeman has fought his way up from his low starting seed (42nd, waaaaay back) into 10th place. New Hampshire native Freeman is the best hope for a U.S. medal, though he's joined in this race by two other Americans: Lars Flora and James Southam, both of Alaska (Utah), both of whom are much further down the field. Freeman has, as they say in cross-country skiing, a "big engine." When poor snow conditions in Europe chased the American team back to the States before Christmas, he did some extraordinary workouts, including an epochal six-hour, 110km session in January.

17.45 km: We might be seeing a very early break: just 15 skiers are within 10 seconds of Anders Sødergren's lead here, down from 27 racers at the 16.25km mark.

18.15km: The break continues, with Sødergren pushing the pace up front. Only ten racers are within ten seconds of the Swede, and what's more, there's a three-second gap between a five-man lead group and the five men skieing together in a second group. Kris Freeman is in that second quintet, and his bib number is far and away the lowest in the front ten, which makes him the biggest surprise of the race so far.

18.85 km: The front ten have spread out more evenly, but they still have a little gap back to the eleventh-placed racer, Anders Aukland, who's trying to move up with remains 12.9 seconds down. (Freeman: 8th place).

20 km: The breakaway might be failing, as eight more racers have pulled back to within ten seconds of Sødergren.

21.7 km: Sødergren plummets out of the lead, sliding back to eleventh position, 7.2 seconds down. There's no longer a real lead pack, with the top 25 racers racers fairly evenly distributed over about a half minute of time. After that, though, there's a 20-second gap back to number 26.

24.95 km: Just shy of the halfway point, fifteen racers are inside that magical 10-second mark and a twenty-one comprise an amorphous lead group, with Anders Sødergren occupying that spot, 13.4 seconds down. Is he blown, or is he recovering? Was his attack a feint to test the others, or an error that's knocked him out of contention? Certainly, he's not out of it quite yet, as Estonian Kaspar Kokk's climb into the top 10 shows: Kokk started in 46th position, but needed only the first 3900 meters to push up to the front of the field already by  the field. In the outright absence of his countryman Veerpalu, and after uncharacteristically poor results from his countrywoman Kristina Smigun, perhaps Kokk can represent Estonia on the podium today.

27.5 km: The field's spreading again. Estonia has doubles its representation in the top ten, with Olympic silver medalist Jaak Mae now joining Kaspar Kokk up front. Estonia's two racers in the top ten matches Norway's number, but is one fewer than Germany. France, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia all have individual racers in the top 10, and surprisingly Russia's best-placed racer is in thirteenth, just ahead of Kris Freeman, who is 12.3 seconds down.

31.25 km: Though of course the field might accordion back together soon, the front ten have made a clear break from everyone else. Lying in tenth, Nikolai Pankratov is just 6.1 seconds off the lead, but six seconds ahead of the eleventh-placed racer. Kirs Freeman is the last racer maintianing contact with the front, and he's nineteen seconds down. Behind him, the gaps are big and getting bigger. Anders Sødedrgren is nearly a minute down. Nearing the two-thirds point of the race, this event is turning out to be entirely and refreshingly different from its precedent Oberstdorf. Can anyone make a late run to bridge the big gaps to the lead group?

35 km: At every time check, the gap between the front group and the rest of the field grew, but here, with 15km still to go, the race is clearly broken open. The nine men up front are traveling as a group, separated by 5.5 seconds. The 10th-placed racer is nearly 25 seconds down. Everyone has another 15km to ski, which is significant insofar as that's the length of the most common distance race on the World Cup circuit. In other words, these nine men know how to race 15,000 meters.

38.75 km: It's only getting tighter up front. Jaak Mae in ninth is only 3.8 seconds off the pace of leader Lukas Bauer (Czech Republic). Buaer is better known for his skating abilities, but he helped establish his long-distance classic-technique chops by making a a big late move in the 50km two years ago at Oberstdorf - the last serious attack before Frode Estil (who has been in the top three virtually all day today) demolished the field with a stunning run for home that put him in gold and his teammates Anders Aukland (well out of it today) in silver and Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset (fourth at this time check) in bronze.

40.65km: The race is inside the last 10,000 meters (one of those strange statements that makes it clearer just how far this race runs), and there here goes the Russian Pankratov! The front group becomes an octet as he slips to 13.3 seconds off Bauer's lead. In eighth, Jaak Mae is losing touch. Will he fall out of the lead pack, too?

42.5 km: As the leaders begin their final lap, it's clear that Mae is done. He's let a four-second gap open between him and Frode Estil, recovering at the back of the front seven. This relentless winnowing-down must be painful to see on screen or in person. There will be no medal for Estonia today.

44.2 km: Estil surges back to the lead! Is he making a - the - break at almost exactly the same place he broke open the Oberstdorf 50km? Besides the defending champion, the front septet includes (in order) Tobias Angerer, Jean Marc Gaillard of France, Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, Jens Filbrich (Germany), Lukas Bauer, and the twentieth-seeded racer, Martin Bajcicak of Slovakia.

46.25 km: No! The attack comes from the other Norwegian, Hjelmeset! He is leading a four-man break! Only Filbrich, Bauer, and Angerer could respond! Gaillard has blown up and is suddenly more than 30 seconds down. Did he fall? In between are Bajcicak and Estil, seven seconds behind.

47.45 km: Bauer's in front, Angerer is slipping behind a bit, and Estil has fought his way back to within 3.3 seconds! Is there enough snow for him to pass Angerer and catch the front trio?

48.15 km: Estil takes back the lead! He's a half-second in front of Hjelmeset, with the Germans Filbrich and Angerer there too, just over a second down. In fifth, Bauer has a tough 2.5 seconds to find. Bajcicak is well back in sixth and out of it.

48.85 km: The last time check before the finish, at the top of the long descent to the stadium. Having surely used his patented climbing technique to attack the hill, Estil has a 1.4 second gap on Hjelmeset! Can he keep it? Behind them, the Germans are three and four seconds off. Only superlative descents and devastating sprints can bring them back into contention for gold. Is Filbrich's slim lead over Angerer enough for the bronze? Can Hjelmeset's top-notch sprinting speed bring him back to Estil?

Finish:…

Snow Photeaux

I just published a bunch of photos - mostly of the aftermath of our Thursday-night snowstorm - on Flickr.

Sapporo World Championships - Day 10

Rather than write an account of the women's 30km mass start race, I thought I'd liveblog it, checkpoint by checkpoint...

starting line: 55 women are listed on the official start sheet for this last cross-country race of the World Championships. At the start, only one has withdrawn- Karine Phillipot of France, a good racer, but no threat to win. The mass-start format arrays the field in arrow-shaped rows of five or so across, with the favorites naturally in the front row. Virpi Kuitunen is in the center, flanked by her countrywoman Aino Kaisa Saarinen and Norwegian Marti Bjørgen, who hoppes to redeem herself after some abysmal performances at these championships. Next to them and in the second row are other racers who could win, place, or show, including among others Petra Majdic of Slovenia (a classical-technique specialist) and Polish speedster Justyna Kowalczyk.

3.75 km: At the second time check, 43 racers - virtually the whole field - is within 10 seconds of the leader, who is surprisingly Kristin Steira of Norway, already a medalist at the championships but who had to fight through traffic to get to the front.

5.65 km: Finally, the field starts to fall apart: at this fourth time check, 21 racers are within 10 seconds of the leader, the young Norwegian Therese Johaug. Kuitunen is in eleventh, five seconds back - perhaps a bit deeper in the pack than she might like, but in very good company.

7.5 km: A quarter of the way into the race, Kuitunen has migrated back to the front, where she's bracketed by Johaug and Steira but followed closely by Saarinen. Is this shaping up to be a duel between pairs of Norwegians and Finns? Majdic and Bjørgen are close, too.  And there are actually more racers within that 10-second gap from first place than at some recent checks.

13.15 km: It looks like Steira is making a move. Since the previous time check, she has cut the size of that 10-second group by a third, to just nine racers. And only Johaug in second and Kuitunen in third are within five seconds. Could this be an early breakaway?

15.0 km: Yes, we can say that it is. Kristina Smigun of Estonia tried to bridge up to the three leaders, but then fell back and now, at the halfway point, it's Steira, Johaug, Kuitunen. Saarinen and Smigun are stuck 5.4 seconds back, out of contact with the leaders but well ahead of the next group. I'm sure Kuitunen would dearly love her teammate to come up to even things out.

16.7 km: That didn't happen, and now Saarinen is in fourth, 11.6 seconds back of the three leaders. Steira continues to do the work up front, which may be a stupid move given that there's still 13,300 meters to go. Bjørgen has blow, and is 1:22 down. It's unlikely that anyone will be able to bridge up to the leaders now.

19.95 km: Nearly to the two-thirds mark, it looks like the front group has thinned. Johaug has dropped down to 4.8 seconds - a solid third place, with fourth-spot Saarinen at 25.7 seconds, but also a bad place to be since Kuitunen and Steira are only likely to speed up now. Can the youngster ski on her own for 10km to retain the bronze, or even get back onto the leaders?

22.5 km: With a quarter of the race to run, everyone continues to lose time to Kuitunen and Steira. The gap between third-place Johaug and fourth-place Saarinen remains substantial, nearly 20 seconds. If Saarinen knows that the Norwegian is up there drifting, she may be able to close on her, but she'd have to start making that effort soon.

24.2 km: Kuitunen and Steira are still paired at the front of the race, but it doesn't appear that the Finn has taken even one turn in the lead for many, many kilometers. Given that Kuitunen is a peerless classical-technique sprinter, this bodes very badly for Steira. And behind, Saarinen has cut her gap to Johaug down to 10.1 seconds.

26.25 km: Starting the final lap, Kuitunen and Steira are a half-second apart, and nearly a minute up on Johaug. But Saarinen is less than ten seconds behind Johaug, and can certainly see her ahead as they round the stadium. I think Saarinen will be able to catch and pass Johaug within the next 2000 meters.

27.45 km: It's almost the exact status quo. Saarinen's still eight seconds out of bronze, but the silver and gold look to be decided by a sprint - or a fall, if one of the leaders gets wobbly on the last pass over the hills.

28.15 km: Steira still leads Kuitunen, who must have ice water in her veins to resist making an attack. And Johaug must have taken something powerful at the last feeding station, because she's increased the gap to Saarinen to 15 seconds!

28.85 km: Steira has a 2.2 second gap! She must have used her whippet-like form to attack on the final hill. From this last time check, it's almost all downhill to the finish line. Who has the fastest skis? Can Kuitunen close, either on the descent or in the finishing straightaway? Steira has an excellent kick to the line, so it's no sure thing either way. Barring a fall,  Johaug has locked up the bronze - a stunning achievement for this young and unheralded racer.

finish: Kuitunen wins! And by a staggering 6.9 seconds! She must have descended well to get back onto Steira's skis, then used the final two small climbs to pass and accelerate away from the Norwegian, who would have been exhausted from having led since the twelve-kilometer mark. But what a finish! What a Finnish! With a gritty performance, Johaug takes the bronze, 1:22 back of Kuitunen and 19 seconds up on Saarinen in fourth. Petra Majdic was fifth, 2:17 down. Kuitunen raced brilliantly, and it shows on the results sheet. Despite the fact that Steira was in the lead, Kuitunen controlled the race, and reaped the reward. Onneksi olkoon, Virpi!

If the men's 50km tomorrow is half this exciting, it's going to be fantastic. My largely sentimental  picks for the big one (subject to change after I see the start list):

1) Veerpalu (Estonia), 2) Estil (Norway), 3) Fredriksson (Sweden)

Sapporo World Championships - Day 9

The mens's 4x10km relay - the marquee event of every World Championships and Olympic Games - played out tactically as virtually every recent big-event relay has, with a big field hanging together through the scramble leg - essentially, everyone trying to avoid losing the race onthe first leg - and the real action erupting in the next leg, run in the classical techniqe.

The decisive break came midway through the second leg, when Norway's Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset surged and blew up the pack. 10 teams had been within as many seconds of first when Hjelmeset began skiing; after his attack only two others - Sweden and Russia - were within ten seconds of Norway's lead. Over the third leg, the first in freestyle technique, 15km gold medalist Lars Berger jockeyed with Russia's Alexander Legkov and Sweden's surprising Johan Olsson. As they cruised into the third and final exchange, exactly one second covered the trio. Germany and France were more than 25 seconds back and well out of it (as were other favorites like Italy).

The three anchor-leg racers were a mixed bag: Sweden's Anders Sødergren is renowned for his endurance and ability to attack on hills, but notorious for a lack of sprint speed. Conversely, Russia's Eugeni Dementiev is well-known for his killer finish, which delivered a gold and a silver at the Torino Olympics. The Norwegian boy-wonder Petter Northug loves to talk an enormously big game, but had yet to win a big-time race and had already missed out on two medals at Sapporo. Sødergren led the descent toward the stadium, with Northug carefully drafting the whole way and stealing little glances at Dementiev, about five meters off the back. At the low point of the descent, as they passed beneath a bridge and then climbed a short rise, Northug erupted with a powerful skating stride, blasting around Sødergren. In the space of 100 meters, he opened up a massive gap, going as fast as anyone ever has on cross-country skis. Rounding the last corner, he saluted the Norwegian fans and slowed to soak up the triumph. Behind him, Dementiev slipped past Sødergren for the silver. Germany, France, and Italy - all possibilities for any medal in the event - finished far, far back.

Though the two long-distance events are still to come on Saturday and Sunday (see Fasterskier.com's preview), Northug's unbelievable acceleration was really the moment of the games. His brutal attack should lay to rest any worry that he wouldn't show up at these championships, or that he isn't the next big thing in cross-country ski racing.

The women race for the last time at these championships on Saturday in the 30km mass-start event, run in the classical style. Given Virpi Kuitunen's devastating start to the women's relay on Thursday, the race should be hers to lose. But bad weather (it's expected to be partly clouded, but warm, and thus hard to wax) or too many bad downhill corners over those 18.6 miles could open the race up to the dozen or more racers with the classical technique and stamina to win. A well-timed breakaway - probably on the penultimate lap as the pack approaches the high point  of the course - will probably be the key to victory. My picks:

women's 30km classical technique mass-start

1) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 2) Aino Kaisa Saarinen (Finland), 3) Petra Majdic (Slovenia)

"Expect a Lot of Blowing and Drifting"

That's what Belinda Jensen, the meteorologist on the Twin Cities' NBC station, just said. Damn right, Bel!

As Shannon has already said tonight, a massive snowstorm has shut down the entire state of Minnesota. A few minutes of Googling shows that schools are closed in the region outlined by Fargo, North Dakota, in the northwest to Ames, Iowa, in the south, and Duluth, Minnesota, in the northeast. I can only imagine the elation of kids all over the state.

Our townhouse is socked in, with a three-foot drift blocking the front entry and a mountain of snow on the patio. I left work at three just to be sure that I would make it home okay, which was smart because the roads were so bad, and the snow was so heavy, that the Minnesota Department of Transportation pulled its plows off the roads.

After the girls went to bed, I ventured outside to ski a few laps of the backyard. The Carleton weather station said that it was about 22 degrees F. , with 30mph gusts bringing the windchill around 10, but honestly, it was wonderful to be out there. My headlamp and the streetlights and house lights created an all-encompassing silvery-white shine that was as beautiful in its own wintry way as the flat yellow afternoon glare in San Francisco or the suffusing pink glow of a sunrise on the North Shore - my standards for notably beautiful light. Of course, I wiped out a few times (really, just falling on my face after putting one ski down on the other), but what better way to experience a blizzard than with a snout full of snow?

Sapporo World Championships - Day 8

With Virpi Kuitunen back in action for the women's 4x5km relay at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Sapporo, Finland was poised for another gold - and as it turned out, the other teams didn't have a snowball's chance in a sauna. As American racer Laura Valaas put it on her blog, Kuitunen "can move fast when she wants to. So she had a gap on the field by 100m and totally gapped everyone by the first hill. Um, wow." The end of the race was still 19.5km away, but the gold medal was sealed. Both Kuitunen's opening leg and Aino Kaisa Saarinen's second leg were far faster than Norway in second. Skiing third, Riitta Liisa Roponen enjoyed a giant 48.8 second lead.over Norway and twenty seconds more over Germany. Behind her and Finland's anchor, Germany, Norway, and Sweden battled for the other two medals. Going to the anchor leg, Norway and Sweden looked to have solid holds on the silver and bronze respectively. But from her spot twelve seconds out of the bronze, Germany's anchor, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle took off like a rocket, perhaps seeking redemption after fading from second to fourth in the pursuit. The German first caught and dropped Sweden's anchor and then hunted down Norway's anchor, sprint gold medalist Astrid Jacobsen, on the finishing straightaway to capture the silver medal.

With the relay complete, the women have only one race left: the 30km mass-start "marathon," run in the classical style. Virpi must be considered the favorite, as no one has had anything like her form in classic-style racing this season. In spite - or because of - her dominance this year, Kuitunen is still dogged by rumors of doping, whispers which have followed her since she was caught at the 2001 world championships (held on home snow at Lahti, Finland) and was banned for several years.

First, though, the men have their own relay, a 4x10km affair that promises to be a wonderful battle, as the relays at World Championships and Olympics so often are. (I wrote a bit about the great history of the men's relay on my old blog.) My picks:

men's 4x10km relay

1) Germany, 2) Norway, 3) Russia