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What (a) To-Do Sunday

Julia being inclined toward all things culinary - eating good food, making good food, talking about good food, reading (or listening to others read) about good food - she was very interested in a tortilla recipe in one of her kid's magazines. From reading the recipe, Shannon and I knew it would be fun and messy (not exclusive categories, of course) as well as time-consuming, so we had to find the right time. Sunday was that time, and so Julia and I ran a short-lived but bustling tortilleria in the kitchen while I tried to keep Vivi entertained.

Here is the aftermath (click through to Flickr for a bigger image and some notes):La Tortilleria

We ended up making four substantial tortillas, and they were all pretty good - though the last two were markedly better than the first two. I guess tortillas follow the pancake principle, by which product quality rises as production continues.

Winter Wonderland, Part XVI

I just got back from a crazy, fun run around the neighborhood. Northfield got socked today with four inches or so of heavy, wet spring snow. It's still falling now, and it's an absolute mess out there. 


This being the last day of my self-imposed "150 Hours of Winter" contest, I had to get outside to enjoy it. And I did. The running was surprisingly easy; I just stuck to the tire tracks in the road. In 30 minutes, I only saw three cars, so I had the roads and streets to myself. There's a stiff northwest wind (gusting to 20mph), but with the air temp being so high - right around freezing - I felt fine. I even had to take off my mittens.

And the weird juxtapositions were wonderful. Every sewer drain was ringing loudly with meltwater, even as the snow piled up on the curbs. Any low point in the road surface was a secret puddle - an inch of water under a skin of ice and snow. Splash! The powerlines are turning into nice white ribbons, casting wide linear shadows on the roads. And the airborne snow was lit up like a trillion stars by every stray beam of light - from street lamps, from my own headlamp, from houses' bay windows, from passing cars... Amazing. If this was my last winter workout, it was a memorable one.

Springing Forward

I took advantage of today's good weather to head out for a run during the girls' naps. By preference and laziness I've run the same short out-and-back route through the Arb for three straight days, which has let me watch the remaining snow try to survive. North-facing slopes with tree cover are still pretty snowy, while all the south-facing hills are bare of snow, and thus muddy as Verdun. As Vivi might say, mispronouncing her favorite book, "splat splat splat."

Another reason I'm running the same route over and over is that it's a pretty easy go, and I don't want to shock my legs any more than they have been: the transition from skiing to running has been rather painful so far. Tired legs aside, I am starting to get used to running again already, and I have been amused to see a rapid (and basically meaningless) decline in the time it's taken run this (almost exactly 6km) route: 35:49 on Friday night, 34:18 on Saturday night, 31:56 this afternoon. If I drop four minutes from my time every three days on this route, I should be running at world-record pace by my birthday, and at roughly the speed of light by May Day.

While the prospect of defying natural law is tempting, I sure wish I was still skiing, like they are at the U.S. Distance National Championships in Fairbanks. Unfortunately, the only remnant of skiing are some ghost tracks I laid down in the season's first snowfall on  December 1. I didn't realize that I was skiing on the freaking grass...


Parking It

It was hardly a fine spring day here -  45°F, mostly cloudy, and blustery - but we take what we can get these days. This afternoon, Julia, Genevieve, and I headed to a small park near campus for our first park outing of the year. We spent nearly an hour romping on the equipment and having a blast.

Julia reminded Vivi how to crawl through the slide:


After watching Julia go down the big corkscrew slide, Vivi asked me to help her go down it once, and then did it all by herself a good dozen times. Now you see her...


Now you don't!


Then you do again.


I hate to see the snow go...


but the other three seasons offer their own rewards.

No Sleep till Brooklyn (Center)

Our friend Question, she of the Cadbury creme egg package, recently posted about the ways her three very young nieces torment one another. I'm mostly oblivious to similar behavior by Julia or Genevieve, but come to think of it, I have been meaning to post about some mischief on the drive home from Moorhead last Monday.

We'd just had lunch, and it was nap time by anyone's reckoning. For the first time ever, Julia was truly trying to take a nap in her car seat: eyes closed, head tilted into her pillow, silky clutched in her hands. She was thwarted by her sister. Vivi kept peering around the edge of her own seat at Julia and screaming, as loud as possible, "Nuh-UH!" Translation: No way is anyone taking a nap in this car!

It worked like a charm. Neither one slept a wink.

Idiots and their Dogs

Finishing up an Easter Day walk with Julia and Genevieve in Moorhead, we came upon a big, friendly, exuberant chocolate lab running loose. Perfectly illustrating their personalities, Vivi wanted to kiss it, and Julia wanted to climb the nearest tree to get away from it.

I put the girls inside, then went back out to check the dog's tags and see about bringing it back home. The address on the tag was literally right around the corner, so I walked the pup - "Buck" - home, where I found this sign:


Going around the side of the house, I tried the door. Sure enough, it was open. On the other side was a kitchen that contained an elderly-looking white mutt (also quite friendly, and happy to see the lab), a huge bowl of food and a huge bowl of water, and an partly-open patio door, leading to the backyard/canine latrine. I let the lab in and shut the door.

So what's the story, morning glory? Near as I could figure,

1) "Brandon" had headed out of town for the holiday, leaving his two dogs home with food, water, and access to the backyard but fully expecting Buck to run off, or

2) Buck had run off, but Brandon had to go, too, and hedged his bets by leaving both the patio door open for Buck to get back inside on his own and the side door open in case a neighbor brought Buck back.

He may not know his punctuation, but he knows his dog and his neighbors.

I'm not sure why, during this insanely busy week, I've burned any brainpower on this incident, but I can't stop thinking about it.

"This Is Not Safe!"

As this blog will soon rededicate itself to demonstrating, I love me some rollerskiing. It's my favorite dryland workout. This clip from The Amazing Race shows, though, that rollerskiing ain't for everyone - especially newbies on a downhill course. I derived a disturbingly great amount of satisfaction from watching these poor schmoes wipe out or give up. My favorite bits are when one guy yells with disgust, "This is stupid! This is not safe!" and when a woman tells her partner to snowplow - basically impossibly on wheels.

I'm certain that the ski gods will punish me for having enjoyed this clip with a few good crashes this summer.

Where I Been, What I Been Doing

Corporate & foundations relations work - my job, broadly defined - is often pretty opaque, though not because there's any secret at its core nor because practitioners (like me) are especially private. (Introverted, yes.) 

Rather, CFR work is simply behind the scenes - not the actors, but the stagehands (or, on good days, production assistants). But here, via a program officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a glimpse into the business, and specifically into the conference I attended last week. (The line about liberal-arts colleges "doing quite well" is a bit off, though - I asked the question that elicited that response, and I think that we are decidedly underrepresented in the pool of winners for the competitions she's discussing - though there's no way to know without crunching numbers on all the proposals and grants.)

Heck to Pay

Howbeit that a four-day weekend to celebrate the alleged resurrection of the alleged man-god results in such hell at work? I had more emails in my inbox at the end of the workday than at the beginning.

This is not a sustainable trend.

Happily, though, the ITS elves finally tiptoed into my office today and caused our former email/"calendaring" application, Novell GroupWise, to disappear. GroupWise was a horror: imagine an email application that lacks a keystroke shortcut for opening a new email message, and you've imagined this travesty. I was eager to see it go, and now it's gone.

The College is now most of the way shifted to an open-source application, Zimbra, which we can use through a neat web interface or through Outlook. I'm still deciding between the two options, but today, even as I was washed away on a tide of email, I realized a triumph of personal organization when I merged my personal Google Calendar (which contains all my non-Carleton work and home calendar info) and my Carleton work calendar. One stop shopping for appointment-making!

I could have died and gone to heaven, except I'm two days late for that kinda thing.

Eastered Out

A great weekend, all around. We had a good last few hours at Nonna and Boppa's house, during which time Vivi wowed me by correctly identifying hearts and stars on her crib wall. She doesn't let on, but she knows an awful lot!

The drive back home was as uneventful as these things go. Neither girl napped, as are their wonts, but they were both entertained well enough by Teletubbies videos on my laptop, among other activities and diversions. Shannon and I discovered a new Dunn Bros. coffeeshop that's in exactly the right spot for a break before the last big push through the cities to Northfield. The first iced americano of the year is a good thing.

On returning home, we hit the "hard reset" button, the girls played, we ate a good dinner, and then - dum dum DUM - the two munchkins went to bed in the same room. We tried this stunt last year, with colossally bad results, but tonight they both went to sleep easily and are still sleeping now. *fingers crossed*

With the kids in their respective sacks, I couldn't resist taking belated advantage of the remnants of the Good Friday snowstorm by going to the Arb for one last ski. I had to dodge a pair of good ol' boys enjoying some beers and a campfire at one spot along the river, and I later cut off my usual route when the snow disappeared and a ten-meter long mudpatch appeared, but all in all it was a good sendoff to winter. Tomorrow night might be the first run of the year.

US 75

We've had a good Easter Sunday so far: both girls liked the stuff brought by the Easter Bunny, the girls were as cute as cute gets, and we all enjoyed the Easter service at my in-laws' church north of Moorhead.

I love going out to this church. It's quintessentially homey, everyone there is wonderful, the services are reliably interesting, my in-laws sing in the choir (not surprising, since my father-in-law was the pastor there for a zillion years), and of course - being good Lutherans - they pay a lot of attention to rolls and coffee.

The drive between North Buffalo and Moorhead is great, too. I'm much more comfortable with and accustomed to forests and hills, the sort of terrain you find in Northfield or the Upper Peninsula. The Red River Valley is the opposite: as flat as anyplace in the country. It looks especially, wonderfully different when carpeted in fresh white snow - bleak in an appealing way. A few sights:

Farmland along US-75 west of the church


The road to the church


The grain elevators in the tiny town of Kragnes (and the town's reason for being).dscf8070_textmedium

Kranges, Minnesota, isn't as far north or as well-populated as its namesake, Kroknes, Norway. But they grow fewer sugar beets in Finnmark, I'd wager.

Snow Day: The Sequel

Julia and Genevieve's much-loved "girl cousins" came over in the morning, kicking off a half-day of fun, like dyeing eggs


and playing on the swing set


You know it's Minnesota (or at least the upper midwest) when the kids are on the swingset in 7 inches of fresh snow.

Sadly, yesterday's snowman didn't survive the night. Here he is at an early stage of collapse.


Nothing says "Easter" more than a snowman who looks like a drunk puking up coal.

Good Friday Driving

We had been looking forward to our Easter trip to Shannon's parents for weeks, so when those charlatans at the weather desks started predicting snow, I got my scoffing gun ready. Unfortunately, those bastards were right - we got pounded.

But Shannon and I carefully read every forecast we could find, eliminated any data that didn't conform to our desires, and then decided that we'd make the trip north anyhow. The snow was supposedly heaviest in the southern part of the state, so we hoped we'd drive right out of the worst of the storm.

True to the predictions, it was very slow going to and through Minneapolis. We saw four cars in the ditch in the first mile after getting on I-35, and this was a representative view through the windshield.


But also true to the predictions, the roads cleared up after the Cities and we managed to make pretty good time. For the first time ever, we played the video card, too: the girls watched Winnie the Pooh, Teletubbies, and Barney on the laptop. This kept them pretty happy and, in fact, some of the stuff was actually pretty funny. Julia vowed on Thursday that she would not ask any form of the "are we there yet?" question, and sure enough, she didn't!

We arrived at Shannon's parents' house just a half hour after we would have arrived in perfect conditions - whereupon we got the car well and truly stuck in the driveway. 


Luckily, all those hours doublepoling in the Arb have given me the strength of ten men one decently fit guy, so my pushing and Shannon's steering eventually got us parked properly (i.e., without any wheel on the lawn). While the girls were inside, having their snacks, I used my father-in-law's shovel to demonstrate dominion over the precipitation - or at least the snow on these 200 square feet of concrete. This snow was what we always called "heart attack snow" in the U.P.: heavy, wet snow that was so dense you (well, I) couldn't even lift a whole shovelful. An hour's work paid off, though.


Fed and unwound from the car ride, the girls came out, too, and we had some good snow-day fun. Nothing says "Easter" more than a snowman and snow pants! (Nonna donated the snowman's accoutrements.)


Excavatin' Season

It's the first day of spring, so it's time to start digging in the ground, so it was no surprise to see a guy drive his Bobcat loader right up to a pump at the gas station, hop out, fill up, and drive off again, right up the street toward Target. There's dirt that needs moving!


I'm too tired to compose a proper blog post, so instead I'm just going to list seven impressions of Washington, D.C.:

  • There's a vague menace to the whole place, partly due to the heavy overcast weather while I was there and partly due to the omnipresence of cops, security guards, uniformed soldiers, and the like.
  • Young people - even those who looked younger than me - dressed extremely well. Though admittedly not the very best sample, Whole Foods was teeming with bright young things in expensive-looking outfits. If anything, the men dressed a bit better than the women.
  • The streets are as congested as other big cities, but the drivers are much more aggressive, flouting red lights to continue turning left, squeezing between two occupied lanes of traffic to make a third, honking like a 100-strong flight of geese.
  • The business districts - around Dupont Circle, up and down Connecticut and Massachusetts Avenues - seemed to be less overwhelmed with chain stores than many big cities. Starbucks were ubiquitous, of course, but other than that, the commerce was refreshingly local or at least regional.
  • I've never seen more black cars with black tinted windows - not just sedans and SUVs that might have been, say, government, but sports cars, station wagons, compacts... It must be the fashion there.
  • Freebies don't make up for facts: my hotel gave me a "free" cookie (rather good chocolate chip, warmed up in a little oven right at the check-in desk), but the concierge gave me terrible directions for getting to the Whole Foods that ended up being basically around the corner.
  • Similarly, fit and finish matters. My room ("boutique accommodations"!) was well designed and rather comfy, but the bathroom was a wreck. The bathroom wall had at least four separate sets of screw holes - how many towel rods and toilet paper holders have they tried? The bathtub drain - the whole unit, not just the plug - floated up and away when I started the shower; I had to hold it down with my foot. And the bottle opener was fixed to the bathroom counter with a simple black drywall screw.

  • Home is better, all in all.

    Paranoia's Lost Its Horror

    Between reading Ross Douhat's piece in the current Atlantic on the return of "the paranoid style" in American moviemaking and actually watching a thoroughly paranoid movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, last night at the hotel, I'm a little bit nerve-wracked as I wait for my flight here at Ronald Reagan National. (The tiredness isn't helping.)

    The backdrop here is a long, slow ride to the airport, one which featured a horrible 20 minutes inching down K Street along the edge of Franklin Square, which was entirely circled with police tape and full of a dozen cop cars. God only knows.

    Once I finally go to the airport, I realized that the whole place is basically a scene from Bourne Ultimatum. Everybody but me is on a cell phone, some vaguely-uniformed guy was running a scanner over barcode decals affixed to various items in the men's room (baby changing table, towel dispenser, soap dispenser, et cetera), the radio station runs frequent ads for military-industrial companies, my fellow terminal-bar drinkers include numerous nondescript white guys in black trenchcoats, and there are as many security cameras as passengers in the gate area.

    Air travel: not relaxing.

    Nerdy Accomplishments

    The elite World Cup ski season ended on Sunday with the last in a three-race series in Santa Caterina, Italy. Even before the weekend started, Lukas Bauer (Czech Republic) had won the men's overall and distance titles. In Friday's race - a short freestyle "prologue" - Norwegian Ola Vigen Hattestad won the men's sprint title.

    The women's overall and distance titles remained on the line through the classical-technique mass start race on Saturday and were only decided in Sunday's pursuit races. The first starter in the women's 10km frestyle race was the defending World Cup champion Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), who led both the distance and overall rankings but who only managed a third-place finish in the spring rankings, which were topped by Slovenian Petra Majdic.

    In Sunday's race, Kuitunen ceded her 3-second head start back to the young Polish racer Justyna Kowalcyzk, and even let Kowalczyk develop a gigantic 24-second lead at the 6.9km time check. But then Kuitunen rallied, defying the back pain that has plauged her all season, and mounted a dramatic comeback to pip Kowalczyk at the line by a scant third of a second. With the win, Kuitunen sealed the overall and distance titles - the former by a good margin over Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen, the latter by just a few points over the Ukrainian Valentina Shevchenko.

    But that's just the real racing, where the fluoro waxes meet the snow. I am far more eager to report that, on the strength of good showings by Bauer and by Kuitunen's Finnish sidekick, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, I managed to eke out a narrow win in the championship of the "Fantasy Nordic" league which I was lucky enough to join last fall.

    Fantasy Nordic

    Run by a skier and bike racer who has - as he likes to say, "a coding problem," fantasy nordic is like fantasy baseball, only with obscure European ski racers, not obscure Latin American infielders. If nothing else, the league finally gave me an outlet for the countless hours I've spent reading the RSS feeds for sites like niche websites like this one and this one. Hooray for the internet - burn your time and realize pea-sized accomplishments!


    But for the I-35 500 yesterday, it's been a blessedly smooth trip so far. Today was a nice, quietly productive day. The conference has been great (with just the one requisite terrible, read-from-PowerPoint presentation); I see why people in my field rave about this gathering and the organization that put it on each year.

    After the meeting broke for the day, I walked over to Dupont Circle, to check out the shops. On the way, I got as close to the White House as I'll get on this trip (click through for notes).


    A few minutes later, I got to the business district centered on Dupont Circle. I'd been there when I was in D.C. doing dissertation research in 2000 or so and a few years later for a job interview, so it was pleasingly familiar - if even more high-end. The density of BMWs was on a par with Mill Valley, California, or Gold Coast Chicago. I bought a cup of coffee and a book for the girls. I also saw some workers opening some crates with a funny warning label on the side: "These goods is fragile." I couldn't get a picture.

    I did take a picture of a beautiful little modern building wedged between two other structures somewhere on Massachusetts Avenue NW.


    This building embodies two of the coolest things about "the District" - the constantly interesting architecture, and the sheer density of Important Stuff: this unknown-to-me building and institute was basically across the street from the Brookings Institute, for instance. Even my little hotel has a set of SUVs out front that look like the damn presidential motorcade.

    Now I'm sitting on the bed in my small but tidy little room, watching The Bourne Ultimatum and trying not to let the high tension get to me.

    Wha? Washington?

    Actual conversation with fellow shuttle-van rider as we passed within 100 yards of the Washington Monument on our way down 14th Street to our hotel:

    Him: "What's that?"
    Me: "What's what? That monument?"
    Him: "Yeah, that monument."
    Me: "The Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial is off in the distance."
    Him: "Oh. I kinda figured it was something."

    I honestly thought he was only asking to see if I, a fellow American, knew - some sort of federal program to test the tourists' knowledge of the epicenter of world power.

    Another rider, who took one last pull on her cigarette as she set foot into our van, later had a loud cell-phone conversation in which she implored her interlocutor to please call Craig and have him pick her (the caller) up at the Baltimore airport. We were a few blocks away from the White House at the time. I didn't want to ask if she knew that Washington and Baltimore are distinct cities, but later had to loan her my pen and give her a sheet of paper so she could take down Craig's number.

    I thought all the weird, ignorant people were in the Midwest.

    Waiting Is the Hardest Part

    I'm writing this as I sit in a SuperShuttle van outside a terminal gate at Ronald Reagan National - waiting for the driver to return from wherever it is that he went. He left the keys in the ignition; maybe I should get all entrepreneurial, here in the royal city of the Ownership Society, and find my own way to the hotel.

    Naaah. I'm too hungry to risk getting arrested.

    And but so, this day has been one of ridiculous amounts of waiting. A few instances:

  • Waiting for Shannon to wake up from a nap so I could vacuum the house before lunch.

  • After her nap ended up overlapping with the girls' waiting for them to wake up from their naps so I could vaccum the house, which I finished three minutes before my first shuttle o' the day was supposed to arrive at the house and take me to MSP.

  • Waiting for that shuttle, which arrived 47 minutes late and then hurtled to the airport in less than 45 minutes. (From where I was sitting over the driver's right shoulder, I could see clearly that he had the needle over 80 the whole time, over 90 for long stretches, and over 100 twice, including once on I-35 E as he cut right across three lanes of traffic and then back left and once, a few seconds later, changing lanes on the Minnesota River bridge.)

  • Waiting in a long security-gate line.

  • Waiting in a short boarding-gate line.

  • Waiting for the plane to take off.

  • Waiting for the refreshment cart (which included - since we were flying through the dinner hour - an assortment of snacks, such as Mini Oreos, an "all-beef snack stick," and other repellent-sounding non-dinner items).

  • Waiting for the plane to land (seriously, we must have started our "final descent" somewhere over Ohio).

  • Waiting now for the driver to come back and get us the hell going.

  • Ahh, here he is. We're off!

    A Good Spring Day

    I'm heading out of town tomorrow afternoon for a short trip to Washington, D.C., for a conference (not the Spitzerian sort). I hope that Shannon has a miracle cure between now and the time I head for MSP, because that girl is still suffering, and she'll need all the help her body can give while I'm gone.

    But today was a pretty great day - my only real weekend day (given that flying is, these days, in no way recreational), and a nice day with the girls. I made their favorite weekend meal, "banana split breakfast," this morning, which is always a good way to start a Saturday. Books were read, teeth brushed, clothes donned. Later on, the healthier three of us) headed to playtime at the library, where in true Northfield fashion, we knew all three of the other families there. We had a lot of fun, then headed home for a good lunch and the girls' naps. When they got up again, we met back up with one of the library families for an hour of playing at an indoor playground (it's at Menards, the giant home-improvement store - ahh, exurbia!). By popular request, I sang "Waltzing Matilda" as Cookie Monster on the way home. Dinner, bath, both wees in bed and asleep by 7:30. Now my trip prep mostly done (the travel fairies didn't deliver that iPhone I wanted), and I'm on my way to bed, too.

    Grasshopper Killer

    Happy St. Urho's Day!


    Everyone, say it with me: "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!"

    No, you're supposed to roll the R's. Try again. Better! 

    TGIF, Sorta

    This, friends and readers, has been a bad week. Being sick, having too much to do at work, having the rest of my family be sick, missing tons of work hours, having some of the rest of my family get better, working until late every night on stuff that didn't get done during the day, seeing the most important member of the family get sicker, handling all kinds of nonsense for the online course I'm teaching at Metro State (including not one, not two, but three students who submitted papers or exams that were literally nothing but materials stolen from the web - no citations, no quotations), staying ridiculously late today to shepherd a proposal to submission 14 minutes before the deadline, and now, worst of all, using this usually bright and cheery blog to whine in public.

    We don't have any liquor in the house, but we do have some sherbet.

    Vasaloppet Recap

    Two Sundays ago, more than 13,000 skiers stood in the massive start zone of Vasaloppet, the 90-kilometer (56-mile) ski marathon between Sälen and Mora, Sweden, that stands as the most prestigious - not to mention longest and biggest - ski race in the world.

    In the very front row of that mass of humanity was the Norwegian Jørgen Aukland, who possessed perhaps the strongest record of any man in the monster race: three third-place and two second-place finishes - including a one-second loss to winner Oskar Svärd in 2003. In the year since the 2007 race - in which he finished a distant third - Jørgen joined his brother Anders on a new privately-funded ski team aimed explicitly at winning the big marathons and, of course, at winning Vasaloppet. This was novel in a sport where local teams (like the fabled ski club in Mora, the town at the end of the Vasaloppet), especially in Scandinavia. Anders himself had won Vasaloppet in 2004, in some part on the strength of Jørgen's ability to push the early pace, and the two Auklands were understood to be aiming to win the race again. At a pre-race press conference, the brothers had described obtaining advice from countryman Thor Hushovd, who has won several stages in the Tour de France, and hinted at the use of planned breakaways by allied racers to fracture the lead pack in advance of their own attacks.

    The Auklands weren't even the favorites in the 2008 edition of the race, though. Recent champions Oskar Svärd (the winner in 2007, 2005, and 2003) and Daniel Tynell (winner in 2006 and 2002) had their strong records to fall back on, and a number of other accomplished long-distance racers such as Jerry Ahrlin (who finished second in 2006), Mathias Fredriksson (a noted Swedish racer who won the overall World Cup cross-country skiing title in 2003), Frode Estil (a great Norwegian racer with multiple Olympic and World Championship medals, including a gold in the 50km classical-technique race at the 2005 Worlds), and even Thomas Alsgaard (a fantastically successful Norwegian who had retired from World Cup racing a few years ago). Any of these racers - or any of a dozen other less-heralded racers - had the fitness and racing acumen to win Vasaloppet.

    As it is every year, the start was a sight to behold (video): an ocean of racers tiding forward through the massive field with single-file tendrils of elite frontrunners moving rapidly away from the mass and toward the steep little climb just a k or so into the course. There is little to do here by keep moving forward, but when the course leveled out again at the top, the Auklands, Ahrlin, and Svärd are all right there. Fifteen minutes into the race, passing the 7,000 meter mark, Jørgen Aukland was right up front, taking a long pull on his drink bottle. Immediately afterward, a couple other racers jumped into the lead and energetically start to push the pace.

    Swedish national TV had a correspondent not just on the course, but in the race: he jumped off the side of the track, slotted into the lead pack, and did a few kilometers with them, giving his impressions of the race to that point. He dropped back just as the race started in earnest, with Norwegian Rune Stig Kveen pushing to the front and getting a sizable gap at the first checkpoint, the 10.5km control point at Smågan (video) - 33:33 into the race. All the favorites were toward the front of the race, but only Jerry Ahrlin was close to Kveen. Ahrlin was taking a big gamble by doing the race on skate skis: without the grip wax necessary to kick and stride in the diagonal or classic technique, he would have to doublepole the entire race - possible, but only just, and perhaps risky given that doublepoling is not as fast on uphills as striding. Vasaloppet is known as a flat race, but the course does include some significant climbs near the midway point - a fact Ahrlin would well know.

    Ahead even of Ahrlin, Kveen was well off the front, skiing with two racers from IFK Mora, which has had more than its share of Vasalopp winners, and every year sends a huge contingent to the race - including a few who try for the win. The trio stayed well ahead of the peloton until about 20km, when their gap shrank back down and lead group became a single file curving through the snowy Swedish woods. As the racers approached the Mångsbodarna control (video), 25.7km and 1:10:05 into the race, Kveen surged again, using a small climb to establish just enough of a lead to capture the sprint prize. All the big names were within a few seconds of Kveen, who was not getting away - yet.

    Behind the elite men, the women's race - which always has fewer top-notch skiers involved - was shaping up more slowly. Three Swedes were in front: Jenny Hansson led at Mångsbodarna (video) by about 27 seconds over Elin Ek and 1:33 over Sandra Hansson - dangerously large deficits at about one third of the way into the race.

    After a few pack-stretching attacks by various skiers on the track between Mångsbodarna and the checkpoint at Risberg, the Auklands finally moved to the front of the race, where they spent a few kilometers following Jerry Ahrlin - instantly identifiable by his continuous doublepoling even when everyone else was striding. Everyone took on drinks before the trail dipped just outside the control at Risberg (video), where Jørgen Aukland was first over the line, now 1:40 into the race.

    Perhaps taking advantage of the slower pace through the time check, Aukland ventured off the front. Ahrlin went with him, and they quickly built up a sizable gap over a shrinking chase pack. Talking back and forth and looking back frequently, it was clear the two leaders were doing nothing more than trimming the number of racers near them - not quite blowing up the race, but controlling it in a rather brutal way. Within five minutes, only three other racers were near them:  Anders Aukland, obvious in the red bib of the Marathon Cup leader, and two unknown Norwegians: Anders Myrland (like Ahrlin, an all-doublepoler), and Sjur Börsheim. This last racer soon dropped off, leaving Ahrlin up front with the three Norwegians - or, put differently, outnumbered by the Aukland brothers.

    The Risberg attack had succeeded almost too well, demolishing the big group which had been together at that check and leaving only a quartet, of whom one would certainly win the race. Taking feeds every half hour or so, the quartet worked well together, visibly pushing but sharing the responsibilities of leading and privileges of following. Of the four, Myrland seemed to the racer nearest his maximum, often falling behind on uphills, while Ahrlin seemed to have the most in reserve, using his vigorous doublepole to easily gap the other three at every opportunity. He clearly wanted to break up the group into even smaller pieces - and to avoid being caught in a trap set by the Aukland brothers. Unfortunately, the Auklands could both stride up the small hills that Ahrlin had to doublepole, and it appeared that he had to work hard to limit his uphill loss and close the downhill gaps. 2:16.15 into the race, the foursome was still a unit as they swung through the horseshoe-shaped control at the almost-halfway point, Evertsberg (video), 47.1km done and 42.9km to go. The next racer - Sweden's Mathias Fredriksson - was nearly a minute behind.

    Shortly after Evertsberg, Ahrlin made another attack, and temporarily fractured the group. Jørgen Aukland stayed with him and then took the lead as Anders Myrland bridged up. Behind, Anders Aukland doubelpoled freantically, trying to ride every bit of downhill and get back on to the group. With his brother up front, the pace slowed enough that Anders got back on - at which point Ahrlin pressed once more. Zipping through a feed station, the elder Aukland dropped back again, then worked back to the group again.

    This back-and-forthing continued almost the whole way to the next control, at Oxberg. There, on the penultimate big climb of the race, the two Auklands surged to the front and began striding hard, hoping to shake the two doublepolers Ahrlin and Myrland. The latter was dropped immediately. Ahrlin let a gap develop, but didn't panic. His metronomic doublepoling slowly cut the brothers' lead down from tens of meters to a few ski lengths, and then he was with them again. The attack had partially succeeded, though: Myrland was gone, drifting back down the course to ultimately finish eighth, more than ten minutes behind the winner.

    Having made one successful attack, the Auklands did it again on the next uphill. Jørgen led, gasping for air as he strode fluidly up the slope to Oxberg.  Ahrlin, exhausted after having covered the last attack, couldn't respond again, and became an ever-smaller black figure behind the brothers. Anders initially stayed with Jørgen, riding the draft, but then slowly slipped back. Suddenly Jørgen was alone in front, negotiating the tricky uphill hairpin turn at Oxberg (video). With 61.7km down and 28.3km to go, he crossed first at 2:52.34, four seconds ahead of his brother and 12 seconds ahead of Ahrlin.

    With nearly a third of the race left to run, a big surge by either Anders Aukland or Jerry Ahrlin could still, possibly, catch the leader - if he had some sort of disaster up front. Riding the downhill from Oxberg, Ahrlin caught back up to Anders Aukland, and the two began working together to try to maintain the gap to Jørgen, whom they could see on the long, flat straightaways through the woods. It was to no avail: the gap steadily grew, and soon the leader was out of sight on a long solo breakaway to Mora, 28,000 meters away. Behind, Anders shook off Ahrlin with a surprisingly powerful diagonal stride on the rolling terrain before the Hökberg checkpoint (video), which he reached 1:14 behind his younger brother (and 19 seconds ahead of Ahrlin, whose double-pole looked less and less snappy).

    As these attacks decided the men's race, the women's race was shaping up much differently. Jenny Hansson…

    I, For One, Welcome Our Temperate Overlords

    We're supposedly due for something called a "slopstorm" on Monday (when I'll be conveniently on a business trip to Washington, D.C. - no, not Room 871 at the Mayflower), but I just want to go on record as saying that spring is fine with me and with these two puddlejumpers.


    We walked for about 45 minutes today; by the time we got home, Julia's pants were soaked to the knees and Vivi's were soaked to the waist. Nobody complained!

    Bad News: I Don't Have a Rare Blood Disorder

    This will sound more woe-is-me-ish than I intend it to, but bear in my that I am a generally optimistic, happy person who's pretty well adjusted to the great good and minor bad in my life.

    A couple weeks ago, I went to the otolaryngologist for a checkup, April being two years since I first got my lovely hearing aids instruments. He did all the basic exam-room tests and quizzed me, just as my original doctor had, on my family and personal history (relatives with premature hearing loss, jobs which involved percussive noise, fondness for loud rock music, accidents, illnesses), but then threw a curve ball by asking whether   I had been tested for "rare blood disorders" that can, in certain cases, lead to premature hearing loss - but that can also be treated, often resulting in the reversal of that hearing loss. 

    I refrained from going, "Whatcha say?"

    I actually said, nope, never heard (ha!) of such a thing. So he sent me off to the lab, where the phlebotomist drew about a pint of blood and sent me home to wait to hear about the results. Honestly, I didn't expect to hear that, sho' nuff, I had some exotic illness that could be treated, restoring my hearing to whatever is "normal" for a 30-something guy. But - honestly - I kinda liked the idea of finding out that, in fact, I had some exotic illness that could be treated, restoring my hearing to whatever is "normal" for a 30-something guy. (I also wouldn't have missed not having to drop $10 every few weeks to buy eight tiny batteries that lose their charges even before you use them.)  

    Anyhow, yesterday the lab called. The tech said, "Mr. Tassava? Your test results came back and they are negative. Nothing unusual turned up." 

    Again, I refrained from going, "Whatcha say?"

    Thanks, bye, I'm fine being a cyborg. It is kinda neat that my hearing requires microprocessors.

    Safe Routes to School in Northfield

    Though it has been a draining week in every respect except the one related to my sinuses, I was elated to learn today that the Northfield Public Schools have been awarded a $30,000 grant to plan for safer walking and biking routes to our various schools. I was the main writer for the grant, but I worked with other tireless Northfielders like Bill OstremNeil Lutsky, and Randy Perkins - all members of the city's task force on non-motorized transportation. (In fact, Bill is the chair and Randy the secretary.) This group  is deeply making Northfield a better place for everyone to walk and bike, especially kids who are just trying to get to school.

    Here's the summary of our grant project:

    Pathways to Healthier Students (PaTHS) - $30,000
    Planning Enhanced Access to Northfield Schools seeks to improve the safety of children who walk & bike to school and to motivate more children to do so.  It features enforcement, education, encouragement, and evaluation programs and an engineering analysis of routes for four K-8 schools. 

    (Neil, a psych prof at Carleton and a a wizard with acronyms, came up with the great name for the project.)

    You can here read more about Minnesota's "Safe Routes to School" program - part of a nation-wide, multi-million dollar effort. We hope the grant helps the schools and the city undertake some much-needed study and planning and moves the community toward the simple and real changes that would make our small, flat town a great place for walkers and bikers.

    Best American Skier

    Congratulations to Bill Demong of Vermontville, NY, who finished up the FIS World Cup Nordic Combined season in an overall third place - the best-ever finish for an American in nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing) and the highest overall position for an American nordic skier since Bill Koch won the overall cross-country title in 1982. During the 2007-2008 season, Demong won one race and finished on the podium five more times.

    Demong's not only a great ski racer, he's a guy who's toiled in an obscure sport for a very long time, and has now found success after overcoming the effects of a near-fatal 2002 diving accident. Hopes are high that he can stay on form through the 2010 Olympic WInter Games in British Columbia.


    I hate to see winter end (especially because the family plague has kept me from going for one last ski), and of course (I say hopefully) we could still get a good March blizzard, but I think today's the day that spring began. This afternoon, Shannon opened up the patio door to catch the clean southerly breeze, and nobody froze. All day, I watched the recession of the snow between our house and the line of trees fifty feet to the south; the full span was covered in snow this morning, but only about ten feet remained when, at dusk, a magnificent sunburst lit up our dining room. Boreas has left the building.

    Plague Ward III

    It's not a good sign for the coming day that, overnight, your wife entered "strep throat symptoms" as a Google search. I am thus home today, taking my first sick day in probably five years. While Vivi seems pretty much back to normal (apart from a runny nose) and Julia is seemingly on the mend (a bad cough), I am a hacking cough and a headache and Shannon's throat sent her to the urgent care clinic, where she's been since 7 a.m.

    I hope they're not amputating anything.

    Too Sick to Blog

    So a sorta linkdump:

    Spitzer/Client 9: idiot

    rhinovirus: evil

    Hello Kitty humidifier: cute, not highly effective

    Delsym: tasty, but also not highly effective

    honey: tastier, but also not highly effective

    spitfire: dictionaries should just have a picture of screeching, yelling, swatting, smirking Vivi

    And last, welcome to your living time, Murray Walter Ffogdraw! We can't wait to meet you (but will wait until this family isn't quite so infectious.)

    Plague Ward II

    The most active thing in the Tassava household today were the microbes., Well, Shannon went out to coffee with some girlfriends. Other than that, what a slow, sniffly day. At least Julia learned to write out both "Elmo" and "Mama" and to realize that an F is just an E with one line missing. Vivi and I tied for last in the personal-accomplishment department: Vivi tried to eat a washable marker and I stayed awake.

    Milestones Before Noon

    This morning, Vivi finally said "neigh neigh" when I asked her what a horse says. For a long time, she's responded to that question with the same "baa baa" sound she uses to answer the sheep question. With this addition, she now does funny little sounds for cats (a piercing shriek), dogs (a low "ruf ruf"), cows ("oooooooo"), horses, sheep, and - best of all - snakes ("sss sss"). She does a mean Cookie Monster, too. No, really, he sounds mean: a two-pack-a-day growl.

    Not to be outdone, Julia today, for the first time ever, on her 1,374th day of life, got out of bed on her own. The morning bustle has lately become more problematic, since now that Vivi is morning-weaned, she has to get to eatin' right away - and of course Julia usually wakes up right then. True, there are two adults to handle the commotion, but it'd be nice if Shannon could sleep in on weekends and not have to do kid stuff while I'm home on weekday mornings.

    Anyhow, last night Shannon and I told Julia that she could, on waking up in the morning (and if she could see light outside!), get herself out of bed. Again - she's never done this before: she hasn't even so much as thrown her covers off without us being in the room. The kid who sneaks out of bed at night to play with dolls? Or out of the room to see what mom and dad are up to? Not our daughter.

    But this morning, at 6:24 a.m., who should come dancing up to our bed, whispering, "Hi, hi, hi!" but our girl. After visiting with us for a few minutes, she went back to her room to put on morning clothes and make her bed. She was, I think, slightly amazed at her newfound ability to get up independently. I hope she uses this power for good!

    Plague Ward

    Here are six signs that the day at home was not a good one for Genevieve, Julia, or Shannon:

    1. When I came in the door from the garage, Shannon headed out, seemingly on her way to the bar a nice hotel in a faraway city, but actually just throwing out a diaper.

    2. Rather than bouncing up to me to describe her day, Julia just stared at me, exhausted after having skipped her nap.

    3. When Genevieve, too unhappy to wait for me to take off my jacket, appealed to her mama to be picked up, Shannon literally ran in the other direction.

    4. Standing in the kitchen while wiping Vivi's nose, I could see four different boxes of kleenex around the living room and dining room.

    5. Vivi's cheeks were as raw and red as butcher-shop steak - so tender that I couldn't even touch them without her starting to cry.

    6. Within five minutes of my arrival back at home, Shannon had headed upstairs for a nap.

    I hope tomorrow is better than today, and that next week is better than this one. Of course, not every day can be a total loss that ends with the three girls reading:


     Race Report: Crazy Carleton Classic Relay

    Short Story
    I'm not slow, at least in comparison to local competition, but I could be faster and really need to work on organizing my manure ahead of racetime.

    Long Story
    Saturday I suited up and waxed up for my third (count 'em!) and last race of the ski season, the Crazy Carleton Classic Relay, a fundraiser for the Carleton Nordic Ski Club. The third adjective didn't apply this year: the thin snow and thick ice made for bad classic-technique skiing, so the organizers switched the race to freestyle and shortened the course to about 2.5km by eliminating some especially hard uphills. (I mean "southern Minnesota hard" - about 10 meters long, but about 30% grade. Okay, 15%. Geez.)

    This, and a ton of publicity, created a big turnout compared to last year. I was surprised to see, pulling into the parking lot behind the Carleton Rec Center, a couple Fast Guys, including a guy who finished 75th in the City of Lakes Loppet and 147th at the American Birkebeiner. Fast Guys (who can be either male or female) can always be identified by the thorough coordination of their racing gear, which usually also reflects their preferred brand of ski. My preferred ski brand is "the one that was cheapest last time I could afford to buy some skis," and I choose my racing outfit by putting on my trusty Craft tights and then hoping I have clean wool socks and a windshirt.

    I was excited to see the veritable crowd around the registration table. All in all, there were seven full three-person teams and one dude without a team - me. Last year, my singleton status was no problem; I just joined two women who'd come to race together and away we went. But this year, I was still standing by myself when the course marshal yelled, "Two minutes to race time!" I figured, what the hell: why not just go and ski? So I started getting myself organized and headed to the line.

    "Go!" he yelled, as I tightened my pole straps. I would swear in a court of law that 120 seconds had not elapsed, but opposing counsel would probably just demonstrate that a) I wasn't exactly timing him and b) a ski cap over hearing aids does not for good audition make. Anyhow, I scooted up, told him, "Nobody else is here for another team, so I'm just going to go!" and I poled away as hard as I could, having spotted the rest of the field a ten-second head start.

    Since I could use the faster V2 skating stroke on pretty much every meter of the course, I caught up to racers 4-7 about a minute in, as they slowed to start up the only real hill on the course. The trail was nice and wide there, so I was able to move past all four in a few strides. Up ahead of me was another racer, and beyond him was the racer I thought was #1, just starting down the other side of the hill. (In fact, racer #1 was already further ahead, and I was looking at racer #2 - himself no slouch, having won the "Solo Freak" division of the 24 Hours of Telemark race.)

    I thought that I could maybe catch them both. As I hit the top of the hill, I checked my heart-rate watch: I was exactly three minutes in and my heart rate was up over 165 - high but not too bad. I was feeling pretty good, if insufficiently warmed up and a bit sloppy with my skate motion. A quick glance back confirmed that nobody had stayed with me when I made my pass, so I pointed my skis down the hill and got ready to try to chase down #2.

    Whereupon I nearly wiped out. The whole back side of the hill, which had been lashed with a frigid west wind for a day, was glazed with ice and little finger drifts of snow - pure treachery. I decided not to skate down the hill, choosing instead to just carefully tuck down to the bottom. I still closed in on #2, who was even less certain on his skis than I was. By the time he hit the short flat at the base of the downhill, I was right behind him. There, the trall narrowed but reverted to good well-packed snow, so I hung in behind him for a few meters and then, on a nice gentle uphill that I have skied probably 100 times this winter, used a few decent V2 strokes to push past. I hoped here to see #1 (i.e., #2) up ahead, but no luck - he was far off the front, and the trail was now getting too twisty-turny for me to see him again.

    I relaxed on the winding flats that took us around the sparsely treed "Alumni Field." A sharp right turn pointed me more or less back toward the start - a kilometer or so away, on the other side of a quick downhill-uphill combination and then another winding flat section. I sped up a bit as I approached the downhill, then tried to really hammer as the slope began, building speed for the uphill to follow. The trails here were nicely packed snow, so it was easy to V2 the uphill and maintain decent velocity onto the flats at the top. Glancing across the open field between me and the start area, I could see someone tagging off already. I tried to stay smooth and relaxed, just riding the flats. I felt pretty good swooshing into the tag zone - where I stopped, having no teammate to tag. A few people looked over, clearly wondering, "What's up with Mr. Man with No Team?" I shrugged and headed over to grab a drink. I had finished in about 9:45 - not too bad for me.

    I spent the next twenty minutes watching other racers come through for the exchange zone, tagging off and heading back out. As I polished off my can of Coke and chatted with other skiers, a guy came skiing the wrong way down the course and slid to a stop in front of the race marshal: "Sorry I'm late, man! I just got here. Can I still race?" The marshal said, "Well, all the teams have already tagged off. The race is mostly done." Oh no it idn't! I jumped over to the newcomer and said, "I just skied one leg - go out now and tag me for the third leg!" He didn't even blink, just turned around and zoomed off. Excellent! Full team! From the looks of my new teammate, he was fast, so I strapped myself into my poles and got ready for him. Most of the third-leg skiers started while I waited, but I thought there might still be a chance to catch one or two.

    When I saw my teammate hit the straightaway to the exchange zone, I slid into place hoping my anchor leg would be more Thomas Alsgaard than Jörgen Brink. Unlike either of those great racers, I only proved totally incapable of estimating approach velocity. I hadn't even started to move when my teammate came tearing into the exchange zone, as this lovely photo shows. (See the whole slideshow on here.) As he blazed past me, he managed to tap my pole, which I figured was close enough to a "tag," so I headed out, V2'ing as strongly as I could.

    Making my way around the first corner, just a few meters outside the zone, I saw that the snow which had been there half an hour before had now blown away, and the whole corner was now ice. "Interesting - better be careful!" I said to myself, just as both skis flew out from under me and I landed on my ass.

    This is called "going pro," I believe.

    Luckily, I had enough momentum that I bounced back up and was able to get back to actual skiing right away. I didn't see anyone else out on the trail as I headed up the climb, nor as I picked my way through the even-slipperier downhill. I met a few people out for walks along the trail through the woods, but you're not really "passing" someone if they're a) not in the race and/or b) going in the direction opposite to yours. As I approached the short downhill on the backside of the course, I decided to go as absolutely hard as I could, because why not? Last race of the year! Right about here, I actually started to feel smooth and controlled, which was a nice sensation. Some drool on my chin helped me feel totally pro. The HRM went north of 170 here - about as fast as I can make my heart go. Over the flats and around the bends, back to the exchange zone I went. I crossed the line at 9:41 - faster than my first lap.

    In the final results, my "team" came in last, but if you do a little thought experiment and take away the twenty minutes between my finishing the first leg and my second-leg teammate showing up, our cumulative time would actually be good for third place. And I skied both the third-fastest scramble leg and the fourth-fastest anchor leg - no one else in the race skied two legs of the race!

    Holmen Cow

    I've been terribly remiss in writing about the last few World Cup cross-country skiing events: Stockholm, Sweden; Lahti, Finland; and Drammen, Norway, all passed without so much as a word on this blog.

    But I shall not let Saturday's races at the Holmenkollen in Oslo slide by! These races - run in freestyle this year - are the real deal: 50km for men, 30km for women, always in an interval start, using long (16.7km) loops that send the racers out into the woods, where they mingle and mix with hordes of drunken Norwegians (see pix here). How do you say "old school" in Norwegian?

    Fair Is Fair

    Almost 19 months into this father-of-two gig, I am still frequently amazed at the intensity of Genevieve's insistence on equality in all things. Monday afternoon, as I readied the girls for their naps, Julia pulled up her sleeve and asked me to cut off the hospital bracelet she was still wearing. When I came back from retrieving the scissors, VIvi was standing right next to Julia, studying the bright-yellow bracelet. As I carefully slid the scissors under Julia's bracelet, Vivi leaned in to watch - jumping in surprise when the blades snapped shut. She watched me put the bracelet and scissors up and out of reach, looked right at me, pulled up her own sleeve, and pushed her bare wrist toward me, saying, "Vivi! Vivi!" I thought for a second she wanted me to put Julia's bracelet on her, but then I got it. I used my two fingers to cut off a pretend bracelet, which she then "grabbed" from me and reached up to put on the same out-of-the-way spot. Then she climbed onto Julia's bed to give her a kiss.

    Wednesday afternoon, home a bit early, I was playing "princess" with Julia while Vivi tooled around, doing all the autonomous stuff she does. One thing led to another, and I found myself making a construction-paper crown for Princess Julia. Vivi no sooner saw it on her sister's head than shouted "Vivi! Vivi!" 

    I thus present to Your Majesties:


    Blackout: The Explanation

    I won't post a serial-killerish Photo Booth shot of myself, but I thought I would pass along the official story about the cause of Sunday night's blackout:

    Wet weather and salt spray worked together to make a great conductor of electricity going in the wrong direction Sunday on a utlility pole near the Quarterback Club. More than 2,000 Xcel Energy customers in town were without power for almost an hour early Sunday evening after the pole caught fire. The water in the air, combined with salt already on the lines was enough to make the electrical current arc from the lines to the pole, igniting it, said Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok.

    Only in Minnesota, man. 

    A Tale of Two Skis, or, Your Results May Vary (Self-Indulgence Follows)

    Tuesday night, I skied my favorite trail in the Carleton Arb, a nice route along the Cannon River. As you might recall from a facetious race report, the mostly-flat trail does go up and down a substantial but by no means brutal hill, making it hella fun to doublepole. I usually do two out-and-backs, which sums up to 13.7 kilometers or about 8.3 miles. Depending on intensity, trail conditions, snow cover, and other factors, this usually takes me less than an hour - a good solid workout.

    On Tuesday, the trail was entirely ice except for a few patches of dry drift snow. In other words, it was fast. I did one leg of the out-and-back - the leg that goes up the big hill, not down it - in a flat 14 minutes, about two minutes faster than I'd ever done it before. Without even really trying, I zoomed up the hill in 3:15, a full forty-five seconds quicker than I usually climb it going pretty hard. I had to take a little detour onto another trail to get a full hour in. Doing the math later, I found that, over the 1:00.16 workout, I had averaged a pace of 4:11 per kilometer. According to my heart-rate monitor, my average HR was just 133, and I had burned 600-some calories (a dubious metric, given the vagaries of calorie counting). More subjectively, I just didn't feel very taxed by the workout and concluded immediately that I'd do the same workout on Wednesday night.

    Not quite "famous last words," but perhaps "obscure and bad advice to self." Tonight, the trail was in utterly opposite shape: the ice was now concealed by a couple inches of dry, very cold snow that had fallen during the day. Dry, cold snow is very, very slow snow, which I realized when my first pole plants advanced me maybe two feet down the trail. "No problem!" I said to myself (out loud, which you can do when you're alone in the woods): "This'll be a good long workout." And was it: I did exactly the same route right down to the detour, frequently felt like I was really really and/or too hard, got hellaciously hungry at about 45 minutes, and finished in 1:16.52 - more than 15 minutes slower than the night before. My monitor showed an average HR of 140 and that 900-calorie burn. My average pace was 5:20/km - well over a minute slower per k.

    Just for giggles, I used my tired arms to calculate the speed per kilometer of Jørgen Aukland, who won the Vasaloppet on Sunday. Over 90 kilometers (not a misprint!), he averaged 2:49 per kilometer. In slow snow. On a flat course with a couple decent climbs.

    I think this summer's workout regime just changed.


    Vivi held up fantastically well on Monday while Shannon and I were up in the Cities with Julia: she was very patient with Nonna and Boppa and showed them how to babysit. She adjusted to our returns with ease, took a great nap, and then acted like a funloving fool all afternoon. Here's a high point. Click through for the Flickr notes.


    Resolutions: Update 2

    I made four main resolutions at the start of the year. Things were going pretty well on February 1. The status as of March 1:

    • I've still steered clear of potato chips (though my god a great sale on really pricey gourmet chips can test a guy), and I've cut down on the tortilla-chip consumption. Not making a total Chester White of myself with the latter has helped me enjoy them a lot more when I do have them. Which is pretty much what I wanted out of this resolution.

    • On the fitness front, February started with the bang of the City of Lakes Loppet, which was a blast. Since then, I took it pretty easy: 11 ski sessions but nothing else. In my book, this makes February an official "recovery month." March is likely to be the same.

    • I haven't been able to achieve a higher level of personal organization at home or work, but I haven't slid backwards, either. March is the month to recycle the last of the useless paper in my office and get after the useless paper at home.

    • Cutting down on non-work obligations has been partially successful: I passed on a couple entertaining but time-consuming and long-term activities. This didn't exactly free up dozens of hours, but it at least kept me from giving up a few discretionary hours.


    Part I: The Model Patient

    Every time I visit a hospital for any period of time, I'm reminded that hospitals are the opposite of fun. But if you have to go, make sure you're there with a brave, cheerful kid like Julia. Though she said "I don't want to have my surgery!" a number of times this morning (in the four hours she was awake before the actual procedure at 8:15 a.m.), she handled everything with great aplomb. When the nurse gave her an oral sedative as part of the pre-op routine, she quickly got very loopy and floppy, saying all kinds of crazy stuff which she, her mom, and I all found hilarious. A few minutes after that, she squinted at the nurse down at the foot of the bed, then slurred gravely, "Why does that lady have two heads?"

    When the procedure was done, she did cry a bit as she came out of the general anesthesia, but then again, everybody does (even, in certain cases, parents). Half an hour later, after her second tiny can of apple juice and a few minutes of Sesame Street, she started singing, groggier than a sailor on shore leave, "La la la la la la la la, Elmo's surgery/La la la la la la la la, Elmo's surgery/They had to take him/To a room/That's Ellllllllllmo's surrrrrrrrrrrrgery!" What a kid.

    Part II: Indulgent Adult Stuff

    1. Hospitals are (and I'd suppose have been) remarkable case studies in labeling. Looking around Julia's second recovery room, I counted forty-some bins, boxes, drawers, gadgets, spots, devices, et cetera which had some kind of label - the object's name, its content, its purpose, a caution, user information, whatever. The desktop of the recovery room's PC had nothing on it except ten lines of information about the computer itself: operating system, physical location, brand and model names, IP address, etc. I kept wondering just who makes all these labels: nursing trainees? interns? a new Medtronic robot?

    2. I would love to be able to operate all the sinks in our house with foot pedals. Handy!

    3. Boy, if ever there's a time and a place for an iPhone, it's hospital waiting rooms. I could readily have done most of a full day's work from any of the several holding pens in which we were confined.


    I hereby lodge my official protest against the idea (and the reality) of 90-minute blackouts on late winter evenings - especially on nights when there are endless things to do in advance of tomorrow's predawn trip up for Julia's procedure. Ridiculous. At least my MacBook' battery was good for a Photo Booth shot of me and my trusty headlamp:


    That Stings

    After I put some of the world's mildest lotion on Julia's dry face this morning, she danced away, saying, "Aveeno doesn't sting, Daddy!" Giggling, she then asked, "Daddy, what would happen if we were at the grocery store and the lotion said 'stung' and the lotion next to that lotion said 'not-stung' - which one would you buy?"

    I Have No Idea

    Another question from Julia as she washed her hands at the bathroom sink today:

    "What would happen if I kissed the toilet paper and it turned into a potty chair?"

    Answers welcome.

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