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Movin' On

New month, new posting URL!


I'm too addlepated to come up with anything coherent today, so instead, a potpourri:

1. If three-year-olds are often especially lovey-dovey with their parents, Julia is going out of the way to prove it.

2. Today, Vivi said "uh-oh" a number of times, first imitating Julia and then using it correctly when, say, tossing unwanted peas or toast overboard.

3. Vivi spent a good fifteen minutes this afternoon taking crayons out of a tin, transferring them to the tray on the easel, and then putting them back in the tin. I was almost embarrassed to watch her working so intently and unselfconsciously to take two out of the tine and put them in the easel tray, choose three others to put back in the tin, then choose one on the ground to put in the tray, and so on for a long time. After a while I convinced myself she was intentionally varying the challenges: "Can I pick up three fat crayons with one hand and lift them all to the easel?"

4. Julia and I went for perhaps the shortest walk ever this morning, one she was excited to take despite the steady rain. Heading out of the garage with our umbrellas, we crossed the street. As we hit the sidewalk on the other side, there was a huge blast of lightning and peal of thunder. We turned right back around and headed inside, Julia saying the whole way, "Mama said we had to go inside if there was lightning." Daddy agrees.

Vivi on the Verge

Today, at several different moments, Vivi said some new words - or the sounds that are almost words.

Wandering around with a stray shoe, she tried to give it to me. I said, "Honey, I don't want your shoe. Can you put it back by the other shoes?" She looked up at me, the lightbulb almost visible behind her eyes, shouted, "Back!" and then toddled over to drop the shoe next to its partner. Later, looking at a coloring book, she held it up to me and said, "Eeee-mo!" Sure enough, Elmo was on the cover. And finally, on the ride home from the playground, she said, over and over, in that great just-practicing way, "Daaaa-dee. Daaaa-dee. Daaaa-dee. Daaaa-dee." I'm Dada no more!


Next year, having learned my lesson, I'm going to turn down all meeting requests from August 15 to November 1: there's no time in this span to sit still if you're trying to meet all the fall grant-proposal deadlines. Yesterday and today were especially crazed, both being 12-hour days which mixed a visit to campus by representatives of an important prospective donor with myriad almost-too-late revisions to a big outgoing proposal. The site visit went well, but I'm happy to see its endless details in the rear view mirror, and have the chance to focus this weekend on ironing out the proposal so that we can submit it on Monday. 

Given all that, I had to go back to the office tonight to drop off the campus car I'd been using with the site visitors and to take care of the miscellany that I haven't been able to do during the day - email, filing, paperwork, et cetera. After a couple hours, I was back on an even keel and decided to head home. Going outside to my bike, I realized I'd forgotten the reflective vest that I wear when riding near or after dark. "Shit. But I have lights on the bike and I can ride in the streetlights." When I got to my bike, I found that I hadn't locked it to the post, only run my cable lock through the front wheel and frame. "Oh, well, Nobody will steal it, since they can't ride it like this." I flipped on my tail light, then flicked the headlight - which didn't come on, because the battery was cold and dead. "Uh... This won't make it easy to see or be seen." Reaching down to undo the lock, the key snapped off like a turkey wishbone. Finally, I got it: I'm not supposed to be riding my bike home.

I gave Shannon a quick call to tell her I'll be a little bit later than I expected, and headed off on a more-or-less straight walk home via the Arb. And that's where the evening got better. I passed a few couples on the Hill of Three Oaks, snuggling under blankets, enjoying the nearly-full moon. In the woods, the cool darkness was broken up by pools of shimmering moonlight, bright enough that I could read my watch. I heard a lot of animals in the foliage, and even saw a few somethings dart across the path ahead of me. The low areas were smoky with rising fog. All too soon, I traversed the Arb and emerged on a road near our house - a road that runs by two different cemeteries, both of which looked utterly serene in the moonlight. A couple cars whooshed past me on the final stretch into the subdivision, and I heard geese honking somewhere, but otherwise it was perfectly still and quiet - the ideal end to a too-hectic day.

The Bad Plus Two

The semi-Minneapolitan jazz trio the Bad Plus played the Guthrie the other night. I know it was a big show. TBP recently used their Do The math blog for a great post on the irony and legitimacy of playing covers. As a serious jazz trio known for playing tunes by Nirvana, Blondie, the Pixies, and David Bowie (among others), they have some interesting things to say about authenticity and pleasure in music - and make me want to listen to their fantastic take of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire" theme for about a week straight.

Elsewhere, Dave King, TBP's killer drummer, comments on irony, cover songs, musical styles, and about a million other topics in a great interview in All About Jazz - well worth reading if you're into the Minneapolis music scene or eclectic music in general.

(Cross-posted to After School Snack.)

More Earth for Me!

I just played "Consumer Consequences," a game from American Public Media that tried to figure out how many additional Earths we'd need if everyone on the planet consumed like me - only 3.7 more! You can calculate your own score at the game site: I'm interested to see others' scores.

(Via the Deets, whose proprietor hit 5.1 Earths.)

Bright at Midnight

Coming upstairs a minute ago, I thought the bedroom light was on. It was, of course, just the moon, nearly full in a cloudless sky. The trees, rocks, and bird bath in the backyard are all glowing in the silver-yellow light.


It's only 160 days to the Vasaloppet, the 90km cross-country ski race from Mora to Salen, Sweden. To commemorate the day, I've put a bunch of facts about past winners into the Wikipedia article on the race - all that trivia under the table of winners.

I'll put one pound of Swedish fish candy on Frode Estil to win. Anyone want to take that bet?

Cheese Feelings

Buzzing around as we packed up for a "family walk" downtown, Julia overheard Shannon and I say that Julia could share a scone and a string cheese. She did not hear us say that she'd share the cheese with Vivi, the scone with me. And but so, she came downstairs to find me quickly eating a string cheese as I packed up their water and some other stuff - stuffing myself as parents have to do when there's literally no time all morning to eat a regular meal. She watched me, silent and imploring, eat the first half of the stick, then made sad sounds as I popped the rest in my mouth.

"Daddy, aren't you sharing?" she asked, on the verge of tears. "Honey, no, this is my string cheese." (Honestly, does any food more instantly infantilize a person than string cheese?) "But you said you would share!!!!" and erupted in tears. Being a bit of a dim bulb, I caught on at this point, reassuring her that we were bringing another string cheese along on the walk, and that she share that one with Vivi, and a scone with me. She instantly stopped crying, of course, but then fixed me with her saddest, seriousest eyes: "Daddy, next time you eat a cheese stick, don't hurt my feelings." I felt terrible. Then she brightened and said, with masterful indirection, "Daddy, don't you think you will like a cranberry-orange scone?"

If fact, I knew I would.


Some weekend rush by and leave you wondering, come Monday morning, what, if anything, you did.

This was not one of those weekends, which was more go-go than dancing in 1968. I'm tired just thinking about recounting it, so instead I'll duck my blogging responsibilities by saying we had a lot of fun, that two of the four of us did a fair bit of crying, that we soaked up the great weather, and that Julia put the stamp of surreality on the two days by telling me, with utmost seriousness, "Daddy, next time you eat a cheese stick, don't hurt my feelings."

Why did she say this? Stay tuned.


It was superlatively gorgeous here today, one of those days (similar to a few others we've had lately) when it's a shame to be indoors. I managed to spend about four hours outside going with the girls to parks, walking with Julia, and working out.

The day's high point was probably taking Julia and Genevieve to a local playground. Julia busied herself with cleanup duties (misplaced sticks, rocks in the mulch, and, inexplicably, a perfectly clean but squashed-flat dental floss container) while Genevieve truly walked and played. To this point, I'd only seen her walking at home, so it was wonderful to see her stagger around the playset, even daring to cross some bridges that required better-than-usual balance. Vivi being Vivi, she got very cross with me when I wouldn't let her go headfirst down the slides or just walk off the edge of a platform. She can walk, but gravity's an unknown threat!

Hitting It

I'm watching the Iowa-Wisconsin football game right now. The Wisconsin punter just had to make a touchdown-saving tackle on an Iowa returner who had, as they say, just one man to beat. In making a great tackle, laying out and wrapping up the runner's ankles, the punter reminded me that I really love seeing the kicker save a touchdown like that. Not only is there a bit of David beating Goliath in such plays, but there's a healthy dose of "You big lunks screwed everything up, so I'll solve the problem myself." 

Of course, far more often than the kicker manages to stop the returner, he gets deked out of his soccer cleat and lets the returner score. That's probability, I guess.

Don't Front, Cold

They're threatening a warm weekend, but it won't stick. Between noon today and right now (just about midnight), the temperature has plunged from 78 to 52 degrees. Very nice.


Thursday afternoon, Genevieve was stomping around the living room in her stiff-legged style, crashing into everyone and everything. I called out, "Watch out for Godzilla! She'll knock you right down!" Julia thought this was very funny, and started calling Vivi "Oddzilla."

Karelia, Come Back!

For a variety of reasons - starring roles in some William Gibson novels, a rising interest in energy policy and politics, the sheer insanity of the place, a fondness for news from Finland, the jaw-dropping cyberattack on Estonia last spring - I've been reading a lot of stuff about Russia lately. A friend passed along (via science fiction thinker Bruce Sterling) an article by a Russian analyst on the rise of the "siloviki" - "the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies." According to the article's author, "Never in Russian or Soviet history has the political and economic influence of the security organs been as pervasive as it is now." Think about that: Putin's network of current and former agents apparently exerts more power than the Cheka in the heyday of the tsars or the NKVD at the height of Stalin's power.

A few days ago, I read this International Herald Tribune piece on the way both the European Union and Russia are brandishing "the energy weapon" as part of the EU's attempts to limit the economic influence of Russia's giant Gazprom "company" in the EU member states. It's a bona fide trade war. And then there's this essay in the Times Magazine about the new Kremlinology, guesstimating the course of Russian politics based on observation of the leadership's public activity and behavior. The new Kremlinology is especially hard because Putin is very much inclined to set his own rules - as when, a couple weeks ago, he suddenly fired his prime minister and appointed an unknown official to that post.

Amidst all this hubbub, news emerged in Finland that Boris Yeltsin had, in the cash-starved early 1990s, considered selling back to Finland the territory of Karelia, just east of Finland's current border with Russia. Finland had ceded much of "Karjala" to the Soviet Union in order to end the Winter War in 1940, giving up a tenth of its territory, its then second-biggest city, a major industrial zone, and of course a lot of national pride. The 1992 price for recovering this huge chunk of Suomi was to be a healthy $15 billion then (or about $19 billion now).  According to Helsingin Sanomat, "None of these plans got beyond the paper stage. The leadership of a country that was on the verge of disintegration decided that selling parts of Russia to Western countries would be too dangerous an experiment."

Alas, Finland might not have been able to accept the offer, even if it had been extended. As observers have pointed out, the county was in dire economic straits at the time, and the cost of absorbing Karjala would have been staggering - on a par, in relative terms, with the cost of unifying the two Germanies. Pekka Hakala at the Helsingin Sanomat: "The multi-billion-dollar Karelia Purchase would soon have been seen alongside all the belt-tightening and cuts being urged upon the public sector and set against the bread-lines that had recently appeared at Finnish Salvation Army citadels."Yeah, sure, we got Karelia, but it cost us the Welfare State" would have been a familiar jibe, whether or not it was strictly true.

     Russia would have hardly been likely to agree to massive internal migration out of the area, so along with the pristine forests and lakes of Karelia we would probably have acquired more than 300,000 new inhabitants, the great majority of them Russian-speakers.
      Besides, even if there had been some form of compulsory relocation, it would pretty soon have turned into an ugly ethnic-cleansing exercise in which the residents with Finno-Ugric family roots would have received better treatment."

So it never happened, and now, with Russia riding high on its tide of oil and gas money, won't. But what a powerful indication of the strangeness of Russian history.

Be Not Deceived

It may be 73.2°F outside, with a sultry 86% humidity and a steamy 69.7°F dew point, but by golly it's fall just the same: there's a constant shuuuuush of wind, and periodic gusts are lashing the trees. It's quite a nice sound, really.

Fun and Games

In that wonderful gap between coming home and having dinner, the girls and I usually play upstairs. Today, Vivi just tooled around in her hat, brandishing books, cooking at the toy stove, and doing other baby stuff. Julia, on the other hand, played hospital with me, which entailed her laying in bed, trying to look ill. "Daddy, come and take care of me. You must take care of me, because I am very sick. My hair hurts! My eyes hurt! My teeth and ears hurt! Give me some medicine!" I pretended to give her a shot, and put her leg in a "cast" (one of my old socks with the foot cut off). It may not seem like cutting-edge medicine, but it cured her. Tomorrow, maybe we can play Black Death!

Indoor Skiing

The Nordic countries are, of course, nutty for skiing. Proof of this admirable quality comes in the form of the new trend of underground or indoor skiing facilities, like the cross-country ski tunnels at Torsby, Sweden, and Vuokatti, Finland. And now good old Suomi is planning an indoor ski-jumping facility: a sort of enclosed ultra-wide tunnel with three jumps on which jumpers can practice and compete year-round (or at least when it's too warm to jump outside). As planned, it'll cost €30 million (about $42 million) - a small down payment on preventing global warming from ruining skiing.

Words to Live By

Julia seems to be doing better and better with the home-to-preschool transition on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Most "school days," I've been able to talk with her on the phone after she gets home, and she's already gotten in the habit of saying (verbatim), "Hi, Daddy. Preschool was good. I was a little sad when Mama left, but everything turned out okay." Words to live by.

Underground Lairs

So London is becoming - has become? - a playground for the ultra-rich, the most expensive city in the world. I dunno if that's true (the closest I've ever been to London, England, is New London, Connecticut), but the Times Online recently published a piece about the b/millionaires' newest money-spending scheme: building new stuff - gyms, pools, baths, cars, theatres - under the houses they own in land-starved London.

As prices in the plushest parts of London continue to soar, billionaire Russian oligarchs, private-equity traders and hedge-fund managers are engaged in a multimillion-pound game of one-upmanship as they vie with each other to dig ever bigger, wider and deeper extensions. Behind the white stucco fronts and redbrick exteriors of Belgravia and Chelsea, London’s super-rich are digging down and building outwards and upwards – and making use of the latest, priciest technology to do it.

Want to keep fit? Why not install an underground squash court – there are several under the streets of west London – or put in a climbing wall? How about a tennis court? One multimillionaire is believed to be considering building one. Fancy a swim? The latest must-have feature is an adjustable-height swimming pool. At the flick of a button – because everything is remote-controlled – the bottom can be raised or lowered by a giant hydraulic jack, forming a deep swimming pool for the heavyweight millionaire or a toddler-friendly paddling pool for his offspring. Optional extras include a retractable glass roof or a discreet cover that will slide over the pool, creating a ballroom or banqueting hall. It doesn’t have to be modern or minimal – one house in Mayfair has a Roman-style pool, complete with wonky columns.

Several owners are apparently competing to build a 4-metre-deep pool – double the maximum depth so far in the capital. One home in north London even has a bespoke chute covered in a special slippery paint, which enables the owner, who loves swimming first thing in the morning, but hates the fuss of dressing, to step out of bed and slide straight into the water a couple of storeys below. 

Stunning stuff.

(Via Bldg Blog by way of William Gibson.)

Fun Farmer

Sunday, I went with Julia on a short tour of the organic farm outside Northfield where she and Shannon had gone tomato-picking the other week. I was hesitant to go, since it meant giving up a whole afternoon with Genevieve, whom I see for a maximum of three hours every weekday.

But happily, Julia made it worthwhile by being hilarious and interested in almost the entire event. Whenever the tour got boring (discussions of recipes for Swiss chard), she stage-whispered something to me: "Where are all their animals? Why is there so much dirt? What smells like sauce?" (This question came while we walked down a row of basil - a key ingredient, of course in pasta sauce.) And most importantly, "Can I drive the tractor?" Turns out, she could.


The best moment of the tour came just after we looked at the farm's burgeoning tomato vines. We'd been nibbling on the cherry tomatoes as we walked, heeding one of the tour leader's instructions to pick some lest they spoil and go to waste. We paused to look at another crop, and when I turned around, Julia had sidled back to the chery tomatoes and started eating them by the handful. Everyone laughed, and she grinned happily, tomato juice running down her face. Later, as we picked some to take home, she told me, "Daddy, I already had five tomatoes, but I have to make sure this one is okay." Pop! Down the hatch it went. You can't really fault a kid for "sneaking" cherry tomatoes.

My Name Is Mud

I went for a run in the Arb after dark tonight. It was muddy.


It was also hella fun, chasing my headlamp light through the pitch-black woods. I had to go slow because of the bad footing and because I suddenly got very worried about meeting a skunk and getting the smelly end of that stick. I didn't.

Communicating Is Also Obscuring

Following on Shannon's post about some of Julia's charming utterances, and looking forward to Vivi starting her own very soon (she can't just say "Dada" forever, can she?), I will finally link to this Defective Yeti post about his son's willingness to name anything at all:

{I hold up a Hotwheels.}
Me: What's this?
Squiggle: It's a car.
M: That's right.
{I hold up an huge binder clip.}
M: And what's this?
S: It's a flongle.
M: It's a-- what?
S: A flongle. 

Killer stuff. Julia's not nearly so inventive in this respect. For months (a year?) now, she has replied to most questions to which she does not know the answer by quietly saying, "Yes." It's rather confounding, frankly. At least nowadays she's starting to say, "I don't know!" when she really doesn't know.

Prairie Island?

This sign recently appeared in front of some units in the little townhouse district which includes ours:


When I saw the sign for the first time, I thought, "Really? There's an island in the pond behind them?" Google Maps shows that it's wishful thinking. (The blue marker is where the sign stands.)

View Larger Map

Nothing to See Here

The upside of a beautiful autumn day marked by gorgeous blue skies, endless sunshine, a brisk breeze, temperatures in that 65° sweet spot, a ton of things going on in town, and good-natured girls? You can spend almost every moment of it outside, or inside doing fun stuff.

The downside? The day's myriad activities leave you too tired to blog.


I'm sitting in the chair in our bedroom, listening to Shannon explain one of our family friend's personal choices to Julia. "What's that thing that she has in her nose?" "That's a good question, honey. That's called a 'nose ring.' It's like my earring, but in her nose. It's a decoration for her nose." "Does she like it?" "Yes, she must like it, because she keeps it in." Thoughtful pause.

"Why does she have drawings all over her arms?" "That's another good question! Those are called 'tattoos.' They're special drawings that some people like to have on their bodies. Not many people do, but some people do. You have to go to a special store to pay someone money to have them draw the tattoos on you in a special way." "Do they come off?" "No, they stay on forever." "Do they come off if you dunk your arm in water?" "No, they don't." "Hmmm..."

Walking and Chalking

I came home today to discover that Genevieve could walk wherever she wanted at a pretty good clip. Yesterday, she was still staggering short distances and then either grabbing ahold of something or falling down. Just in the two hours between getting home and seeing her off to bed, she must have walked six or eight feet at least a half-dozen times. As fun as it is for me to watch her toddle around, though, it's awful hard to figure out how she feels about it. She keeps all her feelings hidden away inside, you know?


And as if that weren't enough accomplishment for one day, Viver also decided that today, she'd start actually using the sidewalk chalk, and stop trying to eat it. So both girls spent some time out back, drawin'.

(I drew the rainbow, but really, the unicorn (not pictured) is a far better example of my skills.)

Slumming in a Small Town

The thing about Northfield is that you see everyone everywhere. I saw my city councilman at the coffeeshop on Wednesday morning, and a prominent city mover-and-shaker in the locker room at the Carleton gym that afternoon. On even the shortest walk downtown, I'll cross paths with a half-dozen faculty or staff.

Never knowing whom I will encounter, you might think I take care to not, you know, look like a bum when I'm out and about. Most of the time, I do. This evening, though, not so much. After a run in the Arb, I headed to the downtown grocery store for a few things. I was sweaty, my hair was sticking straight up from the humidity, my legs were muddy from the trail, my shoes are old and filthy, and I was wearing a windvest in a cut and color that were au courant in about 1999 - about five years before I wiped out while roller-skiing and tore a series of holes in the front. In short, I was looking great.

Inevitably, I almost immediately ran into a colleague from campus - right after I threw some on-sale junk food atop five pounds worth of fresh fruit. Perfect. Strangely, she didn't seem inclined to a long conversation.

Slipsliding Away

When I got home, late, this afternoon, I found a note on the door telling me that Julia and Genevieve wanted to go outside right away. (The note was necessary because if Juliaa has any option at all, she'll usually choose anything other than going outside: speed and certainty is of the essence!)

So sixty seconds later, we three were in the backyard, clambering all over our illicit Little Tikes playset. While I helped Genevieve go up and down the slide, Julia practiced climbing up and over the side of the toy. This didn't come easy, and she nearly tipped the whole set over a few times before figuring out where to plant her feet and shift her weight just so.

Somehow, these two activities merged into a game in which the Monkey Princess climbed into the toy and tried to go down the slide, which was guarded by the Baby Dragon who, though fearsome, managed to zoom up and out of the way every time the Monkey Princess came through. Both girls were laughing and shrieking and genearlly carrying on with great delight. When, after about twenty minutes of this enjoyable nonsense, we headed in for dinner, Julia chuckled the whole way, saying to herself, "Daddy, that sure was a funny game!"

Sticks and Stones

For whatever reason, both girls were in fine verbal form tonight. After her bath, Genevieve looked up at a picture that shows two little girls and an elephant, pointed at it, and said, smirking, "Dada!" I shook my head, not realizing she was making fun, and said, "No! That's not Dada!" She shook her head back at me and said, still smirking, "Dada!" Oh, I get it - I'm either a little girl in her Sunday best, or an elephant skipping rope.

Later, during her own bath, Julia was talking about the kids in her nursery-school class. "And there's Matthew, too." She thought for a moment, then said, "Hey! 'Matthew' sounds like 'bathroom'! Matthew bathroom! Bathroom Matthew! That rhymes!" I hope my kid isn't That Kid on the second-grade playground...

Ground Stop

There's not much to say on the macro level about this sixth anniversary of 9/11: we're not safer, bin Laden is on the loose, we're trapped in Iraq.

So I'll go micro for a minute. This morning, as I left for work at about 8 a.m. (9 a.m. Eastern time: just about the time of the attacks), I saw one of my neighbors outside, walking her dog. I waved; she didn't wave back, and in fact looked rather stricken. I didn't mind too much, given that this is the sixth anniversary of the death of her son, Tom Burnett, Jr., aboard United Flight 93 - the plane brought down when a group of passengers, including Burnett, apparently attacked the hijackers. I didn't see Mr. Burnett, Sr., today. I can't imagine what a day like today must to to you when your connection to the attacks is so direct.

(Update: Not ten minutes after posting this, Tom Burnett, Sr., was on the KARE-11 news from Minneapolis, talking about his opposition to the proposed memorial to Flight 93, which was blogged here.)

Surely, No Coincidence

Poor Genevieve is miserable right now, unable to walk as much or as capably as she'd like, and she's letting every drop of her rage out every day. It was surely no coincidence, was it, that last night the thermometer* in her room read "66.6 F."

* We have to keep a thermometer in her room because it has the most wildly varying temperature swings of any room in the house, and she's awfully susceptible to waking up from being either too hot or too cold.

Miles to Go

Apart from the World Cup cross-country ski racing circuit, there are a few other big races that I am excited to follow each year, such as the 90km (56 mile) Vasaloppet in Sweden and the 70km (43.5 mile) Marcialonga in Italy. Besides being fantastically long, both events attract thousands of competitors who run the gamut from "tourers" who just plod along hours to citizen racers who go pretty damn fast for a very long time all the way up to elite racers who zoom along faster than marathon runners. (The men's winner of last year's Marcialonga finished in 2:07:17 - taking just 142 seconds more than the current men's marathon world record to cover 17.3 more miles.)

And but so, I was excited to see that two of my favorite skiers, Frode Estil and Hilde Pedersen of Norway, are going to race in the Marcialonga in January. 43 years old, Pedersen sometimes forms a relay team with her twin 19-year-old daughters, but she won the Marcialonga in 2007 and must already stand as the favorite. Estil has never won one of the marathons, but he did take a gold and a silver in the world championship 50km races in 2005 and 2007, so he knows how to ski long distances. What's more, he's now training intensively for the ultra-long races. Winning the Marcialonga would be a huge accomplishment - and a great tune-up for a run at the Vasaloppet in March.


So I ran in a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) road race today, part of the insanely elaborate "Defeat of Jesse James Days" festival here in Northfield. (It's Minnesota's biggest all-volunteer community event!)

The race was hugely fun, and, hilariously, it appears that I won my age group with a time of 22:02, good for 18th overall in a men's field of 122, 4:07 back of the winner. There were only five guys in my age group, and most of the really speedy runners were in the knee-grindingly long 15km that went off at the same time, but still, I get a prize! I'm on pins and needles wondering what it will be. Rest assured I'll blog it here.

This was my first running race since the end of the track season during my senior year of high school, and the race accordingly felt pretty weird. I started running with a friend, but we were separated in the start-line scrum when a zillion high-schoolers can blasting through (only to fade on the only decent hill). Running alone, I felt like I was going very slow, yet ran far faster than I had in any training session. Though I could hardly register my time and heart-rate data on my watch, I pretty much stuck to my race plan, maintaining a good pace and ceding just one place after the initial sort-out in the first mile. I did almost get into a bit of trouble at mile two when a couple guys veered in front of me to get Gatorade at the aid station: an energy drink in a three-mile race? Useless, man. And I felt a bit embarrassed to be enjoying the cheers of the spectators: I'd forgotten about that almost primal surge of energy you can get from other people's shouts and yells.

Up the Creek Lane

Almost all of my runs and skis, many of our family walks, and quite a few drives take me down Creek Lane, just around the corner from our place. The street is unremarkable except maybe for the large size of some of the houses and for the high number of kids who are seemingly always outside playing. I don't even know if these kids live in any of the houses on the street, but they do lend the street an air of permanent carnival. They sit for literally hours in a fishing boat on its trailer, pretending to cast lines into the street. They zoom on their garish BMX bikes up and down the sidewalks. They stage "olympics" that involve running and rollerblade races. They stalk, weeping, across the street after a mom yells at them for picking on each other. They make incredibly elaborate chalk drawings that spill down one driveway along the sidewalks in either direction. They ask me where I got my rollerskis, and then try to ride their bikes faster than I'm going. (So far I've won one and lost one.) They play the same simple roll on a shiny blue snare drum on some unfortunate's lawn. They leave two dirty socks on opposite sides of a driveway, and forget them for days.

Thanks, But No Thanks

For whatever reason, there have been relatively few moments with Vivi when I've said, "That's just like Julia!" Maybe it's that they're such different kids; maybe it's that I have a bad memory. But one little parallel has emerged in the last week: Vivi's insistence that we cannot share the handle of anything she thinks she's pushing. On Sunday at Target, she repeatedly and pointedly lifted my hands up and off the shopping cart handle so that she alone could hold on. Of course, I was the one doing the pushing, even if she was the one being pushy, so the cart kept stopping, which infuriated her enough that I could push again for a few seconds. And today, out for a stroll with her walker, she kept pausing to roughly push my hands off the handle. This interruption caused less trouble, since she's very good at going straight and fast.


It's not quite googling yourself, but occasionally I search for "Tossavanlahti," a village in the lake country of central Finland. The name literally means something like "Tossava Bay," and it bears a strong resemblance to my paternal family's original Finnish name, Tossavainen.

Today, my search turned up a picture of "Tossavanlahti Excursion Harbour," a boat landing near the village at the northern end of Vuomanonlahti or "Vouma[no?] Bay," which is itself an arm of Nilakka, a fairly large lake. The little online description for the spot reads, in part, "Beware of rocks on the shore side. A barbecue place, toilets." That goes double for you! And ain't the "harbour" grand?


Here's the locale in Google Maps. Be sure to zoom out to get the full effect of its being in the middle of nowhere - much like the locations the Tossavainens (and their ilk) chose in the United States. I love them all.

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Walking and Talking

Today's quiet atmosphere was punctuated by Vivi taking several steps at a couple different moments, including actually walking around the corner and out of the room on me. (She fell down about three feet away, but out of sight!)

And Julia, having just listened to me read Olivia Forms a Band, asked numerous questions about the last picture, which shows Olivia dreaming of being on the U.S. Supreme Court. "Who is the Sucket, Daddy? Why do the people on the Sucket wear black suits?" I had a little bit of a hard time figuring out that "sucket" = "Supreme Court," but when you think about it, she's not far off the mark.

Quite a Day

Shannon already put up a wonderful post about Julia's first day of preschool, an event which was long anticipated, quick to pass, and now over. Good lord, isn't that kid cute? Be sure to see my comment to Shannon's post, which (I think) adds some context.

Little could, really, compare to this milestone, but the day had some other interesting bits, too. After visiting some friends, Genevieve started saying "Papa," which is what the friends' kids call their dad. She wasn't really calling me by that name, but she said it with the smallest, roundest angel voice and a big grin...

As I mentioned yesterday, I facilitated a discussion group on the College's common reading, and had a good time. The kids were all freakishly smart and well-spoken. We're in good hands. Unless they all flunk out after spending fall term tweaking their Facebook pages.

And finally, I went running in the Arb in the dark tonight, with only my little Petzl headlamp (the one that I was wearing when I fell into Lake Superior, almost exactly six years ago) to light the way. It was strange and exhilarating to run continually toward a small pool of light about six feet in front of me, hearing little sounds off in the blackness on either side, occasionally seeing something with yellow eyes dart this way or that, and ducking once when a bat flew right at my lamp, but having no real sense of how fast or far I was going. I neither fell into the river nor got lost, so it was a pretty good time.

That Noise

A few minutes ago, NPR played a few seconds of Luciano Pavarotti singing. From the other room, Julia asked indignantly, "What''s that noise?"

World Wide Open

Today, the first year students arrived, lending campus an underpopulated but overactive air. I'm "facilitating" one of the common reading discussion groups tomorrow, along with a rising senior, so I'm soon to actually meet some of the best and brightest. (The college chose Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains as the common reading this year.)

For the past few days, Shannon and I have been debating whether those first days of freshman year were fun or dreadful. She's advocating the latter position, more or less; I'm staking out the former. All the new, interesting people to meet! Living away from home! Taking fascinating courses! Choosing a major! The prospect of meeting girls who didn't prefer hockey players! (Ahem.) But, rushing to the car after a late meeting this afternoon, I did pass several small groups of freshmen doing those horrifying "icebreaker" activities, including the awful one where everyone first stands in a circle, then crouches simultaneously so they wind up sitting on the knees of the person behind. Automagically, the circle supports itself, and everyone is made a little bit lamer than they were already. I suppose that's the point.

Glug, Glug, Boom, Boom

The September 2007 issue of Wired includes an advertising supplement (pdf) built around a story on the A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant, the centerpiece of the California State Water Project, which is the system by which water is brought from northern California down to L.A., San Diego, the San Joaquin Valley. The project is - as they say - an engineering marvel, and the pumping plant is the most marvelous part of the project, responsible for pumping zillions of gallons of water up and over a mountain range north of L.A.

Reading the story, though, all I could think is, "Holy crap: what a target for a truck bomb." Disabling the plant would apparently deprive much of Southern California of water, and though I'm sure there are some redundancies built into the CSWP, it sure sounds like the Edmonston Plant is the critical link. I suppose it's a commonplace by now, just a few days short of six years since 9/11, but really: hasn't al-Qaeda won some sort of victory when "what a great target for terrorists!" is a default reaction?


Two little snippets of Genevieve's life:

1. At the park on Monday, I put Genevieve down in front of the tunnel, and she climbed right though it, grinning the whole way (and only once pausing to nibble on some rocks). Her sister was much less intrepid.


2. Genevieve loves cheerios, but she loves the cheerios box even more, on account of the pictures of a bear, a kid, tomatoes, and other stuff on the back. This morning she actually started to cry when I wouldn't let her hold the box with her sticky, peach-juicy hands. After getting cleaned up, she played with the box for an almost disturbingly long time.


Something For Everyone

Much like yesterday, today had something for everyone - though occasionally I wished that "everyone" had been someone else:

  • Early-ish wakeups for everyone, again.
  • A big meltdown by Julia after breakfast.
  • Genevieve taking a 20-minute morning nap.
  • A fun trip to the park and campus, with Julia in the bike trailer and the other girls going by car.
  • Managing another massive meltdown from Julia when I had to cut short a trike "ride" that had devolved into her sititng on the immobile trike and begging me to push it even though I was already shepherding Genevieve along the sidewalk behind her walker.
  • Very early lunches and naps for the girls.
  • A long and too-hard rollerski workout that had me seeing stars after overexerting in the heat.
  • Narrowly avoiding another big meltdown by taking the two girls to the playground at Menards while Shannon napped.
  • Trying to explain to Julia an NPR story in which a writer described how she didn't cry when she went to kindergarten, and getting choked up when I said that some kids miss their moms and dads at school. (When I said this, she replied, "I won't cry, because I will love all the books at preschool!")
  • Watching, at Menards, a man wearing a "World's Greatest Dad" t-shirt merely stare and keep talking on his cellphone while his five-year-old daughter first put her head entirely inside a plastic shopping bag, cinching the ties around her neck, and (after removing the bag) then pull his overloaded cart backwards into a display of paint cans, nearly squashing herself.
  • Coming home to have a fantastic dinner at which everyone was very well behaved.
  • Cutting Genevieve's bath short when she pooped and pooped and kept pooping in the tub.
  • Giving Julia a good bath, and cracking up at all her silliness.
  • Going to Genevieve when she protested bedtime with unusually bad crying, singing her a song, and having Julia barge in, eyes wide, to show me a picture in a Richard Scarry book of a policeman, whom she immediately mapped into a blues song ("John Hardy") I'd stupidly played for her the other day. (Damn you, Dan Zanes!) "That's the powiceman who took Johh Hardy by the arm!"
  • Reading Julia a couple stories before bed and having her turn to me and say, with utmost sincerity, "I sure love you, Daddy."
  • Enjoying an unusually long evening - to which I now return.

On the Seventh Day, They Sure as Hell Didn't Rest

Now, that was a busy day, featuring early wake-ups, Viver down for her morning nap by 8:15 a.m., a subsequent trip to the playground and Cub with Julia, a surprisingly hard 20km rollerski in the unexpectedly high heat, tons of Play-Doh'ing with both girls, and then a long and almost impossibly fun party with some fellow Northfielders ( 4(1 mother + 1 father) x 4(2 kids) = mayhem/tons of good food), a rush-rush bedtime routine after we got home, and now, thank god, a few minutes of downtime. Whee!

Rick Rubin, Hubertus Bigend

I'm making my way through the last-but-one William Gibson novel, Pattern Recognition (2003), and finding it good but not quite up to the level of his new book, Spook Country. Still, Gibson has a knack for evoking, in a way that doesn't make the reader necessarily feel way or another, the kind of power and control which the very rich and very talented can carry with them. Hubertus Bigend, a character shared by the two novels, is an archetypal in this respect, but fictional successor to many other, earlier Gibson characters. And but so, this long, engrossing profile of the record producer Rick Rubin makes him sound like a Gibson character - especially a character from a Gibson novel set in the present day, like PR and SC. Highly recommended.

Draining Training

I went for my favorite rollerski today, a 20km (12.4 mile) out-and-back route on some country roads east of Northfield. The first and last 5km or so cover the same stretch of rolling hills, which are an easy warmup on the way out and a series of back-killing challenges on the way home, when I'm usually gassed. The hills were especially hard today, as I had not been able to roll since last weekend (losing some of that specific mix of balance and strength that only rollerskiing itself can maintain), I underestimated the heat and so neglected to bring water, and because I encountered an evil wind that reversed during my session, giving me an easterly headwind on the way out and a westerly headwind on the way in. But in the week since my last rollerski, the soybean fields have started to change from their lush green summer hue to the acid-yellow color of fall and harvest.

As with parenting, the worst workout is still better than good sessions of many other activities. And I was happy to see, as I cleaned up my workout log the other day, that since getting myself back running and rollerskiing in May, I have spent 67 hours outside under my own power, and covered just over 800km, a shade over 500 miles or about the distance from Northfield to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not much compared to someone who runs a five miler every day without fail, but better than the, uh, 0 hours and 0 miles I'd accumulated in the nine months following Vivi's birth.


My last update to Flickr was in late July; I just made up for this with a very large upload of new stuff.

A Bad Day of Parenting...

... is still better than a good day at work. Maybe.

Today was a study in contrasts. Both girls being bears all morning: Gigi out of tiredness before and after skipping her nap and maybe a bit of sore gums, Julia out of plain toddlerishness (begging to go for a "run" around the block, then standing still on the sidewalk for minutes at a time).

Things dramatically improving after a walk in the late-summer sun, big lunches, and good naps. I knew Julia was going to have a much better afternoon when, just before her nap, she started pretending to be the Cat in the Hat. She's never the book, but she knows the character from the logo on the side of some other Dr. Seuss books we own, and extrapolates from there. Settling in to my lap for her pre-nap story, she told me that unlike Julia, who had gotten a haircut the day before, Cat in the Hat had had a "furcut, right here, under my crazy hat."

Though still not her usual effervescent self, Gigi was fine after a nap, several sippy-cups full of water, and amazing quantities of food. She spent her afternoon trying to climb up on very tall things (she hoists herself on to the sofa now, even though the cushions are nose-high, by getting both arms on the seat and then swinging one foot all the way up, too), reading books, kissing her sister, and posing for photos that Julia took with our camera. 


Julia actually took quite a few pictures, many of which show me looking impaired but several of which are rather nice shots! I've put them up in her own Flickr set.

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