Blowing & Drifting
Things are dire all around the world's ski-racing scene. The first two events in the World Cup Tour de Ski, scheduled to be held in Nove Mesto, Czechoslovakia, on the 29th and 30th, were canceled for lack of snow. By ditching the prologue and a shortened pursuit race, the TdS shrinks down to six stages over eight days, and becomes somewhat less friendly to sprinters, who were likely to do well in those initial, short-distance events. The three Scandinavian countries are sending typically strong teams. My picks:
Here in the states, my dad reports that lack of snow in the Upper Peninsula, a.k.a. Big Snow Country, is jeopardizing the U.S. Nationals, to be held in Houghton, Michigan, in the first week of January. Looking at the finish-area webcam, you can see why. Of course, as I write this post, the nightly news is reporting "heavy snow" in the U.P. Here's hoping they get enough between now and New Year's Day to let them run one of the biggest elite-sports events in U.P. history.
Tonight, we had early Christmas here in Northfield, in advance of our trip for the day itself to Moorhead. I have tons of photos to share (and not, I discovered in looking at my digital photo collection, just from this evening), but I only had time tonight to put up a few in the "Christmas 2006" set on Flickr. Julia, of course, has in heaven as she opened one present after another. I was pleased to see her glom onto one gift from Mom & Dad (a circus-animal play set), one from Grandma (Oscar the Grouch doll), and one from Grandpa (a set of toy tools). While she readily combined #2 and #3, she didn't get to play with #1 before bedtime. This led, naturally, to her plaintive call over the monitor: "Daddy, I'm wakin' up. I'm very ready to play with my circus. Please come in, Daddy! I'm wakin' up!" Tomorrow, my dear.
Blogging's going to be very light over the next week, owing to the festivities, but I plan to connive for any and all chance to post during our travels.
This is the latest entry in my chain of posts - begun on Xferen last fall and on hiatus since about last spring - about how my new job is better than my old one. Oh, there are so many ways, but here's a recent example.
As those of us in my office discussed our holiday-vacation plans, it occurred to me that I really didn't have a count of the number of vacation days I had to use. I hoarded them all the way through 2006, then blew most of them on my paternity leave. So I called Human Resources to find out where - online? my paycheck? - I could find out how many vacation days I had left. Turns out that as an exempt employee ("exempt," as my boss always jokes, "from overtime pay"), I am responsible for calculating my own vacation hours based on the accrual rates available in the staff handbook and my own records of time off. In other words, there's no record. It's the honor system. If the work's getting done, and your boss is okay with your time off, you're clear.
Genevieve: She is drooling like a mad dog lately. When I took off her clothes last night, the front of her shirt was completely soaked, all the way down to her waistband, and her pants were pretty damp, too. The constantly-wet chin and lips only makes her grins more endearing, and the spittle makes for some interesting *pbbbbt* experiments in soundmaking.
Nobody drinks more coffee than the Finns, so maybe my addiction is genetic. The Helsinki City Library recently posted a great article on the history of coffee drinking in Finland, which includes such information as "coffee consumption per capita in Finland [in 2004] was 11.99 kg, which is approximately 3.8 cups of coffee a day. In the same year, coffee consumption was 4.26 kg per person in the USA, 2.43 kg in the UK, 8.06 kg in Sweden and 3.36 kg in Japan."
That's a lot of joe. I wonder if this tradition from the nineteenth century survives: "In the archipelago and in North-Finland it was earlier usual to drink coffee with salt, or make coffee in sea water. Like that people drank less coffee than they otherwise would have done."
I hope not.
Four months ago, taking care of both girls at the same time nearly brought me to tears - manly weepage composed of 2% tears and 98% testosterone, but tears nonetheless. Tonight, I didn't even really notice when I was simultaneously putting a post-bath diaper on Julia while also putting pajamas on Genevieve as she squalled with hunger and tiredness. After Shannon took Gigi for nursing and nighttime, I went to read bedtime stories to Julia.
After we read her two books, it took me about ten seconds to reshelve the books and turn down her covers. In that time, she staggered, in the way she does when she's all but asleep on her feet, across the room and fell headfirst into a basket of stuffed animals. When I went over to help her back to her feet, she looked up at me and said, apropos of nothing, "Daddy wearing his gasses! I yike Daddy's gasses more than Mama's gasses." "Why, honey?" "Because Daddy reads my bedtime stories with his gasses." As I laughed at this charming non sequitur, her consciousness kept streaming: "When I am getting ready for bed, Mama puts on her glasses in the meantime." I could only shake my head - how many 30-month old kids know how to use "meantime" properly? I only know the one, but she's a good one, just like her sister.
Genevieve woke up altogether too early this morning, so after she nursed and talked to herself for a while, I grudgingly took her downstairs, where we had a great time. She was propped up on a pillow so she could see her "baby gym" and me, but all she really wanted to do was flash her great little smile and make the most high-pitched sounds this side of echolocation. She does this thing now where she makes eye contact, smiles, and then turns her head coyly into her shoulder. It was wonderful.
After about a half hour of this, we heard her sister wake up. Julia was very content to stay in bed and sing - at very high volume - a selection of her favorite songs, including "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." This tune was sung in a variety of tempos, from Nat King Cole crooning to Anthony Kiedis sing-rapping. As if that weren't funny enough, she would, after ending each stanza, exclaim, "That was wonderful!" just like Bert does on one of her favorite Sesame Street songs, and then compliment Piggy, the stuffed animal she's borrowing from Genevieve ("until she is oh-der and can hode it by herself"): "Good job, Piggy! I yike how you danced!" Pause, then, "Twinkle, twinkle..."
It's hard to believe, but this was an even better way to start the day than a cup of coffee and the paper.
Looking out the window this morning, I noticed some unusually large, broad-winged birds soaring above the park north of our place. Looking through the binoculars, I was surprised to see that they were a pair of bald eagles. Arid midwinter subdivisions aren't exactly bald-eagles usual or best habitat, but whatever. They gradually drifted off toward the Cannon River, which is (marginally) more appropriate. Quite a strange and impressive sight.
Well, I was way off on my picks for the La Clusaz mass-start skating races today - not one of my picks for the podium spots wound up there. Surprisingly, Virpi Kuitunen won the women's 15km. She has superlative classical technique but had been viewed as lacking top-level skating abilities. No more. And her sprinter's kick came proved awfully handy in breaking clear of a large pack and winning by 0.30 seconds over another Finn, Riita Liisa Roponen. The emerging Italian star Adriana Follis took third, edging Katerina Neumannova - my pick for the overall win. The first five finishers crossed the line within two seconds of Kuitunen, the top ten within six seconds.
The pack was tight in the men's 30km, too. Ole Einar Bjørndalen, my pick to win after his dominating performance at Gëllivare and on the biathlon circuit, faded badly, ending up sixteenth. A late, futile attack by Swede Matthias Fredriksson broke up the field and sent Tobias Angerer (Germany) and Evgeni Dementiev and Alexander Legkov (both Russia) toward the line in a three-way sprint. The bull-necked Angerer - probably the best finisher in the World Cup - eked out the win, .6 up on Legkov and .8 on Dementiev (who had won a gold at Torino by emerging from a massive field sprint in the pursuit).
With Sunday's relays still to come, the two individual winners have already staked a big claim to the Tour de Ski, the next round of competition. Versatility in technique and distance will be critical, as the Tour includes eight races in ten days - three classic-style events ranging from less than 5km up to 15km/30km, four freestyle events ranging from 1km sprints to 10km/15km, and a combined-technique double pursuit. All but two events are mass or pursuit starts, pressure-filled affairs which put a premium on the steely nerves that Angerer and Kuitunen today demonstrated they have.
My revised picks for the relays:
Shannon recently blogged about the forgetfulness and scatter-mindedeness brought on by being a mother, but being a father has done a number on me, too. Two nights ago, one of Genevieve's shoes went missing after her bath. Last night, after scouring (nearly) every place the @#$# shoe could have gone, I pulled up my shirtsleeves and actually dug through all the garbage in our dumpter, bag by bag, diaper by diaper. It was nearly as emetic as the previous Friday, but I didn't find the shoe. Then, at about ten p.m., it suddenly occurred to me that the shoe must have gotten tangled up in some pajamas I planned to put on Genevieve but instead put back in the dresser. Sure enough, the shoe was there in the clean, dry drawer.
Taking advantage of the ridiculously warm temperatures, Shannon and the girls came by my office today to drop off our family Christmas cards and some holiday cookies. On the way out, we crossed paths with Carol, a wonderful coworker who, several months ago, gave the girls a stuffed toy horse and a pair of books about a mischievous kitten named Sebastian. Carol had never met Shannon, Julia, or Genevieve, so I did the introductions. I wasn't even quite finished when Julia leaned toward Carol and blurted out, in her breathless, semi-stuttery way, "Tha-tha-thank you very mu-much, Carol, for the h-h-horsey and the Sepass-ssion books!" I was flabbergasted - my shy little toddler, on her own, not only remembering the gifts and the giver but summoning up the courage to thank the giver in such a polite way. It was one of those moments where I could see the kid grow up right in front of me.
The nordic skiing season in Europe is almost on hold for lack of snow - a situation which one Nordic meteorologist predicted may all but end skiing in Scandinavia by 2050. In the here and now, it's just messy. Last weekend's cross-country sprint and distance competitions in Italy were replaced by a pair of distance races this Wednesday. The weekend's jumping competition in the Czech Republic were cancelled outright, after the previous weekend's competition was moved from Trondheim to Lillehammer, Norway - where Swiss Simon Amman and Austrian teenager Gregor Schlierenzauer won.
This is one of Julia's favorite Christmas-tree "ormaments." I asked her the other day what it said, and she replied, "Julia!" I started to say, "That's right!" but she went on, "Put this on the twee and put on the twee many other ormaments, too."
I guess that's right enough. The extra part must be printed on the other side.
Light blogging this weekend, on account of the good old norovirus, which hit me on Friday and really hit me on Friday night.
Julia hardly ever refuses to eat a particular food, but last night she drew the line at tofu - which she loved to the point of obsession last year. She took a bite-sized piece from our stir fry, put it in her mouth, tried to chew, then spat it out carefully. "I don't like toe-food, Mama."
My posts about Iceland (just above) and about the cyclocross racer who fell into an icy lake (further below) remind me of an incident that happened in September 2001, while on a hiking trip in the U.P.'s Porcupine Mountains State Park. Around dusk, we'd set up camp at a site along the shore of Lake Superior (somewhere near Lone Rock on this map [pdf]).
By the time dinner ended, it was very dark, the kind of saturated blackness you can only find in the wilderness. Wearing my headlamp, I went over to the lake to rinse out the dishes. My first step onto the slippery rocks that compose the lakeshore there was a misstep, and I went right into the water, all the way. I may have bumped my head on the way down, because my headlamp flew off into the waves. I remember pulling myself up to all fours, not quite breathing but still holding onto one of the cooking pans, and turning to see the ghostly white-yellow light of the lamp under a foot of ice-cold water. I reached out and grabbed the lamp, put it back on my head, carefully stood up, and stepped back onto the shore.
I don't remember being cold at all, even crouching there and washing the dishes. After that chore was done, I dried out in front of the campfire, since the "travel light and fast" ethic of my fellow hikers meant I didn't have a change of clothes. The next day, we finished our hike and drove back to Chicago. The day after that, I tried to fly back home to Minneapolis, but during my ride to the airport, the Twin Towers were attacked and I was "ground stop"ped at Midway; I finally drove home on the thirtheenth in one of the last rental cars in Chicago, listening to Neal Conan on NPR interview, one after another, survivors and friends or relatives of the dead.
Today is Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, home of my expatriate sister, brother-in-law, and new niece. In many ways, the holiday is a traditional gift-giving event linked (more or less loosely) to Christian traditions. And then, my friends, there's the blackface worn by Sinterklaas' helpers, "Black Peters" or Zwarte Pieten. "Tradition states that Sinterklaas' helpers are not black slaves, but have black faces from sliding down chimneys to deliver presents." Uh, sure. If you're a naughty kid, they kidnap you and take you back to Madrid - you know, the capital of the country which brutally ruled the Netherlands for 150 years, and a place where, historically, Moors - Muslims! - have featured prominently.
In an IM today, my dad wrote, "It is quite a coincidence that both the son and son in law are riding bikes to work rather than BMWs." (My brother-in-law Dan, being domiciled with my newly postpartum sister and their "babytje" in the Netherlands, has to "cycle" everywhere.) I'd never noticed that before, but yes, it is rather strange. Between my household and theirs, we have four master's, two PhDs, and no luxury cars. Something's amiss.
Heated seats would have been nice today, especially as I headed to work this morning: the air temp was about 10 degrees, but the 15 mph wind - coming from the west, the direction in which I was traveling - made it seem like 15 below. On the plus side, today is my 44th consecutive workday of commuting by bike, putting me just six days away from my official goal of 50 workdays. On the plus-plus side, I didn't suffer the fate of this cyclocross racer, who fell through the ice on a lake during a race in Missouri this weekend, but climbed out of the water and won the race. That is hard core.
<grinch>We had a magical evening here, kicking off the holiday season. I don't know what was the best part: almost dropping a toboggan on my head while I tried to lift the artificial-tree box down from the shelf in the garage; going up to comfort Genevieve after she slid sideways down the incline we've installed in her crib to forestall the nocturnal screamings; freezing my hands as I shaped the ice-cold metal underneath the plastic needles of the fake tree branches; running upstairs with ice water for Julia, suddenly sick with her zillionth cold since August; or fighting to get a mangled ornament away from the cat. </grinch>
And we don't even have any snow!