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Be It Resolved

Two thousand seven was a very good year. I'll not mind a bit more rest and relaxation in 2008, if that comes to pass, but I'll be a happy guy in twelve months if '08 is half as good as '07 has been. Four things I'll remember about the year:

Genevieve learning to walk and going from a busy little bug to the busiest toddler ever.

Julia starting - and loving - preschool, with all the attendant independence and growth.

Shannon mastering the job of being at home with two kids, which turns out to be exponentially more difficult than being at home with "just" one.

Apart from watching the above happen, my pleasing sense of really contributing at work and my enjoyment of getting back into the fitness swing of things.

Looking forward, here are my resolutions for the next year, in no particular order (and omitting most of the subsidiary goals):

* Eat no potato chips - not quite as horrifying as trying to avoid pizza, but close.
* Continue my fitness activities, from working out almost every day to doing a bit of ski and road racing.
* Get more organized at home and at work, including especially cutting down on post-grad school detritus.
* Cut down on non-family, non-work obligations.

Happy New Year!

Tour de Ski - Rest Day 1

The Tour de Ski took its first rest day today, in advance of two more days of racing at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Yesterday brought the tour to Prague for freestyle sprints which offered huge time bonuses for the highest places. This turned out to matter enormously on the men's side, not too much on the women's.

Going in to the sprints, the top of the men's general classification was dominated by distance racers who were unlikely to make the finals of the sprints. One of the few all-rounders in the top ten, Simen Oestensen of Norway, took advantage, finishing second in the men's final and taking sufficient bonus time to vault from fifth into the overall lead, 12 seconds up on former leader Lukas Bauer. Fellow Norwegians Tor Arne Hetland and Petter Northug, buried in the overall standings before the sprint, jumped up to third and fifth overall. The best-named racer in the field, Russian Maxim Vylegzhanin, maintained his fourth-place spot in the overall. On the whole, the sprint compressed the men's standings, shrinking from 25 to 14 the number of racers within 60 seconds of the lead and putting five within 30 seconds of the top.

The women's overall exhibited quite a bit more stability. Overall leader Marit Bjorgen enlarged her gap over the second-place racer from 2/10s of a second to more than nine, and that second spot was taken over by the rising Italian racer Arianna Follis, who jumped up from eighth by winning the final ahead of a low-placed Finn and Bjorgen. Pole Justyna Kowalczyk and Finn Virpi Kuitunen kept their respective third and fourth places in the overall, just over 20 seconds behind Bjorgen. As on the men's side, the top of the field was dramatically compressed by the sprint event, with the number of racers inside a minute of the lead falling from 23 to just 9.

All of this tightening makes stage four on New Year's Day all the more interesting. A  freestyle pursuit, stage four duplicates Sunday's stage two races right down to the courses at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, where Bjorgen and Bauer just won on Sunday. (Stages 4 and 5 were to be held at Oberstdorf, Germany, but television-rights problems prevented the organizers there from staging the races.) Bjorgen and Bauer must be considered the favorites, though in the men's 15km, it is likely that the Norwegians Oestensen, Hetland, and Northug will try to put time into Bauer - perhaps with some team racing. Pretty much everyone will be hard pressed to close Bjorgen's 10-second head start in the women's 10km, so the real tactical racing may occur behind her as the pack assembles and its members vie with one another to break away and put time into each other. My picks:

men's 15km

1. Northug

2. Bauer

3. Hetland

women's 10km

1. Bjorgen
2. Kowalczyk
3. Kuitunen

Small Town Skiing

Getting into my skis this afternoon, I started chatting with a guy who was just finishing his ski. (By unwritten law, you have to ask, "How is it?" to anyone who is coming off the trails.) We ended up talking about some mutual interests in some upcoming races, and when I finally introduced myself, he recognized me and told me his name. He's the lawyer who prepared our wills. His glasses, ski hat, and rather unlawyerly workout clothing kept me from recognizing him, just as my gear kept him from recognizing me. I'm 90% sure I didn't know the two guys who were starting their session just as I ended mine, 45 minutes later.

Tour de Ski - Stage 2

Today's two Tour de Ski pursuit-style races at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, could not have turned out differently.

In the women's 10km race, Virpi Kuitunen quickly wasted her head start over the rest of the field, falling back to a foursome of pursuers by about a third of the way into the race.  Though she hung with that group for much of the rest of the race, Sweden's Charlotte Kalla surged away to a substantial lead that she then ceded in the last kilometer as Marit Bjorgen surged past for the stage win and the overall lead in the tour.

In utter opposition to Kuitunen, men's leader Lukas Bauer took advantage of his six-second head start to build a giant lead over a huge pack of chasers. Up 25 seconds at the 2.6km time check, Bauer stretched that to nearly a minute at the last time check. Behind him, nearly 20 racers were clustered within five seconds or so. After a messy crash that knocked a pair of Italians around, Swedes Anders Soedergren and Marcus Hellner broke away, with Hellner taking the sprint for second and Soedergren finishing third.

Going into Sunday's sprint event in the historical district of Prague, everything appears to be pointed toward the huge bonus time awards on offer: the first place finishers will have 60 seconds of time deducted from their cumulative racing time, for instance. Bjorgen must be considered the women's favorite. Her overall advantage is just two-tenths of a second over Kalla and seven seconds over Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, but a solid 15 seconds on Kuitunen. Kuitunen must try to win the sprint so as to capture the 60 seconds of bonus time and pull back closer to Bjorgen, who in turn must try to finish high and gain offsetting bonus time of her own. Neither can let Kowalczyk or another good sprinter sneak in for any important bonus time.

Though Bauer isn't a particularly good sprinter, his massive 47-second gap back to Hellner means that nobody is likely to gain much time on him in the sprint - though if Hellner can win outright, he would jump into the lead. And some dangerous sprinters lurk further down the general classification, close enough that the bonus time for a high sprint finish would help them climb toward Bauer, or even move just past him.

730 + 1

I think that today marks the first day of our third year in Northfield. Two years ago today, we were knee-deep (literally and figuratively) in the process of moving into our new house. Julia was just shy of 19 months old. We'd only known about the embryo that became Vivi for three days. We had no real idea what Northfield would be like, for any of us as individuals or for all of us as a family. I think things are turning out pretty well.

Ten Things to Love about Vivi

In no particular order.

1. When playing tea party, she likes to serve her plastic muffins inside the teacups. This is very forward-thinking. In 2024, everyone will be eating their coffeeshop pastries like this.

2. As she perfects the use of spoons and forks, she insists on taking the utensil from your hand, putting it all the way down on her highchair tray, then lifting it to her mouth.

3. She loves, to a degree that far surpasses her sister at the same age, to play peek-a-boo, especially with otherwise commonplace objects: peeking over the back of the sofa is always a good one, as is peering unexpectedly through one of the holes in their slide/climbing toy. The laughter!

4. She loves to stand next to her sister on the bathroom step stool and do a creditable job of brushing her own teeth.

5. She makes a very funny, very toothy kinda grin/grimace when you ask her to make a "shark face."

6. On walks, she likes to trail behind Julia and me and take little sneaky nibbles of the snow.

7. She is absolutely unmindful of having snow on her face, down her puffball pink snowsuit, all over her mittens, on her hat brim - wherever.

8. She marks any and all sightings of cats (real, in books, on TV, drawn on paper) with an ear-piercing shriek of delight.

9. She will still give one of her patented "mmmmm-UH" kisses to just about anything.

10. Every morning when I go in to get her out of her crib, she does the same routine of insisting that I kiss both her silky and her teddy bear, then pulling her fuzzy overnight socks off. 

And a bonus about Julia:

1. On getting up from her (perfectly normal-length) naps on Saturday and Sunday, she wiped her hand over her brow and exclaimed, "My, that was quite a nap!"

Tour de Ski - Prologue

Today's prologue to the Tour de Ski was a short-distance classic-technique run through the hilly woods of a ski resort outside Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Neither the 3.3 km women's distance nor the 4.5 km men's distance have been contested before at the World Cup level, so pre-race speculation centered on whether sprinters (accustomed to distances of 1500 meters or less) or distance specialists (accustomed to distances longer than 10,000 meters for women, 15,000 for men) would prevail. 

As it turned out, the podium for the women's race went to members of that tiny elite of racers who are equally good at both sprints and distance races: Virpi Kuitunen (Finland) won, less than a second ahead of Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Finland) and 1.9 seconds up on Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland). All-rounder par excellence Marit Bjorgen (Norway) finished fourth. In the men's race, distance specialist Lukas Bauer (Czech Republic) prevailed with a late surge that put him one second ahead of Axel Teichmann (Germany) and 2.3 seconds in front of Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset (Norway), both great distance skiers and a creditable sprinters.

The top three finishers in each race earned time bonuses that will be valuable later in calculating the general classification and immediately in Saturday's shorter-than-usual freestyle pursuit races. Kuitunen will start six seconds up on countrywoman Saarinen, which means that she may decide to sit up, wait for Saarinen, and then work together to stay ahead of Kowalcyzk (starting 12 seconds back of Kuitunen) and the dangerous Bjoergen (starting at 21 seconds). Similarly, the six-second gap between Bauer, who trains with the German team, and Teichmann may dictate that they cooperate to break away; the next few starters are all classical-technique specialists who will have a hard time staying up with fast skaters like Bauer and Teichmann, who should be able to turn on the jets. The tactics will be fascinating to watch, as ski legend Vegard Ulvang points out in his TdS blog.

Tour de Ski

The first chunk of the World Cup cross-country ski season is over, and the second, most exciting chunk - the "Tour de Ski" series of eight races in ten days - begins on Friday in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. 

Though no Americans (and only two Canadians) are trying the grueling TdS this year, the U.S. team can feel a halfway decent sense of accomplishment at its results so far. By far foremost, Kikkan Randall won the women's sprint in Rybinsk, Russia, just before Christmas, putting her squarely in the world's elite and ninth in the world sprint rankings. Randall's sprint teammate Andy Newell hasn't made the podium yet, but he has placed well in several races (including a seventh in the freestyle-technique sprint at Rybinsk and a fourth in the classic-technique sprint at Kuusamo), and sprinter Torin Koos is also on the verge of a repeating or bettering his podium result from last season. Among the distance skiers, only Kris Freeman - arguably the best American nordic skier, though Randall's first place might have changed that - has turned in a good result so far this season: a fifth place finish in the 15km classic race at Kuusamo, Finland. (Bad wax and trouble with blood-sugar management in the following two races pushed Freeman, a diabetic, further down the standings in the next two races.) 

The Americans are now back in the states, preparing for the national championships (in my old more-or-less hometown, Houghton, Michigan) over the new year's weekend and a set of races in January at Canmore, Alberta, the site of the nordic events during the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Both the Americans and the Canadians hope for success at Canmore, with the Europeans "over here" and thus dealing with jet lag, unfamiliar surroundings, different food, and all the other circumstances of long-distance travel.

The Canmore races will be the next regular events after the Tour de Ski, which is for most of the European racers the season's main event. Contested for the first time last season, the TdS is both a mini-world championships and a quasi-stage race akin to a big bike race. Mixing short sprint events (including one in the old district of Prague) with distance races and a "final climb" up the best (i.e., steepest) part of an alpine ski hill, the Tour de Ski is a major test of all-round skiing abilities. The lowest total time wins, and the final stage features a staggered start so that the first man and woman to the top of the mountain wins the tour.

This year, both the men's and women's fields are remarkably open. Tobias Angerer of Germany won the inaugural men's TdS last year, but is a bit off form so far this season. His teammate Axel Teichmann, on the other hand, has won two races this year and is well-rounded enough to compete for the win. Czech Lukas Bauer, Russian Alexander Legkov, and Norwegians Eldar Roenning and Tor Arne Hetland are also likely candidates for top spots. Among the women, last year's TdS champion Virpi Kuitunen of Finland is showing good form, but so are the Norwegians Marit Bjorgen and Astrid Jacobsen. At any rate, the competition should be tighter and more unpredictable than last year, when Angerer and Kuitunen came in on a high, won the TdS titles, and consequently won the World Cup overall titles.

Then I Came to the End

A few nights ago, I finished a really good book, Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. It's a "work novel," set in a failing advertising company in Chicago, and pretty funny in numerous spots. (There's a killer line on page 189 that anyone who's done any sort of authentic or inauthentic "creative" work will appreciate.) More than the humor, though, there's also a surprising quantity and quality of pathos to the novel, depictions of the special sorts of weird emotion connected with doing unremarkable work in an unremarkable office. Highly recommended.

Winter Wonderland

In most ways, it couldn't have been a better Christmas Day. (The other ways are spelled m-e-l-t-d-o-w-n-s.) The weather was perfect: high 20s, light snowfall, that bright gray light of midwinter, no wind. The girls enjoyed their "Santa gifts," which were stuffed in their stockings overnight. Julia talked on and off all day about just how Santa could have made it in and out of the house without being detected, whether his sleigh made tracks on the roof, and other matters saintnickian. We gorged on excellent fare prepared wonderfully entirely by Shannon, an elf who makes Kris Kringle look like a slacker and who really outdid herself this holiday. (If you know Shannon's penchant for Doing Things Right, this means something.)

To top the day off, the girls and their grandma and I went out for an hourlong walk and sled ride before dinner. We soaked up the holiday decorations, the novelty of making the very first tracks in the new snow, the smell of neighbors' outdoor fireplaces, the muffled shouts of kids skating on the pond. It's like exurban Bruegel around here, I tell you. But rather than having hunters in the snow, we have sisters in the sled:


Our Virtual Friend, Rob Hardy

Christmas doggerel for Rob Hardy, Northfield blogger
(With apologies to the Carter Family and Uncle Tupelo)

Rob Hardy, you are a literary man
Prob'ly carry two pens every day
Raise two sons and blog a little bit 
We read your writing that way
We read your writing that way

Rob Hardy, you write about the Waterford Bridge
And about the bur oak trees
All the way to the library

Rob Hardy, we only know you through your blog
We have never met you but you're sure a nice guy
Rob Hardy, Merry Christmas to you
And to the boys and to Clara, too

Well, you've been to the east and you've been to the west
You've been almost the whole world round
You've lived in olde England and been to London
But we're glad you're in our nice little town
We're glad you're in our nice little town

Eve-n Worse than the Real Thing

Twas the night before Christmas, and here in our house
I was occupied with screen, keyboard, and mouse
Four stockings were hung on the mantel with care,
In hopes that St. Nick soon would be there;
The girls were both nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of cookies danced in their heads;
With my computer warm in my lap
I was late to begin a short night's nap,
I thought back over the Christmas Eve matters
Such as the preschooler's buzzing chatters
A lot of exciting gifts, some quite fash
Like a big dress-up bin, including a sash
Outside is a layer of new-fallen snow
And temperatures that are dipping quite low
But inside are scenes quite warm and quite dear
A family of four, a fat cat, and even grandma is here
We all went to church but played in the nursery
Rather than hearing the choir's sweet versery
We ate more goodies than we would care to name
And each gift thrilled the girls just the same
They both finally fell asleep with a few tired cries
Their silkies and animals and softly closed eyes
But soon those eyes will open with a flick
And then they'll wonder about the visit by St. Nick

Blowing & Drifting

This is just what we needed around here. From the National Weather Service:

... Snow and Blowing Snow Advisory now in effect until midnight CST tonight... Snow and blowing snow will continue across much of central Minnesota and far western Wisconsin this evening as a strong surface low pressure system remains nearly stationary over northeast Wisconsin... Additional accumulations of an inch are expected in eastern Minnesota to two inches in west central Wisconsin by midnight. Even though these additional snowfall totals are fairly minor... brisk northwest winds will continue to gust to 35 mph through the evening leading to blowing and drifting of snow. This will greatly reduce visibilities... namely in rural areas. These conditions will be hazardous to travelers... including along interstates 35 and 94.

Christmas Eve Eve

Boy, Christmas is kicked the heck off. My mom made it through the snow between here and the Upper Peninsula and spent the afternoon playing with the girls. After one good killer glare at the newcomer, Vivi, bless her little preverbal heart, happily ran all around the playroom with her, eagerly ah-hah-ing her assent to any new activity. 

Julia was consumed by the advent of the holiday. She's still trying to figure out just when "Christmas" will occur, being a little stymied by the whole "eve" idea. And but so, she was elated by every little sign that Christmas is pretty much underway: a cookie for dessert, showing Grandma the tree, enjoying the cheese-ball "Elmo's Christmas Countdown" show. She didn't understand half of it, but she did like the songs and the basic story of Elmo saving Christmas. On the downside, she was actually worried when one of the characters said that Christmas was in danger of being canceled.

Julia celebrated Elmo's heroism (and unwound from the unprecedented stimulation of an unbroken hour of TV) by singing a few few carols in her bed. After a good thirty minutes of this, she called for me, and when I went up to her room, she said simply, "Daddy, I can't sleep. Sing me a lullaby." I sang (or at least recited) "Silent Night" (this being a song she considers a lullaby for "the baby Jesus"), kissed her on the head, left, and heard no more.

He Said She Wrote "He gets/she gets"

My beautiful and talented wife took a few hours out of, you know, doing everything to place a new version of her great "He Gets/She Gets" essay at the Mothers Movement Online. It's a really good piece of writing, and worth a few minutes of your reading time.

Compare and Contrast

Friday night, I skied in the Arb after a day with a high near 40 degrees F. The snow was mush; in many spots (such as south-facing hills), I sank an inch into the snow every time I pushed off. And there were quite a few spots where grass was poking through thinned snow cover. I went 10km in about 51 minutes, and felt like I'd skied 40km.

Tonight, I skied in the Arb after a day with a high under 20 degrees F, a few millimeters of snow, and a stiff west wind, which dropped the temp to -5 by the time I was out. The snow had crusted over, with many spots being nothing more than ice. I went 15km in 1:01, and the biggest problem was keeping my skis and poles out of the ruts and holes.

If it's not too late, I'd like Santa to deliver six inches of fresh snow for Christmas. 

The Spirit of Christmas

I got home early on this, the last day of work before a nice six-day weekend, and hopped in the car to go run some errands with the girls. Arriving back home, we popped the Charlie Brown Christmas special into the VCR and the girls sat down to bathe in that wonderful show. (Vivi had to have her own cushiony seat.)


The video really put Vivi in the Christmas spirit.



After the video ended, Julia and Genevieve came upstairs with me to do "Christmas play." When I asked Julia what we would do, she yelled happily, "Sing Christmas carols!" and then BELTED out "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" about a dozen times. And then we used iTunes for its intended purpose, downloading other holiday songs and playing them while we danced.

Merry Christmas to all!

Everything Is Illuminated

I left the house a little bit unprepared for my ski-borne constitutional tonight in the Arb, forgetting both my eyewear (clear-lensed "sunglasses" that are invaluable for preventing frosted contacts) and my headlamp. Too lazy to go back and get them, I hit the trails anyhow, and discovered that while our ice fog makes for terrible weather (freezing and humid? no thanks), it does a great job as a gaffer. The light from streetlights, passing cars and trucks, and campus buildings was reflected and diffused by the fog so well that pretty much every meter of the trails was a skiable gray color. The purple-blue sky was starless but glowing with the groundlight. Even trees were discernibly earth-toned, rather than undifferentiated black.

Lift a (World) Cup

An update on "Period 1" of the cross-country skiing World Cup is forthcoming, but for now I just want to highlight an interesting difference among the ski-racing countries. Virtually every national ski team has a big corporate sponsor - the Germans and a little shoe company, for instance. Having a big sponsor is pretty important: a deep pocketed sponsor can make it possible for skiers to train full time, to get better coaching and care, to use better equipment, and so forth.

Needless to say, the U.S. team - which is slowly rising back to international competiveness - doesn't have a very big or potent sponsor, as shown by this photograph (bigger version) of the top three finishers in last weekend's women's sprint in Rybinsk, Russia. (The photo was taken by Andy Fecteau, who's working with the XC team; there are many more photos in the team's semi-official story on the race.)


On the left, in second place, Astrid Jacobsen of Norway, wearing on her hat the logo of Cresco, a big credit-card company in Norway and part of a big Norwegian financial services conglomerate that's a major player in Europe. (Jacobsen's only been racing in the World Cup for two seasons, but has seven podium finishes and two medals (a gold and a bronze) from last season's world championships.) On the right, in third place, is Natalia Korosteleva of Russia, wearing a hat emblazoned with the name of Lukoil, the massive Russian gas-and-oil company. (Korosteleva has a bronze from the 2003 world championships and five podium finishes in the regular world cup.)

In the middle, in first place, is Kikkan Randall, whose hat bears the logos of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association and a well-known fast food chain. But Kikkan's not even sponsored by the chain itself - just by the franchises in Alaska. If I lived up there, I'd be eating footlong subs every day, just to send a few more pennies to her. That she's won a World Cup race with such comparatively paltry support is remarkable - both as testimony to her dedication (and that of others on the team) and as a symbol of our country's screwed-up priorities. I'll bet a 30-second Super Bowl spot costs substantially more than it takes to support Randall for a full year of racing and training.

Ice Fog

Today was a bright winter day until about three, at which point the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in two hours and we descended into ice fog. It was strange stuff, appearing to be light snowfall from a distance but feeling like ice water on bare skin. Not a common phenomenon, or a desirable one.

Claus Cometh

Julia's getting pretty revved up for Christmas. Before bed, we read a story about the months of the year, and it ended unsurprisingly on December and that chronic home invader, Santa Claus. This precipitated an array of ordinary but intensifying questions about just when Christmas is finally going to get here. Anything past tomorrow is pretty fuzzy, so alas: she still has to wait a week.

On the plus side, some family friends have a little girl who is not too happy about Santa


Shannon took off for Rochester this morning to see some family friends (and their new baby), so I had the girls to myself today. I loved it. But for Vivi having a bit of sleep-deprivation-related surliness which we relieved with a short morning nap, both girls were in great moods all day. Of course, they also both took two-hour naps, which helped their moods and mine. (Truth be told, I spent the entire nap period grading papers.)

But even aside from that, we had a lot of fun. It's fascinating to see them in their natural element - home, on an average day. VIvi, it turns out, likes to spend a lot of time deeply engaged in repetitive activities: at one point, she went up and down the slide for a good half hour while Julia and I had a tea party; she twice spent about twenty minutes methodically flipping through a single book (this one in the morning, this one in the afternoon). Vivi can also make six-high stacks of blocks, which I didn't know, and enjoys doing a "Stayin' Alive" style dance at random moments. At other points, the three of us played Christmas, which entailed my being Santa, Julia being Rudolf (who, being a Type A reindeer, both steered the sleigh and delivered the presents), and Vivi being an elf. And we also had an extended dance party just before lunch, which I think was the key their being tired little puppies.

Tacking on a long ski after they went to bed for the night, today was about as good as a day can get when it doesn't involve pepperoni pizza and a cold beer.

Kikkan Butt

I've been remiss in blogging about the World Cup cross-country skiing that's taken place so far this fall and winter, but I'll break the silence to report that Kikkan Randall, an Alaskan sprint specialist, won today's sprint races in Rybinsk, Russia - the first World Cup win for an American since the late 1970s 1983. Kikkan blogs her racing here and on an email list, so I have the sense that she's a smart, talented, and unbelievably hard-working woman who's now demonstrating her potential. An official press release:

RYBINSK, Russia (Dec. 16) - Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), who posted the first U.S. women's World Cup cross country podium last January, produced the first U.S. women's victory Sunday, winning a sprint in Rybinsk. She defeated world champion Astrid Jacobsen of Norway in the final meters of a 1.2K course for the first American win since Bill Koch in 1983.

Jesus Is the Reason for the Season

Never let it be said that ours isn't a Christian nation. The other night, Julia, still working to understand the nativity scene across the street, had all manner of questions about this guy, Jesus. Yes, he was a nice guy. No, he didn't wear glasses or a baseball hat (the two characteristics which she must know about every man). Yes, he helped people. No, he's not still alive. (I was happy to answer this one.) Yes, he died. (Ditto.)

The little catechism didn't end so much as get derailed by other matters (baths, getting Vivi to bed, etc.), but Julia revived it a few minutes later by asking to see a picture of Jesus. This page of "200 Images of Jesus Christ, God," is what Google (speaking of omniscience and omnipotence) provided. Julia was especially interested in the pictures that showed Jesus as a young man, which was fine. I refused to show her any of the death-cult images or the simply stupid ones. With this priming, I can't wait to hear what she makes of the Christmas Eve service we're planning to attend.

A Bit Chillish

Skiing in the dark has been pretty interesting, this winter. Especially on downhills, there's an "oh shit" factor of not being able to see anything much beyond the five feet my headlamp can illuminate, but that's more than balanced by the sense that any falls will be into some nice cushy snow - much preferable to the pavement of rollerskiing. (Ignore those trees, please: they're usually quite small, and often cloaked in nice springy branches.)

The cold is a different matter, more subject to management than to probability. Thanks to the right clothing, the cold hasn't driven me off the tracks, despite a couple outings in temperatures at or below 0° F (which is much more impressively rendered as -18°C). But every time I head out, my body goes through a very odd but orderly and now predictable routine of adjustment to the cold.

An illustration: over the first six and eight minutes of skiing (six if it's colder, eight if warmer), my fingertips get very numb, to the point tonight (1°F air temp) that it was hard to properly grip my ski poles. The fingers stay that way for about another six minutes, but then, after almost exactly a quarter-hour of skiing, the blood rushes back in and they warm up rapidly, which is where they stay for the rest of the session, whether that's 15 or 50 more minutes.

Thinking about this phenomenon - which doesn't happen on my bike trips to or from work, since I'm only riding for about eight minutes, maximum - I wondered exactly why the body reacted this way: why not just try to maintain body temperature the whole time? Coincidentally, today I saw a report from the International Ski Federation on cold-weather health which at least partly explains it. The body initially reacts to cold by trying to use the available blood to maintain the necessary warmth in the core (all those organs) and the brain. As exertion causes an increase in body temperature, there's simply more warmth to go around, and the body sends it back out to the extremities. The lessons for me are: 1) Warm up thoroughly and/or intensively, to jack up the core temp rapidly, and b) Be aware that, from the perspective of a brain during a winter workout, some extremities are apparently less valuable than others.

The Mineral Water Chronicles

Julia's ongoing effort to enjoy mineral water with me took an imaginative turn this afternoon when she took a swig of very cold mineral water and exclaimed, eyes watering, "Daddy, that made my tonsils sparkle!"


1. After Julia passed gas at the dinner table tonight, which elicited some poorly hidden laughter from Shannon, which elicited some poorly hidden laughter from me, Vivi looked around the table and then, with a baby's power of perfectly uncomprehending imitation, leaned to one side in her high chair, lifted one cheek, and grunted. More laughter all around. My wife! Laughing at farts! Truly, the world is a different place.

2. After getting a total of nine different responses to our Craigslist ad for our dining set, we sold it today to one of my coworkers. She picked it up as we ate dinner, so, mid-meal, we swapped our regular chairs for folding chairs from the closet and Shannon wound up sitting in the living room with her plate.

3. I spent the evening assembling the new dining set - a table and six chairs. It looks grown up, like something in an older neighbor's house. Best part: Julia helped by assembling little stacks of fasteners: "flat washer, lock washer, bolt." She loved it and really did a great job. Weirdest part: Next to one of the dozen of so "Made in Vietnam/Hecho en Vietnam" stickers was a piece of masking tape on which was written a Vietnamese name.

4. Though I didn't get to ski tonight, I did register yesterday for the City of Lakes Loppet, a 35km freestyle race on February 3 in Minneapolis. I am very, very excited about both about being able to race and about being able to train for it. Only 53 days away!

Forces of Chaos and Disorder

I came home today to a half-dozen females - my own trio and three from another family, fleeing a mouse infestation at their house. The girls are more or less matched sets: two about three years old, two about one, two are SAHMs who grew up in Moorhead. All are blonde, all are adorable, and the youngsters have a powerful ability to wreak havoc.

After arriving home and tooting a few times on the kazoo which Genevieve jammed in my mouth, I ran upstairs to deal with a bazillion preliterate emails about some stuff we're trying to sell on Craigslist. The girls soon followed. In literally 60 seconds - that's four girl-minutes - the entire playroom looked like a toy store after a tornado. And the shrieking! The best part was that Julia's friend Lucy kept calling me "Daddy," clearly thinking that this was my unique appellation, distinct from the "Papa" which she uses with her dad. I think I used the word "adorable" once already, but it's apt here, too.

Something about the Hat

There's something about my favorite ski hat, a heavy Swix-brand toque, that gets the girls going.

Julia, December 21, 2005 (almost 19 months old)


Genevieve, December 8, 2007 (almost 16 months old)



Today, even more than most recent days, the three speaking humans in the household struggled mightily to get a few words out of the fourth, still-pre-verbal human. The closest we got to success was hearing Vivi say "abboh" for "apple," but she's said that before, and not consistently.

Just before bedtime, though, she was listening attentively to Julia run down a long list of things you cannot do at the dinner table, including passing gas, talking about pooping, and belching. Julia helpfully demonstrated this last with a big fake burp, which Genevieve then instantly and gleefully duplicated.


I guess you have to take the language processing where you can get it.

The Upside to the Nativity

On the way upstairs to bed tonight, Julia asked me for the tenth time today why she was getting eczema (this is the word she uses) on her wrists. I said it was due to the cold weather, which is mostly true. Further discussion was preempted by her catching sight of the big, brightly lit nativity scene in the neighbor's yard across the street. As I set to rubbing about a gallon of lotion into your hands and wrists, she asked, "Daddy, what is the na-tiv-i-tee scene for?"

I swallowed my real answer and said, "Well, honey, some people believe in a story about a family at Christmas, the one Mama was telling you about the other day, with Joseph and Mary and a baby named Jesus. They had to go to their hometown, called Bethlehem, but when they got there all the houses and... uhhhh... motels were closed, so they had to stay in a stable, and that's where Mary had the baby Jesus, and that's why there are all those animals in the nativity scene."

Perplexed look. "But the baby was swaddled, right? So he wasn't cold?"

"Right. Plus, Bethlehem is in a very warm country, so he wouldn't have been cold."

"So if it's warm, then I wouldn't get eczema there, right?"


Video at 11

Shannon already blogged about Vivi's prowess at mastering the combination of gravity and Little Tikes plastic, but really the video's the thing. I mean, it's one thing to teach yourself how to slide, it's another to do it in pink pajamas and matching sox.

Jobs I'm Glad I Don't Have

County tax clerk, like the one who mistakenly valued a tiny lot in rural Waconia, Minnesota, at $189 million dollars, rather than $18,900, leading to a horrible cascade of bureaucratic nightmares like budget shortfalls of $750,000 for the city and $900,000 for the county. As they say around here, "Uff da."

Half-Birthday Girl


I went to Julia's nursery school this morning as her special visitor on her "half birthday," a phenomenon of which I had not heard but which is surely thisclose to being Hallmarkized. That fact notwithstanding, it was a ton of fun: I got to meet many of Julia's friends and teachers, see her classroom, and even read a story and show some family pictures to the kids. And of course I also saw the half-birthday girl get her crown, which I think made her the happiest kid in the world.

Existential Questions

Julia, over breakfast a few minutes ago: "Why do the days just go on and on and on until I die?"

Cold Skiing

I went out to the Arb again tonight to ski, and discovered that they actually groomed the trails! I haven't seen groomed ski trails in about 16 years, since I was skiing every day as a high-school senior. Trouble is, I didn't have my skate skis, so I spent the better part of an hour slipping and sliding as I tried to stride on the beautifully flat snow.

And it was cold: with the windchill, it was  -1.1°F (-18.4°C). How cold is that? Cold enough for the perspiration and respiration to freeze on a guy's vest:


I wish I had a beard, just to have frosted it, too.

Pros and Cons of Winter Biking

Pro: You feel pretty good about yourself, biking through the snow.

Con: When going through some especially deep roadway slush, you can be outpaced by a toddler on the sidewalk.

Pro: Between double-thick gloves, polypro longjohns, a winter-weight headband, and a good shell/fleece jacket combo, most of your body is pretty warm.

Con: Nobody's invented in-nostril insulation.

Pro: All the icy junk in the air means that glasses - with either dark or clear lenses - are almost mandatory if you want to be able to see, thus making you look 2 kewl 4 skewl.

Con: Eventually, the glasses will get covered with that icy junk, and you have to take them off and hold them in your teeth. Squint, man, squint.

Pro: Home- and business-owners are very good at shoveling their walks, and the city and college are pretty good at plowing the streets and paths.

Con: The curb cuts are no-man's-land: get ready to dismount.


Pro: Salted roads actually have pretty good traction.
Con: The salt doesn't get everywhere, and seemingly never on tight corners.

Pro: Fenders are pretty effective at fighting the snow and slop thrown up by the tires.

Con: When the fenders are overwhelmed by wheel-spray, you end up looking like your three-year-old after a diaper blowout. Thank god for dark blue pants.

Pro: There's no competition for spots in the bike racks downtown or on campus.
Con: There are massive berms of snow around all the bike racks downtown and on campus.


Pro: An attractive young woman glances at you, surely admiring your nordic resolve to master the weather.
Con: You realize that the attractive young woman is probably actually looking at you because a) you have your khakis tucked into the tops of your socks, b) you are wearing cool-in-2002 cycling shoes, c) there's a thin film of thawing snot on your upper lip, or d) all of the above. Pardon, ma'am, might you have a Kleenex?

Snow Day

There is no better weather than a good old-fashioned snowy day. The falling snow is gorgeous to see, the precipitation means that can't be too cold (else it won't snow at all), the accumulation messes with routines like walking and driving (it took me twenty minutes to "bike" home this afternoon - more than twice as long as usual), and above all the snow gilds the ordinary:

Library Trees

Beyond all that, snow makes skiing possible, and I'm getting my money's worth. Tonight was my fourth straight day of being on snow - not quite enough to get me to the World Cup, or even to the City of Lakes Loppet, but a hell of a lot of fun anyhow. I've mostly been tooling around Carleton's Upper Arboretum, but my loop has just the right mix of hills and flats to keep things interesting. Sunday and Monday, I skied on a thick crust of ice-covered snow which cracked under me, making it seem like I was traveling over shattered glass and not making for a very quiet outing. Tonight, after a good six hours of continuous snowfall, I was on wonderful but extremely slow fresh powder: almost totally silent and beautiful to see all around.

Dark and Early

My alarm clock seemed to go off too early on Monday morning, but I chalked it up to, you now, Monday morning. Showered and dressed, but with both girls still sleeping, I trundled over to the laptop to take care of my online class. A while later, feeling unusually sluggish, I checked the time in the corner of the screen: 6:02:42 AM - a half hour before my alarm was supposed to ring. What? I hadn't changed my clock back at the daylight saving time switch? No way. I remember changing it. A while later, Shannon laughed at my ineptitude: Had I forgotten how to use the alarm clock after a couple months of Vivi serving as the alarm? She said that maybe one of the girls had messed the clock up, but I scoffed: my clock has a little plastic cover over the time- and alarm-setting buttons.

This evening, I was playing with Vivi when she suddenly toddled away. Catching up, I found her next to my bedside table, holding my clock, easily flipping over the button-cover and madly pressing the buttons. Even when she doesn't wake me up, she gets me up early!

A Fine Winter Day

Today was the epitome of the fine winter day. The weather ran the gamut, from cold and overcast to cold and sunny. We put up the Christmas tree and the girls had a fine time decorating it: Shannon putting ornaments in certain places, Julia putting her favorite ornaments everywhere in the lower yard of the tree, and Genevieve taking especially shiny ornaments back off the tree for closer consideration. (I took pictures, which will be posted elsewhere later.)

In the late afternoon, the girls and I headed outside for a fun half hour tromping through the iced-over snow, falling down, and riding in the sled (them, not me). Both of them spent much of the ride shrieking with delight, as here:


Finally, after the tikes went to bed, I head the Arb for a wonderful ski on the crusty snow. Only one major wipeout, and I even managed to make it through a dicey corner. Tons of fun.

Unsolicited and Uncompensated Product Endorsement

Do you partake of wintertime recreation in the out of doors? If so, and especially if your recreative choices involve aerobic activity, I highly recommend your immediate and unquestioning acquisition (preferably through exchange of cash or credit, though thievery might be warranted) of a pair of Craft tights for use in your en plein aire endeavors.


Though the ones I have are a bit different from the ones pictures, boy, these babies are windproof, fleece-lined, light, warm, and black. Worth every penny (and therefore worth even more if you can get them, as I managed to, for two-thirds off.)

2028 Olympic Champion

This evening, Julia and I watched a web clip of today's men's cross-country sprint race at Kuusamo, Finland. She loved it, and afterwards ran around the kitchen table a half-dozen times, swinging her arms as if she were planting her ski poles, narrating various actions like pushing another (invisible) racer out of the way (just as one of the actual racers did), telling me she was "working so, so hard on this steep, steep hill" (as I'd told her the winner had), yelling "Te amo sol!" in crazy-kid imitation of the Norwegian sportscasting, raising her arms in triumph on crossing the finish line, then collapsing in a heap just like the winner and demanding that I pat her on the back. All you three-year-old Swedish and Norwegian kids in your skidgymnasium? Julia's putting you on notice.

Of course, to actually start skiing, she'll have to get over her aversion to being cold and having snow in her face. We ventured outside at the height of today's snow storm, and she lasted about three minutes before starting to complain, five before starting to cry, and (after ending the waterworks) ten before saying, "I wish it was the summer time, Daddy!" I sure don't, kiddo.

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