Whatever Gets You to Sleep

More or less by design, today was a nice relaxed first day back at home. We ran a few errands, did some sledding, played with some of the Christmas toys, belted out “Hark the Herald Angeles Sing” a half-dozen times, reenacted the Nativity in various forms, and generally enjoyed the comforts of home.

The girls, still worn out from five days of too little sleep while at Nonna and Boppa’s house, also took nice long naps. Vivi made good on her promises of “no wi-wi” – “no cry-cry” – and in fact fell asleep after altering “Twinkle Twinkle” to go, “Twinkle twinkle Barack Obama, Barack Obama Obama Obama.” Seriously. When I left her room and wished her a good night, she responded, “Ni-ni, Barack Obama!”

Bonus Weirdness: Julia decided on Thursday to start calling her sister “Bubblegum,” and then readily adopted “Lollipop” as her own nickname. When I asked why she chose these nicknames, she busted out her biggest grin and said, “Because we’re both so sweet.” In ten years, that smile is gonna cause $20 bills to fly outta my wallet.

Reputable, Fair and Balanced

My day started well: my morning email included a link to an article by Larry Beinhart in the Huffington Post that briefly quotes a refereed essay I wrote a few years ago, “The American Economy during World War II.”

Arguing for massive public spending to curb and reverse the current recession, Beinhart uses my essay to round off two conservative interpretations of the effect of World War II on the Great Depression, quoting my line that “The war decisively ended the depression itself” and calling my essay “a more reputable, fair and balanced source” than the two conservative ones ( I happen to agree with one of those interpretations, though I dunno if that qualifies me for all those adjectives.)

Oddly enough, this is the second time this week that my essay has shown up in the political blogosphere. On Monday, the progressive writer Sam Smith used a long quote from the essay to make essentially the same point as Beinart – spend now, spend fast.

I don’t disagree.

Big Sox on Campus

Today was perhaps my finest hour as a Carleton employee: I won the grand prize in the Outrageous Sox Contest held each year during the College’s December writing workshop. In past years, I haven’t even had outrageous and/or hideous holiday sox of my own to enter into the contest. This year, my attempts to buy my own sox failed miserably: nobody makes ugly holiday sox for guys with size-12 feet.

So I took matters into my own hands – or feet, as was the case = – by fashioning holiday sox from the regular dress socks I happened to be wearing today and, crucially, six foot-long pieces of “evergreen bough” from our fake Christmas tree. The result was both ridiculous and ugly, but in the Outrageous Sox Contest, that’s just what you need:

Outrageous Sox
Outrageous Sox

(Please ignore the dark mush-splatter marks acquired on the bike ride home.)

In presenting my sox for the consideration of the sole judge, the estimable dean of the college, and the entertainment of the assembled audience, I mentioned some salient features of the hosiery: reusable, perfectly sustainable, flexible enough to be used with any pair of sox, and so forth. It worked, and I placed first in the “Holiday Sox” category.

For my efforts, I won a rather sharp winter-themed travel mug. Not bad for a day’s work.


It’s Finnish Independence Day today, which is mostly unrelated to the fact that it was also my first chance to ski this winter. Last year, I skied for the first time on December 1, so I’m just about a week behind, but I can’t help it: my prayers to Ukko weren’t answered favorably. Perhaps I didn’t use the right kind of birch trees in the pyre on which I burned the reindeer skins.

Regardless of supernatural or meteorological reasons, we didn’t have skiable snow until this week, and only last night’s blowing and drifting made my “backyard” viable for a half-hour of kick-and-glide meandering over a 360-meter loop. I was equally surprised to find that I didn’t feel abysmal (no spasming shoulders! spasming feet only about 20 minutes in!) and that the grass, barely covered by the snow, provided a halfway decent kick for my rock skis.

Backyard Ski Tracks
Backyard Ski Tracks

Tomorrow, naps willing, the Arb…

Thank God for Memes

They save me from having to think up with something to write today. I have to go put up the Christmas tree now. (Thanks to Margaret for this one.)

1. Five names you go by
a) Christopher
b) “Chris”
c) Daddy
d) “Tass” (high school friends only)
e) Babe (spouse only)

2. Three things you are wearing right now:
a) jeans
b) zip-up fleece sweater (favorite winter clothing)
c) two pairs of socks

3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:
a) Someone else to put up the Christmas tree.
b) 16″ of nice lake-effect-type snow.

4. Three people whom I would like to see fill this out:
a) Shannon
b) Maybe Elise?
c) Brendon, mostly because it would be a great window into the Crazy

5. Two things you did last night (Thursday, 12/4):
a) attended Winter Walk
b) blogged about attending Winter Walk

6. Two things you ate today:
a) a strong Americano
b) a stale Twix bar

7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:
a) a program officer at scientific-research foundation
b) a program officer at a private charitable foundation

8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:
a) help the girls and Shannon put ornaments on the tree
b) go for a run

9. Two longest car rides:
a) Upper Michigan to the Black Hills (900 miles – about 13 hours, 30 minutes)
b) Moorhead, Minnesota, to Hancock, Michigan (466 miles – about 10 hours, 22 minutes)

10. Two of your favorite beverages:
a) mineral water
b) black coffee


Pick a color for the things that you have done. Mine are in red letters.
I have…
1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Skied a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi concentration camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Bad Coffee

I have to drink my morning coffee – a double americano, black – from a plain white mug this morning because my favorite mug broke was broken was discovered to have broken yesterday. It was only a year old, and barely lived past the campaign it mocked.

I’d pour out this today’s first cuppa in mourning (“for all my shattered homies”), but I need it too much.

Late Great Favorite Mug
Late Great Favorite Mug


That there was a good holiday.

We had, as Shannon reported, a serious Thanksgiving repast which went off without a hitch, despite Shannon’s anxiety over “never having done this before.” With a bit of help from the rest of us, Shannon did a fantastic job orchestrating the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, gravy, and pie (not to mention the centerpiece), which we hit pretty hard both on Thanksgiving and again tonight. While Julia, as usual, enjoyed everything, Vivi was especially impressed by the cranberries, which she’d have eaten by the gallon if we’d let her, and by the pumpkin-pie cheesecake, which she variously called “bie,” “dake,” and “deet” (“treat”).

Amidst all this noshing, we, solo and in duets, trios, and quartets, took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to go to the playground each day, to clean the garage, to haul ridiculous quantities of stuff to the resale shop and the recycling bins, to watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” to run some errands downtown – which was bustling with shoppers and numerous vehicles hauling Christmas trees (!) – and to go for a nice run. So warm was it that I wore shorts and skipped both a hat and gloves. Last year, I skied on December 1. I hope that’s the case again this year. I need the exercise to burn off these giant meals.

Whether or not it snows in the next 72 hours, thank god it’s only Friday. I need two days to rest up.

Short Week Accomplishments

An update of my update on the progress toward my four five big goals for the week, as announced here and here:

1. Reduce my email inbox at work to fewer than five messages.
completed: I reduced the inbox to zero messages as of 12:14 p.m. on Wednesday.

2. Reduce my email inbox at home to fewer than five messages.
completed: I reduced the inbox to five messages as of right now; each of the remaining messages is a tough nut to crack.

3. Finish some key research tasks I haven’t had time to complete at work.
incomplete: I only did one of my ten or so such tasks, but it was the hardest one. And I’ll have a lot of time in December to do the rest, ending the year on a good note.

4. Cut my ridiculous 60-some Firefox tabs down to less than 10.
completed: I got down to six (including dedicated tabs for my work email and the Carleton homepage) as of 12:14 p.m. on Wednesday. Unsurprisingly enough, the pared-back Firefox app dramatically sped up.

5. Clean up and clear off my desk.
completed, as far as I can:

before (ugh)

Desk Before
Desk Before

after (not perfect, but better)

Desk After
Desk After

Modest Goals

This morning, I used Twitter and Facebook to announce four world-shaking goals for the short holiday week. Here’s the update. Please, sit down before reading what follows – it’s riveting stuff.

1. Reduce my email inbox at work to fewer than five messages.
– pending new messages, mostly completed: cut from 22 messages at 8 a.m. to 4 at 4:30 p.m.

2. Reduce my email inbox at home to fewer than five messages.
– pending new messages, incomplete: cut from 26 messages at 6:30 a.m. to 10 at 9:55 p.m.

3. Clean up and clear off my desk.
– halfway completed: lots of papers and random junk either filed correctly or recycled; lots of harder-to-handle stuff to do on Tuesday and Wednesday

4. Finish some key research tasks I haven’t had time to complete at work.
-mostly incomplete: one task mostly finished, a half-dozen still to go

Things are looking up, though: I have a lot of unscheduled time on Tuesday and Wednesday. If only I can just keep away from the coffee bar…


The cross-country skiing World Cup, the sport’s highest level of competition, begins its season on Saturday with races in Gaellivare, Sweden, far above the Arctic Circle.

The XC World Cup is is my favorite sport to follow, for lots of reasons. Foremost among these reasons is that I love to ski, and I have been lucky enough to be able to ski quite a bit here in Northfield, after many years away while living in relatively less snowy and/or skiable places. XC skiing is a great sport – fun, challenging, interesting. On this point, I can’t wait to ski in the City of Lakes Loppet on February 1.

A second reason that I love the WC is that the competition itself is engrossing, thanks to a wide variety of race formats (everything from 1500 meter sprints to 50 kilometer marathons, from individual time trials to 8km hillclimbs), numerous beautiful venues all over Europe (and even in Asia and North America), and the fact that the skiing itself is surpassingly beautiful to watch – the perfect mix of power and grace. This (poorly scored) video of the great German skier Tobias Angerer does a good job showing the sport:

But yadda yadda. One of the two real reasons that the World Cup is fun to follow nowadays is that a fan can actually watch the races online, either live or delay. Universal Sports, an arm of NBC, is “airing” many of the WC races this winter, for free, starting with this weekend’s races in Sweden. My favorite obscure endurance sport, shown free and on-demand over my computer? Sign me up.

The second real reason that the World Cup is fun to follow is that a genius web friend has developed a fantasy league for those of us who – unlike your common-as-dirt baseball and football fans – have heretofore not had a make-believe competition in which to utilize our insanely narrow and deep knowledge of the sport. I’m practically itching to get my (faux) team together and go nerdily head to head against other ski-racing fans. I’ll note in closing that I won the damn league last year, so now I have some credibility and a reputation to defend. Bring on the snow!

Saturday’s Media Consumption

As an experiment, I tracked all the “major” media that I consumed on Saturday between, roughly, 8 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. I might repeat this during the workweek. The items below – which don’t include the myriad trawlings of Facebook, Twitter, or my own blog, are presented in the order I consumed them:

“Even on Bloody Feet”
(Men’s marathon record holder Haile Gebreselassie on his first marathon, at age 16)

Old Lady (from The Wedding Singer)
(Old woman doing “Rapper’s Delight” from Adam Sandler’s movie The Wedding Singer)

“In a Complex Gaming Age, Faith in the Simple Virtues of Mayhem”
(“Gears of War 2” review)

“Packages You Won’t Need a Saw to Open”
(story on replacements to hard-to-open plastic clamshell packaging)

“The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla”
(Dick Cavett on Sarah Palin’s speaking abilities)

“Carleton’s ‘Save the Penis’ campaign goes limp”
(Local blog’s coverage of Carleton sidewalk that resembles a penis [no, really])

“Newell Wins Qualifier in Muonio, Falls in Semis”
(Story on Americans competing in XC skiing sprint races at Muonio, Finland)

“Racing Time”
(Blog post on top American cross-country skier Kris Freeman’s first race of the winter)

“The Season’s Start: Muonio”
(Blog post on first major XC ski races of the winter at Muonio, Finland – great picture)

“Parenting Moments You Never Think About When You’re Pregnant With That First Baby”
(Shannon’s blog post about annoying end of Friday afternoon’s activity)

“Or Mine. I Wonder What Mine Would Be Like.”
(Post and comments on Shannon’s blog about Vivi’s sleeping troubles)

Sigur Rós : “með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust” (“with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”)
(album by Icelandic art-rock band)

Benny Golson & Art Farmer Jazztet:  Here and Now
(1959 album by great bop group)

“Germans Pace the Field in Muonio 10/15km Classic”
(Article on results of 10k/15k XC ski races at Muonio)

The Balance Sheet posts on the NASDAQ and on liberal economics.
(Two posts on James Surowiecki’s New Yorker blog)

“Say Goodbye to BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe”
(Excellent Times article on whether and how Obama will be wired – he may have to give up both his Blackberry and email)

various pages of “eighteen seconds before sunrise”
(Website of Icelandic art band Sigur Ros)

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
(rented through iTunes)

“Munio Finland”

(blog post by world-class American XC skiing sprinter Andy Newell on races in Muonio)

“The New Liberalism”

(George Packer on Obama’s brand of liberal politics)

Overdistance Rollerski, or, Thinking Snow

This morning, the female fraction of the family attended a friend’s birthday party, giving me the opportunity  to do an “overdistance” rollerski workout – going longer, in terms of both time and distance, than a normal workout, with the aim of really taxing the body and forcing it to work harder than it does in regular distance or interval workouts.

Judging by the all-day throbbing in my shoulders, back, and upper legs, it worked.* More importantly, both the weather and the scenery were fabulous. After making my way through a crowd of surly road-users


I was out among the endless brown and green fields broken only by a few strands of trees or farmsteads…

Northeast of Northfield
Northeast of Northfield
East of Northfield
East of Northfield

Not a bad way to spend a couple hours.

* Final totals for the session:

  • 29.77 kilometers (18.50 miles) skied
  • 2:03:52 total ski time
  • 139 beats per minute average heartrate, with a maximum HR of 162
  • 1440 calories burned
  • Three energy gels and 56 oz of energy drink consumed
  • One gel packet dropped but later recovered
  • Four bike riders and one runner encountered
  • Zero crashes committed

Faster Than a Dodge Grand Caravan!

I realized a second ago that today marks the beginning of my fourth year at Carleton. I started my job here on October 3, 2005, which seems both a long time ago (I only had one kid then!) and not really that long ago (I only had one kid then!). It’s been a great three years, I must say. When I have another three years under my belt, I might finally stop feeling like a newbie.

I celebrated this milestone by inadvertently resolving an issue I’ve been considering as long as I’ve been riding my bike to and from work: is it faster to bike than to drive? I’ve thought so, but never had the chance to actually test it, since I can’t really race myself.

But this morning, pedalling up the street, I saw one of my neighbors, a professor who works one building away from me, getting into his car. Gentlemen, start your engines! Or your lungs, as the case was. I adjusted my speed so that I passed his driveway just as he finished backing up, giving us a more-or-less equal starting point.

I rode to campus at my usual speed, expecting his Grand Caravan to zoom by on my left at any second. As I approached the turn onto the the straightaway to my building, he hadn’t yet caught up, and I thought that I just might beat him outright – and right there he passed me, trying to break my spirit. But I had a plan – beyond even the application of superhuman willpower. Oh, yes: I would still be riding when he had to make like a hominid and start walking.

So I maintained my speed, and sure enough, I passed him back in the parking lot, where he was getting out of his car for the short walk to his building. 200 yards later, locking my bike to the bike rack, I looked back down the sidewalk to find him still strolling toward his building. Two wheels good, four wheels slow!

First Book

As Julia edges toward being able to read on her own, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own reading history. In an IM conversation the other day with a friend whose son – both bookish and newly bespectacled, so you have to like him – read the first Harry Potter in one day – I suddenly remembered reading my first Hardy Boys book in what must have been the first week of Mrs. Bauer’s second grade class.

I had been disappointed in Mrs. Lesperance’s first grade class when I could only choose books from a certain section in the library (I’d read all the Richard Scarry books already: the Man was keeping me down even then), and I had really wanted to read the books that my friend Mark’s older brothers were reading, like the Hardy Boys. So when, early in second grade, the librarian said we could choose any book we wanted, I zoomed over to the long shelf of blue-and-black Hardy Boys books. I checked out The Secret of the Lost Tunnel, perhaps because it was the first one I saw, perhaps because I liked the cover art, perhaps because I was mildly obsessed with a weird little root-cellar thing we had at our house, or perhaps because I had an early love of the double entendre.

Secret of the Lost Tunnel
Secret of the Lost Tunnel

I read the book in the time it took to wait for the bus, ride the bus home, and walk up the driveway. It was a long bus ride, and a long driveway, but still – I had that shit down: I remember being able to correctly finish sentences that my dad read out from the book.

God. Nowadays I can barely remember to read a book, much less what I read.

That being so, the aforementioned friend (he of the readery son) and I are engaged in a little parallel-reading exercise that might interest certain readers of this blog – mostly the literate ones, but also lovers of Victorian fiction who may or may not be red-haired. We’re making our way, three chapters a week, through G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, available in a snazzy Vintage paperback ($8.95) or at Bartleby.com. The book is described as “a zany mystery story filled with often surreal twists that turn more traditional thrillers on their ear,” and it’s certainly that, so far. (One of the main characters has red hair, Rob!) You’re welcome to pick up the book and read along with us, perhaps making a comment of two. You can find our amateur lit-crit at The Blog Who Was Thursday.