Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Let it Snow

I'm pretty excited. It's looking like it'll snow tonight and tomorrow.

I love the snow. I love watching it fall, as individual flakes flutter to the ground. I love watching it stick, and accumulate in a creamy, white meringue on the ground. I love the tranquility that a snowfall brings, how it muzzles much of the non-natural world around us, leaving nature to sing her song. I love how it looks, a crisply fresh topping that masks much of what is otherwise unsightly. I love how thankful it makes you feel to have a warm home and a loving family (and a glass of good wine).

I don't like to shovel it. Just to get that straight. My romanticism does not border on losing my lucidity.

I also like what snow brings, and by that I mean sledding. No matter the danger (see post in December), I really, really like taking the boys sledding. I love careening down the hill, eyes watering, the wind biting at my face, as I plummet downward, desperately trying to steer us away from trees, signposts, curbs, kids and other hazards. It's an easily acquired rush of adrenaline, a very cheap thrill.

We've had just one good snowfall this winter, around Christmas, and with the state, and much of the Midwest in a drought, as January neared an end, we wondered whether there'd be another. And the weather – not to dwell too much on the weather (Hello, do you believe in climate change, you remaining doubters?) – has been like a yo yo. Today, for instance, the temperature climbed above 60º – 60 degrees – before beginning a descent so rapid that it would have made a parachutist dizzy. By tonight, we will be below freezing, and what has been rain will turn to snow and continue as such for much of the day tomorrow. In all, the weather watchers – those glorious folks who can be wrong half the time yet enjoy complete job security – say we'll get between 5 and 7 inches.

By tomorrow night, we'll drop to 3º. So, in a span of about 36 hours, we'll watch the air temperature see-saw by about 60 degrees. Wow.

No wonder I've seen geese flying in different directions the past couple of days. They must be as confused as a hiker with a broken compass.

Getting beyond yet another example of wild weather and the growing body of evidence of our unrelenting upending of the world's climate, I'm just looking forward to the snow. Heck, I may be even stay up late enough to greet the first flakes as they descend from the sky.

Bring 'em on!

(I'll worry about shoveling later.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Night Running

For the first time in nearly a decade, I've found it challenging to run regularly.

No, I haven't suddenly lost my joy of slapping feet on pavement. Nor have I injured myself or reached the point at which muscles, tendons and joints rebel.

For a while, I could blame the fall off on our move to Iowa. There was so much to do – find a town and a home in which to live, transition to a new job and a newly created one at that with its attendant expectations and pressures. Then, once we did move to our home, we were consumed by all the renovations needed to make it habitable.

And, oh yeah, we have two very active young boys.

So, on this long to-do list, running pretty much took up the caboose. Even as we got more settled in our house and I more comfortable with what I was doing at work, I still was having difficulty carving out the time to run.

I could hardly blame the children, or Michelle, for the lack of time. I mean, I could wake up early in the morning, before work, and go for a jog. A lot of people do that. But I'm not a morning person. I'll be darned if I'm going to watch the sunrise as I'm grimacing through a workout. In fact, the last time I forced myself to run in the early morning was when I was training for my first marathon in 2003. And yet the few times I managed to roust myself, I do remember an intense feeling of satisfaction as I watched the sun rise above the ocean and bathe me with first rays, like I had been born again. But despite the emotional rapture, I mostly avoided morning jogs.

Nights are tough, too. That's children time, and it simply wouldn't be fair to give that up for my own wants and needs.

I had a handy runaround for a while. I ran twice a week during the lunch hour with some coworkers from my department and other offices around the Brown U. campus. The building where I worked had a shower, so it was easy to pop in, wash up and be back at my desk with little time in transit. Plus, I could check my email immediately after the run, in the off chance that I needed to respond to something immediately.

It was a very good gig, better than I should have known.

There's no such arrangement here. No coworkers to run with during lunch. And, worse, no nearby shower. Instead, there's a university rec center that I can pay to join (inexpensively, I might add), but it's several blocks away. Likewise, the city's rec center is several blocks away (although with free lockers and showers). Logistically, it just makes the whole exercise a lot tougher.

It all left me with a gnawing frustration. I need an outlet; and, I'm not talking about crocheting, or something like that. Real, physical activity, to clear my mind and wear out my body. That's what I need, or I feel caged, bottled up.

In short, I needed to figure out how to get running again.

A couple of weeks ago, it finally dawned on me: How about running at night? Come home after work, play with the children for a bit, sit with them for dinner, put them to sleep. And when that's all done, go out for a run.

The thought had crossed my mind before, but I had swatted it away. I didn't feel comfortable not seeing where I was running, afraid I would step into a hole or trip over something in the road. I also didn't have any fluorescent running clothes, which made me fearful of not being seen by a wayward car. And, by the time we get the children in bed, it's usually pushing 8 o'clock, and my mind is closer to bed than to anything else.

Something had to give. It was either night or nothing. So, one night about three weeks ago I skipped dinner and after getting the children to sleep, I slipped on a light-colored winter running shirt and took off.

The neat thing about our little town is it doesn't take long to get out of it. This is no urban jungle. In fact, where we live, I'm on a rural road in minutes. My favorite one is a straight shot north out of town. I slip by the Cornell College ballfields, over the railroad tracks and countryside, here I am. I chug along, over one small rise, past a house on the right and its barking dog, over a bridge and the iced sliver of a creek. A little farther on, I see the lights of a smattering of houses in the woods on the right, and then it's up another rise to a view toward the horizon in all directions. I run a while longer, my breath leaving a wispy trail with each exhale in the cold air. The turnaround is a real highlight. As soon as I do it, I look up, and soak in the stars in the southern sky, fully illuminated, a jumble of constellations framed against the faint silkiness of the Milky Way. Directly in front of me on the horizon are the twinkling golden lights on the hill and a church spire silhouetted against the night sky.

I smile and plod toward home.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hoopin' weekend

It was a hoopin' weekend.

We traveled this past weekend to watch my brother-in-law Matt's basketball team play. That's Minot State University (No. Dakota), a newly minted NCAA Div. II team to those who are unaware. It was Michelle and my (and the boys') first time to see Matt live, although we've watched numerous games when was head coach at Jamestown College and now that he's with the Beavers.

For me, a lover of roundball, it was a special treat. Watching games is so much more fun when you feel like you have something invested that is more than casual entertainment. Granted, I love my Duke Blue Devils, as it's my alma mater. But there's a different feeling when someone from your (extended) family is involved, whose energy, ambitions and livelihood are on the line. You are all in, and there's no in between.

It is that way with Matt's teams. So, when we looked at Minot State's schedule at the beginning of the year, this weekend jumped out at us. For two reasons, principally: One, the team would be in northeast Nebraska and Sioux Falls, So. Dakota, the closest they'd be to us this season. And, that, folks, is not all that close, 5 1/2 hours away. We also noticed that the first game, on Friday, of the back-to-back twinbill was against Wayne State, where Matt started as a graduate assistant and rose to assistant coach in four-plus years there. So, let's say there'd be a little something extra for that contest, no matter what Matt or anyone else said.

We took off for Wayne about 1 on Friday afternoon. The game started at 8, so we figured we had plenty of time. Yes and no. I tend to underestimate Iowa's width, so that took a little longer than anticipated. Michelle and I underestimated how long it takes little boys to get out of a car, walk into a bathroom, pull down britches and pee. And, neither of us took fully into account driving rural roads in a remote section of Nebraska at night.

I'm talking Nebraska 175 west. Go look at the map. 175 branches from I-29, heading like a straight shot west. Road atlases are deceptive in many ways. States generally fit on one page, no matter their size. So you get Nebraska on one page, just as you'd have Rhode Island. Need to look at that legend, because what may be a thumb's length in Nebraska is probably the same as driving the length of the Ocean State. Maybe more.

Back to 175. This stretch looked simple, as I said, nothing more than a straight line west. Well, we got off I-29 and within minutes were crossing an old steel-trussed bridge that arched like a gymnast on a balance beam. To our surprise, we saw a sign as we crossed that there was a toll. $1. When we got over the bridge, there was a single-level structure a half-step up from a shack. No gate. No lights. No sign telling you to stop. We slowed down, unsure where the window was, or the attendant for that matter. As we drove along the side, we saw a figure at a window. We stopped. An old lady in a dress slid open the window, took the dollar, politely said thank you and slid it shut, all in about 15 seconds. Transaction completed, we were on our way, and our lady probably returned to her knitting.

175 is one of the most entertaining roads I've driven. For the better part of 10 miles, it was like riding a roller coaster. Up, up we go, reach the top, and down, down, down we go. Reach the bottom, and up, up, up we go again. Hump after hump, hill after hill, exactly the same. No curve, no deviation. Up, down, up, down. A biker's nightmare, a geologist's dream.

We made it to Wayne about 20 minutes before game time, with me gunning it about 80 on the rural roads. The game was entertaining, if not thrilling. Both teams appeared to be going through the motions, not playing badly per se, but not competing with any more intensity than you might find at a NBA regular season matchup. But Wayne State made the mistake of letting Minot State hang around for too long, and a couple of treys late put the Beavers ahead, and they played excellent defense down the stretch to steal a win.

The next night, we were in South Dakota, as the Beavers took on Augustana College, a superior team on paper and in the standings. Minot fell behind early and trailed by 8-12 points most of the game. Yet late, they forced a few turnovers, made some nice plays and nearly pulled off the upset, losing by two.

All in all, a good weekend for team comprised of NAIA players playing in a higher league. Credit to Matt, he's got his team playing cohesively, with passion, intensity and grittiness. The players have bought into his philosophy, and they've notched some nice wins to reward their effort and conviction. They may not be pretty, but the Beavers are a fun team to watch, a bunch you can feel good about rooting for.

I also realized from this weekend how complicated it is to coach college basketball at any level. It is not simply coaching basketball, although the practices, the strategizing, the game tape analysis, the in-game instructions and adjustments are so much more complex than even an ardent fan like me can fully appreciate. There's also all the logistics; the team meals, arranging the hotels, the travel (by bus, too), the academics, the management of players and your own coaches. It's just a heck of a lot of moving parts. And underlying all of that is one simple truth: Winning matters entirely.

You've got to really love what you're doing to put up with all that.

We know Matt does. And we're glad we have his team to root for.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Little Grownup

It seems like it happened overnight, but our little Nathaniel has become quite the little grownup.

Most mornings, including weekends, he gets up, strolls to the bathroom, pees, and returns to his room to play quietly while mommy and daddy snooze (and that sleepmonster, Isaiah, too). Sometimes, he doesn't come into our bedroom until after 8.

Shangri-la, baby.

It gets better. Natty Lou has taken an interest in dressing himself, especially when his clothes du jour include a Star Wars t-shirt and sweatpants. Michelle noticed this behavior and decided to up the ante. One night, she spread Nathaniel's clothes on the floor, just like he would be wearing them. Beginning at one end, the layout looked like this: Socks, then jeans (or sweatpants), with underwear (Mickey Mouse and Star Wars) laid on top, followed by t-shirt (or undershirt) and long-sleeve sweater, pullover or shirt. If you were to view it from above, the arrangement resembled a two-dimensional stick figure, with the floor as a backdrop.

Nathaniel knew exactly what to do. He got up, dressed himself and barged into our room, proud of his achievement.

It was one early morning wake up call we could handle.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Surprise, surprise! A blog post. Really.

Right before Christmas, it snowed for the first time this season. We got roughly five inches, enough to lay a pretty blanket of white on the ground and to make the holidays seem pretty and bright. 

It was also enough to make sledding a go. The day after it snowed, a Friday as I recall, Uncle Matt came over, and he and I took the boys out in search of a hill. I knew about one definitive sledding hill; when Michelle and I were scouting towns in which to live last summer, we noticed that Mount Vernon reserved one street for sledding. We knew this, because at the top of the street (and the top of the hill) there was a gate that would close off the street to vehicles. Down the street there were other gates along the side streets to keep vehicles from crossing the sledding hill-street. To clinch it all, there also was a sign that laid out the sledding hours and rules.

A street that is turned into a sledding hill. We thought that was pretty cool.

Back to the story: So, I knew about the street sledding hill. But a neighbor who grew up in Mt Vernon told me that a lot of bigger children use that hill, and, considering our boys are just 4 and 2, respectively, I was concerned they might get overrun. So, we all tromped over to Cornell College, its campus located on a hill, to find a spot.

Surprisingly, despite many slopes, it was hard to find a good sledding place. The college is pretty densely packed, and many of the hills led into a street, or parking lot, or there were a bunch of trees. Eventually, Matt, the boys, and I found a decent slope, and we got to it. We just had to be careful to make sure we stopped ourselves before we hit a concrete wall, and we had to avoid steering too far to the right, so we wouldn't go careening over a six-foot drop into a parking lot. Not ideal, but we made the best of it, and most importantly the boys had a good time.

Still, the street sledding hill was in the back of my mind as I decided to take the boys sledding the following weekend. I must admit that I was curious about the hill. Just passing by it as we walked by the street on our way downtown, and back, I knew it was a good sledding hill. At the top was a nice crown that after several feet, became a steep descent that went about the length of a block. Then the street, leveled off gradually. In all, if you could get good momentum and stay on course, it appeared you could go for 6 to 7 blocks. That's a doggone good run.

Knowing all this, I couldn't resist the temptation any longer. I packed the boys in a tow wagon, and we headed toward the street sledding hill. To my surprise, there were only a smattering of people there – a lady and two youngish children and a dad with a pair of youngsters. I felt better about our decision immediately. But what next? I couldn't leave 2-year-old Isaiah at the top of the hill himself, so I needed to figure out how we'd all go down together. We had two sleds, a rectangular toboggan and a plastic saucer. I tried all three of us on the toboggan. We lurched forward, then quickly veered leftward. Before I knew it, we careened onto the bank, our sled flew out from under us, and we all tumbled out onto the snow. 

Isaiah wasn't thrilled about our spill. So, that was the end of the three-person toboggan. My next idea was to put the boys into the toboggan, and to follow them in the saucer, while holding onto their sled. This actually worked better than expected: We slid down the hill, and we got some good velocity. The trouble was we had no way to control ourselves. Inevitably, the boys' toboggan would get turned around, or mine, or both. While thrilling, it also introduced the element of danger, of running into a tree or spilling over the side of the course. Still, it was the best we could do, and it all went just fine until the last run.

It all started out fine. The boys leading on the toboggan, me following on the saucer, one hand clasped to the boys' sled. Partway down, the boys turned backward, and the rope got tangled under their sled. I tried to yank the rope out as I was turning backward. We kept skidding down the hill, now on the steep part, both of us facing backward. Now, we were moving right, toward the side of the street. I glanced behind me, made a quick check of our location, and turned my attention back to trying to turn the boys' sled into the forward position. Bam! My lower back smacked into a signpost, thinly covered by an orange vest. The boys had tumbled off their sled and were looking at me. I was so shocked I just sat there and laughed. 

Isaiah didn't think it was funny. He was pretty traumatized. And, once I got up, I wasn't laughing either.   I walked gingerly, hunched over, as we trudged home.

The thing about sledding, though, is once you start doing it, despite the hazards and spills, you don't want to stop. So, a couple of weekends later, we were back out there, this time accompanied by Michelle. We've been in a deep freeze, with nighttime temperatures often in the single digits. The hill, with all its use and the freezing weather, had gotten quite icy. It was so slick in spots that you could slide down it on your stomach. Still, we were there; shouldn't we do it?

Well, we did. And it was great. It was great, because I figured how to guide the toboggan, meaning I could "steer" it down the hill, keep it in the middle of the course and give us a nice, long ride all the way to the bottom. Let me tell you, it was awesome. Fast, zippy, wind-in-your-face, hair-raising ride. Even better, the boys loved it, too.

Can't wait to get out there again.