Freezing My…

Ran this morning, first thing. It was cold–14 degrees. That isn’t too bad but it was way windy. I ran up Carpenter Road but turned around after a mile and a half. I was afraid of getting frostbite on my face. It was a crosswind, so either direction I was getting it.

Then I took a turn to try a different route. I figured it would be in the trees. I had a tailwind for a bit, over the river and into the woods. I didn’t even get close to Grandma’s house, however. When I got to the class IV part of the road, I was walking like an elderly grandmother. It was so icy that I could hardly walk at all. At the rise, where I could see down the road a ways, I could see that the skating rink kept going. I bagged.

It was warm yesterday, in the 40’s. Things melted. Then it got cold. Things froze. It made for great skating, but I was running. I did not get as far as I wanted, but so it goes. I went home and stirred the fire in the wood stove. And I had coffee. I warmed up soon enough.

Went into Burlington today for the Mardi Gras parade. We were concerned about finding a place to park, so we drove part way to take the bus. The bus was late. We stood around in the icy wind, the family and I. We got chilled. The bus was full, which I thought was a good plug for public transportation. If it was more reliable and stopped closer to home I might use it more.

Not as Warm as New Orleans

Not as Warm as New Orleans

Waiting for the parade to start, and walking down the street, we got chilly. The kids have less mass that the adults they live with, so they got colder faster. They forgot about the cold when the crazy floats started passing and the people in zany costumes started throwing bead necklaces and moon pies. But once the noise and commotion passed us by, we split. We warmed up in the mall for ten minutes while watching for anyone we knew or didn’t.

The children did not play outside much today, but at least we got plenty of fresh air. And we got to take a bus ride. That was a highlight for them. The temperature did not rise above 20 degrees here at the house. The bank thermometer in Burlington read 24 degrees when we passed it. That was such crap. I know it was windy but 24? No way.

Now we have way too many bead necklaces, more plastic crap that we don’t need that will outlive all of us. Tomorrow I need to try again for a morning run. The bummer is that is forecast to be even colder tonight than last night–a low of 5. We hope to go skiing tomorrow as well. Maybe the afternoon will be our time to play. I don’t want to freeze any parts of me.

Robins and Blackbirds

Robins on High

Robins on High

The kids and I went for a ramble this afternoon down the muddy road to the river. We checked out the ice flowing over the fields and the ice on the river. We felt the rain on our faces and smelled the melting snow. Our boots squished in the mud. And we saw lots of birds.

First, we saw and heard about 100 robins. It must have been the same flock I saw yesterday. Apparently the harbingers of spring are ready to get that season rolling. We also heard and saw red-winged blackbirds. I consider those much more of a spring sign than robins. Robins often can be seen all winter, while blackbirds always head south in the fall. When they are back, spring can’t be far off.

We also saw a flock of waxwings and listened to them cheerp high in a leafless maple. And, of course, we saw bluebirds. The bluebirds never left. And there were bluejays and ravens, the usual winter noisemakers. It felt like a day of winter-turning-to-spring. We have more winter in store. It will get into the single digits within the next few days. But once the red-winged blackbirds are back, winter doesn’t have much longer before the green starts busting out.

And then we will have snipes and woodcocks and sparrows and warblers and all the rest. I can hardly wait to welcome them back.

Waffle Cabin

Up at Bolton Valley they have a Waffle Cabin, a shack outside the main lodge that sells, uh, waffles.  It was not open when we were there yesterday in the afternoon.  Not sure what was up with that.  Why wouldn’t you have this unique snack shack open on a beautiful day during school break?  Seemed like a missed opportunity to me.

We went up for night skiing tonight.  The kids wanted to try it and this was as good a time as any.  It was pretty much perfect–warm, soft snow, not crowded at all.  The corporate race event was happening and they got a kick out of that.  They had so much fun they did not want to stop.  Twice we did just one more run, then we had to get home for bed.

We checked when we got there to make sure we would get a waffle before the hut closed.  We had plenty of time to ski before then so we got in a few runs first.  My daughter is shredding it up these days.  She has gained a lot of confidence and so is really having lots of fun now.  We could say I told you so, but what would that accomplish?  Our little guy has lots of ground to cover.  Maybe next year he will get it.

The waffles were dang good.  Crispy and fatty and covered in chocolate.  And warm.  They had been recommended by a friend so highly that we had to try them.  I had seen the building and was curious, but could take it or leave it.  Then Nicole talked it up, telling us she would look forward all day to having one of the waffles when she knew she would be up there.  She was right about them.  I want another one.

It is the perfect example of word of mouth marketing.  The place has high visibility but no real flash.  It does smell good when things are cooking and word has now spread.  Knowing this now, I really can’t figure out why they would not have been open yesterday.  We may go up again tomorrow (the kids are now eager to hit the slopes again) and that place better be open if we do.  I’m already jonesing.

Bazillion Versus Gajillion

So which is bigger, a bazillion or a gajillion?  I vote for a bazillion but what do I look like?  A mathematician?  I feel like we use superlatives so often that they often have no meaning.  So really, what the hell difference does it make?

One of my least favorite superlatives is “extreme.”  While it isn’t as popular as it used to be, there are approximately a gajillion things out there labeled “extreme.”  There are fast food meals, frozen pizzas, video games, even underwear (“extreme comfort”).  I think it is a little ridiculous.  Hey, some marketer says, let’s hop on the extreme bandwagon.  Extreme sells.

I finally had my fill of extreme when I saw an advertisement (on a restroom wall poster of all places) for “Extreme” truck bed liners.  These were spray on liners for the beds of pickup trucks.  Extreme?  I mean, I can see how a climb up a remote rugged peak can be extreme.  I can see how an athletic event can be extreme (run across the Sahara anyone?).  I can even see how a hot pepper can be labeled extreme.  But a spray on truck bed liner?  That went too far.

So I am in pursuit of some answers.  Maybe you can help me out.  Which is bigger?  I really want to know what you think.  Let’s give some meaning to these terms.   I don’t need a number.  I know they aren’t real numbers.  I just need an answer:  Which do you think is bigger and why?

If I get at least 100 answers in the comments I will send a rubberized foam velociraptor to the best answer.  An extreme toy, if you will.  I look forward to hearing what you think.

Sore and Glad to be Sore

Apparently over six feet of snow fell on Bolton Valley over the past week. That is pretty nuts. That is a lot of snow. Their total for the year so far was 272 inches when I checked earlier. When we lived up there we had a few 300-inch years. Those were good years. This one is shaping up to be in the running.

I left later than I wanted this morning but I finally got my gear together and headed up there. I was solo. My wife stayed home with the children while I skied. I was riding the lift about an hour after they opened. Come to think of it, the lift I was riding might have opened a little later than the others, so maybe I was only a half hour behind first tracks, but I did pretty well. There was plenty of untracked powder for me to track up. I only skied for an hour and a half but that was about all I could take.

I would ride up, ski down and hop right back on. No dallying for me. Since I telemark, deep snow means lots of up and down. For someone who has not skied much this winter, it also means sore thighs. I could feel the burn as I hopped and carved. I did stop in the middle of runs more than once, to take a break and catch my breath, but also just to marvel at the snow. It was deep and beautiful and wondrous.

I don’t know how many runs I took. Plenty, I suppose. I got way tired and had lots of fun. Snow that deep feels just plain dreamy. Floating on it feels like flying. I sometimes compare it to whitewater boating. Both offer the sensation of fluid movement, where one feels partly in control and partly in the flow of gravity and the elements. Catching a turn or a wave just right makes me feel a union of sorts with the world.

That is what life is about–the feeling of being so in the moment, feeling so part of your little piece of the world, that all else falls away. Joy, that’s what it is. Call it idealistic if you will, or even foolish, but if you do, I am guessing you have never had the feeling. It can come from other things as well, I am sure.  These are two that I know.

Driving home I could feel my sore muscles with every depression of the clutch. It reminded me that I should get out there more. I should take the time to get out there, and I should make sure my kids get to know that feeling of joy through experience. I am sore, but I hope to get out there again tomorrow. We will take the kids, but we will also get a few runs in ourselves, just to see if there is some powder still to cut up somewhere on the edge of the trail. Maybe I will find a spot tomorrow to ride the fluff again, even for just a few turns.

A Little Skiing

It’s not like I get out there that much these days.  My spouse and I used to get out at least once a week to ski, often long days in the backcountry.  Of course, we lived in the mountains.  We could walk out the door and access hundreds of acres of wilderness.  We also could walk out the door and ride the lift to ski or snowboard.  We used to sled on the groomed ski trails.

I’m not saying “Oh those were the days” or anything.  I’m no sentimental sap.  Living there was amazing but it also was pretty much impossible to walk out the door in the winter and safely go for a run.  A five mile steep road, covered in snow and hemmed in by snow banks is the place to run if you want to get back home.  But we did get in lots of skiing.

Yesterday I had one day at least of the kind of adventure we used to have.  I went with a handful of other gentlemen, poking around for some slides in the Adirondacks.  We found the snowmobile trail, skied up that, the puttered about looking for some access in the woods.  It was thick, filled in with hobblebush and birch saplings that had sprung up from the ice storm ten years ago.  Eventually, however, we found the slopes.

There were a couple of steep slopes, covered in powerdery snow.  There was a little ice underneath, but hardly much.  We were in there, we sweated, and we earned out turns.  It was great fun.  We sat for lunch at the top of an open slice of moutain, snow falling like crazy, with our backs a frozen waterfall and ate lunch before dropping down.  It was pretty dang good.

In the past week five feet of snow has fallen in the mountains.  Tomorrow, school on break, my wife and I both off, we will get into those mountains and, hopefully, link some turns.  I got in a little skiing.  I hope to get in much more this week.

Plastic Crap

I have way too much plastic crap.  It is all around me.  This computer is mostly plastic.  I eat off plastic.  I wear plastic.  I drive around in a vehicle made largely of plastic.  I am swimming in plastic.  I mean this, at least occasionally, literally.  Have you ever been to one of those kid play spaces where one can wade through a sea of multi-colored plastic balls?  I have.  It was a nice swim.  And it was lots of plastic.

Seriously.  Look around.  Plastic is everywhere.  And we take it for granted.  If you do a little reading about plastic and if you start noticing, it gets a little scary.  Think about this:  Except for a minuscule amount that has been incinerated, every bit of plastic ever created still exists.  It doesn’t go away.  It doesn’t biodegrade.  It doesn’t go back to the earth.  It sits around and clutters up the place.

Here is something you should know.  In the North Pacific Ocean there is a patch of water that spins slowly around so that everything floating in it eventually comes together.  It is called the North Pacific subtropical gyre, and it contains more plastic than any other place on earth.  It covers the surface of the ocean in an area about twice the size of Texas.  For those of you not familiar with United States geography, Texas is a state and it is, as the locals like to brag, really really big.

And then there is this:  this gyre is one of five.  There are four others.  They are filled with bottle caps and chairs and bags and toy dolls and flip flops and logs of Styrofoam.  All the plastic that gets tossed aside somewhere without being buried eventually makes it to the ocean.  It floats about and floats about.  It never goes away.  Some of it breaks down into smaller pieces but it never loses its molecular structure.  The plastic bag that you used one time to carry a plastic bottle of lotion (that you also used one time) flies out your window and will be around for hundreds of years.  At least.

One woman decided she would try to keep things in check.  She decided to try to reduce her plastic use so that as little plastic as possible was added to her life.  She keeps a blog that I have been reading, and I recommend it.  It is inspiring.  It has made me keenly aware of my own plastic consumption and waste.  She calls it Fake Plastic Fish and its tag line is this:  Fake Plastic Fish… they’re cute, and if we don’t solve our plastic problem, they could be the only kind we have left.

If you want to read a fascinating, albeit disturbing, article about plastic, check out Our Oceans are Turning Into Plastic… Are We? It is a thorough read that should get you thinking.  If you are a thinking person, that is.

I now try even harder to keep plastic out of my house.  I have been an advocate of reducing plastic use for a long time, but these days I have been ever more aware of how much it is a spawn of the deh-vill, as my friend Skip would say.  Look around.  I bet you see plastic everywhere you turn.  My guess is that anyone reading this has plastic on his or her body at this moment.  Fleece?  Watch?  Hair clip?  Buttons?  I dare you to tell me you have no plastic on your body.

Again, I have way too much plastic crap.  All these toys and markers hanging around the house don’t help.  I don’t want to revert back to 150 years ago, when plastic did not exist yet.  Plastic has made a huge difference in all our lives.  Think of medicine and food safety, for a couple examples.  But, since only a small percentage of plastic gets recycled, even that which gets dumped into the blue bins to be recycled, I ask you this:  Is that mocha frappuccino you had recently really worth it?  That plastic cup was molded, packed, shipped, unpacked, pulled from a plastic sleeve, filled with that cold frothy drink and served to you.  You enjoyed it for half an hour, if you are a slow sipper, and that cup’s plastic will outlast your great grandchildren’s great grandchildren.

Makes you want to get a good (stainless steel) travel mug, doesn’t it?

Groovy Snow

Ski Tracks Once the Snow Fades

Ski Tracks Once the Snow Fades

We have had some melting over the past several days.  It is cold now but our snow has shrunk.  Check out the cross country ski tracks above.  These were recessed but once things got warm, they seemed to pop right out.  The kids have had fun with it.  They can walk on the surface without busting through and they can make groovy designs like the ones below.  It started snowing again this afternoon.  The road outside is so slick that I slid past the driveway.  I turned around and made it on the second try.  We might get a little of the white stuff but keep hearing the forecast mention “except for the Champlain Valley.”  That would be us.  So maybe we’ll get lucky.  Otherwise we’ll get a couple of inches.  We’ll have to wait for the next storm.

Snow Art

Snow Art

Final Solar Class

I attended the last of three classes at Champlain Valley Union High School last night for a short course on solar photovoltaic installation.  Overall the whole thing was worthwhile.  I know much more than I did before the class.  I am ready to make it happen.  Oh, but that huge price tag.  Ouch.

Would it pay off?  If you look at just the financial pay back it is hard to judge just how long it would take to break even.  It is easy to do the math with some assumptions.  If you keep the cost of electricity static, it would take maybe 20 years to balance the initial investment with monthly savings.  That is a long time.  If the cost were a little lower, then maybe it would be a no brainer.  But the cake is big.

If we invested in a solar system it might cost as much as $40,000 to install a system that would generate all the power we use now, before any incentives.  A system might cost less, given some other assumptions, and we might invest in a smaller system.  There are lots of variables.  Even a $20,ooo price tag would be huge, however.  If we figure in interest, since we would have to finance a system, the cost grows.  It is the right thing to do, but it is hard to swallow such a huge investment, especially when it means saving maybe 60 bucks a month.

We just started the refinancing process.  We will save more than $60/month  just by getting a lower interest rate on our mortage (4.5%!) but that is a bigger loan.  The scale thing just makes such a big difference.  If incentives were high enough that we could reduce the initial cost and the time to breaking even, I would be ready to make it happen.  We just can’t afford to do it right now.

I will keep my finger on the pulse of what might change with alternative energy (What’s up with “alternative” for wind and solar, anyway?  Shouldn’t coal be considered alternative?).  Until the cost goes down, or we get a big influx of cash, however, it ain’t happenin’.  I could use a little of that stimulus over my way.


I had the day off today.  It’s President’s Day.  I get it off, paid.  Why work on a day like that?  But I did.  Not much, but I did.  I needed to send a bunch of appointment reminders on Friday but I didn’t have time to do it.  So then I should have done it Saturday.  Or Sunday.  And then it was Monday.  I had to get it done this morning.

I sent the reminders by email so of course I noticed, when I opened my email program, that I had a couple of messages that needed immediate responses.  One was from a student who has a looming deadline.  Another was from a parent I should have called on Thursday.  Crap.  So I answered those before sending the messages I needed to send.

I have a series of workshops tomorrow and, due to the aforementioned busy Friday, I did not plan for them completely.  I had to find out exactly when I need to be there and to confirm the agenda.  So that meant more work today.  Not much, but more.  I can’t get away.  That is part of the deal with my job, I guess.  I have a flexible schedule but I often can’t just leave it at the office.  My office is at home.

I did get out and about today.  I was in search of a pot lid.  It is from a Williams Sonoma pot that we got a dozen years ago.  My wife pulled the lid from over some boiling water and dipped it under the faucet flowing with cold water.  It was a glass lid, but it shattered when she did that.  She was distracted.  For a while we just went without a lid but for the past year I have been half-heartedly searching for a replacement.  When I called the company they told me I need to go to a store so someone could look at it.

At the store they told me that no replacements are available.  No lids from current pot designs will fit and they literally cannot get me a lid to an old pot.  They don’t make them, they don’t stock them, they can’t get me one.  No can do.  I was a little dumbstruck.  I asked if this was part of a conspiracy to simply get me to buy a whole new pot.  I got no verbal response to that question.

So I will hunt for one online and elsewhere.  I must be able to find one somewhere.  I know I can find a lid of some kind that fits.  I could get a universal lid that would work in a pinch, but I want another glass one that fits.  My wife promises not to put it under cold water again, unless the lid is already cold.  So my search is on again and I am more determined than ever.  I will show Williams Sonoma that a lid can be found, despite their buy-it-don’t-fix-it policies.

I will start that search right away.  As soon as I fill the bird feeders again.  And wash those dishes.  And close my email program.