SnowZilla – Flag karma’s a bi*ch!

A propitious time for thumb surgery!

Kensington, MD, January 22 – 23 – 24, 2016 — Snowpocolypse, snowmagedden, snowzilla. In the Washington, D.C. area we name our epic snow storms.

Maybe it’s because political exaggeration carries over to normal life, though you would seldom notice that by living in our very anodyne suburban communities.

In the Washington burbs, you might as well be in a normal place, say Minneapolis for example.  The miniapple – the metaphor is very apropos during a big snow.  We spent four winters there.  We know first hand.

I made a propitious marriage to a girl from New Hampshire.  Her snow throwing skills are legend having developed her technique from childhood. She’s had plenty of practice as I have usually managed to be thousands of miles away on business when the big ones have hit.

Her prowess was handy once again this time around.  The storm struck less than a day after a long scheduled Dupeytren’s release surgery on my left thumb.

There I was, forced into the unmanly role of spectator to an awesome display of sisu.  She shoveled almost around the clock for three days and pinned ole SnowZilla to the mat.  (The moral of this story:  Never mess with a full-blooded Finn, even if you are Mother Nature!)

If you recall from my previous post, my wife told me not to put up that flag.  Seeing the resulting karma in action is believing, so rather than write about it, here’s a down and dirty video I threw together to prove it.  Enjoy!

View Here

**I use cloud sharing services because copyrighted music is involved and cannot be used for public performance.  Thanks to Mannheim Steamroller for some great music.**

Last act.  Refill the bird feeders.

Jonas.  We kicked your butt!

Flag Karma

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Kensington, Maryland, January 4, 2016 — I got myself in big trouble the other day.  The Christmas season was over and it was time to change the banner we habitually fly from our front porch.  More on how much trouble I’m in a minute.

I didn’t give the next flag much thought.  We have so many that I usually just grab one that is seasonal and we haven’t flown in awhile.

We have a storage container full of awesome banners. In total there are more than two dozen. We get them from master flag makers Carole and Mark Bisgrove in Massachusetts.  Some we’ve had for 20 years.  They are indestructible.

By way of full disclosure, Mark and I fished together as kids in the Ashland, Mass. reservoir when I’d pay an occasional summer visit to my cousins who lived across the street.  More on Carole and Mark’s flags here. Continue reading

Nisu 


Kensington, MD, Christmas Eve, 2015 — My favorite family Christmas tradition is baking Bertha Kymalainen’s Finnish bread called nisu.

Bertha was my wife’s mother and our daughter Liisa’s grandmother. We miss her, especially at this time of year.

When we were first married, a nisu would arrive via mail right in time for Christmas.

Bertha would wrap it as air tight as she could because this delightful wonder dries out in a flash. No matter, we loved it. If it was a bit arid, we’d slather it with butter or dunk it in coffee to moisten it up.

Eventually I asked her for the recipe. I have it to this day, penned in her own hand on yellowing pocket notebook paper.


This year I can’t bake nisu because I’m recovering from hand surgery. Time for daughter Liisa to step in to save our tradition.

You see, by her own description, Liisa doesn’t like to cook, but step up she did.

Nisu is a braided egg bread. It must rise three times, the final time in the baking pan. In all, it takes six full hours to prepare, e.g., start at noon. Eat at six.

I used to wake at 0300 in order to have the nisu ready in time to open presents Christmas morning.

A couple of years ago I wised up and switched this family treat to Christmas Eve when we started opening presents after Santa move on to houses with younger kids.

Today Liisa took over with old pop hanging around as bench coach.


  

Isn’t technology wonderful!



 Now to rise one last time.


  
 Brush with coffee. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar. Bake.

Drench with powdered sugar frosting. Sprinkle with nuts. Decorate with cherries. Eat warm!

Hauskaa Joulua everyone.

Is Facebook Killing Christmas Letters?

What a difference a year makes.  On the left 2015.  On the right 2014.

Kensington, MD, December 1, 2015 — It can’t be December already.  Part of me wants to ‘say it ain’t so’ while another part can’t wait for what promises to be a joyous holiday season.

It’s a time of year when everyone tends to contemplate meaning.  No matter what your faith tradition, or even if you are only driven by the astronomical calendar, this is a time of reflection and renewal as we close one chapter in life, anticipate for longer days and turn to next year.

As I contemplate what to write in our holiday newsletter, my mind is flooded with jumbled thoughts ricocheting inside my skull.  Generally I prepare a newsy and positive recap of the past year’s highlights without looking forward too much. I just have to get it organized.

It occurred to me though, as I noodled on how to craft the story, that Facebook is killing family Christmas letters.

I mean, what could anyone write that their Facebook “friends” don’t already know in much greater detail than they could pen in a 250 word essay?  Worse, readers can now fact check my (usually) glossy facsimile of the year gone by.

Seriously, I could get busted for sugar-coating.  As a former spin doctor, I would be automatically suspect.

Oh oh! Could it be that software has disrupted our lives yet again?

The fact is that not everyone on my holiday card list is a Facebook “friend.” That alone, will ensure the existence of my traditional holiday letters.  After all, even buggy whip manufacturing, black smiting survived profound technological disruption.

As for what to write, my head aches with thoughts of our nation’s political discord, world problems, climate change, poverty, ignorance, violence and just plain stupidity.

On the other hand, There is hope.  The sun rises every day, our family is together and healthy, our lives have purpose and meaning, and we have a lot for which to look forward.  Isn’t that what this season is all about?

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We shared a special multi-cultural Thanksgiving with three of our daughter’s co-workers from India who are working here for six months. It was a wonderful way to jump start the spirit of Christmas.

Now to write that letter.

It’s For the Birds

The days are shorter now.

The days are shorter now.  Storm clouds are on station.  The times, they are a changin’.

November 6, 2015 — Daylight savings time has come and gone, a signal for mother nature to turn down the thermostat and show us who’s boss.  Look around your neighborhood and let the warm cheery window light launch your imagination in the direction of turkey, punkin pie, sugar plumbs and presents under a tree.  After that, winter becomes a black hole the lucky enjoy from a Caribbean vacation or the clamp of ski bindings. The rest pray for spring.

These changes also signal us to help our feathered friends.  Last week the first dark eyed juncos arrived.  These brave members of the sparrow family are among my favorite flying friends.  They breed in the arctic and winter in more temperate climates.  These little guys kept me company on the Appalachian Trail as I marched northward from Georgia all the way to New York.

Dark eyed junko. Courtesy flickr.

Dark eyed junco. Courtesy flickr.

Juncos are ground feeders.  In fact, I’ve never seen one perched on one of our feeders.  As such, they must compete on the ground with squirrels, chipmunks, doves, cardinals and other birds much larger then themselves.  Fortunately for them, birds are messy feeders and there’s plenty of dropped seed to be found under our feeders.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark-eyed_junco

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This year we decided to add a second feeding station across the yard near the aucuba and holly that screens our yard.  Our feathery customers snatch a seed and dive under cover of the evergreens to munch in safety where the neighborhood hawks can’t get at them.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We've identified 35 different ones over four years.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We’ve identified 35 different species over four years. The most common are sparrows and house finches followed by mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, and tufted titmice.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

Customers in the house.

Customers in the house.

A little art found on the front walk.

A little art found on the front walk.

Among the Joy$ of Retirement

Time to paint.

Time for momma to paint. (Photo altered with the Pencil Sketch app.)

When we downsized, we bought a “functional” house and remodeled it in a way that our real estate agent says is attractive empty-nesters like us.  It is a custom built three bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood with which we’ve been associated for more than 30 years.  We adore the convenience, setting and the nature associated with the Rock Creek national recreational trail that helps define our leafy ‘burb.

This is our “forever” house.  After a lifetime of moving, we’re dropping anchor.  Like any of the 13 houses we’ve owned, this one has its challenges.  You adapt them to you where you can and you adjust to them as needed.

On the plus side, we love the backyard and low-rise deck.  We moved the laundry from the basement to the smallest bedroom in a way that a conversion back to a bedroom would be little more than a few bucks and a couple of hours work.  We also vaulted the living room ceiling, installed a bow window and skylights and opened up the entry to a glass-enclosed sun room. This house was built in 1953, so kitchen and bath updates, new windows and doors were necessary.  Soy foam wall insulation added R-21 to our walls and drastically chopped heating and air conditioning bills which helped pay for the remodeling.

On the downside, the over/under stairs to the attic and basement made it impossible to open up the kitchen, a feature we miss.  An expensive elevator we couldn’t afford would have solved that problem, so you adapt.  There are other nits, but that’s the biggest one.

We got rid of enough furniture, but not enough junk before moving in.  Our daughter occupied the basement au pair suite for awhile and we still are harboring a ton of her “stuff” that doesn’t fit into her nearby apartment.  Storage space is at a premium.

Everyone’s excess is choking the utility portion of the basement.  We also need new furniture.  Ours has been moved nine times including once overseas.  We decided to wait to buy furniture and paint permanent colors until we had the house figured out.  After four years, we’re ready.

Here’s where the joy$ come in.  Retirement is expensive. Some things you can anticipate, like the need for long-term care insurance if you can afford it. Then there are the unwanted gratuities that arrive as bolts out of a blue sky.

2015-09-29 11.46.11My wife totaled her car two weeks ago.  Fortunately she was uninjured.  Ker-ching!  Okay.  Maybe we don’t want to and it’s going to pinch, but we can absorb the added cost of replacing a late model car after the insurance payout.  No sooner than we had the replacement home, the check engine light winked on in my car.  Oh, oh.

I drive cars until the wheels fall off, so to speak.  My Acura was 12-years-old with just under 100,000 miles.  It should have been good for 75 – 100,000 more. To that end, I plowed a ton of (unanticipated) money in it earlier this summer.

The little red check engine light proved to be lipstick on a painted lady.  Her price for going all the way was eye-popping. In a matter of months I would have “invested” a lot more than the car was worth, so I donated it to public radio.  I’d been coveting a sexy a Subaru Forester for my trail work anyway, so I didn’t need much of a nudge to breakup with an old floozy who overplayed her hand.

Naturally none of this was in the budget, especially buying two cars in two weeks.  Of course, there’s more work to be done on the house and yard.  We’ve begun repainting the interior and will be hunting for new furniture soon.  Hard to undo that.  Then, we always seem to need something like new glasses.  My hiking adventures aren’t cheap either…

Among other things, here’s hoping a pipe doesn’t freeze this winter.

UPDATE:  It was a buggy summer.  Progress on the landscaping has been slow, but there has been some.  The next big push on that front will be a pruning and transplanting just before spring arrives. Over the winter I’ll build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope pictured below.

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Walking in the Woods

This is a cross post from my other blog, “A fork in the road.”  There’s more about my adventures in Georgia there.

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Kensington, MD, April 1, 2015 — Bill Bryson wrote a wonderfully humorous book entitled A Walk in the Woods almost 15 years ago.  It is a story about two totally unprepared old pals attempting on a lark to thru hike the Appalachian Trail.  When I read it, I thought it was humorous fiction.  After ridgerunning in Georgia this March, I know it’s not.  It is as true as true can be, and Bryson was an astute observer.

The movie of the same name, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, will be out this summer.  I can’t wait to see it, but I worry about those who do and then think they’re going to jump on the trail without a care in the world and hoof it up to Maine.  Not that there aren’t plenty of folks hiking this way already.  I just worry how many more of these unprepared innocents will join in the frolic over the next few years, and more importantly, what their impact will be on the trail and its environment.

This blog has noted the incredible number of clueless hikers  observed last month as they attempted to foible themselves through Georgia.  How anyone could jump into the woods having never set up a/their tent before, or show up with packs stuffed with so much that they can barely carry them – with all their gear still hermetically sealed in the original boxes – is beyond any level of sanity I can conceptualize.

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How people can forget that the sun doesn’t always shine, that the days and nights are not always warm, and that rain or snow can be bitterly cold is beyond me.  Misery does not love company on the trail.

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Under the wrong weather conditions – cold rain sleet for example – you could become hypothermic and cease to exist or be seriously injured in the southern Appalachian spring.  It’s happened recently.

Four components of success defined themselves as I observed both the prepared and unprepared go about their business.  I thought a lot about them, comparing what I saw this March with my previous experience on the trail and elsewhere.  Some may disagree with my priorities here they are anyway.

FITNESS.  Being fit, especially cardio fitness, can cover a wide range of other deficits, particularly in older and female hikers.  I couldn’t count the number of late middle age guys (mostly) who, for decades had been chained to their office desks until the week before they started, when they were suddenly paroled to pursue their retirement dreams on the AT. Too many of them went from zero to 60 and back zero in less than a week.

Guys, your high school sports days were close to 50 years ago!  Take a year to get yourself in shape.  Couch potato millennials fall into this same category. What did they think would happen when they rushed to Springer Mountain with little or no prep?  That’s why about a third of hikers don’t make it past the first 30 miles.

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As I hiked my patrol route, I’d watch the out of shape hikers sweat their way up hill chipping tiny step by tiny step up the trail, their wheezing breath hissing like dying steam engines suffering from leaky piston seals.  Pure panic defined pallid faces as the harsh realization sunk in that they were in for more than they bargained.  Their knees quivered under both the oppressive weight of their bodies and the clutter of unneeded gear strapped to their backs.  Their fun meters were pegged at zero.  So much for a walk in the woods.

Some folks are old school, but they're in shape and prepared to go.

Being fit helps prevent common orthopedic injuries, not to mention that you can hump more weight on your back.  Would anyone think that it might be smart to at least attempt lose some weight and/or get into shape before day one?

EXPERIENCE.  Knowledge.  Know-how.  Call it what you will.  Knowing how to live in the woods, and what to do if and when, can be priceless.  Traditionally we might consider learning what’s in the Boy Scout Handbook a good starting point, and it is if you have an up to date copy, not the ancient one with which I grew up.  Excellent information is available on line or in a range of recent how-to books.  Then there’s the confidence born of having been spent a little practice time living outdoors.

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Experience is the best teacher and makes for fewer goof-ups in the woods. AT hikers should know how to hike in the rain and stay dry, stay warm and above all, stay clean.  How about pitching a tent in a storm so it won’t be flooded or blown down?  How big a knife does one need, not want, but need?  First aid anyone?  What do you do if you tear your ACL or impale yourself on a protruding branch?  You should know ’cause 911 response is several hours, if not a day or more away. Leave No Trace anyone?

How about them bears, anyway?

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GEAR.  You can buy your back weight down if you can afford it, but more folks are on tighter budgets than I would have thought.  They simply can’t afford to equip themselves with hyper-light gear.

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The reality is that most of us cannot afford a $600 – $800 Cuben fiber tent weighing mere ounces, much less the full boatload of gear made from this miraculous fabric – rain gear, food bag, pack, etc.

So, what do people do?  A good set of lighter weight gear costs between $1,000 and $1,500 depending on how much of it you can buy on sale.  This type of gear, with five days food and a liter of water, will get your total winter pack weight under 35 lbs. or less depending upon what you think you need to bring.

Properly fitting light weight and flexible boots or trail runners along with dry feet help prevent blisters, the scourge of any hiker.

Unfortunately even that much money is too much for many people.  Their alternative is to buy heavy gear from Walmart or army surplus, either that or they repurpose older but much heavier gear from previous generations.  They pack canned food because they cannot afford the lighter dehydrated meals.  This route alone doesn’t deny success, it just makes everything harder.

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Some hikers don’t know what to buy, even if they can afford it.  That’s what produces the over sized 70 lb. packs stuffed with all sorts of useless trinkets.

Binoculars, camp chairs, bear bells, heavy stoves and stainless steel cooking pots, Carhart canvas jackets and other detritus is what finds itself strewn along the trail. Folks start sinking under the tremendous weight and desperately heave it overboard in hopes of staying afloat as did Bryson’s sidekick Katz in A Walk in the Woods.  Remember:  Are you on the AT to camp or to hike?

ATTITUDE.  Like the Little Engine in the storybook, if you think you can, you can.  Self-confidence and a bit of bravado can take you a long way. Yet, self-doubt racks too many hikers.  The most common question is:  “What have I gotten myself into?” That’s when I want to roll my eyes and intone “Duuuuuude! What were you thinking – that is if you were thinking at all?”

Positive attitude!

Being trail ready on day one is priceless.  Showing up on the starting line fit, knowledgeable, properly equipped and confident isn’t a guarantee, but it gets you off to a great start.

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