My cousin, Emilita, passed away this morning. I was fortunate to have spent time with her at Christmas the last two years and glad she moved closer to home so that she could come to more family gatherings. I took this picture of her sitting next to my grandmother with John in her lap at our Christmas family reunion at Camp Swatara in PA. I think she had one of her children in her lap in most of my photos. I wanted to tell her a few of my favorite memories and thank her for reconnecting in the past few years and have done so in my letter to her below the photo.
To my dear cousin, Emilita -
I am so glad to have known you and am so sad that you are gone. I cried four times today, but smiled when I thought of your booming voice. Your laugh was boisterous and your strength undeniable, but in the end, it wasn't enough to keep you here on earth. I miss you and selfishly wish you were still here; selfishly because I did not know you like your students, your sisters, or your children knew you. They were so lucky.
As a boy, I remember hearing that I had cousins in Idaho and being excited that they had moved to Maryland. I remember staying up until the early morning at Camp Swatara and talking about life, college, and our dreams. I remember visiting you in Inwood before Elias was born and then in the Bronx when he was a tiny baby. I appreciated the way we stayed in touch, but I wasn't so good when I got to grad school.
I was so glad to have reconnected in these past few years and have really appreciated your phone calls asking about how my parents handled difficult situations when I was younger. It made clear to me that you strived for the best for your children and were reflective about how you could be a better mother. I can only hope to do the same as a father. What I appreciate most about you though was that you let your opinion be known. For too long I have not spoken up about my beliefs and you taught me that I should. Even when my opinion couldn't sway a decision and I spoke up, I noticed it actually made me feel stronger instead of helpless. In the future, when I swallow hard and bite my tongue, I will think of you and try to summon the strength to speak. Thank you for that courage.
I just saw you at Christmas, but as usual, the family reunion was hectic and we didn't get a long talk like we used to when we were younger and I regret not making more time to have a longer talk this year. Your passing has made me treasure what time I had with you. Thank you for the memories. I miss you and love you.
Yesterday, my father celebrated a milestone - he turned 70 - and today, he completed a marathon! All of his training has paid off and he got to check off another item on his bucket list. I am so proud of him for his perseverance by training this winter through single digit weather in PA and through all the aches and pains I look forward to in 30 years. Like one of my favorite people always says, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Thanks for the inspiration and congratulations, dad!
His wife, Laura, started planning a surprise party for him a year ago and brilliantly brought together many moving parts including: our family from Asheville, dad's best friends from college (Ron and Cindy) from Kansas City, and other loved ones from the northeast and west coasts. We all have converged in Vero Beach, Florida. Her plan was cemented in place by Thanksgiving when, around the dinner table, dad unexpectedly announced that he would complete a marathon the day after his 70th birthday. His surprise dropped many jaws and Laura did her best to be supportive, but we had some doubts.
After a private fitness consultation with my wife (with 3 marathons under her belt), we decided he was likely to reach his goal. I've always hated running and require being distracted by a ball or frisbee. It tricks my body and I don't think of soccer, basketball, or frisbee as running sports. Susan gave birth only 10 months ago and wasn't quite ready to complete her 4th marathon, so we split it. Susan did the first half with dad and I did the second half. It was 80 degrees and very humid along the water, and the heat really made things slower, but we were able to finish! Below are a few highlights from the finish line and I can honestly say that I finished a marathon with my dad. =)
If Jack Kerouac had met Donald Trump, a conversation like this might have happened (credit Richard Humphreys). Trump brags to Kerouac about all of his amazing possessions, but Kerouac tells Trump he has something Trump never will. Trump asks, "Well what is it?" Jack replies coolly, "I have enough."
I struggle with accumulating things. Clothes, furniture, outdoor gear, and on and on. I'm not paying for most of it, mind you, but as my parents' only child living in the US, I get a lot of free stuff. Not to mention my very generous in-laws. At the end of the day, it's just stuff, but it's my stuff with my emotions and memories being dragged along and I have a hard time saying no. I do admit, however, that I am not yet sentimentally attached to the head of the parking meter my father-in-law gave me this Christmas (not even kidding - he really gave me a parking meter). I really did legitimately forget it at your house, Jim.
The 100 thing challenge is a fascinating proposal - pare down your personal belongings to 100 things. It's pretty self explanatory, but the idea is for us to focus on the important things in life: relationships. Popularized by Dave Bruno's 2010 book, the idea has attracted scores of followers (that produce lists of their 100 items) including Unitarian Reverend Jeff Jones who takes the challenge. I found his guest sermon on the topic (from September 5th, 2017 in Asheville) to be very thought provoking. A little less thought-provoking is Bravo TV's take on the topic called Stripped, which is yet another reality TV perversion of a good idea complete with, you guessed it, nudity.
Christmas is a particularly challenging time for me with regard to accumulating stuff and the addition of the baby didn't help. We took a trip to my in-laws in the Prius and returned to Asheville with two cars full of stuff. This can't continue. I will not take time for the full 100 thing challenge right now (this dissertation ain't writing itself!), but I'd like to do something. I'd like to make some sort of purge, so here goes.
I will rid myself of one item per day for the first 100 days of 2018. I will post weekly updates as a comment on this post. I will attempt to group objects and not use 43 books as the objects for the first 43 days. We will see how this goes, but I am somewhat excited and nervous. If there's anyone else out there who wants to participate (HINT HINT MOM HINT), I'd be delighted to hear your comments and about your participation. Love you!!! =)
- Taking our son on his first hiking trip
- Working for the City of Asheville
- Riding my bike to work
- Installing a maple counter top
Hiking Trip: John's Rock
We didn't let a chance of thunderstorms scare us from hiking a beautiful 6 mile loop in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC (45 minutes from Asheville). Simon fed before we set out, at the summit, and in the car while we waited for a tree to be cleared from the road. It rained cats and dogs on the last 2 miles of the hike. Fortunately, Susan had a pack cover that we used to cover Simon and he didn't cry. =) I carried him for the whole hike and look forward to when he has head control and we can use our backpack carrier.
Summer Job: IT division with the City of Asheville
I was thrilled to be invited back to work for the City of Asheville this summer. I have the pleasure of working in a one of the most beautiful buildings around, Asheville City Hall, on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Philadelphia and Paris trained architect Douglas Ellington and built in 1928. My major work projects included a spatial database of city maintained buildings and making maps from historical aerial photos. I will post separately about the map project, which is incredibly gratifying.
Bicycle commuting: I love it!
I have a ridden my bike to work daily this summer with exceptions of 4 days when there was rain or I need to pick up photos for work. Taking care of junior each afternoon makes it hard to find time to workout, so this is an efficient solution. Riding daily has changed how I bike and drive. I implore bicyclists to obey all traffic laws, not ride on sidewalks, and not pass cars on the right unless you have a dedicated lane. Passing cars on the inside increases chances of a right hook, when a car turns right into a cyclist. When the speed limit is 20, I can maintain my position in traffic and ride in the middle of the lane. At round-abouts and other potentially dangerous spots, I take my lane early and watch my back.
Installing the maple countertop
I bought an 8/4 (2" thick) slab of ambrosia maple from a friend who planed, sanded and treated it for boring insects. After consultation with our local wood shop, I decided to use ClearCote brand table top epoxy for a durable finish. More common is West 105, which is a marine grade product that would be overkill for this light application. After two coats, I noticed small piles of sawdust from boring insect eating their way out. My friend had not used enough Boracare on the wood. After living in the wood for 2-5 years, the larvae eat their way out and look for a new piece of wood in which to lay their eggs. I called the epoxy manufacturer who recommended fumigation, but this was prohibitively expensive. I chanced ruining the wood by kiln drying it, and it totally worked. The larvae were killed, and to my surprise, the epoxy was not ruined. One last thicker coat of the epoxy made it look like glass, which is what I wanted.
Mounting to the brick wall took a bit of time, and the iron pipe leg was cut a little short at the hardware store, so I had to shim it. I wanted to use something round and rather than cut a piece of wood, I settled on using old compact discs. They worked like a charm and Susan and I are thrilled to have a place for dinner guests to hang out that is NOT in the kitchen.
Our son is one month old today and we have been surrounded by a cocoon of love and support. The threads of that cocoon are our friends, family, and neighbors. This is an imperfect gratitude list (in somewhat chronological order), but we would be remiss if we failed to communicate our gratitude, humility, and thanks to all of you for kindnesses we have received in only the last month. Thank you. We love you.
Margot and Hadley
- banana bread in the hospital
- keeping Chloe (dog)
- grooming Chloe
- stoping by with Chloe for a visit when Susan was too weak to walk
- mowing the lawn at our new house
- mowing the lawn at our old house
- visiting Susan at the hospital allowing Adam to have a birthday drink with friends
- stopping by the recovery room on your lunch break
- cinnamon rolls and a sausage, egg, cheese biscuit
Alice and Jim
- birthday cake!
- grocery store run
- staying with us
- keeping Chloe
- garden goodies
- hemming a shower curtain
- lactation consulting
- baby swing
- breast pump
- nursing supplies
- burgers, buns, tomatoes, orzo, chocolate
Emi and Walsh
- salmon, sweet potatoes, compote, kale, rice
- more iPlay baby clothes and supplies than we could have imagined
Mom and Juergen
- baby monitor
- Netflix subscription
- baby book
- whole milk
- handmade baby sweater
- baby bib
Michael and Janna
- peanut butter balls
- milk cooler
- wonderful meal
- setting up the meal train
- baby seat connection
Ben and Juliana
- Merlefest onsie
Matt and Emily
- tommy tippie stuff
- AT hiker onsie
Alison and Robin Ray
Michael and Kate Rasche
- German food!
Dad and Laura
- handmade baby blanket
- more pretzels!
- picking up Chloe in VA
Kate and Daniel
- keeping Chloe
Christine and Mike McDonald
- breast milk supplies
Carson and Nate Ruffrage
Matt and Maggie
- tie-dye onsie
Anna and Chad
Talia, Lauren Lastinger, Jan Esker, Anna
- encouragement during during the first week (of breast feeding)
Liz and Nick
- baby soccer ball!
Aunt Jean and Nancy
- baby bath supplies
Autumn and Bart
Mac and Marcy
- Target gift card
Helen and Vivian Wampler (age 106)
- baby clothes
- baby clothes
- baby clothes
- great deal on Britax stroller and car seat
Jamie Holbrook and Drew Austell
- meeting Adam on his birthday
Bob Dylan Pandora Station
- 'nuff said
- for creating the very important series Prisonbreak
I love spring wildflowers! My love for them was born in college where I majored in biology and was taught by Dr. Lee at Roanoke College. He was diagnosed with cancer that spring of 1997 and the course I took with him was to be his last, so we made a special effort to walk the same trail in the woods each week and watch the progression of wildflowers. Dr. Lee's favorite was spring beauty, Claytonia virginiana, and I think of him each time I see it. The passing of Dr. Lee was inevitable, but also inevitable was his passing on his love of biology to students. Our favorite activity was to blindfold him and bring him a living plant to identify. He never got one wrong. I am saddened each time I think that he is gone, but I smile knowing that he lives in each wildflower.
On April 8th, Susan and I walked the Shut-in Trail near the NC Arboretum just south of Asheville. Our baby was 5 days overdue and we thought a 5 mile hike might coax him out. As we walked along the trail, Susan had to wait for me because I was looking at so many plants. It was incredible and although the bloodroot was the only thing really in full bloom, there was so much on the way. We just had to wait a little bit.
Little did we know how much really was on the way. At 9 lbs. 3 oz, Simon burst on the scene two days after our hike. He was an absolute joy to hold and my world view has changed since his arrival. I now perceive danger constantly and understand calculated risk on a different level. Our emotions were unchecked, raw, and naked, but as a result, I feel closer to Susan than I ever have before. We survived the first few days and nights at home. Our lives settled down. Our minds returned to a somewhat stable, but altered state. As "normal" returned, the thought kept coming to my mind. What did those wildflowers look like? I couldn't stop thinking about them.
On day 11, I casually said to Susan, "Why don't we go check on those wildflowers? We can take some hard pretzels [Hammond's, not Snyder's, mind you] and Pepsi." She quickly agreed and the results were stunning. I have never seen such a variety of species in such a small area. We only walked about 0.1 miles on the trail. I saw so many wildflowers. I saw Dr. Lee's favorite, spring beauty, while holding Simon and am comforted that Dr. Lee's legacy and love for plants lives on through me and my generation. And maybe another.
Happy Earth Day. Love your Mother.
I posted this sales ad to craigslist recently for a set of cyclocross tires for sale. The post is about a biking trip I did in the fall.
Cursed 700 cc cyclocross tires from Mordor - USED once - $50 (Asheville)
These tires represent the worst bicycling mistakes of my illustrious 35+ year cycling career and I can no longer bear to have them in our house. I fear the worst - that they are cursed. I am now convinced that these tires were cast from the bowels of Mordor themselves.
My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join her on a 60 mile training ride up Mt. Pisgah linking up on FS Road 5000. There were so many reasons to do it: it would be fun to grind some gravel with her, my wife was working, I could try cyclocross on my 29er with the fork locked out to see if I liked it. All my friends have gravel grinders and love it. It seemed like such a good plan, but this idea has been the single greatest mistake of my lengthy bicycling career.
I quickly went to my local bike shop and carefully selected the Clement MXP and PDX as the optimal solution. I threw them on the counter and whipped out my credit card. "Do you need the wider tubes too?" I replied, "Won't my regular road tubes work?" He nearly succeeds in suppressing his laughter, but I see through his thin veil of judgement and he explains that when the thinner tubes are over inflated, they are more likely to puncture. "Oh that's right," I exclaim, feigning that I already knew this. So I am now down over $100.
Of course, stupidly, I tried to put the tires on my road bike. "They won't fit, but you should try," said my neighbor. "They won't fit, but you should try," said the guy at the bike shop. Guess what? THEY DIDN'T FIT. But I tried. Mind you, it's pretty hard to put on brand new road bike tires. (Despite all my riding experience, I actually never have gotten a flat while riding. I'm not counting that tumbleweed in Texas with HUGE spines on it that I hit, but that was a fluke. A really nice German guy stopped to help me change the tire and used a screw driver as a tire lever and stabbed himself in the hand. He tried to conceal the wound from his wife with his thumb and I've never seen blood spurt out quite like that. But I am trying to change a tire in the living room, not Texas, you know?) So I waste 35 minutes the night before in the sweltering heat trying the impossible. My wife asks, "Are you having some trouble there, honey?"
So then I put these tires on my 29er. Of course when I am "done" I notice the directional arrows that I ignored and immediately imagine the front tire disintegrating on a 55 MPH Parkway decent that leaves me paralyzed but capable of having the thought "Why didn't I switch the tires after I saw the directional arrows?" So I spend another 30 minutes switching the tires on the 29er.
It may not sound like this, but I'm not a noob. I have done three large rides of over 500 miles unsupported in my years. I have done century rides on consecutive days hauling 70+ pounds. As a teenager, I rode up Mount Mitchell every year. I draft. My road bike is a 1984 Tomasso (not a Tommasini, mind you) with Dura-Ace Ultegra, down-tube shifters, a double ring, and Columbus steel tubing. I judge the triple ringers, but only slightly. I love road and mountain biking and am in better-than-average physical condition for a 39-year old male. On every ride, I eat a balanced diet and only bonked once. (That was in Texas also, but there were extenuating circumstances.)
So the next day we begin to ride up the Mt. Pisgah highway. I think it climbs about 4000 feet in 10 miles. I know what you're thinking. That's the exact same slope as Mount Doom. I felt good at the beginning, but the tires felt heavy. I tried to keep up with our neighbor, a woman 15 years my junior, but couldn't do it. "Are you drinking enough water?" she chirped, as she sped off. I was alone for a bit in the middle of the ascent, but then began to hear some other riders coming up behind me. It's ok, I told myself. They have carbon fiber. And more spandex. No problem. It's a hard climb. We were cordial in conversation and I rode faster with them, but when the road got steeper, I was dropped. At this point, my goal was to maintain airspeed and avoid a stall. But then I heard another rider gaining on me. YES I thought. Someone to help me. A motivator. It was Mike. He said he was an educator. I asked where. He said at the school of life. Mike was wearing blue jeans and demoing a bike from Goodwill in Candler until noon. I wanted to cry.
Somehow, I made to Mt. Pisgah. There our neighbor continued on and I lay in the grass and took a nap. I had to ride home before we even got to FS 5000, so I didn't even use these tires on the stupid gravel, for which I bought them.
I look at these tires and see so many things. Perhaps you will buy them from me? Please? When I look at them I see:
- Clement 700 cc cyclocross tires
- the nubs that aren't even worn off
- my looming 40th birthday
- high quality rubber
- my own ineptitude
- a curse
- less than 40 miles of wear
In case the tubes are cursed, I am also including them.
Our house is a 1925 brick four square and is the only house on the block that was originally two-story. There are many identical houses in West Asheville though (60 Brevard Road, 118 Stewart Street, and 38 Olney), just none in our immediate vicinity. Susan and I wanted to buy local furniture, but found much of it far too expensive. Our tastes are eclectic: we appreciate Arts and Crafts, Mission Style, Art Deco, and Mid-Century Modern and were willing to do anything as long as it was reasonably comfortable. Susan's only requirement: a comfy rocking chair. =)
We found Atomic Chair Company furniture at Oddfellows Antiques in Asheville. ACC furniture is built in Charlotte and all of their chairs and sofas have a solid oak frame. We were excited to get our furniture at 20% off too. The chairs are awesome and we spent the snow storm of 2016 nestled in the living room next to the wood burning stove that we kept burning for 4 days.
I want to try astrophotography! We have a good camera for it and I think I just found a great location, Grassland Mountain Observatory in Madison County. Unfortunately, it is privately owned and permission is required to go there. Here are directions. On the weather report, dark blue is good. This site is frequently used by the Astronomy Club of Asheville. I think I should use the following setup:
- Manfrotto tripod
- Sony camera
- 24 mm lens
- shutter speed of below 20 seconds (based on 500 / lens in mm [24 in my case])
- RAW files
- ISO of 1600 - 3200
Has anyone done this?
As a raft guide at the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 2002 - 2008, I made several trip to what would become my favorite waterfall destination in Western North Carolina: Wildcat Falls. I was first introduced to Wildcat Falls on a day off during my first year there by Stephan Hart, my botanical buddy. His nomenclature was phenomenal, and my wife will tell you, I don't say that about every man I know. Wildcat Falls is found in rural Graham County and accessed most directly via the Big Fat Gap trail head. This requires 7 miles of driving on a gravel forest road, best experienced in a Subaru which facilitates the most eloquent of fishtails around the corners. If you drive in at night, you can also detect oncoming cars more easily (there were none our entire drive in or out) allowing for a slightly higher rate of travel.
She and I have enjoyed backpacking together for several years now and my goals of carrying a lightweight pack have been realized thanks to a gift from my favorite college buddy, Mac Johnson, who gave me a 1 lb frameless pack made of silicone impregnated nylon (silny). For gear heads, it's a G4 54 pack and I carry 30 lbs. max in it. But to go even lighter on this trip, we camped at the same spot for two nights and the next day, we set out on an aggressive 20+ mile loop carrying only our water and lunch. Trail 42A had not likely been maintained in at least several years, perhaps five, and our shins were scratched and bloodied after miles of bushwhacking. The morning of the third day, I took a dip in Slickrock Creek and then headed over to the "touristy" part of Joyce Kilmer for some enormous Tulip Poplars.
- we didn't see another person on a 3 day-2 night trip in the Eastern US. Awesome!
- the blue ghost fireflies were out in number creating an other-worldly hike in at night
Photographed highlights included:
- nocturnal snails
- poorly maintained trails that were even more poorly signed (54 A is uphill)
- a fungal feast for some bugs
- Indian cucumber root as far as we could see (Thanks Lee Knight for teaching me this one!)
- Susan telling me she is terrible at creek crossings as we are in for 5 creek crossings! (she was fine :)
- groves of gigantic Eastern trees that escaped the axe and saw
Of interest to me and hopefully at least one other person