CNN Polar Bear Cub Video

Thursday, January 31, 2008 0 comments

The b Word

, Monday, January 28, 2008 3 comments

You might think that since I live with 3 women I’d be used to that one word that starts with a “b,” but I’m not. My 43 years have left me unprepared. I sound like Porky Pig every time I try to say it, which is more frequently now that the girls are teenagers. I try to use the word, but quickly find a substitute when I can’t spit it out. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “b-b-b-boyfriend.”

Elizabeth started having an interest in a nice young man last spring, and eventually our household started using the “b” word. The word fits – they like to spend time together, talk on the phone, sit closely when we’re watching movies. He’s polite, smart, talented, sensitive and fosters a relationship with her parents (one of which is me, of course). So my reluctance has nothing to do with the person himself, I just don’t like to use the word. Something about it goes against the grain of my protective fatherly instincts.

Since the girls were little, people have told me things like, “You’re going to have to beat the boys off with a stick!” They’ve given me advice on how to intimidate the boys that come home for approval. Joel told me his gun always “needed cleaning” whenever his younger sister brought home a new boyfriend. I don’t typically go for such theatrics, though.

Last summer I was looking for rock climbing partners, and my radar was up when Tony started coming around our house. Would it be weird to invite my daughter’s boy “friend” rock climbing, though? When I learned that Tony confessed a fear of heights, my decision was made; I invited him along.

Our first outing broke the ice. We climbed the local limestone icon called “Sugarloaf” which is visible from my front porch. Sugarloaf isn’t a huge climbing challenge, but standing on top gives a thrilling perspective of our home town. Tony was sufficiently impressed, and by the end of the outing he was starting to catch rock climbing fever and was anxious to go again every time I had a day off.

Eventually I took him on a climb called The Pedestal at Devil’s Lake. I traversed the Pedestal’s first pitch and belayed him off a tree. On the tricky crux, Tony’s hands greased off the holds and the rope came tight below me. My belay device caught his fall before I even knew he fell. “That was scary,” I heard him say from around the corner. Neither of us could see the other, but it was clear that I’d have to lower him off the climb because he had swung onto a blank section of rock. My belay device was jammed tightly though, and it took some time to transfer the load and free up the device.

In my efforts to get him back safely to the ground, he had a good long time to…contemplate life. He was wearing my glacier harness; not so comfortable, to say the least. He hung helplessly off the end of my rope, finally admitting that, “I can’t feel my ‘boys’!”

I held my reply.

By the time his feet touched the ground, his legs were too numb to stand. How's that for intimidation, Joel? Score one point for me.

In October we enjoyed our last outing of the fall, this time at Taylor’s Falls. The hardest climb we attempted all year included a rather intimidating setup above the St. Croix River. There is no access to the base of the climb because the cliff drops directly into the river. I lowered down and started the climb back up, feeling bold from the security of a top belay rather than taking the lead from below. I jumped for a hold, knowing that if I missed I’d be caught in a heartbeat. I did miss. But I wasn’t caught. As I waited for the rope to come tight I closed my eyes until I splashed into the river below. My breath caught short and my feet scrambled to find purchase on something near the cliff. It turns out I knocked Tony off his feet with my fall, compromising the belay. Fortunately my fall ended in a splash rather than in a puff of dust Wile E. Coyote style. “Beep-beep,” score one point for the boyfr Pham!

A week ago I thought it’d be fun to climb up Sugarloaf after a fresh batch of snow. We brought crampons and ice tools to make it a real alpine-like adventure. It took much longer than I expected to lead up to the first platform because I had to brush off all the snow and look for adequate holds for my spikes. The belay bolts were buried in snow and hard to find, and by the time I brought Tony up his hands were getting very cold. The temperature was hovering near zero degrees, and the wind was getting pretty stiff as I climbed upward. We decided to end our little outing, so I climbed to the next small ledge where I could set up a rappel off fixed chains. I anchored in and lowered Tony down rather than bringing him up to the next ledge. But I got tangled in the rope as he descended, and I was pulled off my little ledge and became helpless to lower him any further. The setting sun was fire red and the intensified wind instantly froze my face. My fingers turned to wood as I tried to correct my mistake. For a short time we both dangled helplessly at opposite ends of the rope. It was only by working together that we got back safely to the ground. I don’t know which us gets intimidation points for that one. Maybe we should stop keeping score.

Tony and I are planning a climbing trip to Colorado next summer. We’re both really psyched, and it’s been fun to help him shop for gear. We’re planning the details together; when to leave, what to eat, what climbs we want to do. We’re anxious for the rock climbing season to begin so we can improve our skills. We’re united in our passion and we’re pursuing a common goal. In short, I guess you can say we're bonding.

It may take some time to get warmed up to the “b” word, but "friend" is coming pretty easily.

Pictures from our week

, Sunday, January 27, 2008 0 comments

Before Elizabeth's Pops concert

Pops Concert

Scott and Isaiah


Food Fetish

, Sunday, January 20, 2008 0 comments

I bought a new camera. Margaret's little Canon Powershot A520 is becoming unreliable, so I got to pick out a replacement. I took months to decide, settled on the Powershot G9 and after weeks of letting it sink in, I finally picked one up at Best Buy. It's a great little camera, and for some reason I always want to use it to take pictures of my food. And when I say "my" food, I use the term loosely.

Winter Thaw


Finally we're having a real Minnesota winter. We got snow well before Christmas and haven't seen the grass since. When the lake froze it stayed frozen; none of the teasing of previous years with a little snow and a little freezing weather followed by weeks of dreary but dry conditions. The ski slopes took shape quickly, and the view of snow out our living room window acts as a constant reminder to have some fun.

A couple of weeks ago we had a thaw that threatened to wreck our winter playgrounds. We had a week of temperatures into the 40's, compounded with bright sunshine and even the dreaded winter rain. We managed to loose only about half of our snow-pack, though, and the ski runs survived.

There are benefits to the mid-winter thaw, of course. One benefit is that we can get the back yard cleaned up. The last time we had a long winter we never had the chance to clean up Marco's "business." By the time spring came along and the snow finally melted, the backyard had turned to poop soup. It doesn't work to pick up Marco's "duty" once-a-week or even once-a-day because by the time we get to it, it has melted into the snow and frozen. Chipping it out is not much fun.

So when the forecast called for warmer weather, Margaret and I immediately siezed the opportunity and made a date for winter fun in our own back yard. When Saturday came we set to work like spring-sick lovebirds and had some "we time" in the back yard. We chatted in nasal tones, not because we had winter colds but because we weren't too keen on the olfactory stimulation.

We collected our bounty and combined it into a heavy duty garbage bag which we placed at the side of the house. We didn't want to stink up the garage by putting it straight into the can. Margaret cautioned me not to forget bringing it to the curb on Monday night when I take out the garbage. I would never....!

But of course I did forget. 

The beauty of garbage service is that you'll always have another chance the following week. And the next week I actually did remember, without a reminder. "Margaret will be proud of me," I thought as I went to retrieve our mother load. She was away at her uncle's funeral and would be happy to know I can take care of the household chores all on my own.

But the winter thaw was over by then and instead of having a neat package that I could easily transport to the curb, I had a big bag of turds frozen to my sidewalk.

Margaret isn't so proud afterall.

Dog Blessing

Friday, January 18, 2008 0 comments

From the Associated Press: Father Juan Manuel Villar blesses a dog during the feast of San Anton, the patron saint of animals, Thursday in Madrid, Spain. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets, farm or work animals to churches to be blessed.

The perfect weekend

, , Sunday, January 13, 2008 0 comments

How is a middle aged dude supposed to keep his sleek boyish figure when the treat season lasts from Halloween until well after Christmas? And since this personal dude can't seem to "just say no" to all the treats in the surgery lounge, I've got to find ways to keep the weight off by means other than dieting. In College I was a wisp, at 6'1" 155 pounds, but those days are gone forever; and not because my height has changed. A couple of years ago when I was in marathon shape I weighed about 160, but I have to work to keep under 175.

I'm finding it hard to stay motivated to do a lot of running lately; the roads are sloppy, the weather is cold, the nights are long and I lack motivation after a busy night of taking anesthesia call. So I welcome other active pursuits when they come along, and in that respect last weekend was the perfect weekend.

For starters I took Tony, Elizabeth and Claire to Prairie Walls climbing gym in Rochester Friday night. Tony had his introduction to lead climbing in the gym, and we took turns taking deliberate falls to test our belaying skills. The Trango Cinch did a really nice job of holding falls and allowing hangdogging when our arms got pumped.

On Saturday Tony and I drove up to Lilydale Park in St. Paul for some ice climbing in The Brickyards. Ice climbing was another "first" for Tony, and I was happy to be the one to corrupt him. introduce it to him. I know it whet my own appetite for more, and I think it did him as well. It's funny how I can climb all day with only a short break for a Zone Perfect bar at 2:30, but when I'm at home I seem to graze on food all the time. I must be eating because I'm bored, or something.

We finished the weeken by skiing at Welch Village on Sunday; Margaret, Elizabeth, Claire, Tony and me. Conditions were pretty nice, despite the thaw we had last week. But the light was flat, the features were hard to see and people were a little tired so we kept it petty mellow. But mellow was good; it was indeed a perfect weekend

Did you ever dream you could fly?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 0 comments

Jacket Fetish

, Sunday, January 6, 2008 0 comments

If I tallied up all of my jackets and Margaret tallied up all of her clocks I'm not sure who would have the bigger count, but the numbers would be big. Still she sometimes comes home with a new clock, and I sometimes come home with a new jacket.

My latest jacket obsession is a thin softshell for spring/summer/fall. Breathability is paramount, and it has to dry quickly; I don't want to overheat the way I did hiking in to do the North Ridge of Mt. Baker in a constant light rain last August. I was wearing my eVent hardshell jacket that day, and my glasses steamed up so badly that I wanted to stomp them with my crampons. I suppose that wasn't so bad, really, because it got me thinking about the gear in my pack and I realized I hadn't grabbed my glacier glasses. That gave me a chance to drop my pack and run back down the trail to grab them. But by the time I caught back up with Pablo, I was extra steamy.

The combined effect of getting so hot, along with the constant smell of garlic that had leaked out of its container in the food bag, and then falling into one of the swollen rivers on the way to camp made me feel sick and grumpy by the time I got to Hogsback.

So I've picked out the Patagoinia Ready Mix jacket as the perfect all-purpose "action jacket" partly on a recommendation published by American Alpine Institute. But I couldn't find a size medium, because the jacket is no longer part of the Patagonia line-up. Another good choice is the Cold Play Shock from Beyond; a nice-looking (as long as you like black or hunter green) custom-made Schoeller 3xdry jacket for the same price.

I wrote to Patagonia to ask if they have anything in their current catalog similar to the Ready Mix, and got this very nice reply (on a Sunday, no less):

Hi Tom,

Nothing we have is similar to the Ready Mix, but it will be available again in the Spring. You can backorder the jacket now by calling customer service at 800-638-6464, be sure to speak with a Patagonia representative, and our website will be updated at the end of this month, and the jacket should also be available at that time. Let us know if you have further questions.

Have a good day!

Patagonia Customer Service

Sweet! It looks like the Ready Mix will be available afterall; probably in more appealing colors than the Beyond offering.

Fun day skiing

Friday, January 4, 2008 0 comments

Had a great day skiing today with Tony at Welch Village. Margaret got started remodeling our kitchen. It was a fun day for both of us.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008 0 comments

OK, so I got rid of because it was horribly out of date. Now gives me an easy way to stay caught up. Let's see if it happens...

I'm off to play Risk.