Sunday, August 19, 2012

Riding That First Century

This morning was my first Century Ride as I pounded out 100.7 miles in scenic northwestern Vermont with an average speed of 17 mph.  It wasn't a lark -- I put a lot of thought and effort into preparation which I'll touch on here, in hopes that maybe it will help other cyclists mulling their first Century Ride.

Training: Before the Century, I'd logged 1,110 miles in the past 4.5 months.  Many 26 miles rides, a pair of 55 milers, and lots of 10-15 mile jaunts sprinkled in.  Tried to ride 3 times a week: some speed work, some hill climbs, some casual -- a nice mix for the muscles.  To support that, I weight train 3 times a week and do cardio 3-4 other times a week.  I thought it would be the leg strength that would help the most, but the core work turned out to be the star of the show as it has really helped my body handle the distance rides.

Equipment:  I currently ride a 2012 Trek 2.1 road bike, affectionately named the Delusion 2.1: aluminum frame with a carbon fork, compact apex, sized for my body (5'4", 135) and fit to me, with Shimano 105 pedals, an insulated water bottle (worth the money), and a small underseat gear bag.  You don't need top of the line - this one is closer to entry level, in truth - you need reliable equipment that fits you have confidence in. I learned last week that properly inflated tires make a huuuge difference. Rock hard road tires rock the road. 

Route:  I've been keeping my eye out as I ride for good prospects for routes, have checked to see where Century events are held to see their routes, and have spent some time with an online ride mapper with an elevation checker.  I wanted: an interesting mix of flat stretches and rolling hills (ducked the killer climbs for this purpose), wides side riding room, sparse traffic, well located mini marts to restock the water supply, cell coverage, and interesting scenery.  I actually started my ride down at the Bay so I wouldn't have to spend mile 99 and 100 making the climb back up into St. Albans -- let your route set you up for success!

Weather Forecast:  I've been mulling chasing down the Century mark -- but knew the 90 degree heat we've had so frequently would add more challenge to my first attempt than I wanted to tackle.  So, I've been monitoring the weather forecast looking for a day with a high in the 70s, no threat of rain, and mild wind.  Nailed it.  Started at 6:11 am, when it was actually chilly.  By the end of the first 30 minutes it was comfortable and I was already nearly 10 miles in.  With the ride and the rests, I was done before the day hit it's high temp -- which was still comfortable for riding.  I'll do a hot Century at some point, but not first time out.

Pre-Ride Prep: I got all my stuff together the night before so there was no scramble in the morning - including the bike moved from the shed into the living room.  That might have been obsessive.  :-)  I didn't put the bike rack on the night before and will do that next time to make the morning even simpler.  I went to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep despite my early launch time.  The importance of good sleep can't be overstated for an endurance event.  Neither can breakfast -- I had my typical: a protein shake, multivitamin, banana, and protein bar plus a Gatorade Phase I drink right before the ride.  Fuel your body!

What I Brought: I loaded my insulated water bottle with 24 ounces of Gatorade Phase II, with the intent of refilling it regularly during the ride.  I carried 4 protein bars in my shirt pockets, thinking I'd eat them at 20, 40, 60, and 80 miles.  I carried my cell phone in a zip lock in my shirt pocket.  My underseat gear bag had: two replacement tubes (pump strapped to bike frame); tiring changing levers and bike tool; extra sunlotion (lubed pre-ride and again about mile 60); bandages and wrap; a $5 bill for the 20, 40, 60, 80 mile stops; my passport ID card (as the route rubs the Canadian border); and my car keys.  Don't lug too much crap - but make sure you'll have what you need.

During the Ride Hydration, Nutrition, and Stretching:  I'd anticipated stopping at 20, 40, 60, and 80 to drink and eat a protein bar -- and then decided to listen to my body as I rode.  Ended up drinking at 20, 26, 44, 50, 65, 74, 80, and 96 -- buying refills of Gatorade at 44 and 80.  Drank 88 ounces during the ride, likely could have used another 16.  Ate at 20, 44, 65, 80, and (having bought another bar at 80) 96.  Stretched every time I stopped - with an emphasis on my neck and back in addition to my legs.  When I felt strong, I kept pedaling.  When my body winced, or when it was convenient, I imbibed.  I hadn't planned out bathroom breaks -- but was fortunate to have convenient portolets at 26, 44, and 74.  Good things to think about, as the better care you take of the body the better it will perform and the more comfortable you will be!

Post Ride: I packed a cooler in the car with a banana, a 16 ounce Gatorade Phase III for recovery, a 24 ounce water bottle, and protein bar (yes, my 7th of the day -- that's a lot of fiber, by the way ...).  With my wife out of town and my daughters grown and gone, I called my Mom from my mile 96 rest stop and invited her to grab my camera and meet me at the Bay Park to share in the celebration and capture a photo of the end of my adventure.  Stood in the shade, refueled, and chattered as my body reset itself.  A quick drive home for a long hot shower with the loofa was jussssst what my body needed.  Think through the conclusion of your Century - the adventure continues for a bit after the ride ends! 

RIDE!!  I put those points in place and successfully completed my first attempt at a Century.  If it's a milestone you're chasing, I hope they help.  Set yourself up for success.  Listen to your body during your rides and you'll know when you're ready to give it a try.  Good luck!! 


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Six Word Memoir

A fabulous art teacher at the local public high school where my daughters thrived adopted and adapted an idea, challenging her students to write and illustrate a six word memoir ... I's brevity intoxicates -- much like the elixer of conversational haiku. It's a deliciously complex and simple assignment for students, perhaps an even better project for adults. So, naturally, I thought I'd chew on it ...

A memoir ... Wikinonsense remarks that Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." ... Indeed. So, how do I remember my own life - in only six words?

Perhaps these six words begin to capture it -- "Loved life; found love; raised amazings"

Three duads. Yes, it's a word. Okay, if it's not, or rather hasn't been yet, it is now. Called it. Now focus on the duads, will you? Sheesh ...

Loved life -- I have. I am easily entertained, endlessly intrigued, and quickly captivated. I believe in finding ways to do what you love and finding ways to love what you do. Real and imagined, my blessings are many and my enjoyment of them is overflowing. I have indeed loved life. Found love -- I have. Found it from my parents. From my friends. From my wife. From my pets. From my Lord. From my community. I have indeed lived in love, and there's simply no better place to live. Raised amazings -- I have. The two sequels have already made a difference for many and they're each just getting started. They've helped. They've touched. They've inspired. They'll continue. They will be my lasting impact -- as I have raised amazings.

And in honor of Dee's artistic assignment, I've illustrated my six word memoir with a fitting photo from the archive.


I sense that this may be a chew toy for me, so it moves from a Facebook note to a blog post, so I can maintain access to it ... and keep chewing on it.


Option #2: An alternate approach to the assignment occurs to me -- more about the journey than the outcome ... What of, "Misfit toy thrives as supporting actor." It speaks to the awkward beginnings, the revelationary antidote to introversion, and my predisposition to being assistant coach, vice-president, her best friend, and right hand man. "Thrives" was almost "emerges" to focus more an the transition than the result -- but in truth, life's been so kind and I've been so blessed that anything intimating greater hardship or understating my enjoyment of it all seemed disingenuous. If all the world's a stage, as Shakespeare would say, then perhaps this six fits ...

Option #3: Another jumps to mind, more insightful into my psychologial nature ... What of, "Antisocial Hobbit fakes extroversion before escaping." Eh? Appropo to the moment as tonight I sit in a lovely hotel room, steeling my nerve for a cocktail hour and professional awards banquet -- gathering the strength and motivation to go and schmooze ... In my heart I know I will truly enjoy some of the people once I'm there and it will be good to accept the awards in person, but all the while my sould will be plotting my escape to recharge my batteries with the power of solitude. So, just how does a flaming introvert thrive as an accomplished PR person? See option 2 above ... :-)

Option #4: Okay, so I'm thoroughly entertained by this reflective process, which in itself produces another possibility ... What of, "Thoroughly entertained by my own reflection." It's double-meaning reflection reference is delightfully delicious ... and it begins to capture the self-fascination that often intrigues me into wandering about with the recesses of my mind and rolling in my own words like a dog on a dead thing. Yeah, that one was for you, Omar, my old canine companion!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life Is Better With A Soundtrack

I've never had a talent for music, but I've always had a love for it. I've recently added music to my workout regime and (yes, Virginia, there's a spreadsheet) have found that simply doing so boosts my meter-per-minute on the rowing machine by 5.6% ... :-)

At the gym yesterday, a new friend asked what was on my playlist. Here's the answer to her question -- an eclectic collection that flows from a lifetime of adventures, captivations, and fascinations ...

All For Leyna: Billy Joel
Anticipation: Carly Simon
As Good As I Once Was: Toby Keith
Barracuda: Heart
Born To Be Wild: Steppenwolf
California Girls: Katy Perry
Defying Gravity: Wicked
Diamonds and Rust: Joan Baez
Firework: Katy Perry
For Good: Wicked
Forever Young: Rod Stewart
Get the Party Started: Pink
Hooked On A Feeling: Grand Funk Railroad
How Do You Like Me Now: Toby Keith
I Can’t Dance: Genesis
I Hope You Dance: Lee Ann Womack
I Kissed A Girl: Katy Perry
Impossible Dream: Richard Kiley
I’m So Excited: Pointer Sisters
Jukebox Hero: Foreigner
Just The Way You Are: Bruno Mars
Man, I Feel Like A Woman: Shania Twain
My Sharona: The Knack
Poker Face: Lady Gaga
Redneck Woman: Gretchen Wilson
See You Again: Miley Cyrus
Simply Irresistible: Robert Palmer
Something to Talk About: Bonnie Raitt
The Song Remembers When: Trisha Yearwood
Sweet Home Alabama: Lynard Skynard
Taking Care of Business: Bachman Turner Overdrive
Teenage Dream: Katy Perry
Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Walking In Memphis: Marc Cohn
We Got the Beat: The GoGos

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hungry People Not Welcome On Main Street? (Letter to Editor, 3/19/11)

I was dismayed to learn that hungry people are not welcome on Main Street in St. Albans by some. I thought that those were just the kind of people we embraced in that zone – people hungry for seafood, pizza, Mediterranean fare, sandwiches, bagels, baked goods, chocolate, maple treats, organic food, and more … I’d guess that at breakfast, lunch, snack time, and dinner, 75% of the people on Main Street are hungry!

And yet, our City Manager and City Council wrote a letter against having Martha’s Kitchen move into vacant space on Main Street to serve hungry people? The Development Review Board followed the direction of that letter, even though it ran counter to all 18 voices who spoke at the DRB meeting -- all of whom spoke in favor of welcoming Martha’s Kitchen to join in feeding hungry people on Main Street.

My girls grew up in St. Albans and Martha’s Kitchen was an important part of their youth. They learned to cook and to give to those experiencing tough times through their service to Martha’s Kitchen. To us, it was a community center and a restaurant in the most beautiful sense of the words. My girls learned what it was like to be part of a vibrant community which actively cares for all of its people.

Now, the City Manager, the City Council, and the Development Review Board risk teaching all of us important lesson in politics. If left uncorrected, that lesson becomes “It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry on Main Street, it matters how much money you have for your meal.” There’s still time for them to change that lesson to “Even the best politicians can rethink positions and do what’s right.”

Here’s hoping Martha’s Kitchen will appeal the ruling and our leaders will welcome this amazing community asset to that vacant spot tucked away on Main Street. Let’s continue to have Main Street, St. Albans be a place where ALL hungry people are welcome.

Letter to the Editor of the St. Albans Messenger

From Jonathan Billings, St. Albans, Vermont


UPDATE: "City Planners - Soup Kitchens OK Downtown"

We have progress on this issue!!! -- The St. Albans City Planning Commission approved soup kitchens as a conditional use in downtown St. Albans! The ordinance change will now go before the City Council for two public hearings and final approval. If approved by the City Council, Martha's Kitchen, would be able to file for a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board (DRB). The DRB had previously rejected Martha's Kitchen's appliation to move to Main Street on the grounds that soup kitchens were not similar to any existing or conditional use, such as restaurants or community centers. In recommending that soup kitchens be allowed in downtown, City Planner Jim Tischler found the use "in it's operation, provides no significant difference from similar eating or non profit service estalishments. Clients arrive, partake, and leave in the same fashion as other similar uses." After a brief discussion, the Planning Board adopted Tishcler's recommendation. Nice work, Jim! Way to go, Planning Board. They've created the path for the City Council and the DRB to make this happen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

May He Make Me a Jack-O-Lantern of Love

I was inspired by Father Daniel's reference to this analogy in his homily today ... thought I'd record it from my perspective here so I could come back to it and refine it, as I think there's something there that I really like ... Not sure from whom it originates, so I'll go looking for deeper attribution as well.

As the Halloween season approaches, may our Lord make me a jack-o-lantern of His love. Here's hoping He picks me from my pumpkin patch and washes off the dirt that is caked to me ... That He will open my heart and scoop out the icky stuff and cast aside seeds of doubt ... That He will fill me with His light ... and that He opens my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth so I can share His light with others.

Now, that's not where jack-o-lanterns came from and it's not the meaning most folks associate with them. Still, there's something in the analogy that works for me -- and now, when I see a jack-o-lantern blazing away in all it's spooky spirit, I'll think of myself and hope that some of the love God has given me is shining though my human weakness for others to enjoy. It will help remind me to take matters into my own hands and help God clean some of the icky and seeds out of my life ...

Now, where did Marilyn hide that Halloween candy???

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gage-ing GrammaB's Parenting

In our family, legend has it that I played the 1982 Vermont high school soccer playoffs with "a broken back" as my 8th seeded Eagles swept through the playoffs to earn a share of the championship title. I was the starting center fullback , a senior and a captain, providing speed and aggression amidst a pair of bookend beheamoths on a rough and tough defense. Three playoff games with three broken bones in my back -- that's how I tell it and I have a banner to show for it.

Two questions came out that adventure:
  1. Wait, you mean the championship game ended in a tie?
  2. Wait, your mother let you play with a broken back?
Yep, back then, there was no provision for a 3rd OT or for shootouts. 2-2 after 2OT? Game over. Tie. Two DII champions. Two championship banners. Sure, they say a tie is like kissing your sister, but in this case, it was more like kissing a hot friend of your sister ... ;-)

Now, thanks to Justin Gage of the NFL's Titans, folks can understand the answer to #2, too.

The Titans WR will miss the next few weeks of the NFL season "after sustaining multiple fractures to transverse process bones in his back," an injury suffered while making a game-winning touchdown catch. Gage's doctor says the player has no risk of paralysis, as the breaks are in the small bones that eminate away from the vertebrae, not in the spinal column itself. The issue is pain -- Gage just needs to heal up to the point where he can hande the pain.

My ears perked up when I heard the news -- that was my injury!

For years, listeners who suffered through the tale have called my momma's parenting into question. "She let you play? What was she thinking?" Neither of us have ever had much of a credible answer. "The doc essentially said I could play if I could handle the pain" has never carried much weight. Now, we can smile and say, "Hey, it was just like Justin Gage." She's been vindicated!!

Gage has chosen to sit out to heal as the Titans are faaaar from contention. He says he'll take comfort in it because he loves his catch. I chose to play through it because of our quest for that championship. It cost me my senior year of basketball. Playing meant I had to spend the winter healing in a brace to be sure I would be ready to take my place at 2nd base for the Eagles in the spring. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.

Here's a wish of "all the best" to Gage as he heals. I look foward to adding him to my fantasy team when he's ready to go again. We "transverse process bone fracture" types have to have each other's backs!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Violence Isn't What She Seems

A friend from before and ago recently bemoaned, "Why all the f'ing violence?????" when faced with the horrors in Fort Hood, in Orlando, in Cleveland, and -- tragically -- elsewhere ...

It made me pause. Why, indeed. Why violence ... And the voice inside my head whispered:

"Violence is a malicious temptress, seductively posing as an easy way out -- when she's faaar too often nothing more than the pathetic path to tragic failure." -- jonathan billings

Hmmm. There may be something there. And yet we flirt with the temptress ...

Controlled violence offers a powerful adrenaline-lace elixer. Certainly, there's an attraction there that stirs something within the soul ... Crashing through a striker, despite your own injuries, to preserve a championship season? Burying a shoulder in a catcher's chest to knock the ball free and score the winning run? Whacking a goalie's helmet with a lacrosse stick to allow a replacement to take the field and score the first goal of her career? Magical violent athletic moments purmeate my family's tales of lore ... legends we tell with prideful lust and cackling glee ...

It's true off the field as well ... Want one of the chickens for dinner? I'll kill it if you pluck it. Is there anything as mindlessly entertaining on a sleepy Saturday afternoon than a bit of dismembering in a monster movie? A favorite Bible verse advises that s if your hand is your problem, cut if off ...

Okay, it didn't take much self-reflection to find I may have a bit of a taste for violence ... Hell, I don't know how often I've wanted to whack someone with a bat because of their perplexing behavior. But I've always stopped short of swinging that Louisville Slugger.

Why is that? What of those who don't? What of the uncontrolled violence?

A US army soldier/psychiatrist headed to Iraq murders a dozen bretheren and wounds dozens others, crimes now attributed to people disrespecting his Muslim faith? A sociopath sex criminal kills a dozen women and keeps their bodies? An aspiring engineer fired for poor performance returns to his former employer and slays one and shoots five others saying the company had interfered with is unemployment check.

Damn. Three horrifying examples in three days -- enough to drive my friend to despair and wonder aloud, "Why all the f'ing violence?"

What gives one the ability to dance in the glory of controlled violence while another spirals into the abyss of uncontrolled violence? How is it that most of us develop the coping skills necessary to resist the seduction of senseless violence, and a few do not? Why do so many have the grace to chose a harder path in pursuit of a non-violent solution to our own problems, and a few do not?

It saddens me when I think about it.

Why? I've never given any credibility to what I see as feeble excuses -- television made me do it; the song lyrics told me to; it's how my people do things ... Nah, take some personal responsibility for your actions ...

... and yet, sadly ...

Long before I can make any sense of it all ... Long before I can differentiate between "self defense with reasonable force" and "proactive self preservation in a kill-or-be-killed world" ... Long before I can come to grips with "there but for the grace of God go I" ... Long before any produtive or insightful thought, I get distracted and wander off to something else ...

And the world lurches violently onward ...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Haiku Kachu, Revisited

Haiku Kachu? You may think I'm Koo Koo -- especially fans of the Beatles, but let's avoid the terrors of free association and press on as we revisit and update a topic from times gone bye ...

Japan's True Haiku: Poetry where construct shapes the content ... rhymes -- and sometimes reason -- are seemingly optional ... it's all about creativity within the confines of compliance with the construct. 3 lines. 5 syllables in the first, 7 in the second, 5 in the third. A glimmer of connection between them and overflowing with visual imagery.

JB's Conversational Haiku: As a writer, I've always been more comfortable with constructs when I've had the chance to shape the construct in question ... so, I now announce that my "conversational haikus" are articulate art, not nuggets of non-compliance. My conversational haikus forsake pure visual imagery per se, for the playful verbal imagery of creative banter ... (And yes, Ms. Cousino, I am now old enough to have my own style ... ;-)

A daily haiku contest put forth by the literary scholars at USA Today (literally, that fine bastion of poetic journalism) prompted me to revisit haikuing ... typically, I'm amused by rhyme and longer works ... droning on to the exhaustion of my own amusement with my toes or whatever, but I figured I'd play with Haikus a bit ... not that I'm competitive ...

I found that , like life itself, haikus are great fun if not taken tooooo seriously. Delayed in an airport? Waiting in line? Trapped in a meeting? Bored out of your skull? Write Haikus. Poetry surrounds you -- just jam it into the Haiku format. Yes, you too can haiku.

Haiku Writing Warning Label: Whispering "what's a two-syllable synonym for monotonous" to the person next to you in a meeting may expose your distraction. Let's be subtle out there -- and stay both amused and employed!

The Haiku template
first five, then seven, and five ...
that's all that's aloud.

The Call
Excitement, Mainly.
Ears await the ringing news.
An-tic-i-pa-tion ...

Grilled to perfection,
Imitation Beef-Like Treat --
Salty Succulence!

Macro Photo
Made larger than life,
Rich detail astounds the eye ...
Overlooked no more.

Horrid dermal blight ...
Scaley, cracked and putrid burr --
Toads' curse upon man.

Pop Tarts
Sweet, colorful frost ...
fruit-like filling foiled delight ...
Morning's fire hazard.

Advil, Please, Miss White
Achey and Stuffy
and five other sinus dwarfs
mining in my mind.

Belly Button Lint
Blue fuzzy build-up,
Where you come from? Why you here?
How you get in there?

Dark, crusty medals!
Like your nose, meant to be picked --
the great ones ooze pus!

Now, then, or later
Noble efforts are rewarded
T'is true, life works out.

C'mere, Kitty
Fur-cloaked indignence!
Cats answer only to God --
not to their humans.

Same Old Same Old
Like a mental rash
Monotony chaffes my brain
The urge to scratch calls

Monday, Monday
Like Cinderella,
Misjudged by those who scorn her,
A princess of days.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some Experiences Can't Be eReplicated

I have befriended a creative intellectual who has recently questioned the future of higher education with a pair of online posts ...

"Am I the only person amazed that higher education model hasn't imploded? See the Washington Post article: "

... followed by ...

"Viva la revolution! College for $99/month. Google to enter soon."

And though I respect his visionary abilities and this post will paint me as an old man devoted to the way things were when I was young, I disagree with the postulation that traditional collegiate education is soon to be no more.

I'm old enough to remember back when futurists said the internet would eliminate books, kill bookstores, and antiquate libraries. Certainly, some have perished and perhaps the online revolution has changed them all -- but their widespread demise has never materialized. In truth, only the weak failed to adapt. The nimble have thrived. Such will be the way of the the undergraduate experience -- and that's a that's a saving grace, as its intangibles are too precious to be extinct.

The St. Michael's College viewbook speaks towards such speculation, saying "There is nothing virtual about life on campus, where nearly 100 percent of students make their home. Sure, you'll find high-speed internet, good cell phone reception, and all the necessary technologies that keep you plugged in. But here, you will also discover a genuine community of students where students walk, talk, study, eat, work and play together. You'll feel at home at Saint Michael's."

Meh, you say? Brochure-speak? In truth, if anything, it's an understatement.

I remember the dark night of my sophomore year at SMC, awakened in the wee hours of the pre-dawn to find the RA had let my mother into my room as she carried news that my father had died a couple hours earlier. I remember being hugged by our dorm's elderly janitor while my roommate packed me some clothes he thought I'd need ... I remember the murmur at the funeral home a couple days later when a giant purple bus rolled into little Bristol, VT, and 60 Purple Knights filed off to pay their respects to the fallen father of a classmate. I remember each of my professors helping me find creative ways to maintain my academic standing as I struggled to bounce back from devestation. I remember the Edmundites and the Financial Aid Staff stepping forward with additional scholarships to help keep me in college when the family finances essentially collapsed with the loss of the primary wage earner.

Now I'm a Dad. Two in college (GO SMC! GO NHIA!). That's two at the same time, mind you! Room, Board, and Tuition? Dang. Even with a pair of impressive academic/artistic scholarships, it's not inexpensive. And yet, for my daughters to experience -- first hand -- the kind of in-person, multi-dimensional, awe-inspiring, delicious undergraduate experience that I was blessed to have? Worth it.

Couldn't we eliminate all that brick-based overhead? Why have dorms? Why bother with classrooms? Couldn't we give the registrants a link and let them learn it online? Can't we make it sexy with a Googley-oogley Facebook-esque simulation of eCommunity for the apparent cyberlearners? Sure - it's technically possible - but so is kissing an android. As for me? I'll take a hug from a teary-eyed janitor over the taste of polycarbonate lips any day.

There. As I climb off this particular soapbox, I think I'll send another donation to SMC and my first to NHIA to help keep their doors open so they'll be there not only for my daughters, but for their nex-gens as well.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wither To, Time Traveler?

Dusk was falling on Lake Iriquois when a dear friend from forever poised her poignant question, "If you had a time machine, would you go forward -- or would you go back?"

My immediate reaction was swift. Back. Discussion done, game over. Heck, I'd over-pay for a ticket to re-live my junior year in either high school or college. Mt. Abe? Junior year meant the metamorphasis was complete; the seniors were still around and the sophomores had arrived; soccer, basketball, and baseball were in full gear; the golden subaru had an 8-track player; and I had access to a B&W darkroom -- life was grand! St. Mikes? Junior year meant the his 'n hers Sutton Apartments; the Noontime Basketball Association; the powder-blue Horizon; photography with the Canon AE-1 program; and the first donutrun -- life was brilliant ... Reliving either would be a delightful day at an amusement park with pockets full of cash and not a line in sight. And if there were a chance I'd do so knowing then some of what I know now? Oh, my. Ohhhh, yeah.

Wait -- what of a dalliance in Camelot or on the Enterprise? Could either adventure match the magic of either junior year? Meh. I'll stay with my answer -- I know the joy my adventure holds and wouldn't bet on topping it. I'm good. Game over.

Since then, however, her question has lingered in the cobwebs of my mind, as they often do, begging me to go deeper. Is there more there?

Hmmm. Jennie asked "backward or forward"? I'd assumed the question involved popping out, crashing about, changing nothing, and returning. What if it involved going back -- and staying back? What if there was a risk of changing outcomes? What it involved going forward -- and not coming back?

Would I go way back? History has never been a true passion of mine. I've never truly looked at an era and had it call to my soul. It must have been hot being Pharoh ... I'm not sure they made armor in my size ... Powdered wigs were not a good look ... I like indoor plumbing and air conditioning and internet connections ... Nah, I'm not going way back.

So, what of this nuance of not returning in relation to my initial reaction? As much as either junior year appeals, I wouldn't go back to stay, unless I could be assured it would unfold again exactly as it has. That's either a sign of cowardice (likely partially) or a sign of how profoundly I've been blessed. I like the cards I hold and wouldn't risk it working out differently, as I've grown convinced my destiny wasn't to change the world -- but rather, to father two who will.

So, with those sparrows hopping from the nest, would I now fast-forward? Jump to the future to meet my descendents (should they come to be)? I'd rather stay and hope to make an impact on their early days, giving them entertaining memories of their Antisocial Hobbit ... Jump to the distant future to understand the legacy and mess with unimaginable technology? That, in honesty, is tempting -- as I'm a cat of insatiable curiosity ... "Beaming aboard"? Routine space travel? Laser everythings? Photon topedos? Tell me that wouldn't be fun ... Still, what if the global warming folks are right? It might be hot. Plus, what's the future of photography in the distant future of extreme technology? Will my camera have gone the way of the subaru's 8-track? I'd miss it ... Meh. The intrigue of the far future simply doesn't intrigue enough to give up the simple joy of my tomorrow.

And so, after careful consideration, if the time machine is a one-jump pony, I'd stay put.

And still ... my mind wanders deeper into Jennie's question ... Is there more there?

What if there was another setting? What if I could travel through time, bring folks, interact, and return without disrupting the space-time continuum? Hmmmm. Okay, this trumps the cavortingly enticing opportunity to re-enjoy a junior year.

I do carry a regret. My Dad never met Marilyn. Or Kate. Or Emily. If I could, I'd load my three ladies into the time-machine, visit my Dad before he died, appear to him as if in a dream, and let him get to know my family. I'd tell him how much I loved him, how much I appreciated his gentle kindness and delightful sense of humor. I'd tell him how wonderfully Cleo is doing and how beloved GrammaB has become ... Having had that chance for him to know my girls a bit and they he, we'd return to our time and let him go to Heaven. We wouldn't try to save him? Selfishly, I'd love to -- but it was God who called him. So we'd come back, he'd awaken and he'd go -- perhaps with just a bit more comfort in his heart.

So, there it is -- a deeper appreciation for my use of Jennie's speculated time machine. As an amusement ride? Give me either junior year. As a moving truck? No thanks. As a chance to address a regret and return? In an instant.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Softball/Baseball Catamounts Become Sacrificial Lambs

On Feb. 20, 2009, the Burlington Free Press announced that UVM was eliminating its Baseball and Softball programs after the 2009 season for financial reasons. As a friend of UVM, I shared my reactionary perspective with the UVM President, their Athletic Director, and their Spokesman.

President Fogel responded within minutes of my Saturday morning email. I appreciate his consideration and comments. Athletic Director Robert Corran replied a couple hours later with an equally appreciated thoughts.

Here is my email and their replies:

President Fogel, AD Corran, and Spokesman Corredera --

I'm writing to express my dismay at the decision to eliminate the entire baseball and softball programs at UVM.

As a senior manager at my organization, I fully recognize the difficulty of making financial cuts, especially those of the magnitude UVM faces. I recognize the decision has been made and there is veritably no chance it will be changed. However, if those opposed don't speak out, the sound bite becomes "Response has actually been surprisingly positive" -- so here's a voice against that soundbite.

I grew up playing baseball in rural Vermont, dreaming of a chance to play for a championship at UVM's Centennial Field (only to lose in the semi-finals twice). My oldest daughter was Vermont's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year and was offered a full Green Mountain Scholarship to UVM -- and looked long and hard at the opportunity. She chose SMC instead and we've enjoyed playing our "cross-town rivals" in softball's Fall Ball each of the past three years. Plus, I earned a Certificate in Leadership through UVM's VT Business Center. So, I'm not an alum or a booster, but I am a friend of the University (heck, I own and wear a UVM t-shirt ...).

I would have preferred across the board cuts shared by all teams rather than eliminating the sports of 43 of your 584 athletes. Certainly, I recognize the attention/benefit/revenue that hockey and basketball bring to UVM and to Vermont -- even with the glory days of Brennan/Coppenrath LeClair/St.Louis gone by. Certainly, I recognize that eliminating entire sports sends a far stronger message to the faculty and elicits far greater public sympathy than simply reducing everyone's budget. Still, despite it's strategic sense, this approach leaves 43 athletes as the sacrificial lambs ... and that bothers me.

Yep, I understand the university will "honor the scholarships" but you've crushed the dream that came with it. Yep, they can likely transfer, but by now, they should be deeeeply in love with UVM and going elsewhere would be heartbreaking.So, count me as a voice who would have preferred each sport have one less paid assistant coach and one less scholarship rather than have the University turn it's back on 43 athletes that it recruited ... Difficult? Certainly. Unsurmountable? Though admittedly uninformed, I don't think so.

Therefore, here's hoping the sound bite becomes "People are understandably upset that these 43 kids couldn't come first in our priorities, but they understand why we did what we did and now it's time to move forward."

In all sincerity, best wishes in restoring the financial health of Vermont's educational flagship. I will continue to wear my Catamount shirt with pride -- but ache for those students caught in middle.

President Fogel's Reply --

Thank you for a thoughtful response. Rest assured that we will never downplay the pain and disappointment occasioned by this necessary but strategic decision--feelings that we too share. I appreciate very much your thoughtful comments and your continuing support of Vermont's university. With every good wish, sincerely--Dan Fogel

Athletic Director Corran's Reply --

Thank you for your e-mail re: the decision to cut baseball and softball at the end of this season.It was an extremely difficult decision to make precisely because of our understanding the impact that it will have on the lives of 43 student-athletes and 6 staff. The data-driven part of the decision was clear but the human-impact part made it exceedingly difficult. We must do all that we can to assist and support these student-athletes and staff in the coming days and weeks and we are committed to doing so. Again, sincere thanks for your thoughts and concern. They are very much appreciated.

With that, as I said, it's time to move on and hope for the best for our friends at UVM. Vermont continues to provide among the lowest percentage of State support to its State colleges in the nation ... and I guess this is what we get for it. Here's hoping Dr. Fogel can lead UVM to prosperity. Go Catamounts!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Embracing Photography's "Offseason"

I overheard myself grousing to myself about the oppression of winter forcing an offseason upon my photography -- as it's dark, it's cold, and there is nothing good to shoot -- and longing for the world to turn so I could start in again with The Beast.

I took myself aback. Is winter really a forced offseason for my art? Where was the Quixotic spirit of optimism and determination in that bit of victimization? Perhaps my oppressor is not Mother Nature's icy demeanor but rather my own creative laziness and antisocial hobbitness?

Dang. Could this yearly rut be simply self imposed? But what of those barriers to winter photography?

It's dark! Dawn comes late and night falls fast these days, so my early morning prowls are done in the dark and it's still dark when I'm off to work or pitching clinic and already dark by the time I escape.

It's cold! At 15 below, or even 15 above, the romance of wandering "out and about" to find something fun to shoot fades fast in fear of frostbite as artistic patience becomes arctic pain amidst the wind and sleet.

There's nothing good to shoot! The lush landscape and blue sky have gone grey, the flowers are dead and buried, the zoos are closed, the bugs and bees are hybernating, there is very little roadkill, and indoor sports don't lend themselves to 1/640th at 5.6 ...

Wow, those are whiney! While there may be a glimmer of truth in each of the three, there is certainly nothing insurmountable -- especially if one were to maintain that nothing is insurmountable ... So what is it that truly drives the hesitation that keeps my eye from the lens?

Indoor photography has always felt a bit more intrusive and awkward to me. Nothing shatters the subtley of a moment like a flash. Plus, the proximity is sooooo much closer: it's far less conspicuous to wander onto a sideline than it is to wander into a room of people. All in all, I dread being a distraction at events and causing angst among my subjects or observers.

The solution? More creativity and less antisocial hobbitness, perhaps.

Seek out new activities to photograph: Last year, I "discovered" gymnastics and hockey and earlier this year I shot swimming/diving for the first time. I had to forgive the grain and allow some blur to get the images, but they've been fun. I should do more -- and what of skiing? Or wrestling? Or curling? Likewise, I took my first band gig photos earlier this year (here's Kendra from 'The Stray Dogs'). I should do more -- and what of theatre? Or ballet?

Seek out people who like to be photographed: Emily's photoshoot was fun because she wanted to be photographed and participated in creating each shot with poses and outfits and laughter -- perhaps there are others out there who enjoy being photographed and would be willing partners in creative settings as I experiment with an undeveloped aspect of my photography.

Think outside the house: Perhaps it is time I bundled up a bit and sought out some "Vermont in the winter" images ... both the classic blue sky beauty and the grey desolation ... maybe even some black & white work ... as, at very least, it would be an excuse for hot tang upon return ...

Hmmmm. Some interesting potentials there -- if I can get out of my own way!