Monday, December 15, 2008

Volunteering for the Holidays

"I'm going to volunteer this year at Christmas time," I said. And with that I had made my decision. It was final. After years of contemplating about donating my time, but never actually going through with it, this was the year to follow through and make it happen. OK. I was committed.

So now what? Find a soup kitchen? Sure. Find a home to rebuild/repair? Cool. Several ideas came to mind that fit my capabilities/skills/interests, but somewhere in between getting myself and one of these ideas together, another opportunity came to me.

"Seeking volunteers to clear tree falls on the Kekekabic Trail in the BWCA in December," the email said.

So despite having never been to the Boundary Waters, having never gone on any winter hikes, having never contemplated winter survival in 10º temperatures for hours at a time, I felt that this was the chance I had been looking for. For me it was something I was capable of, an opportunity to learn something new, and most importantly: a way to give my time and energy back to an outdoor community that offers me such wonderful enjoyment year-round (although typically in warmer months.)

And with a simple nod of agreement I was in. I was a volunteer for the Boundary Waters Advisory Commitee. We met for the first time - the 5 of us: Tess, Luke, Karen, and Martin (trip leader and President of BWAC) - at Midwest Mountaineering on Monday, December 8 to go over gear, cold weather behavior/survival and general expectations. I left with a short list of gear to buy and 3 days to organize. We were leaving Friday morning.

Tess, Luke and I had gyros (with a side of chili for me) and drove up to Ely Friday afternoon. We had a quick stop for hot chocolate (extra large for me and a cookie) and then a nice dinner at the Ely Steakhouse (deep-fried walleye for me... seeing a trend here?) . We got to Smitty's on Snowbank, our home base and lodging, around 8:30 or so. Following a glass of wine and a safety talk, we went to bed about 11, planning on getting up at 6:30, and leaving for the trail at 7:30.

Here's where it gets interesting. I awoke with nausea and cramps (do you suppose it was something I ate???) sometime around 1am, which kept me up until sometime after 4. I slept poorly, but I felt a bit better in the morning, and after eating just a bit of oatmeal, felt like I was on a slow but steady upswing. I assured everyone that I wouldn't "go bad" and after breakfast we packed up and drove to a boat landing to start the hike.

This map shows the route we would follow. The horizontal line across the bottom is the Kekekabic Trail, where we did the clearing. The rest is hiking: getting there and getting back. A 7.32 mile round trip.

After some brief route-finding instruction, using a map and compass, we took a bearing and headed south toward the Kek. Route finding was really cool. Step 1) Map: Find where you want to go (waypoint), then align north with the compass dial. Step 2) Your body: Hold the compass and align so the compass points north, then follow the arrow. Important to pick a visually distinguishable point along your direction of travel. Helps you walk in a straight line.

I made my bearing and lead the hike across the frozen lake, where we learned about sounding out the ice for hollow/thin spots and how to handle slush (don't worry about it, just keep moving). Then we turned inland toward the first trail clearing spot, got out the tools and made some sawdust!

I should mention that we were extremely fortunate with the weather Saturday. The weekend was book-ended by highs of 12º and sub-zero lows, but Saturday gave us a high of 32º and a low in the teens. This made the hike and the work much easier and took a few risks out of the equation.

We worked, taking regular water and snack breaks, until around 12:30 or so, then hiked across a cut-down/logging area and made lunch on the other side.

I was feeling about 95% at this point - really feeling good, enjoying the amazing scenery, the quiet, remoteness, company, the hard work - everything. We melted snow (I used my Coleman backpack stove for the first time) to refill water bottles and cook Ramen, make hot cocoa, and cooked Tim Curtis sandwiches. A Tim Curtis sandwich is ham/turkey and cheese on buttered bread with olive oil drizzled on the outside, wrapped in tin foil, then heated over a fire. ....Wait, how much oil/grease/cheese is in that? Uh-oh...

Unfortunately, my pre-lunch energy level was short lived. We hiked and worked for about 3 more hours, but my condition dropped slowly and steadily through the afternoon, back to early morning levels. The oils give you energy, but just weren't something I should have been putting into my system that day. Plus, blackened-olive-oil-flavored burps are disgusting!

At any rate we worked until dark, having moved through beautiful balsam fir-lined paths and clearing some very gnarly barriers:

The most interesting part of the trip was by far the 2.5 hour hike back to the car in the dark. It had started to snow, the wind had picked up, the sky was bright but overcast, and we had our longest segment of route-finding ahead of us: about a mile of exposed hiking across a frozen lake, without the benefit of a clear tree or point in the landscape to fixate upon.

In my experience leading friends on climbing excursions, there is a point, sometimes, when I feel that little extra weight of leadership settle upon my shoulders; a point when I sense that my friends have fully given me their trust, and despite the fact that they don't know exactly what will happen next, they trust that I will guide them through it safely.

It was at this point in the trip when I was on the opposite end of that bargain. I was tired. I was unsure what would happen next. I was worried about getting sick and burdening the crew. I was worried about spending any more time exposed out there on that frozen lake than absolutely necessary. But I had confidence in my companions, I had confidence in our guide, I had confidence in our route-finder, and so I concentrated on focusing my energy on following, putting one foot in front of the other, and staying together. We found our portage on the other side of Parent Lake, hiked through, leap-frogged to a couple islands on Snowbank Lake, and easily came back to the boat landing where we had started.

I came up to the Kek to give, but it was this portion of the trip where the Kek gave back.

Clockwise from top: Luke, Martin, me, Karen, Tess. For the rest of the photos and a more thorough description, see Martin's photo essay of the trip.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Unplugged, Offline and Analog

Cancun Day 1 - Thursday November 13, 2008

I was already relaxed by about half-way through the flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, which left about 45 minutes late. That made the layover in Atlanta that much shorter and then I was off to Mexico for the first time.

I got up early this morning, worked out, biked, and then took a cab to the airport plenty early. I got a coffee and a piece of gingerbread loaf and took a few spins through email, Facebook, and a quick glance at work, vowing to unplug for the duration of the next few days.

Why am I always so hungry when I travel? The coffee and frosting-laden bread didn't set me up for a healthy start, but I finished the day healthy: apple, banana, and a cookie by way of a sausage egg muffin (D'Amico NOT McD's but what's the difference?) and a tasty lentil salad in Atlanta. Anyways, here's to healthy eating the next 3 days.

Now I'm on the beach under a near full moon (maybe full tomorrow night?). The occasional cloud darts across the moon and makes it hard to see what I'm writing. Otherwise it's brilliantly bright. I can already get a sense of the turquoise blues of the water; a steady gradient that turns to navy at the horizon.

I'll be right back here for sunrise, then the gym, then see how far down the beach I can run, then breakfast. Back to the beach, the pool, happy hour, see if the moon comes up over the same horizon... Repeat. That's the plan, and I'm hungry again.

It's quiet here. The party music and crowd noises have faded from further down the beach. There's no one else in sight. My shorts are soaked halfway up from a walk in the surf, I have no idea what time it is, and it sets in: I'm here. I'm relaxed, and ready to go to bed, so I can start tomorrow.

Cancun Day 2 - Friday November 14, 2008

I slept with the doors to my balcony open - the waves crashing in my ears all night. An immersive start to the weekend. I was up before 6 am and went down to the beach to look for the sun. There was a thick line of clouds along the horizon, obscuring the view.

I walked further down the beach to a rocky/coral ridge (ouch! wear shoes next time). I was convinced I'd missed the sunrise when it lit up just above the thick clouds. The rocks and plants around me were lit up in orange light and even the shadows seemed to glow warm gray.

I took some pics, went to the gym for a quick, intense circuit, then ran, kind of. Running in sand is hard! (DON'T wear shoes next time) The run turned into a walk - the sun already hot and high overhead. Now some breakfast and maybe a lounge chair after I buy some sunscreen.

Holy crap do they ever gouge you on the sunscreen! Twenty bucks a bottle. Oh well, can't live without it.

Layed in the sun just enough to get some color I think. Then swam, then snoozed and read. Shrimp fajitas for lunch, more reading, followed by a serious nap on the beach as the sun went down behind me. Now happy hour with a margarita on the rocks. Have to drink it before the ice melts! It's not quite 6 pm and it's pitch black out. The sun sets quickly here too, I guess. I'm comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but still thinking of heading to the pool and hot tub. And what to do tomorrow? Sounds like the ferry to Isla Mujeres isn't cheap but it's a cool place... Decisions, decisions.

Cancun Day 3 - Saturday November 15, 2008

Two A-holes order breakfast. Seriously, just like the SNL sketch.
A-hole dude to waiter: Two coffees. Babe, you want coffee?
A-hole chick: Yeah
A-hole dude: Two decafs. Babe you want decaf?
A-hole chick: I don't want coffee today.
A-hole dude: One decaf. babe you want decaf?
A-hole chick: No.
A-hole dude: Diet Coke?
A-hole chick: No.
A-hole dude, to waiter: One decaf.

Wow. I'm at breakfast, sitting next to the A-holes. I'm feeling freakishly good already this morning. I was up before 6, had some tea and watched the sun rise from my balcony...

...then went to the gym for light weights and about 50 minutes on the bike. Great cardio. I probably wouldn't have gone so long, but I was waiting for the spa to open. At 8 I went into the steam room. Didn't last long in there (very claustrophobic) but just long enough to feel like a seive. Sweat was pouring out of me. Awesome. Then a cool shower...

Walked down the beach to a volleyball court and got in on a couple games. Met a nice couple from England. Too bad they weren't staying at the Westin. Pretty slim pickings for friends over here. Nothing but old people in the Royal Beach Tower, the main pool bar is overloaded with loud tattooed Texans and girls with added... buoyancy. Oh yeah and the gay couples. Who knew it was bear country?

Maybe one more dose of sun before I quit the beach for today. By 3:30 the sun is a lot less hot and the air gets cooler... I'm having my first beer of the trip: Sol. Uno mas, senor? Si.

Cancun Day 4 - Sunday November 16, 2008

Didn't sleep great last night... kept waking up. A storm rolled in overnight and the sky is overcast with lots of wind. Got up about 7 and went to work out. Not a bad day to leave, I guess. I'm ready. I haven't checked email or even thought about it much. Barely turned on the tv - just for some tunes... I worked out 3 days, stayed unplugged, finished a book, and hardly spent any money (stupid sunscreen). I feel great. This was a good idea.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Yep, it's busted.

First broken bone in 20 years, fourth ever.

#1 - 1987: Non-displaced fracture of the right mandibular ramus. (Broken jaw)

#2 - 1988: Green fracture of the left radius (broken wrist)

#3 - 1988: Spiral fracture of the left tibia (broken leg)

#4 - 2008: Displaced fracture of distal phalanx of the fourth finger. (Broken left pinky)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Rock Wall

The second retaining wall project around my driveway came to a close this past weekend. I spent lots of time in the sun, and a bit of time transporting a ton of rocks in the trunk of my car (literally a ton, in two trips). I back filled as I went and leveled out the hill, so the rocks had something to retain.

Here are the numbers:

4 tons of rocks
2 yards of fill
3 yards of top soil
100 lbs of class 2 base
10 potted plants/flowers
1 sunburned back

Still need to get 200 or so square feet of sod, but the heavy lifting is done.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Midway update

Time for an update on the driveway rocks. They're coming along, but slowly. I haven't been able to get more rocks for a couple weeks because of the hours the landscape place is open and I don't want to pay the $55 delivery fee for $140 in materials. Anyway, here's where it's at.


Midway point:

Kinda hard to tell from the pics, but the hill has been raised quite a bit. previously the yard sloped down from the property line to the driveway, but now it levels off at the top of the short retaining wall. I used my entire compost/mulch pile in back to fill it in plus three yards of dirt.

Eventually there will be plants/flowers among the rocks, and grass and border plants on top... Hope to get another load of rocks this weekend and put them in!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cool Cucumber Wasabi Sauce

Cool with a kick. A tasty sauce for shrimp, steak, potatoes, whatever. Wimps, skip the wasabi.

1/2 cucumber
Sour cream (1 cup or so)
Inglehoffer wasabi
2 garlic cloves
Chopped chives
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A drizzle of olive oil
Salt, pepper

Mix finely chopped cucumber, pressed garlic, chives in a bowl with sour cream. Drizzle in a little olive oil, add lemon juice and stir. Season with S&P, squirt in a tablespoon of wasabi, taste, then add another. Good for dipping shrimps and spreadding on bites of steak. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Dramatic Reveal

Mom and Dad came up this weekend to hang out and work on a project, per the usual itinerary. We decided to replace the basement door to the garage and got so far as bringing home a 32" fire door Friday night. It's interesting that we went to the trouble of buying a 32" fire door when I needed a 36" fire door. That was the first sign that the project was in peril. After returning the wrong door and shopping around fruitlessly for the right one, we determined that this was not the weekend for the fire door project, and that the standard 36" door maybe isn't right after all. I'll custom order a fire door and save that project for another time.

So, what we did do was some electrical work. I have wanted to install lights on either side of the garage ever since I moved in. The best way to wire these new lights would be to put them on the switch that turns on the light outside the front door. I even planned ahead and bought lights that matched the one by the front door last year when I painted.

So we got 50' of household wiring and went to work. We cut a hole in the basement ceiling and fished the wire into the wall upstairs to the switch. Then fished the other end of the wire out through the basement ceiling joists and into the garage, through the cement block and stucco, and out to where the lights would go. Finally we mounted the lights and threw the switch. Piece of cake - a project started and finished in one day. Flippin sweet!

And you know what? This part just never gets old:



OK, so that "before" picture is a little outdated, but you get the idea...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fixing what ain't broke

Super awesome weekend! Best yet this year.

I spent the weekend doing nothing but working in the yard. I moved some boulders, put a few in place on the west side of the driveway, bought mulch and put it around my trees and shrubs in the front, watered everything, stirred my compost pile, stacked wood and sticks, mowed, and then did a sort of unnecessary thing - I tore out a perfectly good built-in rock fire pit.

Actually it wasn't perfectly good. I had wanted to redo it and get the fire a bit further away from the patio - don't need more heat playing thermal expansion games with my new concrete. Plus I think someone called it "cute" and/or "litte". And that just ain't right.

So I tore it out.

And rebuilt it.

Now it's bigger, deeper, wider, and probably hotter, too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Working on it

I'm kicking off the landscaping season with a couple of projects: the remaining area by the driveway and the backyard. I'm still in planning phase, and these pics show the current state and my wireframe blanks...

This area by the driveway will get some boulders and some more dirt.

The Northeast corner of the back yard needs some work - several shrubs and trees coming out, and some new trees going in.

Let the mess-making begin!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Oh yeah

It's here. It's finally here, and this time in a way that just can't be stopped. I'm talking about Spring and it's been a bit of a tease thus far in these parts. Of course with it comes a list of to-dos, some of which were accomplished this weekend. The stacking of wood, the picking up of sticks, sweeping and blowing leaves… Thank goodness there is no painting on the list, although I need to do a bit of touch-up in a couple spots. The focus this summer will be on landscaping both in front and in back. More boulders, more plants, some new trees, and one less apple tree, and the expected disappearance of a certain mulch pile.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gonna do it again

I'm running again. I picked it up a couple weeks ago and hit the 5K goal last Wednesday. I didn't enter an actual 5K, just ran the distance around Marsh Lake. Training up to that distance took the least amount of time this year, compared to other years.

Must have been all the dodgeball I played this winter.

3 weeks ago (when it was 60, before it was 25 again) I walked it and ran the middle mile. Next time out I warmed up/cooled down the first and last 1/2 mile and ran the rest. Ran the whole route a week ago, then bumped it to 4 miles last night.

Last year my goal was to train up to 10K distance by the 4th of July. This year it's 10K by the end of May. Maybe try and get that time to under an hour by the 4th...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Best Sammich ever

I can't take credit for coming up with this recipe, but I can take credit for making it and eating it, which, if you missed it, was delicious.

Grilled Ham and Egg Sandwich

2 slices Sourdough bread
Sopressata (Italian salami)
Fresh mozzarella
1 egg
basil leaves
red onion thinly sliced

Fry the salami in a wide shallow pan (big enough to fit the whole sammich in later) just until the fat renders. Remove from pan and set aside. Fry the egg in the oil sunnyside up, remove and set aside. Layer the bread with the salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, onion and toast - right back in the same pan - on both sides. Add fried egg and a couple basil leaves to the bottom half, slice and serve.

Great with a crisp Pinto Grigio.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

In Summary

Imagine this scenario: You're browsing through the TV listings, scanning for a movie to watch, occasionally pausing to read the brief synopsis of the movie (the one or two-liner that describes the show, maybe on-screen, maybe in your news paper or TV Guide).

If you're watching TBS pretty much any given Saturday afternoon, you'll find:

The Breakfast Club: "A wrestler, a rebel, a brain, a beauty and a shy girl share Saturday detention in a Chicago high school."

More specifically, on a sci-fi type channel you might find the following:

Back to the Future: "A teen takes a crackpot's DeLorean time machine to 1955 and sees his parents in high school."


E.T. The Extra-terrestrial: "A boy's close encounter with an alien stranded on Earth leads to a unique friendship."

The summaries are jam-packed with keywords, often stacked 3 and 4 in a row, maximizing the description in a short space. So, they might seem a bit odd to read, but when you know the context, they are effective in describing, in this case, a couple of mainstream 80s movies.

Imagine how my curiosity was piqued upon reading the following synopsis (which was from the 80s, but NOT a mainstream film):

Solarbabies: "Orphan roller skaters follow a magical sphere to freedom from fascist police of the future."

Roller Skaters, you say? Yes, but ORPHAN roller skaters.

Follow a sphere? Wait - where? No, a MAGICAL sphere. To FREEDOM.

Freedom from the police? Even worse. FASCIST police.


I'm not sure I've ever seen 15 words say so much.

As a sci-fi fan I had to watch this movie. No surprise, it was terrible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My valentine

...And happy half-birthday to Sophia!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some people...

I have pretty much the coolest co-workers ever. About a week ago, the lunch club surprised me with a few bottles of wine to begin stocking the recently completed wine cellar. How awesome is that?! Then, I got a package in the mail from my sister with some wine tags she had made herself! Super sweet!

Some people are too cool... I thought they were very nice gestures, and lovely gifts. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

But wait there's more!

So, you say. That's great that you have those single-bottle racks, you say, but what do you do with larger bottles - champagne, 1.5 ml bottles, magnums, odd-sized bottles?

The answer? Diamond bin racks, of course!

The 2 x-shaped racks add room for about 40 more bottles bringing the total storage capacity to something around 240. Plus some room for other beverages that like to be kept cool...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cellar floor

Back to some continuing progress in the basement wine cellar. I took one step back in order to take two steps forward. I removed the wine racks again and took a long look at the dirty, white-primered floor.

After considering a few different options like paint, hardwood, carpet, a big rug, etc... I went with an idea I had early on - cork! Now, rather than getting the expensive $12-per-square-foot official stuff, I got the $4-per-square-foot bulletin board grade stuff. It comes in 4-packs of 1 foot tiles. I got a dark, coarse version that goes well with the dark colors.

It even came with its own adhesive squares.

At first I was a bit skeptical of it's durability as a substrate, but given the low traffic (I know what you're thinking - yes, I'll be in there all the time, but it's not like I'll be running laps) and that it's tightly fit together, I'm going with it unless I have a reason to change. Besides it looks cool and fits the theme, obviously.

I got a bit more trim and finished off the seams between the tiles and the paneling. The racks went back in, and got anchored to the walls again. Next I'm building a few diamond stackers for over-sized bottles...

Friday, January 18, 2008

The new girl

The new girl has been here 5 months. I haven't posted any pics of her for a while, and some have been asking asking about her, so here she is!

I got lots of time to look at that smile over Christmas, but no matter how much time you get it's never really quite enough is it?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Panels and Trim

I finished putting panels on the wall today.

Also picked up some dark trim that smells of rich mahogany (or at least looks like it) and covered up all the corner seams.

Then after I realized that I had put the wine racks together with one section upside down (on both racks, of course) I took them apart, put them back together, then put them on some 2x6s to elevate them just a bit. The floor is very uneven, so it took a few shims.

Next I'll attach the wine racks to the wall so they can't tip, then do the floor. Getting closer...

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I had been pondering how to mount my under-cabinet-style lights on the ceiling since the beginning of the project. The ceiling is plywood with a layer of insulation on top, then concrete. The conundrum was how to have lights up there and have paneling on the ceiling, but not see the wires. The solution was to router a groove in the plywood that the wires could sit in and not bow the paneling when I glued it up.

View of the ceiling from the front. The pencil line going back is where I cut the channel.

The glue didn't set as quickly as I had hoped, so I had to use lots of screws. In the struggle to secure the ceiling panelling up, the wires got themselves stuck outside of the channel. When I tried to pull one free it broke under the panelling after I had screwed it up. Well, now I had really screwed it up!

I was able to fish both ends back out and splice them back together and all is well... Ceiling is done and one panel on the wall.

The two most challenging parts are done now (the door/frame and ceiling/lights) and now it appears to be a matter of measuring, cutting, and gluing panelling. Progress is good!


The racks were delivered earlier this week.

They're modular, so these two finished racks are made from 4 smaller ones. From I found they had good prices, great selection, and free shipping on the ones I got.

The horizontal bars came predrilled and were notched to receive the vertical pieces, but the vertical assembly peices were not predrilled. I predrilled those to prevent splitting. They went together in about 30 minutes each.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A door

Framed a rough opening for a prehung door:

And installed that door:

Of course, all this required moving the electrical again, I think for the last time. I still need to permanently attach the door to the frame, but it's in! Next is to make room for the ceiling lights and their wiring, then panel the ceiling and walls... The wine racks are on their way!