Category Archives: Uncategorized

The power of the ever-present sticky note

I like the look of this: crossing off things on the long term to-do list.

When I moved to Allentown, PA last year and set up my desk in early July, I was overwhelmed by all the things that needed to be done. So I made a list and put it where I was bound to see it every single day: my desktop in my home office. Continue reading

Here be dragons! Hic sunt dracones*

*Dat is wat de Nederlandstalige Wikipedia als titeltje geeft voor de Engelse uitdrukking. “Hier bevinden zich draken”

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Why do Chinese dragons always look surprised? They’re awesome creatures, at the top of the (spiritual) food chain in many ways, not much can harm them, so what could possibly surprise them? Keep an eye out for them in Chinese art, Continue reading

Just ten moments- Een tiental momenten

Gelieve verder door te rollen naar beneden voor de Nederlandstalige versie.

Just ten of those many moments when I really really miss you, dad-

When I come back from another once-in-a-lifetime concert with the Berlin Phil- and I realize we never compared notes on Beethoven. (We were of course in complete agreement on the fine playing of the Berliners, live and recorded.) Continue reading

March! Springtime? – Maart! Lente?

It’s March, spring must be on its way. My plan was to post a series of pictures that shows how the blanket of snow gradually disappears from my front lawn, by taking a picture every morning of the view from my study. The result is not quite what I had in mind… I include a couple from February as reference. Let’s go!

Het is maart, de lente komt eraan. Mijn plan was een serie foto’s op het blog te zetten om jullie te laten zien hoe de sneeuw geleidelijk aan verdwijnt en het gras in de voortuin weer tevoorschijn komt, met een foto elke ochtend vanuit het raam van mijn werkkamer thuis. Dat plan is niet  helemaal naar wens verlopen… Er zijn er ook een paar bij van februari, ter vergelijking Hier gaan we dan!

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

Dates are (left to right, top to bottom): 8 and 22 Feb, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 March. Alas, I forgot to document the state of the lawn when I came back from Europe in early January, but it wasn’t very different.

Data zijn (links naar rechts, boven naar beneden): 8 en 22 februari, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 en 7 maart. Helaas heb ik geen foto’s van de voortuin in januari, maar veel verschil was er niet.

I measured the total snow on the lawn yesterday (Friday) That is nearly 13′ (33cm for all you imperially challenged ones). Ik mat de totale hoeveelheid sneeuw op het gazon gisteren (Vrijdag) Dit is in duim, omgerekend 33cm.

Snow on the front lawn

Snow on the front lawn

Half of that came down on Thursday. It was pretty! Zowat de helft kwam donderdag naar beneden. Het was wel mooi!

Snow snow snow!

Snow snow snow!

Brrrr!

“Wool prices to soar in the Princeton area!” “Thermal underwear out of stock in northeastern USA!”
Look at those Realfeel temps, my darlings. I am sandwiched between a merino mattress protector, a double strength woollen duvet, with a hot cherry stone cushion to cuddle, and a woollen blanket at hand, just in case. How do you keep warm? Comments and suggestions welcome!

“Prijzen van wol rijzen de pan uit in Princeton!” “Thermisch ondergoed uitverkocht in heel het noordoosten van de VS!”
Kijk naar die temperaturen met de gevoelsfactor (Realfeel) voor zaterdagochtend. Ik zal lekker tussen mijn wolsandwich liggen: merino matrasbeschermer, dubbele dosis wollen dekbed, en een heerlijk warm kersepitje, met een wollen deken in aanslag. Tips en suggesties om je bij dit soort weer warm te houden graag in de comments!

Realfeel temperatures at the bottom, in Celsius.

Realfeel temperatures at the bottom, fortunately in Celsius.

Rhinebeck 2014

I’m a lucky person: one of my new colleagues shares my passion for all things fiber. So we went on an autumnal mini road trip. Click on the pictures for a larger version. Ik ben zo’n gelukzak! Een van mijn nieuwe collega’s deelt mijn liefde voor wol en garen. Dus gingen we samen op stap voor een mini-trip.Klik op de foto’s voor een grotere versie.

Fairground carpark- Knitters of the world, unite!

Fairground carpark- Knitters of the world, unite!

Nature's own firework display

Nature’s own firework display

Gorgeous trees

Gorgeous trees

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And more trees

Rastafarian sheep

Rastafarian sheep

Helping dad

Helping dad

Where all wool begins: the sheep shearing

Where all wool begins: the sheep shearing

Fiber- starry night in the middle

Fibre- starry night in the middle

Yarn, yarn and yarn.

Yarn, yarn and yarn.

We missed the demos so now we have to go back next year, right?

We missed the demos so now we have to go back next year, right?

Pictures of the Stash Enhancing Expedition when I had a chance to photograph the new acquisitions in daylight. Foto’s van de Voorraadverrijkingsexpeditie volgen zodra ik bij daglicht foto’s genomen heb

A good Sunday | een goede zondag

This is what a good Sunday looks like | Zo ziet een goede zondag er uit

Click on the pictures for a larger version on my Flickr account- Klik op de foto’s voor een grotere versie op mijn Flickr stekje.

Crisp autumn morning in the woods- Frisse herfstochtend in het bos

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Shooting some deer – Hertjes in het vizier

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(I need a tripod- suggestions in the comments for something lightweight but standing height, please- Ik heb een statief nodig! Suggesties voor een lichtgewicht statief met volle lengte graag in de opmerkingen)

Tasty food in NYC at Doma– Lekker hapje in New York, bij Doma

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En dan dit om af te sluiten:

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Scenes from SLMM-continued

Midcamp evening musings

We’re sitting in the rain. I’m tired, hungry and achy after the day we just had, and now I am also wet. What started as drizzle while we were pitching the tent has now turned into proper rain. It is hard to keep things dry. We can’t sit in the tent, there is just enough space to lie down for both of us, but not to sit. Space is at a premium in ultra-lightweight tents, and the only thing you really need to do inside is lying down and sleeping, so you can be ready for the next day.

We work our way through a wet three course meal: potnoodles, spicy and warm, perfect starter. While we boil the second lot of water, we mix our Rego chocolate recovery drink in the empty potnoodle pots. It’s the Mountain Marathon equivalent of the mid-meal sorbet, I assume. A choice of dry-freeze chilli or curry is next and it went down really well last year. Today I stare at my bag of chilli which should have come to live by adding some hot water, but it ain’t quite what I hoped for. I look at the tent, it looks back with inviting glances. I poke my chilli a bit more. “I quite like camping,” I said yesterday evening. I now change that to “I quite like camping if it’s dry.” We can’t finish our meals, too salty. Somehow even the simplest instruction “just add hot water” is too complicated for us at this point…

We pack everything as best as we can under the “front porch”- a small awning that should protect our stuff from the worst of the weather, but everything is wet already. Inside the tent, I put on dry warm clothes, including a woollen hat and gloves. Now I know why gloves, hat and warm clothes (top and bottom) are part of the compulsory kit list, and I am happy with my choice for 100% wool for those smaller items. Sheep have got it all sorted, I muse, they know how to stay warm in this weather on the hills. Before I put dry socks on, I look at my battered feet. Hmmm. Not quite the equivalent of foot rot in sheep, but definitely a contender for the title “Queen of Blisters, with Pink Raisin Toes”. Two plastic bags over my socks should keep them dry overnight. By the time I have wrestled myself into the sleeping bag I am hot and take off the hat. That can serve as my pillow for tonight!

Rain, rain, go away

I wake up, and turn on my back. Over my head, a puddle is building on a crease in the tent canvas. We had stretched it out, but somehow the water still gathers. I’ve been instructed not to touch the tent from the inside, as it is not entirely waterproof. Where you touch wet spots, it will leak. Hmmmm. Marj wakes up around the same time, and pokes the canvas at a slightly higher spot, to dislodge this latest addition to the Lake District’s water features- hopefully without getting us wet. It works, but we have to repeat this a couple more times through the night. When will it stop raining? How low will the clouds be on the hills when we get up? If there is one thing we both agree on 200% it is hill fog: any of that stuff, and we can be found in the pub in the dale. We had one encounter with these low clouds last year in training and it was very scary. Twenty meters out and everything is white, gone from the face of the earth, even if things look clear from the valley. You have to navigate completely on compass. The motto of our team is “Crazy but not Stupid” (crazy according to most people, we feel perfectly well-balanced). After that experience we classified running in hill fog as Stupid.

As we went to sleep last night, we were in doubt whether to start on day 2, or not. The course was significantly harder than last year’s, and we were both wiped out. Would we recover sufficiently? The weather forecast for the morning was clouds, then better. But they had been wrong about the rain, which arrived much earlier and lasts much longer than expected, it is still raining now, and it is past midnight. What else will they be wrong about? Again, the scene of Black Combe in fog comes to my mind’s eye and I wonder if I have improved enough as a navigator to get us out of anything similar quickly. We will decide tomorrow morning, after we have plotted the course, what we will do. Attempt the race; walk back to the finish the shortest way; or try to find a ride back and not even go up the hill. Until we know the route they have in mind, it is no use speculating, but I do it anyway. I check the lake on the tent, decide we won’t get flooded and try to find a comfortable position to sleep.

Breakfast for hill runners

No coffee. No tea. Sort of forgot to bring tea bags, but we will manage without, we have trained that bit in China in June, when we did kaishui (hot water) all the way. Peperkoek is my favourite running fuel if I can’t get porridge, and we have plenty of this stuff. Chocolate, too: with nuts, and Cote D’Or Double Lait. Some cheese and oatcakes, and we still have some peperami mini sausages (no bacon or eggs, though it would be very good right now), a handful of nuts. Anything that is high in calories and does not take up a lot of space, or provides slow-release energy and some protein. Add dried apricots for fruit, and you have a balanced diet right in your backpack.

While we are munching our way through these snacks, we have picked up the course descriptions and start to plot the route. Oooooh. Straight up that bit we came sliding down yesterday evening, first thing this morning. Back up to 850m, then all the way round Fairfield to do the controls in the right order, followed by a very very long trot to Birks, and then down the hillside to the start area from yesterday. No path for that last descent. My toes protest violently. They don’t like free-style downhill. Still, I guess I could do it. It won’t be easy, but this is why I did “double hard” weekends: back-to-back long runs of up to 10miles, until my legs threatened to turn niggles into injuries.

What worries us both is the presence of hill fog. “Oh, it will have cleared away by the time you’re up there.” I am not sure. Those clouds are at 600m or lower. Even if we decide to walk straight back to the finish we have to get across Fairfield at 850-870m, there is no other way. The clouds above us move quickly, but the hillside we need to climb remains stubbornly wrapped in cotton wool.

A second question to be considered is recovery. Did Marj recover sufficiently from yesterday’s exertions? She’s a runner with Parkinson’s disease (or something that behaves similarly), and recovery is not as straightforward. These challenging events are just the thing to keep her motivated to train, but she knows her limits. Will today’s course be too much? Will we just squeeze in on time like last year? I leave the decision- start or no start- with her, as we have always agreed that she calls the shots. The start is at 8am, so I just ask that she lets me know by 7am if I need to put my wet clothes back on. I don’t relish that prospect but worse things happen at sea. At least I have dry feet, long live the plastic bags.

DNS/DNF/victory*  (*delete as appropriate)

Almost immediately, Marj tells me we’re not starting. We’re not going up there. Today will be a DNS (Did Not Start), which immediately turns our race into a DNF (Did Not Finish). She is not confident we can do the race course, and to be honest, I am not confident I could do it before the cut-off at 4pm. We’re not going to walk back to the start, either. That is a bit shorter, but still requires the deadly climb of more than 600m in one go, and climbing is not our strongest side. Between that and the hill fog that may or may not lift, it’s decided. We’re crazy, but not stupid, and we don’t want to create unnecessary work for the Mountain Rescue.

We are lucky and will get a ride back with one of the volunteers. Four or five other people hang around waiting for a ride, too. Injuries, mainly. Running downhill, taking risks, and now sidelined. These folks will be out of action for about 6 weeks, I guess. We’re lucky, we will be back on the road in the next week if we choose.

We get back to base-camp, which doubles as the finish area, and officially register our DNF. I am not sure what I feel right now. We both know that it was the right decision. I am a bit disappointed, but I know we could not have done it. Not after having seen the landscape we drove through. It is beautiful, but it is hard work to get around in that terrain. We still get our T-shirt, and the free meal, and it feels good to be recognised as a competitor, even if we did not make it to the end. Over sausages, jacket potato and beans, our post-race analysis starts and before long turns into plan for what we can do next.

Those plans bubble gently along in our conversation, while we sit near the finish and applaud all teams as they come in, throwing in an encouraging shout “Well done!”, “Looking great!”, “Good job!” All manage a smile, or a thumbs-up in return. Many even make one last extra effort and break into a sprint, or -for those who had a really hard time up there- a slightly faster hobble. For some reason, that little bit of encouragement enables runners to dip into that last reserve. I know how it feels, and as a back-of-the-pack finisher I have always appreciated it when the race snakes took the time to welcome us at the finish. Today we can return the favour. After a long wait, and with very few minutes to spare before the cut-off, Marj’s son and daughter-in-law come into view. They ran a longer and more difficult course, and they had a very tough two days. Victory for them!

And in a sense for us, too. The carrot and stick approach to training works: sign up for something you really really want, and then train for it. If you don’t train properly, there is no point in showing up at the start. It has got me out of bed for early runs, through the snow on wintry runs, and kept me going on those hot summer runs while I was melting. I can’t afford to be the weakest link, I can’t afford to let somebody two decades my senior (and with PD) beat me! For Marj, it has kept her another year on the road, being a runner rather than a patient. The proverbial two fingers up to Parkinson’s, and a major victory for Team Kingfisher.

And our plans for next year, you ask? We’re doing it again, if they let us. Perhaps we are crazy after all.

Scenes from SLMM 2014

The Saunders Lakeland Marathon 2014 took place in Deepdale (near Patterdale) in the Lake District, on 12-13 July. Team Kingfisher (=Marj and I) was there, and I wrote up these short scenes to give you some idea of what happened and what goes through my mind while we’re out there. For the basics of Mountain Marathoning UK style, please look here. Click on the pictures for a bigger view, in my Flickr account (doesn’t work for the bits of map).

Getting there

I’m running, with a big backpack. I’m not yet even anywhere near the Lake District where the race will take place. I am running through Brussels, on my way to the railway station to catch the Eurostar. The best laid plans of mice and men… I checked carefully which tram would get me there on time, but unfortunately two trams did not show up at all. Traffic congestion further up the line, I hear later. I see multiple trams going the other way, and I wonder if all these trams ride down some dark hole, never to be seen again… That might explain why none of them ever come back up the line again.

I am running with quite a bit of additional weight, this is everything I need for four days away and not my light race pack with minimal kit. The breathing is fine, it’s comforting to know the training pays off. The knee, however, isn’t fine after about 10 minutes of this unexpected extra training. I slow down to a walk, and curse the Brussels public transport authority under my breath. If this race turns into a DNS (did not start), because I bugger up my knee, they’ll hear about it.

I make it into the Eurostar terminal, and just as I am looking around to find a place to sit down and have a breather, boarding begins. I am glowing profusely (horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow, apparently) but I caught the train. On the train from London to Cambridge I text my teammate Marj with a request for a bag of frozen peas to ice my knee, just to be on the safe side. I also get a tweet from Brussels transport with an apology for the delay, after I called them out on Twitter. Kind, but as useful as a chocolate ashtray on the back of a motorbike… Team Kingfisher is reunited at basecamp Cambridge before driving out to the Lake District. We’re a bit apprehensive, but excited none the less, when the “lumpy bits” come into view.

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Base camp at Deepdale, the evening before the race.

Victory no. 1: the start line

If you’re training for a long race, like a marathon or a multiple day event, getting fit to the starting line is a victory in itself. The year has been hard for both of us. Training this winter for me felt more like I was preparing for the winter Olympics, with all the snow and temperatures that made my freezer seem comfy warm, but things improved when spring finally came. Marj had more serious setbacks, which left us hesitating to sign up for the race until March. But now we are at the start line, and we are over the moon. We’re feeling ready, my knee is fine. We know it won’t be easy (though we don’t know yet how bad it might be), but as we line up for our start, we lift our eyes unto the hills and feel the thrill of the race. Bring it on!

 

Ups and downs

 

wall of stone-map view

We’re sliding down a hill side, and dropping height quickly. This is good, because I managed to waste time and energy by going past the 1st control, and we had to turn back. In my defence, it was located east of the boulder, and not west as indicated on the directions. We saw many other teams struggling to find the darn thing but I should do better as chief navigator and keep my eyes peeled. The 2nd control took us up a steep hillside, but was easy enough to find. But it came with the realisation that we have to get over this sheer wall of stone in front of us, and then immediately back down again to number 3, and there is no path down… Fortunately, there is soft grass, and so we just slide down and lose about 250 meters in no time.

IMG_0032Google Earth view of the wall of stone, we have to get to the other side…

IMG_0034Google Earth view of the descent from the top of the wall of stone to control 3. This looks more reasonable than in real life…

We then have a long way to go to control 4 (Look! Picture!), but there is a path and the views are rewarding: Ullswater in the distance, as we are going around Grisedale Brow. I can’t quite see the way to control 5 yet, but the contour lines on the map are ominously close together. There is a path, but with many switchbacks (i.e. zigzags), which suggests the same: it’s going to be seriously uphill, baby.

switchback and ski tow-map view

The list of should-haves

With every race, there is a list of should-haves. A sample of my past races: I should have trained harder/differently; I should have put on different socks; I should not have had that fish and chips yesterday for dinner. Today’s should-haves include: I should have checked the map and seen that we need to take on water at Mires Beck, where everybody else was doing this. As it is, we’re working our way up the steep path to control 5, and there is no good source of water until we’re heading off the mountain towards the end of the day. I am fine, but Marj is starting to have trouble as we make our way to the top of the ski-tow where control 6 awaits us. The climb is a good 225m higher up from control 5, although not vertical, but the long day is getting to her. There’s another one: I should have made sure my teammate is “grazing” on snacks throughout the day, like me, but it’s hard to force food into somebody who claims not to be hungry. But hauling yourself and a pack up the hills consumes a crazy amount of calories and they need to be replenished, even if your health situation means appetite is suppressed when you’re nearing exhaustion. We have a brief rest, ration the water, and prepare for the big one: the top of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England at 950m. We will just follow the path south to Whiteside (868m), then onto Helvellyn Lower Man (925) and Helvellyn itself a bit further with control 7. We have to go this way to get off the hills anyway, to the midway camp, and we’re not giving up. Not yet.

Stairway to Heaven

I am walking on the saddle between White Side and Lower Man. To my left in the distance the blue Ullswater. On my right I see Thirlmere, another lake. I have done this route on Google Maps as part of my orientation preparation, but that pales in comparison with the real thing. At the far end, where the path climbs to Lower Man, the sheer cliff face from Swirral Edge bumps into the top of Browncove Crag. I am walking on the spine of the world, and I am suddenly overcome by intense emotion: utter bliss, feeling part of the universe, and a deep sense of gratitude that I am allowed to be here. I am exhausted, thirsty, hungry and could lie down for a nap here and now, yet I feel more alive, in every cell of my body, than ever before. This moment of pure joy is worth every step of the long and hard way we took to get here. I am on the stairway to Heaven.

Google Earth view of my stairway to Heaven. It doesn’t do it justice at all. Go up there and experience it for yourself. Worth every step of the way. Go on. You know you want to.

Who moved my sheepfold?

I am walking back up the hillside in search of a blimmin’ sheepfold that contains control 8. I saw it as we were walking down from Helvellyn and started our descent on the path to the north of Birk Side. It’s freaking big, you can’t just tuck it away. Yet that is exactly what happened, because as we were going down the path it did not just pop up on our left side as it should have.

Now we have come down too far. Marj is completely exhausted, but we found water. While we wait for the purification tablet to work its wonders, I decide to trot back up and find the control. I look back regularly to make sure I know where to find her again. You’re not supposed to leave your teammate, but asking her to go back up there is just mean at this point. There is no danger of hill fog, so we should be fine. I am annoyed with myself for missing a second control in one day. Chief-navigator and Master of the Map, my a***. The sheepfold is as big as a house, literally- how can you miss it? Some kind competitors confirm my suspicion that it is just a bit further to the north, and my determination (stubornness?) pays off. I stick the dibber into the control and I have rarely been this relieved to hear the *beep beep* as it radioes our time to race HQ.

I go back down to pick up Marj, who’s significantly more chipper now we have water, a rest, and some food. We study the map, and head out in search of control 9, which is all the way at the bottom of the hill, some 350m lower.

sheepfold to finish-map view

Lessons learned from last year

I don’t like the look of those contour lines. One of the should-haves from last year pops into my head, and I remind Marj of the longest twenty minutes of our lives. I can’t quite see how we- completely at the end of our reserves by now- will make it safely down between the cordonned-off area and the stream, on a hillside at a 45º angle or worse. We’re not even worrying anymore about being done before the cut-off time, that is pie in the sky by now.

“You see those runners there? That’s where I’d like to be.” I say to Marj. She’s good at finding paths and making tracks, and is usually out in front doing exactly that. Much to my relief, she complies with my request, even if it means going back up 100m or more, so we can safely cross the stream. I see my old friend the sheepfold again, from a distance. It feels like we’re going round in circles this last hour, but at last we get on the other side of the stream, and onto the grassy hillside. This one is also at a silly steep angle, but there is space. And we can slide down, because there is simply no point in standing up. As soon as we take two steps, we’re back on our bum, so we lose a good 300m height in very good time. We are both very happy with the decision to take this route, even if it looked like a detour. No gorse or bracken to pick out of our underwear (and worse places) for the next three days, like last year.

To the finish, and victory again!

We get to control 9, and our quick descent means we do actually stand a chance of making it to the final control on time. It is just a few hundred meters along an easy, even path. We clock off with ten minutes or so to spare. The course was much harder than last year- with 18km and 1310m of height in the ideal case, and my navigation mistakes added probably another 2-3km and maybe 150m. We’ll worry about tomorrow after we have had some food and a rest. Today is a major victory, and we’ll cherish it.