Saturday, December 7, 2013

Chicago to SLC to West (Yellowstone)

Thanksgiving brought an extended road trip. The first stop was Chicago for the Social Science History Association meetings, where, unfortunately, unlike in past years, I didn't run into the Swedish demographer who studies the comparative efficiency of various farm arrangements in eighteenth-century Sweden -- and, I swear, looks and sounds just like the Swedish chef from the Muppets. Canadian friends, the Swedish Chef also makes poutine here.

It was also unfortunate that, outside of my panel, I didn't participate much in the conference (besides giving my first-ever 90-second speech, to award a book prize). I was too busy finishing (I think) the Hoover Essay That Would Not End. I used to say that American history is so short that we Americanists deal in months, not years, but at this point I know the history of Hoover's policies from the October 1929 stock market crash through his stupid tax increase proposal in December 1931 week by week. Writing this essay made me even more obsessed with 2007-2010 -- and obsessed with the fact that Obama's entire presidency has been irrationally shaped by the 2010 elections he lost (which subsequently led to all the gerrymandering) in large measure because he pursued a policy -- a large fiscal stimulus -- desired (in large measure because of the ghost of Hoover's failures) by the vast majority of economists across the political spectrum (a policy largely begun by Bush; remember TARP?). Example: in 2009, economist Martin Feldstein, formerly chair of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers -- Reagan's CEA! -- testified before Congress: “While fixing the credit markets is necessary for sustained economic growth, it will not bring the economy back to full employment. Because monetary policy is not effective, reviving the economy requires a major fiscal stimulus from tax cuts and increased government spending. It pains me to say that because I am a fiscal conservative who dislikes budget deficits and increases in government spending.” Sigh. Lydia, what was he like in class?

I may have hit the wall on gastropubs in Chicago. The pork belly and egg sandwich at Revolutionary Brewing was delicious, if a cliche. But note to Owen and Engine, where I caught up with my college roommate Jason (and sorry Lydia, I forgot to mention that there's a restaurant by this name): it's fine that you make a decent pretzel, but your chicken wings are average at best, and above all, if it's so damn cold in the restaurant that you admit it's cold and have a space heater where we sat, for pete's sake, buy a ^%$# heater that puts out more heat.

I did have a nice view from the room in Chicago, though. There was a very tall building near us.

Salt Lake was just a quick layover, but gave us enough time for dinner with Kristin and Jason and Will and Allison (sadly not pictured), and dinner with Sarah and John and Jonas and Issac at our regular stomping ground, La-Cai Noodle House.

From there we hit the road to "West," as our local Nordic shop instructed us to call West Yellowstone. Here the goal was the iconic Rendezvous Trails. In one word -- perfect. The snows had come the week before, leaving this:

Thanksgiving at West is an alternative, Nordic skiing-centric universe. A large part of the community from across the country takes over the place. The results can be pretty unusual.

Thanksgiving dinner at a church with Jen and Dru and Ewan and Reese and the rest of TUNA, our SLC ski club, was a lot of fun. Everyone seemed surprised by how much food I took, but the plates were pretty small. The best part was Epic in Hammer cups ...  and Bonnie's pumpkin bars.

Sorry, no picture of Dru running the logistics of the clean-up ... and of the high-school kids outsourcing their labor to Reese.

It's important on Thanksgiving to help out those who've had a rough go of it.

JUST KIDDING Dru. That's a thumbs-down comment, and actually, I was sorry I didn't do more for Movember (not that anyone would want to see that). All the leading Nordic racers in town were rocking seriously good porn star stashes.

The American West is a big place, and yet we keep running into Sean and Gillian there. Amazing.

Look, I'm fully aware that the hat is absurd. But it's a World Championships thing.

West can be a pretty bleak place even when above freezing ...

 ... but you should have seen the place on Sunday morning, when we were making a break for it with a snowstorm and -28-degree temperatures on the way. Of course, one can only make a fast getaway in the snow properly caffeinated ... which in West means this place. Nordic store + coffee bar = way-station to Paradise.

 Visibility on the way home was a little iffy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Road Trip!

Before proceeding, thanks again very much to everyone for helping out with the NNF fundraiser. Lydia and Jim and John R. and Rob and Debbie and Chris (New York) came through hugely toward the end, and I ended up raising $805, which put me in the top 25. Amazing. At first, Chris's donation didn't count toward my team total, so in classic Chris fashion, he emailed the head of the organization to explain as much.

Also before proceeding, I can't believe that my last post about autumn in Manhattan omitted the soundtrack to the season. I've been unable to dislodge Beth Orton's "Sugaring Season" from my car. It's accompanied me on every rollerskiing trip to the lake. "Call me the Breeze" won song of the year for 2012 while we were in Germany, right? I wish she would come through Kansas City so we could make a guys' night out of it, maybe share some salads before the show.

About a week ago I hit the road to Topeka (ok it only takes about 45 minutes to get there, but work with me).

The first stop -- this being a 40-something road trip -- in past years it would have been the casino ... -- was my new spine doctor's office. It only took me three months to get an appointment upon reentering the country. Oh, and one trip for an MRI, another for x-rays, and a third to pick up the CD at a different location. And then a fourth trip because they failed to burn both the MRI and x-ray images on the same CD on the first try. 

The news was not especially uplifting, if not exactly spine tingling. Back in May, I wrote:

<<It looks like I have Spondylolysis, which, as Wikipedia puts it bluntly, "is a defect of the vertebrae." Even more specifically, my L4 and L5 are not fused correctly, and I was likely born this way. According to the Cleveland Clinic,“Spondylolysis is a specific defect in the connection between vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column. This defect can lead to small stress fractures (breaks) in the vertebrae that can weaken the bones so much that one slips out of place, a condition called spondylolisthesis.” And according to the good Priv.-Doz. Dr. med. A. Badke Stellv. ├ärztlicher Direktor, I have said spondylolisthesis. Luckily I do not have Spondylosis -- seriously, this is a third term and condition (basically a form of degenerative arthritis).>>

Unfortunately, Dr. Fritz of Topeka (nice continuity with the German name ...) reports succinctly that I do in fact have "spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, and spondylolysis." So there you have it meine Damen und Herren -- the triple crown of spondys! 

The sort of good news, however, is that I'm a good candidate for surgery, which could, if all goes well, buy my a couple pain-free decades. At least I think I might be a good candidate. By the time Dr. Fritz had finished saying "rods, pins, and screws," I was close to passing out, and I think I missed the final metal-related noun he listed off. We didn't even get to "catheter." For now, it looks like we'll wait and see how long I can do activities not called running pain-free. This winter's ski season will be a major test. I do think yoga is helping, and I'm really quite good at it -- just ask Sam and Jessa. When in Manhattan, btw, I prefer Orange Sky Yoga. The previous link is worth clicking. You gotta love the video of doing yoga in the Flint Hills. 

The best news of all is that Fritz gave me gratis mental health and fitness check-ups as well. In his summary letter to me, he began: "On physical examination, this is a well-developed, well-nourished, white male in no acute distress." Jane, Sheila, Katie, Brian, and the rest of my clinical friends, can you tell me what one calls this lower-than-acute level of distress that I have? I should do something about it ... Fritz also reported that "his neck is supple without bruits." Which got me thinking, what does champagne have to do with my neck? Moving on, I feel validated now that I spent my 20s and 30s reading history because he wrote that my "speech and fund of knowledge is good." But I was a little disappointed that he would only stick his neck -- supple neck? -- so far out as to write that "his strength appears to be good in the upper and lower extremities." Well, c'mon Dr. Fritz., what's with the lazy "appears"? I was perfectly willing to do a push-up test.

Sadly, I forgot to get a picture with Dr. Fritz, unlike with Herr Doktor Badke. I liked him a lot. He was data obsessed and kept telling me that no data supports any theory about what one can do with the spondys, what activities are kosher, what prevents the pain, etc., which is about what I figured. Everyone's stumbling through the dark when it comes to the spine. 

From there I continued down I-70 into downtown Topeka. After lunch at PT's coffee, it was on to the state capital, where my friend Virgil -- longtime editor of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains -- had arranged a surprise VIP tour for me guided by the head of the capitol's office. You see, being book review editor of Kansas History has its perks.

The capitol building is under renovation, although the dome has a fresh coat of copper and looks great. The building is perhaps best known for its John Steuart Curry murals. Man that's a lot of white people painted on walls -- and one especially angry white dude (that being John Brown). Well that's not quite fair: Indians appear in the murals kindly helping Coronado, the Spanish governor of a province of northern Mexico, when he entered Kansas in 1541. His journals note that he encountered many "shaggy cows" -- bison. I don't think he wrote about sunflowers, though maybe Virgil can comment here. And Virgil, as an agricultural historian, feel free to comment on the imagery of the hulking shirtless farmers. Seems kind of 1930s-ish to me, not 1950s-ish. 

The VIP tour included a stop in Governor Brownback's office, and I mean his office, where in the interest of healthy, civil debate, I remained completely quiet.

The final highlight was seeing some workers obviously enjoying their task of putting down a floor that will double as a county-by-county map of Kansas. When we showed up, they had only finished the western part of the state -- the half with the easy, mostly square-ish shaped counties. Riley Country, in contrast, must have put the floor-cutting technology to the test. 

When I got back to Manhattan, everything had changed. At least it seemed that way at the new Bourbon & Baker. The 2008 food scene has arrived in Manhattan people! We now have our very own establishment with egg-topped small plates and ironic comfort desserts.

Ok but more seriously, the place is very good, and opened well. The fried chicken on a waffle was fantastic, and so were the Russian Roulette peppers (and for that matter so was the fried chicken on a biscuit). Dear Germany friends, a restaurant serving small American plates would make a killing in T├╝bingen. And while we're on the subject of what Germany needs (and you thought I had grown tired of the subject ...), it's been a solid couple of weeks on the beer front. At Bourbon & Baker Brent finally found the elusive Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quadruple. That's right, Martin, beer aged in bourbon barrels.

And I heartily recommend Celastrina, Odell's new saison

Photo credit: and Carrie Dow
And finally, Sam deserves credit for discovering A Little Sumpin' Wild Ale from Lagunitas, an excellent Belgian IPA -- a category, I believe, invented in the good 'ol US of A. 

Speaking of road trips, it's time to hit the road for real in a few hours. See you in Chicago.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn in Manhattan

Before proceeding, a couple notes. First of all, thanks again to everyone who has donated to my National Nordic Foundation Drive for 25 page. If I win the jacket, I promise coffee cards all the way around! I'm less than $100 from my new but final goal ... if you want that warm fuzzy feeling watching the Olympics, please go to my fundraising page. It's very simple to give. My longer spiel is here. You heard it here first: the women's 4x5k relay is going to be one of the iconic moments of the Sotchi games.

Second, I can't believe that my last post about our August 2012 backpacking trip in Idaho omitted the trip's soundtrack. It was The Tallest Man on the Earth's 2012 album "There's No Leaving Now." {TMOTE is really one short Swedish guy.} We never stopped playing it for 5 days. Does anyone understand the economics of full albums available on YouTube? Anyway, I challenge you not to get sucked in.

I love fall in Manhattan. We're halfway between Texas and Minnesota -- so the autumns here are neither too hot and un-fall-like nor too short. We enjoy an endless succession of bluebird days in the low 60s, interrupted every now and then by enough rain to keep my new lawn green. Well ok, we did have snow during the third week in October, but who's counting? Does anyone know why my camera turned the snowflakes into big round sand dollars?

Fall is all about annual traditions. For example, Jim and I turn off our office air-conditioners and pretend that we are hearty environmentalists. I convince myself for just a few weeks that THIS is the semester I can finally coast. And J comes during her fall break (in time for the snow). This year we proved (in Kansas City) that one need not go to Europe to increase one's Caravaggio count.

And you have to love Hieronymus Bosch. This has to be a Bosch, right? I mean, that is one strong drink. Anyone know what painting this is (sorry, all I can offer is some detail)? I can't find it here.

J and I went on our annual hike in the Flint Hills.

Fall in Manhattan also means tailgating. Here's some brisket sausage. It's a niche product, but I see that Nolan Ryan Beef has recently added brisket sausage to its product mix. 

Sam also smokes a duck every fall that brings tears to my eyes, complete with duck fat potatoes. Sweetie, I promise next time you can pick the meat.

Here are a few classic fall images from around town.

Of course, I don't want you to think that Manhattan is static. Things change. This fall, for example, I learned that we DO have good bread -- thanks, Stines, for the incredible black-crusted baguettes.

Tuttle Creek Lake and State Park are idyllic in the fall.

And to top it off, the lake offers the best rollerskiing in the world, no exaggeration. No, this is not because KS is flat -- in fact, Manhattan is extremely hilly. But thanks to an Army Corps of Engineers dam, this park offers miles of flat and nearly car-less roads -- and nightly orange skies. When rollerskiers enter heaven, here's what it looks like:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Bit Late ...

J was in KS last weekend, which gives me a good reason to blog about ... my backpacking trip to Utah Idaho more than a year ago. (It's a long story.) Which reminds me: thank you very much Tom and Maria and Sean and Gillian and Sam and Dad for giving to the National Nordic Foundation's Drive for 25. I'm halfway to my quota, which means that the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers still need your help. Here is the link to give, and here is my longer description of why this is a worthy cause. It's an Olympic year people!

Here's an artsy shot on the way driving in -- the location is too great to mention.

Let's get started with a few establishing shots of the pure awesomeness of the place. (I love that awesomeness satisfies the spellcheck, but Missoula does not.) Here's our first night's campsite.

It may have seemed like a guys' trip from this shot

But thankfully Gillian came along.

BTW, any time is the right time to rock the vintage (real) 80s xc hat.

Some larger awesomeness.

Sam stayed hydrated.

The second night we found an amazing campsite right under a mountain that was basically our own private island complete with a fishing hole and some small waterfalls. It provided the best white noise for sleeping I've ever had (give or take one spot in Lassen National Park ...).

The spot called for an epic whiskey.

The forest fires nearby were the only downside to a cushy trip. Ash literaly rained down on us and blocked the sun.

We fished a bit, too. Sean wrestled with one mighty beast and won. (Look closely.)

The next day brought a new and drier terrain -- still with plenty of lakes and mountains though.

Here we are deliberating (near a beautiful lake) whether to cut the trip short one night and put in an epic hike back to the trailhead. Well, it wasn't so much a deliberation ... we always make this decision once we start talking about beer ... and Sean always leads the march.

The last shot on the trail. No sunglasses ... as in, it was getting late.

Then we made a beeline for town.

Ok maybe not a beeline. The road was indescribably bad, much worse than it looks here.

And here was the pure elkyawesomeness payoff.