Wednesday, May 27, 2015

100 Miler Musings

This winter and spring my running has been pretty minimal.  We have had a bunch of family obligations that have taken us away from home regularly, plus spring is typically a busy time as we are avid landscapers. I walked around the back of my minivan yesterday at the grocery store my attention was drawn once again to my vanity plate--the one I treated myself to after breaking 24 hours at the Umstead Endurance Run (NC) in 2010.

My mind drifted off to memories of long runs past.

I've run 100 miles 3 times in my life: first was in 1998 at the Massanutten 100 Miler in VA.  Tough run but with a generous (36 hour) cutoff time, and I was able to squeak in at the back of the pack.

The second time was a few years later in 2004 when I ran 100 miles on the track as part of our community's American Cancer Society Relay for Life.  That one took me about 23 hours, and my lasting memory of the run was just how quickly it went: no boredom, no fatigue, just a metronome-like rhythm for 100 miles.  It was quite fun, actually!

And last was the Umstead run in 2010.  I seriously doubt that I have another 100 mile effort in me...but never say never.  My life goals and status could change.

So after I got home from the grocery store with the proper ingredients I whipped up this strawberry-rhubarb pie with a crumb topping.  The flavor was there but it was slightly runny.  When I upped the recipe from a normal 9" pie to a deep dish, I forgot to increase the baking time proportionally.

Won't make that mistake again.  Oh, and it did make a perfect post-run snack, even though I had to eat it with a spoon.

Image credits Gary

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

I was going to write something like the following, only someone else did it better:

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, conjuring images of picnics, barbecues or just a lazy day off. But originally the holiday was charged with deeper meaning — and with controversy. 

The exact origins of Memorial Day are disputed, with at least five towns claiming to have given birth to the holiday sometime near the end of the Civil War. Yale University historian David Blight places the first Memorial Day in April 1865, when a group of former slaves gathered at a Charleston, S.C., horse track turned Confederate prison where more than 250 Union soldiers had died. Digging up the soldiers' mass grave, they interred the bodies in individual graves, built a 100-yd. fence around them and erected an archway over the entrance bearing the words "Martyrs of the Race Course."

On May 1, 1865, some 10,000 black Charleston residents, white missionaries, teachers, schoolchildren and Union troops marched around the Planters' Race Course, singing and carrying armfuls of roses. Gathering in the graveyard, the crowd watched five black preachers recite scripture and a children's choir sing spirituals and "The Star-Spangled Banner." While the story is largely forgotten today, some historians consider the gathering the first Memorial Day.

While I don't have a Civil War ancestor (that I know about) who died in that war, I'm an avid historian and researcher.  I've had a couple of in-depth articles published in The Gettysburg Magazine focusing on both of the extreme ends of the Confederate line: papers on the 47th Alabama (at Little Round Top) and the 10th Virginia (at Culp's Hill).

The American Civil War was a big deal.  A BIG deal, and most people today don't really know that.  To honor the dead of that war is exactly what Lincoln was saying in what came to be known was the Gettysburg Address:

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

So, take a moment and think about the sacrifice of ordinary people, who were as real as you and me, whose deaths over 150 years ago mattered, as all deaths matter, while we are enjoying our holiday.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cats in Art: St. Jerome in His Study (Durer)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  This is the 2nd of 3 posts on the art of Albrecht Durer.

Image credit Albrecht-Durer site, St. Jerome in His Study, 1514, engraving, 10" x 7", held by Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, New York.

First, a word about St. Jerome, who I never heard of before (or should that be whom....grammar was never my strong suit?).  There are any number of biographical pieces on him that are long and boring, but here's a snippet that I liked (you should check out the whole thing):

Most of the saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

Oh, and by the way, St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians. 

Back to the image: as we saw last week, another tiny engraving with incredible detail, and in this one as in last week's image, the kitty is again quite prominent.  The kitty, of course, being a lion.  Seems that back in the day, lions roamed the Middle East, and St. Jerome traveled extensively in Palestine, and in fact spent some soul-searching time alone in the backcountry, writing the following letter:

In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was ("Letter to St. Eustochium").

Anyway, you gotta like a guy associated with librarians, who kept a lion in his study, and loved the backcountry as we do.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Idea of Heaven...and Ultrarunning

This post (which I started and then lost the draft right at the end, necessitating recreating it) will be in 4 parts:

  • Foxglove photos from our gardens
  • YouTube video clip of Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs performing Stockton Gala Days, unplugged
  • Lyrics from Stockton Gala Days
  • Gary's synthesis of how and why all this is related

1.  First, the foxglove photos from our gardens (image credit Gary).  Aren't they just gorgeous?

2.  Second, the YouTube video.  Play it.  Play it!!!

If the embed does not play, here's the link:

3.  Lyrics from Stockton Gala Days, credit here.  The foxglove reference is right up front.  Can't you just imagine summer?

"Stockton Gala Days"
That summer fields grew high with foxglove stalks and ivy
Wild apple blossoms everywhere
Emerald green like none I have seen
Apart from dreams that escape me
There was no girl as warm as you

How I've learned to please, to doubt myself in need
You'll never, you'll never know

That summer fields grow high
We made garland crowns in hiding
Pulled stems of flowers from my hair
Blue in the stream like none I have seen
Apart from dreams that escape me
There was no girl as bold as you

How I've learned to please, to doubt myself in need
You'll never, you'll never know
You'll never know

Violet serene like none I have seen
Apart from dreams that escape me
There was no girl as warm as you

How I've learned to please, to doubt myself in need
You'll never, you'll never know
How I've learned to please, to doubt myself in need
You'll never, you'll never know
You'll never know

That summer fields grow high, we had wildflower fever
We had to lay down where they grow (where they grow)

How I've learned to hide, how I've locked inside
You'd be surprised if shown
But you'll never, you'll never know

You'll never, never know

How I've learned to hide, how I've locked inside
You'd be surprised if shown
But you'll never, you'll never know

4.  Gary's synthesis.

I have come to absolutely love the foxglove plants we have in our gardens.  Our variety grows some 4' high and is full of delicate, intricately-hued flowers that are absolutely stunning in their beauty.

Way back when I started this blog some 5 years ago, one of my first posts was of this very tune, saying:

I think that my notion of heaven would be to hear Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs singing all day this case, Stockton Gala Days.
This one is probably my personal fav. I often play their tunes in my head while I am running.
If you are not a fan of Natalie or 10,000 Maniacs, hearing this song all day long might be more like hell rather than heaven, but different strokes for different folks (and so on).

This tune has it all: references to nature; vivid images of color; a mysterious relationship; the distinctively unique voice of Natalie; and a great piece of musicianship by the band, particularly the violinist and the backup vocalist.  I love Natalie and her unique style and voice, but I could listen to the violin and the other singer all day long as well.

And of course the link to Ultrarunning, as I've already stated: I don't play music when I run except for that which I generate in my own head.  This is one of those tunes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

First Water Garden Lily 2015

[Note: this post has been updated with an additional photo at bottom]

Every year it seems I post a photo of my first lily in our water garden.  This year it happened yesterday (17 May).  Last year it was a full week earlier`:

Sorry that in the image the flower itself is washed out.  The petals are white, and the center is a very delicate yellow.  The koi and the goldfish are happily swimming around in the background, waiting for some food.

Here is another shot of the water lily flower that does show the detail:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cats in Art: Adam and Eve (Durer)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

First, the full size work (though, pay close attention to what size it really is...see below):

And next a detailed close up of the kitty and mouse at the bottom center:

Image credits Metropolitan Museum, Adam and Eve, Albrecht Durer, 1504, engraving on copper, 10" x 7", held by the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Zuffi's comment?

We are looking at one of the most complex masterpieces of the engraver's art, in which this great German artist brings together highly advanced research on the male and female anatomy...The big cat is the symbolic representation of the choleric temperament: with its half-closed eyes and relaxed pose, it seems lazy, indolent, and indifferent.  However, if we look closely we discover that it may be keeping an eye on a little mouse, whose tail has gotten caught under Adam's foot.  At the right moment the cat will suddenly pounce, leaving its hapless prey no escape.  Thus, at the moment of Original Sin, the Garden of Eden is enhanced by an additional dramatic dimension.

My take?  When Zuffi uses the words "lazy, indolent, and indifferent," I just say, "Duh.  That's a cat for you."

Also, did you note the dimensions of this engraving?  It is a mere 10" tall by 7" wide, and packed with incredible detail.  The cat itself is only about 3" in length.

I cannot imagine the meticulous work that must have gone into this piece.  The etching lines are incredibly tiny and compact.  This is an item that would truly have to be seen in person to fully appreciate (so I guess that means a research trip to NYC?).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Public Pensions...and Ultrarunning

Here in Pennsylvania, we have a public employees pension "problem."  Translation: the state says it doesn't have enough money to continue to pay its retirees.

Seems that state employee retirees and public school employees, who share a common retirement system, were long the targets of the just-ousted Tom Corbett administration, who pushed hard for "pension reform."  Basically they underfunded the pension fund for years and now they say, with a totally straight face, mind you: "There's just not enough money.  So we gotta cut benefits.  Oops, and sorry!"

Nevermind that employees worked their whole careers with the expectation that a certain promised annuity awaited.  "Nope, sorry, folks, we promised too much and now we gotta scale things waaaay back."

I am eagerly waiting to see how our new governor, Tom Wolf (D) will deal with this funding situation (I do have high hopes).

The situation here has parallels in the great state of Illinois.  Let me quote extensively from a great blog post at First Draft:

At issue was a December 2013 state law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn that stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits.
Employee unions sued, arguing that the state constitution holds that pension benefits amount to a contractual agreement and once they’re bestowed, they cannot be “diminished or impaired.” A circuit court judge in Springfield agreed with that assessment in November. State government appealed that decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that economic necessity forced curbing retirement benefits.
On Friday the justices rejected that argument, saying the law clearly violated what’s known as the pension protection clause in the 1970 Illinois Constitution.
“Our economy is and has always been subject to fluctuations, sometimes very extreme fluctuations,” Republican Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote on behalf of all seven justices. “The law was clear that the promised benefits would therefore have to be paid and that the responsibility for providing the state’s share of the necessary funding fell squarely on the legislature’s shoulders.
“The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and … it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible,” Karmeier wrote.

That was the background.  The post then goes on to comment:

RIGHT?! You can’t just decide that okay, here’s a contract we want to void, so … fuck it. That’s the whole POINT of a contract, is to prevent that. Legislators want to get pissy because unions had the foresight to realize people would try to screw them over, and insisted on contracts to protect against that? SORRY NOT SORRY. Way to prove the SEIU’s point, shitbirds.
And don’t throw fiscal responsibility in my face. I don’t know what is fiscally responsible about breaking contracts. If the state’s word isn’t good, that should give everybody pause. The state promises things to entities public and private all the goddamn time, including subsidies to corporations to relocate and create jobs. Everyone has to trust that their agreements will be honored, even when things get rough for some of Springfield’s cocktail party attendees.

Amen! says Gary.

The whole situation can be thought of as a 100 mile race.  At great length and after great personal effort, you, the Ultrarunner, approach the finish line...only to find a sanctimonious race official telling you that, sorry, we measured wrong and the race is actually longer than you were told.  And there will be no more aid stations because we didn't budget for them.  Oh, and there will be no T-shirt or finisher's belt buckle, again because we can't afford it.

The race budget is broke.  You'll surely understand.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Water Garden Work...and Ultrarunning

image credit Gary

Here's what I've been up to for the past 2.5 days. I am whupped but finished!!

I built our water garden about 16 years ago.  I should note that our son at age 16 "helped" me dig it out originally (standard teenager stereotypes apply).

The design consists of a kidney-shaped main pool (approx 20' long x 5' wide x 2' deep, with a deeper 3' splash pool directly under the waterfall).

The water pump in the main pool pipes water up to an upper pool that produces the waterfall that returns the water back to the main pool, per the photo below. Circular flow.

Over time, the weight of the water in the upper pool (approx 3' x 4' x 12" deep) combined with the weight of the limestone stone wall under the waterfall caused the front of the wall to slump some 3"-4".

So for the past couple years I knew I needed to rebuild the whole upper pool and its facing stone wall. This year was the tipping point.  For perspective and scale the actual height of the waterfall is 20".  The rocks are all native limestone that I have harvested and hauled over the years from the local farmers.

Those are koi in the foreground. You're seeing 3 of the 4 koi we have, each several years old and approaching 12" long. In addition we have approx 25 goldfish. Plus every year we buy about 10 tadpoles, some of which manage to reach adulthood (currently we have 3 mature frogs).

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  While this project and a couple others (plus a funeral) were underway, I did no running. In fact, I've not laced up my running shoes for over 2 weeks...but today is the day!