Saturday, February 28, 2009

presenting his excellency

Pope is a helluva guy. So much so that I dismissed my feelings of hatred towards a Capitol Hill staffer favorite called the Hawk & Dove. The link leads you to the story of my last visit to the old watering hole. Separate the plausible from the implausible based on what you know of my nonviolent nature.

Anyhow, Pope is a fraternity buddy of mine. He is the epitome of an outlier. He is universally beloved by those who know him and a terribly hard fella to keep track of. He's teaching English in China. He's also an incredibly dapper dresser. Granted, he'd been at an interview, but a three-piece suit?

Well played.

Anyhow, Thursday night found me in and out of my element in staccato style. Perfectly comfortable on my way, knowing where I'm going, until a missed microscopic sign dumped me back onto 395 during rush hour. Lovely. Driving around southeast in a new car after dark, not a great idea. Drive with purpose and floor it at the first sign of trouble?

You got it.

Bad feelings about Hawk & Dove subsided upon arrival. Bubs, Pope and I had a great time catching up. The ladies enjoyed themselves. Best news of the evening, interview went well, and D.C. may be his home base for years to come. Good food, good company.

Enough to make a bar seem like home for a few hours. I love when friends visit!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

instinct vs. technology

My instincts and internal compass have been good enough to get me from point A to point B for most of my driving life. With a little help from Google maps or Mapquest, I can get most anywhere in North America with no trouble. If I've driven there once, chances are, I'll remember how to get there again.

Now entering the game is a little gizmo called a GPS. Naviagation systems are all the rage these days. They take the forethought and naviagational skills out of driving. With a GPS, I can turn off my brain, not pay attention to my instincts and get from point A to point B easier. Right?


On our way to Blue Knob this weekend from Granny's this weekend, I fought my instincts as the GPS gave me directions as we went. My instincts kept reading the road signs and road numbers; the GPS struggled to keep up with the car at times. As a result, "Recalculating route," came across her digital lips thrice. In unfamiliar terrain, I made the mental map of the directions. The satellites would need to recalculate each time.

I'm still not sure if I'm for or against the GPS. Perhaps the next generation GPS should have an option to see the directions beforehand, a la Google Maps, to put them in your brain before getting behind the wheel. That way, there'd be a better chance to remember them along the way when you fly past an intersection at 45 mph, and the internal maps of GPS think you're off-roading in an Acura.

Which reminds me, I think it's still in my glove box...

Monday, February 23, 2009

a change of pace

Weekend came and went. Not too much fanfare, just the round trip trek over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we went...

Short notice trips have usually ended in only seeing Granny, my aunt and two uncles. It's hard to coordinate with the cousins. Just like me, they're pretty busy most weekends. By a stroke of luck, I was able to see two out of three this time around. In three or four trips thus far, my co-pilot had yet to meet the last one. This time around, we were able to string it together over "diet cokes" and "water". Ok, the air quotes only apply for one of those beverages.

This was after another day of growth on the slopes. Strapped and loaded, carving is becoming an afterthought. The muscle memory is there. Now I'm focused on the terrain more so than before, which means that I can avoid trouble spots before they drop me on my back. I still manage to get in over my head every so often. I did a face plant in some powder on a really long green run. Popped up, kept on going. Convinced to push the envelope, I hesitated at the warning sign:
Are you an expert? You better be! Death, destruction, severe injury, yadda yadda yadda.

Ok, so that's not entirely it. I wanted to take a picture, but I forgot. Anyhow, she hasn't steered me wrong yet. I look out over the edge of the bowl. I won't lie; I pooped a little. [No, not really!] It was steep in every sense of the word. I met her sitting at the far edge, where the grade was less than 100%. I skidded down the side into the actual run and didn't do too badly. Had it been a little more powder and a lot less ice, I think it would've been prettier. As was the case last time I jumped a grade, I was more concerned about getting run over by the better riders and skiers. Too bad the conditions deteriorated so rapidly when the sun went behind the mountain after lunch. I would've liked to hop back on that run again to improve. So that's it. My first black diamond. Probably wouldn't be so out west, but if you'd have told me I'd be trying a black diamond by the end of the season, I would've laughed at your joke.

We cut the day short with a blazing fast shot down their longest run that wove all over the mountain. Packed up for a gargantuan pasta dinner with the family. Good stuff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

going big

Going big does always lead to going home. Going big too often leads to staying home sometimes when you'd rather be out enjoying life. This weekend was one such case of circumstances combining with fatigue to keep me in on what turned out to be a pretty spectacular weather weekend.

Too bad.

A lack of planning on our parts led to a lack of plans. Climbing would have been good; alas, the local place we chose in our shortsight turned out to be sketchy access, so we bailed on it. The weather turned out too warm to hit the slopes, so no riding either. Conversely, the temps were too cold for too much bike riding, so as you know, I was relegated to climbing in a gym with seemingly perfect, dry conditions.

I miss my Florida sunshine, but I reckon I'll get a good dose of it in a few weeks when I go back for two weddings. That'll be pretty darn close to springtime, and all I'll be hoping for up here is some warmer temps. That'll lead to bigger trips for bigger rocks and bigger sends. For now, I'll have to settle for the fleeting glimpses of sunlight I get through my classroom window and my windshield in the mornings. Lord knows I haven't been out of here early enough lately to catch those late afternoon rays!

Spring break is fast approaching, and plans are set to see some big walls. Yosemite granite is calling my name. I doubt I'll get on El Capitan or Salathe Wall, but I might try to soak up some history via Midnight Lightning. Lyn Hill makes it look so easy on video. I doubt my lanky frame can do what her nasty strong five feet two inches breezed through, but it'll be fun to try.

That's all I got. Back to the grindstone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

hey, dirty, baby i got your money...

Don't you worry.

Well, ODB is resting in peace while the world of finance is collapsing. I can't read two articles that have the same opinion on this meltdown. The fact remains that my retirement accounts have less money than I've contributed. The conventional wisdom of exposing yourself to more risk when you're young to build the nest egg for when you're old failed me. This is to say that perhaps when I'm old and ought-to-be retired, I'll still be up at the SMART Board cloning and grouping and highlighting and Googling for third graders. I ain't ever going to be able to retire.

Now that's a scary thought.

Monday, February 16, 2009

the onion, climber edition

Gym Rat Climbs Despite Splitting Hangover Headache

Local plastic puller Ben dragged his sorry ass to the climbing gym this afternoon, despite having a splitting headache from drinking too many delicious beers. He made this decision to go to the gym after discussing it with fellow gym rat Jason at Rocket Bar last night. In lieu of actually going somewhere outside to climb, they deferred to the rock gym for today's session.

"I mean, Claudiu set all those new problems. There's that nasty yellow V4," reasoned Jason. "The problems are only going to be around for a month. Rocks will always be there."

Upon arriving at the gym, Ben was horrified to discover a birthday party going on. His headache worsened with every knee-high anklebiter shrieking to hear the echo.

Failing miserably at warming up, Ben got a drink of water and managed to dribble half of it down his shirt. He then proceeded to collapse onto the nearest crashpad to "rest his eyes." He awoke with a start and drool on his cheek minutes later to try again. The cycle repeated with each epic fail on mind-numbingly easy climbs. During the longest of these rests, a fellow climber drew a chalk outline around him, mocking his hungover state.

With concern behind his Grizzly Adams beard, local climbing hippie Rainbow shook the unconscious Ben, "Hey, man. Are you alright?" Ben awoke to a combination of Rainbow's 10 year-old La Sportiva Mythos fungus and the smell of a dirtbag climber that hadn't showered in a week. The overwhelming odor caused him to dry heave the remnants of his lunch into the paper-towel filled trash can.

Wiping the potato chips and marshmallows out of his facial hair, "I didn't even drink that much. Maybe four or five pints. I've tried everything to make the pain go away. Bloody Mary, mimosa, beer, Advil. That used to do the trick in college," quipped the once-frat boy on his way out of the gym to sleep it off on his Ikea futon, "Man, it's hell getting old!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

complete the analogy

Rush is to recruitment, as...

In frat boy life, there's a time twice a year that is known to all as Rush Week. In my frat boy circle, it was understood that rush is only two weeks of the school year, but getting the guys through the doors takes more effort than that. Recruitment lasts all year. Kind of like evangelizing for your house, without the Bible-thumping and speaking in tongues. Let the potential pledges know how awesome you think they are and how well they'll fit into your particular brand of popped collar-ism.

So, back to the original question, rush is to recruitment as...

Today is Valentine's Day.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
The once festival to celebrate love and St. Valentine's devotion to it has become very commercialized in the U.S. It is Rush Week for Hallmark, FTD, Russell Stover's, DeBeers, and all other V-Day corporations that prey on the lonely or the uncertain of how their beloved, not-quite-beloved, or we-just-met feels about them. It is one day of the year for you to show that you care about your significant other. But what gets them through that door?

The other 364 days of the year. The rest of the time that you show you care in whatever degree you do. Whether it's a new romance, and you're still getting to know one another; or whether you've been married for 50 years, and don't need to talk to communicate any more. It's about effort and making it clear that you think he/she/it is the bee's knees, the rad-gnarliest chick/dude ever, the best thing to ever happen to you. Expressing that he/she/it should remain a member of this relationship because while troubles there may be, the commitment and caring and closeness and coalition will carry through.

Rush is to recruitment, as Valentine's Day is to...?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

racism and discrimination

I'm a pretty good teacher when it comes to grading work on time. Writing is the one subject that is difficult for me to review in a timely manner. I guess it's the drive in my right-leaning brain to quantify every decision as it pertains to my students. That's one part of grading at the lower levels in FCPS that drives me insane. It's so subjective in all subject areas, and we're not supposed to average grades. An S is the baseline for satisfying expectations; beyond that, the students need to put in extra effort and excel beyond expectations. To my ears, that sounds like we're comparing the students with one another instead of quantifying their accomplishments. That's not today's point.

I've said in the past how remarkable I find it that each year my students become more and more colorblind. That brings me to this year. With one another, that seems to still hold true. All my students get along with one another: black and white; boy and girl; Christian and Muslim.

It's that point that I can say times, they are a-changin'. It's those folks from back in time that cling to their old ideas and old prejudices that seem to be corrupting my students in their formative years.

Let's link this all together. I finally got myself to sit down to review speeches they'd written in the style of Dr. Martin Luther King in January. We shared the speeches, evoking King's voice and tone as they shared with one another. They had a blast pretending to be someone else, standing on the famous steps of the Lincoln Memorial, inspiring generations to change the biased ways of the past. Unfortunately, I see sadness in their hopeful thoughts. I see racism's ugly head rearing itself towards eight and nine year-olds in my class. I see prejudicial attitudes cutting deep in the very souls of their beings.

...and it pains me to read this. The two students in particular that have expressed such experiences couldn't be better kids. They're both very intelligent, come from homes with two loving parents, and are well-liked by their peers. Why strangers judge them based on the shade of their brown skin or the foreign name they were given at birth, I'll never understand. Fear of something different, I suppose. One of these students was in my class last year, and I can honestly say that I've learned more from him than I think any other students in my past. He is open and honest about his life and his faith, and I appreciate his presence in my class more than he'll probably ever know. As far as the racist attitudes go, other students alluded to them in Florida, but perhaps their younger ages kept them from truly understanding or hurting from them nearly as much.

Old hatreds die hard, I suppose. I pray that the racism and discrimination they've experienced in their young lives is limited to a singular occasion. While they may remember it well, they don't become distrustful and hateful in return. These are of course the thoughts and dreams of a white Christian male, hardly the type that's ever been discriminated against. I haven't walked a mile in their shoes. All I can do is try to see their point of view, and vicariously use their unfortunate tales to help others do better by them.

[Steps down off soapbox.}

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

no pain, no gain

After the bouldering escapades and escalades of Sunday, I sure didn't want to climb hard yesterday after work. Planning on doing some training and route climbing, I walk into the gym to discover new boulder problems.


Lucky for me, I was easily lured away from the 45 degree wall by a knot-tying LSU Tiger. During football season, I don't know if I'd trust him. He claims we're just trading the trophy back and forth. We'll see come October how that works out. Warmed up on a few 5.9s, no worries. Hey, let's try this 5.12. What am I insane?


Hop on the slopey, microscopically crimpy 5.12. Flash denied.

Barely. One move from the top, I miss one of the better holds on the route. A micro jug that I'd have called a crimp at the beginning of the climbing career. Too bad. It was balancy and technical and awesome. So what if it's sandbagged. It's a confidence booster, and maybe now I won't shy away from hopping on those twelves at the gym. Maybe when I get on the sharp end outside again, I won't be spooked by an eleven. We'll see.

Ropework being done, I bouldered for a bit on last week's new problems. The freshest new problems were glutted with people. Sure, I could've worked my way in, but I wasn't in the mood to fight with the machismo. Finish up the night on my new training goal.

A push-up pyramid. Simply put, push-up sets increasing, then decreasing in number with very little rest between them. Start at one, go up to ten, and back down again. The goal would be doing 100 pushups in 15 minutes or so.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 = 55, then back down again makes 45 more for 100. The ultimate goal might be to do this, then add a pull-up pyramid to the mix. Certainly a long ways off. Last night, muscle failure. I think I made it to eight on the way up before my chest and triceps started giving way. Shampooing after the gym was a struggle last night. My pecs are a litte twitchy today. Next week, try again.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

spring-like temps

Winter went on vacation this weekend. The weeks of below freezing nights still haven't thawed all the snow and ice out in the woods and waters, but this weekend was downright warm. Fifties yesterday, sixties today. May as well have been summertime, what with the short sleeves I sported today.

She and I went for a deliciously delightful ride on our bicycles yesterday. Metro'ed into the city, wheeled around, checked out a museum, then took off to Georgetown. University, by way of M Street. For you non-District denizens, a ride down M Street is gridlock in a car and somewhat treacherous on a bike. It's mind-numbingly slow on the former, and considerably quicker on the latter. I'll take my bike. Traipsing around a college campus was a lot of fun again; she was remarkably tolerant of my shutterbuggery. Look for the pictures on the other channel later this week.

Today, Northwest Branch Creek put out the Batman spotlight to call all the suburban "hikers" on a beautiful day. After an hour delay due to an alarm being set for the wrong eight o'clock, we got out there to cool enough temps, but no need for sleeves. An overhung, crimpy boulder problem finally fell to me, but I have the dubious distinction of getting the last ascent. A first ascent is often sought by climbers, but I've yet to pull one. The next aspiring ascensionist unfortunately broke a key hold, thus forever changing the face of the climb. It went from a V3 to a V-hard. Too bad.

The rest of the day was spent seeing all that NW Branch has to offer. That is approximately three more boulders. Hyperbole of course, but it is a small area. Never a destination, but somehow I wind up climbing there several times a year. Despite the short day, we wound up at an awesome pub in Great Falls called the Old Brogue for a few pints and some good bar food.

I can't wait until the weather improves, and we can make some real trips to some real crags. Coopers, here we come!

Friday, February 6, 2009

what a week!

Whew. I can't believe it's finally Friday. Thank goodness!

Big changes this week compel me to give a mid-year update on the state of my classroom. No one ever asks, but it does take a pretty sizeable chunk of my waking hours. My class makes me proud every day. They're generally a well-behaved bunch, nary a troublemaker in sight. The worst behavior I deal with on a daily basis is a bit of motormouth and some out of the seat shenanigans. I can handle that. They actually enjoy learning at a time when I sometimes feel like I'm putting the onus of teaching on them. They're using research skills to teach themselves about ancient civilizations. What's more, they're making the critical connections between them that are going to help them remember the information in the long run. I'm not sure how I taught them to do this, but I sure hope I can replicate that year after year.

We got a SMARTboard this week. For you non-educators out there, it's an interactive whiteboard. Think iPhone meets projector and laptop. (Some videos of SMARTboard-equipped classrooms) I've been working on lessons all year long, and my classroom is now blessed with one. The students really enjoy using it. In math especially, it's a heckuva lot easier to use than tens and ones blocks that I'd been using to teach carrying and borrowing (now under the regrouping umbrella). I'd applied for one in the past, but I hadn't used it a whole lot. This year, I made it my mission to use it weekly. It wasn't hard; the school's shared one is right next door to my classroom.

As with anything new, the more I used it, the easier it got. The time I put in now to develop new lessons will pay off in an easier time using it next year, as I'll be able to tweak the lesson instead of reinvent the wheel. By the time the next new, improved, overpriced technology gizmo comes along, maybe I'll be out of the classroom and into policy or government or administration.

Who knows, that may be next week!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

wisdom of the sages

Sage generally implies that someone is aged and has gathered much wisdom in their many years on the earth. I have no idea how long Anne Applebaum has been roaming this sphere, but she's got some pretty good thoughts about weather and extremes. I wasn't sure where she was going beyond making fun of Londoners and Washingtonians, but she sure hit the nail on the head with her take on perspective.

This winter has been one of getting it from both sides of the aisle in my family. My mother on the southern end, complaining it's too cold; me laughing because above freezing is turning balmy in my perception. My aunt on the northern side, asking me if it's cold enough yet. I'd say that I'm dealing with the extremes of this winter pretty well. At least for a Florida boy, my blood is thickening up quite nicely with the antifreeze. Sure, I wish we had more snow, but we have been blessed with some gorgeous sunny days this year. A stark contrast from last year's cold, rainy, London-esque days for sure!

I just hope when summer rolls around again, I haven't lost my Florida tolerance for heat and humidity. My perspective, it barely gets to hot 'round here...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

too much fun

For once, a little bitty inservice at work has turned into a half-hearted, goofy hobby for post-climbing trip reminiscing. Where Windows Movie Maker meets grainy, point-and-shoot videos. Some mp3s show up at the party, and we have a nonsensical climbing film.

Well, two actually. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

common sense

Common sense would dictate that after a week of being severely tired, I should take it easy this weekend, no? Common sense would not say, "The weather's great. You should go outside and play." That's the yin to common sense's yang; the Tom to its Jerry; the Bluto to its Popeye.

Of course, that is the one that I listened to. Honestly, I'd have to change the name of this here blog to "Sit Around and Be Lazy" or "Couches and TV Rule!" As I stated on Friday, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Saturday found me strapped to the board. Again. She was impressed with this season's progress. The case used to be, she'd coach me on the easier runs for part of the day, and I'd send her off to run her crazy hard and steep trails. For the first time, we spent the entire day carving down the same runs together. Even in less than ideal conditions yesterday, I managed to stay upright for the majority. Oddly, the flat sections of the bookend runs were what gave me the most trouble. Gimme something steep! Am I turning into a real deal shredder? I think a trip out west is a definite possibility for next season. Fresh powder. Real mountains. No ice. [insert Homer Simpson drooling sound]

This morning found me slip sliding around Carderock looking for the boulders and the sends. We found both and a good time in a half day of climbing. I'm toting the computer to the Super Bowl festivities this evening to edit them with some offbeat soundtracks and throw them online for the world to see.

Go Steelers!