Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 2

Was pleased to have achieved my goal of exercising outside every day, rain or shine, every day but one in January! For me that means walking a distance of from at least 0.6 miles on my worst days (i.e., just up to the mailbox and back) to as much as 3.25 miles on my best day, and generally with some sort of a load that might include a walking stick, messenger bag, and/or backpack and has thus far weighed up to 23.5 pounds total. February has, unfortunately, been a very stressful month and everything has been much more of a struggle. For the most part, however, I have largely managed to match the frequency if not the intensity of my walks. 

February 1 (Sunday): Walked 2.5 miles but, as my hips were hurting and I wanted a break for them, left the backpack behind and carried only about 8 pounds. Diane carried her daypack but was unhappy with how it felt. 
February 2 (Monday): Walked 2.5 miles with full load of c. 22 pounds. Diane switched over to a full-sized pack and was pleased with how it felt. 
February 3 (Tuesday): Pretty cold and wet and pushed off the walk until fairly late and then just knocked out a minimum walk of 0.6 miles to mailbox with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 4 (Wednesday): Cool and gloomy but good weather for walking and got in a 2.5-mile walk with about 22 pounds. 
February 5 (Thursday): Walked our regular 2.5-mile route with about 22 pounds. 
February 6 (Friday): Were on the road, did not get home until after dark, and did not get our walk in! (But did get some incidental walking in the course of our errands.) 
February 7 (Saturday): Walked up to mailbox, 0.6 miles, with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 8 (Sunday): Walked c. 1.5 miles, about a third of it through woods and over rough ground, with about 8 pounds of weight. 
February 9 (Monday): Walked 1.8 miles with about 8 pounds of weight. Warm and sunny! 
February 10 (Tuesday): Another beautiful day! Walked 0.6 miles with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 11 (Wednesday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 12 (Thursday): Walked 1.8 miles with c. 7 pounds. 
February 13 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles with c. 22 pounds. 
February 14 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 15 (Sunday): Walked at least 1.2 miles with at least c. 8 pounds. 
February 16 (Monday): 
February 17 (Tuesday): 
February 18 (Wednesday): 
February 19 (Thursday): Walked 2.5 miles with c. 9 pounds. 
February 20 (Friday): No walk. 
February 21 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6 pounds. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Love Texas Hearts

To me, Texas Hill Country is a place that is very romantic, in the broadest sense of the word. With its rolling hills, deep wooded ravines, and slow-moving rivers, it seems as mysterious, ancient, and alluring as any rural Mediterranean province in Italy or France.
     This romantic sensibility is most profoundly expressed, I think, by the local custom of referring to indigenous clam fossils as “Texas Hearts.” (OK, so fossilized clams might not be the most romantic thing I could have written about in recognition of Valentine’s Day, but the only other thing reminiscent of Texas I could think of would have been something related to beef hearts, to which my wife responded with “Yuck!”)
     During the Cretaceous period (c. 145 million to 65 million BCE), the area of south-central Texas that we know today to be profoundly hilly was instead part of a warm, shallow sea, and inhabited, among other things, by a wide variety of now-extinct shellfish. The calcium from the shells of such creatures is what ultimately formed the native limestone that characterizes the area  to a depth of more than 1,000 feet in some places  and over the millennia it was uplifted by geological processes and gradually formed in to the land we know today.
     Texas Hearts are, in short, fossilized bivalve clams that date to this extended geological period. And they do, in fact, look very much like actual hearts, and even a little bit like the stylized images that appear on Valentine’s Day cards and are used as used as shorthand for the word “love.”
     The term “Texas Hearts” is sometimes also applied to fossilized sand dollars, sea urchins, and other marine organisms, but these do not actually look much like hearts at all, and are more properly referred to in my mind as “Texas Stars.” All such fossilized remains are, in any event, fairly common throughout Texas, from San Antonio to Fort Worth, and are a selling point for visitors.
     “If you pay attention to where you walk in these limestone hills, you’re pretty apt to find all sorts of fossils,” the Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau says on its website. “If you are lucky, you may even find what we call a ‘Texas Heart,’ which is a fossilized clam and looks just like a heart. Usually, they are about the size of a large apple.”
     “One of the best places to fossil hunt is along the creek and river beds where the water has washed away the soil,” the Bandera CVB advises. “Another good place is along the road where the earth was cut back to build the road.” Anyone who has driven along appropriate roads on nice weekend days has very likely seen people applying this methodology.
     And anyone taking an observant walk through Hill Country can find Texas Hearts and other fascinating evidence of its ancient and very different past; beyond the fossilized clams I have discovered over the last year-and-a-half, the most prized treasure I have found is the fossilized tooth of what must have been a gargantuan shark.
     Not everyone’s own heart is, of course, stirred by such things … But, if yours is, then you will likely enjoy Texas Hill Country all the more.
     Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Favorite Quotes

Once in awhile I hear someone say something I think is particularly cool, witty, funny, or absurd, or formulate something that I think is a good maxim, but almost as often I neglect to write it down and then only remember that something notable was said but not what it was. With that in mind I have started a post for material of that sort and attempt to update it periodically.

"Sometimes the only reason I don't kill myself now is because I know I can always just kill myself later." — Anonymous (Undeniably grim and clearly born from deep unhappiness but also fairly philosophical and amusing in its way.) 

"I hate you so much that I can't even describe it!" (This was uttered unprovoked to a friend by his maladjusted and apparently inarticulate spouse and he, knowing she would later deny saying something so hideously inexcusable, asked me to commemorate it here. I advised him to repurpose it as a daily affirmation.)

"What we say about what we do is as important as what we do." — Michael O. Varhola (This is my own debatably cynical observation on the importance of promoting our own work and efforts if we want others/the public to notice them.)

"I didn't know we were going to be walking."

"We are most inclined to be creative when we are least able to be."

"I should be able to visit my parents without having to die!" — Hayley Waters (Who says so? This was, in any event, my daughter's unhappy reaction to visiting a house full of cats that she is allergic to.)

"When I found inversion it changed my life forever, and I believe it can change yours!" — Dr. Roger Teeter (I actually own a Teeter Hang Ups inversion board and think it is great. What makes this quote amusing to me, however, is that "inversion" was historically used as a synonym for homosexuality, which can make its modern-day use hilarious when considered in that context.)

"Watch out for the poop!" — Carter Valentine (This sound advice was given to me by my grandson during a walk we took together in 2013 and can certainly be viewed as a profound allegory for the human condition overall.)

The following interchange occurred between my grandson and wife on Sunday, August 18, 2012:
Diane: "What kind of chicken do you want?" (While carving up a roast chicken we picked up at Costco for dinner.)
Carter: "The chicken nugget kind." (A statement met with laughter and us letting him know this chicken did not have any such parts.)

"Ah, the plot thinnens!" (This clever twist on a common phrase is one that I use whenever appropriate. I heard it for the first time in a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, although the phrase certainly does not actually appear in any of the author's stories.)

"Hideous ... ugly ... freaks!" — Denis Leary/Gil Mars, Small Soldiers (It is amazing how often one is in public that this phrase seems apropos.)

"I'll tell you what!" (This common Texas phrase is used to express agreement with something someone has said, such as an observation about the weather. I noted during a recent trip to the East Coast that, after hearing it, people unfamiliar with this expression will pause and wait for you to "tell them what.")

"Not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian." — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"What I do now I do alone. I could not do it well with thee." — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (I often irreverently use this quote, either just the first part or in its entirety, to announce my departure for the bathroom.)

"There is a fine line between being a romantic and being delusional, and I often tend toward the latter" — Michael O. Varhola (my own observation of my tendency to view life as I want it to be, rather than how it really is.)

"Oh, so you want to play the truth game?" — Anonymous (In response to my asking someone why they sometimes deliberately lie to their friends as a device for manipulating them.)

"We are all so lucky to live in this God-forsaken place." — Anonymous (A resident's comment upon observing the natural beauty of Canyon Lake, Texas.) 

"Crazy is as crazy does" — Michael O. Varhola (my observation upon already-crazy people who deliberately do things geared toward making them even crazier and more unhappy.)

"You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." — David Crockett

"No one ever died from a gut wound." — Michael O. Varhola (I picked this up from an Army buddy of mine c. 1986-87 and use it a lot. I don't think it's true.)

"Teeheehee! I told you about it!" — Chick in an Activia yogurt commercial

"Och, Hungary! Our dogs are from Hungary!" — Richard Allan (in response to a barmaid at the pub in Paddington Station, London, reveal her country of origin; "Och" is a Scottish word that means "yes," unless you use it in conjunction with "no," in which case it means "really no!")

"I do not presume that other people's problems are harder on me than they are on them." — Michael O. Varhola

"You need to scare kids, not scar them." — Lindsey Valentine

Overheard around 8:15 p.m. near the Hoffman Center 22 cinema in Alexandria, Virginia:
Him: "Damn hippies! I'll hacky their sacks ... " (in response to some kids in shorts and tie-dye shirts crossing the street in front of him)
Her: "Uh, do I need to remind you that you just smoked dope, that you're still in your sleeping shirt, and that it shows people partying on it?"

"That was pretty metal!" — Rico Nardini, Gen Con 2011 (in response to me downing a dirty vodka martini in one sip when he said it was time for us to get going)

"Put the boots to him — medium style." (coopted from Metalocalypse and used by me and friend Jon Reichman as a catchphrase during Gen Con 2011)

"Get the butter." — Marlon Brando/Paul, Last Tango in Paris (this line can be interjected for hilarious effect in any number of circumstances, as my friends Jon Reichman, Chip Cassano, and I have all aptly demonstrated over the years)

"In a respectable household, it's useful to have a weapon." — Gitt Magrini/Jeanne's Mother, Last Tango in Paris

"Fun was had by all." (common phrase brought to my attention when it was applied to a school play in The Simpsons, and used by me since then in writeups of events I have hosted or run)

"This one goes to 11." (coopted from Spinal Tap and applicable more often than you might think; used as one of our group's catchphrases at Comicpalooza 2012)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wine Tasting: Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve

As far as I am concerned, there is no variety of wine that is generally better suited to pair with a steak than a red zinfandel, and the Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve is a very nice exemplar of the type. This pleasing, medium-bodied vintage has a velvety texture, rich color, an almost gummy viscosity, aromas and flavors that distinctly feature fresh plum, and hints of pepper. 

"Our winemaking staff takes pride in searching out the finest grapes from California's cool coastal regions," Oak Grove says. "Anything off the grill, from sausage to fish, will make this wine shine." 

We enjoyed a bottle of this red zinfandel as an ideal accompaniment to a dinner of marinated sirloin and rice followed by a nice piece of blue cheese (and I am looking forward to trying it again with a ribeye, which I think it would complement nicely). 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wine Tasting: Barón de Barbón Cosecha 2010

As its name implies, the Barón de Barbón Cosecha 2010 is nicely dry and somewhat tart medium-bodied Spanish red wine vinted from 100% Tempranillo grapes. It has an aroma suggestive of berries and vanilla, dark plum coloration, a pleasing viscosity, and a 13.5% alcohol content. 

This wine from the Rioja region of Spain is well suited as an accompaniment to food, whether appetizers or a main meal, and seems to be most palatable a few degrees below room temperature and after being allowed to breath a little while, which helps to broaden its flavor palate. 

We enjoyed this vintage initially with beef bulgogi and rice and then had a second glass with sweet chocolate. It paired quite nicely with the former item, and I think it would be perfect with a steak or any other savory meat dish, but was less satisfying when forced into a desert role. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wine Tasting: The Blonde Bombshell California White Wine

Contained in a bottle that is distinguished on the outside by some fun and hip label art, the Blonde Bombshell California white wine within it is notable for full-bodied flavor that is fruity but not sweet and which has floral hints of melon and honey. On an intellectual level I was a little put off by not being able to find a year or grape type listed anywhere on the bottle but, admittedly, this did not affect my actual enjoyment of this wine at all. 

"Give in to her allure and enjoy her with Asian Curry or any other spicy infused offerings," serving guidance on the back label from vintner Total Beverage Solution of Rutherford, California, reads. "You may even be tempted to bask in her charming glow alone, chilled, but not too cold." 

We enjoyed Blonde Bombshell first with our dinner of broiled steelhead trout, horseradish mashed potatoes, and peas with mushrooms, and then again for desert with some dried pineapple (which, if you have never tried it with white wine before, I highly recommend). 

An Exercise in Resolve

New Year's Resolutions tend to get a bad rap these days and be dismissed as somewhat anachronistic and not having much value. Suffice it to say, however, that I think there is something to be said for using them as a device for getting on track with habits we know or have decided are a good idea. 
     In 2013 I compiled a list of more than a dozen resolutions and, relative to that number, enjoyed only moderate success with them overall. In 2014 I did not write down any at all, but did implement at least one positive behavior pattern. This year I mentally resolved to a short list of less than a half-dozen items, to include taking more steps toward becoming a semi-vegetarian, striving to quickly remove myself from toxic situations, imposing more organization and structure on my work routine, learning Greek, and exercising outside every day. While I have thus far not given up on any of these and achieved some success with a couple of them, it is the one related to physical activity with which I have been most diligent. 
     Hiking and adventure travel are things I have always enjoyed and want to continue for the foreseeable future. I was in OK shape at the beginning of the year but spend a lot of time sitting on my butt, including all the time that I am working, and sometimes several days or even a week or two will slip by without me getting out, exercising, and getting some fresh air and sunshine (or whatever the weather has to offer). So, resolving to start and stick with a hiking regimen, and not make excuses because of things like inclement weather that are factors when in the field, is especially important to me. 
     Following is what I have accomplished in the first month of 2015, to include distances covered and increasing amounts of weight carried. In about half the cases where I say "at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox" I actually went 1.2 miles instead but did not record a distance for that day and, being unsure which route I took, prefer to understate rather than overstate what I accomplished. 

January 1 (Thursday): Walked 1.2 miles (i.e., to end of the Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac and back). 
January 2 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles. 
January 3 (Saturday)Walked (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox). 
January 4 (Sunday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 15.2-pound load (i.e., Macaw Lane cul-de-sac, Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac, mailbox, and back, w. 1.6-pound walking stick, 6.4-pound shoulder pouch, 7.2-pound backpack). 
January 5 (Monday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 17.8-pound load (i.e., 9.8-pound backpack). 
January 6 (Tuesday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 18-pound load (i.e., 10-pound backpack). Wore Limner hiking boots and got a blister on instep of left foot. 
January 7 (Wednesday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox). 
January 8 (Thursday): Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load; freezing and darkening by the time I got home and made it out. 
January 9 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles w. 18-pound load; below freezing and windy. 
January 10 (Saturday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox).  
January 11 (Sunday)Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load
January 12 (Monday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox).  
January 13 (Tuesday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 20.2-pound load (i.e., 12.2-pound backpack). 
January 14 (Wednesday)Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load (i.e., to Macaw Lane cul-de-sac and mailbox)
January 15 (Thursday): NO WALK (due to exigent circumstances; i.e., two visits to a pet hospital and ones to two emergency rooms). 
January 16 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles, 20.2 pounds. 
January 17 (Saturday): Walked 2.5 miles, 20.2 pounds. 
January 18 (Sunday): Walked c. 2.5 miles, 8 pounds (i.e., observed a "day of rest" and carried only my pouch and walking stick and left the backpack behind). 
January 19 (Monday): Walked 3.25 miles, 20.2 pounds (i.e., 0.75 miles south on Mystic Parkway and back, down to Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac and back, and up to the mailbox and back). Got a cramp in my left calf (and both were tight and achy next day). 
January 20 (Tuesday): Walked 2.5 miles with 8 pounds; left backpack behind because of cramping in both calves, which loosened up toward end. Bright, sunny, breezy, and very warm for January (i.e., c. 80 degrees). 
January 21 (Wednesday): Walked 1.8 miles (first 2/3 w. 8 pounds and last 1/3 w/out stick and just 6.4 pounds). 
January 22 (Thursday): Walked 1.8 miles (first 2/3 w. 20.2 pounds and last 1/3 w/out stick and just 18.6 pounds). Cold and rainy and also wore Gore-Tex jacket. 
January 23 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles with 20.2 pounds. Cold and windy to start but warmed up toward end. Not feeling weight in the pack and ready to increase incrementally. 
January 24 (Saturday): Walked 2.5 miles with 20.2 pounds. Cool but sunny. Getting no resistance from the pack and need to increase load. 
January 25 (Sunday): Increased both weight and distance and walked 3.1 miles with 25.5-pound load! Perfect conditions for walking and did regular route plus an extra walk down to the Macaw Lane cul-de-sac at the end. 
January 26 (Monday): Walked 2.5 miles with 23.5 pounds. Beautiful 70 degree day.  
January 27 (Tuesday): Walked 2.5 miles with 23.5 pounds. Beautiful, cloudless day but at 86 degrees unseasonably warm even for south Texas in January. 
January 28 (Wednesday): Walked 2.5 miles with about 9 pounds; feeling a little achy from yesterday and decided to leave the backpack behind, ironically in that Diane started carrying one today. Another beautiful day and we went out around 12:45 and before it got too hot. 
January 29 (Thursday): Walked 2.5 miles with c. 23 pounds. 
January 30 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles with 22.7 pounds. Reweighed gear and found that, for whatever reasons, the weight was not exactly what I thought it had been, indicating that I probably need to verify this every few days. 
January 31 (Saturday): Cold and raining steadily and I have been achy but broke out the Gore-Tex and walked 0.6 miles up to the mailbox and back. Did not want to end the first month of the year without at least getting in a token walk! 

My goal is to eventually add longer walks as much as once a week and at least once a month, and to gradually increase my load to a regular training weight of 30 pounds and a periodic weight of as much as 50 or 60 pounds. There are certainly people who do a lot more than this, and it is a shadow of what I regularly did when I was an Army infantryman, but I am not competing with anyone but myself and if I can stick with this regimen it will help me to accomplish a number of planned expeditions — to include a 10-day hike up the Northumberland coast of England this summer and a c. 45-day hike along the Camino de Santiago in spring 2016.