Columbia

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There’s really nothing much I can say about Columbia that dozens of others haven’t already said. Space has become so routine that we are hardly ever aware that the shuttle is even up there, which is dramatically different from the ’60s, when I grew up and everything to do with space was headline news. Yes, I remember where I was when Challenger exploded, etc. In fact, the first inkling I had that anything was wrong came yesterday when I read a blog that made reference to where the writer was when Challenger exploded, but I didn’t understand it had any relevance to a current event — Challenger happened just a few days earlier in January.
But I can say this. Sean O’Keefe, the administrator of NASA, happens to have graduated from the same MPA program I came from, the Maxwell School. He graduated just a few years ahead of me, and came to speak to us at some point. He was then a rising star in the Navy bureaucracy. Personable, intelligent, highly respected. And today I wouldn’t have his job for anything.

Okay, enough weekend!

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First, I broke my older daughter while we were playing hooky. The key to playing hooky, as anyone knows, is not to do something that will result in your being found out. It’s a little hard to say you went to a funeral but show up for work the next day in a cast. Well, no cast for Hannah, but a seriously strained shoulder that will need additional attention tomorrow, cutting into yet another day of school. Oops.
Then last night we had a little incident with pieces of glass in my malted milkshake. Not big ones, not sharp ones, mostly, but pieces of glass nonetheless. Caught two in my mouth, as they seemed like particularly hard pieces of malt (not through the straw; I was spooning the remains). One went down. I thought. I wasn’t sure. But by the time I got home, I was sure, there was definitely something caught in my throat. Excellent. Luckily, I’ve watched lots of TV movies about bulimia, so now I know how to have a chocolate shake and still keep the pounds off.
Then this morning, with only Rebekah in tow for skiing, we head off to Pittsfield, MA, to Bousquet Ski Area, where the girls have their weekly ski lessons. As we roll into Lebanon Center, the closest thing to a town between here and Pittsfield, there are flashing lights, firetrucks and a roadblock. I am summarily shunted down a lane-and-a-half road that was last paved by the Works Progress Administration (motto: “We Do Ruts Right”). I gamely follow this detour from Route 20 for a couple of miles until I lose faith that it is going to ever take me anywhere I want to go. So I find a wide spot and turn back. At the intersection, I ask the woman flagging traffic how I can get through to Pittsfield. This apparently is the most puzzling thing she’s ever heard. She is standing on the main road between New York and Massachusetts, Route 20, the Boston Post Road. Just a little way down the road is a sign that says Pittsfield is a mere 10 miles away. But that anyone would want to use this now-closed road to get to Pittsfield is so confusing to her that she asks me my destination three times. She asks whether I don’t have to go up over the mountain to get there. I allow as that’s true, and that the only road over the mountain that I know is Route 20. This flusters her further. She cannot help. She directs me to the trooper parked a little way down the way. So I turn back onto Route 20, now pointed back the way I came, stop across from the trooper, and tell him I’m trying to get to Pittsfield, and I don’t know how to go with Route 20 blocked. This conversation ensues:
“Where are you trying to go?”
“Pittsfield.”
“You’re headed the wrong way.”
“I know. I hit the roadblock and then turned around. I don’t know how far up the road is closed.”
“Where are ya coming from?” This is a pure cop question. They always need to know where you’re coming from. And although it has nothing to do with where I’m going, I tell him because not telling him is only going to make this worse.
“East Greenbush. I’m just trying to get to Pittsfield, but I don’t know another way around.”
“Pittsfield?” Again, as if I were asking directions to Santa Monica. It’s the only thing resembling a city in the area. It is right on the major route through the area, the very road across which we are having this conversation. It is TEN MILES AWAY.
“Yes, Pittsfield.”
“Well, if you go out here and then make the right, won’t that bring you back out?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know how far up the road is closed, and I don’t know the back roads.”
“It’ll bring you out by the Hess Station, right?”
There’s no point anymore in saying that I don’t know. I just agree, spin the truck around, and try the detour again. Patience is rewarded, there IS a right turn (though most of the road had been going off in entirely the wrong direction), and then another, and when I pop out on Route 20, I am right in the middle of the blocked-off area. Which apparently gives me license to proceed, as I am waved on through and am off on my way. I have no idea what happened, and I don’t care, but that’s two times I have found myself somehow stuck in Lebanon Center, and that’s two times too many, no matter how short the duration. (The last time was 1985, the Fuego had a dead alternator and a dead battery, and Lee and I whiled away an entire summer day sitting outside a garage in Lebanon Center waiting for our battery to get enough of a charge to chance a run back to the Capital District.)

Skiing was good but cold. I attacked the diamonds, including one I had never tried before. I figured out why. Even though I had a plan for it, and it was a straightforward run, midway through it was so steep that I just lost my ability to slow myself and had to buckle in and take the ride. Still alive, though! Bek did well, we took two early runs and one after lessons and then we were done. It was 35 degrees but damp and windy windy windy, so we were fairly freezing.

Glorious day in the mountains

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Minor violation of No Injuries Policy® reported


My day of hooky with my delightful fourth-grader turned out to be one of the greatest ski days ever. There was a substantial violation of our No Injuries Policy, I’m sorry to report, but I’ll get to that. She had a choice of Gore, Mount Snow or Jiminy, and she chose Gore, which looked good to me because it was supposed to be warm for the first time in weeks (they’d actually closed much of it down because of cold) and there was supposed to be sun. We got out nice and early and after a while my normally silent backseat partner started getting chatty. Not much like her, but nice for a change. She was actually looking out the window and pointing out things that were familiar along the way. Normally her nose is in a book and the world passing by gets no notice.

We got to the mountain a little after 9. The parking lot was more full than I’d expected, but still not bad. The thermometer on the truck said 9 degrees, or about 20 degrees short of what we’d been promised. We just agreed that whenever we got cold we’d go inside for a while, that we had all day to cruise. But by the time we’d gotten booted up and bought our tickets and had a little carbo infusion (I now swear by Gu for an absolute energy rush), the sun was out and it was warming up and that was the last time we thought about the temperature. We ran a couple of nice easy runs, and Hannah got to do Cut-Off, which is just a little speed chute that ends in an uphill climb, so no matter how fast you go down it, as long as you keep your skis in line you’re going to come out okay. We missed it the first time because they actually took out a gigantic powerline tower that had presented a fairly dangerous obstacle near the top of the trail, but without it I didn’t know the way and we ended up on a different trail. Anyway, after the easy runs we took the gondola to the top and ran all over the other side of the mountain. The view was spectacular — the sky was clear and you could see for hundreds of miles, and the clouds were set down in the valleys so it appeared the snowy peaks were emerging from a river of clouds. We were both having a breakthrough day, when everything just comes together. I’m trying to get better on the steeps, and had been challenged by making my transitions between turns quickly enough, and she is just getting into using her edges. But I had a real breakthrough in transitions yesterday, focusing on timing my pole plants and letting my hands lead my rhythm. Stuck to the intermediates because she’s just getting used to the shaped skis, but she did manage one of the diamonds there last year and, more importantly, so did I. We had a blast up there, then descended to the main mountain, took a run down Sleeping Bear, which is narrow, fast and pretty. As she was going down, I was going to reprimand her for Daffy-Ducking with her poles, seemingly just slapping them back and forth on the snow, and then I looked at her feet and realized that she was really doing perfect pole plants that set her up for perfect little turns, one right after the other, small and precise, that kept her in great control as she whizzed down the fall line instead of traversing the entire trail. It was amazing. She said she had been watching the racers do it. Then back up and over to Cut-off again and down for lunch.

Got fed and took another run at Sleeping Bear, and on the way up decided that we would try the trail right under the lift, which was moguls but not real steep and not deeply cut. She went down them like a champ, and I hung behind, but at the very end of the run she was going a little too fast and leaned backward, started to fall and planted her pole, and down she went. I got down to her very quickly. She’d lost a ski and pole and was crying and said she was hurt in her shoulder. Of course, having watched her mother break her arm, that had to be running through her head, but she was tremendously brave. I thought we could get help faster if she could ski the rest of the way down to the lift and then ride back up to the top where the ski patrol was, and she was able to do that. She stayed calm and strong and she cried when she had to, but she was okay. Got her to the ski patrol, who bundled her up on a sled and slid her down to the nurse’s station at the base. They really knew what they were doing and took tremendous care of her. Of course, we were done for the day, and she was pretty depressed, but she started to perk up on the ride back home, and where at first she had wanted to just go home, she eventually decided she still wanted to go out for dinner with me. So we did that, came home, iced her shoulder up some more and prepared to tell her mother about the violation of the no injuries policy. The first time I said that, it wasn’t funny, but by the time she was ready for bed, she said it with a roll of her eyes, and we knew the worst of it was over.

Tonight, a date, of sorts. Dinner, and a party, though not, I believe, a drunken bacchanal. I’ll get to that story, I promise.

Icy fog

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I have encountered a lot of weather, having lived in the Northeast my entire life, but I don’t think that I have ever before encountered conditions where it was 8 degrees Fahrenheit, cloudy, and foggy. As I drove down the road this morning, there was a low, thick fog in the stream valley, and more down by the river. Very odd. Not sure how that could have happened. Believe it or not, I have actual meteorologists in my employ, so I could have asked what the heck was going on. Perhaps I’ll demand a memo.

My life, in sentence fragments

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Budget. Reorganization. Departures. Retirements. Transitions. No money. New program to supervise. Stress stress stress. Fourth-grader in tears over the state test. And a kick-ass high score on the Alcatraz level of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4.
Biggest issue is Hannah, who is feeling the pressure to perform on this stupid test. We’ve assured her that they’re not really testing HER, they’re testing the school, but unfortunately almost all of teaching in fourth grade is now about the test. The pressure is extremely high this year because last year our little neighborhood school scored best in the entire region, so there’s tremendous anxiety about how it will fare this year. That’s not supposed to be what this was all about. This is a terrible perversion of a legitimate state interest in ensuring children come out of school with an education. I’m no expert in educational matters, and I don’t know how better to do this, but this is wrong. I’ve got a girl who is extremely bright, works hard and does very well in school bursting into tears over this stupid test. The current thinking is to yank her out of school this Friday for a day of hooky with Daddy. I think skiing may well be involved.

Tonight on Turner Classic Movies:

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An overacting festival: Barbara Stanwyck in “Stella Dallas,” followed by Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce.” Both fantastic. By the way, Barbara Stanwyck was a serious hottie who lit up the screen in her day, probably most famously as the designing grifter in “The Lady Eve”, but most seductively in “Ball of Fire,” which presented Gary Cooper in a male archetype of the role now played by Rachael Leigh Cook or Julia Stiles: an ugly-duckling stick-in-the-mud until someone thinks to just take off those darned glasses, and then all is right with the world! Plus, we’ll teach him some hep talk. Unfortunately, “Ball of Fire is hardly ever shown, so tonight it’s “Stella Dallas.” I’m gonna be glued to my Indo-board in front of the tube.

Those searches keep rolling in

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For those few who keep track of such things, yes, I am still getting quite a number of hits every week from people looking for information on glycerol ester of wood rosin, all because I mentioned that it was polluting my Powerade one lovely summer afternoon. And I get a LOT of hits on my genealogy site for the histories of Crown Point, Keene, North Elba, and Jay, some key counties in northern New York that figure in my family history. But the strangest hit I’ve had in a long time came today from someone who did a search for “duckhunting girls”. It’s true, I’ve used both words, but not together. Until now. The web is a weird thing.

Good question…

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Rebekah, listening along with us the other day to an Erasure song from twenty years ago, stops singing and asks, “Why would anyone want to break the chains of love, anyway?”