Over Hill, Over Dale, and Repeat Ad Nauseum

(This blog entry has plentiful pictures.  Consider yourself warned.)

This past weekend, Steph and I headed back up to Hayward, Wisconsin to take part in the Birkie Trail Run.  Last year, we did the half marathon.  This year we opted for the Marathon Relay, conning four friends to join us.  A blast was had by one and all.

Greta, Steph, Me, Amanda, Andrew, and Marissa


I’ll make the race report short and sweet – as a team, we did great (more on that later) and as individuals, nearly all of us beat our expectations.

Considering the nature of the Birkie Trail, that’s not an easy feat.  No matter where you are, you’re either running up or running down.  It’s impossible to settle into a pace.  One leg can’t be compared to another.  Case in point – my 5.6 mile leg was filled with rolling hills and a few sharp rises while Steph’s 3.7 miles didn’t have as many hills but they were nearly all straight up and down.


Top = Matt, Bottom = Steph

Overall, The Tufted Mazurkas (that’s us) finished 3rd out of 16 teams in the Mixed Division.  I think overall we were 16th out of 63 teams, which is an impressive showing.  You can check out the race results here (click on Relay Team Results, scroll down to 6 person mixed).

The official Birkie results, however, will show that we finished 6th in our division.  This is because the Birkie calculates times using an adjusted scale based on age and sex.  Someone between 20 – 30 counts their full time while someone in their 50s or 60s may count as little as 85% of their time.  Runners younger than 20 also get adjusted times which strikes me as quirky and downright odd.

This meant that the team of 50 – 60 year olds who finished a full 45 minutes behind us was moved ahead of us in the rankings.  That miffed me a bit but considering the prizes were coffee mugs and I don’t drink coffee, my miff-ness is not terribly strong.

Plus we got medals and those are cool.  And we had an awesome time.  What more could you ask for?

Pictures after the break.  Click to enlarge any of them.

Continue reading “Over Hill, Over Dale, and Repeat Ad Nauseum”

The World Is Not Ending …

… it just seems like it.

“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” R.E.M.

I have been a huge fan since the late-80s and got the chance to see R.E.M. in concert in the summer of ’95 (here’s the set list from that show).  Fantastic night, one that I still remember vividly (despite the people a few rows behind us smoking pot).

R.E.M. was one of my ‘Must See’ concerts – the others being Beach Boys (which I have seen) and Tom Petty (which I have not yet).  I believe I have all but their latest album, a situation which shall, of course, be rectified shortly.

Thanks for all the years, guys.



When Life Hands You Apples, Make Cider

Sunday morning, I headed out to the farm to help my father-in-law make apple cider.  There’s three very nice trees on the land and the past few years we’ve been pressing our own cider.  Delicious.  We even planted a few more apple trees so we can keep doing this in the future.  The making of Cider is quite simple.

Step 1 – Pick and wash the apples.  For some reason, the trees were loaded down this year.  It was like picking bunches of grapes.

Step 2 – Cut the apples into quarters, remove any bad spots or worm areas and wash again.  This is a good time to remind you not to wear your best clothing and try to wear something waterproof, especially your shoes.  There’s a whole lot of water involved.

Cutting the Apples

Step 3 – Feed ’em to the Garbage Disposal.

Yup, you heard that right. A garbage disposal.

As the picture above demonstrates, we used a small section of leftover countertop with your everyday kitchen garbage disposal in the center.  My father-in-law read about this trick on the Internet and discovered it makes processing the apples into mash incredibly fast.  And it’s easy to clean – just run water through it when you’re done.  This video shows how it works:

Step 4 – Put the mash into the cider press.  There’s a mesh bag in there to keep it from seeping through the sides.  Bonus – if a bee flies into the mash, you get a slight honey flavor!  (No, not really, you just get wings and not the Red Bull kind).

Cider Press & Mash

Step 5 – Press the mash.  Fix on the press and start cranking.  At the bottom of the press (out of camera view) is pair of half moon shaped wooden blocks that press down on the apple mash.  The wooden blocks are piled on top of that so we don’t have to spin the press so far.

Pressing Out the Cider

Step 6 – Bottle up or bottoms up.

THIS is what Apple Juice should look like.

Yes, cloudy is better.  Cider is full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff.  You simply can’t beat a glass in the morning with breakfast.

We pressed a couple of boxes of apples and I believe we got 4 or 5 gallons out of that, most of which will go into the freezer so we can enjoy it later in the year.  The whole process took about two hours.  We’ll probably get in two or three more pressings before the season is over.


Apples to Flaming Torches

The Apples

Click to Embiggen

Applefest 5K this morning.

We love this race (as blogged about here and here).  We keep coming back because we love the course.  It’s hilly and challenging, as the picture to the right shows.  You don’t go to Applefest to get a PR.  In fact, take your average 5K time, add anywhere from 90 to 120 seconds and that’s about where you’ll finish.

This year I came in at 21:07, good enough for 19th overall (out of 500+ runners) and 4th in my age group.  Steph knocked a full minute off her previous Applefest PR and finished in 25:07 and 76th overall, 6th in her age group.   Both of us hit our goals and are totally stoked.  Plus getting a free bag of apples at the finish line doesn’t hurt.

Afterwards, we headed out to pick up traditional caramel apples and even more apples (we now have 30 lbs for pies, sauce, etc).  Now that we’re home, rested, and recovered, we’re heading up to campus to see the Passing Zone tonight.

I’ve been juggling for almost 25 years now and in the juggling world, the Passing Zone is considered one of the best acts out there.  They are regarded as some of the best club jugglers hands down.  One of them, John Wee, is also a Luther Alumni.  A few years ago I got the chance to meet and juggle with them.  It was kind of a juggling geek’s dream come true.  So yeah, I’m looking forward to the show.


Labor Day at the Races

If it’s Labor Day weekend, then it’s time for the Rock Island Grand Prix.  No long post this year (you can check last year’s for more info) but overall it was a fun weekend.  I’m glad it’s over though.  I’m exhausted, tired, and probably going to catch a cold.  The official news story of how the weekend went is available here.  Here’s the highlights from my perspective:

Oh, just having a blast, I tell you.

Saturday: Rain.  Big ol’ storm moved in and dumped on us.  We were able to get in morning practice sessions but a little after noon, the skies opened up and we got drenched.  It’s kind of hard to tell in the picture but it’s coming down in sheets.   But the Grand Prix is a Rain Or Shine event, so they kept going.

Racing in the rain is a whole different type of driving and it’s incredible to witness.  The karts were spewing up roster tails ten or twelve feet high, splashing through puddles at 70+ mph.  No one can see more than a few feet because their visors are fogged up or covered in water.  Then you’ve got this idiot corner workers who dart out into the track to recover crashed karts.

Overall though, we had fewer cautions in the rain sessions than when it was dry.  We were only able to get in four qualifying sessions before they had to call the day off.  The rain was so hard that standing water in the corners was causing the Tech Pro Barriers to start floating.  Those are the first line of safety and we just couldn’t have that happen.  Plus the lightning.  That was bad too.

Drier, warmer, exhausted.

Sunday:  Cool but at least we were dry.

Because qualifying sessions got cancelled on Saturday, they replaced the practice sessions in the morning with qualifying.  This meant the instant people got on a cold, clean track, they were racing for position.  Overall it led to some intense racing and we saw all sorts of action.

Four red flags, a driver being launched over the barriers and breaking his arm, multiple ambulance calls (no serious injuries, all precautionary), several winners being DQ’ed for tech violations, and a scuffle at the end that led to a driver being taken away in handcuffs.  Hint – you can scuffle with drivers after a race, but you go after a spectator and you’re finished.

Over in Corner 4, we were kept pretty busy but managed to keep everyone out of harms way.  Well, except for ourselves …

No corner workers were injured in the filming of this picture. Embarrassed and teased, perhaps, but not injured.

Illusion & Reality

School is back in session and the sidewalks are filled with college students bouncing from class to class.  And I do mean bouncing.

It appears that the instance class is out, a student is required to text every friend they have.  Even if said friends were just in the class they had attended.  Odd, I know and perhaps I’m showing my age, but I do notice that most students have their heads buried in their phones, tapping away furiously or reading off messages to other friends who are tapping away furiously at their own phones.

While all this is happening, they’re attempting to weave between other students doing the same thing.  Sometimes this works; more often it results in two people suddenly stopping and looking shocked at the other person in front of them.  If this happens during a really busy/crowded time, you have yet another person texting on their phone who runs into the back of the first person.  Then there’s a person behind them that runs into them and another and another and so forth.  Pandemonium ensues and we have to call in the National Guard to clean up the wreckage.

A moment of silence for the victims of the Paideia Pileup of 2010.  *shiver*

Overall though, I have to say this is a tragedy on a couple of levels.

Tragedy One: I help teach a self-defense class over the J-Term semester.  One of our key principles is ‘Awareness’.  If you don’t know what’s going on around you, it doesn’t matter if you have a black belt or you’re packing a .45.  You’re toast.  Granted, you might survive the encounter, but if you’d been paying attention, would there have been an encounter in the first place?  I suppose you could always text your “OMG being attked. Halp!” to your BFF and see what happens.

Tragedy Two: With your head buried in your phone, you’re missing out on a lot.  I mentioned the other day that I was reminded of a scene from The Phantom Tollbooth in which Milo visits the cities of Illusion and Reality.  The short version (long here or buy the book, it’s a classic) is that someone figured out that if you walked as fast as you could and looked at nothing but your shoes, you’d get to your destination faster.  Meanwhile, all the sights around them faded until one day they vanished and there was nothing to see at all.

So I do my best not to bury my head while I’m out on campus and this is what I got to see:

Ironically, taken with my Android phone

I can only guess that this is what they saw:

Also taken from my Android, but not ironically