Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back on the Bloggin' Wagon

I know that I have been letting my legions of blog-fans down. Without a single post since November 21, I'm sure people haven't known what to do. Should they watch TV? Go out and buy new magazines? Sit inside and drink all day?

The answer is D) None of the above. AikenAction is alive and well; I'm back on the bloggin' wagon!

And alot has been going on. First off, Ali and I went down to the Dominican Republic to climb the highest peak in the Caribbean -- Pico Duarte (elev. 10164 ft). See the photo of me opposite the bust of Generalissimo Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the DR's founding fathers, at the summit. We followed the summit with a few days on the beach in Cabarete (see photo) and visiting friends in Santo Domingo (aka the "Crapital").
Immediately after our return, our truck died and our well -- for all intents and purposes -- also died. On a happier note, we got to enjoy a rare East Coast visit from Lisa Aiken, editor of The Small World Times, the prolific (although slightly inconsistently published) Montana publication. During her visit, we made the pilgrammage to the Mecca for northeastern football fans -- that's right, Gilette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. What an experience! I can't remember who won, but I can tell you it was an awesome game (read between the lines here, people! Obviously, if the Pats had won, I'd be broadcasting the score, the stat lines, and the highlights. Thank you -- that's all I have to say about this...)

Then Alison and I hosted our first-ever holiday -- Thanksgiving at Johnnie Brook Road! Special thanks to Allton Brown of the Food Network, whose advice on how to brine a turkey, I followed to the letter -- with unbelievable success. With the exception of 30 years of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter turkeys that my grandmother cooked at her house in Springfield, Vermont, this was the best turkey I ever had!

Finally, Alison participated in the First Annual Santa Run -- one of 1200 Santas to run 5K in downtown Burlington.

And that, I think, brings us up to date. Whew! From now on, I will blog a little more regularly so I don't have to do these monster catch-up entries blogs to bring us up to date. Talk soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Amelia Obuchowski 1926-2011

Back when CDs and CD players first came out, we got our first player and 3 CDs: the Beatles' Rubber Soul, Greatest Hits by the Who, and Wham! There was one other CD -- a collection of old-time big band numbers called Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

I only recall Herb being played once -- on a late summer afternoon at our camp in North Hero. I was outside on the deck when the music came on and I heard some sort of commotion in the living room. I moved towards the screen door to see what it was: my Uncle John and Aunt Amelia Obuchowski were dancing in the living room. Uncle John had his stern, but happy face on -- sort of like the straight man in a comedy act -- while Aunt Amelia kept looking towards me and grinning like she was having the time of her life.

And rightly so -- there she was on vacation on a beautiful summer day being twirled around by her husband of more than 50 years. We were all having the times of our lives. I will always treasure the memories of the weeks they spent at the Camp -- pretty much every summer. Uncle John came for the fishing; Aunt Amelia came to relax on the deck and to make shopping trips to Burlington. Even though they were on vacation, they never missed the Saturday Catholic mass, which they attended at St Rose of Lima in Keeler Bay.

Uncle John and Aunt Amelia were the kind of relatives everyone should have. In high school I would stay with them during the first weekend of deer season and hunt with Paul. My dad loved talking politics with Amelia until his polar opposite views from hers got her overly worked up -- and then he'd hand her a chocolate bar to help her pulse get back to normal. After her sister (my grandmother) lost her husband, Amelia made it a habit to visit every Sunday for 50 years (see photo of sister Adeline, Amelia second from left, and sisters Grammy Caroline and Jenny on one of these visits). She has three great kids and amazing grandkids, the youngest of whom celebrated their first birthday two weeks ago -- with Amelia in attendance. It was a fun party, and, as usual, she was all smiles.

Aunt Amelia's last three years were difficult. When Uncle John died in 2008, I know that she missed him. Who wouldn't? She lived alone in a big house for all of that time without her partner for life. Amelia wasn't tall but it took tremendous strength for her to get up each morning and face a day without him. Wherever she is now, I know she is with him, and I am proud of the courage she showed these last years.

My Aunt Amelia modeled how to treat others, to enjoy life, and to maintain a positive attitude when the chips are down. It's an example that we will all remember.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Farewell to a Good Friend

I have never been a cat person. But one of the very few cats I ever liked was Scout. Our friendship might have been spurred along in the early going by the fact that he belonged to the cute redhead I was dating. But my relationship with Scout eventually evolved from "having an understanding" to being friends.

We laid Scout McKain to rest this morning in the fields in front of our home. Scout, a white and orange barn cat and the most senior pet in our household, was an indoor cat until he moved to this house in Richmond. From then on, he passed hours in these fields chasing mice -- and entire days gazing across them from windowsills.

All of our pets visited Scouts in his final hours -- something Alison and I were unable to do; Scout passed while we were away on vacation. No doubt the one who will miss him the most is Ali. Ali and Scout were teammates and friends for the last 15 years. They lived together in at least 8 houses in a minimum of 5 towns and 3 states. She grew up with Scout -- another reason he and I became friends. He paved the way for three more pets in our household. He was a top-rate mouser even in his final days.

I have enjoyed hearing about all of Alison and Scout's adventures together, and I will always remember him as a good cat and a great friend.

Thanks for 15 great years, Scout. We will miss you.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Just when it seemed that 2011 was going to go down as a bad foliage year, things changed. In three days, the colors went from "brownish" and "dull" to "brilliant" and "radiant." It has been an explosion of color.

You never know when the foliage is going to peak. Thousands of leaf-peepers were treated to amazingly warm Columbus Day weekend temperatures, but the colors were not so great. I, for one, hiked two peaks in the Presidentials. Beautiful weather. Great hike. But the colors? They were, well, okay. Maybe it was the damp summer, everyone said. Maybe Irene had something to do with it.

Just three days later, however, the hillsides and forests of northern Vermont are just like they're supposed to be. Add to the dramatic turn of events a week of sunny weather that has made the leaves shine that much more.

Fall is all around us, and we know what that means. Pretty soon, the leaves will be on the ground, November will be on us... and winter will be just around the corner.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Business Trip

"This trip is all business."

That's what Kristen Courcelle said as we embarked on a journey to Portland, Maine to run the Maine Marathon this weekend. What did she mean by "all business"? Kristen has been on an incredible athletic streak for the last year. After squeaking her way into a Boston qualifying marathon one year ago yesterday, Kristen has run every event she has entered faster than her last. Regardless of distance or discipline, she has notched PRs.

Looking ahead, however, she has the New York Marathon in November. Knowing this race is known for being crowded -- and therefore very difficult to run a PR -- she was looking for a marathon to run where she would have a chance to extend The Streak.

Meanwhile, I have been looking for a Fall marathon. Heading into winter -- the season when my running usually falls off -- I wanted to get my marathoning back on track. After qualifying for Boston two years ago, I have turned in several marathons that were lower than my expectations. Don't get me wrong... finishing is an accomplishment. Still, it's frustrating when you know you can do better. My goal for the weekend: finish better.

(Also, I didn't really want Kristen to beat me.) Okay, I admitted it.

So with these very business-like intentions in mind, we headed to Portland. And who knew business could be so fun? We stayed with Greg Dolbec, who took care of every need. He got us to a carbo-loading restaurant and provided us with elite-running entertainment in the form of his running friends, who joined us. He also housed us with a beautiful view of the bay.

Except there was no view. Race morning -- in fact, the whole race weekend -- was socked in and miserable. I have never run 26.2 miles in such consistently driving rains. I have to hand it to the race volunteers who were out there all day. I unfortunately tossed aside my favorite running shirt to avoid chafing at Mile 8. (It worked for my chest and armpits; unfortunately I have the worst chafing of my life in other areas...)

The course was a nice out-and-back, although with little fan support and none of the bands and drummers that apparently usually turn out for the event, it was a little boring. And -- not that it was a big deal -- but the clocks and water stops seemed haphazardly placed throughout the course; sometimes you'd have two water stations a half-mile apart and other times you'd go three miles with nothing. The clocks were equally random.

In the end, we both achieved our goals. I ran my best marathon in two years. And Kristen came in shortly thereafter, beating her previous marathon PR by 13 minutes. Something tells me she would have been fine in New York; but because she ran Portland, The Streak may now be in jeopardy.

Heather Jarochym was also on hand to run a highly impressive first marathon. Hopefully she -- and all first-timers who were there -- realize that not all marathons take place in conditions like that!

Thanks to Greg and Katie for hosting us. Thanks to Kristen for making the trip. Thanks to Ali who made me train all summer. And thanks to my legs -- which are now plenty sore, but which carried me back to an acceptable marathon time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ultra Runner

Alison Aiken has upped the ante! On Sunday, September 24, Ali joined the ranks of ultra-runners by completing the Vermont 50K. An ultra, as many fans of this blog know, is any race farther than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. This year's Vermont 50K, in addition to being mostly on trails up and down steep mountains and bottomless valleys, wasn't 50 kilometers at all... organizers admitted in the pre-race meeting that trail changes and diversions caused the race to be more like 32 miles.

Alison didn't just finish the race. She was the 6th placing female and 3rd in her age group. Rumor has it that top finishers in each age group received a prize. We wouldn't know; as Ali wanted to get home to see her beloved New England Patriots on TV, we missed the awards ceremony. Once we get confirmation on the prize situation, I may be heading out to the store to buy her my own prize.

I'm that proud of her.

Update: Newly released official race results tell us that Alison actually placed SECOND in her age group. Wow! And her 6th place finish is out of 70 women. Dang, girl, when did you get so fast? Also, to clarify, we left before the awards because it was too hot.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Dogs do not like cleaning tools.

I know, because -- more often than some might think (or believe) -- I use the broom and vacuum around here. Items that I sweep and vacuum up are (by volume) dog hair and dirt. Before we got Gladys, the swept-up dog hair was yellowish-white in color, but with her introduction to the household, it has taken on a greyish hue. The dirt has always been -- and remains -- brown.

Anyway, as soon as I start sweeping, our dogs are nervous. Oscar lays down, but he does not rest; his eyes just follow the broom. Gladys has a horror-fascination. She's afraid, but the broom just keeps drawing her in. Often it almost comes in contact (due to her habit of standing right where I need to sweep); when that happens, she panics and leaps aside.

The vacuum is even more traumatic. Oscar knows I only use the vacuum on the blanket, yet he lays on the blanket until I have to get under his spot. Then he'll move to a spot very close in proximity to the newly vacated place. Gladys, meanwhile, is scared to death of the thing, but she can't look -- or move -- away.

Here's my take. I don't like brooms or vacuums either. But if you're that scared, why not steer clear?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mosquito Update

They are not getting better; if anything, they're getting more vicious.

The word around the neighborhood -- and this comes from people who aren't necessarily in love with the cold -- is that if this is how it's going to be, they'd rather just get on with winter.

Whatever happens, we definitely need the temperatures to drop to "below acceptable" mosquito levels. This is just out of control.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mosquitos Like Tie Fighters

I don't hear Alison swear very often. But I can't repeat the words she uttered after standing outside with me for 2 minutes this evening.

Not on this blog anyway.

Hurricane Irene has caused great havoc here in northern Vermont. But one effect that nobody anticipated was hoards of blood-thirsty mosquitos breeding and rising in the damp muck left by receding floodwaters.

Today I spent the afternoon moving wood. It was a beautiful warm September day. Ordinarily, preparing my woodpile in September evokes warm and toasty thoughts and images. Usually, while I work, I'll think of warm fires, slow-cooking stews, and chili in front of a Sunday football game. Not today. Today was all about swarming mosquitos in my eyes and ears and biting me through two shirts. They were vicious, and it was intense out there.

Let me be clear: I am putting this out to all mosquitos, friend or foe. Don't come near me or suffer the consequences. Any buzzing mosquito within my reach -- whatever your intentions -- I will swat. And I swat to kill.

Consider yourselves warned, bugs.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Phish Plays Hometown Benefit

Vermont's Phab Phour played a benefit concert last night at the Champlain Valley Fairground to raise money for flood victims after Tropical Storm Irene trashed everyone's homes and wrecked all our covered bridges.

The show was spectacular, but who would have expected anything less from the band's first Vermont gig since Coventry -- the one Phish show everyone would rather forget?

We have seen the various members of the band play locally (even, in some cases, at the Fairground), but this was certainly special. A feeling of homecoming filled the air -- and of people doing good. It's nice to live in a place that produced the single best band in the history of music -- and that's my unbiased opinion.

Keep up the good work, Phish!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Great Pumpkin -- Race Report

Halloween and Autumn came early this year in South Berwick, Maine in the form of the PumpkinMan Half-Ironman. Despite the fall theme, and although triathlon organizers -- who ran a perfectly tight ship (all present agreed that it was one of the best organized races) -- decorated the race site with pumpkins, corn stalks, and fall colors, the entire weekend sure felt like summer.

For me, the whole PumpkinMan experience began on a run in June when prolific triathletes Marty and Kristen Courcelle (pronounced "Core-selly" by the Finish line announcer at the Pumpkin) talked me into signing up. Never have I trained in three sports like this year, so it felt good to taper all week long and then head up to Maine where our group of 5 Pumpkin-Mates (Lauren Cady and Alison Aiken -- two more elite triathletes -- rounded out the team) rented a beach house in nearby York Beach. We arrived a couple days prior to race day and found the coast of Maine to be in off-season mode. Still -- with Kristen serving as tour-guide (since she knows the area) -- these lead-up days were all about lobster, soft-serve ice cream, sitting on the beach, and catching rays.

But wait, you say. You thought this was a Race Report. Well, I guess you found me out: I just use these race events as excuses to take mini-vacations. And with summer lingering this year in coastal Maine, we were definitely in summer vacation mode... until Sunday morning. We got up at 3:45 -- yes, that's three-four-five A.M. -- and arrived at the race site before 6 to pick up timing chips, set up our transition areas (known to triathletes as "T-Zones"), and stretch out. After a concise pre-race meeting (did I mention that the organizers did everything right?), there was a moment of silence honoring those who lost their lives in the 9-11 attacks ten years ago and the national anthem. Everyone was ready... except Mother Nature.

It has been a long summer, and Ma Nature had a little trouble waking up; Knight's Pond, where our 1.2-mile swim was to be held, was blanketed by thick fog, so we couldn't see the swim buoys. There was a half-hour delay, before they finally fired off the start cannon. Alison and Kristen started in the same wave, but the rest of us started separately. After the swim was an unofficial "fourth" leg -- the PumpkinMan Hill Climb. Between the pond and the T-zone was a 200-meter hill that was timed as if it were another leg. The winner of the hill climb won a special prize (not sure what the prize was, but anyway...). On the course I got to see Howard and Jill several times (thanks for the critiques of my transitions, Dad) and Heather and her mom. It was great to have fan support at a faraway event. I've ridden 56 miles before once and 50 miles several times, but never in a race setting (to give you an idea of the "settings" in which I trained, during one of my long training rides I stopped for a Rueben; on another, I had an ice cream and cookie sandwich). I enjoyed getting in packs with coneheads riding $5000 bikes and leap-frogging with them. Also, I will add that, despite being a half-ironman neophyte, the little camp-stool I brought for my transitions was the envy of the entire T-zone.

By the time the race was over, our Pumpkin-Mates had amazing results. 5 Mates, 5 Personal Records (I can claim this since it was my first half). Kristen made the podium in her age group -- amazing. It was just a spectacular race for all. Heather brought gluten-free brownies for Alison at the finish -- a gesture that Alison can't stop talking about. The weekend was so perfect, that Alison and I stayed an extra night and watched the New England Patriots post an excellent first week victory for the 2011 NFL season. Then we arrived home to find that I won a raffle for Phish tickets at the Fairgrounds Tuesday night.

I have often heard about the results of hard work and training paying off. I didn't realize that hard training affected professional football, rock and roll, and weather. If I had known, I would have trained for a half-ironman a long time ago.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Irene Strands Old Friend in Richmond

Craig Leach, who I have known since about age 4, was in the neighborhood over the weekend. He seemed very relieved that Hurricane Irene was leaving his home and family in South Carolina well enough alone while we hiked Camel's Hump (photo above left) and had a cookout with more old friends the Bensons.

It wasn't until Sunday that the reality of the situation began to set in: Irene was going to hit Craig dead-on while he was visiting Vermont. First, his flight was canceled on Sunday. Then, on Monday, he couldn't even get out of my road (photo above right). The longer he stayed in Vermont, the more stuck he became!

We made the most of the situation. In keeping with the recommendations of local, state, and federal agencies, we stocked up on alcohol prior to the storm. Craig also helped us split and stack half of our winter firewood supply (photo below) -- and, by all indications, seemed to enjoy doing it. He finally made it home to his family on Tuesday, but not before we enjoyed the much-needed opportunity to catch up!

Before I sign off on this post about hurricanes and best friends, I do want to say two things. One, I wish the best to those people who are still struggling to clean up and dig themselves out after this unbelievable storm. Everyone is contributing in their own ways, and this is very good to see. Second, I want to mention Craig's brother Shane, who passed away this spring. I am thinking of Shane's family, and we will all miss him.

For more Irene photos, check out Ask Oscar

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Wife the Runner

This morning I swam, biked, and ran the Shelburne Triathlon sprint Number Four in hopes of qualifying for the US Age Group National Championships next summer. I entered under the incorrect understanding that I needed to finish in the top third of my age group in order to qualify (which I did, placing 3rd out of 9), but in reality I had to be in the top 10 percent. (Had I known this, I probably wouldn't have entered!)

Anyway, while I was off trying to qualify, my wife Alison was out for a jog back and forth over the bike and run courses. I joined her for an additional 11 miles after my race (which I barely managed). Anyway, all told, Ali ran 26.21 miles in 3 hours and 36 minutes -- eclipsing her best official marathon time by over 8 minutes and running in a Boston-qualifying time!

Question: who goes out and runs a marathon on a Saturday morning? And who does so in a Boston qualifying time?

Answer: Apparently, my wife the runner.

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Breakfast Habits

I am not one to change my morning breakfast habits. Which is why, for 35 years (or whenever it is I got off the Gerber's), I have been eating Wheaties or Cheerios with milk and banana slices every morning. Sound boring? Tedious? I beg to differ; if it tastes good, why change?

[Important note: There are two exceptions to the above paragraph. 1) In moments of weakness, my mother did allow us to get sweetened cereals -- usually Alpha-bits (because it was educational) or, on extremely rare occasions, Fruity Pebbles, which we would go through in one sitting. And 2) when I was 8 years-old, I did eat Rice Krispies for 5 months because Kellogg's ran a promotion whereby kids could earn points by saving box tops and sending them in for cash. I earned 5 whole dollars though this deal... and haven't really eaten many Rice Krispies since.]

As I have learned more about food, where it comes from, and how it is made, however, I have slowly been making changes. For example, not really wanting to eat beef from feedlots where they feed grass-eating cows a diet of corn and antibiotics, I have been getting most of my beef from local farms that graze their cows in fields. I have been buying bread from local bakeries, rather than in supermarkets. One baker -- Red Hen -- even makes a bread with wheat grown in Vermont! Who knew?

Changing up breakfast, however, is not something to take lightly. A creature of habit, I have grown into my morning routine. Besides, what could be healthier and more wholesome than Wheaties, the breakfast of champions, or Cheerios, the toasted whole grain oat cereal? After months of denial, I finally studied the nutrition information of my two breakfast staples. The number two ingredient in Cheerios is corn starch. And not just corn starch... modified corn starch. Meanwhile, farther down on the Wheaties ingredient list (behind sugar) is corn syrup. Without getting into a rant about the mass quantities of corn being produced in America (so much that only subsidies from the federal government make it profitable and so much that they're putting it in my cereal and calling it Wheaties and in my automobile at the gas pump!), if I wanted corn for breakfast, I'd buy Corn Flakes!

So I have introduced new breakfast options. First, I worked with oatmeal, sweetened with honey and cinammon and spruced up with fruit. Pretty good, but I don't like having to cook in the morning. So now I'm onto granola mixed by my local bakery. There are different nuts, seeds, and raisins in there. It's not Wheaties, but it's good. But I also know where everything in my garnola came from, and it is what it is.

There are no double-agent foods hiding in my granola only to be revealed later.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Birds of Richmond

Last weekend, Ali and I went for a tour of southern New England. After a leisurely morning, we headed to Rumney, NH for an afternoon of rock climbing before catching the Alison Krauss concert at Meadowbrook Pavilion in Gilford. Comments: Rumney is a great spot. And Alison is just as good as ever. Saturday, we headed south to Bristol, RI for Karl Bahrenburg and Nicole Guercia's wedding. Comments: the wedding was spectacular and everyone I saw had an awesome time. Best wishes to K & N! Also, I will note that on our way out of town the following morning, Ali and I had breakfast at The Corner Cafe in Newport. I had some sort of Portuguese sweet bread French toast mixed with egg and peppers -- amazing. Ali had an omelette that blew her mind. It was the best breakfast I have had in awhile. Finally, Sunday, we continued to West Hartford, CT where we had lunch with family and met the newest member of the McKain family: Ben. Comment: kid toys have officially displaced the dog toy area in the McKain family room. It was great to see everyone, and a nice time was had by all.

But the trip report is not what today's post is about. Rather, I wanted to relay the experience that we had back in Richmond before we departed on the big southern New England swing. Wanting our dogs to have had at least a little physical activity before the dog-sitter arrived that evening, we took them for a walk to the river before we left. The walk contained the usual: nice views of Camel's Hump, plenty of dog running and ruckus, and a meander past the cornfields on our street. As we approached the river, however, I had a first-time Vermont experience: a single bald eagle emerged from the river and coasted over us. It only had to beat its wings once as it glided through the air. It checked us out, glanced at the dogs, and headed upstream.

The Bahrenburg family has some tight relationships with birds, so it came as no surprise to me to see such a beautiful creature as we left on Karl and Nicole's wedding weekend. But what did it mean? Was that eagle going to look after us on our travels? Was it going to keep an eye on the house and dogs? I left on Friday completely confident of both. As we drove away from home I knew we were in for a great weekend.

I was right.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Term Limits

This is not a political blog.

However, I have followed the debt crisis in Washington. But I'm not going to write about that. What I am going to write about are the people who were debating it. "It" in this case refers to the fact that we can't spend more money than we have and the fact that we need to raise more to spend more. So... the big question that in my opinion was never answered: why were we debating?

I'll tell you how to solve this -- and every other problem -- in Washington. First, some history: neither George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, nor James Monroe chose to seek third terms as President. Clearly, they saw the wisdom of term limits. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president to break George Washington's precendent, and then Harry Truman quickly commissioned a study of presidential term limits. Congress quickly followed the commission's recommendations, amending the Constitution to limit presidents to two terms.

They did not go far enough. Senators and Representatives should also be limited. Congresspeople, beware: I am gunning for you! No more should senators be able to "outlast" a president. Let's get some good, healthy turnover down there on Capitol Hill! Serving in Congress shouldn't be a career; it should be a community service stint. These clowns spend half of their terms partying, half campaigning, and the other half sounding off like John Belushi in Animal House ("did we back down when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No!"). Do you question my math? Notice no Congresspeople did either.

The debt ceiling debate was really just a symptom of a larger problem, which is that we put these people in Congress for life. Let's put a revolving door in the Capitol Building and start running some new blood in there. Limit Reps to two 4-year terms and Senators to two 6-years.

Any candidate who makes congressional term limits their top priority -- regardless of any of his or her other politics -- gets my vote.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


In the old days, we used to hold up big fish we would catch... now I guess I'm holding up garlic. Still... look at the size of those things -- I seem to have, as they say, caught my limit!

This garlic has been a long time coming. I planted it in November. All spring -- before anything else in my yard (not to mention the garden) was growing -- these things came up. There was a brief scare when their "garlic scapes" didn't come up. But apparently some garlic doesn't grow scapes, so I finally just pulled the stuff. It is currently hanging in the shed to dry out. Then we braid it and hang it in the cellar.

Then... it's garlic time!

I have always been a big fan of cooking with -- and eating -- garlic. A couple years ago I discovered some locally grown garlic at a farmers market; it was eons better than store-bought (which I already liked). And mine seems right along those lines, except I know exactly where, how, and with what, it was grown. (Note: I have become quite food-phobic lately... in other words, if I don't know exactly how a food is made or where it came from, I don't trust it.)

I formerly used a garlic press to crush and cut up garlic cloves, but now I don't because I like chunks of garlic in my food. Then a few years ago, I began reading about the health benefits of garlic: as long as you let it breathe for 10 minutes before cooking it, garlic has all sorts of allyl sulfide compounds that can cut one's risk of prostate cancer in half -- and they reduce the risk of stomach, colon, and breast cancers. Well, I've never been a big fan of prostate cancer, so this fits right with my personal platform.

Excellent -- so it tastes great... and it's good for you too!

Monday, July 11, 2011


My distaste for weeding is well-documented, but here is the problem: I just don't like looking at a messy garden. Do you see the tension, then, that accompanies my life as a gardener? Which is worse -- having to weed? Or having a garden that looks like my sister's hair in the morning?

Bottom line: I spent several hours in the garden this weekend. In addition to the slight sunburn (despite wearing my new "head umbrella," which I won at a recent Canada Day party because I answered all the hockey questions correctly on the Canada trivia quiz) on my neck, I also contracted an affliction I have named "Weeder's Finger." Weeder's Finger is a pain that starts between the thumb and forefinger and shoots across the palm to the base of the pinky. You don't understand; our garden was (and still is) really weedy, and I pulled zillions of them. (See "before" and "after" shots above -- of just one row of our garden.)

Something has to give here. I can't be weeding like this all summer. Yes, we have lettuce coming out our eyeballs, and yes, the peas are as sweet as can be. But I just don't like looking at a garden that looks like a rat's nest. And my Weeder's Finger can't handle pulling too many more.

I'm just about at my breaking point.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Morning Fog

I look out the window every morning when I wake. In theory, a quick glance should tell me about the day to come, how to dress, and what to expect. In reality, however, my early morning data from the window is generally misinformation.

Because we live yards from the Winooski River in a corridor of farm fields and flood plains, a morning mist hangs over us regardless of season. Walking the dogs in the morning is always a grey (but not gloomy) activity -- grey in the sense that low clouds block whatever "real" weather exists beyond.

I've learned to predict by feel. Although every morning looks grey and cloudy, I can feel whether it's going to be a rainy day or whether the sun will burn off the fog in an hour or two. On a sunny summer day, you can often see a bluish tint to the mist above. On days when you leave the house, you'll drive through the clouds, turn away from the river, and -- suddenly -- a blinding sun greets you. Looking back, you can see a ribbon of low clouds smothering the river valley that winds among the hills.

I like our misty mornings. I don't need to see the sun to know it's coming. And when it does finally make its appearance and the clouds begins to burn away, I appreciate it all the more.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Smashing Pumpkin!

Alison Aiken, just weeks after rocking the triathlon world with her stunning performance at Bristol, New Hampshire's Mooseman 70.3 Half-Ironman has announced her entry in an upcoming 2011 half-ironman. Many onlookers expected her to retire after the Mooseman, but -- despite an injury -- she proved that she is at the top of her game. "So many great memories," she says of Mooseman. Sources close to the sport expect nothing less than another outstanding performance from Aiken.

In a related story, Mark Aiken has also decided to race the squash event. This move has experts more than a little befuddled. Although his slapshot has improved in recent months, the other Aiken has done little to prove that he is capable of competing -- or even finishing -- an endurance event this grueling. "He must have been tricked -- or conned," said one anonymous triathlon specialist. Said another, "Maybe he's delusional."

The field is shaping up to be phenomenal -- Marty, Kristin, Lauren, world champ Maria, and many more will be there. An exciting event to say the least.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Inspirational Athletes

What a week in sports!

A picture says a thousands words, and this accompanying image simply sent chills down my spine. Robert Gordon Orr at the beginning of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals waved a giant flag bearing the number 18 for fallen Bruin Nathan Horton. Of course the B's won the game -- with inspiration like that, how could they lose?

For anyone who wonders what was the difference between the Bruins in Games 1 and 2 and the Bruins team that showed up for Games 3 and 4, the answer is obvious: the Rome hit on Horton was the difference. I am looking for a big Boston victory in Game 5.

Speaking of inspirational athletes, I witnessed an incredible display of athleticism this past Sunday at the Mooseman half-ironman triathlon. Actually, the display has been going on for months (that's how long it takes to train for an event like this), and Sunday was just the culmination -- a victory parade, if you will. Well, if victory parades are ever this grueling.

Congratulations to Marty, Kristin, Lauren, and Alison for kicking rear end in this unbelievably hilly endurance course. They dealt with frigid water temperatures in the 1.2-mile swim, Devil's Hill twice in the 56-mile bike, and several other nasty hills in the half-marathon run. They all looked great and performed amazingly. Their dedication to training all winter and spring paid off.

And, finally, speaking of athletes, thanks to Doug and Ruth for spectating with me. Just so you know, keeping up with these to uber-bikers while we were pedaling to the best viewpoints on the course was no walk in the park! Thanks for being part of the best spectating team in the race!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

97 (Potential) Strawberries!

This weekend is it! The seedlings are going in the garden! In order to get things ready, I have been slaving away erecting a fence. After all, just yesterday morning, Gladys the puppy saw her first deer -- two doe grazing not 75 feet from the garden. The point of all the work getting these starters going for the last two months is not to feed a bunch of animals! (You could, in fact, rename this garden "Operation Feed Mark and Ali.") Also, some animal -- maybe a raccoon or fox -- has been trespassing in the raised bed where I planted lettuce, spinach, and mesclun. Most of those, I fear, aren't coming up as a result. So we will have a fence by the weekend -- that's a promise.

In the meantime, there are a few plants already going -- the garlic (planted last fall), peas (planted in April -- same as the greens), and strawberries (perennials). I am most excited right now about the strawberries -- my favorite fruit. At last counting, there are 97 flowers in our strawberry patch (see photo) -- a patch which started as about 10 plants installed just last year. Last year's harvest -- about 10 berries a day for most of the summer -- was a pleasant surprise, and summer 2011 is shaping up to blow last 2010 out of the water. Let's hope so.

In the meantime, if you are looking for me, I'll probably be outside working on the fence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Every now and then my father brings up the time I mowed his pear tree. When I was about 8 years-old, he, my Uncle John, my sister, and I planted a small orchard -- about 20 apple, plum, cherry, and pear trees -- next to our camp in North Hero. 30 years later, it is a beautiful orchard, but one of the trees didn't make it.

In an unrelated story, I recently received an email from an old friend. Out of touch since we were teenagers, Phillip came across my website and gave me a shout-out to see if I remembered. He wrote, "Do you have a sister named Lisa and a father named Howard? Is your birthday in March? If yes, my birthday is the day before yours, and I used to spend several weeks with you each summer when we were 9, 10, or 11."

Of course I remember. We met Phillip when his father built the North Hero camp, and our families remained good friends ever since -- they even joined us at holidays. Well, until we sort of lost touch -- probably 20 years ago. But good friends remain friends, and it has been great catching up with Phillip via email -- we have talked about our times spent together and filled each other in about where we've been since and where we are now. He lives in Chicago, is divorced with two kids, and has a beautiful red-haired girlfriend. I can't wait to see him in person sometime.

His memories of the times spent with us are fond. And his recall of details is amazing: the double sinks in our old house, the Air Supply song my sister and I loved on the radio one summer, and the time he used all seven Scrabble tiles on one word and got the 50-point bonus. He had one more memory that wasn't as fond. He recalled our ride-on mower and 2-acre lawn. "Once I mowed the grass," he writes, "and accidentally rode over some newly planted tree and destroyed it." He kept it a secret (something he regrets now) because he loved visiting us and was afraid he wouldn't be invited back. I can understand his fear. It's been 30 years that my dad has accused me of mowing that tree!

Well, I want the world to know two things. One, it is great to be back in touch with my friend Phillip. And, two, I didn't mow that tree. It's been 30 years, and I am innocent!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Right Tool for the Job

When I was 20, I never would have believed that I'd be blogging about planting grass in my backyard. One, they didn't have blogs 20 years ago, and two, why would I have believed that I'd have sunk to writing about such mundane topics?

Well, 20-year-old Mark, the backyard needed grass seed, but have no fear: I'm not blogging about it. Rather, this is a write-up about the tools I used. It's a subtle but important difference.

We already seeded the yard twice. First, using 5-year-old grass seed, we put the seed down and watched 4 straight days of driving rain wash it all away. Later, using the same 5-year-old grass seed, we sprinkled it on the areas in need, covered them with straw, and watched absolutely nothing happen. Clearly, the seed was past its usefulness. So I went to the store for more, and the guy recommended breaking up the soil in addition to covering it up with straw. So I raked up the straw and went about breaking up the hard-pack topsoil.

With a shovel -- which made for slow, tedious work. What I really needed, I realized, was an aerator -- one of those spiked rollers that would really break things up with much less effort. For some reason, I poked my head inside our tool shed... and low and behold, hanging on the wall was an aerator (pictured above)!

Where did it come from? I certainly never had one. Could it be that when I married the lovely Alison two and a half years ago I unknowingly married a girl who owned an aerator? However it came to being, it made the job much more pleasant -- and quicker. The soil is broken up, the seed spread, and the hay scattered. And Alison informed me that when her neighbor moved away 5 years ago, her roommate at the time pulled the aerator -- along with our clothes-drying rack -- out of his dumpster.

Really? The neighbor's dumpster? We use the drying rack all the time, but I never knew it came as the result of dumpster-diving. And, as for the aerator, it only took 5 years, but we finally used it too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Small Town Government

Wanting to be involved in my town, I attended a Richmond selectboard meeting last night. It was government in action, a slice of Americana, citizens and residents looking out for their home. It was also pretty darn entertaining.

Most of the entertainment value came from one disgruntled resident who was sitting behind me. I have experienced her in town before -- she has always been exceedingly rude -- and I am very pleased to discover that it wasn't just me she doesn't like. She doesn't much care for the members of the Select Board either! The chairman of the board had to interrupt her during her 4 or 5 outbursts. She used to be on the board, but was removed in the last election. She has definitely taken on the role of "Member at Large" since her ouster.

During the meeting, I watched them listen to a report from the school board, take away my favorite parking spot in front of our grocery store (they're worried, apparently that I might run over a kid walking by -- probably a legitimate concern given the unsafety of the spot), delay a decision on a private canoe rental company, and outlaw the tasting of wine samples at our community farmers market. Doesn't sound very interesting? I assure you that the human interactions, outbursts from the angry lady, side conversations, and the back-and-forth discussions were better than anything that was on TV last night (bear in mind that the Celtics have been eliminated and the Bruins weren't on till tonight).

Besides, it's my town -- and that made everything that happened at the meeting very interesting to me.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Letter to April Frost

Dear April,

Thank you for the “Think Like a Dog” program you held at your home on May 7. Even though you started right out by telling me that my dog’s misbehavior was my fault not his, I didn’t take this the wrong way. I feel I deserve some credit for taking this the right way and not being offended; on the other hand, you did explain exactly why this is the truth -- and you are right.

Your demos were expert, but you taught me what I need to know to train my dogs. And you didn’t just “tell”; throughout the program, the practice sessions were helpful and confidence-building. I want you to know that we have taken what we learned on Saturday, and we have been practicing and training all week.

And we have already noticed changes – not the least of which is that we are a happier family. Our dogs want to behave, and they have just been waiting for us to learn how to communicate to them how they are supposed to act.

Thank you for teaching us!

April Frost owns Animal Visions Holistic Center for Animals and Humans

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Rock Star...

...I'm not, but what I am is playing at the Open Mike at On the Rise Bakery in Richmond. This Thursday, 7:30PM. The pizza's good, the music fun... and everyone who's anyone in Richmond will be there. Don't miss out!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ahh, Spring Rolls!

Spring is here, which means the April issue of EatingWell magazine has been out for weeks and weeks. And besides the usual interesting articles, the well-researched features, and the scores of great original recipes, this April’s issue had something else: a contribution by me! That's right -- I did some photo captions and a small write-up about everyone’s favorite spring vegetable, asparagus.

EW is a funny place, because they always have to think seasons ahead. The magazine is focused on fresh food in-season, but if you ever visit their headquarters, there’s something amiss. You don’t put your finger on it immediately, but eventually you figure it out. In order to get season-specific recipes in each issues, they are barbecuing in February and March, they’re slow-cooking stews in June, and they are testing holiday cookies in September. So we did this asparagus project back in January.

When I first saw the layout for the asparagus piece, the photos of the salmon-and-asparagus spring rolls really jumped out at me. In fact, I made a mental note that I would make them as soon as the asparagus came up. Of course, that was months ago, and I almost forgot. Until, shopping the other day, I came across shelves of asparagus. Instantly everything came back.

The rice paper was a little difficult to handle (which is why my rolls in the photo look like they do and not like the ones in the photo that came out of the test kitchen -- well, that and the fact that this is ME we're talking about and not the experts in the test kitchen!); I actually found lukewarm water to be more effective than the “very” hot that the magazine recommends . Maybe, since they tested in the dead of winter, they just wanted everything hot. Also, I substituted sweet potatoes (which I needed to use up) for carrots (which I didn’t have.) Besides, since they’re the same color, who would know the difference?

My favorite things about the spring rolls were the dipping sauce (soy sauce, orange juice, lemon juice, and crushed red pepper) and the asparagus that had just the right crunch, and wasn’t all chewy from being overcooked like the way I usually do it. These spring rolls were just a riot of different flavors -- that all went together well. Besides, I always like colorful food -- and this one had the bright green of asparagus in spring, pink, orange, and red. As I wrote for the EW blurb, Ahh, spring rolls!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Raspberry Patch

"Although I have at different times grown, with more or less success, nearly all species of hardy bush fruits, I have always been partial to the red raspberry."
-- George Aiken

Two years ago, my uncle David Aiken dropped 7 or 8 raspberry plants on my porch. "For your garden," he said. At the time, we didn't have much of a garden; just a 10x20 foot plot over which I had run the tiller and constructed three cedar beds. Along the western edge, we sunk the berry bushes in the clay.

Since then, the garden has grown, and so have the berries. Each year, we have reclaimed more of the field of goldenrod that surrounds our garden, so that it is twice the size we started with. And, not wanting a berry patch right in the dead center of a vegetable garden, last weekend we dug them up and moved them -- about 25 bushes in all.

A few things to note. First, Uncle David warns me that we will be forever digging up raspberries from the original patch location. "Unless you think you got all the runners," he says, meaning "there's no way you got all the runners." Okay, I can live with that. When it comes to gardening, I generally don't like to do things right the first time anyway. Second, the new patch location is near the edge of our lawn. Another life goal nearer to accomplished: to minimize my time spent cutting grass! If David, as he promised, shows up with blackberry bushes, we'll dig up even more of the lawn and insert them.

Finally, my great grandfather George wrote that history does repeat itself. I'm not saying I'm nearly the farmer he was, but I will say that these plants descend from his berry patch in Putney, Vermont.** I don't have his green thumb, but we are, in fact, growing food at my home and putting it on the table to eat. And it's not just rewarding to keep that legacy alive; it's a lot of fun too.

**Important note: when the original berry patch was planted, one of the plants came from Sue McKain's yard in Connecticut. Does this mean the Aiken strain in my patch isn't completely pure? If yes, that's fine by me; in fact, I prefer a hybrid anyway.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Utah Where Have You Been?

This post is quite delayed; the goings-on that follow occurred a month ago! But I just can't change seasons without mentioning the past winter's crowning runs. We arrived in Utah for the 600th inch of their record-breaking year.

The suspects were the usual: David, Jill, Howard, Chris, Bob, Sue, me, John, Lisa, Ali, Em, and Jack (I believe these are in order by age). Also making appearances throughout the week were Glenn, Michelle, Kurt, and Kurt (no order here). Not much was happening weather-wise when we arrived, but the next morning, the "Stay-inside-or-else" chain was across the condo door so they could do control work on 14-20 new inches of snow. The first few days continued that way as we took turns skiing Alta and Snowbird. I took a day off in there somewhere to run 19 miles in Salt Lake City and on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at the foot of the Wasatch. (And no, I can not explain how running 19 miles constitutes a "day off.")

The snow hit again towards the end, and Johnny and I met Colchester native Kurt Sowles for a backcountry day in Big Cottonwood Canyon and my best (and snowiest) turns of the year. What runs!

The week was full of great snow, great company, great food, hotly contested Jenga and Spot It games, and plenty of beer-(and wine)-drinking.

I couldn't believe it when the week was up. One thing is certain, though: I could live in Utah. (Wait a minute, I have lived in Utah!) Well, put it this way then: I feel the same way as Emily. From her note to Jill and Howard: "I can't wait to do it again next year!"