Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dickens Christmas in Northport

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not known to be a sports fan by any means. The one exception has always been rowing. For as long a I can remember I’ve been impressed by the precision and teamwork of a crew rowing in seemingly perfect synchronization. This picture was captured on a morning walk along the river with Debbie in the fall of 2007. The college crew on a calm river with picture perfect foliage for a background is hard to beat.

I never would have imagined that the sport of rowing could take such a hold of my life at this age. This morning at the “Y” I passed the 100,000 meter mark on the Concept 2 rowing challenge. That makes for me working out seven days a week. Who would have ever thought!

Let me backtrack to the Dicken’s Christmas celebration last Tuesday. I had no idea what my tour assignment was to be. I left it open to the person in charge….”Just put me where you need me, I can work either shift.” The tour assignments were assigned to 5-7 and 7-9 shifts.

I never heard anything. On Monday I called Sue who was the second in charge and left a message for her. I totally forgot about that call till Tuesday morning. Sure enough there was a message back from Sue, begging me to show up at 5:30 and to work a double shift if possible. I knew this would happen.

Traffic through the city to Northport was bumper to bumper. I was never able to get out of the right exit lane so I had to exit over the bridge and try to get as close to downtown as I could using the back way.

The crowds seemed up from last year and the mood seemed happier. I had been reading through my old entries from last year and they are so depressing. What a dismal time for the economy and my life!

I arrived right on time at 5:30. Things are all in chaos. They had moved the ceremonies back some, and the house will not be open to tours till 6:00 after the ceremonies of lighting the tree and music. People are walking into the house wandering around who should not be there. I parked myself at the front gate to inform folks when the house would be open and to be the “good will ambassador” of the place. Amy and Tim showed up and took these pictures I’m using for this entry.

Lacky and Me:

Amy (one of my rowing friends) and me.

Opening ceremonies; I like to think that big strong orb is Marvin, my good friend who passed away in April. He was the man who started the ball rolling for these festivities so many years ago. It is the first Dicken's without him present. (in the flesh!)

I started the evening in the front hallway doing the orientation and background history of the house. One of the main rooms is just off this hallway. The rug for this room had just been restored and it turns out it is a silk antique oriental supposedly worth too many thousands of dollars to be walked upon.

Me at work in the hallway;

The docent for the bedroom had to exit at 6:00, so I did double duty in describing the house, hallway and this bedroom. The fun part of this room is the spirit of the original inhabitant that is still present. It is amazing to watch the kids on the tour get huge eyes when telling the story of Elizabeth Shirleys ghost. We tell how that room was her bedroom and she watched Croxton’s Raiders march down the road in front en route to Tuscaloosa to burn the city.

She survived the war. Her ancestor Marvin, showed me in person how he could roll back the sleeve of his shirt, hold his bare arm over the bed and al the hairs on his arm would stand on end. This was documented on an Alabama PBS show years ago.

We tried to time the tour segments to around four minutes. The person on the porch would knock on the front door as a signal to shift the tours. I’d cup my hands around my mouth and announce into the parlor, “OK time to move on!!”. This routine was devised on the fly and it worked out very well.

At 7:00 the docent in the front parlour had to leave. Fortunately, the second shift person turned up for the front bedroom. I put her in the hallway so she could do both, and I took over the parlour duty. I’ve done this room for many years. The rest of the night was a blur. The tours were stopped at 8;00 and the front door was locked. That meant it was nearly 9:00 when the last of the tours left the house.

I had awoken with a scratchy throat in the morning. Flushing my sinuses twice with the netti pot, and gargling with salt water throughout the day preserved my voice for the evening. The Halls cough drops helped too throughout the evening.

It was so good to get home and collapse into bed. Another Dicken’s was under my belt….

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sara Palin Changes My Life

Happy Thanksgiving!! My “little Daggy” was curled into my chest when she started to snore. Then she went into that “REM part” of sleep when she twitches and jerks. Her back claws dug into my hand waking me up at 2:00 a.m. Try as I might I can’t get back to sleep, so I figured it would be the perfect time to pound out a journal entry.

My head is still spinning from all that happened on a busy Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I have always shied away from new technology. Back in the early 1980’s I was working in building 9 on one of the “Blue lines”. These assembly lines had about 100 people working on them assembling the heating/air-conditioning units. One of my co-workers brought in the first walkman I ever tried. It was unreal to me to have such a small (at that time!) unit that enabled you to have the music you wanted. Those early units sold in the $100.00 plus range back then.

To be honest the factory was not a safe place to wear and listen through headphones: the use of those gadgets was quickly outlawed. When I changed departments to the “outback” of Building 8 I broke down and got myself a Walkman. The price had come down to the $40.00 range for a GE model that came with a charger stand. We were pretty much hidden out of the way and management pretty much left us alone.

That poor Walkman of mine got beat up in no time! Rubber bands held the door shut where the cassette tapes slid in. The headphones were always sliding off the spring steel that held it tight to your head. I used to love to take one of the units off the headphone and pretend it was a microphone. I would walk around doing “Man in the street” interviews with my partner in crime Al. We sure could get people laughing.

The current day I-Pods are such an improvement over those early walkmans. When we erg at the AquaticCenter the “kids” are all plugged into their music. It never made that much difference to until I signed up for the concept 2 challenge. Wednesday was my turning point!

There are some six TV’s hanging from the ceiling of the “Y” in the area where I erg on the rowing machines. Thank God the sound is off; there is some way to listen through headphones. Usually three of the units are tuned to Faux News with the split screens, talking heads, and streaming disasters of the minute. Normally I can’t be in the same room as that networks news broadcast.

I settled into Erg Wednesday rowing a comfortable stroke rating shifting between 24-30 strokes per minute. Doing a 10,000 meter set, the first and last 2,000 meters are usually the worst for me. The TV directly ahead of me was tuned to C-span reporting on Sara Palin signing her work of fiction. That was the feature from Hell, because it never ended! The camera would pan from “perky Sara” scribbling her name on the frontispiece of her book to the lines of losers who waited hours and hours in horrible weather to have a book signed. That feature was on the entire time I was erging. That could have done something to keep my heart rate up from the agitation! I had Sara to thank to finally break down and get a MP3 player!

Home from the “Y” I started doing my research on line to determine what MP3 player would best suit my needs. I know I don’t want an Apple. They are way too fancy and expensive. It looked like a basic unit from Best Buy would be my best bet.

After doing my research I went to fix me up an iced coffee. The ingredients were poured into the blender jar and the switch was clicked. NOTHING. DAMN!!!! It seems like everything is breaking lately. My Oster blender is nearly as old as I am. Mom got it so she could make milkshakes to fatten me up. The cord was dry and crumbly, that had be the problem.

Going through my junk in the workshop I found an old power cord from a long gone radio I was able to use. While I had the thing apart, I disassembled the motor as much as I could to do a cleaning and lubrication of the bearings. That old blender has never had any attention for as long as I can remember. The works got reassembled and the switch was flipped. WHOA!! Does that motor ever spin now! It really chops up the ice! That should be the last time I have to mess with it in my lifetime!

Debbie called while all this was going on. She needed to do some quick shopping and then meet her mom and Jammer for Mexican. This will work out perfect. I’ll ride out with her to Best Buy and then have supper.

Things were quiet at Best Buy. It used to be music would always be blaring in that store. I was able to get a clerk to help me out. He was a great kid. I explained how this was all I-Pod stuff was so foreign to me and how I just needed a unit to listen to at the gym. Nothing fancy, no bells and whistles. He seemed a bit relived when I explained how I researched different units on-line. What threw me off was the inexpensive players were on the bottom part of the rack, pretty much hidden.

The SanDisc was my choice. As I was checking out, Kim and David from the Rowing Club showed up behind me in line. They were laughing seeing what I was buying, as I had mailed out my dilemma earlier in day to my rowing peeps.

We met Sherri and Jammer for Mexican. I love these people so, but their world view is formed by Faux news. It is so narrow. I gave up years ago trying to have an educated discussion with them on current events. Sherri was on a tear about how people were being arrested by the FBI because some virus downloaded kiddie porn to their computers without the knowing it. Any attempt to explain how a firewall or virus protection works was fruitless. The computer is the work of the devil according to her.

As I was typing this out it all came together. Sherri is representative of the “teabagger” movement. These people are seeing the world changed beyond their comprehension. They refuse to grow with the changes: they are frightened and scared.

Enough of this: I need to make up some coffee. Happy thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ergging and Trish's Birthday

It is getting colder now. My Google homepage has the current temperature pegged at 51°. The bedroom where my computer is registers at 60° and the furnace is running as I type this out.

With the temperatures cooling, my Daggy wants to be on my lap as much as possible. I tried to note while she was perched there. However, it is impossible to type an entry with her in that spot. She is now happily curled up on the bed while her “brother” Stumpy is exploring outside.

I met with Alison, Trish, Laurie, Amy, Rachel, and Will to erg at the Aquatic center at 8:00 a.m. We did two 15 minute intervals on the Concept II’s. It is so great to train in a group like this. Truth be told, I was set to call it quits five minutes into the first set! But I had to keep face so I sweated it out and pushed myself. The second interval was a bit easier.

In the room we use above the mirrors we face Alison has posted a large banner type poster of the Alabama Crew with a message at the bottom. I wish I could remember it word for word, but it goes into how competitive rowers hit their aerobic thresholds on the first strokes of a sprint at 52 strokes per minute. That is when the body kicks into the anaerobic mode obtaining oxygen from stored fats in the body.

I remember learning about this when I took a Health and Wellness class back in 2003. It made sense to me back then and now I can actually witness the results first hand. I see so many of the same people at the “Y” working out and not pushing themselves to utilize this concept. I can understand because it is not pleasant while you are doing it. It is so easy to make up an excuse to stop when working out on my own. Rowing with the crew makes me really push myself. There is something to be said about pride. When I finish and know I’ve kept up with the others it really is a feeling of accomplishment.

Today was Trishes birthday. We all went to City CafĂ© for breakfast to celebrate. I made up a CD of some of the horrible music I forced her to listen to going to the Huntsville Race! I also gave her a Metropolitan Paving Brick that I acquired in Defiance, Ohio. We had such a fun breakfast. I was bad and got my favourite of chicken fried steak, white gravy, eggs over easy, grits and biscuits. I know I’ll have all the bad stuff from that meal worked out of my body in a day or two.

I was talking about this commercial at breakfast; I don’t think the gang believed me. Here it is…the cold cream that was made for the “atomic age!”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Morning Entry Sunday

November is half over with already. Where has the time gone?? Today looks to be another stellar and busy day, so I’ll get this entry out early.

Today dawned bright and clear. I wanted to share the view from my bedroom window as the sun was rising. What better way to start the day then seeing Sasanqua blossoms and fire hydrants??!! I’m annoyed I left the rake leaning against the Holly Hydrant! But, this is real life, nothing staged!

Stumpy settled in on the bed after his foray outside in the chilly morning air. Daggy curled up with him making for an idyllic picture opportunity.

The cats love to snuggle into the unmade bed, which gives me an excuse to leave it a mess! Nearly all my possessions have histories behind them: the bedding I use is no exception. The light blue wool blanket originally belonged to my great Aunt Bess on mom’s side of the family. The heavy “natural colour” wool blanket with the black stripes was given to me by “cousin Criss”. She was in the process of moving to an Adult Care facility in the mid 1980’s. I was able to make a trip to her place to help a bit and she loaded me up with stuff. She told me this blanket was acquired on a trip to Scotland to visit family in the late 1930’s. Supposedly it was made from wool harvested from the family’s sheep and was woven not far from the homestead. It is a wonderful blanket I use year around.

I just put another pot of coffee on the stove. These chilly mornings one pot is not enough! I want to have enough left over so I’ll have a supply of stale coffee for iced coffee later on in the day.

I need to get to the boathouse early today to help the collegiate rowers unload the sweeps from the last race of the season. They are such good “kids” I enjoy helping them out.

We masters should have enough people to take out an eight later in the afternoon. I was kind of disappointed we were not able to get out Friday. I know I’ll be tore up after rowing, so this morning entry is the easy way out for me to stay legal in NoJoMo!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Racing in the Head of the Hooch Regatta

Monday afternoon was open for me so I was able to get to the boat house early to unload the boat trailer. John from the varsity crew was there when I showed up. Together we were able to get the oars, stretchers, and small stuff pretty well taken care of.

Once the other people began to show up we were able to get the sweeps unloaded. I was on the trailer lowering the sweeps to those on the ground. I felt like I was 20 years old again hanging off the trailer supports working with the boys!

A good group from the masters club showed up to help rig up the boats. This was the first time we all worked as a group with the collegiate rowers helping them to rig up their boats. This means a lot to me as I don’t want our club to be looked upon as a burden by the collegiate rowers. We are all such novices; I was always intimidated to just jump in. I think that barrier has been broken.

We were moving the rigged up sweeps into the boathouse, Kaley the cox was calling “You lazy guys, get ‘hands on’”. I ran over to help out and she said, “I didn’t mean you Jamie!!!” I had to laugh and I told her to yell at me when ever I needed it, I was just one of the boys!!!

Hurricane Ida officially hit land this morning. It began to sprinkle last night just as we were finishing rigging up the boats from the race. I slept in till 5:00 this morning. It was Stumpy pawing at my nose that finally got me going. It has been a steady rain with gusts of wind blowing the leaves off the trees. This is the perfect morning for a huge greasy breakfast. No better way to start that out then home fries with lots of onions cooked with lots of butter in the cast iron skillet.

Stumpy insisted on making his rounds in the rain. It was a wet cat clawing at the screen to be let into the house at 7:30 a.m. He finished up the last of his wet food and is now curled up on the bed with Daggy.

It is time to pour another cup of coffee and get back to documenting the Regatta in Chattanooga.

The motel had a breakfast set up: Nothing really fancy, bagels, muffins, juice, coffee and the like. There was a crock pot of gravy for biscuits… I was afraid to eat that kind of stuff that has been just sitting around. We all left early to see Charley and Will launch off in the doubles competition. Alison then walked us up to the bridge to scope out the race course.

My stomach was starting to knot up and the anxiety level was rising. We stopped at the registration tent on the way back to the sweeps. I grabbed an apple, banana, orange, and a moon pie. The banana was eaten on the fly, and the apple was devoured before hoisting the boat up.

It took a while to walk to the launching dock. It was quite a sight to see a line of boats in either direction. We passed the safety inspection for the heel ties and bow ball. The launching dock was mayhem. I think I read there was a boat casting off every 20 seconds.

We launched off and began the ordeal of rowing against the current to the starting chute. We worked through drills and exercises in “holding the set”. Poor Tina and Amy our bow pair really had to work. They were the “steering wheel and first gear” to maneuver us around the other boats as they bunched up as we neared the start. With the current being so strong it was impossible to hold steady in any one spot. There was one mansion we passed I don’t know how many times! You want to use the row up to warm up, but still have the bulk of your energy for the race.

Looking downstream it was quite a sight to see the river just filled with boats. All I could think of was the “Miracle at Dunkirk at the start of WWII when every boat available on the English Coast crossed the Channel to France to rescue troops stranded on the beaches of France. Steve who was in Jason’s boat said he counted over 80 boats!

When we rowed across the river I knew it was time to give it my all. This is where time just does not exist. We built up pressure rowing through the “chute” to be at speed when we passed the start line.

In a head race you have to work hard, but you have to be steady to make the end of the race. This is where all the mornings on the Concept II's payed off. There are so many things I’m concentrating on:

Sit tall and look ahead not scrunching the shoulders, stretch over the ankles before moving the knees, slow the seat down, REACH for the rigger for a long stroke, early roll ups, lift at the catch, catch together, don’t dig the blade, RELEASE together…. Really there is nothing to it!

Robin our cox called out drills: ten good strokes for release, ten good strokes for catches, and I see the 1,500 marker. This was where I nearly broke down. I’m so used to rowing in meters on the Concept II’s I’m thinking we had only done 1,500 meters! Dear God, I’ll never last till the end!

We got passed by one sweep and we could see Jason’s sweep gaining on us. This was the main rivalry: the race between Jason and Alison’s boats. Alison was in the stroke seat. She brought the stroke rating up to 29 strokes per minute for the last 1,000 meters of the race. Once I saw the bridge abutments pass by I knew the finish line was not far away. I gave it all I had and prayed I would not catch a crab

We survived the race in one piece. Nobody crabbed or had any disaster. We accomplished what we needed to do. It was a scramble to get off the dock. We were not in the correct positions height wise to make it an easy trip back.

The race results were:

18    00:16:01.1 Black Warrior Rowing Club A              
                    Handicap: 18 seconds
19    00:16:36.7 Black Warrior Rowing Club A                                  Handicap: 27 seconds
20    00:17:01.1 St. Louis Rowing Club C                                      Handicap: 51 seconds
21    00:17:29.6 RocketCity Rowing Club, Inc. B          
                    Handicap: 76 seconds

We did not come in last, and my sweep (Alison’s) won the “rivalry race” by 31 seconds.

With the race over I realized what an experience this has been for me. Getting involved with rowing and this diverse group of people has truly changed my life.

Robin and Alison sent out E-mails in regards to this. I’m just going to copy and paste from those mails to finish out this entry:

Robins E-mail:

Rowing family,

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you for a really great experience this weekend. Twelve months ago, I never would have pictured myself in a boat powering down the
Tennessee River rowing all eight in one of the largest regattas in the country. I never expected to have that kind of opportunity, nor did I ever expect to have the courage to do something like this.

But being with all of you makes the decision to suck it up and try an easy one.

So it might not have looked like it at the end of the race today (I'm still not well; sorry if I looked gloomy!), but despite the hiccups, I was really thrilled with what we did and I just wanted to remind everyone of what, exactly, that was:

  • This was our 4th race ever as a club.
  • This was Chrys's first race as a cox.
  • This was Ken and Kim's first race ever.
  • This was the first time either boat rowed together in full racing line-up as it was meant to be.
  • No one crabbed.
  • No one ran the boat into/perilously close to a navigation buoy.

And for my boat, if you didn't hear it, the dock ref going out complimented you all on your professionalism and timeliness getting the boat up, out, and off.

I know that in the spring for the sprint races, we will face a new set of challenges. I also know that the more we do this as a club, the better and more confident we will become. We will perfect our BWRC cheer and our racing uniforms. We will be stronger in the boat and work harder to find the right ratio and rhythm. We will get more blisters. And you know, we'll have fun doing it.

But I also know that twelve months ago, I never would have been able to say "Yeah, I coxed a boat at the Hooch last year."

Alison’s mail:

Aw man...Robin beat me to the "yay team" email! Darn. Oh turn!!

In short I want to basically reiterate the very same email and give my praises to the entire group for absolutely representing our newly founded club so well! As I have said before, I thought long and hard about taking the team to this kind of event knowing how complicated and hectic it would be, but I felt that despite our novice experience, it needed to be something we should experience!

As I tell all my ACC rowers, with every race you row, learn as much as you can from each mistake and each triumph. Keep these experiences close to you as you grow and learn from them.

Folks, I want to thank you for your continued loving words of thanks to both me and Jason. We appreciate that you take the time to thank us and love us for coaching. We thank you back for giving us your trust and your dedication to make the impossible...possible!

Row Warriors!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saturday Road Trip/Bricks/Regatta

I had such strange dreams last night… I wonder if they were the result of the lactic acid in my muscles. When the alarm went off I was VERY sore getting out of bed!

Anyway, let me document my big weekend. I was on the road Saturday to Chattanooga at 5:00 a.m. I had a stop to pick up paver bricks on the way. My “Google” searches of Craigslist turned up an ad for “street pavers” in Chattanooga at $1.00 ea. I contacted the seller and he told me to just give a call when I get near. This always makes me wary. I’d rather have a destination I can make a map to. He said he had seven dump truck loads of paving bricks.

I called Tom the brick seller from the cheap Pilot gas station at exit 4 off I-59 in Georgia. This is the usual stop for me to get coffee and gas. I was in line to pay for my coffee behind a couple headed to the big Alabama-Louisiana game in Tuscaloosa. They each were checking out with quart bottles of beer at 8:30 a.m.!! I’ll bet they had a fun drive!

I got my directions from Tom to go to Kimball on I-24 and then exit for South Pittsburg. Then ½ mile from the fork look for “The Leak Shop”. I’m assuming this would be a radiator/auto repair shop. I drove the main street of South Pittsburg never locating the shop. I backtracked and tried the other fork with no luck. I just knew this was going to happen!

Getting out my trusty Trakfone I called again. Tom was gone, but I spoke with his wife. Now I had a general knowledge of the area and I knew where she was directing me. It turned out the business name was “Da Sleep Shop” which sells beddings!

Tom and his cousin Jasen arrived shortly after I did. Tom was thrilled in that he squeezed 300 bricks onto his cousin’s pick-up. I KNEW this would be impossible. Even I would not overload my truck this badly. Sure enough, the boys had plain old building bricks. Some of the bricks were embossed as being from DaltonGeorgia on the side. I told them I’d take those ones as I can use them for traders at swaps but not at the paver price. I felt sorry for the guys, they were so crestfallen to learn what they had were nowhere near the value they thought. I gave them $50.00 for about 100 bricks which was more than fair.

Building brick vs a street paver brick

I hightailed it to the motel in Chattanooga. Peter and I were sharing a room which was in my name. I wanted to make sure he would have access to it in my absence. I explained to the desk clerk I knew I was not able to check in… BUT I wanted to get Pater’s name on the reservation. She had her arm in a sling and had to type with one hand. She assured me all was taken care of as I left.

I located our boat trailer on the west side of the bridge abutments a little after 11:00 a.m. Nobody was around, so I headed to the launch & finish line. I was right by the Vespoli tent when Amy called me on the cell phone. She and Tim were on their way, we made arrangements to meet up.

We hooked up and went to the bridges to observe the Alabama crews. Amy told me how earlier she and Alison witnessed a sweep tasking on water and sinking. (I later learned from a referee this sweep had hit a buoy unobserved and stayed in the race. I’m pretty sure that is grounds for disqualification.)

We witnessed a “four” hitting the bridge abutment and an eight hitting one of the markers just before the finish line. What heartbreak to go the entire course and then screw up at the VERY end!

We cheered on the Alabama crews when they passed under the bridges. Not long after we hooked up with Laurie, Tina and crew by the vendor tents. I lost them when I had to make a purchase. An awesome tee shirt!! There is a running joke about being Bi-sweptual and rowing both sides of the boat. The definitions on the back especially the “seat slut” are me!! LOL!

I caught up with the gang and we all headed to the boats so we could start the rigging process. I had a general idea where they were, it was Rachel who came to our rescue and accurately directed us! On the way my cell phone rang. I always jump when that damn thing goes off. It was Peter; the motel will not let him into the room. Why did I know this would happen? I told Peter to tell whoever was at the desk he was on the reservation; it was taken care of by a one armed woman! Once he relayed this information all was fine.

We got the boats all rigged. The more we do that task, the easier it becomes. With all taken care of we went back to watch the races. I was starving. We had passed a vendor stand selling French fries and funnel cakes. I have not had a funnel cake in years. That used to be a staple of mine back in the early 1970’s at Renninger’s Flea market. I used to get one nearly every Sunday when I used to bicycle there from Lancaster.

It was fate; the stand ran out of batter and I got the last one! I was approached by more kids wanting to know where I got the funnel cake. It was my sad duty to report they were no longer available. As I filled up I gave away hunks of the greasy, sugared fried dough to the questioners. The days of me eating a whole portion of that stuff is long gone.

Arrangements were made to meet for supper at a little place near MLK Blvd and 13th Street. Before I headed off, I changed into my Utilikit and new tee shirt! Vague directions again set me astray. I was looking for the intersection of MLK and 13th. It was never relayed the restaurant was on Market St past MLK and before 13th!

Jason was the first to spot me entering. He just shook his head laughing as he always does when I wear the kilt! It was a first for most of the team to see me in the Utilikilt. It made quite an impression. After all that fried dough I was not horribly hungry. A small lasagna and salad were the perfect supper. I would have loved to have had a beer or two, but I don’t want to do ANYTHING to throw off the race Sunday.

I’m getting apprehensive and nervous as to what the outcome will be. Seeing the rowers today, I realized we are really out of our league. If we just finish with both teams in one piece I think that will be an accomplishment.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Regatta and Brick Weekend Coming Up!

We were able to squeeze in a quick practice this morning. We took out the Tenancity, (Not sure of the spelling on this one!) which is the number two boat the club is rowing in the regatta. It is Starboard rigged which can cause confusion as we are so used to rowing the club eight which is rigged for port. Half way through the practice the sound system died. After the problems with the cox box I’m dreading what is wrong. The box in use is the problem one that was repaired. (testing the unit out in another sweep it turned out the wiring in the boat shorted out when the water started to get splashed in! It was a wet row!)

It was a sloppy practice, I was not happy as the sweep was never on a constant level. Not even for a few strokes. Balancing the boat depends on so many different factors. The hand levels of the oars, the timing of how the oars “catch” into the water, the timing of how the oars “release” from the water, the pressure of the rowers legs from right to left as the push back, the center of gravity sliding up on the seat, etc. For something that looks so graceful, easy, and beautiful from a distance, it sure is involved to tie it all together. I think that can be said of so many aspects of life… the things that on the surface to be so obtainable are the hardest to realize.

What makes things so frustrating is how we are never able to row together with the same crew. Life gets in the way so there are always substitutes sitting in for the practices. When you row with the same people you know what to expect from each rower. God, who would have thought a year ago I’d be carrying on like this??!!

I’m so looking forward to the “Head of the Hooch Regatta” this weekend. We will be competing against 20 other boats in our class! No doubt those we beat out in Huntsville will be out to kick our butts.

I plan to arrive early Saturday morning, as I have an appointment to get a mess of bricks! Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Then I want to experience the race. My coach Alison pointed out there will be great and poor rowers there; observe and learn. I also want to be on hand to help the collegiate boys when they cast off. Extra hands are always needed to move oars and whatever to and from the docks at race time. They are always on hand to hand to help us out, I want to be able to do the same.

I need to do a shopping later on. Not something I’m looking forward to. I plan to check around to see if I can find black doo-rags at Wal-mart for my crewmates. With our new black shirts that would be totally intimidating.

I washed out my Utilikilt and am debating if I’ll wear it or not. The mornings are so cool now, but with heavy wool hunting socks, the black long sleeved team shirts and my old beat up work boots, it is a pretty impressive look.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I pulled out to driveway about 5:10 this morning to head to the boathouse. I was VERY angered to see my Stumpy flying across the deserted street. I did not have the time to stop and get him into the house. The MAIN rule is “NO CATS IN THE STREET!” He keeps a wide berth during the day when traffic is heavy and he is never out for the entire night. He has survived this long; I can’t keep him locked up in the house. His life would be so miserable. He is stretched out on the bed as I type this out….

The moon was high in the sky when I unlocked the gate to the boathouse. Robin asked if I could possibly sub for her. I usually show up every row to fill in when needed. I have a key to the gate and there are usually rowers waiting in line for admittance. By me arriving early we have a chance to get oars and launches out before the coaches arrive. That gives the coaches more time to concentrate on the workouts for the day.

Enough rowers showed up for the sweep. Since I rowed Tuesday and Wednesday, I left so other subs could get on the water. I returned home to fix up a nice greasy breakfast of homefries with lots of onions cooked up in the cast iron skillet with half a stick of butter. I saved half my smoked ham from yesterday which was heated through while my egg cooked. I will have to do some serious work at the “Y” later to burn off those calories!

Our teams got together for tee shirts for the upcoming regatta. These are long sleeved with the BWRC down the right side and the team oar design as a stripe across the chest. A black doo-rag really finishes off the ensemble. I tried to get a shot of me wearing the shirt from the mirror on a door. I don’t think I’ll submit this to one of the “dating/hook up” sites! You always see mirror shots with the face covered…. Opps I mean that is what I have heard, I would never go to such a site!!! LOL!

We have gone for quite a spell without rain. My doors, and drawers are closing again as they were meant to do. It is nice t get my house back to “normal”.

Another garbage pick up is history and the mess down the street just gets worse. Soon as I post this entry I’ll call the 311 number again. I know if I were a parent I would be mortified to have my offspring living under such conditions. These kids’ parents are paying about $2,000.00 a month for them to live in these houses. If these students don’t have the common sense to take out the garbage, I don’t think they are getting much out of college.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold Race Saturday 10-17

The sun is actually shining in a clear blue sky. It is still a chilly 51° according to my Google homepage. Just having a bright day raises my spirits. Hopefully things will warm up a bit this afternoon and I can resume work on getting the fire hydrant fixed up. I’m also cleaning up the latest bricks to haul out to the brick swap this weekend.

This entry is to chronicle the regatta from this past Saturday. I’ll document brick stories later!

Saturday October 17, 2009 broke as a gray, damp drizzily rain kind of day. What conditions to drive to Huntsville for a regatta. We had been training for this race in rainy conditions, so we should be prepared. I met Trish at the boathouse at 8:00 a.m. We then drove to Huntsville in my truck.

We did not have to be on site till noon to rig up the sweep. We had enough leeway time to allow us to stop at a Waffle House. Since I already had home fries, bacon and egg for breakfast; I just had a regular Waffle. It was so good, and the coffee was so hot I did not want to leave!

Back on I-65 we drove to exit 328 and took rt 36 to Hobbes Island. Along the way I spied an antique complex. We had enough time to spare to stop and browse. There was not much there I was really interested in, but the merchandise was beautifully displayed. There was a gas heater pumping out heat Trish and I huddled around. This was the warmest we would be for quite a while! The lady at the shop wished us luck in the race as we left into the spitting rain.

We easily found the regatta site. The weather was definitely not cooperating. The wind picked up, gray clouds seemed to hover ever lower, and the dampness permeated into my bones. A positive point was the rain had stopped. I was thinking; “What the Hell am I doing here? I should be home where it is nice and warm. Instead I’m going to tempt fate with the Tennessee River!”

We found where the Alabama Crew boys were set up along the river bank. Some sweeps passed by. Seeing those rowers battling the elements brought everything back into perspective. As a team we have all been in training for this event. I think of how many hours I have spent on the Concept II rowers at the Y for this 5K head race. There is no way I’m going to let the weather deprive me of the chance to make that work and sweat pay off.

The more I learn of my teammates, I realize how unique each member is. It takes a certain type of person to have the dedication and drive to attempt this sport. A tee shirt I once saw pretty well summed it up. “Rowing, if it were easy they would have called it baseball”

Enough people were there to where we were able to get the boat pretty much rigged up by the time Jason and Alison got back from lunch. There are adjustments that need to done by the coaches. The number seven seat was the only rigger that had to be changed. Everything held from the last race.

I went with Alison, Jason, and Robin to view the course and see the updated from the “official’s station”. We were told how the course had been shortened to 4,500K because of the dangerous conditions at the start. For whatever reason I was suddenly hungry. There was a concession tent run by the Huntsville Rowing Club which had warm (I can’t say Hot!) Chic-fill-a sandwiches. That should hit the spot and give me some extra energy. Usually I enjoy anything that has a fried greasy crust to it. My nervous energy was such I could not taste anything. But, that sandwich did fill me up.

We stayed warm in Will's car till race time. I looked like a street person when it came time to strip down for the race. My socks were heavy wool hunting socks, maroon spandex tights topped off by my black spandex rowing shorts. A long sleeved thermal undershirt, a Pendleton wool shirt with the collar turned up and top button fastened, a dark grey tee shirt over that, and to top it all off: a gray do-rag. Since I was in the bow seat, I had the boat number “88” pinned to my back. As a team we obsessed about having a uniform to tie us all together. In these conditions, we just wanted to keep our core temperatures up. How the kids can survive in their sleeveless spandex is beyond me!

My stomach was in knots as we shoved off the dock. When we left the shelter of the docking area and entered onto the Tennessee River panic almost set in. This river was HUGE, the current was FAST, and there were whitecaps. We are so spoiled rowing in the Black Warrior River. That body of water is so calm even under bad circumstances. These conditions are the worst I have ever rowed in.

We did rotations and drills to the start of the course. We were rowing against the current so we had to row easy so to save our strength for the race. The starting area was a mess. Now I understand why the course was shortened. This is an open area that under today’s conditions is a mess of currents. The Alabama novice crew was 83. We got to cheer them on through the “chute” as we waited our turn. The race marshals’ rule here and you have to follow their orders. For whatever reason, they did not allow us to enter upstream from the “chute”. At the end of the “chute” is where you want to be up to speed as that is when your time starts. They had us turn right into the entrance of the chute. We were not up to speed when our time started.

This is where the adrenaline kicked in. Will was in stroke seat. He rowed collegiate back in the 1990’s and was the only truly “experienced” rower on the crew. The water is so choppy I petrified of “catching a crab”. Robin called out strokes and counts to urge us on.

Rowing a head race is so different from sprints. You need to ration out your energy so you are not dead at the last part of the race. The bulk of the course was in the channel between Hobbes Island and the shoreline. The last section of the race was in the open river. Once we left the security of that channel we were bounced around by the rough water. We had the current with us, but we were rowing into the wind. The choppy water hit into the oar riggings nearly over the boat gunnels.

We were in the last 500 meters here. We had made the course without catching any crabs, and all went pretty well. I was paranoid at this point of catching a crab: right at the bitter end and spoiling everything for the team. I dug in and gave it all I had. I was never so relieved to hear an air horn as I was to hear that blast which signaled we had made the end of the course.

Almost at the finish line....

Rowing on the feather....Robin (cox) Will, Steve, Laurie, Dana, Ted, Rachel, Trish, and Jamie in bow with the 88 boat number on his back.

Docking and getting the sweep back to the stretchers was all done in a blur. We had competed against three other boats. As long as we were not last was all I was hoping for.

I was getting into dry clothes at my truck when I heard a “Whoop”, and cheering. I ran to the sweep to learn we had taken first place! It was a definite win… even with taking away our handicap.

Race times:

What a feeling of elation and accomplishment! We are going to have to train even harder now for the next regatta in a few weeks. The other masters teams are going to be out to kick out butts!!

What a team! Thanks to Dana's hubby Henry for the pictures!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Coached Erg / Fun With the Fire Hydrant

The incessant gray, dampness and rain is really getting me down. There is nothing that can be done about the weather but I’ve had enough of these gloomy days.

Ever the optimist, I hung out a load of laundry on the line yesterday before daybreak. I was pleasantly surprised that things were pretty dry when I took them down right at sundown.

I’ve been working on getting the newest fire hydrant restored up. Once it is installed I’d like to have a fall party in the back. I was in a quandary on how to configure the base. I did not want to sacrifice any of my good signed pavers to be all cut up. Just plain cement, even with a topping of pea gravel would not have looked right. Here I go being anal again!

Then I remembered the ½ bricks I had in the fancy design. I have no plan for them; they have been stashed away buried under the ivy in the back by the Camelliea bush.

The brick saw got set up again to cut these bricks to fit around the pipe. I love doing this fussy work. I happily fussed and obsessed the afternoon away messing with this job.

Once the bricks were cut, mortar was mixed and they were installed onto the base. Plastic was placed over to protect against the imminent rain.

This morning I erged at the AquaticCenter with our coach Alison, and team mates Amy, Trish, Rachel, and Tina. I have never done a coached erg session before. Usually I just strap into the machines at the Y and go at it. Alison had a good “techno’ set of music for us to row to. I’ll have to bring in my Wing CD for the next time!

The Concept II rowers were lined up in front of the mirrored wall, the time was set to 30 minutes. The stroke rating was at a 20 and every five minutes it was brought up to a 28 and applying pressure. This was just like rowing in the sweep. Alison was the stroke seat and we all followed. It took lots of concentration to keep at the rate and not speed up.

It was a great workout. Right after the session I met a group of my old co-workers at Wrights for breakfast. This is a wonderful hole in the wall place. Their western omlette is my favourite. I get this every time I eat breakfast here. They put everything into this concoction. When you cut into it the grease just runs out. Add grits and biscuits and it is near heaven!

I made quite an impression on the boys showing up right from the gym in my spandex and ancient Nautilus Tee shirt.

From Wrights I had to head out to do shopping. My food situation at home was pretty sad. First I checked out the Alabama Thrift Store. I took a chance on a glass blender jar and cap. The cap for my old Oster blender has been missing for too many years. They are available, but by the time you get just the lid and add shipping you are up near $20.00. This was $1.50 so if it does not work out, I won’t be out that much.

Got my groceries at Wal-mart and Sam’s. There were not a lot of people out. I swear I spent more time sorting through the Fancy Feast for the cats to get the stuff they like than I did getting my groceries!

On the way home I had to make a special trip to Manna to get my Big Sky 3 grain Bread. That stuff is so good. Believe me, if I spend $7.00 on a loaf of bread that is saying a lot! It is so dense and heavy half a sandwich fills me up as much as a whole sandwich of the “mushy chemical bread”.

Once I packed away the groceries I tried out the new blender jar. It fit perfectly! YAY!!! Now I can make my iced coffees blended up without having to hold a plastic plate on the top as a make shift lid. That reminded me so of a skit Judy had on beta from a locally produced TV show. It was called “Cooking With Esther”. This guy was in horrible Aunt Jemima blackface drag hosted a cooking show. This episode he was cooking up “chicken necks and pearly little rice”. Everything was dumped into a pot… “If you don’t have a lid, you just use a plate and put a hammer on top of it.” I have searched the internets to see if this clip is out there someplace. No luck so far…..

The rain held off this afternoon allowing me to work on the hydrant. I was able to dismantle the top cap to facilitate stripping the paint. I had enough Strypeese left over from the porch roof project last year to get me started.

I was amazed how quickly this stripper ate into the paint. There is not much on this hydrant. I think whoever installed this in that Michigan front yard all those years ago, did a good job cleaning it up. The paint removal should be a fairly routine operation.

With the paint gone, the monogram is so crisp. MIB which stands for Michigan Iron and Brass works.

I happened to check out the calendar and realized I’ll be on the road to the Brick Swap in Cleburne, Texas next week! This month is flying by…..

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday Road Trip/Columbia Graphophone

No rowing today. This message was in my E-mail box last night: Row tomorrow is cancelled due to high waters and the ramp being pulled. Damn!

This constant rain is wearing me down. Monday I drove to Tupelo, MS in the steady rain. I was on a mission to examine and purchase a Columbia “Peerless BF” Graphophone from a collector friend.

When you are a collector it seems you are always in a state of flux. Speaking for myself, I’m always working to upgrade my collection. Last June I purchased a phenomenal cylinder record cabinet: A rare style I have never had an opportunity to acquire. Looking like a chest of drawers, five drawers house standard sized cylinder records. The bottom drawer is 6” high to accommodate the new 6” cylinder records introduced by the Columbia Graphophone Co in 1906. These rare cylinders increased the playing time of a standard cylinder from two to three minutes. Columbia’s competition in the cylinder phonograph field, Edison, increased the playing time of a standard cylinder record to four minutes by doubling the record groove spacing from 100 to 200 per inch. As a consequence the 6” Columbia cylinders were only in production for a short period of time. Graphophones* and accessories related to this sort lived “improvement” are very scarce to find today. *Thomas Edison controlled the use of the term “Phonograph” which is a combination of: Phono=voice and Graph=write.

An improved Columbia Cylinder record next to a “standard” cylinder record.

The furniture factories in the early 1900’s produced vast amounts of furniture in “golden oak”. Much of this furniture was cheaply made and of questionable style. It was not till the nostalgia craze of the 1970’s that oak furniture began to be appreciated.

Early phonographs mimicked sewing machines of the day. The decals on the front that are so highly prized today were scorned by the "classy people" as being gaudy and blatant advertising. Painting the phonograph horn with flowers gave a real Victorian air to these modern players.

Hopefully I will be able to have the flower paintings duplicated to the plain horn by a talented artist....

Quarter sawn oak exposes the “ray flake” the decorative wavy pattern prominent in quartersawn wood. This is sometimes called “tiger stripe oak”. The older the tree, the larger the ray flake. Quatersawing lumber is quite wasteful; hence furniture boasting being made of quatersawn lumber was always sold at a premium. The last stands of first growth virgin oak trees were exhausted in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The tree this veneer came from must have been HUGE!

Armed with this knowledge I have a greater appreciation of the woods used in old furniture and building. The quality of the virgin growth lumber logged 100 years ago will never be equaled.

The sun is actually shining as I finish up this entry. I took a chance and hung up a load of laundry on the line before daybreak. Hopefully it will fully dry before the rain returns tonight.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Big Race

This rain has been such a pain. I was finally able to dig a hole for the pipe to house the newest fire hydrant. I had saved the forms from the last two bases I constructed, so it was an easy operation to pour the concrete and level it out.

In building the brick surround, the last brick to be installed had an overhang of about 3/8’s of an inch. This will not do. Rather then relay all the other bricks; I decided to just shave off that offending excess. That overhanging brick was really not that big a deal. But, it annoyed me so that I would forever be cursing the fact I did not fix it. To make that one cut on the brick entailed me going through the aggravation of setting out the brick saw and then tearing it all apart again. I sometimes wish I were not so anal about that kind of thing. It sure would make my life easier!

The best part of the job was getting “high” off the Sweet Olive which is in full bloom now. It is hard to believe such tiny white blossoms can emit such a strong sweet odour. The aroma permeates the house from the open windows in the back. The small olive I planted just outside my bedroom is now mature enough to have lots of blooms so I drift off to sleep now to that smell…..

Friday Rachael and I drove to Chattanooga together for the big Chattanooga Head Race. This will be the first race I’ve ever coxed and I’d been a wreck worrying about the outcome. There has been so much rain; the Tennessee River was high with a real strong current. The weather reports were for rain and storms.

Right before getting on the road, my cousin “Tootie” called and we had a nice visit. “Tootie” is in poor health, but a real trooper. She promised to pray to Saint Jude for our race to go well. She assured me they were on good terms.

Driving up just before exit 205 on I-59 the traffic stopped. There had been a horrible wreck and the last of that mess was getting cleared up. I had to get a picture to document the wait for this entry. The trucker next to us explained the easiest way to detour in case we had to get off at exit 205. What a nice guy. He wished us luck in the race! Slowly the traffic began to move, and work up to the speed limit. When we passed the guys taking up the work cones, I know we were home free for a little while.

Just outside Chattanooga we hit rain. UGH! In typical fashion it seems traffic just speeds up under these circumstances. I had to hit the brakes a few times to avoid rear ending the vehicle in front of me as they slowed to gawk at the many fender benders lining I-24.

We got to the launch site and located the sweeps for Alabama Crew, alone with our boat. Nobody was around, so Rachael and I wandered the area in search of a Starbucks. We easily found it and I luxuriated in a coffee and we split a chocolate brownie.

We joined up with the rest of the crew and got to work rigging up the sweep. I wanted to be sure we did that work ourselves. I did not want the Alabama crew guys doing that. As clubs we work together, I don’t want us to be seen as a burden by them. Jason and Alison showed up to do the technical spread and oarlock adjustments.

The weather report for our Saturday race was NOT good. The river was flowing FAST and the clouds were rolling in as we split off. The womens team booked rooms off I-75. It was awkward with me being the only guy, I sprung for my own room downtown. I got a great deal at a Days Inn not far from the race through Priceline. Ted showed up for the race so we split the room cost. For some reason I got an upgrade on the room. I’ll not complain about that.

The weather alert beeped through on the TV of dangerous thunderstorms. It figures, Ted and I had to drive to the other side of the city to join the crew for dinner at Applebee’s. What a drive. It was sheets of rain falling. Traffic was slowed to 35-40 mph at the max on I-75. I’m not that keen driving at night to begin with, let alone under these conditions. We arrived safely and joined everyone.

I had one beer to calm my nerves and water for the rest of the night. God forbid anything happen and you have a blood alcohol over .08. A bacon cheeseburger was my supper. That should hold me just fine.

Saturday morning dawned with a steady light rain. If we have to do the race in the rain, that should not be too bad. Alison wanted us at the launch site at 6:45. She wanted the entire crew to be at the Captain and Coxes meeting at 7:30. I packed in such a hurry I forgot to pack a jacket… Alison loaned me a hooded sweatshirt which greatly helped.

There were over 300 boats registered for the Head Race. The organizers wanted all the novice coxes to be in front. I was up there with the high school and younger kids. I told them we were all in the same boat!

The race course was explained and the river currents described. At this point my stomach was one huge knot. We were #18 in the race and had to be in the first wave of departing boats. We launched off a floating dock after passing the safety inspection for foot stretchers and the bow ball. We had to shove off before I even got the cox box hooked up so I had to really yell to get us turned around. I was warned of a tree limb floating just under the surface I could not see directly ahead of us. A great way to start: I was a wreck…..

Afternoon congestion at the dock:

The dock we launched from is the same we finish at. We had to row upstream the entire race course on the left side of the river. We worked through drills ending up rowing pretty much the entire distance with all eight. Alison was in the stroke seat and walked me through calling out what was needed. It takes a LOT of stamina and strength to do this kind of race: we were up against some heavy competition.

We had to get in some sort of a line upstream from the start. The 19 team was with us, we were missing the 17 sweep. Finally they crossed the river and we followed them. I hit the reset on the cox box and for whatever reason it stopped registering the stroke rate. We trained at a 26 rating Going down the “chute” This is where you build up speed and passing the line you hear “Mark” and you are in the race.

Alison coached me on the calls. I was concentrating on not riding the rudder and obsessing on not crossing a lane marker. I was constantly reminding ports to check down and starboards to watch hand levels: not having the cox box to check the stroke rate was driving me frantic.

Push through the legs, upper body swing, tap out with your elbow and the never ending DON’T RUSH YOUR SEATS was my harangue through the race. I was in constant apprehension of Rachael catching a crab….EARLY ROLL UPS!!! Melissa WATCH YOUR RELEASES…. GET A BIG STRETCH!!! At the 3,500 meter mark was when things began to blur. Rachael noticed it, when my calls went off. I was sweating, my vision was getting blurred and that lightheaded feeling was hitting me. Was it from hyperventilating or the pressure? I had to hang in there and finish the race. I recovered and we completed the race without any real mishap. The crew did well and we stayed on course.

We did not row strong and as a consequence did not place. But, we were not last. We were 5th out of 7. Basically we accomplished what we originally set out to do which was to complete that first head race in one piece.

The weather held for the rest of the day. It did not rain on our race, we completed it without mishap. I need to thank cousin “Tootie” and Saint Jude. They both came through for us!

Jamie Tina Rachel, Melissa

Rachel, Amy, Tina, Melissa, Trish

Our coaches Jason and Alison with the Alabama Crew boys..


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.