Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March going out like a Fish?

Some serious rain going on out there right now. I'd use the word monsoon, but I'm not sure you can call it that if it's only 42 degrees. Just plain nasty out there. As you can see, Mom Nature's wrath spared no one around here - basements, riverbanks, and Easter window displays alike.

Lucky for the scoopers, it's Easter bunny-making week, so still plenty to do, despite the quiet shop on a day like today. They sell as fast as we make them, so don't wait until last minute for these solid chocolate treats. Better yet, feel free to reserve some ahead...

Speaking of chocolate, this just out. Nicely timed. Chocolate could reduce heart risk.
From the study:
They found people who had an average of six grams of chocolate per day -- or about one square of a chocolate bar -- had a 39 percent lower risk of either a heart attack or stroke. The study is scheduled to be published Wednesday in the European Heart Journal.

Don't know if straight sugar is good for the heart exactly, but these panorama eggs are still pretty cool...

What would an Easter basket be around here without a couple of our crowd favorite Chocolate-covered Marshmallow Peeps? Here they are in white...

Enjoy the rain. Rumor has it, great weather is just around the corner. In the meantime, here's some potentially useful information for today.

FYI: On account of the predicted nice weather, Mt. Tom's will be open from 3pm until 8pm on Easter Sunday.

See you soon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Run Jim Run.

Image by Patrick Brough.

It probably seems a distant memory as you look out your window right now, but was that some weekend or what. Temps well into the 70’s. Bright sunshine. Warm breezes. Doesn’t get much better than that around here. And for it to fall right on St. Paddy’s Day weekend, well, what more could you ask for in March. Here at Mt. Tom’s, we had lines out there door all weekend and shattered all the ‘off-season’ records. It was something, and our forearms are all still recovering. I know it seems odd to hope for rain on your day off, but Monday’s weather the perfect rest for the weary. No pressure to open up shop for another unseasonably warm day. A much needed recovery day for one slightly beat up ice cream guy and crew.

I hope you got outside to enjoy it. If you were like many around here, you probably spent a good part of your weekend in Holyoke at either the St. Paddy’s Day parade, one of the largest in the United States, or at the annual St. Paddy’s Day 10K race. I wasn’t able to get to the parade this year, but I was there for the race on Saturday. I will defer to my friend Patrick Brough, Easthampton’s photo/video man about town, for coverage of that. If you haven’t heard, there’s a group of folks organizing, planning, and fund-raising for a summer celebration to commemorate Easthampton's 225th Anniversary. I’ll have much more on that soon. For now, click here for more info or join their group on Facebook. The group put together an awesome float for the parade, masterminded by local sign extraordinaire Clay Crow.

Image by Patrick Brough.

I’m sure the parade was a blast as always, but I’m here to talk about the race. It was a 10K (6.2 miles for non-metric types). I’d often heard it was a really fun race. Thousands of runners and spectators. Huge party at the end. A few friends had been talking about it for a month or two and were not-so-subtly exerting peer pressure on me to run with them. It was a tempting idea, but 10K just always seemed out of my range. Heck, I’d never run more than 4 miles in my entire life. I’m a casual jogger, although I will get a little more serious a few weeks before one of local 5K’s I do most years. Thanks to fairly decent late winter weather and a bit more free time with the off-season pace, I was able to extend my usual 2 ½ to 3 mile jogs to 3 ½ sometimes 4 miles, although I never actually measured it. With race day weather shaping up to be one of the best ever, I figured it was now or never. Next thing I knew I was nervously picking up my number, t-shirt, and timing chip at the Wherehouse in Holyoke.

I won’t deny my anxiety level was high as I anxiously waited along with 5200 others for the announcement to line up at the starting line. I’d heard all the stories about what a tough course it was – the two mile uphill climb near Holyoke Community College (HCC) then another decent-sized hill just before the finish. ‘6.2 miles’ rattled around in my head. I wasn’t sure how my legs and lungs would feel after I pushed past my usual 3.1 mile finishing point. I’d trained for it, but was just three weeks or so of running, three times a week enough? And what about this crazy weather – was it actually too warm? Should I drink water now or not? When should I start stretching? I commiserated with a couple friends and fellow runners. One said ‘don’t worry, it’ll be fine’ and the other seemed to share my pre-race jitters.

After what seemed like forever, the announcement finally came. ‘First call for runners to line up at the starting line.’ In calm, cool fashion, my friends and I waited for second call before we started our wander over to the now jam-packed starting line. It’s hard to imagine five thousand people standing together on a small stretch of road until you’re actually in the middle of it. A sea of humanity in gym shorts and running shoes, hopping in place and chattering anxiously. I just wanted it to finally start. I was more than ready to convert my nervous energy into forward motion. A helicopter flew overhead. Not the F15 flyover I’d been hoping for, but still kind of cool. ‘Bang!’ and the race was on.

We didn’t actually start moving for a couple minutes, about the time the elite runners were nearly a mile into the course. This was fine, since we all had little chips on our shoes to click on our own individual time clocks when we passed the electronic starting line and finally click off when we crossed the finish – a place that felt about as far away as China at that moment.

The first mile was pretty sweet. Thousands of people lined the street. The cheering was deafening. A slight incline on that first straightaway gave you a view of the incredible mass of runners tightly making their way up the street. It was an amazing site and one that made me happy I pushed through my apprehensions about running it. I was still nervous about the next 5 miles, particularly the HCC hill, but I was running which felt much better than the idle waiting I’d endured for the past couple hours.

I had two goals in my head when I started. To finish and to not walk. I secretly hoped to break one hour, but having never run a full 10K, I had no idea whether that was in my realm of possibility, especially for such a warm day on such a hilly course. Having trained primarily in Easthampton, Ferry Street was the biggest hill I’d seen in the past month. I began the run with a few buddies but quickly lost them in the crowd of runners and noise of the spectators. This was planned. If I had any strategy at all, it was that I was just going to ‘run my own race’. I had hoped to find inspiration and motivation from the crowds and fellow runners, but I was competing with no one but myself. I had nothing to prove to anyone but me. A hilly, warm 10K in front of thousands of people was my challenge, and although I knew pain was coming, like most things in life worth doing, it felt good to step off the sidelines and participate.

‘Showing up is half the battle.’

My self-congratulating stage of the race was soon interrupted by the start of the dreaded two mile uphill climb. I settled into a comfortable pace and tried not to look forward too far at foreboding mountain that lay ahead. The sun beat down on my face as I turned up the music to distract me from the impending pain. The crowd had thinned considerably, but we runners were still pretty tightly packed together. As it would turn out, the field never really spread out much. There were just too many runners. The first uphill mile wasn’t bad. I scanned the crowd for familiar faces and interesting characters. It seemed I was enjoying the ride. Who would have thought. I turned up the music and wondered if I was actually in that runner’s ‘high’ people always talk about.

That first big hill flattened out, just as it was starting to hurt. ‘Hey, this course isn’t so bad,’ I thought to myself. As if it heard me mutter this, it started to incline again. And it wouldn’t stop for a good mile and a half. I dug in as the pain I’d dreaded arrived like an uninvited guest at dinnertime. A number of runners around me became walkers. Others stopped and crowded around the first water station like a lost band of desert wanderers to a watery oasis. I mumbled my first mantra ‘I will not walk. I will not walk.’ I tried to remain in the moment and focus on everything around me and not the thought of the pain of the next mile’s climb or the three miles of pavement that lay beyond that. I thought of Lance Armstrong. ‘Pain is temporary. Quitting is permanent.’ I thought of my friend with cancer and what kind of pain he endured on a daily basis. I thought of what it would feel like to be at the finish line, savoring the accomplishment with a cold beer and good friends. I drank up the metaphor like a tall glass of iced tea. Challenges in life hurt, but they make you stronger. They are what you prepare for. They are also what make you appreciate the good stuff. I exhaled my metaphoric moment and took inspiration from a man cheering from the side of the road. He had a U.S. Army t-shirt on and a pair of fatigue shorts that did nothing to conceal the prosthesis leg that kept him upright. I was in fairly significant pain, but grateful at the same time. The next half hour wouldn’t be much fun, but I would get through it, feel good about it, and perhaps even write about it.

I eventually did make it up that hill, rewarding myself with a little plastic cup of water and a dash through a sprinkler spray at the next water stop. I smiled as I looked ahead, for the first time in about a mile, to see a very happy sight, a welcoming long downhill. I picked up my pace a little, using the decline to make up a little time. I knew there was one more decent sized hill to go, so I was careful not to get too carried away. And the vain side of me wanted to be able to have a little left in the tank for what I expected would be huge crowds and a few familiar faces along the final finish. That downhill mile was almost fun. As the pain subsided from the big climb, I took the opportunity to enjoy the moment, the crowd, the other runners, and the simple fact I had survived the toughest part of the race.

Well, you’re probably tired of being in my head by now, so I’ll try to wrap things up. There was one more hill before the final turn onto the home stretch. It wasn’t nearly as long and steep as the HCC climb, but in some ways, even tougher. There just wasn’t much left in the tank, I had no idea how big the hill was, and I just wanted my running metaphor to be over. But despite my mind and body screaming, ‘just walk, who cares!’ I kept running. The crowd started to get bigger. I dug deep.

Then came the final turn. Like an answer to my prayer, the first thing that came into view was the giant banner hanging across the street, ‘Finish’. The second thing I saw was the huge crowd lining the final stretch. Thousands of cheering fans - clapping, yelling, blowing horns, banging cowbells. It was pure and delightful mayhem. That was all I needed. My body hurt, but a dose of adrenaline kicked in as I turned it on for the final dash to the finish line. I was exhausted and overheated, but my goal was in sight. I looked up at the time clock as I crossed the finish and smiled as my lungs took in as much air as I could supply. I smiled, not because of the time on the clock, but simply because I had done it. The time was irrelevant. Like money or trophies, it’s a way to keep score, but it’s a happiness that’s fleeting. Doing something you’d never done before, something that’s not easy, yah, that felt pretty good.

Image by Patrick Brough.

As did the cold beverage with friends and thousands of strangers at the finish line.

Thanks for staying with me on that, have a great day. So are you in for next year’s race?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Feels Like Spring.

Starting to look like Spring.

Let's just flash foward to Saturday.

And call it Spring.

It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Hope you get out to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Paddy's Day to you.

Well, after a few crazy days and nights of wind-swept rain, we now get to enjoy a nice stretch of real Spring-like weather this week. And wouldn't you know, a St. Paddy's day thrown right into the middle of the week for good measure. I hope a good corned beef and cabbage, along with a frothy Guinness or some other green beer is in your plans for today. And if none of those St. Paddy's favorites thrill you, might I say this is shaping up to be the perfect March ice cream day. Mid-60's and wall-to-wall sunshine. Come on down. It's probably on the way home anyway...

And in the spirit of St. Paddy, I just made a fresh batch of Guinness ice cream yesterday. That'll be good to go for noon today and should be around all week, just in case your St. Paddy's party isn't until this weekend, perhaps to go with the Holyoke St. Paddy's parade.

Did I also mention we've still got some Maple Bacon ice cream left too, the perfect compliment to maple sugaring/pancake breakfast at the sugar house season going on right now.

In any event, enjoy the day, and hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hello Spring, are you sure you can't stay?

Took a little morning hike up to the top of Mt. Tom on my day off yesterday. The light wasn't perfect, because I didn't get a very early start, but it was my day off, and that just wouldn't be right. In any event, thought I'd share a few shots from the top.

The plains...

One More...
You may have already noticed, unless you were the one person in town who wasn't outside during this beautiful weekend, our friend the Nashawannuck Pond is back from her extended vacation and makeover. Can't say for sure when the fish will return (or will be returned), but we'll keep you posted.

The town beach side of the pond got most of the dredging. It'll be interesting to see what it's like this summer, when that side is usually chock full o' weeds. I promise to provide a kayak-view report on that sometime in late July.

In the meantime, here's the 'town beach', which is looking a bit muddy at this point. It seems like it'll need a few truckloads of sand to actually look like a beach. But that seems weird, the thought of actually putting sand into a newly dredged pond, sorta like driving your car through the mud right after you took it to the car wash.

Hope you're enjoying the fine weather. The pace in the shop has certainly picked up. And I just happen to be well stocked with interesting flavors... Strawberry cheesecake, Guinness, Mocha chip, Leprechaun Tracks (mint with chocolate fudge, rainbow sprinkles, & colored mini marshmallows), Girl Scout Mint, and, wait for it, maple bacon.
I know you're curious...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Go Buy a Flick, or three.

Well, you've probably already heard by now through the giant broadband pipe that is the local grapevine, our buddies Liz and Tim are closing up shop for good. They gave it a great little run, and I, for one, will miss their presence on Cottage Street. Like the end of Night Owl Records a few years ago, Pick Your Flick too became a victim of technology's relentless forward progress. It's just too easy to watch a movie now, thanks to industry-changer Netflix, cable movies on-demand, and the ever-growing number of on-line options. Heck, you can watch a movie on your phone now. So who's got time to actually 'go' to a bricks-and-mortar store to rent something. As a long-time Netflix subscriber, aside from keeping Tim and Liz caffeinated and sugared up, I take my own share of blame for PYF's shuttering.

I've spoken to Tim a few times, and sure, he's disappointed and a little sad about having to end a venture that he truly was passionate about. This guy knows and loves moves, as does his super-cool wife Liz. His competitive advantage, and a primary reason to go to PYF as opposed to that other big box video store (that's also going away soon), was his impressive movie knowledge and general outgoing good nature. Walking into PYF was like going to a friend's house. 'Hey Tim, what do you think of this one? Give me an idea for a scary movie.' It was that interaction with Tim, Liz, and young Gwen that made going to PYF fun. And if you never took the time to go, I believe you missed out.

I suppose there's some long commentary to be made about the downside of technology and the internet relative to how it's making such small town, mom and pop type gathering places obsolete. I'm fairly certain the upside of the many new and exciting ways we have to communicate and do stuff, like watch movies, does outweigh the down. Who could have even imagined the idea of a blog just a few years ago. But you can't help but get a little nostalgic when you see good people fall victim to progress, and while we continue to get more connected, we become just a little less connected at the same time.

Please go down to Pick Your Flick this weekend, or next, 10-6pm, to buy yourself a couple of your favorite movies for cheap. And say thanks to Liz, Tim, and Guen for pursuing their passion, and albeit for a finite period of time, making our cozy little town just a bit more cool.

Here's the full article over at the Gazette. You may need a subscription to see though. Or just go pick up today's Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Good luck to Liz, Tim, & Gwen with whatever lies ahead. Congrats on three years of peddling movies and good cheer. Many people talk of starting their own biz, but you went ahead and did it, and for that you're a success in my book.

Monday, March 01, 2010

My Hero.

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are now officially closed. After a couple weeks of entertaining, inspiring, intriguing, and sometimes heartbreaking sports theater, the torch has been extinguished, and these games have gone out the way they came in - part giant Vegas show, part multi-media commercial for the host country, and part tribute to the hard work and dedication of the world's most elite athletes in the sports of winter. I must admit, these Olympics nearly had it all. Public tragedy. Inspiring perseverance and focus amid personal tragedy. Controversy. Malfunctions, mistakes, and miscues. Heartbreaks. A plethora of American success stories. And although it went to the country where hockey stars are worshipped like baseball players, a USA/Canada final provided the finale organizers have been fantasizing about for years. Being able to watch in HD this time made it all that much more fun to watch, almost as if you were hanging over the edge of the halfpipe as boarders completed fancy tricks overhead. Sure, there were tons of commercials, and we often knew outcomes before we tuned in at primetime, but for these past couple of dark and wintery weeks of February, it’s been a most enjoyable distraction.

Aside from being great sports entertainment, it really is inspiring to watch these athletes compete against each other at such a high level. Sure, they're representing their own country, but when it comes right down to it, each competitor is there to prove to themselves and the world that they are truly the best at what they do. It's downhill skier against downhill skier, boarder against boarder. Each individual has dedicated their life to the pursuit of excellence in their chosen sport. I have no doubt each loves what they do, whether it be skiing, skating, sledding, or even curling. I envy these athletes who are able to muster the time, means, and drive to fine tune their abilities to such a high level. For every 'fun' downhill run, though, I can only imagine the hundreds of hours of grueling weight training, cardio, study, instruction, competition, travel, personal expense, and self-sacrifice, not to mention after all those years of preparation to be able to stay mentally focused enough to perform your absolute best on one specific week, day, run, skate. While the entire world watches. For that, these athletes deserve to all the attention and adoration they receive. These are our modern day gladiators and heroes to be celebrated. When Shawn White went all out on that second run in the half-pipe snowboard competition final, having already won the gold medal, yet still completed the trick the world was dying to see and that only he could do, and by doing so pushing the envelope of what’s possible in his sport, I couldn’t help but be inspired.

When Canada’s Christopher Del Bosco crashed during the snowcross final because he wasn’t satisfied with the idea of just a bronze medal, pushing it a little too hard, I was inspired.

When Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette completed a nearly flawless performance just two days after the tragic death of her mother, I was inspired.

And when Petra Majdic, the Slovenian nordic athlete, went on to winning a bronze in cross-country skiing, I was inspired. This she accomplished after crashing into a gully during a training run, then climbing out of that gully with two broken poles, four cracked ribs, and collapsed a lung. Under unimaginable pain, she skied three more races, coming away with a bronze medal, which she was received while in a wheelchair.

The list goes on, but that's not really what I came here to talk about. You see, besides watching the Olympics this weekend, I also attended a wedding. It was the wedding for a good friend. A young man I most often refer to as my 'little brother' or 'little' as commonly referred to in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. If you've ever picked up my little coffee table book called 'Hand-me-downs - Some just slightly used tips on life for my little brother', you may remember I'm a big brother in that program. Rather, I was a big brother a number of years ago. When I met Ted, he was just eight years old. He had a few learning challenges but more than made up for that in street smarts and a general good nature, despite the many challenges he'd already faced in those first eight years. His parents struggled with drugs and various entanglements with the law, and as a result, were deemed unfit. As a result, Ted and his younger three brothers were being raised by their grandparents. The six of them lived sardined into a small three bedroom house in desperate need of repair, most of which took a back burner to more basic needs such as food and clothing for four growing boys. Thankfully, when the boys were taken away from their parents a number of years before that day I first met Ted, their grandparents had jumped in to help. In their own words, ‘We just couldn't see these kids, after all they'd been through already, split up into different foster homes.’

As I sat in the artificially darkened function hall near Ted’s neighborhood, I couldn't help but swell with pride for my now grown-up little brother. He had made it through an adolescence filled with thorns. Playing big brother himself to three younger brothers in desperate need of a strong father figure while himself managing to avoid the many bad things that seem to find vulnerable kids these days, he was still standing. And standing tall, right next to a beautiful young lady about to be his bride. Her name is Juli-Anne, a pretty young woman who recognized the goodness that has arisen from the ashes of an extremely challenging beginning. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the room who felt like a proud parent as we watched our 'Teddy' and Juli-Anne profess their love to each other.

His life could have easily taken a much different turn. Over the past few years, his parents have continued to struggle, while Ted has watched his family grow by three, helplessly having to watch his own history repeat itself with three new little sisters. Each time, his parents inevitably became again unfit and his grandmother swooped in to save the children and the day. As Ted now leaves grandma’s nest, she continues to find the energy to raise more children, despite now entering her 60's. As I sat next to Ted's newest siblings, a couple of cute twin four year old girls, all I could do was shake my head.

The real moment of that wedding day for me was not when Ted danced the ceremonial slow dance with mom, although that was touching in its own way. I can’t know for sure, but I sensed that hers were tears of regret. Rather, it was when he was dancing with his grandmother. It was her love and strength that provided the sunshine under the dark shadow cast by his mother's weaknesses. Despite having already raised five children of her own, and barely having the means to provide for herself and her husband, she somehow selflessly found a way to provide her six grandkids the privilege of a normal childhood. I can really only speak for my little brother Ted, but for him, she has made all the difference. She'll never get a multi-million dollar glitzy ceremony or a medal draped over her neck, that's just the way it is. Come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t want the attention anyway. And that’s certainly not why she’s dedicated her life to these great kids. She did it out of sheer love. Just love. It didn't matter that they were her kid's kids. She could have retired to her little condo on the Maine coast or fixed up her deteriorating home, but instead she chose all the responsibilities of a parent, not once again, but six times again. She did it, and continues to do it, with an unassuming grace, and despite more than a few challenges with each of the kids along the way, she seems to hold no bitterness toward her own daughter or the world.

I believe we all have our own role to play during our brief time here. Some are destined to be able to do triple flips on a snowboard and be rewarded with adoration and a lifestyle befitting a king, while others live a life of equal dedication yet are rewarded in more meager ways such as a quiet moment before bed, a colorful drawing taped on the refrigerator, or a tearful dance with their grandson at his wedding.

It seems the world has and needs both, but to me, the real hero this weekend was not Shawn White, Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Ohno, or Bode Miller. I wholeheartedly respect and admire their talent and dedication, along with that of the rest of the athletes at these Olympic games, and I thank them for two weeks of inspiration and gamesmanship at its highest level. No, for me the real hero is, without question, my little brother Ted's grandmother, Claire. Congrats on the marriage of your boy Teddy. He truly couldn't have done it without you, and for that, you deserve gold.

I think you can guess which one she is...