Sunday, September 3

Closing Down

I'm closing down this blog. It's not really working so well. With the old farm blog, I had something very concrete to write about on a daily basis. But now what happens is that I all of a sudden have lots on my mind that I could write about, but it seems like too much to do in one go, and so it gets put off. And then a while passes without much of interest to say. And by the time I get around to writing, what I was going to write seems unimportant - or at least out-of-date. Anyway, I find that when I write, I prefer to write a lot. And blogs are best for those who like to write just a little bit (or more) very often. I don't know about you, but I much prefer those blogs that have something new to read every time I go to them. This blog is not like that and getting even less so. It's probably not good to not like your own blog. So I'm doing away with it.

Fear not, though. I'll still be doing something online, though I'm not quite sure yet what form it will take. Check periodically; something new will pop up I'm sure.

Sunday, July 16


Being awoken at 6:00 in the morning by thunder couldn’t have been more wonderful. It’s been unbearably hot here in the Twin Cities for the past several days. Nineties Thursday and Friday, and all the way up to 100 yesterday. It’s supposed to be 100 again today, but so far it’s dark, raining, and “cool” in the eighties. The weather people say that this afternoon it will clear up and heat up, and the humidity will make it that much worse. But right now I’m enjoying the rain.

So, all sorts of stuff going on:

Ben’s off in Africa now, doing research and hopefully collecting cave rocks (speleothems) for future analysis. Specifically, last I heard, he was in north central South Africa, though most of his one-month trip will be spent in Namibia. Meanwhile, his brother’s wife just gave birth last week to a healthy baby boy. Exciting times.

As for me, I’m taking some time off from fencing (as is just about everyone else at the club). It gives my feet and legs a chance to rest and recover, not that I’m exactly sad about not fencing in 90-degree heat. I am still playing soccer on Wednesdays and this past week we won a game 1-0, even though we played short with only 10 players against a team with three subs – in 90-degree heat. It was especially nice considering we lost to this team last time we played.

Speaking of soccer, yesterday I went with Kate and Scott to Blaine to watch the
U.S. Women’s national soccer team play Sweden in a "friendly" match. (I believe it doesn't count for next year's World Cup selection.) After watching the men’s World Cup, it was interesting to see the women play. The actual play wasn’t that different, really. The plays were equally skillful, the physicality and penalties equally plentiful, the dubious referee calls also so. The momentum of the game was, perhaps, a bit slower, but that might be chalked up to the 100-degree heat and the fact that a "friendly" game has a different weight of importance than a World Cup game. The main difference I noted was that, overall, the men have greater individual ball control and ball handling. As Kate pointed out, these women don’t get to play for Real Madrid all year. The game itself was pretty exciting – especially at the end. The U.S. scored about forty minutes into the game, and Sweden tied it around the seventieth minute. Then, with one minute left in regulation, the U.S. scored again on a fluky bounce of the ball that surprised the goalie and went over her head. Two minutes of stoppage time were put on the clock and, in the first minute of those two, the Swedes evened it up with an equally fluky goal! Tied 2-2, with only seconds left, the U.S. screamed up the field, set up a nice play and tucked the ball into the net once more, making the final score 3-2. Fun game.

The garden has gone berserk in the past couple weeks. When I got back from fencing in Atlanta, I found that the garden had been overtaken by a lambs quarters and pigweed forest. After weeding it (which is fun because it’s so little compared to the 300-foot long beds I was doing on the farm), it looked a bit better. The herbs, especially the basil, are getting huge. The tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are putting out lots of flowers and fruit, as are the peppers. I noticed yesterday that the broccoli has finally decided to form heads. But, um, what was I thinking? All six plants are forming beautiful heads all at the same time (since they’re all the same age). How in the world do I eat all that broccoli? The shelling peas, too, have begun to “pea.” I think we’ve lost the carrot crop to a combination of poor germination, something munching those few seedlings that did make it, and now overshadowing by broccoli and tomato plants; it’s easy to forget how big some of these plants get. The spinach, too, came up spotty, but that’s not too surprising, as spinach doesn’t like hot weather. Here’s a picture of the garden from two weeks ago (before Atlanta). It’s much fuller now, but Ben has the (his) digital camera in Africa, so it’s not so easy to get a photo of the garden now. (P.S. The cheesy plastic fence came with garden plot; it’s not ours.)

I went out to the farm on Wednesday this past week and we amazingly got everything harvested and boxes packed by about 1:00. Since lunch wasn’t quite ready, we went down to the river for a much-enjoyed swim before heading back for lunch and more work afterwards. Things seem to be going well there, except for the drought conditions. The pond has been of great help, apparently, but even it is now mostly used up. The foundation for a new building has been laid; it’s going to be an industrial kitchen where Paul plans to make pizzas and tarts out of farm produce to sell. The new composting toilet is fully set up and functional. And Mike’s apparently been doing well at the new Mill City Farmers Market, where he is selling his own crop of produce in addition to working for Paul and Chris. To do so, he’s working full hours all seven days a week, and there are bets in as to when he’s going to “lose it.”

Since last writing, I’ve also done seed collection with
Sherburne Wildlife Refuge. In late June the already restored prairies were beautiful, with wildflowers blossoming in all the different colors of the rainbow. We were collecting the seeds of wild lupine, which as a member of the legume family, are big, easy to harvest pods. So I wandered a patch of well-established lupine with the lead collector and several other volunteers for two hours, and we collected several grocery bag’s worth of the pods. The pods will be dried and broken open and the remaining seeds will be sown on an area of prairie that’s being restored next year.

I also went out with Byron again several weeks ago. This time it was a diving expedition on the St. Croix. I stayed topside on the boat with a couple other people, while Byron and Jen (from the water quality testing trip) scuba dived in several locations. There was another boat, too, of divers and boat people. The goal was to do a qualitative survey of invasive zebra mussel populations on the lower St. Croix. The survey was a three-day affair, but I went for just the one middle day. It started out cold and rainy, but turned into a beautiful sunny-but-not-too-hot afternoon, which was great for lounging on a pontoon boat on the river. At the first site, there were only a handful of zebra mussels, but further downstream there were more and more, which wasn’t a surprise. Zebra mussels reproduce by ejecting millions of little larvae into the river, which carries them downstream where they attach to solid surfaces and grow. So once they’re established, they’re impossible to eradicate. The silver lining is that because of this reproduction method, they can’t move upstream, except by being accidentally transported by people. So while the lower St. Croix contains zebra mussels, the upper St. Croix doesn’t, and the DNR works actively to try to keep it that way. In addition to bringing up zebra mussels for measurements, Byron and Jen also brought up other mussels, including other exotic Asian mussels and some native ones: mapleleaf (not to be confused with winged mapleleaf, which is endangered) and threeridge.

Sunday, July 9

Summer National Championships

For most of this past week, I’ve been in Atlanta, Georgia at the fencing Summer National Championship. Throughout the year there are various big national tournaments for individual sets of fencers, but at “Summer Nationals” (as they’re known) there’s an event for every single set, plus a couple. It’s a ten-day tournament, always spanning July 4th, and is packed with events. For every group I mention now, remember that there are three weapons (foil, epee, saber) and two sexes for each. There are the age-bracketed events: Youth 10 (which means fencers age 10 and under), Youth 12, and Youth 14; Cadet (17 and under) and Junior (20 and under); Veterans 40 (age 40 and older), Veterans 50 and Veterans 60. Then there’s the elite Division 1 event, which is equivalent to the national tournaments I go to during the year – the only difference is that to qualify to fence Div 1 at Summer Nationals, you have to have earned points at one of the other Div 1 events during the year. Since I didn’t earn points at the NAC’s in January or April, I didn’t qualify this year. There are also the “recreational” events: Division 1A, Division 2 and Division 3. All three events have regional qualifiers, meaning that if you do well at a particular local tournament, you qualify for the national event. Division 2 requires that you have no better than a C rating and Division 2 is restricted to D ratings and below. There are other events too! There’s a wheelchair event and also team events: Junior Team (all members age 20 and under), Open Team (at least one member fenced Div 1A, Div 2 or Div 3), and Div 1 Team (at least one member fenced Div 1). Got all that? Sixteen different types of events, three weapons, and two sexes, which makes for 96 events over the course of ten days. It’s a bit crazy.

[Note for those who already knew how Summer Nationals work: I know I fudged the explanations of some of the age-bracket events; I’m trying to keep it simple.]

So I went down to Atlanta to fence the Div 1 Team event and the Div 1A individual event, which I qualified for by winning Sectionals in Iowa City. The team event was on Wednesday, July 5, and I was fencing with Susie from my club, and Jan from Iowa City, who is technically also a member of my club. Susie had already fenced the Cadet, Junior, and Division 1 events and had apparently been fencing very well. She came in 2nd in Cadets, 3rd in Juniors, and 11th in Div 1. And she continued to fence well for the team event. As it was, there were eight teams and we were seeded seventh, having had only one member fence the Div 1 event. And so we drew seed #2, Oregon’s Northwest Fencing Club. I fenced only mediocre and while Jan did her best, Northwest’s fencers out-fenced her and we ended up losing, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Northwest went on to win the event. So that was it for Wednesday.

Friday I fenced the Div 1A event, which had 57 competitors. In the pools, my first opponent was Grace Wu, from – where else? – Northwest. I was annoyed I hadn’t fenced her better in the team event and so really wanted to win the bout, which I did 5-1. I dropped the next bout when I got tense and tightened up. But I won the rest (including a 3-2 win in overtime against the last opponent – yes, Ben, I lost the coin flip. J ), giving me a 5-1 record for the pool. This seeded me 7th into the direct elimination (DE) table, and gave me a bye into the round of 32. My first DE bout was against Stephanie Wheeler, who I had watched fence in the round of 64. She posted on a French grip, meaning that her epee had a straight handle and she held it near the end, far from the bell guard protecting the hand. This gave her reach a couple extra inches, but she sacrificed some point control and strength in the process. I beat her fairly easily, relying on double-touches when I was up six touches or so. The next opponent was Hilary Hamer in the round of 16. This was a closer bout, but I was generally ahead by a touch or two throughout the bout. At the end, I pulled away to win 15-11, with a heavy dose of relying on my favorite feint-hand hit-knee action. So I was in the final eight and had Kira Hohensee to fence. Kira fences in Boston and I’ve known her for forever, though I haven’t fenced her in years. The bout, I was told, was extremely stressful for the audience. We were evens all the way up, with neither one of us ever gaining more than two touches on the other. When we hit 14-14, we had several double touches, before Kira finally scored the last touch. It’s always a bummer to lose a bout 14-15, but it had been a good bout, and I’d fenced well. I ended up sixth overall. Kira was second. And the event was won by Lacey Burt, from – yes – Northwest.

It was a long three-plus days in Atlanta. The weather was miserable as only Georgia (and the rest of the southeast) can be – hot and extremely humid. Even after the thunder and lightning storms of July 4, it didn’t cool down or get dryer. The venue, meanwhile was air-conditioned and cold, so that going from outside to inside meant putting on pants and a jacket, while going from in to out meant taking off as much as possible. I give Atlanta credit for its train system though; the MARTA was convenient, reliable, and relatively speedy. And I was able to buy a weeklong pass for only $13, which got me to and from the airport, my hotel, and the venue. I roomed with Madi from my club and Dorothea, not from my club, but also from the Twin Cities. It was the first national tournament for both of them. Madi, who’s 20, fenced the Div 2 and Div 3 epee events and Dorothea, who’s 17, the Div 2 and Div 3 foil events. And it was fun to see the tournament through their eyes as first-timers. Madi, in particular, was ecstatic with her Div 2 result. She fenced well in her pool (4-2) and then won two DE bouts to end up 30th out of 141. She said it was great to know that what she’d been learning at the club actually worked on people she didn’t regularly fence. That’s the trouble with fencing in the Midwest: too few fencers too far apart, so you don’t get a feeling of how well what you know works on more than a couple other opponents.

The tournament finishes up today, and I am amazed by the coaches and referees who spend all ten days there, watching fencing all day, every day. As for me, I’m glad to be home again.

Monday, June 12

Out East, Veggies, and Fencing

Let's see...

Since last time, Ben and I went for a brief trip "out East" for Mike & Jess' s wedding. Though the weather was inclement, it was great to see old friends and catch up on the new excitements in their lives. We climbed Mt. Monadnock in the rain (hey, no mosquitoes!) and we also got to spend time with Ben's cousin Fritz and his family, which was a treat. Then it was up to Maine to see my folks, with a side trip to visit the farm where my brother's working this summer. And then back to Boston for an evening with Kirsten and Jon, before returning to Minneapolis.

This past weekend we finished getting the garden all planted up. We went to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market a few weeks ago and purchased a bunch of seedlings - peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, herbs, and strawberries. A couple of the herbs had a rough time of it, with a cilantro dying almost overnight, but the other plants seemed to be okay. While we were gone in rainy New England, the Midwest had some hot, sunny weather, and the strawberries seemed to suffer a bit from lack of water. We've watered them now, and hopefully they'll pull through. We also ordered a bunch of seeds from Johnny's and that's what we planted this weekend: carrots, scallions, spinach, peas, and beans. It's probably a bit late for the spinach and peas (and probably also the broccoli we got at the farmer's market), but hey, we'll see what happens. At least now it looks like we have a garden rather than three little plants in a big plot of dirt.

Meanwhile, we got our first CSA delivery. Foxtail Farm aims to have their first delivery the second Thursday of June, and this year it's the earliest possible: June 8. But it's been a warm past couple of months and much was ready. It was funny to read the newsletter, as it repeated my comments when I opened the box: "wow, broccoli already and it's even starting to get a bit old by now!" and "lettuce is small, bet we'll get bigger heads coming up," was, in the newsletter "This year, we had broccoli that would not wait and lettuce that was not quite done." But it was a nice box with greens and radishes and broccoli, with a couple special treats - an herb pot with basil, lemon basil, and thyme (which all went right into the garden), and... yes, it is! a quart of fresh succulent tasty sweet strawberries. Yum!

At work things are getting hectic. Not only are the summer events starting up (
Children's Cancer Research Fund does a lot of fundraising events), but we have three new people in the office. Our new executive director, Rodney, started today, which meant lots of set-up (computer and email accounts, office, etc.) as well as change (e.g., I had to change all my letter templates to contain his signature block). Then there's the new office and database manager, Margie, who started last Wednesday. She's picking up everything very fast, much to our joy and relief, but it's a steep learning curve. And then there's Emily, who's working for the summer, assisting Jim with all the events. She started last Tuesday. Meanwhile, we have to continue with our own jobs as we help the new bunch settle in. Three new people are a lot when there are only about a dozen of you to begin with...

Fencing's been going pretty well. I've taken some time off in traveling and doing other things (we went to see Cats recently). But now I'm gearing up for Summer Nationals in Atlanta. I didn't actually qualify for the championships, as I didn't make points at either of the two NAC's I attended this year. But I'll compete in the Div 1-A event, which is a sort of second tier national event, as well as the team competition, which should be fun. One big piece of excitement is that Scott Rostal moved back to the Twin Cities from New Mexico. He used to live and fence in the area and was a superstar junior fencer, making the U.S. team and fencing world cups and world championships. With not much competition in New Mexico, he's been coaching little kids, and so I met him at the NAC in Houston, where he was coaching. Since he was there, he decided to fence the men's epee event, and did quite well. And so he's moved back to Minnesota and is picking up competitive fencing again. Which means another person to fence and train with. Another good fencer to fence and train with. Another lefty...

Friday, May 26


Hmm, I seem to be into binge writing these days…

Midwest Sectional Championships

This past weekend Ben and I (plus our fencing coaches and most of the competitive members of our fencing club) drove down to Iowa City for the Midwest Sectional Championship. In addition to the actual fencing, we went on a bike ride on Friday with Ro and Kate (our coaches), and to a party at Ron and Jan’s house. Ron and Jan are former Twin Cities fencers who have an amazing house that they’ve been remodeling for years and a splendid garden.

Ben and I stayed with Erik, a friend of Ben’s from the UMN geology department who earned his masters last year and is now working for the US Geological Survey in Iowa City. So we took him out to dinner and met his girlfriend and some of their friends. I have to say that
Iowa City is a really nice town – at least during the late spring after classes are out. The University of Iowa is located there and defines the character of the place. The downtown contains the “pedmall” – pedestrian mall – several blocks of car-free streets flanked by stores and eateries. The rest of the downtown is full of the type of shops and restaurants and bars you’d expect to see in any college town. And the entire place was very walk-able. It felt almost European. Apparently, as Erik mentioned, most of Iowans sees Iowa City as “that damned liberal place” and residents of Iowa City see it as an oasis in the rest of Iowa.

As for the fencing: I fenced on Sunday and so had Saturday to sit about and watch fencing and socialize. Ben fenced the foil event on Saturday for fun and ended up fifth, which was above his expectations. So he was happy. Then Sunday was epee and he was fifth again. But this time it was more frustrating and not as happy.

As for me, I actually don’t think I fenced particularly well, especially at first, but I did well enough. There were twelve women’s fencers, so two pools of six, and I went 4-1 in mine. I was seeded third into the direct elimination and so got a bye into the round of eight. That bout was pretty straightforward and easy, but then I had to fence Susie, my teammate, in the semi-finals. If you remember, last meet we met in the finals. And this bout was relatively similar. Susie brought her good game to the beginning of the bout, but when I got up just a couple points, she got upset and let that interfere with her fencing. I won and moved into the finals. I had expected to fence Alyssa – the other decent women’s fencer from Minnesota – in the finals, but a girl from Wisconsin had beaten her. So I fenced this Kate from Wisconsin. It was a slow bout. I was up just 2-0 at the end of the first period and then 4-0 at the end of the second. That’s six minutes of fencing with only four touches. In the end, time was running low and she had to start attacking and I won the bout by a comfortable margin when time expired at the end of the third period. Another gold for me.

Garden Start

Right before Ben and I went to Iowa, Ben went caving again with professor Calvin, and brought home three tomato plants that Calvin hadn’t had room for in his garden. So Monday, after we got back from Iowa, we spent the evening preparing the garden, hoeing out all the weeds and getting the wood chips off of it. I had discovered that our local food coop, Wedge, is carrying Vermont Compost (which we used on the farm), so I bought a couple bags in hopes of giving our little vegetable plants a little something extra to grow in. And we planted the three little tomato plants, which looks a little funny – just these three little plants in a big rectangle of dirt:

We also took soil samples. The UMN extension service does soil testing for residents for a nominal fee. So we’ll see how we look for acidity, and for phosphorus and potassium and a bunch of trace elements. Tomorrow I plan to hit the farmer’s markets in the hopes of finding good vegetable and herb seedlings to make the garden, um, more of a garden.

Oh, and trivia question: do you know what this is? It's a perennial of some sort... And why ants are so attracted to the buds?

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

A week ago Wednesday I drove up to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge for a “volunteer orientation.” It’s about 75 minutes out of the city, but a really nice area. I went for a walk on one of the trails before the orientation since it was such a lovely day. The orientation, sadly, was indoors. I hope to do a little bit of volunteering there this summer, collecting wildflower seeds for the refuge’s prairie restoration project. The refuge is trying to recreate oak savannah in part of the refuge and big woods and wetlands in others. The goal of collecting the wildflower seeds is to extend the extent and diversity of the refuge’s prairie, as the land is still recovering from being farmed for a long time. At the orientation we learned about the refuge and its history, how controlled burning in the refuge is done, and about volunteer opportunities. The volunteer program seems to be exceptionally organized and sophisticated. One of the other future volunteers there was a man who is heavily involved in the Minnesota Nature Photography Club, which I didn’t know existed, and which is based out of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, just a short distance from where I live (and where we went to see the woodcocks). Worth looking into…

Photos from Sherburne

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)



Zebra Mussel Monitoring Devices

Then this Wednesday, I volunteered again with Byron Karns. Actually, like last time, my actual services weren’t really needed. It felt more like a job shadowing day than a volunteer day, which is fine. We went out to the Wisconsin this time and I saw the new Park Service building in St. Croix Falls (as well as some of the internal politics). Then we were off with Liesel, a part-time seasonal park service employee, to set up some zebra mussel monitoring devices in the St. Croix river. Our first stop was Somerset Landing, the very place down the road from Foxtail Farm where I would go swimming last summer! We dropped a boat in and went a little ways downriver where we tied a contraption to a snag on the riverbank.

The devices are pretty straightforward: they consist of a buoy tied to a series of flat plates separated from one another with spacers; the plates are tethered to a cinder block. When it’s in the water, the cinder block keeps the contraption stationary, while the buoy holds up the plates mid-water. If there are zebra mussel veligers (a juvenile stage) in the river, some will adhere to the solid surface of the plates, and we’ll know there there. That simple. We clothes-pinned a couple glass slides to the plates of each device, as well; that way, the slides can be removed and studied at intervals, rather than having to remove the whole device.

Why are we monitoring for zebra mussels? They’re a quick-spreading invasive species that can be devastating to river ecosystems. They are responsible, in part, for the great decline and local extinction of some native mussel and clam species in the U.S. The lower St. Croix has them, but the upper St. Croix does not. (The dividing line is in the area of Stillwater.) So the Park Service monitors the St. Croix to track whether or not they’re moving upstream.

After Somerset, we drove down to a public boat launch just north of Stillwater on the Minnesota side of the river and put in another monitoring device. We don’t expect to see zebra mussels at either of these sites. At least we hope we don’t.

Then back in the car for a stop at a series of Wisconsin lakes. A special grant was made available this year for testing of Wisconsin lakes for zebra mussels, so we put in similar devices at three lakes that drain into the St. Croix and/or have a high level of boat traffic. There were more to put in, but we had reached the end of the day. It had mostly been spent in a car, which was kinda a bummer, but I guess that’s part of water monitoring…

Soccer and Bike Season

In other news, summer soccer has begun, and we won our first game 1-0. It’s been years since I played soccer outside and a bit of a readjustment to remember the strategies and flow of the game. About half of our outdoor team comes from the indoor group, and the other half is new to our team. The newbies lower the average age substantially; our indoor group averaged in the upper twenties, while the new summer players are college-age and young twenties. Can’t complain about all the extra energy, though.

And. I got a new bike. I figured that it didn’t make much sense to continue on riding roads with my mountain bike. It’s been ages since I’ve biked off-road, and riding a mountain bike means that I can’t keep up on group rides. It’s also not idea for touring (though I’ve gotten along okay) as it doesn’t have a place for a rack to mount in back. So I spent a couple weeks test-riding bikes at Erik’s Bike Shop. Ro is friends with the manager there, so I got good advice and plenty of patience as I tried one bike after the next. In the end, I got a Raleigh Cadent 2.0, an aluminum bike with carbon fork and seat post. It’s l-i-g-h-t. I ordered women’s handlebars for it, which are narrower and more tightly curved than standard ones, as I found them more comfortable. And a women’s saddle, of course. I’ve done a few shortish rides on it now, and though I want to make a couple tweaks, I’m generally happy with it. Zoom.

Tuesday, May 9


So I haven’t been feeling particularly writing-creative recently, hence no posts. But time’s been passing and things have been happening. Might as well let you know what they are…

Let’s go backwards...

Minnesota Open

This past weekend was the Minnesota Open, a regional fencing tournament that brought fencers all the way from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois. (That’s right you East-coasters: get out your maps…) On Saturday I fenced the women’s epee event. For having only 11 competitors, it was rather strong, with five of us with B ratings. The format was one round of pools followed by direct elimination – much simpler than the NAC format. We had two pools and I went 4-1 in mine, losing only to Alyssa Vongries, a skilled cadet who fences at Minnesota Sword Club (MSC) in Minneapolis. Then it was DE’s and I had a bye and then beat Jennifer Semon from Iowa. So I was in the semi-finals and pulled Alyssa again as opponent. Our bout was very close and defensive for most of it. By the end, I was ahead by a touch and she had to make an attack; I was able to hit her and then, of course, she had to take even bigger risks being down by two points. So then I was in the finals – against Susie Scanlan, another skilled cadet and a teammate from my club. Susie, unfortunately, wasn’t fencing her best, and I was able to made a decisive lead early in the bout. In the end I won, which was fun; it’s been quite a while since I’ve won a fencing tournament…

Sunday was the mixed (i.e. co-ed) epee tournament, so I fenced again, as did Ben. We had a strong tournament with 31 people, of which 14 of us were A’s or B’s. In my pool, I went 2-4, narrowly losing two bouts 4-5. That gave me a not-so-great seed for the direct elimination table: I was 22nd. Ben went 4-1 in his pool and was seeded 5th. When the table was posted, we were glad to see that we were on opposite halves of the table, so we wouldn’t fence against each other unless we both made the finals. My first elimination bout was against Casey Clayton, from MSC, who had been Ben’s only loss in his pool – and who had apparently mentioned to Alyssa (his teammate, by now my friend) that he was going to have to fence Chris Hagen. In other words, he was looking past his bout with me, assuming he’d win it, and thinking about the following one. I don’t look fondly on such cockiness; he needed to be beaten. So we fenced, and it was a close bout. He was up for most of it, but I tied the score at 7-7 just before time ran out. Then it was overtime and I lost the coin flip, which meant that if the one-minute overtime ended without either of us hitting, he would win. So I had to hit, and I knew what I wanted to do. I just had to set it up, get him to step forward just at the right time, make him think I was trying to hit his hand. I like losing the coin flip; I know it’s a weird thing to say, and most people prefer winning it, but things are much simpler for the loser – you have to set up a hit, because there’s no other strategy. It was perhaps thirty seconds into our minute overtime when it happened. I pressed forward, pulled back, made a slow non-threatening advance. He had started to advance when I pulled back and as I came forward I made a feint to the hand, and then rapidly changing speeds, lunged quickly forward. Before he could react, I had hit him squarely on the thigh and won the bout. So it was I, and not Casey, who fenced Chris Hagen next. That bout proved to be another close one. Chris, also from MSC, didn’t fence me at all the way he fenced most men, who are more aggressive, stronger, and sometimes faster than I am. And he had watched my bout against Casey, so he knew enough to be wary. We exchanged a few touches and I was down 2-4 at the end of the first period. (There are three three-minute periods in a direct elimination bout, with a minute rest in between periods.) The second period was pretty uneventful. Chris became very defensive, and I knew I couldn’t make very risky attacks. I managed one nice hand touch, though bringing the score to 3-4. The third period was also low-scoring; with less than twenty seconds remaining in the bout, I was down 4-5. I tried an attack and was hit, in the end losing the bout when time expired 4-6.

Meanwhile, Ben pressed on through his direct elimination bouts – against Kasey Crumbliss from Nebraska and Adam Soroko from MSC. Once I had been eliminated I was able to watch his bouts and was happy to see him in high form in his next bout against Robert Chidel from Chicago. He beat Chidel with room to spare and then fenced a close bout against Brad Tucker from Nebraska. Brad had knocked Ben out of this tournament last year, and Ben was out for revenge. It was a close bout right up to nines or tens, when Ben figured out the guy out. From there out it was all one lights for Ben. In the finals Ben fenced Josh Bush, also from Nebraska. Josh had just won the sabre competition, was tired, and was cramping up. Ben won the bout handily and deservedly; he was fencing very well. So he scooped up the gold for the mixed epee and brought home the first place trophy to put next to the one I had won the day before. It was a fun and tiring weekend.

Class Registration

On Friday of last week I went to sign up for fall classes. It was the first day of registration for non-enrolled students, and so I filled out my form and brought it in. Once you’re in the University of Minnesota’s system, you can register online, but I had to get in the system. A woman at the registrar’s office entered my info into the computer and tried signing me up for my requested classes. The organic chemistry evening class seemed to go fine, but all the biology courses were full. I had put down ecology, animal behavior, and zoology. But I knew from looking online that some of the other classes I could take – botany, microbiology, and evolution – were also full. So the woman put me on the waitlists for the three classes; I’m #4, #2, and #1 on the lists respectively (though apparently professors can take students into the class off the waitlist in preferential order, like seniors first, instead of numerical order).

Today I went online with my new registration info and student ID. I found that a plant biology course I had been considering did still have openings, so I registered for that class. I’m still on the waiting lists for the others, and if I get in off them, I’ll have to decide which class I most want to take. I think two classes (one bio and one chem) will be quite enough. While perusing the courses, though, I also discovered a couple interesting ones in the Fish and Wildlife department as well as in the Forest Resources department. So many interesting classes, so little time…

Water Quality Testing on the Mississippi

On Thursday last week I met Byron Karns, with whom I’ve been emailing and trading phone calls. He invited me out to do water quality sampling on the Mississippi with a colleague named Jen, who was about my age, outgoing and energetic despite having a migraine. Byron is older, and well established with the National Park Service. He works at the St. Croix National Scenic River usually, but is helping with a collaborative effort on river testing. Hence, the Mississippi sampling. We all met less than ten minutes from my apartment, at an old Bureau of Mines property where the boat was stored. Jen had calibrated the HydroLab equipment while we waited for Byron, so we were all set to go. We drove to a spot near the University of Minnesota, put the boat in, and motored to the center of the river. Byron and Jen took various measurements about our location and the weather, and then the instruments went into the water. I wrote down readings as Byron manned the sensors themselves and Jen read off the measurements on an attached meter. Depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH. They collected water in a tube in order to gage visibility, and then collected more for further tests back at the lab. We headed back to shore and reloaded the truck with the equipment we had put on the boat. Then we drove to St. Paul Park, south of St. Paul and about 28 miles or so down river from our previous site. We motored down the river a few more miles before getting to the sampling location. Apparently it was chosen, in part, because it’s downstream from where St. Paul processes the entire city’s sewage. We repeated the sampling process and then boated back to the truck.

It was a cloudy and cold day. Byron had told me that his rule of thumb was that it’s ten degrees colder on the river than on land, and so I had come prepared, wearing long underwear and many layers. I thought I had overdressed when I’d met up with Jen and Byron and seen what they were wearing, but on the cold, windy rides along the river I was probably least cold. Besides the cold, though, it was a pleasant day and we spotted a number of birds, most of which Byron identified by sight.

Although I didn’t exactly contribute much to the outing, it was neat to get a taste for the water sampling. Byron and I talked back at our cars; he has plenty more opportunities for me to volunteer for over the summer of various types and with various people. In addition, he and Jen are both well-connected in the area and both have contacts at the University. In fact, Byron’s girlfriend is currently in the conservation biology program there and he knows many of the professors. They encouraged me to get up to the “North Shore” of Lake Superior and to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area up by the Canadian border. I hope to volunteer again in a few weeks, this time probably out at the St. Croix.

Back to the Farm

Last Tuesday I drove out to Osceola to Foxtail Farm once again. Ben and I are CSA subscribers this year and we’re doing a work share, meaning that we’re exchanging labor for the yummy veggies. Seems like a super fine deal to me: I get tasty fresh vegetables AND I get to go work on the farm. So I drove out to the farm on Tuesday and it was a wonderful beautiful day: sunny and in the low 70’s. Sadly, I forgot to bring my hat and so I borrowed a baseball cap and felt the consequences on the sides of my neck the following few days. But other than that it was a truly fabulous day.

I met Joe, who’s the newbie farmer intern like I was last year; he’s never farmed before. And I said hi to Ryan, who I’ve met in passing last year when he interned on Josh’s farm. Mike is interning again this year and, as an extra challenge, is doing his own small farming operation. Paul and Chris are loaning him a little plot of land to use, and in his “spare time” he’s growing vegetables to sell to restaurants and at farmer’s markets. So those are this year’s three interns. In addition, a farming couple is coming out for a couple months this summer to do an internship during the busiest part of the summer. Ryan and Joe spent most of the day on the tractor and transplanter and Paul was busy with machinery and direct seeding, so I spent most of my time with Chris and Mike. Chris said, “it feels like dejavu: there’s Mike, there’s Margaret, where’s Martin?” It did a bit. We ripped chard and kale and greens for Joe and Ryan to plant. And we hand-planted lettuce and chard. I enjoyed (a small) second breakfast and tasty lunch. I had to leave around 5:00 to get back in time for fencing, and they sent me away with a big bag of spinach. Apparently a lot of it overwintered and came back this spring. Yum!

Woodcock Dance and Fungi Hunting

Two weeks ago Ben and I went on a couple little fieldtrips that I found through the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge and through the Bell Museum of Natural History. That Tuesday evening we went out to Cliff Fen Park to watch the “Sky Dance” of the male American Woodcock. It was strangely coincidental that I found out about this outing just then as I’m reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and had just read his account of the woodcock’s ritual. Our guide gave us some information and answered questions. As the sun set we made our way into the park and crouched among some shrubs, looking west towards where the sun had already sunk below the horizon. About three woodcocks landed nearby, making their distinctive peenting calls. When one flew up, we were able to get closer to its landing spot, and then lie down against the ground awaiting its return. Supposedly, when they take off, they fly up in a spiral pattern and then fall sharply down back to the ground. But it was too dark to see the bird for very long after he had taken off. We could hear him, though. The wing tip feathers are shaped such that they make a twittering sound as he flies upward. Then he’d be back on the ground and start the peenting again. “Our” woodcock did this routine several times, moving a little way off each time, so that I never got a good look at him – though Ben did at one point.

Our other expedition was Saturday morning. We went out to Battle Creek Park in St. Paul with a couple grad students from the University of Minnesota to go fungi hunting. It was a rainy, cold day, but everyone showed up. Several of the others had previous mushrooming experience. The trip was okay, but as the grad students explained, it was a little early for finding good mushrooms. Summer and early fall are better. (Leaving the question: why did the Bell Museum decide to offer this fieldtrip in spring?!?) But we did see a variety of fungi, including a couple little tiny baby morels. Everyone was soaked and cold after a few hours, though, and we ended early.

Garden, Window Smashing, and Staff Changes

In other random news, Ben and I are doing property maintenance on the four-plex we live in, as the former maintenance person moved out. And there’s a garden that no one is interested in, so we inherited a little garden. We’re planning to do a soil sample (through the University’s extension system), but it keeps raining every day we’re ready to go out and take the samples. We also got a compost bin up and going. It’s not in an ideal spot, because our landlord wanted it back in the corner where it wouldn’t take up any “grass.” Ah, right, the invaluableness of lawn. But at least he was okay with us having a compost bin at all. We made a simple one of hardware cloth as my mom suggested. And I spent Saturday afternoon pulling plastic plant tags and other debris out of the garden, removing the two rows of cloth mulch (that had grass and weeds growing through it), and moving the little angel statue and other “decorations” to the basement.

Last week – sometime Tuesday night – someone smashed the driver’s window of our car. As annoying and expensive as it was, I met several of the neighbors while I was out cleaning up the mess. (Ben goes to school out the back door and so didn’t even know about it until I emailed him.) The neighbors three doors down had also had their car window smashed and they were out cleaning up, too. I met the lady from the house diagonal across the street; she’d had her window smashed in not too long ago; apparently it’s a pretty common problem around here and in the city in general. The woman has lived here fourteen years and gave me a little run down of the neighborhood. The older woman who lives a house south of us came and talked to me for a while, too. And several people stopped their cars as they drove by to offer sympathy. Seems like car window smashing is the urban version of suburban mailbox baseball.

And at Children’s Cancer Research Fund, my immediate supervisor Jen, announced that she was leaving the organization for a position elsewhere. It’s too bad for me and the rest of the staff, because she’s excellent at her job. It will be an interesting next few months as Jen leaves this week and the executive director is retiring in a couple months. The place could have a whole new feel soon. So now I’m taking on some of Jen’s responsibilities, as are other staff members, since it’s likely there won’t be anyone to do her job while they find a replacement – and once we do have someone, that person will need some time to get into the new job. Meanwhile, I’m considering approaching the executive director about a position opening on the CCRF webpage. It’s essentially for someone to work part-time on the webpage and its content. On the plus side, it pays slightly better that what I’ve got now, and it’s certainly more interesting work. And it’s probably work that I could do more easily from home – or school. But, on the other hand, it’s a contract job, so if I get paid on a 1099-Misc, it may actually pay less than my current job after taxes. That, and I’m wondering if it won’t be nice to have a fairly straightforward non-mentally-taxing job when I’m taking classes in the fall. There’s something nice about coming in and just running letters and processing checks when I’m tired and just want to do something easy.

Oh, and I got my GRE writing score. 6.0 out of 6.0. If only the GRE was all that mattered…

Monday, April 24

Sacramento NAC

On Friday I fenced the Division I Women’s Epee event at the Sacramento NAC (North America Cup). And while I didn’t do fabulously, I fenced much better than at the Houston NAC in January and I met my goal: to have fun.

These days the NACs are run as two rounds of pools with 60% promotion, followed by direct elimination, with repêchage from the first complete tableau down to the final eight. Got that? No? Okay, let me explain, using the Sacramento NAC as an example.

In the women’s epee event there were 84 fencers. So for the first round there were twelve pools of seven fencers. Each fencer fenced everyone else in her pool and then the scores were tallied from all pools to give a “seeding list” for the next round. In my pool, I went 5-1, giving me a good seed to go into the next round; when the tournament committee posted the seeding list, in fact, I was ranked 16th. Now only the top 60% of fencers on that seeding list got “promoted” to the next round. But since they like to have even pools, instead of promoting 50 fencers (59.5%), they promoted only 49 (58.3%), which caused some grumbling amongst the coaches.

So the second round started with 49 fencers – seven groups of seven. In this pool I didn’t fare as well, with a 2-4 record. This result placed me 39th when the seeding list was done for the second round, and since the cut-off was again at about 60%, I wasn’t in the top 30 fencers who got promoted to the next round.

Those 30 fencers then entered “an incomplete tableau of 32.” Basically, a direct elimination table is formed with seed #1 fencing seed #32 and #2 fencing #31 down to #16 fencing #17. If there aren’t fully 32 fencers, then the table is incomplete, and the top fencers get byes. So in this case, #1 and #2 both automatically advanced to the next round, and the rest of the fencers fenced their opponents according to the table. Only the winners from each of the fourteen bouts advanced to the next round.

So then there were 16 fencers remaining – the top two who advanced because of their byes and the fourteen winners of the direct elimination bouts. With sixteen fencers, it’s possible to create a complete tableau, and so this is when the rule of repêchage begins. Repêchage is really just a fancy term for “double elimination.” So instead of eight simple bouts, again pitting #1 against #16 and #2 against #15 and so on with only the winners advancing, the table is a bit more complicated with the losers staying in until a second loss occurs. It works like this: after the first eight bouts, there are eight winners and eight losers. The eight losers fence again against another fencer from the loser group. So then there are four fencers who lost, then won (loss-win) and four fencers who lost twice (loss-loss). The loss-loss fencers are out. The eight winners from the original eight bouts each fence another winner. From those four bouts, there are then four winners (win-win) and four losers (win-loss). The win-win fencers advance to the next round. The win-loss fencers then fence the loss-win fencers. The four losers (who are either win-loss-loss or loss-win-loss) are out because they’ve lost twice. The four winners (win-loss-win or loss-win-win) advance to the next round. It’s even more complicated when the repêchage begins in the round of 32.

So in the next round we had 8 fencers. And once at eight remaining fencers, the repêchage always stops, so it’s simple direct elimination to the end. The round of eight (or quarterfinals) left us with 4 and the semifinals with 2. Those two happened to be Maya Lawrence and Lindsay Campbell, which made me quite happy. Recently, upstart youths have been taking over women’s epee and mere kids have been winning the national tournaments. Maya and Lindsay are both about 25 – and they were the same year at Princeton. I fenced against them both in college, and Ben knows them both from his years coaching there. In the end Maya won, which is great. She’s been seriously training, and she’s wicked nice; she won at least one league-wide sportsmanship award in college, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about her ever.

(My snide claim to fame is that I warmed up with both Maya and Lindsay. So clearly, I warm up the champions to perform their best. Um, or something... )

So I finished 39th out of 84 – in the top half, anyway. And I can do better. No question. But I did many things right at this meet. Physically, my technique is much improved from several months ago. It’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was like before I went to Germany when I was at my previous best, but it feels about there. In fact, some of the technique is better since I got the hang of a couple actions while in Germany, such as a solid four bind. I got some nice hand touches; at least one touch was due to keeping my hand up; my timing and tempo was quite good at times; my favorite feint-hand-hit-knee action won me two bouts; and I was moving fairly well.

Mentally, I was able to keep from getting too nervous and tightening up by focusing on the fencing, one-touch-at-a-time, and ignoring the ramifications of the scores or the tournament format. I was able to once again clearly see the opponents’ actions and movements most of the time – something that eluded me in Houston – and that meant I was able to anticipate the opponents and find their weaknesses. I think I incorporated a healthy balance of offense and defense, keeping my own tempo and timing. At the same time I continually challenged the opponents, never letting them get relaxed and confident. I was patient, with two bouts going to overtime. (In both of which I lost priority and both of which I won.) Overall I fenced smart.

But I’m not yet consistent. My indicators were poor, in part because I lost two bouts (one in each round) 0-5, which is quite unusual for me. In each case, I was just confused by what the other fencer was doing and what I could do to compensate. The second of these two bouts, especially, was against such an unorthodox opponent that I left the bout feeling perplexed more than anything else. (Maya, who was in my second pool, also lost to this bizarre fencer). I was surprised in several bouts by fleches that seemed wild and uncontrolled, but many of which hit me. In one bout, Ro commented that I wasn’t “playing as much” as in other bouts; I wasn’t moving the opponent around, pressuring, prevoking actions, seeing what she did. In at least one other, I was too hesitant. In a couple of bouts I could see a weakness, but couldn’t quite exploit it. I one bout, I insisted on attacking out of distance because I was behind, instead of forcing the distance closed before attacking.

Some of these issues are still the getting-back-into-competing ones. And some, I’m afraid, are simply that I don’t have many other women fencers to train with. But there are a bunch of technique issues that I can work on. Ro pointed out that in my last bout, which I lost, (and perhaps in others) I would get by the guard in a preparation action, but not continue to the target; instead I backed out. And it’s true; I’m not very comfortable yet with a preparation, see a response, and then finish the action based on the response. This is something I can practice. I remember one touch that lost me that particular bout, when I could tell that a pressure to six, disengage would work reliably. I tried to execute the action, and got caught on the bell guard (and got hit as a result). Again, I can train my disengages. And finally, I found that I had some trouble moving on the grounded metal strips. The floor at the club is waxed wooden basketball flooring and quite slippery, which can breed laziness; it’s easy to slide along the floor instead of picking up one’s feet as is necessary on a metal strip. Anyway, more footwork is always good practice.

Notes to self: for food, bring a couple slices bread, OJ for breakfast, dried apricots, dried papaya, a snack mix (like the tropical dried fruit mix with nuts from Seward), and a couple energy bars. Also bring a comic book or two for those long waits...