Saturday, February 11, 2012

For the Love of Skiing

Catamount, Christmas Day 2011

I first fell in love with skiing sitting on the couch watching Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons with my father. He was starting a business and worked Saturdays, coming home in time to take in whatever Howard Cosell had in store for us (this is why I also have a vast appreciation for sports like bob-sledding, boxing, F1 and Indy car racing, not to mention figure skating and women’s gymnastics). We’d watch Franz Klammer, Billy Kidd and Jean-Claude Killy bomb down the mountain and all I could think was, “I want to do that.”

But growing up on Long Island, I was a ‘Flatlander.’ Before high-school, the closest I got to a ski mountain was via a children’s magazine that had a maze puzzle in a ski theme (complete with a glossary of ski terms). I ran my fingers along the various trails, envisioning what it might be like to actually ski down 'cat tracks,' and later thought I had bought my way into the ski culture with the purchase of a tube of ChapStick hawked by Suzy Chaffee.

By high-school, I took advantage of a few school trips to Vernon Valley Great Gorge. I recall Vernon Valley was really nothing much more than a steep parking lot -- in the middle of New Jersey – with snow. Most of the kids who went on the ski trip just stood around smoking and hanging out, just like they did back in the parking lot at school. But being a jock, I hit the slope, quickly realized that skiing was much harder than Franz and his friends made it look.

Fast forward a year or two, and I found myself attending college in the Green Mountains of Vermont where a close friend sold ski passes to Mad River, a ski mountain that dared me to “ski it if you can.” I dared, and headed up to the mountain with six friends who all insisted they’d give me lessons and before we arrived had me nearly convinced that skiing was easy.

Lesson one started in the bar and included more than a few shots of tequila. “It’ll loosen you up.” “Liquid courage,” I remember them saying. By the time we got to lift, I was barely coherent. On the first run, I swear I saw double. Getting down the mountain in one piece was a miracle, so naturally, I thought I’d push my luck.

The second time down, I misplaced my friends (read: they skied off without me), then took a spill that left all my gear strewn across the mountain. A real yardsale. In fact, if I hadn't rented or borrowed it, it would most certainly have been for sale right then and there. Gathering myself up up, I began walking down the mountain, skis over my shoulder when a little boy skied up to me and asked if I was alright. I replied, “Yeah. I’m fine. I’m just terrified,” deciding to keep the part about being drunk and about to puke to myself. Even still, he shook his head and bombed off, his form reminiscent of a miniature Billy Kidd.Hrmph.

Following college, my then boyfriend (who was one step below a Flatlander -- having been born and raised in Brooklyn) and I decided to take a week-long ski trip to Whistler/Blackcomb through the health club where we met. I didn’t dare tell him that I wasn’t a skier, this being our first vacation together and all. Nor did he fill me in on the fact he’d never been on ski mountain either. I guess we both thought we'd wing it.

Going up the mountain on the high speed 20-person gondola I nearly passed out. Not the altitude, but nerves. This was no Vernon Valley, but there we were… what people will do for love.

“I can do this,” I attempted to convince myself.

“God knows I’ve got a good snow plow technique.”

What more could one need?

Terrified that I’d never measure up to the beau's natural athletic abilities, I locked in to my bindings and hoped for the best.

That’s when he came zooming from behind me… in full body crouch, knees in deep bend, heading straight down the mountain, as if a ski jump were about to appear. Eddie the freaking Eagle about to take flight. Thank god he fell over. But then he got up… and tried the same technique again. When I asked him about the possibility of incorporating some slaloming into his ski style, he looked at me as if I was taking the piss.

“That’s not how it’s done.”

After an animated discussion about “how it’s done,” a few more of his attempts at careening straight down the mountain, accented by my attempts to muffle my laughter -- and a near break-up (all the space of about a half-hour) -- I took off my skis and began walking down the mountain...again. Thankfully, he followed, and as if through divine intervention, we passed a sign for a five day ski camp program and signed up. There we took lessons in the morning with other hopeless campers who paid far too much to be skiing in Canada and had far too little business being on such a big mountain. In the afternoon, we did 'free ski' with our fellow campers and instructor, and then hit up Apres Ski. With crisp Canadian beer, a great exchange rate, and even a Picabo Street sighting, I was in ski heaven.

While it rained most of the time at Whistler and we ended up skiing in large plastic garbage bags, we both became fairly decent intermediate level skiers. The following year we traded in the garbage bags for Sun Valley, where I suffered my first ski injury -- torn thumb ligaments and a deep cut to the lip when I jammed my pole into my face. Looking back, I remember I couldn’t open a bottle of beer with my hand for about a year (this was a serious hardship at the time), and eating hot spicy chicken wings was also a challenge (I have a photo to prove it somewhere), I can’t say I wasn’t having a good time. It was just the price I had to pay.

After the beau and I broke I up, I headed back up to Vermont with my friend Jennifer. We joined up with the Swiss Ski Club of New York to endure the strict, regimented fun that only the Swiss seem to be able to force on folks. There were rules for everything. From how to park your car to how to participate in Apres Ski. When Jennifer opted to sleep-in rather than partake in a two hour breakfast debacle, we felt the cold Swiss brush of social disfavor. Still, Jennifer and I put up with the rules for a bit of outdoor activity… and the potential for meeting men. It was a during a weekend with Jennifer at Stowe where I got this little nugget of advice from a woman (with her husband and child) I met on the ski lift.

Woman: “Why are you here alone? You’re so cute, you should have a boyfriend.”

Me: "I just had a bad break-up."

Woman: "Oh why, did you want to get married?"

When I couldn’t respond, she went on:

“Listen, honey. Men? They’re all assholes. This is my third husband (she pointed to man next to her, who slouched silently trying to disappear into his Northface jacket). He’s not much different than the other two. Save your time and your money and when you get married and things get tough, save yourself from a divorce and just work with what you got.”

Horrified, I drove back to NYC that very afternoon and haven’t really skied again… until now.

Settled in with one husband (My first! No trade-ins!) and two cats, John and I decided we’d give skiing a go. We’d done it before (not together), but weekends in the country can get a little dull for me without an outdoor activity, and with Catamount Ski Area just a few miles away, it seemed like a good thing to take up again.

Now for the past two winters, it’s been snow central in the Hudson Valley. Last winter at this time we had two feet of snow on our roof and we were worried about ice dams and the roof caving in from what seemed like a weekly wallop of weather. The two times we went to Catamount, the mountain was heaving with activity… and snow… and vast ski trails... and happy skiers.

In preparation, this May I bought ski passes at a deep discount and this fall we rented and bought gear and other accoutrements – to the tune of an investment of about $1500. We were in the sport. All we needed now was snow.

And so we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Yeah, this hasn't exactly been a stellar ski season, which makes me wonder if maybe I should have joined the country club and played a few rounds of golf this winter instead. Each time we go (three times now!) I amortize the cost of our outings. Today we’re down to just $200 per person per ski outing. I figure if we ski twice more, we’ll have “gotten our money’s worth.”

But maybe there’s a better way to look at it. I love being outdoors. I love being active. And I love being active outdoors with the person I love more than anyone in the world. I’m no Suzy Chapstick and I’d love to have prettier form, but it’s fun to be able to coast down the mountain for a few hours and then head back home to the kittens for a bowl of chili and a nap.

Not to mention that I’m living out my Wide World of Sports dream.

I’m skiing!

I’m skiing!

This ‘Flatlander’ is… skiiiiing!

Yet always someone who dreams bigger… today I spotted my next goal. A pair of tight, bright, wildly patterned ski wear that can only be described as Spideypants!


I hardly have the ski chops and I barely have the buttocks to pull them off, but one can dream, right?

Yes, Flatlander. One can always dream.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Baking Bread

Last fall, John mentioned that he'd like to try baking bread.

"From scratch?" I asked, befuddled, since John's cooking repertoire consists little more than Chili con Carne and Cottage Pie.

'Yes,' he nodded.

"Not in one of those big bread-making machines..," I wondered out loud, terrified at the thought of losing more counter space.

"No. I'd be the bread-maker. By hand..." he retorted.

So thinking there really couldn't be any downside, for Christmas I got him a book on bread-making, all the while figuring the book would be eagerly perused for a day or so, then placed on a shelf with my cookbooks, never to be considered again.

But within a few weeks, John had accumulated all the necessary tools, a bread stone, a bowl, BREAD FLOUR (I had no idea there was such a thing) and corn meal. We even had to hunt through the supermarket to figure out where they hide the yeast (not to mention how to activate it!)

This guy...was

But would it be any good?

My husband made this bread with his own two hands!

Well, above is a photo of his second loaf of bread. Impressive, right? And even more impressive is that it looks as good as it tastes. And sometimes, when the bread comes out in a funny shape (usually crescent, we're not really sure why yet), it takes even better than it looks.

Okay. But would it last?

Well, here it is July and we've been enjoying John's bread every weekend since the beginning of the year. From basic white bread (with a slight sourdough taste) to whole wheat, his bread has become one of our great weekend rituals when we're Upstate.

And by rituals, I mean that John wakes up at 4 a.m., puts on his bread-baking outfit....

No, no. It's not like that at all...

But he does get up earlier than me. So he bakes bread while I sleep in, waking up later to the smell of freshly baking bread (which is almost as good as the smell of bacon...almost). And later we have the bread as a late morning snack, use it for sandwiches for lunch and eat with dinner.

Yeah...I could get used to this!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Here Comes The Sun...

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter...

Little darling, it feels like years since its been here...
Here comes the sun.
Here comes the sun.
And I say, it's alright.

I think I took this photo just a week (or two?) before Easter, when we had the great thaw here in the Valley. Anyway, it's been a hell of a winter -- more stormy downstate than upstate -- and tumultuous times for John and me no matter where the location.

But we're back in action. John is consulting, my public relations work has rebounded (enough to give up the retail gig - though on many levels, I miss it), I'm shopping my two spec screenplays around and in general, getting to a good place.

The best part is that we're back to spending the weekends together Upstate and we've got our focus on a few house projects, as well as exploring the area a little more. In fact, since we bought the place nearly four years ago, this may be the first summer we're able to fully embrace "Valley life" (is that what they call it?). And without my head stuck in some gigantic writing project (aka up my a**) we're going to attempt to redo the porch (perhaps our first true DIY project;) finish off the interior painting (that "the paint guy" never came back to do);) attack the goddamn milk thistle (before it attacks us); strike back at the over-growth of brambles (I've already gotten started on that) and maybe...maybe do some bike riding, (if I can convince myself that hills are my friend), more running, more hiking and buying/eating local (and I don't mean frequenting the local Taco Bell).

Stay tuned. It's good to be present. It's great to be back. :)

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pennywise at the Price Chopper

So, we noted a few months back that we were minding our pennies as of late. And for the most part, it's never really fun watching every dime you spend. But for some reason, when it came to our Price Chopper outings...well, we actually had fun (or at least a "not so terrible time.")

While not really into the coupon thing, I may challenge myself to a round of shopping using as many coupons as possible after reading about a PC-shopper who bought $96 worth of goodies for just $25. But I digress.

What I found pretty fascinating was testing out the various Price Chopper brand products (and their signature Central Market goodies) against other name brands. Overall, I'd say Price Chopper products pretty much rock. Here's a list of the items we bought from the Price Chopper brand that we liked, and the others that we'd suggest avoiding.

  • Macaroni & Cheese: I actually think this is better than the Kraft version and comes is a guilt-laden 12-pack.
  • Thick Cut Bacon: Compared to our Bacon of the Month stuff, we preferred PC's bacon goodness
  • Potato Chips: The wavy kind. It holds up well to the Heluva Good onion dip (which is a throw back/indulgence from my UVM days).
  • Stock/Broths: Same soup, different label.
  • Central Market Cereals: namely the Low Fat Granola and Museli mix
  • PC-Brand Off the Bone Ham: Not exactly a cost savings, but good quality deli meat (this from the grand-daughter of a NY-German deli man!)
  • Cheddar slices: From the dairy section
  • Central Market Pasta Sauces: Vodka, in particular. But stay away from anything that mentions Garlic in the type of sauce, it's totally sub par.
  • Central Market Skillet Meals: Wow. Had the Asian Style Pork Lo-Mein thing. Quality pork and veggies. Great if you don't feel like cooking and cheaper than take-out.
  • Dishwasher Powder: Cheap and it works.
The Not-So-Good:
  • Tomato Paste. Tasteless and damn near ruined a meal for me.
  • Paper towels. Let's face it, you gotta stick with Bounty.
  • Dishwashing liquid.Watery.
  • Price Chopper's version of food storage items are junk. It's sort of tupperware, it's sort of Glad stuff. Either way, warps in the dishwasher and doesn't seal well.
Yeah, so not a lot of clunkers.

And speaking of clunkers, the best part of the whole Price Chopper experience is their Advantage Fuel Program. We load up at the supermarket, then drive our "clunker" down to the Sunoco and fill up with our loyalty points. It's a big day when we cash in for 50 cents of EACH GALLON of gas. Seriously. What a score.

Mido inspects the goods.