All posts by Jon

On the trail of a goat

splendidtableI’ve been travelling a lot to and from West Palm Beach, FL lately. My boss is down there and I’m working on a project that has a built in reason to be there as often as I can be. There are worse places, yes.

So with time to kill driving and flying I’ve been catching up on podcasts. After working my way through all the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me episodes, I moved on to second tier (Science Friday, Computer Guys and Gals, and Dinner Party Download) and then third tier. One of the third tier, Splendid Table, is moving up in the ranks.

They had an eposide on cooking goat. There are a lot of good things, apparently, about goats mostly centered on the fact that they will eat almost anything, anywhere, and are sustainable. People all over the world have eaten goat for millenia and it’s apparently hitting the US green/foodie market big time. One of the places is Austin (Texas has a lot of arid land that is goat-friendly). Very young goat, Cabrito, is very sought-after.

So I decided when I got home I’d find some and give it a try.

It hasn’t been as easy as I thought. But that makes it interesting.

Renfro Rules

We are heading into summer, a time for doing lots of great things outside. One of them is croquet.

We have a small problem, though. The rules.

Apparently there are several sets of rules including the official rules and the Renfro rules. I know what the official rules are. I can look them up in one of several books we have, or in the rules that came along with our croquet set, or if there’s some chance they’ve changed I can be safe and look them up online and know I have the latest ones.

Not so with the Renfro rules.  They are how the Renfros played growing up and only Rachel and Donna seem to know them. And I swear they change. I’ve been surprised many times through the decades when someone else thinks they’re winning it turns out that they’re not, or that they did something improper.

I’ve tried different approaches. I’ve insisted that I am right. That was foolish. I’ve suggested that we consult the official rules and accept them whatever they say. That was naive. I’ve asked that the Renfro rules be disclosed before we start playing, reasoning that I don’t care what the rules are as long as I know what they are beforehand. That gets the most interesting results, and leads me to believe that the Renfros don’t actually know what they think the rules are either, since they can’t consistently explain them. It’s like pornography…they know the rules when they encounter the situation. Well, not exactly like pornography.

So as I get older and accumulate wisdom, I find the best approach is to be amused as the game evolves and to enjoy the weather and the company. Everyone else does. Alex, the only one in this picture with no Renfro blood, clearly understands this at an early age. He can be seen staying out of the discussion.


Basic Necessities

2012-03-31_19-06-12_769It’s an appealing concept. It’s also an appealing restaurant in Nellysford, VA.

I grew up in Orinda, CA in a house on the side of a steep hill with a gorgeous view to the west of the Berkeley Hills. (Our cousins from Minnesota thought they were mountains, which you’ll understand if you’ve ever been to Minnesota.)

Other than a few years in Houston, my parents always had a house with a view. When my dad retired and my parents moved to Kerrville, Tx, they built on the side of a steep hill with a gorgeous view to the west of the Texas hills. (Again, mountains to some people.)

There are lots of nice things about living in Old Town, Manassas but one of them is not the view. I long for a view of the mountains. When it gets to a critical level, we go to Wintergreen and rent one of the condos on the top of the mountain, right smack on the ridge. Rachel and I relax and do very little of any consequence during the day. That is, unless you consider walks, music, reading, talking and looking at the view to be of consequence.

Usually, we drive down into the valley one night and have dinner at the Basic Necessities. It is unpretentious and interesting and there’s someone playing acoustic guitar music. There are probably only 8 or so tables in the place. I’m not sure how they stay in business but I’m really glad they do.



IMG_0824Crazy great company.

Crazy great view.

and I would actually go crazy after another week here. As Bilbo said, “I think I’m ready for another adventure.”

Cycle to Duck


Too many things are a competition…me vs someone or me vs me. Cycling is like that a lot,  especially since I have a cateye (avg mph is the gold standard) and a heart rate monitor (how high can i drive my heart rate for how long). And I don’t like people to pass me. I usually get past them before it’s over.

Today was different. As I was riding into a stiff wind, and I’m getting over my Tough Mudder hamstring tear, I just geared down and decided to enjoy the ride. About 5 miles out I stopped to adjust the saddle which added a lot to the enjoyment of the rest of the ride. The weather had finally turned warm, it was sunny, and I just kept going. Before I knew it I was in Duck. I explored a couple of side roads and then walked out onto the pier.

Amazing…riding for sheer enjoyment?


Tough Mudder 2013 (4 of 4)

IMG_1520_zpsc0ce6273i was a mess. thankfully they had a propane heater in the medical tent and i plopped down in front of it. i was soaked and cold. they were feeding bananas and warm salt water into me as fast as i could take it. i don’t want to see another banana for a long time.

there’s a lot more to write about the next part, but i won’t. net: i couldn’t be transported anywhere without cramping. odd thing…i wasn’t tired from the 12 miles. i’m not really tired today. but the cramps were terrible. they tried to put me into carts but i couldn’t get into the seat. ever have your abs cramp?  i hadn’t.
finally they find a bigger cart and they let me lie down on my back in the flatbed with my legs sticking out while they drive toward the drop point. dan comes to meet us in the Pilot and they transfer me. Medics were fun..they had a good sense of humor after they decided i wasn’t going to die.  ‘hey jon when are you going to get your ass out of here??’
we tried a couple of things, but in the end i had to lie down on my back in the back of the suv. and i couldn’t get in by myself. i had to kind of go like a board and the kids would push me in like a cadaver. we had to stop every half hour or so when i started screaming. sara, dan and alex would pull me out, stand me up, look uncomfortable while i grabbed the luggage rack on the top of the car and screamed for awhile longer. then it would pass and they’d push me back into the back. we were dying laughing, hoping nobody would see us and report the kids as murderers trying to dispose of a body.
we got home somewhere between 9 and 10. had a scotch to celebrate, and then i tried to get a little cleaned up.
didn’t get the duct tape off my toes until the next afternoon when i could finally reach them.
so, when do you want to do your Tough Mudder???? Don’t bother to invite me.
(p.s. thanks to sara, dan, and some other spectators who took lots of great video and pics of the adventure. they were at every obstacle cheering us on. and teammates…you rock!)

Tough Mudder 2013 (3 of 4)

DSCN1419Everest is a big skate park quarter pipe about 15 feet high, coated with a hard and slippery surface. like hard plastic. you can only run so far until you have to launch yourself at the people at the top who are there trying to help you up. you hope they grab your hands and that you figure some way to get yourself over the top. people were dropping like flies on this one, not making it over. the smaller people were letting the people on top just pull them up and over. the girl in front of me said she was scared and did i want to go ahead. SURE.

first attempt, failed. slid back down.
second attempt, caught their hands but couldn’t pull myself up. slid back down.
third attempt, caught their hands, got a leg over the top, was straining to pull myself up using my leg and…rip…i felt my left hamstring go. big time ripping sensation and searing pain. at this point i’m kinda horizontal with two big guys holding my hands and my leg is over the edge. i let out a scream, let go their hands thinking i’m just going to slide down the quarter pipe into a safe little ball at the bottom. but my head snaps back and slams against the surface. i could hear a collective gasp. the medics came over, i told them i’d torn my hamstring, but they were worried about my head.
the video is here: MVI_1516_zpsb5b4cc01
i get up slowly, they walk me to the side, and i sit on a hay bale. they start looking at my eyes, ask me my name (nailed it), ask me where i am (nailed it), and then ask me what the date was. now most days i have absolutely no idea of what day it is or what i did the previous day. but i nailed it. she was really impressed and i saw the first smile out of her. i told her i wanted to try to stand. after a few seconds i started to black out (or really white out…everything was fading to a snowy white) and sat down. they called the cart over. IMG_1179_zpsea88b443at that point, i saw i was only a few hundred yards from the finish line. it was up a steep hill. there two more obstacles…the funky monkey (monkey bars) and the electroshock therapy. so i asked to sit awhile and after about 5 min i got up, felt better, and then i asked dan if he would walk to the finish with me. david gives me some dried fruit and some water.
so like in the 1992 olympics when the sprinter pulled his hamstring and his dad came out of the stands to help him to the finish line, i spent the next 30-45 min limping up the hill leaning on dan. my son, dan, who broke his foot a few weeks earlier and shouldn’t have been walking on it. teammates later said the funky monkey was impossible. not only were the bars wet and muddy but alex thought they were greased. i walked by that one. then we got to the electroshock and i left dan, limped past it, and over the line. got a lot of cheers. i must have looked like crap. i certainly felt that way.
so i got my orange headband, my shirt, and then i asked for a medic. i was freezing (probably in shock from the muscle tear and exposure on the cold day) and then my legs started cramping up. it was EXCRUTIATING. the worst was when the torn muscle started to cramp.

Tough Mudder 2013 (2 of 4)

730371-1032-0023sso far we’ve been running up and down (sometimes slippery) hills  and through the forest in between obstacles. the whole route is about 12 miles. since you have to stop and wait at the obstacles, the longest continuous run was about a mile. there were 22 obstacles.

one, called walk the plank, involved things including jumping about 15 feet into water. by now you know this was cold, muddy water. there was some commotion there and a backup and they waved us past it. our fan club told us there were some people freaking out, holding up traffic, and the organizers wanted to keep things moving so we didn’t do it. i would have been perfectly fine about jumping 15 feet into water.  it turns out that’s where the guy died on saturday. he didn’t actually die on the course, but did the next day from complications. apparently people kept landing on him and knocking him back  underwater. tragedy. there was an article in monday’s paper about how many people were taken to area hostpitals and how emergency rooms were overloaded. besides the death there were a couple of heart attacks, one person treated for electrocution, and lots of fractures and orthopedic issues.
there was a fun obstacle that involved climbing up, and then back down, a steep pile of hay bales probably 25 feet high. it was soft, not muddy, and didn’t smell bad. that was a change. IMG_1478_zpsdeb23eeb
IMG_1152_zpse0456348there was a minor recurring theme of crawling through pipes underground. some had mud, some had (say it with me) icy cold muddy water, and one just had sharp rocks. a couple of the team members with a little claustrophobia didn’t do those but they cheered everyone else on. in fact all of the obstacles were optional, really. the race wasn’t timed. you just had to cross the finish line. if you couldn’t or didn’t want to do any particular one, you just passed it and went to the next one.
then the one i was dreading….arctic enema. a big dumpster, maybe 20 feet long full of ice water. not just cold water. (muddy) water with a 6 inch topping of ice cubes making sure that the water didn’t get above 32. there was barbed wire and a wooden barrier across it half way down the length. you climbed up on the front edge of the dumpter, had to jump in (it was about 5 ft deep) and then duck under and swim under the barrier before you could get to the other side. they were regularly pulling people out of that one. somehow i thought the barrier was deeper than it was so i dove to the bottom, reached up to pull myself through, couldn’t feel anything, reached again, still no luck, started to get a little worried, and figured i’d come up and try again. turns out i’d already gone under the barrier and when i came up i was on the other side. so i swam thru the last 10 feet of ice water and pulled myself out the other end. really glad that one was over.
it took a mile or so to warm up. well not really warm. just not frozen. lots of random mud puddles and small rivers we waded through. it had poured rain on friday. all over the course there were lots of good oppys to fall and people were.
IMG_1509_zpsa1cb00a7the next memorable one was pirates booty. that’s where you swim across a little pond, climb up 20 feet of cargo net, get over a big slippery log at the top and let yourself back down 20 feet. you had to hang on the nets waiting awhile for people above you to make progress. seriously, it freaks me out thinking about it and the potential to seriously damage yourself if not die if you slipped off the top and either landed on people below you on one side or landed on the hard ground, probably headfirst, on the other. but i didn’t.
there were a series of mud puddles with ridges in the middle that you went up and down through. MVI_1469_zpsd9b7efac
there was a gimmicky one where you ran up a ramp, jumped over a line of flaming logs, and landed in a deep, cold muddy lake and swam out. MVI_1503_zps86ea0171

there was a buddy carry. i grabbed alex because he seemed to be the lightest. we didn’t realize we had to switch who was carrying whom at the halfway point. alex was the big loser on that one. aaron and carl had the most creative approach.

the next one could have been a little more fun. i’ve had a personal rule ever since i turned about 30 to not play on a slip and slide anymore. they were great when i was 10. there’s something about age that just doesn’t let you get down low and launch yourself fearlessly like the little kids do. for me it’s more of a belly flop onto the ground. and there’s also the part about being 6’3″. well, the next one was ‘greased lightning’. a long, steep hill with a wet poly tarp. like a slip’n’slide on steroids.  the mudder dudes kept telling everyone to leap out and get some speed. they were screaming at us to do it. so i did and landed a big belly flop and let out an ‘ugh’ that you could hear for a mile. but i went racing down on my stomach to the bottom and didn’t break anything. it was actually fun after the landing.
the next one (the 20th obstacle, and i’d done all the previous 19)…and here’s where i got hurt….and here’s the irony…was called

Tough Mudder 2013 (1 of 4)


so the day gets off to a bad start.

rachel gets an early phone call from her dad that  there’s a family issue.  (i really want to weigh in here but for the moment i’m restraining myself. all i’ll say is that one of my mother’s favorite phrases, ‘the world doesn’t revolve around you’, should be considered by a certain person.) rachel would have to stay home, spending almost all day on the phone with different family members, trying to save things. it’s probably just as well, tho, that she wasn’t at tough mudder to see the end of the race.
I set off by myself. stop at mcd’s for an egg biscuit and a large OJ (hydrate!). want to get some calrories and potassium in me (cramps are my achilles heel). Sara and Alex are driving together, and Dan is driving with Jonathan. Clearly we are all very organized seeing that there is a $10 parking fee for cars with less than 4 people and between the five of us we have three cars. but there are good reasons tho they are not very interesting reasons.
we all are within about 10 min of each other on the road. i get a call from sara about halfway there saying her muffler has blown out.  fortunately dan and jonathan are right behind. she ditches her car at a walmart and they all drive together thus saving $10 after all.
there are some problems with gmaps directions but we all sort it out and park in a big field. we meet up and get on one of the (long line of) yellow school buses waiting to take us on the 30 min drive to the drop point. from there we walk another half mile to the registration. it is a clear, sunny, morning in the low 50’s. it’s about 11am and our wave starts at noon.IMG_1116_zps62a4c0c5
we register. i don’t have my id. not a problem since that is only to determine if you get the wristband for the free beer. you have to be over 21. he laughs and gives me the band.  i do not take the black UA sticky squares to put high on my cheeks below my eyes. i already look tough without these. ;7)
it’s about 11:30. we turn everything in to the drop zone. i walk out, see a guy putting on his gloves, and remember that i left mine in my bag. i go back, check out my bag, get the gloves, and check it in again. we all get our pictures taken by our fans. (we have 7 on the team and we have about 12 fans). our team name is mudder fudgers. dan thought it up after spending about 8 seconds on it. he is not proud of it. we don’t have uniforms. as cecilia said, ‘we know our team’.
the team is alex, cecilia, debbie (cecilia’s friend), aaron (dan’s former roomate), jonathan, carl (dan’s former roomate and friend from growing up) and moi. and of course dan as an honorary captain.  he organized and recruited the team and then broke his foot playing basketball a month before the race.
they call us to the start line. we have to scale a 6 foot wood wall just to get to the start area. MVI_1454_zps6a7d42a6 we get a motivational speech/sermon/drill sargeant session that includes brothers and sisters in  boston. IMG_1133_zps190f0581  i look around and notice there’s nobody else within ten or fifteen years of my age. i’ve been in triathlons and long runs and i know there are plenty of people my age and older that are way fitter than me. i conclude this is a judgement issue. then we’re off. there’s a drone in the air with a camera filming the takeoff.
the first few obstacles were routine. in fact most were routine. they weren’t all easy but if you weren’t a navy seal and couldn’t get over a tall one yourself someone helped you.  the recurring theme was jumping into ice cold muddy water and climbing over barricades. some of the water was deeper and colder than others.  and also doing things on your belly. most of those also involved ice cold water and mud. and it never got much above mid 50s on the day.
the first one that made me pay attention was the electric eel.  big shallow depression of water with a poly liner on the bottom and electric wires hanging down from the top. several lines of people. probably 50 wires hanging over each person’s route, hung low. the object was to go on your belly and avoid the shocks. i figured out early if i put my head down so my chin was in the water, and ran my stomach on the bottom, i wouldn’t get shocked. not everyone figured it out. lots of raised heads, butts and elbows. trouble was, as everyone is in the same pit of water, when one gets shocked everyone gets shocked. overall i was happy it wasn’t as bad as i thought it was going to be. secondhand shock, yeah.