Sunday, August 28, 2005

Napa River Delta Blues
When Niko and I finally emerged from the house -- many hours after his 6:10 a.m. wakeup, and after the vacuuming, laundry folding, spider catching, Katrina tracking, duck drawing, raccoon drawing … oh, yes, and the preparing and consuming of egg-white scrambles, waffles, blueberries, faux-meat sausages and potato pancakes -- we were struck by the afternoon heat. Not wishing to drive far, but seeking cooler air, we raced down to Carneros. "What are we going to do there?" Niko asked. "Explore," I said.

Heading south from the highway on Cutting's Wharf Road, the rolling hills flatten and the vineyards become scattered, eventually giving way to marsh. On the horizon, distant, are Tam and Diablo, even Sutro Tower (I think). That wide-open quality is what I like best about this part of Napa County. Our valley is narrow and I sometimes feel the Mayacamas and the Vacas squeezing me. For those of us in the business and maybe those not, too, half of the time it's nothing but wine, everyone everything everywhere wine until you want to sream. The other half of the time, at home, one settles in for the familiar debate, You Fucked Up vs. You Got Fucked Over (no matter who wins, you lose).

Carneros is a soft landing, quiet, bird-filled -- but quirky. Empty spaces with no good prospects. We saw pretty, modest homes with pear orchards and flower gardens and we saw many, many ramshackle properties that suggested escape from somewhere was the only point. "There are a lot of no-through-road roads here," Niko noted. And roads that, after a spell, are "Not Maintained by County." We walked a few levees. We stood on an arched one-lane bridge over a tiny tributary, just a few feet above the reedy expanse yet above it all. It occurred to me that you could spend a long time getting to know Carneros. Or, better yet, in Carneros, a long time unknowing things.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In Print
A visit to the Copia Kids Garden leads to an appearance in the SF Chronicle. Check out the full story, or read the relevant excerpt:

Before we left, we made one last visit to the chickens. There I met a veteran of sustainability. He had just purchased a basket of strawberries for himself and three potted basil plants for his mom. Niko, 5, agreed with me that the chickens are the best part of the garden.

He and his mother, Rebecca Bateman of Napa, have watched the Kids Garden grow since its inception. They come at least once a month to see what's new in the garden and to check on the animals. At home, Niko grows tomatoes and pumpkins on the roof along with millet for his pet parakeet. I asked Niko what he likes best about gardening and he said, "The way the garden changes ... well ... you know ... the evolution of the garden."

As we left, I had a good feeling knowing that there are children in the world being taught about what healthy food is, where it comes from and how to take care of the environment so that it will continue to provide for generations to come. Even my kids said they had fun and wanted to come back. Maybe we'll even see Niko again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Good News!
Niko has agreed to hire me as Public Relations Manager for the Ducktective Co. when it is up and running. And the reversal of the workweek that he has long advocated -- five days off and two days on -- will be implemented at all Ducktective offices and factories. "But," he added, "it will be two very long, very busy days."

The Duckdective Co. will be a dynamic leader in the inventions category, with an emphasis on products that involve conveyor belts, either in their manufacturing or ultimate use. Carbonated milk and the bagless, incinerating vacuum cleaner are already in the development stages. Other ideas announced tonight include a device that will stir food while it is in an operating microwave oven, and something to do with cat doors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tired. Tired of needing so much. Tired of thinking I need so much. Tired of not knowing. Anything.

Stupid. Stupid and sad and stuck.

I loved the air today. The afternoon breeze, charging through the gate and off the bay and over the marshes directly south of here, was cool and felt like fall.

Niko in bed, just before lights-out, his sheet pulled up to his neck, his hair pushed back from his forehead: loved that the best.

Today, I spoke to a kind and exuberant and beautiful woman about wine. Can't beat that.

So what about that stuff? Those moments. Those experiences.

I suppose I need to count them on the other side of the ledger -- they belong it seems on the not-stupid, not-sad and not-stuck side. Or maybe I need to put a fucking match to the ledger, stop assessing, delete this puke of a post and pull my head out of my self-indulgent whining ass. Or, alternatively, my self-indulgent whining head out of my ass. Whichever.

This much I know: I'll go to the pool tomorrow dreading all the laps ahead of me, dreading them more than death it seems. But I'll get in. And about two-thirds of the way through, around the mile mark, I'll realize that I'm alive and, fuckin-a, perhaps in charge of this thing my life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I alluded a few posts ago to Lance Armstrong's recommendation that his rival Jan Ullrich begin the Tour a few pounds lighter. What follows is a noted triathlon coach's thoughts on body weight, how best to reduce it, and athletic performance:

Around the time of the Tour de France there are often questions about how an athlete should go about losing weight in order to climb better. There’s little doubt that being lighter means climbing faster. Pro cyclists who contend for the yellow jersey, the polka dot jersey or who need to support their team leader in the Alps and Pyrenees try to be lean by the time the terrain turns upward. The best climbers are generally less than 2 pounds of body weight for every inch of height (divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches to find this number). It’s rare to find a rider in the pro peloton at 2.5 pounds per inch or greater. A lot of them who are not climbing specialists are around 2.1 to 2.2. The latest average I have for the TdF field shows an average of 2.151 pounds per inch (thanks to Gregory Byerline for providing that data).

Every pound of excess fat shaved from your body saves you about 3 watts in a climb. In running it is something like 2 seconds per mile per excess pound in a race. For most endurance athletes, a 1-point shift in weight-to-height ratio means about 5 percent loss of weight—around a 7- to 9-pound loss of love handles. That can be done safely over a two-month period if there is a big A-race with lots of climbing or the need to run faster on the calendar a couple of months from now.

How is it best for an athlete to lose weight? Unfortunately, there have been few studies of serious athletes that looked at this question.

One group of researchers, however, has examined the issue in an interesting way. They compared eating less to exercising more to see which was more effective in dropping excess body fat.

They had six endurance-trained men create a 1,000-calorie-per-day deficit for seven days by either exercising more while maintaining their caloric intake, or by eating less while keeping exercise the same. With 1,000 calories of increased exercise daily—comparable to running an additional 8 miles or so each day—the men averaged 1.67 pounds of weight loss in a week. The subjects eating 1,000 fewer calories each day lost 4.75 pounds on average for the week.

So, according to this study, the old adage that “a calorie is a calorie” doesn’t hold true. At least in the short term, restricting food intake appears to have a greater return on the scales than does increasing training workload.

Notice that I said “on the scales.” The reduced-food-intake group in this study unfortunately lost a greater percentage of muscle mass than did the increased-exercise group. That is an ineffective way to lose weight. If the scales show you’re lighter, but you have less muscle to create power, the trade-off is not a good one.

How can you reduce calories yet maintain muscle mass? Unfortunately, that question hasn’t been answered for athletes, but it has been for sedentary women. Perhaps the conclusions are still applicable to athletes.

In 1994, Italian researchers had 25 women eat only 800 calories a day for 21 days. Ten ate a relatively high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet. Fifteen ate a low-protein and high-carbohydrate diet. Both were restricted to 20 percent of calories from fat. The two groups lost similar amounts of weight, but there was a significantly greater loss of muscle on the high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet. It appears that when calories are reduced to lose weight, which is more effective than increasing training workload, the protein content of the diet must be kept at near normal levels. This, of course, assumes that you’re eating adequate protein before starting the diet, which many athletes aren’t. When training hard, a quality source of protein should be included in every meal, especially when trying to lose weight.

--Joe Friel,

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Gone Fishing
It is starting to make sense, the instruction from the swimming manual to be "fish-like" in the water. Long and fluid. Sleek. Knifing through the water. OK, I'm the clumsiest, klutziest fish in the pond, but I'm starting to feel it. Three and a half years after taking up swimming, thousands and thousands of torturous laps later, I'm starting to feel it. And the confirmation is on the clock, where I see myself clicking off an endless string of 55-second 50s without tiring a bit. Slow as that is, it's faster and easier and clearly more efficient than before. What to explain this transformation? Lots of swimming. Three or four days a week in the pool all summer, then six days last week and already three days this week. Plus, as I mentioned, those three-plus years. You live in the water, you get fish-like. A little bit, at least.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Vine Times
Why, yes, I do live in Napa and, indeed, I toil in the wine industry. Been a long time since I said anything about matters of the grape. Nothing profound to offer tonight; just three quick items:
1) Tony Hendra has, rather provocatively, reviewed the new McCoy bio of Parker. Fun read.
2) My pal David Darlington writes in the Times mag about Leo McCloskey, who feeds heartily off the wine industry's assumption that Parker has vast powers. Go here for that elucidating piece.
3) Finally, tonight with grilled turkey cheeseburgers, a salad of freshly picked tomatoes, and a pile of rosemary potatoes with diced grilled red bell peppers, I enjoyed Cuvaison's 2001 Merlot Carneros. Based on many tasting experiences now, I am convinced that the region is as exciting for Merlot and Syrah as it is for Burgundian varietals.
Recently, my parents, grandmother and Auntie Margaret were over for the day. It was Margaret's first visit to the house so we took her on a tour. In the course of the tour someone pointed out a photograph, taken from the back window of Niko's room, of Niko and me on the hammock. If love could be boiled down to its pure essence, it would be this photograph:

A father and his son in the warm evening glow. Niko is reclined on top of me, his head propped up against my leg. We are facing each other and he is examining something he is holding in his hand and he is (I am sure) spinning brilliant theories about the object and its origins or use. In the photograph, the object is just barely too small to decipher. The stuff of our family life is scattered around us on the ground, brown now in early fall beneath the big oak. On the left edge of the photo there's a wading pool, empty but for a few clumps of leaves. Below, there are a couple of chairs, one wrought iron, another from an old dining-room set. There's a colorful plastic tee with the fat yellow bat nearby. There's a bunched up silver tarp, with Sammy Cat just off the edge, peering -- as he often does -- at something knowable only to him. There's also a bucket of water with one of my winemaking siphons in it. No doubt Niko had been siphoning earlier.

Looking at the photo, it occurred to me: My ex created that. One evening during our allegedly loveless marriage, she stopped what she was doing, grabbed the camera and captured that moment.

Photography is as much art as any other form. Beauty in art rarely comes by accident. And this beautiful photo, this picture of overwhelming tenderness and sweetness, was made by my ex. Could she have created it if she didn't see and feel and hold love for our lives -- for me -- in her heart? A classic technique of abandoning marriage is to revise the history; my ex wants to believe there never really was love between us. I see now where there was pain and poor communication and even meanness -- as in most human interaction. But there was love, as well. Tons of love. The evidence is everywhere, I am sure of it. Which leaves me, where, exactly? Where I was before, where I have been since this started, where I will be, it seems, for a very long time: drifting deep in sadness. Sadness for myself for what I have lost; sadness for her for the pain that drove her to destroy so much that was beautiful.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Out There Running
So what in the world's come over you
And what in heaven's name have you done
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there running just to be on the run

Well I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that'll last forever
Get left so far behind

--John Prine