Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Is it Pronounced "pica-key" or "pie-cakey"?

Younger son has, for the last several years requested a pie baked inside of a cake for his birthday. He asked for it again this year, but I decided to mix things up and see if I could bake a cake inside a pie. Indeed, I could, and younger son thought it actually turned out better than the various capiekes (pronounced cah-pikes) have. The photos below are from the pilot piecakee that I did two weeks before the real one, which did not look too much different from the one shown here.

That's just a pie, you might be thinking, but not if you look at its inside. 

If you want to make one of these, it does help to have a (very) deep dish pie pan. Step one is, obviously, making a pastry crust and placing it in that (very) deep dish pie pan. I could show you a photo of that, but (1) you probably already know what that would look like and (2) I forgot to take any photos until I got to the step of adding the upper pie filling.

That's a lower pie crust topped with cherry pie filling, chocolate cake batter, and a second layer of cherry pie filling. Next is adding the top crust. I made this easy on myself and used a cake mix and canned pie filling. For the pilot, I only used one can of cherry filling, which meant that I didn't have enough for the whole area. I remedied that in the final, birthday version.

Note that the top of the unbaked crust seems a bit lower than the top crust in the above photo showing it post-baking. Cake batter always rises--the finished cake is higher in the pan than the batter alone was--and that's what happens here as well. In terms of temperature and time, I baked it much as I would a pie. The first 15 minutes were done at 425 F; the last 30 to 40 minutes was done at 350 F. If you're still thinking that it might not work, here's a close-up of a slice.

Nice browned, flaky pie crust, cherry filling, and normal looking chocolate cake. Now if I could only find a way to work the icing in.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saying It Better than I Ever Could

Can I just make my resolution to do or be all Neil Gaiman talks about in his three New Years Eve messages? I shall be quite happy if, in the coming year, I can make some art, dream dangerously a time or more, and make some epic mistakes.

Opening the Door on a New Year

I have been going back and forth on "official" resolutions for 2014. I have no desire, though, to come up with a list of specific, quantifiable goals as I have in some years past. I'm not even sure I want a list of general things on which to work. Last year, I wrote of wanting it to be a year of not asking why I should do something but instead asking why the hell I shouldn't do something, a philosophy suggested by younger son. Sometime in the past year, I read another sentiment worthy of deliberation. Googling it just now, I have learned that it is from Henry David Thoreau.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.

The statement I read and have pondered is the middle statement, sandwiched between two others that just don't have offer quite the same food for thought. Live the life you've imagined. Live. The. Life. You've. Imagined.

What is the life I have imagined? I'm honestly not sure, though I do know that the life I would imagine was very different at different times in the life I've been living. And is it a life I have imagined, or a me I have imagined? A life to me implies so much that is external--what is around me as opposed to what is within me. There is certainly much in the world around me over which I have no control. What I can control is the reaction I offer to that which I cannot control. So perhaps the life one imagines is both outside and inside each of us. If I have had more than one philosophy class, I might be able to articulate it better.

Exactly what it means aside, I think my resolution for 2014 will combine last year's thought with the one I have been incubating throughout the year: Why the hell not live the life I've imagined? I can't say exactly how that will evolve, but I hope it happens thoughtfully. In the life I imagine, I am not as much the light-switch all-on or all-off over-reactive person I often am. I will admit that in some areas, I am already living the life I've imagined. I have the means to nurture my creative spirit even if I don't always make time to do so. While there are things to which I would like to devote more time--chiefly photography and writing--there are certainly enough others to which I do devote time.

And so I prepare to bid adieu to 2013 and open a brand new, clean and unmarked calendar holding a year in which I will endeavor to live the life I've imagined, because, well, why the hell not?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Out with the Old

Re-reading my last post from 2012, it appears that I resolved to make 2013 a year of "asking why the hell not" and of learning some Vietnamese. Meat Loaf told us that two out of three ain't bad, and I'll say the same about one out of two. I did things in 2013 that I never expected to do, some more intentional than others. I never expected to complete a GORUCK Challenge, but I did, along with four GORUCK Lights and one Nasty. I'm even registered to do two more Challenges and two more Lights in 2014, in pairs of one Challenge and one Light within the same 24-hour period. Why? Why the hell not?

To help prepare for the GORUCK events, older son and I started working out with a group called SEAL Team Physical Training. As a result, I have actually appeared in public in workout tights or capris. In terms of capris, the workout ones would be the only ones I have ever worn since I have never embraced capris as everyday wear. In terms of workout tights, I have always hated seeing the skin-tight leggings worn by many women, but here I am wearing essentially the same thing. They're warm on a cold morning, though, and quite easy to move in.

On the unintentional front, I spun out a 2000 Pontiac Firebird on an ice-covered stretch of Interstate 70 while rescuing younger son from a paperwork fiasco by driving him from Rawlins, Wyoming to here through something called Winter Storm Q. I, the original snow weenie, drove in deeper, more blowing snow than I ever had and managed to get all three of us (younger son's dog was also along) back safe and sound.

As for learning some Vietnamese, well, I tried. My first attempt at using Rosetta Stone on a daily or almost daily basis got interrupted by the week-long adventure of Winter Storm Q and playing catch-up on work and life after I got back. I started over again in late spring and worked my way to a bit further along than I had the first time before getting hit by an assortment of life things I don't even recall now but which made working on Vietnamese seem a very self-centered activity, sort of like, well, blogging. Will I get back to it again for the third time's being the charm? No one knows, certainly not I.

I now find myself three days from the start of a new year, and halfway through the 58th year of my life. How should I resolve to spend it? Living a philosophy such as asking why the hell not somewhat was? I do have one in mind that might work. Doing specific, quantifiable things such as exercising a certain number of days in each week, month, or the entire year? Doing one profound thing in each of several general areas? I've done both of those in earlier years. The quantifiable one encourages a competitive streak that I'd rather be rid of, but it's also hard to know if I've really done something remarkable in any given area.

Non-caloric food for thought, I guess, over the next several days as I try not to think about the excess real food consumed during the holiday weeks. For now, let's just say that I resolve to come up with something by 12:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quilts with a History and a Future

My latest two quilts having been presented to the intended recipient, I can now post about them here. I was once told that every quilter made only one quilt out of t-shirts because they were difficult to work with and just not very interesting to use. Being someone who often swims upstream (and that really is the way to get to an eddy when you're river kayaking), I've now done three. The first one was practice for the two that followed, which would be the two I'm posting about here.

I moved to Charlottesville in the summer of 1978. As a frequent user of the university's academic computing center, I got to know several of the staff members fairly well. I actually became an occasional babysitter for the daughter of one of my staff friends. Later, I was assistant leader for a Girl Scout troop that my friend led (that's actually a bad word to use because Girl Scout troops are really girl-led) which included her daughter as a member. By the time the daughter was a teenager, I had children--sons--of my own, and she babysat them. As an aside, this was not an easy undertaking given that if the sons knew a sitter was coming, they spent the better part of the afternoon planning Babysitter Traps. This usually took the form of a stack of afghans or blankets hurtling down on the sitter from the second floor of our open foyer. After the first time, a sitter came to expect the trap and played along, making it all the more fun.

Back to the story at hand. My friend's daughter went to college, went to work (at DisneyWorld), went to graduate school (in child life), and went back to work (at a hospital in Boston). She even got married. I made a quilt as a wedding present.

I used baseball fabric as the backing. After all, what else would two die-hard Boston Red Sox fans want on the back of their quilt. As the daughter went through life, so did her mother, eventually retiring, downsizing, and moving to Mt. Desert Island in Maine. As she was downsizing, my friend assembled about 40 of her daughter's t-shirts from throughout her life, and asked me if I would make a t-shirt quilt from them. I was touched to be asked and immediately agreed with the stipulation that there be no deadline. On a project like that, I did not want to be rushing to meet a deadline and cutting corners as a result.

The first thing I did was to make this quilt for younger son.

The shirts are all from Odyssey of the Mind or Destination Imagination, two creative-problem-solving competitions younger son took part in in grades 3 through 10. Since I'd never done a t-shirt quilt, I figured I should practice on one before I started the "commissioned" one, and this seemed a good way to do that. In researching t-shirt quilt patterns and instructions, most showed quilting limited to around each shirt piece and between blocks of a t-shirt with fabric borders, or no quilting but ties at the corners of all the squares. As I was sewing the blocks of this one together, I kept thinking how neat it would be to quilt on the t-shirt pieces themselves, on the t-shirt design or outlining parts of the design. That's what I ended up doing, and it looked so amazing that I knew that was the way I was going to do the commissioned one.

Back to the commissioned t-shirt quilt. After going through the boxes of shirts, I decided that it really needed to be two medium-sized quilts if I wanted to include as many different shirts as possible. And with two quilts, the recipient and her husband would each have one to use. I also decided that I didn't want to orient all the shirts in the same direction as I'd done with the practice quilt. That arrangement could be taken to convey that the quilt should be hung so as to be viewed and admired. I wanted these quilts to be used. It occurred to me that orienting the blocks in all directions would mean that a person sitting or lying under one of the quilts would always see at least one shirt logo oriented top-side-up. First things first, with those decisions made it was off to the races.

Step one was actually to wash and dry all the shirts without using any fabric softener. I will admit that I'm not sure why I was supposed to do that but I think it was to avoid there being any coating on the fabric that might interfere with a later step. Step two was to cut out the backs or fronts of the shirts with more than enough of a border around each logo. Step three was to iron each t-shirt logo to a fusible interfacing (this is where the fabric softener coating might have been a problem), again leaving a large enough border that I would be able to cut around the logo and leave a good-sized interfacing border around the actual logo.

Then the fun began. I had slightly over 40 t-shirt logos (some shirts had a front logo and a back logo) of sizes varying from about three inches on each side to over a foot on each side. In other words, I couldn't just cut them into squares and start sewing. I had to think about how the logos would go into a row by column arrangement that had a nice mix of colors.I had to calculate not only what size square to cut from each logo piece but also what width of fabric I would sew around the logo to get blocks of appropriate sizes to sew together into the quilt top. I should say that it did take some thought to choose a silvery grey fabric that would look fairly neutral around the logos of varying color. As it turned out, I could use 39 shirt logos between the two quilts. There were a couple of logos I couldn't use, but I am fairly sure that I used something from each of the shirts.

Enough background that may only interest those who quilt. Presenting "The Fabric of a Life (in Two Parts)"

In terms of size, each quilt is lying atop a queen-sized bed. I did not take the time to photograph every individual logo, but I did photograph several that give a sense of the quilting within each logo.

Finally, there were two t-shirts that I just could not cut up to use in the quilt. The logos were just two large. Interestingly, both were shirts that I had given the recipient of the quilts after trips my family took. I used these as bags for the quilts, one in each.

I started these quilts in the summer of 2012. I finished them a bit more than a year later, just in time for two friends who were driving to Maine to deliver them. I have mailed quilts before, but I really prefer not to. I haven't been able to write this post or mention the quilts on Facebook because I did not want to spoil the surprise of my friend and her husband giving these to their daughter in person. I heard this morning that that had happened and that the quilts were joyfully received and would clearly be cherished. Since I make quilts not as heirloom items or to be entered into shows, that's music to my ears. I make quilts to be used and loved, and I know these will be.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If the Third Time Is the Charm ...

... is the fourth one the harm? I did my fourth GORUCK Light last weekend, and it took more out of me than any of the three previous ones did. It may even surpass the one GORUCK Challenge I've done; it's at least close in terms of how drained I felt at the end and how sore I felt on the day after. Perhaps it was having gotten complacent and not training enough or well enough. Perhaps it was how cold the water we got personal with about halfway through the event was. I do know that after the water I never quite felt at full strength. While I was the one encouraging others on the event's Facebook page in the days leading up to the event, by the end, they were all encouraging me.

I registered for this Light because a fellow karate student was interested in trying it. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of a broken foot kept her from any serious preparation, so the sons and I did it on our own. Still, the more GORUCK events one does, the more they become mini-reunions with people with whom one has done other events. We had done one Challenge and one Light with Matt, the cadre leading the event. Someone else had done the Challenge with us. At least one other person had done the Nasty. While we did not know each other, we at least had discussion of the Nasty to give us a connection. Other participants included a woman who had been a trainer at the gym to which we belong and a future groom (wedding in January) doing the Light as a bachelor party with his best man and some friends. This Light had the highest percentage (nearly 50 percent) of women versus men of any of the events we've done. I was clearly the oldest woman. The man doing the Light with one of his daughters while another daughter shadowed and shot photos was at least of my parental generation.

The Light began as the others had. We lined up in ranks for Matt to do a roll call. One woman who responded so meekly Matt could not hear her got named as the first Team Leader (TL). Several people arrived late, resulting in their leading us in push-ups. They'll probably be on time if they ever do another GORUCK event. Matt inspected all our rucks for the correct number of bricks (two for those weighing under 150 pounds and four for those weighing over that magic number). Bricks had to be labelled with one's name and phone number. Duct-tape-wrapped packages left in garbage bins or on public ground tend to excite local law enforcement personnel; having one's identifying information listed is designed to keep people from simply tossing their bricks at the end. Matt inspected the required team weight that had to weigh at least 15 pounds; the 21-pound sledge hammer we had clearly fulfilled that criterion. Finally, he stated the main "rules." We would be acting as a team of 30-some members not as 30-some individuals. We would never go anywhere alone; we would always have a buddy. While moving as a group, we would always be within an arm's reach of the person in front of us. We did not want to be further apart should Matt yell, "Reach!" The American flag we would be carrying would never, NEVER, NEVER touch the ground. Nor would the team weight or any of our individual rucksacks.

The fun and games started with a low, infantry-style crawl across a lawn, around a tree, and back. We had 15 minutes for everyone to do it. Younger son and I hung back encouraging one of the latecomers who was struggling with the crawl. We offered to take his ruck to make it easier or to stay with him so that he didn't have to worry about being the only person not to make the time limit. He said he had some physical issues that he had just discovered would make it impossible for him to do the event successfully. He dropped back on the crawl and out of the Light. The low crawl segued into the physical training (PT) part of the Welcome Party. Flutter kicks with the ruck on your chest. Legs held at varying angles for varying amounts of time.

Since we were doing all this in front of the University of Virginia Rotunda and Matt has a fetish for stairs, we next had to box jump (jumping off both feet and landing on both feet) up the steps and run back down. We had to do eight of those laps. This was easier for some people to do than others. I will admit that I used the side walls for assistance with the jumping, though I never resorted to just walking up the stairs as some people did. I also did not run down the stairs, though I did run on the level ground in between the different sets of stairs. I have a legitimate fear of falling, and I did not want this to go down as the second GORUCK event in which I opened my head up by falling.

The stairs having been conquered, we were given a reconnaissance mission by Matt. We were to go, in a group, to a certain statue and collect various bits if information. We were also supposed to take photographs of certain of the information points. A couple of people had cell phones with cameras, and I noted that I had a small digital camera in the dry box in my ruck. We also had a time hack we had to meet or suffer the consequences which is usually more PT. We set off, and it didn't take long for some people to propose that we meet the time hack by sending a couple of people off in a cab or running to the statue to collect the required information and photos. Several of us reminded them that we were a team, and we would stay together. It was specifically suggested that I, as carrier of the camera, go ahead with two other people in the interests of making the time hack. I refused, again noting that we were a team. Eventually and still together, we did reach the statue and collected the required information and photos. We hustled as best we could back to Matt and presented our findings. No, we did not meet the time hack. I honestly cannot recall, now a week later, if there were any PT consequences, so perhaps there were not.

As in our other Light with Matt, we then set off to collect a large log or telephone pole that we expected we would carry until we encountered the water portion of the festivities. Given the number of people, it was fairly easy to swap in and out to divide the load. Those not carrying the log had to carry their rucksacks without using the straps. Eventually, rucks went back on our backs, and those not carrying the log traveled in Indian run fashion. A can got passed back from person to person. When the last person in line got it, they had to jog to the head of the line--right behind the people carrying the log--and start passing it back again.

We carried the log through the student business district known as the Corner, down the main street of town, and then down the pedestrian shopping street. We got more than a few strange looks, and several people asked what we were doing. We encouraged them to google GORUCK.com for details. At times I simply replied that we were "building better Americans." At the end of the pedestrian mall, we put the log down long enough for a bathroom break at the local tourist center. Fortunately, we were still clean and not too sweaty. Having done a Challenge and Light with Matt, I know that was soon to change.

Again carrying the log, we had a nice downhill stretch ending underneath a bridge crossing the Rivanna River. The "Viking ship" log we carried in the May Challenge and the pole-type log we carried in the June Light were still where we'd dropped them in those events. Knowing what was coming, I asked Matt if I could be the first one in the water. Why I did that escapes me now; had I known just how cold the water would be I'm sure I would have taken longer. As it was, the first wave of people in the water quickly encouraged the others to join us, knowing that the sooner everyone got wet, the sooner everyone could get dry. We did push-ups, including some of the dive-bomber variety, in the water and, what else, some flutter kicks. Holding our rucks over our heads, we also did squats. Eventually, Matt offered that if we could all cross the river and climb up the bank to the other side before he crossed the bridge to meet us, we would get a 10-minute break. We were to cross holding wrists since the bottom was slick and irregular. There was at least one spot where I felt a rock or branch on the river bottom that might have trapped the foot of someone who stumbled there.

Crossing holding wrists was fine in theory. In practice, though, it meant that when the person carrying the team-weight sledge hammer slipped and lost control of it, it hit the knee of the woman walking next to him. She got across the river but was in so much pain it was impossible for her to continue. Matt noted that she would get a medical drop, meaning that she could register and do another Light for free. Had she voluntarily dropped, that would not have been the case. I'm not sure we legitimately earned a 10-minute break, but the medical issue meant that we got one. It was nice, though some of us kept moving to try to warm up from the river.

We headed off down a trail that runs along the side of the river. Those of us who had evented with Matt before knew that we were heading to a park with a giant, steep, grassy hill that we would have to scale doing low or infantry crawls. For par tof the way we did another Indian run but with a rather heavy rock. I was not displeased when the Indian run ended before I became the last person in line and run carrying the rock. Those of us who had done other events with Matt wondered whether we would have some fun and games in a sandy area we knew we would cross. During the Challenge, we'd spent a non-trivial amount of time there crawling, lunging, or otherwise crossing back and forth. This time, we simply bear-crawled over the sand, which meant our still-wet clothes did not get the scratchy coating of sand they did in the Challenge. Needless to say, this was a good thing.

When we got to the hill we were going to low crawl up, I steeled myself for what I knew was going to be difficult. We had low crawled up this hill in the May Challenge and in the June Light, and having seen a photo of the crawl during the Light, knew that I'd basically sucked at it then, with my butt far too far up in the air. If you want to check it out, the article with the photo starts on page 26 of this issue of Blue Ridge Life. Matt made it all the more compelling by announcing that if anyone got their butt too high in the air, they would be sent to the bottom of the hill to start over. Two people were sent back, but despite having to start over, both still made it to the top before I did.

Yep, I was last up despite younger son's taking my ruck for a short while. How he managed to low crawl with an extra ruck is beyond me; I did not mind at all when he passed it back to me. Eventually, someone who had finished the crawl relieved me of the ruck, which made it easier to finish. Younger son stayed with me, offering encouragement. Matt commented when I was getting close to the top. I told him that I might be last but that I wouldn't quit. I think he liked that.

After the crawl, we had to box jump up a long flight of stairs and run down eight times. Since I was the last person to start the process, I was also the last person to finish. The last couple of times up were pretty hard. I was conscious that most of the other participants were done and watching me. By the time I hit my penultimate lap, I was on my own. When I headed down the hill to start the last jump up, older son and the guy who had done the Challenge with us said that I couldn't finish alone. They ran down with me and jumped up after me. I thought I might cry out of sentiment as opposed to anger (I cry when I am angry, though that anger is often directed at myself); I may have been last, but I didn't finish alone.

Jumps finished, we were directed to get back to the starting point. The time hack we were given was totally unreasonable for the distance we had to cover (4 plus miles) given the loads on our backs and how much else we'd already done. I was having trouble with the pace others were setting, so I got moved to the front of the line to carry the flag and set a pace I was comfortable with. That was a quick walk; I knew that I could not jog for long without needing a hit off my albuterol inhaler, something I was trying to avoid doing. Besides setting the pace at the front, younger son and I were supposed to be navigating the group which was easier as a "follow us" activity than yelling from the back when and where to turn.

As we approached the starting point and could see Matt in the distance, a lot of people started telling me to jog so that we could finish at a run. Younger son told me I didn't have to do it because I think I may have looked to him about as bad as I was feeling at that point. I managed a run, though when Matt reached to take the flag I was carrying, I basically collapsed. There wasn't much recovery time, though, because Matt directed us to bear crawl up the steps of the Rotunda and then crab walk back down. We then did a few more PT exercises and were declared to be finishers. Matt handed out the patches. Some folks left for the student area likely in search of beer. Some of us chatted for a short while before heading off to the rest of the day, which for me included dinner with friends who got quite a kick when I had to slowly rise and gently walk to the rest room. My body was that tight.

This is going into the books as the hardest of the Lights we've done. In a way, it may have been as hard as the Challenge because I had expectations of how I thought I could or should do, and I didn't live up to them. Part of that may have been due to the cold water; I know that I never really felt the same after that as I had before. I also did not train as much as I should have with all the weight I was going to carry. Since the next planned GORUCK event is a Challenge (think four bricks and three liters of water) followed a couple of hours later by a Light (think two bricks and the same amount of water), I need to up my training in a serious manner. I want to finish both those events.

Why do I keep doing these? I thought after the May Challenge that I would never do another Challenge, and then I register to do a Challenge and a Light in the same 24 hours, not once, but twice, in March and again in May. A big part of it is that it's something I can feel a sense of accomplishment doing. I don't really have a career to speak of. The kids are grown if not both out of the house. The house is rarely clean, though the laundry does get done and put away daily. While I don't feel as if I fail at those any of those or other life things, they aren't the sort of thing you'd feel a real sense of pride in doing. Many people, especially some my age, have told me I'm crazy to do these. That may make succeeding at them all the sweeter. At some point, I expect that I will say I just can't physically do them any longer, but I'm not yet at that point.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Nasty Was, Well, Nasty (and a Total Blast)

I sent email and Facebook posts Saturday night with a one-sentence summary of my experience at GORUCK's Nasty at Massnutten Resort in McGaheysville, VA: It was a blast, and now the husband needs to be very, very nice to me so that I don't get him in trouble for the multitude of bruises in awkward places on my body. Yes, I have set a new record on the number of bruises, but it was well worth it. And now for the more-than-one sentence account.

The Nasty was billed as "obstacles and beer ... Special Forces style." Beer was one dollar. The obstacles were the Special Forces style, patterned after those on Nasty Nick, the obstacle course that all Green Berets must pass in their Selection process. Unlike events such as Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race, Nasty was not a race. Some of the people in the first wave to start, at the same 7:00 a.m. for which my alarm was set, clearly treated it as such, with the fastest finisher taking roughly one and a half hours to complete the 19 obstacles located on the six-mile course that included climbing three of the resort's ski slopes.

Having done several other GORUCK events, I knew more people there than I thought I did. Picking up my event packet, a man came up beside me, greeted me by name, and gave me a hug. I will be honest and admit that I could not tell you which event or events I'd done with him. Heading to the cash register in the PX to pay for our merchandise, the founder of GORUCK greeted me by name and gave me a large hug. There were several people whom I did recall from my first GORUCK event even before they asked how my head was or noted that it looked better than it had after that event. One person approached and said he'd done the Charlottesville Challenge with me. It was nice to feel part of a larger community; it made me a bit less nervous about what was to come the next day.

I did Nasty with the sons and the girlfriend of the younger one. I was heartened by the fact that the sum of their three ages was larger than my singular age. (When I tested for my black belt in Myo Sim kendo, the combined ages of the three people with whom I tested was less than my age.) We made a good team, encouraging each other and, where needed, physically assisting each other, though that was more of the males assisting the females than the other way around. We were in the wave starting at 10:00, which was good since younger son and girlfriend did not arrive at our hotel room until 2:00 a.m. If we'd been starting earlier, we'd have started with a much larger sleep deficit.

Arriving for our start, there were not many people my age to be seen. We passed three women looking to be close to my age and who were looking up at the course as they drank coffee. I noted that they must be the mothers who were not doing it with their kids. I eventually saw a woman looking to be about my age and wearing a number indicating that she was doing Nasty; she turned out to be five years younger, but at least in the same decade of life. We also ran into more people with whom we had done other GORUCK events, something that also happened at several points along the course. Again, the feeling of community was a nice one.

The initial maps of the Nasty course showed 27 obstacles. Some got cut and some got moved, meaning that the map was somewhat outdated. The reconstruction from memory that older son and I did generated 19 obstacles and a possibly accurate list of the order in which they appeared on the course. If I got some of the order or some of the names wrong, I apologize. We weren't exactly checking them off as we completed them given that we weren't carrying any extraneous things such as pencil and course map with us. Many people were carrying rucksacks or water bladder bags. We thought about carrying water but decided that we didn't want weight on our backs to interfere with our balance. Given that there were three water stations along the course, we didn't miss having water with us. There was also at least one obstacle at which people were told to remove any sort of backpack. When we finished the course, I actually voiced the question of whether someone might have left a backpack or bag somewhere along the course. If it were too far up the course, retrieving it could be a real hassle.

As might be expected, obstacles started out somewhat simple if not easy, and got more complicated and harder as the course progressed. Interestingly, though, the two obstacles we saw that got shut down due to safety issues were among the simpler ones. Many of the first, simpler obstacles involved one skill that would later be combined with other skills in the more complicated obstacles. Low Rail required low crawling under a wooden grid. Cargo Net required climbing a cargo net to the top, going over the top beam, and coming down the other side. Swing, Stop, & Jump required a rope swing to a beam and then jumping from there to the ground. As we were approaching one of what might have been a simple obstacle, someone in front of us fell to the ground with, as one of the sons put it, his arm pointing in a direction an arm is not supposed to point. We were directed around the obstacle and on to the next one. We looked back at one point and rescue squad personnel were treating the person, and it appeared that the obstacle would be permanently closed. On another obstacle not too much later, a woman fell onto her back while attempting to jump from a lower beam to a higher log and grab it to climb over it. I was next in line to do the obstacle, and the GORUCK cadre monitoring it suggested that I not do it. He said that I could try if I wanted to, but I took his first suggestion and limited myself to jumping onto the low beam and then off. Younger son's girlfriend did try it. She could not keep her grip on the higher log but fell in a controlled manner and landed on her feet.

As I said, it took one of the earliest starters about an hour and a half to complete the course. It took us about seven and a half hours, a lot of which was waiting in line to attempt an obstacle. The first significant wait was for Under Cover, which required crawling through one of two tunnels. It looked as though construction of the tunnels was fairly easy--dig a trench with a backhoe, put plywood over it, then pile the dirt dug from the trench on top of the plywood. Because some people were unsure about entering the tunnel, and others did not want to start right after another person, the line backed up quite a bit. People were given the option of skipping the obstacle by bear crawling up the slope a certain distance and then crab walking back down. Those who chose to wait for the tunnel were treated to stand-up by Jason, GORUCK's founder. Waiting was worth it just for Jason's explanation of GORUCK's "three rules."

Those three rules, stated on t-shirts so popular that at one point on Friday I counted over eight people (including myself) wearing three rules shirts in the same room. Those rules are
     (1) Always look cool.
     (2) Never get lost.
     (3) If you get lost, look cool.
I am not sure why, but I had interpreted this as "looking cool" being "cool" in a stylish manner. I'd thought of the rules in a comical sense, imagining a cool-looking person trying to look even cooler when lost or otherwise doing something wrong. For that, I extend apologies to Jason and his current or former Special Forces colleagues. Always look cool? Always look "cool" as in calm, collected, and controlled. Look in charge so that those who need to will look up to you. Never get lost? Try not to let things go south in a hurry. Try to keep the situation together. If you get lost, look cool? If things do get worse, at least appear to stay calm, collected, and controlled. The people with you need to know that you're on top of things and ready to handle whatever needs handling.

Under Cover was one of my favorite obstacles, though it was one that had me very nervous during the wait time. I'm not claustrophobic at all; I've had two MRIs without freaking out. Still there was something about looking at the small opening into the tunnel and hearing other people around us talk about losing it or freezing up did get some of my nerves active. While some people did not want to follow anyone else through the tunnel, the four of us went one after another. I followed older son, younger son's girlfriend followed me, and younger son brought up the rear. While the entrance to the tunnel looked quite small, the tunnel itself seemed roomy. I could do much of it on my hands and knees rather than belly. It opened up a bit at each of the four turns, too.

After the tunnel through the earth, we crawled or bear crawled up a large tube, in an obstacle called The Tunnel Rat. It was a bit slippery in the inside but otherwise quite uneventful. I wonder in 20-20 hindsight whether putting this before the more earthy tunnel would have given some of those who bypassed Under Cover some enough extra nerve that they might have attempted it.

Commando Crawl was memorable because while waiting and watching other people do it, I didn't think I could. There were two logs with a single strand of rope between them. The goal was to go over the first log, crawl along the rope, and go over the second log. If you were able to stay on top of the rope, getting over the second log was pretty much a done deal. If you flipped upside down to be hanging below the rope, well, that was a problem. I knew in theory how the rope should be traversed--one leg with its foot hooked over the rope behind you and the other leg hanging down as a counterbalance. Getting started on the rope was the hard part for me. I'd watched older son do it, getting the one foot hooked on the rope before leaving the "safety" of the first log and then getting the counterbalancing leg in place. Having accomplished that, I actually felt fairly secure. I took it slow and easy and found counterbalancing when I started to shift to one side or the other sort of easy. The trouble came at the very end, when I was going up to the second log. My arms just seemed to lose whatever strength they'd been using, and I flipped over. If I'd thought about it--or not thought about it perhaps--I might have stayed attached to the rope and attempted to right myself. Instead I let go and dropped off. I made it further than I thought I would and actually look forward to trying this again should the opportunity ever present itself. I felt some satisfaction even though I was the only one of the four of us not to make it all the way.

The next obstacle, Tarzan, was another that I'd like to try again, not to mention one I plan to train to do. Like Tarzan, one swung across a series of monkey bars over muddy water. As with Commando Crawl, I was the only one of the four of us not to make it. That said, younger son hit the water the first two times he tried to jump out to the first bar. After that, he came to the side that had a beam on which one could balance to grab the first bar. I had no problem grabbing that first bar; my trouble came from misjudging how far it was to the next bar. When I swung and tried to grab it, oh well, that was all she wrote. I at least managed to remain standing as I hit the water below meaning that I only got wet up to a bit past my knees.

As an intermission from specific obstacles, remember that Nasty was held at a ski resort. Completing the course involved climbing up three different ski slopes. Some had obstacles along the way, but there were many stretches of just putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to look up and see how far we still had to go. Of course, we eventually got high enough to be in the clouds and unable to see far enough in front to know just how far we had to go. It was not so foggy, though, that we did not see the bear that crossed the trail some distance ahead of us. Fortunately, it did not have cubs in tow and it seemed less interested in us than we were in it.

Tough Nut was a series of board fashioned into Xs. I think one was supposed to go from the vertex of one X to the vertex of the next without touching the ground in between. However, given the challenging distance they were away from each other. I simply climbed up and through one and then went on to the next. I didn't necessarily do it the way the designer intended, but I did do it.

"Do it" is more than I can say about the next obstacle, The Wobbler. This was one of the two obstacles that I completely bypassed. I have a very real fear of heights that did come into play on some obstacles. I might have attempted The Wobbler had there been a way to initiate a plan B and duck out or finish it more safely and quickly. Because only three people could start the obstacle at any one time, we were told when we arrived that it would be a 50-minute wait. If we wanted to bypass it and get on with the course, the cost was to do 50 burpees (some people were doing 8-count body builders instead of burpees). After considering the likelihood that I'd end up in a fetal position and crying in the cargo net at the top, I elected to do the 50 burpees. When a team of young men came through and tried to do 50 as a team or between five and ten each, I pointed out that if a 57-year-old housewife could knock off 50 burpees, surely they should each be able to do it, too. That did not convince them, though. They did the 50 as a team and went on their way.

I went to Nasty with the aim of having a good time, and for the most part, I did. The time after I did my 50 burpees was the one period in which I did not have a good time. The 50-minute wait for the others to do The Wobbler grew into somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. It started to rain, and it was a cold rain. I did not want to continue on the course without my team, so I sat for a while, jogged in place for a while, people watched for a while, chatted with the others for a while, and otherwise tried to amuse myself and stay somewhat warm since staying dry was basically impossible. The others did eventually get to experience The Wobbler, and it was fun to watch them from the security of my burpees. Maybe next time, Wobbler, maybe next time.

The Wobbler was followed by a long downhill stretch that included my other favorite obstacle, Low Wire. Low Wire was exactly as billed. It was a downhill stretch somewhere in the 30 to 50 yard range (I am not good at distances unless I'm pacing them off) crawling beneath barbed wire. How low was the barbed wire? Older son guessed it was nine inches in places based on the fact that the back of his shoes was occasionally snagged. I occasionally had my hat get caught, being a bit luckier than the woman in front of me who got her hair snagged and needed help to get it free. There was a casualty on Low Wire, though. Older son had given me his brand new Batman Under Armour top since I was so cold, and the rocky bed for Low Wire wore holes in it though not in the shirt I was wearing underneath.

Finishing Low Wire put us at the bottom of one ski slope and ready to climb another, the same long, steep one that we did at the end of a GORUCK Light held at Massanutten in June. While this Memory Walk could possibly be considered an obstacle, it was not an official one. Instead, it offered the chance to reflect on the sacrifice others have made so that we can do things like Nasty. We were given small American flags which we were to insert into a pegboard at the top of the mountain. As we climbed, we were asked to think of Master Sgt. George Banner, an August casualty in Afghanistan. He lived in Orange, VA, about a half hour away from where I live and about an hour away from Massanutten. We somewhat split up along the climb, older son in front, me in the middle, and younger son and his girlfriend in the back. The solitary nature of the climb made it easy to reflect. Doing GORUCK events has made me so much more aware of what it takes to serve in the military, and not just the Special Forces side of it. I reached the age at which someone might enlist in the military during the waning days of the Vietnam War, and never considered enlistment. I don't know if I would enlist were I in my late teens or early twenties now. I just know that I have come to value the fact that there are those who are willing to serve and make, if needed, the ultimate sacrifice.

We regrouped at the top of the slope and were told that the walk down on a service road was considered The Mogadishu Mile. We were to stay together as a group, and if we separated we should consider that we had failed to negotiate the obstacle. This was pretty much the only walk during Nasty in which we did stay together as a foursome. Several groups came jogging past us, but we pretty much walked down. Younger son's girlfriend and I have both had our share of knee issues, and we didn't want something to get hurt before we'd had a chance to finish Nasty.

Four of the five obstacles remaining after The Mogadishu Mile contained one or both of my personal nemeses, height and balance. I've always been somewhat afraid of heights. The balance issues may simply be age-related. They may also be due to a hereditary neuro-muscular condition I have a 50 percent chance of having, and which would eventually make it impossible for me to do anything like this. The first obstacle, Easy Balancer, involved walking across three logs, each a bit more wobbly and each a bit higher than the one before. I made it across the first log just fine, but started to falter on the second, longer one. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to cross a log. I simply sat down, legs hanging down at each side, and scooted across. I did the same on the third log. I honestly can't say if I would have felt more of a sense of accomplishment had I tried to walk across and fallen. Had that happened, I might not have been able to walk on. I am already thinking about ways in which I can practice and improve the balance thing before the next time I do something like this.

The Inclining Walls were not an issue given the help I got from the sons. The walls were too high for me to jump and grab the top on my own, so a lift was essential in my being able to get the one foot over the top that is essential to finishing. Next up was The Weaver, and I am not ashamed to say that this is where I lost it. The Weaver was an inverted V shape with multiple boards on each side of the V. To complete the obstacle, one was supposed to go over one board and under the next. I managed to make it under the second board but after I went over the third I looked down and had a moment of panic at the thought of going under the next board, higher up. Falling onto my back was not something I wanted to experience. I started to whimper and then cry. Several people offered to come help me get down, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to finish The Weaver in some way. I ended up just climbing up and over each board, ladder-like. Of course, when I got to the bottom of the far side, it was a sizable drop to the ground and I froze again even with older son standing there ready to help me. I finally went down on my stomach and got in the same position used for going over something. While I wasn't proud of losing it, I was proud that I'd finished it rather than drop in the middle.

With two obstacles left, the skies opened a bit more, and the rain picked up. The Confidence Climb gave me anything but. It was a huge 12-rung ladder that topped out about 40 feet up. The first four rungs were about a yard apart. The fifth rung was a longer interval up followed by two more about a yard apart. The rest of the rungs were separated by the longer intervals. Having lost it on The Weaver, I did not want to lose it a second time. As I stood in line, I decided that I would climb to the fourth rung up, and come down from there. A man behind me in line admitted to his own fear of heights and said he was doing the same thing. Had The Confidence Climb been earlier or had I been earlier, I might have tried for the seventh rung. But by the time we got there, we had been on the course for almost seven hours. I was also cold and wet and wearing shoes coated in mud. Going over the fourth rung seemed challenging enough. Younger son went all the way to the top and back. I tried not to watch, but I did see him go over the very top rung before again turning away so I couldn't see.

The last obstacle was The Tough One, and involved both height and balance. Climb either a rope or a ladder up about 15 feet. Walk across a grid of boards, keeping your balance. Climb a 20- or 25-foot ladder, go over the log at the top, and come down on a straight cargo net. In all honesty, I did not even consider doing this one. Had it been warm and dry, I might have attempted at least the climb and grid, but the folks in charge might have had to let me do that much and then go back down the ladder to the ground. The two sons went over the entire obstacle, and I was able to watch each the entire way unlike with younger son on The Confidence Climb. I was proud of both of them and glad I was there to watch.

Older son and I then jogged to the finish line and got our Nasty 001 patches just as the tent cover over the patch table tried to blow away in the wind. Younger son and his girlfriend walked down; she had some muscle soreness she didn't want to risk aggravating. Younger son and I had a free beer, after which I got back to the basics of getting dry and warm. At that point, I did wish that I had paid for two nights in the hotel just so we would have had a place to clean up and warm up. Hindsight being 20-20, we opted for changing clothes beside or inside our Element or Forester. I must admit that seeing the bruising that had been hidden by my pants and sleeves was a bit disconcerting. I told the husband that he has to be very, very nice to me for the next little while, because I could probably get him in a lot of trouble were I to claim he was responsible. I have never been this bruised and in so many places. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to go away and be replaced by the more usual bruises from karate.

A few more thoughts 48 hours out. I had a blast, even with the cold, wet wait for the others to do The Wobbler. I would definitely do it again and hope I get the chance. I have confidence that the GORUCK folks will try to iron out some of the wrinkles of excessive wait times. This might require running the event for two days instead of one. It might require having obstacles set up so that more people can do them at the same time. Have four or five tunnels instead of two. Have four or five monkey bar rows rather than three. In terms of specific suggestions, I would offer to the GORUCK powers that be that there should be more than three water stations and more than one porta-potty station along the route. Older son mentioned that it might have been nice to have an up-to-date diagram of the course and a short description of the preferred method of negotiating each obstacle. On The Wobbler, for example, one was evidently supposed to climb the rope or the ladder and then go over a log into a cargo net. Instead, some people were climbing up and going into the cargo net by going through it. If it had not been so wet and cold, I think there would have been more of a party atmosphere at the finish, but by the time we got there, a lot of people had already left, and I can't say that I blame them.

There has been discussion on various Facebook threads of some people's posting that having done Nasty makes them better than others who did not do it. I don't know who those people might be, but if any are friends of mine, they won't be if I find out. Having finished Nasty in no way makes me better than anyone else. At the same time, my choosing not to do two obstacles and and to do others in what might be a nonstandard way does not make me less than someone who did all the obstacles in their intended fashion. I can, however, say in all sincerity that the Jean who jogged across the finish line was a better Jean than the one who jogged across the start line 7.5 hours earlier. I had fun and grew a bit in the process. I'm not sure it gets better than that on a rainy, cold day in the mountains of the Old Dominion.

Perhaps I'll see some of you at a future Nasty.