Green Mountain Horn Club performance in North Hero

By | August 10, 2019

The Green Mountain Horn Club has been a thing here in Vermont for several decades, changing in membership over the years but always managing to come together every few months to put on fun French Horn-only performances for our legions of admiring fans.

We did a performance recently in North Hero, Vermont at a little roadside venue called Island Arts (North Hero is one of the town-sized islands in northern Lake Champlain). We had assistance from a piccolo player (for the “Stars and Stripes Forever”) and several drummers from the talented pool of Vermont percussion players. Four of our horn players also brought their Wagner tubas — brass instruments that look like skinny, stretched-out French horns — to use for three numbers. It was a fun evening and I’m grateful to our legendary conductor and organizer, Charles Mayhood, for putting the whole thing together.

Jay sat on a blanket in front of the band and did his best to film the performance on his cell phone, but predictably had a few “oops”-es along the way. Fortunately, a cameraman from Lake Champlain Access Television was also present, to film the performance for later broadcast, and just the other day the video went up on their website. Enjoy.

Send us mail at the 2019 Twin Cities 3-Day

By | August 1, 2019

Carole and I will be walking in the 2019 Susan G Komen Twin Cities 3-Day in three weeks (August 18-20).

Those of you who have taken part in past 3-Day events know how nice it is to walk 20 miles and then get to the 3-Day campsite and find letters and postcards of encouragement sent by friends and family and other supporters. Those of you who¬†haven’t might not know that — so here’s information about how you can do that if you want to. ūüėÄ

Send a Letter

Getting mail on event can provide a big boost to a participant’s spirits. Take a few minutes to write a note which will brighten their Komen 3-Day experience! We’ll have a P.O. Box open for two months before the event. Send your letters, and we’ll bring them to camp for the participant to pick up.

Susan G. Komen 3-Day Camp Mail
ATTN: [INSERT NAME OF PARTICIPANT HERE]
P.O. Box 50714
Mendota, MN 55150

Mail must be postmarked no later than August 6. Envelopes only, please. No boxes or large packages. Any mail that is not received by the 3-Day by August 13 or retrieved by the participant by September 2 will be destroyed. Please note: This address is not the actual location of camp, but a P.O. Box for mail delivery only.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being… Light

By | July 30, 2019

My diet and weight loss efforts are paying off. I started off at 255 lbs and I am now somewhere below 209 lbs. My goal is to get back down to 180 pounds, which is where I was last time I went on a big diet and got myself back in good shape … almost 10 years ago.

Back then, I was also in the habit of shaving my head to show solidarity with those suffering from breast cancer. I managed to freak out a few people who saw my skinny, bald-headed frame and thought I had come down with some horrible wasting disease.

However, I wasn’t able to keep the pounds off due to depression and bad eating habits and lack of exercise. I’ve been stuck in the 240 pound to 250 pound range for several years. My former primary care physician retired three or four years ago and my current PCP has only ever seen me at my obese, 250-pound level. She’s a nice lady and I like her a lot …but she’s been almost a little too tactful: trying to manage my high blood pressure through one medication after another and saying very little about how maybe I should lose weight.

I am really, really, really looking forward to walking into her office in a few weeks or months and doing the normal pre-appointment weigh in and totally freaking out the nurses and then my PCP when they realize that I’ve lost 70-plus pounds since they last saw me.

Everyone should have a goal. That’s mine.

Baseball: “After”

By | July 24, 2019

So now it can be told: Carole did a splendid job on the Star-Spangled Banner at the July 22 Vermont Lake Monsters game, and I suck at throwing out first pitches.

As I said, throwing out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game ain’t no thing. No one gives a damn how spectacularly well, or spectacularly awful, the first pitch is unless it’s a celebrity at a major league game… and this certainly wasn’t that. Heck, there was hardly anyone¬†at Monday night’s game – 1,566 was the announced attendance, but at game start, honestly, I think it was probably half that. (That number may actually denote tickets sold, including season tickets, as opposed to butts-in-seats.) It was a gray day and it’d been raining off and on all afternoon and wasn’t really a great night for baseball.

A few minutes before the game, we (Carole and I and Carole’s dad Glenn, who was visiting from Ohio) were shown out onto the field along with some folks from the presenting sponsor for that night’s game (a pet supply company — the first 500 fans got a collapsible pet bowl) and briefed on our duties. Carole got to do a quick sound check, which eased her nerves, and for my part, I was reminded that I didn’t have to throw from the mound and that I could come as far forward as I wanted. Wish I’d paid attention to that.

I was a little surprised when it turned out that I wasn’t the only person throwing out the first pitch — they had¬†five balls to throw out, one for me and one each for the two adults and two kids from the sponsor. The sponsors got to go first — and it quickly devolved to the younger of the two kids, basically toddler aged, wobbling cutely around holding a ball while the parents and a catcher from the Lake Monsters coaxed him to toss it. Eventually the kid did and the catcher snagged it from approximately two feet away. Then the Lake Monsters mascot Champ stepped up and played catch with the kid for a bit. It was adorable.

So, this whole time, I’d been standing a few feet off to one side, kinda awkwardly, and when it finally was my turn, I wound up being my own worst enemy. Even though I’m quite sure that no one would have minded if I’d taken a few seconds to get myself squared away, I found myself kind of in a “must-throw-ball-NOW” mindset; we’d been out there for quite a while and I imagined that people in the stands were thinking “get on with it”.

So… pretty much as soon as the catcher had stepped back to the vicinity of home plate (he’d come almost all the way out to the mound for the toddler), I stepped up and …

… basically lobbed the ball right into the ground a few feet to one side of the catcher.

Sigh.

The catcher alertly snagged it on the bounce. I got a handshake from the catcher, got the ball back for a keepsake, and then it was time for Carole to sing.

(As we were leaving the field after the anthem, one of the Lake Monsters players in the dugout cheerfully snarked “Nice pitch” — but he was smiling as he said it, and to my credit, I just smiled back and said “Thanks!”.)

 

Weight Loss Update

By | July 22, 2019


Against all logic and reason, my weight loss plan is going well. From a high of 258 pounds in February, I’m down to 209.4 as of Saturday.

I know that people lie about their diets¬†all the time, but my scale is WiFi/Internet-integrated and the numbers don’t lie. It’s knowing that the scale will rat me out digitally for all to see that helps keep me honest. (I’ve got my IFTTT account set up to automatically tweet/share my weigh-ins, WeightGurus.com syncs to Fitbit, Fitbit updates my weight, IFTTT tweets it. Isn’t technology wonderful?)

I’m pleased by my progress, but at the same time I feel awkward about what may come across like bragging — as though that nice even line of descent from 255 to 230 to 209 was easy.

It wasn’t.

Okay,¬†some of the weight loss seemed to happen just by itself. I attribute that to stopping my carvedilol and losartan, both of which were prescribed to help with high blood pressure and neither of which was making any dent at all (I never could get my systolic blood pressure below 150 consistently while on those two drugs) and¬†both of which have a known side effect of causing water retention. Since stopping, my blood pressure didn’t get worse, but I lost a lot of weight very quickly, dropping from 255 to the upper 230s almost overnight.

But the rest is the result of some seriously anal calorie counting using the MyFitnessPal app and doing a¬†ton of walking. Case in point: I walked nine miles a day Monday through Thursday of last week and then close to eleven on Saturday. That kind of activity adds up. I’m walking to burn calories and I’m walking to build muscle. I eat a lot of high-protein/low-fat/low-sugar foods, too. So far, it all seems to be working.

But I’m borderline ‘hungry’ a lot of the time — the result of a body trained to expect food every time a little hunger surfaced, just like a cat who expects to be tossed cat treats on demand. Rest assured, I’m getting enough nutrition; being hungry doesn’t mean I’m on a starvation diet. Learning to ignore hunger, or at least to not give in to it, is the hardest part of dieting. Well, that and the “oh, what would one _____ hurt?” All the little lies we tell ourselves, you know?

I did all this once before, back in 2009-2010, and got down to 180 pounds. Then I put it all back on, and then some, in the intervening years. I blame depression and stress and a lot of lies-to-self. I hope this time I can keep it off. The only semi-guaranteed way to do¬†anything about high blood pressure is to lose weight. Once I’m down at my target weight, we’ll see where my BP winds up — and¬†then we can make a sensible decision regarding medication.

Baseball: “Before”

By | July 22, 2019

Tonight will be a special night in the Furr household.

Carole will be singing the national anthem at tonight’s Vermont Lake Monsters minor league baseball game, which is cool, and … I’ll be throwing out the first pitch, which isn’t actually all that cool. Or exciting. Or noteworthy.

The Lake Monsters play in the short-season A (low-level, the rung just above the rookie leagues) New York-Penn League. They’ve been averaging 2,251 fans per game this season, but that includes both the weekend games where they have fireworks and 25 cent hot dogs and free t-shirts for the first thousand fans AND the games where the skies threaten rain all day, and the free giveaway is a collapsible dog bowl with the Lake Monsters logo, and it’s Monday.

Today is Monday, and the free giveaway is a collapsible dog bowl with the Lake Monsters logo, and rain is in the forecast. I’m going to be surprised if they get much more than a thousand fans in the stands.

And that’s exactly what Carole wanted when she was asked (after submitting a video of herself singing the anthem at a Burlington Concert Band concert, and having been accepted into the Lake Monsters’ anthem-singers pool) what night she wanted to sing. She figured it’d be easier to sing at a low-attendance, low-expectations game than it would be to sing at a packed house.

That said, I think she’s going to be great. She’s been practicing quite a bit and she’s been in very good voice. Other than nerves and technical issues with the microphone (which we hope will be nonexistent), there’s no reason why she shouldn’t do an amazing job.

As for me — the imbecile throwing out the first pitch — well, that’s likely to be another story entirely. No one really pays any attention to whoever throws out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game unless it’s a bona-fide celebrity (local or otherwise) or if whoever has the honor has brought a lot of friends and family along. Most people don’t even register that there¬†is¬†a first pitch being thrown out; it’s all done in a very low-key fashion. The fans are too busy finding their seats, eating hot dogs, peering confusedly at their souvenir dog bowls, and so forth. It’s not until they call for the fans to rise for the anthem that anything happening on the field really registers on their radar to any great extent.

Of course, you do see YouTube videos of great “first pitch” fails at major league games — like the poor woman who plunked a cameraman standing along the first base line. You screw up colorfully enough, you’re going to get some notoriety. But again, we’re talking major league¬†there. There are a lot more eyeballs and television cameras, to say nothing of smartphone videos, involved. If I screw up horribly tonight, it will be little noted nor long remembered (‚ĄĘ A. Lincoln 1863).

But that said, in the mind of the person throwing the ball, it’s a low-reward high-risk experience. You’re so terrified of being one of the great all-time fails that you think too much and boom, you plunk a Little Leaguer who’s on the field for the national anthem festivities. It’s not really something I’ve ever really stayed up nights wanting to do.

So, with that said, you’re probably wondering how I came to be in this fix in the first place.

Well, so I am I.

I mean, I know¬†technically how I got the honor — I won a charity auction a few months ago for the right to throw out the first pitch at a Lake Monsters game.

The auction was one of those grab-bag online auctions where everything from ski passes at the local ski resort to gift certificates for local restaurants are up for bid. There are always some hotly desired items (a golf outing for four at the local PGA-level course) and some clunkers (have your fortune told by local Tarot card expert So-and-so). I find charity auctions kind of interesting for a couple of reasons — one, it’s amusing to see what sort of things the charity was able to get donated (tarot card readings? really?) and once in a while there actually¬†is¬†something desirable and worth bidding on. And if nothing else, there’s the urge to get in a moderately low bid early for something peculiar or strange and see if against all logic and reason it holds on and winds up as the winning bid.

This year’s auction on behalf of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (our main local theater and performing arts space) had 220 items up for auction — some interesting, some not. I won the bidding for two items (but put in bids on four or five more, none of which I was especially heartbroken to lose out on):

I have¬†absolutely no idea why I bid more than a few dollars on the whole first pitch thing. I can see bidding fifty bucks early on just for giggles with the expectation of being outbid in due course, and if I’d won at a bid of $50, well, why not? But $185? (Yes, $185. I’m embarrassed just typing it. That’s real money.) I do¬†not remember bidding that much and can only say that either I made a typo (and then overlooked the typo when the site asked me to confirm my bid) or I was just out of my damn mind late one night and was up web-surfing when I should have been sleeping. You know those late-night (or drunk) Amazon purchases you hear about? You’re insomniac and cranky (or drunk) and five days later a Christmas-edition Big Mouth Billy Bass shows up at your door? Well, I think “bidding $185 to make a total fool out of yourself in front of a thousand strangers” certainly falls into the same general area.

Did I mention that the package also included a free baseball cap and Lake Monsters mascot bobblehead?

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The cap turned out to be a leftover giveaway cap from last year’s Northeast Delta Dental cap night (although it is a nice cap; I’ve been wearing it on all my walks this summer) and the bobblehead definitely fills the “souvenir mascot bobblehead” niche in my life list, the one I didn’t know needed filling.

Have I been practicing? I meant to, but travel for work and other things cut into my free time and I didn’t get around to it — and then suddenly here we were, with only a couple days to go. I took a dozen baseballs to a local high school field yesterday and set up on the mound and aimed in the general direction of home plate. A third of my throws would have been right on the money. Another third or so would have required the catcher to step a couple steps to the left or right to make the catch. The others? Well, they weren’t as good. No cameramen would have been killed in the process, but they wouldn’t have had major league scouts calling up to sign me.

From what I understand, the most common mistake by first-pitch-throwers is shorting it; the advice generally given is to aim for three or four feet behind home plate, and hope it comes out in the wash. (I’ve never had a really strong throwing arm, so it probably doesn’t matter what I try to do; it’ll work out or not and all the planning and preparation I can do will probably not affect things in the slightest.)

Anyway, I expect to have some footage to share here later or tomorrow, both of Carole doing a tremendous job on the national anthem and me … doing whatever it is I wind up doing. I can say for sure that right now the words going through my mind are right out of Shepard’s Prayer (q.v.).

 

Lemur Art

By | July 15, 2019

Carole and I spent Memorial Day weekend down in Durham, NC, where we lived in the mid-1990s. (I lived there from the fall of 1993 to the spring of 1998; Carole was there from early 1996 to the spring of 1998.) Though we’d been back for a few weddings in the late 1990s, we hadn’t been back just for fun in almost twenty years.

We did all manner of nifty things — we hung out at the Sarah Duke Gardens at Duke University (that’s where we had our wedding ceremony in 1997), we ate a lot of tasty Southern food that we really didn’t need, we attended a Sunday morning service at Duke Chapel, we toured the Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile, we visited with friends… and we got to watch lemurs finger-painting!

I used to volunteer (pre-Carole) at the Duke University Primate Center (now known as the Duke Lemur Center) and have always had a fondness for the place. It’s changed a lot since my days there in 1993-1995 — much nicer buildings and equipment, much better education programs, you name it. They’re also¬†much more savvy these days about extracting money from well-meaning and lemur-loving donors.¬† For the right amount of money, you can be Keeper For A Day and experience feeding and tending to the lemurs; you can visit them in the woods and watch them merrily bounding about and climbing and leaping and stuff; you can ‘adopt’ a lemur and get periodic photos and updates of your special animal, and so on. (If you’re in the Durham, NC area and want a tour, click here. They have all kinds of cool opportunities.)

Aaaaaaand — you can¬†paint with lemurs.

Which we did.

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Okay, you don’t actually get to¬†do the painting. You get to pick two or three colors of lemur-safe finger paint and then sit back and watch while the lemurs track around on canvas boards trickled with the paint. The lemurs get bits of grapes to encourage them to get involved and they seem to enjoy it. A DLC employee named Faye did the paint-drizzling and grape-supplying and two black and white ruffed lemurs named Rees and AJ did the actual painting. It was a lot of fun.

Because we’re basically loons, we brought along some of our stuffed animals, which you’ll see in the photos above– two ringtailed lemurs (Mama Lemur and Baby Lemur), a Coquerel’s sifaka named Little Dude, and a slow loris named Lorelei. Faye wasn’t fazed by us walking in with stuffed animals; I imagine she’s seen weirder things.

As you’ll see in the photos, the lemurs crawled around on quite a few canvases but we were only allowed to pick three to take home with us. We took our three back home and had them framed. We assume the ones they kept will fetch high prices on the “lemur art” market.

Bear

By | July 9, 2019

Bear on my front porch this morning.

Yes, you’re supposed to take your bird feeders in during the spring so as not to attract bears coming out of hibernation. We’ve actually only had ours out for the last month or so.

Our reaction to the bear coming onto our porch today was “Hey, dammit, it’s JULY. Get lost. You’ve been awake for weeks.”

Parenthetically, it’s not illegal per se to have birdfeeders in Vermont. It’s generally accepted that you take them in at the end of the winter before bears wake from hibernation… but a lot of people put them back out again once late spring or early summer comes.

We checked the law, and the law says “it’s illegal to knowingly feed bears” — https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/10/113/04827a — and so that more or less translates to “if you know bears are raiding your birdfeeders, it’s illegal to leave them out.”

So, yeah, we’ll be taking them in until winter. It’s a pity, because our cats absolutely love watching the birds, but the law is there for a reason. You don’t want to train the local bear population to see human habitations as places to get a snack.

Stonewall 50

By | July 3, 2019

We missed the official anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by five days, but better late than never.

I’d like to keep this short and simple and just say two things:

  1. As far as I’m concerned, you can love whoever the hell you want.
  2. Anyone who says the battle for LGBTQ rights is all over and “won”, hasn’t been paying attention. We’ve come a long way but the fight is¬†not over.

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2019 ACDA “Gather at the River” Conference

By | July 2, 2019

I took part in the 2019 “Gather at the River” choral conference hosted by the Vermont chapter of the ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) this past weekend at Harwood Union High School in Duxbury (quack) Vermont.

I was part of the Hawaiian music “chamber choir” in addition to singing in the massed choir. I really liked the Hawaiian music we sang, and I got permission from our director, Jace Saplan of the University of Hawaii – Manoa choral program, to share the videos of our performance with you. (For more about Jace, see this article.)

(Jay was sitting in the audience recording and stopped recording at the end of the three-section Hawai’i Island Suite, not realizing we had a fourth piece — ‘Oiwi E — that we were about to do — but he turned recording back on as soon as he realized what was about to happen.)

We (the massed conference choir) also performed “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. We had two wonderful soloists and a great all around choir and I was more than happy to just be a member and enjoy being part of such a terrific group.