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Sunset reflection

holiday traditions: family means something different to me

Something has been gnawing at me this holiday season. I just don’t feel very celebratory. I know there are many factors contributing to this, including my employment situation and the outcome of the election.

But over the past few days, I’ve put a lot of thought into why things don’t completely add up at this time of year. And during the drive up to Connecticut, I discussed my dilemma with sprite, and I figured out a big part of why Christmas simply hasn’t felt right for the past many, many years: It’s because my own holiday traditions haven’t been part of the season for far too long.

Growing up in a small family with a variety of traditions meant that there wasn’t the typical family get-together on the 24th or 25th of December. We celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th (a nod to my dad’s heritage) and did a gift exchange and celebration on Three Kings’ Day (i.e. Russian Orthodox Christmas, a nod to my mom’s heritage) on January 6th. We did celebrate on the 25th as well, typically putting up our tree on the 24th (when you buy from a tree lot and you want the tree to last until January 6th, you wait until the last minute to keep the needles intact). There were presents on Christmas Day, and my grandmother would often come over, but it wasn’t a big “focus” day for the season.

Once I was a teenager, the thing I did more often than not was go skiing on Christmas morning. Let’s face it: if it snowed on Christmas Eve, the powder in the Wasatch was one of the best presents you could get for Christmas, and the the local resorts were seldom crowded.

But the big thing that did happen on December 25th was having our family of friends over for a celebratory holiday dinner. My parents both being immigrants, the extended family was made up of fellow immigrant expats. You heard the accents from Slavic languages, German, Dutch, Danish, and French. There were a few kids my age, as well, and we kept ourselves occupied while my parents and their friends wined and dined. The food was great. The company was friendly and jovial.

Since my parents’ divorce and my move to the east coast over 20 years ago, this tradition fell by the wayside. My mom doesn’t get together with her expat friends as much these days, due to the combined effects of age and growing apart from some of the group (who now travel to where their kids – my peers – have gone). My dad now lives on the west coast and celebrates a low-key, stay-at-home Christmas with his partner. And I celebrate with sprite’s family in New England.

And while I love the New England gathering and celebration – sprite’s family has welcomed me into the fold, parts of it are quite enjoyable, and I’m grateful to be part of their tradition – it’s not quite the same. Their Christmas is not the one I grew up with, that is mine. There’s a hole in my holidays that needs to be filled.

I see my close friends as my extended family, much as my parents saw their expat friends in a similar light, and I miss having a holiday gathering like I had growing up. We have a tree trimming party each December, but it’s more of an open house style party: great for seeing a big group of friends, but not really the same thing as before. I’m always milling about, serving food and drink, and it’s a tradition for sprite and me, but it doesn’t quite fill in the missing piece of the puzzle.

I see an inkling of what I’d like in the relatively new trend toward “Friendsgiving,” where friends gather to celebrate the harvest shortly before the more typical Thanksgiving family gathering. This idea clicks with me because, to be frank, my friends are as much family as anybody. This hearkens back to the Christmas celebrations of my youth and makes perfect sense.

So perhaps this holiday season I will try to rekindle a long dormant family tradition. I realize it can’t happen on the 25th, as my friends are scattered about the country for their family celebrations. So perhaps sometime around Three Kings’ Day a gathering can occur. Or maybe it’ll be just a mid-winter gathering to start out, given time constraints and the fact that TKD falls on a Friday this year and I have to be up for ski coaching work early the next morning.

I guess what I’ve realized is that traditions matter, if only for a sense of personal place and purpose. And while some can and should pass on, some deserve to be held near and dear. I know you can’t go back to what was, but bringing part of that back to the fore may be the necessary re-centering I need around the year-end holidays.

From me to you: happy holidays.

(Special thanks to Nick C. for some editorial advice – cheers!)

Frosty the Snowman

virtual advent: the alternate holiday tv specials and movies

Yes, we all know the holiday TV specials that have become canon. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus are all December television viewing for kids from 2 to… well, their 60s, given the fond memories many have of their favorites.

Holiday movies are also a tried-and-true sign of Christmas here in The Burrow. From White Christmas to Love ActuallyThe Bishop’s Wife to The Polar Express, the old standbys are always good viewing – or good background noise while writing Christmas/ Hanukkah/Festivus cards.

As sprite well knows, I tend toward parody and the obscure. So with that in mind, here are some of my favorite parodies of classic TV Christmas and holiday programs, and a few of my favorite… warped TV special faves.

A Charlie Brown Christmas – alternate ending

Aired on Saturday Night Live back on December 14, 2002, this alternate ending to the 1965 animated holiday TV classic finds the Peanuts gang harnessing the magical powers of waving their hands in the air (i.e. the action that the animators used to depict the gang de-decorating Snoopy’s doghouse and transforming the twig-tree into a masterpiece). “We have magical powers!”

Some cool things about this “TV Funhouse” animated short: Louis CK was one of its co-writers; Brad Pitt voiced himself; and it was dedicated with full love and respect to Charles Schultz, Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez, and Vince Guaraldi.

The Narrator That Ruined Christmas

Another SNL “TV Funhouse” animated short, this aired on December 15, 2001, when New York City and the country were still a bit raw from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Leave it to Robert Smigel and his writers and animators to take Sam the Snowman (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and make him find the entire annual recitation of the classic story a bit pointless in the shadow of the recent attacks. So after going on a drunken depressed bender (while kids watching from home on the TV watch in bewilderment), Sam takes the kids, Rudolph, and Hermey to the World Trade Center site. Santa needs to intervene, and eventually leads the assembled crowd in a healing, unifying sing-along.

I tip my hat to the animators of this short for really capturing the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation style.

Christmastime for the Jews

Yet another SNL “TV Funhouse” short, and another nod to Rankin/Bass Animagic® style, this one features the one-and-only Darlene Love (of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” fame who performed said song on David Letterman’s late-night shows for 28 consecutive years) belting out a Christmas ode to those of the Jewish faith, and their unique (albeit extremely stereotypical) customs of December 25th.

This new classic first aired on December 17, 2005.

Community: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

Community loved to film parodies that were loving nods to their influences. In 2010, their Christmas episode was a stop-motion special in the Rankin/Bass style.

The whole episode is available on Netflix, for those who wish to see it in its crazy entirety.

Doctor Who Holiday Shorts

While new series of Doctor Who traditionally debut at Chrismastime, the famous time traveler often performs other holiday feats. The Doctor often features in short subjects for Comic Relief or Children in Need, two excellent British charities. Here are a few classics that featured over the years:

Doctor Who and the Case of the Fatal Death (Comic Relief 1993):

This short from 1993 features Rowan Atkinson as The Doctor, Jonathan Pryce as The Master, and many others as… The Doctor. Luckily, this didn’t burn through any official regenerations. (And no, this technically didn’t air over Christmas, but it fits with the BBC’s tendency to parody Doctor Who during their various charity drives – which leads us to…)

The Doctor meets Newt Scamander (Children in Need 2016):

One of the big end-of-year blockbusters this season is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a Harry Potter prequel, of sorts. Eddie Redmayne plays the lead character, Newt Scamander, and after filming one scene, he calls the BBC on the hunt for the “Children in Need” campaign, Pudsey Bear.

Sure, The Doctor doesn’t appear until well into this (at the 2:02 mark for those playing at home), but the whole thing is a great tribute to BBC stars with some excellent comedic timing.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Who introduced Pia Zadora to the filmgoing public? Santy Claus, of course:

This is an awful B-grade film, a crude attempt at mashing up sci-fi and Christmas movies. It routinely makes “Worst Film of All Time” lists – for good reason. But the best way to enjoy it is with the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew providing rolling commentary, their wit first hitting the airwaves on December 21, 1991. Seriously, it’s the only way to make the movie palatable.

But I’ve saved the worst for last…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

This is possibly the worst holiday TV special ever made – honestly, it’s terrible (I think sprite sat through it once, and possibly not through the whole thing). But hey: Star Wars was a hot commodity in 1978, so it made perfect sense for Lucas and company to cash in on things. After all, the cast was all signed on to film The Empire Strikes Back, and music-variety shows still had some clout on network television, so have a look. I encourage you to scan around, because it’s a really rough 96 minutes.

Yeah, it is that bad. After the opening credits, there is a nearly nine minute stretch with nothing but wookie grunts. The plot drags. The all-star cameos read like a who’s who of 1970s panel game shows. The Jefferson Starship performance is odd. The Diahann Carroll bit is soft-core porn, for all intents and purposes. And Carrie Fisher is very obviously on some… chemical enhancement as she warbles the atrocious “Life Day” song.

Sir Alec Guinness dodged a serious career tarnishing bullet by sitting this one out.

But hey: it is the show that introduced Boba Fett to the Star Wars universe, so there’s a plus. And yes, I have this on DVD from a less cleaned-up copy than this stream. The vintage TV commercials are often (always?) more entertaining than the show. For what it’s worth, this show aired exactly once, on November 17, 1978. Lucas was so embarrassed by the end product that he ordered it permanently removed from circulation, and for a very long time his company worked tirelessly to remove all copies from online distribution (though that stance seems to have loosened since Lucasfilm was sold to Walt Disney).

What holiday specials, parodies, and movies are on your must-see list every year? Talk about it in the comments!

This post is part of spritewrites’ Virtual Advent Tour.

Virtual Advent Tour 2016

virtual advent: st. nicholas’ (and krampus’) day (and night)

For many European families, St. Nicholas’ Day (SND) is the beginning of the holiday season. On December 6th (the anniversary of the death of Nikolaus of Myra), children would wake up to see if St. Nicholas had left a present in their shoes. The present was typically some sort of sweet treat (candy or fruit), and sometimes a small gift.

16th century icon of St. Nicholas

Circa 1500 icon of Nikolaus of Myra. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In my family, with Euro parents, we always did a little something for SND. My shoes would be filled with candy (typically M&Ms or Hershey Kisses) and a small gift (often something for skiing: ski socks, goggles, a hat, and the like).

Candy in shoes from St. Nicholas - used via Creative Commons

This is far more elaborate than it ever was for me, but you get the gist. (Image via Creative Commons)

In my youth, St. Nicholas was always a benevolent gift giver. And we would return the gift in kind to our neighbor, Nick, delivering him a bottle of brandy on his namesake day.

The night before SND is Krampusnacht, when the embodiment of the devil, Krampus, scours the towns looking for poorly behaved children. Krampus punishes the bad children – in the stories, he either beats them with a birch switch or stuffs them into his large sack, kidnapping them into a life of hard labor to pay the price for their evildoing. He evolved from pagan traditions, being wrapped into the Christian faith – specifically in relation to Saint Nicholas – sometime in the 17th century as a “bad cop” to Nicholas’ “good cop” persona.

Krampus on a sled

Krampus on a sled. (Image via Creative Commons)

And most European kids were scared to death of Krampus.

St. Nicholas and Krampus are fairly common figures throughout Europe, even if they don’t go by identical names. For example, in parts of Switzerland, St. Nicholas and Krampus are Sammichalus and Schmutzli. Rick Steves has a great clip of the Swiss Sammichlaus tradition that always brings a smile to my face (and yes, the vistas of the Alps and all the snow may have more than a little influence on that smile).

I asked my mom about her recollections of SND as a child during her time in the Salzach Valley area of Austria. She says that, to her and her friends, SND was always Krampustag (on the 6th rather than the 5th), with St. Nicholas and Krampus working their way through the small alpine village, going from house to house to see if the kids were good. As this was during World War II, the evil aspect of the holiday was at the fore, and the kids – especially refugees like my mom – took extra precautions to make sure they were on St. Nicholas’ “good kid” list.

My dad celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day growing up, with Sinterklaas and his evil sidekick, Zwarte Piet, making the rounds on the night of December 5th. One thing I didn’t know from this (as it was never really explained), is that Zwarte Piet is traditionally portrayed in blackface, as Piet is intended to be a Moor from Spain. Is it culturally insensitive? You bet! Luckily, the blackface aspect is dying off in The Netherlands, albeit very slowly.

St. Nicholas and Krampus

Saint Nicholas and Krampus examine a bag full of “evil” children. (Image via Creative Commons)

The Krampus never made his way to my household as a kid. I only discovered him via my German classes in high school and college. Over the past decade or so, Krampus has developed a growing following here in the States, with Krampusnacht celebrations popping up all over the place (typically on a Friday or Saturday night to allow for a lot of drinking, as these celebrations typically center around a pub crawl).

In our household, sprite and I typically get a visit from Saint Nick and enjoy the sweet treats he leaves in our shoes (luckily for us, he tends to favor some of the less funky footwear in the house). And Krampus? He only really appears on a t-shirt in my holiday wardrobe.

This post is part of spritewrites’ Virtual Advent Tour.

Virtual Advent Tour 2016

Coffeeneuring during foliage season

coffeeneuring 2016: something old, something new…

It’s autumn, so it’s time for another round of Coffeeneuring. Still being underemployed (seriously, folks: somebody hire me!), I didn’t really jump on the challenge like I did last year. Perhaps it’s the general malaise of being extremely constricted financially, perhaps it’s that my hip is being pesky (let’s just say that, once ski season is done, that hip replacement can’t come soon enough), or just exhaustion from a contentious political season that left me emotionally spent.

Let’s face it: it’s been a tough 2016. I’ve had some great highs and some awful lows. As the year nears its end, my level of optimism isn’t particularly high. But there are bit of hope. Ski season is nigh, and I’m enjoying the challenge of being Head Coach for Liberty Mountain Race Team. The holidays always bring friends and family together – and these connections matter more than ever during low times.

And without fail, the bike provides escape to a more carefree world – a needed batch of smiles and freedom, if only for a while. Get your escape where you can, right?

Following in last year’s footsteps, I didn’t choose a secondary theme. This is likely because of my general “meh” feeling of late – I just couldn’t be bothered to think up some funky way to bind all of these rides together other than “well, they all have a coffee break in the itinerary.” So that will have to do for another year.

As with last year, if you click on the mileage numbers you can see the Strava recordings of each ride. These contain additional photos from each adventure and are worth the click!

Adventure the First:
Date: 10 October
Distance Ridden: 67.5 miles
Location: Middle Ground Cafe, Stafford Springs, CT
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (on a main drag through the center of a New England mill town, so not a lot of bike parking adjacent to the shop, though the town is sleepy enough that leaning your bike outside the shop is fairly safe; lots of great food options here)
Drink: double espresso (Counter Culture… I think?)


Lesson Learned: My first coffeeneuring outing for 2016 happened over Columbus Day weekend while sprite and I were in Connecticut. My initial plan for this day was to ride a full 100 mile century visiting Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts with three or four stops for coffee. However, the day started out a bit more chilly than planned, so I got off to a later start and had to scrap the three state itinerary. I decided to improvise my route instead, while still making at least two coffee stops. This was the first stop, and one I’d been meaning to visit for some time. It was worth it: fun staff and a really great pull of espresso. I also stopped at Coriander Café in Eastford, one of my stops in 2015, and enjoyed lunch in the sun. The new route introduced me to some lovely gravel roads through scenic and peaceful woods, as well as a country store that offered many kinds of candies for 2¢ per piece – score! I arrived home just before sunset. Tara Rule invoked.

Adventure the Second:
Date: 22 October
Distance Ridden: 14.5 miles
Location: Armed Forces Retirement Home grounds, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 5/10 (not a place you can ride outside of DCCX, but the roads are fun and winding, and it’s a splendid venue for cyclocross, roads to access the AFRH have bike lanes and nice pavement)
Drink: drip coffee (Ceremony Coffee from La Mano Coffee)


Lesson Learned: The plan for this coffeeneuring day was to do some on-the-spot brewing for The Bluemont Connection and District Cycle Works at their DCCX tent. However, the weather was very windy, so any hope of running a camp stove to heat water was quickly quashed. Luckily, Idit was able to stop at La Mano Coffee and brought hot coffee and chai for folks to enjoy. The racing was spectacular – so cool to have a UCI cyclocross race within the District of Columbia! I also got to cheer on many friends in their races, catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and take in a place in DC that I’d only seen from the windows of National Rehabilitation Hospital back in January 2014. Coffeehouse in the wild.

Adventure the Third:
Date: 5 November
Distance Ridden: 48.4 miles
Location: Spokes Etc., Belle View (Alexandria), VA
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (it’s a bike shop, so it’s bike friendly by design, though the road it’s on has a decent amount of traffic; there’s also another good coffee shop in the same shopping plaza)
Drink: drip coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts)

#latergram of my #coffeeneuring at the @potomacpedalers maintenance clinic at @spokesetc in Belle Haven.

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: I was at Spokes to help teach a bicycle maintenance clinic for Potomac Pedalers. The coffee and donuts were procured from the Dunkin’ next door to the bike shop. The class was held in the basement of the store, where Park Tool classes are typically conducted. There’s also a large storage area down here, where Spokes keeps hundreds of bikes at the ready to sell. I rode to and from the clinic, and after the class concluded I went on a ride around the Fort Hunt area with my friend Ed, who was fresh off a multi-week trip to the Canadian maritimes. It was a great day for riding a bike, and the foliage at Fort Hunt Park was spectacular!

Adventure the Fourth:
Date: 6 November
Distance Ridden: 5.6 miles
Location: Grace Street Coffee, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (easy to get to and has lots of tasty food with its fellow co-location businesses, but there’s a lack of good places to lock a bike in front of the store, and a narrow sidewalk preventing the installation of racks – though there is a bike rack at a plaza adjacent to the C&O Canal Towpath approximately 200 feet west of the shop entrance)
Drink: latté (Grace Street Coffee Roasters)

#coffeeneuring in Georgetown – cool new coffee house in the ‘hood. #alwaysbecoffeeneuring

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: The new coffee house in Georgetown is a funky little place, and opened just before this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge commenced – splendid timing. The space is shared with a juice bar and a brick-and-mortar location of SUNdeVICH, a well-known food truck. It’s also on the same street as the awesome Dog Tag Bakery (another solid coffee stop) and Chaia (vegetarian tacos!). The crew in there is always in motion, which is good, as they became backlogged with orders due to a lack of barista manpower. The space seems like a good place to hang out or even get some work done. There’s a cute little patio in the back of the space that gets sun at some points in the day. sprite and I ended up enjoying our beverages and edibles (the latter from Dog Tag) in the little plaza outside of HOK Design, next to the C&O Canal.

Adventure the Whateverth:
Date: 12 November
Distance Ridden: 78.1 miles
Location: Zaglio’s Bakery, Poolesville, MD
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (tasty treats, friendly staff, and a good bathroom here, though no bike parking in the strip mall location)
Drink: drip coffee (roaster unknown)

#coffeeneuring and #granddonut? Yum!

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: This coffeeneuring stop was the main rest stop on a lovely weekend ride with Ted. We rolled out to Poolesville via both well-traveled and less-well-known roads, making Zaglio’s our primary coffee and snack stop. My donut there was awesome: light and fluffy, with chocolate, caramel, and coconut flake toppings. The foliage on this ride had some spectacular flourishes (see the headline image for this post as an example), though it was definitely heading into a past-peak state along many parts of our route. We made quite a few stops for pictures, as the weather and the light were ideal for this. Early in the ride, we saw Dru Ryan at the Starbucks in Potomac Village Shopping Center – great to finally meet him in person. He was rocking some excellent A Tribe Called Quest socks, appropriate given their new album dropped the previous day.

Adventure the Whateverth-plus-two:
Date: 13 November
Distance Ridden: 5.1 miles
Location: Kristina’s Cafe and Pastries, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (on a side street off of the lower end of MacArthur Boulevard, no bike racks but plenty of deck space for parking a bike, clean bathroom inside, and decent food options)
Drink: latté machiatto (Illy Coffee)

#latergram of my #coffeeneuring outing with sprite to @kristinascafe in Foxhall Village. #latte #caffeine #bikeDC

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: sprite and I spent some Sunday afternoon time on this coffeeneuring outing to the new café in Foxhall Village. Our route involved a couple of sidewalk stretches to avoid cresting the hill at the intersection of Reservoir and Foxhall Roads, taking us instead through the lovely British pastiche of Foxhall Village. The café wasn’t busy – it was late in the afternoon – but the one outside table in full sun was taken by another patron. We managed to move another table into the sun, which was nice. Our cupcakes were underwhelming: small and nondescript. My latté was better than the cupcake by far, though I wish this place used coffee from a local roaster – nothing against Illy, but given the wealth of local options in coffee roasting, it seems odd to go with “the Starbucks of Italy.”

Adventure the Whateverth-plus-a-few:
Date: 19 November
Distance Ridden: 66.8 miles
Location: Cafe Kindred, Falls Church, VA
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (1.5 blocks from the W&OD Trail, 1 block from Bikenetic, )
Drink: double espresso (Vigilante Coffee)

#coffeeneuring stop the whateverth-plus-a-few: espresso at Cafe Kindred. #radlerlife

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: This day was the last one predicted to be really warm for a while (likely for the rest of the year), and my available days for riding on weekends are coming to a close with the approach of ski season. So I gathered some friends and went on a lovely bike ride in northern Virginia, all the while logging my final coffeeneuring stop for the season. The ride spent a lot of its outbound leg on the W&OD Trail, and it was great to see the new segment of trail in Vienna: wide, smooth, with good sight lines. There were a lot of people on the trail, but nothing like the density of mid summer. Once in Reston, we ventured north off the trail toward Great Falls. The sunny, pleasant weather was perfect for riding, and a bit of die-hard foliage greeted us along Beach Mill Drive. Ed led us down an unpaved, slightly rough trail to Great Falls Park. We had a snack stop at Yas Bakery in Vienna, a favorite Persian market, where sour cherry nectar was the drink of choice. On the way back to DC, Marc and I had a lunch, espresso, and beer break at Cafe Kindred – so good! As we left, a dark wall of clouds approached from the west. The air grew colder, the wind started to gust. By the time I reached Georgetown, gingko berries hit me like rocks due to the stiff, gusting wind. I sought shelter at District Cycle Works, then made the rest of the ride home just before the rain began to fall. Winter definitely rolled in with fury.

Total Mileage: 286 miles

Friends visit me at NRH, January 2014

how to deal with orthopedic surgery: before and after

Recently, a friend of mine suggested I post a guide for people dealing with orthopedic surgery. After all, it’s traumatic, life-disrupting, frustrating, and mysterious.

As #projectfemur is an orthopedic adventure – and one that is ongoing, with new chapters ahead – I thought that it would be good to get this stuff down in writing. So here, without any further ado, is my basic guide (and it will evolve over time, as I remember more key points):

  1. Enter with a positive attitude. You’re getting the surgery regardless, so you might as well embrace the situation and enter with optimism, smiles, and a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors tough questions before surgery. They are there to help, and for some people – especially for me – I like to know what’s going to happen. I’ve had some great Q&A sessions with admit nurses, anesthesiologists, X-ray techs, and my surgeons. Some of the questions are totally banal, others are quite serious and complex – and all received thoughtful, appropriate answers.
  3. During the first 24 to 48 hours after surgery, you likely won’t feel quite like yourself. Anesthesia, opioid pain killers, nerve blocks, and the like wreak havoc with your mind. They can give you a false sense of happiness, can make you queasy, and can even make you do things you would never do when sober. There’s a good reason most hospitals make you sign a document stating that they can’t be held responsible for any decisions you make while under the influence of anesthesia.
  4. Follow your doctor’s/physical therapist’s recovery prescription to the letter. Don’t rush the recovery. Your body won’t always communicate what’s going on (especially when you are on the high-level pain meds), so it’s best to be conservative and let things heal. Orthopedic surgery is traumatic, and the body responds to trauma by slowing itself down, concentrating its energy on healing things.
  5. Manage your pain. Trust me on this: it’s always best to be ahead of the pain curve, especially in the early days of recovery. Pain often creates more problems than it solves, including biomechanical compensation that can lead to new or further injuries. And for some people pain is a good indicator of progress in healing, or that a move you’re trying to do isn’t smart. But this isn’t about completely eliminating pain, but managing your pain. So lay off the heavy-duty painkillers as soon as you can, but the non-addictive ones? They’re good to have by your side.
  6. Get rest. Sleep when your body says it needs to sleep. The rest will help with recovery, and will also help you during your awake periods when you’ll need the energy for PT, day-to-day life, and socializing.
  7. Eat healthy food before and after the surgery. Sure, have some treats here and there – you will crave and, frankly, need them after all you’ve been through. But it’s best to stick with healthy, balanced, real food meals. Eat complete proteins. Make sure you get all of your necessary vitamins in your diet. Lay off the alcohol for a bit (at least lay off the second drink, and if you are on opioids or high-dose acetaminophen, try and abstain completely). You’ll heal faster, have more energy, and will gain less weight while you’re down.
  8. Realize that your body will be different after the surgery. Things won’t necessarily work like they did before Your biomechanics will be changed. Accept this as a welcome challenge, because you will get better and learn how to work with your renewed body parts.
  9. Accept that there can – and likely will – be setbacks. Have patience. Be ready for them, and treat them as speed bumps. Be honest with your friends and loved ones – and most of all, yourself – about the setbacks and related frustrations. They will pass, given time.
  10. Smile a lot, and have a sense of humor about the situation. Attitude is everything! Honestly, this is possibly the biggest key to maintaining composure and optimism during the throes of recovery. When in doubt, read a favorite pick-me-up book or watch a go-to movie or TV series. For me, the James Bond films were must-see recovery fodder after both of my surgeries.

Like I said earlier, there’s bound to be more – that’s just what I can rattle off right now.

Have any advice? Leave it in the comments!

(The picture at the top is from January 2014, during my recovery from the original #projectfemur surgery, when my friends Mary, Ed, Ryan, and Ted stopped by for a visit.)

#projectfemur: my hip is now missing a couple of bits… for the better

My hip/femur is now a few grams lighter. There’s less pain and more mobility. #projectfemur – for now – feels quite a bit better.

Sixteen days ago, Dr. Faucett removed some of the hardware from my January 2014 reconstructive surgery. As I wrote about in my previous post, the screws that bound my femoral head to the rod that aligned my broken femur had made their way into my hip capsule, playing bundles of nerves like a guitar pick on a string.

It was painful, to say the least. Standing up, sitting down, lifting my leg, walking, running, skiing – it all hurt. In the weeks leading into this most recent surgery, even riding my bike was painful. The nerves were so aggravated on a ride one week prior to my surgery that my entire right leg went numb, and I had to ride 25 miles back to DC more-or-less on one leg’s worth of power.

No more screws

Look ma: no more screws!

The surgery was a laparoscopic procedure, minimally invasive. One screw came out without a hitch, while the other brought a bit of dead bone with it on the way out so I wasn’t able to keep it. There was a ton of post-operative swelling: laparoscopy requires a lot of fluid to be flushed through the working area to provide a view for the camera, so the incisions drained for the better part of 30 hours. It was painful at first, and awkward.

But the pain soon subsided (I was off of the opioids within a couple of days, save for a few nights’ worth to aid sleep comfort during the heat wave), the swelling went down, and mobility returned to my leg rather quickly. I’m on a prescription NSAID (Celebrex, FWIW) that’s keeping any latent pain in check, but there isn’t a lot of pain to be found. I was cleared to bear full weight on the leg from the get-go, and graduated from two crutches to one within a week.

So things are better, much better.

However, the nerve pain being greatly reduced shows me how much biomechanical compensation I’ve introduced into my walking over the past year. My right hip flexor, gluteus, adductors, and hamstrings are very weak, and my right abductor is smaller than its left counterpart. In fact, my upper leg is one inch smaller in diameter than the left, and both legs are very lean right now. Below the knee, things are just about equal.

Two legs, two sizes

My legs as of August 31, 2016: one is smaller than the other…

So I know what work I need to do in the next two months: get the right leg back into shape and try to get back some of the flexibility it had before necrosis set in. I know not to expect 100 percent pre-injury mobility, and that even 100 percent pre-injury strength is tough given the femur is still eroding. But getting things into shape, and closer to equilibrium, is key, whether I’m heading into a full ski season this winter or a total hip replacement just after Halloween (the timeline depends on how pain levels even out over the next 4-6 weeks, but I’m optimistic).

Dr. Faucett says it’s now entirely my own timeline to write, and I have a prescription for physical therapy to help along the problem areas. The muscles are already saying “thank you” to me in anticipation.

I’ll be researching orthopedists to do my total hip replacement. I have two primary parameters: the orthopedist must be well versed in revisions of previous hip replacements (i.e. compensating for already-compromised and rebuilt joints), and must be good at rebuilding the hips of impact sport athletes. I will leave no stone unturned in finding the right surgeon and the right replacement hardware for my needs.

Until then, I’m back on the bike, starting tonight at the penultimate “Downtown Breakaway” for the year. It’s a ride I organize every year, and I’ve missed the last two weeks due to the surgery. While I won’t be at 100 percent, it’ll be good to be back out there on two wheels with my friends.

Stay tuned…

#projectfemur turns 2.0: osteonecrosis

I know, I know: it’s been a long while since my last update on… well, anything. For this, I apologize.

Heck, two years ago this week, I went on one of my first club bike rides after my surgery.

First club ride after surgery, August 9, 2014.

It was awesome – as was the 2015 riding season!

During the 2015-16 winter season, I had a really successful alpine ski coaching experience, helping my athletes qualify for elite regional championship competitions.

Coach Rudi at Sunday River, March 2016

That rocked!

But there was a specter lurking in the background. It is a single word:

osteonecrosis

Also known as avascular necrosis, it’s a condition where blood supply gets cut off within a bone, causing the bone to die. It is caused by any number of things, and I’m not sure how I happened to develop it, but it’s there, clear as day, in my femoral head.

Avascular necrosis has taken over my femoral head - not good.

Avascular necrosis has taken over my femoral head – not good.

How did my discovery of this come about?

Let’s do a quick recap:

After my one year surgery anniversary, things were good:

My femoral head, one year after its repair.

My femoral head, one year after its repair.

See that nice, round femoral head? See the clean mending of where I was once broken in two? All good!

I skied in 2014-15. I rode my bike a lot once I was free to ride outdoors. I hiked. I ran.

But then things went off the rails.

Back around Thanksgiving of 2015, I started to feel a bit of pain and catching in my right hip. It was here-and-gone stuff, and while my hip had always been a bit stiff in the morning, until then it had been able to get into the swing of things rather quickly on most days.

But by late November, the pain was more intense, sharper, and sustained. Sure, it would go away after a little while, but sometimes it would just stay there all day. Ibuprofen would calm the pain most of the time, but not all of the time. And I’d get a real nerve pinch down my adductor (I believed this to be a lingering side-effect of tearing said adductor a few years before my femur break).

As the ski season commenced, the pain continued to intensify. When I flew out to Utah for a USSA certification clinic, some of the on-snow exercises were tough to pull off. I noticed a decreasing ability to lift my right leg laterally. Every afternoon after the skiing was over, I’d spend time in the hot tub at my hotel, then stretch to try and loosen my hip, often to only semi-successful levels.

During a bike ride over the Christmas holidays in Connecticut, my right adductor would lock up in a painful way, and my hip would mis-track, causing my entire pedal stroke to degrade into spasmodic chaos – no fun. And a ski camp that occurred immediately thereafter was equally pain-laden, though skiing wasn’t too difficult to pull off without pain.

However, as the ski season continued (I was coaching four days per week all season long, sometimes more during intense racing times, from January through mid-March), the pain grew, the pain medications were less effective, and certain activities required in my work (e.g. having to drive long-ish distances to racing venues, skiing with large, heavy bundles of slalom gates, etc.) became downright excruciating. I’d demonstrate skills to my racers, trying to mask the pain in my expression. I even fell on the screws that attached my femoral head during the initial healing time, which was not pleasant at all, smarting for weeks.

Every day was masked in hip pain that would, at times, radiate down my leg. My walking gait became so labored and awkward that everybody could tell something was wrong. At least on a bike, I could be more-or-less normal, my December pain eventually subsiding as I began to ride more in the spring. But my range of motion in my right leg was compromised, catching in painful ways and making me feel like an old, helpless man.

Eventually, I had to clear things up with my orthopedist. X-rays happened, finding that one of the screws in the femoral head had been knocked through the head, the tip impinging my hip socket and possibly dragging over nerve bundles that travel down my leg. My doctor thought this could be part of the cause of the pain, and said that the screws should come out – a simple outpatient procedure.

My femoral head as of June 2016.

My femoral head as of June 2016.

Worrying both my doctor and me, though, was a random bone fragment that showed itself on another X-ray. As X-rays don’t show things in three dimensions, he ordered a CT scan for my right hip. I had it performed at GW Hospital, in their latest CT scanner (a very quiet machine).

When my doctor called me two days later from an out-of-town conference, I knew things were not good.

He kept it simple: I had osteonecrosis, and am facing total hip replacement.

Fuck. Damn. Shit. Why? How? Fuuuuuuuuck!

I received this news a few days before departing for a week long family vacation at Cape Cod, which left me plenty of time to digest this news and start researching my options. There is a lot to learn about hip replacement, that’s for sure!

The long and short: I’ll get back my leg length and range of motion with any hip replacement method, which is a big plus. The minus is that anything other than basic cruising on alpine skis is highly discouraged, as it can displace, dislocate, or fully break the replacement hip. I hope to speak with some elite ski coaches who have had THR to get their perspectives on living with a replacement hip as a high-level skier.

I’ve since seen a second orthopedist to get a second opinion – major medical things like this should get a second opinion – and he confirmed the same diagnosis as my original doctor. He did, however, recommend having the hardware from #projectfemur removed first (the same thing my original orthopedist recommended), allowing the femur to adjust to a non-titanium-enhanced state and to prevent possible infection of the marrow channel if I get a total hip replacement during the same surgery.

And that’s what I’m going to do this coming Monday, August 15th, with my original doctor, Dr. Faucett, doing the honors. It’s a short, outpatient procedure, and recovery should be fairly quick. Hopefully, getting the screws out of my hip socket will alleviate much of the leg pain I have these days – and it is a lot of pain, lemme tell ‘ya!

But I look forward to this next chapter of #projectfemur – and yes, it’ll need a new hashtag. I’ll figure that out sometime soon.

Once the incisions heal and swelling subsides from this upcoming surgery, I’ll assess my pain levels. And I’m going to keep riding my bike – something that’s encouraged by both doctors to maintain strength and cardiovascular health (trust me, I don’t want another pulmonary embolism or similar issue). I’ll be on crutches for a few days, then a cane, then just plain walking again.

And then the bike – definitely the bike.

It’ll be a minimum of two months before I dive into the more major procedure of total hip replacement. Hopefully I’ll get enough pain relief to delay this until spring of 2017 – and thus will be able to ski and perform my coaching duties more-or-less as usual. If not, surgery will likely happen later in the fall, and I’ll be coaching from a lawn chair. I’m up to the challenge, either way.

But right now my focus is on Monday’s surgery. And I apologize in advance to the ski team’s board of directors: I may be a bit groggy during the evening conference call that evening. Heheheheh…

A Chapter Closes in My Life (i.e. Thanks, Dave!)

A quick post (yeah, it’s been too long) about the retirement of David Letterman:

As most people know, Letterman left NBC on less-than-happy terms in the spring of 1993.

I left Salt Lake City, Utah, for Connecticut (for both happy and less-than-happy reasons) in August of 1993.

And the week after I arrived in Connecticut after a cross-country journey in my little Dodge Raider, Dave launched The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS (“the Tiffany network”).

I remember watching his first CBS shows from the living room of the group house I called home in Rocky Hill. I had just signed on to a job (Assistant Manager at the Wethersfield outlet of Strawberries Music), and was relieved to have found a source of income. Everything would be OK.

I sensed the same relief in Dave’s first week of CBS shows: he’d landed on his feet, and everything would be OK.

Now Dave has ended his 33 year experiment on television, from his fitful start on daytime TV, to two successful, groundbreaking, thoroughly enjoyable late night shows that blew apart the paradigm set by Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was equal parts silly teenager and old grump, wearing his flaws on his sleeve and able to parry and dodge with the most evasive of guests. He was a master interviewer when he chose to be, and a first-rate smart ass just as often.

Along the way, he moved the goalposts for all late night television hosts to follow. The Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel), Conan O’Brien, Seth Myers, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson, and James Corden all owe their shows to Dave.

(A special nod to Craig Ferguson, to my eyes the only late night host to push the medium beyond Dave’s model by further deconstructing the tried-and-true Carson formula.)

His final episode ran long, and rightfully so. He didn’t want to leave any member of his Worldwide Pants family unrecognized. He wanted to give the CBS Orchestra (still the World’s Most Dangerous Band) their full due. His face beamed when he recognized his wife and son in the audience. And he let the Foo Fighters play him out.

I feel lucky to have attended two tapings of Dave’s show, both times with Sam, back in the late 1990s, both times ending up in the 3rd row, right in front of Dave’s desk (I must’ve impressed the producers who interview the audience while it queues in the lobby to score great seats twice). Seeing the show in person was a treat, especially hearing Paul Shaffer and the band play full-length songs. These are NYC memories I’ll always cherish.

With Dave leaving the TV landscape, a chapter in my life comes to a close. It happens shortly after another chapter in my life closed (my job at Georgetown University), so it seems strangely appropriate.

So thank you, Dave. May your retirement be full of happy memories with Harry and Regina.

the one year anniversary of #projectfemur: quite the ride

It’s now been a whole year since #projectfemur began.

On January 11, 2014, a simple, tumbling fall while trying to avoid hitting a tree brought forth a broken femur, surgery, bilateral pulmonary embolism, and months of tough physical therapy.

One year later, I’m essentially back to normal. The leg is strong. I’m walking and running normally. My flexibility is closer to my “normal” every day. I’m riding my bike again. I’m back on skis and smiling every time I carve a high-speed GS turn on hardpack or ski the trees through deep powder.

I have many people to thank for this. My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Scott Faucett, put me back together again with skill and kindness. The doctors and physical therapists at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (especially Claire and Katie, my OT and PT, respectively) kicked my butt (and my arms) back into shape. The pulmonologists at George Washington University Hospital helped me through my pulmonary embolisms. And the superior physical therapy skills of Scott Epsley and Megan Poll at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital have finessed my stride and balance back to full power.

Most of all, though, I need to thank my family and friends for being there throughout this injury and recovery. From sprite and her undying love and support, even when I’ve been a really annoying, petulant, or grumpy gus, to my mom and dad and sprite’s folks, the family support has been nothing but awesome. And to all of the friends who called, wrote, visited me in the hospital, took me to lunch, lent an empathetic ear, and made me smile and laugh when I felt like crap: you are all rock stars and I love you all.

It’s been a long, strange year, full of ups and downs. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my potential, and I’ll be channeling this resolve quite a bit in 2015. #projectfemur is a way of life for me now, a rallying call, and as I continue to heal and progress, it’s an arrow in my life’s quiver.

And how did I spend the day today, you may ask? I was coaching the Liberty Mountain Racing Team athletes, even taking on Lower Ultra with some high-speed GS turns, smiling the whole time, thanking all of the ski patrollers I saw. Many remember my case from last year, and they smiled back knowingly. The image at the top of this post was snapped this morning, just after arriving at Liberty Mountain for my coaching day.

Days since injury: 366
Days since surgery: 365

last call 2014: a (somewhat little known) tradition continues

For the past 10 years, I’ve had a year-end music mix that I give to friends and family. It started out as That Was The Year That Was, a compilation of favorite tracks from the previous year, with the title copped from a Tom Lehrer LP. Starting in 2005, it became Last Call, and that name stuck.

The whole thing started out as a CD (remember those?), and some years it spanned two discs. Of late, I’ve only rattled off one hard copy for sprite’s dad, and otherwise have distributed the mix via the Internet as MP3 files.

This year, in addition to the MP3 version and the one-off-CD, I’ve decided to use online streaming services to share the mix with you. Aside from one track (where I offer a substitute of the same song by the same act), everything is out there.

“Little Maggie” – Robert Plant

This is the opening track from my favorite album of 2014, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (weird capitalization intentional). Plant’s extended U.S. journey complete, he recorded this album back in the UK, fusing his worldwide influences to traditional English songs. The sound is an intoxicating blend of beats and blues.

“Cherry Licorice” – The Felice Brothers

This brother act sounds like a modern day interpretation of late-60s Dylan, perhaps with a bit more harmony and the ability to carry a tune. They playfully jangle through their songs.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Bruce Springsteen

This was the title track on Springsteen’s all-acoustic album from 2xxx, but here the song is reinvented around part-time E Streeter Tom Novello’s searing lead guitar.

“Nervana” – Pink Floyd

This is a bonus track from the album that most – including me – never thought would happen. I like this track because it centers on the interplay between Gilmour, Wright, and Mason: it’s a truly collaborative effort, and it shines as a result.

“Digital Witness” – St. Vincent

My runner-up for album of the year is St. Vincent’s eponymous album. Annie Clark’s songwriting is at full power on this album, and the whole collection of songs is a tour de force. This particular track, about the often disconcerting influence of the rapid-fire digital information age, grabs you and shakes you – awesome stuff.

“Word Crimes” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Robin Thicke’s “original” (which was a note-for-note reworking of a Marvin Gaye song, according to an in-progress lawsuit) is a misogynist’s wet dream. Yankovic decides to write about poor grammar, and the song improves one hundred percent – if not more.

“Invisible (RED Edit)” – U2

The best song the boys from Dublin released in 2014 never made their album. They performed this song live during the premiere episode of Jimmy Fallon’s reboot of The Tonight Show. Given Bono’s recent bicycle accident, it may have been the band’s last performance of this song for a while.

“Bad Self Portraits” – Lake Street Dive

This band has such talent, and they showcase it in full force on their 2014 album, Bad Self Portraits. I hear they put on a great live show, too, though I’ve not had the chance to see them yet. I do know that their live gigs sell out quickly, so if you hear that they’re coming to your town, it’s best to snap up the tickets quickly.

“Your Love Is Killing Me” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten is developing into a wonderfully complex singer-songwriter, and her latest album, Are We There, shows a new level of maturity and depth of themes (not that she was lacking either in her previous work).

“Bad Dream (The Theme)” – Nick Thorburn

Did you listen to the Serial podcast? If so, you’ll recognize this track as the show’s theme. It’s simple and spare, and worked well for the show (and for this mix).

“Maggie Said” – Natalie Merchant

I’m not normally a fan of Natalie Merchant (her singing through and then past the note isn’t my cuppa), but this is a great song and ties in well with the opening track of this collection. So…. here it is.

“All About That Bass (feat. Kate Davis)” – Postmodern Jukebox

Sure, Meagan Trainor’s version was the hit, but this trad jazz interpretation is such fun, and brings a more mature, smoky angle to the hit song. I chose to use the YouTube version here because you see the band performing it live (and this is the recording on the official release, as well).

“Down In The Willow Garden (Take One – Electric)” – The Everly Brothers

Sadly not available online, this is a recently-unearthed gem from the 2014 reissue of their Songs Our Daddy Taught Us LP. Last year, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones covered this album, track for track. If you can track down this CD, it’s worth the money. For now, here’s one of Don and Phil’s last live performances of the song, dating back to 2005.

“Going To California (mandolin & guitar mix)” – Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page has been on a slow march remastering kick for the Led Zeppelin catalog, and the remaster of their incredible fourth album was released in 2014. While the bonus tracks weren’t quite as amazing as I (and many other fans) hoped, the instrumental-only versions of the two acoustic songs on the album are sonic gems.

“Waitress Song” – First Aid Kit

They’re Swedes! They’re sisters! And the harmonies they produce are simply stunning. This is an act that rocketed up the charts in 2014, and while they’d likely be a perfect fit for, say, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, methinks they’re now a bit… big for such an event.

“A Sky Full Of Stars” – Coldplay

While Coldplay’s latest album isn’t quite as strong as their previous work, it’s not really lacking, either. This song is fairly standard Chris Martin fare, and it bounces along nicely.

“Real Love” – Tom Odell

The British retailer, John Lewis, is known for gorgeous holiday adverts. 2014’s ad featured this haunting version of John Lennon’s “Real Love,” and the moment I heard this rendition it was stuck in my mind – superb.

“Hope For The Future” – Paul McCartney

Macca’s big release for 2014 was a song for… a video game. Destiny was one of the big video game releases of the year, and somehow Macca landed a track in the game. The video features the Fab singer in the game’s environment as a hologram. And the sentiment of the song matches my theme for 2015…

Happy New Year, one and all!

Last Call 2014 cover

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