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Dec. 26, 2006

For several years I have been saving my pennies, emptying my pockets each night before bed. In doing so I have filled a pickle jar, a peanut jar and about 10 percent of a Carlos Rossi wine jug.

For several months Ellen has been asking me to get rid of those silly penny jars. She wanted me to redeem them at the Coinstar and then do something fun with the proceeds.

I was reluctant. I harbored this fantasy that one day my nephew would visit. What if it rained and we couldn't go to the zoo or the park or the bar? We could stay home, count pennies and learn about the rewards of thrift! Because surely nephews love counting pennies, almost as much as uncles love nephews who do chores.

Finally I relented, but stealthily and without Ellen's knowledge.

As I walked to the grocery store, my messenger bag groaned from the weight of the jars. The Coinstar there was defective and counted only one of every five pennies, of which I had thousands. Every few minutes I had to take handfuls of rejects and reload them into the intake hopper. The transaction took about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the machine shook like an epileptic R2 unit, hemorrhaging pennies into the aisle.

The clatter reverberated through the Jewel. I scrambled to nab coins that had rolled away. I heard clerks and shoppers raising their voices to be heard above the disturbance, and I felt their accusing stares: "Who's that asshole with the pennies?"

This asshole with the pennies ended up $50 to the good. I took it in the form of Amazon credit, which enabled me to afford Ellen's Christmas present: an iPod. I miss my penny jars, and if my nephew ever visits on a rainy day we will have to play poker or fold laundry instead of any penny-related merriment, but it was worth it to see her face light up Monday as she tore through the newspaper in which I had wrapped my gift.

Then it was my turn to open her gift, and my greatest fears were realized: She had sold her entire CD collection -- in order to buy me a coin-sorting machine!

Ho ho! That last part is not true, but a day later my witty reimagining of the "Gift of the Magi" still makes me laugh. (O. Henry? Oh, brother!)

In truth, Ellen and her family spent the weekend burying an undeserving me with chocolates, casseroles and various wrapped delights. The highlight was a scarf made with yarn Ellen and I had selected this August at a rural Arizona truck stop/trading post/yarn emporium, a magic scarf that somehow keeps me warm even when it does not slither around my neck.

Homemade gifts are always the best, of course. I had hoped to make her an MP3 player out of twigs, plastic bottles and other found objects, but I could not find enough lithium ions for the battery and had to abandon the project just as I'd finished soldering the circuit board.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2006


Dec. 8, 2006

There's a winter sensation that all cyclists hate. It comes when you've been on the trainer for an hour or two and you check your watch -- only to discover you've been riding for only 15 minutes.

I have a widget on my start-up screen that counts down the days to my team's training trip to San Luis Obispo, Calif. That is the week that will cleave winter from spring. The suck will end, the fun will begin. When I installed it, it read in the low 90s. I checked it today thinking that surely it would be well into the 70s, maybe even the 60s -- only to discover that it stood frozen at 85.


This week I hopped on the trainer and watched "Overcoming," a documentary about CSC and its 2004 Tour de France. It wasn't as good as "Höllentour," but it included timely training scenes and was a fitting season's-first-movie-on-the-trainer. (I subscribe to the NetFlix base-training plan: If there's a red envelope by the TV, ride. If movies are in transit, rest. Tomorrow is either "Yojimbo" or "Dr. Zhivago," depending on how long I feel like going.)

My favorite character in cycling documentaries is the soigneur. He's always the same: stoic, wise and muscular, often with a Scandinavian accent. He's the one who, while all the others are out riding, will fill water bottles, fold laundry and, sotto voce, explain to the camera what's really going on with the team.

The soigneur in "Overcoming," Ole Kaare Føli, is the best so far. There's a great scene where he steps from the shadows and confronts directeur sportif Bjorn Riis, telling him to smile more. Even better is when he counsels Carlos Sastre after the death of his brother-in-law and then tells his future by kneading into his back, like a gypsy reading a palm. "You will have a good day tomorrow. I can feel it!"


Dec. 4, 2006

Mom, from behind a model plant in the children's room at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2006