Odds and Ends

Oh Christmas beard, oh Christmas beard…

My wife jokes that when we were first dating and first married she could tell the day of the week by my beard, I’d shave on Sunday for church and then grew it through the week.  While she has been nothing but supportive of this bizarre shaving endeavor, she has at times expressed an interest in me growing something again.  For the Christmas vacation I decided to give her what she wanted and on the 19th the beard began its return.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped shaving completely, and for the last two weeks I’ve been working to keep my face from being an uncultivated wild.  For the first week or so, due to us traveling for the holidays, I pulled out the Dollar Shave Club razor they sent me a couple months back.

It was terrible, and here’s why:

When I was a kid my dad wisely made me mow the lawn on Saturday.  He also wanted me to edge the lawn, but I would usually just go over it with the mower and figure it was good (eventually we worked out a compromise where I would mow and he would edge).

Trying to use the DSC razor to fine trim a beard was like trying to use the mower to edge the lawn, it’s just not the right tool for the job.  The razor is great and cutting down lots of hair quickly and without hassle, much like a lawn mower.  But the cartridge head is large, the razor is bulky for anything other than simple passes, and the cutting edge is shrouded for safety’s sake so it is hard to see exactly where the shaving begins and ends.

Once we got back I switched to my DE razor, loaded with a Wilkinson Sword blade (which I thought would be good enough, but not so nice that I dislike using it for so small a job).  Much, much better.  I can see the razor so I can fine tune exactly what is getting shaved, it’s easier to maneuver, and since it shaves closer the line is more defined.  Excellent.

As I’ve watched the beard grow slowly back in, and as I find myself increasingly anticipating shaving it off, I’ve taken the time to reflect: in the last year I’ve tried six shaving creams, three aftershaves, three razors, and a dozen different razor blades.  I’ve liked most of them to some degree, disliked a few, and really enjoyed a small handful.  My top three favorite blades have been Feather, Gillette Silver Blue, and Treet Dura-Sharp, and it’s a close call between them for who’s in first.  So close in fact that I really can’t say, I’ll have to put them head-to-head.

With the new year having arrived I find myself wondering what the future holds.  I don’t know that this time next year I’ll still be writing about shaving, but then again, I wouldn’t have thought a year ago I would now have written over a hundred pages on the subject.

We shall see what happens.  In the mean while, I’ll keep shaving.

Movember- Why I’m Still Shaving

Movember is upon us again, a time when men stop shaving their mustache in an effort to raise awareness about men’s health issues such as colon cancer (or simply because they’re riding the cultural wave).  It’s a worthy cause, but not one I’ll be participating in for a couple reasons.

First, I look awful in a mustache.  I shaved a beard down to one once, my wife took one look and literally covered her eyes and hid. Actions spoke louder than words. Jack Kemp once said, “Winning is like shaving- you do it every day or you wind up looking like a bum.”  I’m not sure what I looked like, but I had to shave it off before she would stop winching every time she looked at me.

But the larger reason that I’m not shaving is this: Shaving for me is a manly tradition.  A combination of tools, skill, patience, focus, and practice.  I use a double-edge razor for many reasons, one of which is that it takes work.  Work is good for the mind, body and soul, and it’s something I don’t want to go without.

By all means, grow your beard.  I’ve done so, and I likely will again.  But it makes no sense for me to deny myself of a manly ritual in an effort to demonstrate manliness, and in the case of a mustache, which has the very possible side effect of making me look like some hipster. 

That’s not how I roll.

Wall Drug: South Dakota Shave Supplies

Wall Drug is a small drug store, nestled between Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands National Park.  A country stop where I figured I could find some old-fashioned shave goods.

Or, at least that’s what I thought.  It turns out that Wall Drug, located in Wall, SD (a town whose primary existence, from what I can, is to facilitate the drug store), is a straight up tourist attraction.

According the the menu/history pamphlet that we were given, Wall Drug was struggling until the owners came up with the idea to offer free ice water to anyone who stopped.  Several decades later the store now consists of…well, pretty much everything.  Bookstore, restaurant, leather goods, candy shop, giant fiberglass jackalope, an animatronic piano playing monkey, and more gift shops than you can shake a stick at.

And, as it turns out, a small apothecary style shaving shop.

The old fashioned shaving selection.  It's small, but quality.

The old fashioned shaving selection. It’s small, but quality.

Most drug stores these days will carry some off brand razor blades, maybe a generic bar of shave soap.  To its credit, Wall Drug’s stock may have been small, but it was quality goods.  There were several Muhle brand razors, which use the same razor head as my Edwin Jagger de89L (the difference is in the handle).  There was a number of bowls, and even a couple of scuttles, which is a shaving bowl with a hot water bowl underneath to keep the lather warm.

Finally, they had a full line of Col. Conk’s shave supplies, both shaving soap and aftershave.  I’m a big fan of Col. Conk’s, and with my last bar having been used up a couple weeks before I was already thinking of buying more.  Wall Drug’s prices, oddly enough for a tourist stop, were quite good.

So I picked up some souvenirs!

 

Amber, Almond, and Bayrum.  They also had Lime, but honestly, Lime smelled kinda funny and I didn't see myself using it.

Amber, Almond, and Bayrum. They also had Lime, but honestly, Lime smelled kinda funny and I didn’t see myself using it.

Wall, SD might be a bit out of your way simply to get some shaving goods, unless of course you already live in south-west South Dakota.  But if you’re visiting Mt. Rushmore and places east, it might be worth your stop. 

And they still have free ice water.

Rebel Race Mud Run

Last year my wife and I ran our first 5k obstacle mud run as a couple (my first ever, she had previously run a Tough Mudder). We loved it, ran a second race that fall, and this weekend was our third.

The medal/dog tag we got for finishing.

The medal/dog tag we got for finishing.

There are a slew of companies putting on mud runs these days, and while we hadn’t run one put on by Rebel Race once you’ve done one the format is pretty  standard and simple: running through the woods, crawling over, under, or through muddy obstacles.

This race was no exception, and we had a blast!

I banged my knee on the first obstacle, luckily there was plenty of mud to help stop the bleeding.

I banged my knee on the first obstacle, luckily there was plenty of mud to help stop the bleeding.

We ran harder than we had in previous races, and when one or the other needed to slow or pause we did so as a team. There was plenty of shoe sucking mud, a prolonged run up the middle of a creek, things to climb or jump, and lots of beautiful scenery. At one point a large female deer even ran across the path ahead of us (likely terrified by the large number of people wandering through its neck of the woods).

It was a great experience. In our three races we’ve only encountered one negative person. Almost everyone there is supportive, encouraging, or at least happy to leave you alone. This race was no exception, with numerous strangers there to help cheer us on.  While this course was more climbing than crawling, resulting in less mud up top than usual, we still ended it a dirty, happy mess.

My wife is awesome.

My wife is awesome.

If you haven’t tried one, I highly recommend it. Whether you are running or walking, it’s about showing up, pushing yourself, and having a great time. I can’t wait for our next one!

Washington Monument Re-Opening

Few monuments are as iconic of Washington, DC as the Washington Monument.  Built over several decades in the mid 1800’s, it stood as the tallest structure on earth for four years (surpassed by the Eiffel Tower) and remains the world’s tallest free-standing masonry structure.

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The obelisk towers over the National Mall, dominating the other monuments.

It was damaged in the 2011 Virginia earthquake, and has been closed for almost three years now.  Yesterday the monument re-opened, and we managed to get in on the second tour!

Oooh, fancy!

Oooh, fancy!

While tickets are normally reserved online, for the re-opening they were available on a first-come-first-served basis.  We got down there nice and early, lining up at the monument kiosk/center.  Half an hour later we had tickets in hand for 1:30, and several hours to kill.

Located just east of the monument, I have no idea what's in this building aside from restrooms.

Located just east of the monument, I have no idea what’s in this building aside from restrooms.

We first headed down to the Lincoln Memorial.  Located about a mile west of the Washington Monument, with the WWII memorial and reflecting pool directly in between, it’s a pleasant walk in good weather.  The Lincoln Memorial itself is extremely impressive, and the massive amount of stone creates for a naturally cool interior where you can see the famous statue.

The National Parks Police officer there also had a chair, but Lincoln's is far more impressive.

The National Parks Police officer there also had a chair, but Lincoln’s is far more impressive.

Even from there, the Washington Monument looms across the reflecting pool.

Jenny!

Jenny!

We visited the National History Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, and got some lunch at Good Stuff (by the capitol building).  After that it was time to head back for the tour, and after some security checks and ranger instructions we were inside!  While you used to walk all the way to the top (if this is still offered, I want to do it sometime), you now take an elevator up the middle of the column.

It was one of the most impressive elevators I've seen.

It was one of the most impressive elevators I’ve seen.

The view from the top was spectacular.  In an area where you normally can’t see for any great distance, we were able to spot buildings and landmarks over ten miles away (nothing compared to Arizona or Utah distances, but for the East coast it’s a long way).

Looking to the west, WWII memorial and Lincoln on the line, Arlington Cemetery  across the bridge.

Looking to the west, WWII memorial and Lincoln on the line, Arlington Cemetery across the bridge.

Looking to the South, the Jefferson Memorial and Reagan National Airport.

Looking to the South, the Jefferson Memorial and Reagan National Airport.

Looking to the north.  The White House, Treasury, OEOB, etc.  In the distance, on the horizon, is a white building: the Mormon temple, over 10 miles away.

Looking to the north. The White House, Treasury, OEOB, etc. In the distance, on the horizon, is a white building: the Mormon temple, over 10 miles away.

Looking to the east.  The capitol building and most of the Smithsonians visible.

Looking to the east. The capitol building and most of the Smithsonians visible.

It was a really incredible experience, if you’re ever in DC I recommend you get some tickets.  It was my first time, but I hope it won’t be my last.

A Nice Shave: Just What the Doctor Ordered

My first semester of law school I got engaged, and we had our wedding over the winter break.  It was stressful, but since then law school hasn’t seemed too bad and I thought I might have gotten over the hump early.  Yesterday we adopted a dog, in the middle of finals.  I might have been wrong.

This is Malcom, we call him Mal for short. 

He made himself right at home on the office futon.

He made himself right at home on the office futon.

When we first met my now wife and I connected over a mutual enjoyment of the tv show “Firefly”, so the dog was named after a character.  He’s really a nice thing, and currently is passed out next to me chasing squirrels or something across imagination land.

He REALLY like chasing squirrels.

He REALLY like chasing squirrels.

As with any dog, potty training is…on going.  He’s got a lot of energy, and loves to get up into whatever you’re doing.  That’s great for a lot of things, for studying and taking tests, not so much.

I found myself struggling this morning.  The dog wasn’t wanting to go to the bathroom outside, I hadn’t gotten cleaned up, I was stressing tests, and with the wife at work I was on my own to handle things.  At my wits end I decided I needed to do something for me: time to shave.

I didn’t get the prep I usually do.  Just some warm water splashed on the two day growth.  Hot water with Proraso shaving cream felt wonderful.  I’m at the end of the week with my Astra blade, and I normally don’t like them much even new, but it felt perfect today.  The result was not the best shave I’ve had, but it was relaxing to do and it felt terrific to be feeling somewhat clean and normal again.

It’s going to be a heck of a trip having a dog.  I just need to remember that it doesn’t mean I can’t be a human.

Morning Shave: Kicking off Spring Right

Spring sunset at the Jefferson Memorial, things are finally getting warm enough to start enjoying the sites and sights again.

Spring sunset at the Jefferson Memorial, things are finally getting warm enough to start enjoying the sites and sights again.

After a long, snowy winter spring seems to have finally arrived in Virginia.  After a week of blooming the blossoms are starting to fall off the trees, giving way to vibrant green leaves and sprouts.  The weather has been gorgeous, cool enough for a light jacket or hoodie in the morning but mid seventies by the afternoon.  Things are looking nice.

So nice in fact, that we haven’t turned on the heater or air conditioner in at least a week.  Last night we left the windows open, and this morning were treated to a nice, cool home with the sounds of birds outside.  And traffic, but hey, you take what you can get.

I’ve been using Proraso heavily lately as my Col. Conk’s shave soap is nearly worn through the puck, but I thought this morning called for a change.  Lathering up I was treated to the refreshing scent of bayrum, something I’ve grown to love.  I prefer Col. Conk’s to Proraso, while it takes slightly longer to mix the result is a thicker, silkier, longer lasting lather.  With a new Feather razor blade two passes and a splash of spice aftershave left me feeling great.

 The shave wasn’t quite as close as it might have been, I decided to experiment some with the blade angle and the change just wasn’t as good as the previous angle had been getting.  Good to know, it’ll be helpful for future shaves.

Now I’m enjoying a quiet Sunday morning with my feet kicked up, spending time with my best friend before she heads to Utah to help with her sister’s wedding.  Life is good.

The Importance of Shaving During a Zombie Apocalypse

We’ve all been there: police stations overrun, hospitals a death trap, federal forces pulling back to mountain holdouts, bridges bombed, warlords rising, violence rampant, basically anytown America looking more and more like Chicago. 

It’s understandable to assume that now is not the time to worry about shaving.  But you’d be wrong my friend…dead wrong.  Here’s why:

1) People with beards never fare well in apocalypse.  Can’t think of an example?  That’s cause there are none.  Even heavy scruff is an indicator that things are going down hill.  The Walking Dead folk, for example, are always scruffy, and what do they have to show for it?  Misery, squallier, and desperation.  Meanwhile, a clean shaven Charlton Heston in Omega Man and a clean shaven Will Smith in I Am Legend are living it up in penthouses, cruising in fancy cars, listening to their favorite music, plenty to eat, and living the good life.

2) A beard is bad for close combat.  While Special Forces in Afghanistan have popularized the warrior beard, when it comes to hand to hand battles you want a clean maw.  The reason?  Because the last thing you want is for a zombie to grab a handful of beard hair.  The Romans knew that (the grabbing part, zombies debatable), and it was standard that Roman soldiers would go into battle shaved so as not to give the enemy something to grab onto.

3) It’s aerodynamic.  Whether you’re running from shamblers or sprinters, cutting down on wind resistance can mean the difference between life and death. 

4) Zombies don’t shave.  Well of course they don’t, you say, so what?  Well when you’re approaching the barricades on the outskirts of a fortified encampment, that little bit of humanity might be just what you need to convince the sharpshooters your not a zed, and to hold their fire. 

5) It’s the secret to agrarian success.  With industrial society collapsing we’re headed back to the farm age.  The pinnacle of that was reached in our country in the late 1700’s.  What did George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the rest of our founding fathers have in common?  Nary a beard on them, that’s what. 

So when you’re scavenging your next burnt out store front, snag yourself some razor blades.  Civilization might be ending, but you’ve got a lot of living to do. 

Marine Corps Museum

You can see the peak from the I-95 looming over the trees, it's very imposing.

You can see the peak from the I-95 looming over the trees, it’s very imposing.

My wife and I took a trip down to Quantico this last weekend to see the National Marine Corps Museum, and let me just say, if you’re ever in the DC area it’s a place worth seeing. 

My family doesn’t have ties to the Corps, we’ve always been Army and more recently Navy, and so the Marines were always the rivals.  But, I’ve got respect for what they do, they do their job well, and the museum is an amazing experience for anyone with a healthy respect for the services. 

Basically, it is a giant museum full of guns, bombs, knives, swords, tanks, boats, and aircraft.  Things every red blooded American can appreciate.

Aircraft, such as this Corsair, hang throughout the museum.

Aircraft, such as this Corsair, hang throughout the museum.

The museum starts out pretty family friendly, with costumes for the kids and a place where they can practice marine knot tying.

The Mrs. looking great in a hat.

The Mrs. looking great in a hat.

Oddly, the kid oriented exhibits drop off extremely quickly, and pretty soon you’re headed into guns, machines, and life sized depictions of some of the Marine’s defining battles.

A nock volley gun, circa Revolutionary War period.  Contrary to widely popularized belief, the founders didn't have just single shot low power guns when they wrote the 2nd amendment.  This could fire up to seven barrels at once.

A nock volley gun, circa Revolutionary War period. Contrary to widely popularized belief, the founders didn’t have just single shot low power guns when they wrote the 2nd amendment. This could fire up to seven barrels at once.

Early Browning .45 caliber pistols.

Early Browning .45 caliber pistols.

So much fun stuff!

So much fun stuff!

I’ll admit to being a kid in a candy store, except without the ability to buy anything.  Two of my favorite exhibits came late in the museum, an A-4 Skyhawk (my favorite airplane) and a M-50 Ontos, one of the most intimidating machines I’ve ever seen in person.

They project a movie about A-4s on the belly of an A-4, pretty much the best thing ever.

They project a movie about A-4s on the belly of an A-4, pretty much the best thing ever.

Not something you want to meet in a dark ally.

Not something you want to meet in a dark ally.

And, there was shaving stuff!  Marines throughout the years have had to shave in some tough conditions, and there were a couple of examples of what they used.  First, this slick straight razor from WWI with “USMC” stamped on the tang:

I can't imagine shaving with a straight razor in the trenches.

I can’t imagine shaving with a straight razor in the trenches.

Later, in the Vietnam section, a period advertisement for double-edge safety razors was playing on a television:

Cudos to Amanda, who promptly said "it's a butterfly design, I KNOW that!"

Kudos to Amanda, who promptly said “it’s a butterfly design, I KNOW that!”

The absolute best part of the experience though was meeting Frank Matthews at the Iwo Jima section.  Mr. Matthews was a PFC in the Marine 4th Division, and one of the last survivors of Iwo Jima.  He landed on the first day of the battle, due to issues with the landings his craft landed on the far left side of the beachhead when it was supposed to be on the right.  Those in his boat then had to cross laterally across the beachhead, under fire, to get to their assigned position.  After 28 days of fighting his unit was relieved.  Of the 36 men in his platoon, he was the only one who walked off the island.  The rest were either dead or medically evacuated.  He now works as a volunteer at the museum, still working and serving after seven decades.

LEGO flag raising statute on display there.

LEGO flag raising statute on display there.

Really, an incredible place to visit.  I recommend it highly.

Walk it off: When things go bad, it’s time to go home.

Living in DC means that it’s not a matter of if things someday go screwy, it’s a question of when.  It also means that your biggest problem isn’t the actual disaster, but the city itself. (While this blog is normally about shaving, as I mentioned in the “About” section I will from time to time cover other topics that I think are fitting to the concept of living a better, or less boring life.)

We’ve been attacked by terrorists before, and there are plenty out there who’d love to do it again.  Before my wife and I met she got snowed in to her apartment during Snowmageddon and was stuck there for three days till the road could get plowed.  Since I’ve been here we’ve had an earthquake, two hurricanes, the derecho storm of 2012 that left parts of the DC metro area without electricity or clear roads for over a week, major shootings, and a gun lock down on my campus.  Just to name a few.

I’ve been blessed or lucky, depending on how you see the world, thus far.  I’ve either been able to avoid the worst of it, I’ve been at home where there are supplies, usually both.  But that’s not something you can count on in life: eventually either the bad stuff happens to you or you happen to be right in the middle of it.  That’s why people have first aid kits, fire extinguishers, spare tires, etc.  Preparation might not save you from a headache, but it might be the Tylenol you need when you get one.

Funny story: Right after I moved here I was working a temp job that allowed me a lot of time to surf the internet.  While g-chatting with my buddy I realized I had no “zombie plan.”  The concept is simple: if you have a plan for zombies, you have a plan for anything.  Here I was in a city I was entirely unfamiliar with, commuting by partial subway, and no clue how to get home if things went sour.  So I spent an hour or so that morning researching ways to get home, figuring out what to do in case I needed to leave RIGHT NOW.  I finished, and got back to work.

Two hours later, the Washington DC earthquake hit.  The building shook, panicked people came running down the stairs and out the front door, the metro system was immediately shut down, and the wireless network imploded from everyone trying to call out.

In the midst of hundreds of people standing around outside, most having left everything in their office, I had all my things, water, and map of how to walk home from that very spot.  As it turned out the metro system came back on line shortly afterward, so I didn’t have to trek it.  But when the earthquake hit all I needed to do was pick up my backpack and walk out the door and I could have gotten home (albeit probably very uncomfortably, since aside from water and a map I was woefully unprepared).

So, we’ve been making “back home” kits, emergency supplies that are small and light enough to be carried just about anywhere you go, but which will be invaluable if something goes bad while you’re away from your home (where you presumably have much more substantial resources).  We finally got ours organized last night, which I’m both happy and proud of.

For me, this requires making it to suit some specific requirements:

  • Weight and bulk: I commute to school and work by metro rail and bus, and I don’t have a locker on campus.  Any preparations have to be something that I can carry with me, and which will fit with all the books and things I have to carry.
  • Versatility: Weather in DC can change rapidly, and I sometimes am in class until well after dark.  I can’t pick the conditions if something happens.
  • Security:  This goes both ways:  first, I need to try and provide for my own safety when walking through an urban and suburban environment, in a city not known for its lack of crime.  Second, I work in a high security area, travel through DC (which seems institutionally is opposed to self defense), and attend school.  So, whatever it is needs to be legal, administratively acceptable, and capable of going through security checks (x-rays, etc).

The result:

IMG_20140120_080038

My kit fits largely inside a steel document box called a “posse box,” which I fortunately had around from a previous job.  This provides crush proof storage without adding much weight, and also happens to be a good chunk of metal to have around.  Inside are some basic supplies in case I need to walk back home from the city (up to twelve miles or so, depending on where I am).  I additionally have a few other items stashed in the backpack, some of which I use more often.

Supplies include: food (granola bars and Clif energy bars), poncho, emergency blanket, chapstick, sunscreen, bandanna (cover for neck, respiration, etc), hand warmers, wet wipes, knit beanie (warmth and head cover), and a flashlight.  Within the short future I’ll be adding paracord, and some wool socks, plus other items as thought of or recommended.  Right now, total bulk is less space and weight than any of my books, less than two pounds total.

In addition, my laptop has a eight to ten hour battery life, so if I keep it charged while traveling that means I can trickle charge my cell phone for hours without adding any additional weight than what I already have to carry.  Good comms make for good travels.

It’s not enough to win Survivor or establish Blaketonia on a deserted island, but it should do the trick.  I have neither desire nor intention to sit around waiting for someone to save me if something were to happen, my job is to get home and that’s what I plan to do.