Friday, January 27, 2006

Maestro, A Little Traveling Music Please...

It is time to take my stay-at-home dad act on the road. The Monkey Mama has a work-related trip out to California. Although it is conceivable that I could keep the Monkey alive for 5 days, it is probably easier on everyone that they remain within the same state.

Plus, I like California (and certain special Californians).

So blogging will be light for a while, a long week or so.

The Monkey Mama has a trip planned to South Carolina in March. The Monkey and I are staying put for that one. We're already building up a freezer full of stored milk. I might not get much sleep, but I will keep the Monkey alive.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Monkey Chow

Yesterday I added butternut squash to the Monkey's diet. It was locally grown -- well, it was grown in Pennsylvania, but that's pretty close. (It was included in our subscription agriculture service. Thanks, Farmer Randy!) Link to Star Hollow Farm.

For those keeping score at home, here are the various mushed up foods (in order of introduction) that we have fed to the Monkey:
  • Sweet potato
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Apple
  • Rice cereal
  • Apricot
  • Pear
  • Butternut squash
For the most part, we use organic fruits and vegetables. I usually cook them in a pressure cooker (10 minutes for sweet potato, 4 minutes for pears), puree them with a stick blender (aka "soup dildo" to certain readers), and freeze them in freezer trays. They come out in 1 oz. cubes that take 40 seconds to microwave.

Transmigration of the Washing Machine Soul

The repairman came by to fix the dishwasher. Almost $150 in "labor" costs for an hour of work, although the repairman sees only $22 of it. Although I had a relatively easy time conducting this warrantied repair, economics teaches me to be suspicious of warranties.

This weekend I learned that the day our washing machine broke, our friends had their washing machine installed. That leads me to believe that there is a fixed number of washing machine souls available for use at one time. The fact that ours is now working means that someone else's is probably broken.

I hope it's not yours.


It's very cute when the Monkey feeds himself.

He begins to wake up, so I head downstairs to heat water to warm the bottle. Then it's back upstairs to pick up the Monkey and change his diaper, and then off to the red rocking chair. Tonight is a special night in that the Monkey is congested and teething. So I take out the snotsucker and liberate his nostrils. Then I give him some infant Tylenol.

By this time the bottle is warm, so I offer it to him. Tonight, he uses both hands to hold it up to his own mouth, and pulls the milk with steady suction. Usually, he grabs the bottle or bats it away, but tonight his little hands are prehensile and still. As he grows content, the bottle starts to sag and I prop it up a little to keep the bell of the nipple full of milk and not burpy air. It seems like my thumb is bigger than both of his hands put together.

I burp him, rock him, and bring him to his crib.

G'night, Monkey.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Best Monday Ever

The Boy and I got along famously on Monday. Nothing in particular was good, but we clicked on a "normal routine." Book time ("Moo, Baa, Lalala") , music time (he strummed the strings instead of grabbing them), dog walk, the works. Even when there is no high drama, we manage to fill the day.

Regular readers might remember that Mondays are difficult around the Monkey House. After spending all weekend with both parents -- and nursing more or less on demand -- Mondays inaugurate long stretches of monoparental frustration and no nursing whatsoever between 6:30am and 5:30pm. So Mondays are a little rough.

Today went a little downhill, though. The Monkey is congested, he's teething, and the Monkey Mama stayed home from work today with a cold. And the big family trip to California is coming up this weekend...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Background color bleg

A "bleg" is a blog post that begs the reader for a favor.

Does anyone know how to redo my blog template to restore the nice dark blue background I had going?

My Time Machine is Broken

Yesterday, our dishwasher broke. Apparently, an olive pit was small enough to get into the mechanism but big enough to jam the impeller. The plastic piece that attaches to the motor had its threads stripped, and now the motor runs without impelling anything in particular. (Cheap plastic parts. But if the piece had been metal, would it had have burned out the motor instead of wearing out the piece?)

Now I am experiencing a taste of 1940s-era housework, before the miracle of 1950s major appliances. I am travelling back in time. I would prefer not too.

If I had my economist hat on, I would write a post about the effect of capital and technology on household productivity. I'm sure the effects are huge. I could cite literature that monetizes the effects. I could find out what choices the expanded household production possibilities frontier makes available, and see how home workers reallocate their time when capital washes the dishes instead of labor. (One answer: the price of using a clean dish goes down, so more dishes are used overall. Which is a bad idea when the dishwasher suddenly goes down.)

I would do all those things, but right now, my increasingly scarce labor needs to be allocated elsewhere.

Here is a tentative ordering of the most important household appliances:
1) Refrigerator
2) Dishwasher
3) Clothes washer/dryer (who wants to walk to a laundromat?)
4) Microwave (outdoor grill can substitute for range)
5) Air conditioner
6) Range
7) Vacuum cleaner

Maybe I'm missing some, or maybe they're in the wrong order. Perhaps I should asks my friends that are currently undergoing a kitchen/bath/shower renovation, and have nothing. Comments are open.

Vertical Tasting

I don't know if this is really a vertical tasting in the true sense, but the Monkey Mama and I opened a 2001 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah (on sale for about $12) two nights ago, and a 2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Shiraz (about $9) last night. We had some of the 2001 left over to make a direct comparison. (Some might be surprised at that.)

The idea behind a vertical tasting is to drink different vintages of the same wine. This allows the taster to consider the effects of age and differences in climate while holding constant the soil and (to an extent) winemaking style.

Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape, with the former being the French way to say it and the latter Australian. So we're vertical there. But to Columbia Crest, use of the two different names references different winemaking traditions, and therefore winemaking styles. Also, the "Grand Estates" label indicates more care -- and a slightly higher price point -- than "Two Vines."

Anyway, the 2001 kicked ass, but the 2003 was pretty good too.

The 2001 was deeper and more complex than I usually associate with a Syrah. Syrahs are usually good food wines, a little fruity and not too tanic. But this one had depth and linger that made me think of tasting expensive Cabernets that I couldn't afford to buy in vineyard tasting rooms. A little bit smoky and silky. Deep red color.

The 2003 had a nice deep red color, but smelld unexpectedly of strawberries. The strawberry aromas carried into the taste of the wine, but integrated into the medium-bodied wine instead of riding on top. That is, the wine had a satisfying balance, and wasn't some jammy fruit bomb.

We also got the Grand Estates/Two Vines Cabernets. I'm sure we'll get to them this weekend.


Today, the Monkey stubbornly refused to go down for his nap. The dog stubbornly insisted on going on a walk. I'm sure the cat was being stubborn, too.

Just kidding. It was all projection, and I was the stubborn one. I was hoping to walk the dog after the nap to make more time in the day for myself. (The dog can usually wait, and that way I can save valuable nap time for doing things around the house.) I was trying to insert my agenda into the day, and that isn't usually how parenting works.

Like all of our failings, the most important thing about stubbornness is to realize what's going on as it's happening. That helps us to change things before anyone gets upset. I'm sure I was late on that -- how the monkey did howl! -- but awareness of my stubbornness helped me better see its effects.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Very **&#%!! Far From Acceptance

I don't know if you've heard, but the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. I think I am caught somewhere between Denial and Anger. Depression is nearby, but you're supposed to go through Bargaining first and I'm not doing that.

Then comes Acceptance. Whatever.

The Denver D was doing a great job controlling the line of scrimmage and freeing up their linebackers (and goddamn John Lynch) to make tackles and sacks.

But the ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS pass interference call that handed the Broncos a 7-3 lead early in the game was pivotal. Everything that happened after that (including all the many Patriots turnovers) was pure hypothetical counterfactual BS.

Jeff Triplette is an abomination and a disgrace to the zebra stripes. Remember, this is guy who threw his flag so hard that it blinded a player in one eye and ended his career. He is terrible. His utter inability to enunciate the rationale behind his stammering rulings indicates the tenuous connection he has to the events on the field. Plus, he gets things wrong.

More than anything, this loss shows how hard the previous three Superbowl victories over the course of the last four season have been. So many chances to go astray, so many events beyond your control, so much quality opposition. But it hasn't been as easy to appreciate as it is now.

Congratulations, Patriots, on a 12-6 season, a playoff victory, and a Division championship. Not a bad year, considering.

Mild Winter

A nice benefit of the mild winter we've been having in Washington, DC is that the middle of January is not too late to plant bulbs. It might be too late for anything to grow from the bulbs, but that is an open question that will be answered in the spring.

I planted bulbs for the first time last year -- tulips and daffodils, I believe. The bulbs were like a secret I kept with the earth. All winter long, my front yard and I shared conspiratorial glances, savoring the surprise we had in store for the people walking by our house towards the metro or the bus stop.

In the end, it wasn't much of a show. It certainly paled in comparison to the obvious parallel in our life: the gestating Boy.

But with the baby and a hectic work schedule late last fall -- I still had my day job then -- I never got a chance to put the backyard "to bed" for winter. Looking out the window to see large clay pots filled with the blasted husks of dead tomato plants and withered pepper bushes was getting on my nerves. And the volunteer pumpkin plants that dominated the small backyard all summer had rotted back to reveal wet clay underneath. And the dog poop. We're talking about a 500 s.f. backyard, so it was all getting to be a bit much.

It's amazing what you can accomplish when you know your baby's nap will only last 25 more minutes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

That's Not My Brand

It is virtually impossible to buy a disposable diaper that lacks corporate-owned cartoon images. (We also use a cloth diaper service, but that is the topic of another post.) For example, Huggies have pictures of Mickey Mouse, and Pampers have Sesame Street. I have also seen characters from Winnie-the-Pooh and Finding Nemo.

I do not entirely follow the co-branding logic in this situation.

Our child does not spend a lot of time looking at the diaper, so I doubt they're inspiring brand familiarity and winning a customer for life. And for my part, I am now only able to associate the Sesame Street character "Elmo" with his piss-laden visage that I throw into the trash as soon as possible.

Update: It turns out they have Big Bird and Grover on those things as well. Maybe it's because they didn't introduce the Elmo character until long after I stopped watching Sesame Street, and I therefore lack the positive associations that I have with the other two characters. But when I think of Big Bird, I don't think of a soiled diaper. I wish the same were true about Tinkle Me Elmo.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Quiet Zone

Here's an uncanny thing about the house, now that some flooring has been laid. As I walk down the second floor and down the stairs, their is a lot of loud creaking from our 1908 floor and joists.

But when I arrive at the bottom of the steps and on to the new maple, there is nothing. Silence.

I am still considering the impact this will have on our lives.

One thing is for sure: you can slide in your socks pretty far!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bon Voyage

My parents left this morning, to resume their travels sailing around the world. (Their boat is in Turkey at the moment. Perhaps they should blog...) It was a great visit, and I am glad that they got a chance to experience the Monkey as he turned 7 months.

And of course they made amazing contributions to the hardwood flooring project, either helping to lay it or taking care of the Monkey whilst I toiled. We got 13 boxes of floor laid (260 s.f.), with perhaps another 10 boxes (200 s.f.) to go.

Both of these things are great.

Put a post script to anyone reading this blog on Friday: Now that my folks are gone, I could sure use some help laying some floor! If you have a couple of free hours after the Monkey Mama gets home from work (say, 5ish?) I would love to spend it using the pneumatic floor nailer with you!

Free Hockey Tickets

So my neighbor comes by with two free hockey tickets to tonight's Capitals game. And I can't go. Even if I weren't working on hardwood flooring -- and hustling to complete what I can in a narrow timeframe -- I have responsibilities at home and family members to connect with (my visiting parents, not to mention my wife and son).

In a similar vein, the weather has been great here lately: more like April than January. And I enjoy it more than I would if I were stuck behind a desk during the daylight hours. But let's just say that the right time for kayaking hasn't come along since the baby was born. (Even just for a park'n'play splash on the Potomac. Oops, sorry, wrong picture.)

These are the responsibilities I have chosen. And I am confident that I have chosen wisely. Being a stay-at-home dad probably carries more than a typical amount, and I have not the faintest glimmer of regret about choosing that path.

I'm just saying: free hockey tickets.


With my folks gone and the flooring project on a bit of a hiatus, it's back to being a stay-at-home dad and all-around Monkey Daddy.

The Boy and I are reestablishing our routines, which he likes. (He would probably like his old routines with the Monkey Mama even better, but I try not to take it personally.) He is cutting another tooth, so his two big teeth are in progress and trying to join their lower jaw mates. Between that pain and the difference in routines , the Boy was a little fussy today and hard to feed. I braved a trip to the grocery store, and survived relatively unscathed.

It has been amazingly good weather: bright blue sky and brisk t-shirt temperatures (about 60). I think it is simply mandatory that I enjoy days like that. So it was off to the Arboretum.

I walked with the Boy in his sling, and the dog on leash. We walked to the Hickey Overlook, and took in some views of blasted, urban-industrial Northeast Washington. We climbed down and then down a rough trail through the Asian collection.

On the way, there was a large sprinkler head mounted at eye-level. (The kind that goes chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk WHIRRR!!! chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk WHIRRR!!!) It wasn't activated, so I took the opportunity to investigate the mechanism. The Boy watched me chuk it around a few times, and was engrossed himself. He lunged for it, and felt the metal. We moved on to greener pastures. Literally.

There were all kinds of neat plants. At this time of year, the low green ground cover species were the most appealing. I reached down and felt some of the springy plants, and the boy watched but was not moved to grasp any himself.

We found some fountain grass-looking stuff, and its bleached straw color was stark against even the meek green of plants in winter. I moved closer so that the boy could clutch the feathery part of the grass at eye-level. I didn't let him get close enough to put it in his mouth, though: the wind-born seedlings looked a little like a choking hazard. Onward.

The path evened out and wound through occasional structures and seating areas that were varying degrees of formal, natural, or Asian. I followed a slope down towards the Anacostia river, which was bright and nearly still, visible through the tree branches. It was close enough to hear the busy honking of a large flock of geese that were scattered on the surface of the river. It was very pretty, prettier than I expected of the Anacostia.

At one little clearing halfway down the slope, I stopped to take in a view of the river. I don't know when I became aware of it, but the open clearing seemed to be matched with fresher, headier air. I started to take deeper breaths, inhaling through my nose. Only then I perceived this incredibly fragrant scent. Then it was obvious that the world was filled with that scent, and that its perfume gave the air its vitalizing rush.

I traced the scent to three woody trees at the edge of the clearing, partway down the slope. At first glance their branches seemed nude, but on closer inspection they had large quantities of little yellow flowers! (Even though the weather has been unseasonably warm for a few days this January, I was not expecting blooms.)

In the interest of science, I plucked one of the thumbnail-sized flowers. Holding it under my nose didn't really intensify the smell. It just made it a little less ethereal, a little more obvious. It was strange, hard to describe. I put the flower under the Boy's nose, to no reaction. I crushed it under my nose, and then held the crushed petals under the Boy's nose. I liked it, but the boy drew back.

The tree was helpfully labeled. (Arboreta are good that way.) It was Chimonanthus praecox, common name Wintersweet. If I ever have some land, I would think about planting one someday. In a clearing I could walk to, to discover blooms and a wonderful scent even in the cold of winter.

Another dog walker tipped me off to the area between the Arboretum boundary and the river bank, a flat grassy area about 40 yards wide. I had often looked for a place at the arboretum where the dog could run off leash, and this was it.

Exiting a gate and closing it behind me, I kept the dog on leash at first: the geese. But the dog is a stick-fetching dog, not a bird-hunting dog, so off we went. The Boy was fascinated by the geese. I improvised a "baby sign" on the spot, a wavy number that referenced the shape of a gooseneck, and reinforced the words "goose" and "geese" a lot.

I told the Boy that the geese might not be there when we come back next time. So we would just have to enjoy the moment as it is. Then we found a trail and walked it.

Not for the first time on one of these outings, I kicked myself for not bringing the camcorder. The day was nice, the river was bright, and the geese were honking. Kind of like the time at the zoo when the juvenile gorillas were cavorting around, beating their chests, popping their lips, and jumping up to slap the plexiglas barrier right in front of us. Or the first time the Boy saw a giraffe. Honestly, I need to bring that thing along more often.

After a while, we walked back into the Arboretum and up the slope to the car. For a special treat for the Monkey Mama, we braved downtown traffic and picked her up from work. The three of us -- with the dog carrying on in back of the station wagon, to great laughter from the Boy -- headed home for dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I could bore you all with the finer points of installing a hardwood floor, but you don't really want to read that. (If you do, almost everything you need to know is at this suprisingly informative site.)

I enjoy the design and planning of large home projects, and I enjoy learning tricks of the trade as I go. Sometimes I even surprise myself on how many tricks I know, even for jobs I've never done! (Three tips for cutting plugs in hardwood without a drill press: (1) drill from the back towards the finish side to prevent marring the face when the drill jumps; (2) drill into a piece of scrap to prevent tearout; (3) drill backwards for a few spins to establish a groove, then drill forwards in the groove and your drill won't jump.)

What I don't enjoy is the actual labor. My hands feel like hamburger, and my neck burns. I should have worn my hearing protection more, with the pneumatic floor nailer going off in my ear all day (for four days).

I am pleased with my level of craftsmanship, and I have cut no corners.

But it hurts.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Two Worlds

It was an upstairs, downstairs kind of day.

Today was the second day of the first floor hardwood floor installation project. Yesterday, we moved furniture, purchased supplies, and removed shoemold from all the baseboards. Today we fixed a lot of squeaks in the old floor-cum-subfloor and did a lot of planning and layout.

That was the downstairs portion of my day.

The upstairs portion of my day was time spent with the Monkey. He misses his mama, and when I'm working downstairs on the floor, he misses his daddy too. The Monkey Mama and I have worked hard to provide him with a comfortable, reassuring, safe, healthy, and loving environment. He's got it pretty good, and disruptions are unnerving.

But here is the thing: Oma (my mom) was fantastic. She got him down for naps. She fed him solids. She fed him bottles. She engaged with him for play. There was even a diaper or two.

Of course, I was upstairs some of the time, and I gave him some of the feedings. I spent time with the Monkey when he was crying, or for play breaks, or just to see him smile at me. I was working pretty hard at keeping things going, checking in, and all that.

And then downstairs, my dad was working away. Neither of us put in a full 8 hours on the job, but there was lots of heavy lifting and kneepad-intensive positions. (You ever see guys on road crews who are just standing around? If you are working with your back, you just don't last if you don't get your rest.)

Doing both jobs, even with help, has plum wore me out. And it looks like Texas just won a tight Rose Bowl. So I'm going to bed.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tomorrow: Full Plate

Tomorrow, some or all of the following will happen:

* Mother's First meeting, to which I will bring a guitar and maybe a mandolin or banjo
* A great friend from California arrives in town
* The Monkey will react to having his Oma as a primary caregiver, while...
* Dad and I start installing 3000 lbs/560 sq. ft. of hardwood flooring

I wish I were sleeping instead of blogging. But I'm still waiting to give the Monkey a feeding. Hopefully by 1am.


The power behind this whole Internet thingy is that it can draw on the decentralized intelligence of its users.

So do, gentle reader, feel free to post comments to any of the posts. Only then will this cease to be "my blog" and become "our blog." Or better yet, "our multi-million user web portal." Or even better yet, some form of online community that is crazy lucrative.

I have also enjoyed the personal emails this site has generated, and those are great too. But if you want to share a reaction that others might find interesting as well, try posting a comment.

UPDATE: Apparently, I had Blogger set to "enable comment moderation." I just wanted to be enabled, but it meant that comments weren't published without my direct affirmation. That's fixed now.


My parents, known to the boy as Pop & Oma, arrived New Year's Day. Their itinerary is a little complicated, since they have family in lots of U.S. locations but their boat/ residence is anchored in Kemer, Turkey. We're just happy their itinerary included us.

The Wife and I took advantage of the in-house baby-sitting and went out for lunch. We didn't bring the Boy. That felt strange. Almost nostalgic. Even though the first three restaurants we tried were closed, it still felt good.

Then we recollected and the five of us went down the National Aquarium. It was a good outing, right around an hour. The Boy liked the giant sea turtle.

Then I grilled NY strip/veggie bratwurst for dinner, even though it was raining. Not too shabby.