Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Home Front

I have planted some hostas and begonias in a shady part of our backyard, and some gladiolas in a sunny part.

I have stained the wood that will eventually become the Boy's new bookcase. Another coat of stain, a couple coats of finish, milling a base moulding, and cutting some shelf pin holes, and I will be ready for glue-up. Done by next week, tops.

Thermostat Weather

Let me just jubilate for a second about the perfect weather we've been having. Temperatures right in the 68-72 range -- right where you would set your thermostat if you weren't worried about the price of natural gas or the cost of electricity. And there always seems to be a sweet, mild breeze blowing through.

I took the Boy down to the Mall today to enjoy the fine weather. We walked along the Potomac for a while, checking out the ducks and the low-flying jets landing at National. Every five minutes or so, large jets would barrel down the Potomac and then bank sharply right over the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. The Boy was impressed.

Then we walked around behind the FDR monument to eat a picnic under the foot of the Jefferson Monument. We didn't go in to the FDR this time because I brought the dog with us, but I could still show the Boy one of the big fountains through a grate. The dog needed all the water I brought, and I didn't bring anything for myself to eat, but the boy ate well. (The last time we tried eating outdoors, it didn't go so well.)

Next time, I might leave the dog at home.

The Wheels on the Bus Go SCREEECH!

The Monkey has a favorite CD: Songs That Go. It was a gift from his (great) Aunt Julie, and it comes with a colorfully illustrated book that has held up quite well. When I ripped it to mp3s, I was surprised to learn that each track averages 1 minute 20 seconds. On reflection, that seems about right.

The first song is far and away his favorite. It is a peppily arranged version of "The Wheels on Bus." (For those readers not familiar with the song, the wheels on the bus go round and round.) As soon as I put on the CD, the Monkey breaks out a smile and wants to dance. That CD has helped me out of numerous jams.

Unfortunately, the alarm clock/CD player in the nursery has a nasty habit of playing that CD at the stroke of midnight. Something to do with some awkwardly placed alarm buttons and an alarm that resets to 12:00 every time the Monkey is quicker to unplug the clock than I am to stop him.

There's nothing quite like giving the Monkey a late night bottle, getting him back into bed...and hearing "The Wheels on the Bus" blaring out of every baby monitor in the house.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Maryland Chute

The Boy and I headed out to Great Falls today. If you ever doubted that Washington, D.C. is a place of great power, you need only check out the tremendous roar of Great Falls.

We didn't go to the Falls itself, but started hiking up from Old Angler's Inn about 1.5 miles downstream. We stopped along the old Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) canal tow path for a little lunch: quinoa, sweet potato and yellow squash. I was hoping to extend our range a little bit by taking lunch on the road. That way we can get out of the house before 11am, do something fun, and come home before the afternoon nap.

It was really an idyllic picnic spot. I had no idea that the canal was so wide in spots. And although the dogwoods are losing their bloom, the azaleas are raging. I topped him off with a bottle of breastmilk, and off we went.

The hiking got a little scrambly in places. The Ergo carrier we have is pretty good in backpack mode, but it's not really for trail hiking: it's fine for me, but the Boy bounces around and doesn't get a good place to rest if he falls asleep -- which wastes a nap that would be better spent in the carseat on the way home.

We skipped around some rocks and perched above Maryland Chute, a little rapid where kayakers practice their moves. We also saw a Zodiac raft and a fanboat, on a rescue mission or training. I took a little footage with the video camera, but the sun was warm and the hiking uncomfortable (for the Boy) so I turned us around and brought us home in about 15 minutes.

Getting him out of the carrier woke him up -- disgruntled. We played around for a while, but we started the ride home as quick as we could. There were a few tears, but off we went.

He really started howling on Connecticut Avenue. We turned off on Military Ave., and I ducked down Beach Drive into Rock Creek Park. I pulled over in a turnout, and we played around a bit to calm him down. We walked and saw some pretty trees and grass. I thought to feed him the rest of the milk, but it had curdled. Being denied the bottle really set the Boy off again, so we hustled home.

And when we arrived home, I realized I had left the diaper bag at the grassy clearing in Rock Creek Park. It had the camcorder in it, so I had to hustle back -- despite the boy's wailing. I'll tell you what: that's stressful. Especially at some of the rinky-dink traffic lights in Rock Creek Park, that only let a few cars go through while the Boy is gutterally wailing. At least the No Left Turn 4:00-6:30 did not was 3:58 (by MY clock) when I went through. We flaked out a little at the clearing, but it didn't assuage any wailing for the ride home.

Home for real, 45 minutes later. Breastmilk, the dog, playing with toys, crawling around...restorative. Then a real feeding: broccoli, quinoa, and sweet potato. They weren't getting it done, so I made pear and almond butter for dessert (with some ground flax seed for oils, proteins, and amino acids).

Monkey Mama came home, and things got even easier from there.

So what did I learn from this experiment in extending the Boy's range? (1) He was smiling when we got home...the first time. Don't leave the diaper bag anywhere. (2) Make a pallatable lunch, so that he eats more on the road. (3) Try to make the excursion more pleasant than bouncing up and down a hot, sunny trail.

But who knew?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Art Museum

It had been a while since the Monkey and I had been down to the Mall. And it was a nice day. So after making a few batches of monkey chow (a week's worth of quinoa and yellow squash), down to the Mall we went.

We walked through the Hirschorn sculpture garden, pausing at the fun fountain to take off a layer or two and replenish fluids. The Monkey was entranced by the water -- of course -- but also by the other kids running around. (It's been forever since the Monkey got to play with someone of his own size; playgroup mothers of Petworth...where are you?)

Then past some Rodin sculptures, that the Monkey seemed to take in. And then into the Hirschorn itself. The color field paintings and some of the funky scultpures were captivating. I kept taking the Monkey around and around a Giacometti bust called Diego that had an odd trick of being a 2-dimensional profile from every angle...and yet was recognizable representative scultpure.

The third floor had a large, carpeted room with plate glass windows overlooking a northern exposure onto the Mall. And it had a giant, colorful wall. Since the Monkey was crawling around anyway, unkinking himself from too long in the carrier, I took the opportunity to shoot some very cute pictures with the wall as backdrop.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


They say 99% of luck is just showing up. Parenting is kind of like that, I guess: 99% of what I do as a stay-at-home dad is just being with the Monkey, and being available to him.

But lately I am finding it a little challenging to be present all the time: actively attentive and engaged, talking to him, playing with him. Of course, play-time, guitar-time (he has been strumming for months), and feedings are inherently engaging. But with the Monkey in the carrier or the stroller, it's possible to zone out a little. And when we're home together just us two, and it's not a feeding or a nap or another engaging activity, there is a strong temptation to surf the web, check email, read a magazine, or just generally do my own thing.

Maybe showing up is 99%, but being present brings you to 99.99%. And the Monkey requires all 99.99% attention right now -- at a minimum. He is crawling...and fast. If he is heading towards the stairs, or an electric cord, or the bathroom, he is there almost as quickly as he can think it. He is pulling up on furniture, and could easily tumble down onto his noggin or even bring entire lighter pieces of furniture down on top of himself. And aside from the physical risks, he is always working on something intellectually and emotionally, and he needs some guidance and support.

So I guess this is the hard part. Although experienced parents perpetually tell me that the next phase is always the hardest...

It occurs to me that I haven't been to playgroup -- either of them -- for almost a month now. For a couple of weeks, I was holding the Monkey out of playgroup witha sniffle or a fever, out of respect for the other kids and parents. But neither of the playgroups seem to have convened in the last couple of weeks, despite the fact that we are both fit as fiddles. The playgroups provide the Monkey with other people his own size and shape to focus on, and me with a chance to talk to adults that are equally engaged with parenting. The playgroups are good for both of us, and not just while we're there but for the rest of the week too.

Or who knows? Maybe I'm just burning out a little after 4 months on the stay-at-home dad beat. I don't really think that's it, though. (It's gotta be the playgroups.)

Apropos of nothing, Presence is also a late-period Led Zeppelin album. I used to have them all.

Time Marches On

Three signs the Monkey is growing up:
  • He's getting ready for a haircut
  • Lately I have needed to replace the batteries in his various toys, baby monitors, and other electronic devices
  • My leave of absence from work is 66% over


I've been building a bookcase for the Monkey whenever I find a spare minute. The small bookshelves we have in his room now don't offer enough storage space, and they're too light and flimsy: now that he pulls up on furniture, he is bound to pull it right on top of himself. And with all the tempting toys and books to grab, it's a rush situation to get the bookcase out of the workshop and into the nursery.

The idea is to match the maple dresser and crib. I'm using Baltic birch plywood for the carcase and shelves, because the grain and color match the maple, yet the birch is cheaper and more widely available. I'm going to mill a piece of crown molding on my table saw out of some maple hardwood that carries the angular theme of the bookcase. I'll come up with a base molding, and use some leftover maple to cover the exposed ends of the plywood with edging.

After a lot of tedious measuring, squaring, checking, and rechecking, I've got the pieces cut into shape. That left some quick work with a piloted router bit: it guides itself, and I get to have fun with power tools.

What was not so fun happened to my eye this morning, while the Monkey was napping and I was routering. After a pass with the router, I took off my eye protection to blow it clear of sawdust. And a big cloud of sawdust went into my eye. Ironic. Bloody painful.

No harm done.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I'm never going back

Here's one reason I regret the return to fine weather in Washington, DC: the zoo was overrun with hideous little children. I might have to wait until the first killing frost of autumn thins them out a little bit before I go back there again.

There was a little respite from the mob in the invertebrate exhibit. The Boy touched the glass fo the aquarium where the octopus was swimming by: pretty neat.

On the way home, I came back via Euclid St. Crossing 16th Stret at Malcolm X (Meridian Hill) Park, traffic was a little slow. The park served as the headwaters of the big imigration protest: protesters were going to walk from there down the hill on 16th Street down to the National Mall. That's DC for you.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


I took the Boy to Annapolis Friday. He liked the water, he liked the ducks.

We were there to meet a friend of mine who is looking at apartments in Annapolis. He has a sailboat -- a J-80 -- so Annapolis represents a great sailing and racing community.

More importantly, he is looking for a potential job in that area. If anyone knows of an opportunity for a guy with experience in software development management, six sigma, finance, or databases, leave a comment by clicking on the time/date stamp below.

Bottle Dayz

It seems like the Boy is changing his sleep schedule. It redounds to our benefit, becuase he seems to be sleeping longer, with fewer interruptions in the middle of the night. But one consequence is that there is less scope for me to feed the boy a bottle at night.

I'll miss our night feedings together.

But I have been enjoying something new (or so old it's new again) that we do on weekends. Essentially, the Monkey Mama brings him back into bed after their 4ish am feeding. He cuddles with us and sleeps for a few hours, and the upshot is that we all get to sleep in a little longer.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Yesterday I took the Monkey to the FDR Memorial to see the cherry blossoms. I wore him behind me using the baby carrier as a backpack, so I couldn't be certain what he was looking at or if he was having a good time. If people looked my way and smiled, that usually meant he was smiling. If people looked my way and cooed, he had fallen asleep.

I am proud to say that the Monkey felt secure enough to fall asleep in the carrier, especially on a blustery day. It means that I am satisyfing all of his needs.

Anyway, the rain earlier that morning -- and the passage of time -- meant that the cherry blossoms were a bit past their peak. They were still beautiful, and a number of the other trees in the area were blooming. So the bright, sunny day felt exactly like early spring. It made me aware of the other interesting plantings tucked in amongst the sprawl of the FDR Memorial; there is so much else to focus on that the greenscape is easy to overlook.

The FDR Memorial is perhaps my favorite memorial in all of Washington, DC. FDR's presidency spanned such a long and eventful period, and I like how the large footprint of the memorial reflects that physically -- almost the way the transept and nave of church architecture makes a physical connection to Christian symbology.

Also, the use of water in the FDR Memorial is stunning. I took some pictures with the video camera -- and maybe someday I'll post them here -- but the various waterfalls tell an incredible story:
  • The large, wide, unbroken pourover at the entrance
  • A waterfall broken into sections, representing the various public works projects of the first administration
  • A little waterfall, symbolizing the dignity of the common man
  • A waterfall broken asunder by large stone blocks jutting at crazy angles: War
  • The same chaotic waterfall, but with most of the block set at proper angles: path to peace
  • A wide, still pool underneath a relief of the funeral cortege
As it so happens, the Monkey loves water fountains -- including great, roaring, big ones -- so he was quite excited and bounced up and down in the carrier.

There are also incredible quotations carved into stone as one rounds a corner into a new part of the Memorial. I found it impossible not to contrast FDR with the present occupant of the White House. Let's just say that as a statesman, diplomat, politician, uniter (not divider), leader, warrior, and president, FDR left some big shoes to fill.

After we left the Memorial, we walked along the Tidal Basin for a while, and I let the Monkey play with some cherry blossoms, and with the gnarled trunks of some old cherry trees. We ducked under a couple of trees, looked at some ducks, and headed back for the car. Along the way he fell asleep, and barely stirred even through the awkward process of retrieving him from the carrier. He slept all the way on our trip home via Rock Creek Parkway, and stayed asleep for a while after I turned off the ignition.

With naptime over, we went inside and I made him some lunch. Then we played for a while with his new toys until the Monkey Mama came home.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just Like Ole Times

Last night hit 1am, and I was tired of waiting for the Monkey to wake up. So I decided to take matters into my own hands: I woke him up unbidden, changed his diaper, and fed him a bottle.

But like a colleague said about his daughters, sleeping takes the years off them. Or as Tom Waits said, "you're innocent when you dream."

He barely stirred when I picked him up, and didn't open his eyes after that. I changed him, and he didn't kick or fuss or anything. As I moved his arm to pick him up off the changing table, it was light as a feather and offered no resistance. I fed him a bottle, and he drank it in long, steady draughts. Until the last few, when he would rest between draughts and let the milk slowly flow into his satisifed body. I laid him down in his crib, and he stayed asleep.

It reminded me of how he was when he was much younger, although only a few months ago.

New Toys!

Some new toys came today, from the Rosie Hippo catalog: a set of 6 rainbow colored nesting bowls, and a thing called hammer balls that is much more fun than it sounds.

The Monkey has been getting his crawl on, and he's very interested in exploring new areas. My thought was that a few new toys might keep his interest in one room for a little while longer. Also, with his (pre-verbal) language acquisition and generally increasing dexterity and awareness, I thought he might be up for some new colors, shapes, and textures. That, and the tax refund reflecting our Child Tax Credit just came in, and I thought it was fair that the Monkey should get at least a cut.

The delivery -- and the dogs barking -- woke him from a nap, so having a few new toys came in pretty handy.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Day People Tales

When you take time off from work mid-day to let the cable guy in, or when you're home with the flu, or you're home during the day for whatever reason, you notice people walking around. During the day. Those are "day people" (a phrase I heard Ira Glass say on the radio program "This American Life"). Do they have jobs? Do they work nights? What's the deal?

I am now one of those "day people."

Occasionally, the day people in my neighborhood are intoxicated. Much more often, they're retired. And that day person walking a dog every day with a baby strapped to him? That's me. Any of us is usually more than willing to stop and have a conversation; we have time.

Every once in a while, being a day person allows me to see strange sights. For instance, the other day, I observed the mating habits of UPS trucks. Did you ever wonder where all those brown trucks come from? Now I know.

A UPS truck was parked in front of my house. It wasn't doing anything, just sitting there with its back door open and its driver talking on the cellie. Then another UPS truck came swooping in, did a few wild reversing loops, and positioned itself rear-to-rear with the waiting UPS truck. At some point in the process, the driver of the second UPS truck had managed to open its doors, so there was nothing to prevent the free exchange of packages between the two trucks. In a few moments -- much shorter than the time the first UPS truck lay waiting -- it was over and they both drove off.

And that's where all the little brown trucks come from. If only I could have tracked one of them to their nesting grounds!

P.S. If I wanted my Google ranking to soar, I could just use the words "UPS sex" to describe the scene. But this is not that kind of site.


I used Bondo for the first time today. The question is not "What did you use it for?" but rather "What will you use it for next?"

Bondo is automotive filler. It takes 2 minutes to mix up, then cures hard in 20-30 minutes. It can be milled, shaped, and painted after that. If there's something missing that should be there, maybe Bondo will fill the gap.

In fact, I used the Bondo to make a zero-clearance throat plate on my table saw. I put a piece of duct tape over the slot in my throat plate, filled the back in with Bondo, and then let it harden. After it cured, I replaced the throat plate in the saw, then gradually raised the blade until it cut a new slot in the Bondo. Except that this slot matched the width of the blade exactly: zero clearance on either side of the blade.

The advantages of the zero-clearance throat plate are two: (1) Safety. It's less likely for a slim cutoff to bind between the blade, and then get shot back at the saw operator; (2) Minimizing tear-out. When the blade cuts wood with the zero-clearance throat plate directly backing it, the saw is more likely to cut the grain cleanly. Otherwise the grain can tear, creating an unsightly cut and poorly fitting joinery.

Bondo might soon be elevated to the lofty status of WD-40 (if it's stuck and it shouldn't be) and duct tape (if it's not stuck and it should be).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Jokes on Me

Is life so serious that not one single person could have the presence of mind to play an April Fool's prank on me? I guess I didn't pull one either so I shouldn't complain. But jeez.

Peak Cherry Blossoms

Some friends returned to DC for the weekend, and we enjoyed hanging out with them. Saturday, we made it down to the Mall on a beautiful, warm, breezy day to look at the cherry blossoms.

They were at peak. I've never seen them like that: barely a petal had fallen to the ground, and barely a bud remained unbloomed.

For a brief, shining second I got to stand under a tree and look up at sunlight filtered through a cloud of cherry blossoms.

But then the reality of the situation intruded: the Monkey was beyond the end of his rope, and his Mama and I had to part with our friends and hoof it back to the car.

It was worth it for that one moment, though.

The Shadblow Serviceberry in our backyard is doing pretty well, too: bloomed yesterday, and should peak in a few more days. Then, edible berries and green leaves. Then brilliant foliage. And by then, I'll be back at work full time.