Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Porch

Now that the front of our house is painted, it's time to get the backyard into shape. Also, with the Boy growing ever more venturesome, it's only a matter of time before he experiences the doggy door to the back porch. The back porch: with it's rotten planks, dubious railings, and rickety stairs. Perched over the steep, cracked, bulging, mossy stairs to the basement.

We found a great contractor. I've seen his work before, from our playgroup friends Stephanie and Silas. He shows up, he's punctual, he's friendly, and he calls back. I know that all contractor relationships usually start this way -- and nevertheless end in tears -- but I am optimistic. (If you want his name, leave a comment by clicking on the timestamp below.)

I wrote him a 5-digit check yesterday morning (and I don't mean my zip code). Tools and cinder blocks showed up that afternoon. All the recent rain has made the ground soft for digging, so it might start sooner rather than later.

He's going to demolish and remove the existing porch and cement patio slab; excavate 3 1/2 feet down; create two new drains; pour new cement stairs to the basement, a new retaining wall to keep the backyard at bay, a new slab for storage under the deck, and new footings; and build a screened in porch with a door leading down two steps to the grade.

At my request, the three feet over the basement steps will be bumped up to countertop height: this will improve the headroom under the deck, so we don't have to bring the basement steps too far from the house.

It's really a lot of work. 700 cubic feet of dirt are going to disappear, and probably a ton of concrete is going to either leave my house or come in. And it all has to be done through a 100' pedestrian alley that serves the back yard.

Mosquito-free outdoor living, with new storage and better drainage. The summer of 2006 will be one to remember.

More Flooding

10 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Water is entering the basement through the slab where it was ruptured during my neighbor's water main break. That makes me sad.

I am still waiting for the water company to tell my neighbor's insurance that I'm screwed.

Clark Kent

A secretary in my office was grabbing a smoke once, on the loading dock near where I keep my bike during the work day. I rolled in on my bike wearing my helmet, shades, backpack, reflectors, and a white t-shirt. I locked my bike and helmet in the bike room, took off my shades, and put on my button-down shirt.

The secretary said, "You went in as Superman, and came out as Clark Kent."

That's more or less the way I feel about returning to work. Home with the Boy, I am Superman. Back as an economist, I'm Clark Kent.

Oh well. Somebody's got to get the Daily Planet published on time.

And on a bicycle-related note:

If you know anyone who drives a hybrid electric car with Virginia license plates "7959CF" tell them to GO TO HELL. His lane was blocked by a bus, so he thought he would merge into mine...through me. I yelled at him to his attention, and then he did all kinds of histrionics. He even rode up onto my front wheel. The driver of this car is fortunate that my opinion of the DCPD is so low that I didn't file a report.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

Great Father's Day. And believe me, after a year watching the Monkey, I earned it. Or as I told my brother-in-law (himself a father of a 7-month-old): I earn it every day, but today I get to enjoy it.

The Monkey Mama put me on Monkey Patrol starting at 6am. But I was so wiped out from yesterday's sun and regatta exertions that I had passed out 9pm. So guess what? 9 hours of sleep. Count it, baby!

I hung out with our friends from North Carolina as they trickled downstairs. (They were kind enough to pay us a visit to meet the Monkey.) We saw them off around 9am, and then made a few phone calls. I got to talk to my dad, dad-to-dad, which was a treat.

My dad is often pretty free with advice. But he's been almost laconic with regard to parenting advice. His lone bit of advice for the first year ("Pay attention") was oddly -- yet profoundly -- very helpful. So I asked him for some advice for the second year. Something to do with walking. My mom helped him with the simile, but he compared a toddler's ability to walk to a 17-year-old's ability to drive. Yikes.

Anyway, I'm starting to "get it." Thanks, Dad.

I was damned if I was going to stay around the house and do something productive; it's Father's Day fer crying out loud. Then inspiration struck: we went wine tasting.

We went to Pearmund Cellars and Piedmont. Pearmund's had the better wine -- their 2004 Ameritage Reserve was stellar -- but Piedmont had the more beautiful scenery. So they both win.

And so did we.


Today I realized that I tie my shoes wrong.

Instead of a double-slippery square knot -- in which the loops exit the knot from the same side as the lace enters it -- I am tying a double-slippery granny knot.

What's up with that? It's not like I can relearn how to tie my shoes. Hopefully, my shoe laces will not be subjected to gale force winds.

UPDATE: False alarm.


I sailed in my first regatta Saturday, on my friend's boat Dragonfly. Dragonfly is a J-80, a 26' racing sailboat. We finished 2nd in the first race, and 2nd in the second race, each time behind the same boat.

The second race was really exciting: we were neck-and-neck with the other boat for an entire lap: one mile to windward, and one mile downwind. There must have been 3 or 4 lead changes. Essentially, we outtacked them on the windward leg and overtook them; the outjibed us on the downwind leg and overtook us. Near the finish line, there were some shift tactics going on: we were trying to steal their wind by interposing Dragonfly between the 15-20 knot breezes and their spinnaker. It didn't work especially well, but it was pretty exciting.

Then we headed into port and drank beer.

My crew position was in the #4 spot, furthest forward. My job was mostly to hoist the spinnaker as we rounded the mark, and to ease the tack line and spinnaker halyard as the spinnaker came down. I also helped bring the spinnaker around when we jibed. Between raising and dousing the spinnaker, I usually leaned my weight over the windward side of the boat to balance her and make her go faster.

Previously -- on the occassion of my batchelor party, in fact -- I have trimmed the spinnaker sheet. That's a tough job: always craning the neck upward, trying to keep the spinnaker full of air...but not too full. Anyway, the more I learn about sailing, the more I'll know, and the better sailor I will be.

Maybe someday I'll learn what a cunningham and an outhaul are for. I never can figure them out.

My thanks to the skipper for including me in the fun. I've got a bruise, a scrape, and a localized sunburn...but I'm eager for more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

First Day Back

The first day back went pretty well. I got in early, spent my time working, and then took off at a reasonable hour. I am still looking for the project (or projects) that I want to lead with, but I will meet with my boss Friday to go further on that.

Actually, the news from work is pretty good. Not only did I get a year-end bonus and a promotion during my absence, I got a sizeable cash award. Is this a good gig or what? I guess one way to understand it is that rewards lag performance. I will have to hustle to make up for the donut-hole in my performance that was the last six months.

I used to get in late and eat lunch at my desk to make up for lost time -- now I wake up early, make myself lunch, and leave earlyish to see the Monkey. Just like a grown up. During lunch, I walked around Dupont Circle and bought a new bike helmet. I saw this group of young adults with "Youth Leadership Council" buttons asking for directions. They were lost.

And that is why I do not follow youth leadership.

Monday, June 12, 2006


It's official: I go back to work Wednesday. Wish me luck.

And if you've got some swell research ideas, pass them along.

The Monkey and the Lentil

At the pediatrician's visit last week, she was removing the diaper from the Monkey as part of his exam. Inside the diaper was a conspicuous lentil which had somehow found its way down the diaper during lunch.

We mostly clean the Monkey up pretty well before we take him out, but we do it especially well before the pediatrician for some reason. So the lentil was kind of a bummer. But in an odd way, I was proud of the lentil in his diaper. At least it shows good nutritional habits, right?

I would have been mortified it had been a Chicken McNugget.


Thanks to all the friends who helped us celebrate the Monkey's first birthday yesterday. Thanks too to friends and family members who sent their gifts and well wishes from a distance.

We were gratified by the thoughtful blessings. Our cousins fashioned a time capsule, and we will put the blessings in there for a couple of decades. The date on the time capsule is the Monkey's twenty-first birthday. (Maybe I should put a bottle of wine in there, so that his first legal alcoholic beverage will be top class.)

The Monkey had fun, too. One of my favorite memories of the day has to be balloon shopping at 8:30am. Nothing like strolling around a grocery store with a dozen balloons to get his attention.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Today was my last Thursday playgroup for quite some time. Sigh. My returning-to-work schedule has me at the office on Thursdays. I will miss the kids, and the other parents too.

A nice treat for the afternoon was going to the Arboretum with my friend Jonathan. It's an even toss up between the Arboretum and the Zoo as to which outing destination I have enjoyed most during my tenure as a stay-at-home dad.

This evening, the Monkey Mama and I worked out our new schedules. The days on which we both work will be hectic, to say the least.

Monday, June 05, 2006

If you're going to Massachusetts

Boy, I sure do like Massachusetts. We went to my sister's for Memorial Day, and it was the Monkey's first visit to his father's native soil. I haven't been to Mass. during the month of May for quite some time. We missed the 12" of rain that had drenched the region, and we caught some DC-like heat and humidity, but everything was in leaf or bloom. What a great time of year.

And each time I visit, I come away impressed with the stewardship of the land. We visited friends in Western Mass., which was of course rural and beautiful. But with continuous post-Columbian habitation for four centuries or so, it is remarkably unspoiled. My sister lives an hour outside of Boston (give or take, depending on traffic) and it is frickin' beeyootiful out there. (Even more beautiful while tooling around with the roof off of my my bro-in-law's new '97 Vette.)

I suppose comparing outlying regions of Boston to my inner city DC environs is unfair. But I'll take suburban Mass. over suburban Maryland or Virginia any day. New England is beautiful, fair and square.

Also, we went to Drumlin Farm. The Monkey saw goats, sheep, enormous sows, big horsies, moo-cows, tractors, chickens, and a fox. Enrichment activities abounded.

We also had a short visit to Minutman National Historical Park. And now I am back in our great nation's capital, where I pay direct taxes and yet have no voting representation in Congress or the Senate. For shame, America!


Our little friend had her baptism yesterday, followed by a sunny luncheon at her parents' house. It was a great time, and timely,too: with the Monkey's birthday celebration coming up this Sunday, it was an opportunity for us to crib some notes on catering and symbolism alike.

A challenge about doing a secular blessing is that we have to develop our own sybolism. I've always been impressed at how the Catholic church uses physical symbolism: baptismal water, annointments, incense, wafers, ash smudges, palm fronds, and all that other good stuff. Surely all these symbols tap into and fulfill a deep human instinct for mystical imagery. And while a point in favor of secularism/agnosticsism/atheism is refusing to appeal to unseen and unknowable explanations to give our lives meaning, I think humans are hardwired to appreciate them.

One of our solutions is to hear more voices. We are inviting all the guests at the Monkey's ceremony to bring some words, art, music, or other expression of blessing. We did something similar at our wedding: the three speakers at our wedding (plus our freshly-ordained cousins) were not given passages to read, but rather were invited to bring their own words to say.

Anyway, I always enjoy a church service. The music is usually good, and the priest at our friends' church is quite the showman. Best of all, the kids did great: not only our little friend (and new member of the Catholic church) who didn't even object to the baptismal drenching, but also our little Monkey, who kept it together more than 60 minutes of mass.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Surf & Turf

Two great tastes that taste great together: grilled steak and steamed lobster. If some perfectly prepared cherrystone clams show up as an appetizer, all the better. Grilled corn on the cob? You bet. Jalapeno shrimp...sure, why not?

And why not a Nero d'Avila to wash it down?

Now that's a Memorial Day to remember.

Lips stained black with mulberries

The Monkey woke up from his morning nap, and I took him the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It's a unique place, and not just because it "is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants." It's a marsh, it's a bog, it's a river, it's a wildlife habitat, and it's a garden.

It was my first time there, too. It was incredibly nostalgic for me: it reminded me of the pond in the backyard of the house where I grew up. I saw big frogs -- but they usually saw me first, and disappeared underwater before I was aware of them. (Back in the day I could catch frogs by the dozen with my bare hands. Am I slower now? Louder? Heavier? Less focused?) More than seeing the frogs, I heard them. I remember when we moved into that house in the late spring of 1980... the first few nights we thought there were cows nearby. I also saw a giant crawfish just below the surface of the water. A dragonfly landed on me. I guess Proust had his madeleines, and I have my muddy ponds. (But did Proust ever catch a polliwog with emergent feet?)

I'm not sure the Monkey saw the frogs: they are still, and then they are gone. But he saw geese. I was looking in a different direction, but the Monkey said a word very similar to "gooszh" -- and sure enough, there was a goose. We followed it around for a while, until it splashed into the water and glided off towards another goose that was keeping its eye out. The two geese met up, and then paddled to the other side of the pond. Geese are cool like that: they watch out for each other. When one goose can't keep up with the migratory "V", a few geese break off to provide a draft for the lagging goose.

I took him to a bench by the Anacostia river to finish his breakfast: banana, blueberries, and rice cereal, with a few white beans thrown in for lunch. But between the bench and the river was an enormous mulberry tree, with the ripest berries you can imagine. I plucked one and held it out for the Monkey to eat. He liked. I plucked a few more. He still liked. Before long, his lips were stained black with mulberries, and he was having a meal.

The berries were so ripe that a few that I brushed fell off the tree and into the river. A bird above us got into the act, raining a few down on us as he set about his own lunch. I made sure he ate a few more white beans, and then we called it a lunch.

Despite the humidity, it wasn't that hot, so I figured we would walk a while down the river trail. Before long, down from a clearing, we beheld the majestically stinky Anacostia river. Fish were rippling the surface with high frequency, rising up to eat something they liked on top. There was some traffic on a nearby bridge -- probably I-295.

And then...WHOOOSH! A MARC commuter train zooms by! Now THAT's a train! I've been trying to explain to the Monkey that a Metro railcar pulling into the station is pretty neat, but it's nothing like a real train thundering through river gorge. And a few minutes later...WHOOOSH! An Acela train zooms by!

We head back to the car.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Busted water main

Regular readers know that our basement was recently flooded when my neighbors' water main broke underground. They first heard the sound of rushing water Thursday, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from. On Monday, I told them.

It flooded their basement and my basement, and moistened the basements to either side of us. The main broke after the meter but before the main shut-off valve, underground where it was difficult to detect. (I got to see what an old lead pipe with a three-inch gash in it looks like.)

It turns out that my insurance company won't cover water coming up from the foundation: seepage, even with a traceable antecedent cause, is seepage.

The only way my neighbors' insurance will pay me is under a negligence claim. I can think of three possible theories:
(A) There was some sort of water company pressure spike that ruptured the pipe, and the water company owns up to it, and gives everybody lots of money. (None of these elements is likely.)
(B) The water company should have noticed the pressure drop and lost water: a minimum of 3,000 gallons in each basement, plus untold 1,000s still in the ground.
(C) The neighbors should have been more dilligent at pursuing the leak at any point over the Thursday - Monday time period. (Ever since I became a homeowner, I know that the identified sound of rushing water gives me the screaming fits.)

If anyone has an opinion -- or better yet, DC case law -- on any of these theories, please leave a comment by clicking on the timestamp below.

Hello, I must be going

In the pediatrician's office today, I held the Monkey while he got two vaccination shots -- polio and Hep A, I think.

I had a thought: I have finally arrived as a parent. Even though the Monkey Mama was not only available, but in the same room, and with a superpower that I lack (viz. lactation), the job still fell to me to comfort him during and after the needle sticks. It's not his Mama's job to comfort him when he gets a shot, it's his parents' job to comfort him. And I'm a parent.

He cried, but then he got over it. Then he was grumpy. Then I fed him and bathed him. The Monkey Mama came home with take-out just in time, and she nursed him to sleep.

The bittersweet part is that just as I have arrived as a parent, it's time for me to return to the workforce in less than two weeks. (Hello, I must be going.)

But even at work, I'll still be a parent.