Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gassed Out

Someday, someday, we will end our nomadic existence and finally stop moving around. One might think that owning a house would go a long ways towards that goal. By and large that is true, until a day like this. We are having hardwood floor put into the living room, and the existing floor in the adjacent dining room floor refinished to match. The plan had been to have the wood installed and everything sanded down one day, stain put down early the next so that it could air out all day, then everything sealed up the following day.

Unfortunately, our guy didn't put down the stain until about 4 this afternoon. As a result, the house reaked of volatile organic compounds. We did truly want to use a less hazardous product, but it just wasn't in the cards this go around. We were able to more or less sequester the bedrooms, and thre open the ground floor windows and doors, but it wasn't perfect. We could keep the air in the bedrooms fresh through the night, and thus spare Brynna from a nasty exposure, but it required blowing in cold outside air. That, too, could have worked for the night, but we wanted alternatives. A hotel that would accept Jasper was an option, but a pricey one. We had one more choice: our old apartment. Our lease runs through the end of the year, so we're still paying rent, and hoping mightily that our landlords could find new tenants soon. No luck yet, so it's still ours.

And so, here we are. We just got the last of our stuff out two weeks ago, and yet here we are, back again. We hope very much that this is just for the one night, and the aromas of petroleum byproducts will tomorrow be locked under layers of non-smelly, water-based, no-VOC urethane. After that, we can finally move into and unpack the living and dining rooms, and just maybe begin living in our house, instead of merely occupying it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Double Fetch

Labs and poodles are both retrieving breeds. Jasper, however, has shown a decided disinclination toward the game of Fetch.

When we first brought him home, tossing a ball would send him running scared in the other direction. By the time we left Minnesota, perhaps inspired by watching the crazy fetching Border Collies on the other side of the backyard fence, he would often chase a stick or ball and pounce on it, but he didn't understand the bringing-it-back concept.

But, rather suddenly in the last few weeks, he seems to have gotten it—more or less. He and Brynna have both been enjoying romping in our new neighborhood park. And now we have a very efficient way to tire them both out! It's a little game we call "Double Fetch."

Here's how it goes. I use the tennis-ball-atlatl to toss the ball for Jasper. He goes bounding after it:

Then I hand the claw to Brynna, who starts toddling in his direction.

Jasper comes sprinting back toward us, usually dropping the ball somewhere in a 50-foot radius. I ask Brynna "where's the ball?" and she heads in that direction as fast as her little legs can carry her. Sometimes she uses the claw to push Jasper out of the way. Then I have to coax Jasper to "drop it" and then cajole Brynna to give me the atlatl so we can start the whole process over again.

Pretty soon, both Brynna and Jasper are tuckered out and we head for home.

Tonight, I was using treats to help train Jasper to actually bring the ball all the way back to me...though maybe I will have to rethink this strategy, as it results in less exercise for little B.

Monday, October 26, 2009


My folks were in town this past weekend. It also happened to be Dartmouth's homecoming weekend. Being near and dear to our hearts, and my parents' hearts, and being just an hour up the way, we met up in Hanover Friday night to witness the homecoming bonfire. My parents met at the bonfire way back when, and Hilary and I nearly got engaged at the bonfire some years later.

For those that don't know, Dartmouth's Homecoming bonfire is a real piece of work. For the last few decades the design has been more or less standardized around the following (homegrown) design. Traditionally, railroad ties were used (the creosote really lit up), but they're harder to come by, so we instead now order tie-sized green lumber from a mill yard. Like popsicle sticks, the ties are stacked layer upon layer, first in a star shaped base, then a hexagon that closes off the star points, tapering to a square tower that gets topped with numerals for that year's freshman class, who goes most of the grunt work. The interior structure is filled with scrap wood, mostly old shipping pallets. The structure stands about 35 feet tall when complete; flames can easily top 100 feet when in full flare. During the lighting ceremony, things get started with a couple buckets of kerosine and six flares wielded by chosen members of the freshman class. Then they all run around the fire in various states of dress, no matter the weather, while the rest of the college and community urge them on.

Following the collapse of Texas A&M's bonfire while under construction in 1999, Dartmouth changed a few things. The ties above head height now get lifted up using a lull, rather than hoisted up on ropes. Large garden spikes are used to ties some of the upper courses together, to lessen the chance of the structure shearing off to one side (either during construction or when half-burnt). There is a visible police presence both outside and inside the assembled crowd. Highway construction spotlights bath the scenePlywood sheets are now affixed to the outside of the star base, ostensibly to provide a canvas for students to tag, but really to make it difficult for anyone to climb the bonfire after it is first lit (I kid you not, this did happen in the past).

We were joined by my Uncle Tom, who took some great shots:

This year's production.

The assembled crowd gazes in awe of our pagan rituals.

It was chilly, so we put Brynna into her Everest expedition wear.

The Conflagration!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vacation Hiking-Foiled By The Damp

On Wednesday of my vacation, we woke up to a rainy day. We did get Brynna out the door and over to her doctor's office for her flu shot (regular flu, not H1N1, which isn't available here yet, but she'll get it when it is), but we didn't want to drive up into the mountains for clouded-in views or a rained-out hike. Instead, we found a break in the weather and went off to the local Audubon Society preserve. Unfortunately, the break wasn't long enough, and it started to rain just as we got out of the car. We retreated to the building, which was a little less entertaining for toddlers than we might have hoped for, and eventually just gave up.

Instead, we went over to our apartment and Dad entertained Brynna while I packed up some more stuff to move to the new house. Brynna has a tremendous fascination with plastic buckles, and she was overjoyed to discover that with a minimum of help, she could work the buckle on Alex's Camelback water-pouch holder. She spent the rest of the week wearing it around, howling if we tried to remove it from where it inevitably came to rest around her waist. And she discovered these handy cymbals while packing up the kitchen:

On Thursday, we headed off to Mount Cardigan. It was a bit of a dreary day again, and after about twenty minutes of walking, Brynna made it clear that she did not want to go hiking, thank you very much. (The final straw may have been the Smartwool socks we had put on her arms to keep her hands warm.) So we turned around, hiked back down, and played in the parking lot and picnic area for awhile. Here's B admiring the fall foliage:

Friday it rained again. Blech. On Saturday, Brynna and I headed down to Connecticut while Dad and Alex headed off to do their piece of AT-In-A-Day. B was clearly inspired by her reintroduction to hiking, as she walked a good part of the way home from the library that afternoon—almost half a mile!—pushing her stroller by hanging onto the basket underneath, and categorically refusing to be put back in the seat. She certainly is determined!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vacation Hiking-Day #2

So, on Tuesday of my vacation (yes, that was two weeks ago, but better late than never!) we picked another shortish-hike-with-a-view and took ourselves off to Belknap Mountain in the the lovely town of Gilford, near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. We wound our way up a dirt road, past a gate that warned us in large print that it would be locked at 6 PM, and parked in a mostly-deserted parking lot.

While Jasper gallivanted around, thrilled at the prospect of a hike without being made to wear his backpack, we got Brynna all situated in her backpack.

Then we hiked up through the forest, eventually catching sight of the fire tower after about an hour of walking. We climbed carefully up the very steep stairs (Jasper was not interested in this part of the hike, so we tethered him at the bottom) and were treated to a breathtaking view that encompassed parts of four states. The most beautiful part was looking out across the lake to the White Mountains.

We brought my Scudder's White Mountain Viewing Guide and were able to identify the whole stretch of mountains, including Mount Moosilauke and Mount Washington, plus peaks in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.

Brynna was most vexed by the determination of her mother and grandfather to hold onto at least one, and preferably two, of her limbs at all times while she was trying to explore the only-loosely-fenced-in pod atop the tower. Miss Cranky-Face did agree to pose briefly for a photo:

She returned to her usual, cheerful, whirlwind self once we returned to the parking lot and she was set free. She and Jasper ran all over the place, checking out lots of rocks and dirt.

As usual, the electronics drew the most notice. She definitely understands about the camera now—she will turn and flash a big smile when she sees it pointed in her direction!

B zonked right out in the car on the way home, and we were able to escape before the gate locked us up on the mountain. We stopped for our traditional post-walk snack of Peach Snapple and Cape Cod Potato Chips before heading home for our first night in our new house!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

AT in a Day

The goal: to hike the entire 2200-mile length of the Appalachian Trail, in a single day

That is what the Dartmouth Outing Club set out to do yesterday as part of the centennial celebration. They figured there were enough alumns out there that they could get enough people together to have the entire length covered in a single day. This isn't sequential, mind you, it's done in parallel. If they could pull it off, it would be a first. We were making history just by trying - this is something no group's ever attempted.

We had signed up for a relatively short and easy bit of trail near Franconia Notch - something Brynna Appropriate. However, as crunch time neared and the trail coverage was less than complete, we got reassigned to a somewhat more challenging section: Pinkham Notch to Carter Notch along Wildcat Ridge. An excerpt from the White Mountain Guide puts it this way: "The sections from the Lost Pond Trail junction to E Peak and from A Peak to Carter Notch are very steep and rought, and there are several ups and down and other steep, rough sections along the rest of the trail...." That, plus a poor weather forecast, made this trip not at all appropriate for Brynna, even with the possibility of using a ski gondola for an ascent and/or descent. So, it was just Mark and myself for this trip - the rest of the crew heading down to Connecticut for the weekend.

Pinkham Notch is the major lodge / visitor center in the White Mountain Forest and lies as the eastern base of Mount Washington. After leaving Springer Mountain in northern Georgia, the AT travels some 1800 miles before summiting Washington, then makes a circuitous descent down to Pinkham, across NH rt 16, then up the Wildcat Ridge trail, down to Carter Notch, then farther along the Carter Ridge to the town of Gorham, NH, then on a bit more to the NH-Maine border, and on for another 250-or-so miles to finish at Katahdin in Maine. In all, our section was barely 6 miles, though as the guide put it, it was "more difficult and time-consuming than one might infer from a casual glance at the map or the distance summary."

Our route is the red path. Google Earth is pretty cool! This is a view roughly SE. Mount Washington is in the lower-right corner. Pinkham Notch is more or less centered. Across the road from that is Wildcat mountain ski area - you can see all the trails. Our put-in was at 19-Mile Brook trailhead off to the left of the image.

The route isn't a loop, so we left the car at Pinkham and hitchiked to our trailhead. It took all of about five minutes of standing forlornly at the Pinkham Notch parking lot to hit the jackpot: a generous couple from Philadelphia was able to squeeze us in the back for the five minute drive.

We had a reasonably gentle hike of about 4 miles from 19-Mile Brook trailhead to reach the Appalachian Trail at Carter Notch (the blue marker at the col off to the left). As we went on, the weather went from forties, grey, and misty to colder, darker grey, and light rain. I had a fleece hat in my bag largely out of the habit of being prepared - today it saved me from being miserable. The weather forecast for the day was for light rain in the morning, but rapidly clearing up as the day progressed. That was correct except for the clearing up part - we saw no sun until our hike was 5/6 over in the late afternoon.

After donning rain gear, we headed south on the AT, up and out from Carter Notch, onto Wildcat ridge. The trail was sodden and muddy, the sort where waterproof boots and gaiters allow easiest passage by tromping through the middle of each puddle. We progressed over Wildcats A through D. We passed a group of three on top of Wildcat D with a small bottle of champagne - one of their group had just completed the 48 NH 4000-footers.

Although there was no snow or skiers atop Wildcat, the gondola cycled forlornly at the top, while a cold wind whipped clouds over the top of the ridge. Ordinarily, looking out from the top of Wildcat, one can look across the valley and view Mount Washington from the east, getting the best views of Tuckerman and Huntington ravine. For instance, here's the view when Mark, Hilary, and I were on Wildcat D in 2004:

This was the planned backdrop for our AT in a Day official picture. Today: a blank wall of white on all sides. We did the best we could.

There was also a kiosk near the top shack stating that we were on the Appalachian trail: 306 miles to Katahdin, 1834 to Springer.

We continued on our way south over Wildcat E. As the AT continued down off Wildcat E, the weather finally began to turn: the cloud deck lifted and parted as we descended below it, giving us a glorious view of the Washington valley in autumn colors and afternoon sun. Looking across we could see the Boot Spur and Tuckerman Ravine. We were just about level with the headwall. We could see our destination, Pinkham Notch, far below. The summits of the Presidential Range were still socked in a thick band of wind-blown clouds. We felt for the folks who would be doing the Presies today: hours above treeline and subjected to the cold winds whipping over the ridge. It's a hike that we could have done ourselves, but we would have needed a lot more planning beforehand, determination to see it through in such conditions, and equipment to do it safely.

The descent off Wildcat E was brutal. 2000 feet of elevation lost in a series of steep ledges, slabs, and piled boulder staircases.

As an ascent it would be an exciting scramble; in winter a fine place to practice one's icecraft. For a descent, however, it was just a long, knee-pounding slog. Redemption could be found in the numerous views to be had, now that the weather was clearing up to a fine afternoon. Mark hurt his wrist in a fall when one of his trekking poles collapsed high up, making him unable to use his right hand for the rest of the descent.

When we reached the level of the road and the Lost Pond Trail, a signpost said we had covered a mere 4.8 miles from Carter Notch - in the last five hours!

The Lost Pond Trail is a mostly flat - though not smooth - one mile section from the base of the Wildcat Ridge Trail back to Pinkham. If the pond had once been lost, it was pretty easy to find now: a series of beaver dams had allowed it to grow and expand, consuming some of the trail. The northerly wind rushed down the length of the pond, kicking up whitecaps that crashed into the dam. We picked our way along the eastern shore until we could join back up with the original trail. Over a few more bridges, a sharp turn to the left, and we were back to the highway and Pinkham Notch. We'd completed some six miles out of over two thousand.

No word on whether the group effort was successful - trip reports will be trickling in for the next few days, and eventually we'll see if we pulled it off. We at least did our bit.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vacation Hiking-Day #1

What better thing to do with an October vacation in New Hampshire than to hike?

Dad arrived last night to accompany Brynna, Jasper, and me on our wanderings this week. This morning we set off up I-93 toward Franconia Notch. We started with breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor. This is a spectacular diner where the waitstaff make your pancakes to order and the default option is real maple syrup, none of that fake crap.

Brynna enjoyed herself, as you can see:

We shared some blueberry whole wheat pancakes:

Brynna was very interested in this little horse outside the restaurant.

Then we headed toward Cannon Mountain, a ski area that is also one of the New Hampshire 4000-footers, where there are also some shorter hikes. We chose a loop over Artists' Bluff and Bald Mountain. Here we are on our way out:

And on top of the bluff (Jasper and Brynna are apparently playing peek-a-boo):

On top of Bald Mountain, I let Jasper run around free and borrowed his leash to use for Brynna so that she could do some exploring.

You can see the ski area in the background of this photo, with the lovely foliage:

Brynna and I also got some quality mother-daughter time at the peak. The distant mountain over my head is Mount Moosilauke, Dartmouth's mountain...which is also where Alex and I had our first unofficial date and fell for each other over Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

It's important to get some grandfather-granddaughter time, too:

Right after we took the above photo, we saw a rainstorm coming in fast from the north. We packed up in a hurry and scrambled down the rock slabs around the summit, getting under the trees and onto dirt trail just in time. The skies opened up and suddenly we were getting whacked with hail! We got Brynna's little canopy up but the rest of us were rather bedraggled by the time we returned to the road 15 minutes later. It stopped raining just about then, and we hustled back down the road to warm up our hands in the car. Now, I have always had a lot of respect for the bad weather potential in the White Mountains, but I have to say that I did not bring all my foul weather gear on this little loop that took us a maximum of 30 minutes from the car at any given time. Especially with the baby, never again!

On the way home, we stopped in Lincoln at the fabulous Mountain Wanderer bookstore, picking up a couple of new guidebooks and some maps.

All in all, a very successful first day. More to come!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


So, I thought that once I finished on the medicine service, I would be able to blog a lot. Instead, despite being on the cushy "Systems" block where my class comes back together for a variety of lectures and activities, I've still been catching up on rest. Not much emotional or physical energy for blogging at the moment! (Maybe that will change next week, during my vacation.)

But I do have a video of Brynna taken this week, showing off some of her signs. In the video, she does "please," (palm rubs circles on chest), her version of "dog," (tapping chest...the "real" sign is tapping your thigh but Brynna clearly means dog with her particular sign), "thank you" (fingers move away from chin), "eat" (fingers to mouth), "sleep" (hand next to head), and "light" (hand flashing above head, which in this video looks a lot like "milk" because Brynna is doing it by her body instead of above her head.

Yes, she's standing on a big step. Just be grateful it's not an end table...we've caught her standing up on those, too!