Thursday, December 30, 2010

I like this train!

Or, Brynna travels to Chicago...

We made the trek to Chicago a few weeks back to see our good friends Lucy and Steve, and also to travel up to Milwaukee to meet our close friend from med school Beth, who is now in residency in Appleton, WI.

Unlike the last time Brynna traveled by air, there would be two adults for this little one. Plus, there was a decent chance that neither would be feverishly sick. Lastly, we managed to hit a direct flight from MHT to MDW via southwest - one three hour hop and we're there.

That is not to say that traveling with Brynna is care-free. She's a great sport, and a good traveler generally, but she is still a two-year old who doesn't always follow directions, and whose patience is sometimes shorter than our own.

First hurdle: our 6:30 am departure from Manchester necessitated a 4 am wake up call for the B. In an extreme case like this, we thought nothing of keeping her in her jammies with her Nuk. She tottered along behind Mama through security while I wrestled the luggage and car seat. She charmed we way past through the TSA:

Brynna did well through the takeoff - all she needed was a little hand-holding and closing of the window shade. We expected Brynna to sleep on the flight over there, but she gabbed the whole way over. Probably the highlight was the handing out of the in-flight snacks!

At Midway airport, while Hil went in search of chai, Brynna and I flopped down for a late breakfast of cheerios and raisins.

The next hurdle was the 1-hour trip on the EL from Midway (to the SW of downtown) up to the northern lake shore where our friends live. But, as it turns out, Brynna really liked the subway. Here and there along the way she would say "I like dis twain!"

This was particularly true once we got north of the Loop, and popped back above ground: we could see most of downtown here and there, and passed just outside the right field fence of Wrigley Field.

We arrived at our friends' home right around Brynna's usual nap time. They had made wonderful accommodations for us and the B, and she went right down. We spent the rest of the day catching up and hanging out.

On Saturday we piled ourselves into a Zipcar minivan and started driving north through some snowy slop to Milwaukee. It was a convenient midway point for us and Beth, but also has a lot of charm in its own right. How wonderful to see old and distant friends! We hadn't seen Beth since leaving Minnesota. She is also a family medicine resident, whose schedule is at least as insane as Hilary's. She was kind enough to shlep down even after working the night before. We met for lunch at the (indoor) public market, admiring the impressive gingerbread houses on display - our favorite was the one done up like The Burrow. We lingered at the market for a few hours while Brynna napped out in the car (supervised and heated, of course). After Brynna awoke, we all went to the local children's museum right down by the lakeshore: five adults playing with one toddler seems about the right ratio. We hardly even saw 1/3 of the place, but B had a great time.

We capped it off with dinner at a local hipster restaurant. Brynna started becoming less than polite towards the end, but thankfully there's a small market attached to the restaurant, through whose aisles she could run up and down.

B was definitely finished when the adults were done with dinner, so we said our goodbyes to Beth and piled back into the van for a quiet drive back to Chicago.

Sunday morning we had a late breakfast at our favorite Chicago place: Tweets. They were very accommodating of Brynna: bringing out crayons and a fruit cup before we'd even gotten our coats off. Brynna heartily enjoyed Hilary's chai and pumpkin pancakes.

When we returned to Lucy and Steve's place, we decided to fire up the Wii and see what Brynna could make of it. I'm not sure she quite got it, but she was very enthusiastic about waving things around. (If we had one, I'm sure she'd already be a natural).

Then naptime while the grown-ups got to play.

Alas, it was not long after Brynna awoke that we needed to pack up and make the trek back to Midway for our flight home. After standing and waiting in the cold Chicago wind some minutes waiting for our first train, we had good vantage of the city at sunset all the way to the airport. Brynna still liked trains, which made the trip easy for us. Upon arrival, alas, we found our flight was delayed at least two hours. Damn! Two hours more we could have spent with Lucy and Steve! Plus, we now had the prospect of keeping B civilized and entertained for an additional two hours in the terminal. At least on the airplane you can reasonably strap her down! She was approaching peak active time, and ready to run up and down the whole length of the concourse (the moving walkways are particularly fun).

But there were two able-bodied parents to corral her. Unfortunately, however, just as we were exiting security, I started feeling queasy. During the subsequent wait for our plane, I visited the bathroom to vomit a few times. The last time was with Brynna in tow, because Hilary had gone off to forage some dinner. All the bathroom stalls were occupied when the moment arrived, so I had the unenviable experience of blowing chunks into a bathroom trashcan with a few dozen travelers looking on, trying to keep Brynna from freaking out at arms length. Did I mention that Brynna is a good sport while traveling?

But then we boarded the plane, and everything was good. By this point it was near Brynna's bedtime, so we expected (hoped) that she'd sleep the flight back. Somehow or other that kid managed to stay awake and bubbly the whole way. Whatever was happening in my gut had thankfully abated, but I was left both terribly exhausted and restless. Brynna, of course, konked out about five seconds after we started our car back home. Jasper greeted us enthusiastically at the door, and curled up at the foot of our bed when we finally crawled in to sleep well after midnight.

All in all, an excellent tour of the upper midwest to catch up with our good friends!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

O Tenenbaum!

(continuing on catching you up on our holiday season - in reverse chronology)

We meant to get ourselves a Christmas tree on the 11th, so we'd have it for a nice long while to pretty up the house. But, when that day came along, we were greeted with an onslaught of what the weathermen euphemistically refer to as "wintry mix": rain, sleet, snow all shifting back and forth. Hardly a nice day for tramping across a tree farm, Brynna in tow, trying to find the right tree to saw down and throw onto the car. Plus, it now is dark by around 4 pm, so trying to find one in the light of day during the ensuing week was impossible.

Which brought us to the 18th. Not quite as late as, say, Christmas Eve, but still a little sad. We were stymied in our attempts to find a cut-your-own tree farm. We had good luck last year, but it simply was not to be this time. Either because it was late in the season, or because the economics weren't worth it, or because they just were taking a break, we couldn't find a cut-your-own place nearer than an hour away that still had trees.

So, we ended up much closer to home: at the YMCA of all places, choosing from their pre-cut Balsams trucked in from Colebrook, NH (i.e., the north hinterlands). I actually have few qualms about pre-cut trees: I myself sold them as a Boy Scout for years and years. And we found quite a nice one, actually.

Seeing as Brynna is unlikely to ever be a Boy Scout herself, I guess it'll be up to me to teach her the proper way to tie a bowline (and fifteen other useful knots).

Brynna was also enthusiastic this year about helping to decorate the tree - particularly with her own hand-made decorations.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


B was home sick today, and I spent the afternoon with her. She has become so adept at climbing out of her crib in the last few weeks that she now frequently pops out to come find us (or M and Deen, when in CT) when she wakes up. This has combined in recent days with some unfortunate early-riser behavior, such that she has sometimes shown up in the kitchen when I'm gathering myself together at 6 am. She's also equally capable of climbing into her crib, and sometimes insists on it. Given that, one must ask: what is the point of having the rails on her crib anymore? Time for a big girl bed!

Brynna has some tools of her own (thanks, aunt Kate!).

But Dada has lots more tools!

What's that they say? "So simple, even a child could do it."

And done, likety-split! Let's take this thing for a spin!

As cozy as can be!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Dog

We have a whole slew of blog posts to catch you up on, dear reader. And you might think that the Christmas holiday would be a perfect time to do that. I can make no promises that our lives will becomes less crazed enough in the coming weeks to get everything out to you, but we do have a few regarding Christmas. And, just because, we'll start at the present moment and work our way back.

We're currently in Connecticut with Hilary's folks. We were supposed to be back in New Hampshire by now. But, as with much of the East Coast, we got snowed in last night. An enforced, Act of God extension to the weekend isn't so terrible, particularly when it includes grandparents to watch after Brynna while Hilary and I get a much-needed lie-in.

And although Jasper might shy away from the door at first, he genuinely, truly, unabashedly loves the snow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

(image credits: Holly)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


One of the milestones in any two-year old's life is the introduction of that dreaded question: "Why?" Well, we haven't gotten there yet, but we have reached a sophisticated substitute: "What...For?" As in "What you do that for?

"What you change my diaper for?"
"What you pick me up for?"
"What we brush my teeth for?"
"What is it bread for?" Wrap your head around that one!

This joins the growing repertoire of enelesss questions, such as "What (you/my/mama/dat man/Jaster) doing?", "Where (mama/dada/me/etc)?", and "Who made...?". Oh joy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sink Repair

A few months back I did some repair to the 2nd-floor shower. I prefaced it by saying that plumbing repair is something that I approach with some trepidation, because even though it is a straightforward trade, even the smallest jobs seem to become involved projects, and the potential consequences for getting it wrong can be pretty bad.

So when I resolved to delve into why the 2nd-floor sink was draining very slowly, I approached the job with the same reservation I did with the shower. But I am a homeowner, dammit, and I can Do It Myself! This repair, like the last, involved a lot of cursing, particularly at those unknown people responsible for the state of things. Why, for instance, does the sink not have shut-off valves for the hot and cold supplies? Why would you slather five coats of paint all over the pipes and fittings, knowing that it would make it impossible to properly service the thing without chipping that paint away? Why bolt a sink to the wall in the first place, leaving the plumbing underneath exposed?

In any event I grit my teeth and dived in. I did not have the presence of mind at the outset to get a picture of the plumbing before I started. At the time, I didn't think that I would end up replacing most of it. I undid the slip joints for the trap, breaking a lot of old and peeling paint, and not a small amount of rust and corroded copper. The drain - from sink to floor had a nice, gooey, disgusting, but mercifully removable 1/4" coating of accumulated slime. This would go a long way to explaining why the drain was slow. The trap - a single cast piece of brass that was certainly decades old - had a removable plug at the bottom to help with cleaning. I pulled a nice motherlode of unidentified gunk from there, too.

Twenty minutes well spent: I started reassembling things. It was here, while tightening the last joint between the trap and the drain pipe sprouting from the floor, that things took a bad turn. My pliers slipped, and I ended up crunching a 1/4"-square window right through the pipe. The pipe, as I noticed when I had everything disassembled, was chrome-plated brass, heavily corroded, with walls not much thicker than aluminum foil. I could chip away at the edge of it with my fingernail. The coats of paint on it were probably structural. My first quick-fix solution was, of course, to wrap it in duct tape. This, however, was not watertight, partly because the crack extended into the joint, but also because it was hard to get a good purchase on the old paint.

The real solution was to lop the pipe off and hope that it was more sound a few inches below. However, this meant that I would need to somehow extend the pipe somewhere else to make up the difference. This spawned trip to the hardware store #1. I purchased a 6" pipe extender and, for good measure, a replacement sink drain assembly. The sink drain assembly is what mates the pipes to the ceramic bowl of the sink. There's a flange - the part you see at the bottom of the sink, which is threaded into the pipe that extends down below. This length of pipe usually also has the built-in plug that you can open or close by pulling the knob between the faucet handles. How it seals to the sink is actually underneath: a big rubber washer gets pressed to the underside of the sink with a wide nut.

The new sink drain assembly went in easily enough. The old one was very reluctant to leave, however: it had basically been frozen immobile by accumulated corrosion and grime. The resulting splatter when I broke it loose was unpleasant to say the least. But I'm a man! A Handyman! A Homeowner! and I laugh in the face of such trails!

Next came the old trap. Before I screwed the plug back into it, I started chipping away at some of the accumulated paint. I did not realize at first, but I was also managing to chip away the dried and cracked gasket that sealed the plug to the trap itself. Casting about for a suitable gasket material from which to cut a replacement, I settled on garden hose: slit it down its length lay it flat, it actually has a decently rubbery inside lining. Close Enough, I declared. And, believe it or not, this worked.

Chopping down the old drain pipe proved difficult. I first tried a pipecutter, but all it did was flex the flimsy thing out of round, which opened up a nice crack along its length. Next I tried a hacksaw. This worked at first but, as the cut progressed, the pipe began to chatter so much that I worried about breaking it more. My final solution: tin snips.

I assembled it all back together, tightened everything down, and turned on the faucet to test. It worked at first, but after a few minutes I started seeing drips welling from, well, every single joint. Cursing, and knowing that I wouldn't really be able to live with a drain that leaked that badly, I started poking around to diagnose. My conclusion: none of the joints were lined up properly; they were all slightly askew, which made it difficult to get a good seal. The root of this problem stemmed from the fact that the location of drain pipe in the floor and the sink above, and the fact that the trap that joins them is a single rigid piece, leaves little room for misalignment.

So came trip to the hardware store #2: I purchased a new trap assembly. This one, however, broke the S-bend into two parts, which can take up a lot of misalignment between the pipes above and below. For good measure, I disassembled the new sink drain assembly and, while reassembling it, applied liberal amounts of caulking. The joint where the trap meets the drain pipe in the floor received similar treatment. Then I left it to cure overnight:

So $40 in materials, two trips to the hardware store, and about five hours later, the slow drain has been fixed. A Pyrrhic victory?

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Ironic choice of snacks to fuel work on my public health paper on diabetes:

Simple sugars, anyone?

To raise some sort of half-hearted defense, I'm on call at the hospital and thus have limited options. I was hoping to get a giant bucket of popcorn, but the machine wasn't working when I went down to stock up just before the cafeteria closed for the night!

Let's all pretend that if I were pulling this all-nighter at home, I would be drinking tea without honey and eating a giant vat of no-butter, no-salt popcorn, OK?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Porch Update

As Brynna would say, "We hafve wails? They gween?" Yes, B, we now have rails, and they are green.

I know we now have a epic battle of color raging across the facade right now. Pink will lose, it is just a matter of time. It may well at this point require until the spring, however, because it is difficult to wage war with frozen paint.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Airline Security

I won't be trite and say "The T'r'rists have Won!", but I have to wonder if Osama isn't laughing his ass off in a cave somewhere. Is this really what we have been reduced to? In the days following 9/11, there were many reactions floating in the national mood, and one of the strongest I remember was: we will not submit, we will not be afraid. We've had a string of near misses with terrorists since, and the result is that we've reduced ourselves to plaintively bleating at the government: Help Us, Protect Us, Save Us - no matter the cost! A decade later, we have citizens paying their government in taxes and dignity to buy machines that take naked pictures of every person who buys a plane ticket or, for the more recalcitrant or suspect, government agents groping the public.

And what do we, the traveling public, get in return? Some assurance that another underwear bomber might be caught, or that the risk of being caught will force a terrorist to try a different attack. It's unlikely we'll have another suicide hijacking a la 9-11. That was, however, largely the result of hardening cockpits and an awareness among travelers that they may need to fight back. So terrorists move to planting ineffective explosives in shoes, so we start walking through security barefoot. They concoct a complicated plan to mix explosives in shampoo bottles, so we ban anything larger than 3 oz containers. They put explosives in their underwear, so we get virtual strip searches and enhanced pat-downs. Hoop upon hoop, layer upon layer, cat chasing mouse.

It is, however, just a matter of time before a way is found around this latest countermeasure. How long will it be until we have a terrorist attack (either successful, another dud, or thwarted early) with a bomb tucked in a terrorist's rectum? And what shall we do then? Full-body X-Rays for travelers? With cavity searches for those who refuse? Meanwhile, our ports, borders, and important public places are still ripe targets. Maybe an airline attack is too hard, so terrorists will switch tactics and truck-bomb a mall. What will we, as a society, then do?

As an engineer, I deal with risk assessment every day. Risk is not just "how bad can things go wrong?", it is also a matter of probability. The product of the two is risk. Low risks can be events with severe consequences, but with such low probability that the risk can be considered remote. And high risk is not always the end of the game. It may be that the risk is inherent to the system, and cannot be mitigated short of utterly extraordinary measures. In the jargon of risk management, you'd say the risk is "As Low As is Reasonably Practicable." At that point, it becomes a calculus to determine whether the potential benefits outweigh those residual risks. For medical devices, this calculus largely falls to the FDA, doctors, and patients. An artificial heart is an enormously risky device: it or the surgery will almost certainly kill you. On the other hand, if you are dying for a heart transplant that may be minutes or months away, it may not look so bad.

In terms of security, one can perform similar analyses. What are the potential threats, what are the possible outcomes of a security breach, what's the probability of that harm coming to pass, and what would it cost to mitigate that risk? There isn't a single answer to these questions: some people or institutions are more or less risk tolerant, some have more or less to lose, and some have more or fewer means to beef up security. At some point, however, everyone will have a limit where the additional costs cannot be borne, the residual risk is too small, and the additional costs outweigh the potential benefits. You draw a line, accept you can't or won't do more, and live with it.

So here's my take on the present subject or airline security. On the potential benefit side we have the reduced likelihood of a terrorist attack on an airplane and all the accompanying potential losses: loss of life, property damage, damage to the American psyche, and potential further cost as we roll out the latest countermeasure. That all seems like a very high toll - and it is. But it was a highly improbable event in the first place. So I count the risk as actually being pretty low, not only for myself as an individual, but also for my family and for the nation as a whole. On the cost side we have the direct costs for the scanners and personnel (a couple billion dollars at least), more lost time getting through security (billions and billions more), increased radiation exposure for travelers, increased road deaths as people throw up their hands and decide to drive, psychological damage at being either seen virtually nude or groped, and the enormous cost to the dignity and liberty of travelers. The potential for abuse or misconduct is high. And, lastly, it is not even clear, and certainly not demonstrable, that these new procedures are actually improving security, or that our resources would not be better spent, say, more thoroughly checking luggage or increasing human intelligence.

I tally this up and come to this conclusion: the costs of this latest security procedure are too high, and do not outweigh the potential (or hoped-for) benefits. For me, the line of diminishing returns was crossed some time ago. I can give some deference to the government being more conservative in their calculus: they have a duty to protect us, and their asses are on the line when something goes wrong. But even in that light, things have gone too far. Eventually, I think others will reach their own stopping point, but I fear what the traveling experience will be like by the time that happens.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Desperate Times...

I'm at work for 25 hour shift today/tonight, and I really wanted to get in a workout on the ancient spinning bike in the hospital gym.

But where to put my iPhone, so I could watch my TV show while pedaling?

So I built myself a tower:

Worked pretty well. And I only had to dismount twice to answer right at the beginning, and one right at the end.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the Week

Driving along in the car on the way to daycare:

B: "I want chai! I want your chai!"
Me: "First of all, I didn't hear you ask nicely. And, I can't help you with my chai, because I'm driving."

[pause, and a change of subject to other matters]

Several minutes later...

B: "Please I have some your chai when you done driving?"

Well, for a sentence like that, sure!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Escape Artist

Brynna has a new trick: the ability to climb out of her crib. She hasn't yet surprised us by 1) pouncing on us in bed at 3 am or 2) producing a loud thump, followed by much screaming, from a botched attempt. Nevertheless, fearless climber that she is, she has managed it a few times. We have proof:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Porch Progress

Work on the porch progresses. It is perhaps a bit slower than I anticipated from the outset, but it is shaping up like a quality piece of work. Behold the state of things as of the end of this week:

We have the understructure completed as far as I can see. It is quite solidly build and should provide an excellent base for the decking that will be installed next week.

Earlier this week, things were a bit more chaotic, but gradually improved. When we left for our weekend getaway, we still had a porch to walk up to, but it had no railings, and the load-bearing posts were stripped down to bare wood and primed. That was a late development: they spent the few days before priming wrapped in tar paper because it was cold and raining - not good conditions for painting.

The decking was torn up early this week. We came home one day and half the porch was gone! The next day there wasn't anything left, and we have been coming in and out of the back door ever since.

Behold the interesting patch job that someone did some years back to try and reinforce the north end. It's not a bad job, actually, but was only a stop-gap measure. This happens to be in the neighborhood of where the clothes dryer vents out, so the gradual rotting out could have been anticipated. Why they didn't move the dryer vent at the same time of this reinforcement is a mystery to me. I will admit I haven't fixed it yet myself, but it is high on my to-do list.

Sometime in the past the house was owned by a smoker that really thought nothing of dropping the butts through the cracks at the front door. As if lead paint chips weren't enough to worry about.

The end of tearing things apart, and the start of rebuilding. The posts, incidentally, are free-hanging: suspended from above with a gap beneath them. We have temporary struts holding up the roof, which we have thankfully avoided hitting with our cars thus far.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No, wait, THIS is the quote of the week

As I lifted Brynna out of her crib this morning:

B: You got milk in your breasts?

Me: Yup.

B: For ME?

Me: Yup.

B: I drink it sometimes?

Me: Yup.

And then we nursed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quote of the Week

Brynna and I went for a quick grocery run last night. She held onto the list and helped me find all the items, including a case of Long Trail Ale for Alex.

As the bagger loaded up the cart, Brynna grinned at him, pointed at the case, and in her best outdoor voice, said "That is beer! For Dada!"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trip Report: Mount Jefferson

As most of you know, Alex and I love hiking. We've actually been hiking together since the night we met, during our first year at Dartmouth.

So we were really hoping to be able to hike together this weekend, preferably up above treeline in the Presidentials. After some investigation, we settled on Mount Jefferson, which fulfilled some important criteria: a yet-to-be-checked-off entry on Alex's 4000-footer list, highly unsuitable for a toddler so would take advantage of our adults-only status, and accessible via a short enough trail to get us home at a reasonable hour.

The Sunday "High Summits" forecast was promising, billing the peaks as in the clear through most of the day.

So we suited up and headed for Crawford Notch. It was a chilly, late-fall, gray day—though we did spy the top of Mount Washington through the clouds a couple of times on our drive.

As mentioned above, our time constraints necessitated the shortest approach: the Caps Ridge Trail, reached from a back road that took us from Crawford Notch up to Jefferson Notch.

Now, you might think that starting out at 3009 feet, from "the highest elevation reached by a public highway in New Hampshire," is cheating. But we thought that the trail's gain of 2700 feet in 2.4 miles would pretty much make up for that.

It was looking a lot more like wintertime up there. And still cloudy.

Here's Alex at the trailhead:

Some beautiful hoarfrost crystals en route:

Up, up, up towards treeline, where the rock scrambling started:

Then up above treeline, but still in the clouds:

Hey! The Observatory people were right! The summits were in the clear!
This is Alex half a mile below the summit of Jefferson, looking out toward Mount Washington in the distance.

Then at the summit, braced against the wind:

Me at the summit! More Mt. Washington in the background.

We were on top of Jefferson for only seconds, just long enough to take the above photos, because boy was the wind flying in from the north. Then we hunkered down about fifteen feet below and had a quick bite to eat while we tried to identify the other mountains peeking through the clouds. That's Franconia Ridge over on the right, with what we think is the Moosilauke massif in the middle. Not sure about the peaks on the left.

Here's Alex as we headed off the summit:

And me, just above the cloud deck:

There was so much slippery scrambling that the hike out took just as long as the climb up. Including some terribly graceful sliding on our rear ends. But we eventually arrived—safe and sound, sore and content—back at the car. All in all, a complete success.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend Escape

Drumroll, please...

This weekend, Alex and I went away together. Just the two of us! For the first time since Brynna was born!

My wonderful parents not only gave us this weekend as an anniversary present, they also came up and took care of Brynna while we were away.

We went to The Farm By The River in North Conway. Close to the mountains, with a fireplace in the room, and horses! It was very quiet (this is what happens when you schedule your mini-break for in between fall foliage and the first big snowfall), and we had a lovely relaxing time.

On Saturday, we went for a carriage ride. Here's a photo looking back at the Farm, with Cathedral Ledge in the background.

And here we are with Barney the carriage horse:

Then we headed out for a short walk to Diana's Bath:

Then into North Conway, with a stop at International Mountain Equipment for some maps. And the purchase of an amazing chocolate mint mountain cupcake at the White Mountain Cupcakery.

Followed by a spectacular wood-fired pizza at Flatbread. And then caffeine at a coffee house down the street.

So, that was Saturday, our lounging day. Today was hiking day...but that is another post. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quote of the Week

Saturday morning, we went downtown to the farmers' market, coffee shop, and bagel place. As we were sitting in front of the coffee shop, Brynna kept leaning across the table to grab bits of our breakfast.

Alex: B, sit down on your bum and we'll hand you some food.

Brynna: no, I have poopy diaper. I want sit on my knees.

How can you argue with that logic?

Thursday, November 4, 2010