Monday, August 30, 2010

The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship

I spent about 10 years of my life as a fairly serious equestrienne. Medical school and residency have put the temporary kibosh on that, but when in the Upper Valley, I do try to go and check in on retired mount Panache. I often dream of returning to the saddle, and hope that it's something that Brynna and I may be able to enjoy together.

Brynna has recently become fascinated with Panache, wanting to see pictures of him and remembering our visits. So while we were up blueberry picking this weekend (separate post to come), we decided to go and visit the barn. I asked her if she wanted to ride him, and she seemed game.

She started out from a safe spot outside the fence...

Where she and Dada consulted on the proper approach...

To such a large creature:

Then, once she saw that Mama was having such a good time, Dada helped her mount up...

And off we went...

I think she's a fan!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just Us Girls

This past Saturday, Alex headed up north at an obscenely early hour (3 AM!) to volunteer at a triathlon, and Brynna and I had the morning to ourselves. We slept in, then lolled about in bed, nursing and making a tent out of the blankets.

After Brynna's breakfast, we packed up and headed out via bicycle and trailer.

First stop was our bank down the street, where I got some cash and Brynna was very excited to receive a red lollipop.

Then we headed downtown and stopped at the bagel shop for my breakfast, where several people thought it was important to point out to me that it was awfully early in the day for my sweet little girl to have a lollipop. (My unspoken response: Stuff it, people. She ate tofu and vegetables in peanut sauce last night. Did you?)

After that, it was onward to the farmers' market. There was a huge dog ("pony!" said Brynna) and a huge variety of fruits and veggies, including some late blueberries and early apples. And of course, the most critical part, according to Brynna: the chocolate milk that comes in the glass bottle. We said jolly hellos to a couple of my patients and a couple of faculty members.

Once we'd collected enough food that I was concerned about how transport it all, we sat down in front of the State House to do some people-watching. Brynna started in on one of the apples.

Eventually we pedaled up to the park with the best playground in town. Brynna had a wonderful time exploring, and met up with some slightly older girls who showed her the fastest route to climb up to the twistiest slide. Eventually Alex returned to town and met us at the park to play for awhile.

A delightful morning, all round.

Then this morning, when I went to get Brynna ready for daycare and explained that Dada was already at work, and that it was just the two of us, she looked up at me and said, "lollipop?" So apparently that's our mother-daughter thing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sweet Sunday

A few photos from our Sunday outing a couple of weeks ago:

Why isn't the fabulous local coffee shop in this plaza open on Sunday morning? We couldn't even begin to tell you.

Luckily, the bagel shop across the street was happy to provide.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Handyman Gardening

I built the planter boxes, and we filled them with plants a few months back. There was another facet to that project that, until recently, had fallen by the wayside: how to support all these tomatoes and tomatillos that were going to become tall, heavy, and floppy? This past week they started becoming more or less flattened under their own weight, so it was time to finish the job I'd started.

I could have just bought a bunch of tomato cages and called it a day. But good grief, they're expensive! I'd have dropped upwards of $200 for a full complement. Sure, I could use them year after year, but it still seemed a bit of a large investment.

Following the tips from the Square Foot Gardening book, I decided instead to build a frame from which I could hang netting, into which the plants could them be trained. Their suggestion for how to build this frame: electrical conduit. This is non-structural pipe that is strung together in just about every type of building except for residential, through which electrical and networking cables get strung. Because a couple hundred thousand miles of it are extruded each year, it is relatively inexpensive: about $0.25 / ft. To make a frame from it the suggested method is to bend it into a long U-shape, much like a soccer goal.

That's all well and good - electrical conduit is made to be bent. The only problem is that one usually needs a conduit bender of the correct pipe diameter to do a proper job of it, otherwise it'll likely just kink. A 1" conduit bender goes for $50-75 from any hardware store. That seemed a little excessive for a tool I'd use only a handful of times. I brought the conduit to my workplace, figuring that in an engineering company spanning several rennovated buildings, there's sure to be a conduit bender on hand. Turns out there isn't: all the bending gets done by electricians when they're brought on site for a specific job.

So I decided to make one myself. It wasn't too difficult, though it took a few hours of work to do it properly. Some might point out that I was trading my time, which is very costly, against out-of-pocket money. And in truth, I would have to value my time very little to say I came out ahead on that one. But it was a chance to do some woodworking, for which I grant myself a substantial discount. The most time consuming part was using my router to carve out the quarter-rounds from some scrap plywood. I have a circle-cutting jig for my router - almost like a draftsman's compass - but it does take a little time to set up a proper cut. The 2x4 was also some scrap material that would give me proper leverage when making the bend.

A 1/4" bolt restrains the conduit in place at the start of the bend. After that, it is a simple matter of gradually rolling the bender until the conduit has a nice smooth 90-degree bend in it.

Were I to follow the square-foot gardening plan, I would then get some lightweight netting with coarse spacing and string it across this frame, creating a plane of support down the middle of the planter box that I could then train the plants into. Such netting turns out to be surprisingly difficult to track down. Yesterday, in desperation, I instead bought a pair of replacement soccer goal nets. These happen to be just the right size to allow me, without any cutting, to drape across the conduit in an A-frame arrangement: the least sheltering pup tent ever. Rather than stake out the bottom edge, I added some screw eyes to the boxes, and just pulled the netting tight under them. This also served to stabilize the conduit frame by guy-ing it out to either side.

I admit, the netting stands out rather a lot, but it functions quite well and should hold up well in the weather. I should also be able to break this all down for storage in the fall without a lot of trouble.

And to prove that all of this effort is showing some payoff, behold our first two tomatillos of the year!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Freedom of Religion.

Take note of the period at the end of the title.

The ongoing flap about the proposed Islamic center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero in New York is really one of the weirdest spectacles I can imagine. We're actually talking about this? I can understand some getting bent out of shape about it, but is this something that really requires debate?

Allow me to put this plainly: if the United States stands for freedom of religion, then we had better let our actions follow our principles. If the Constitution is really as sacrosanct as so many politicians (and a whole host of candidates) are proclaiming it to be on a daily basis, then they had better be ready to speak as fervently about freedom of religion as they do about the rest.

Some try to tiptoe around the first amendment on this one. Others are less successful at hiding their bigotry. Some come out and speak plainly, and do little more than equate Islam with being Un-American.

“Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans,” Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat, in West Virginia’s Third District, said in a typical statement. “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?” - NYTimes

Yes, it is hallowed ground (though the way some speak of it borders on idolatry). And, yes, it is American hallowed ground. That is an important difference between Mecca and Ground Zero. Mecca is the seat of Islam; it belongs to Muslims. Ground Zero belongs to the United States. Would it be appropriate to allow a Jewish temple of Christian church to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center? Insofar as there are Jews and Christians in America, none would bat an eyelash. But an Islamic community center that also happens to have a mosque? Perish the thought!

And why? The point Mr Maynard seems to be making, appealing to our fear and distrust of The Other, is that Muslims should not be included as Americans. Do Muslims, as Americans, have less a claim to that hallowed ground than any other American? Do you really think that the only Muslims to die on 9/11 were those nutjobs flying the planes? Several dozen, at least, perished side by side with their fellow Americans.

In a city of over 8 million, the fire that heats our melting pot, I'm sure there are at least a few who would claim both the title of Muslim and American in the same breath.

Others, fearing to come off as xenophobes, simply try to couch it in terms of what's appropriate. They seek to draw analogies to whether one group has a right to contribute to the memorial of another:

“Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” Mr. Gingrich said on the Fox News program “Fox and Friends.” “We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.” - NYTimes

To put it in these terms misses a key matter of representation. The Nazis represented Germany as far as the Holocaust is concerned; the Imperial military represented Japan in 1941. These are acts perpetrated by nation-states during a war. That doesn't excuse the behavior - just as it doesn't excuse the suffering rendered by the United States at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose anniversaries passed just as this was heating up. As far as I know, there is no American presence at the atomic bombing sites. For better or for worse, the citizens of those countries bear the collective guilt of what was done by their governments in their name.

Al Qaeda does not represent Islam. To believe otherwise is to take a particularly craven and perverted view of the world. To paraphrase The West Wing, Al Qaeda is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. I could think of other examples. Does Westboro represent all Baptists? Does the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ represent all Mormons? Shall we paint all pro-lifers with the same brush we use for the Army of God? Perhaps we shall lump all members of PETA and all vegetarians together with the Animal Liberation Front.

That is the important difference that Mr Gingrich either willfully or ignorantly glosses over. To say that a mosque should not be built in the vicinity of Ground Zero, because the perpetrators of 9/11 called themselves Muslims, is to say that all Muslims, including Muslim-Americans, bear the guilt of 9/11 and are, simply, not welcome.

And then there is the dear Sarah Palin: "Doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." What kind of nonsense is she trying to propulgate here?

The president made the principled stand and used his bully pulpit to remind everyone that we do, in fact, have freedom of religion in this country. You may not like the ramifications, but that's just too bad. And if the Republicans harp on about him being out of touch with mainstream America - since when has the first Amendment been subject to referendum?

We are for freedom. Period.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Firefighter Brynna

My mother is rather handy with the needle and thread. She's produced many a fine piece over the years with speed, skill, and apparent ease. Knowing how Brynna loves the "beep beeps", my mother whipped up a firefighter outfit for her recent birthday. To complete the look there was also a fire hat, and of course, a fire engine for her very own (which, of course, makes all kinds of noises). Behold the cuteness:

We've now got Halloween all figured out for this year, too!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Say What?

Brynna, to Jasper during supper this evening:

"Come here puppy, I give you peanut half."

Seriously. She's going to be reciting the Gettysburg Address pretty soon.

(Unfortunately, Jasper does not yet understand Brynna-speak. Just the food that gets dropped on the floor for him. He doesn't like peanuts, actually.)

Then, I had this conversation with her:

Me: Brynna, would you like to take a shower with Mama or a bath with Mama?

B: Shower! (pause) Mama pick up!

Me: Yes, Mama can pick you up now.

B: Boo-boo better.

Me: Yes, Mama's boo-boos are much better.

Then she pulled up my shirt for an up-close inspection.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nutmeg State Tri

This past Saturday I competed in the Nutmeg State Triathlon. To think that I've spent my whole life up till now without knowing that Connecticut was the Nutmeg State! Hilary was supposed to compete, too, but her recent medical adventures made it quite out of the question. Given how very little training I've done over the last two months, I had my own doubts. Nevertheless, after too little sleep, there I was Saturday morning, charging from the beach in a mass start. This course had a 1/2-mile swim, somewhat long for a sprint distance, which typically has a 1/4 or 1/3 mile. The bike section screams downhill for the first two miles or so, then makes a trip round Lake Waramaug, followed by a long slog back uphill. Very scenic, but the twisty and unsmooth road meant it was a not a speed course. The first mile of the run spared us nothing: steep grades on hiking paths. At this point, the lack of recent training made it a rather painful and drawn out process. But, perseverance and the rhythm of the breathing brought me through to the end.

But hey, that only covers Saturday morning. We did have some of the usual chaos getting out the door Friday night. But Brynna was quite pliable, declaring her immediate readiness to go to "M-Dean House!" I started off driving, but needed to switch off before we reached Greenfield. Hilary needed to switch back before we reached Hartford. Despite the late hour and the short night, Hilary was kind enough to be there to cheer me on with her father and grandfather in the morning. But as soon as we got back, we all had naps along with Brynna. Saturday night we, and a number of Hilary's parents friends, were treated to the exceptional culinary talents of Paul, a longtime friend of Hilary's family. Crostini with a number of toppings. Brown and wild rice with apricots and roasted walnuts. Roasted potatoes. Grilled zucchini and squash casserole. Grilled corn and tomato salad. Caprese salad. Roasted white peach halves and mascarpone with blueberry and port sauce.

Sunday morning we had a late and leisurely brunch with Phillips donuts, blueberry pancakes, Spanish frittata, fruit salad, and pan-fried stuffed zucchini blossoms. Yes, it was all quite fine. The only downside was that, alas, we needed to come back to New Hampshire. Hilary had a pile of clinical paperwork to catch up on, and was uneasy about starting the week on a sleep deficit. It won't be much longer, I think, before we get her back in the saddle and hitting the pavement.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I've been back at work since Monday. Tired—though really no more so than usual, when I'm on the inpatient adult medicine service—but essentially pain-free today.

Brynna's looong statement of the week: "Yay! Twinkle Twinkle Bear up there, hiding!" And also, to A one day at daycare: "We see firetrucks at home."

She's currently obsessed with heli-li-cop-ter-er-ers, since she saw one take off from the National Night Out Festivities yesterday. She seems to have forgotten that she started screaming partway through the takeoff. Initially I thought it was because of the noise, but then I asked her if she was afraid, or if she was sad that the helicopter was leaving, and she choked out, "sad...leaving," so I guess I'll take her word for it.

The books of the week: Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters and Happy Birthday, Little Pookie. We've read them every night.

She said "my" for the first time that I can remember. She's been saying things like "B's toes" or "B's juice" for awhile, but I hadn't heard her say "my toes" before today. Also, this week, she has developed a convention for asking if someone is coming with her somewhere: "Mama-us?" means "is Mama coming with us?"

Last week she asked me for walnuts. She knows walnuts, peanuts, and cashews and will ask specifically for one or another, depending on her mood.

Alex continues to be a rock star of a husband. I'll leave it to him to update you all about what he's been up to—he's working hard, and also has a carpentry project going in the basement.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy Birthday to Brynna!

Brynna has had a marvelous second birthday.

She's old enough to sort of understand the concept, and for a couple of weeks now she has been saying "two!" when asked how old she is, and we have often heard her singing "Happy Birthday to Brynna" or "Happy Birthday to B." We left out the presents part when describing the celebration, but she definitely knew that we would sing the song, and wear the party hats that great-grandfather Dickie sent.

Once we realized earlier this week that I wasn't going to be on call today (I'm going to try to go back to work Monday), we decided to put together a very low-key little party, and invited two of Brynna's friends: J and mom A from daycare, and C with her parents and new baby sister from just down the street.

Here's B with "big brother" J, getting ready to party!

Several months ago, my mom promised to take care of the cake, taking this enormous responsibility entirely off of my shoulders. She's been plotting and planning ever since, and here is what greeted Brynna when she came downstairs from her nap this afternoon:

She was thrilled!

She did engage in some quality inspection before the party (it passed):

And there were even matching Elmo cupcakes:

Brynna enjoyed her promised rendition of Happy Birthday with a huge grin:

And then everyone dug in:

Brynna experimented with some different party hats during the cake-eating part of the festivities:

J, who had his own birthday a few months ago, then instructed Brynna that it was time to open presents, and helped her get the unwrapping started. He made a Build-A-Bear for her, which sings "Twinkle Twinkle" in J's voice. She loves it!

C gifted B with a fabulous train, sure to be a favorite:

M and Deen brought a toolbox, and B appears determined to take after her father in this way as well:

And Brynna got her allotment of snuggles with A, as well, which was quite a treat for a Saturday:

All in all, a grand success. The kids then spent a couple of hours gallivanting in the yard, playing on the jungle gym, while the non-supervisory grownups got to sit and chat for awhile. If I'd known it would go so well and that people would stay for several hours, I would have arranged something for dinner, rather than just nibbles!

It's hard to believe that our little B is two. It's amazing to watch her grow!