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?