Saturday, July 30, 2011


Hilary and I got Brynna a pair of Big Girl Swings for her birthday (shhh, it's a surprise!). These would replace the utterly decrepit and downright dangerous swings that were attached to the swing set when we bought the house. For some time now, Brynna has been content to swing in the baby swing, after I restrung it properly with new hardware. But she's more or less outgrown that and is ready to move up to the kind of swings she likes at the park. We decided to get two so that there's one for when friends come over.

That's all well and good except for one thing: the structure of the swing set itself is definitely not up for the increased load. It may have been designed for it, and it may have been capable of it when it was first built, but at this point it is decidedly not up to snuff. The main structure has a very noticeable 10-degree list. When Brynna swings with just the little swing, the crossbar it hangs from bows back and forth, rocking the whole structure along with it. I tightened up numerous bolts a few months back, but hardware can always loosen up. I had to add reinforcement to one end just to be able to string the closeline this summer without greatly distorting the shape of the thing. In general, I've found the choice of construction to be greatly lacking as well. 4x4s for vertical posts, fine, but 1x4s for crossbracing? The framing is square all around. Have these people never seen a proper truss? See all the triangles? Squares and rectangles can, as demonstrated here, get pulled out into parallelograms. Suffice it to say: if I were to design and build a platform/swingset, I would have made very different decisions.

In any event, I decided that I wouldn't put up B's new swings until I had done some reinforcement work. I started by loosening many of the bolts. Then I took off the ladder. These would make it easier for me to pull the thing back into square. This I did with a sort of block-and-tackle arrangement.

Into the ground I drove two 12" garden spikes. On each was a pulley. The rope got strung from one stake, through a pulley on the structure, through a pulley at the first stake, through another pulley on the structure, through a pulley on a second stake, then tied off to the structure.

In all, there were the equivalent of five ropes strung between the ground and the structure. When I pulled on the free end, my pull was multiplied 5x into force pulling the structure back into plumb. By my guess, I had 50-75 lbs of tension in the line, or about 250-375 lbs of force tugging on the structure up high. This was enough to bring the posts back to vertical.

With the pulley system still in place, I applied Loctite to all the bolts and tightened them back down. The red loctite should ensure that these bolts don't ever loosen again.

I also added a diagonal brace between the posts to help keep it square (triangles, people!).

The cross piece that the swings hang from is basically a ladder. It's missing several rungs, and two were pulled out from there holes and dangling. So when Brynna was swinging before, most of the load was going through one single 1x6. Lovely. I put the rungs back into place and tightened the hardware at either end. Then, for good measure, I also added diagonal bracing across the top of the "ladder" to tie it all together.

This done, I feel like I will be able to put up the swings tomorrow without being deathly afraid of something breaking. And, gosh, it only took four hours of hot work on a Saturday.

If I'd designed and built it, it would have been a freakin' tank!

Friday, July 29, 2011


Yup, it's that time of year again. Time for Brynna to look Oh-So-Cute while blueberry picking.

Did I say picking? Well, perhaps we should have named her Sal.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Brynna's excuses for getting out of bed this evening:

1. "I'm hot"
(escorted back to bed by Mama, who turned fan on)

2. "I'm cold!"
(escorted back to bed by Dada, who turned fan OFF and added a blanket)

3. (random footsteps from above us that did not require a parental visit. Possibly trip to potty, possibly building some sort of chocolate-blending robot)

4. "My pants are wet! I had an accident!" This elicited the sympathy of both parental units, who came upstairs for synchronized sheet-replacement and pajama-changing only to discover that the bed was in fact NOT wet. Unsure what happened there. Instead coaxed Brynna into a pants-change and some sitting on the potty, before re-tucking into bed.

Seriously, Brynna, go the F**k to sleep!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garlic Harvest

When I first put the garlic into the ground last fall, I didn't know when you are supposed to pull it out. My one previous attempt to grow garlic may or may not have made it to harvest time - we couldn't very well bring it cross-country from Minnesota. So, like most of this gardening stuff, I've had a bit of learning to do.

Cutting the scapes a few weeks back was important, because that tells the plant to not bother putting energy into the flower, and instead direct it into growing the bulb. A few times over the last couple weeks I've pulled the dirt away from one or two plants so that I could gauge the size of the bulbs, and they have definitely been getting bigger.

The next milestone in the growing was when the lower leaves of each plant started to brown and die off. Depending on who you read, after the bottom-most five or six leaves have died off, it is time to pull them. Letting things go much longer risks having the bulbs split open underground, at which point it can be difficult to 1) harvest them without breaking them and 2) store them for more than few weeks without spoiling. Having an intact skin around the whole head is important for storage.

I have also been told to avoid watering them in the last week or two prior to harvest - this can help them pre-cure in the ground and reduces the risk of having them split open. This I couldn't do, because the garlic is intermixed with other plants, and all those others have been in desperate need of watering during this scorcher of a week.

All this lead up to today: harvest day!

I quickly abandoned my small trowel and stuck to excavating with my hands. I didn't want to risk gouging anything!

After exposing the top of the bulb, I undercut a bit with my fingers, grab the neck, and slowly pull. The roots eventually give way, bringing a clump of dirt with them. Some shaking follows to clean the roots and return the soil to the ground.

Look! A double!

The total haul was nearly 20 heads large and small. I won't know for a while if the heads are divided into a handful of large cloves (good for cooking) or many small cloves (pain in the ass to peel!) until I start using them.

After a bit more cleaning I bundled the necks and leaves with twine and hung them in the garage. That's a nice hot and dry place where they can cure for a few weeks - turning the tough outer skin to paper, and sealing the delicious cloves inside. With nay luck, after they've cured, they should keep through the end of the year. I'll probably use the cloves from the largest head or two for planting next year's crop.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Last weekend, we took a hike up Mt Waumbec. Just a bit off Rt 2 north of Jefferson, with a wooded summit, it is unlikely that many people would climb it if it were not one of the 48 4000-footers in NH. Waumbec just barely counts at just over 4000 feet. But, as a 3.6 mile hike, it seemed about the right length for a hike with Brynna.

Jasper was thrilled to tag along, and was good enough to carry his own food and water.

Brynna started off the hike on her own two feet, and managed to get perhaps a half mile up the trail before needing to be carried. I don't think I had a good conception in my mind about how tough this was going to be. The trail ascends over 2000 feet to gain the ridge over about 2-1/2 miles, making for a relatively steep ascent. And let us tally the weight: 7.5 lbs for the child-carrier pck (empty), 5 lbs water, 5 lbs food, 5 lbs clothing, a few pounds of incidentals, and 30 lbs of Brynna! No wonder I had to pause every ten minutes, wringing the sweat from my bandana, I was carrying some 55 lbs up the mountain!

Once we gained the ridgeline, it was a relatively gentle hike to the summit itself. Naturally, with all the hard work done, Brynna was happy now to walk under her own power.

(notice the change in pants? aside from the heat, the change was necessary because Brynna is still a novice at the fine skill of peeing in the woods)

The summit itself is an unimpressive rock cairn surrounded by trees. A bit beyond the summit is a thinning of the trees that offered a fine view of the Presidentals. It took a while due to the haze to make it out, but we were able to identify Washington from the towers on top (it was also the highest - duh!), and the rest of the peaks followed from that. It was a fine place to have lunch, at 2:30, well past Brynna's usual nap time. For Hilary and I, used to cutting book time in half, the fact that it had taken us over four hours to get this far was a bit humbling.

After this fine picture back at the summit marker (can't spot Jasper? follow B's gaze), Brynna conked out for part of the return hike, giving my a welcome respite from the unending stream of questions she puts to us these days.

So for the 4000-foot tally, Brynna now stands at 1, Hilary and I are in the low 20s, and Mark is approaching 40. We have plans for Mark to finish by the end of the year, and perhaps B will come along with us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Some of you may remember that my Dad and I put in some raspberry beds.

I figured it would be a few years until they bore fruit. And, indeed, some of the canes have clearly died since planting. But, nevertheless, we have harvested a small clutch of raspberries this year. I have been training some of the longer canes up into the guy wires of the trellis, and we'll see how things go in the years to come.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Hmm. Am starting to wonder if Brynna is perhaps getting an unfortunate view of our jobs. Here is a conversation that took place at the dinner table this evening:

Brynna to Alex, searching for the right word: You an emergency?

Alex: No.

Brynna: You an engineer?

Alex: Yes.

Hilary: And do you know what engineers do?

Brynna: Yes!

Hilary: What do they do?

Brynna: They go to work!

Hilary: Well, yes, but when they are at work, they build things. Dada builds things. Do you know what Mama is?

Brynna: A doctor!

Hilary: Yes! And what do doctors do?

Brynna: They go to the hospital.

(We did later reach the point that doctors help fix people, but jeez.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Boating Brynna

Fabulous fun today: we rented a kayak and took B out for her first paddle!

She was extremely excited, since we've been talking about it for awhile. As you can see, she climbed right in on dry land for a little boating safety discussion.

Then a nice lady took a family photo for us before we set off:

On our first round of the pond, Brynna sat in the middle, in between the seats of our tandem kayak. Then we came back to the put-in and re-configured with Brynna in the bow. She thought she'd try out a bit of paddling before Mama joined her in the stern:

One of the reasons we are thinking about getting a kayak is to do boat support for each other during training swims. So B and I escorted Alex on a loop to see how the tandem handled with just one grown-up. It went just fine, and after chanting "go Daddy, go Daddy, go Daddy!" as Alex set off, Brynna was very glad to check in with him mid-swim:

She was using one of our salad tong spoons, which Alex obligingly drilled a hole in and tied up with some cord, as her own miniature kayak paddle. Later in the afternoon, she sat in my lap at one point and "helped" me with my grown-up paddle.

This is my new favorite photo, taken when we were out on the water.

After I took a turn swimming (Brynna, very attentive from the bow, calling out "do you need help?" every time I paused for a few seconds), Brynna had a chance to do some swimming of her own. She can dog-paddle quite happily in her life vest, though she likes a grownup very close...and we are happy to oblige.

Especially now that we're doing some boating, we're trying to teach her to float calmly on her back in case we capsize. She's not enthusiastic about that position yet, but here she is doing a great job with a steadying hand from Dada:

We went out for a second time after Brynna's nap, to see if we could fit Jasper in the kayak as well. We tried with Brynna sitting with me in the bow and Jasper between the seats. Jasper bore up nobly, as he does with all our crazy ideas. B was not super happy squashed in my lap in the bow, and it made me paddle funny to keep from hitting her in the head, so we may need to keep working on our seating assignments. The tandem that we rented was 13 1/2 feet, another foot might let us put dog and daughter both in the center. We'd also like to trial a lighter boat, as there's no way I could get this one up onto the top of the car on my own.

All in all, a delightful day.

More Patriotic Displays

Or just the usual Brynna silliness.

Double Fortune

Behold, a double fortune cookie!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I Totally Agree, B

Brynna: why will Daddy pick me up from Annie's?

Me: because I have to be at work tonight

Brynna: What the...??!!!?? You be at work again???

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Unwelcome Hitchiker

What a fine way to start the day!

I must have picked up that nail late yesterday, because this tire was flat as can be when I rolled out this morning. I noticed the extra drag right away, and feared that the parking brake was dragging. But when I pulled into a parking lot a block later, wondering how the heck I could fix a stuck parking break, I noticed the right rear tire.

On the plus side, this little incident forced me to have a good look at the tread wear. On this tire it's pretty far down. The wear bars (those nubbins that bridge the tread groove) aren't quite even with the tread yet, so theoretically I've got some life left. But I can see all of Lincoln's hair, and combine that with this massive puncture, extensive cracking, 5 years and 50,000 miles of use, and I'd say this guy is near replacement.

UPDATE 2011-07-07: Interesting addendum to the above story. When I got the tires replaced last night, they told me it'd be best to put them in the rear. This went against what I thought was the conventional wisdom of placing the best tires in the front for a front-wheel-drive car, since that's where the steering, power, and majority of braking occurs. However, after some research, I found a compelling reason to put them in the back. Under normal conditions, so long as there is decent tread in both the front and rear, it doesn't make much difference. In adverse conditions, however, like making a turn on a wet road, having the less-worn tires in the back tends to help. Like a drogue chute, they keep the car from spinning around. If the "grippier" tires were in the front, the car has a tendency to pirouette around the front end, swinging the back end around. This is a condition called oversteer that, while plenty fun on a racetrack, is harder to control than the reverse condition of understeer. Plus, in an understeer condition, the nose of the car tends to be out in front, which is the preferred orientation if you're going to hit something.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Little Patriot

Our little patriot likes to see the small-town parade go by.

(ok, so this was from Memorial Day. Same idea, though).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Salt Water Swim

Training for triathlons in New Hampshire, your water palette has about two options: chlorinated or freshwater. Spend enough time in the water, and the discerning connoisseur can begin to tell the subtle differences between pond-water and lake-water.

But then, like after the discovery of fine wine after a lifetime of beer, you get smacked in the face with something totally unfamiliar: salt water. Of course Hilary and I have been in the ocean in a variety of places (Penobscot Bay, the Caribbean, California, the Baltic Sea), so we know what salt water is like, but never for more than some good natured splashing about.

Yesterday we were at a friend's place on Long Island Sound (literally - the front yard extends down to the water) for a 4th of July picnic. Planning ahead, we'd decided it was a good time to try some distance swimming in the ocean. A neighbor that was at the party pointed out two rock jetties at either end of the beach and informed us it was about 200 meters between - he does "laps" on that stretch occassionally. He also informed us that, at a balmy 68 degrees, on a sunny 80-degree day, we wouldn't need our wetsuits. Actually, we ordinarily would have donned them, because 68 is still wetsuit water in our mind, but no one else playing in the water was wearing them, not even some unknown woman who was also doing "laps".

So Hilary and I waded out to our waists and stood around like fools for about five minutes before taking the plunge. As you could expect, after the initial shock it wasn't too bad.

We ended up doing an out-and-back twice, for perhaps 800 yards. There were some light swells that kept things interesting. Waves aren't something we usually have to deal with in New Hampshire. Also unlike most lakes and ponds in NH, the water was quite clear, and we could see seaweed colonies clinging to the rocks 6-8 feet down, swaying with the water. The salt water definitely took getting used to. Not just a tinge of saltiness, but really and truly salty like sweat off your brow. Every breath would result in the fresh taste of salt on our tongues. We didn't drink any, per se, but it was always there. How do long-distance swimmers avoid getting pickled from the inside-out? We've never heard of mid-swim water breaks during an Ironman, but you have to wonder if it would make sense to put a floating freshwater cabana out to sea.

Brynna didn't have quite as nice an experience. She was very excited to get in the water at first, but the cold stopped her by the time she got to her ankles. The incoming waves threw her for a loop as well. The rocky-gravely shore beneath didn't agree with her tender feet, nor did the hot sand further up. Plus, she was dealing with a lot of lost sleep from driving down friday night and a lack of a proper nap beforehand. So, in the end, she kinda crumped out.

Jasper, on the other hand, had a grand time. He'd never experienced salt water before - being an Iowa dog originally. After diving in a bit, he tried to drink the water and came up coughing. Undeterred, he tried again, with the same result. From then on he mostly stuck to dashing around up to his belly.


Oh my goodness, where's our little B? Al I see is an adorable little puppy!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Real vs Pretend

Brynna seems to have a firm grasp on the concept of "pretend".

We were feeding Dolly breakfast this morning when Brynna told me to lay Dolly on her back. I explained that this was a bad idea, because Dolly might choke if we fed her when she was flat on her back.

Cue withering look from my daughter: "it's pretend food."

Wake-up Call

I have the day off from work today. Mostly I'm spending it finishing up office notes, doing laundry, and packing for our weekend away in Connecticut...but at least I am not physically at the hospital!

Last night, I explained to Brynna that in the morning, we should sleep in really late. I told her that the first time she woke up, she should just go back to sleep. Same with the second time. And then the third time, she could come into my room and we would snuggle and fall back asleep together.

This morning, I woke up to a big smacking Brynna kiss.

I looked at the clock: 7:07.

I looked back at my daughter, who had a giant grin on her face. "Mama, I slept really, really late!"

She was interested in about twenty-five seconds of snuggles and then leapt up, refusing all of my attempts to tuck her back in next to me.

I will admit, she's certainly my cutest alarm clock...though I would have preferred the wake-up call to be an hour or two later!