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March 31, 2008

Baby's First UPS

Perhaps the most resounding affirmation of her young existence to date, Alden received a FedEx package addressed to her today.

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It contained a beautiful book from a generous friend.

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Robbi and I enjoyed the book a great deal, but Alden responded with utter indifference. She seemed to be preoccupied with the other UPS package addressed to her. The one that contained a terribly cute pink shirt with neatly coordinated brown pants.

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And two tiny pink barrettes!

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We found three strands of hair and clamped one on right away. And did the child even say "thank you"? One week into life, Alden already owns more fashionable outfits than I or Robbi ever has and yet she seems to be taking her good fortune entirely for granted. Grandpa Bob has been grumbling regularly about how she's getting spoiled, and I have to say I agree.

Today at 6:29pm we had a one-week birthday party. By "party," I mean we sat on the couch looking ungroomed and sang "Happy Birthday" with slight word adjustments.

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Again, Alden was unimpressed. I get the sense that she was expecting a clown.

Later, while Robbi and I were over visiting the cats in the barn for a few minutes, Grandma Seiko was placed on babysitting duty. While we were gone, she taught Alden how to use the pacifier, which pleased both baby and grandmother a great deal.

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Prior to tonight, Seiko's greatest babysitting triumph had been teaching Christian's and Emily's dog Ruby how to shake.

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Alden practiced her new trick for a long while, finally demonstrating a shred of honest enthusiasm as this first full Monday of her life draws to a close.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:57 PM

March 30, 2008

What's in a Name?

I've gotten a number of queries about Alden's name. First and foremost, Robbi and I like the name and how it sounds. Second, and, I suppose, the reason we know about the name in the first place, is that Alden is my middle name. Alden is my middle name because my paternal grandmother, Mary Swanson, has done a great deal of genealogical research into the Swanson past, and discovered that we are, in fact, descended from John Alden.

Who is John Alden, you ask?

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I will direct you to the Wikipedia entry for the full story, but John Alden was one of the Mayflower Pilgrims and original founders of Plymouth Colony. He is remembered primarily for being a character in the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish, written by Longfellow, who was a descendant of Alden's. In the poem, Alden woos his eventual wife Patricia Mullins on behalf of his pal Miles Standish but then ends up with the girl himself.

John and Priscilla had a lot of kids and ten who survived to adulthood (including John's son John, who was accused during the Salem witch trials). Theirs is the largest of the original pilgrim families, and so their family tree has many branches and many people trace their lineage back to John Alden.

My Alden, for example.

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And Longfellow, of course.

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Can you see the family resemblance?

Both John and John Quincy Adams.

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Orson Welles

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It's like I'm looking at a photo of my daughter.

Dick Van Dyke

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Julia Child

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A couple of other guys.

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Marilyn Monroe

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Racquel Welch

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And every last one of the Baldwin brothers.

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It's an awesome responsibility, being related to the Baldwins, the Bushes, and (possibly) a witch. I only hope that Alden can stand up under the withering pressure. She is already saddled with the indignity of being related to me.

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:22 PM

March 29, 2008

Pretty in Pink

We frustrated a number of people by deciding not to learn the gender of our child when we had the opportunity back at the 20-week mark. Many people, it turns out, depend on this crucial piece of information in order to make color-appropriate gift choices. As a result, the clothes that were gifted to us prior to Alden's arrival are decidedly color-neutral. She has a lot of yellows and creams, onesies with white backgrounds and playful prints that might successfully decorate either a boy or girl, but nothing that screamed boyness or girlness to the exclusion of the other possibility.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, our very thoughtful next door neighbors presented us with a box that contained an unambiguously feminine outfit. And though it is rated for the 6-9 month age range, we couldn't help put put Alden in it to see how she cut it as a proper little girl.

You be the judge.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:11 PM

March 28, 2008

The Other Baby

It was a beautiful day in Chestertown, warm and bright, the air clear and smelling of springtime. We made our way out to the back porch to take in some sunshine. Here's today's family portrait.

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But something is missing from this picture of domestic bliss.

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That's right, Iggy the formerly jovial family dog, has grown abject and detached. We tried to warn her in the weeks leading up to Alden's arrival that things were about to change, but she seemed unwilling to heed the warning signs.

We've been trying without much luck to introduce the two. Iggy seems to regard Alden as if her new sister were a head of cabbage, not even worth an honest sniff. Today as we had lunch, we gave them the opportunity to get acquainted, but Iggy's indifference could not have been more palpable.

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Perhaps her scorn is merely meant to mask a searing inner sadness. She has spent the week consigned to the porch, a rude demotion for a dog used to lying between us on the couch. By the end of the meal, a bit of progress had been made.

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Later, we made more concerted attempts to broker a truce. Ever gracious, Iggy offered the olive branch.

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Alden did not reciprocate.

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I tried to console my demoralized dog.

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While Alden said something along the lines of, "Talk to the Hand, Iggy" though she said it in Finnish, which is, apparently, the language that all newborns know how to speak for the first week of life, at the end of which they forget it entirely. Except for Finnish babies, who begin their lives speaking Swahili.

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In an attempt to lift Iggy's crushed spirits, I took her for a run over the Chester River Bridge into Kingstown. She worked off some of her misery, I think, and I worked up a good sweat. Which was fascinating to Alden, who had never seen anything quite so magnificent.

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When I kissed, her was speechless.

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Even her Finnish failed her.

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The balance of power between the two sisters is still grossly tipped toward the 6 pound, 14 ounce one. As I type, Iggy is curled in a misshapen, stinky, undersized dog bed on the cold, poorly lit back porch, while Alden lies comfortably between Robbi and me in the cozy second story bedroom.

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It hardly seems fair. Such is the life of a dog. Such is the life of a baby.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:11 PM

March 27, 2008

Don't Eat the Baby

We had a fine day with Alden, all of us continuing to get acquainted. There was a lot of eating and sleeping, pooping and peeing. It was that kind of day and I loved every minute.

There were a few highlights.

Early afternoon, Grandpa Bob and Grandma Seiko came to deliver the mail, catching Alden in the middle of a nap.

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The mail brought a package from Robbi's Aunt Mimi.

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She opened it to find a beautiful hand-knit blanket Mimi had made for Alden--or for Tarzan, had Alden turned out to be a he. I'm assuming that Mimi's beautiful work was not completed since Monday evening.

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Alden was eager to give the new blanket a try, and promptly settled in for another nap. It's what she does. She's good at it.

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When she woke up, she wanted to come hang out with me in the big bed for a while.

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We were sitting there in bed, chatting amiably, when I heard the telltale sound of #2. I took Alden to the changing table to clean things up, but made a real botch of it. I'm new to the diaper changing game, see, and didn't realize that a new mess can be produced while the old one is being cleared up. Three diapers and 20 wipes later, I gave up, threw all of her clothes, my clothes, and the changing table cover in the laundry, shucked Alden down to nothing, and decided that the time had come for her first bath.

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Robbi, who is less prone to breaking things, took the lead. There was some scrubbing.

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And some rinsing.

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Some drying.

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Some dressing.

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And through it all, discontent. I pulled out the big guns: the oversized fleecy green swaddling thing I bought at Target the night we went to ply ourselves with baby gear.

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And still she was far from her happy place. And then, all of a sudden, the skies cleared and all was well once more.

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We had dinner down in the kitchen tonight, Robbi braving the stairs, partially motivated by the opportunity to visit with Iggy, who has spent the past few days hanging out in relative solitude on the porch.

Alden relaxed in the car seat while we ate.

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I tried to interest her in a toy, but her hands aren't really working yet. She's basically just a bundle of unfocused nerves, all instinct and impulse. I kind of admire her honesty. She cries when hungry, sleeps when tired, looks about for answers when the world throws mysteries her way.

She isn't smiling yet, but today the camera caught her in fleeting expression that kind of looked like one.

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I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that she is my child and I am her father. It may seem like no epiphany given that I have had nine months to prepare for this fact. But biology and common sense aside, it's shocking to think that I am a dad. Talk about a paradigm shift.

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I am so fond of this little creature, I kind of want to eat her up.

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But Robbi won't let me.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:35 PM

Baby's First Movie!

After dinner last night, Grandpa Bob wondered if we might want to watch a movie. Alden was in a sleepy, agreeable mood, so we decided to give it a try. But the pressure was high to make her very first movie a good one. We pondered.

Some of you who know me well may have heard the story of my long unsatisfied desire to watch the Wayans Brothers 2004 masterpiece White Chicks, starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans, two fine American actors.

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In this film, they portray two hardscrabble FBI agents willing to go the distance to solve the "Heiress Kidnapper" case. How far, you ask? This far:

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That's right, Shawn and Marlon go way undercover, spending the weekend in the Hamptons in full white chick regalia in an attempt to solve the crime. Hijinks ensue.

I have been drawn to this movie with an irrational exuberance ever since I saw the trailer, four years ago now. Could they really make a feature film with such a preposterous premise? Apparently so.

Anyway, I have been pleading with Robbi for years now to watch White Chicks with me. Admittedly, I could have watched it alone, but the real triumph would be to sit on the couch watching the film with my loving wife. When we signed up for Netflix a few months back, I quietly added White Chicks to the queue. Strangely, it never seemed to reach the top.

But lo and behold, checking the mail yesterday after arriving home from the hospital, there it was a Netflix envelope containing the prize I had sought for so long. Robbi claims that she was being benevolent. But I wonder if in the midst of all the labor, childbirth, etc, she merely forgot to move something above it in the queue.

In any case, the question of what should be Alden's first movie became moot. She is, after all, the perfect candidate for the film: a chick, and mostly white, but not all white. She more than many other American viewers represented the demographic Keenan Ivory Wayans was hoping would see this important film and thus internalize its vital commentary on the issue of mixed-race identity in our land.

We settled in. The credits rolled. "White Chicks, " I thought to myself. "Man oh man, is this my lucky day."

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We positioned Alden for a clear view of the screen. She was riveted, clearly, as the action began. And then, to my extreme disappointment, she fell asleep, missing what could have been a seminal moment in her young life.

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Next up? I'm trying to decide between Airplane and Austin Powers. I'm taking this child's education seriously.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:15 PM

Going Home

The day started with another sumptuous hospital breakfast for Robbi and beef jerky for me.

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I shouldn't complain. Alden was on day two of straight up colostrum. Can you say "yum"?

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The OB visited, as did the pediatrician. They both gave the ok for us to go home. So after some baby training videos, one of which was produced in 1986, we loaded Alden into the car seat (thank you Jose and Luciana!) and said our farewells to the amazing maternity staff.

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Alden wailed like bloody murder as we left maternity and continued down the hallway to the elevator, during the elevator ride, and from the elevator to the front of the hospital. One would have thought we were torturing her.

By the time she and Robbi made it to the curb, she seemed to have run out of fight.

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She is still very small.

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We pulled out of the parking lot. Two minutes later we were home. Actually, we were at Bob and Seiko's house, where we will be spending a few days until Robbi is feeling back to full strength.

Alden and Iggy made their first acquaintance.

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Alden insisted on being carried inside.

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Our makeshift nursery is Robbi's childhood bedroom. I like the symmetry of it.

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We put the crib by the window so that Alden could get some sunlight (an important factor in preventing jaundice, apparently).

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She slept for a few hours, giving us a needed nap.

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When we all woke up, Seiko made us a delicious dinner, which we took in bed. The luxury.

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Here she is at two days old. Robbi just pointed out that it's never going to happen again.

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Posted by bogenamp at 12:34 AM

March 26, 2008

Pizza Party

The Chester River Hospital Center has some fairly strict rules about visiting. There are three hour-long visiting times each day, and only two visitors are allowed at any one time. These rules are in place to protect the moms and babies, who, as a rule, tend to be more exhausted than baby-crazed visitors realize.

This afternoon, we played by the book. First Ken and Betty, Robbi's honorary uncle and aunt, came to visit. Since we had willfully refused to discover the sex of our child in advance, Betty had had no choice but to buy presents for both possible outcomes. We now have a set of girl clothes and boy clothes; we now have a girl snuggly towel and a boy snuggly towel.

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I am hoping that Alden is the kind of gal who doesn't mind wearing hues from the "boy clothes" spectrum.

Then our friend Sarah came to visit.

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She brought Alden a soft book full of wonderful textures. We had an initial read. I'm hoping Alden is the kind of gal who will read a soft book now and then.

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Afternoon visiting hours ended and we spent some time snoozing. At one point I went home to take Iggy for a run and check in on the cats.

But tonight we had the perfect storm of visitors. Christian and Emily drove over from Baltimore to do some baby research.

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Emily is due in the middle of May and was interested to see just what lay ahead.

I'm glad they came, because the seem woefully confused about baby's needs. Their gift?

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Jack Link's Premium Original Slow Cooked Beef Jerky and a Tastykake lemon pie.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that baby Alden lacks teeth.

Not long after Chris and Emily showed up, Bob and Seiko came back for their second visit of the day. My hunch about them liking Alden grows stronger.

Christian and Emily brought presents for Bob and Seiko, too: an aromatic candle with calming and deodorizing properties (as babies can be both stinky and stressful) and a clear plastic self-illuminating Buddha that is meant to be plugged into one's car cigarette lighter, presumably to stimulate a Zenlike calm when grandbaby is yowling like a harrier jet in the back seat.

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And then our good friends and neighbors Donald and Ann showed up, bringing these tiny Canadian shoes.

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Donald and Ann are proud Canadians and fans of the TV show 24, which stars famous Canadian Kiefer Sutherland. Donald and I often pretend to be Jack Bauer when we pass one another on Queen Street. I bet you had no idea Chestertown was so much fun.

Soon we had a full-blown party on our hands. It was lucky that I had gotten some pizzas.

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Alden had been fussing for the better part of an hour, and we had just gotten her down to rest as visiting hours began. Consequently, she lay quietly, serene and uninteresting, throughout our festivities. I kept crossing my fingers that she would wake up and be delightful, but no dice. Eventually I had to peel her out of bed so that Emily and Christian could get the practice they had come for.

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They look like naturals to me.

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Folks, prepare to see a recreation of this shot in two months time, only with a different baby.

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When Christian and I were roommates in Garfield House at Williams College in 1994-95, I'm pretty sure neither of us foresaw the day when we'd be standing in the midst of a raging baby-themed pizza party in the Chester River Hospital Center taking this picture. And yet, look where life has led us.

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Eventually our friends and family returned to their homes, leaving us to prepare for bed. Alden is very interested in eating, but once given the opportunity, frequently falls asleep without much actual nourishment. In order to stimulate alertness, we were instructed to remove her Pooh Bear jammies.

I like her best like this, wrinkly and soft and pliable.

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Alertness was achieved.

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And later, something like tranquility restored.

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My favorite times so far are those when she is calm, yet alert, her eyes open, trying to focus, taking small sips of her new world. She seems to be lost in contemplation, mired in deliberation. I wonder what her thoughts are like, whether there is anything like fear or love in her heart. Maybe these things come later, or maybe the seeds have already been planted. Whatever the case, I'm falling in love all over again.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:52 AM

March 25, 2008

Free Lunch

Apparently, the Chester River Hospital Center provides one free meal to the father of the newborn child. I was given the opportunity to choose between lunch and dinner today. I chose lunch. The sooner the better, is usually my mantra.

I chose the strip steak and Robbi the cornish game hen. They don't mess around at the CRHC.

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We even got a congratulatory cake.

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Grandma Seiko and Grandpa Bob came for noontime visiting hours.

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Alden slept like a rock most of the time they were here, but did manage a little gratifying activity near the end.

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By the time they left for home, she was downright animated.

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We're trying to figure out who she looks like.

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She seems to have inherited Robbi's cheeks and my nose. Perhaps the worst possible combination of our features...

Posted by bogenamp at 02:07 PM

Naptime

Because I've heard that some of you are checking in every five minutes...

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Those of you who read this blog for vivid tales of masculine exploits, rest assured, they will return in time. But if you don't much care for pictures of babies, I'd lay off for a week or two. I'm kind of in the baby frame of mind these days...

Posted by bogenamp at 11:50 AM

The Morning After

Alden, Robbi, and I have survived the first night. The three of us actually got a surprising amount of sleep, considering the prevailing horror stories.

Here is Her Smallness this morning, sans swaddling.

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Check out the feet. They are like your feet and my feet, but impossibly tiny.

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Here is a closeup. Her face is a lot less mashed this morning than it was last night.

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Robbi was presented with a spectacular breakfast this morning (complete with bacon).

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I was offered no bacon.

But I found other things to be happy about.

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Here is Alden in her Pooh Bear hat, the stocking stuffer from Grandpa John and Grandma Judy this past Christmas, back when we were all just dreaming about babies so far from actually arriving.

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I have just returned from tending to Iggy and the cats. I brought one of Alden's hats for Iggy to smell, supposedly a helpful step toward easing the transition as the family gets one person larger. Iggy tried to eat the hat. I consider it a positive sign.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:31 AM

March 24, 2008

It's a Girl!

Robbi arrived at the hospital around 3:45 this afternoon. After about three hours of not much fun, the big moment came. There was some pushing and much excitement in the delivery room. A few minutes later, at 6:59pm, Alden Elisabeth Swanson came into this world, yowling and wet and very much in need of a bath.

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I cut the umbilical cord, which was not quite as distressing as I had expected.

She weighed in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces.

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I liked her from the very beginning.

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So did Robbi, apparently, in spite of the yowling.

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Alden has curly dark hair and a vaguely Asian appearance, which seems wholly appropriate given that she is vaguely Asian.

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Grandma Seiko and Grandpa Bob were the first to visit. I get the sense that they like Alden, too.

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The nurses gave her a good scrub.

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We like her even better now that she's clean.

At one point today, there were eight people in this delivery room. Now it's just Robbi, Alden, and me, our first night as a family.

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We're tired, of course, especially Robbi. She and Alden are snoozing together as I write this. I'll be taking my place on the pull-out daddy futon in mere moments, but for now I'm having a very nice time just taking in this tiny person I've been waiting so long to meet.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:48 PM

Pain

As proscribed, we spent the afternoon walking. We visited Sarah at Bookplate, we deposited some checks at the bank, we visited our accountant to finish up our 2007 taxes, we went to the grocery store to buy diapers and delivery room snacks for Robbi's birthing partner, and stopped at Subway to get lunch for the same fellow. Our last order of business was to have been a walk with Bob, Seiko, and Iggy in Wilmer Park, but before we could set out, the contractions got the better of Robbi.

And so we headed back to the hospital, where Robbi is valiantly enduring a progression of contractions that don't, from my perspective, seem to be much fun. The OB came in about a half hour ago and forecast about two more hours before Robbi reaches active labor. So the countdown is officially under way.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:55 PM

The Walking Cure

For those of you just joining us, Robbi is officially in labor, though a subtle sort of "kinder, gentler" labor. After a few hours in the hospital, she was released by her OB, who proscribed a rigorous regimen of walking, walking, and more walking. So Robbi walked right over to her mom and dad's house for some apple pancakes.

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Before walking some more down Queen Street back to the barn.

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It is a spectacular, crisp, cold day in Chestertown. A good day on which to be born.

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We'd better hope that tomorrow is also such a day. The doctor has said that the chances are good that there will be no true fireworks until late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

After a few hours of rest, we are heading out now to walk in earnest.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:02 PM

If It Ain't Broke...

...but it is. Robbi's "water" that is. At 5:30 this morning I was abruptly awoken with the news that either her water had broken or she had peed all over herself.

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I pointed out that, given her advanced age, it was likely the former option. Given the opportunity to smell the liquid in question, I had the strong impression that it was, indeed not pee, but rather amniotic fluid. It smelled to me like the beginning of time.

We called the Chester River Hospital Center and nurse Jen told us to come on in.

Robbi's due date is still 10 days off, and both of us have assumed (for no good reason, I suppose) that she is going to be late. So we haven't packed a bag and haven't really prepared emotionally or otherwise for the "going to the hospital" part of this. Even though the water had broken, we had the sense that the baby's arrival was still weeks off. So we got dressed without much urgency and arrived at the hospital about an hour later.

We rang the bell at maternity, and were admitted.

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Robbi was promptly stripped bare and ordered to bed in this fetching little getup.

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She has been poked and prodded, tested and examined and we have learned that the baby is, indeed, preparing to make its entrance into this world sometime today or tomorrow.

Here's what we know about the baby so far. It has a heartbeat and it moves from time to time.

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The nursing staff is wonderful and we feel in very good hands. We're both excited but still in disbelief that this is happening now. I'll post updates as I can.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:28 AM

March 23, 2008

Burying the Past

In the wake of Duke's exit from the Madness yesterday afternoon I really did try to turn the other cheek. I sat on the couch watching other teams play, teams still filled with hope of advancing, players with faces still capable of smiling. I did this for a while and realized that I did not have to suffer the indignity. I turned off the TV and asked Robbi if she wanted to go for a drive. She did. And so we set off.

We drove across the Bay Bridge to Elkridge, an area south of Baltimore, where the Westbrooks live. The Westbrooks were in high dander on account of its being Easter Eve. Jennifer Westbrook had been very busy coloring eggs.

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I haven't dyed eggs in a long time. I used to love doing it. I miss those saturated colors and the smell of vinegar.

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When she was done admiring the eggs, Jennifer packed them carefully into a basket.

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Which she then placed outside for the Easter Bunny to find.

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Apparently, the way it works in the Westbrook household is that the family provides the eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide in the yard. The Bunny's reward for all this hard work?

Some really appetizing carrots.

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I think there's a good chance that the Easter Bunny might boycott this year. A Bunny has to hold himself to certain standards. Settle for some mealy carrots one year and who knows what lesser compensation might be waiting in that bowl in years to come... I'm just saying.

After the eggs and carrots were placed outside, Matt and I attended to some long overdue business.

When Robbi and I lived in Savannah a few years back, our 40-gallon fish tank sat inside our fireplace, the front edge of the tank resting on the brick lip and the back resting on my Norton Anthology of Poetry. Needless to say, at the end of our two-year stint absorbing leaky fishwater in the most humid city on the face of the earth, the book was fit only for the trash heap. Instead of throwing it away, however, I gifted it to Matt, who is really quite enthusiastic about poetry. I had a sense that he might find it morally difficult to throw away a book of poetry and enjoyed the prospects of watching him struggle with the issue.

I was correct. While Matt wholeheartedly agreed that the Norton's days of being read were squarely past, he found it unseemly to merely chuck it. And so we launched a plan to properly inter the book, when the weather was right and the moon was full.

Last night was warm and the moon hung large above the Westbrook yard. We crept into the garden with a lantern, shovel, and the Norton in tow.

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Matt carefully unwrapped the remains, which had been, wisely, double-bagged.

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We admired the wrecked tome.

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It was still damaged, wrinkled, stained, and fetid. Ready for the grave. Ready for the misery to end.

As Matt dug, we felt the ghost of Byron flitting about. It was at once unnerving and totally rad.

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Once the hole was dug, we chose a random page and read a few lines. It seemed appropriate.

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We laid the Norton to rest.

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And said our teary farewells.

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Was there a small part of me that, in sprinkling fresh earth on the Norton's grave, was thinking of the recently departed Blue Devils of 2008, may they rest in peace? Was there a small part of me miserably lamenting the missed three pointers, careless turnovers, defensive miscues, and dispirited scowls on the faces of the players as the cruel, cruel clock measured down the waning moments of a dream?

There was, I think. My mind might have wandered down that cruel road for just a moment.

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But just for a moment. After paying our respects, we covered the grave.

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And marked it with a broken sculpture of an owl.

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Beneath which it will rest.

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Until next Easter, when we dig it up to see what the literary worms have been able to accomplish in one year's time.

On the drive home. Robbi realized that she hadn't yet done her illustration of the day. We had successfully completed our new project for the first five days of the week and weren't about to fall one day short of the goal. So she pulled out a bookmark from the Washington College Literature at the Margins Festival and set out to do an upside down, in the dark illustration. Add to this the fact that it was 11:55pm, meaning she had five minutes to complete her work before the day drew to a close.

Here's what she came up with.

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We stopped for gas in Centreville. Once in the passenger seat, I penned my response, brief perhaps, but hopefully fitting.

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It has been a fine Easter in the barn. We had no carrots to leave in a dish on the stoop, and so we awoke this morning to no eggs and no candy. And still no baby. Ten days remain, according to the math.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:40 PM

March 22, 2008

Mega March Malaise

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Gerald's face says it all.

My Devils have made an inelegant early departure from this year's tourney.

As the final seconds of the Duke season ticked away, I considered taking to my bed for a week. Instead, I took a run with my dog, cooked some waffles, and comforted myself that there are other, more important, more meaningful things to feel good about in this life. Namely, my god-given right to cheer lustily against the University of North Carolina.

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Tyler Hansbrough: even his pets would rather not be around him.

I am wise enough, mature enough to know that the ability of a group of 20-year-olds I do not know and never will to put a leather ball through a basket more times in a 40 minute span than another group of 20-year-olds I do not know and never will has no real bearing on my life or happiness.

But today, in this moment, it's very hard to make myself believe it.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:07 PM

March 20, 2008

Day Three

I repeat, we are not going to share the results of our call and response project every day. But Robbi's illustration from yesterday was so nice that I can't help but post it.

My prompt:

We sat on the couch trying to get to the bottom of whatever was wrong with Eleanor. "You're sad," I said. "I'm not," she said. Though it was clear she was, and I wasn't going to let her up until we'd launched a plan to set things right.

I wondered if it had to do with the moon or the tides or the humors--or the disappointing color of the leaves this lackluster autumn.

The curtains were closed, so the light came through green. When the wind blew, the curtains parted and a splash of white sun burst through the middle, letting us really see the room for just a moment.

And her response:

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On another front, is it wrong of me to secretly hope that my baby looks just like this one? I mean, he's just so damn cute.

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I do not know this child or his parents. I found his picture online. I have been doing Google searches for pictures of babies lately. So much so that a good friend just called me a "pantywaist." I agree with him completely, but nevertheless am not deterred.

And that's all. Mega March Madness has begun. If you are at work, pretend to get sick and go home immediately. Stunning upsets are already underway.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 AM

March 19, 2008

Boneman Travis

The other day Robbi and I were talking about creative process. When we first started the Idiots'Books venture, our works were just going to be studies, little more than sketches, and certainly not beholden to a standard as lofty as clarity or coherence. But as the months passed, we realized that we had started taking the work more seriously than we had originally intended. Expectations were raised. The production value rose. And though we still try not to pander to the gods of linear narrative, we pour some major brainpower and man hours into making each book as polished as we can. Which pleases us when we see the finished product. But this more careful, purposeful process has also starved that feckless, carefree part of both of us that wishes to produce without audience or expectation. And so we've launched a new endeavor.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I will write a quick burst of something for Robbi to respond to with an illustration. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, she will create an illustration for me to write a response to. On Sundays we will rest.

It is day three of the experiment, and so far we have not reneged on our commitment to the plan. I woke up at 3:00am a few nights back and penned my first installment.

Boneman Travis cut a stark profile among the pretty girls of Evars Street. He was thick as a tree and mean like two snakes. He ate daydreams and laughed. He coughed and favorite teacups flew from narrow shelves and shattered. He was a big man in a small space and that was how he liked it.

Sally "Frito" Jones saw his game from across the river. She bribed a man to get a boat, put on a red mask to make herself seem dangerous, and set out to sell the Boneman some swampland. The years away from the old neighborhood had changed her such that he could not now recognize the crumpled features of the girl he had once ruined.

To which Robbi responded (be sure to click on the image):

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Yesterday Robbi sent me this (click on the image):

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To which I responded:

It was stunning how loud he felt before the door opened, before he realized the group of little boys had grown into a pack of fearsome hunters. He saw their spears against the wall, still dripping blood or wine or motor oil, and wanted to recant the things he'd threatened in the telegram.

He wanted to, but didn't. The time had come, he knew. The forest had been burned, his home consumed. His sister and his mother gone away to somewhere warm with beaches. And so he pushed the door, in spite of the creak. And so he stood and spoke.

"Hello," he said, "I've come to ask for my honor back." He spoke as fiercely as he could, but the hunters did not look up from the table, where they hunched their backs and tore at flesh of something large and slick.

"Hello?" he said again. "I've got a gun. I'm not afraid to use it."

The hunters ate without chewing. They swallowed without tasting, ignoring him for hours as he shouted from the doorway.

Eventually, they finished and they slept. Eventually they woke and were hungry again. By then he was gone. By then they knew his voice and so they found him and killed him and ate him and went then back to sleep.

----

And I wasn't thrilled, so I tried this instead.

Rene remembers suddenly that he wasn't supposed to have been assertive. "Don't be assertive," his mother had said. "The ladies do not like it." Rene had rolled his eyes at that, sighing heavily to indicate his skepticism. "That's a good boy," his mother had said, putting a cupcake on his favorite plate. When he had finished eating, she had wiped the frosting from the corners of his mouth and had sent him up to take a bath.

Later that night, on his date with Linda, Rene is quiet through the salad course, deferential as she chews her veal, deferential as the waiter torches the creme brule.

But when he drops her off at her second story walkup and Linda leans back in her car seat and closes her eyes while parting her lips and exhaling in a hopeful sort of way, Rene surrenders to the buried urges of decades and does for himself the thing he's always wanted to. He brings his fists down squarely in the middle of the steering wheel, sounding the horn with a stunning authority. He does it three times and then stops. The car is silent. The streetlight is glaring.

"I suppose you didn't like that," says Rene.

But Linda is alert now, the hair on her wrists at attention, her eyes eager and her posture inquisitive. She doesn't say yes but she doesn't say no, and Rene wonders what to do next.

-----

The ball is in my court now. It's Wednesday, and I owe Robbi a prompt. We're not going to share these every day, I promise. But now and then, when one strikes us as worth posting, we might.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:37 AM

March 16, 2008

Quite Possibly the Most Wonderful Woman in the World

You have heard me talk of Robbi on these pages. I am fond of her. She is a fine companion. We enjoy our days together. I always consider myself very lucky to have found her.

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Until yesterday. Yesterday I realized that I might just have wound up with one of the most generous, enlightened women on the planet.

By way of explanation, I'll just say that there are a few things in this world that, while very interesting to one person, are exceedingly dull to others, even others who love and care for that person very much.

A few examples:

-One's pet. People think their pets are very interesting and very special, when in reality, they aren't. People don't really like to hear about how interesting and special someone else's pet is, and yet all of us are guilty of shameless pet promotion.

-One's child. The point made above applies equally and more so, because with one's child, one is also insistent on making arguments for uncommon advancement or precocity, as in "Oh my child smiled a full three days before the baby book said s/he would. Can we have a parade?"

-One's sporting team. Sports are a fundamentally empty enterprise. People come together, agree on a common set of terms, execute a silly and pointless (if sometimes thrilling) series of actions, and make themselves and the people foolish enough to care along with them either very happy or very sad at the end of the exercise. Hearing someone's joy or woe in the wake of "their" team's win or loss is very dull indeed.

Which is why I don't talk about sports much here in spite of my almost maniacal allegiance to the Duke University Blue Devils men's basketball team. I did not share my duress when Duke was ousted from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament yesterday afternoon by the scrappy, determined Clemson Tigers.

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I did not publish the unkind adjectives coursing through my bloodstream at the thought that Tyler Hansbrough and the hated UNC Tar Heels have gained the top seed in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament.

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Tyler Hansbrough: even his mother does not like him.

I did not mention these things, though they are important to me, because I realize how unimportant they are to you.

But something happened yesterday that has compelled me to break the silence.

Yesterday afternoon I got an email from DirecTV. I figured it was a bill as I opened the message. But LO! I was wrong. It was, instead, an epiphany from on high. My wonderful wife had ordered for me the MEGA MARCH MADNESS TOURNAMENT PACKAGE, which will allow me to watch all 64 games of the NCAA tournament from the comfort of my own couch, which will allow me to watch 16 games a day this coming Thursday and Friday, eight more each on Saturday and Sunday, A TOTAL OF 48 BASKETBALL GAMES IN FOUR DAYS!@#$ I will be able to select the channel that allows me to watch four simultaneous games AT THE SAME TIME on a split screen. I will be able to casually switch between games per my pleasure. I will, in short, be in heaven.

Provided Duke keeps winning. Which they will. Because if they don't, I will fall into a long, dark funk. I digress.

I imagine that Robbi must have made this gift to me out of sympathy that biological limitations have prohibited me from the pleasure of putting on 30 pounds and incubating a young life for 38 weeks as has been her pleasure. She's just that generous.

And so, today, emboldened by sheer joy at contemplation of the coming bounty of the weeks ahead, I shout it from the mountain tops: I am a Duke Basketball fan. I am a Duke Basketball fan.

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Even though I know the thought of it bores you numb, I cannot be held in check.

I realize that I shamelessly inflict uninteresting pictures of my unspecial dog with alarming frequency and suspect that I will soon be shamelessly publishing uninteresting pictures of my unspecial child.

Though, if you were the sort who enjoyed actual content about real and interesting things, you probably would look elsewhere than this blog.

Which is to say, if you're still reading, I wonder who is really to blame?


Posted by bogenamp at 11:58 PM

March 13, 2008

Caught in the Act

We are back from the flower show and on to other things. Tuesday we visited our baby doctor and had Robbi's belly measured. All is well. The doctor outlined various indicators that will let us know when the time has come to depart for the hospital. Most of them are too unpleasant to describe. Several of you have asked how far we have to go to get to the hospital, given that we live (as you city slickers say) in the middle of nowhere. You may be comforted to know that the Chester River Hospital Center is, in fact, only about two minutes from the barn when traveling in a swiftly moving vehicle. Should the need arise, I could probably fashion a crude litter out of branches and burlap and drag Robbi there in less than a half an hour.

Wednesday I went to Baltimore to do a bit of work and while there, picked up Ruby, per the request of Christian and Emily, who are this weekend going to see our friend David in Sunday in the Park with George on Broadway.

Here is Ruby. She is so good.

At the appointed time, I entered the Christian/Emily household, removed the dog and her accompanying accessories, and made my swift and seamless getaway.

Or so I thought.

It turns out, my flight was witnessed by a concerned neighbor/neighborhood watch paramilitary, who reported my suspicious activity to Christian via email as follows:

"I think I witnessed a dog napping yesterday where a gentleman hustled off with what appeared to be Ruby. With the aide of a sketch artist, we worked up a rendering of the suspect. Let me know if there's anything I can do!" - Bob

If Christian had any question about the identity of the perpetrator, it was cleared up when he saw the artist's rendering. I must admit, it's pretty good.

Consequently, Christian called and accused me of stealing his dog, citing incontrovertible evidence and threatening litigation. When I reminded him that he had expressly asked me to pick up Ruby, that I was in fact doing him a favor, he seemed unmoved, ensuring me that dog theft was a hanging crime in Maryland. And who am I to argue? He is clearly much better versed in the laws of this fine state than am I.

The upshot: I have been summoned to appear before a grand jury next week and am at a bit of a loss considering it is usually Christian or Emily who advise me on matters of legal uncertainty.

The lesson here? Certainly no good deed goes unpunished. And never agree to dogsit for a lawyer.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:59 PM

March 08, 2008

A Really Big Hat

Since this year's flower show lacks dinosaurs, I'll take a moment to post some Philly-related photos I have been meaning to share for some time.

For point of reference, here are the Connor Brothers. They fish off the shores of Coffee Point, where we live and work in Alaska. Their boat is aptly named Charisma.

Although I like the brothers quite a bit, I do have to endure the unflattering comparisons I suffer in light of their unambiguous manliness. Dave Connor is a pyrotechnics expert, for example, who each year, in celebration of the anniversary of nation's independence, blows up pickup trucks and 50-gallon canisters of gasoline in grand fashion. In the off-season, Mark Connor travels the world in search of adventure, intrigue, and compelling artifacts, which he brings to Alaska to share with us each summer. And Paul Connor lives well off the beaten path in the New Hampshire backcountry in a house that he fashioned with his own hands, as documented here.

The brothers earn their money in a variety of ways, one of which is working as freelancers for an outfit that is contracted to clean statues. Do you happen to know where the world's tallest standing metal statue atop a public building is? Congratulations to those of you who correctly guessed the statue of William Penn who stands proudly at 37 feet atop the Philadelphia City Hall.

When we were visiting with Paul at his home in New Hampshire in January, he shared some photos of the work he and his brothers did in cleaning the Penn statue a few months back.

Enjoy.

Here is Penn up close.

And here he is from the inside out.

Penn is hollow, and his insides can be reached through a hole in the top of his hat.

A ladder leads down into the interior.

The statue was surrounded by a tremendous scaffold.

It went right up to the tip of Penn's hat.

All three brothers were there.

Paul

Mark

And Dave

The details of the cleaning process are a bit fuzzy to me now, so I apologize if I say this wrong, but the restoration of the statue involved a combination of washing and waxing.

There was also a blowtorch involved, but that may just have been about looking tough.

The brothers had rather remarkable views of the city.

Here's the closest look you'll ever get at Penn's hands.

Or his buttonholes.

It's kind of amazing that so much effort went into producing detail that almost no one will ever get to see.

Here is the cleaning crew at lunchtime.

This week we're staying not far from City Hall. In fact, I can see it from my bedroom window, though Penn himself is swallowed up in night and fog just now.

I have spent the day in bed, sick in Philly for the second year in a row. Something about the flower show must not agree with me. I must rest up for tomorrow's marathon. The show ends at 6:00pm, and then we will spend the next 8+ hours tearing down the booth, packing up the inventory, loading the truck, and driving back to Chestertown.

I'll post photos of that pleasant experience early next week. I have no new photos for those of you on bellywatch, but here is where young Tarzan Gramangela Don Juanson McTrogdor is this week.

Looking eerily like an actual person...


Posted by ribbu at 07:19 PM

March 07, 2008

Jazzing it Up

Today was day six of the Flower Show. I realize that I haven't yet covered some of the basics. Last year's theme was Irish Spring or something associated with the culture and fauna of the Emerald Isle. This year's theme is Jazz it Up!, which basically means that everyone is wandering around with Mardi Gras beads and that every hour, on the hour, a really loud, bad marching band plays. What does a marching band have to do with Jazz, you ask? I wonder the same thing. Apparently the music is so bad and so loud, that people are driven from the area where the music is happening over to where we are waiting to sell them things. So perhaps the bad/loud music is actually a marketing strategy?

Jazz it Up also means that instead of dinosaurs (which everyone knows roam freely through Ireland) this year we have really big string instruments.

And dog topiary.

If there is some connection between jazzing it up and leafy dogs, I haven't yet grasped it.

Commerce is happening.

Thousands of people march through the convention center halls each day and hundreds of them stop by our booth to buy or peruse. Our booth is called Florabana, a clever juxtaposition of "flora" and "bana", a derivative of "ikebana", or traditional Japanese flower arranging. The theme of the booth is flower arranging. This means we sell everything one needs to arrange flowers, either in the traditional Japanese style or in a really lowbrow American style.

On the high end, we sell Seiko's containers, which anyone who has visited our barn has seen in spades. Here are a few of her containers being used in the Ikebana exhibition that is part of the flower show.

Seiko's containers are prized by arrangers for their distinctive design and exquisite execution. She is one of the most prominent figures in her field. As such, a lot of people use her pots for competitions.

On the other end of the spectrum are the blown glass rooters (hanging vases), $5 apiece, that we sell to the droves like candy. They are very shiny, and after the $28 that one must pay to get in the door of the flower show, not so hard on the wallet.

We sell a lot of rooters. Hundreds each day. People are mesmerized by them. They stand in the aisle beholding the sparkle, speculating on which color (blue, amber, pink, green, or clear) will look best in their upstairs bathroom.

One of the thrilling little "inside the flower show" tricks of the trade? Hang lots of tape inside the booth so that when the crowds show up in droves, there is always some on hand. Most of what we sell is fragile and needs to be wrapped in paper. Hence the need for hundreds of little strips of tape.

In spite of all the jazzing it up that has been going on (or perhaps because of it?), the flower show is flying past. Only three days of commerce remain. Most of us are happy about this. The lone exception:

What has Robbi so cross? Perhaps it is the fact that she is gaining about three inches circumference each day. Here's the money shot. You asked for it.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:08 AM

March 05, 2008

Pennsylvania Ho Redux

After much heroic packing...

...and some setting up...

...the flower show is under way.

In spite of my best efforts nearly a year ago to alert the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society of their unfortunate choices in sign construction, the problem persists.

Another persistent problem continues to expand.

28 days remain. The same amount of time it takes for London to be overrun by zombies after the monkeys go berzerk.

I'm hoping our story ends better than that one did.

More on the flower show tomorrow. For those of you who are wondering, this year, there are no dinosaurs.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:07 AM

March 02, 2008

Birthday and Babies

There have been complaints. I have been neglecting my duties, apparently. I haven't posted on Idiots'Fest. I haven't posted enough pictures of Robbi's enormity. Apologies, all. I have been busy.

In fact, I am shirking other duties even more important than this blog. I was supposed to have been in Philadelphia with Robbi and the other Behrs these past four days, setting up the Florabana booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show. But I have been in the midst of a 15,000 word writing assignment and have not left this barn for the 123 hours except to drive to Taco Bell in my penguin print flannel pants. Thank the lord for drive-throughs. Thank the lord for Nachos Belgrande.

I have recently reemerged from beneath the mountain of verbiage and will take a moment to reflect on some fun we had last weekend.

It was our friend Lauren's birthday. And so Robbi and I and Christian and Emily (Remember them? They are still our friends.) were invited to dinner.

Lauren, charitable girl that she is, insisted on cooking her own birthday dinner. Chicken pot pie.

There was great hilarity throughout the meal. The pot pie was right tasty. Afterward, there was cake. Charitable girl that she is, Lauren insisted on making her own birthday cake. But she did allow her fiance Brian to light the candles.

Lauren tried to blow out the candles.

I say she "tried" to blow them out because she did not succeed. In fact, she succeeded in blowing out three of 30 candles. Charitable girl that she is, she must not have wanted to offend the candles or the cake by blowing too hard. We encouraged her to blow harder. She blew harder. The candles were extinguished. We applauded loud and long.

Brian rewarded her with a very large piece of cake, which she got to make and eat too.

Lauren, charitable girl that she is, inverted every birthday party norm by giving presents to us.

Yes, it is a baby bib that says "A Good Egg."

Why does Emily have a bib on, too, you ask? It is perhaps the greatest indicator that I am fading as a blogger that I have not yet made a public pronouncement of the fact that Emily and Christian are also expecting a small, loud addition to the family.

That's right, both Christian and I are going to be dads.

We both admit we have a lot to learn.

But are nonetheless excited at the prospect.


Posted by bogenamp at 09:41 PM