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June 30, 2008

Arrival

We have arrived in Coffee Point, a place that barely exists. The last time I checked, it can be found on Google Maps, though you will notice that there are no roads connecting it to anywhere else. Our tiny corner of Alaska is a stretch of beach across the river from Egegik, a town with a year-round population of roughly 36. Coffee Point has a year-round population of 4, made up of our neighbor Vern and his family. For two months in the summer the place teems with people like us, here to catch the salmon and get away from billboards for a while.

Before we left Anchorage on Friday morning, we introduced Alden to her first grizzly bear. She wasn't exactly taken with the concept.

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From Anchorage we flew to King Salmon, a frontier town that serves as the air hub for the various locations in the fishing district and as a jumping off point for many of the tour groups that serve this part of Alaska. Consequently, the people in the King Salmon Airport are either grubby fishing types or well-dressed people with new fleeces and telephoto cameras. There's really nothing in the middle.

In King Salmon we claimed Iggy and our coolers and chartered a plane for Coffee Point. We had figured that this particular leg of the trip would be the straw to send Alden over the edge. She had been surprisingly tranquil throughout the first three flights, but we imagined the combination of noise and erratic motion that come with flying in an unpressurized bush plane would trigger hysteria. To our surprise and delight, she fell asleep instead.

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I'm ready to admit that we might have gotten a relatively good baby.

We landed in Coffee Point around 3:00pm local time, roughly 30 hours after leaving Chestertown. Roji, Maiko, Seiko, and Bob had just returned from fishing and had had a very productive day. They were tired, but also pleased, and we settled in for a big lunch followed by a long nap and a big dinner. Dinner was followed by a profound, if abbreviated sleep. We rose at 4:00am and dressed ourselves in various layers of polypropylene, cotton, latex, and rubber. We ate a hasty bowl of cereal and headed down to the beach to set up for our 5:30 opening. The Department of Fish and Game maintains tight regulation of the fishery and tells us exactly when we may begin fishing a particular tide. Starting 30 seconds early yields extreme competitive advantage and carries the risk of a $5,000 fine. And so we started fishing at 5:30 exactly. I've documented the process already elsewhere, and so I will not repeat myself here. If I am unable to insert the link, go to the top page of the Barnstorming and type Fishing 101 into the search box. You'll get the picture.

We had a disappointing catch on Saturday and so soon were back at the Behr family compound for more eating, sleeping, and eating.

Alden is taking to the tundra life quite well, though she has had to get used to certain changes. She had grown accustomed to having baths in the big tub, for example. Here, the accommodations are not so swank.

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We took Alden on her first four-wheeler ride yesterday afternoon, another thing we thought might prove traumatic.

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She was sanguine throughout, confirming my earlier suspicions about her tractability.

This morning we rose at 5:00 for a 6:30 opening and again were disappointed with our catch. The fish simply weren't traveling in much quantity today. At least not along our section of the beach.

Traditionally, the fishing builds gradually throughout the last few weeks of June; usually on or around the Fourth of July, the 'run' happens. The 'run' is a huge mass of fish entering the river all at once. The water is so full of salmon that they literally jump from the water, either from excitement, crowding, or (according to some theorists) to loosen egg sacs in preparation for spawning.

The run is not yet upon us. We are bracing for it. When it comes, we are at once very happy and very, very sad. Fishing is hard. It is wet and cold. It is dirty and stinky. It is uncomfortable. It is hard to pee when one is entirely enclosed in layer upon layer of fishing gear. It is often impossible to eat when the fish keep getting caught in one's net. It is frequently disruptive to one's precious sleep. The salmon are not considerate in their patterns. The Department of Fish and Game seems to delight in letting us fish at the most horrible times of day.

But last night we basked in one of the chief pleasures of being here, one of the incalculable benefits of being a commercial salmon fisherman.

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Fresh king salmon sashimi, in such quantity as only a king could afford anywhere outside of Coffee Point. We ate until our bellies burst, the pains of early morning rising long forgotten.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:04 AM

June 27, 2008

And We're Off

As I type, it is 6:30am here in Anchorage. I sit on the floor next to Iggy curled in her bed, bouncing Alden in her Bjorn. Robbi is asleep on a surprisingly comfortable airport bench. It's kind of like being at home.

We from left Reagan National yesterday evening.

Robbi was excited to be under way.

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Alden was deeply suspicious.

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And Iggy was heavily drugged.

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It was all smooth sailing with the check-in. We went to the gate to board and suddenly I realized why, in spite of all of the sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and aching ear drums it is worth it to have a child. We got to get on the airplane first! Yes sir, they made an announcement that those of us with children under two were welcome to step to the very front of the line. And so we did. The madding crowd parted like the red sea and we strolled blithely by. It was incredibly gratifying. They ought to rent infants in airport concourses for just this occasion. Another place could rent a nanny to care for the thing during takeoff and landing.

We stepped onto the airplane and saw something I had never seen before:

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Empty seats! Uncluttered aisles! Uncolonized overhead bins! The world of that airplane was ours to colonize as we pleased. And colonize we did. We set ourselves up in luxury and style.

It was at this point that we explained to Alden what exactly was going on. "We're going to sit here in these chairs, see," we said to our wholly trusting child, "while this unlikely, award chunk of steel flings itself across the sky. What's more, we're going to land safely on the other end."

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She wasn't having any of it.

It took some solicitous maternal comfort.

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And an affirming family portrait.

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And the familiar ear of her favorite moose on which to gnaw.

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But we made it there ok. We landed in Seattle as the sun set.

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We had been delayed in leaving Washington and so had missed our connection to Anchorage. But we got a seat on a later flight and, once landing, carved out a home for the night on a bench in the baggage claim.

Iggy had her supper.

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I fell into a profound stupor.

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Robbi and Alden leaned wretchedly against the wall.

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It's 49 degrees here this morning. I am so glad to be back in cooler weather so that I can once more put hats on my baby.

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There's nothing much cuter than a baby in a hat.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:32 AM

June 25, 2008

Farewell, for Now

We leave tomorrow for Alaska and are in the midst of furious packing. Robbi is out buying produce before the Super Fresh closes. As there are no grocery stores along the desolate stretch of beach known as Coffee Point, we have to bring any fresh fruits and vegetables that we care to eat along with us.

Earlier today Robbi was over at her parents' house and found an old album of pictures from her childhood. After a few minutes, she stumbled on an image that cleared up the looming question of where Alden got her tremendous cheeks.

Here is Robbi at seven months.

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And here, again, is Alden at three months.

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Like mother, like daughter, it seems.

As for the fate of this blog in the weeks ahead, I will do my best to find a way to post. Tomorrow night we will be sleeping on the floor of the Anchorage airport. Provided the airport has a wireless connection, I will do my best to document the unwholesome affair.

If no network is available, you will have to use your imaginations, which might make for a better story anyway. The floor of the Anchorage airport, while uncomfortable, is no different from the floor of the Newark airport, for example. It is a mundane sort of discomfort, nothing at all like the kind of unpleasantness we will experience once the fishing begins in earnest.

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:46 PM

June 24, 2008

Three Months

Right about this time three months ago today, Robbi and I were driving back from Subway to the Barn. The plan had been to eat our sandwiches and then take a walk in the park with Bob and Seiko while Robbi's labor progressed. We were due back at the hospital by 4:00pm or "whenever it starts to really hurt." At approximately 3:10pm, it started to hurt. I knew this, because Robbi started to yell. We skipped the walk and I (grudgingly) skipped my sandwich, and we headed for the hospital.

You can pick up the rest of that story here:

But today is for celebrating Alden's first three months of life. We decided to recycle the hat Robbi had made for Iggy's last birthday.

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Alden was none the wiser. She was a lot less fussy about wearing the hat than Iggy had been.

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Iggy, if I remember right, did her best to eat it.

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Alden has come a long way in the course of three months.

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Posted by bogenamp at 03:09 PM

June 23, 2008

Sad Days Ahead

I have been reluctant to say it, but as we approach the eleventh hour, I feel it only fair to give you a few days to prepare for the sober fact that I will be leaving you very soon. On Thursday evening, Robbi, Alden, Iggy, and I will board the first of four flights that will carry us from our fair coast to the barren Alaska tundra. Once there, we will don rubber suits and engage in a family-run commercial fishing enterprise. For those of you who do not know, for more than three decades, Robbi's family has traveled each summer to Coffee Point, a non-town on the bluffs overlooking Bristol Bay on the Alaskan Peninsula, to harvest sockeye salmon by the tens of thousands of pounds.

I've documented the process here. Have a look. It's pretty neat.

In any case, even though it's hot and horrible here in Maryland, Seiko called the other day to let us know that it was 35 and snowing in Coffee Point. She was very concerned that we bring proper attire for her grandchild, and so Robbi went online and ordered a full-blown snowsuit for Alden.

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Alden didn't like the snowsuit. She didn't even pretend to like it.

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Although the thing seems enormous, it is so full of stuffing and comfort that the interior was just about Alden-sized. Try as she might, however, she wasn't able to move the arms.

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It's pretty much a baby straight jacket with the added benefit of warmth.

Later on, we relaxed in the bed, and she seemed to have found her happy place again.

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The smiles are more regular now, and they are starting to feel less arbitrary. She is consistently amused by bookshelves of any variety. Something about them strikes her as endlessly funny. Ceiling fans have also become a reliable source of levity.

Mom and Dean have been visiting for the past few days.

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We took Alden for a walk by the water to see the Schooner Sultana.

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Dean, who is an ER doc, spent most of his time with the baby teaching her some of the more erudite aspects of emergency medicine.

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She was an attentive student, engaged and clearly interested in the material. She fared miserably on the pop quiz, but Dean vows not to give up on her yet.

Mom and Dean have continued southward to Fort Bragg, where my brother Alex is currently awaiting the start of his Special Forces training. He survived the gauntlet known as Selection, and has been chosen to move forward with the training.

Robbi and I have been busy binding Volume 15, which will be ready to send out just before we leave town on Thursday. Which brings us back to the point at hand. Come Thursday, things are likely to change in Barnstorming land. At least for a while. Alaska lacks roads, electricity, and public water supply, let alone a reliable internet connection.

Last summer I was able to catch a stray signal from a nearby cannery from time to time by parking my four-wheeler behind a sand dune and holding my computer at a very specific angle. Perhaps this will once more be possible. But perhaps not.

If, in the weeks ahead, you find the blog not updated as frequently as you would like, I ask to to understand my predicament, to be patient, and to look fondly toward the trove of new Alaska pictures that will be posted upon my return in late July.

Additionally, I invite you to return to this post as often as you care, if only to look fondly at this photo of a moment that might well be my favorite moment of parenthood to date.

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Posted by bogenamp at 12:13 AM

June 20, 2008

Alden and Iris

We drove in to Baltimore on Wednesday, I to work and Robbi to participate in a long-anticipated baby summit. You may remember that when Robbi, Alden, and I visited Christian, Emily, and Iris in the hospital when Iris was not yet one day old, Alden was barred from entering the maternity wing. It has taken about a month to convince her to drop the grudge.

I was not present for the baby gam, but Robbi was good enough to document the proceedings.

The difference in ages is writ bold in the size of their heads.

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They had surprisingly little to say to one another.

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But the moms had fun, from the look of things.

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On the way home, we stopped for a visit with the Democratic Family Westbrook. Matt and Alden shared a moment.

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Then Barbara and Jennifer had a turn.

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Kira Westbrook was not present when the photo above was taken on account of her just having been thoroughly vomited on. It's Alden's new favorite trick, returning half of each meal to the world. I suppose I should be pleased to have such a selfless and generous child. But Kira Westbrook's shirt will need a good wash.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:41 AM

June 16, 2008

Helping Dad

It was back to work today. I'm in the midst of a big writing/editing project and had to buckle down. Only, it's not as easy to sneak off for quiet hours of writerly contemplation as it used to be. Ever curious and increasingly interested in participating in family affairs, Alden joined me at my desk. At first she was content to observe.

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For a long time, she asked no questions and made no comments, but after a while it became perfectly clear that she disagreed with some of my editorial choices. Eventually she asked for a highlighter, and I indulged her.

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Once she started marking up my draft, it quickly became evident that we disagree on some fairly fundamental matters: she uses AP style and I'm a Chicago guy, for example. She says "potayto" and I say "pototto." But I soon realized that, with the two of us hacking away together, the work went a lot more quickly.

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Editorial standards be damned.

With Robbi already vying to make Alden an illustrator, I feel compelled to start lobbying her to join the writer camp now. Though she's not yet much of a speller.

Just like her old man.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:51 PM

First Father's Day

I awoke this morning to a gentle, if insistent, taping on my back. I turned to see my young daughter, earnestly wishing to give me my Father's Day present.

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In spite of the early hour, I rose to the occasion and opened the package, feeling more like a dad than ever before.

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I was pleased and overwhelmed with the gift--an illustrated elephant made from Alden's inverted hand print and a few added pen marks by Robbi.

Here's a close-up.

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I can't imagine a more wonderful way to wake up.

The rest of the day was just as nice as the beginning. Our friends Cathy and Neil are visiting. They are expecting a baby of their own in October, and have come to town to examine ours and to pick up a few pointers.

We decided to take a walk in the nature preserve near Kennedyville this afternoon.

Neil spent a few minutes going over the rules with Alden in the parking lot before we set out on the walk, drawing particular attention to Clause F, which prohibits the "making of public nuisance."

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Alden was fundamentally opposed to Clause F, and let us know right away that she had no intention of following it.

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The day was sunny and clear as we walked through cornfields.

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When we got to the beach where the Sassafrass meets the Chesapeake, I took Alden out for a Father's Day swim, hoping it would go better than her introduction to the ocean at Dewey Beach last weekend.

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The water was warm and, to my surprise, she was perfectly content.

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It was an awfully nice way to spend one's first Father's Day afternoon.

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Back on dry land, Alden made it clear that she is a beach girl in the making. She "laid out" baby style.

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While Robbi played paparazzi.

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On days like today, there is nothing as blue as the sky.

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And nothing as green as the corn.

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I was not the only one to receive a present today. Back home, Alden opened a gift from Cathy and Neil.

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Curious about the contents, she took a closer look and decided that the only thing more fun than looking in the bag was getting into the bag.

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Eventually she found the gift, a book her dad enjoyed quite a bit way back in the day.

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Let's have another look at that elephant, instantly among the most important things I own in this world.

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May it be but the first of many collaborations between my girls.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:46 AM

June 12, 2008

Is This Your Earring?

Recently Robbi and I decided to do something that has become almost anathema in our lives. That is, we cleaned the barn. We dusted not only the exposed surfaces, but also behind and underneath various pieces of furniture. It was a discouraging and, frankly, upsetting to see the filth in which we have been living. We were clued into the desperate need to clean when friend Josh came over and, upon being offered a coaster, replied that, "It's ok, I've got a dust coaster right here." His implication, while cruel, was grounded in a painful reality. The combination of long-haired cats, exposed barn wood, and a constitutional aversion to housekeeping has yielded an untenable environment in which to raise a young child. She has the right to breathe. She has the right to use actual coasters.

And so we turned the house upside down cleaning like crazy people. I have to admit, the end result was rather gratifying.

We made solemn vows to clean regularly, vows we knew we would not keep even as the words escaped our lips. Sometimes it is important to pretend to be a responsible person, even if only for thirty or forty seconds.

In the course of the cleaning, we found this earring:

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Robbi and I share a vague recollection of an earring being lost once during a party we once had. Perhaps it was the Sunday brunch in the wake of Idiots'Fest 2008? We cannot remember. If this earring belongs to you or a loved one, please let us know, and we will let you know the bounty required for its return, a sum likely to be based upon our sense of your income and your general willingness to part with funds.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:03 PM

June 11, 2008

Beach Baby

We spent the past weekend in New York City at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival. I would love to write about our experiences there but, unfortunately, cannot. I cannot because we forgot to bring our camera and so there are no pictures of the many exciting happenings. I cannot because I know that, without photos to look at, the Barnstorming is of no use to you. I have a solution to this problem, but it will take some doing, so today I'll talk about our trip to Dewy Beach, which was amply photographed and can, therefore, be shared.

Dad and Judy came to visit. They claimed to be visiting us, but they were actually visiting Alden. We can accept this. The five of us headed for the beach for the post-wedding celebration of some old friends.

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Almost immediately, Alden demanded to be taken into the water. In spite of her having no swimming suit other than the one she was born in.

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There is an outstanding movie of Alden's first moments in the ocean. It contains outstanding footage of her tiny feet recoiling upon contact with the chilly water followed quickly by outrage as an unexpected explosion of surf douses her from crown to rump. I'd show this movie except for the fact that 1) I don't know how to post a movie to the blog and 2) our friend Veronica, who is a pediatric social worker, might use it as leverage to remove the child from our custody.

Instead I'll show this photo of the aftermath. Alden has been dried and soothed but is still none too happy with the situation.

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It took long minutes of lounging in the sun with mom to get her back to her happy place.

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The rest of our time at the beach was spent in other forms of slothful indulgence.

We ate a lot of potato chips.

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We ate crabs on the roof deck as the sun set.

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Mostly, Robbi ate the crabs.

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While I love how crabs taste, I hate getting my fingers sticky. Yes, I know that this is a lame-o trait. I've always been this way.

Grandpa John worked hard to reconcile with Alden in the wake of the unpleasant baby-dousing incident.

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His attempts to appease Alden by lifting her high into the air were only marginally successful.

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But he managed to earn her forgiveness by introducing her to the pleasures of the hot tub.

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It put her in the mood for a nap.

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Which put me in the mood for a nap.

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In spite of not being much of a fan of beaches, I had a fine time. I think there are many otherwise unpleasant experiences that can be redeemed in the presence of a tiny child. Perhaps I will keep her near when we do next year's taxes.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:17 PM

June 04, 2008

Daddy's Little Plucker

I've mentioned here before that I was once the proud member of an old time jug band called The Motherpluckers. We had a fiddle and banjo, a mandolin and stand up bass. We had a drummer sometimes, and then there was me, limping along on rhythm guitar. I could never quite keep the chords straight, but the other fellows tolerated me on account of how nice I look in a sundress.

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Some thoughtful friends of ours, J.T. and Stacey, saw fit to promote Alden's allegiance to her dad's band of yore, and had a Motherpluckers onesie made up for her.

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We're not sure if she's pleased or embarrassed to be associated with the Plucker name, or with me at all, for that matter.

And I'm not sure what instrument she'd play, if it comes to that.

Given the size of her cheeks, it might have to be trumpet.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:07 AM

June 01, 2008

Of Late

We have had a busy week. Our friends (and newlyweds) Lauren and Brian came to visit.

They communed happily with the baby.

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But were mum on whether such a thing was to be part of their short term forecast.

Robbi painted the windows on the outside of our workroom.

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I'm not sure what to say other than that the girl looks sharp in a fishing hat.

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We took in the sunset with our friends Josh and Lea on the banks of the Chester River.

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Josh (author of celebrated Lincoln biography Lincoln's Melancholy) spent most of the time bragging about his speedy typing, and when we failed to be impressed, demonstrated his mad skills "air typewriter" style.

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Josh and Lea made some delicious tostadas.

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I'll put up with a guy who brags on his typing if the payoff comes loaded with guacamole.

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We spent most of the weekend frantically making books for next weekend's Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts festival, in which we are participating.

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We took an inventory of our current stock of books and realized that we are up to twenty titles in the Idiots'Books oeuvre (though the two most recent have not yet been added to the link I just sent you to). Which means that we had a lot of printing, cutting, scoring, stapling, etc., etc,. to do to get ready for the show.

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Now that we are constantly in the company of a small child, making books is an even more acrobatic activity than it was before.

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Contrary to what it looks like in the picture above, I am not, in fact, squashing my child with my foot. I am, in fact, gently bouncing her with the incredible Baby Bjorn bouncer, the single most invaluable piece of baby gear we own, gift from Alden's favorite Uncle Davey.

At one point, Robbi took a break to dance with Alden to the song Mushaboom, which is a nice song by Feist, if you don't know it.

At another point, I took a break to run with Iggy. When I came back, still drenched with sweat, I wondered if it was my turn to dance with Alden.

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Alden didn't think so.

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Already a mamma's girl, she much preferred to play supergirl with Robbi.

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This baby is turning into an energetic little thing. She moves her arms wildly up and down with a kind of jarring rhythm, as if she longs to be a drummer as soon as she has the power to control her tiny limbs. She also kicks like she intends to do harm. I wonder about her motives.

But everything in motion comes to rest in the end, like this weekend and this day. And all little girls fall asleep eventually.

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Tomorrow is already threatening. Many more books to make when the sun comes up.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:28 PM