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July 31, 2008

Correction

Congratulations to readers Virginia D and Peter E, both of whom wrote in today with a solution to Monday's puzzler that is actually one letter longer than the one I offered.

"Breastfeeders" is 13 letters long; "stewardessess" is only 12.

Reader Kate B offered "sweaterdresses" (14 words), but I suspect that some readers will question the legitimacy of this compound version of a word, which is often written "sweater dresses."

I trust that no longer words are out there, but if you discover one, by all means, let me know.

I have been sick as a dog for the last three days: fever, shakes, lack of appetite (this is how I really know I'm sick) and therefore not generating much in the way of worthy blog material.

And so I'll list the only other word-related puzzler I know.

What's the only word in the English language that contains all five vowels in the "correct order": A, E, I, O, U? A variant of the word can even end in "Y".

Here is a cute photo of a baby, to redeem the entry.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:48 PM

July 30, 2008

Entertaining Alden

First off, the answer to yesterday's puzzler. I must commend our friend Ming for coming up with "breastfeed," which, while quite long and able to be typed with the left hand alone, is not quite as long as "stewardesses."

As for the baby, she has suddenly emerged as a conscious being, possessed of a more comprehensive awareness of her surroundings and a corresponding hunger for stimulation. In Alaska, this was easy. One could merely stroll over to a stuffed bear and the kid would be impressed.

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The one shown here, which stands perpetually motionless in the Anchorage airport, is the Guinness Record holder in terms of skull circumference.

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But back in the Lower 48, in the confines of our dull and dusty barn, she has begun to demand a less wholesome form of diversion. I made the ultimate mistake of not accompanying Robbi when she took Alden to target yesterday. The story goes that as mother and child were strolling the baby section in search of a modest teething ring, Alden let out a shriek of infant joy at the sight of the Baby Einstein Musical Mobile Activity Jumper. She was entranced and demanded the immediate purchase of the colorful plastic monstrosity. And instead of exercising the disciplined brand of tough love for which my campaign of fatherhood will known, Robbi caved to the insistent appeals of nascent American capitalism, and brought the thing home.

It was my unhappy task to assemble it.

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Alden heckled, providing no real assistance.

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After many struggles and missteps, the Einstein seemed to be complete.

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Alden seemed pleased with, if somewhat dwarfed by, the apparatus. Although the Musical Mobile Activity Jumper was rated for "ages 4 months to 25 pounds", only one of her tiny feet can touch the floor at a given time when she is properly seated within. It is therefore impossible for her to rotate the thing as must be done to achieve maximum infant joy. So we helped her move from one garish colorful station to another. She seemed to enjoy the mirror the most.

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Already a narcissist.

After her five-minute joyride in the new toy, she burst into tears, demanding more and better entertainment. We were at loggerheads. What could possibly be more delightful than the Einstein?

I don't remember now which one of us had the brilliant idea to put her in the paper recycling bin.

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But regardless, there can be little doubt that her enjoyment of it trumped her experience in the Einstein.

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We haven't yet decided whether to actually recycle her. Our weekly pickup of paper, plastic, metal, and glass happens Friday morning. Probably best just to recycle the Einstein, reclaim our lost living room, and accept the fact that baby will suffer a few paper cuts along the way.

The price of baby happiness is steep, but it can be kept in check by learning from the mistakes of others.

Those of you with children, be advised that serious savings can be realized by seeing if your child can be satisfied by the cool galvanized walls of an Ikea trashcan ($10) before shelling out $79 for a plastic eyesore.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:23 AM

July 28, 2008

Puzzler

My friend David taught me an interesting fact yesterday. I'll pose it to you as a puzzle: what is the longest word in the English language that can be typed with just one hand, assuming one is employing proper typing technique (meaning, the "H" would not be typed with the left hand, for example)?

Clue: We saw many of them on our journey to Alaska.

Update: Robbi solved the puzzle in 45 seconds. There is a reason I've never liked her.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:09 PM

July 27, 2008

100 Buckets of Gravel

Almost without fail, July 4th marks the height of the red salmon run in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The week before is generally a daily build in the catch, and the weeks that follow are usually a gradual decline. The general curve held for this year's fishing. Our biggest day was a bit later than usual, and the "run" which some years means tens of thousands of pounds in one 24-hour period, never came with the force that yields a good harvest. Our overall catch was somewhat disappointing, but no one got hurt, the weather was mild, and Alden was not eaten by a bear. So I count it a successful summer.

Robbi and I stayed past the end of fishing this year to help Bob and Seiko pack up the compound. In addition to the usual chores, which I have described somewhat in earlier entries, we had, this year, the issue of the back deck of our cabin, and the fact that the winter freeze had caused frost heaves. Our deck was terribly uneven when Bob and Seiko arrived in May to set up camp. And so Bob dug enormous holes around the offending posts, that we might create a more stable mooring and thwart further heaves in future winters.

Bob in one of the holes.

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How does one fill a big hole on the Alaskan tundra? Cement, you say. No sir. Up here, we use gravel. Which we have to harvest from the beach, shovel into buckets, load onto a cart, and haul up the hill with a four-wheeler.

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Which does have a way of making one feel heroic.

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But once up the hill, the work is not done. The gravel must be carried to the hole,

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And poured in.

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Bucket after bucket after bucket. Until finally, after many buckets, the holes are...

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...nearly half full.

Being a not very mighty man, I could only haul twenty or so buckets in a day, and so the project stretched out across our final week. On the off days, I engaged in such pastimes as:

Introducing Alden to the pleasures of Dream Whip

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Taking her for a number of rides on the tundra

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Which I'm sure will make our pediatric social worker friend Veronica blanch.

But look at that smile, Veronica. See how much she likes it?

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We hosted a gyoza (Japanese fried dumpling) party for some fellow fishermen.

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They arrived in a very impressive car.

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Which Alden politely requested to drive.

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We made some smoked salmon (shown here drying (or glazing).

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Here it is after five days in the smoke house, getting vacuum-packed for the trip home.

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I taught Alden how to play Pinochle.

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Correction: I taught Alden how to lose at Pinochle.

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Turns out, I'm not much of a Pinochle player.

I spent three days in a state of stunning intestinal distress and, as a result, had to eat bread and water while everyone else ate extravagantly.

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Watching lasagna being eaten by everyone but me was worse than my actual symptoms.

We monitored the activity of the grizzlies, who left ample evidence of their nightly gallivanting on our access road.

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We found out that Alden is not yet ready to eat pickles.

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I don't have photos of many of the more pedestrian things that occupied us that last week. Pulling in lines, cleaning and mending nets, changing oil and putting jacks on blocks, burning trash, and taking winter inventory of canned goods...these things are not photogenic. Not captivating blog-fodder like...photos of gravel.

I kept at it, bucket after five-gallon bucket, and as I poured the gravel from bucket 100, the final hole was filled.

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I might actually have stopped at bucket 99, but why deny myself the poetry of the even hundred?

Iggy tried to take all the credit.

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It rained for most of our last week on the tundra, and as many of the tasks at hand must be done outside, we kept playing Pinochle at my expense, waiting for a nice day. Finally, on the evening of our next to last full day we were growing desperate for some sunshine. Seiko took decisive action.

She summoned up this little dude (Teru Teru Bozu), a fellow who, according to Japanese lore, has the power to influence the weather.

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Seiko sang a song to remind the Bozu of the terms of the deal: if the following day is sunny, the Bozu gets silver bells and sweet treats. If, on the other hand, it rains, the Bozu's head gets cut off.

And lo!

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The next day there was sun.

We briefly debated whether or not to keep the silver bell for ourselves, but decided that it was wise to stay on the Bozu's good side, in case we had to call on him again.

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The clear skies lasted most of the day, enabling us to finish most of our chores and even enjoy the sunset.

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And the late afternoon sun on the stained glass window I made for Seiko's birthday a few years back.

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And another, made by a friend of Maiko's, depicting the famous "run."

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After nearly 40 hours of traveling, we finally made it home to Chestertown, relieved to be home and ready for bed, but not before attending to a few matters of personal grooming.

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It's good to be back, but there is no time to rest. Volume 16 looms, hovering like a threat in the humid air of late July.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:51 PM

July 25, 2008

Heading Home

We are sitting once again with dog and baby and assorted bags and infant accessories in the baggage claim of the Anchorage airport. Waiting once again for hours upon hours for the departure of the plane that will take us from here to there. This time our destination is home, and though we leave the tundra with some wistfulness, we happily anticipate the return to our barn, in spite of the insulting wet heat that is waiting to receive us.

We had a quietly uneventful week, one that will be better documented in a day or two when I'm feeling a bit less bleary. I was awoken before dawn by Bob, who had a full slate of projects for us to accomplish before the bush plane arrived to pick us up at 8:00. We disconnected propane lines, winterized the plumbing, boarded up the windows, and packed up the coolers of fish.

I leave you for now with a photo that really works best out of context.

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Alden is growing peevish, and so we are off to see the grizzly bears, the ones mounted safely behind glass, and the rare, majestic albino beaver.

We'll be back to the barn by dinnertime tomorrow, if you want to send flowers...or a powerful hose.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:14 PM

July 18, 2008

Packing Up

I have been unable to get online for days, and now that I have once again found the elusive signal, I have learned that this will be my last chance to post from the beach at Coffee Point as the folks who generously let me steal their signal are packing up shop tomorrow noontime.

I am happy to report that the fishing is done for the year. We are in the process of pulling the ropes and washing the pulleys, putting the trucks on blocks, storing all the food inside the bearproof metal shipping container, readying the skiff to survive the winter storms, boarding up the windows, washing all the rain gear, and making long lists of supplies to ship up on the barge for next year.

We've been doing our best to steer clear of grizzlies, actual ones, which have been prowling the premises with increasing frequency of late. Poor Bob came out of the outhouse the other day only to surprise a bear coming out of the alders about 20 feet away. Neither Bob nor the bear were particularly interested in spending much time in the company of the other, and neither lingered long contemplating the situation, Bob scurrying quickly back to our cabin and the bear hurrying back into the thick of the alders, where bears are more welcome.

Still, fresh tracks lace our driveway every morning. As we come and go throughout the compound we shout or sing to remind the bears that we are coming.

And speaking of bears, Marcy of the rottweiler/grizzly controversy, has returned to Chestertown and has emailed me the following photo as evidence to support her case. The footprints in question are, indeed, those of a grizzly bear. Marcy contends that they are the prints of the beast that startled her and Alden while walking that fateful day. I turn the matter once again to the court of public opinion.

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I will post more stories and photos when we return, and may even post a movie of the extraordinary explosions we witnessed the other night when veteran fisherman and demolitions expert Pyro Dave detonated 8 cardboard boxes full of dynamite and 10 buckets filled with gasoline. It was loud. And bright. And riveting. Not much happens up here, so things that blow up are prime time entertainment.

For now, I leave you with a photo of my child, posed, per her grandmother's request, to imitate the pose of the Sumo Soap Seiko got for her birthday. I think the likeness is uncanny. Perhaps we have discovered the child's calling.

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Check in again on Friday night when I will post from the airport at Anchorage. We have an 18 hour layover to endure.

Posted by ribbu at 08:27 PM

July 13, 2008

Beauty Sleep

I tell you, this fishing has really been interfering with my blogging of late. Salmon are such an inconsiderate breed. We have been fishing so frequently that sleep has only been happening in short, intense bursts. Alden and I have enjoyed some satisfying power naps together.

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She has been spending more and more time with other members of the family, learning essential skills. Such as:

How to put one's entire fist inside one's mouth.

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How to read.

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How to lounge in the hammock chair.

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And how not to hold a baby.

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It takes a village...

Posted by bogenamp at 09:45 PM

July 10, 2008

The Baby is Disappointing

We have been fishing hard of late, every tide, in fact, when the pattern so far has been to fish every other.
So life has been reduced to a cycle of fishing, sleeping, eating, fishing, eating, sleeping, fishing, eating. I love two out of three of these things, so I suppose it could be worse. But there has not been time for merry chronicling of our lives among the bears and rottweilers.

So I'll take a moment to do a bit of Idiots'Books promotion. For those of you who have not already received your copy in the mail, Volume 15 was sent out just before we left for Alaska. The book is titled The Baby is Disappointing. It focuses on how awful babies are. How they produce noise and consume money. How they impinge upon freedoms while offering no useful services in return. How utterly foolish it is to have a child when one could simply go to the movies instead.

See how awful and spiteful they are?

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Here's a page from the book.

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It's the perfect gift for someone who has recently had a baby. Or better yet, for someone who is thinking of having one and who might still be persuaded not to.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:58 PM

July 08, 2008

The King and I

There are various types of salmon. The one we're after, commercially speaking, is the red, or sockeye salmon.

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Our nets are gauged to fit neatly around the gills of your average sockeye, which weighs in around 6 pounds.

Occasionally, however, other kinds of fish find their way into our nets. Most frequently we snag unwanted flounder, in all likelihood the ugliest fish known to man.

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Other times, we catch a kind of trout called the Dolly Varden.

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The worst is when we snag the horrible, terrifying Irish Lord. I have had nightmares about the little bastards and their ugly, spiny faces.

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When I see one in the net, I leave him there and pretend that the net is clean. This way, when Robbi next goes out to check the net, removing the Irish Lord will be her responsibility. She is the veteran, after all.

Our favorite accidental catch by far is the King Salmon, large, lumbering, and full of delicious fatty meat. He is large but sluggish. Moving his massive body up the river system has so tired him that he hits our nets and collapses with exhaustion, sometimes snagged only by a tooth. Such a beast found its way into our nets today. Here he is, for your enjoyment.

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Before taking the king to the butcher's block, I decided to introduce him to Alden, mostly to give her a better idea of what a badass her papa is.

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I don't quite know how to read her reaction.

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Surprised, disgusted, fearful, indifferent? At 27 pounds, the fish outweighed her by more than 2:1, so I could understand if she decided that holding her tongue was the best way to go.

Maiko went to work on the king with the carving knife while I returned to the nets to continue my picking. Fishing has been a bit of a grind the past few days. The Department of Fish and Game put us back on the night tides, so our last two openings have been at 1:30am and 2:30am respectively. Tomorrow morning: 3:30. Time to get back to the cabin for a few hours of sleep.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:39 AM

July 06, 2008

This is My Life

This month, I am a fisherman.

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This is my beach.

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This is my net.

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This is my ride.

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This is my other ride.

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This is my dog.

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This is my woman.

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This is my woman and my quarry.

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This is my heroic posture.

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This is my reward (mac cheese, capers, and gravlox).

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This is my baby.

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This is my baby doing scratch-offs (she did not win).

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This is my slumber.

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And this is Binx, the Rottweiler that might have been mistaken for a bear.

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And here is an actual grizzly bear.

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You can see how Marcy might have been confused.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:59 PM

July 04, 2008

Alden and the Bear

Our friends and fellow Chestertonians Marcy and John Ramsey have come along to Alaska
this year. John makes high-ed lighting fixtures and Marcy is an artist and illustrator.
They are both enthusiastic about salmon and, after hearing tales of Bob and Seiko's
adventures for years, decided to come along to see the escapades first hand.

Marcy has been spending time with Alden while the rest of us fish. They have been doing
fun things like making lunch, singing songs, and reading back issues of Maxim, of which
we are in no short supply. Today they decided to go for a walk, and headed out toward our
neighbor Vern's house to have a look around.

Vern's compound is a snapshot of 40 years of life in a place where you can't really throw
anything away. The land around his house is strewn with discarded four-wheelers,
tractors, trucks, snowmobiles, scrap metal, tools, etc., all in varying stages of
decline. According to Marcy, she and Alden were taking it all in when, out of the corner
of her eye, Marcy spotted a grizzly bear grazing through one of Vern's trash heaps.

Marcy reports that the bear looked up at her just then, something that brought on a
mixture of terror and level-headedness. Marcy knew that the best tack was to make no
sudden movements, to back away, and to present no signs of aggression. Holding Alden
close against her body, she backed away until the bear was out of sight then ran like
hell back to our compound.

When I returned from fishing a few hours later, Marcy relayed the story. I offered
sympathy and expressed gratitude that she had taken the necessary steps to keep my child
from being eaten.

When Robbi and the rest of her family returned from fishing, the story was shared again.
They were surprised to hear of the bear. Apparently, was unusual for a bear to appear in
broad daylight at this time of year and for a bear to be foraging in trash when salmon is
currently so abundant. And then there was the question of why Vern's dog hadn't been
barking at the bear. It's one of the main reasons Vern has a dog, in fact. To have a
built-in bear alarm. They asked Marcy if Vern's dog, a Rottweiler named Binx, had made an
appearance in the course of the incident. Marcy allowed that he had not.

I will leave it to you to Google a Rottweiler and a brown (grizzly) bear. Can you see how,
from a distance, with the weight of sudden terror upon you, one might confuse the two?

Though Marcy remains firmly convinced that she saw a grizzly bear, the prevailing opinion
is that she and Alden merely caught old Binx looking for some extra snacks while Vern and
his family were out fishing.

The story of Marcy and the bear was a good one. This story, I think, is even better.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:44 PM

July 02, 2008

Water

We don't have public plumbing up here, which is why we have an outhouse.

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It is a nice place to read a bit while gazing out at the tundra.

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But we have contrived clever ways to deal with this lack. For drinking water, we harvest rainwater. It rolls down the roof and gathers in PVC gutters. It travels down this tube.

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And into these buckets. We filter the rainwater with a Britta and drink it. So far, none of us has suffered as a result.

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We used to have a water tower fed by a pump that drew water from the spring. The water tower used to feed various pipes, faucets, and spigots around the compoutnd. But the pump is broken and we do not have the wherewithal to fix it. For the time being, we fill these large Tupperware totes with water from the spring, drive them back to our house, and set them on the ground outside the kitchen.

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Using this car battery to run a small pump, we pump water into the house for the kitchen sink and shower.

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Yes, we have a shower, with water heated by propane. We get to shower once about every five days. Those are good days, those shower days.

And for the grandparents and those of you motivated only by baby pictures, here are my girls, gazing out into the world while the wind whips across the bluff.

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The wind continues today. Our catch this morning was once again an improvement on yesterday. Tomorrow we fish at 10:30am. A very agreeable time to fish.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:20 PM

July 01, 2008

Windy

Today was windy, which makes fishing difficult. But after a few days of disappointing volume, a few more fish found their way into our nets this morning. We started at 8:30 today; tomorrow is 9:30. Every day gets a little more civil.

I have taken no new pictures since last time, so I'll post one of my favorites from last year. Iggy is allowed inside at night and when the weather is foul, but on sunny days, she is asked to frolic on the tundra. Invariably, she lets us know when she is ready to come back inside.

Bob, who likes to nap on the window seat, is often the first to receive the news.

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Iggy sits next to me now, in the cab of the rusty pickup truck in which I sit, borrowing the weak internet signal from the satellite dish attached to the side of a local cannery. I kind of feel like Rambo in the early days.

This year Alaska has had a soporific effect on me. When not sleeping or eating, I have been asleep. I have taken more naps since we arrived than in the past 12 months combined. Hence the lack of new material. Three months of fatherhood seem to have caught up with me.

Alden continues to thrive up here, unfazed by the host of new experiences we've been throwing her way. She, too, has been doing a lot of snoozing. And sneezing. And growing. Her head is the size of Jupiter. I suppose this is just how it is with babies.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:24 PM