December 03, 2009

Big Bad City

Today, Robbi and I are headed to New York City to meet with some people about some things. More on that to come. If we do not return by this time tomorrow, please send rescuers. We'll be the small town folk cowering miserably in the middle of Times Square.

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If someone can give me a rational explanation for why so many people choose to live in one small place, I would be extremely grateful. It simply does not compute.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:41 AM | Comments (4)

November 29, 2009

Four-Day Weekend

On Thanksgiving, we rested. For the first time in 12 weeks, we spent an entire day without thinking about Idiots'Books. We slept in. We baked bread. We ate a lot of food. We played Nintendo. We went for a walk. We watched TV. No writing. No drawing. No scheming. It was nice.

Our turkey weighed 18 pounds. Alden weighs 18.2 pounds. In spite of this slight edge, she was wary.

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When the time came to eat, she trembled with anticipation.

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But when her plate arrived, heaped with turkey and other delicious things, her protest resumed.

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I had no such reservations.

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After stuffing ourselves, we crashed profoundly for a number of hours. When we emerged from our collective stupor, we decided a walk was in order.

Lately, Alden has been quite interested in ducks. In fact, her favorite word is probably "quack," a thing she says with great conviction whenever any duck-like object presents itself. Living on the Eastern Shore, we see lots of ducks about: real ducks, duck decoys in shop windows, and rubber ducks in the nightly bath.

This weekend, we went to see the real ducks, which gather in abundance near the town pier. We have a tendency of forgetting to finish our bread before it turns dry and unchewable. And so we decided to unload it on the ducks.

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Alden took her task seriously.

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She dug deep into the bag of bread, pulled back her arm to launch some crumbs toward the waiting waterfoul...

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...and managed to throw her handful approximately four inches. Poor kid lacks technique. Takes after her old man, it seems.

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But the ducks were not to be denied. It seems their interest in the bread outweighed their fear of the 27-inch dynamo. Alden convened with the ducks, proclaiming "quack" repeatedly as the feast continued.

And then, all of a sudden, she lost interest in the ducks and the bread and ran in a new direction.

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Which is what kids do, I guess.

It was getting to be nighttime, anyway.

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We got back home and Alden crashed.

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All that quacking takes it out of a girl.

Once Alden had gone to bed, Robbi and I downloaded Super Mario Brothers 2 from the Wii website. Robbi and I had both loved the game when we were kids and had all sorts of shared memories about playing it. Once upon a time, I was uncommonly good at earning extra lives in the slot-machine style bonus game at the end of each level. As it turns out, I haven't lost my touch.

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Yesterday was cold and crisp, but it was also the Chestertown Christmas parade, and so we bundled Alden in her cold weather finery and headed out to see the spectacle. She stood in the middle of the street as the parade approached, completely unprepared for what was coming her way.

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With each passing float and marching band, she grew more incredulous.

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What in the heck were these people up to?

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She is a small town girl with small town sensibilities. She responded with a grim pragmatism, keeping her emotions in check.

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But later in the privacy of her own home, she took out her fears and frustrations on her pancakes.

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Last night, seeking food comfort in a futile attempt to ward off the reality of the coming end to the holiday weekend, I drove to New Castle, Delaware (about an hour away) for some quality pork ribs.

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Seeing the feast, Alden told us she was ready to partake. We decided to let her try, wondering to ourselves how it was going to go. She may throw breadcrumbs like her sissy dad, but the kid can eat smoked pork like a champion.

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When not eating and resting, we have been working dutifully on readying the new Idiots'Books web site for its upcoming debut. We don't have a firm date in mind, but we're hoping to launch in the next week or so. We'll let you know when the time comes. For now, enjoy the waning moments of your weekend. I take heart in knowing that the next batch of days off is not so far distant.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:19 PM | Comments (7)

November 22, 2009

Art for Breakfast

This morning Matthew cooked up some apple pancakes for breakfast. I was happily munching away when I heard a gasp over at the stovetop. I rushed over to tend to the inevitable wound/burn/broken glass/disfigurement that generally occurs when Matthew is involved with anything.

This is what he gestured to, breathlessly:

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I have to say, I was both unimpressed and relieved. No broken glass? No freely flowing blood? It looked like the pancake-making was actually going remarkably well. Then Matthew grasped my arm, and said, "Look! Look at the one on the right! It looks just like that drawing you did, of the fat guy, with the baggy eyes, and the droopy nose!" I have to say, this didn't really narrow things down. "The guy with the money and the accounting paper glued on it, you know."

Oh. Right.

And, wow, it kind of did.

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He didn't get the nose quite right, and I probably could have mentioned how his application of color left something to be desired, but all told, I think he did a decent job, given the materials at hand and the entirely inadvertent nature of its creation. It's not every day you get to eat art for breakfast. And even rarer that it's so delicious. Nice work, Matthew, nice work.


Posted by ribbu at 08:31 PM

November 11, 2009

The Bathroom Complete

It has been some time now since I first wrote about our bathroom renovations. If you wish to refresh yourself on the early stages of our efforts, you may read posts about painting, building cabinets, and hanging cabinets (thrill rides all).

In the weeks since then, a number of delays involving plumbing, ductwork, knob mounting, and track light installation have kept us from feeling truly done with the bathroom. But all that is behind us now.

I had a doozy of a time taking good pictures of the bathroom, so here are some bad ones.

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Have another look at that hand towel/houseplant/pottery tableaux. Yes, that is a Seiko Behr original.

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And here, at long last, are the new washer and dryer in their glory (shown next to a six-foot adult man for scale).

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Alden is convinced that the bathroom exists specifically for her amusement.

After all, it has buttons to push.

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Caves to explore.

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Sumptuous, loungeworthy surfaces to lounge upon sumptuously.

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A nice little bench to sit upon (that happens to get quite warm in the winter months).

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Even a pool!

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I love the new paint, shower curtain, cabinets, and drawer pulls, but by far my favorite thing about the new bathroom is the instrument panel of the new washer. It's many colorful lights dazzle and delight me.

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A pleasing cascade of electronic beeps results when each button is pushed. I find myself selecting highly customized settings just to have the chance to bask in the spectacle of light and sound.

If you have visited us once but not a second time because you were distressed by our formerly uncivilized bathroom, rest assured, you will have a very different experience this time around.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:08 PM

October 22, 2009

The Dangers of Oatmeal

As a mid-thirties male with a love of bacon cheeseburgers and a family history of high cholesterol, I have been eating a bowl of medicinal oatmeal each morning. To make consumption of the awful gluey sludge somewhat less demoralizing, I have been adding frozen blueberries (which also, apparently, have a positive effect on one's cholesterol levels).

I was blithely going about my oatmeal preparation efforts yesterday morning when suddenly this came out of the frozen blueberry bag.

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If you think it looks like a green pepper, than we are of the same mind.

I took a closer look.

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My suspicions confirmed, I flew into a paranoid rage.

Conclusion: someone in the food service industry is trying to kill me slowly by denying me access to the powerful antioxidants locked inside each blueberry. I thought I was safe from this sort of thing in Chestertown, a kindly burg where, you might have heard, we care enough to keep one another's lips moist.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:18 AM

October 18, 2009

Exhumation

On Easter Day of 2008, Robbi and I drove west across the Bay Bridge to visit our friends the Westbrooks for egg dyeing and camaraderie...and to bury a copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry in the Westbrook family vegetable garden. I did a post that day, so have a read if you want the entire story, but in short, our friend Matt, lover and writer of poetry, asked us to join him in laying to rest a ruined collection of the greatest poems of Western literature.

In any case, the plan was to return to the garden with our shovels one year later to see how the Norton had fared during its year in the soil. And so we reconvened in March of 2009.

Our party consisted of Matt, Alden, and me. Robbi pledged to stay safely behind the camera lens.

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Matt was in charge of excavation. First he had to find the grave.

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And then he dug.

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Matt found the Norton, and we took a closer look.

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It was not in prime shape.

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As Matt and I examined our treasure, Alden sat in silent judgment. Although she could not yet articulate her thoughts, she seemed to realize that something strange was afoot and that this was not how grownup men were supposed to behave.

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We took a closer look at the Norton. Quite a number of worms or boring insects seemed to have worked their way through its pages.

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At some length, Matt found a few intact pages and did a commemorative reading. Appropriately, the passage was Surprised by Joy by William Wordsworth.

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So inspired was Alden that she asked if she might read from the Norton as well.

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It might have been a beautiful moment if only she were not illiterate.

Our curiosity sated and our respects paid, we returned the sad tome to the earth.

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We will dig again next Easter, to gauge the Norton's fate after a second year of interment.

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The Norton was originally buried on March 23, 2008. Robbi and I went to bed that night expecting a full night's rest. It wasn't to be. She woke up at 5:30am on the 24th with some startling discomfort. Later that day, this happened.

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It makes me wonder what sort of monumental event might directly precede Tarzan's arrival in this world. Unless the baby is two-and-a-half-months late, his/her arrival will not coincide with our next visit with the Norton. I suspect Robbi would not mind if he or she decided to show up 10 days early. She's already starting to get mighty uncomfortable.

Apparently, this child is a real kicker.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:24 PM

October 14, 2009

... and There We Go ...

Well, Comic-Con has come and gone, and Matthew and I are still working on a full recovery. In fact, Matthew is so demoralized he's asked me to write an entry, just to keep those of you who are rabid for news at bay. I know, I know, it's not a fair substitute, but it will just have to do.

So - for those of you who don't know what Comic-Con is all about, I'm afraid I'm not really the right person to ask. Sorry. Though I occasionally read a comic book here and there growing up, I have to say I was mostly interested in the artwork, and it really got on my nerves when artists would switch up and suddenly Wolverine would go from looking like this:

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to this:
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Call me shallow, but I just can't love a guy whose bicep is bigger than my entire gluteus maximus. So anyway, my interest in comic books was spotty at best, and I never really got into following actual storylines. This is not so for 99.99% of Comic-Con attendees. Much like baseball fans, they know the stats on all the players at all stages of their careers, and fiendishly collect associated memorabilia. Needless to say, Idiots'Books has not yet stimulated such an adoring fan base (I blame it in part on my inability to adequately draw these, and instead can only draw these). Though the following photo would suggest that we did a brisk business this past weekend

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please take note of the gentleman on the far left.

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That's what most attendees looked like when they passed by our booth. I think this poor guy got suckered in because his girlfriend was excited about 10,000 Stories, and its alluring flip-bookish ways. Luckily, in a crowd of 12,000, there are a few odd girlfriends and moms and dads who are willing to stop and chat, so it wasn't a complete bust. And, at the very least, we got to watch a passing parade of the disguised and famous:

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though at times it was suggested we were watching at our own risk:

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and sometimes the disguise was almost not there at all:

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The highlight of the whole Con was that I finally found Waldo. He is a tricky little SOB. I've been searching for him ever since Christmas of 1993. My search, amongst the 12,000 Comic-Con attendees, finally reached its extremely gratifying and long overdue conclusion.

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Thank god I can finally put that one to rest.

We divided the happy-go-lucky comic-mania with a very highbrow evening with Ira Glass, host and creator of my very very favorite This American Life, and a bunch of other NPR listeners. I cannot tell you how much I love This American Life, and, by extension, Ira Glass. This, however, did not stop me from calling him a "puppetmaster" to his FACE in the Q&A session. What is my problem? I could blame it on giddy fan nerves, but really. You could see the poor man visibly flinch at the suggestion that all of his carefully crafted work was just manipulation. I immediately ran home and wrote him an apology, which, if it weren't for damned Columbus Day weekend, would already be well on its way into his mailbox. Luckily he can't block my ISP from receiving his podcast, or I would be in dire dire straits.

Or - can he?

The man looks like he could hold a grudge:

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Posted by ribbu at 12:05 PM

September 20, 2009

The Bathroom: Part 3

When hanging cabinets, one has to find a stud in which to screw the hanging rail. Some people have sophisticated instruments that identify studs through sheetrock. Others rap their knuckles against the wall and listen for the variation in sounds: hollow means no stud and solid means stud. Lacking sophisticated instruments, we tried this latter technique, drilling into the wall where it seemed to be solid.

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The result was a sort of wild goose chase that left us feeling like rather bad carpenters. When the big quake comes, we know exactly where this wall will split in two. However shoddy our technique, we did eventually find the studs, which enabled us to hang the rail.

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While looking up to admire it, I had a near collision with Tarzan, who grows more obtrusive by the day.

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We put the corner cabinet in place.

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And screwed it to the rail.

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Before long, more cabinets found their way onto the wall.

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And then we were done:

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Once the cabinets were up, we called the plumber and begged him to come install hookups for our new washer and dryer.

Here's how things looked before he came.

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And here is our new plumbing.

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Are you as excited about the new plumbing as I am? I doubt it. I am very excited about the new plumbing. But feel free to admire the elegant curve of the sewer line. Do not stop yourself from basking in the comfortable contour of the hot and cold water lines. Be not afraid if you, too, want to peer through the hole in the floor. I did. It is very dirty under the barn.

Tomorrow morning our brand new washer and dryer will arrive. Its sleek lines and many elaborate features will hopefully efface the recent pains of so many unnecessary holes in the wall.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:00 PM

September 16, 2009

The Bathroom: Part 2

Once the painting was done, it was time to build the cabinets. As we did when we built our kitchen and studio, we called upon our Swedish friends at Ikea to provide inspiration and materials. Alden, whose paternal great grandfather is Swedish, seemed to feel perfectly at home there.

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She was an industrious helper when the time came to construct.

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After a short tutorial, she was ready to dive in.

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She drew inspiration from her Red Sox bib as she moved from cabinet to cabinet, tightening screws.

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She handed me tools when I needed them.

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She offered words of consolation when I hit my thumb with the hammer.

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At one point, she took a short break to catch up on her pleasure reading.

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As each new cabinet was finished, she checked for imperfections.

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Although she did not overtly criticize my work, her body language seemed to imply that had she been in charge, it probably would have been better.

When all the cabinets were complete, I discovered the reason for Alden's keen interest in them.

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Rather than be hung on the bathroom wall, the cabinets were to remain on the floor, that Alden might dance and preen inside them.

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Coy...

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...or costumed.

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I suppose there's no problem with her continuing to inhabit the cabinets once they are hung on the bathroom wall, though we'll have to contrive some sort of ladder or winch. It might, in fact, solve some of the space constraints that would otherwise be imposed by Tarzan's impending arrival.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:01 AM

September 15, 2009

The Bathroom: Part 1

We woke up the other day and suddenly decided it was time to repaint our bathroom. It has been really bad looking for a really long time. The ceiling and walls were painted in weak, clashing shades of dirty white, and the cabinets were an unfortunate yellow that was probably never in style. We've known for some time that an overhaul was needed, but the thought of actually doing the work had long defeated us. When we woke the other day with unexpected inspiration, Robbi rushed out immediately to buy some paint before we could change our minds.

We started with the ceiling.

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Then we painted the walls with a gray undercoating. It was such a startling improvement that we considered stopping while we were ahead.

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But then we glanced once more at the godawful cabinets, and knew our intervention had to continue.

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Robbi (who is careful and patient) tackled the trim.

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When she was done, I (who am hasty and reckless) started painting the walls. We opted for dramatic color change.

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Even though I am not a chocolate lover, the paint looked delicious.

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It was difficult to keep myself from licking the wall.

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Alden, who likes chocolate quite a bit, demanded a piece of the action.

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I showed her how it worked.

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Almost immediately, she recognized that painting is hard work, and completely lost interest.

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It was a short-lived experiment.

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I kept on at it in her absence.

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When I was done painting all the big, flat, easy parts, Robbi went back with a brush and did all the finesse work (where wall meets ceiling or trim, for example, or in that hard-to-reach place behind the toilet).

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The walls and trim are now painted, but our bathroom ambitions have since expanded into formerly unthinkable arenas. For example, we are going to hang cabinets on the walls and have purchased a real live washer and dryer.

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With Alden's blessing, of course.

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Posted by bogenamp at 12:31 AM

September 07, 2009

Long Weekend

For the most part, our long weekend has been dull and unphotogenic. There has been a lot of sleeping, a good deal of lounging, and a possibly unhealthy amount of television watching. We have punctuated the sloth with occasional bursts of low-grade activity. Expect no inspiration in the following.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the weekend was when this man (and his dog) rode by the barn.

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Have you ever seen a happier (or hipper) dog?

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At some point over the weekend, Alden made an important discovery: loose change makes a much more satisfying clink when placed in one's piggy bank (as opposed to one's mouth).

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She also learned how fun it is to spin around and around and around.

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And how very hard it is to stand up afterward.

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Yesterday, she spent some time with Oscar and Lily in their tower.

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A place she knows that she is not supposed to be.

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Today we went to Lockbriar Farms to pick apples and blackberries.

Alden understands how to locate an apple.

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She knows how to pick it.

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But she does not seem to grasp the greater goal: that of arriving home with apples to eat later.

Alden wants to eat them now.

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Right now.

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Sometimes on the run.

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Sometimes right off the tree.

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She is a savage, savage child.

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After taking at least one bite out of every apple in the orchard, we headed over to the blackberry patch.

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Alden's fruit vendetta continued.

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Have you ever seen such rage?

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Such cold-blooded indifference?

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Such vicious mastication?

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I shudder to think she is my flesh and blood...

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...until Robbi reminds me...

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...she learned it all by watching me.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:40 PM

September 01, 2009

Bear Truth

You might remember that recently I told you of the bear infiltration of our house in Alaska.

We got some photos in the mail from our friend Vern, one of only four full-time residents of Coffee Point, Alaska. The other three are his wife, Marita, and his daughters, Evelyn and Emily.

Evelyn was the one who noticed the bear damage in the first place. They occasionally patrol our compound in the months that we are here in Maryland. Here is what Evelyn found: the bears' entrance point.

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"How does a great big bear get through such a small hole?" you ask.

Answer: I have no idea.

Here is what they did when they got inside. Bob and Seiko left the house quite neat when they closed up for the winter, I assure you.

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But they will have a lot of cleaning up to do when they arrive next spring.

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Bears: untidy.

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Once upon a time, we had nice trim around our windows.

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It seems the bear needed a toothpick.

And here's where the bears made their exit from the premises.

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Apparently, according to those who have been ransacked by bears in years past, the worst thing about having had a bear in your house is not the things they break and the horrible mess they make but the awful smell they leave behind. Bears do not take showers, and so their fur is covered with a lifetime of oily, fishy funk that they love to rub all over the interiors of the houses that they pillage.

We have a similar problem around here from time to time. Different kind of bear.

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Same results.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:16 PM

August 26, 2009

Half-Baked

Yesterday we went to the OB for Robbi's 20-week checkup. Here's how the lady is looking these days.

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Manifest destiny is beginning in earnest.

During the 20-week appointment (the halfway point of the pregnancy), the fetus is developed enough for rather close scrutiny, so Robbi's doctor examined Tarzan's tiny body parts from all sorts of angles. We got to see the spine, ribs, kidneys, elbows, feet (in full kick), heart (in full beating fury) and face, such as it was.

Here is my child-to-be. If you're not quite sure what you're looking at, this is a profile of Tarzan's head. He/she/it is looking to the left. The round thing that kind of looks like an eyeball is, in fact, an eyeball. Because the lens of the eye is so dense, it shows up pretty well on the ultrasound. At least I think that was what the doctor said.

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If you are thinking that my child bears an uncanny resemblance to Skeletor, you are not alone.

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We opted not to have a look between the legs, preferring certain aspects of Tarzan's identity to remain somewhat more mysterious for the time being.

For her part, Alden has just reached the 17-month milestone and seems daily more determined to reach her teen years ahead of schedule. She has taken to pointing at Robbi's bulging abdomen and screeching "baby!" enthusiastically, but I don't think she's really grasping the big picture.

Bigger and bigger each day.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:15 AM

August 23, 2009

Retreat

On Saturday we drove through enthusiastic sheets of rain from Chestertown to Schuyler, Virginia, for my company retreat.

The skies cleared not long after we arrived, and so we headed outside.

Alden got her first crack at a slip n' slide. At first, she didn't seem to grasp the concept.

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But she figured it out.

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And ended up having a fine time.

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After the slip n' slide fun had run its course, we played a wiffle ball version of home run derby. I agreed to participate in spite of my total lack of athletic coordination. The last time I swung a bat in any remotely competitive way was when I was seven or eight, the first day of practice for little league. I had previously been hitting balls from a tee (even under these conditions, I had difficulty making contact). On the first pitch of my first little league at-bat, the ball came in and hit me on the knuckles. It hurt. I wept. That evening I told my dad that I wasn't cut out for little league.

And so I was leery of the diamond. Here I am at my first at-bat. Notice my patented one-hand swing.

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Here I am moments later, glowing with pride (or perhaps it was shock) after hitting my "home run", which, we had decreed, was any ball that landed beyond the slip n' slide.

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Alden joined me in celebration.

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Later, Alden and I relaxed on the porch swing.

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Robbi decided it looked fun, and decided to swing a bit herself. With attitude.

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After dinner, there were fireworks. Alden let us know how much she enjoyed them by bursting into tears and demanding to be taken inside.

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She had a better time during the gift exchange.

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Alden decided the lemon wedges looked delicious.

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This was her reaction.

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You decide whether or not it is best described as outrage or delight.

Robbi, Alden, Iggy, and I spent last night in the back of our van. If you fold the seats down and happen to have a full-size futon on hand, you can make a fairly comfortable bed back there.

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This morning, we hiked around a lake and encountered many industrious spiders.

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And one unmotivated turtle.

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Apparently the turtle was dull.

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While others ate brunch, Alden continued her late-morning snooze.

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And I spent some time with my new friend Karis.

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She is two. I like her very much.

After brunch, we drove home. The rains are pounding Chestertown again. I just checked the calendar, and we actually get to be home next weekend. But once September arrives, a whirlwind of fall activity begins. More on that to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:37 PM

August 20, 2009

Unwelcome Guests

We heard some bad news today from our neighbors in Alaska. Apparently, a bear (or possibly two bears) broke into our main house through one of the windows, ransacked the place, and left through another window. When I say the bear went "through the window," what I mean is that it ripped off the piece of plywood we use to cover the window in the winter months and then bashed through the double-paned glass and wood framework. What I'm saying is that the bear was motivated.

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It seems the bear injured itself climbing through the window and bled all over everything. And for some reason it also chewed up our windowsills. They are/were awfully nice windowsills.

Although having one's house wrecked by a bear is unpleasant in any setting, our problems are compounded by the lack of a Lowe's or Home Depot anywhere in the vicinity of Coffee Point. Any new building materials we might need for the repairs will have to be shipped in by barge at the beginning of next summer.

On one hand, we are lucky to have eluded bear intrusion for so many years, but we still don't look forward to dealing with the aftermath.

Darn bears.

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If Alden had been there, I'm sure she would have given them a piece of her mind.

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It seems she fears nothing.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:32 PM

August 17, 2009

Lake George

A week ago today we filled our car with far more vacation-related items than we actually needed and headed off for Silver Bay, NY, a lovely blip that is not even really a town on the Western banks of Lake George.

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Silver Bay is an old camp complex (think Dirty Dancing) where families come to escape from the city or suburbs in the summer. There is shuffleboard and a craft room and a yearly musical and various places to swim.

Robbi's grandfather built a cottage on the hills above the camp complex decades ago, and the family has been making regular pilgrimages ever since.

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I've previously chronicled several of our past trips to Lake George, including the one last summer when we wound up stumbling upon a war in progress and the one the summer before, during which Robbi and I discovered a previously unknown island.

This year's visit centered squarely around the child (as will all other visits in the foreseeable future, I suspect), and so I did a poor job of photographing any non-Alden-related elements of our sojourn.

As evidenced by the following. (I have the sense that most of you will not complain.)

We took Alden swimming at Oneida Bay. She dragged this little inflatable thing out of the boathouse.

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It succeeded in keeping her from sinking to the bottom of the lake.

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Later, she sunbathed. With attitude.

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We took her hiking up the mountain behind our cottage to Jabe's pond.

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Once we got there, she stomped around in the pond like she owned the place.

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At the end of her long day, she ate a lot of rigatoni.

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We were in Silver Bay for four days, but really didn't take many pictures. Perhaps we were too busy relaxing? I can't say. Not photographed but heartily enjoyed was time spent playing shuffleboard, reading, and sleeping.

On Friday morning, we left Silver Bay and drove east to my mom's house in Andover, Massachusetts. My sister Lindsay (along with her husband and child) was visiting from Portland, Oregon.

In order to get from Silver Bay to Andover, we had to cross Lake George. Luckily, there is a ferry just north of Ticonderoga. As the seven-minute journey across the lake began, we carefully read the signage.

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Alas, we did not heed it.

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On our way across Vermont, we stopped in the charming town of Woodstock, where Alden dragged us into a high-end toy store and tried as hard as she could to convince us that it was her birthday.

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After a beautiful drive through the heart of New England, we arrived in Andover, where I was reunited with my favorite nephew, Orin.

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And Alden was reunited with her grandma.

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The cousins were inseparable the entire time we were there.

They ate together.

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They ran around the yard together eating popsicles.

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Together, they enjoyed the pleasing sounds and textures of the garish plastic playtable.

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They slid together.

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The swung together.

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They tried their best to share a cousinly kiss (Alden's aim was a little off).

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At the end of a long day of having fun, they even nodded off entwined.

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It was a very nice vacation. We are already nostalgic, especially Alden, who misses her grandma.

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Of course, I also miss my mother, as a son tends to do. But right now, mostly I'm missing that beautiful lake and the days we recently spent lazing on its shady banks.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:06 PM

August 16, 2009

Paradise Lost

After a nearly twelve-hour drive from Andover, Massachusetts, we are finally back home in the barn. I have made a note to myself to never, ever try driving along the Eastern seaboard midday on a Sunday in August. I could go on and on about the godforsaken wasteland that is Connecticut, but instead I'll share a photo that pretty much sums up our vacation, which is, sadly, now over.

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Much more to come, including artful and spirited invectives against traffic in its many hideous manifestations.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:35 PM

August 06, 2009

Bounty

When Robbi set out to plant her garden last spring, both of us were pretty sure it wasn't going to work. Not only does she lack the skill and experience to gently guide growing things on the perilous journey from seed to fruit-bearing plant, but the sorry stretch of soil in front of the barn gets only partial sun. Nevertheless, Robbi was set to try. And who was I to naysay?

Here's what the garden looked like on May 21, right after we poured in the topsoil and planted the tiny plants Robbi had been growing by the window upstairs (back then, before she was bitter and jaded, Alden was oh so easy to impress).

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And here is the garden as of a few days ago.

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Something happened while we were in Alaska. Tiny gnomes came in the night and built these lush green plants for Robbi's satisfaction. They even left some ripe red tomatoes for her.

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Though a few are besotted with the rot.

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A minor detail. It is the appearance of success that pleases us. It is the looks on the faces of the neighbors who now admit that they were highly skeptical that any sort of garden would succeed in such an unlovable stretch of land.

As is the case with all things that belong to Robbi or me, Alden immediately declared the garden her own and the fruits contained therein here property to sample and distribute as she pleases.

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Alas her tiny mouth, though capable of producing mighty sounds, is not yet capable of opening wide enough to accommodate even a rather small tomato. Her embarrassment was evident.

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She now claims that she "didn't want to eat that stupid tomato anyway," and that "gardens are for weenies."

Though once I might have been inclined to agree with her, I must admit that there is something satisfying about our unruly patch of ambitious plant life. It makes this barn a bit more home-like. It makes our growing roots feel just a bit more anchored in the soil.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:36 AM

August 02, 2009

Meanwhile

There has been a lot of fuss about books and creativity and other kinds of dullness here of late. For those of you who have been patiently waiting for photographs of babies, we will, today, provide some satisfaction.

Last week we took Alden in for her scheduled checkup. We were, of course, curious to hear the latest medical opinion on her size. According to the doctor, her head is in the 75th percentile but her weight is well below the 3rd percentile. Based on other indices, the doctor determined that she is, in fact, thriving, but thriving on her own scale that bears little relevance to the norm.

She continues to eat.

Sometimes balanced, healthy meals.

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Sometimes cheesecake binges.

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When Robbi was Alden's age, she had a beloved rocking horse that she would ride with alarming vigor. We decided that Alden deserved the opportunity to alarm her parents, and so we purchased Lightning, who arrived in a large brown box.

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Alden helped with the assembly.

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My pace was too slow for her tastes. She seemed to be judging me silently.

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Eventually Lightning was ready for a rider. Alden was shy at first.

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But wasted little time in taming the beast. She even learned how to squeeze Lightning's ear, which, to our dismay, causes his animatronic mouth to sing a cheerful little ditty called, "I'm a Pretty Pony."

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Confident in her mastery of animal husbandry, Alden insisted on being taken to the County Fair.

She made small talk with this horse, who had won some sort of prize.

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As we walked away from the stall, she confided to Robbi that she was unimpressed.

Grandpa John, who was visiting from the great Midwest, introduced her to a cow.

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Alden squeezed its ear, and did not hear, "I'm a Pretty Pony." Disgusted, she demanded to see the pigs.

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Apparently, she liked the pigs, or perhaps it was their filthy sty that she admired.

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"Reminds me of home," she mused, as we walked on.

There were live chickens.

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And roasting chickens.

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There were large, inflatable structures.

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Alden and I decided to give the bouncy room a try. First we bounced together.

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Then we bounced separately.

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Alden did her best impression of a ping pong ball.

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Eventually, it seemed, she was done.

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Dad and I decided to do some bouncing of our own.

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Robbi was inspired to scale the monolith on Tiki Island.

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Not bad for a pregnant lady.

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Alden relaxed with Grandma Judy.

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Did some swinging on her own.

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And did some sliding with Grandpa John.

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Later on, inspired by the day's inflatable theme, we filled up Alden's pool for her very first swim.

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She proceeded with caution.

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But before long...

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...discovered her amphibious potential.

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We grilled some salmon for dinner.

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And had some ice cream for dessert.

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All in all, it was a very good day. This is how we roll in Chestertown.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:47 PM

July 26, 2009

The Behr Family Compound

Here's the fourth and final post on this year's Alaskan adventures. Perhaps I should have started with the photos below, to give you a sense of place. But I skipped straight to the exciting stuff and now am left with the more mundane material. Without further delay:

This is the "old house", where Robbi and her family lived when they first came to Coffee Point 32 summers ago when Robbi was 18 months old and her siblings 4 and 6, respectively.

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The house, basically a wood frame with corrugated tin siding, was even smaller then. The garage you see on the right hand side has been added since the early days. Today the old house is used for storage (tools, nonperishable foods, motor oil, etc.) This is the part that used to be the kitchen.

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Here's our propane-powered freezer.

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Here's the part that used to be the living room. We use it now to hang wet gloves between fishing periods.

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Here's the back room of the old house. The shelves that now hold food used to be the bunks where Robbi and her siblings slept.

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Here's the garage of the old house, where we hang our wet rain gear to dry.

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And on the wall opposite, vegetable storage.

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By contrast, here is the "new house", more than ten years old at this point, but a pointed upgrade on many fronts.

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Here's the view from the back.

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And here's the back deck (notice the enormous pile of old rope).

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Inside the new house, we have everything we need.

A place to eat.

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A place to cook.

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And a hanging slab of bacon.

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What else is there?

Another major building is the Kumajo, another barn of sorts, where we hang our nets over the winter.

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The second story is a living space where guests sometimes stay.

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Here's our water tower. We pump water from a natural spring up into this tower, which then supplies water for various purposes (washing trucks, washing fish, washing boots, etc).

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And here's a house that belongs to our neighbor Vern, who was living on the land when Robbi's parents bought it. Vern now lives in a bigger house not far away, but this house remains.

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I think some scholar of architecture should study it.

Here is the "detached palace", a small structure nestled in the alders where Robbi and I used to sleep before Alden got born and ruined our fun by needing to be in a warmish room.

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Here are our storage containers. Take a close look. These are the containers that sit on the back of tractor trailers. We use them because they are bear-proof. Grizzlies have no problem bashing through the plywood walls of our other buildings. Fortunately, they are seldom motivated to do so.

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We store various things in our containers: lumber, tires, some food, etc. Over the winter, we store our 4-wheelers in them.

Here's the net rack, where we can place nets for mending or cleaning.

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And here's our pile of old buoys. Why do we save old buoys? you ask. Why not save them, I counter? There's no way to throw them away, and who knows when an old buoy might come in handy. This is the philosophy that governs all things on Coffee Point: save everything for a rainy day.

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Here's the view of the bay from the pile of old buoys.

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And here is the gray truck.

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What's that you say? That truck is not gray? Oh, but you are mistaken. Robbi once told me to look for something that she had left "by the gray truck." I looked to no avail and came back to tell her that there was no gray truck. Robbi got frustrated, stomped over to this truck, and found the object in question. I was rudely accused of not being a good looker. When I countered that this truck was not gray, Robbi would have none of it. Turns out this truck used to be gray, perhaps 20 years ago, long before the ravages of rust took hold. But in Robbi's mind, the truck is still gray. Apparently, she was persuaded by this label that the truck would not rust.

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A closer look.

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Perhaps the folks at Zeibart also think this truck is still gray.

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I know the truth.

Back, though, to my point about not being able to throw anything away up there. In a normal place, the gray truck would have been put out of its misery long ago. Up here, trucks sit where they die forever. Eventually they are harvested for a usable part. (It must be confessed that the gray truck does still, technically, run, but that when its ignition is turned, a fireball shoots out of the engine block.)

There are other things sitting around waiting for the end of days.

This boat.

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These outboards.

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This snowmobile.

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Here are two of our three working four-wheelers. My dream is to some day live on enough acres in Vermont to justify owning one of these, but Robbi says she knows I'll break every one of my bones.

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Here are the propane tanks that run our hot water heater and wall-mounted furnace unit.

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Here is the garden Seiko grew in a pickup truck bed liner.

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Here is our fuel depot.

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We use a hand pump to get the gas from the barrels into the various vehicles.

Here is our generator.

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Whenever we run it, we charge the various car batteries that power basic functions around the compound (one runs the pump that makes water run from the spigot in the kitchen; another runs our VHF radio unit).

The tour is almost over. I've run out of pictures to show. But I've saved for last one of the most picturesque (and important) buildings on the compound. Here's the outhouse. The board blocking the path means it's occupied at present.

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And here is Iggy who, in a rare act of courage and agility, managed to catch a ground squirrel one sunny day on the tundra. I made her put it down, which irked her, but ever since that moment, she has been a new dog. Confident, cheerful, and happy to lie for hours in the Alaskan sunshine just waiting for another opportunity to chase.

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Posted by bogenamp at 04:36 PM

July 20, 2009

Baby Naming Contest

I hadn't yet decided whether or not to hold a baby-naming contest this time around, but the gauntlet has already been thrown by our friend Doug, who sent the following image along with the suggestions, "Potpie" and "Mac" (as in mac & cheese). Clearly Doug is playing on my notorious appetite and trying to curry favor by stimulating food cravings.

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Consider the contest officially begun. The prize will be a Swanson dinner of your choosing, mailed direct to your home via US Parcel Post.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:57 AM

Robbi Shoots the Moon

You are, perhaps, familiar with the moon.

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To commemorate the 40th anniversary of our first landing there, Robbi has decided to make herself over in the moon's likeness. Although the following represents a fair start, she still has nearly six months of work ahead.

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To those of you who have suggested that I could never take as many photos of my second child as I did of my first, I aim to prove you wrong.

Exhibit one: (the first of many photos of Tarzan Gramangela Gentlyfierce Swanson). May s/he be neither as willful nor as churlish as his/her mother.

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I know such hopes are likely in vain. I'll find out for sure on or around January 15.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:16 AM

July 16, 2009

The Fisherman Prepares

I have been puzzling over how best to introduce this year's fishing season. I've posted in past years with photos of the fishing and the compound, and I'll do that again this time around. But although I've alluded to the various layers of rubber that encase us when we hit the beach, I've never taken the time to go into appropriate detail about the true indignity we suffer when we get dressed for work on the tundra.

Without further ado.

The first step (easy to forget) is to apply sunscreen of maximum strength.

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This allows the fisherman to maintain the hard-won pasty whiteness he has cultivated from a winter of life in the barn.

The next step is to go outside where the stinking, wet fishing gear is hung in those rare hours when it is not being worn by the weary fisherman.

Behold the fisherman's underlayer: polypropylene on top and bottom (necessary to wick away the constant perspiration of his Herculean endeavor).

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I'm sure you're hoping for another majestic angle.

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And yet another (please try to refrain from swooning).

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The next step is to don the latex hip waders (with badass boots attached) and rubber rain pants.

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Ideally these two steps would be separated for your viewing pleasure, but the harassment of getting the rain pants over the hip waders (on account of the attached badass boots) was so great as to make this combined photo a more palatable option. Please forgive my laziness.

Next up, is a latex glove (the kind worn by medical personnel [because the fisherman is a surgeon of the sea]). These gloves are worn beneath the more robust gloves (see following step), providing a limited sort of comfort and protection.

Right hand first.

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And then the left.

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The latex gloves are followed by the elbow-length rubber glove, meant to protect the hand, wrist, and forearm from the fish, the fish slime, the fish blood, and the abundance of seawater with which said body parts come in frequent contact.

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The next step, vitally important, is to place the lanyard containing one's crew member license around one's neck. This tiny piece of paper, purchased for $350 at the start of the season, asserts the fisherman's right to ply his trade. Without his permit, the fisherman is subject to hefty fines from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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Next comes the bright yellow rubber rain coat. It is perhaps the most fashionable element of the fisherman's ensemble. (Though you may be sorely tempted, it is not yet time to submit to your nearly overwhelming admiration.)

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Next the fisherman needs his hat.

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His life jacket.

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And his shades (the fisherman recommends the comprehensive, wraparound Solar Shield sunglasses from Wal Mart [just $19.95!], frequently worn by persons who have just had cataract surgery).

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It is appropriate to admire him now.

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See how happy he looks thus encased, only small fractions of his skin exposed to the unholy onslaught of his prey.

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Once he is thus adorned, the fisherman is obligated to adopt a pose equal to his heroic task.

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He is sometimes even moved to pose a second time.

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It is perfectly acceptable to swoon now if you like.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:21 PM

July 15, 2009

Back from the Tundra

After 24 hours and 4,500 miles traveled, we have returned from the tundra.

All in all, it was a pretty good fishing year.

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We have some photos and stories to share, but for now, we are going to bed. More soon.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:05 PM

June 24, 2009

Gone Fishing

If you have come to these pages looking for fresh content or pictures of babies, I'm sorry to report that you will not be satisfied today. Robbi, Alden, and I are on the tundra near Bristol Bay, Alaska, fishing commercially for salmon with Robbi's family. If you want to picture us now, we are in all likelihood dressed in kneeboots, waders, rubber pants, raincoats, wool caps, and gloves that go up to our elbows. We probably smell bad from sweat and fish blood. We are probably tired and hungry, and yet pleased to be in such a strange, distant, beautiful place. Our Alaska is not the dramatic mountainous one you've seen in infomercials. We don't see icebergs floating by. We look out the window and see endless knobbly tundra, scrubby Alders, winding tundra streams, wildflowers, ptarmigan, caribou, and the occasional grizzly. We have no paved roads or public utilities. We drink rainwater that runs off the roof. We run a diesel generator when we need power. We play a lot of Pinochle.

If it is July 1 or after and if you want to see what we were up to before we left for Alaska, go to Tor.com and look for the various sections of Cory Doctorow's Makers, which is being released on Tor.com over the next six months. Every section of the book will feature an illustration conceived by Idiots'Books and drawn by Robbi. We are sorry to be missing the launch, but perhaps you can check it out on our behalf.

With that, we're truly off (this is being posted from the Anchorage airport, the last bastion of connectivity we'll find for the next three weeks). Be well. And enjoy your running water.

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Posted by bogenamp at 07:52 PM

June 23, 2009

Tundra or Bust

We are on the eve of departure for Alaska.

Tomorrow, we will be living here.

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We will be in pursuit of this.

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While trying to avoid being eaten by this.

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We will ride on one of these.

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And fish in one of these.

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There will be moments of triumph.

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Moments of manly fortitude (though few and far between).

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Moments of exhaustion.

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Moments of questionable parental oversight.

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And moments of rest.

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I'm guessing that Alden will be harder contain this time around.

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But we've decided to bring her nonetheless. But how best to get her there? Instead of suitcases, we travel with coolers full of produce (there are no stores in Coffee Point).

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But apparently, Alden finds the cooler not to her liking.

And so we are off. Here's the sad news (for you). I have decided to go off the grid while we are gone. No email, no internet. So no posts. The Barnstorming will be going dark for three weeks. We'll be tuning back in upon our return. Which is July 15 for those of you who might be keeping track. Send me an email if you want to be alerted upon our return.

For now, so long. And enjoy the summer, wherever you may be.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:19 PM

May 30, 2009

Why I Struggle With My Self Esteem

My very good friend David has been traveling in Japan. Yesterday, I received this postcard.

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"Oh look," I said, admiring the lovely photograph on the front. "What a nice postcard. David must really care for me."

And then I read the back.

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On one hand, I am flattered that David went to such lengths to insult me in this manner. After all, he had to purchase an expensive international plane ticket, conduct exhausting research on the Golden Phoenix, navigate the complex Japanese postal system, and find a pen. It is this last step, I suspect, which challenged him the most.

I have been absent from these pages for the last few days on account of my computer being in the shop. But the helpful folks at the Annapolis Apple Store have made it like new. It was interesting, and somewhat discomfiting, to be away from my computer for three days. I realize how deeply ingrained and instinctual my compu-habits have become: the checking of email, the browsing of baseball box scores, the scanning of salacious headlines on the partisan news sites. It was probably good to be forced to pare back for a few days, a needed diet for the cyberfat.

Plus, being away from my computer has given me more time for the things that really count in life. Like reading postcards from a dear old friend.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:30 AM

May 21, 2009

The Garden

I promised Robbi that when the mural was done, I'd help her plant her garden. If you don't know, I'm not really a gardening guy. Both of my parents are enthusiastic about planting and growing and caring for flowers, bushes, vegetables, and the like, but I just can't understand the thrill. Apparently Robbi has caught the bug, and so in the interest of solidarity, I am doing my best to be supportive and participatory.

Because she has no confidence in her ability to persuade young plants to big plants that will actually provide us with food, Robbi purchased the "Fail-Proof Tomato Kit" online. Its name was affirming. So yesterday we opened the large box and Robbi started assembling her kit, which is basically a large plastic tub with a reservoir that holds water.

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As long as the reservoir is not empty, the thing will water itself so that you do not have to remember to do so yourself, thus removing one of the most common factors in tomato failure.

Part of the fail-proof tomato kit was two large bags of topsoil. Robbi mixed the soil with fertilizer in our recycling bin.

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And then she mixed it again with her hands. This is the part of gardening I have the most trouble identifying with.

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Then she filled the special fail-proof trenches with soil. I get the sense that the trenches are a very important aspect of the fail-proofness.

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And then she poured in the rest of the soil.

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Once the fail-proof was full of dirt, it was time to select the lucky plants that would get to live in it. Robbi surveyed the collection of small tomato and bean plants she has been growing in the window and tried to determine which seemed to have the most promising characteristics.

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Oscar observed the proceedings but did not share his opinions.

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Eventually Robbi made her selections.

Instead of choosing the most vital plants, she picked a tomato plant with a bent stem. She is a perpetual champion of the downtrodden, a inclination that extends even to the choice of seedlings.

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I wonder if it will be appropriate to bring up this flawed selection if the plants fail to thrive. I think perhaps I will keep such observations to myself.

My job, in addition to taking photos of the magic as it happened, was assembling the horrible metal tomato cage.

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I very nearly failed, mostly on account of my bad attitude about the whole thing.

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But I soldiered on, not wanting to be the weak link that proved the fail-safe tomato grower wrong. I'm sure there is a clause somewhere that voids the guarantee in the case of there being a surly, impatient husband in the mix.

Eventually the cage was assembled and Robbi was pleased.

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Today we got the topsoil for the actual garden bed. I poured it into the frame we built the other day.

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Alden helped.

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She was fascinated with the dirt. Perhaps this gardening thing skips a generation.

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For a while, Alden helped Robbi plant.

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But after a while she lost interest and just ran around.

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Several of you have asked me to post some pictures of the barn from the outside. Here's a shot that gives you a sense of where the garden is in relation to the barn.

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If you are one of the many people who apparently have imagined this barn on 300 lonely acres at the end of a long dirt road, we are sorry to undo what must have been a very pleasant daydream. No, ours is an urban barn, smack dab in the heart of Chestertown's sleepy historic district. Our fertile acreage is limited to that little strip of green between the sidewalk and the street, but this is enough, it seems to keep Robbi very happy and Alden in a perpetual state of wonder.

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We will chronicle the non-failure of our tomatoes as weeks pass. Or the failure to not-fail. Whichever the case may be.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:46 PM

May 07, 2009

Back to the Ballpark

Dad and I went to the ballpark again the other night. Zack Greinke, coverboy of this week's Sports Illustrated and the best pitcher in all of baseball (so far) this season was on the mound against the division rival White Sox. It was a gorgeous night.

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As usual, Greinke was pitching well. The crowd was into it.

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The very large scoreboard was still very large.

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We bought $5 nosebleed seats to get through the gate, but instead of actually sitting in them, we wandered around throughout the game. One of the places we stopped was a narrow band of seats just above the right field wall. We were almost close enough to the right fielder to reach out and touch him.

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Almost.

Another stop was in a new bank of seats in the deepest part of the outfield, just next to the legendary fountains. I was intrigued to find this sign affixed to the wall there.

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I could imagine the occasional home run ball landing in these seats and posing a threat to the onlookers. But a bat? I'm not sure Paul Bunyan could have thrown a bat the 400+ feet it would have had to travel to reach those seats. But I suppose it is better to err on the side of caution in such matters?

The Royals won. Greinke pitched a complete game shutout, his third of this young season. For those of you who don't know about these things, that's quite an accomplishment. The Royals lead their division by 3.5 games. There is excitement in the air in Kansas City. My dad, for example, is full of uncommon optimism about his baseball team.

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It's very early still, but led by Greinke, this team is proving its detractors wrong, one game at a time.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:12 PM

April 30, 2009

Kansas City

I have not contributed to these pages for a few days because I have been in transition. Alden and I arrived in Kansas City yesterday for a 17-day visit with my dad and Judy. We left Robbi at home. The decision to part was born of sheer necessity. Robbi has a tremendous amount of work to do, and both Alden and I are simply too distracting. And so we are here and Robbi is there and hopefully she will be able to get some things done in our absence. Providing she doesn't sit around moping and eating ice cream all day long.

Alden is very happy to be reunited with Grandpa John.

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Her joy is written all over her face.

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We have, in fact, had a very nice first day together. Grandma Judy is in New York for a few days, and so it has been just Alden, Dad, and me hanging out, eating, setting up stacks of tupperware, knocking them over, and laughing hysterically. That sort of thing. But that's not what I'm going to talk about. No, I'm just too distracted by something else.

Notice the Williams College long-sleeve t-shirt my dad is wearing in the photo above.

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I gave this shirt to him for Christmas during my freshman year of college. I was a college freshman in 1993. My father has been wearing this shirt for more than 15 years.

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There is a lesson here, I think, some sort of truth is embedded in this tale. Should we attribute the unlikely persistence of this bygone gift to my father's steadfast loyalty or to the quality of the apparel offered by the Williams Shop, circa 1993?

There will be more tales of Grandpa/baby antics in the days to come. For now, please keep an eye out for Robbi. If you find her passed out on a park bench with an empty gallon container of ice cream beside her, please help rouse her from the sugar coma and lead her back to her desk.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:41 PM

April 12, 2009

True Confessions

A photo surfaced on Facebook the other day. It has forced me to admit to myself and to those who love me that I used to look like this:

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It is sad but true. From freshman year of college through the middle of sophomore year, I did not cut my hair. I cannot now explain what I was thinking or whether there was something I was trying to accomplish. I am thankful that I made it through without seriously hurting myself or others along the way. Of course, reminded of that dark time in my life, I'm filled with feelings of anger--toward myself and the various others who failed to intervene and put a stop to the madness.

I have been tempted from time to time to go as far as possible in the opposite direction and shave my head completely bald, at least for once in my life. Robbi has let me know that although she would not stop me from doing such a thing, she also does not endorse the plan. Apparently, I have an ugly scalp, bumpy and covered with odd moles. I'd make a rather unappealing bald man, she thinks.

And so I'll resolve to remain somewhere in the middle.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:21 PM

April 02, 2009

Not Always the Best Policy

The following is a school assignment turned in by Robbi's friend Whitney when she was but a small girl, presumably a report on a book called Last Day of Brightness. (My Google search returned no information regarding author or date of publication.)

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I think this stands as an object lesson for parents regarding the importance of teaching children to either do their homework or be more artful in covering their tracks. There is something so appealing in Whitney's unguarded honesty. And if she truly did not read the book, are we to imagine that what details she does offer are purely fictional, based entirely on the implication of the title? If this is the case, should Whitney not be rewarded for her inventiveness, arguably a more important virtue than the ability to read and reiterate the basic plot elements of a children's book?

Let us not overlook Whitney's decision to begin a new paragraph for her admission of non-reading. And that she remembered to indent it. How wonderful that she paid heed to the fine points of how one is to behave when completing a book report while forgetting the part about reading the book itself.

And don't you wonder what the teacher wrote and then blotted out at the bottom? It probably wasn't "Hurrah, you have imagination. Never let it get away from you." But maybe it should have been.

Whitney is an artist (here is her site). And I think her origins as a creator of things is evident here. This book report is far superior to the one that would have better pleased her teacher.

Here is one of her many wonderful illustrations.

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:29 PM

March 29, 2009

Miscellany

We used to drive from Massachusetts to Kansas City in one straight shot, switching off every four hours or so, and making it door-to-door in just about 22 hours. No motels. No sit-down meals. No snooping about at petting zoos or other roadside curiosities. We drove until we got there. And when we got there, we felt fine.

Things have changed. I have been so wearied in the wake of our return trek that I have not even had the fortitude to post. Here, then, are some disconnected items from the past week or so, things that will be lost if I don't get them out. So bear with me.

Last Monday, as we took a deep breath in the wake of four straight days of basketball, we went to visit some of my old friends in Kansas City. We stopped to see my friend Alison, who was meeting Alden for the first time.

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Ali's daughter Margo was there, wearing an inspirational princess outfit.

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Alden was inspired by the princess outfit.

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Though she found out the hard way why princesses don't crawl.

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Robbi was inspired by the princess outfit.

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I was inspired by the princess outfit, but Margo wouldn't let me wear it. Apparently it was time to dance.

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After visiting Ali's we headed out for burgers and milkshakes at Winstead's, a Kansas City dining institution.

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Note: the following is a recreation and not a photo of our actual meal.

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While there, Alden was almost carried off by the mother ship.

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Instead she was carried off by Grandpa John.

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Who did his best to teach her how to walk.

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She seems enthusiastic about the idea of walking, but has not yet committed to the mechanics. She may be getting closer. Today she stood independently for about twenty seconds.

While we were in Kansas City, Alden took great pleasure in standing on top of the Cookie Monster chair.

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Grandma Judy got Alden this and four other headbands for her birthday (in a variety of colors, of course, mean to compliment her many stylish outfits.)

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And I completely forgot to mention in the last entry about the birthday: Aunt Courtney got Alden a third eye (to match her own). It is an eerie and disconcerting thing, and fortunately, she does not wear it very often.

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On our way home from Kansas City, we stopped in St. Louis to visit our nieces Laramie and Scarlett.

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I admire Scarlett's piercing blue eyes.

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Somewhere in Indiana, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel that had an Alden-sized rocker outside.

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We arrived home and each fell into profound stupor.

The next day, Uncle Donald and Aunt Ann showed up to bring Alden yet another birthday present: a Radio Flyer trike!

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Alden's enthusiasm for the trike is evident.

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We took her on a ride around the block this afternoon. It did wonders for Alden's sense of self-empowerment and horrible things for my back. Her legs are about three inches too short to reach the pedals and so I must bend over horribly and push her to and fro. This in no way diminishes Alden's sense that she is completely in charge of the tricycle and its motions.

We went to visit Sarah at Bookplate.

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Clearly Alden thinks the thing is a Harley and that she is now too cool for the rest of us.

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I suppose I ought to get used to this. Now that she is one, it is only twelve years until she becomes a horrible teenager. Several people have advised me to enjoy these years before she knows me well enough to object to the embarrassing things that I do.

From certain looks on certain days, I get the sense that the downfall has already begun.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:05 PM

March 23, 2009

Dog Park

It was another beautiful day in Kansas City.

The flowers were in bloom.

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The dogs were content.

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Before the fourth straight day of basketball got underway, we decided to go to the local dog park. It was, after all, the birthday of Charley, my stepsister Courtney's very fine dog.

At the dog park, we walked around while the dogs frisked. Grandma Judy was in charge of the high-performance jogging stroller.

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Alden was supposed to be wearing this green hat. But she doesn't like it when the hat fits snugly on her head.

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No, she much prefers it when the hat sits haphazardly atop her head in such a position that it cannot actually do a bit of good.

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She is a contemptuous little cuss. Nevertheless, the exploration of the dog park continued.

Iggy and Charley were particularly taken with the dog tunnel.

Iggy had more trouble with it than Charley did.

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But, eventually she made her way through it.

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While at the dog park, we let Alden try a few new thrills.

First we tried swinging.

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She didn't really like it.

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Nor did she think much of sliding.

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She wasn't particularly keen on the jungle gym.

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Rock climbing, however, might be her born calling.

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At the center of the dog park, there was an enormous water tower.

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It seemed unlikely that I would be able to jump over it. But the more I convinced myself that it couldn't be done, the more I wanted to try.

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Back at home, Alden was attacked by a bear.

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After recovering from that trauma, she settled in with Grandpa John to watch the Kansas/Dayton basketball game.

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Meanwhile, Charley's birthday party was happening upstairs. Courtney made Charley a special dog cake out of dog-friendly ingredients. Naturally, the cake was shaped like a bone.

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Not only did Charley get a birthday cake,

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...but he ate it, too.

So far this visit has been overwhelmed with basketball. We have either watched or closely followed 48 games in the past four days. Fortunately, both my team (Duke) and my dad's team (Kansas) managed to advance to the sweet 16, and so both my dad and I are in relatively good spirits as we contemplate three days of no basketball. The powers that be require us to wait until Thursday for the tournament to resume. Good thing, because we are starting to unnerve and alienate the others in our lives, those who do not understand how 48 basketball games in four days can possibly be a good idea.

Fortunately, Alden is not one of these people. She fully understands the importance of college basketball, the tournament, and coming up with novel ways to express one's enthusiasm while cheering for the good guys.

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I expect her patented "hand gnaw" move to be all the rage by the time the games resume on Thursday.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:14 AM

March 19, 2009

On the Road

We spent the last 24 hours driving to Kansas. It is so far from Maryland.

We stopped somewhere in Western PA last night. Alden beheld the dawn from the doorway of room 316 at the Motel 6.

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We drove and drove. Eventually we stopped to eat. Alden appreciated that the pies at the Blue Belle Diner were, as promised by the billboard, "one foot high."

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She was floored by the generous, family-style portions.

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As was I. Six hours later, I'm still feeling a little unwell. But we are here, safely arrived at my dad's house. Tomorrow I will watch four Division I men's basketball games. It's what my dad and I do this time every year.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:41 AM

March 12, 2009

Barn in the Snow

It occurs to me that we often talk about the barn but seldom show what it looks like. Many people who come to visit us are disappointed (or at least disoriented) at the gulf between the picture that they have in their heads and the reality that they find when they arrive. Mostly, they are thrown off by the fact that the barn in their minds is in the middle of a field surrounded by open acres and grazing animals. Perhaps at one point our barn was a solitary structure, but now it finds itself smack in the middle of the Chestertown Historic District. It is lucky that the barn is used these days for purposes like making pottery and writing books instead of being part of a grain or pork-producing venture.

We took some pictures of the barn just after last week's snowstorm. Here is our home. And our factory.

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In spite of being nestled among other old wooden buildings, the barn is lovely and rich with character. When renovating, we managed to preserve much of the original feel. Please come see it if you happen to find yourself on route 213 with some extra time on your hands. We are almost always home. And if you happen to come by way of Annapolis, please bring a Chipotle burrito.

And here is your reward for three straight days of book-related posts. A picture of two babies in a cat tower.

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Not exactly a container, but still...

Posted by bogenamp at 10:55 PM

March 08, 2009

At the Flower Show

Alden and I are here in Philadelphia for the last two days of the Flower Show. She has been very helpful...

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...at drawing customers to the booth.

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We received several offers from customers wanting to purchase her. But we decided to let her grow for another year in hopes of fetching a higher price next year.

I have taken more pictures, of course, which will be posted when time allows. The show ends at 6:00 tonight and then we pack up the truck for the trip back to Chestertown.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:43 PM

March 06, 2009

Seeking Advice

The Christmas before last, Robbi's parents gave me a set of drinking glasses for Christmas. They are rather nice-looking glasses, and when I opened the box I felt very adult being the kind of person who had a set of matching and nice-looking drinking glasses.

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Some months ago, we picked our friend Josh up at his house en route to seeing Tropic Thunder at the Chester 5.

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Josh was eating some sort of high-protein homebrew smoothie when we picked him up. He finished the smoothie on the way to the movie and then left the glass on the floor of the car, where it was forgotten when we dropped Josh back off at home after the movie. Over days and weeks, it was gradually covered with sediment, eventually becoming one with the general disorder of the car's interior. When we sold the old car and bought the new one, Josh's glass was unearthed. We brought it inside, nursed it back to health, and gradually incorporated it into our family routine. Although our earnest plan was to return the glass to Josh, I started using it more and more frequently, taking great enjoyment from its sturdy construction, its pleasing contour, and its overall appearance--so prosaically exotic in contrast with my matching set of elegant, adult drinking glasses.

Here is Josh's glass.

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Josh came over for dinner the other night, and it occurred to me when he was here that it was probably appropriate to reunite him with his missing glass. I pulled it from the cabinet and ruminated wistfully on the time that the glass and I had spent together, telling Josh how much the glass had meant to me and that, even though I was parting with it willingly, there was a tiny part of me that would perish with the passing of the glass from my life. Josh looked at me as if he understood. He insisted that I keep the glass.

"I couldn't," I said.

"Dude, it's ok," he said. "I think you love the glass more than I do."

"I couldn't possibly," I said.

"I really think you should," he said.

"Ok," I said. And that was that. The glass is mine. Forever.

But there's more. Not only did Josh give me the glass, but he decided to endow it. Placing four quarters on my kitchen counter, he decreed that the money be used to start a fund that would contribute five percent annually to the filling of my glass.

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Josh understood that the fund was modest, but that it represented a solid start toward making sure my beloved glass was always full of something good. Josh is that kind of guy.

So my question is this: how shall I invest this dollar, to maximize my options while also guarding against high risk? Given the state of the markets, I'm anxious about making a bad choice.

In any case, I've got the glass itself, which is something these days. Due to the generosity of Josh's endowment, will always be at least half full.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:10 PM

March 04, 2009

Moment of Clarity

Note/Warning: today's post has nothing to do with babies and actually contains subject matter that some might consider mildly offensive. If you have come for cute baby pictures, go here instead.

I was driving to the grocery store yesterday and was stopped at a red light. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a peculiar message printed on the front of the huge white pickup truck directly behind me. The message read,

BASSIN', BUD AND POONTANG, OH YEAH!

The message itself was astonishing enough, but then I realized . . . given that I was reading the message in my rearview mirror, it was actually printed in backwards lettering. I glanced behind me to confirm that what logic suggested was, in fact, correct.

In spite of being clear, neatly aligned, and entirely legible, the lettering did not seem to be a professionally manufactured decal, but rather a homespun creation. (A subsequent Google search has confirmed my suspicion that "Bassin', Bud, etc" is not a household phrase.) No, someone had evidently decided of his own imagining that it would be a really good idea to write "BASSIN', BUD AND POONTANG, OH YEAH!" on the front of his truck and had summoned the wherewithal and follow-through to actually realize his dream. At no small amount of effort, I venture.

Needless to say, I was awfully impressed. But still, I was left with searching questions:

1) what was I to make of the phrase itself: was it advice, endorsement, or a personal philosophy?
2) what was the meaning of "bassin'"? A Google search quickly confirmed my suspicion that it had something to do with fishing.

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3) given the poetic possibilities established by "Bassin'" and "Bud", did the author of the phrase consider "Booty" as an alternative possibility for the third item, for the sake of alliteration?
4) given the evident importance of the message, why did the author of the phrase obscure its meaning by printing it in reverse lettering?
5) did it mean something that I was one of the lucky few to find himself in the exact right spot to read these words and potentially learn from their wisdom? If so, I am still scratching my head, plumbing the depths of my soul for the underlying message. That I may teach others. And understand the wide world just slightly better than I did before.

I was sorry not to have had my camera with me. If I were Robbi, I might draw you a pleasing sketch or use Photoshop to mock up a visual to help you understand how surprising and gratifying the whole thing was. You will simply have to use your imagination. And I must rely upon my memory.

Before I was ready for the moment to end, the light changed, I turned into the Acme parking lot, and my friend the philosopher drove his truck down 213, out of town and on to who knows what adventure.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:10 PM

March 02, 2009

Two Suprises

It doesn't snow much on the Eastern Shore, and when it does, it usually doesn't stay on the ground for long. It was 61 degrees here last Thursday. Dog, baby, and I were out running around in the fields, celebrating the arrival of spring. Winter must have thought our glee premature and unseemly. He has brought his mighty vengeance on Chestertown. And the rest of the East Coast, apparently.

Here is the view down Queen Street at midnight last night.

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It was so beautiful and unexpected, I had to take Alden out for a look.

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From all evidence, she loved the snow in her face and the strange look of the world.

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Every so often she'd catch a huge snowflake in the eyeball and would look up into sky, attempting to see where it had come from.

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We had at least six inches at that point, and must have at least four more this morning. Apparently, we're going to get a foot. It must be some sort of recent record for the Shore.

The other surprise? We had a mystery visitor yesterday, who rolled into town just before the snow began to fall:

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Apparently news of my reckless, inadequate single parenting had made it all the way to Philly, and Robbi rushed home as quickly as possible to rescue Alden and me from the depths of sloth and gluttony. The baby and I are sorely disappointed. Who knows how long these snows will keep her in our midst...

Posted by bogenamp at 09:10 AM

February 26, 2009

Yesterday

Robbi has been trying to finish up a big project, so yesterday Alden and I decided to get out of her way. We had been looking for a good time to go visit our friend Sarah, who recently had surgery that has rendered her bedridden. We picked up some sandwiches and drove out to her house in Kennedyville, a little town a few miles from Chestertown.

Alden encountered a new cat and her first cast. It was difficult to tell which impressed her less.

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On the way home from Sarah's, we stopped by the road to watch a huge flock of birds take off and land and take off and land.

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They were so beautiful that I took a bunch of photos, but none of them are satisfying.

I feel like showing two, hoping that somehow two photos will do a better job than one of capturing the spectacular movement of this wall of wings. I know that I am only being hopeful. The dramatic flights of many birds moving wordlessly in concert is one of the most incredible things I know of to experience in person.

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And one of the lamest things to look at in a photo.

The project Robbi has been working on is a short film that is one component of a larger project we are doing for the website tor.com. We have been commissioned by the folks at tor.com to creatae a series of "stories" that can be downloaded from their site and constructed into physical books. We came up with an idea which allows someone to fold and make one cut in a single sheet of paper and in so doing create a "book" that can be recombined (pictures and words, both) into ten separate "stories." It's kind of the same idea as our books Ten Thousand Stories and After Everafter, but with a single piece of paper.

Anyway, the act of folding, cutting, and recombining is somewhat complex, so Robbi made a short movie, which will be downloadable from YouTube, to show the reader how to build and manipulate the book.

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By setting our video camera on a chair atop our flat table, Robbi was able to capture an eagle-eye view of the action while watching her work on the little screen.

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It's a nice little movie, and now Robbi can add "filmmaker" to her list of unexpected powers.

There will be four stories in the series, and they will be posted every two weeks starting in early March. I'll be sure to let you all know when the first one is available.

Robbi leaves tomorrow morning for the Philadelphia Flower Show, leaving me, the baby, the dog, both cats, and the fish alone to fend for ourselves. In spite of the lean economy, the Chestertown Taco Bell will experience a dramatic spike in sales over the next ten days.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:16 AM

February 22, 2009

When Technology Goes Too Far

I am a Mac guy and have been since my freshman year of college. This means I have access to the wonderful application iChat, with which I keep in touch with various friends, either by typing messages back and forth or by having conversations via video. Alden's two sets of out-of-town grandparents make regular appearances on the other end of the video chat. Usually the session consists of watching the baby drive her plastic car or watching her eat or watching her throw things and yell. Really grandparents have no high standards when it comes to the subject matter of a video chat. But tonight we took the grandparent video chat in a whole new direction. Let me set the stage.

Tonight was the second matchup of the season between the Duke Blue Devils and the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. Wake clipped Duke in the final seconds of a hard-fought game three weeks ago in Winston Salem. Alden and I were keenly interested in a different outcome in the rematch.

We put on our Duke garb.

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And I had on my Duke slipper sneakers.

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My keen interest in Duke basketball stems from the keen enthusiasm of my mother, who, as a dancer at Duke, was once asked to fill in as a Duke cheerleader for the ACC tournament one year. We always "watch" the games "together." In the time before iChat, this meant calling one another on the phone during commercials or at halftime, and sometimes even for the final minutes of a particularly tense or important game. More recently, we have chatted with one another on iChat throughout the game, making such insightful comments as "nice three!" or "terrible call!" or "boy oh boy do I hate UNC." But tonight my mother could not get the game on any of the hundreds of channels available via her satellite cable package. I, being in ACC country, was able to watch it. What to do? How to reconcile the inequity?

By placing my mac on stack of books set upon a stool...

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...and pointing the screen at the TV...

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...we were able to project the game from the TV to my mac to my mother's screen in Andover.

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In this manner, three generations of Duke fans watched the game together.

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During commercials, Alden and I visited with my mom.

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It turned out to be serendipitous that we were all together, as the game was a tough one to endure. Down by 22 points early, Wake rallied to pull within two. My mom and I exchanged groans of agony when Wake scored and cries of joy when Duke did. All the while, Alden struggled to grasp the import of what was happening. My carryings-on probably constituted the most baffling behavior she has witnessed in her life to date.

In the end, my team won, racking up 100 points for the first time in five years. Alden and I were incredibly excited. After saying good night to mom, Alden requested that I jump, a thing I have not done for many months.

In honor of Duke's victory and because I was wearing my lose-fitting comfortable penguin pants, I decided to give it a go.

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Who am I to disappoint a child?

Posted by bogenamp at 11:22 PM

February 18, 2009

In Defense of Summer

I woke up early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I stopped trying to fight it and came over to Sam's, our little coffee shop on Cross Street, to do a little writing and watch as Chestertown woke up. As I walked over from the barn, the tops of the buildings were bathed in rich amber light. I wish I'd had the camera with me so that I could show you.

Something in the way this morning feels, takes me to Lake George, where Robbi's family has a cottage.

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It's up there nestled in those trees, closed down for winter with its water turned off, waiting for the thaw and the new leaves.

We'll head up there at some point for at least a long weekend on the banks of that beautiful lake.

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I'm usually a cold weather, dark skies kind of guy, preferring rainstorms and gloom to sunshine. But something in this morning's early light reminded me that there's a place for summer, too.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:56 AM

February 17, 2009

Dog Days

Iggy used to get a lot more love on these pages. And a lot more love in general. She is a good and patient dog, resigned to her demotion. Instead of dwelling on her fate, Iggy chooses to focus on the scant pleasures that remain in her life since the arrival of Alden.

Like going outside.

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We had spectacular weather over the weekend.

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Blue, cloudless skies.

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Brown, flaky grass.

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Crisp, early spring air.

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It was enough to make a dog feel like a puppy again.

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While Iggy and Robbi romped in the athletic fields up at the college, Alden and I (and the BOB off-road jogging stroller) navigated the perimeter.

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But the day belonged to Iggy. She was a dog in her element.

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For an afternoon, at least, she was out from under the oppressive thumb of that miserable baby.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:19 AM

February 06, 2009

Returning the Favor

On a lark, I checked the Barnstorming tracking software yesterday and saw that traffic had been through the roof all week. My first thought was that this was a clear referendum on the post Robbi put up this past Monday when I was in New York. This made Robbi swell with pride. But then I dug a bit deeper into the submenus and found that we had been besieged with hits from Ephblog, a blog where various Williams graduates and profs post on all things Williams. They were good enough to do a post on the upcoming Idiots'Books tour event in Williamstown next Monday night. If you take the time to check it out, be sure to read the message string below the post, in which an amusing debate about the merits of the Williams English major transpires. The following comment is perhaps my favorite:

Lawyers help people (see, e.g., pro bono work). What do english majors contribute, aside from extra foam on on a latte? (NOTE: the two errors in the second sentence are not mine.)

Clearly, I have been missing my calling. I'm off now to apply for the open barista position at the Annapolis Starbucks.

Thanks for the ink, people of Ephblog.

And for those of you who only read to see photos of babies, here's one from the vault.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:55 AM

February 02, 2009

Gone Daddy Gone

So, today Matthew up and left for the big city. New York City, that is. He lit a shuck for New York City, as they used to say in the wild west (we've been watching Deadwood on Netflix (trying to squeeze it in before Alden starts to imprint the f-word) and it's put me in the mind of all those sappy Louis L'Amour books I used to read (and still drag out on occasion when I'm feeling the need for a predictable plot line and a happy ending) (not the kind of happy ending that seems to happen quite a lot on Deadwood, I mean the other kind, the kind that happens at the end of a story)), one of my old favorites being this one, mostly for its title). Anyhoo - this is all to say that Matthew is gone today. Which means everyone got depressed.

I mean, EVERYONE.

Iggy spent the whole day looking woefully out the window:

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Oscar could barely stay on his cat tower, so strong was his urge to fling himself off:

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And even Lily - crabby, unsympathetic Lily - considered the allure of the noose, even more deadly when made from live wire:

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I mean, it doesn't get any more pathetic than this.

Unless, perhaps, you consider this:

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Alden refused to move from this position for the entire morning. She said, "Mom, I'd rather spend all day looking at the floor than having to suffer you trying to live up to Dad's entertainment value. Please, please stop singing like that."

It was a long morning.

By mid-afternoon, she started to sway, and the combination of too much blood to the head and low blood sugar soon led to collapse. I took advantage of my upper hand, and threw her into a pile of paper trimmings, thinking it might cheer her up and remind her of the good times she spends with her dad, getting thrown into piles of things.

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She took it calmly, but did not sway from her resolve to be sad. She spent the rest of the day trailing around the big pile of trash, much like Pigpen and his cloud of dust.

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All I have to say is, thank goodness he gets back tomorrow. It's exhausting trying to keep this carnival running when the ringmaster is off waxing his mustache.


Posted by ribbu at 10:08 PM

January 29, 2009

Two Degrees of Barack Obama

This morning Christian sent me a link to an article announcing new additions to Obama's White House Counsel staff. Among them, I am pleased to announce is friend and college classmate Jon Kravis, who has been named Associate Counsel to the President. Jon is one of those eerily smart guys who is, at any given moment, capable of saying something brilliant and remarkable, and yet he is also nice, funny, and talented in other ways. In short, Jon is awesome. And now he's awesome AND Associate Counsel to the most powerful man in the world. Does this mean that Jon is now more awesome than he was before? I'd argue that it isn't possible. If you add "awesome" to "infinity" it's still just infinity, right? I argue that the same holds with Jon, who was already as awesome as a guy can be. But now he's awesome in an entirely new way.

Here's the little bio on Jon published in the article I linked to above (in case you are the type who doesn't like to link to things).

Jonathan Kravis
The President has named Jonathan Kravis to be Associate Counsel to the President. Mr. Kravis recently served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. Prior to this, he was an associate at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. Earlier in his career, he served as a Law Clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States and to Judge Merrick Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Kravis received his bachelor's degree from Williams College and his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

And here is a photo of Jon and me at dinner a year or so ago, just the two of us in private conversation, discussing important things with far-reaching impact, and basking in the overall wonder that is Jon.

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We are proud of you, sir. Go be just. And if your boss wants to be an Idiots'Books subscriber, we'll totally put him on the list for free.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:18 PM

January 28, 2009

The Monk by the Sea

I was an English and religion major in college and so I did a lot of reading and writing. At the time, I had never thought much about art and had no idea what a big role it would play down the line. Not only do I work for a design firm and spend a lot of my time as Robbi's sounding board and editor on the illustration front, but now I am an art professor.

Robbi and I are teaching a course called Pictures and Words through the art department at Washington College. It is a semester-long version of the course we taught at Williams College last January. We have a handful of writers and a handful of visual artists (though a number of our students write and draw), and together we are examining the act of collaboration, specifically what it means to work with a partner in another medium on stitching together a coherent, compelling artwork involving both image and word.

Our class meets weekly (from 7:00pm-9:30pm) and is going well so far. We have a great group of students, all of whom seem genuinely interested in exploring the questions the course is asking. At the end of the semester, we will have a public presentation/reading of their work. Rest assured, you will be invited.

Because my college was known for art history, I did manage to squeeze in the two-semester introductory art history survey course, or at least one-and-a-half semesters as an auditor. I saw a great many slides from that seat in the dark auditorium, many of which I admired. But one painting has always stood out for me as my favorite. And now that I am an art professor, I feel qualified to share it with you.

This is The Monk by the Sea, by Caspar David Friedrich.

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I really like it and stuff.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:35 PM

January 26, 2009

Weekend in Baltimore

We drove across the bridge last Saturday to visit with Christian, Emily, and Iris. The girls are getting bigger and slightly more aware of one another.

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For example, they were playing together happily on the floor when Alden picked up a plastic rattle and whacked Iris in the face. The expected wailing ensued. Alden looked around guiltlessly, as if to say, "What? That was nothing. What a weenie." I did not photograph the episode.

We did all sorts of things: playing Sorry, playing Wii, cooking and eating, watching basketball, walking for five minutes in the park before deciding that it was too muddy, and going to brunch. For most of it we forgot to pull out the camera. But we remembered to bring it to brunch.

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Alden had to sit next to Christian, which she hated.

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He tried to get back into her good graces by helping her with the menu.
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But the puny little grouch rebuffed his kindness and indicated that she preferred to read it herself.

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She decided on the eggs Benedict.

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But upon being reminded that she was still a tiny baby, decided instead on bananas and peach flavored rice puffs.

We used the occasion to celebrate our 12th Christmas of the holiday season by giving Iris a gift.

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It was a jack-in-the-box, something we expected to terrify her. We were worried as we cranked it: Would she cry? Would she scream?

The clown popped out. We waited for her reaction.

Nothing.

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Apparently the terror of clowns does not set in until sometime beyond the eighth month. Or perhaps the rattle incident hardened her to the realities of life in a world occupied by Alden.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:35 PM

January 15, 2009

Alden and Spud

We saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tonight. It was horrible. Horrible. My pleasant childhood memories of Indy's bold adventures have been dashed against the jagged rocks of this awful, awful attempt to revitalize the franchise.

Indiana Jones does not deal with aliens. He does not have an illegitimate son. And he does not get married and live happily ever after. Perhaps the first three movies were just as bad. But they are safely locked in the sanctum of my memory, where Indiana Jones is cool and funny and where his adventures are exciting and suspenseful and not about aliens. Or matrimony.

If you have not seen the movie, don't. Don't let nostalgia get the better of you.

I'm too demoralized to write anything more. And so I'll share another photo of Alden's visit with Spud the other day.

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In the child's opinion, Spud is what a pet should be, an absolute whore for attention, and not a nervous Weimaraner or a diffident cat.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:58 PM

January 09, 2009

New Word

Robbi just brought a new word to my attention, or rather, a new name for a common word, or rather, a very old name (new to me) for a common word that I have known for a long time.

The word is octothorp, which is the printer's traditional name for the pound sign.

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This information is unlikely to help you in any way, but perhaps it will give you some small moment of delight as you count the minutes to the start of the weekend.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:59 PM

January 04, 2009

The Greatest Gift of All

If you think this entry is going to be about babies, you are a sentimental sap who completely misunderstands the purpose of this blog, which is to talk about cars, guns, and babes. And cats.

Robbi, Alden, and I ended up having ten Christmases this year, the first of which happened way back in October. Seiko came up to our studio early one afternoon and asked us if we'd be willing to come over to her and Bob's house that evening to receive our Christmas present. I was puzzled by the timing, but nevertheless delighted. We showed up at the appointed hour.

There were two reasons for the early gift. The first became apparent as soon as we entered the living room. The box containing the present was enormous, and Seiko didn't want to have to put up with it for two extra months.

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And so I opened the box. Inside, I found a large plastic orb that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Death Star.

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I continued to explore the yet-unempty box. The orb had a stand.

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I had absolutely no idea what it was. And then I read the accompanying literature. We were proud owners of the Litter Robot, the final word in self-cleaning litter boxes.

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Our spirits soared as we reflected on the end of an era. Would we ever scoop malodorous clumps of cat yuck from the litterbox again? It seemed that we would not. We hastened home to try the thing out.

Here is a schematic of the orb.

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Basically, the Robot's orb sits on the stand. The orb is full of litter. When the cat enters the orb, the weight of its feet activate a switch deep within the orb. Seven minutes later (which must be the maximum time possible that a cat can possibly spend making yuck) the orb turns 270 degrees counterclockwise. In the process, the good litter is separated from the yuck and saved in a special compartment while the yuck goes into a hermetically sealed, soundproof chamber in the base. The orb then returns to its proper orientation, full of nothing but the freshest, most wholesome litter.

And folks, it works! All you skeptics may watch this very nice animated movie that shows exactly how the miracle happens.

Cat in:

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Cat out:

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I wish you could have seen his face as this picture was taken. He was so very happy.

Once a week we open the base and remove a pre-bagged pile of yuck. We take it to the trash. In the interim, no foul odor emanates from the Litter Robot. This, we learned, was the second reason for the early Christmas gift. Bob and Seiko reasoned that there was no earthly reason to endure two more months of stinky litter box if our lives could all be made complete and sweet-smelling by bringing the Robot into our lives mid-October.

We have been happy and sweet-smelling ever since.

Needless to say, I am tempted to put Alden into the orb. Not only would this provide another entry for the Babies in Containers contest, but it might save on diapers. So far, her mother has yet to consent to the scheme, but I sense her resolve may be weakening. More on that front to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:18 PM

December 31, 2008

Call Me Biff

I wrote an email to a friend of mine today, telling her how excited I was about my recent acquisition, a BOB Ironman jogging stroller.

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The Bob Ironman jogging stroller is not the point of this entry (in spite of its being an exquisite, appealing, and altogether useful piece of parenting equipment), but you may click here to see an animation of it spinning provocatively 360 degrees along its vertical axis.

The point of this entry is that, upon hearing about my enthusiasm for the BOB, my friend wrote back with unkind words: "BTW, you do realize you're becoming a yuppie, don't you? First the minivan, then the super, duper jogging stroller. It's just a matter of time before you start showing up in chinos, Izods, and penny loafers. Can I call you Biff?"

I'm not much of an Izod man, and I don't think I'd know a pair of chinos from your standard khaki. I do have a ten-year-old pair of woebegone penny loafers Robbi will only let me wear indoors. But I must confess to truly loving my minivan. (It's so spacious, so convenient.) And though the BOB is still en route from the factory, I anticipate loving it very much. With its adjustable tracking, quick-release wheels, one-handed easy-folding design, adjustable suspension system capable of three inches-travel, near flat reclining seat, stainless-steel spokes, aluminum hubs and rims, high pressure 16" road tires, 5-point safety harness, fixed front wheel, 1-step folding, alloy hubs, and footbrake, how could it fail to delight?

If my minivan and BOB make me a yuppie, I suppose I'll have to embrace the mantle. Call me Biff, if you must, but when you see me out running along Water Street with my baby in tow, try your hardest not to stare.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:54 PM

December 30, 2008

Christmas Recap

Having already enjoyed five Christmases, we drove north to Andover, north of Boston, for Christmas proper. My mother lives there with Dean, and each of my three siblings flew in from points distant to share in the holiday cheer. Things were festive in the expected ways.

There was a large, well-decorated tree.

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Beneath which were presents.

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Next year Alden might understand the concept of opening presents. This year, her chosen approach was climbing on top and trying to intimidate them.

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One of the presents retaliated.

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When Iggy saw this, she resolved not to open hers, in spite of being very, very tempted.

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We had Christmas cookies.

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Which were, apparently, very delicious.

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And traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti and meatballs.

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And Christmas Day cinnamon rolls. My mother only made two plates of them. And yet, as it turns out, I was expected to share.

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My sister Andy, home from Haiti, where she lives and teaches, gave Alden this hat that resembles an old-time football helmet.

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Alden, who is accustomed to being able to grab her ears at will, was unnerved by the hat.

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My sister Lindsay, visiting from Portland, showed up the day after Christmas with my nephew Orin in tow.

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Orie is a good little man, about seven-and-a-half months old.

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Alden loves Orie. To demonstrate her affection, she beat the crap out of him.

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Despite being two months younger, Orie outweighs her by a good six pounds. But she's quick. And mean.

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The cousins made amends at mealtime.

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Alden was so relieved to have her ears back that she forgot her conquest to dominate Orie and make him cry. Isn't that, at essence, what Christmas is all about?

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:27 PM

December 29, 2008

Demoralized

I accidentally closed the Barnstorming admin window without saving the blog entry I had been working on for the past hour, and so I have nothing for you but a mighty heaping of self-pity. I will leave you with this photo I likely would have posted on some other day. It is the first documented evidence of Alden's teeth. You can see them when she yells. Here she is dismayed because someone has taken the liberty of rubber banding her favorite drawers shut.

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I will try to recreate the lost narrative of holiday cheer if and when I can summon the energy. For now, I will say that we are home and determined to enjoy the last few days of the year before the new one arrives and asks us to be better, try harder, etc.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:40 AM

December 23, 2008

Five Christmases

I have lots of family in many different places. Which means that Christmas is not so much a calendar date as it is a series of events. So far we've had one Christmas in Flowery Branch, Georgia and three in Chestertown. In a few days, we'll have another one in Andover, Massachusetts.

We're about to head out now to drive there, but I've been remiss the last few days and so will post a photo of Alden hanging her first Christmas ornament (a sugar cookie) on the grapefruit tree, with help from Auntie Maiko.

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Here's hoping that all of you will have a safe and happy holidays.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:09 AM

December 18, 2008

My Favorite Birthday Card

Reflecting back on the first day of my 35th year, two moments stand out as particularly wonderful. The first happened not long after I got up and dressed for my day at the office. Robbi presented me with a warm bowl of macaroni and cheese made as a birthday breakfast by my pal Christian, at whose home we spent last night.

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There is no better way to kickstart one's birthday. I blew out the candle. And went to work.

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The second moment happened not an hour ago, when I opened my email and found this photo attached to a birthday message from my sister Lindsay.

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My nephew Orin in his birthday suit.

At the risk of stepping away from the birthday theme for a moment, I'll share a few pictures from last night. Here are Christian and me with our babies in front of the Christmas tree.

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And here are Alden and Iris sharing the limitless pleasure of the Exersaucer.

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A friendship is brewing, I think.

A third moment of this day that bears mention is my extraordinary gift from Bob and Seiko: The Amazing Nose Whistle. It is, as the name suggests, a musical instrument powered by air expelled from one's nose. I was incredulous at first, but after a few extravagant failures to make the thing work, I was, in a few minutes time, able to toot out the tune of Oh Susana (no thanks to the sheet music provided in the box). When time permits, I will post photos of The Amazing Nose Whistle in action.

But for now I am off to celebrate the waning moments of this birthday by going to sleep.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:21 PM

December 14, 2008

On the Road Again

We are minutes shy of embarking for Atlanta, where we will visit my grandparents on my mother's side and introduce them to Alden for the first time. It will be our first long foray with the minivan, whom we have recently named Pepe Steve II, or PS2 for short. The benefits of a roomy interior have already been realized in the packing phase. Instead of the frustrating cramming that has accompanied every attempt to pack for a trip since this wretched child came upon the scene, I tossed our various suitcases, pillows (I travel with six), and assorted articles of baby accessory into the back with careless aplomb. Basically, we can bring everything we own and never have to worry that we might have forgotten anything.

In case this is the last chance I have to post before we get back to town next Thursday, I'll leave you with the latest installment of the baby wars.

Here is the latest from Orin, who is almost a dead ringer for a piece of china.

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And Garcia. Apparently Gina didn't want to spring for the extra plane ticket.

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She swears she poked some holes in it.

And, to make sure Garcia was taken care of en route, Diego came along as well.

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And here is Alden, doing her best imitation of a flower arrangement.

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Or is it performance art?

Remember that if the prospects of Christmas shopping are getting you down, there is no gift that says I love you (or that requires as little personal energy to bestow) like a subscription to Idiots'Books.

Or a diamond. That works, too.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:23 AM

December 04, 2008

Another Hat in the Ring

Apparently inspired by the spirit of competition, my sister Lindsay sent me a few photos last night, expressing her desire to join the fray of the Cute Pictures of Babies in Containers competition recently launched between Gina and me.

Here is Lindsay's first contribution: Orin in a pot.

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Apparently, he is a very critical cook, and kept tasting the broth as he simmered, suggesting new ingredients to the consternation of the chef.

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At some point, we'll resolve this competition with a proper vote, but for the time being, I invite those of you with small, defenseless children to join us in sharing pictures of them in preposterous situations with the world.

Think how very useful photos like these will be some day when we need blackmail material to rein in wayward teen behavior.

This morning's contribution from our camp is Alden in Bob and Seiko's new pug mill, a machine used to reconstitute old, dried-up clay.

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Apparently, Alden didn't want to be reconstituted.

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Kids today...

Posted by bogenamp at 08:16 AM

December 03, 2008

This Weekend in New York

First off, a bit of business. This coming Saturday and Sunday (December 6 and 7, Robbi and I will be standing behind a table at the 21st Annual Independent & Small Press Book Fair, selling and signing books and engaging in other related activity.

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Here's how the folks who run the Fair describe it:

"Celebrate publishing's independent spirit with over 100 indie publishers from around the world, all under one roof, selling books you can't get at your big box bookstore. The Indie and Small Press Book is one of New York City's favorite annual literary events. It's free, open to all, and packed with an exciting line-up of public events. Donations encouraged."

And here is the relevant information, should you be in the NYC area and interested in stopping by.

Book Fair Date/Time: Saturday, December 6, 2008, 10 AM to 6 PM and
Sunday, December 7, 2008, 11 AM to 5 PM
Book Fair Location: The New York Center for Independent Publishing
in the General Society for Mechanics & Tradesmen Building
20 West 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
New York, NY 10036
Telephone: 212.764.7021 Fax: 212.840.2046

On to other business, Robbi and I have been trying periodically to recreate the iconic shot of my dad and me lounging in bed when I was but a wee thing.

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Here's our most recent attempt.

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Still not quite right, compositionally and otherwise, but I like the shot. Alden is turning into a bit of a ham. When she's in a good mood. When she's in a bad mood, she's turning into something of a terror.

As demonstrated in this shot, taken a few minutes later. Am I wrong, or does it look as if she was aiming to knock me out?

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We'd love to see you in NYC this weekend. The child will be with us, most likely driving us, and other exhibitors in our vicinity, up a wall. Anyone interested in spending QT with Alden may come claim her and take her on long, exhausting walks around the city. We'll provide the baby carrier, binkie, and freeze-dried yogurt snacks. And gratitude in no small quantity.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:27 PM

November 30, 2008

Soccer Mom

Yesterday we took our trusty Sentra Steve in for an oil change. When the guys at Geno's called to say that it was time to pick up the car, they shared the bad news: Steve was not thriving. Apparently, his exhaust system was one trip down a bumpy road away from falling off entirely. Additionally, the struts were shot and the axle was about to break. And the clutch needed replacement. It was a sad conversation.

For point of reference, here is Steve in his glory:

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Robbi and I reflected on our situation, trying for the first time to see Steve not as the beloved family member that he has surely proven himself to be these past five years, but as the warty, bruised, imperfect auto that he has become. To Steve's litany of ailments, we had to add the following:

1) driver's side window that will not go down
2) broken glove compartment that will not shut
3) leaking trunk that, consequently, reeks with mildew and damages anything placed therein
4) rear bumper held on with rusted wire
5) various deep gouges/scratches on interior
6) various superficial scrapes and dings in body
7) "check engine light" stuck perpetually in "on" position
8) broken light in radio, rendering it impossible to see what station you are looking for at night
9) stains and wear throughout upholstery surface
10) multiple dog nose smudges on every window surface

It was a depressing calculus. We made a tough decision. And spent some time on the internet. Yesterday Robbi found a car that seemed to fit our new baby/dog/bookmaking lifestyle. It was, alas, a minivan.

Today we drove across the bridge to Laurel and set eyes upon the yet-to-be-named newest member of our family.

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She is a Nissan Quest.

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An enormous vehicle, capable of seating seven adults comfortably.

Or of seating two adults, one baby, one 82 pound dog, and crates of books quite comfortably.

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It even has a nifty space-age control panel.

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But it's a mini-van, you say.

True, I admit. But it is a sexy one, according to the experts.

As excited as we were about the prospects of the new, roomy, functional car, we were both feeling pretty blue about losing Steve. He was our first major purchase together and has taken us to and fro so reliably for the past five years. From Williamstown to Savannah to Baltimore to Chestertown. With many sidetrips along the way. Robbi took it especially hard.

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It was difficult saying goodbye.

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Eventually she came to the conclusion that Steve was moving on from us for positive reasons. He was headed not to the junk yard but to college, where he would learn how to be a better, more fully self-realized car.

And really, given that the new car is a Nissan, we're really keeping things within the family.

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I am pleased with the new car.

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When we got back home, we brought Iggy out to make the introduction.

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She was wary at first, but soon warmed to the car on account of the ample room it provided. Iggy is an antsy traveler. She will now have the option of running laps as we drive.

Farewell, Steve. You've been an outstanding car. Hello, middle age. We are slightly more prepared for you now than we were just this morning. We will try to embrace you as graciously as possible.

Please do your best to return the favor.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:34 AM

November 18, 2008

Virginia

With the aim of resting ourselves for a few days, we headed out for Virginia last Thursday morning. We drove across the Bay Bridge. We headed west to Lovettsville, Virginia, where our friend Wild Bill lives on some dozens of wild acres. He cooked us lunch on top of his woodstove.

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My plate was piled high with things that Bill had either grown (collards, beets, turnips, zucchini, sweet potatoes) or butchered (a fine pig).

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Well-fed and wild, we headed south toward Schuyler, Virginia, where our friends Bernice and Armand live. While visiting with them, we took a walk around their lake. Armand carried a machete. It's what he does.

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Armand's otherwise happy life is complicated by the presence of a particularly ruthless thorny weed that grows enthusiastically around the lake. Armand has no compunction about dispatching it with the machete.

He is also aggravated by beavers.

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And bucks, who thoughtlessly rub their antlers against the trees.

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As fearsome as a machete may look, it apparently does little to deter beavers. Or bucks. But in spite of the pervasive menace, we managed to have a nice walk.

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Afterward, Armand let us ride his off-road Segway.

I had a quick lesson.

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And then was off and rolling.

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Iggy smoldered with resentment at not being offered a try.

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Robbi, however, would not be denied.

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While visiting with Bernice and Armand, we took the opportunity to place Alden in a plastic box they had.

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After a very nice day and night at Schuyler, we drove further south and further west to our ultimate destination, Douthat State Park in southwestern Virginia.

We had a lovely little cabin nestled in the trees, not far from a lake, in the bottom of a valley.

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We had a large stone fireplace.

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And a completely uncomfortable couch.

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We had a kitchen and a bedroom and a shower and a thriving heating unit. We were very comfortable.

They even folded the towels up into fancy hotel shapes.

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On Saturday, we took a hike up into the mountains.

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We came upon a terrifying spider.

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I carried my child in the green backpack.

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My child is heavier than she used to be. Eventually, we reached the top of the mountain.

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As we were climbing down again, Robbi suddenly threw a nut that hit me in the eye.

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"Ha ha," Robbi said, "That was supposed to be funny."

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I hereby vouch that it was not funny.

But the world was beautiful, and I quickly forgot the funny nut incident.

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Iggy loves nothing more than being in the woods.

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That night we had a feast. Spaghetti, coleslaw, and bad biscuits.

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I put my baby in a large plastic pitcher to celebrate.

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I put her in the Baby Gap bag to celebrate some more.

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And then I put on Alden's hat and did some freestyle rap, which is Robbi's favorite thing.

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Or is it her least favorite thing? I can't remember.

The next day we took a hike around the lake. We came to the playground where Iggy first learned to use a slide four years ago on our first visit to Douthat.

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Alden demanded to be included in the fun.

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She then further demanded that she was "too old to be going down the slide with [her] stupid dad" and that she wanted to do it by herself. Who are we to stand in the way of her fledgling independence?

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We walked up the long set of stairs that leads to the top of the dam.

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Robbi found a tree that reminded her childhood summers herding cattle in Montana.

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When we got back to the cabin, she made a big fire.

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While Iggy and I tried our best to take a nap on the bad couch.

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Later we ate dinner, and eventually went to bed.

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In the morning, we drove home.

As it always has, Douthat revived our spirits and gave us occasion to rest a bit. At the risk of seeing our little slice of solitude overrun by the lot of you, I heartily recommend it should you need a place to get away for a few days. And if, like me, you are generally grouchy about big crowds of people, may I recommend a November sojourn there. We have never yet encountered a single soul on the paths. The valley was ours to do with as we pleased.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:28 PM

November 17, 2008

33

Today is Robbi's birthday. She is 33. To commemorate the occasion, Seiko made Robbi's favorite kind of birthday treat, jello sponge cake.

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It is remarkable stuff. Alden had her first taste of this delicacy that she will come to know so well. At first the raspberries were a mystery to her, but she figured it out.

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We have been camping and hiking in the woods of southern Virginia for the better part of the last four days. There are many stories and pictures to share in days ahead.

But for now, Happy Birthday, Robbi. It has been a very good year.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:18 AM

November 10, 2008

Five Years

Saturday was the five-year anniversary of Robbi's and my wedding day. We might not have remembered the occasion had not my dad called up a few days before to ask what our plans were. Our plans consisted of sitting in our studio waiting for all of humanity to come by to see our books. And come they did. The place was jammed with visitors from 10:00am straight through to 5:00pm. Later that night we handed the child off to Bob and Seiko and went to Andy's, our local pub, to watch a band with our friend Emily (not Piendak).

The band in question, Bombadil, is a Durham, North Carolina-based group of guys who put on a really good show.

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They are extremely inventive and energetic performers, fantastic songwriters, and incredibly versatile musicians, continually swapping instruments throughout the show. They all sang. They all played percussion. They rocked out at times, but also knew how to spin a ballad. They wore fantastic hats and weren't afraid to use them. We had a grand time, a fitting beginning to the first day of the second five years of our marriage.

Here is Bombadil's MySpace page if you want to have a listen. You can buy their album on the iTunes store.

We went to bed that night tired and happy and woke Sunday morning to more crowds in the studio. We were pleased enough with the fact that people were buying our books and saying nice things about them, but imagine our delight when none other than Bombadil (all four of them) showed up in our studio for a visit. They had heard about our books, and had come to have a look.

They hung out for a while, generally being awesome and nice, reading our books, and making us feel good about ourselves. I might have been content to merely bask, but could not resist the temptation to suggest that we all play a song together. The very generous fellows of Bombadil were gracious and accommodating. I pulled out my harmonica and we jammed.

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It was unquestionably the high point of a very fine weekend. I mean, how often does one have real live rock stars visit one's home?

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In parting, it's worth noting that the thing we really like to celebrate on November 8th is that it is also the anniversary of the day that Christian and Emily met and decided that they probably liked each other a whole lot. They did, in fact, stumble upon this conclusion at Robbi's and my wedding. It's like an improbable plot from a bad movie. And yet it's true.

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:06 PM

November 07, 2008

Breaking News!

Robbi has just posted to her blog Idiots'Box for the first time since May! You may read her entry here. Or if you are too busy right now, be sure to check in sometime between now and April, when she will be making her next post.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:59 AM

Scooter Palin

Some of you may remember our good friend Supi Loco.

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Some of you may remember the interesting photos her dad took.

And some may remember the great "Does Matthew more closely resemble Niles or Dwight" controversy spearheaded by Supi.

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What you may not remember is that every late October Supi dresses her pal Scooter up for Halloween. Past highlights include "Trainwreck Britney Scooter" and "Hasidic Jew Scooter".

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This year's costume did not disappoint: "Sarah Palin Scooter".

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The similarity is uncanny.

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Perhaps you recognize Scooter Palin's fetching pink shirt? Scroll down to the next entry. Yes, as is the case for the former VP candidate, Scooter's campaign clothing has been subsequently donated to the less fortunate. In this case, a small child struggling to make ends meet on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:29 AM

November 06, 2008

Meaning of Joy

What do these two things have in common?

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Both brought me to tears (the good kind) in the last 24 hours.

And it's funny how much bearing the first might have on the fortunes of the latter. I wish Alden was old enough to understand what an important day this is. Though looking at that smile, I get the sense that she might have a pretty good idea.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:18 AM

October 22, 2008

Back in New England

We headed north the weekend before last to attend the wedding of our friends Dahna and Sarah.

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They were married by a lake in Connecticut, and though we took I-95 north through Jersey, once across the George Washington Bridge, we veered from the loathsome Connecticut corridor of 95 onto a winding back road that felt like New England, even before we officially crossed the Connecticut line.

We caught up with old friends, including Kenny, who some of you might know.

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Kenny officiated by the lakeside.

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During the ceremony, Alden and Iris were relatively attentive.

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We headed for the reception. Fortunately, Alden and Iris were seated at our table.

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Unfortunately, so were Rich and Brian.

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We have been getting bored with being Alden's parents lately. Fortunately, Christian and Emily have been feeling the same way about Iris. And so we switched.

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At first it was great.

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And then Robbi got all pouty and decided that she wanted her baby back.

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When Alden was returned to us, I asked her to dance.

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It was, I hope, the first of many.

While in Connecticut, we drove up to southern Massachusetts to visit with my brother, who was on a short leave from his Army training. We shared our traditional breakfast: half-pound rare cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and a platter of nachos supreme.

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I love my brother.

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On our way back south, we drove through Sheffield, Massachusetts, where we pulled off to see the covered bridge.

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Since returning to the Barn, Robbi has been busy painting the illustrations for our next book.

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Alden, meanwhile, has learned how to stand up against the side of her crib and rattle the bars like a rowdy prisoner. It's too bad for her that Robbi and I find it so endearing to see her howl.

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Posted by bogenamp at 07:50 PM

October 20, 2008

Waiting for the Spring

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I post tonight to bid farewell to the Red Sox's bid to repeat as World Series champions. For those of you who do not know or do not care, they were dispatched by the Tampa Bay Rays in tonight's game 7 of the American League Champion Series, falling just short of completing yet another epic comeback from the brink of ignoble elimination. Although I am obviously disappointed at the loss (and regretful for the many long, anxious, white-knuckled hours I spent watching them play over the past seven months when I could have been reading or sleeping or otherwise living a productive life), I must admit that along with the sadness comes no small degree of relief.

Watching playoff baseball is really hard on a person who cares. I'm ready to get back to living my life again.

Yes, it's time to turn my focus on the only contest that really matters, 15 days and counting. For those of you who don't know about Five Thirty Eight, it is an outstanding blog by a statistician who provides a daily analysis of polls and really insightful analysis of trends and happenings in the presidential and congressional races.

Apparently the author of Five Thirty Eight is a baseball statistician. Not long ago (on the Colbert Report, in fact), he suggested a statistical parallel between the Tampa Bay Rays' season and Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency--dark horse to win it all at the beginning of the race/season, but coming on strong as the finish line approaches. If the Red Sox losing tonight is an integral element of some cosmic statistical scheme that also results in an Obama victory, I'll take it.

Baseball, after all, is just a game. The rest of it is for Alden.

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Posted by bogenamp at 01:06 AM

October 16, 2008

In His Defense...

I feel the need to interject, here. It's me, Robbi. Not Matthew. Yes, you haven't heard from me in a while because, well, I have better things to do with my time than twiddle my thumbs and write silly "blog" entries. But after seeing the photo in the last post, I was struck, as I often am, with how human people are. And how very sad, sometimes.

So, in defense of Senator McCain (and, to be honest, I don't often find him defensible), I would like to say that we all have moments when we don't know the cameras are clicking away, and are caught looking, well, like we feel inside. Now, Mr. McCain probably suffers this a lot more than I do, what with all the media constantly clicking away. But frankly, the media probably only takes a few hundred more photos a day than Matthew. So here are some shots that show us all at our not-so-best:

Mid-chew and mid-guitar hero:
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Mid-nap (right, so this one crops up a lot):
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Even my baby (who some people claim is cute) has her lesser moments:
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And even my dog, who has the benefit of generations of good breeding on her side:
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All this is to say, Mr. McCain, I'm sorry that that picture was taken. It makes you look less presidential, and, well, more like the rest of us. However, I think that we can all agree that you are steps ahead of this guy who will, thankfully, never be running for president:

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Posted by ribbu at 04:24 PM

Defining Moment?

Here at the Barnstorming, we are seldom accused of having much to say about the world of politics. Indeed, one might argue that we dabble almost exclusively in the unimportant.

Further, our usual approach in conceiving of our books is to comment generally on the failings and foibles of humanity at large and not to take shots at a given individual, belief, or political entity.

However, I simply could not resist taking advantage of the opportunity that presented itself when a friend sent me the following photo in the wake of last night's debate.

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I must admit I missed this particular moment as the debate unfolded. But here it is, and so what else is there to do but cringe and feel human?

Please consider this post not an endorsement of either candidate but an opportunity for all of us to share a moment of pointed empathy. Cameras are cruel observers.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:44 AM

October 14, 2008

A Minor War

We were in Lake George, NY a few weeks ago, visiting with Robbi's Aunt Mimi and getting away from it all for a few days. We were walking in an open field and suddenly came upon a row of tents.

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We were intrigued, but also puzzled. We continued on. A few moments later, some Indians ran by.

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Followed by a phalanx of Redcoats.

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Puzzlement gave way to genuine concern.

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A war broke out.

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Alden was at a loss for words.

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Without warning, she was captured by the enemy.

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Who loaded her into a cannon.

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But somehow she escaped and commandeered her own canon.

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Though she seemed to lack a grasp of the fundamentals of its use.

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After the war, we stopped by Robbi's grandma's grave to say hello and introduce Alden.

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It is a beautiful cemetery.

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There was a lovely sunset over the lake that night.

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After loafing a while on my lap...

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...Alden wrestled with the bearskin rug.

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But eventually subdued it.

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The next day, we took a hike up the mountain behind Robbi's family's house to Jabe's Pond, a place Robbi used to visit as a little girl when she was a "Chippy" at the YMCA camp at Silver Bay.

Living in Maryland, I miss the forests of New England and upstate New York.

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We found some strange little pods that ejected puffs of spores when touched.

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We saw a tiny orange salamander.

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Toward which Alden made a rather unfriendly gesture.

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At the pond, we waded and had some snacks.

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Later that afternoon, we went down to Lake George and took a swim.

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Note Alden's swanky one-piece, yet another gift from our friends Jose and Luciana.

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After swimming, the ladies enjoyed the last rays of afternoon sun.

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All weekend long, we worked on assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Robbi maintains a set of draconian rules that govern the assembly of said puzzles, one if which is that one must never look at the image on the box. This makes putting the puzzle together a lot harder.

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But also, I must admit, a lot more gratifying once the thing is finally done.

If you've never been to Lake George, I recommend the trip. Just steer clear of the tourist-ridden Lake George Village at the south of the lake. Head north to Hague or Bolton Landing, or all the way to Ticonderoga, where Lake George meets Lake Champlain, and where the good people of Fort Ticonderoga occasionally stage a minor war.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:30 PM

October 06, 2008

California Coast

We have spent the weekend in Bethesda at the Small Press Expo, where we sold a bunch of books and talked to a lot of very interesting people. More on that to come.

I am headed to Baltimore early tomorrow morning, and so will just post a photo or two from our California trip before turning in. After the wedding, we spent a few days driving along the coast.

We stopped by the side of Route One along Tomales Bay, intrigued by this sign.

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Alden tried very hard to eat my barbequed oysters.

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And very much enjoyed her first dip in the Pacific.

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The day was spectacular.

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We stopped at the Point Reyes lighthouse.

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We marveled at the whale skull.

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We photographed the birds.

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And the seals.

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Apparently, the seals were hilarious.

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We stopped at La Taqueria.

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I enjoyed the burritos.

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Alden enjoyed being the center of attention.

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She was handed around for about 20 minutes.

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Which left plenty of time for enjoying my dessert.

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The next day, we drove south.

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To Pebble Beach.

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If anyone knows who created these wonderful little piles, please let me know.

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We saw that iconic tree and, in spite of ourselves, felt compelled to take a photo.

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We drove south past Monterey, where the coast gets hilly and curvy.

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And even more spectacular.

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We stopped at Pfeiffer Beach at Big Sur.

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Where Alden enjoyed the sunshine.

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On the way back through Montarey, we stopped at Point Lobos to see the cypresses.

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Robbi (Kato Behr) found a gas station very much to her liking.

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And then, miraculously, one that pleased her even more.

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We drove back toward San Francisco as the sun set.

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Of all the wonderful things we saw in California, perhaps my favorite was this, Alden's latest discovery.

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In other news, she has just begun to crawl, a development that, while most exciting, is not easy to capture in a still photo. I invite you to stop by and have a look the next time you are on Queen Street.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:06 AM

September 29, 2008

San Francisco

Last Thursday we arrived in San Francisco. Promptly upon landing, we satisfied Alden's lifelong dream to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

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She was mostly pleased, but mumbled something along the lines of, "I thought it would be bigger."

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Robbi tried to cheer Alden by showing her Alcatraz through the viewfinder thing.

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About which Alden mumbled something like, "Even a baby could break out of that place."

She is getting harder and harder to please. So I went for broke and attempted to jump over the bridge.

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At which point Alden declared herself satisfied for the time being and content to go on with the rest of the vacation.

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We had lunch at a Mexican diner. I gave Alden some guacamole which turned out to be a bit too spicy and got in trouble with Robbi.

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It was worth it.

We kept driving north toward the Russian River, where Robbi's brother was to be wed. We saw a sign for Muir Woods. Robbi has always wanted to see the redwoods and so we decided to stop. The approach was a windy affair. I had to drive slow. California is not straight and flat and predictable like the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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But eventually we got there. As we entered the park, we came upon the First Amendment Area.

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Both of us were compelled to seize upon the opportunity to speak our minds free from persecution, but neither of us could think of a worthy cause to promote or outrage to express. It was just too nice of a day. And they cleverly place the First Amendment Area out of view of the tallest redwoods. And so, desirous of seeing them, we continued on our way.

The redwoods are very old, apparently. One thousand years old, some of them. They are also tall. And grand. And rather awe-inspiring.

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We walked around, filled with awe, struck silent by how small we felt.

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The silence was enveloping, affirming. I felt the kind of peace I seldom experience in my busy life.

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I was glad to be there among these ancient trees and was just saying to myself, "This is what vacations are all about," when Alden decided that the trees were not grand and affirming and worthy of awestruck silence. Instead, she decided the time had come to holler like the damned. We rushed back through Muir woods to our waiting rental car, trying our best not to disrupt the peace as our tiny baby shattered the reverential silence of other would-be vacationers.

After leaving Muir Woods, we followed our GPS onto Route 101, but found the road so clogged, that we asked the thing for another route. The alternative was Highway 1, which was longer and slower, but offered the prospects of less traffic. We chose wisely. Highway 1 is a preposterous road if you aim to drive straight and get there on time. But it is an excellent road for meandering north on the first day of a vacation. It twists and winds and follows the coast, offering breathtaking views and a tour of small towns you'd never see from the main highway.

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We drove through the town of Tomales, for example, and found this building, which is apparently not a bank.

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Arriving finally at our hotel on the Russian River, we settled in for a fine weekend of festivity, which did result in the marriage of Robbi's brother to my very fine new sister-in-law. Photos of all of this to come. Robbi, along with Maiko, was conscripted as wedding photographer and took 40 gigabytes of shots. I have neither the time nor energy to go through them right now. But I did meet some new family.

Here are my nieces-in-law,

Scarlett, Chloe, and Laramie

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And my new friend Ryosuke.

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He is Seiko's sister's grandson. I'm not sure how to describe his relationship to me, but we had a fine time playing catch, cars, and harmonica, so I don't really care.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:04 AM

September 23, 2008

Cover Girl

As those of you on the mailing list of the Williams Alumni Review must already know, one of Robbi's illustrations is featured on the cover of the current issue. This is American educator and theologian Mark Hopkins, in case you didn't immediately recognize him.

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What's more, six more illustrations appear inside, all caricatures of people featured in an article on famous quotations by Williams alums (George Steinbrenner, Stephen Sondheim, and Jay McInerney among them).

The article will be online soon, and when it is, I will post the link. But for now, I wanted to shout from the rooftops about Robbi's first magazine cover.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:50 AM

September 21, 2008

Fat and Happy

The diet has ended and my stomach is full. If the scale is to be believed, I lost two pounds in the course of my long week of self-denial. Perhaps this disappointing result can be explained by the slightly premature breaking of the fast. Last night around 7:00pm, Robbi and I started fantasizing aloud about food, along the lines of, "If you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be?" We traded visions of melted cheese, butter-soaked garlic bread, gooey brownies as our spirits fell knowing that another joyless evening stood between us and the promise of a morning free of dietary restrictions. One of us, I can't now remember which, brought up the fact that as adult humans with innate free will, we could, in fact, opt to call Pizza Hut immediately and order one of every item on the menu. One of us, I can't remember which, did just this. Both of us drove to said Hut, and when we arrived, Robbi remained in the car with the baby while I walked with great patience and restraint into the restaurant.

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What did we order? I can't remember. Something light and low-calorie, so that we might ease back into "normal" eating gently.

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We drove home, I think. It is all a blur to me now. Suddenly we were sitting on our couch. Food was on plates.

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The smell of it enveloped me like a hug.

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How could I not return the embrace?

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For those of you who scoff at cardiac health, I wholly recommend Pizza Hut's new macaroni and cheese and bacon and cheese dish with garlic breadsticks, caesar salad, and chocolate-covered breadsticks with chocolate dipping sauce.

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We ate without a trace of guilt. Afterward, we promptly passed out, even the baby.

Apropos of nothing, don't you wish that you could sleep like this?

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The rest of the weekend was consumed with this and that.

We walked across the Chester River bridge to take Iggy to a nail-clipping clinic.

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We spent some time looking in the mirror.

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Today, we drove out to Kennedyville to take a walk through the cornfields.

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We arrived to find that the corn had just been harvested. Most of it was loaded into the backs of trucks. But someone had left a pile of it right by the path.

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Far across one of the fields, Iggy spotted a threat.

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We went to investigate.

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It was, as I suspected, a terrifying inflatable clown. At first, I tried to speak kindly to it.

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But it tried to tell jokes and squirted me with its trick flower, which understandably made me unhappy. And so I took matters into my own hands.

Never let it be said that I'm afraid to punch a clown.

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Or put a clown in a headlock.

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Or hold a clown upside down by the foot.

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Or give a clown a pile driver.

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When the situation calls for action, I will even kick a clown.

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He went up, up, up.

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And did not come back down.

Iggy looked at me fondly, her eyes brimming with gratitude. We walked on.

Eventually we came to the cliff.

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We walked down the path, past the bamboo patch.

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And down to the beach.

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Where Alden put her feet into the bay.

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It was just that time of day when the light is right.

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On our way back to the car, Iggy discovered an enormous mushroom, which she proceeded to corner and intimidate with a great deal of barking and raising of hackles.

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She was feeling justifiably emboldened as we walked back through the corn fields. We were all feeling grand when suddenly, we saw it.

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That damn clown was back for more. No longer willing to endure its torment and wanting my daughter and dog to know that I would and could protect them from this and any future clowns who might attempt to make us laugh, I took matters into my own hands.

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It is my strong belief that I had I not prematurely ended the diet last night, I would not have had the strength to defeat the clown today.

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And where then would we be?

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:51 PM

September 18, 2008

The Morning After

Here's what greeted us at the break of dawn.

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It's lovely to behold, this pile of peels. Unless you happen to have eaten eight bananas the day prior, one third of an unnatural medley that also included milk and vegetable soup. For me, the peels induced vivid flashbacks of dietary confusion, hours of unspecific longing, passages of bewilderment, angst, and darkest despair. In case you were thinking otherwise, milk, bananas, and soup does not a proper day of eating make.

At least, I thought, it couldn't get worse. At least today was the day of meat. The alluring prospect of 20 ounces of chicken, beef, or fish awaited me. Plus six tomatoes, at least one bowl of vegetable soup, and ten glasses of water.

I started the day with an 8-ounce chicken breast cooked on the Foreman grill and served cubed with cubed tomatoes. Delicious and a welcome change, but within 30 minutes I was hungry again.

Late morning, the UPS guy brought an added bonus to distract us from our grumbling stomachs.

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In preparation for some serious hiking we are planning on doing with Alden in the months ahead, we purchased a Kelty kid pack. Alden slid right in and got happy.

After some morning meetings, we headed over to Bob and Seiko's house for lunch.

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On the menu? Steak and tomatoes.

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Alden and I took charge of the grill.

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While the food cooked, Robbi got industrious and mowed the lawn.

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I was not displeased when the time came to break my four-day monogamous relationship with vegetables and fruits.

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Robbi, too, approached her first bite with great hopes.

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But both of us admitted that something about the meal was not quite satisfying. The steak was good and the tomatoes were roasted to sweet perfection. But both of us craved a side dish of rice, a warm slice of bread, a bit of pasta salad on the side. I've always been a carbohydrate enthusiast, but the past five days have confirmed how much I rely on the sugars they provide for the bulk of my energy. I have felt depleted all week, and the large piece of steak I ate for lunch did nothing to help as the afternoon began.

I was in a low place, exhausted from calorie deprivation and weary with the prospects of two more days without my blessed carbs. Alden, feeling my pain, had a rage reaction, targeting a hapless bush.

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Before we could stop her, she showed that bush who was boss.

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We went back inside and I tried to get some work done. But I felt weak and shaky and couldn't concentrate. Eventually, recognizing that the sun was about to set, I decided that going outside would be more pleasant than stewing in abject self-pity at my desk. And so we walked along the water, talking amongst ourselves about anything and everything except soup.

Tomorrow is another day of meat, this time with veggies thrown in. The prospect is exhausting. And so I, like Alden in her great wisdom, am going to sleep.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:40 PM

September 17, 2008

Milk and Bananas

Never have I awoken more delighted at the prospect of eating a banana. The past three days have been horrible beyond compare. I feel a newfound respect for...or is it bafflement toward?...the diets of my vegetarian friends.

Robbi and I both felt awful all day. Weak, irritable, despondent.

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Even Alden, who is nourished by the principles of trickle-down nutrition, was unhappy with the developments.

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But happily, we have arrived at Day 4 of The Diet, which is described thus:

DAY 4: Bananas and skim milk--eat as many as 8 bananas and drink as many as 8 glasses of skim milk.

I was cheered to find bananas on my countertop this morning.

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But on closer scrutiny, was unhappy with what I discovered.

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Notice that there are but 15 bananas on my counter. The diet calls for each dieter to eat "as many as eight bananas," which to my way of thinking, means "no fewer than eight bananas." There are two adults participating in this diet. Now, I've never been a math whiz, it does seem to me that there is a fundamental problem brewing in that it is physically impossible for both Robbi and me to consume eight bananas when only 15 are available. I am so glad to be bigger and sneakier than she is.

Here is the rest of today's offering.

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And, of course, as much soup as we can eat.

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Ah vegetable soup, how I am tired of thee.

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So here is the triumvirate of today's malaise.

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Perhaps I'm not approaching this diet with the proper attitude?

Or perhaps this diet is bunk. My good friend David Turner who is somewhat a student of health and nutrition, has gently informed me that our current regimen falls into the category of "fad diet," appealing for its outlandishness, but otherwise unwholesome to our health, given its failure to provide a nutrient balance. Perhaps this is true, but halfway up this mighty hill, I refuse to give up before I reach tomorrow, with its glorious promise of twenty ounces of steak for breakfast.

Speaking of David, his Golden Girls/Election 2008 video has become an internet sensation (8,700 hits and counting). If you haven't watched it, you probably should. It's damn funny.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:20 AM

September 12, 2008

Bea Arthur for President

Here is my pal David Turner, star of the Broadway Stage.

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Those of you who know David might associate him with the Golden Girls, and in particular, with Bea Arthur, the progenitor of his patented wry deadpan. He is able to easily summon Golden Girl zingers appropriate to any situation and can watch an episode of Golden Girls with the mute button on and speak the lines of each character in perfect time. I kid you not. I have seen him do it.

I tell you this as context for the following video. It may also help you to know that David is a filmmaker who has made several outstanding films (including a promotional documentary for ASTEP, a non-profit that brings arts education and art therapy to kids living in poverty), a feature-length film, and a number of not half-bad sock puppet dramas (The Baby and Getting Closer).

In any case, I will delay no more the matter at hand. David has taken a clip from a favorite episode of the Golden Girls and has made some interesting substitutions. I will let the video speak for itself, but I will tell you that it has a very timely subject. Watch it. It's hilarious. And only five minutes long.

In closing, I will tell you that David learned the hard way the full extent to which people associated him with the Golden Girls. On the day Estelle Getty died, he received dozens of consolatory emails from friends, family, and seemingly tangential acquaintances.

Lord knows what will come to pass when Bea herself kicks the bucket.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:58 PM

September 09, 2008

Bodies of Marvel, Monsters, and Women

Here is a heads-up to all of you in the DC metropolitan area. Robbi's work is appearing in a group show currently under way at H & F Fine Arts, a gallery in Mount Rainier, MD, just outside the D.C. line.

The show, titled Bodies of Marvel, Monsters, and Women, features the work of eight female artists, each of whom, according to the press release "explore ideas of the grotesque and otherworldly, the monstrous, the unimaginable, the uncanny, and the strange."

The show runs through September 28th. There was a really nice artist's reception with cheese and other appealing snacks on September 6th, but I forgot to let you know in time. Here's the press release, if you're interested.

Robbi's idea was to do a series of portraits that played on the idea that women who fall outside of society's strict definition of beauty and feminine propriety as relates to personal grooming decisions are viewed as circus freaks.

For example,

The Astonishing Plus Size

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The Amazing A-Cup

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The Great Unshaved

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The Unpainted Lady

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H and F is also the home of Robbi's enormous illustrated mural inspired by one of the pages in For the Love of God For those of you who missed the chronicling of its creation, you may go back to April of 2007. For those of you who don't want to go back to April of 2007, here are a few photos to give you an idea.

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Robbi worked on this sucker around the clock for a few days.

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By the end, she was beat.

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But I think it turned out pretty well.

In any case, if you happen to be in Mount Rainier in the next few weeks or if you are merely motivated to go see some grotesque, otherworldly and monstrous things, swing by H&F. It's at 3311 Rhode Island Avenue. If you ask nicely, they may even give you some of the leftover cheese.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:24 PM

August 27, 2008

Local Pride

We were walking in the park the other day, as we often do. The park lacks public restrooms, but it does have a port-a-potty.

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Since we only live two blocks from the park, we don't really use the port-a-potty. But we often admire it on account of its very clever slogan.

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What imagination! What pizzazz! Who expects such confidence and pride from our friends in the waste removal business?

Way to go, Pierson's. May your comfort group live long and retain its sense of humor. When it comes to portable toilets, I'll always think of you first.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:28 AM

August 17, 2008

Over the Weekend

As she continues to grind through the illustrations for Volume 16, Robbi spent most of her weekend hunched industriously over her painting table. But we still managed to have a bit of fun here and there.

For example, Alden discovered her feet the other day.

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A few minutes later, Robbi discovered hers.

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Alden cooked dinner.

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With a little help from her dad.

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And then she did the dishes.

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Alden and Robbi were unexpectedly awakened from a nap.

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Alden sat in her little plastic eating chair for the first time.

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Robbi told Alden a joke, which confounded her, initially.

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But suddenly she got it, and all was well.

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My brother Alex paid a visit.

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It was his first time meeting Alden, who seemed to think highly of her uncle.

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Last night, we went to a swanky wedding at a swanky estate.

My favorite part was the driveway.

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They hung lanterns from the trees.

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After paying our compliments to the blushing bride, our friend Katherine...

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...we walked down to the water...

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...and watched the sun set.

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As midnight nears, Robbi is back to her brushes and I am off to wash the dishes, this time with no help from the baby, who had the nerve to fall asleep.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:40 PM

August 12, 2008

More Sock Puppets

Today I am angry with those who spam. It was the infernal spammers who flooded the Barnstorming's "comment" feature with such an astonishing volume of junk that we had to disable the comment feature altogether. My anger at the spammers has been acutely felt these past few days as I am terribly curious to know how the readership felt about the first installment of Sock Puppet Theatre. The tracker on YouTube suggests that to date 113 of you have taken the time to watch it, but the story it does not tell is whether or not you enjoyed the experience or whether the Sock Puppet Theatre has driven you from the Barnstorming forevermore.

Emboldened by the enthusiasm of those of you who took the time to email me with words of praise and enthusiasm for the sock puppets, I will share Episode Two with you now.

I apologize in advance for the various times in which I forget to move my puppet's mouth, for the various times in which David and I cannot control our "backstage" laughter. Episode Two is uneven at best, but I think at base it has an important message. I will leave it to you to determine what (if anything) there is to be learned from it.

And now, in a gesture that may well become a regular feature of these posts, I am happy to present a photo that has absolutely nothing to do with the general theme of the entry. Here I am at the Dead Sea in the West Bank a few winters back.

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The mud was quite lovely and the water tasted not unlike battery acid. They told us not to drink it, but I couldn't help myself from trying just a bit. I mean, wouldn't you?

Posted by bogenamp at 12:12 AM

August 09, 2008

Another Prompt

Those of you who enjoyed Episode One of Sock Puppet Theatre may be disappointed to learn that Episode Two will not be broadcast today. Those of you who found the sock puppets off-putting and bizarre may be pleased to see a rather nice illustration by Robbi instead.

The other day, I sent Robbi the following prompt:

Jennifer turned ten and decided the time had come to really start living. "It's time to really start living," she wrote in her journal.

Later that day, she took out the atlas and marked all the places she would go. She ran out of ink.

To which Robbi responded:

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We have spent the day dusting and sorting through books. It has been a demoralizing yet necessary endeavor.

As I often do on days like these, I thought of better times, specifically January 1 of 2005 when I woke on a deserted beach on Cumberland Island, Georgia, inspired to jump.

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How lucky that Robbi was there to capture the moment. Here's hoping that viewing it now provides you even a tiny fraction of the pleasure it does me.

Some day I will no longer be able to jump like that. It's sad, but inevitable. Got to get that jumping in now.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:14 PM

August 07, 2008

Sock Puppet Theater

Our friend David Turner, star of the Broadway stage, has been in town visiting for the last few nights. There are certain standby activities to which we usually resort when we get together: playing Celebrities, playing Primary Representative Pictionary (the revolutionary three-person version of the popular parlour game), making "Primitive Beef" (glorified version of American Chop Suey) and eating it in gratuitous quantities, and making bad, strange movies that puzzle our mothers.

Last night, on the eve of David's departure, we had worked our way through almost every item on the list. But we hadn't yet made any bad movies. So we got out the video camera and tried to improv a decent scene. Fifteen minutes later, we had to admit to ourselves that it wasn't working. We were about to give up entirely when we had the idea to try our hand with sock puppets. An hour later we had completed three impromptu scenes, none of which is fit for prime time, but two of which I'll share with you anyway.

Here, without further ado, is Episode One of Sock Puppet Theater, The Baby.

Tune in tomorrow for Episode Two, Getting Closer.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:53 PM

August 01, 2008

What the...?!

It has been an illuminating day here on my sick bed.

Let me count the ways:

1) Reader Doug Plummer correctly solved yesterday's puzzler with "abstemiously." In addition to being a canny wordsmith, Doug is a fabulous photographer. Visit his site or blog.

2) Reader Brandy D. correctly solved yesterday's puzzler with "abstemiously" and with "facetiously", earning my utmost respect in the process.

3) In the course of the subsequent email exchange with Brandy D., in which I conveyed my utmost respect, I shared with her the fact that I harbor dark, unkind feelings about exclamation points. To which Brandy D. inquired about my opinions regarding the interrobang. Which made me take pause. The "interrowhat?!"

4) Which is precisely the point. The interrobang is an ingenious piece of punctuation invented by adman Martin K. Speckter in 1962 as a means of telegraphing a "surprised rhetorical question," obviating the need for the inelegant, inefficient "?!" or "?!?!?!?!?!" as the case may be.

Here is the interrobang. Isn't it lovely?

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If anyone knows how to make my Mac keyboard type an interrobang, please let me know immediately.

As I contemplate ending this entry, I realize that I may well have succeeded in blogging about something other than Alden for the first time in four months. I find myself asking if I am ready for such a paradigm shift.

And yet the subject of interrobangs has no relevance to my young daughter.

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Or does it?!

Posted by bogenamp at 03:53 PM

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 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 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

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 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 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

May 23, 2008

Iris Zoe Vainieri

Robbi and I could hardly sleep last night anticipating this morning's trip across the bay to pay our first visit to Christian and Emily's new arrival, Iris Zoe. The fact that Alden was screaming like a lunatic for much of the night also contributed to our sleeplessness. Robbi decided to eat a large quantity of chocolate last night, and we are wondering if the caffeine contained therein might have contributed to our child's frenetic midnight thrashings about.

But I am drifting from the point at hand. First thing this morning, we drove across the Bay Bridge, through the city of Baltimore, to Towson, where Iris, with some help from Emily, made her way into the world just yesterday.

Here she is:

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Robbi and I had to visit separately, as Alden, along with all other non-sibling children under 12, was expressly banned from entering the postpartum wing, for reasons of curtailing transmission of the creeping ick with which most babies are stricken.

Robbi visited first, and made a positive impression on Iris.

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I visited second.

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Iris did not much care for my company.

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The new parents were beaming in spite of the recent trials.

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Here's my old pal, Christian, with his little girl.

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I'm happy thinking that some day Alden and Iris will play together. Who could have scripted such a thing?


Posted by bogenamp at 03:42 PM

May 22, 2008

It's a Girl!!! - Part 2

While I know that I have been a bum blogger of late, I am happy to break the silence with wonderful news. At 9:21 this morning, Iris Zoe Vainieri was born into this wide world, weighing in at 6lbs., 8oz.

I have no picture of the child, as I was not invited to the birthing, but one will be posted as soon as I am able to pay a visit.

Here are the proud parents:

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Note that the baby in question is NOT Iris Zoe, but a model hired to help create the illusion of parenthood.

Much more to come. Welcome Iris! We can't wait to teach you all of our bad habits.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:24 PM

April 06, 2008

Even More Self-Promotion

Friends, if you have a few minutes, I invite you to read a book review I wrote for the New Haven Review. The assignment was to select a book that had been neglected by mainstream media but which I felt deserved critical attention. I chose Tales of Woodsman Pete by Lilli Carre, one of my favorite comics of all time.

In addition to being brilliant and all, Lilli is a very nice person. Which goes a long way if you ask me. I could gush on and on about her work, but I'd prefer that you read my review in all of its carefully-crafted glory.

Here's the cover to Woodsman Pete

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Click here to view some pages.

And here is a link you can follow to buy it. At $7, it's one of the least expensive pieces of bliss you'll ever encounter.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:50 PM

April 05, 2008

More Self-Promotion

I was recently given the opportunity to write an article about a good friend of mine who some of you might know. Gina Coleman and I were colleagues during the five years I spent working in the Williams College admission office, and during that time worked together on minority recruitment and on the College's effort to attract students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. For three years, during the Williams' January term, Gina and I taught a course together: a field practicum that sent Williams students into local high schools to moderate a game called Quest for College. The game, which was intended to create excitement about the possibilities offered by higher education among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, is one of many early awareness initiatives in place across the country with the shared goal of leveling the playing field when it comes to access to higher education.

I left the Williams admission office in '03. Gina stayed on for a few more years, earned her PhD, and not long ago became one of the deans of Williams. She's also the women's rugby coach at the College, is the lead singer for two bands, and is a mother of two. In her "free time" she runs a nonprofit organization devoted to creating partnerships with school districts, colleges and universities, and corporations who have need of a tool like Quest for College in implementing early awareness programming in their communities.

A mere 18 months into its existence, the Quest for College nonprofit is doing amazing things. Before I re-write the entire article, I should leave room for the possibility that you might actually want to read it.

To find the article, click here and once you reach the Alumni Review home page, click on "Paying it Forward", which should be the third item under "March 2008."

Happy reading. Gina's story is so rich as to practically write itself.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:00 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.

duke1.jpg

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

February 29, 2008

A Tough Call

Well friends, we need your help. The time has come to name our child.

We have considered--and ultimately, rejected--such fine suggestions as Trogdor, Pile of Coke, and Machine Gun Boner and have settled on a few alternatives with real possibilities.

For a Boy

1) Don Johnson Swanson (one has to admit, it has a nice ring)
2) Tarzan Swanson (with this option, no middle name is needed, I think. The sheer portent of those two lovely syllables in "Tarzan" obviate the need for accompaniment.

For a Girl

1) Dawnn Jawnson Swanson (it wasn't until recently that I realized that our homage to everyone's favorite mid-80s television actor wasn't limited to our having a man-child; I do think that the double-N of Dawnn and the surprising spelling of Jawnson help increase the delight of this particular choice).

2) Gramangela Gentlyfierce Swanson (this came to me as if from on high; so complete was my happiness when I realized that not only did such a lovely sequence of syllables exist, but that there was no law of man or God that would keep me from bestowing them upon my little girl. Nothing at all . . . except Robbi).

Friends, we are at an impasse. There are two valid choices for both possibilities. We cannot know for now whether or not young Swanson Jr. will be a masculine child, but we can be prepared for whatever fate the stork might throw our way.

Chime in, if you will.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:15 AM

February 26, 2008

Our New Brest Friend

Our friends Courtney and Scott had a baby about seven weeks ago. His name is David, and I must admit that he is a rather cute little thing.

Anyone who feels so inclined may view photos of the many aspects of David on the family blog.

Now, Courtney has spent the last few months in almost total focus on being a mom. She has read the books, she has done the research, and now she is an expert on the various tools and components of parenting. And so we were delighted when she presented us with a gift the other day, complete with assurances that it was the most crucial, helpful, indispensable item available to the newly-appointed mother.

We opened the gift with great anticipation and discovered...

My Brest Friend

For those of you who do not know about My Brest Friend (and friends, until just the other day, I counted myself among you), My Brest Friend is a carefully-considered donut of firm, supportive foam rubber ensconced in a soft-yet-washable casing that may be strapped tightly around the midsection of the mother to provide a comfortable, reliable, broad, and convenient platform for the act of feeding.

Robbi was inspired and somewhat overwhelmed at the thought of it.

It did not take her long to discover that My Brest Friend isn't really designed for use by 8-month-pregnant ladies.

Very disappointed but resigned to the reality that we'd have to wait to properly enjoy the new Friendship, we contemplated putting My Brest Friend back on the high shelf with all the other currently dormant baby stuff. But then we had a better idea.

"Iggy's not eight months pregnant," I said.

"Wow, this is more fun than I've had since the day we shopped for the breast pump at Target," said Robbi.

"Yeah, that was great, but this is better," I said. "Do you think that Iggy is having as much fun as we are?" I asked.

Eventually we concluded that she probably wasn't, but we chalked the whole experience up to a teachable moment. Iggy has grown all too accustomed to being the baby around here, pampered and indulged.

We're trying to prepare her for the fact that things are going to change.

But, so far at least, she doesn't seem to understand.

Man's best friend, meet Mom's brest friend. Updates to come on how this all pans out.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:20 AM

February 19, 2008

The Festival

The Festival has come and gone and fun was had by all. I could not be happier with how things went but have not yet found the time or energy to commit to full documentation. A proper entry on Idiots'Fest will come tomorrow.

For today, I urge you to check out this link. If you will indulge me, click through the top ten list.

And note that Chestertown is in Kent County.

And note, shortly thereafter, how much more fun we all would have if you lived here with us.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:49 PM

February 10, 2008

Cucumbers

What have we been up to lately? Last Thursday we had a reading/talk at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College.

Here is the little press release the College used to advertise the event.

We were asked to talk about our work and our collaboration, so we focused on two different books, talking about the differing processes that led to the creation of the two. As an example of a book that I wrote first and Robbi illustrated second, we chose Death of Henry, a macabre tale in which a bunch of donkeys get stabbed. As an example of the opposite approach, in which Robbi starts by drawing a bunch of pictures and then forces me to make a sensible narrative out of them, we read and talked about The Clearing, in which a poor songbird is senselessly strangled.

I think we managed to make two points: that there is more than one way to collaborate on an illustrated book and that Robbi and I are kind of cruel to animals.

Yesterday we took a trip to Dover, Delaware, where there are big stores like Sam's Club and Target and where there is no sales tax. We went to Sam's club in search of new tube socks, but we stayed for the hotdogs.

I ate my hotdog really fast and then I was sorry that it was gone. Robbi, on the other hand, took her time and still had a lot of hotdog left. I asked her if I could have some of hers. She said no.

I asked her if she could at least try not to enjoy the hotdog in a hurtful, demonstrative way.

She said no.

We walked the aisles of Sam's like the dizzy consumers that we are.

I briefly contemplated buying a 65-inch plasma flatscreen but then I got distracted by the 8-cylinder dune buggy. In and out of the shopping cart went a 30-foot trampoline, a yard fountain, and a log cabin playhouse for my child. In the end, we left with my new socks and some veggies for Bob and Seiko.

Already exhausted, we headed to Target with a list of baby items.

The baby section of Target is designed to confuse first-time parents and also to beguile them into spending all of their money. I had never seen such an ocean of small, soft, pastel-colored items. I was flooded with warm, protective feelings for my unborn charge. How could I not buy everything that I was suddenly certain he or she would soon desire?

How could I not, for example, purchase the penguin bowling set?

Miraculously, we demonstrated some restraint. We did purchase a changing pad, a boppy (apparently a must-have item), some terribly small socks, and a few other necessary-yet-potentially-upsetting items that will remain unnamed. I feel that we have the necessary items to get the child through it's first 20 minutes or so, at least. After that, all bets are off. I'm counting on the fact that more than a few people have volunteered to help out. I'm guessing that we have sitters lined up for at least the first 14 months, at which point, I'm hoping the child is housebroken, weaned, and fluent in at least two languages.

Iggy is starting to sense that changes are afoot. She has been getting agitated when Robbi and I hug, for example, and whenever I talk to the belly, she tries to insert her nose between me and the baby. To ease her anxiety, we have been indulging her somewhat more than I usually would.

Today I spent a few hours on the other side of the barn, moving boxes in preparation for the Flower Show.

Bob made this clever lift to help move boxes from the hayloft down to the kiln room.

Of course, I cracked my head into the boom arm within the first two minutes. So Robbi put the genius hat to new (and very helpful) use.

Here's a good shot of Seiko's kiln.

One of the items being moved to make room for more "important" things, my Amiga 500, the computer I got back in 1991.

It was a fantastic machine and I refuse to get rid of it. Robbi hates the Amiga 500 so, so much. Every time we move she rants about how the Amiga 500 comes with us.

Here is the most recent belly shot.

Robbi looks displeased because she thought that I was going to take a picture of her cucumbers, of which she was, apparently, very proud.

So here they are.

Cucumbers with lemon pepper and salt are a tasty snack, especially after 11:00pm, given that they are light and not likely to sit in the stomach all night like a plate of nachos would. And yet I think that I will make a plate of nachos now, because in 53 days I am scheduled to become a responsible adult, and for now I will make the most of my dwindling foolishness.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:01 PM

February 06, 2008

Things I Never Knew

There is a new magnet on our fridge. Here it is.

To explain: Robbi and I went to "Breastfeeding Basics" at the hospital Monday night. It was the follow-up to our Pregnancy and Childbirth class. We walked in the door and I immediately sensed trouble. Whereas our childbirth class had consisted of four couples, meaning expectant mothers and fathers, there was nary a daddy to be seen in breastfeeding class. I immediately questioned my own legitimacy, but the midwife who was leading the class ensured me that fathers play a far more prominent role in the breastfeeding process than one might expect.

As the class progressed, it became clear that I had learned nothing since Saturday.

But the nice lady was patient and soon I had it figured out. Apparently all babies prefer to be held head up.

The above is how I will feed my child, but not until a month has passed and it is a confident practitioner of proper breastfeeding technique. Which is not as intuitive and straightforward as I had always expected, apparently.

I will feed my child only after the nourishment in question has been extracted from its place of origin by an instrument looking not unlike this, a pump by Medela.

After the breast pump explanation, I turned to Robbi and asked whether in her carefree girlhood she had ever imagined that she would have occasion to purchase a machine manufactured to extract fluids from her body. Robbi did not answer the question, her face a tableau of pain and consternation.

There are several positions one might employ in breastfeeding one's baby. The positions have names like "Cradle", "Cross-Cradle", and ""Side-Lying". There is also the "Football" hold, used only by running backs who have to feed their babies in the middle of games.

In order to demonstrate the various approaches, the midwife employed this friendly plush breast, which is available, so she says, from many sex ed catalogs.

It has an elastic strap on the opposite side so that it can be held, puppet style, during demonstrations. The outer skin may be peeled away for the purpose of revealing and explaining the functioning of the interior anatomy. It is a very complex thing, the breast. I thought I understood it, but I was wrong. I am disenchanted in light of our class. I am back to square one.

But back to the new refrigerator sticker. You may already know it, but apparently breast feeding is a very good idea for all sorts of reasons. Not only is the breast milk composed with an ever-changing blend of nutrients, fat, and proteins for the baby (changing to adapt to its changing needs), but it transfers immunity to many diseases from the mother to the baby, is easy to digest, and apparently, leads to a higher IQ than one might expect to find in formula-fed babies. Moms who breastfeed are, according to the research, less likely to get breast and ovarian cancer, and breastfeeding helps moms get back into pre-pregnancy shape faster. The benefits of breastfeeding seem so widespread and astonishing that it's hard to imagine that there is not some degree of exaggeration in play. Are breastfed babies also able to fly and move boulders with their minds, I wonder? It seems not out of keeping with the rest of the research findings.

We will breastfeed because, well, we live in a barn and have no good excuse not to.

Plus, look at that cute little sucker.

That's right...born to breastfeed.

Sorry to all of you who started reading this blog thinking it was going to be about insulation and sheetrock. I admittedly seem to have strayed from my original mission.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:19 PM

February 02, 2008

At the Hospital

We spent eight hours in the Chester River Hospital Center today learning about pregnancy and childbirth. I went into the experience deeply skeptical that there was anything to learn. I already knew it all. Or so I thought. Apparently, this is not the correct way to hold the baby.

Did I feel foolish when the nurse pointed out my error in front of the other expectant fathers? I did. But I felt redeemed when Robbi showed herself to be no more adept.

After a little instruction, we both came around.

Overall, the class was very informative. We learned about the various stages of labor and childbirth, practiced some breathing exercises, and watched a movie that took a nitty gritty look at the mechanics of bringing a baby into the world. The most startling revelations, at least for me, were in the realm of blood and guts. What happens in the delivery room stays in the delivery room. At least I hope this is true.

The Chester River Hospital is a small, community hospital, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. There are four delivery rooms. On very busy days all four will be occupied, but on average, there are 25-30 births a month, so the chances of having to compete for the attention of the doctor on any given day is low. Which is a very good thing, given that there is only one OB in Kent County.

At my request, the nurse arranged for us to meet a real live baby. In fact, we saw two. They were incredibly small. I had a hard time accepting that they were the same sort of creature as I. I am having a hard time accepting that two months from today, should the current projection hold, I will be charged with the ongoing care and maintenance of a similarly small and bewildered thing. I mean, what am I going to do with it? Presumably it will want for entertainment, stimulation, edification. With what kernels of wisdom will I fill its tiny brain?

Here is one of the rooms in the maternity section.

Here's a closer look at the birthing bed, complete with stirrups that may be whisked into proper position with a mere flick of the wrist.

Although the bed seems pure and white, I have it on good authority that very messy things happen here with great regularity. I think it would have been better if we had been designed with a zipper that opens when the child is ready to emerge from the oven, or a drawer with a recessed handle that could be pulled when the appropriate meter suggested that the proper time had come for removal.

At the Chester River Hospital, babies stay in the room with their mothers throughout their stay. Rather than being whisked away to some nursery to lie with other babies, that is. Here is the baby's bed, complete with a warming rack akin to that which keeps one's hot dogs warm at a gas station.

Should any of you harbor thoughts of visiting Robbi and her baby in the Chester River Hospital, I will post the visiting hours.

The nurses of the Chester River Hospital, in an effort to protect mothers, newborns, and even the weary fathers, allow visitation only three hours a day: noon to 1:00pm, 3:00-4:00pm, and 7:00-8:00pm. Debbie, the head nurse and our teacher for today looked deadly serious when she explained the visiting rules. I'd not cross her, if I were you.


Posted by bogenamp at 07:46 PM

February 01, 2008

The Other Half of the Equation

Several of you have asked for evidence of Robbi's distant path, and so I did a little digging into the family vault. The real treasures are ensconced in albums over at Bob and Seiko's house and will be offered at a later date, but the following shots were part of a stack of unbound photos that Robbi pulls out now and again when she's feeling nostalgic.

Apparently, Robbi rode her bouncy horse with such enthusiasm that the supports would come off the floor, causing those with a greater sense of cause and effect to worry.

This shot was taken for Robbi's first passport. Do not think that you are alone in thinking that she looks like some sort of refugee. Once, when we lived in North Adams, Massachusetts, I left my wallet on the top of my car before driving off. A few hours later, we received a call from the police station. Someone had found the wallet and returned it. When I retrieved the wallet all of the cash and credit cards were still there; the only thing that had been removed was the other copy of this picture, which I had, for some reason, decided to carry around with me. I still consider it a very creepy sort of theft.

Moving along the Robbi timeline, here we find her still obsessed with plastic horses. I have it on good authority that not long after this picture was taken, Robbi cried and howled wretchedly when told that the time had come to go home.

Lastly--and I dare to post this photo only because I'm fairly certain that Robbi has no access to any of my demoralizing mid-adolescent photographs--here is a shot of yuletide cheer some year when Robbi clearly had little to be happy about.

I cite this photo as evidence that even if our child is an attractive baby, there is no guarantee that he or she will make a clean run though life unscathed by passages of developmental blight.

My apologies to Maiko and Roji for any objection they might have to being thus pictured. I promise to post some doozies of my own in days to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:00 PM

January 30, 2008

Wondering

Increasingly of late I have been wondering what this child of ours will look like. In most ways, Robbi and I look nothing alike, and yet we share certain similarities. Neither of us is seven feet tall, for example, and both of us have roundish faces.

Three of this baby's four grandparents were born with hair as fair as corn silk. The fourth had hair as black as coal. Robbi is firmly opposed to the idea of a blond child, and threatens to love it less if it comes out towheaded. Given the genetic likelihood of this result, however, I do hope that she summons the generosity of spirit to change her mind.

When I was home for Christmas this year, I rooted through some old pictures, looking for clues. I scanned a few favorites.

Here's the classic. Dad and me enjoying a relaxing morning in bed.

And here I am on the occasion of my first kindergarten graduation.

There was a second kindergarten graduation because, upon completing my first year of kindergarten, I was deemed not to be emotionally ready for the hard-hitting rigors of first grade. I was allowed to don the cap and gown so as not to feel excluded from the fun when all of my classmates actually graduated. I don't think I was emotionally astute enough to notice when I showed up in kindergarten again the next fall.

The second graduation did the trick, and I eventually did reach first grade.

The operative point remains, however. I was a very blond little sucker. Robbi beware.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:14 PM

January 29, 2008

Larger than Life

Some of you have been clamoring for belly updates. Sometimes words are insufficient. Or simply unnecessary.

Perhaps the wide-angle lens on our camera paints a slightly misleading picture. This is perhaps truer to life.

And as we step back just a bit more from Mount Ribbu, we see the long view of Her Majesty.

We went to the doctor yesterday and the various measurements were right on par. Robbi is getting vigorously pummeled of late by our child. S/he has been displaying what we can only interpret as extreme enthusiasm at the prospects of its looming birth.

According to the Web site I have been consulting, the child is in roughly this position right about now.

I, too, would be looking forward to liberation.


Posted by bogenamp at 05:13 PM

January 22, 2008

Live Free or Die

I haven't been writing because we have been busy of late. Last Friday night I played a gig with Misty Blues at Liston's roadhouse in Worthington. We played loud and long and my ears rang for two days after. There are no pictures of the event because we lost the cord that recharges our camera. But Robbi went to Radio Shack and fixed the problem. Saturday we drove north and east to Hebron, New Hampshire, home of the Connor Brothers, the manly trio who fishes up in Bristol Bay with us each summer.

Here they are in full Alaskan glory, on the deck of the good ship Charisma.

Paul, the brother on the lower right, had invited us up to visit his homestead, a house he built by hand in the middle of 60 acres of New Hampshire wilderness. Being as close to Hebron as we're likely to be for quite some time, we decided to make it a day trip.

It took about three hours to get there, the roads we traveled getting progressively smaller and snowier. When we arrived, we wouldn't have known we were in Hebron except for the post office.

There was a lot of snow on the ground, and snowmobiles are a primary form of transportation. Hence, this machine that grooms the various trails.

Paul's house is about a mile from the closest road that can be accessed in the winter, so Paul met us with his snowmobile and drove us up to his place.

The trail through the woods was steep, but Iggy kept pace.

For the most part.

Paul's house is a work in constant progress.

Situated in the middle of 60 acres of New Hampshire wilderness, the house is not on the grid. Paul runs generators to charge the batteries that run the electricity in his house. Water comes from a well. The fridge, stove, and hot water heater run on propane.

He adds to the house as need be. For years, he lacked a bathroom. Eventually, his wife Kathleen persuaded him of the virtues of indoor plumbing.

The interior is cozy and beautiful. Kathleen made us some delicious soup.

Our good friends Josh and Kay drove over from Boston for the day. Josh also fishes in Alaska in the summers.

Josh plays the banjo.

Kay plays with dogs.

Paul and Kathleen have two kids, Cian and Cullem. Cian was sick and remained understated throughout our visit.

Cullem, on the other hand, was anything but shy. Throughout our first half hour or so in the house, we were treated to five or so different personas. Here are a few.

Being the incredibly manly type, Paul is a blacksmith and has a lot of powerful metalworking tools in the unfinished barn beside his house.

Like this sucker, which adds tremendous force to one's hammer blow.

The hammers in question.

Another piece of indiscriminately masculine machinery.

This one is instrumental in heating the metal. I do not know its name.

One of Robbi's many virtues is endless curiosity.

In addition to the metalworking barn, Paul has a shed/tent structure for woodworking. Notice the open end. Nothing like subzero New Hampshire temperatures to compliment one's woodworking.

In addition to all his tools, Paul has other essentials on hand. Like a PA system for playing music.

Paul has a beautiful voice and plays a nice guitar. I brought my harps, and we played a bit.

Eventually, it came time to go home.

We piled back onto the snowmobiles and drove through the dark woods back to our car.

For years, Robbi and I have listened to Paul and his brothers talk about their homes on the lake in Hebron, NH. For years we have dreamed of our own cabin in the woods, away from it all.
And although we were inspired by the loveliness of the setting and the romance of their lives, the visit helped us feel thankful for the amenities of our barn. Our plumbing, our electricity, our well-manicured roadways.

Perhaps someday we will feel ready to truly set out into the wilderness to make a life among the trees. But something tells me that we won't.

We're home now, back from Massachusetts, looking forward now to Idiots'Fest, mere weeks away.

I have some catching up to do here that will be posted in the days ahead.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:22 PM

January 17, 2008

Snow

There was a foot of snow on the ground when we got to town two weeks ago. The temperature was hovering around zero. Then there was a period of sudden thaw. Temperatures soared into the mid-60s and all the snow melted. About a week ago, we reached a comfortable middle ground that felt appropriate for January in Williamstown. We've been getting lots of snow, but not so much accumulation. The kind of snow you can brush off your car instead of having to scrape.

In other words, all the beauty without the hassle.

On the way to class the other day, we stopped to admire our surroundings. Here, for those of you who know the Williams campus and are interested in the enormous changes currently underway, is the substructure of the new academic building now occupying the green space that had existed between the Congregational Church and Hopkins Hall.

Here is Robbi, mugging with the Williamstown sign.

Here she is wretchedly sulking along the byways as she is known to do.

And here she is standing at the famous gates of West College, the original building from which Williams has grown over the past 200+ years.

Later that afternoon, we took a walk in Hopkins Forest.

It was cold and the snow was falling.

Iggy was in high cheer. She loves to run around in the snow and tries to eat as much of it as possible. Her newest trick is catching snowballs lobbed her way.

Some times of year, the Hopkins Forest lower loop is full of joggers, walkers, dogs, families, student researchers, tree sap collectors. But, for the moment, we had the place to ourselves.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:02 PM

January 13, 2008

Only in New England

After class on Friday afternoon, we piled into the car and headed East. Though the snow had melted in the valley, as we climbed the pass outside of North Adams, ice hung in the trees.

It was foggy as we drove through Savoy and just on the edge of starting to snow.

We were on our way to Andover to visit my mom and Dean.

Because they like us, they took us to a Japanese restaurant. It was one of those menus with hundreds of options, all of which seemed very delicious.

Robbi got some udon, which pleased her.

I was torn. Sushi or noodles? Sashimi or teriyaki? I was scanning the sushi menu when something caught my eye. Red Sox roll? My fandom was piqued. Patriots roll? My mind was made up.

Here are the glorious foodstuffs in question.

The Red Sox roll (upper right) is topped with tuna. The Patriots roll, lower right, is a bit more puzzling, since their colors are not white and orange. But the white fish is blue marline, apparently, which is one of the Pats' colors. In any case, they were delicious.

The other two rolls on the plate?

The Celtics roll and the Bruins roll, of course.

Very full of raw fish, we turned in. The next day, we went to see Juno. I hope that I do not ruin anyone's fun by revealing that Juno deals prominently with pregnancy. At the end there is a delivery. Watching it, I wept like a small boy whose candy has just been stolen.

After the movie we went grocery shopping with mom. Perhaps the citizens of Lawrence, Massachusetts know something we don't, but people were crammed in there like the end of days were nigh.

Safely back at mom's house, we started mixing the batter for popovers.

For those who do not know, popovers are a light and fluffy pastry thing which, though tasty in their own right, are mostly a vehicle for putting enormous quantities of butter and jam into one's mouth.

I used to spend my boyhood summers on Mount Desert Island in Maine. My favorite day each year was when mom took me to high tea at the Jordon Pond House, where I ate popovers, butter, and jam in enormous quantities.

My mom is a wizard in the kitchen. I love my mom.

Robbi, on the other hand, kept sneaking bites of things she was not supposed to be eating.

In spite of better judgment, I love her, too.

The occasion for the popovers was a high tea we were having for our friends Bill and Betty Lychack. Bill is Andover's artist in residence and an incredibly talented writer. If you have not read The Wasp Eater, you really ought to.

Though we like Bill and Betty quite a bit, our real motive in inviting them over was the fact that they had twins six months ago. The popovers were mostly a bribe to ensure that we got to spend some time with Burgess and her brother William.

William was a very good natured little boy, though he wasn't quite sure what to make of us.

Burgess just seemed embarrassed to be seen with me.

I was delighted to learn that it is perfectly fine to put your baby on the floor.

And that, if you have two babies of approximately the same shape and size, it's a good idea to vary the color of their packaging.

We were inspired by the babies. "We can do this," we said to each other. "This is going to be easy."

Five minutes later, we fell into a profound late afternoon slumber.

Mom says it has something to do with the babies, but I blame the popovers.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:26 PM

January 09, 2008

Roadhouse Revival

In just four days it has gone from 1 degree to 65 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At the far extreme, Iggy was refusing to pee on account of the cold. She would go outside, pretend to pee, and then lunge for the door and the promise of warmth within. Back inside, she'd still have to pee and get antsy. So we'd make her go outside again and the crisis would repeat itself. Eventually we had to exercise some tough love. Now it's warm and Iggy is having no problem taking care of business, but the world is a muddy soup. I took a run in Hopkins Forest today and came back with soggy feet. It is unnatural to walk around Williamstown with no jacket in the heart of January.

Roadhouse Revival, the album I recorded last weekend with Misty Blues, my friend Gina's band, has been recorded and mastered and is currently in production. If you are interested in hearing a cut from the album (featuring yours truly on harp), visit the band's MySpace page. The song posted, Down By the Riverside, is a jaunty, happy tune.

The second day we were in the studio, Gina laid down a few more vocal tracks on this very attractive microphone.

And Jeff, who had not been able to make it the night before, added his guitar throughout the album. As I was preparing to take this photo, he wanted to make certain that the World of Warcraft shirt would be legible.

And this is Greg, who recorded and produced the album, with his very large mixing board.

Though it is difficult for the mind to grasp, apparently Greg knows what to do with all of these knobs.

Here is Misty Blues proper, minus the "special guest" harp and piano players.

In other news, Robbi ate a baked potato for dinner.

And just tonight we prepared the volume 12 mailing.

Subscribers, keep an eye on your mailbox.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:36 PM

January 05, 2008

The Village Beautiful

We have been absent but not idle. Since returning from Missouri, a number of things have happened. As part of our ongoing research into small, young people, we hung out with "Baby Joe" on New Year's Eve.

Baby Joe is the son of our friends Yarwen and Hsu. Baby Joe is two months old. He was not much of a conversationalist, but he was awfully cute.

He gave small but very nice hugs.

Also on New Year's Eve, we opened our Christmas presents from Bob and Seiko. The Berhs don't do anything the "normal" way.

Robbi got a very special shirt from her Aunt Mimi. At first it seemed too small.

But further investigation revealed it to be quite expandable. And so I had to try it on.

We came to the conclusion that it is really more of a lady garment.

After the New Year's Eve Christmas party, Robbi finished putting together the layout for Volume 12.

The next day, I trimmed and stapled 200 copies.

Then we had a traditional Japanese New Year's Day lunch with Bob and Seiko.

We packed. We drove to Baltimore with our cats in a box. We dropped off the cats with Supi Loco, ate some pizza, spent the night with Chris and Emily, and the next day drove to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where we will be living for the next three weeks. Williamstown, also known as the Village Beautiful, is home to Williams College, where Robbi and I went to school and met so many years ago.

We are teaching a class on collaboration between artists and writers. Over the next three weeks, we will do our best to help them think about the possibilities inherent in combining pictures and words. We had our first class on Thursday, our second on Friday, and I am pleased to say that we have an outstanding group of students.

To celebrate after our first class, we went downtown to the thriving hub of Williamstown's pulsing commercial district. Our destination, Papa Charlie's deli.

All of Papa Charlie's sandwiches are named after famous people. Quite a few of them are actors who have acted in the Williamstown Theater Festival over the years.

Many of these people have actually designed the sandwiches that are their namesakes. You can either order your sandwiches as a show of solidarity for your favorite actor or because you like the ingredients. I usually go the ingredient route. Which means I usually order the Zonker Harris. Not a real person, I realize, but still the inventor of a damn good sandwich.

After class yesterday, we met my sister Andy for coffee.

Andy lives in Haiti, where she is doing good for the world. Should you want to keep tabs on her goodness, you may do so by reading her blog.

Her Christmas present to us was this Haitian object, which apparently has something to do with our child. I'm not sure what it's for or how it works.

However enigmatic it may have been, I was pleased by the gift.

But Robbi was unimpressed.

Later that day I headed to Dalton, Massachusetts with my good friend Gina Coleman, who in addition to being a Dean of Williams College, the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit, head coach of the Williams women's rugby team, and mother, is also the lead singer of Misty Blues, a band of which I am lucky to be an occasional member. We were heading to Dalton to Derek Studios (a recording studio where the likes of Arlo Guthrie and David Crosby have recorded albums) to record Misty Blues' new album.

On the way, we dropped Gina's son Diego off at his grandma's house.

He spoke with great passion about the virtues of "Shrek Third", which he had just seen, even sharing the titles of some of the songs from the movie in a spirited attempt to persuade me to watch it.

The hills along Route 43 were covered with snow.

In the studio, I caught up with the band.

Bill, our bass player, is also a stained glass window maker and electrical engineer.

Jason, who does things with a guitar that can only be described as "tasty."

Bassie, who firmly believes that a man's drum kit is a reliable measure of his manhood.

And Gina, our leader and spiritual core.

Here is Bob, not a full-time band member, joined us on the piano. The album is a kind of honky tonk gospel/blues record with a loose and carefree sound meant to suggest a bar show. Bob's playing added a lot to the gospel side of things.

And here am I, in my lonely isolation booth.

It is a well-established fact that harp players get no respect.

There were a number of small vintage tube amps of the variety that are highly sought after by harp players looking for that fat blues tone.

I tried them all but decided to go with my own, a Gibson GA-5 from 1951. I spent a long time being very geeky on Ebay to get it. I love it. If you come to my barn, I will gladly play it for you.

Last night we laid down the recordings and today we added a few solos, tweaked a few endings, and did the mastering. The disks will be available in time for our gig at Liston's roadhouse in Savoy, MA on January 18. If you are anywhere near Savoy that day, do drop by. We'll also be playing the Williams Faculty Club Martin Luther King, Jr. event on MLK day, but I think that you have to be employed by Williams to attend. This gives you about two weeks to contact HR with your resume.


Posted by bogenamp at 08:07 PM

December 29, 2007

Three Day Window

Two days and 1,140 miles later, we have returned to the barn. All restrooms on the return trip were up to code. Our week in Missouri/Kansas was restful and full of family fun. Some highlights follow.

The morning after the disgusting bathroom escapade, we were comforted by this enormous beacon of Jesus.

Perhaps it is some sort of water tower, or perhaps it is a covert missile silo. Or perhaps it is merely what it purports to be.

One of the major reasons for driving to Missouri is John.

John is my father. He was born and raised in Nebraska and now he lives in Missouri.

The day after we arrived at my dad's house, we drove west to Topeka, capital of Kansas, to visit various members of my dad's family, including cousins Sarah and Geoff.

And my grandma, Mary Swanson.

Back in Missouri, we baked cookies.

And ate bratwurst.

Sitting before the wholesome glow of the holiday hearth, we received our traditional Christmas eve gifts from my stepmom Judy.

My step brother-in-law King and I were given matching penguin pants.

And Robbi some pregnant lady pajamas.

The next morning, we had Christmas proper. There was a new stocking this year, presented by proud Grandpa-to-be John.

It contained a few small objects.

A rubber ducky that lets you know when the bath is too hot.

A very soft rattle shaped like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

And a Winnie the Pooh hat. The hat got me. It pushed me right over the edge.

To top it all off, my stepsister Gina and King gave us a Brooklyn Bridge onesie. Although you cannot see it, I was weeping hysterically as this picture was taken.

Other emotional gifts included this oversized tub of fabric softener, which pleased my stepsister Courtney to no small degree.

Later we unwrapped the mini co-sleeper, in which our child will eventually spend a great deal of its time.

Iggy was an unwilling participant in the Christmas cheer.

As the day continued, we cooked.

We tramped about in the snow.

And for some reason I shaved, a decision I have come to regret.

In her ongoing quest to better understand the Swansons and their ways, Robbi took a leading role in preparing the Yorkshire pudding this year.

She was delighted watching it bake.

We all agree that this year's pudding was the best we can remember.

Christmas at my dad's house is a festive affair, with much energy devoted to atmosphere.

Candles, for example, are everywhere.

We ate a lot and went to bed groaning.

The rest of the week comprised more eating, sleeping, tramping around in the snow, and more eating.

One day, we went over to visit our friends Ali and Matt, who have a little girl who is not only cute and well-behaved but also sweet and wise beyond her sixteen months. We practiced what scant parenting impulses we possess.

Margo was very good at pointing out all the cats in this book to Robbi.

And was a champ when it came to identifying my nose.

The night before we left to drive back home, my family threw a surprise baby shower for us. The first part of the shower included really tasty desserts from an Italian bakery.

It turned out, there were clues that should have alerted us to the fact that a shower was in the offing. For example, this tiny bottle, part of the baby-shower-themed table confetti that littered the tablecloth.

We got a lot of nice gifts, including a baby towel, some baby booties, and a baby snot remover. I was holding it together pretty well until we opened the Pooh Bear pajamas and matching cap.

Turns out I'm a sucker for little hats.

After the useful gifts, there was a second round of presents for the baby.

Including:

This plastic bag (the label reads "Baby's first toy")

And these thumbtacks.

Fun for the whole family.

Also, some mousetraps.

What better way to keep Baby's little fingers away from the family cheese?

Not pictured but also appreciated: a package of razor blades, a tube of superglue, a bottle of tabasco, and some permanent markers.

And a cigar. And some tiny baby handcuffs. Pink ones and blue ones, just to cover the bases.

The next morning we left for home.

The drive was uneventful. The lone excitement came when we were stopped for gas and some pregnant lady started cleaning our windshield.

Just past PIttsburgh, we saw the windmills.

Home again, we set up our co-sleeper just for kicks.

We read aloud from one of our new baby books on the drive home, and had baby on the mind.

After admiring our loot, we immediately put it away again, painfully aware of the cat dander falling like rain on all of baby's belongings. It is a foregone conclusion that our child will live in a dusty home. But we can at least give it a day or two of clean bedding before this happens. We owe it that much.

Tuesday night we depart for Massachusetts, where Robbi and I will be teaching a winter term course together at Williams College for the month of January. We have assembled six writers and six visual artists who will work in pairs to create work that combines both words and pictures.

Before then, though, Robbi is hoping to finish the illustrations for Volume 12, which will be a different sort of book.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:09 PM

December 22, 2007

Kind of Grody

So we've been driving across the country, and the trip has been mostly uneventful. There was a DQ stop somewhere in West Virginia.

A few hours later, well into the heart of Ohio, we pulled over for some gas and a pit stop.

We both had to go, but I let Robbi have the first crack at the restroom while I pumped the gas. She is the pregnant one, after all.

A few minutes later she reemerged with the warning that the restroom was "kind of grody." I took this into advisement as I headed there myself. The restroom was one of those exterior restrooms, often subject to less rigorous standards of cleanliness.

Armed with this knowledge and in light of Robbi's warning, I opened the door with a mixture of concern and curiosity. Yet no degree of warning could have prepared me for what lay behind the metal door.

It was, in all honesty, the most disgusting restroom I have ever seen. The sink was not attached to the wall, the toilet was akimbo and filled with foul fluid, the floor was flooded, miscellaneous pieces of discarded plastic were strewn about, and the place stunk like a sewer. As horrified as I was at the thought of actually using the restroom, I was even more afraid of refusing to use the restroom after my pregnant wife had braved its horrors with no more complaint than "it's kind of grody."

I did what had to be done and exited as quickly as possible.

Here's another angle, to give you a better sense of what I had to endure.

I returned to the car and asked Robbi how she could have possibly survived the restroom. She looked at me with something like pity, laughed, and asked if I had, perhaps, neglected to notice that there were two restrooms, one that was merely "kind of grody" and another, my restroom, that was unquestionably so.

Relieved though I was that Robbi had not taken our unborn child into that unholy chamber, I must admit I felt a little duped.

We shared a laugh, but as we drove away I could not help but wonder what diseases I might have contracted in my brief sojourn in the darkest, grodiest corner of Ohio.

We rest tonight in Terre Haute. Iggy is not happy. Apparently, we forgot to bring her food.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:45 AM

December 21, 2007

The Constigootion of Magoo

I've been mulling over whether or not to pitch Magoo to Milton Bradley or one of the other major gaming companies. But then I think of how the world would be a better place if we all just shared our belongings. In the spirit of cooperation and holiday cheer, I present to you the full Constigootion of Magoo, vetted by the members of the executive committee and available for your reading pleasure.

If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, click here for the full story of the genesis of Magoo.

In one hour, we will be driving to Kansas City. I will sure to post the highlights of the trip. Which is to say, be prepared for a very dull post.

------

Rules of Play and Parliamentary Procedure for
MAGOO
As conceived this Sunday, the Sixteenth day of December,
Two-thousand and Seven,
The Rules Committee having convened
To ordain and establish
This Constigootion
Standardizing and specifying the Rights and Rules
for all Players of
MAGOO

ARTICLE I:
All rules of the original Mattel game known as UNO apply unless overridden by the articles and amendments contained herein. Amendments to the Constigootion shall be known collectively as the Maglossary.

ARTICLE II:
MAGOO is a gentleman's game.

ARTICLE III:
Rules of play may be amended only by a regular or an emergency session of the Rules Committee, the Rules Committee being comprised of those players in attendance. A motion to convene may be brought to the floor by any player and, once seconded, shall summon a meeting of the Rules Committee.

Any such meeting which occurs between rounds shall be known as a regular session. A regular session of the Rules Committee shall be chaired by the dealer of the previous round or, in the event that a regular session precedes the first round, by the player who owns or rents the site of play.

Any such meeting which occurs during play shall be known as an emergency session. An emergency session shall be chaired by the dealer of the round underway.

Proposed changes to the rules of play may come from any member of the Rules Committee. A rule shall be considered ratified and in full force and effect once put to a voice vote and agreed upon by more than one half of the Rules Committee. Be the committee evenly divided, ratification shall be considered to have failed.

A rule change or amendment agreed upon during an emergency session of the Rules Committee shall be considered in full force and effect immediately upon adjournment of the Rules Committee.


AMENDMENT I:
MAGOO has not ended until all but one of the players has discarded his entire hand.

AMENDMENT II:
THE MAGOO
Proposed by Matthew Swanson and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

The Magoo applies to numerical cards only.

A player shall not be limited to discarding one card at a time. He may play two or more cards should they add up to the number of the last card put down by the preceding player. These two or more cards shall be themselves of the same color but need not match the color of the card in play. For instance, if a green eight is in play, the next player may put down two green fours. He may also put down a yellow two and a yellow six. He may even put down a red two, a red six, and a red zero.

A player who uses this technique to discard two cards at once shall be said to have achieved a Double Magoo. A player who uses this technique to discard three cards at once shall be said to have achieved a Triple Magoo, and so on.

Players must say aloud "Double Magoo," or "Triple Magoo," as they make their play.

AMENDMENT III:
THE THREESOME
Proposed by David Turner and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

The Threesome is not restricted to numerical cards.

If a player should hold three-of-a-kind, of the same color or of different colors, he may forfeit his right to discard to the pile and opt instead to hand his three-of-a-kind to the player of his choice, even if that player is already "out" of the game.

A player who uses this technique shall be said to have achieved a Threesome.

A Threesome must be broken up and discarded during regular play or reconstituted with at least one new card before it is given to another player, thus a Threesome cannot simply be handed around intact.

AMENDMENT IV:
THE PILE-ON
Proposed by Richard Flynn and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.
Bracketed phrases further amended by Richard Flynn on December 18, 2007.

The rules of the Pile-On shall be invoked whenever a Draw Two or Wild Draw Four shall have been played.

Should a Draw Two be discarded, the next player shall have four options:
1. He may play another Draw Two of any color. This shall have a cumulative effect upon the subsequent player, forcing him to draw [two additional] cards.
2. He may play a Reverse of the same color, reversing the direction of play and forcing the original player of the Draw Two to draw [the indicated number of] cards himself.
3. He may play a Skip of the same color, skipping his own turn and causing the very next player at the table to draw [the indicated number of cards]. Note that a Skip works differently in the context of a Pile-On than in regular play.
4. He may play a Wild Draw Four, allowing himself to choose the color of play, and forcing the next player to draw [an additional four cards].

Should a Wild Draw Four be discarded, the next player shall have three options:
1. He may play a Reverse of the color named by the player of the Wild Draw Four, reversing the direction of play and forcing the original player of the Wild Draw Four to draw [the indicated number of] cards himself.
2. He may play a Skip of the color named by the player of the Wild Draw Four, skipping his own turn and causing the very next player at the table to [the indicated number of cards]. Note again that a Skip works differently in the context of a Pile-On than in regular play.
3. He, too, may play a Wild Draw Four, allowing himself to choose the color of play, and forcing the subsequent player to draw [four additional cards].

A Pile-On shall continue until a player has not a Draw Two, a Reverse, a Skip, nor a Wild Draw Four to discard. This player must draw cumulatively the number of cards dictated by all the Draw Twos and Wild Draw Fours in the Pile-On sequence.

AMENDMENT V:
THE SOCIAL
Proposed by Matthew Swanson, amended by Christian Vainieri and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

The Social is not restricted to numerical cards.

Should four or more cards of-a-kind appear consecutively on the discard pile, no matter their color, a Social shall be said to have been achieved. A Social continues until a player wishes to discard a card that does not match the face of those in the Social. This player must declare an end to the Social and request that all the cards comprising the Social be obscured. The dealer must oblige.

A Social shall be said to have been obscured when it is removed from the pile and placed face down at a corner of the table. Subsequent socials shall be obscured in the same fashion and added to the same pile at a corner of the table. This pile must be claimed by the first player "out," forcing him back "in." He is then free to play the obscured Social pile regularly or in the form of Threesomes.

A Social having been obscured, the card that preceded the commencement of the Social becomes the active card in play, dictating both face value and color for resumption of the game.

AMENDMENT VI:
THE STRAIGHT
Proposed by Christian Vainieri and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

The Straight applies to numerical cards only.

A player shall not be limited to discarding one card at a time. He may play two or more cards should they form a descending or ascending numerical straight with the card in play. Cards played in this fashion must be of the same color as the card in play. A Straight may change directions from descending to ascending within a single player's turn, thus seven, eight, seven, eight shall be considered an acceptable progression.

AMENDMENT VII:
END-OF-PLAY CONDUCT
Proposed and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

Upon conclusion of play, the losing player shall display the last card discarded in his upturned palm. All players must then chant in a gentlemanly fashion: "Magoo" and "Huzzah." The number of times "Magoo" is chanted shall be equal to the number of players in the game, minus one. All but the last "Magoo" shall be interrogative in inflection, while the final "Magoo" shall be declarative. Eye contact with fellow players is desired but not required. "Huzzah" should follow immediately the declarative "Magoo" and be a general expression of merriment delivered to the room at-large rather than to a specific player.

AMENDMENT VIII:
THE FLYNN
Proposed by Christian Vainieri, David Turner, and Matthew Swanson and ratified by the Rules Committee on December 16, 2007.

A player who loses five games of MAGOO in a row shall be exempt from exclaiming "Huzzah" upon the conclusion of play.


The RULES COMMITTEE
Baltimore, Maryland,
This Sixteenth day of December,
Two-thousand and seven.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:13 AM

December 19, 2007

New Rules

It has been quite a week. Last Friday in Baltimore, there was a bowling baby shower for our friend Courtney, who is due in about two weeks.

Matt Westbrook of the democratic Westbrook family was there.

Courtney, the guest of honor was employing untraditional bowling technique.

Scott, the man responsible for her Courtney's current predicament, had an interesting shirt that seemed to be written in Martian.

But further investigation revealed the true meaning of the shirt's message.

As soon as Scott discovered what his shirt actually said, he took it off immediately. But I'm not going to show that here.

Courtney opened her presents, one of the necessary evils of baby showers.

Fortunately, there was also duckpin bowling. My team lost in the semifinals, but won the consolation game.

Later, we went over to friend Beth Duncan's house for a sleepover with Beth and Supi Loco.

We thought about doing our nails. I have for some time now been trying to persuade Beth to give me a pedicure, but for some inexplicable reason, she continues to resist. So instead we gave Supi and Beth their Christmas presents.

Those of you who don't know Supi probably aren't aware of her intense love of pirates. Hence, the pirate launcher we gave her.

She really loves Scooter, her cat, hence the crazy cat lady figurine.

Beth got the "Naked Men in Oven Mitts" refrigerator magnets, but Supi immediately snatched them away from her and demanded them for herself.

Beth finally got Supi to give the magnets back by offering this snow shovel in exchange.

The next morning, I continued my love affair with Spud.

Robbi and Beth ate oatmeal.

At one point, Iggy and Spud exchanged conspiratorial whispers.

I wonder now if whatever they discussed had something to do with Spud's new rain slicker.

Later that afternoon, our friend David arrived on the train. We picked him up and brought him to Chestertown for a short visit. On Sunday, David and I drove back to Baltimore to hang out with Christian and Rich Flynn, who is awesome.

For a long time now, my friends and I have enjoyed playing Uno. We play Uno with an uncommon passion, for uncommonly long stretches of time, and with some rather uncommon ritual components. For example, we don't play to see who wins. We play to see who loses. Getting rid of one's cards first, usually the point of Uno, bears no special distinction in our version. Nor does going out second. But going out third, providing one is playing with four persons, as was the case last Sunday, is everything. For, by finishing third, one avoids being the "Big Loser." The "Big Loser" is he who is left with cards in his hand when all of the other players are done. The "Big Loser" has to hold the losing card against his forehead and endure the utter humiliation of his "friends" pointing at him vigorously, shouting "Big Loser, Big Loser, Big Loser, Big Loser." There are exactly four utterances of the phrase, "Big Loser," no more and no less. And after the fourth "Big Loser," everyone claps for the big loser while saying "Yeah!", thus rebuilding his shattered self-confidence and preparing him to play another game. Does this sound childish? Trust me when I say that it is not. It's actually quite wonderful.

On Sunday, David was the first Big Loser of the evening.

He took it well, poor fellow.

Then Chris got unlucky, and was named Big Loser.

Then Rich was the Big Loser. Then David again. Then Rich again. Everyone was the Big Loser but me. I started gloating about my Uno prowess, confidently predicting that I would never be Big Loser.

Sometimes such hubris has a way of kicking one in the teeth.

After a while, we got adventurous, frisky even, and started proposing new rules. For example, we decided that instead of placing an 8 on an 8, one could place two 4s of the same color on the 8 instead. Or two 2s and one 4 of the same color. And so on. You get the picture. We decided to name instances of this phenomenon a "Magoo."

Why?

I cannot say. But, believe me when I tell you that we were so taken with the Magoo that we decided that it should be the namesake of a whole new game.

Further, we decided that in the game of Maggo whenever a player accumulates any three of the same kind of card, of any color, he may use one of his turns to hand the entire pile of three to any other player.

Further, if any four of the same kind of card were played in succession (regardless of color), those four cards were placed to the side, forming a pot of cards that the first player to "go out" would be forced to add to his hand.

We kept adding new rules like these, dizzying ourselves with the complexity, but driving ourselves into ever higher bands of hilarity.

I am lucky have some very good friends.

When the evening wound down and Rich was forced to drive back to New Jersey and Christian was forced to go to bed, David drafted the "Constigootion" of Magoo, which will be posted here soon, as soon as debate by the rules committee has ended. Magoo is a very nuanced game. I would hate to ruin its inevitable debut upon the world scene with less than perfect explanatory documentation.


Posted by bogenamp at 07:01 PM

December 14, 2007

Basically a Total Weenie

Yesterday we went to a party put on by Washington College's CV Starr Center (for the Study of the American Experience) and hosted by Adam Goodheart of recent oyster stew fame. The party was a jolly affair. We drank hot cider and nibbled on cheese and had animated conversations with several friends, old and new. As we were leaving, we noticed quite a ruckus on the front steps. Adam was instructing one of my fellow guests in the lost art of uncorking one's bottle of champagne using a saber.

Fascinated, I demanded an opportunity to try for myself.

So Adam removed the foil.

And demonstrated proper handling of the saber.

I assumed the position, and received my instructions. Proper technique dictates that one rub the blade edge of the saber up and down the neck of the bottle to agitate the contents and increase the pressure therein. Then, in one decisive downward thrust of the arm, the blade is driven into the lip of the bottle, causing the entire end of the bottle to dislodge itself, the cork still surrounded with a circle of glass. It is really quite dramatic. I was looking much forward to doing it myself.

And so I rubbed the blade up and down the neck of the bottle, waiting for the pressure to build. The crowd hummed with palpable excitement.

When I felt the time was right, I brought the blade down squarely on the lip of the bottle and...

...absolutely nothing happened. The blade glanced impotently off the end of the bottle and the crowd grew hushed. Undaunted, I tried again. The crowd grew excited again. I rubbed the blade up and down the neck. I waited for the moment to feel right. I brought the blade down and...

...to my horror, the blade glanced lamely off the bottle. The crowd was silent with pity.
My shame was thick and undeniable.

I tried again. This time the crowd was unwilling to place its hopes in my rapidly plummeting stock. I warmed up the bottle. I waited. I struck. I failed.

People covered their eyes and refused to acknowledge what they had just seen.

To make the humiliation complete, I tried and failed a fourth time.

I shrunk to approximately four inches high. I handed the bottle and saber over to another gentleman, who succeeded on his first try.

The crowd returned to full joviality and reveled in the spoils of my opponent's victory.

Dismally, I picked up the cork and ring of glass, a symbol of what might have been.

Adam tried to console me.

I was feeling a bit better until I learned that this young woman had also succeeded in sabering a bottle.

Apparently without even trying very hard.

My sense of self worth is at an all-time nadir. I need a good jumping competition to revitalize me. Or perhaps some duckpin bowling. This evening we head to Baltimore for the bowling baby shower of our friend Courtney, who is due in just two weeks.

There's nothing quite like bowling to restore a damaged ego.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:44 PM

December 13, 2007

In Training

We have signed up for a class to learn all about the process of bringing a child into this world. The class will be in early February, for eight consecutive hours, at the Chestertown hospital. Apparently, we will learn all sorts of useful things, which is good, because my current level of knowledge about how to bring a child into this world is very low. This much I can say: I was reading in our Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy the other day and saw the checklist of things to bring to the delivery room. I was extremely heartened to see that, along with some of the more obvious items for the expectant mother, the book suggested that one bring "snacks for your birthing partner." That's me! Snacks FOR ME. I felt very included, especially since some of the other pregnancy books we've read seem to take the attitude that the father will not care about the baby and might actually hate it. In all seriousness, these books have long sections about how the mother will have to try very hard to make the father take an interest in the child and to expect disappointment when it comes to the father's participation in the child's nurturing. Perhaps the members of my sex are more disappointing than I realize. Perhaps such incentives as "snacks for your birthing partner" are needed to make us feel invested in this whole child-rearing thing.

The child birthing classes are still a ways off, but we did have a bit of parent training last night. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember Tanker, Iggy's boyfriend from across the street.

Tanker and Iggy get along incredibly well and seem to share some secret affinity that makes their relationship truly unique.

Tanker, unfortunately, has been out of commission for the better part of a year recovering from a hip replacement surgery, probably the result of an injury sustained on this snowy romp.

He has recently recovered, however, and so the relationship has begun anew. And it has thrived! So much so that a few nights ago, Tanker's mom sheepishly asked us if Iggy might come over for a sleepover. In spite of my paternal concern (is she too young for this sort of thing? is Tanker a gentleman?), I acquiesced, and yesterday at 4:30, Ann came to fetch my Iggy away. Not fifteen minutes later we received an email indicating that Tanker and Iggy were having a heck of a good time, and just fifteen minutes ago I saw them walking by outside the window, side by side on a brisk morning walk.

It is strange not having her lying beside me, but I realize that part of my duty as her adopted father figure is preparing her for the world and knowing when the time has come to let go.

I am certain that I will be among the most enlightened (and, armed with my snacks, probably the best fed) father-to-be in those classes in February. I will do my very best not to gloat.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:30 PM

December 07, 2007

Into the Wild

On Monday we drove to Lexington, VA, to conduct a bit of business. I was required to wear my jacket.

When the business was done, we drove west along route 60/64.

About 30 miles later, we reached Douthat State Park, and made ourselves comfortable rustic cabin #6.

The cabin had many appealing features. Such as:

A big stone fireplace.

And rustic door-opening hardware worthy of a Little House on the Prairie book.

But what got us most excited were its more conventional offerings. Such as:

An actual stove top!

And and oven!

A sink with running water and drain!

Complete sets of matching cutlery!

And four matching plates, none of which was cracked!

There are probably not many visitors to the rustic cabin for whom the offerings of the efficiency kitchen represent a major step up. Suddenly our barn kitchenlessness weighed heavily upon me. But my gloom was short-lived. A hearty dinner was before us.

Though Douthat offers rustic cabins of many shapes and sizes, we chose the smallest version, in which the massive stone fireplace and bed are in the same room. This was a remarkably cozy arrangement.

The next day we set out for a short hike, a kind of warm-up for the much longer hike we would take the day after.

We climbed along the line of a ridge. It was steep, and we took frequent breaks.

We had purchased a new fanny pack/water bottle holder thing, but had neglected to remove the tiny fasteners that keep the water bottles attached to their holders before the thing is sold.

This made actually drinking the water a taxing affair.

Eventually we found ourselves high above the lake.

After we had climbed as far as we could, the path led us back down into the valley. We came to a crossroads and consulted our map.

But the signage was unhelpful.

Intuition led us around a bend and suddenly the lake was before us.

Robbi did remarkably well, considering her present imbalance.

The day was cool and clear and blue.

I show you the following photo for point of contrast with a photo you will see below. Study it well.

After our hike around the lake we returned to our rustic cabin for dinner, movies, and cards. We made another fire. A lot of it ended up in my hair.

We turned in early in anticipation of the long, steep hike we planned to take the next day. The next day we realized that a long, steep hike was probably not the best idea.

Eager not to miss out on the snow, we headed out instead for a short, flat hike around the lake.

Here is Robbi cheerfully modeling her maternity parka, the generous hand-me-down of our friends and recent parents Jose and Luciana.

Eventually we came to the beach. According to the sign, it was open.

But there seemed to be no lifeguard on duty. And a sign suggested that swimming was not to resume until Memorial Day.

Those of you who know Robbi know that she doesn't do well in the face of authority.

So I filled in as lifeguard while Robbi took a brisk swim.

And afterward could not resist the opportunity to do some jumping.

Meanwhile, Iggy amused herself on the jungle gym.

We hiked on until we reached the dam responsible for the very nice lake.

We spent some time there trying to catch snowflakes on our tongues. They were huge, clumpy snowflakes, each practically a meal in itself.

We hiked on until we reached the same tangle of root we had seen the day before.

The next morning we signed the cabin logbook...

...and headed back home.

The skies were blue once again, and the light dramatic.

On I-81 we passed a couple of WWE trucks, and Robbi got very excited imagining the trailers full of steel cages and stacks of wrestlers packed neatly in their travel crates.

We had ordered a bunch of paper and other bookmaking supplies before we left, and so many boxes were waiting at the foot of our stairs upon our return. One of them, however, was from PetEdge. It contained Iggy's Christmas present. We couldn't wait and neither could she, and so we unwrapped her brand new large-sized dog sofa.

A searing curiosity soon turned to a dedicated sloth.

The upshot of all this is that Douthat is a wonderful place to go for a weekend away from it all. They have camping sites too, but the rustic cabins are wonderful and pretty cheap, considering how nice they are. The trails are beautiful, and there is a beach and restaurant during the summer months, if you're into that sort of thing. I recommend Douthat at this time of year, when it is empty and the ground is covered with dried leaves.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:38 PM

December 02, 2007

A Novel Idea

Back in our college days, Brian Slattery, Drew Bunting, Ilya Garger and I formed the core of a on old-time jug band called The Motherpluckers. Three of the four of us are going to be featured at Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers that Rock, but Ilya, who lives in Bangkok is not, as the plan currently stands. Geography is his flimsy excuse.

Ilya is lobbying hard for the venue to be moved to Bangkok, which we on the planning committee have so far resisted. His most recent suggestion, which admittedly has a bit of sex appeal, is to charter a 747 for the entire subscribership, fly from Chestertown to Bangkok to pick him up, then turn around and fly back. Subscribers that Rock would then be, in Ilya's words, "a 34-hour nonstop galactic funk party." Which, you have to admit, has a nice ring to it.

If any of you are in possession of fabulous sums of disposable cash and feel giddy enough with Ilya's suggestion to support the concept of a flying festival, we are willing to approach the Chestertown town council about getting a permit to land a 747 on High Street. A few hundred thousand ought to do it. Email me here if you'd like to underwrite the plan.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:30 PM

November 27, 2007

Recently

I spent the first part of last week in Baltimore. While I was gone, Robbi busied herself with a secret project meant to surprise me upon my return. Although she bought the fabric more than a year ago, and although it has been many a late afternoon that she has reflected wistfully on how nice it would be if she had the time to take out the Bernina, I was indeed surprised to arrive home to see our new curtains hanging in the windows.

Although the stated purpose of the curtains was to shield the neighbors from the sight of me prancing about in my unmentionables, I am delighted by the soft red light that lands upon my desk in the mornings and late afternoons.

And I like how curtains make it easier for one to see the wind.

We were recently invited to dinner at our friend Adam's house. He served us oyster stew.

And set his table with beautiful silver, including spoons that, apparently, used to belong to Oscar Wilde.

Maiko has been visiting from Vancouver.

We took a walk in the park near our house over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Last week, Maiko performed a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the Academy Art Museum in Easton (with Seiko assisting).

Seiko, meanwhile, had a run-in with Iggy last week. While frisking together in the yard, Iggy's huge enthusiastic nose made forceful contact with Seiko's face.

This photo doesn't really do justice to her shiner. She has been telling people that she got tangled in a bar fight.

I have been making books for the next Idiots'Books mailing, which will go out in a few days. Some lucky subscribers will be receiving two books this month. In addition to Volume 11, George Washington Slept Here, those who have just renewed their subscriptions for a second year will also find Mr. Flipper Liked Cod when they open the envelope.

I made 200 copies of Mr. Flipper, a simple saddle-stitch with only one trim, while watching the Patriots hold on against the upset-minded Eagles Sunday night.

To express our profound sadness that Maiko's visit was coming to an end, we grilled salmon last night.

Our Alaskan sockeye goes well with grilled portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers.

The weather has been rainy and bleak for the past few days. Late last night, Robbi went out for a walk by the river.

The water was high and some otherworldly sounds were emanating from this grating. Iggy was terrified but unable to resist the temptation to investigate.

She may be trying to persuade us of her courage in light of her recent expulsion from the big bed by her big brother.

Iggy and Oscar seemed to have made their peace, though at what cost to Iggy's self-esteem I cannot say.

We have, as a result, been more than usually lenient when it comes to her continual desire to lounge on the couch in the afternoon sunlight.

Sometimes Iggy is a beautiful creature, and other times she looks like a bizarre alien thing.

In parting, I must confess to using the wide angle lens to exaggerate the point of Robbi's bulge. She is, in fact, still far from house-size, though she knows it's coming.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:22 PM

November 26, 2007

Big as a House

You need not tell me that Robbi, being just past the halfway point of this pregnancy, is going to get a lot larger in months ahead. It is a medical likelihood that the 14.7 ounce fetus will grow to six, seven, eight, or even nine times its current size before emerging in grand fashion. I accept this as one accepts in a vague hypothetical way the premise that one day the mighty sun will fizzle out and leave us very cold. For just as I look into the sky each morning and see that mighty ball of burning gas, resolute and eternal, when I saw this photo of Robbi, seemingly ready to go Krakatoa, I was equally unable to accept the inevitable conclusion suggested by the evidence before me.

Robbi is going to get bigger than this? It's difficult to fathom.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:36 PM

November 23, 2007

Don Johnson Swanson

We woke early this morning and headed out to visit Robbi's OB. The occasion was her five-month ultrasound, during which we got to observe all sorts of wonderful things. For example, we got to see the feet, both of which were kicking enthusiastically. The arms also made an appearance, as did the spine. The baby was curled in a ball, apparently, so getting a good look at the face was not easy. We did get to see that the thing has lips and a tiny nose, but we were not able to determine whether the child will look like Robbi, for example, or whether its genetic roadmap will include the same rough patch of gawky mid-adolescence through which its father had to slog. In the course of thirty minutes or so, the doctor took us on a tour of every nook and cranny of young Swanson-to-be. He even showed us a cross-section of the developing brain, including the "devil's fork" that indicates strong development in the frontal lobe. We saw its tiny bladder, which was full of liquid, a sign that the fetus has been swallowing amniotic fluid, something that fetuses of 21 weeks are supposed to be doing. Its tiny liver was evident, as were all four valves of its tiny heart. We even got to see the cord of muscle that keeps one of the heart valves from opening the wrong way.

The only part of the child we did not see was the "groinal region." I had wondered if, in the heat of the moment, we would crumble and demand to know the gender of the child. But we did not. The mystery persists. The speculation continues.

The doctor took lots of pictures, but we were only given one to bring home. Here he/she is.

If you can decipher the above, you are a better interpreter of prenatal architecture than are we. The doctor did explain what was going on in this picture, but we both seem to have forgotten. I'm fairly certain that there is at least one arm pictured, and maybe two, and that the bulbous knob featured to the right of the frame is my young child's head.

Perhaps this glimpse will provide fodder for those who seem bent on naming this child. Know this: the high bid for naming rights stands at $400. And although I will not reveal what sum will make you a winner, I can say that the reserve has not yet been met.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:19 PM

November 17, 2007

My Mother-in-Law is a Rock Star

Last night we drove to the Academy Arts Museum in Easton for the shwanky "members-only" party that marked the opening of Seiko's show.

Robbi was really excited to be there.

Immediately upon arrival, we could see that Seiko has reached the big time.

The show was stunning.

The containers Seiko chose to include demonstrate the wide range of her work.

She introduced some new forms.

Some new ideas.

And some wisdom.

My favorite piece is this massive, multi-piece construction meant to suggest a cloud.

Many friends were on hand.

Including Maiko, who will be performing a tea ceremony next week at the museum.

And Rima, proud Idiots'Books subscriber.

Donald and Ann, The parents of Iggy's boyfriend Tanker were there. Donald and I practiced being wise and sophisticated, something that comes naturally to neither of us.

Robbi and Ann practiced being sexy ladies, which both of them do with a comfortable ease.

In addition to the beautiful containers, the variety of plant material was something to behold.

There was a real live banana flower, for example.

And a King Protea.

And one of those, you know, little green balls in a cluster plants. I love those.

The crowd was huge and appreciative, and Seiko was a huge star. The best part of the evening was how much fun she clearly had.

If you live within driving distance of Easton, and if you have the time, I strongly encourage you to check out the exhibition. It is beautiful and unique, just like my mother-in-law.


Posted by bogenamp at 05:38 PM

November 13, 2007

Janet Jackson

Unhappy with the celebrity look-alikes turned up by Robbi's efforts of yesterday, I decided to take matters into my own hands by submitting a more representative photo.

What I learned was a bit puzzling.

Notice how there are no white males among my closest celebrity companions. From this I draw a number of potential conclusions:

1) I am utterly unique, and the universe of white male celebrities is yearning for a face like mine to join its constellation.
2) Faces like mine are not celebrity material.

I prefer to leave the question unresolved and thus preserve the possibility of a coming greatness.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:06 AM

November 12, 2007

Graduation

As scheduled, my brother graduated from his Basic and Infantry training last Friday morning.

We gathered on the parade grounds, where there was a Striker with a large machine gun and tubes for firing surface-to-air missiles.

There was a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

There was a band.

As the ceremony began, a barrage of machine gun fire was heard from the far end of the parade grounds, and then the Striker and the Bradley tore across the open space, stopped, and deposited soldiers who then proceeded to deploy canisters of purple and green smoke, behind which they crouched and pointed their guns in menacing fashion.

There were some speeches and a lot of marching.

After the graduation was official, but before the soldiers were released, my brother's platoon was called upon for one last bit of training.

And then my brother was officially a soldier.

His drill sergeant seemed unwilling to let go.

I had packed for the trip to Georgia in haste and had, consequently, forgotten to bring the shirt that actually goes with my bright orange toaster tie. Meaning, I know that this brown shirt with blue stripes is not its natural companion.

Though my new Army sweatshirt worked pretty well, I think.

And even better with my navy blue blazer.

We posed for some photos.

Robbi modeled her new shirt.

As the crowd dispersed, I caught sight of a truly remarkable jacket and asked permission to take a photo.

After the graduation, my brother had to register for Airborne, a process that took about six hours. So we wandered around the base for a while. Fort Benning has 350,000 residents and covers an enormous area. Eventually found our way to the Airborne training facility. Sometime in the next three weeks, my brother will jump out of these towers...

...and will use these ripcords to simulate the velocity, angle, and impact of landing after jumping out of a plane.

My mom and I checked out an old plane.

Eventually my brother was cleared for a three day leave.

And so we took him and his buddy, a guy from Syracuse, back to my grandparents' house in Atlanta, about three hours north. It was 6:00pm and the guys hadn't eaten since 7:00 that morning. We bought them a family pack of chicken (12 pieces, 6 biscuits, large fries, and a tub of slaw). They ate it all.

The next day was my brother's birthday.

We had a party and lots of my cousins came. Even though Don Johnson Swanson is the first child on my dad's side of the family and the first among Robbi and her siblings, my cousins on my mom's side have been more productive.

And so I got to practice my budding dad skills on various babies.

Liam and I got along fairly well.

Katjie and I hit it off famously.

Lydia (who is actually my cousin) told me all about kindergarten while playing with Iggy.

Lydia fed Iggy more treats in one day than Iggy has ever before eaten in one day. The treats were "Greenies", a treat meant to freshen a dog's breath. All the next day, Iggy's poops were deep green. And ever so fresh.

Things were going so well with the babies that I started to gain all sorts of confidence regarding my baby skills.

And then I tried to spend some time with Maddie, and I realized in a crushing moment, that I still have a lot to learn.

Maddie cried so hard that she stopped breathing in her rage and briefly turned blue. I kid you not.

Later that night my mom gifted us with our first piece of baby gear: a Becco baby carrier, a lovely, functional item recommended by our friend Marigold, mother of Huckleberry Haske. You may read about her many maternal exploits on their family blog.

Robbi tried on the Becco.

I tried on the Becco.

We are ready to do this, I tell you. Or maybe we're not. It's entirely possible.

The next morning we bid farewell to my Gram and Pop and then we headed north for home.

Instead of castles, the state of South Carolina offered us a beautiful rest stop.

On the way north, we spent a few hours in Durham, NC, where I used to live. As much as I love Chipotle, the original burrito of my heart is produced only in Durham, at the Cosmic Cantina of 9th Street. Robbi had never been. I aimed to change this.

As was my custom back in the day, I ordered the Giant Steak Burrito.

Earlier in the day, before I thought of stopping in Durham, I had resolved to start eating more sensible portions.

But faced with certain kinds of bliss, some resolutions are better forgotten.

Or at least deferred until tomorrow.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:34 PM

Referral

The rest of the weekend in Georgia was great, and I have a long post ahead of me, but since I have heaping piles of work on the immediate horizon, I will send you elsewhere for the time being--for a bit of diversion on Idiotsbox. I promise you will not be disappointed if you choose to click here.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:16 AM

November 08, 2007

Turning Blue

By way of introduction, here are my sister Lindsay and her husband Casey.

They got married in the middle of the summer, and I had not met Casey until yesterday. They made the long trip from Portland, Oregon, for the same reason we did.

To show our army pride.

Today was the "turning blue" ceremony for my brother and the other members of his battalion. During the ceremony, which happens the day before they actually graduate from basic training, the soldiers are presented with their Infantry Blue Cords, which are worn on their right shoulders and which signify that they are members of the Infantry.

The families waited with anticipation.

Suddenly, a thick blanket of smoke filled the area as Metallica's Enter Sandman began to play.

The soldiers appeared, yelling through the smoke, and arranged themselves in formation.

My brother, who was named a leader in his battalion, stood at the front of the formation.

There was a speech, and then the soldiers were given ten minutes to spend time with their families.

Here he is, PFC John Alexander Cook.

PFC John Alexander Cook giving his mother a big hug.

My sister Lindsay showing her appreciation for PFC John Alexander Cook.

Here is my brother's dad Jack attaching the Infantry Blue Cord to my brother's shoulder.

Casey, mom, my grandma, and I made up the Army pride t-shirt brigade.

My brother with a couple of his closest friends from the battalion.

After the informal family time, the soldiers got back into formation. Apparently, they had left their barracks messy, which compelled their drill sergeant to exact some last-minute punishment.

To his credit, the drill sergeant joined his men in the drill.

It was clear that my brother had made a positive impression on his two drill sergeants.

After the ceremony, I volunteered to carry my brother's pack. It weighs 40 pounds.

Robbi felt compelled to try.

It was a failed experiment.

Alex showed us some of their training facilities.

Including Eagle Tower, where they did all sorts of rope climbing and rappelling exercises.

After the Turning Blue ceremony, Alex was granted an eight hour leave. So we headed to a barbeque place to get things started in grand fashion. Casey and I got competitive about ribs.

We both rose to the occasion.

But, ultimately, I think, both of us lost.

Right across from the restaurant was a Babies R Us, not exactly Robbi's favorite store.

I have, of late, become fascinated by the abundance of baby furniture options, available in a wide array of colors and configurations.

Baby clothes are so damn cute.

I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have written that sentence six months ago.

It wasn't until much later on tonight that Robbi and I remembered that today is our four year wedding anniversary. It was my mother that reminded us. Neither of us is very good with dates.

So we took this picture to commemorate the day.

And this picture because the statue was so strange.

And this picture, because from a certain angle, this sculpture of a little girl catching raindrops on her tongue is downright terrifying.

But today belongs to PFC John Alexander Cook. We are so proud of you. Tomorrow is graduation. I hear that there is going to be a tank.


Posted by bogenamp at 09:54 PM

November 07, 2007

Castles

Apparently, castles are big in South Carolina. We stopped for gas not long into our drive today and there were two castles within eyesight of the gas station/Wendy's/DQ/Stuckey's multi-purpose extravaganza at which we stopped.

Both castles, apparently, had something to do with video games.

On one hand, there was Stormin' Norman's Video Games.

And on the other, there was Castle Video Games.

The whole situation raised a host of questions. Such as: how do the folks at Norman's feel about the other, clearly superior castle? Even if Norman's game offerings were on par with, or even superior to, those of Castle Video Games, wrenching feelings of castle inferiority would haunt them, right? Norman's has no knights, for example.

Norman's has no massive wooden door.

So which came first? Did Castle Video Games invade the peaceful town, acting like the Wal-Mart of the "video game stores in castles" world, flexing it corporate muscle and shaming poor Norman's? Or did Norman's, the upstart renegade mom and pop dare to dream, taking on the comfortable fatcat Castle Video Games in a daring act of grassroots castle-based video game commerce?

We can only wonder and cheer for the little guy. But one has to ask, if there were to be an actual battle, do we think that Norman's would stand a fighting chance?

We drove on.

As we entered Georgia, we passed this gigantic peach.

Iggy took a nap in the crook of my arm.

We marveled at the web of highways.

We enjoyed the late afternoon light on the bricks.

Robbi got irritated at something she saw.

It may have been this billboard.

We left Iggy with my grandpa in Atlanta and proceeded to Columbus, where tomorrow we will see my brother for the "family day" that precedes his boot camp graduation ceremony. I have brought along my "Proud Army Brother" t-shirt for the occasion.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:09 PM

Travel Tips

We have just passed a restful but short night in the Day's Inn of Gastonia, North Carolina. We are en route to Columbus, Georgia, where, tomorrow morning, my brother will graduate from Army boot camp. The family is convening to celebrate his accomplishment and wish him well. But Columbus is far from Chestertown, and so we had to make a pit stop last night.

Right around 2:00am we pulled in. The Gastonia Days Inn had been our destination from the start, both because it was geographically situated at the approximate limits of our driving endurance and because, according to Robbi's research, it is "pet friendly." What does this mean?

1) we pay an extra $5
2) a crazy schnauzer barks like mad every time Iggy walks past the room in which it is spending the night
3) Iggy gets her own bed

Frankly, the idea of her own bed unnerved her, and she ended up sleeping on the floor.

She also had to eat her dinner (and, subsequently, her breakfast) out of a two-cup pyrex since someone forgot to pack her dog bowl.

Though any inconvenience or discomfort she might have felt on that front was surely made up for by the scalloped hand towels.

Those who do not know me will probably not be shocked to learn that, as a man who loves his comfort, I travel everywhere with four fine pillows. The scalloped hand towels were but the extra icing on my cake of luxury.

All in all, the Gastonia Days Inn was a nice place to pass the night. Keep it on the short list of places to take your dog on vacation.

And now we travel to Atlanta, to meet up with my mom and Dean and travel to Columbus with them. More stories of the main event to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:54 AM

October 31, 2007

Leaving New York

My last day in New York began well. I have long been a fan of smoked fish, and so I was unable to resist the "Lox on Lox" advertised in the menu at Norma's.

Lox on Lox was, as advertised, a mountain of lox. The bottom layer was a bagel, toasted, coated with a healthy serving of cream cheese and covered with an astonishing amount of lox. The middle layer was a bagel, toasted, coated with a healthy serving of cream cheese and covered with an astonishing amount of lox. The top layer was a mini bagel coated with a healthy serving of cream cheese and covered with an astonishing amount of lox. On the very top was a little cup made out of lox filled with three kinds of caviar. Surrounding it all was a veritable garden of red onions and eight of the largest, fattest, most delicious capers I have ever eaten. After eating it all, I had to wash my hands.

Whereupon, I found The Airblade.

I beheld the Airblade. The fine print promised a speedy, gratifying hand drying experience. It was with trepidation that I thrust my hand into The Airblade, as instructed. While The Airblade went about its noisy business, I had the distinct impression that the skin was being removed from both of my hands. The Airblade finished. I removed my hands, expecting a Sahara-like dryness. I found instead that my hands were still soaking wet. Pulverized but wet. I used a paper towel. Hand dryers just don't work. If The Airblade didn't get the job done, I fear that nothing will.

It was a busy day. An interview, a meeting, another meeting, and then a frantic walk back to the train station as moments ticked town to the departure of the 6:20 regional. I could not help but stop and take this photo, though. I turned my head to see the Empire State Building bearing down on me in the dying light.

I arrived home to find Iggy still wearing her party hat from Bob's birthday dinner a few nights past.

A lively, festive girl, she is always the last one to admit that a party has ended.

It was good to see that certain things proceeded apace in my absence.

According to the pregnancy tracker widget mounted in my dashboard, 18 weeks have elapsed. Only 154 days to go...

Posted by bogenamp at 09:14 AM

October 29, 2007

New York

I'm in New York and have been since Thursday. Robbi came up with me, but has since returned to Chestertown. Why are we here? For a number of reasons, a mixture of work and play.

The train ride up was pleasant. I bought Robbi some cheese and crackers on the strong recommendation of Mrs. Emily Vainieri.

The Amtrak cheese and crackers tray is really quite nice and includes two Babybel cheeses. It kind of makes one feel sophisticated and European, as if the Alps could be seen out the window instead of New Jersey.

All feelings of sophistication melted quickly as we arrived in Penn Station and caught the 1 train down to Christopher Street.

We have been staying with our friend David Turner. As you will learn below, he is a very famous actor.

We dropped off our stuff at David's and headed to midtown, where I was a registered participant at the College Board conference. Why was I participating in the College Board conference? The reasons are too dull to recount. And so I will show you a photo of the silver trees we found in a park.

New York is kind of like Oz to people who live in Chestertown.

We spotted the legendary Flatiron Building without really meaning to.

We walked all over the city, taking in the sights and smells. Eventually we happened upon a swank Greenwich Village baby boutique. I was more horrified than tempted by this carriage.

But I do like the sleek, Euro-rad baby bouncer.

Apparently, the small plastic baby is not included.

I was taken by this $160 outfit.

And Robbi was taken by this one, only $230.

In the end, we ended up leaving with a glossy postcard advertising the baby bouncer. Which was free.

We will clothe our baby in a potato sack or trash bag, depending on the weather.

Later that night we saw...

...a Broadway show featuring our good friend David Turner. The Ritz, a Terrence McNally revival, takes place in a gay bath house in the 1970s, stars Rosie Perez, and features a lot of really muscular guys in towels (or less). In other words, it's perfect to take your grandma to.

After the show, David took us on a tour of the set, which is a fantastic, three-story affair. But due to union rules, I could not take photos.

There are no union rules about photographing David in front of the theater, though.

Friday night we got together with my high school friends for Shabbat dinner.

From left to right: Holden, Matt, Victor, and me.

The food was delicious.

Robbi was particularly pleased by the homemade chocolate covered strawberries.

Holden and Michelle just got married a few weeks ago. They are already old hands.

It rained on Saturday morning. And since he is an actor, David had to go to work. Robbi and I found our way to Elephant and Castle for a rather nice brunch.

After brunch, it was time for Robbi to go back to Chestertown to return to the piles of books she has to illustrate. I walked her to the subway.

And bid her farewell.

Later that night I got back together with my high school buddies to watch game 3 of the world series.

Some of you may remember Edgar, the outstanding French Bulldog that lives with Holden and Michelle.

Edgar is psychotic and thinks that he is large. One of his favorite games is savagely attacking his puppet friend.

I love Edgar. Apparently, I might get a chance to dog sit him in the spring.

Last night, David and I stayed in and enjoyed a roaring fire while watching game 4 of the Series.

This morning, I enjoyed the breakfast of champions.

I realize that my failure to tap into the vast cultural and commerce-based opportunities of the metropolitan New York area might be profoundly disappointing to many the aspiring urbanite, but I am not a city guy.

Nevertheless, David and I put on our finest tonight.

We took the 1 train uptown.

It was loud.

After our ride uptown, we both were happy to emerge again into the city.

Our destination was a restaurant at 64th and Broadway where we met David's parents for dinner.

As I type, he is at the Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera and I am sitting on his couch watching Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers take on the Denver Broncos.

Just the way I like to enjoy the city.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:39 PM

October 28, 2007

Pumpkins

We have been in New York City for days, which is why there has been no posting for a while. There is plenty to report on our busy days here, but first things first. Halloween is almost upon us, which meant that I was compelled to buy some pumpkins the other day.

Robbi is a Halloween enthusiast. She loves getting dressed up, she loves handing out candy on the doorstep, and she starts getting excited about the Chestertown Halloween parade months in advance. I, on the other hand, am a curmudgeon. When we lived in Baltimore and I was left alone one Halloween night a few years ago, I turned out the porch lights and hid in the basement. I'm not proud, but there was a good football game on.

The point of the story is, absent the motivation of making Robbi happy, it probably wouldn't occur to me to carve pumpkins. But I do like knives.

Especially this one, a really fancy vegetable-slicing knife we got as a gift from my father.

Truly terrifying when removed from its protective packaging.

But really quite effective in taking on a pumpkin.

As shown.

Robbi and I each have our own approach.

And our own results.

We endured the heckling of the peanut gallery.

But eventually were done.

Apparently there are experts who can analyze one's handwriting and discern such things as personality type, age, and criminal record. I am certain that similar insights could be gleaned by careful examination of one's pumpkin carving choices.

Please feel free to share your observations. As long as they are not unkind.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:57 PM

October 24, 2007

Little Blue

One day a few years back Robbi and I woke up one morning and decided that we needed to simplify our lives. Things had gotten too complicated, too tiring. We had too many commitments. And so we were going to say no to a few more things. We were going to stop running around like crazy all the time.

This was when we lived in Baltimore. We lived on Falls Road, at one point the major north/south thoroughfare through the city, and now a minor road that flanks interstate 83. We decided on that morning to start driving north on 83 to see where we ended up. The road took us out of the city into the rolling green countryside north of Baltimore. It took us through small towns and open fields. It was beautiful, the road we lived on.

Eventually we found ourselves in Southern Pennsylvania, the road lined with trees. We were feeling good. Life was feeling simple again. The sky was blue. We saw a sign by the side of the road. It said, Weimaraner Puppies.

The sign threw Robbi into a highly agitated state. While my dream dog has always been the Boston Terrier, Robbi has always had a soft spot for Weimies, and so we followed the sign until we found another, and another, and eventually we found a farm, where we parked our car and met Iggy. The rest is history.

She was six months old when we got her, roughly the same height and length that she is today, but only half the weight. She was a scrawny little thing, still very much a puppy, but not that outrageously cute form of early puppy. We missed out on that part of Iggy's life.

The other day, on a lark, I decided to google blue Weimaraner puppy, just to see what I found.

Here it is.

Pretty cute, but I'm sure she would have been a handful.

She may not have simplified our lives, but she has added something simple to the mix.

If you don't have a dog, consider getting one. They stink and drool and crap, but yet...there's just something nice about unconditional love.


Posted by bogenamp at 02:21 PM

October 22, 2007

One Wedding, Two Dinners, and a Brunch

We had a fine weekend in Baltimore. There was no drama, no surprises. Christian and Emily got married. End of story. But the wedding proper did not happen until Saturday evening. The journey began, as it often does, with a drive south on Maryland 213. For a while we had the bad luck to be trailing some port-a-potties.

An ill omen intensified by foul weather on the bridge.

Things got a little more promising when we stopped by to visit our afflicted friend Courtney, whose "condition" is a bit more advanced than Robbi's.

By the time we got to our friend Beth's house, where we were staying for the weekend, we were in fine spirits. Especially when we got to play with Spud, Beth's new dog.

He is a docile, tractable pug. Basically a huge ho. I love dogs like that.

We got dressed and headed downtown to Pazo, a swanky tappas restaurant.

There were incredibly big olives to be had.

And an arrangement placed in a hollowed pumpkin.

Not surprisingly, Emily attended the event.

As did Christian.

As did Christian's parent's, Deborah and Humberto.

Also present was Christian's friend John. John is all about taking care of the ladies. He does things like push in their chairs when they sit down.

I wanted to tell John that his old-fashioned notions were not appreciated, that Robbi was offended by this sort of condescending behavior.

But apparently, this was not true.

He is a sly, sassy one, that John.

The food was excellent and the service better. The place seemed like a thoroughly high-class joint, so imagine my surprise when my dinner fork was imperfect.

I was tempted to raise a major stink but got distracted when Christian started doing his patented duck imitation.

It was a nice meal with some nice toasts. Sometimes, people said amusing things.

Other people said heartwarming things.

And then John said something unprintable.

Truly, a man must have his standards.

Though Christian's sister, Amy, seemed not to mind.

After dinner, we were encouraged to take the pumpkins.

Though Christian seemed not to approve.

Thus ended day one of the wedding weekend. Sleep followed. I woke to the following sight. In addition to her many other gifts, friend Beth apparently gives a mean manicure.

See?

Try as I might, I could not convince Beth to give me a pedicure, something I have always desired. A group of friends and I were playing a Canadian game called Don't Be a Dork a few years ago. It is an interactive sort of game with periodic group participation exercises. We were charged, by the game, to think of the person in the group who had the nastiest feet and then to speak that name aloud at the count of three. Everyone thought. Everyone counted to three. Everyone spoke his choice. And I was greeted with a chorus of voices articulating in unison my besmirched name.

I must confess that I also voted for me. Still, the consensus hurt.

Beth indicated that it was enough that she was willing to be my friend in spite of my feet. Actually coming in contact with them was out of the question.

And so we got dressed, my feet as hideous as ever.

We headed for Christian and Emily's place, where pictures were underway.

Aunt Peggy was looking fabulous.

But the bride was radiant.

Her father and uncle Art were all spiffed up for the big day.

Deb and Hum seemed ready to see their boy wed.

John seemed poised to stab someone with a letter opener.

I was glad that there were no chairs for him to pull out for Robbi.

Robbi was more than ready for the "Chris and Emily get married" part of the weekend.

I was ready. (I only wear toilet ties to the weddings of those I love dearly.)

Christian and Emily wouldn't stop making out.

But apparently, they were also ready.

So we headed for the church.

There were hijinks with the veil.

But aren't there always?

We headed in to the chapel where they were to be wed.

Emily chose the space because her parents got married there, as did her aunt and uncle. It is a beautiful little room with lots of gilded paintings and not many seats. As such, it was a small, intimate wedding party of sixteen.

In spite of appearances to the contrary, Emily was really quite pleased to be getting married there.

This guy was in charge.

He performed a beautiful service, much of which was sung by a cantor. It was my first Greek wedding service, and so I was unprepared for the degree of ceremony. Throughout the 40-minute service, there were various exchanging of rings, the wearing (and unwearing) of crowns, a procession around the central table, and lots of standing up and sitting down. I wasn't really sure at what point they actually got married, but eventually they did. The whole thing was lovely and emotional. I cried recklessly. Fortunately, right when things were getting out of hand, the wedding ended.

We headed back downtown for dinner a Callie's Court.

See how different Emily looks as a married person?

Christian's and my good friend David was not able to attend the wedding on account of his being on Broadway at present, but he wrote a toast for me to read. Those of you who know David will not be surprised to hear that the toast was incredibly funny. But also incredibly heartfelt. Apparently, there are people that really love Christian and Emily in the world.

There was a toast.

Then Robbi and I presented our wedding gift, a book about Christian and Emily and their coming to know one another and falling in love. Robbi did a reading.

People laughed in the right places.

Our dinners arrived.

Mine was delicious, but since he arrived with eyes, I tried my best to empathize with him before eating him.

I'm not sure the exercise did anything to improve the taste.

We played that game with spoons and noses.

And though it was not my intention in taking this picture, I have to say that, seeing it now, I think Robbi could have a very credible career in mime.

Back at Christian and Emily's house after the meal, we decided it was high time to let down our hair. Emily took this literally.

Hairspray is a wonderful, terrible thing.

We decided to play a bit of Celebrities. Those of you familiar with the game will appreciate the fact that "Emily Vainieri" and "Mrs. Emily Vainieri" both made appearances in the pot.

Here is Robbi evoking the sun god Ra in round three.

Eventually everyone got really tired, even the man and the woman of the day.

Yes, Christian and Emily are married. And nothing could please us more.

Coverage of the brunch to come. Suffice it to say that there were bagels.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:24 PM

October 18, 2007

In Need of Genius

Sometimes I'm mystified, wondering why we choose to let animals run free in our homes. I say "we" in the royal sense, knowing full well that many have the sense to just say no to pets. I admire those people. They are wise. They are strong. While the rest of us suffer the mess, stench, expense, and hassle of animals, these wise, strong people are sitting peacefully in their quiet, clean homes, enjoying the expensive olives and cheeses that they bought with the same money I have been spending on Science Diet, greenies, and vaccinations. Don't know what a greenie is? That means you are wise and strong. Stay that way. Resist temptation. Avoid kennels and greeting cards.

I am looking forward to the arrival of our child for, even though the thing will surely take cost, mess, and hassle to a whole new level, the animal-to-human ratio will once again be even. If there is a war, we humans will be better equipped to put up a fight. We lose that war daily now for want of reinforcements.

For the last few weeks, our situation has been even more dire. In addition to Iggy, Oscar, Lily, and the two fish Nopay and Attention (named by Seiko as a testament to their unwillingness to acknowledge her in a doting way), we have been the foster parents of Petey, a lonesome beagle who lives down the street.

Petey's rightful owner is living in an apartment that doesn't allow dogs, so Petey is living with his grandparents in Chestertown. Beagles are, as a breed, prone to despair when left alone, and so Petey spends his afternoons with us, terrorizing Iggy and drooling on her head. This contributes to the aforementioned stench of her. But I digress. Petey is a good boy. When not gnawing on Iggy or trying to mount her, he is really quite well behaved.

Robbi was feeling a bit rough last night. We're busy working on another project and, as usual, we have waited until the waning hours and find ourselves in panic mode. Last night was muggy and thick, and Robbi was hot and grouchy, and even so, there was really only one remedy for what ailed her.

The genius hat is just as effective on hot October evenings as it is on cold February mornings. The desired mood adjustment was swift.

Part of Robbi's joy was derived from her recent acquisition, a box of new x-acto blades.

"New x-acto blades?" you say, with some skepticism. "That doesn't sound like very much fun."

I counter by asking whether you read that packaging carefully. Did you, for example, happen to notice the quantity of blades that Robbi ordered?

Why settle for a package of ten or twenty x-acto blades when one can have 500? Why run the risk of running out of blades in one's lifetime when one's children and grandchildren could one day use blades from the very same box?

Viva la x-acto blades. Viva la one-to-one human-to-pet ratio. Viva la Christian and Emily, who are due to wed on Saturday. Tomorrow we head to Baltimore for the first of several celebratory meals.

If you harbor a long-suppressed intention to marry either Christian or Emily, you are running out of time to show up and stage a dramatic intervention. Plus, you have to admit that these two seem fairly well matched. I mean, they are practically interchangeable.


Posted by bogenamp at 08:15 PM

October 05, 2007

Big News/Little News

Now that we have been living on the Eastern Shore for a full year, we thought it was time to get a new primary care physician, and so we made appointments with the doctor Robbi's dad sees. Yesterday we were all set to drive to our appointment, only to find that the office is about a 40-second walk from our front door. And so we walked. The doctor sent us away, ordering a full battery of bloodwork from each of us, and so this morning we headed to LabCorp to get our blood drawn. You may not know this, and might find it shocking and improbable, but I am a tremendous weenie when it comes to needles. As recently as four years ago, I had to bring Robbi with me when I got a vaccination. I've been working on accepting the fact that the needle doesn't actually hurt and that I am unlikely to actually die when punctured, and today I had perhaps my most successful blood draw to date. I didn't even get lightheaded. My dream is one day to have enough nerve to donate blood. But I'm still years away.

On the way home from LabCorp, we stopped by the new bakery/cafe to check things out, still stinging somewhat from the recent trauma.

A smoothie set Robbi smiling again.

French toast did the trick for me.

But I digress. I promised big news, not a recap of breakfast. The big news is that while I was in Texas, Robbi secretly planned to have the long-anticipated air conditioning system installed in the barn. We looked into such options as central air (expensive and cumbersome to install), window units (loud, ugly, inefficient and a violation of historic district rules), and the heat pump (a relatively new technology more popular in Europe than in the US that both heats AND cools efficiently, effectively, and quietly).

Here it is. A fellow named Dwayne installed it for us.

It tucks in rather unobtrusively above the hutch.

Out back there is a compressor.

Much smaller than the typical A/C compressor.

Perhaps some of you will be disappointed that our rustic, hardscrabble barnliving setup has been compromised and besmirched by the addition of cool air. Though I sympathize with your desire to romanticize our existence, let me tell you that life in a hot hayloft is not noble enough to offset the horrors of humid Maryland summers. We are sanguine about our embrace of technologies. The washer/dryer, the heat pump, and the DirecTV dish.

So that's the big news. While the hot Maryland sun beats upon our metal roof, we are cool inside, comfortable and once again able to concentrate.

The heat has been particularly troublesome for Robbi as a result of the "little news."

Perhaps the observant among you noticed in the Lake George pictures, but Robbi has been growing somewhat rounder of late, in particular in the midsection. Her "condition" will become increasingly conspicuous in coming weeks, and so we are happy to report that the impending child in question is slated to arrive in early April. Which gives us less than six months to try and figure out where the hell we're going to put it. Let's just say that choosing a color for the nursery is the least of our present worries.

On the way home from breakfast we stopped by Pride and Joy, Chestertown's own child apparel boutique.

I tried on this Scandinavian baby-carrier thing.

It was remarkably comfortable and easy to wear, especially when worn without a baby.

In other news, Oscar has taken over Iggy's little bed.

Iggy and Lily are getting along surprisingly well.

The Volume 10 mailing inches ever closer to happening.

And Robbi is going full-bore in painting the panels for our Chestertown 2008 calendar.

Somewhere amid this squalor and menagerie, we'll find a place to put a baby. Thank goodness they are so small, so quiet, and so very well-behaved.


Posted by bogenamp at 02:23 PM

October 03, 2007

Northeastern Exposure

On the heels of my visit to Texas, I needed some cool, clear air, and so we packed up the car and drove north to Lake George, New York. Robbi's dad and his sister, Robbi's Aunt Mimi, spent their childhood summers in Silver Bay, NY, and Robbi's grandfather built a little cottage there years ago. Here it is:

We drove up on Friday. Saturday we set out for a bit of a drive along the lake. We lunched in Ticonderoga.

Robbi talked me into buying her a caramel apple.

After lunch, we picked raspberries.

Rather, Robbi picked raspberries while I kept a lookout for trouble.

Eventually I found these strange little bugs.

On the way back to the cottage, we stopped in the cemetery where Robbi's grandparents are buried.

Theirs is one of the most beautiful headstones I've ever seen.

The day was glorious, and we were near a lake, and so we decided to do some kayaking.

The water was incredibly clear.

There was one short, low-end kayak with a heavy handle and one long, high-end kayak with a light paddle.

Guess who got the nice kayak...

...and was subsequently much faster?

Things were going well, when suddenly we came upon some danger.

Sitting as I was in the low-end, slow, cumbersome kayak, I was nearly overcome by the danger.

But then I dug deep and found the courage to confront my fears, and found, to my surprise, that I love danger. A lot.

We continued on and eventually came upon an island.

Robbi, in the faster, better, sleeker, more virtuous kayak got there first, and declared herself the discoverer, and therefore president, of the island.

I could tell right away that she was going to be a tyrant.

And so I opted to remain neutral, floating, unallied.

Eventually I remembered that while Robbi might be faster and more dexterous on water, that I was still bigger and likely to hold my own against her on solid ground. And so I decided to attempt a landing.

It was with great trepidation that I stepped on the virgin shores, unspoiled by the white man's footfall, wondering what marvels awaited me as I explored the untouched acres.

I found myself on some outer peninsula of the island and was uncertain how to make it to the mainland.

Eventually I found a path, treacherous, but navigable.

I explored the indigenous flora.

And found surprisingly little in terms of fauna.

Within 15 minutes, we considered the island officially "conquered."

There were no peoples to subdue, no minerals to extract, no acres to ruin with agriculture, not even room enough to build a mini-mart. And so we left, disgusted.

And headed back to the dock for a swim.

It seemed like an excellent opportunity to practice my jumping.

At first I was tentative.

Then slightly less tentative.

Then really not very tentative.

Then, frankly, downright untentative.

It was the best jump of my life. I may never jump again.

Later that night, back at the cottage, we played Rummicub with Mimi and her friend Carol.

I wish I could say that the cottage was as warm and cozy-looking as it appears in these pictures. It is warm and cozy, don't get me wrong, but the camera was doing something unreal with the light in these.

I don't know if you've every played Rummicub, but it is a lot like gin rummy, but with tiles instead of cards. Success in the game is entirely dependent on being good with numbers and recognizing patterns, etc., things that do not come naturally to me or Robbi. Mimi was being very patient and helpful, though, pointing out moves we were neglecting to make, thus keeping us from losing horribly each hand. In fact, Robbi was doing very well and was in a position to win the whole shebang. Until I got a really good hand and sent her packing (with lots of help from Mimi, I must admit).

I don't think Iggy appreciated having her picture taken a few minutes later as we went walking in the dark along the road outside the cottage. She was so thoroughly blinded by the flash that she ran into things for a few minutes. I felt bad.

The next morning we went hiking up to Jabe's Pond, a hike that Robbi remembers from childhood Augusts at the local YMCA camp. Apparently, the Jabe's Pond hike was the hike of choice for the "woozles," the particular level of the YMCA camp hierarchy that Robbi inhabited during the summers in question. She had graduated from "wee-woozles" but had not yet attained the rank of "chippy." She is still brimming with woozle pride, apparently, and even sang the woozle song for me.

We encountered impressive fungi.

And a large rock.

Two years ago, when Iggy was just a pup, she had been unwilling to try scaling the same rock.

Eventually we made it to the lake.

But the lake was not the point. The point was the day, the blue sky, the clear light, the perfect temperature. I enjoy living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but my heart is in the northeast, and the day affirmed this.

The next day, we drove to Williamstown.

On the way, we stopped by the roadside for apples.

Robbi enjoys untraditional routes to obtaining produce (picking, buying from roadside, etc, and one of my duties as husband is remembering this).

We purposefully took back roads so that we could drive through Hoosac Falls, NY, the town where we'd love to live someday, in part because of this great big building, which has been for sale for years.

Our plan is to start a school with our friends as teachers and administrators. So far we have the following subjects covered: theatre, writing, art, music, math, history, psychology, religion, and probably some others. And we have a great head of school in Dahna Goldstein. And the school would have lots of brilliant attorneys, so we'd be fine when we got sued for not doing enough to prep our students for the SAT.

So if you like this idea and you'd like to get the ball rolling, please buy us the building and we'll get started.

We also drove by this patch of road to wistfully remember the day I hit a telephone, a possum, and got a flat tire in the course of five minutes.

The unexpected twist: I got the flat tire before I hit the telephone and the possum. I kid you not.

In Williamstown, we stopped at Water Street Books, to talk about doing a reading in January, when we'll be in town to teach our Winter Study Course.

We were very honored and gratified to see For the Love of God book shelved next to Love and Hydrogen, a book by Jim Shepard, our personal hero and mentor. It's kind of like a minor misshapen asteroid being shelved next to the sun.

Here is Jim, in a recent photograph.

Jim has just released a new book of stories called Like You'd Understand, Anyway. I encourage you to buy it and read it. For those of you who are more moved by New York Times reviews than by my recommendation, the folks at the Times liked it quite a bit.

We were in Williamstown not to admire the shelving of our books, but to see a performance of a traditional Japanese artform, part of a national tour of one of Japan's living national treasures organized by Maiko. But the performance was really interesting and wonderful and deserves its own entry. Which will be forthcoming.

That night we drove home to Chestertown. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, this is what the Delaware Memorial Bridge looks like at 3:00am.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:17 PM

September 28, 2007

Too Hot to Handle

Anyone considering a trip to Austin today should be forewarned that it is really hot here. To which the natives counter, "But it's a dry heat." Rubbish, I say. Saunas are dry but they are still hot. Death Valley is dry. Volcanos are dry, dammit.

But I am in Austin. We woke so early yesterday morning to get me to the airport in Baltimore on time. One of the virtues of early rising (perhaps the only virtue) is getting to see the low light of morning, especially when driving across the Bay Bridge.

One of the liabilities of waking early is not having the wherewithal to think through fashion choices in a clear and cogent way upon waking, a condition which forces one to make a last-minute curbside shirt change just outside the Southwest gates.

And when Robbi is armed with the new camera, such moments get documented.

We are pleased to have the new camera and hope that you are satisfied with the image quality. Notice the work of the wide-angle lens. While we were cameraless we kept seeing beautiful, wonderful, strange things in the world that we had no ability to capture. The best of these was the writing we saw on the back of a large, lumbering truck of some sort on the way back from Baltimore last Wednesday. The writing, in a curly font that had clearly been painstakingly applied by hand, was as follows:

Hauling it all, just God and me.

I'd rather have shown you a picture of this wonderful item of being, but unfortunately, the moment passed and now is gone. Robbi and I wondered for a while who made the decision to apply the letters and what exactly the author had in mind in terms of message. Some questions are best left unpursued. And, painful as it may seem, perhaps some moments are best left unphotographed.

Like this one, maybe:

Posted by bogenamp at 09:43 AM

September 17, 2007

On the Road Again

Once again, I have not stayed in Chestertown. Over the weekend I was in Chicago. While there, I saw a few things.

The Blues Brothers, for example.

Even the elusive third brother, Matt "Blues" Westbrook.

A sculpture of the liquid contents of Lake Michigan, seen from the bottom.

The glorious dawn.

Public sculpture

A guy on a unicycle.

You know what they say about a photographer with two big cameras...

...he has a lot of memory cards.

Impressive stained glass

The corpses of long-dead kings

People playing bagpipes

A man taking pictures of people playing bagpipes

A highly evolved dog

A girl with a sign offering a cure for a confusion.

See how well she does her job?

Alas, her bag of tricks does not contain the answers to matters of spiritual guidance. I know because I asked. Her one piece of advice: avoid Connecticut. And so I left Chicago without enlightenment but feeling most affirmed.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:45 PM

September 13, 2007

Ghetto Booty

Sometimes life gives us little treasures when we're least expecting it. Today, for example, I was just finishing a long run when something caught the corner of my eye. I stopped, reached down, and found this:

And on the reverse:

That's right! This is a DOUBLE SIDED "Ghetto Booty" key chain with glittery silver letters and a stylish red brick patterned background. I did not know such a thing could be, and yet, there it was, on the cobbled sidewalk of Chestertown's historic district. Without a second thought, I claimed the prize for my own.

Sitting here now, I wonder who owned the Ghetto Booty key chain before it fell into my clutches. How did the owner feel about the Ghetto Booty key chain? Was it a badge of pride? A totem of self-identification? Does the owner lament its loss? Is there a lonely owner of a ghetto booty out there somewhere, lost and adrift without the legitimacy bestowed by possession of this key chain, which is kind of like a license to flaunt one's ghetto booty?

If you are the rightful owner of the Ghetto Booty key chain, please contact me, and I will (reluctantly) return it to you. I will, of course, demand a lengthy explanation of how you came to own the thing and how you came to lose it. If the Ghetto Booty key chain is not claimed within 30 days, I will keep it for my own. And will cherish it always.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:57 PM

September 12, 2007

Fishing 101

Robbi ran into an old friend today, someone who grew up in Chestertown but now lives far from here. This friend told Robbi that she enjoyed reading about our Alaskan adventures on the blog, and that she was glad to have a picture of the place to associate with the stories she had heard over the years. People who have known the Behrs for a long time know about the fishing but have never gotten much insight into the details. I was pleased to learn the identity of another of our readers and was also reminded that there are several important stories yet to share about our summer in Alaska, not the least of which is how we go about catching the fish.

There are many tiny details which serve as preface to a discussion of fishing technique, just as there are many fishing techniques that could be described. But in the interest of getting to the point, I'll talk about the kind of fishing I did for most of the summer, leaving many tiny details out and adding others as we go along.

And so then.

To fish, we need a net and a raft.

Here is the net.

It is, in fact, two nets, each 25 fathoms (50 yards) long, clipped together in the middle to form one long net of 50 fathoms (100 yards). The net is in a large plastic tote on the back of a wooden cart that can be towed by the 4-wheelers. When the time comes for fishing, we deposit the cart with the tote with the net near the water.

Here is the raft.

Note that I am pumping up the raft because it is flat. The rafts are always flat. We really like this kind of raft and it is no longer in production. And so we use 15-year-old rafts that are full of holes. And always flat.

Note the nozzle through which I inflate the raft.

Though very helpful for inflating rafts, the nozzles are also a frequent cause of snagging for our nets. And since a snagged net can mean thousands of pounds of pressure suddenly exerted on whatever is snagged, snagged nets can be dangerous. And so we cover the nozzles with plastic, as shown.

Once the nozzles are covered, we "stack" the net into the raft, carefully keeping the cork lines (which keep the top of the net afloat) on one side of the boat and the lead lines (which keep the bottom of the net on the bottom of the river) on the other.

In stacking the net, we pull it directly from the plastic tote into the raft.

The Behr family operation has three fishing sites and so we put out three 100 fathom nets. While Robbi and I are stacking our net, Bob and Seiko are stacking theirs and Maiko and Roji are stacking yet another.

Once the net is in stacked the raft, we stand around looking great in our rain gear.

As I explained in an entry months ago, we are told by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game precisely when we may begin fishing. If we start a minute early, we risk heavy fines. If we start a minute late, we will miss the majority of the fish we might otherwise have caught. Therefore, it is very important that we bring reliable timepieces to the beach.

Seiko has hers:

And Maiko has hers:

Usually we get done stacking long before it's time to fish, and so we are able to pass the time by driving around looking heroic on the 4-wheelers.

Or taking artful pictures of dogs.

About five minutes before the "opening" when we may start fishing, I pull the raft out into the water.

I climb in.

And pull myself along the "running line" out to the buoy which marks the end of our line.

Eventually, I'm about 100 yards away.

Using a carabiner, I clip one end of the stacked net to a ring tied near the buoy. This ensures that one end of the net will remain tightly affixed to the far end of the line when I start to pull the boat in toward the shore.

While I'm out fussing with the net, Robbi stands on the shore waiting for the signal to begin fishing. When she waves her arms, I start pulling myself and the raft and the net along the "running line" as fast as I possibly can. As I pull forward, the net (which is attached to the ring) pulls out of the raft behind me.

It is an exhausting task, kind of like a sprint in a full rubber suit.

Sometimes I fall out at the end.

Once the net has been pulled in to shore, Robbi ties it to the running line so that both ends of the net are secured.

As soon as the net is in the water, the fish start getting caught. We use "gill nets", that is, nets fashioned of many small diamond-shaped openings. The fish swim in headfirst, their gills get snagged. The fish are too big to swim through the net and so they are stuck.

The next stage is "picking" the fish. That is, going along the net in the raft, and pulling the fish out by hand, ideally without breaking the net filaments.

Occasionally we pick near the shore without being in the raft and just keep the raft nearby to use as a giant creel as we pull fish out of the net.

Iggy, being a card-carrying PETA member, was disgusted.

Robbi is a champion picker.

When we have picked the net, we throw the fish from the raft into the plastic tote, but first we put a liner called a brailer into the tote. When the time comes to sell the fish, a crane will lift the brailer out of the tote to weigh and lift it into the buyers' truck.

It seemed odd to me at first, throwing fish in the throes of death. But the volume is so high that there's really no way around it. Sometimes, when my arms get too tired to throw, I use my magical levitating powers to move the fish into the tote.

Robbi makes fun of me when I do this.

When the tote is full, it's time to sell the fish. Usually we sell to guys in a truck with a big crane.

The brailer has four strong loops on the four corners. We attach these to hooks on the crane.

When the loops are secure, the buyer lifts the brailer with the crane arm.

Built into the crane is a scale with a digital readout. Once the brailer of fish is high in the air, one of the buyers takes a read on the scale and writes down the poundage. The wonderful and disgusting thing is that the buyers usually wait for a minute or two before taking a read because as the fish are lifted squeezed, tons of fish slime and blood oozes out through the mesh of the brailer. They wait because there is so much blood and fish slime that it actually adds poundage to the measurement. And although the buyers love buying fish, they prefer to leave the slime and blood on the beach.

Once the fish have been weighed, the buyer dumps the contents of the brailer out into a tote on the truck.

Our empty brailer is returned.

Since we all work on different nets, no one really knows how much fish we sell as a family until we get back home and compare notes. One of the ways we amuse ourselves in Alaska is to have a daily guessing game. After dinner, each of us writes his guess down on a slip of paper and hands them in.

Someone (usually Roji) then makes a tally of the "pink slips", the official chit the buyers give us to acknowledge receipt of a given poundage of fish.

Whoever guesses closest to the total catch without going over wins a Maryland scratch-off ticket.

We all watch intently as the winner scratches, wondering whether this is the day that we'll win the big money and have an excuse to sleep through the next fishing period.

It never happened.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:30 PM

September 11, 2007

Pittsburgh

Hell bent on making it to Pittsburgh by sunset, we set off late morning Saturday. Alas, the road between Chestertown and Western Pennsylvania happens to pass right through Annapolis and within spitting distance of everyone's favorite place to eat.

In fact, we were at the Annapolis Mall for several other purposes. I needed a new pair of running shoes after thoroughly exhausting the ones I've been using since a year ago June. And Robbi needed to stop by the Mac store to purchase some rather unwieldy conversion boxes needed to allow her old monitors to speak to her brand new MacPro.

Shoes and computer equipment in hand, we got our burritos.

I like Chipotle for various reasons. First, it goes without saying, the burritos are excellent. But also they provide little bins of sliced lime and lemon for placing in one's soft drink. And their marketing language is lively and clever. You've seen all the clever signage from corporate headquarters that hangs throughout the restaurant and on their cups, bags, etc. But perhaps you have never seen (as I had never seen) a handmade sign such as this one, hanging on the inside of the men's room door.

After clearing Annapolis, there was nothing between us and Pittsburgh but a whole lot of Maryland. Or so we thought. After coasting blissfully for hours without incident, and within about ten miles of our destination, traffic suddenly ground to an unexpected halt. After musing for a few minutes on the fact that we were not moving, we saw a sign that indicated, inexplicably, that the highway was, in fact, closed. It took us a few minutes to digest the news that the road that was to take us to Christian and Emily was simply not available. There was a detour, it seemed, and it seemed we had no choice but to take it. And so we did.

For the next two hours we moved wormlike from long red light to long red light in a single file line of other infuriated drivers. Drives enraged and drivers despondent, the line of us railed against Pittsburgh and the inexplicability of closing a critical highway on a Saturday afternoon.

Fortunately, there were various police officers situated at key intersections to help traffic along.

Unfortunately, they seemed content to sit like the one pictured above, watching with mild amusement as the traffic situation worsened from dismal to comical. At one point we openly debated whether the many virtues of friendship with Christian and Emily were equal to the utter dreariness of the current situation. Nearly manic with frustration, we resorted to clownish behavior to distract us from homicidal impulse.

Just when we were about to throw in the towel and drive back to Chestertown, the highway came into view and we were released back into the speedy flow of traffic. And so Christian and Emily dodged a bullet. For now.

We arrived at the Sewickley Inn and changed into swank party garb.

At the party, there was a pleasant greyhound named Kemper.

And a truly impressive sundae bar.

Various members of Christian's and Emily's families were on hand, and so we took pictures of various configurations of people.

Christian and his sisters Victoria and Amy.

Christian and me

Emily, Robbi, and Emily's Uncle Art

Emily and her dad, George

The siblings Vainieri, with their parents, Deborah and Humberto, our hosts for the evening

Kemper head on, not her best angle

The next morning, we ate some more. Ruby was in attendance.

When we had eaten all there was to eat, we headed home using obvious routes.

If you can't tell from the picture above, this sign was truly enormous. The person who made it was either blind or really concerned that people be able to find the Turnpike. Even people five or six miles away.

On the way home, we saw some windmills. Both of us agreed that we'd like to have some on the mountainside where we will live someday

Ah Pittsburgh (with the exception of your closed highway and the resulting hells it inflicted), how we love thee.


Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 AM

September 03, 2007

People of the Corn

We celebrated Labor Day by escaping the bustling urban grind of Chestertown by driving to the nearby town of Kennedyville. Kennedyville has a post office that isn't really a post office. It's just a sign in the window of a building that looks like a house. It also has a gas station that sells bait and tackle. And a few houses. Our friend Sarah Myers lives in Kennedyville, in a beautiful little house nestled between woods and cornfields. It's a nice place, is what I'm trying to say.

There is a place off a dirt road where you can park your car and then walk through fields. In the winter, when the crops have been harvested, the landscape is lunar, expansive. Today, the summer corn was tall and turning brown.

Iggy was intrigued by the corn.

It was a sunny, clear day. Not too hot. A transitional day that felt like summer ending.

We usually walk for a mile through fields before coming to some woods. In the woods, not far from the cliffs that look out over the bay, is an old deserted house, all wood, with a beautiful stone fireplace. We have always dreamed of buying the house (or claiming it) and fixing it up. We always stop on our walk and admire the house. Imagine our surprise today to find this:

We do not know if it was vandalism or accident, but our dream house is no more.

After mulling for a bit over whether to interpret the charred remains of the dream house as some sort of symbolic portent of coming doom, we decided to go on with our day and walked down to the beach.

We've been to this beach a dozen times in the past year and have never found it occupied. There were sailboats and jet skis far across the water, but our little beach was quiet.

Tomorrow I am heading back to NYC, perhaps the place on earth most opposite to Kennedyville.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:20 PM

The Big Apple

Those of you who know me well know that my negative feelings about Connecticut are like mild dissatisfaction when compared to the oceanic loathing I harbor for New York City. I have it on good authority that there are countless empty acres available throughout the world for humanity to spread out upon. Why in the world would 8 million people choose to live on one skinny, stinking, loud, congested, expensive island? It makes no sense. And yet, several of my best friends in life have chosen to settle there. And so I must periodically visit. Thank god Christian had the good sense to leave.

Last weekend, I was in New York for the pre-wedding celebration of Holden, one of my best friends from high school. It was not really a bachelor party proper, but rather a series of urban excursions with a group of people collected in various contexts throughout his life. There was the high school contingent, the law school crowd, the folks from work, etc. We ate brunch in Manhattan before taking a subway to Queens to visit The Beach, a new tourist attraction, which consists of a bunch of sand dumped in a former parking lot along the water. The view of the Manhattan skyline from The Beach is really something. If I had remembered to bring my camera, I'd be happy to show you. On account of its being nearly 100 degrees, we decided to leave The Beach in favor of some cooler destinations. We hopped on the water taxi and headed south, stopping in Brooklyn before arriving at the South Street Seaport.

Along the way, we took some pictures

My friend Victor and me:

Scott, Victor, me, and Holden (and on the far right, Ian, who I just met this weekend, a friend of Holden's from law school, if I remember right).

The water taxi is only $10 and will carry you a long way. All the way from The Beach to the western side of Manhattan, ap