December 30, 2009

Kerstin's Birthday and that other Holiday in December

December 25th was just like any other day, except that we slept in late (as late as Alden would permit us, anyway) and cleaned the house all morning. We moseyed our way to Karen's house by mid-afternoon, once naps were taken and lunch was eaten and mashed into the newly cleaned rug. We got to her house around 2 and opened presents at 3 or 4, since Karen's oven was failing and I had to run back to our house to bake the bread. It was a really nice, low key day with no holiday pressure or expectations - exactly what we wanted and needed. Karen doesn't do Christmas trees, but prefers to decorate her ficus instead. I like this approach so much better. The idea of killing a tree just so you can gussy it up in your living room for a few weeks seems really dumb and wasteful. And anyway, decorating a live plant seems much more symbolic. Karen made a wonderful paella with local seafood and a fresh cranberry relish.

Alden liked the lights and liked his new toys and books. His favorite new book is Richard Scary's Best First Book Ever. An absolute classic, but a bitch for the bedtime story-reader, because it takes about a half an hour to get through the whole thing! It's still a great book and brings back all sorts of childhood memories. Lowly worm was an instant favorite with Alden.Kerstin had a birthday on the 29th. I got him this geeky T-shirt with an equalizer built into a panel on the front. It is wired to a small control that fits in the pocket of your jeans or your jacket. The lights bounce and flicker to the sounds in the room. It struck me as a project Kerstin would have had in graduate school, so I got it for him to bring him back to those happy years.

He lit up his current age in binary on the birthday candles left over from Hanukkah. The cat's out of the bag - at least for all you geeks out there who know how to read it. Karen graciously took Alden for the evening and Kerstin and I had a lovely adult dinner at his favorite local sushi restaurant.

December 29, 2009

Holidays Holidays

We spent 6 days in DC before Christmas to celebrate Geoff's birthday. Since it was also during Hanukkah, we celebrated the holiday with Ilana's Aunt Kay and Uncle Rob. Alden liked the beracha so much that he insisted we sing it a couple of times. We stayed with Kay and Rob and had a fantastic time.
We were hit with nearly two feet of snow towards the end of the trip -- a record snowfall for the area! It wreaked havoc with our travel plans, as well as those of Sarah, who was returning from vet school in Scotland. Because we were both delayed a day, we were able to see her at the very end of the trip, which was a really nice bonus.The snowstorm and Alden's tantrums meant that we didn't get out much and see Geoff, Joseph and Sandy as much as we would have liked. But we did eat some great meals. Kay and Rob are as gracious as two hosts can possibly be and we had a wonderful time with them.Alden sporting "Spencer and Skinner" (Joseph and Sandy's cats) in his own unique way.
After the storm we did a little sledding down a gentle hill by the elementary school.
In the prairie dog tube at the National Zoo. This was to avert a full blown meltdown, which worked for about 10 minutes.Chillin' at the airport. Even though our flight was canceled due to the massive storm, we managed not to get stranded in an airport this time, which made our travel experience much more enjoyable.

December 22, 2009

Reflections of a Working Mom

My boss submitted her letter of resignation to the Director of the lab last Monday. On Tuesday, she phoned the office to tell me the news. She had planned to return from her maternity leave in January -- a mere 2 weeks away, but had decided that it wouldn't work out for her. After our conversation, I realized that although I will miss her here, I felt oddly relieved for her.

We had long talks in the office when I was pregnant about what it was like to work and care for a child, and she gave me the very best advice of anyone. She never romanticized the situation. There is no way to know if you will want to return to your old life before you have the baby. Accepting your new reality is one of the hardest parts of parenthood. You will have to make many concessions and learn to compromise both at home and at work. There is no way to properly prepare yourself for the changes ahead, you just have to see how you feel afterward. I listened intently to her lessons, thinking that I'd absorbed all the wisdom in them at the time, but only truly comprehending after Alden became a formidable reality. My boss is truly the wisest person I know. Still, despite knowing these truths, she had convinced herself that the second child wouldn't be any harder than the first, that she would be able to return to work after a year, that her son would accept his new reality, sharing his mother with the laboratory. Life didn't work out as she'd planned.

My boss labored for 4 years on her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, then spent the following 5 years in two consecutive post doc positions, after which she was able to sandwich two Research Scientist positions between having a baby. Now that she's leaving science, I wonder if she feels disappointed with all that time spent training and developing her career. I wonder if it feels like wasted time. I probably would feel that way, but my boss seems to handle herself with such dignity and grace, I suspect she is focusing instead on her family and is relishing that wonderful feeling of relief that comes with letting go of a tremendous responsibility.

Viruses are harder to propagate than most people might think. The host cells have to
be healthy and in just the right physiological condition. Starving, over-crowded or stressed hosts repel viruses like water off a duck's back. Even in the correct physiological state, if the viral binding sites are blocked or deformed in any manner, the viruses will never take hold. If the cell manages to stave off the attack or somehow recognize and evict the intruder, then you'll fail to propagate them again. I can't tell you how many times I've spent weeks setting up cultures to propagate viruses, only to be stymied over and over. The cells are happily growing in their petri dish weeks later. Biology -- life -- lays waste to our best laid plans. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.

My decision to abandon a Ph.D. was one of the hardest of my life. I'd never given up on anything before. It was embarrassing and shameful. But I still think it was the best decision I've ever made. When I think about my boss and all that she is giving up to be a better mother, I am inspired by her dedication but also grateful that I won't need to confront a decision like hers. There are times when I think that I should have stayed the course, especially when I see my grad student cohort graduating, starting post docs and launching their careers. One of them is actually applying to be a scientist at the lab here, which still feels a little weird. If I had those impressive letters behind my name, I'd be a real scientist, not just a lab monkey. I'd be more respected in the scientific and broader communities. I'd have more influence over the questions I'm investigating. Maybe I'd even make more money and have a more secure job. But I also might find myself letting it all go to be a better mom. And that's much more bittersweet. Right now things feel as balanced as I can get them and maybe I can keep it that way, at least a little while longer. I've learned now that the only way I'll know for sure is to wait and see. And if I do end my career in science to stay at home and raise my child, at least I'll be in good company.

December 15, 2009


On the first night of Hanukkah, I came home from work and Karen was in the kitchen, frying up latkes! We lit candles, sang some songs and ate the delicious latkes she made. Alden liked them with ketchup. Sacrilege, I know, but we do what we must to get the kiddies to eat the good stuff.
I had a few boxes of candles leftover from years past when my Mom sent them as presents. However, once I actually pulled them out of storage and counted them, I realized that there were only enough for 3 days. On the fourth day, when no Hanukkah miracle materialized for us, I went to the the biggest supermarket in town and see if I could get any more. Hell, if the Maccabees could re-establish the oil trade route to their pile of rubble within 8 days, surely I could find a box or two of Hanukkah candles in this egalitarian era of the "Holiday Season". Augusta just built a schmancy new Hannaford Supermarket, with offerings like 4 varieties of organic quinoa in the bulk food section, and Beuschel (a ragout containing calf lungs and heart) behind the deli counter. If they could carry such delectables, why wouldn't they have Hanukkah candles? Why indeed. I perused the seasonal section first, which was comprised of an aisle and a half of snowmen and Santa-themed cards, candles, wreaths, lights, cocktail dingles, you name it. No luck here. Then I checked the "Jewish" section in the international aisle. It was fully stocked with Matzoh and Matzoh meal products. Do goyim really think that matzoh marks the start of all Jewish celebrations? Here I am, bombarded with Christmas themed music and merch (everything from Rudolph-shaped pretzels to limited-edition candy cane condoms), all in anticipation of a holiday that is still 2 weeks off and I can't even get a lowly pack of candles on day 4 of an actual holiday, for fucks sake. And people wonder why Jews are always so irritable at this time of the year! I decided to ask a clerk for help locating the Hanukkah candles. Perhaps I was simply looking in the wrong part of the store. He took me right back to the Jewish section and triumphantly thrust a box of shabbos candles in my direction. When informed of his error, he gave me the sort of pained look reserved especially for difficult customers. "Who do I look like, Mel Brooks?" he thought. "A candle is a goddamned candle. Maybe if I direct her attention to our fabulous selection of Jewish holiday crackers, she'll leave me in peace."

"How about birthday candles," I suggested, trying to be helpful and upbeat, despite my growing irritation. "Got any of those?" So there you have it folks -- Our menorah with birthday candles. They were a bit too small, but did the trick, at least for this year. Next year I really need to order online in advance. Lesson learned.

December 7, 2009

2nd snow of the year - Sledding

Alden is way more into snow than sand. Despite taking a header into three fluffy inches in our backyard, he shook it off and was rearin' to go mere seconds later. The pitch of our backyard is the perfect angle for toddler sledding, so we managed to get some rides in before dark yesterday.

Alden likes the going up part just as much as the going down part.

December 6, 2009

Artwalk December 4

I took Alden to the Gardiner Artwalk. We actually went early so I could help set up some tree lights in McKay Park. Of course, Alden was not into hanging lights and his lack of interest hindered my usefulness considerably. I found my niche being a gopher for an hour, finding supplies and whatnot. In the end the lights came out very nicely, thanks to some unexpected help from some folks from the city. There is still more to do, but we got 5 of out the 10 rings completed.

The art walk was successful. Lots of people. lots of good food, and even some artists sold some works. Alden was annoyingly shy around groups of people, so when the crowds started getting large we would move to quieter surroundings. This little chess game continued throughout the event.
We ended up at Sarah's apartment (she lives on the top floor of Artdogs) which was closed to the public. Alden spent a lot of time that night playing with a totem-cat on her stairs. It can be seen in the background of the video.

Alden says hi.

He LOVES looking through the back of the camera at the world around him.

December 2, 2009

Santa down!

I saw this on my way to work this morning and laughed out loud. Then I felt a little bad. Then I turned around to take the picture. I dislike inflatable holiday decoration, but this is almost art.

December 1, 2009

Take the child to work

Last week we took Aden to the Dentist because he had a little gray coloring on the edge of his gum-line.We were not sure if we should be worried, and the dentist didn't give us any direction. Just a 'watch it and call in three weeks'. I had to meet a contractor at the office before hand, so even though I was going to take the morning off, I found myself at the office.
I set him up with some YouTube classic Sesame Street and he did okay. He knows and likes Darrell, but didn't really want to hang out with anyone else.

November 27, 2009


Alden is very affectionate to all his toys, but it is extra adorable when he says "hey robot". It is also cute that he thinks the robot lives behind the plant in the hallway.


Thanksgiving was small this year. We had it at Karen's house with two of her friends and my Dad. Karen prepared a sumptuous feast of sushi, seared scallops, salmon, smashed potatoes, fresh cranberry relish and green salad made with greens from a local farm. It's amazing that greens are still growing, but since November has been surprisingly warm, there's still local produce to enjoy.
Beth and Kenny brought duck, cajun brussels sprouts, and chestnut stuffing. We brought a butternut squash panade, triple chocolate mousse cake and pumpkin pie.
Alden was not interested in any Thanksgiving fare. We couldn't even get him to try the pumpkin pie. Instead he ate a cereal bar, a whole bunch of bunny-shaped cheddar crackers and a couple of pan seared scallops Karen offered up as an appetizer. I was a little disappointed that he didn't try anything from the table, but I guess that's how it goes with toddlers. After he was done eating, he found a book and walked it around the table, looking for anyone who'd read him a story. This was the first time that my Dad joined us for Thanksgiving. It was an early meal, starting around 2:30 since Kenny and Beth had another Thanksgiving to attend. Our celebration wound down around 6:30 pm.

November 23, 2009

New Games

Even though it's been an unseasonably warm fall, we're gearing up for winter by breaking out the indoor games. Kerstin, being the creative one, comes up with new ones practically every day, which is why Alden has a Pavlovian habit of pressing his face against the window overlooking the front porch around 4:30 in the afternoon while asking when Daddy's coming home. I can't compete.
Take the above game, for example, where you feed your toddler a whole apple on a wooden serving spoon. Goofy fun for the whole family. Even Alden got that it was 'wacky'. A similar game is stuffing all his (soft) toys down the front of his shirt, pulling them out from the bottom and then stuffing them from the top again.
The old standard Guess-which-hand-holds-the-bunny/duck/pig-finger-puppet game is also very popular and is often enough of a distraction to help Alden get through a toothbrushing or diaper changing when he is cranky.

One game we picked up from daycare is called "Hocus Pocus". You line up 3 or 4 objects on the floor and place a cloth napkin over them. Then you wave your hand over the napkin and chant "Hocus, Pocus Jimminy Crocus, which one is missing?". Then you remove the napkin along with an object concealed underneath it. It's a great memory game and very addicting for toddlers. Pictured here are some of the usual players: giraffe, monkey, lion and Tape (we call him Mr. Tape). Alden came up with the name.

Music is also big these days. El Yoyo and Que No, Que No by Tito Puente are much loved as are Hey Ladies and Egg Man from the Beastie Boys. He is also fond of Jonathan Richman's I'm a Little Dinosaur and Government Center.... Of course Frere Jacques, the alphabet song and other more child appropriate melodies are well loved. He loves playing the piano with me and listening to Kerstin murder chords on the electric guitar. The video above shows how Alden likes to get ready for a stroller ride. Kerstin has irrevocably replaced the word 'Slow' with 'Stroller' in our household and this is song is our anthem before every AM stroller ride.

November 16, 2009

Photos of Alden

Some random photos of Alden taken over the last week, most of them while playing in the backyard.

November 15, 2009

Day at Bapu's house

Alden and I spent the day with my Dad at his house on Sunday. Kerstin stayed behind for some much needed quiet time and so he could work on the house without interruption. Alden has demonstrated a remarkable memory over the past couple of months. We saw a train pass through downtown Wiscasset one June evening while we were traveling home and now every time we pass over those train tracks in our daily commute, Alden says "choo choo train". Although it's been over 5 months since Alden was last at my Dad's, he has a remarkable recollection of that experience. When asked about it, he'll predictably fire off "tractor, barn, chickens, doggie". This anthem was our rallying cry as we made our way westward along Rt. 25 to New Hampshire.
The tractor was still the main draw, but chickens came in a close second this time. Alden is giving them an emphatic hello with both hands here. He got to feed the chickens sunflower seeds and pet them, which captivated him for about 2 minutes before he started pleading for more tractor rides. Lucky for him, my Dad had some dirt to move around the yard, and Alden was able to help out. Alden figured out how to pull the lever to tilt the bucket loader all by himself and now has to be watched carefully, least the bucket suddenly release it's contents all over the driveway. Of the many hazards of letting a toddler operate heavy machinery, I suppose this one is relatively mild, but it bodes ill for the future. I'm envisioning a time in the not too distant future when Alden will sneak out of my Dad's house at 3 AM and go for a joyride down to the lake or start tearing random holes in the lawn. Another milestone to look forward to.
It was a really warm day and we had a great time walking through the woods and up and down the new deck stairs.

Some cute little clips from the day.

November 9, 2009

November 8, 2009

Guy Fawkes Celebration II

Just like this time last year, we had a BIG pile of burnable material and thus a Guy Fawkes party was thrown. Darrell brought the Guy who got to sit in a chair facing east this year. A majority of this year's bonfire came from the shed demolition a la Ben. We decided to wait until Saturday to celebrate this time.

I found a gallon can of lighter fluid that came with the house when we bought it and used it to help start the fire.
The fire caught well and the Guy was soon consumed.
The fire was a bit bigger than last year. We had about the same number of guests. Most of them were Ilana's friends from Bigelow. I found an old bag of marshmallows and they were the surprise hit of the party. The fire was so hot however that no one could comfortably stand within 6 feet of it, so I scrounged some old 9' tree branches I'd used as netting posts last year to serve as marshmallow sticks. Ivona demonstrates the proper marshmallow roasting technique here:We provided soup, beer, bread, potatoes and parkin (an English cake that is really dry). People brought desserts, chips, and other welcome contributions.

The stump that didn't burn last year still didn't burn, and the big tree-piece I added this year didn't burn either. There was a pile of mulched leaves on one side of the pile that was too wet to burn as well. All in all, I am very happy with this year's burn, although I am going to try and re-burn what didn't catch in a week or so if it stays dry.