30 June 2008

Leif's Poison Oak

Poor Leif! His Max-induced poison oak turned into a pretty bad case. Sometimes poison oak can cause swelling and even enter the bloodstream. When that happens, the rash will pop up other places that weren't exposed initially. Unfortunately, Leif got firsthand experience with all of these symptoms. He ended up taking antibiotics and steroids to clear up the poison oak.

Even though there were some miserable moments, Leif managed to keep his sense of humor about the whole thing.


- Corinne (& Mike)

28 June 2008

The Ups and Downs of Gardening

I'm long overdue to write about this year's garden, so here it is. Each year our garden gets a little bigger, and we're a bit more organized. Unfortunately, that doesn't always mean that the garden will produce more or be healthier or fuller.

We continued building out our garden this year. The garden layout stayed the same this year: 16 beds, 4' x 10' each. I built two more of the simple raised beds this year, for a total of 4, with the other 12 beds remaining simple mounds. By late May, the snow was gone and the weather had turned warm enough that we were confident that we were beyond the last frost.

Last year we brought in over 2000 lbs of compost from a local orchard to enrich the garden soil. This year's compost would come from our own piles. There are two ways to manage a compost pile:

  1. Carefully monitor the carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) components of the material you add to the pile. Frequently turn and water the pile to maintain the correct temperature. Collect finished compost every 6-8 weeks.
  2. Throw compostable material on the top of a pile. Collect compost sometimes, when you think of it.
Since the last time we collected our own compost was almost 2 years ago, guess which one we do? It took several hours for us to go through our 3 piles, but we were pleasantly surprised at how much compost was produced: 6 wheelbarrows full! Once we got over the idea of sorting through material covered in bugs, it was fun to sift through the remains, trying to determine what various chunks used to be. Corn cobs, mussel shells, banana peels - we encountered lots of partially decomposed material. By far the strangest find, though, was a green dinosaur ring. We certainly didn't put that in our pile, so we're still mystified as to where it came from. The compost we extracted was spread around the garden and some of the flower beds around the yard, while the remaining un-composted material (minus the shells and occasional bone) went back into the piles for another go.

The next step was to start the planting. Since we still don't have a fence around the garden, we tried to stick with the plants least likely to be attractive to deer: onion, garlic, herbs, some short-season melons (a new experiment this year), and lots and lots of squash. The one exception to the rule that we just HAD to have is tomatoes; we expanded to 3 beds of tomatoes, and put a makeshift fence around just those beds.

I had started some seedlings inside a few weeks earlier and had also bought some starts from local growers, but we also had a number of plants still in the garden from the previous year. Garlic is planted in the fall, since it needs about 9 months in the ground for optimum growth. We planted one of our raised beds with garlic last October, just hours before the first snowfall; when spring came, the garlic took off.

The rest of the growth was a happy accident. We had lots of carrots and onion still in the ground last year that we had intended to harvest, but we just never got around to it before the snow came. We had a pretty heavy snowpack all winter, so I think it provided enough protection that they all survived through the winter and have continued to grow this year. Our perennial herbs - parsley & chives - also came back, which I hadn't anticipated. It's amazing how motivating it was to see something growing in the garden even before you've done anything new that season.

On Memorial Day weekend, we managed to plant virtually the entire garden - that's the earliest date ever! We still had some tomatoes to put in and a few squash mounds to fill (we ran out of some seeds), but overall we were in very good shape this year.

We initially had some trouble with our irrigation system that threatened to delay our planting. When I went to turn on the breaker box for the system the first time, absolutely nothing happened. After last year's irrigation troubles, I was worried that this would be another month-long process of troubleshooting. I called our PUD (Public Utility District) to let them know about what appeared to be a problem at our 3-phase electrical box. Within a few hours later that same Saturday, two PUD servicemen came out to check the box. They replaced a fuse, we fired it up the system, and everything worked! Crisis averted.

I connected an overhead sprinkler to a hose in the garden, as in previous years, but my ultimate goal was to put in a drip irrigation system. I figured that a drip system would be more efficient with water, would allow us to work in the garden while it was on, and would significantly reduce the weed growth in the garden area. It took about a month of research and numerous trips to the local irrigation supply company, but we now have a drip system that feeds each bed with individual drip emitters (squash, melons, tomato) or localized sprinklers (herbs, garlic, onions, carrots). The system has 4 "zones": the 8 East beds, the 8 West beds, the North flowerbed soaker, and a pre-existing dripline for the young trees surrounding the garden. Each invidual bed also has an on/off valve, for more fine control. It's a manual system; there are no timers or automatic switching, since the irrigation pump has to be turned on manually anyway. There are still a few kinks to work out - like the fact that the system will occasionally have a "blowout" when a connection fails, and will send a geyser shooting into the air - but overall it is working well.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

Despite getting the garden in earlier than in any other year, it just wasn't growing. The weather was extremely hot for about a week in June, then cooled down to below the germination point for most of the seeds. Many of the seeds just never came up. We were so busy with other things that we didn't get around to replanting most of them.

Speaking of busy, our watering schedule wasn't as frequent as it should have been, either, which I'm sure didn't help. Nor did spending the better part of a week in Boston with no watering. (We have a housesitter for our trip to Denmark, so we won't let that happen again.)

And as I alluded to in the previous post, we also had a gopher discover the garden as well. We didn't see too much immediate damage other than the mounds and tunnels, but I'm sure he was chewing on the roots and stunting growth. And unfortunately, the gopher that Max captured was not the one from the garden. Dang.

So, the garden goes on. It will likely be a smaller harvest than we would have liked, but we will have a harvest. We've also agreed on a rough plan for the type of fence that we would like to put in at some point, so hopefully we'll get around to that soon (though the likelihood of this year goes down with each week.)

- Mike (& Corinne)

19 June 2008

Max's First Gopher

After a few days of rest at home - inside - after his adventure at Leif's, Max was ready to go back outside. On Thursday evening after returning home from work, we let Max outside while we walked to the mailbox. When we got back, Max was in the garden and seemed particularly talkative. Upon entering the house, we found this on the dining room floor:

Bigger than a vole,
smaller than a rabbit
It's a pocket gopher! While we were out for our walk Max had apparently caught one of these elusive destroyers-of-yards. We've been losing the war against the gophers for some time; in fact, we've basically given up. Our lawn is covered with piles and patches of dirt that have been pushed up by the burrowing animals. Pretty nasty looking dude.

We like to think that this is Max's way of apologizing for the stress he put us through on Monday. ;)

When Max has caught animals in the past, he has always (to the best of our knowledge, anyway) brought them inside to whichever room we were in at the time, in order to show off his catch. We let him play with them for a while, but when they start to ooze or crunch we take them away before they make too much of a mess. This time, though, we weren't there to referee.

Circle of blood
Witness the "circle of blood". In all likelihood the gopher was already dead when Max brought him in, so this "ring of death" is just an indication of where he played with it. Thankfully Max decided to confine his "play" to the hardwood floor in the dining room. I don't relish the idea of cleaning gopher blood from the carpet.

With any luck, this will turn out to be the gopher that has been terrorizing our garden this year.

- Mike (& Corinne)

17 June 2008

Missing Max

When we left on our trip to Boston, Leif was gracious enough to take Max to his place for the long weekend. Max has stayed with Leif before, and when I dropped him off on Wednesday morning it was clear to me that he was fairly comfortable there. He went upstairs to the second floor loft almost immediately, scoping out his favorite perch.

Leif lives on a hillside in Mosier, OR surrounded by open fields and orchards, and during previous trips Max has done some exploring of the surroundings. On Friday morning we received a status report from Leif:

The temperature has been nice enough lately that I have had the doors open.

Though the doors were open, Max wasn't ready to go exploring. He'd stand next to the openings for a while yesterday. Eventually he made it to the top of the steps. Then later yesterday he took off for a little adventure. I think he went down to the creek area.

He went out today again too. I think he's having fun.

When indoors....it seems he's been wanting a lot of attention lately....so I've been giving it to him.
Sounds good to us. It's always nice to be able to spend your vacation worry free. We continued on our trip until Monday morning, when I received the following email from Leif:
call me... this is concerning Max.
This didn't sound good. I knew it wasn't good when I noticed that Leif had sent the email only to me - not to Corinne. I called Leif as soon as I read the message. Apparently Max went out exploring on Friday morning as he had indicated, but hadn't been seen since then. It was now Monday morning, so Max had been missing for 3 days. Leif went out looking for him for several hours over the weekend but to no avail.

When Max left he was wearing his collar - which has our home phone number on it - so I called to check our messages. No messages. There wasn't much more that we could do, so Leif suggested that he could make a poster and put it up at the post office and in the neighbors' mailboxes, just in case someone had seen him. Mosier doesn't have mail delivery, so everyone in town would theoretically see the poster when they came to pick up their mail. I pointed Leif to a photo from the blog, hung up, and tried to keep my composure.

I relayed the news to Corinne, and we were both pretty shaken. Since we've had him, Max had never been outside overnight, let alone 3 nights. We were sure that he was gone for good, most likely the victim of a vehicle or a coyote. We held little hope of seeing him again. When we decided to start letting Max outside, we of course knew that this was a possible result. Corinne had made her peace with this fact better than I had, but neither of us was in a very happy mood that Monday.

This was not how we had wanted to spend the last day of our vacation. We managed to drag ourselves through the last day in Boston - poor Becky had the job of entertaining us! At 4pm we boarded our plane to return home. It was a long flight. By this point I had even started to mentally compose this blog post as a memorial.

When we arrived in PDX I turned our cellphone back on and checked the messages. Leif had called to tell us that Max had been found and was fine!

Apparently a nearby neighbor, Jennifer, saw the "Missing" poster in her mailbox and took it home. About a half hour after she got home, Max appeared on her deck! He seemed a bit needy but otherwise healthy. She even had a dog at her house, but Max must have been so deprived (food, water, attention) by this point that he was willing to put up with more than usual.

Our dispositions changed immediately when we heard the news. The drive home was much more pleasant knowing that Max would be waiting for us. Part of me was still a little uneasy, though. Since Leif hadn't yet picked Max up when he left us the message, it was still possible that it was the wrong cat or that there was some other problem not immediately apparent. But since we arrived home late Monday night, it wouldn't be until Tuesday after work that we would have an opportunity to head see him firsthand.

Thankfully, Max truly was fine, albeit a bit tired and hungry. He slept at Leif's most of the day on Tuesday and showed no interest in going outside.

We felt bad for Leif, too. None of it was his fault, and yet he spent the weekend stressed out about losing Max. He spent a good portion of the weekend searching for him, and even called for advice from other family members on whether stress could have a negative effect on his pregnant sister (hence the email only to me.)

We'll never know what happened to Max during those 3 days. Was he chased by some animal? Did he end up in a tree or simply get lost?

What we do know is that while Leif was wandering the hillside looking for Max, he was also walking through plenty of poison oak. Oops. And apparently no one had told him that you should apply Tecnu BEFORE you show any symptoms. Double-Oops.

- Mike (& Corinne)

16 June 2008

Another Summer Trip to Boston

Since we've moved away from Boston, somehow we seem to find some reason for a summer trip back - in 2005 and 2007, and now this year - despite the fact that the summer humidity in Boston was one of the reasons we left!  This year the excuse was the wedding of our friends Tara & Jason. The trip got off to a good start when we both managed to sleep on the red-eye flight. That didn't preclude us from taking a long nap once we arrived at our host Becky & Gordon's place, though.

Tara & Jason's Wedding

The first wedding events were the bachelor/bachelorette parties on Thursday night, the day we arrived. The guys met outside of Fenway Park and started out at the evening's Red Sox game. We soon discovered a strange property of this group of 8 bachelor party participants: other than the groom, no one knew any of the other participants! "That was just in case I needed to send you on a mission," quipped Jason (Reservoir Dogs). After the game we proceeded to the Middle East in Central Square for some food and overly loud live music. Several of us had taken red-eye flights that day, so by shortly after 11pm we were starting to fade. We said our goodbyes until the wedding on Saturday.

(photo courtesy of Penny)
The bachelorette party, on the other hand, started with manicures/pedicures, then dinner, a wine bar, and karaoke. Corinne and I had prearranged to meet at midnight on the platform of the Central Square T stop (how romantic), so she actually had to leave the party a little early; I was done early and had 45 minutes to kill. During that time I saw the best and worst of Central Square. First, I witnessed an actual fight - or at least the end of one. Immediately following that, I stumbled into a mob of people on the sidewalk, watching the Celtics come back from a 20 point deficit to win game 4 of the NBA Finals. There really is nothing quite like watching a Boston team play in Boston, whether it be live or televised.

The wedding was held on Saturday at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter. In typical Boston fashion, the weather was hot and humid. Becky was gracious enough to give us a ride to the T so that we would at least start the evening dry. Unfortunately some scheduled maintenance and unscheduled fires on the tracks caused a large section of the Red Line to be closed. The MBTA was using buses to ferry people around the work, but the buses were predictably slow and overcrowded. Worried that we wouldn't make it in time, we opted to take a cab. (Thank you, Boston, for reminding us of some of the reasons we left!)

The ceremony and reception were held in the same building, with interesting and colorful local art decorating the walls. Corinne and Tara originally met when they were both living at WILG at MIT, so the reception was a good opportunity to see lots of fellow alums.

At one point during the cocktail hour between the ceremony and the reception I noticed a Budget moving truck out one of the windows; the back of the truck was filled with plates of salad, with the caterer dressing each one. However they got it done, it was great. I do wish I had gotten a photo of that truck, though.

Cake topper, Lego-style

(photo courtesy of Jed)
Last fall Jason and Tara moved from Seattle to Denmark when Jason received an offer to work for LEGO in Billund. As such, Lego Mini-figs played a prominent role on wedding day, used for both the wedding cake topper and each of the place card holders for the attendees. Corinne and I were given an Engineer and a Chef, which we very much appreciated. ;)

The next time we'll see the happy couple will be our scheduled trip to Denmark in July, just days after they have returned from their honeymoon!

Becky, Gordon and Lily

Mike & Lily in the Park
When we weren't involved in wedding activities, we spent a good portion of the rest of the time with our hosts Becky, Gordon, and their 1.5 year old daughter Lily.  We took walks around the neighborhood, which also happens to be close to our old neighborhood.  We walked to a local community park/garden where a group of new moms meets for "play-time", and had lunch at The Neighborhood Restaurant (that's the name).  And we also made sure to make time for Christina's Ice Cream.  We also had some fabulous home-cooked meals, thanks to our hosts!  There are some additional photos and stories on their blog, The Lilypad.

Christina's Ice Cream

Brunch and Mini-Shower

On Sunday morning, Becky and Gordon hosted brunch at their place for the old MIT Aero/Astro group. Little did we know that they actually had a mini baby shower planned! Sara made a beautiful ABC cake, while Becky bought supplies to make personalized onesies.  Each couple used markers, stencils and their imagination to make Rocket the most stylin' baby on the block. We got some of everything: nature (ladybugs and flowers), science (rockets and pi), and sports (the NY Yankees - like we'll ever let her wear THAT one...)

With so many kids running around all day - Jaydon, Abigail, Lily, Caroline - we started to get a taste of what it will be like to have our own.

Making onesies

Judy & Jaydon making onesies

Shawn writing Pi

Finished onesies

Jaydon driving while "texting"

ABC cake

Cutting the beautiful cake

Jaydon and Abigail, awaiting cake

Traveling Pregnant

Corinne was 5 months pregnant for this trip, solidly in the second trimester. She was still small enough that she could wear a non-maternity dress to the wedding; she just added a shawl over the top to hide the places where it didn't quite fit the way it did before. But she still looked great!

The combination of the flight, more walking than usual, and the hot and humid weather did create some discomfort, though, in the form of swelling of the feet and ankles. At each doctor's appointment, the gynecologist would ask her if she had any swelling; after this trip, the answer would have to change from "no" to "yes". I guess we should look into those compression socks before our Denmark trip in July.

Our flight back to Portland left Monday night, and unfortunately we spent most of Monday preoccupied by some distressing news we received from Leif. But that is a story for another post.

- Mike (& Corinne)

10 June 2008

Mr. or Ms. Rocket?

We finally know Rocket's gender, but it sure took a while to find out.

Since we didn't have an amniocentesis, an ultrasound done somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks into the pregnancy was our first opportunity to determine the gender. So we scheduled our next doctor appointment for about 18 weeks, and we collected votes from our family on which they thought it would be. The results of the voting were: 8 for boy, 5 for girl, and 1 for inconclusive (i.e. can't tell from the ultrasound). Everyone was anxious to find out, including us! As my Mom put it, are we having a Rock or a Rockette? (I'm not sure what that says about her opinion of boys...)

The day of the appointment arrived, but somehow there was some confusion in the office records about when our due date was. As a result, they had not planned to do an ultrasound that day and were not setup for it. After we got the records straightened out we scheduled a followup appointment for 2.5 weeks later. On the morning of that appointment, the doctor's office called to say that the doctor had been called in to emergency surgery and wouldn't be finished in time to see us. So we rescheduled for the next available time, which delayed us another 4 days.

Face and arm
Finally, on the third try we were successful. The doctor proclaimed to us that we were having... a girl. She also said that if she was wrong, she should find a new profession; she was that sure. (Hence the "girlie parts" label on the photo below.)

"Girlie parts"
I was fairly neutral on the gender issue, but Corinne had a preference for a girl. Hooray! While I doubt we'll actually officially name her Rocket, the codename stays. And on the name front... we had agreed ahead of time that we wouldn't discuss names until we knew the gender. (We didn't want to do any "throw-away work".) So now I guess it's time to start thinking about that.

Head and neck (side)
We have to admit to being a little disappointed in the ultrasounds. After seeing the ultrasounds from our OHSU visit, we were totally spoiled by the "big city" hospital and its fancy equipment - complete with a CD burner for digital copies of the images. The small town hospital in Hood River definitely has some benefits, but the latest and greatest equipment isn't one of them.

- Mike (& Corinne)

08 June 2008

Coyote Pup

This weekend Corinne was sitting outside talking on the phone when she saw this walk out of the forest:

A coyote pup! Apparently it didn't see her initially, or maybe it hadn't learned yet that humans are something to be avoided. I was still inside, so Corinne did what she could to get my attention while not scaring away our visitor. Eventually I got the message and managed to get a few photos through the window before heading outside. By the time I made it to that side of the house, he had returned to the woods. We briefly walked along the edge of the woods, trying to catch another glimpse, but we gave up in fairly short order. Our chances of re-finding him were slim to none, and nobody wants to accidentally get between a mother and her offspring.

A minute or so later we heard the distinctive howl of a coyote. I like to think that the pup returned to the den, and that the sound we heard was Mom saying: "You did WHAT??"

We have a bit of a love/hate relationship with our coyotes. We love to listen to their yelps, which we typically hear in the early evening or as we are getting into bed. They are also great hunters, and anything that eats voles and gophers is a good thing. Unfortunately, one of its other targets is domestic cats like ours. In the end, we think they do much more good than harm. It's also pretty hard to dislike a baby animal of any sort.

- Mike (& Corinne)

02 June 2008

Re-scalping Completed

In addition to the tree seedlings we planted in our meadow this year, we also had some maintenance to do on the 200 we planted last year (of which ~130 survived). The grasses grow back each year, so spring is the time to re-scalp the area around young seedlings. Since grass competes with the young trees for water and nutrients, eliminating the competition should improve the survival rate. After about 2 years in the ground, the trees have generated an extensive enough root system that the benefit of this maintenance no longer outweighs the work involved.

The re-scalping went fairly quickly, taking only a few hours. Here we are, happy that we've completed all work in the meadow until next year.

- Mike (& Corinne)