Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Baby In Your Pack Is Worth How Much?

One of our family traditions over Thanksgiving is to have a weenie roast down by the Buffalo River. From the cabin, it is about five miles of rugged hiking down a mountain some 1500 feet in elevation to the confluence of the Buffalo with Sneed's Creek. From there, we typically hike a ways up Sneed's to get off the beaten path. This year, we had somebody new to join in on the fun… Little Abbey.

One of the baby shower gifts given to us from my parents was a specialized backpack for carrying infants and toddlers. Little Abbey had only been on short walks around town in her stroller on pavement and I had never attempted to carry a baby down or up a mountain so it was a new experience for both of us. We carefully slid Little Abbey into her seat and I got the backpack onto my shoulders and cinched the various belts. Once adjusted, Little Abbey's head sat about six inches above my head making her over six and a half feet in the air and giving her a panoramic view. She seemed to like it.

The hike down to the river went smoothly and easily as most downhill hikes tend to go. Little Abbey got a little cranky the last couple hundred feet but that was because she was hungry. A small stick fire was started and soon weenies were being roasted while Isabelle ate right from the 'tap' with Mrs. Abbey. Although the day was mostly overcast, the temperatures were near 70 degrees in the valley and perfect for a weenie roast.

After the weenies were roasted, the potato chips munched and the sodas drank, we loaded up and began the five mile slog uphill to the cabin. We hadn't gone far when Little Abbey started complaining, letting us know that she was tired of sitting in her backpack. We tried making her more comfortable and then just kept going hoping she would fall asleep but our efforts didn't pay off. Little Abbey couldn't sleep in a bouncing, bobbing backpack and I couldn't blame her. So we went to plan B, which Mrs. Abbey had thankfully planned for. She strapped on another contraption like a kangaroo pouch that rests on her stomach and relies only on shoulder straps. Anyone who has carried much weight backpacking knows that it is much more desirable to distribute the load on the hips and not the shoulder but with three and a half miles left to go and a baby that obviously wasn't going to be happy in my pack, we didn't have much choice. So my wife took Little Abbey, who instantly fell asleep in the kangaroo pouch, I shouldered my wife's pack on top of my pack and off we went.

When Little Abbey woke up, we decided to switch rides again to give my wife's shoulders a rest. But less than a mile later, we ended up switching back. Little Abbey didn't want anything more of that pack. My wife and I slowly walked back up the mountain taking our time for breathers and trying to keep Little Abbey entertained because now she was starting to complain about her kangaroo pouch too. So much so, that the last couple hundred yards, Grandma ended up carrying Little Abbey in her arms.

All in all, everyone made it back safe and sound and more than worked off the hotdog calories eaten down by the river. We were perhaps a little aggressive in trying a ten-mile hike right off the bat with Little Abbey but we learned. I think had she been a couple months older, she would have been able to sleep and thus enjoy that pack more than she did. Plus we learned a lesson. If we are going to tote Little Abbey in the pack next year at 18 months of age or the year after at 30 months, I'm going to have to get in better shape.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thursday Is a Day For Thanks and Friday a Day For Giving

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and for my family, a time to give back. As I have blogged about in the past, we cut firewood for a widowed lady who is a friend of our family to help her heat her house through another Arkansas winter. Also, because her driveway is three miles of torturous winding two track through a hardwood forest, trees occasionally fall across the driveway blocking it and by cutting them down for firewood, we do a preemptive strike in preventing it.

So on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we loaded up my brother's pickup with mauls, wedges, chainsaws and a picnic lunch and drove over to her place. We started off the day by doing odd chores around the house such as cleaning the chimney, installing a clothes washer and working on her truck that wouldn't start. After a lunch of leftover turkey sandwiches, we set out up the driveway to cut a half cord of wood to stack and dry for use in the following winter. Because the temperatures were in the 70's and very mild, even Little Abbey joined us in her three wheeled off-road baby stroller that my wife nabbed for $15 at a local garage sale.

Most years, the dead trees are fairly small in diameter having succumbed to some tree borne disease or another. However, last year we had cut several large trees that were dead and left unattended, would have fallen across the driveway. Because we had enough wood cut last year (for this year), we just cut them down and left them. However, due to a mild winter and a dry summer in that part of the country, the wood was remarkably still well preserved and so we set about finishing the task left undone.

My brother who teaches classes on chainsaw use and is certified to use them as a forest fire fighter, usually does most of the technical work and my father who isn't as youthful as he once was does most of the rest of the log dicing into smaller pieces. My job usually ends up splitting up the larger pieces into burnable chunks. With a smaller tree, this usually means just a couple dozen lengths need to be split but with the larger trees this year, it was every length.

A new boyfriend of the widow also came along and helped me with the splitting but it was a long process. When I start splitting wood, I have to work hard to pace myself and not go to fast at the beginning in order to keep up a steady pace. By the end of the day, it was hard in finding enough energy to keep going at all. It doesn't take long to get into that zone of hoisting, swinging and splitting the log. Soon, muscles are limbered up and everything is going along smoothly. When you can look up from your work on a sunny day and see mountains unfold around you for ten miles, full of streams and more trees, work becomes a relative term.

'Grandma' and my wife took turns watching over Little Abbey from a distance but it wasn't much trouble at all. Little Abbey was perfectly content to sit in her blue off roading stroller and watch the trees fall to the forest floor to be consumed by chainsaws and splitting mauls. For five hours, she complained not once and it seemed only with reluctance did she allow her diaper to be changed or to eat more of mother's milk.

As the sun started going down, we had all but a couple trees down near the house cut up and safely stacked away for future winters. We drove back down the mountain to the house and a half hour later, had even the remaining trees threatening to fall into the house removed and neatly stacked up. Our job of charity was done for another year. With back, shoulder and chest muscles now tired and pleasantly strained, it felt good to ease on into the widow's house where a pot of chili and pan of jalapeño cornbread awaited us. We cut up the wood as a way of giving back but if payment had been required, that chili and cornbread would have been payment enough.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Little Abbey Update

Enough about politics for awhile, how about a Little Abbey update instead?

Little Abbey's Godmother visited last weekend and took one look at a delighted baby before saying matter of factly that she was teething. What? She pointed out the "teeth buds" already forming on her lower gum. I guess that explains the excessive drooling of late.

Also this past week, I was playing with Little Abbey one afternoon waiting for mom to get home from work and I had to go upstairs to get something. I left Little Abbey lying on her back on a blanket in our living room and when I got back a couple minutes later she was still on the blanket but on her stomach. She was looking around with this "what just happened" look on her face. She officially rolled over from her back to front, a baby milestone and one that I missed. So I was trying to get Little Abbey to repeat the feat later on in mother's presence but she wasn't cooperating. I turner her onto her stomach for some tummy time and went into the kitchen to wash baby bottles. About a minute later my wife squealed and I discovered that Little Abbey had rolled from tummy to back, yet another baby milestone and another one that I missed.

Finally I am able to start leaving her to play while I get housework done in the evenings before my wife gets home and this is truly a blessing. She loves her bouncer and crib with all the dangling toys overhead and miscellaneous toys beside her but she still prefers just lying on a blanket (we have hardwood floors) and playing with a select few toys. Her favorite toys are a stuffed turtle that makes a crinkly noise when touched, a stuffed Piglet that sings "Old MacDonald's Farm" and a rattle. All those might soon be replaced thanks to a stuffed duck sent to her by a doting uncle that is a puppet. When I squeeze the beak together, it quacks out three different songs to whatever beat I keep squeezing too. It never fails to bring out the silent laughter in her.

Other than a few chortles now and then, she hasn't busted a gut laughing yet. I long to hear the sound of her laughter and pray that it isn't anything like Janice from Seinfeld. I play a tickle game with her now and then that amuses her greatly but other than loud squeals and that silent open mouthed giggle, no laughter escapes. It will come in due time and I can't wait.

However, it could be like her talking which might not be a good thing. She talks a blue streak in her babbling tongue quite often during the day and occasionally in the middle of the night. I've managed to perfect being able to sleep while she is talking but I'm not sure I could do the same with her laughter.

When "we" were pregnant, our goal was to breastfeed for at least six months and that is rapidly approaching and is definitely going to be attainable. For awhile, it was touch and go because milk production wasn't keeping up with demand and we were trying to find a substitute that agreed with Little Abbey. Our pediatrician gave us the okay at our four-month checkup to begin feeding her solid foods and since that time, demand for milk has stayed steady while demand for food has increased. We have developed a routine where she gets fed twice a day (with solid food) and that seems to work well. In the morning she gets rice mush straight up with no added milk. She seems to like it better the thicker it is. In the early evenings, I will feed her either a fruit or a vegetable that has been cooked (if needed) and blended into a thick paste. We alternate fruits and vegetables and feed her the same thing for a week. Carrots were first but definitely not a favorite of hers followed by bananas that she was okay with and homegrown peas from our garden. Currently it is applesauce and that is definitely a big hit. As her grandmother says, she looks like a hungry shark snarfing down her applesauce. She eats about a third of a cup of rice and a third of a cup of whatever I feed her and that seems to prolong the next bottle for awhile. Per the pediatrician's recommendation, we have been trying to get her to drink from a sippy cup of water during solid food meals but she hasn't quite mastered the sipping part. In order to get her used to the idea, I remove the spill proof valve and gently pour some into her mouth. She really likes having some water after her meal.

Two things happen when you start feeding lots of solids to a baby I've discovered. The poop more regularly (and solidly) and good Lord does it smell. Fortunately for me and my gag reflex, her schedule seems to be in the morning at Mrs. Z's house and on the weekends, my wife takes care of it. I'm a lucky man in that respect.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable developments is Little Abbey's awareness of her surroundings. She is getting pretty good at zeroing in on somebody talking and cranes her neck, arches her back and turns onto her side so that she can see them. I've seen her playing contently away and she will crane her head to one side just to check if we are still around. Gratifying to know she misses us.

All in all, she seems like she is a happy and contented baby. All of us have gotten through this first cycle of colds and are once again healthy. She is growing like crazy and her feet now stick out of her car seat. Unofficially she is close to 27 inches in length and weighs around 16 pounds. Her hair is also really starting to grow now and I know mom is just counting the days until ribbons can be employed. We are currently using 6 to 9 month clothing but it is starting to get too short so soon we are going to have to break out the 9 to 12 month clothing. We went to the store a couple weeks ago and for the first time we actually had to buy some clothes for her. All the rest have been courtesy of others through showers, just getting rid of because they don't need them anymore, or garage sale stuff.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Seining For Lunkers

The dry summer reduced most of the farm ponds to the status of deep puddles and now an oncoming cold front threatened to freeze them solid. One in particular held some large bass that would be nice to catch at a later and warmer date and thus we devised a plan around the kitchen table to save the day. Plans always seem pretty simple around a kitchen table and never quite end up that way.

We made a few calls and located a seine that a neighbor had. Upon picking it up we discovered that it was in need of much repair and so the first task was mending the net. Inside the warmth of the house, it wouldn't take long but because the net smelled like fish and pond scum, the lee side of the shop was the second best place for the task even if it was nearly 40 degrees colder. Our fingers quickly turned into frozen fish sticks as we did the mending, dropping the end of a string here, failing to tie the proper knot there but after an eternity, it was mended to the point where there weren't too many holes for the fish to escape. At least the big ones anyway.

We loaded the net and every available bucket, barrel and container that we could find into the back of the farm truck, scrunched in and headed for the pond two miles away down the gravel road. Once there, we backed the truck up to the bank of one side of the pond, unloaded all the gear except the buckets and then backed the truck up to the far side of the pond. With my father on one side and me on the other, we picked up our respective ends of the net and drug it to the waters edge.

Ponds, especially older ponds tend to silt in with time as dirt from neighboring fields is brought with the intense spring rains. Thus around the edges, the water tends to be shallow for quite a ways meaning that for every inch of water that lowers, 12 inches of new and very muddy shoreline might be exposed. In this pond, that meant about ten feet of fresh, thick, Edina clay sludge ringed the pond and to maintain proper control of the net, we were going to have to slog through it where the water met the mud.

Over the next couple hours, the process was basically the same. Extract one foot now sunk 18 inches deep in the stickiest gumbo ever seen without your boot coming off and move it one pace forward, all the while with your full body weight on the rear foot miring it even deeper. Once both feet were planted, we would heave the net another foot through the water and begin again. It was a slow process.

As we neared the far bank, the water began to boil here and there giving us strength in the knowledge that we were actually catching some fish. We extracted ourselves to higher and dryer ground and with a big heave, pulled the net clear of the water. What we saw took all our breath away.

Because the water had been shallow for most of the summer, food had been at a premium and the fish had survived off their own kind. Big fish ate little fish and only huge fish remained. In our nets were perhaps two hundred fish, half of which were bullheads about 12 to 14 inches in length, a quarter were bluegills also a foot in length and a couple inches in width and the rest were bass 18 to 24 inches in length and weighing in at 4 to 5 pounds apiece! These weren't just big fish, these were monster fish!

We quickly loaded up the bass first which easily filled all our buckets. For the bluegills we created a water coral of sorts with the seine in a corner of the pond and tossed them back. The bullheads were left flopping on the shore. We quickly drove over to another deeper pond a mile away and began the task of relocating the monster bass.

Fish are more delicate creatures in cold water and exhaust easily. Left on their own, they would float belly up and die, too tired to swim and get water moving around their gills. So one by one, my father, mother, brother and I would hold the large bass underneath the water and move them gently forwards and backwards getting vital oxygen into their gills. Just when you thought your hand would go numb in the cold water, the bass would give its tail a mighty thrash and streak off into the murky depths of the pond. Out of the fifty monster bass that we brought over, only one couldn't be revived.

We made another trip for the bluegills and being a more hardy fish, we merely dumped them into the pond by the buckets full. A third trip was made for the bullheads that were still thrashing about on the shores. Bullheads are considered a nuisance fish and not desired in farm ponds so we didn't transport them. Instead, we took all 100 bullheads home and skinned them in one of the outbuildings where the cats could clean up any dropped scraps. All winter long, we had fish fries and generally agreed that it had all been worth it.

The pond where we relocated the monster bass and bluegills too had for the most part been a sterile pond. It had a few bluegills, channel catfish and snapping turtles in it but nothing that thrived. Within a couple years, it was teaming with a thriving bass population. During the summer, I liked nothing better than to sneak over with a pole and a four-inch triple jointed Rapala and lay it out on top of the summer moss that covered the surface. After a minute or two, there would be a huge splash as a large bass cleared the water after having downed the lure in one swallow. Setting the hook, I would fight him into shore along with ten pounds of moss and land him.

There is no greater joy than landing a real lunker of a bass, which is why I always threw them back into the pond. They were bigger and had been around longer and thus more likely to not be as tasty as their younger counterparts. Their fillets had to be cut in half in order to even fit a large skillet and I just didn't have the heart to kill something that I had saved a year or two before. Besides, it was always great to see the face of a friend latch onto one of these large fish not knowing that they even existed. However, I never went home empty handed, because if I fished long enough, I would catch a smaller pan sized fish or two to take home and enjoy with a mess of fried potatoes. Being a fish savior never tasted so good.