Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quality Time

In the days before Christmas, with days off from work, I've been able to have some real quality time with my son.

I wake up when  he cries in the morning and take him downstairs, so Michelle, who has fed him overnight, can sleep in. I change him and feed him a bottle of breast milk that Michelle had pumped the day or night before.

Michelle has told me this is the best time of day with Nathaniel, when he has gotten a good night's sleep. It's a brief window of contentment before real hunger and other issues set in, and his mood changes as if a storm had come through. 

And she is right. Baby N. wiggles as I change his diaper, his eyes wide open and inquisitive, glancing about, taking in a new day, a day that holds all sorts of surprises for his agile, developing mind. He coos. He drools. His lips part into little smiles. He lies with little care as I remove a diaper scarred with poo, clean him, dry him, apply lotion and outfit him with a new diaper and a change of clothes – the one that'll last for maybe an hour or so before he pees on it, vomits on it or something else. No worries there. That is what babies do.

I feed him the first bottle, about two ounces of breast milk. He sucks it down, and as soon as I remove the bottle, he registers his discontent. I prepare the next, dunking the bottle into a glass of warm water to warm it up and bouncing baby N. as I try to buy time. I feed him the next bottle, this one 2-3 ounces. He finishes, and usually, he wants more, which he gestures by opening his mouth repeatedly in an elongated "O" and thrusting a fist into his mouth. (that is, when he can get it there; he still hasn't mastered motor control.) This morning, I had to resort to 2 ounces of formula for bottle #3. He slurped that down, but tellingly, slowed as he neared the end. Victory! The little bugger was finally getting full. All that warm, liquidy goodness was taking effect. His eyelids were getting heavy. Hocus, pocus, no more focus, little one. Fall asleep.

He struggles as his eyes close, open briefly, close again, open again, close again. I cross my leg on to the other and lay him in the "A" frame that's been created. He sighs, and snoozes. I take my first sip of coffee. Delightful. And I gaze at him.

Nathaniel no longer looks like a newborn. His features are not rugged, nor doe she have blemishes, such as cuts or bruises, but that initial, shiny newness, the super delicate, nearly translucent aspects of his face have vanished. They are replaced by features that I deem will be more permanent, while certainly changing as he grows. Right now, his head looks enormous. Not grossly disproportionate to his body, but big nonetheless. You can really see why so much energy is devoted to growing the human brain and its housing. You can really see how central it is to what we as humans are, when you look at the size of a baby's head.

Nathaniel's eyes seem big – again, not disproportionate to his face, in my view, but large, yet evenly spaced. They're wider than mine, at least I think, and are slate-colored. The whites of his eyes still have that bluish tinge. His nose is wide, a bunched button at the bottom, with a flattened septum. His mouth is small and thin, like his mother's. His hair is light, maybe with a hint of reddishness, but that's debatable and may depend on the light. His eyebrows are also quite light, as to be nearly visible. I see traces of copper in them, which drives Michelle batty, because she, as a red head, thinks I'm trying to will him into the same coloring. I swear I'm not; I'm just observing. It really doesn't matter to me what color his eyes, his hair, his eyebrows become. I'm just curious how it'll play out.

One thing is for sure: He's getting longer. In another day or two, he will outgrow the first batch of clothes we had bought for him, clothes that hung off him like some bad drapes when he first donned them. My, how he has grown!

So, while I have visions of NBA stardom for my son dancing in my head, baby N. sleeps fitfully in my lap. This is quality time. Holiday time. 

A perfect time of year, with a perfect little child.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Glorious Heat

While the temperature went into free fall last night, our family is fortunate enough to pay it little mind.

We have a home, like many others. But for the first time since we bought this house, we have reliable heat.

Ah, heat.
Ah, hot water when we want it, when we need it.

Touch those radiators and feel the warmth. Ah, isn't it nice?

It seems like I'm waxing overboard about something as simple as heating a home.

But you don't know what we had. So let me tell you.

We had a very old boiler, a heaping lug of metal shaped like a big box and that rumbled like your granddad's snoring after a Thanksgiving feast. You knew when the  boiler had clicked on because the house would groan. If you were on the ground floor, you could feel the floor vibrate.

We didn't mind that groaning and vibrating, because we knew that was the only time when we had hot water. For nearly five years, Michelle and I had gotten used to timing our showers and dishwashing to hearing (or feeling) the boiler's activity. 

It became a nightly ritual: Michelle would announce she wanted to take a shower, and I would tune my antennae to determine if the boiler was firing. "Hmmm... I think I hear it," I would say and then walk to the basement door, open it and poke my head down the stairs. I'd hear the rumbling. "Yep, we got hot water!"

The hot water lasted as long as the fuel oil was shooting into the boiler. When the boiler reached a temperature of about 160  degrees, it would shut off. At that point, the countdown would begin. We knew we'd have hot water for a finite period of time – about two hours. Then the water would turn tepid, then mostly cold. At that point, a shower would consist of a trickle of warm water and me dancing in the shower stall to keep my blood circulating.

Look, it could be worse – a lot worse. I realize that most of the six billion or so people on this planet would be eminently grateful for the availability of any water. So, I try to keep all these things in perspective. We are blessed, and I know that.

We also are fortunate enough to have the means to change course, and that's exactly what we did.

We took advantage of an offer from the regional natural gas supplier to replace our oil-fired boiler with one supplied by natural gas. The supplier would give us a rebate to purchase a natural-gas boiler – an incentive, in essence, to convert to natural gas. That was attractive. Our boiler, estimated to be at least 50 years old, was clearly on its last legs. We had to repair it three times last winter, which socked us at least $80 each time. The boiler was so old our service person would not include us in his service warranty. He knew a losing proposition when he saw one.

Natural gas was (and perhaps remains) cheaper than heating oil. And lastly, and consequentially in our book, natural gas burns much cleaner. 

We decided to do it.

So, thousands of dollars later, we have a (relatively) clean-burning, reliable, (relatively) quiet boiler in our basement. We have hot water when we would like it. No more trickles of tepid water in the shower. A real gusher of steamy H2O, baby.

Wow, what a change. We're so happy.

Until that first bill arrives.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First Snow

The first snow of the season has arrived.

The first flakes began falling around 2 p.m yesterday. I smiled.

I love snowfalls.

It's peaceful, a blanket that covers all blemishes, natural and manmade. Our town becomes serene, any spots of noise muffled.

Our backyard turns into a winter wonderland, a deep meringue of white covering the cloddy soil, the clumps of leaves, the fallow gardens. It collects on tree branches and our arbor vidas and drops in great, big dollops. 

Last night, I looked out the window and took in the view. Behind our house, the lights twinkled from our neighbors' homes. The flakes fell fast and furious, and the scene on the street and in the neighborhood looked like what you see when you shake those Christmas balls. Indeed, it felt like Christmas.

I say we got somewhere around eight inches. It was a light snow that packed really nicely and stuck to the shovel as I dug out our driveway and the sidewalk. I ladled out black sunflower seeds and pieces of bread in the snow for the juncos, sparrows and any other visitors who had huddled during the storm and would now be hungry.

The birds descended on the bounty, hopping to and fro, pecking at the tidbits of food. They seem to revel in the post-storm calm, playful and peppy. I am hoping the family of cardinals we see sporadically will join in.

Later, we will introduce baby Nathaniel to this land of white. We hope he enjoys it as much as we do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just the Three of Us

It's just the three of us now.

My father, Marvin, and my stepmother, Joenne, left yesterday, the last of the waves of family visits PNB (post-Nathaniel's birth).

Now, it's us. Well, almost. I've still got a week of work, (that's it! Amazing.) which means Michelle will still be doing the heavy lifting in taking care of the little guy. But come Friday evening, it really will be just the three of us.

A time to share together.

A time to bond with our boy.

A time to learn about him, love him, watch him, gawk at him, giggle at him, sympathize with him, get angry at him.

Yes, that does happen. When he's crying, I mean really belting it out with no end in sight, I can feel the frustration rise like bile in my throat. It's that feeling of helplessness, of not being able to make things right in his little world.

It takes a lot of effort to hold yourself back. I don't condone in any way those who have hurt their children, but I can see more clearly what causes parents to snap. They may just feel helpless.

Not that it's an excuse, but calming a shrieking baby is a major test of your patience, your reasoning, your intellect. You need to step back and think. Why is he crying? What does he want? What bothers him? Or, is he just crying for the hell of it, a baby form of exercise?

And, most important of all, he is a baby, and you are not.

So, for more than two weeks – through Christmas and New Year's – Michelle and I will be tested daily. Our boy inadvertently will make things trying for us from time to time. He doesn't mean to, of course, and we know that.

Still, he will test our patience, our reasoning, our ability to think through things.

And while all that will be hard, it pales in comparison to all the great things that he will deliver – the smiles, the twinkling eyes, the wiggles, the squiggles, the squeaks, the little snores.

Can't wait.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Faces & Utterances

I'm going to keep this one simple for two reasons.

1. It's Sunday evening, and I'm beat.

Time was, weekends could be relaxing, if you chose them to be. Now, with baby N. in the house and (happily) ruling our lives, that is no longer the case.

At least for now. And that's okay.

2. We have a video that likely illustrates Nathaniel's facial expressions and utterances better than I can describe with words.

Or, at least without subjecting you to reading a long post that I really don't feel terribly inclined to tackle anyway.

So, here goes. Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Family Waves

We are in the midst of the fourth, and final, wave of family in our house.

Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. Michelle and I have been so happy that our relatives fell all over themselves to visit, even as we know the object of their attraction and affection was not us (of course) but a certain baby named Nathaniel.

No matter. We are happy to have them around – whatever the reason.

Now five weeks into his life, baby N. has met two aunts, an uncle, three cousins, three grandmothers and one granddad. Not bad.

First, there was Leeann, who drove hell and fire from her home to greet us before we even left the hospital.

Then Michelle's mom, Sharon, and her sister (and baby N.'s godmother), Rachel, came, cooked up a storm and left us fat and happy. Reports are they fell hard for the little guy.

Next up was my mom, Marsha, who abandoned her normally nocturnal routine and cooked for us and loved the newborn.

And, now, my father, Marvin, and stepmother, Joenne, have traveled from Texas to brave the raw, wintry weather to soothe us with their laid-back brand of support. Pictures to come of them.

There will be more relatives who will meet and greet our boy – we hope soon.

In the meantime, let's just say that everyone has been so helpful, pitching in with cooking, chores, baby sitting, and keeping us sane.

We thank them all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally Asleep

Today was one long, tough day.

Actually, this day I'm about to describe began about 7 last night, when Nathaniel began crying. Michelle fed him, and when he had finished about 8, he began crying again. She fed him a bottle, and when he had finished, he began crying again. That was about 10, as far as I can recall, because it was at that time that I went to bed. (Michelle is really good about letting me sleep when I have work the next day.)

Since I was asleep, my recollection of the rest of the night is a little fuzzy, pieced together by blurred memories and Michelle's retelling me what happened over a baby's piercing screams. Michelle fed Nathaniel another bottle of formula, and when he had finished, he began crying again. Then I think he fell asleep around midnight, and, contrary to his normal sleeping routine, he awoke around 3 a.m. and began crying. 

Michelle fed him good and long this time, and when Nathaniel had finished sometime after 4 a.m., he began crying. For two hours straight. Finally, he went to sleep but only for about 40 minutes. And he was crying again. 

He was crying when I got up to go to work.
He was crying as I brushed my teeth.
He was crying as I got dressed.
He cried as I let Hviezda out to perform her morning ritual of relief.
He cried as I got my lunch to take to work.

Before I went downstairs and out the door to work, I thought about cracking a joke to Michelle. But she looked so bedraggled, a long, drawn look on her face, that I thought the better of it, gave her a quick kiss, and scooted out.

When I arrived home around 6:30 that evening, Nathaniel was crying. He was in his swing in the kitchen, normally a spot he enjoys, and the Roomba was running, normally a noise (or motion) that caresses him to slumber. But it didn't this time.

Michelle told me baby N. had slept all of one hour all day. He cried the rest.

She looked beaten. And, I must say it, pissed off.

Who can blame her?

So, I took him. And he kept crying.

He did subside on the sobs for a flicker of time, but then we gave him a bath, which really pissed him off, especially when a dollop of water rushed down his throat the moment he was to give a war whoop.

By about 10 p.m. and no end to the crying in sight (there were feedings in between, to no avail), I had to take a shower. Michelle was slumped on the sofa, dead to it all. I put Nathaniel in his bucket seat and hauled him upstairs with me and into the bathroom.

Miraculously, he stopped crying. I rushed into the shower. As I finished, as if on cue, he began crying again. Out of options in the bathroom, I rocked his bucket seat, and his cries subsided. He looked around, not satisfied but at least mildly content. However, the moment I stopped rocking the seat, he'd start that cough, cough! that signaled a spate of tears was coming. I rocked the seat again and that look, the eyes wide and the brow furrowed, as if he were trying to figure out whether this was at all acceptable, would return. Every time I stopped, even for a couple of beats, and he would get all worked up. So, I put my left foot in the bucket seat and balancing myself with my right foot, rocked the seat as I brushed my teeth, shaved and put some lotion on some painfully dry skin. 

It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. Every now and then, my foot would slip off and the seat would stop rocking, and baby N's  would contort with dismay. But I recovered quickly – mostly – and lulled him back.

When I had finished, I took my foot off the bucket seat and steeled myself for the next round of sobs. But ... nothing. He just lay there, his head cocked a little to the left, one arm held aloft as if suspended, asleep. Asleep.

I carried him downstairs, gently. And put him under the Christmas tree. Gently.

And he's still sleeping. Finally.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Name Games

Sunday, December 7. Pearl Harbor Day. My birthday.

I say it's my birthday not because I want to advertise turning another year. At this juncture in life, I'd rather decrease in age, rather than increase. At least I think so.

In any event, baby N's birth dwarfs my advancing another year in life. And that's just fine with me. He means a whole lot more to me than going out somewhere and celebrating with friends. At least I think so.

Sunday dawned with a very fussy Nathaniel. For the first time in a while, he didn't sleep for a long stretch overnight, and poor Michelle awoke at least three time to satisfy what seems to be a never-ending hunger. I vaguely remember rising to change him once, but otherwise I could do little more than offer moral support, I guess. I mumbled a few words of commiseration and support before drifting back to sleep. At least I think I did.

So, now Michelle is sleeping in, deservedly, and I've been wrestling for the past two hours to get the little chaperoo to fall asleep. I fed him a bottle of formula, and still, he remains awake. Man, he fights sleep; it's as if he thinks if he'll miss something if he dozes off. He yawns and yawns, his eyes begin to close .... then a trifling noise and BAM! he snaps wide awake, his eyelids shooting upward like those vinyl blinds on rollers we have on our windows, and his head is swiveling around as he tries to figure out what is going on. Even now, I have him in his swing – a minor miracle in itself – and he's fighting his obvious tiredness, moving his head from side to side and swiping at his eyes with his hands. Wow, he's stubborn about sleeping. Reminds me of myself. At least I think so.

We have gotten lots of suggestions about Nathaniel's name. It seems as if some family, and even some friends, are quite preoccupied with what baby N's nickname will be. Some want to call him Nathan; others like Nate; and others go for Nat. They ask us which one we've "settled on." Well, we've "settled on" Nathaniel. That's his name. so far, there is no nickname, no truncated version. It'll happen when it happens. One day, Michelle may cal him Nat, or one day I may call him Nathan. And at that point, maybe one of those will stick. Or, maybe not. Does it matter that much? After all, it's his choice anyway. He'll let us know what he likes. 

At least we think so.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Small Screen Star

Baby Nathaniel has hit the super-small silver screen.

Welcome to our world of home videos. My sister, Lee Ann, and her family generously got us a FlipVideo recorder for Christmas – an early gift, so we could begin trying our hands at videotaping our baby boy's steps through life.

Michelle has filmed three things so far. The first one is here. It's a trial, so don't expect expert cinematography, and it may make you a bit queasy. But it ain't bad for a first stab with new equipment. And, hey, you get to see the little guy swinging into action! (By the way, see a photo of him clutching his first letter in the previous post.)

Nathaniel is one month now (actually yesterday). He had another appointment with the doctor, and I'm happy to report he is healthy, and, we think, happy. He's gained seven ounces in a week and a half and has grown two inches (to 22") since he was born.

This growth spurt seems odd to me. Two inches in a month? Do newborns really grow that quickly? Is our baby N on the way to being a seven-footer? A real-to-life Super Size Me? Big AND Tall? 

Hmmm... the genes don't seem to bear it out. I'm a shade under 6'2" on a good day, and Michelle's brothers are not giants, although they are solidly and athletically built (and good athletes, too). There are no leviathans lurking in our family trees as far as we know. So, it seems highly unlikely that baby N is destined to be NBA tall. 

All this ruminating just loops me back to the beginning. Can a  newborn really grow two inches in his/her first month? I wished I had been at the doctor's appointment, because I would've asked. Now, I have to wait until January to find out. Argh!

Enjoy the video. I will post more soon. It's going to be really, really cool. You know why? Because baby N is really, really cool.

Of course I'm biased.

Aren't you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

He's Real (so says the government)

Our son has received his first letter.

A congratulatory birth card from adoring relatives? you might ask.

A note and a $10 dollar bill from his parents to begin his little life?
You'd be wrong.

An announcement from the church?
Wrong again.

A newspaper clipping?
Sorry, out of luck.

No, the letter addressed to Nathaniel Ames Lewis, to the proper address, town, state and zip code came from the federal government. The Social Security Administration, to be exact.

In it, was his Social Security card and an admonition to "keep this stub with your personal records."

We'll make sure he gets the message.

So, it appears the government now knows about our little boy. Now, he can pay taxes, perhaps get drafted, and die.

That was pretty morbid, wasn't it?

On the brighter side, it does mean he is official. Actually, it was kind of cool to see his name, typed in black block letters on plain white paper peeking from a box in the envelope. We hadn't seen it printed like that. The first thought that came over me was, "Holy crap, he is real."

Indeed, he is. And he's ours.

No matter what the government thinks, we think that's very, very cool.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moments with Mommy and Daddy

In the fourth week of baby Nathaniel's life, mommy and daddy are, for the first extended time, home alone with their son.

We returned last weekend from a trip to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family in the mid-Atlantic region. It's the second time Lee Ann (who has her own blog, by the way – a really good one, I might add – at http://www.niccofive.blogspot.com/) has seen Nathaniel; she joined us days after he was born and helped Michelle with a litany of newborn-fueled crises in the first days we returned home. She also cooked a mountain of comfort food, including lasagna, chicken cheese casserole, cinnamon buns, apple pancakes, glazed salmon and other delicious dishes that I no doubt have forgotten.

Then along came Michelle's mom and her sister. They flew in from Iowa and like twin tornadoes, took care of any and every need that Michelle and I had, thought we had, and never even knew we had. They came with us to church at baby N's first service. (He seemed to like the music. Psst! Wait until he finds about rock n' roll.) They cooked. They cleaned. They took N when he got cranky or when one of us, or both of us, looked on the brink of emotional collapse. They catered, they caressed, they cared for us.

And then they left.

And then arrived my mother. She came from Atlanta, and seized any and opportunities to cuddle with her newest grandson. (my sister has three children and is the wise one among the child rearers.) In between nuzzles, Mom made her signature spaghetti and sauce, chicken casserole and fried chicken. We've still got half a breast and two legs left, plus some spaghetti sauce.

Three days into that visit, my mother, Michelle, baby N and I drove to my sister's. We left on Wednesday morning, a little later than planned and headed west through the bottleneck they call the NYC area and headed south, through Pennsylvania farmland to our destination. It's never an easy trip, really; and around Thanksgiving, with a baby on board, and a mother who was too excited by it all, it was one long journey. Baby N was remarkable. He slept nearly the whole time, and when he did wake up and cry, he took the bottle with vigor, downed it like a good drunk and slipped back to sleep.

My most vivid impression of the journey was how thankful I was for any gas station restroom that was outfitted with a baby changing table. Don't get me wrong: I've noticed these things before, mostly out of fleeting curiosity that faded away about the moment I exited the stall. Now, I was really looking for them, almost desperately. Where are they, dammit! Doesn't anybody care I have a baby loaded with poo and no respectable place to place his ruddy butt?

No, of course, they don't care, and neither did I until about a few weeks ago. But I sure care now, after resorting to changing baby N. on the bathroom floor a few times. I am happy to say that Michelle planned for something like this by buying an elaborate diaper bag with myriad pockets, pouches and more hidden crevices than a den of bears could make use. It also had a clear plastic, add-on pouch with a plastic mat designed expressly for those times when you need to shield a baby's privates from the dank world of bacteria and germs.

Thank goodness someone was thinking.

So, now we've returned home and it's just mommy, daddy and baby N for the next week a half, before my father and stepmother come in from Texas. Make no mistake: We are so, so grateful to our families for their help during their visits. But finally, it seems, we'll have some time to ourselves, and time to learn about, commiserate over, get frustrated at, make funny faces and just smile, smile, smile at our new son. Michelle and I are really excited about this bonding time. The first month of baby N's life has rocketed by, and, boy, we hardly knew ye. Or so it seems.

We're going to make up for some lost time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Time for Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

I hope everyone is happy, healthy and on their way to being well fed.

We are at my sister's family's place in the eastern U.S. Yes, we took a chance and decided to drive somewhere on baby Nathaniel's third week of life.

It took us 10+ hours, but we made it, and the little tyke was a champ. He slept most of the way, waking to be fed by a bottle of his mother's pumped milk, and then would drift back off to sleep.

Minimal crying. What a great kid – already!

My sister and her husband, Rob, were dear enough to vacate their own room for us and the baby to sleep in, nurse and otherwise treat as if we were staying at some exclusive bed-and-breakfast. The only thing missing is breakfast in bed, and my sister, Lee Ann, would not bite on that one, although I tried.

I'm lucky she didn't take a swing at me.

Her three children, Kate 13, Chris, 10, and Trey, nearly seven, were beside themselves with excitement to greet their new cousin. Meanwhile, Michelle and I paced around like a pair of nervous Nellies, fearing that the cold that had run through their house would make its way to our child. Lee Ann would not let that happen, of course, but we fretted anyway.

The children were so cute with their new cousin. They stumbled over each other, and jockeyed for position, craning their necks and contorting their bodies, climbing on  to tables and chairs, t get a better look at their new cousin. They held him and smiled. They patted his downy head. They stroked his back.

They seem really interested in the little guy.

Besides that, it also means I don't get beaten to a pulp like I've been in past visits. 

In this instance, it's nice to be an afterthought.

So, on this Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and graced with an adorable baby boy, we feel truly thankful. And blessed.

We hope you feel the same.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Small Discoveries

Nathaniel is three weeks old tomorrow. It's hard to believe he's already that old. He's changed so much.

At least, that's the opinion of my sister, who saw Nathaniel days after he was born and has watched him "grow" through pictures. Me, I don't see it as much, probably because I see him every day. But I've noticed his hair has lightened, and perhaps his eyes, too. He's interacting more with the environment around him, noticing more, his eyes wandering around, even if he doesn't know or understand what he's taking in.

We think we may understand more about him. We know that Nathaniel goes on a crying jag beginning in the evening and lasting until midnight. We believe this pattern of tears lies in the little guy's telling us he's hungry. It's like he wants dinner, dessert and a midnight snack in consecutive hours. My, what an appetite! If he doesn't get fed, he cries inconsolably. For some time, we couldn't figure out why. Now, we think we may have uncovered a pattern. So, we have adjusted accordingly; Michelle feeds him his "dinner" in the early evening, and we bridge the next hours with a bottle of prior-pumped milk or formula. Then, around 11 or so, Michelle gives him another meal. After some fussing, Nathaniel tends to drift into a deep slumber, sleeping for 4-5 hours.

We are very lucky he snoozes that long. Or so our friends and co-workers tell us.

We know we're lucky Nathaniel is with us. It seems he's been with us so long, far longer than the three weeks he's actually been here. At the same time, it's hard to imagine he's our son. I catch myself looking at him every now and then, and I wonder, "Who's baby is this, anyway?" And then I realize, he's ours.

I'm so happy about that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Healthy and Happy (we think)

Nathaniel turned two weeks today.

He commemorated the occasion by visiting the pediatrician. He may not count that as a milestone, but we sure do.

We're more than happy to report that the little guy is healthy. He weighs 8 lbs., 13 oz., about three ounces more than he was born with a healthy cache of stored goodies. Also, he has gained nine ounces from a week ago.

I think it's safe to say our little man is eating heartily. Michelle would attest to that.

All other signs are good, according to the pediatrician. He's a healthy newborn so far. We feel very blessed.

We also think he's happy, but really we don't know for sure. Nathaniel hasn't smiled at us yet, although our pediatrician swore that he smiled at her during last week's visit. 

Hmmm. Talk about stealing our glory!

Instead, we get a little dude who scowls, grimaces, gazes, seems dazed and howls. Lots of emotions, granted, but no smiles. 

My friends and many coworkers, most of them women, tell me not to fret. The smiling will come they say, but there's no consensus when. One coworker thought she recalled her boy smiling after two months. Or was it four? She couldn't remember. It's all a blur, she declared. Another said it happens in weeks. But then again, she thinks her baby is special, as well she should. Somebody else told me it could take a half-year. Wow! Talk about waiting for confirmation that you're doing your job right. Some Wall Street CEOs wait less for such approval (talking about bonuses here).

So, we'll wait for that first grin, that first beam of sunshine, that parting of the lips that isn't a grimace or a growl but a full-fledged stamp of approval that yeah, parents, you're not so bad after all.

We can only hope, right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Squeaker

Slowly but surely we're learning about our new baby.

We know, for instance, that Nathaniel is a squeaker.

He squeaks when he's feeding.
He squeaks when he's sleeping.
He squeaks when he's squirming.
He even squeaks in between his squalls of screams.

The squeaks aren't all the same. The feeding squeak is a short jab of a squeak, which we interpret as his way of vocalizing the voraciousness of his eating.

The sleeping squeak is lazy and subdued. Perhaps it's his way of vocalizing a baby dream. Perhaps he's having a nightmare, something on the par of the all-important boob running away from him.

The squirming squeak is a gnashing sound. We think he's grimacing as he adjusts his position in our arms, or he's trying to tell us he doesn't like the way we're holding him.

The crying squeak is more of a piercing vocal shot. We don't need to interpret that one. We know he's pissed about something, and he's demanding we do something about it.

At 12 days, our son's hair has lightened, although the jury is out whether he'll have his father's near-white blond locks (far gone now). There are some in the family who are fervently rooting that some copper appears, which may portent red hair like his mother.

No evidence of that so far, from what we can see.

Physically, he looks much the same as the day he was born. He's redder now, and his cheeks are ruddy, good signs, we believe. He has a few light scratches on his face, war wounds from flailing his arms when he cries. He's arcing his neck at impressive angles under his own power, and we swear he can nearly support himself when he stretched his legs in a standing position on our laps. He seems pretty darn strong for his age.

Of course, we're biased.

And, we think he's pretty darn cute.

Fair bet to say we're biased on that one, too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cry, Baby, Cry

Newborn babies sure do cry a lot.

I guess that's to be expected. When you think about it, it's the only way they can communicate. They cry when they're hungry. They cry when they're tired. They cry when they're hot or cold. They cry when they're angry. Who knows? Maybe they weep when they're happy, too. In any event, they cry for all sorts of reasons.

Baby Nathaniel is no exception. He's a crier, a real screamer. He opens his mouth like a baby bird and lets out a full-throated whoop to let it be known that something is not right with his world, and yes, daddy or mommy, you need to fix it, and fast.

We've been unable to differentiate the little hombre's cries so far. There's the repetitive cry, the one that loops as if it's a 45 rpm record that's skipping on a turnstile. With that one, baby Nathaniel goes round and round, coughing every now and then, an "I'm disgusted with you" scoffing kind of cough and then he resumes with his looping staccato set of cries. We think this one means he's pissed off, such as when we swaddle him and lay him in his Boppie and he want to be cuddled, or when he's fighting to stay awake, despite being physically exhausted.

Then there's the more soulful cry, not as shrill as the angry cry with a hint of melody to it. This cry can occasionally reach repetitive status, but usually it doesn't reach that degree of urgency. We think this one is the "I'm hungry" cry, and our best guess is it's more mellow, because usually he employs that one when he's emerging from a deep slumber.

Speaking of slumber, the little guy has been a champion sleeper. The last three nights he has slept for more than three hours at a stretch. In fact, last night, the little camper bundled up from 12:30 a.m to 5 and then from 6 a.m. to past 10. It's hell many times getting him to fall asleep (see angry cry, above), but we have to say that when he does fall asleep, he stays that way for a long while.

Nathaniel is 10 days old today (Saturday). I still look at him occasionally and marvel. I get these jolts: Is he truly ours? Did he just show up at our doorstep? Did we steal him? Are we fully responsible for his plight?

Then again, I have this other emotion: It feels as if he's been with us for months, if not longer. It's hard to imagine the time when he was not here, despite knowing full well it hasn't been that long.

Nathaniel already has woven himself into the fabric of our lives. That blanket, if you will, is so much warmer, cuddlier, more familiar.

Buddy, we're glad you're with us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Addition

The Lewis family has a new addition.

Michelle and I welcomed Nathaniel Ames Lewis to the world at 12:16 p.m. on Nov. 5. The little guy weighed 8 lbs., 10.5 oz. and was 19 3/4 inches at birth.

He is doing fine, and Michelle is doing fine.

We are very blessed.

We are also very tired. The five days since Nathaniel's grand entrance has been a blur. Time is all but irrelevant; night is day, day is night. Our schedule has morphed into his schedule. He calls the shots, dictates the pace of our lives. The days of selfishness, of bouts of self-absorption, have ended.

He's the new sheriff n town, and our emotions are strangely tied to his. When he cries, we're tense, confused and unhappy. When he sleeps, we're relaxed, grateful and glad. If I were to give a ratio between these two competing states, I'd put it at 60-40 in the tense, confused, unhappy column.

Not bad, I think.

You know, we've gotten a lot of advice of what to expect and how to react to our baby's arrival. All of it has been with the best of intentions. People with children are happy to dispense with tips and stories of their experiences. I don't profess to know much, but it seems to me all babies are different, and they have their own set of likes and dislikes. What works for one may not work for another. For example, we've found that for the most part little Nathaniel does not seem to like his arms to be pinned against his body. That has made the SwaddleMe outfit, an infant strait jacket if I've ever seen one, not the end-all, be-all solution to hysterically crying infants as we expected. Nor, however, does the little king like his arms to flail madly about. Must be a control thing. The best we've figured our so far is he kind of likes it in-between; he likes his hands to be mobile, but he doesn't like full arm motion. He likes to be swaddled, but not overly so.

It's serious on-the-job training, and there is no manual.

We also haven't figured out a position he likes best, one that keeps him content. Lord knows I've tried all sorts of bodily contortions, short of turning the little dude upside down. You feel like you find one that works, and lo and behold, it fails the next time. Then, like magic, it works again. The latest trick I found that worked was holding him up to my face and letting my suck my nose, like a pacifier. I kind of discovered that one by accident, as he was squawking his fool head off early one morning, and I brought him closer to see if he blew out his vocal box (just kidding, of course). He latched on to my nose like a life preserver. It didn't hurt, and really, it felt kind of cool. A bond of sorts between a father and a son.

Can't wait until he gets teeth.

I guess what it all comes down to is
there is no rhyme and reason to the first steps of babyhood and parenthood. If you like structure in your universe, you can forget it.

So, screw structure. I love my universe fine right now – just the way it is.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Well, it's been so long since I've updated my blog that I feel as if I need to reintroduce myself.

I am still the same person, so let's get that straight.

I have been, remiss, shall we say, in the last couple of months, in filing posts. Some may think I'm still in Iceland, watching as the country goes bankrupt.

No, I have indeed returned.

No, I had nothing to do with this country's stunning dive from largesse to poverty.

A lot has been going on since I was in the capital city of Reykjavik. I traveled with a group of planetary geologists into the remote central sections of the country, a stunning mix of extra-terrestrial landscapes, some gray and desolate like the moon, others bursting with colors (tan, orange, red, yellow) and underground vents that spouted the earth's hot breath that seemed like Mars. We survived a hurricane-like storm that forced us to abandon our campsite and shack up with an Icelandic ranger and a bottle of scotch whiskey. We mounted the largest glacier in Europe. We braced ourselves against some of the stiffest winds I've ever felt at the rim of a crater recently created by volcanic eruption so violent that shards fell on continental Europe.

It was a heck of a trip.

And then Iceland went bankrupt. Just as those long winter nights are coming. I feel for them.

So, now that I'm back, I can report that we're five days from the birth of our first baby. The baby is due on Halloween, although Michelle could give birth at any time. We know very little about this little person. We do know he or she likely will be 8-plus pounds at birth and has reached the size that any movement causes ripples on Michelle's abdomen. She is highly uncomfortable, her organs squeezed to their maximum.

I got a good look at the scrunching of a pregnant woman's organs in our birthing class. Let's take the bladder: By the time the baby is fully formed, the bladder is about 1/10 its normal size and that little tyke is gyrating right on top of it. No wonder Michelle has to pee every hour, or so it seems. Her stomach has been squeezed to the size of a prune. Many other organs have been similarly crushed. There's tremendous pressure on her lungs; she labors to breathe. A whole new being has moved in, and it's not as if she can tack on an addition. It's hard, and I feel for her.

The good news, of course, and which she knows, is it's nearly over. The baby will be born very soon. And then a whole new host of joys and challenges will arise.

As Michelle's belly has grown, I ran. Not away, just ran. I was training to run a marathon with my older brother-in-law, Matt. One could look at this as my last bout of selfishness, or as a selfless attempt to help Matt get through his first marathon. I would say it was a combination of both thoughts.

We ran in the Maine Marathon in Portland on Oct. 5. How lucky were we: The day was cold, sunny and gorgeous. The route took us along the ocean and a cove, then along a road framed by majestic trees. It was rustic, rural, almost peaceful. We both felt great. We yapped nearly the entire way, and by the time we hit Mile 22, both of us had plenty in the tank to scream through the final four miles. We clocked 8-minute splits the last 2 miles, and Matt says we passed 33 runners in the final 1.2 miles alone.

Our finishing time was 03:57. We were exhilarated. And Matt should be awfully proud of his performance. He ran a magnificent race.

We are ready for our baby. The nursery is prepared. It's a tranquil nest, the walls painted in light green and the furnishings in a cream white. The crib has a muted tan bedspread with simple, elegant drawings of animals. One one end is a carousel of birds, lions and a giraffe that will rotate over the baby's head. On the other end is a music box that releases bubbles and shimmering white light as make-believe fish swim in the water. Very peaceful and lullaby like.

We think our baby will like it.

When he or she comes.

We are waiting, excitedly.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Outside Reykjavik

I spent my second day in Reykjavik outside Reykjavik.

That's because two scientists who arrived this morning – half of the group with whom I will travel to the interior to chronicle their research into findings by spacecraft orbiting Mars – decided to forego sleeping and go off on a merry, rock-hunting journey in the hills outside the capital.

I had no idea what was in store. But the planetary geologists wanted to find samples of a mineral called zeolite that a remote-sensing instrument had detected on Mars. So, we drove out to the general area where these zeolites are suspected to be hiding in the rocks, parked next to a picnic table alongside the highway, hopped a sheep fence and scrambled up a cut made by a waterfall alongside a long rock face. 

We looked at lots of rocks. We hammered some to check out what's inside. We bagged the most promising samples. They discussed the rocks' guts. I listened and tried to follow along.

We returned to the picnic table on the side of the road and they busted out spectroscopic equipment to do some serious analyzing. One of them shone what looked like a glorified flashlight at the exposed areas of the rock samples, and a computer "read" the rock and revealed its mineral breakdown based on signatures given off in the visible and near-infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. It's amazing how instantaneous such readings can be made. Which is good, because it was windy and cold. 

How surprising, huh?

We visited two more sites, repeating the same steps as the first excursion (park, hop sheep fence, scramble up ravine, look and collect lots of rocks). This time, though, the spectroscopic analyses could wait. I think they were itching to do some sightseeing. So was I.

So, we ventured into southern Iceland. First stop was Geysir, home to a confab of geysers. The most impressive of these was one called Strokkur, which sent a plume of scalding water soaring into the sky about every eight minutes. You could smell the Earth's insides everywhere, and it smelled a lot like sulphur – pungent but not a turnoff.

You can see a photo gallery here.

Just down the road is Gulfoss, a double decker of a waterfall carved out in the gently undulating valley. Gulfoss cannot rival Niagara Falls in terms of volume of water cascading down its sides, but its setting with a complete lack of commercialism and kitsch just enhanced its beauty. Give the Icelanders lots of credit for letting this natural wonder speak for itself.

On the way back, we drove through a wide bowl of a valley where the sun shone brightly and scrubland that looked like what you'd see in west Texas. As we got closer to Reykjavik, we passed chains of hills, carpeted in such a rich green carpet that it looked like miles of carefully manicured putting greens. Waterfalls spouted from the countless crevices and cuts in these hills. At the foot of many of these hills spouted geysers. Viewing this scene panoramically, you'd see the green hills, laced by the waterfalls and the plumes from geysers that seemed as if the ground itself was smoking cigars. Simply beautiful. 

And the sun was shining. I can only hope for more of the same on the next leg.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Reykjavik - Day One

One day down in Reykjavik.

After about four hours' sleep, the roar of traffic outside my window was too much to fight, so I got up, stumbled out of my room and got some breakfast, compliments of the guesthouse at which I'm staying. The availability of breakfast was a key piece to my decision, because I know from traveling that "free" meals, or at least ones where you can eat as much as you want, are invaluable. That goes double when you haven't eaten since the afternoon before.

It was a typical continental breakfast: coffee, juice, bread and jam, cereal. However, the spread did include cold cuts, cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes. So, I made myself a sandwich and liked it so much I made another. Some cereal and a couple of coffee cups later, I was ready to greet the day.

Most of what I did on this first day was walk around. Mostly, it was through neighborhoods that loosely ring the city center, which itself kind of curves around a long spit of land that blesses Reykjavik with a natural shelter from the North Atlantic. No wonder the Vikings chose it as a natural harbor, naming the capital "smoky bay."

I imagine the nickname comes from the armada of clouds that sweep the sky. Today was no different. As you can see in this picture, the cloud cover was heavy and did not diminish.

Still, the view looking out from the city toward the ocean is beautiful. Imagine how it would look on a sunny day. One can only hope for the chance.

Reykjavik is a small city, and very compact, with skinny streets and small houses crammed together. It's charming, but I would imagine the close proximity, while providing physical warmth from ocean-borne winds, could get unnerving. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a Monday, but the people here weren't terribly friendly. They are not rude; they will help you if asked and will answer a question if you have one. But they won't offer anything more than exactly what you asked. Maybe that's just being efficient. In any event, they don't seem terribly happy to me.

I will say everything is terrifically expensive here. Manhattan's got nothing on Reykjavik. Postcards are a $1 a pop, a hot dog I bought at a great, and popular, stand was $3 (see picture), and my sandwich at a great cafe on the main shopping street was $7 (OK, not bad there). The latte was about $4, which is about what I'd pay stateside. I took a gander at the beer prices, and it appeared a pint started at $10. Ouch.

I read in the in-flight magazine that Icelanders make $55,000 yearly per capita. I was surprised, but having seen the prices, that salary more than evens out when compared to per capita wages in America vs. the cost of goods (and probably services, too).

After lounging around at the cafe, I returned to the guesthouse and changed for a run. The receptionist looked at me kind of funny as I emerged with shorts and a black stitch cap and asked her to hold my keys. I asked her where I should run; she looked at me with a blank expression. I started pumping my arms and mimicking a running motion. She murmured jogging, and then pointed me toward the ocean.

Now, I had seen a path that curved alongside the inlet, and it did look inviting, so I took off. After a few minutes, the path veered to where it ran right next to the highway. I still had the hills and the sea to my left, but the racing lanes of cars and trucks made it difficult to appreciate the view. And the view disappeared shortly thereafter as soon as I left the city proper. I was sucked into outskirt hell, rows of drab apartment blocks on my right that would rival the crummy Socialist living complexes I have tried to forget seeing in Eastern Europe and an endless row of low-slung office buildings and gas stations on my left. The path had veered from the bay's curve, and so I slogged on, seeing that most of Reykjavik looks about like the outskirts of any other European city. Except in Reykjavik there is much less of that sprawl, because there are simply fewer people.

I turned around and headed back toward the main part of the city. A blustery northwest wind slapped me around as if I were a bad child. I bent forward and retraced my steps, passed where I had gotten on the path and followed the ring as the rest of the city opened to my left. Unfortunately, most of Reykjavik with water views is occupied by high-rise commercial and residential buildings that add little to the aesthetics and indeed, mask the subtle beauty of the city center off the water. Too bad. Construction along other areas of the waterfront is going on in earnest, and I had to cross the highway a few times to reconnect with the path, or at least what I think was the path. I ran over cobblestone entrances to buildings, over gravel roadways and mostly on what passed as a sidewalk. Cars and trucks whizzed right by me. It was not scenic, and I must say I'm surprised nothing has bee done about what should be a beautiful area to exercise.

I'll look for another route on Wednesday.

Well, one half of the geology team arrives tomorrow, and I imagine we'll begin preparing for our trip to the interior. We've got two all-purpose vehicles to rent and food to buy. 

I'd go for another one of those hot dogs. Bill Clinton did!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Touchdown Iceland

Greetings from a very new place: Iceland.

Yes, I made it. Ready to start a new adventure in this island country that hugs the Arctic Circle.

Flew in around 11:30 local time tonight (actually last night now). Been here for about 3 hours so far.

Impressions: Clean, quiet, cool. 
No rain (so far). I've bee told this counts as a victory. Let's hope my luck holds.

More impressions: The duty-free shop is quite popular. As soon as we got off the plane, Icelanders and others made a beeline for the duty-free store. The store is conveniently located right off the baggage claim, with signs in bright, glaring lights. It doesn't need to advertise, however. People know it's there. And they loaded their carts with booze, chocolate, cigarettes and play animals, stuffing them just like we do at the grocery store for the July 4th cookout. It was an impressive orgy of shopping glee. Seeing how much fun everyone was having, I decided to take part. Two bottles of red wine: $25. 

In front of me were two young guys with bottles of Absolut, beer and at least two cartons of cigarettes. One of them picked up a carton and started reading the label, which I assume was in Icelandic. 

He read slowly, as if he was translating the words, which perhaps he was: "Smoking can hurt the health of you and everyone around you," he said in English.

He jettisoned that carton into the cart and picked up the other, Marlboro Lights. The label, in English, read: "Smoking can kill."

"This is much easier to understand," he said.

I like their sense of humor here.

In case you all missed a past post, I'm accompanying a group of planetary scientists from Brown who are trying to unravel a mystery about the depth of water on ancient Mars. Iceland, it turns out, offers a pretty good way to study that problem, because its terrain is considered to be a close equivalent to the surface on some areas of Mars. 

My job is to write about the scientists' work in the field and take photographs. If you're interested, you can follow my dispatches and photo galleries here.

Time for bed, and a day in Reykjavik tomorrow (later today). I'll have more on that.

Keep your fingers crossed about the rain.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Photography 101

As I'm preparing for my trip to Iceland, I've been getting a little photo training.

I'm no Jedi, no natural when it comes to understanding settings, composition and execution. I think I've got a good eye and can be patient to line up a good shot. But I'm weak in understanding the core principles that govern go
od photography.

I'm talking about film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Apparently, these all work together, or at least can work together, to create that amazing picture. But I can't quite understand how they all fit.

A good and very patient photographer at Brown gave me a crash course. He talked the photo lingo, and I tried to follow all he was talking about. I walked out of there after about an hour with a major headache.

I knew photography was involved, but I guess I didn't expect that it involved so much science – engineering, physics, even chemistry. Sure, the auto setting works just fine, especially with the more high-end cameras. But the more I hang out with photographers such as the gentleman who sat down with me the other day, the more I can appreciate the artistry and the technical expertise they bring to their work.

I took some pictures around the Brown campus today. I fiddled around with the settings, angles and all that. Some turned out pretty good, some better than I expected and others were just plain bad. Here is one that turned out better than I expected.

I wish I knew what I had done.

I may revert to that auto setting after all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wily Coyote

I was pumping along on a short, four-mile run last week when I saw a man peering intently through binoculars at something.

I had just come over a rise when I saw the guy. It was near sunset, and he was standing next to his truck, which he had pulled off on the side of the road. As I got closer, I got more and more curious what he was looking at. I knew he was looking out at a field. I looked out there, too, but I couldn't see anything.

Just as I was about to pass him, I called out to him. "What's out there?" I asked.

"A coyote," he said.

I thought about that for a split second. I tried to stamp out my curiosity and keep running, but I just couldn't. "I gotta stop," I told myself as I turned around and walked back to the guy.

Graciously, he handed me his binoculars, so I could take a look. Sure enough, out there in the field was a coyote. It was hard to distinguish amidst the bales of hay dotting the football-length field, but I could see it. The coyote was lying in the far reaches of the field, watching us calmly as we watched him.

The coyote seemed not to have a care in the world. I think we were more curious about him than he was about us.

I know coyotes have adapted well to encroachment by people, and they're pros at survival. They'll eat about anything, they keep themselves scarce when we people are most active and they're smart in their own way.

So, it's no big surprise to spy a coyote in our relatively populated area.

But it was still neat.

I resumed running with a big smile on my face.

Monday, August 4, 2008

An Oilman's Conversion

I never thought I'd see a lifelong oilman become a convert to renewable energy.

But then about three weeks ago, I was watching ABC News, and a commercial came on featuring T. Boone Pickens.

Pickens tells us he's a Texas oilman who has drilled for oil and gas his whole life and made a bushel of money in the business. He tells us America's dependence on oil and gas has made us dependent on others and weakened our standing to the point that it jeopardizes our national security. He tells us we have to stop.

Then he tells us America's future is not in oil. It's in alternative energy, such as the wind.

Well, I'll be. You know the push for renewable energy is getting some traction when an old industry stalwart like Pickens is talking it up. Granted, Pickens has his reasons, and one big chunk is financial: He's set to build the largest wind farm in north Texas. His plan envisions stringing wind farms up the spine of the United States, from Texas to the Dakotas.

No matter his profit motives, I applaud him for stepping forward and telling us what we need to hear. The days of cheap energy are over. Oil and gas are commodities, and finite ones at that. They're getting scarcer, and the reserves known to exist are more challenging to extract. Yes, there may be abundant reserves beneath the Arctic Ocean and even off Antarctica, but the world's demand for oil is growing far faster than these reserves can be tapped and would yield.

So, Pickens's idea is a good one. Renewable energy is a ticket to a more sustainable, and secure, energy supply. But his plan does have one big hitch: It's impractical.

What I mean is if you're going to go for wind, it doesn't make sense to plant fields of turbines hundreds, thousands of miles from the nation's urban centers. You then have to build the infrastructure to send those electrons to where the people live. And even if you build the infrastructure, you still lose energy as it travels from source to customer. The longer the distance, the more energy is lost in transit.

But you can have the wind if you build the turbines offshore. They'd be close to the major urban centers, and they run more efficiently than land-based wind farms, because there is less friction with wind traveling over water than on land. Also, you can build bigger, taller turbines, which can capture more wind and achieve higher economies of scale. I devoted my master's thesis to one project, called Cape Wind, which is a plan to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod. If it goes, I think you'll see more turbines erected in shallow offshore areas. Moreover, we're in the cusp of knowing how to put those turbines further out to sea, which would appease those who oppose wind farms because they don't want to look at them.

So, let's give Pickens a tip of the hat for getting the debate started. And let's hope our nation's next president advances it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sufferin' Sandals

I can be a little hard headed sometimes. 

This is especially true when it comes to letting go of things. I am a fanatic about leftover food, for instance. I hardly let anything that's in the refrigerator make it to the garbage can. I eat it all.

This philosophy has led to some questionable decisions. One time, I left an iced coffee with cream on the back door stoop while I was doing yard work on a blazing summer day. Hours later, my throat parched, I came back to it and gulped it down without a second thought. A neighbor practically went into convulsions as she watched me, no doubt thinking how nearly curdled milk would react with my gut.

No problemo.

Then there was another time when I left the remains of a chicken curry dinner in the back foyer overnight. I didn't notice it until the next day as I was rooting around the house around lunchtime. I opened the container, sniffed it, pronounced it non-toxic, and began to dig in. That's when my wife walked in.

"Did you leave that out all night last night?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said as I was about to shovel in the first bite.

"It's got chicken in there, right?"

"Yeah," I said.

"You can get salmonella from chicken gone bad."

I took a last, forlorn look at the curry dish, and with all the moral strength I could muster, tossed it into the garbage. I think I actually winced as I did this. People have shown less emotion at funerals than I did to that trashed meal.

Those tales are a long way of me getting to the main story here, which has to do with parting with my first pair of sandals – a real tearjerker of a goodbye. I used to abhor sandals; vowed I'd never wear them. I was a tennis shoes kind of guy,  a dude who dressed athletic and that included the shoes, too, thank you very much. Sandals were for biblical figures and pansies. I'll be dead before I exposed my toes to humanity.

Three summers ago,  the Lutheran church we had begun to attend held its first summer service, which are on Saturday evenings. I dressed as I usually did – long-sleeve, buttoned-down shirt, khakis and loafers. Maybe even wore a tie. Can't remember. In any event, I was relatively sharply dressed. We arrive for service and lo and behold, our pastor comes out in shorts and sandals. I just gawked at him. 

I realized, if my pastor, whom I admire so much, think it's alright, maybe even cool, to wear sandals, perhaps I should reconsider? 

That week, I bought my first pair of sandals. Nothing special, mind you. I aim for utility and comfort when it comes to footwear. So, these were simple, brown sandals, with a velcro flap in the front and a velcro flap in the back. And, boy, were they comfortable! Once summer came, you couldn't get me out of them. I wore them everywhere. I loved how my feet were cool, how they breathed, and how I could swim with them on in the bay, listen to them scrunch as I walked home and within hours they'd be dry again. 

They were super. So super, in fact, that I couldn't bear to get rid of them.

But shoes, unlike diamonds I guess, are not forever. And, despite the fact that I had nearly worn through my sandals and was pretty touching pavement when I walked, I needed a nudge to tell me it was time to let go.

So, my wife got evidence. That's the picture you see at the beginning of this post.

That picture needn't tell a thousand words. It told me: Time to get some new sandals.

So, last week, I did. The new pair doesn't feel as comfortable as the first pair (before they got worn down), and we're still getting used to each other. But we trudged home today in a downpour, and they squished as I walked.

I smiled.  This pair may last after all.