Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Pablo Neruda kind of Afternoon

Henry and I had a big day yesterday--several miles of walking and an hour of waiting at Service Ontario to update my Health Card. Henry did pretty well with the waiting in the Government Offices. He can be very flirty and made friends with several baby groupies. (For my American readers: Service Ontario is kind of a one-stop government office where you can get your Driver's License renewed or your Health Card, etc. It's nicer and more efficient than any DMV I've experienced in the states. I've been through the DMV process in CT, VA, NJ, CA, and KS. The worst, if you're wondering, was New Jersey by far. Anyway, the Service Ontario system is another sweet advantage of living in the "socialist" north.) After supper I transferred the watch to Betsy and went to play softball like I normally do on Monday nights.

I had a descent game. My batting is improving rapidly and my fielding was much better. There is lots of room for improvement, but that's why we play the game. But all this seemed pretty unimportant when one of the guys broke his leg sliding into second. It looked to me like he completely dislocated his ankle, but the EMS thought it was just a clean break. Either way, it looked bad, but I snapped right into the crisis mindset I learned as a hospital chaplain. My main concern when I first rushed over was bleeding. Did the fracture severe an artery or vein? When I saw that the fracture/dislocation had not punctured the skin, I was next looking for edema (blood pooling under the skin) but that didn't happen to an appreciable degree, either. At that point we were calling EMS and the guy's wife and even posting guys at the entrances of the park to flag down the ambulance. When the Paramedics arrived they got him on the gurney and took him to the hospital. They said that their main concern was possible nerve damage, but the fact that he could feel his foot was encouraging. Some of the guys were a little shaken by the experience. Me, I just kept thinking of how much worse it could have been. I remember a time when I carried a code/trauma beeper that would summon me to the worst possible kinds of carnage. Honestly, I kind of miss the adrenaline rush of those on-calls.

So today Henry and I are taking it easy. Did some cleaning in the morning, and now I'm in the living room having a Pablo Neruda kind of afternoon. Let me explain what that's like...

It's cool and rainy outside, so I have the doors open to let in the breaze and hear the rain. But I also have a fire going in the fireplace to add some dry warmth to the living room. Henry is on the floor having his mid-afternoon nap. That has become harder since his teeth started emerging from his gums. Me, I'm sipping a little Brandy. My fingers smell like a Cohiba because I was just checking the humidity in my humidor. (I only smoke a few cigars a year, but I like having them on hand just in case.) What else could complete such a scene except a little Pablo Neruda, one of my favourite poets. Check out his "Ode to the Onion":

Ode to the Onion

by Pablo Neruda
Trans. Stephen Mitchell

luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
the table
of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

Days like this are made for poetry, warm fires, sleeping infants and cats, and brandy.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Henry's First Dinner

Here we captured Henry's first culninary adventure beyond mommy milk or his blankie...

I love how he clearly learns through the course of this meal that what were offering on the spoon was good.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Hand Washing

When you work in a hospital, as I once did, you learn some useful things. For example, before I was cleared to see patients (as a chaplain) I first had to learn proper hand washing technique. A nurse explained to a group of us that hand washing is the number one method for clinicians to avoid spreading disease from patient-to-patient. Even when you haven't actually touched the patient, merely by being in the room you have come into contact with a contaminant inadvertently. Thus, washing hands between patients is absolutely critical. Then we were shown a short film on how to properly wash your hands. I'll give you the highlights:
  1. Turn on the water, adjust the temperature to be comfortably warm
  2. Wet your hands
  3. Out of the water stream, soap up your hands and scrub vigorously at least to half way up your forearm for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse your hands in the water
  5. Dry your hands with a paper towel
  6. Use the paper towel to turn off the water tap... Do not touch the handles

This simple procedure saves thousands a day. Lots and lots of studies have confirmed just how important hand washing is to controlling infection in a clinical setting. And yet mistakes are made. I remember reading a study about how various clinicians were observed to see how often they remembered to wash hands, and Chaplains scored better than doctors! (And so did nurses.)

I'm thinking of this because we took Henry to his six-month well baby doctor visit yesterday. His initial exam was performed by a medical student and both Betsy and I observed that she did not wash her hands correctly before putting hands on the baby. To be fair, it's possible that she washed her hands before entering the room (although, that would require using the door knob between sink and infant). All we saw a brief rinsing of her hands with water, drying with a paper towel, and then turning off the sink with her bare hand. I thought about saying something, but didn't want to be a pushy, germ-obsessed parent. Nor did I want to embarrass her with her Supervisor (who wasn't in the room for the exam). She must be very new to clinical pediatrics, because she had never seen a cloth diaper before. But I now I regret not saying anything. She was there to learn, after all.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Abby Sunderland

Some of you may recall awhile back when I posted here about Zac Sunderland, who set the record (since broken) as the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world. Younger people have made the trip since, but he was the first under 18 to achieve it.

Zac comes from a family of sailors, so it's not much surprise that his sister--Abby Sunderland--had the same dream of sailing around the world as soon as possible. She set out to do just this, and after coming 2/3 of the way around the world (many thousands of miles) and making only one stop for repairs, she ran into a massive storm in the Indian Ocean that broke her mast (thus making her boat, Wild Eyes, unsailable).

Generally speaking, people tend to focus on the question of whether it was appropriate or safe for her parents to allow a sixteen year old girl to attempt to sail around the world. Of course, both she and her parents say that Abby was as prepared and capable as any sailor could be. She has a lifetime of sailing experience, superb training, an incredible support team (including everything from fitness trainers to nutritionists to meteorologists to marine electricians), and the best equipment available. Her boat (which was lost, unfortunately) was an Open 40, a design specifically intended for open-ocean solo sailing in the treacherous southern oceans. It has multiple sealed air chambers to keep the boat is case of hull rupture, and is designed to self-right automatically if capsized. There are numerous other safety systems that Abby had on board, including a life raft, ditch-bag, and various emergency beacons.

I think the risk of her sailing around the world is probably comparable to allowing a teenager to participate in any other sport, let alone driving! Growing up is about learning to manage risk.

According to Abby, the failure of the mast was one of those things, not indicative of her skill as a sailor or her age.

If you are into sailing, you may enjoy reading Abby's blog from the beginning to now. She has had many fine adventures on Wild Eyes and says with good reason that it the most enjoyable thing she has ever done.

Would I allow Henry to take such a trip? Sure, if I felt he was able to handle it! But, then, I'm a Moss and we have always encouraged Wanderlust in our children.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Top of the Mast

On Wednesday it was just Dave, Dave's daughter, and I for racing. We went over on the 4.15 tender to the QCYC club where the boat lives. We had a leisurely beer or two. Until race time started to draw close. As we started to rig the boat we ran into a huge problem. The sail cover on the Jib (the front sail) wouldn't come down. It fits over the sail like a sleeve, and is pulled up and let down with a halyard (a halyard is any rope used to haul something vertically--typically up and down the mast). As we looked upward with binoculars and our naked eye it seemed as though the halyard and been pulled up too far, and that some part of the sail cover had gotten hung up on the pulleys at the top of the mast. We tried some more tugging and other tricks to no avail. And race time was coming up fast.

So... Dave dug through a sail locker below and found a very simple harness. Right away I remembered the harness I used to tie around myself when wall climbing in high school gym class. I'm not sure if I would remember all the parts to the that knot, but it seemed like it would be better than this sad thing.

"Maybe we'd better have a safety line, too," Dave suggested.

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea!"

As I put it on around my hips I could tell that the harness would be uncomfortable, but not painful. The bigger problem is that it would haul me up below my centre of gravity, meaning that if I let go of the mast I would likely flop backwards and then fall out of the harness!

By now we were starting to gather a little crowd on neighbouring boats and the shore. One guy (who happens to have a lot of experience in open-ocean cruising) offered to help and Dave welcomed his assistance. I hooked up the main halyard to my harness and then double checked that the harness and halyard were secure.

For a safety, I made a quick bowline knot with another halyard looped under my armpits. I made a "safety" in the knot so that if the knot failed or slipped it should lock up, anyway. It would suck to be hanging by a slip knot around your chest!

Things were moving really fast. Dave had wrapped the main halyard around a winch on deck and his friend had then taken the tail of that rope and put it around another winch just in case. The safety rope was put through a rope clutch (kind of a one-way valve for ropes) so that it could be brought in but would arrest my fall (abruptly, if it came to that) should something happen with the main halyard.

Dave started winching by 200 lbs up the mast. As he did so, I tried to grip onto the mast with my legs and my arms. As much as I could I would pull myself up as Dave turned the winch. Periodically I would call out "safety" to have the slack removed from the safety line. I also had to have Dave pause a few times so that I could untangle myself from shroud lines.

I was pleased to notice at the top of the mast (38 feet up), that the boat wasn't heeling back and forth like I thought she might. Good thing we were still in the slip! The other thing I noticed was that I wasn't feeling afraid of heights. I was so focused on the mast and the lines holding me up that I really didn't have the mental effort to worry or even perceive just how high up I was.

I gave the sail cover a tug and the offending fabric immediately tore away (at a seam, thankfully), but then the halyard that had been holding it up retreated into the top of the mast. I could see it, but not reach it. So the guys hauled me up the last few inches and from there I could hook the end of the halyard with my finger and pull it out. I kept pulling until Dave's daughter could get it on the foredeck.

Now... coming down... The first problem I noticed is that the harness was making it hard for me to breath. Passing out would be very bad indeed, so I asked the guys below to expedite their process of figuring out how to get me down. I took some deep breaths and made some mental calculations about how long I could keep holding on to the mast (maybe five or ten minutes). More delay. It was probably only a minute but it felt like five. I wasn't worried about falling, per se, just passing out!

Then they started to lower me down. Easier than going up, as you would expect. On the deck, lots of at-a-boy's from the peanut gallery. I think Dave was relieved it all worked. Later he was able to sew up the sail cover tear and no harm done.

The race was okay. Our start was pretty good, but we had some bad luck with wind. We are still waiting for that new mainsail to arrive.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tay PA

So my first batch of homebrew is done. It's an IPA (India Pale Ale) I'm calling "TayPA." Like all IPA's, it leads with a nice hoppy taste and has a relatively high alcohol content (both of which made it possible to transport this type of beer from England to India--hence the name).

I modified a recipe I found on the web. I got the supplies from Canadian Homebrew Supplies--which is an mail-order company run out of a dude's garage near the airport. He's happy to save local brewers the postage if you'll pick it up.

The best on-line guide to brewing I've found is the excellent How to Brew by John Palmer. Lots of detail and explanation. Very useful.

Tay PA

Based loosely on "Big Two Hearted River Ale."

Specialty Grains
1 lbs. Carmel #77

Base Fermentables
7.4 lbs. Briess Amber Dry Malt Extract (DME)

Hops Schedule
1 oz. Centennial Hops (at start of 60 minute wort boil)
1 oz. Centennial Hops (at 20 minutes remaining in wort boil)
2 oz. Centennial Hops (at 5 minutes remaining in wort boil)
1 oz. Brewer's Gold (Dry Hop - add after primary fermentation has calmed down)

WYeast #1084 Irish Ale Yeast

Steep grain in muslim bag in 1.5 gallons GOOD water, bring water from cold to just under 160F, steeping for a total of 30 minutes. Let grain bag drip when you remove it, but do not squeeze.

Add another 1.5 gallons plus 1 quart of water, bring to boil. Stir in 1/3 of DME at start of boil, remainder 15 minutes before end of boil.

Add hops per schedule.

Cool rapidly (use a cold water bath in the sink or a wort chiller if you have one) to at least 80F. Aerate wort (stir in some air, but don't go crazy). Put into primary fermenter (Carboy), top off water to get to 5 gallons, pitch the yeast/starter.

62F worked pretty well as the ambient temp in the basement, though that's on the low end for Ales, I guess. After the fermentation dies down (when you go to put on the smaller vapour lock), add the last of the hops. Then, process like any other beer!

Original Gravity = 1.064
Final Gravity = 1.021
Calculated Alcohol = 5.5% by volume

Taste? Excellent. One friend who likes Pacific-Northwest-style IPA's said it was "the best Canadian Beer I've had." Sweet!

I leaned a lot in the process that will make the next go-round easier. Sanitizing the equipment (an important step) could be streamlined. I want to try making this recipe again once or twice before I move on to something else.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Street Math

Henry and I saw this on our walk--math problems (Calculus, no less) written in chalk in front of the University of Toronto's High School.

Cool, heh?


Best Gin and Tonic Ever

I'm currently sipping the best Gin and Tonic I've ever had. No kidding. The key is making your own Tonic Water. What you get in a can at the store is just so over-sweetened and lacking in sophistication that your tongue will probably explode with joy when you try this:

Tonic Water

Modified from Jeffrey Mogenhaler's Recipe

4 cups water
1 cup chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
1/4 cup powdered cinchona bark (try a well-stocked vitamin store)
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp whole allspice berries
1/4 cup citric acid (try a pharmacy)
1/4 tsp Kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain out solids using a strainer or chinois. You’ll need to fine-strain the mixture, as it still contains quite a bit of the cinchona bark. You can use a coffee filter and wait for an hour or more, or do as I do and run the whole mixture through a French coffee press.

Tay's Notes
Ok, here is where I depart from Jeffrey. He then adds Agave syrup to sweaten this mixture. I prefer to simply leave it as is and add the sweatener when assembling the drink. Since I keep some simple syrup in the fridge, this is easily done.

BTW, the liquid that results will be brown and quite opaque, almost like chocolate milk. Don't be worried, this is highly concentrated stuff that will be diluted in the final drink. This recipe makes about 1 Liter (4 cups), which will make about 34 G&T's!

To make the gin and tonic:
1 1/2 oz. Gin (I'd recommend Bombay Sapphire in this application)
1 oz. Tonic Syrup (above)
1/2 oz. simple syrup
4 1/2 oz (approx 3 jiggers) seltzer or fizzy water of your choice
Stir together in a glass. Add ice and maybe a jime for garnish.

Next time I'll follow some other people's advice and lower the amount of citric acid, up the lemon grass, and maybe try a pinch of cinnamon.

This is really, really tasty stuff, and quite unlike any gin and tonic you've ever had. Yet it also certainly the same drink, just much, must better.

BTW, it's the cinchona bark that gives gin and tonics their particularly unique flavour. It's a no-joke remedy for Malaria symptoms, and is said to have other health benefits (hence the "Tonic"). Exploring the benefits of the active compound in Cinchona, Quinine, was important in the foundation of Homeopathic medicine:
The birth of homeopathy was based on quinine testing. The founder of homeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, when translating the Cullen's Materia medica, noticed that Dr. Cullen wrote that quinine cures malaria and can also produce malaria. Dr. Hahnemann took daily a large non-homeopathic dose of quinine bark. After two weeks, he said he felt malaria-like symptoms. This idea of "like cures like" was the starting point of his writings on "Homeopathy". (source)


Thursday, June 3, 2010

House Husband

My parental leave started on Sunday afternoon after church. Of course, that didn't exactly mean that work stopped right away. I still had to move a bunch of stuff out of my office (my computer, some unfinished work files, etc.) to set up a home office for the summer. If I were a better person I would simply walk away, but I'm afraid that my to-do list is just a little too daunting! For example, if we are going to send out a fundraising appeal letter this summer, then I need to write it!

But the main work this summer is, naturally, taking care of little Henry. He's been a champ. His routine is a pretty simple 2 hour cycle. When he wakes up from his nap, he gets changed and fed. Then he's pretty alert and happy for a while. He likes to roll around on the floor or be held or play with blankie. Sometimes, if he seems bored, I'll put him in the "Circle of Neglect" (which is a bouncy chair thing with lots of activities that make noise and flash lights and things when he plays with them). Then after about two hours have elapsed he starts to get tired and a bit cranky. The naps that follow are typically about 20 minutes (though he sometimes has a longer nap in the afternoon) and everything starts again.

One of my concerns has been about how much I will actually be able to get done while taking care of Henry. So far... a surprising amount. The key is to use the 20 minute nap times efficiently to do the stuff that can't be done with him in hand. Taking a shower, for example. But then there are a lot of things that can be managed with one hand (the other holding the baby). And then there are lots of times when he is content to simply be near me while I'm paying attention to something else.

So far I've been able to get things done. I've taken him grocery shopping and to the liquor store and with me to meetings and lots other activities. No problem. To mow the lawn I simply strapped him to my chest with a Baby Bjorn and got to work.

He seems to be pretty happy with it. He enjoys new things and places. And random people occasionally want to get a close look at him.

So the first week of being a house husband has gone extremely well, thanks for asking!