Vargos had a Baby!



My apologies for the delay in getting the news out through this avenue but many of you have already heard – Benton Gray Vargo was born on July 20, 2011. He was a healthy 8lbs 9oz.

For months, and especially for the last few weeks of the pregnancy I had been waiting anxiously and wondering always “what is next?” “how does this go down?” I began to find out just after 5pm on a Tuesday when Lauren’s water broke. We ran out to stock up on pet food and ate our own dinner before heading to the hospital around 10:30 that night. If the water breaks before full fledged labor, most hospitals will put you on a pseudo-clock since the risk of infection goes up once the membranes have ruptured. We hesitated to go to the hospital to see if she could labor at home and hopefully progress a bit before going there and hearing that we needed pitocin to move things along. At the hospital they let us walk laps around the ward to try and get things going but contractions stayed about 6-8 minutes apart. By the morning (15 hours from water breakage) they wanted us to take steps to move it along. This means starting a steady dose of pitocin to move the contractions closer together with greater regularity. We worked at this for about 5 hours, trying all kinds of different breathing and poses and shifting weight and listening to some relaxation sounds Lauren has on her iPhone.

When the doctor came in around 1pm Wednesday, we found out that there was no noticeable progress in her dilation. This news completely deflated us. Lauren had been working so hard through painful contractions and the news that the last 5 hours had yielded no reward was crushing. We were now about 20 hours past the water breaking and no closer to the end goal. The decision to get the epidural was not an easy one. There are all manner of sources of information for how you should go through your delivery out there and many pivot around the subject of the medical intervention and, in particular, the epidural. It’s gets a lot of attention and it was so difficult because it came with a fair bit of uncertainty. Would this slow down Lauren’s progress even further? Would she even know what was going on during the whole thing? Would she be miserable? After hooking up the epidural, the every-3-minute contractions came and went with little fanfare. This continued for about 4 hours. Lauren got to relax a bit if that’s possible, and for the first time since arriving at the hospital I found myself once again full of worry and curious anticipation about how the whole thing was going to go down from here on out.

The doctor finally came in around 6pm and upon inspection found everything in its right place, so to speak. We were about 25 hours past the water breaking and we were in a position to start pushing. This was the best news we could have hoped for. We were done with the active labor, we were going to proceed without needed further intervention or surgery and we were finally going to have a child after all this waiting. The doctor promptly left to finish his rounds and the nurse prepped Lauren for pushing. I think she could sense our excitement at this latest development and tried to temper it by mentioning that, on average, the pushing phase for first time births last 2 hours. She walked Lauren through how to push and breathe together – 3 pushes per contraction and after two contractions she was calling for more nurses to set up the tables and get he doctor back in there. The whole pushing phase lasted about 20 minutes and Benton was born. I was able to be present for the whole thing and everyone did a great job. Lauren even got to complete the birth by reaching down and pulling Benton out and onto her chest. This part of the birth, blew my mind and is still my favorite part. It exceeded all of the expectations I had for our experience. One nurse said to us that we did this whole delivery thing backward with the water breaking and the labor, but if anything is clear after the process it is that there is no standard for what happens next, or how it goes down.

The rest of our time in the hospital was great. You’re running on a great high and you seem to roll with whatever gets thrown at you. I was impressed by the size and complexity of hospital operations. If you don’t spend much time in them you forget how amazing they are. The nurses are also great. You get to know them and you feel like you’re in good hands. When you leave you feel like they are going to miss you but it is probably more of a one way street. They do it all again the next day or with the next patient.

Now we’ve been home for just over a week. He sleeps and eats well but we have not gotten as much sleep as we should because we just stare at him most of the time. Thanks to everyone for their support and thoughts as we’ve progressed through this. We are all loving it right now. No one is really thinking about what is next or worrying about how the next step happens, we’re just enjoying this now.

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Blood Mountain


This Saturday we went north into the Blood Mountain Wilderness to climb to the top of Georgia’s 4th highest peak by the same name. It was our second time there but the first trip in a few years. We found a 5.5 mi loop hike that climbs just over 2000 ft from a parking lot just past a popular destination on the Appalachian Trail: Neels Gap. It’s a beautiful, windy drive up to the trailhead and a pretty scenic hike with great views from the top. There are actually three trails you take to complete the loop. It begins on the Byron Reece Trail and then splits so that you can take the AT up for a steep ascent or take the left fork and stay on the Freeman Trial until you meet back up with the AT on the backside. Then you can hike the AT up and over Blood Mountain back to Reece and the parking lot. This is what we did. It was a good option for a pregnant woman out in the nearly 80 degree heat. The top of the mountain has plenty of spots to sit and relax, eat lunch, and take in unobstructed views. There’s also a shelter at the top for thru-hikers. One fun thing to do if you’re hiking toward Neels Gap is to ask the people you run into if they just came from Maine. Everyone loves that.

You can find good directions and a description of the hike here.

Endless Summer

Lauren is BACK! After three long months, she has returned from the Phiippines and has been finding her way back into American Life. Over this long Labor Day Weekend I whisked her away to North Carolina for some solitude (with me), rest, and romance as we celebrated our 4th anniversary and her return before she heads back to work tomorrow.

First, we headed out to the Shining Rock Wilderness. This hike and camping site, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Graveyard Fields, came highly recommended to us by Ben and Katy. We followed Ben’s excellent directions to a secluded hilltop site at around 6,000 ft. The best thing about this place are the views. You follow ridge lines and can see for miles in all directions thanks to previous fires that ran through the region. The other great thing about the place is the abundance of wild blueberries. We were late in the season but still managed to find a few spots with enough berries to have a harvest. The weather varied but all-in-all was great. Very still, clear, and nearly perfect the first night – cooling off and getting a bit windy up on the knobs for the second night and our last morning. The hike out really felt like fall and it was great to be back in western NC to experience it.

We hiked out on Saturday morning and took the Blue Ridge Parkway into Asheville where we had two nights at Louisa’s Porch, a home-stay place in the historic Montford neighborhood. Before we could even check in we had to head over to the Asheville Yoga Center for a class we had booked. It was a class for partnered yoga and Thai massage (pictures) that was part of a weekend-long workshop to benefit a local food bank. On Sunday we strolled around town, sampled a few local brews and stumbled on to the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival. It was a fun and colorful event; all of the food booths were the street versions of local restaurants, and many people wore costumes and makeup. There was also a bicycle joust and tricycle races. As always Asheville left us captivated, gorged, looking forward to the next visit.

Gardening Again


Last Friday was the vernal equinox and thus Spring is here and has begun. Optimistically, I have taken this to mean that we are finished with frosts and snow and I have gone ahead with my spring planting in the garden. This also meant that we could finally move the herbs that I was able to save over the winter (rosemary and mint) back into the yard. They wintered in our spare bathroom, on shelves in the bathtub. Right now we’ve planted spinach, lettuce blend, carrots, beans, peas and some flowers. We’re also trying to start some peppers inside. We’re hoping to have better luck this year with peppers, squash and eggplants. Last year we did get a few good, large eggplants, our bell peppers and squash never really came out.

In addition to planting we’ve been putting a lot of work into the facilities. We got some give-a-way wood from someone on Craigslist and build a new third bed. So, we’re hoping to improve our output by 50% at least. Then we added mulch that TJ provided for us around all the beds. And finally we built a more substantial fence with a gate to keep Mali out. Before we could finish it she moved some of the spinach seeds around but I think everything will still come up ok. We may have to alter the fence as the summer progresses if we find that animals are getting at the plants, but it should be easy to add some wire mesh along the fence. Our next concern is soil for the new bed and perhaps more water. It seems this is almost the only thing I blog about so I’m sure you’ll hear more throughout the summer.

Year in Review 2008

I see a lot of year end lists but none of them seem to document what’s happened in my life. I revisited my posts throughout the year, which I admit have been thin, to review what went on in our lives this year and to fill in some gaps. We started the year in Atlanta, with Chad visiting from Santa Barbara, but just days later we received another visitor who stayed for six months. Jorge lived with us from January to July and was a member of the family. January 2008 also brought Atlanta some snow that actually stayed on the ground. We first experienced it while at a mountain cabin with my fellow and lady city planning students but got another taste upon our return home.

In February school at Emory was in full swing and a routine for the next several months began to take shape. Unfortunately, there were a few bits of bad news for the month. First, Lauren was badly shaken up by the stunning defeat of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Then she had her 30th birthday. We had a sports-themed surprise party where everyone dressed up in sports gear they had lying around the house.

In March, Lauren jetted off to Brooklyn to see here sister for the weekend. Jorge and I stayed home and started construction of the garden and the cleaning up of the back yard. Also, in March 2008 Lauren and I went to the wedding of our friends Michelle and Alex. It was one of the first times I visited and stayed in downtown LA. The wedding was great but the national news that weekend focused on Atlanta and the tornado that had ripped through downtown. We returned home to find our own neighborhood particularly hard-hit.

April was a busy month. First I turned 29. Next Jorge and I set off to DC for a conference and some sightseeing. I was presenting at the Active Living Research Conference and he wanted to see the city. We stayed with Gill and Mikey but I remember hardly getting to see them and thinking that we were all pretty busy. It was also my first chance to meet Purvi. The pleasure was all mine. On the way home from DC we took a long layover in Detroit to see the family, but April doesn’t stop there. Later in the month I headed to Montreal for Paul’s Bachelor Party. Here I got to see more of Gill and Mikey in an environment that I’m more accustomed too. Also got to see Bilski, Chad, Jesse, Peter, Rob, Freeman, Michael, Brian, Scotty, Jake, Matt, and of course Rico. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

In May 2008 Lauren’s dad and sister visited independently for work within a week of each other. We visited the Museum of Natural History and saw a Braves’ game, respectively. Then Lauren and I spent the rest of month in the islands, sort of. We headed to Jekyll Island with John, Shannon, Mike and Hannah. It was our first time there and our last time camping with children (kidding). It was great to ride our bike around the island but I also remember the ticks and the raccoons. In between our island trips, Lauren and I drove up to Blowing Rock, NC to pick up a table that had been made for us in Hampton, CT. We met her mom and Mack at a family house there and spent the weekend listening to and learning mountain dulcimer. The next weekend we were back to the islands. We went with Dave and Liza and stayed in a condo on Folly Island near Charleston. We walked to the beach and played of lot of surf football catch. May ended with Lauren and I back in the mountains. She headed to Yellowstone for work and I went with Jorge to North Georgia.


June was comparatively low key. Matt and Priya held a wedding-warm-up-weekend in ATL for their friends. We did take one trip to Raburn County to visit with Sam at her house up there. Not much else went on. Jorge grew a mustache.

July started with a trip to San Francisco for the wedding of our good friends Paul and Hilary. The wedding was in the Presidio. We stayed in an officer’s quarters and could walk home from the reception and the bowling that followed. It was a great time. Sadly, in July we also bid farewell to Jorge and to Dave and Liza. Jorge returned home and D+L moved out to Salt Lake City. At the end of July I also set off. I went out west again to hike the west coast trial. There are a number of posts detailing the trip which was quite the experience.

I returned from Seattle in August and proceeded to attend my first ever used car give-away night at a minor league baseball game. Matt, Miguel, Ben and I headed up to Chattanooga for some climbing and then went to a Lookout’s game where they gave away a used car every inning. August also saw us back up in northeast Georgia for a camping trip along the Chattooga, ‘The Deliverance River’.

In September Lauren and I celebrated our second anniversary by going to the Chattahoochee Hill Country in South West Fulton County to a place called Serenbe. We spent two days there walking around the grounds and enjoying the beautiful fall weather and each other. Lauren got the chance to go to Rhode Island and celebrate another wedding that month. Her Aunt Laurie was married in September 08.
The first weekend ofOctober Ben and I headed back to Blowing Rock, NC for a bouldering competition at Hound Ears. This is the first stage of the Triple Crown which is held each year in the Southeast. Shortly after that my family came into town to visit with us. We went apple picking in North GA and visited the local drive-in movie theater. One of the most fun things we did was to go to the climbing gym and get my sister and my dad up on a rope. Later that month I attended another bachelor party, this time in Nashville for Jason Chernock. Finally I got to go out to San Diego for the American Public Health Conference. I stayed in a hostel in the Gas Lamp District and Chad came down to hang out for a couple days. I liked it there mostly because of the weather and the ocean.
In November, we once again headed up to the mountains of North Carolina (it seems like that’s all we do). This time to Asheville, NC to stay in a cottage for the weekend with Ben, Katy, Ariel and Chad. Ben and I got away for a day to do some climbing and we all spent our nights in town with delicious food and beverage. I can’t forget to mention the exciting election night that this November brought with it. For the holiday, we returned the favor to my parents when we drove up to Detroit for Thanksgiving. I was a good trip: got to see family and friends, eat well and visit some favorite spots. One thing I have done the last few ties up there is drive around Detrit with my dad and take pictures. The saddest thing I saw on this trip was Tiger Stadium literally cut in half and in the process of being demolished.

We rounded out the year like we do every year, with December. This Year we decided to get a Christmas tree for the house. We went south to a farm where we could cut down our own. This was the first real tree I have ever had, let alone actually cut down. The Chernock wedding that we preemptively celebrated in Nashville went off in December 2008 without flaws. Then Lauren and I took a trip up to Brooklyn to visit Susan and attend Stash Bash 08. Next we headed to New England to spend the holidays with her family. We ran back and forth between CT and RI and managed to spend some time in Providence and see a motion picture. We closed out out 2008 back up in the north GA mountains at a cabin with Liz, Derek, Derek, Mellisa and Aly. It might seem a bit low-key for New Years but felt good to us.
2009 has started off very busy. On Monday of last week (2008) I spent hours trying to return a dog that was loose on campus back to its frat house. Then on the first day of the new year I was bit by a dog while trying to break up a fight. If that’s not twisted karma… Everything is fine, I just need some recovery time for some bruising. One thing I learned, break up dog fights from behind the dogs, not by going between them. Lauren leaves for Bangladesh this week, I (surprise) am heading back to the mountains for the CRP cabin trip, and we have other trips planned to DC for inauguration, Phoenix for a bachelor party and Matt and Priya’s wedding in March. Plus I’m sure we’ll throw in many more camping and climbing trips along the way.

Lastly, you may recall a post last January about resolutions. This year I would like to reduce my sugar consumption, reduce overall consumption and waste, and increase water intake. How I will increase water intake and reduce water usage remains to be seen. But I was particularly proud of the fact that we did not have to turn on the municipal water once this year to water the garden AND that we have been composting food scraps at our house now for over a year. Also, I would like to improve on my resolution from one year ago and, as always, be nicer. Thanks for reading, Happy New Year!

Trips Abound

A week from today I head to Seattle and immediately on to Vancouver to hike the West Coast Trail. I have not been keeping up with a training regimen the way I would have hoped but I think I am in good shape for the trip. It will help that it is not 90 with 95% humidity out there, not to mention the break from the ground-level ozone. There’ll be another hike on Sunday to warm up and then its all learning-by-doing. I appreciate any advice/suggestions for the trip people want to offer up.

Speaking of taking a trip, Jorge has returned home but not without his fair share of harrowing culture shock. First he forgot a bag containing passport, hard drive digital camera, books, etc. in a cab. But, as it goes in much of the world, there were many sets of eyes on the street and someone saw the the cab’s number. He narrowed it down to two cabs and found the drivers before the police. The driver’s were angry about the possible police attention and the accusations and didn’t produce any reclamations. This all happened on his vacation on the coast and he had to move on, so he hired a guy there to stay on the case and low and behold the bag turned up, less camera, hard drive and some books. But he got his passport back and safely returned to Bogotá. But he wasn’t done paying a second time for his own possessions. The bike he packed and mailed to himself from Atlanta was deemed an import and charged taxes. Is this an import? I am not sure. It was not in the condition that it is usually shipped from the company and sold, but there is surely a market for it as it was. In any event he’s home and reminiscing his time here already.

And then there’s the honeymooners. Paul and Hilary are somewhere still, hopefully not Bermuda, and soon Ben and Katy will be returning from their trip to Europe which sounded amazing. Their advice: drop what you’re doing and go to Slovenia immediately. Finally, our friends Dave and Liza have taken a trip (one-way) out west to Salt Lake City. They’ve gone there to live and work as Dave continues his education/professional program. We’ll miss them and wish them the best of luck.

Garden Update

The last time I told you anything about the garden it was just two boxes of dirt. Since then we’ve learned a lot and even have a couple things to show for it. We started with a variety of herbs from seeds, but a late frost hurt our efforts. Lauren then brought home a number of plants ready to be planted in the ground. These were tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions and arugala. At the same time we started some beans, peas, and carrots from seeds. Right now I have to say that the plants from seeds have been doing better than the plants we bought, but I think it may also be due to the types of plants. The beans, peas and carrots are producing, but the squash may be getting too much sun and heat to survive.

The tomatoes have started to produce and the arugala is going gangbusters but is getting too big and bitter before we can pick it. About a month after that first planting I planted more bean, pea and re-tried basil from seeds. We also picked up a few pepper plants. The basil is looking good now and we just picked the first chilli pepper. One important thing I learned which I think made a difference was pruning. This is taking some of the plant parts off in order to guide the growth of the plant, for example steering the plant to put more energy and nutrients into fruits. Another thing that we’ve had to do was provide plant food once and awhile, including worm poop and amending the soil further with compost. We also put down some pine needles in the bed as a sort of mulch to retain moisture. Now I’m trying to deal with some pests on the green peppers.

In addition to the garden proper I’ve transplanted some of the basil into separate pots and am keeping them around the deck to keep mosquitoes away (possibly?). We’ve also added some rhododendrons in the back as well as a honey crisp apple tree and a blackberry bush. Finally I spit around 6 watermelon seeds into a planter and they are starting to sprout. This week we’re also getting some rain so it looks like everything’s coming up roses. My biggest challenges at the moment are trying to save the squash and green peppers and possibly getting the eggplants to produce.