Cashless Economy

I spent a couple hours this afternoon finishing the grading for my online course, a task which became slightly less onerous when I was able to do it at a nice little coffeeshop here in Moorhead. Though the people-watching wasn’t as good as it is in Northfield or in Minneapolis, there were some good moments. For instance, the author of some crazy-seeming “political” books stopped in and surfed on one of the public computers for a good hour. (His van was parked across the street.)

A few minutes after that, a young-ish woman came in with two cute kids. She went up to the counter and loudly asked how about the price of a certain (complicated, girly) drink. When the barista told her, she energetically hunted in her purse for some money, only to discover she didn’t have enough. Throwing the expensive-looking bag on her shoulder and clutching a big Blackberry-type smartphone in one hand, she trooped back out with the kids. I guessed to a friend that she must have all her money in bonds; he snarked back that she probably blew all her cash filling up her Tahoe or Excursion.

Marathon Swimming

Among the other new events in the 2008 Olympics is the marathon swim – a 10,000 meter (6.2 mile) open-water swim event for women on August 19, for men on August 20. The races are so long that they can’t be held in the Water Cube, where a 10,000 meter swim would entail 200 laps lengths (thanks, Mr. Mayor!) of the pool. Instead, the marathons will be held in the basin where the rowing and canoeing races were earlier held; marathon swims are usually held in lakes, rivers, and oceans, so this is a bit of an odd place to race.

I haven’t swum in years, but this event intrigues me to no end. The technique for feeding racers is incredible (coaches use long sticks to hold food and drink out to the swimmers), a 16-year-old American is a medal possibility in the women’s event, referees can inflict yellow and red cards on swimmers who don’t race fairly, and of course swimming for two hours (in water that might be nearly 90 degrees!) is an enormous physical challenge – heightened by the fact that the swimmers are jostling constantly with one another. Oh, and the races often end in sprints. I’m sure NBC won’t cover more than a few minute of the races on TV, but I’m going to make a point to watch them online.

Driven to Distraction

“Vacations” are few and far between for this family because the girls emphatically dislike the idea of sleeping in cars, and thus never do it. Well, not never, but in, let’s say, 100 hours of more-or-less long-distance driving, they’ve slept maybe four hours, combined. (This week, I had a well-meaning someone at work advise me earnestly that we needed to be sure to drive at a constant speed. As if.)

So Shannon and I started the drive up to Nonna and Boppa’s house expecting no sleep in the backseat. We weren’t disappointed (un-disappointed?) in that respect, but I for one was happy that the two non-sleepers did fantastically well anyhow. All three driving breaks were thoroughly enjoyed, there were no meltdowns (or accidents) while rolling, and the two girls even entertained themselves and each other for a while. (After that, the fifth family member, the white MacBook, stepped in with some Barney videos.)

The view to the left of the passenger seat:

Vivi "Reading"
Vivi "Reading"

The view to the right of the passenger seat:

Julia Drawing
Julia Drawing

We broke a family tradition by not stopping for lunch at the Sauk Center McDonald’s (motto: “It’s cold here nine months of the year, and we have the only indoor playground between St. Cloud and Moorhead”). Instead, we dined al fresco at a highway rest area (motto: “Your tax dollars are at work cleaning whichever rest room you need to use most”). The girls enjoyed this quite a bit. Picnics go over quite well with the knee-high set.

Tassava Family Picnic
Tassava Family Picnic

The fare was excellent – thanks to Shannon’s planning and faultless execution – and we followed the noshing with a walk around the rest area, during which Vivi noticed this leaf. She pointed at it, then looked up at me and exactly duplicated the facial expression.

Shocked Leaf
Shocked Leaf

Lunch: $0. Entertainment: $0. My two year old: Priceless.

It’s Casual

When Julia came downstairs, already dressed for the day in a Disney Princess nightgown which she wears as a dress, I had her don a bib for breakfast, saying, “I don’t want you to get your fancy dress dirty before the day even starts.” She looked up at me, smiled indulgently, and said, “It’s not a fancy dress, Daddy; it’s pretty casual.”

Happy Birthday, Vivi!

Today – as readers of other Tassava family blog already know – is Genevieve’s second birthday. Happy birthday, Vivi! It has been a wonderful two years!

Vivi Strolling Downtown
Vivi Strolling Downtown

I (mostly) revel (nearly) every day in your (pretty much completely) wonderful self – the physicality, the stubborness, the blondeness, the silliness, and especially the love you have for your sister. And the round, toddlerish cuteness. Can’t forget that! As you yourself said tonight for the very time, “Uv yoo!”

Strange Day

I’m just back from some lunchtime errand-running, during which I saw

  • a third of the Northfield Police Department crowded around a big road-construction site (I hope nobody’s been hurt),
  • a man pop up rather spryly from a butch-looking motorized wheelchair,
  • four people cleaning one small bathroom at the grocery store, and
  • what must have been a big bag of cheese popcorn, scattered in the gutter along the better part of a block.

Ahh, Northfield.

Olympians (Greatest Wikipedia Table Ever)

I am very impressed by this Wikipedia table, which lists almost every athlete who has won multiple Olympic medals. Obviously,  Michael Phelps is at the top of the list when its sorted for number of golds, but he’s only number three in the ranking by number of total medals, behind two Russian/Soviet gymnasts. My man Bjørn Dæhlie, the greatest cross-country skier ever, is tied for number 6, with 12 medals (8 golds, 4 silvers). Gymnastics and swimming are where it’s at for winning huge numbers of medals…

Lucky Number 13

My wife’s already beat me to it, but I have to reciprocate and say “Happy Anniversary!” to her!

I have surprisingly clear memories of 8/13/95, but honestly hardly any memory at all of any of the subsequent anniversaries. Then again, most of them were spent with one or both of us in grad school (read, “no fancy dinners”) and the last four have been complicated by kids (ditto). Regardless, the various August thirteenths have all punctuated good, happy, healthy, productive years. Thank you, babe!

Sleeping Breakthrough?

It’s been months and months and months now since we started the process of having both girls sleep in the same room. For a while, we had success putting Vivi down in her crib and Julia down in the guest room, then moving the elder over after the younger asleep. Around the time the evening light started stretching toward nine, though, Julia decided that she could (or would) no longer fall asleep in the guest room, so I’d end up moving her, 30 or 45 or 60 sleepless minutes after putting her “to bed,” into her own room.

After weeks and weeks of this shuffling, I finally reached my limit on Monday night. When it was time for Julia to go sleep, I put her in her own bed, even though Vivi was still yammering away – and even though she pepped up when “Booah” appeared. But it worked well: after no more than 15 minutes of talking (all by Vivi; Julia either resisted the urge to reply or fell asleep amid the chatter), all was silent at the earliest moment they’ve both been asleep in a long time. Tonight it worked again. Perhaps we’ve finally shifted to the girls’ last sleeping arrangement in our house, the one we hope will last until Julia heads off to college (or, you know, abandons us for a missionary trip to Lesotho). It hasn’t come a moment too soon.

Georgia

I don’t blog much about politics here, but the new war in Georgia is so scary that I have to vent a bit about it. In the first place, Russia’s continuing incursion into Georgian territory is so nakedly aggressive as to defy belief. It’s a callous attempt by Putin – already revealing himself to be, as everyone knew, the real ruler of Russia – to exploit the Olympic moment, to wage war during the two weeks every four years when the world is at least willing to entertain the fantasy of peace. Putin himself left the Games on Saturday and flew directly to a Russian city near Georgia to oversee the military operations – practically shitting on the Olympic flag.

But Putin isn’t only taking advantage of the Olympic moment here. He is also capitalizing on the incredible weakness of the U.S., which – thanks to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the quieter deployment of American troops everywhere from Colombia and the Philippines to the Horn of Africa – can do no more than fuss like (off the top of my head) a two-year-old on her unwilling way to bed. Bush today said that the Russian invasion is “unacceptable in the 21st century,” which is of course as ludicrously hypocritical a statement as one could imagine. He’s the foremost 21st century practitioner of the war of choice, and is now only seeing others take advantage of the precedent set by the Bush-Cheney cabal. Quoth the veep: “Russian aggression must not go unanswered;… its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.” Oooh. I’m sure that will scare the Russian leadership straight.

The Iraq-Afghanistan debacles are tied into the evolving mess in Georgia in more ways than bald analogy and presidential rhetoric. Since our invasion of Iraq, world oil prices have steadily increased (though, of course, prices went up for many reasons besides the invasion’s effects on Iraqi oil production). The runup in oil has phenomenally enriched the Russian state, literally and figuratively fueling a resurgence in Russian military, political, and economic power. This power has recently been used to suppress the separatists in Chechnya, where Russia has successfully concluded its long, bloody war against Muslim extremists – and learned some valuable lessons about how conduct war in the Caucasus.

Russia isn’t the only emboldened combatant here, though. Georgia, too, has used Iraq to strengthen itself and now to learn that its reach has exceeded its grasp. The Times explains that, having found an eager new ally in Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili,

the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state… Mr. Saakashvili’s rise coincided neatly with a swelling American need for political support and foreign soldiers in Iraq. His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top. At senior levels, the United States helped rewrite Georgian military doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle. Georgia, meanwhile, began re-equipping its forces with Israeli and American firearms, reconnaissance drones, communications and battlefield-management equipment, new convoys of vehicles and stockpiles of ammunition. The public goal was to nudge Georgia toward NATO military standards. Privately, Georgian officials welcomed the martial coaching and buildup, and they made clear that they considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for “national reunification” — the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.

This is scary as hell, and depressing as hell, too. Because, inevitably, it’s the Georgians who are suffering most. These are people who adored Bush: just three years ago, 105,000 Georgians came out for the Decider when he visited Tblisi, a city that has a George W. Bush Street. Now they’re feeling a little bit burned by the man, who is utterly powerless to halt the Russian attack. In that sense, they’re only just coming around to what a lot of Americans have learned since 2000. It’s crushingly sad that so many are suffering and dying in learning this lesson.

Biblical Rewrite

As much as she loves the nativity story, Julia doesn’t like every part of the canonical narrative, which (at least in its YouTube variant) culminates with the “mischievous” Herod trying to “steal” the baby Jesus. This doesn’t jibe with Julia’s sense of how the world ought to work, so she has altered the story in various ways. Below, read an amalgam of some of the best bits of her revisionism. If she has to be a Christian – and on Saturday, she said that she was a Christian, like Nonna and Boppa and Grandma – at least she can be a heretical one.

After Herod tells his guards to go find the holy infant, he calls them back and says that they should leave Jesus alone. Then he goes to his own house and talks to “the lady Herod lives with” and they decide to have their own baby, “because all he really wants is his own baby.” After a few minutes, “the lady Herod lives with” has a baby which they name Mary. Herod loves the baby and takes good care of her and doesn’t feel like stealing other babies anymore. Then Herod moves his castle to Bethlehem, right next to Jesus’s stable, and lives there. Sometimes, when Mary and Joseph are tired or have had “a rough day, “Herod comes by to babysit Jesus. When this happens, Jesus squeals in delight and shouts, “Hewwod! Hewwod!” Herod entertains Jesus by “falling down in a funny way” over and over. When Jesus gets hungry, Herod makes toasted pita bread with frosting and myrrh on it.