Blowing & Drifting

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.

Blowing & Drifting

Hopeless but not serious here, there, and back here.

P-p-p-potty Training

Yesterday, Julia spontaneously decided yesterday to try the potty chair - twice! - and even went once. We're hoping (but not believing) that this might stick. We've been trying on and off to remind Julia about the party that we will have when she's in underwear and not having accidents, so yesterday as she was trying to go, I said, "And when you're all potty trained, you get to have a..." She looked at me blankly, so I went, "P-p-p-p-p..." and she blurted out happily, "Preschool!" So her mind's in the right place.

(Coda Since I've been sitting on a related anecdote for a while without figuring out a good way to use it, I might as well simply include it here. Often when I ask Julia about what she expects to do in preschool, she will list a few items such as "toys" and "reading books," and then add "playing math!" I'm glad she already has this attitude towards it.)

Trike Rage

With luck and some more practice, Julia will have more success as a three-year-old trike rider than she did as a two-year-old. If not, maybe by the time she turns four she'll be able to read and appreciate this from McSweeney's:

A Side-By-Side Comparison of Johnnie Wilson's Brand-New Big Wheel and My Hand-Me-Down Red Tricycle

Johnnie Wilson's brand-new Big Wheel, with its chopper-style front end, offset handlebars, and low-rider seat, makes for a recliner-style look that says "cool" but also allows for power-pedaling through the full natural range of leg extension at the knee.

The position of the stamped-steel seat high on the backbone of my hand-me-down red tricycle forces the knee to remain positioned at 90 (+/– 5) degrees. This requires the largest bone in the body, the femur, and the largest muscle in the body, the gluteus maximus... to overcome the mechanical disadvantage of the leg's piano-hammer configuration. My hand-me-down red tricycle conveniently places the handlebars directly over the pedals. This allows for repeated knee-banging on the bottom of the handlebars or an awkward 45-degree outward slant of the shinbones while the knees remain at 90 (+/– 5) degrees. This Sophie's Choice of toddler transportation puts my hand-me-down red tricycle on the American Pediatric Surgeons Society's list of toys to avoid, just ahead of the backyard trampoline and lawn darts.

Bad Plus to Rock Northfield

I just about fell out of my chair the other night when, while channel surfing, I saw an ad for an upcoming concert in Northfield - of all places! - by the Bad Plus, my favorite jazz trio, and not a bad rock band, to boot. There's not much information available about the show yet, except that it'll occur on June 22 at the Carleton Concert Hall, but ArtOrg is sponsoring the show - and kudos to them for that. I'm excited to see them again. Any Northfielders or Twin Citians who like rock and/or jazz would be happy at this show. Any who don't should stay home and listen to their Barry Manilow 8-tracks.


Consider this blog post a declaration of the official foundation of a new minority group, the Huh?-Americans. We aren't deaf, but we're not exactly timberwolves, if you know what I mean. The name of our group is easy to say (try it!), but please speak clearly so that I can hear you.

Team Fast

My favorite cross-country ski racer, the red-cheeked Frode Estil of Norway, just borrowed a tactic from American athletes and undid his decision to retire. Along with female racer Hilde Gjermundshaug Pedersen, who has by my count now retired and unretired twice, Estil will join the private "Team Fast" squad, which races in the ultra-long distance events like the 70km Marcialonga in Italy and the 90km Vasaloppet in Sweden. Estil says (so far as I can tell) that he dreams of winning the Vasaloppet, which is the longest and most prestigious ski race in the world. For her part, Pedersen jokes that "I just have to keep in shape," which she tried not to do, but failed. With five-hour races in the offing for the upcoming winter, she'd better keep failing to not stay in shape.

Navelgazing, Cont'd

Our couch cushions spent much of the day upended and propped against one another to form a big nest for a bird that alit in our living room this morning. This bird looked like Julia, but in fact was not Julia; it was a video owl, and in addition to sleeping in a heap in its nest or peeking out its nest's window at the peripatetic and very ill-humored baby owl, the bird made its distinctive call: "Whoooo watches videooooos? Whoooo watches videooooos?"

Blame all this on that damn Minnesota bird guide once again. An innocent attempt to show Julia a picture of the ruffed grouse I saw while working out yesterday turned into a detailed examination of the three owls in the book, and then the reading aloud of the descriptions of each owl, including the screech owl, which does not frequently screech but does make a call which sounds like "Who cooks for you?"

Words and the Kids Who Use Them

Someday I'll write about something besides kids, but not today. Though the major theme of the weekend was "Julia's third birthday," it's minor theme was "talking." Julia had her usual array of hilarious comments, like saying, as she played a board game with my mom and my mom's friend Jan, "I fink Jan is fascinating!" The verbal high point was hit the previous night, though, when she invented a bedtime song called "Baby Window." It went something like this (and had a melody!):

Baby window, don't be scared
Close your eyes and go to sleep
Baby window, it's time for bed
Baby window, close the shades
Baby window, no talking or calling
I'll check on you later

When asked, she provided a coyly ambiguous answer - practically Dylanesque - as to what or who "baby window" was, confirming that it was a small window and saying that it was a window from which a baby was looking.

Genevieve didn't compose an original song, but made her first discernibly meaningful word-like sound. We'd been trying for a week or so to get her to say either "numnum" for more food or "mama" for, you know. At breakfast and lunch, she made a sound halfway between those two utterances, so we felt like we were on the right track. She gleefully set us straight later in the afternoon when she ripped the corner off a magazine cover, jammed it in her mouth, and shrieked, "Numnumnum!" She did the same thing at dinner when service got too slow, so I think we can book this as a long step toward speaking. Whether she ever gets in a word when her sister's around is another matter.

Yima Beans

Lima beans were at the center of the girls' lunches today. Julia is perhaps her generation's greatest proponent of lima beans, and moreover someone who just yesterday properly pronounced two Ls when she repeated my question, "Do you feel lazy today?" For lunch, then, she polished off about two cups of lima beans while struggling good-naturedly to repeat L-laden sentences like, "Larry loves limas, salami, and lettuce for lunch in July."

On the other hand, I tried with crashing futility to sneak a few mushy lima beans into Genevieve's mix of shredded cheddar cheese and chunks of bagel. The first bean went down accidentally, lost in an early, eager mouthful. The second bean went in, but immediately came back out with a grimace and a shudder. The third bean, a few minutes later, elicited another grimace and rapid expectoration, plus retribution: shrieking with disgust, Gigi reached out with her little fists to smash the fourth bean into pulp

They may squabble now about stuffed animals and dolls, and in the future about clothes and CDs , but I don't think Gigi will ever try to steal Julia's lima beans.

Closer to Three

Phase II of Julia's birthday was long (her sister woke up at 5:30 a.m.), filled with treats (coffee cake for morning snack, cupcake for dinner dessert), replete with presents (from Grandma; Grandma's friend Jan; and the Netherlanders - Aunt Beth, Uncle Dan, and Cousin Rebecca), and most importantly soaked in fun: the requisite round of "Happy Birthday," a delicious birthday dinner made by Mama, playing games inside and running around outside with Grandma, wearing a new fairy skirt to dinner, and on and on.

A certain amount of toddler acquisitiveness with the presents (running to get the next gift before remembering to thank the giver of the last one) was more than balanced by her usual charmingtude. The high point came late, at dinner. Wearing her new fairy skirt over her regular clothes, Julia was very impressed by and curious about the fact that the adults - even Mama! - were drinking wine, something she's never seen at table before. Naturally, she had to join in, pretending that her ice water was in fact wine "made fwum oranges, not grapes." After draining her cup, she banged it down on the table and announced, in what I hope will not prefigure any statement made as a 16-, 21-, or 25-year-old, "I just finished my wine! Get me down and take off my skirt!"


Julia's third birthday kicked off today with a small party for her and three friends. It had balloons, Elmo plates and cups, cupcakes, and some other trappings of the modern party, but really it was a playdate with especially good treats (and maybe some presents).
Though I didn't get to be there, I relished her excitement even at 7:00 a.m., as she ran circles through the kitchen, singing, "It's my birthday party! It's my birthday party!" Phase II begins on Saturday, when we have a second, even smaller "party" with my mom; it'll be even lower-key in most ways. Phase III happens next weekend, near Julia's actual birthday, when her Nonna and Boppa come. Whatever partying remains to be done will probably be straightforward cake and ice cream, presents, and the like.

As I mentally previewed these three phases of her third birthday, I momentarily thought, "Holy mackerel, that's a lot of parties." This made me feel bad, because it falls on Shannon to do most of the preparation (cooking, cleaning, setting up, and so forth) and because I didn't - don't? - think that we are really the type of parents who make each birthday (or, god forbid, "half birthday") into a giant production, least of all for a three-year-old. But I felt a lot better about our trio of kid-scale events after reading a truly appalling article in Time Out New York which, as it offers advice on reducing the intensity (and expense) of birthdays, also offers a revolting look at the standards for kids' birthdays in Manhattan and Park Slope. Merely the trick-question opening is enough to make me retch:

Can you guess which of the following birthday party stories are true?
(a) A child receives 70 gifts and is then allowed to open one present a day for the next 70 days.
(b) A three-year-old’s party is staffed by men in butler costumes serving juice boxes from silver trays.
(c) A four-year-old is serenaded by a Blues Brothers tribute band.

That’s right, it was a trick question—all of these examples are real tales of out-of-control kid parties, courtesy of fellow NYC-area parents.


A few minutes ago, my lovely and hyper-capable wife said, "Quicksand played a really big part in my childhood. It seems like they were always getting caught in it on Gilligan's Island."

(For what it's worth, here is the story that elicited this disclosure.)


Okay, I think the universe, annoyed at the recent spate of "I just saw..." posts, is trying to provoke me. On the way across campus this noon, I was accosted by a robot trying to hand me a copy of the campus humor magazine. The bot was basically a column with four motorized wheels at the bottom, a computer in the middle, and a long articulated arm on top; a student was using a control panel to steer it toward passersby.

Spring Fever

I dunno if it's spring fever or what, but there's wacky stuff to be seen on campus these days. Foremost, there are a ludicrous number of students stumping around campus on crutches and casts. I know it's not just the same couple of injured athletes because those krazy kids all have casts in different colors, and because, after the big convocation last week, the entire Carleton community gathered for a free lunch, and at one point I counted seven different people with crutches. The prof with whom I was dining thought that the hobbled were almost all frisbee and rugby players. That may be true, but I'm walking more carefully. I think it might be the squirrels.

More ephemeral oddities abound, as well. One of the senior art projects that's now up on the lawn outside the art building resembles a giant hamster wheel, lending a treadmillenian aspect to the view down to Lyman Lakes. But walking into the library yesterday, I passed a woman wearing a strapless dress over a t-shirt. Huh? And just this afternoon, down in the men's room - the skeeviness of which I have described previously - I ran into a guy in his stocking feet. Dude, the floor is damp with rain and who knows what else: wear your Keens.

Sights Seen

Biking around town, I'm again seeing numerous roofing crews, back at work on last summer's hailstorm damage after the long winter layoff. Notably, one of the crews was obviously and entirely dressed in what I'd consider Texas gear: big stetson hats, orange and red and yellow cowboy shirts, tight jeans, even cowboy boots - not exactly OSHA-approved roofing wear. What with the INS raids  on meatpacking plants south and west of here, I wouldn't be surprised to hear about immigration agents here in Northfield.

Tuesday morning, as I headed in to work a bit earlier than usual, I came up on a big whitetail deer, trotting down Fourth Street, a couple blocks from the Arb, from whence it probably came. A car spooked it, though, and it vaulted away down a side street, deeper into the residential neighborhood. Bambi on the loose!

Fings Piratical

While Shannon took Genevieve up to Minneapolis for Gigi's tests yesterday, I stayed home with Julia. Only we didn't stay home; we went downtown, with me pedaling my trusty bike and Julia riding gamely in our bike trailer, the same trailer that up to now she's never liked, even on a short ride around the block.

Downtown, we first hit the coffeeshop for a snack. Owing to where the bike racks are, this required Julia to walk past her nemesis, Hot Dog Man, an oversized mural painted on the wall next to the hot-dog stand. Though she tried to walk while covering her eyes with her hands, she had to sneak a glance (as she does every time), and discovered (as she does every time) that HDM ain't that bad. Stumbling into passers-by, she exclaimed, "I yike Hot Dog Man now! And I even yike the wig!"

At the coffeeshop - locus of our small-town world - we chatted with a friend, chose a cranberry-orange scone (not the "chocowit chip" one someone preferred), and then went outside to find a seat on the old movie-theatre seats along the sidewalk. The flip-up seats were a bit confusing, but once she got situated, she was fine. Until a Carleton student sat down next to her, inspiring some stare-straight-ahead anxiety and reminding me of how terrifying it was, as a little kid, to have to sit next to someone I didn't know. I turned Julia toward me so that she couldn't see him, which allowed her to resume chomping away on her rice cake, packing away the craisins,  and slurping big draughts of ice water. Just as she was finishing her food, his powerfully bad smell hit me. Maybe the showers on his floor aren't working too well, or soap's too expensive, ore the sheen on his cut-off shorts was dirt, not the fabric's finish. It was all I could do to down the rest of the scone and, as Julia says, "Hit the woad."

On our way to the library, we swung through the bookstore, and Julia discovered a very cool book on pirates, albeit one aimed at tween boys, not almost-three-year-old girls. She was more curiously perplexed by it than anything, but she actually rather liked the picture of Blackbeard, especially the matches in his beard. When we finally left and went across the street to the library, Julia announced with glee, "Daddy, I turned into Bwackbeard!" She then pretended to be the fearsome pirate for the rest of the adventure: while doing puzzles at the kid's table, while talking to her favorite library volunteer, and over a long walk along city streets to the point (6/10ths of a mile east) where she decided to get back in the trailer for the quick ride home for lunch. She assumed some other identities, such as her alter-ego "Mulia," a puppy named Stick Bark Twig, and Elmo, but most of the time she was just "a nice Bwackbeard. I don't steal fings. I don't go to jail." If I'd had a jolly roger to fly from the trailer, I would have.

Four hours later, when she woke up from her consequent, monumentally-long nap, she immediately and cheerily announced, "Daddy, I'm still Bwackbeard! I'm still a pirate! Arr!"

Pop Quiz

Which daughter has the best taste in pop culture?


Julia (May 15, 2005)


Genevieve (May 15, 2007)

The date coincidence notwithstanding, these photos actually suggest that Gigi's ahead in pop-culture appreciation, showing a preference for sitcoms at nine months old, where Jujee showed an interest in sci-fi only at eleven months and two weeks. And whatever packaging designer decided to make DVD cases with flip-outs was a freaking wizard: babies love them!

The Weekend

It was almost too much fun, this weekend. One highlight was Genevieve's repeated attempts to crawl up and over my legs. She wiped out a few times, but kept at it, and was markedly better by mid-afternoon on Sunday than she had been on Saturday morning. Why did the baby climb the legs? To get to the other side.

Another highlight, was Julia's stopping, midway through an exhausted walk up to bed, to pick up a stray 3x5-inch card and say, with a perfect combination of toddler stream-of-consciousness and Julian obsession-with-sleep, "That would not be a good bwanket for me. It's too small. My feet would stick out."

Bike Commuting in Helsinki

Yesterday was National Bike to Work Day, and I duly biked to work, stopping off on the way to pick up some free fruit and juice at a modest little stand in Bridge Square. There were about 30 names on a list of people interested in fomenting more bike commuting, which is a good number - more than twice as many, the guy working the table said, as last year. (Today's gas prices in Northfield: $3.35. May 17, 2006: about $2.75.)

I hope Northfield, which is already an eminently bikeable town, is on its way to becoming more like Copenhagen or Helsinki. In the White Pearl of the North, about 25,000 people cycle into the city center each day (at least in good weather), and about 200,000 Helsinki residents are on bikes for work or pleasure. Of course, they have 1,150 kilometers (714 miles) of bike trails to use, and the metro area adds about 20km (12.4 miles) of new trails each year. Regardless of the controversy over the Mill Towns Trail here in Northfield, the trail will at least make biking more visible, and probably quite a bit easier.

And Then Off to Bed

Julia had a fantastic time at "tumbling class" today, racing around in circles for a good ten minutes, running down the trampoline track (after a pause to pint out the "www" in the URL of the tramp maker' logo) for another thirty, and then doing assorted "actions" (think "kick leg in air, then fall down" - repeatedly) until it was time to go. On the way into class, an older kid, leaving after his session, stopped us to demonstrate, in that guileless preteen way, his ability to do handstands. Julia's jaw literally dropped open.

After all that fun, she was naturally as hungry as a bear, and ate multiple helpings of the (very healthy) stuff on offer. After her fourth or fifth plate full of food (and after sopping up some excess ketchup with a scrap of hamburger bun, like some sort of pint-sized lumberjack) she looked at me grumpily and said, "Daddy, you pushed in my chair too tight!" I looked down her bulging belly and said, laughing, "No, honey, it's your tummy that got big from so much food!" She laughed at how silly that was.


The Finns have concluded that they don't matter much to the U.S., and that they matter even less than they did a few years ago. The main piece of evidence for this conclusion is that President Bush has never met with Finnish President Tarja Halonen. That's a good sign that the White House probably can't spell Suomi, but on the other hand, there's no shortage of reasons why the Decider wouldn't be too interested in the land of saunas (apart, I mean from his famous incuriosity): Finland has no oil; its foreign policy is predicated on ending, not starting, wars; its military is  accordingly small and focused on peacekeeping rather than wars of opportunity; and of course they don't serve much Tex-Mex in Kauppatori. Plus, their capital city features a delectably risqué statue, Havis Amanda, which would surely be an affront to the likes of John Ashcroft.

Boys Against Girls

Save for my other-day post about that race here in Northfield in March, I haven't written much about skiing lately, for the obvious reason that there isn't much skiing to write about. Thankfully, the Norwegians were, at least a few weeks ago, still doing a bit of racing, holding one giant race way up north and, even later, a big hillclimb. This latter competition, the Horgi Oppmore or less "Up Horgi," as near as I can tell), was a 10km freestyle race, of which nearly three-quarters was a 7300-meter climb up a pretty substantial ski hill (vertical distance: 853 meters - just over a half mile).

The most interesting thing about the race is that Therese Johaug, a young Norwegian racer who won a shock bronze in the 30km marathon at the world championships in March, not only dominated the women's field (besting the second-place female racer by nearly seven minutes) but skied with many of the world's best male racers to finish seventh overall - five minutes down to the winner, former World Cup racer Kristen Skjeldal, but just a minute down on ironman Anders Aukland and more than three minutes up on Tor Arne Hetland, who has won numerous world cup races, a world championships or two, and an Olympic gold. Not bad company to keep!

Johaug, if she can avoid overtraining, should have an exceptional future: to be winning the marathon as a teenager indicates that she has a ridiculously good endurance base. She also has an idiosyncratic ski technique that's kinda funny to see - her head bobs and her arms jerk, but she goes fast. Horgi Opp, like the killer hillclimb that ended the inaugural Tour de Ski last January, suggests that maybe cross-country skiing is ready for some new racing formats, such as a modified pursuit race which pits men and women against each other directly, perhaps through a handicapped start, and the first racer over the line wins.

No. 2, then No. 1

After Genevieve's bathtub fiasco last night, I was ready for anything tonight, except what happened: as I sat on the edge of the tub, Gigi on my lap, testing the water, she decided that she needed to empty her bladder, which took, like, a minute. I had to change my clothes and sponge off before I could even put her in the tub.

On the other hand, for the second night in a row, Julia decided she needed to assist me in giving Genevieve her bath, which was charming and actually rather helpful. As it did last night, this followed on her joining in feeding Genevieve, which was also charming and helpful - except when she spooned up an adult-sized helping of sweet potatoes, or made Gigi gag by trying the put the spoon all the way into her sister's mouth. But for those moments, though, Genevieve thought it was pretty interesting to be fed by not-Mama-or-Dada, grinning widely at her sister each time a new spoonful of food came in.

Helping with the bath was less efficient, and largely entailed Julia converting giant quantities of soap into tiny quantities of suds, smooshing them into Genevieve's back, and then wiping them off with the washcloth. A baby's back only needs so much scrubbing!

Parmeadow Drive

For at least a year, this house has been forlornly occupying a lot in the pricier subdivision next to ours.


Last week, a for-sale sign popped up, perhaps extruded by the piles of unused construction materials (jesus, but a lot of 3M products go into a new house) and waste (jesus, but a lot of wood gets thrown out). Befitting my education and station, I'm opposed in principle, practice, and pocketbook to McMansions like this one, and especially to starter castles, like this one, that sit on the worst lot in the neighborhood (a lot that, still empty, is the big blank spot across the street from the green arrow in this Google Maps shot). Still, it saddens me to see the house sitting hollow and now for sale. Someone had big dreams for this place; now they'll be lucky to make a few cents on the tens of thousands of dollars they sank into it.

Moments Lost in Time

You know that scene at the end of Blade Runner, where Rutger Hauer's dying android tells Harrison Ford's android/android killer about the memories that will die with him? ("I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain. [Pause] Time to die.")

Not too be too cinematic, but I felt a little bit like that as I ran around the Arb tonight, oddly energized by one of the odder evenings of parenting in recent memory. I saw things that I wouldn't have believed before having kids. Julia, playing "camping" by pretending that the dirty doormat on our patio was her tent/sleeping bag, which needed near-constant maintenance by the fwiendly ghosts that were camping with her. I saw Genevieve amuse herself while the rest of us ate dinner by crawling around the table, gumming everything she could. I watched Genevieve, slightly alarmed, poop in the tub, then try to climb away from it. I heard Julia ask me why, then observe straightforwardedly that, "Genevieve's poops look like yittle rocks!" I listened to Julia turn my assessment of Gigi's bath into an absent-minded song for herself : "Everything was okay but the end was rather messy." And, last, I watched Julia blink herself awake just long enough to listen to the end of her last bedtime story.

Kids: even better than slave androids.

Do the Math

Last week, my favorite jazz group, the Bad Plus released a great new album, PROG, which features several great original compositions, including "Physical Cities," which ranks in their best five originals, and some of their patented cover songs, such as a gripping interpretation of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." (You can hear some of the tracks on the band's Myspace page, or read about their goings-on on their official blog, Do the Math. (Get it? Bad Plus? Do the Math?)

Then, today, I made the surely non-coincidental discovery that those sneaky mathematicians have not one, not two, but three different ways to represent mathematical operations: the familiar infix form 3 + 4 and two opposing forms, the prefix or "Polish notation" form + 3 4 and the postfix or "reverse Polish notation" 3 4 +. This information all but shattered my world. At least three ways to add? Holy crap. Nothing is sacred.

Wikipedia provides many more details, including the rationales for using each form. For instance, the "RPN" form is especially good for computerized calculations, as it obviates the need for embedded, recursive parentheses. Alas, not one of the articles mentions the fact that "Reverse Polish Notation" would itself be a great name for a jazz band.

Babes in the Woods

I've been following "Babes in the Woods," a weekly column by a stay-at-home-mother of two girls,  for a few months now. I'd recommend it highly to any parent, and this week's column - on how her two girls for their mom's attention - is an excellent place to start. If my two girls (and their mom!) are doing half this well in August 2008, I'll be happy as hell.


I've driven the car to work both days this week, which happens to be Ride Your Bike To Work Week, at least in Seattle. Starting Wednesday, I'll have to get right on that (bike seat). The guy over at Defective Yeti - who recently posted on the bike-commuting trifecta (adrenaline, endorphins, and self-righteousness) - seems to have hit a pothole on his ride, posting today that
if the route to your workplace involves riding in traffic for any length of time, I would doubly recommend you make the effort--especially if, like me, you are a middle-class, heterosexual, thirtysomething, healthy white American male. It breeds humility, spending an hour each day at the absolute bottom of a social hierarchy.
This is right on, though I wouldn't say "social" hierarchy, exactly: I think most drivers think of bikers less like fellow humans than as deer or raccoons - annoying hindrances that should, nonetheless, be avoided. I'll have to strap my helmet on extra-tight tomorrow morning.


Now this is facial hair. Too bad it didn't keep this guy, Paul Poirrier, from dying horribly from yellow fever or an intestinal parasite in a French colonial outpost.
Paul Poirrier
(I'm working with an emeritus prof at Carleton to find funding for the Esternay Project, an effort to digitize a huge trove of letters and other materials relating to this guy's brother, a mid-level bureaucrat in Third Republic France. It's an amazing project that could, ultimately, occupy an important role in teaching the history of France, not to mention French language and literature.)


I just uploaded a mess of recent photos to Flickr.

Surreal Supper

While Genevieve packed away the Cheerios and green beans at dinner tonight, Julia went into full imagination mode. First, she pretended to be Nicholas the Raccoon, someone she extrapolated from a just-acquired Richard Scarry book. Okay, fine; she often pretends to be different animals.

But then she went further and weirder: I was Water, Mama was Fruit, and Genevieve was Teddy Bear. Her cousins were Carrots (Carrot Brea, Carrot Shenoah, et cetera), and her friends were Paper (Lucy Paper, Lucas Paper, et cetera). I should have been eating something as surreal as the conversation, like styrofoam pellets in bug sauce. Raccoon would have yoved to have a yittle bite, I'm sure.

Happy Mother's Day Good Night

Shannon summarized the excellent day, and the wonderful weekend, already, so I'll just note two "fings," as Julia would say. (The girl talks like a 30-year old, which I suppose makes sense give n whom she listens to all day: during one conversation this afternoon, she prefaced some statements by saying, "One more fing, Daddy..."

First and foremost, Genevieve started to crawl on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon she could zoom across a six-foot gap in no time at all - and certainly much less time than Julia needed to get away. Her default destination is always Julia, and her default goal is always just to get what Julia's playing with.

Second, Julia capped the day (which reached its nadir around five p.m., at which time a substantial tantrum started) with a wonderful question. Tucking her into her bed, I whispered, "Good night, honey." With her head already on her pillow and her eyes already closed, she whispered back, "Daddy, is this Happy Mother's Day good night?" I told her it was.

High Spring

My bike rides to and from work this week were a great experience, each and every time. For once, I wasn't halted in my tracks by a stiff wind, but good meteorology wasn't the half of it. The hundred yards to the edge of campus brought me past scores of students enjoying the great weather - basking in the sun on the Bald Spot, playing frisbee golf (Carleton is nuts for ultimate, but pretty swoony for frisbee golf, too), reading (textbooks!) on the benches along the sidewalks, even flying the occasional kite and playing bocce ball.

The ride along the city streets and out to the edge of town was just as good, if less nostalgic. Among other sights, I passed a bustling city park full of kids doing what kids do on sunny 70-degree days, homeowners mowing their lawns, runners huffing along the sidewalks, the resurgent roofing crews working on the last hail-damaged houses, the high-school golf teams doing putting drills at the golf course, a group of girls practicing their cartwheels, and - best of all - towering banks of lilac bushes exuding that intoxicating smell.

A Man Needs His Space

Coming back home from my workout yesterday, I was going pretty slowly down our street, glancing idly at the houses along the way. In one garage (one of the three-car [or two car, one boat]) behemoths common to our subdivision, I saw a guy puttering at his tool bench and watching CNN on a big flatscreen TV. That's living!

Weekly Reading

Two articles that are well-written and utterly fascinating:
First, a look at the people who run hedge funds: they're as detestable as they are rich.



Fresh off the digital camera, a photo of the big toad that lives behind our house - probably in a nice cool burrow under one of the shrubs in the garden, right where Shannon weeds.  This specimen is big, about the size of a hockey puck, but probably twice as thick. I can't tell, from my few minutes snapping photos, whether it's an American, Canadian, or Great Plains today. But whatever the species, s/he's  just out there, ridding the world of bugs. And my god, the warts.

Teuton my Vocabulary Horn

Clearly, the universe - I mean, der Universum - was trying to tell me something today, as in quick succession I came across four fantastic German loanwords, two of which I knew and two of which I didn't:
weltanschauung - "worldview" (used on Laura Valaas' blog)
gemütlichkeit - "cordiality, warm friendliness" (Worthless Word of the Day for May 7, 2007)
sprachgefuhl - "an intuitive sense of what is linguistically appropriate" (Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for May 6, 2007)
der das-letzte-Wort-Haber - "last-word-haver" (this might be a nonce word, but it was used in a student column in the Carletonian, Carleton's campus newspaper. and I like it)

Ich hasse der das-letzte-Wort-Habers. Or something.

Actual Dialogue with Actual Toddlers

After getting Julia set up with her breakfast, I retrieved my cup of coffee and sat down next to her.

Julia: "Daddy, do you yike your coffee?"
Me: "Yes, I sure do."
J: "You drink dark brown coffee and Mama drinks yight brown coffee. Why?"
M: "Because Mama puts milk in her coffee. That makes it brown. Some people put milk and sugar in their coffee, which makes it even lighter brown, like the color of my shirt."
J (looking at my ratty tan t-shirt): "Daddy, you look pretty today!"
M (laughing): "Thank you, honey. You look pretty, too."
J: "Daddy, you look pretty as a chocowit bar!"
M (laughing harder): "I do? Why?
J: "Because you have a nice yight brown shirt on, yike chocowit!"
M (running to the kitchen to grab some paper and a pen to write all this down): "I'll be right back, honey."
J (watching me scribble madly): "Daddy, what are you writing?"
M: "I'm writing this whole conversation down, because it's so funny."
J: "What's a 'conversation'?"
M: "A conversation is when people take turns talking to each other."
J (looking at the scrap of paper I've covered with notes): "My, that's a yot of yetters you are writing!"
M: "Yes, I guess it is. I had to write a lot because you're being so verbal!"
J: "Daddy, what's 'burble' mean?"
M: "Verbal means good at talking."
J: "'Ver-ball sounds like Yertle!"
M (laughing harder): "Yes, I guess it does!"
J: "Daddy, yet's write down that conversation! Yertle! Verbal!"

Eyeliner, Advil, Magazine, Candy, Videocamera

The Sunday paper included a Walgreens flyer which featured, in a prominent spot on the front page, an $80 digital still/video camera. It made by Aptek, which isn't exactly known as a maker of top-of-the-line consumer electronics, but I was still struck by the oddity of Walgreens - a freaking drug store! - selling this rather complicated gadget, something that a few years ago was the domain of your Best Buys and Targets.

Truly, Chinese manufacturing is a many-splendored thing.

The Days in Daughters

If you live here and are less than three years old, this weekend is all about doing new stuff with your pink little body.

First and foremost, Genevieve closed out a busy day with what might have been her first forward crawling. I wasn't watching with full attention, but it appeared that, up on all fours, she shuffled her knees forward slightly and, without collapsing, got about six inches closer to a toy Julia had discarded. And then she stayed up, grabbed the toy, and jammed it into her drooly craw. We'll see if she follows up on this apparent progress on Sunday!

Second, Julia had a few unprecedented physical moments of her own yesterday at tumbling class. With no prompting, she got up on a low balance beam and made her way all the way along it, not even really caring that I wasn't helping. Then, even more shockingly, she ran away from me and just jumped right into the pit of foam cubes, not waiting for me to go in first (or for the kids already in the pit to, you know, get out of the way). I was impressed by these literal and figurative strides.

(Free bonus anecdote: on our way out of the garage for a walk, Julia paused to carefully lay several handkerchiefs (which I keep with my workout gear) over her foam-covered baseball bat. Why did she do this? Because everything that is, can be put to sleep, of course:  "I have to put Bat to sweep, Daddy! Okay, he's sweeping now. Ni'-ni', Bat! Sweep tight!"

March 3, 2007

Back in March, I skied in a small, fun relay race at Carleton, a fund-raiser for the nordic ski club. It was my first race in a dozen years, and while I didn't go fast, I did have a blast. Turns out that Shout, a student-run web magazine at Carleton, wrote about the race way back then, and even put up a few photos, like this fine shot featuring my team's scramble-leg racer (in the tutu) and me, in the green jacket - which was not part of my racing outfit. (The guy to the right, wearing bib 151, raced shirtless. He was the fastest skier by far, doing three laps on two different teams.) The photographer was too wimpy to get out in the woods for some action shots, like when I misjudged the density of a little crest of snow and fell over it rather than skiing through it. Next year, with hopefully a solid summer and fall of training behind me, I'll be in form to do my best Tobias Angerer impression.

Quiet and Subtle

Driving Julia home from tumbling class tonight around 6:30, we were listening to a Justin Roberts song in which he sings, "You can try to be all cool and subtle." Julia asked, from the back seat, "What's 'subtle' mean, Daddy?" I fumbled for a definition that came down to "telling someone something in a quiet way." A few minutes later, as I lifted her limp self down from the car, she tilted her head off to one side (her idiosyncratic way of indicating she's tired), and murmured, "I'm so hungry, but I'll just be quiet and subtle."

Outsmarting the Wees

I'm home right now for a little mid-day break, minding Julia - who's sound asleep - while Shannon takes Genevieve to a short-notice doctor's appointment (runny nose, drooling, roller-coaster fussiness). As I arrived home, Shannon was just waking Gigi up from her afternoon nap, which had started quite a while before and, but for the rude interruption, probably would have gone on for quite a while longer.

It seems like that's always the way. Your baby hardly ever naps longer than an hour, except on the day when she goes down three hours before a doctor's appointment. Your kid wakes up reliably at 6:30 every morning, until the one day you have to be somewhere at 8, and then she sleeps in and forces you to wake her up. It's clearly a plot.

I propose, in an effort to outsmart the wee ones, that we, the parents of America, enlist a network of physicians - the more specialized, the better - with whom we can make real-but-fake appointments, carefully timed to occur, for instance, 90 minutes after the start of a nap that's usually 60 minutes long. Say your daughter is several hours into the red after a couple short nights and a missed nap. No problem! You just call the next morning to make an appointment with the metatarsal cytologist for 30 minutes after the girl normally wakes up from her hour-long afternoon nap. Then write the appointment on the calendar, loudly announce it to the kid(s), adjust a snack or meal around it, blog about it, or take any other measures needed make it real. Automagically, the hour's nap will stretch to three hours, "breaking" the "appointment" and making everyone happy - the rested kid, the now-relaxed mom, even the doctor, who will thus work off some of the bad karma that accumulates in collecting $25 co-pays from parents who are told after a moment's exam of the kid, "Yep - it's a cold. Could last a week more. Call if she gets a fever."

Kill Your Car (Or At Least Put It Out to Pasture)

It's National Bike Month. I got off on the wrong foot wheel by driving to work on Tuesday (Ihad errands to run! a doctor's appointment to make!), but I evened things out yesterday and today with nice quick rides to and from work. And I might even get myself a new bike - something more road-friendly than my 14-year old mountain bike - to celebrate give myself the gift that keeps on giving: good road tires and gears that are actually useful on flats.

It's fitting that, later in National Bike Month, the Northfield City Council will consider - and hopefully authorize - the formation of a citizens' task force on nonmotorized transportation. My friend Bill Ostrem, who blogs at the Northern Letter, is spearheading this effort, which should help focus the city's and citizenry's attention on the need to make our fair city - which is pretty compact, fairly flat, and eminently bikable town (even in January) - more friendly to bikers, walkers, rollerbladers, etc.

Also fitting is that Matthew Baldwin, the proprietor of Defective Yeti, used the last day before National Bike Month to make this post, entitled "Trifecta":
I like riding my bicycle to work. By the time I arrive at the office, my body is flooded with my three favorite substances: adrenaline, endorphins, and self-righteousness.

FTP: Frustrated, Ticked, P.O.'ed

Suddenly, on Monday night I could no longer upload new content to this blog. My ISP said it wasn't them, my webhost said it wasn't them, the folks behind my blog app (Sandvox) said it wasn't them. The consensus was that some firewall setting on my trusty Powerbook had changed, preventing me from using FTP to send files to my webhost, and I had to identify the problem and fix it. So I Googled the hell out of the situation; quizzed my ISP, my webhost, the Sandvox user's group; delved with increasing desperation into the slimy innards of OS X; and still couldn't post jack.

Tonight, practically sweating from frustration (honestly, I've never had less luck with Google than I did over the last couple days, trying to figure out how to tell if my FTP port was blocked), I sent increasingly ticked-off emails to my ISP, my webhost, and the Sandvox team. Not five minutes later, the guy at my ISP responded: "I'm an idiot.  Some how, the network Virus software was blocking port 20 and 21.  This must have happened sometime recently, because I couldn't access FTP either.  It's fixed now.  Sorry about that.  I swore I was just on my FTP site.  I'll monitor my scanner and make sure this doesn't happen again."

I gotta say, discounting child-related medical emergencies, I've only lived through a few events that have occasioned a greater sense of relief. The wonderful sense of well-being had the same quality as the aura of contentment I get from working my email in-box down to empty or winnowing some bloated grant proposal down to half the original word count.

God. I think I need a hobby.

Gigi on the Go-Go

Incrementally, prosaically, but astoundingly, Genevieve is on the verge of being on the move. She has been using wiggles and rotation to get around for a week or two now, ever more effectively, though always backwards or sideways. She's very good at lowering herself from a sitting position by sticking one leg out to the side while keeping the other bent until needed to provide the little forward oomph for grabbing the toy that Julia will then decide is The Most Important Toy in the House. And this weekend, Genevieve tweaked that yoga-ish position slightly and wound up on all fours, with her hips up high - literally poised to crawl. We predict she'll be crawling by her nine-month birthday on the fifteenth.

Having mastered rolling and wiggling on the floor, she's quite naturally extended these skills to the crib. She now spends a few minutes at nap- and bedtime getting settled, and usually winds up on her stomach. This is all the more cute for the fact that Julia took a leaf from one of her favorite books and gave Gigi a teddy bear to sleep with. Granted, it was a teddy bear that some family friends had given to Genevieve, but still, it's the thought that counts. And Gigi loves PJ Bear, making very sure to snuggle up to it whenever she's sleeping. All of these milestones make it that much more fitting that on Saturday, Genevieve began intermittently clapping along with us, especially when Julia leads the cheer. From the "what the heck?" look on her chubby little face, it's clear that her palms are meeting mostly by accident.

Julia reached a milestone of her own this weekend, when I took the guardrails off her bed. She hasn't fallen out yet!