I'll leave to She Who Orchestrates the Parties to provide a full-ish summary of Julia's fourth-birthday festivities, but I have to comment on one wonderful bit of the day...
Probably due mostly to sky-high expectations for the day, Julia's morning was pretty rough. We broke the monotony with a walk down the block to see a huge inflatable bouncy-thing which a neighbor had installed for her daughter's high school (!) graduation.
As we admired it - with absolutely no expectation of actually using it - this neighbor called out to us and said we were welcome to go inside. These were some of the results:
The girls, bouncing around inside.
Julia tackling the slide...
Vivi following suit: yes, the slide was this steep at the top -
but then leveled out nicely.
In short, they LOVED it. And what a nice neighbor, huh? She even assured us that the whole thing was insured.
A quiet but very productively busy week at work has now wound down into a game of Scrabble with my mother-in-law (she's thumping me, as usual), a bottle of Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss, and a stack of cracked pepper Triscuits. Yes, this is the life.
As a little Friday lagniappe, here is the result of sending two Photo Booth shots to Mr. Doug Bratland, Carleton employee, man about town, and pixel artiste extraordinaire:
The one on the left is the evil twin; the one on the right is the nice one. (Doug, being a twin, would know.) Thanks, Doug!
Vivi! What's there to say about her? Still spunky, still hypoverbal, still the cutest thing in a onesie. Yesterday, pretending to talk on the phone after she heard it ring downstairs, she ended her "call" by saying, "Bye!!" The word is now solidly lodged in her lexicon: she even used it this morning when I left for work.
On the other hand, she exhibit a great deal of outright terror. She won't go anywhere near ropes, which, oddly enough, pop up quite frequently in our world. (Trips to the home-improvement store? As far as she's concerned, Kafkaesque.) Likewise, she's very worried about sticks and twigs. She sometimes refuses to step over them, which can really ruin a walk in the woods.
And then there's this decal, stuck on the face of an electrical vault near our sidewalk.
It matters not that Vivi has walked past this same decal hundreds of times in her life: the face is scary now - so scary that this afternoon I had to carry her past it, and she buried her face in my neck until we were well beyond it. I'm not shocked, shocked.
Julia just informed me, as I was getting dressed, that today she's a fairy. A fairy of wands. With a magic spelling wand. She moved the tip of the wand like an oversized pencil: "J-U-L-I-A Julia! How do you spell 'joy'?"
Rollerskiiing the roads east of Northfield is the ideal way to end a spring day, I have to say. You get to see the countryside, burn off some stress, track the farmers' progress, get a good workout, scare and be scared by a spooked pheasant or grouse, and enjoy a few one-off oddities, like today when I accidentally skied over a roadkilled cat or squirrel (I was concentrating too hard to notice the furry pancake until it was too late).
If your day has to have a low point, it's good to get it out of the way early. In my case today, the nadir came at about 8:30 a.m., when my doctor, peering into my right eye with an ultraviolet light, said, "Oh, boy. That's a big one." He was describing the scratch on my cornea which I had apparently inflicted on Sunday night.
A scratched cornea seems like something much more exotic than it turns out to be: piercing pain, more tears than a four-year-old not getting her way, Frankenstein's bloodshot eyeball, a scorching headache, and a teensy-tiny dropper of Bausch & Lomb "ocular antibiotics," to be administered four times a day for 5-7 days.
Needing to fill up some time between downtown meetings today, I stopped in the coffee shop to find a madhouse - a dozen people in line at the counter, literally every seat filled, customers standing near the public computer...
I needed at least a few square feet of table, so I exited and went down the block to the newish waffle shop. I was the only customer there, so I had two people waiting on me and my choice of 11 four-top tables or eight easy chairs and two big sofas. The coffee was hot, cheap, and tasty. A few more people trickled in and out while I was there, but honestly I don't know why more Northfielders don't hit the waffle shop for a cup of coffee and a place to crash. Sure, the shop should sell more snacky stuff - pastries, granola bars, etc. - but they had oodles of comfy seats, a ton of open table space, free wi-fi, and the aforementioned coffee. It's ideal for an hour's sitting and working.
Having the other night finished my last-to-first screenings of the three Jason Bourne movies - Ultimatum, Supremacy, Identity (in the order I watched them) - I can report a few of the things I've learned by watching. My list shouldn't be confused with big old lists like this one)
Hide your cash under the actual drawers, not in them.
Anything can be broken open with your shoulder (doors), feet (window), or elbows (car windows).
Passports can be easily hidden behind framed pictures.
Nothing sends a chillier chill up someone's spine than revealing that you're right then watching them from a hidden vantage point. "You look tired."
You can successfully conclude any fight or chase by spinning things - your opponent, a weapon, a car - around a few times.
Anything you really need to know can be found via Google.
It's easy to blow up a house: just break the main gas line, then stuff a magazine down the toaster.
If you're in Northfield, you oughta go - the gallery is open every day after noon (and the corridors in Boliou are open pretty much all the time). If I can, I'm going to try to take the girls: since they saw the faux corpses at the Lutheran school, they'll think this one is practically blase.
Almost a year ago, I blogged elsewhere about the arresting images of French photographer Denis Darzacq, whose shots capture people halfway through a jump, fall, stumble, lurch, vault, whatever.
Darzacq is working on a new series of photos, which take his subjects indoors. As one commenter says, the shots evoke the palace-of-commerce photography of Andreas Gursky (a favorite of mine), but the stopped-time thing is Darzacq's alone.
This morning, I went with the girls to the friendly neighborhood warehouse grocery store. Julia chattered the whole time about how we needed to get "shredded beet balls," which we strangely couldn't find.
Last Friday, I wasted about ten minutes more than I should have last trying to track down the brand of shoe or clothing whose logo, seen on an undergrad's shoe that afternoon, resembled a backwards sigma. I even got my wordplaying/product naming friend involved and tried to enlist Twitter - which had earlier helped me find some good new free music - to help me figure out the brand. Neither attempt was successful.
That evening, though, I saw a kid at Julia's gymnastics class walk by wearing shoes with the same logo, and then tonight he was there again. And he left his shoes out in the coatroom, so I inspected them and solved the mystery. Yeah, yeah, I probably creeped some people out picking up a stranger's shoes, but I now know that it is Stephon Marbury's "Starbury" line of shoes for Steve & Barry's that bear the logo - which is in fact the right half of a stylized star.
Perhaps because the all-seeing AT&T knows that I am one of the grasping, materialistic fools who's eagerly awaiting the launch of the new iPhone (probably next month), the other day I received a strange direct-mail piece showing me the location of a new cell-phone tower south of Northfield.
Poetry must be in the air today here in Northfield. (Perhaps the Malt o' Meal plant - which so often scents the municipal air with knockoff cereal odors - is producing a new variety today - Fulla Verse? Choco-Rhymes? Iambic Pentacrisp? )
Monday morning, I turned a corner on my route through the Arb and almost gasped at this gorgeous sight ahead of me:
Friday, this straightaway had been lined with more-or-less bare branches. Over the weekend, every tree, bush, and shrub - and a few flowers - had leafed out, turning the stretch into a beautiful green tunnel. Riding through this every morning and afternoon all spring, summer, and fall is going to be a nice little dollop of quality of life, as a friend of a friend used to say.
Pedaling down the street on my way to work this morning, I noted that two new for-sale signs had popped up over the weekend, bringing the total number of townhouses for sale on our block to five. FIVE. That's a 41.6% of a dozen, or a lot of very nice (if, yes, rather nondescript) places for sale.
I kinda don't get it. We have a lovely little neighborhood that's getting better as the city improves the nearby park, that's getting more accessible as the city and county fix the road out back, that's full of children and families, that's on the edge of some rather beautiful countryside, that's really less than ten minutes from literally anything in Northfield... And perhaps you heard about the collapse of the housing market. Not many buyers wandering around lately - as the woman across the street well knows, having had her place on the market for about six months.
If I controlled any money at Carleton at all, I'd buy these townhouses up for faculty housing (two are side by side, and a third is just a couple doors down) and then make a killing selling them when the market picks up again.
More realistically, I invite anyone who's in the market for a new house in or around Northfield to look on Sunset Drive - you'll have some good pickings.
I say it with love (and a hint of Macalesterite pragmatism [this is a joke]), but damn Carleton is a nerdy place.
Exhibit the quirkillionth: "The first-ever muggle quidditch tournament at Carleton College, May 3, 2008." (The video was shot by a colleague at Carleton, who went all multimedia and wrote a piece for Northfield.org ; you can also read about this inanity on the Northfield News site.)
Apparently muggle quidditch matches (some muggle, tell me if that's the wrong noun) are all the rage at liberal arts colleges these days.
A fellow Northfielder who also happens to work where I used to work pointed out that Stephen Shank, the CEO of my former/his current employer, Capella University, has done quite well since the company went public last year. According to the Star Tribune, Shank was the ninth best-paid CEO in Minnesota in 2007, clearing $11,148,000 (mostly by exercising stock options) - a 2,574% uptick from the $417,000 he earned in 2006 (and ranked only 96th).
Given that Shank (whom I worked with a bit when I was there, and always found to be a very nice guy) has spent a decade building Capella, I won't begrudge him his money - after all, I exercised my options last year and took home 0.07% of what he did. I am, however, as pathetically satisfied as a lapsed business historian could be to see proven my claim, back when I worked at Capella, that the university's real product and customers weren't the online degrees it was selling to every Tom, Dick, and Henrietta who could pay the admission fee, but the university itself and the investors who were eager to buy a few thousand shares. Caveat emptor.
I was milling around in the kitchen just now when Julia snickered from somewhere in the living room and said to me, "I'm laughing a funny article I'm reading in the newspaper." This might be true in three or five years, but I knew my preliterate almost-four-year-old was probably not actually enjoying the wit and wisdom of, say, David Brooks.
So I went over to see what was really happening, and discovered my the towheaded one sitting like a heap in her kid's seat with a baby's alphabet board book on her knees, giggling. "This is a funny newspaper!" she exclaimed when she noticed me there.
Now that Vivi is old enough, we're experimenting with the use of our bike trailer, which in three years has had maybe twenty miles put on its tires. Today, we bundled the girls into it and made a experimental trip to a lovely little playground tucked into the north end of SIbley Swale Park here in town. The rides back and forth went well (and got my heart rate up as high as my much of my rollerski earlier that afternoon), and the girls had a blast at the park. Visual evidence to substantiate this point:
When the elder girl stops to get real pebbles out of her shoe, the younger girl stops to get imaginary pebbles out of her shoe.
Vivi is awfully cute, if I do say so myself.
The girls loved going down this parallel slide together - or almost, since Vivi enjoyed watching Julia go down first.
Julia realized to her delight that she could actually push Mama on the swing - and I think both girls liked it.
On Friday, my friend the professional product-namer (and, thus, professional wordplayer) turned a casual instant-message remark into what he proposed - and I agree - ought to be the next big Internet acronym: NAE. It stands for "not a euphemism," and you use it like this.
I find that rollerskiing, far more than running or biking, lends itself to contemplation, or at least to thinking. Today's outing was marred by my first rollerski crash in three years and, now, three distinct patches of road rash (including a nice rhomboid scape from left hip to right pectoral), but it was still awfully productive of little bits of brain activity:
A bit of concerted effort on rollerskis can push my heart rate up better than either running or skiing: I reached 177 - the highest I've ever recorded - on the way up the longest, meanest hill of today's route.
There is an awful lot of trash in the ditches nowadays, with construction materials being most common and fast-food containers (cups, bags, boxes) being next-most common.
Rollerskiing and its winter equivalent are for me the exceptions to the rule that the best part about working out is having done the workout.
Idling at the downtown coffeehouse before a meeting yesterday morning, I counted nine laptop users among my fellow customers. Of these computers, seven were Macs (five MacBooks or iBooks and two MB Pros or PowerBooks). Though I couldn't see what was on everyone's screens, I could tally up some heavy Googlization: of the various users, at least two were on Gmail, one was on Google Docs, and one was on Google News. That last application is the default homepage for coffeehouse's public computer - which I was the only person to use in my two hours there.
Every so often, I come across a story about the intelligence test which the National Football League uses to assess the brainpower of its players. The "Wonderlic Personnel Test" (WPT) is meant to determine how well players - actually, men about to be drafted - can solve problems that range from very basic to, uh, somewhat less basic but not exactly skull-shattering.
The test is also apparently widely used in corporate settings (which, of course, the NFL also is), where the average score is 21. Only one NFL player - a punter who graduated from Harvard - ever received a perfect score of 50. Even more interestingly, quarterbacks do not have the highest average score on the WPT - coming in two points behind offensive tackles and one point behind centers.
Though you can't take the actual test, you can try some sample questions through a couple different spots on the Internet, such here through a football fan site. I took it there and did okay - half again as high as average for offensive tackles.
I can't get enough of this story: a woman in White Plains, NY, had her Macintosh laptop stolen from her apartment. She cleverly used the Mac's own standard software and hardware to track down the thieves, and even used the computer's webcam to take a picture of one of the evildoers. Both thieves were arrested last week.
I hope they get the MacBook thrown at them - and that the laptop owner, an employee at an Apple Store, gets a huge raise. They don't apply the label of "genius" to Apple Store employees for nothing.
I vaulted out of bed at 5:42 when Vivi started calling. 126 minutes, three breakfasts, one cup of coffee, two and a half dressings, four puzzles, one shower, and one toilet-accident cleanup later, I'm going to be late for work. How can this be?
This father thinks this Mother's Day was all that and four truffles. As the day thankfully winds down, I have two aching knees (rollerskiing + lots of floor time with the girls) and one about-to-die hearing aid (lots of happy and sad screaming = blown-out battery). But I think the mother in the household had a good day - she apparently actually slept in and seemed to have taken a nap while I was working out.
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers reading this!
The opening lines - "Pigs, they tend to wiggle when they walk/And the infrastructure rots" - were thoroughly discussed, to say that least.
The main event - or so I thought - was the art show itself. Many of the pieces were really impressive, and many merited hilarious reactions from Julia (as well as shrieks and "mmmmmwah" kisses from Vivi). A sample of these:
"I'm scared of those. They look like real alligators." (My internal reaction: "Wha?")
This is how Julia walked around the pieces above - until she realized that they were made of eggshells, which changed her mind about them.
"Is that a maze? It looks like a maze."
(This is actually the incredible sculpture by my boss's son, Karl Gleason.)
Of this rather dramatic installation, Julia said, "It smells like sculpture."
This piece invited everyone to lie down inside it and look up through the kaleidoscope-like glass suspended above. "Pretty! It's stars!"
Though I couldn't get a picture, Julia also was impressed by a Ole who was wearing a funny hoodie to which she'd affixed oversized gray rabbit ears. Julia asked, "Why does that girl have rabbit ears?" but relentlessly rejected my suggestions that perhaps the "girl" was actually a rabbit in human clothes. "Daddy, rabbits don't wear jeans or hats."
Though of course she couldn't be quite so verbally expressive, Vivi liked some big stoneware plates (you can see them in the background of the second photo above) - shouting "Nana!" ("Banana!") when she saw them - and going right up to this piece and mumbling "Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh..."
After we meandered out of the second gallery, Vivi insisted on climbing up a nearby flight of stairs to the second floor, where we looked at some more art and then - cue the choir of angels - saw a girl down the hall in a leotard and ballet shoes.
Julia was drawn like a moth to a flame, first to a full-length window onto the studio and then - at the invitation of one of the dancers (high schoolers rehearsing for a show next weekend) - actually into the studio. While I held kept Vivi from sampling a water bottle sitting near us, Julia stood literally slack-jawed, watching actual ballet dancers dance. I was getting ready to drag her out so we could go home for dinner when the dancers blessedly took a break, ending the rapture. As we trundled back to the car, Julia kept saying, "I can't believe I saw real ballerinas! I wonder why they weren't wearing their tutus?" This little episode only deepened Julia's fascination with ballet and dancing. She changed into her own tutu within 60 seconds of getting home, even though dinner was ready, and then did some rather impressive dancing afterwards. (The dancers were really good, too.)
All in all, it was quite an arty Saturday afternoon! I feel so cultured.
I'm not noting this for any reason except a desire to put it down in pixels, but on Wednesday, I had to fill up the car from "E" and ended up dropping $52 to do so. I've never paid so much at once for gas. A lot of people - hell, everyone - must be in the same boat motorized vehicle.
I broke my Friday-morning torpor with a walk to the union for a drink to have with my lunch. On the way into the union, I had to run a gauntlet of students passing out information on the upcoming spring party/concert/bacchanal. They had some toddler-sized speakers set up, and they were playing music by some of the acts that will perform at the concert.
God, it made my head hurt. I was only in the free-fire zone for a few seconds, but crikey it was loud.
And then when I came outside, through another door, I heard someone yell, “Nobody understands me and my problems!” and I couldn’t tell if it was a lyric emerging from the music or some undergrad voicing his angst. I suppose it’s the same thing.
It was much more pleasant to sit on the bench next to the art building, listen to the red winged blackbirds, and peer into the oak tree’s branches.
In the course of my work today, I happened to see the official medical form which the People's Republic of China requires of all foreigners who want to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. This was the beauty part:
Listening to MPR on the way up to the Cities this morning, I heard, via one of the sponsorship spots, that Chevy is making a new "Tahoe hybrid." A Tahoe hybrid? Good lord - that SUV is only slightly smaller than a UPS truck. They get 20 miles a gallon, max! What's the alternative to gasoline here? Jet fuel? Baby seals? A tiny nuclear reactor?
Vivi is adding new sounds - not necessarily words, but utterances at least - all the time again. She's adopted her sister's habit of holding any vaguely phone-shaped object to her ear and saying, "Uh-huh... uh-huh... uh-huh..." for some time. Ask her whom she's calling, and she answers, "Boppa, Nonna, Dee Dee" - Grandpa, Grandma, and Julia's preschool teacher, respectively.
Yesterday evening, Juila used a Sesame Street coloring book to teach Vivi how to say (really say) Elmo and Zoe. Vivi pronounces them as "El-muh" and "Oo-zie," then grins happily.
This is cute, but even cuter is Vivi's penchant for saying "Ouch!" whenever you touch her, try to take her clothes off, change her diaper, or otherwise interfere with her bodily integrity. Again, she says it and then grins. She doesn't say anything when she's actually hurt, just starts to cry and smacks anyone who tries to help.
Finally, Vivi also makes a sweet little "num num num" sound when she's pretending to enjoy a meal from her toy kitchen. And she's started to actually fill up her teacups by holding them under the toy kitchen sink's faucet. It's uncanny how she'll hold the cup there for just about as long as she would need to actually fill the cup, if it were under a real faucet. Then she lifts the cup to her lips and goes, "Num num num num."
I had a working lunch today at the Final Course Cafe here in Northfield, my first time at this great new establishment. I highly recommend it for the excellent food, the pleasing ambience, and the good service. I had to wait a few minutes for my colleagues to arrive, and wound up talking to the owner, a very nice guy who opened our conversation by asking, "Ever eaten at this place?" I knew from that question that he was either the neighborhood crank or the owner.
I had the "Robust Genoa Italian" panini and some potato salad to eat and a chocolate malt as a quasi-beverage - all three were fantastic. Next time I go, I'll trade in the malt, good as it was, for one of their desserts or maybe a truffle. Going later and having a coffee in one of the easy chairs is an enticing option, too.
Playing outside with the kids and a neighbor girl yesterday afternoon, I noticed a car stop in the middle of the road. A woman popped out and ran around to the front of the car, where she looked down into the road, reached down, and then jumped up as if shocked. She lingered for a second before going slowly back to her car and driving off. Watching this odd scene, I thought, sadly, that there must be some nearly-dead animal in the road.
A few minutes later, glancing back at the site of this scene, I was surprised to see a little animal head pop up over the edge of the road, followed by the distinctively lumbering dome of a turtle. A few seconds later, the girls and I were over there, admiring this big green terrapin - probably a female snapping turtle (if size and surliness were any indication):
We watched for quite a while. "Yertle" - as Julia, She Who Names Everything, dubbed it, of course - eventually overcame her* shyness and resumed a plodding course for the pond she could surely smell a few hundred feet away. The girls all shrieked when she first stuck out her head and blinked at us, and gave her plenty of room when he started moving.
Unfortunately, there was a solid row of townhouses between Yertle and the pond, not to mention a busy street. One thing led to another, and soon enough a nice neighbor had put Yertle in a box to ferry her to the pond. He tipped Yertle out of the box a few feet from the water's edge.
The turtle sniffed a couple times, then lunged into the water, took a couple powerful strokes to get away from shore, and dove into the murk. I hope she's happy in our little pond! Maybe she'll meet last fall's friend, the Tiger salamander.
* I'm guessing the turtle was female because this article implies that female snapping turtles migrate around now to find new homes.
Tonight, I hit the road for my first rollerski session of the offseason. It was easier than I thought it would be, though I was amazed at how slooooooow my rollerskis roll. If I were gliding that poorly on any of my snow skis, I'd curse my %#&%)* wax job and call off the workout.
But this is all about having some fun, so it was actually quite enjoyable - a sensation heightened by 70 degree sunshine. My arms have that pleasingly faded feeling that only results from a good ski.
Thank god for caffeine, which helped me, yesterday, drive the two hours to La Crosse, WIsconsin (7:15 pm - 9:15 pm); see a decent superhero movie with two great friends (who paid for my ticket!) (9:15 pm - 11:30 pm); enjoy some halfway lucid hanging out afterwards at a Perkins in La Crosse (they paid for my pie and carafe of coffee!) (11:30 pm - 12:40 am); safely hightail it back home (12:50 am - 3:00 am); and now make it through a pretty darn nice Sunday (6:45 am - present). I don't want to duplicate this experience anytime soon - not least because Shannon had to put up with a very recalcitrant toddler and then got no sleep while I was gone - but it's been worth it.
(Addendum: In the 126 miles and two hours of driving between La Crosse and Northfield - mostly along I-90 and US 52 - I encountered exactly one car, an Olmsted County sheriff's cruiser just north of Rochester. It was unbelievable to drive so far without passing or being passed.)
1. This afternoon, I saw several pickup trucks head past our house pulling jet-skis on trailers. Too early to put them in the water, but not too early to put the snowmobiles in and get the jet-skis out of storage.
2. I swept out the garage this noon, sending a tree's worth of leaves back from whence they came. Well, sorta - the northerly wind kept blowing everything back in.
3. Sunny afternoons, the road out our back door is thick with cyclists - and today, the first rollerskier of the season (alas, not me).
4. The field across the road is now fully plowed, after a big John Deere rolled back and forth through it for the better part of three days (and perhaps all night, given that I saw him running in the dark one evening and going before we started breakfast the next morning).
5. This evening, I'm driving all the way to La Crescent, Minnesota - 240 miles roundtrip - just to see Ironman with two old friends who'll be there tonight only. Driving two hours one way to see a 120-minute movie is not carbon neutral, but the prospect of seeing old friends and a good popcorn movie is somehow springlike. I'd sure never try it in January. And the chance of snow tonight is very small.
Thursday night, Northfield got pounded with a massive thunderstorm. I estimate, conservatively, that there were a bazillion big thunderclaps and at least as many blasts of lightning.
Of course, all the noise woke up Julia, who whimpered in that way of terrified kids do. Lest Julia's crying wake up her sister, Shannon and I took a gamble we've never taken before and hauled her into bed with us. I thought, as she snuggled in, that there was pretty much no way in a cumulonimbus she'd fall asleep, given the storm and the novelty of being in Mama and Daddy's bed. I was surprised to find, a couple hours later, that she was still asleep, snuggled right there between us. Moved back to her own bed, she slept through till morning.
This evening, I asked her whether she remembered sleeping with us, and she said she did, adding that thunder's not scary because it sounds "like drums" and, what's more, lightning isn't scary because "it's like wavy white hair" or "thin string cheese."
(For her part, Genevieve slept through the big overnight storm, was elated by a dinnertime shower this evening, and then needed an extra white-noise machine to get to sleep during a bedtime storm.)
It's only the middle of Carleton's spring term, but tonight I just wound up my spring-semester class at Metro State University - submitting final grades via the university's beyond-labyrinthine online grades system. (If Google ever launches a pro-bono website-improvement services, I nominate MSU to be the first client.)
Summer term starts on Monday, marking the end of my fifth year of teaching for MSU. That's a lotta moonlighting.
May 1, 2008 8:24 PM
Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.