"Most objects don't come affixed with the question that will generate the excitement they deserve." - Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel


Vivi's using the early summer to enlarge her talking abilities every day. Sunday at dinner, she was acting especially silly, so Shannon told her, "You're such a monkey!" She laughed in hercute way and said, "Nah-nah a monkey!" - "Not a monkey!" For Vivi, that's a conversation.

Lately she's also adding a lot of words that sound nonsensical but that are, we're pretty sure, actually just unrecognizable. Sometimes Julia can decipher these words, which she's happy to do. But so far we're all mystified by one recurring word, "Addabopoo!" It could be straight-up craziness, but I won't be surprised if this one turns out to me something like, "I"m having fun," because that seems to be the only determinable context. 


Others may aspire to imitate Frank Gehry's titanium-on-everything approach to architecture, but we are happy to put aluminum foil in the windows and call it po-mo.

Aluminum Window

As attractive and cutting-edge as this looks, I'll be happy when our new blackout shade arrives from Menards and we can sell these 13-some feet of Reynolds Wrap to some collector of early 21st century vernacular architecture and design. Faux shutters not included.


The weather here was - as Shannon said incredulously - "fall-like," with an unseasonably low high temperature and a series of swift, total changes that encompassed glaring sunbursts, torrential downpours, hazy mist, cold drizzle, crystalline sunshine - and that was just the drive home from the grocery store.

I got lucky with my afternoon run, during which I encountered nothing but the cool, partly-sunny conditions which are pretty much ideal for running. Something about the filtered light made the greenery jump out. The oaks, in particular, had a strange and wonderful green-and-silver hue to them...

Upper Arb Oaks

but everywhere I looked, I saw towering verdant walls.

Upper Arb Greenery


I just finished reading an astounding series of articles on China's enormous push into Africa. The series appears in the business magazine Fast Company, so it's tilted toward the economics of Chinese investment in Africa. Specifically, it examines China's effort to acquire the African resources (wood, petroleum, iron, other minerals) necessary for Chinese industrialization - and, as the series author, Richard Behar, points out, for American consumerism.

The six pieces in the series all include the requisite statistics and analysis, but the series is also studded with excellent, terrible, and illustrative anecdotes, such as the plight of the impoverished Mozambican loggers who, having worked three months for a Chinese company in the wilds of their home country, discover that the company's managers have left without paying them. There could be more of this kind of storytelling in the series, but Behar uses what is there to convey the colossal scale - both horrible and wonderful - of the invention of "ChinAfrica." For my taste, he does too little to connect China's engagement with Africa to its precedents, American-led neoliberal investment in Africa (among other places) and, of course, the European powers' brutal colonialization of the continent, which ended just about one African lifetime ago. Perhaps he's saving that for his book.

A bit from the first piece, just to entice you to click through to the whole series:

There are already more Chinese living in Nigeria than there were Britons during the height of the empire. From state-owned and state-linked corporations to small entrepreneurs, the Chinese are cutting a swath across the continent. As many as 1 million Chinese citizens are circulating here.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

I'm at home right now, waiting for a furniture delivery. I'd wager a significant amount of pocket money on the delivery not coming today; the company already botched its first try and seems rather disorganized and indifferent to actually doing their bit. But I'm taking advantage of the home time to handle my work email, so I should be able to head to the office later with a clean e-slate.

Fascinating, I know.

More entertaining by far is how Julia and Genevieve are playing behind me. Riffing on this "LEGO Nativity" video on YouTube - which Julia watches almost every evening in lieu of reading a book  - they are pretending to be Mary (Julia) and Jesus (Genevieve), and building a big "staple at the inn" out of (aptly) LEGOs.

Being in charge, Mary is constantly saying things like, "Jesus, can you hand me the yellow brick? THAT will be the star!" All this talk, and Jesus' murmuring to himself, is being conducted in the sweetest way, with nothing but cooperation and fun, but my brain keeps remixing Julia's statements so that the "Jesus" part of each line is actually a curse. "Jesus, wouldja hand me that blue one!"

The Rider, Read

Following on the recommendation of the guy at the New York Times who's training to ride one of this year's toughest Tour de France stages, I picked up a copy of The Rider, a novella by the Dutch writer (and serious cyclist) Tim Krabbé. I finished the book last night, and, ladies and gentlemen, I can't recommend it enough. This is a fantastic book - mostly the first-person tale, told by "Tim Krabbé," of a 140-km race in the mid-1970s. Granting that the book is only 130-some pages, I read it in two long sittings that cumulated to about the same time as it takes the narrator to finish the race - a neat little trick.

As a "cycling book," it definitely has its appeal to serious riders (a category that hardly includes me) and those interested in the Tour de France (a category that does include me). Cycling names and events figure prominently in the story, which means really getting the story requires Wikipedia or a good history of the Tour. But aside from that, The Rider uses just enough literary experimentation to tell a gripping story: the race is narrated mostly kilometer by kilometer until the final pages, which are told centimeter-by-centimeter. This works because Krabbé is an excellent writer, and the translation is believably good. An especially great, self-aggrandizing and self-mocking line which resonates with my own current training: "Coppi, Bartali, Lebusque, Kléber, I've never felt their pain, I'm the only rider in the world whose pain I've ever felt; that makes me a pretty unique individual."

(You should, of course, acquire this book through your local bookseller, not one of those big companies. The Carleton bookstore got the book into my hands in about the same time it would have taken to get it to me, without levying any S&H charges, and with a nice personal touch: the bookbuyer also got a copy as a Father's Day gift to her husband, a serious amateur rider.)


Though yesterday's seminar was worth my time, intellectually, it resulted, inevitably, in being way behind when I reached my desk today. After pushing the pace all day, I managed to get my inbox cut down to size, handle a few must-do items, and get home more or less on time - whereupon I discovered, riding into the garage, that my rear bike tire was flat yet again. (This is six times in seven rides, if you're counting - and this last, after I took it to the bike shop on Saturday.)

After some outside time and a nice dinner-and-bath routine, holy hell broke loose at bedtime - meltdown by Julia, chatter by Genevieve until 9 pm, multiple "what is going ON!" interventions by me, et cetera. Not pretty.

I did squeeze a run in there, though, which was - as usual - relaxing and fun. But I had to run past this:

Spring Creek Poop

Someone tell me: why are dog owners expected to clean up after their pets, but equestrians (or at least the turkey-farming riders who live down Wall Street Road) can just leave their pets' turds lying on the shoulder of the road?

This is just one of several equine intestinal incidents along the roads around our subdivision, and these follow on a few choice piles left in the Arb earlier this spring - including one that sat smack dab in the middle of the best line through a downhill curve on my way to work.

I do not like this.

That Reminds Me

I was up in Minneapolis today to attend a seminar by Edward Tufte, a noted thinker on the best ways to present data. He's a hellaciously smart guy, an excellent speaker, and an agent provocateur on many things that I find interesting: how to write better, how to integrate images and words, how to combine old tech and new tech in a meaningful way, how to understand and formulate complicated arguments. Not incidentally, he also loves Apple - even as he also claims that OS X is almost as good as the original graphical-user interface developed by Xerox PARC about a quarter-century ago.

<whining>So while I thoroughly enjoyed the seminar itself, I did not enjoy the bad arrangements. By my calculations, there were 504 people attending the seminar today. At breaks and lunch, we all had to exit through one skinny stairwell or three small elevator cars. While waiting, I reminded myself of the origins of the term "a crush of people." The sardinian quality of the event forced me to cancel a much-anticipated lunch date with a friend (sorry, Squab!) and to consider making a break for the door well before the seminar ended. I didn't, thinking it rude and enjoying the last bit of the seminar.

Bad decision. Not only did I have to negotiate the aforementioned elevator mess, but once I was in my car on the top of the parking ramp, I had to wait 22 minutes before I could get a space in the queue of departing cars and then spend another 17 minutes inching down the decks. Not that I was tracking either my progress out of the deck or through the streets and down the freeways toward home.</whining>

Suffice to say, after this reminder of some of the downsides of the big city, that I'll welcome my eight-minute bike commute tomorrow. I'll use it to think about some of the great stuff Tufte talked about, like sparklines, why the iPhone is excellent, motion pictures from the 17th century, and how to detect a concealed handgun.

Bring the Summer

We here in the Tassava family took the challenge of the first day of summer pretty seriously, and - I don't mean to brag - we kicked some summer butt.

We started by ending Friday with a bang. It had been, as Shannon reported, rather a rough day, but we capped it - and tried to divert the girls - with a post-dinner trip to the city pool (half price!). The girls enjoyed themselves, even if they're not exactly amphibian like some kids their ages.

Saturday morning was consumed by the usual flurry of errands, but the afternoon sent the girls and me out for a long trip around campus, which I described in part yesterday. I left out one choice bit, though. Walking past at this wall of greenery,

Library Greenery

Julia stopped, turned to study the leaves, and said in a funny little sing-song, "I wonder if there are any an-i-mals in here?" Trying to keep Vivi from stumbling over a tree root, I mumbled something about how there were probably birds and bugs and maybe a squirrel in there. Julia, still peering into the leaves, responded, doubtfully, "Are you sure there aren't any bears or zebras in there?"

We couldn't confirm this preschoolerish hope (fear?), but we did see some amazing images cast by reflections of windows on the west end of Laird Hall onto the east wall of the library.

Reflected Windows - 3

Both Friday and Saturday were excellent summer days, but today was the real deal - ideal temperatures, almost entirely sunny, a nice breeze, and blue skies that would shame Provence.

We took full advantage, heading out in late morning for a big trek to the Arb. We had one mosquito-induced false start and then had to persevere through one of Vivi's truly unbelievable crying fits. Here, she's tantruming well behind us because we all figured, why be close to her when you can be 25 yards away, not hear the screaming, but still keep a good eye on her.

Tantrum Trailer

Once Vivi banked the fires of her rage, we had a pretty nice walk around the area near the Hill of Three Oaks. The girls climbed on the (rather moving) memorial to Shelby Boardman, a beautiful ring of big cut rocks; they gathered good stones and ran up and down the slopes; and we all admired views like these:

Hill of Three Oaks
Two of the oaks on the Hill of Three Oaks (with St. Olaf's wind turbine and science-building construction in the distance)

Campus Skyline
The campus skyline, from the fields east of the Rec Center

After lunch and naps, we hit the swimming pool - our own little plastic jobby, not the regular one. The girls had a great time splashing, carrying pails of water around, and avoiding the spray from the hose. (I try to be a good dad, but it's awfully hard to resist spraying two cute girls running around in their swimsuits). Eventually everything came to the inevitable terrycloth denouement.

Toweling Off If the weekends over next three months bring half this much fun, we'll have had a great summer 2008.

Mystery Solved

A few days ago, I blogged about some mysterious goings-on with giant stacks of cardboard and some open space in front of my office building. It turns out to have been a project orchestrated by some Carls from the class of 2003 - back in town for Reunion - to construct an elaborate pavilion for their class. The project was apparently supposed to culminate in a huge arch, but didn't quite get that far. This afternoon, it looked like this:


As arches go, it was more harrumph that Triomphe, but it was still awfully cool and, from a distance, beautiful in a serpentine way. Vivi rather liked it, and even engaged in a short game of hide-and-seek with Julia. (The game would have been longer but for Julia's preschoolerish insistence that "you guys aren't doing it right." Further guidance wasn't forthcoming.)


This little trip to and around campus capped a pretty good summer solstice. True to longest-day-of-the-year form, both girls were up waaaaay too late. But isn't that what endless daylight is for?

Five Years

Today marks five years since the award of my Ph.D. at Northwestern University.

I sure didn't think, on June 20, 2003, that - half a decade later - I would not only not have a full-time teaching job, but that my "career" as a historian would be more or less done. I mean, yeah, I teach a class on the side (actually, I teach four classes a year - two-thirds as many as a Carleton prof, with no terms off, and don't even ask about the pay) and I am working on an article for an special issue of a history journal, but those two activities don't quite sum up to anything like a payoff for having slogged through grad school.

On the other hand, it's almost certainly true that I would not have my current job - which is, frankly, as good a gig as I can imagine - without those three consonants behind my name. And yeah, I suppose that six years in grad school drove the "historical habit of mind" pretty deep into my brain: I think in terms of causal narratives, and always seem - for better and for worse - to seek after "first causes," whether I'm reading a magazine article about China, writing a proposal for a half-million dollar science grant, or wondering which circle of hell produced the TLC channel. As mental habits go, it's not a bad one, and often pretty handy. So there's that.

Readers Are Leaders

The girls' actual bedtimes have, for the last week or so, been pretty brutal, with plenty of trouble from the younger one. but at least all those shenanigans have been preceded by this wonderful scene (about which I've already blogged): Julia "reading" (actually reciting) Vivi's favorite books to her, and then singing a medley of "Rockabye Baby" and the Barney "I Love You" song. It sounds crazy, but it works. Don't they look happy?

Bedtime Stories - 1

To Be Continued

Looking out my office window today (the better to rest my eyes, honest), I saw a cluster of students standing around two 4-foot-high stacks of cardboard. Each square looked just like a flattened moving box, but when I walked past the scene later it was clear that each was just a flat 3'x3' sheet of cardboard. By then, the students had set up a little workbench and were doing something complicated with utility knives, clamps, and glue (I think). I think they were committing art - probably first-degree sculpture, related to the upcoming Carleton reunion festivities. I shall photographically document the goings-on tomorrow.

Knowledge Workers

From the New York Times:

"A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure by RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer use habits. The company, which draws its data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day."

I'd say that, in an average day, I check my email far less frequently times and send about a quarter as many instant messages but would consider 40 websites an solid morning's work. 

These numbers appear in an article about how "Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information overload," right down to forming "a nonprofit group to study the problem, publicize it and devise ways to help workers — theirs and others — cope with the digital deluge."

Interestingly, most of these methods are technological, like a way to shut down your Google email for 15 minutes. I've found, in my 14 years in the knowledge economy, that the only really good methods to "fight information overload" are social ones. I make a point to simply turn away from my computer and read or write on paper while facing my window. I walk a document over to someone rather than email it. Or, hell, I get up and go to the restroom or even eat my lunch outside while reading some off-printed Chronicle of Higher Ed articles. 

In short, I don't, and I'd wager than most other workers of my general species don't, really need (expensive) IT to combat IT; they need simply to reject it, if only for the duration of a lunch break or the time it takes to mark up a paper copy of a draft memo.

Resisting Sleep

The girls are now going to sleep in same room every night. Most nights, Julia bravely and uncomplainingly falls asleep (or tries to fall asleep) even as Vivi emits a wide and entertaining variety of babble and chatter. Monday night, for instance, she called me in urgently and then pointed at the window and said, "Tweet-tweet-tweet!" The singing birds outside her window were keeping her up. Other nights, she runs through the (long, and getting longer) list of foods she can name. Honestly, hearing her say "Pizza... Broccoli..." over and over for ten minutes is kinda soothing: "Bocky... Beet-ba... Bocky... Beet-ba... Bocky... Beet-ba... Bocky... Beet-ba..."

Father's Day, the Sequel

The girls took unprecedented three-hour naps today, which was fantastic for them and for Shannon. (Over dinner, Shannon and I guesstimated that Julia has probably taken no more than five three-hour naps in her four years of life.) It was also good for me, because I had a long evening with two well-rested and very happy girls. When the girls were finally to bed just before eight, I headed downstairs to take care of all the usual evening stuff. I was not looking forward to the pile of dishes, a bunch of homeowners'-association stuff, and whatever other miscellany needed doin'.

Then it struck me anew: my wife is the best wife ever. She did all the dishes, cleaned up the whole kitchen, tidied the living room, and generally took care of things. Father's Day was yesterday, but apparently the spirit lives on! Thank you, honey!


When she woke up this morning, Vivi stood up in her crib and exclaimed, "Pizza!" Clearly, Sunday night's outing was memorable.


I. The past few days, Julia has been saying that, when she grows up, she wants to be a ballet teacher "for partly" and a "rock 'n' roll teacher" for the rest. (No, she hasn't seen School of Rock.) Today, driving home, she added that she'd also like to be a banjo teacher. In other words, she's just an M.F.A. away from performance artist.

II. Saturday at breakfast, Julia exclaimed, "Daddy, look! Can you do this with your fingers?" I looked over to find her flipping the bird right to my face, like some sort of put-upon celeb confronting a paparazzo.

III. Julia has been enamored lately of a magazine story featuring a character named "Max Mole." If you can say that out loud without thinking of a certain seven-letter curseword, you're a better person than I am. As is routine in these kinds of situations, Julia complements the story with extended role-playing games, and I'm invariably Max Mole. I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing when she yells excitedly, "Daddy, you be Max Mole!" so quickly that it sounds just like, "Daddy, you [curseword]!"

Best Father's Day Ever

I feel like I might need some intravenous caffeine to make it through the next couple hours, but my goodness what a great Father's Day.

The girls were in great moods all day (excepting a few par-for-the-course meltdowns from Vivi), and we did a whole bunch of fun things: several long walks, flying kites and climbing trees in the backyard (no kidding!), good gifts, a pizza dinner with friends, and so forth. (I snuck a good workout in during the super-sized naps.)


Julia, nearly sixteen inches off the ground.


Vivi, peeking under the sunglasses at her own reflection in mine.

Julia wished me a happy father's day roughly fifty times, and even Vivi - not a big one for the kiss-and-hug routine - laid a lotta love on me, especially on a long walk which filled pretty much the whole time between between afternoon snacks and dinner. The girls were literally staggering at the end of the trek - the perfect state for a big dinner of square-cut pizza.

All those events were excellent, of course, but the high point of the day came at the very end. After weeks of resisting Vivi's "Boo-ah, bee?" pleas, Julia has suddenly decided to "read" Vivi's favorite bedtime stories to her and, on top of that, to sing Barney's (in)famous "I Love You" song as Vivi's "night-night" song. Needless to say, Genevieve loves all this: she sits next to Julia, beaming like she just won the toddler lottery, until the end of the song - "With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you/Won't you say you love me too?" - when they hug and kiss. Tonight's routine was especially satisfying, of course, since it was pretty much the best possible thing a father could see.


Reading the excellent Science of Sport blog- written by two exercise physiologists with expertise and interest in endurance sports, especially running - I recently came across a post on the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, which was held for the 83rd time today. As has been the case over the last decade, Russian runners dominated today's run. Leonid Shvetsov won the men's race with a new course-record time of 5:24:46, a staggering 13 minutes up on the second-placed finisher, to become the first back-to-back winner of the race in  twenty years. With a time of 6:14:36, Elena Nurgalyeva won the women's event, 1:15 up on her twin sister Alesya; the Nurgalyevas have won five of the last six women's races.

The Comrades is a staggering challenge: its course cover 87 kilometers (54 miles) and a truly sickening number of significant climbs. The race route is reversed each year, so that in odd years it runs "down" from the inland city of Pietermaritzburg all the way to Durban, on the coast, and in even years it runs "up" from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. In either direction, it's brutal: exactly 4 minutes (1.2%) separate up- and down-run records, both of which are owned now by Shvetsov, and only 14:40 separates the women's records (just 4.0%).

Quite the national race, Comrades is steeped in South African history. The race was started in 1921 as a way to commemorate the then-still-new country's Great War veterans, and after World War II the race was used to both reinforce and protest apartheid. Interestingly, black runners were allowed to compete in 1975 - well ahead of the destruction of the apartheid regime in the late 1980s - and the winningest male racer, Bruce Fordyce, used his 1981 race to protest apartheid. (Wikipedia provides much more information about the race.)

Aside from the politics and elite athleticism of the race, it's also a brutal, horrid physical test. The worst part is that you can run the whole thing and - because of the strictly-enforced twelve-hour time limit - still not "finish." Here's a passage from Amby Burfoot's first-person story of running the race in 2006:

A half mile from the end of the race, I hear the first faint echoes from the finish-line announcer. Race winners Oleg Kharitonov and Elena Nurgalieva have broken the tape more than four hours ago. Here, in another 60 minutes, running's most dramatic moment will be played out. At precisely 11 hours, 59 minutes on the time clock, the director of the Comrades Marathon Association will emerge from a tent and march to the finish line. There, dressed in a dark jacket and tie, he will turn around, his back facing the oncoming stream of runners. He will raise a gun and wait for the seconds to tick down.

All around, pandemonium breaks loose. Thousands of spectators stare at the executioner, imploring, "No. No. Don't do it." Then they look the other way, to the frantic flow of runners struggling for the finish. Some are sprinting with joyously upraised arms, some walking, some being carried by teammates, some literally crawling on their hands and knees. The crowd breaks into a rhythmic, throbbing chant: "Go...Go...Go...Go..." The atmosphere is electric, the suspense building. "Long before someone invented 'Reality TV,' we had the real deal right here at Comrades," race manager Renee Smith had told me two days earlier. The national television audience skyrockets in the final minutes, as all South Africa tunes in for the tense Comrades conclusion. Who will make it? Who won't?

At 12:00:00 on the race clock, the gun is fired, and the Comrades Marathon is over. Those who fail to break 12 hours will receive no medal for their effort. No time. They won't appear in the newspaper agate or the official results program. They'll get no credit toward their "green." They will become, in effect, in this country with its wretched history of human-rights violations, a nonperson. A nonrunner. If you want, you could tell your friends that you ran Comrades. You could say you finished in, oh, 12:20. But you didn't. Because there is no record of it... There is some solace only for the first nonfinisher. He or she becomes an instant hero, interviewed live on TV and pictured on the front page of every newspaper. To many South Africans, the Comrades runner who goes all that distance, for nothing, is more symbolic, of something, than the race winner. That's another great tradition--one I think we can all embrace, even if we're not sure what it means.

Ouch, in every sense.

I feel like I should run this race.

Happy Knees

After a nasty bout of iliotibial band syndrome kept me from running for the last six weeks or so, I finally tried out my new, stronger knees the other day and discovered, happily, that I could run without any pain. And just in time, too, since this is the kind of sight that awaits in the Arb:

Not Under Cultivation

Others can correct me, but I think these are large-flowered penstemon (, a few Canada thistles, and some prairie grasses. This land is the easternmost part of Carleton's Arb, but the farmer across the way technically has the right to cultivate it if he so chooses. It looks like he's happy with flowers this year.

I ran past this field after being literally stopped in my tracks by this ferocious beast on the path ahead of me:


I've seen insects that were almost as large as this bunny. I hared not pass, so I went another way toward my destination.

Not in Kansas

I'm not one to be too perturbed by weather, good or bad. I mean, I'm as strongly drawn outdoors by a bad blizzard as a 70-and-sunny June day.

That said, tornadoes do get me a bit freaked out, and this photo - by Iowan Lori Mehmen - has freaked me out more than a bit.


Read about it in the Times.


Oh, the fun you can have with the "stretch" effect in Photo Booth:

Photo 50

"Cute as Cute"

For whatever reason, Julia tonight decided to not only join me as I read bedtime stories to Vivi, but to actually "read" those stories to Vivi - something the little had stopped asking for, it's been so long.

After getting all the preliminaries out of the way, Julia sat down with Vivi's favorite two books on her lap and Vivi sat down right next to her, folding her plump little hands in her lap. When Julia started to read (in a strangely booming voice), Vivi looked over at me, an arm's length away, flashed an enormous grin, and giggled with disbelieving delight. Translation: "Big sisters are awesome." I wish I had taken a picture to commemorate the epitome of sisterly love.

Two Beds Forward, One Bed Back

The grand experiment in having the girls share a room continues even as I write. We had a couple breakthroughs in the last week when, on consecutive nights, Julia was able to go to sleep in her own bed even though, four feet away, Genevieve was calling for her: "Boo-ah? Boo-ah? Boo-ah, bee?" ("Julia? Julia? Julia, please?") When the toddler din get to be too much, we have had to revert to the bad old system of letting Julia go to sleep in the guest room, then moving her after Vivi nods off.

Tonight, though, was something special. Going to bed a good forty-five minutes after Vivi, Julia listened to her sister talking and singing, then assured me that she would be able to get to sleep anyhow. 

Fifteen minutes later, what erupts on the monitor but Vivi giggling and growling and talking nonsense at Top Volume, Julia protesting weakly in the background. I dashed upstairs to discover Vivi standing in her crib with her silky on her head and a stuffed animal in each hand, clearly acting out some sort of skit for Julia, who had turned in her bed so that she could better see the show. Vivi was loving it, and though Julia was pretending she wasn't enjoying the act, I could tell she was digging it. Much as I hate to see them still awake at eight,  I have to give them credit for resourcefully entertaining themselves.

I sent Julia off to the guest room, gave Vivi (her fourth) one last kiss, and crossed my fingers that the night would come to a close, which it mostly did.



Vivi spent much of Wednesday morning showing off new skills. Looking at a puzzle piece showing a purple cephalopod, she pointed to it and said, "octapud!" Just a few minutes before, she had showed off her newfound ability to build sixteen-piece block towers as tall as she is.



Julia, on the other hand, is well past the building-blocks stage, either with respect to language or the actual wooden things. The last three bathtimes, she's endlessly repeated "stodd pee coog," a sentence that cracks her up and which has been variously translated as, "I am a cougar," "They speak French," "Don't forget to wash my ears," and a zillion other zany things.

More usefully, and in true Minnesota fashion, she's appending "and whatnot" to any list. "I would like more broccoli and bread and whatnot?" Or, "Daddy, do I need to wash my body and my hair and whatnot?" It works with almost any sentence - declarative, interrogative, or whatnot.

I fear the day when she starts using Minnesotans' classic passive-aggressive response to things they don't like: "Oh, Daddy, that shirt is... different."

Sour Apples

Monday, June 9, was a minor religious holiday for my sect, the Cult of Mac, for yea, on that day the Prophet, Steve Jobs, gave unto the masses a new iPhone, one that is better in almost every way than the first iPhone - faster, featuring more hardware and software geegaws, ready to be hooked into a universe of new applications, and - most importantly - cheaper. Like the ad says, it's the first phone to beat the iPhone.

The "trub," as we say around out house, is that while the phone is much cheaper than the "old" iPhone (which isn't even a year old), the calling and data plans available from AT&T are not. In fact, they're even more expensive than the old plans. And there's no alternative to them: the iPhone is still exclusive to AT&T here in the states. Compete much?

In short, no iPhone for me.

On the other hand, every day I see, on a forlorn bench outside the basement bathrooms in my office building, this box:


The box only gets more and more full. In fact, so far as I can tell, the only time the box has been (temporarily and fractionally) emptied was when I took out two of the discarded phones for a little compare-and-contrast exercise:


Check it. The ancient Motorola is more than six inches long, and no, it doesn't fold up. The little Sprint-branded device opens up to just about the same length, but weighs exactly half as much, and presumably did about ten times more.

Then again, they're both just good-looking bricks now.

Mockery, Punished

I am clearly being punished by Velosipeed, the god of bicycles, for my post yesterday

Today, my bike tire wasn't flat when I left work, but it deflated quite nicely and rapidly about halfway home. I'm now off to see what the %#(&%(&# is wrong with it. I hope it's just a patch that failed, and not a burr in my rim, blowing holes in one tube after another.

New beds and mattresses are all well and good for Mama, but Daddy wants a new bike.

Good, BEtter, Best

If a notohilarious wisesass makes a great joke on an out-of-the-way photoblog post, does anyone laugh?

I did.

My New $$$-Making Venture

Rainy-Day Fun

After a morning of the quotidian, the four of us headed to a little afternoon get-together with a blog friend (whom I'd met once, a couple weeks ago, when she was interviewing for a good new job at Carleton) and the rest of her family, which none of us had met but which included three "Big Girls" - two teenagers, a.k.a. Possible Babysitters, and a tween.

The event was a kinda successful in the same sense that they grow a bit of corn across the road. Generally, everybody was wonderful; specifically, the Big Girls treated the Little Girls like princesses. Things started on a high note - with the fourteen-year-olds painting Julia's nails - and only improved. The tween played blocks with Genevieve, the older girls colored with Julia and Vivi, everyone partook of a wide variety of great snacks (Julia had her first Oreo - about thirty seconds before Genevieve did), Shannon and I got hepped up on strong coffee while talking with the blog friend and her husband, and we ended with the promise to to arrange some babysitting.

So all that was great. Even greater was how clear it was that it was all great. Julia hadn't even climbed into the car for the ride home when she started pretending to be one of the teenagers (whose first name shares an initial letter with Julia). "Daddy, say, '[Alter Ego's Name], where did you get such beautiful nail polish?'" This peaked just before dinner with Julia pretending to be her alter ego, babysitting Genevieve and telling me to go get some coffee (i.e. leave the playroom and go sit on the bed to read my email).

In short: Big Hit. I predict that the first thing Julia says tomorrow morning is that her nail polish is so pretty.


The girls and I ran some errands this morning, culminating in a trip to Cub. The ostensible reason for the trip there was the deposit of a few checks that have been hanging around the the fridge for too long, but we turned the trip into an Exciting Adventure by partaking in the free apples that the store offers to kids.  Julia has been talking about having an apple at Cub for a couple months, so this was a big deal. Such are your dreams when you're four.

Anyhow, we sat at a booth in the sad little snack area to have our apples. Julia was very concerned with consuming every edible part of the apple while not consuming any part of the core, so as she got down to the middle she started prefacing ever nibble with, "Is this the core? Is this the core? Is this the core?" After a couple riveting minutes of this, she finally was down to just the woody bits in the middle, which I duly took from her. Then I looked over at Vivi, just in time to notice that she was holding a little scrap of fruit and her stem. She'd eaten the damn core.

This is not only proof that you can't win, but that you also can only rarely eke out a tie.

After getting those checks into the ATM, we started making our way out of the store, but our paths took us past the nail-polish display. Along with Cub apples, "toenail polish" is another obsession of Julia's, so naturally we had to stop. When Vivi saw her sister take out one of the bottles to examine, she reached for two. Or maybe three. Coulda been four; I was losing track. Giggling as I tried to grab them back, she thus inspired Julia, giggling as well, to take one or two more down. Faced with the horror of an exponential increase in the number of polish bottles in play, I had to laugh, too. Restraining both mischief-makers with a fistful of their dresses, I plucked the bottles from their sweaty little palms and put them back - some in the right spots, some not. I'm sorry, Cub Maybelline Saleslady, for laying waste to your display.

Too Lazy to Blog 

Because I am too lazy and tired to blog about something real (kids, work, roadkill, weather), I'll use this space to simply point you, my beloved reader, toward three other stars (okay, particles of space dust) in the Tassava Web 2.0 constellation:

  • Urb/Exurb, a more-or-less daily photo blog for which my friend Matt provides the "urb" (mostly Chicago) and I provide the "exurb" (mostly Northfield), and 
  • my Tumblr microblog, which I periodically update with minutiae that don't quite fit into Blowing & Drifting.
  • my Twitter feed, which is more reliably updated with even more minute minutiae. 
All of these fine streams of consciousness are also available in the left-hand column of my blog, but anyone who reads these words through an RSS reader might be missing them. And we can't have that!

2:39 a.m.

I've just come back inside after rushing out into the backyard and front entryway to rescue our hanging plants and batten down all our patio furniture. We are getting a scary windstorm here right now. The wind is very strange: not exactly blowing or gusting, but just thrumming continuously. The raindrops are gigantic, too. Each one felt like a cup of water hitting my back. I'm not sure I want to see what the online weather site's radar image shows.

Tri, Tri Again

Wednesday was the last day of classes at Carleton, which means that today and tomorrow are the traditional "reading days" during which students are supposed to be prepping for exams this weekend and next week. Surely, most are.

But Carleton students are a notoriously hard-driving bunch (I think they make the fabled workaholics at the U of Chicago look lazy), and, in addition, given to spending their time in quirky ways. So today is also the day of the annual Carleton Triathlon, which kicked off 40 minutes ago in the campus pool, continues with a bike leg over the roads east of town and then concludes on the running trails in the Arb.

A nice "off" day, no?

June 5 Blizzards

It looks like we'll have some crummy weather today here in Northfield, but there's (almost) no way the weather here today will compare with the weather in northern Italy 20 years ago today, when cyclist Andy Hampsten made a magnificent ride up and over the the Passo Gavia, one of the hardest climbs in the Alps, during a horrific blizzard on his way to becoming the first - and so far only - American to win the Giro d'Italia, Italy's version of the Tour de France.


(Image swiped from PezCycling News.)

Good Evening, Northfield

Heading east on Woodley for my rollerski this evening, I noted that the road's center and lane lines seemed brighter than they did during yesterday's session. Yellower, whiter - wett and shiny.

I figured it was just a trick of the evening light, because it seemed improbable that the county had restriped the road in the previous 24 hours. A few kilometers into my ski, though, I came across a roadkilled grouse at the same spot I saw it during yesterday's ski but now with a white ribbon right down its body. I guess they did restripe.

Good Morning, Northfield

This city just gets crazier and crazier. The mayor had to leave Monday's city council meeting because he was impaired - apparently due to diabetes. Then this morning - roundabout 7:15 - one of our toilets started to flood because the city is flushing the water mains.

All Right...

Intrigued by a "Bleed Blue: Carleton Athletics" t-shirt I was wearing the other night, Julia asked what "bleed blue" meant. After hemming and hawing for a second, I told her it was a way to say I was really a big fan of Carleton. Ten minutes later, she danced by singing, "Pooh pooh pee pee." She stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, "That means I'm really a big fan of Julia."


As long as I've been following the Tour de France - since 1989, when Greg le Mond won by eight seconds on the final day - I've been enthralled by the idea of trying to ride one of the great climbs: the great cols - Glandon, Tourmalet, d'Aubisque, Galibier, Telegraphe - or any of the other monsters: the Port de Bales, the Hautacam, and especially the Mont Ventoux or l'Alpe d'Huez. Who knows if it'll ever happen, since a) I'd need to ride a better bike for more than four miles a day and b) holy crap are the guided tours expensive.

But in the meantime, I am hooked on "The Climb," a new blog by Rob Mackey in the New York Times' "Play" magazine. Mackey, a smart, fit guy but by no means a stud rider, is training to try to ride the Tourmalet in July. He's got 33 days to go. It's gripping stuff, frankly - man against mountain, mind over matter, blogger versus naysaying commenters...

Mnemonic for the People

This afternoon, I had to listen to REM's great rock song, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", and inevitably Julia was full of questions about it - all unanswerable, because the song makes awfully little sense. In particular, Julia wanted to know about "the man who was singing," so I showed her a picture of Michael Stipe, which led in turn to a discussion of how he was the singer for a band, which had a different name than his, and this led to her asking if I had ever seen REM play. I said I had, but when she found out this event predated even "Mama being pregnant with me," she lost interest.

At dinner, I was telling Shannon about this, and she made her "Honey, you are so crazy" look. (May she never give you this look: it's soulcrushing.) She verily sneered, "I never saw REM with you. I saw REM in Minneapolis on March 8, 1989." I looked back. "You can remember the exact date that you saw REM in high school, but you don't remember seeing them with me at the Rosemont Horizon in 1995?" She looked back. "Oh, yeah. I had just forgotten about that." As she herself might say on her own blog, "People, we were engaged then. I had just moved to Chicago to be live with her, literally the day after graduating from Mac."


Not only could she not remember that great show or attending it with her beloved, but she couldn't remember the opening act, the name of which some underutilized neuron in my brain had been storing since that night. (It's the one-hit wonders Luscious Jackson. Naming them earned me a second blast of the look.)

(P.S. Can I just say that the website that lists every REM performance from 1980 to the present is a sight to behold?)

(P.P.S. The story behind "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is even stranger than the song.)

New from McIlhenny

A question from Julia, future product manager: "Daddy, have you ever boughten [sic] Tabasco tape ? It's made out of Tabasco sauce, and it's great on a biscuit."


It was a hell of a birthday weekend, I must say. Those of us at the Tassava homestead saw pretty much every aspect of life with a little kid:

  • Her great joy at being FOUR. She told me when she climbed in bed last night, "Daddy, I am now full of big-girl things that I can do." Indeed.
  • Her heartwarming enthusiasm for simply being happy, whether noshing on birthday cake, flying a kite in the backyard with the neighbor girl, hugging her sister, entertaining her Nonna and Boppa, or just sitting and watching others have fun.
  • Her enormous love for family and friends, near and far, young and old.
  • Her whiplash-inducing changes of mind: she switched her choice of birthday-party clothes nine times in four minutes while eating lunch just before the party.
  • Her harmless obstinacy: she is currently asleep in a Disney Princess nightgown which she put on - as a dress (see below) - at approximately 10 a.m. on Saturday, which means that by breakfast tomorrow she'll have worn it - excepting two half-hour baths - for about 45 hours!
  • Her towering meltdowns. During the last one, four hours ago, she shrieked about a dancing video she'd asked to watch, "I do not WANT to do this video! Why won't you LET me do this video?"
  • Her almost-painful adorableness.


Happy birthday, Bobo! The next four years will be just as great as these last four were!

Law & Order

God, I love the Northfield newpaper's police blotter. Here, the first section of the...

Rice County Sheriff's Report (5/31)

April 28 • Three horses were in the ditch off of Dent Avenue, Webster. The owner retrieved the horses.

May 2 • A golden retriever without an identification tag was found in the parking lot of Holy Cross School where kids were about to arrive. • A dog named Duke was found in the 11900 block of Dundas Boulevard. An unsuccessful attempt was made to contact the owner. The dog was picked up shortly after.

May 4 • Pigs were reported on the roadway in the intersection of Highway 19 and Lake Avenue.

May 9 • Two horses were found grazing on the side of the road in the 10300 block of Clearwater Path, Lonsdale. A message was left for the owner.

May 12 • Lights on in a neighbor’s barn and a Polaris parked to the side of the road were reported in the 5000 block of West 130th Street, Lonsdale. An ATV had broken down.

It's that last one that gets me most - elliptical, hinting at semi-secret goings-on, concluding with something that's so boring as seem untrue...

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