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Guess the Guest Blogger

A member of the household is guest-blogging at a cool online mothering magazine, MotherVerse, right now. Go see!

What I Did on My October Vacation

5 - Number of consecutive days away from the office (three workdays, two weekend days)

148 - Minimum number of photos taken over those five days (don't worry; more than half got junked, and only a third made it into tonight's big Flickr dump)

3-2 - Final tally, in my favor, of the best-of-five series of Scrabble games with my mother-in-law

3 - Approximate number of miles Julia big-wheeled over the weekend, in four long rides

11 - Number of Halloween pumpkin cookies which Julia made with her Nonna

5:45 a.m. - Genevieve's estimated average waking time

55 - Estimated average daily high temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit

1 - Number of parked Cadillac Sevilles which Genevieve stopped to kiss repeatedly on the rear bumper (sadly, I didn't have a camera handy to capture this display of precocious consumerism)

34 - Number of kilometers (about 21 miles) traveled in a long-anticipated rollerski on the Cannon Valley Trail (documented on Flickr, if you're into that kind of thing)

93 - Age of Shannon's Grammy, whom we visited with early happy birthday wishes

1 - Number of nocturnal charleyhorses in my left leg

5 - Estimated total number of additional hours Shannon was able to sleep while I was home

4 - Number of sights which sent Vivi into a tizzy of concern and worry on our Monday afternoon walk (a passing school bus, a tipped-over garbage bin, an elaborate set of jack-o'-lanterns, and an abandoned basketball)

1000 - Percentage increase in my personal happiness


Wow. I just watched the Packers-Broncos game, which ended on the first play of overtime: Brett Favre threw an 82-yard touchdown pass for the win. Sports haven't given me too many "Wow!" moments in the last few years, but that was one of them.


Just this week, VV has started making an almost inaudible "ee-hee" sound for "yes," complementing her headshaking for "no" (or, more likely, "hell no, you moron.") I remember when Julia started being able to express both agreement and disagreement, and it's just as wonderful now to be able to count on the kid having both words to use. I was getting tired of inferring "yes" from no headshaking and being proven wrong.

Here is "ee-hee" in action: after her (6:10 a.m.) breakfast, I asked VV is she wanted to read a book. "Ee-hee," she said, tipping out of my arms to head for the bookshelf.


There are 19 books on, under, and around her. Every one of them had at least a few minutes' attention.

Archived Unhappiness

Cleaning up my computer's hard drive the other night, I came across a bad old friend, my "Job Applications" folder. Looking through this archive of career-related unhappiness, i found that I sent out at least 62 applications between July 2001 and August 2005 - more or less one per month, with many bunched around the (late summer, early fall) academic-hiring push and with many requiring tons of work (CV, customized letter, writing sample, letters of reference, teaching statement, et cetera). Just like the job guides say, getting a better job is like having a part-time job. Tellingly, the next-to-last item in the folder was my application for my current job.

The Story So Far

Today is day three of a five-day break from work. It's shaping up pretty well. This afternoon, Shannon and her parents are up in the Cities, enjoying a matinee performance of some musical the-a-tuh, so I'm home with the girls.

The beautiful weather lured us outside for a long walk that turned into a triumphant moment for Julia, who pedaled her Big Wheel all the way around our (long) block - a half mile! This has been long in the making, with most previous tries dissolving into meltdowns that must have mad our neighbors think I was trying to train my preschooler to win the 2024 Tour de France. Today, something just clicked, and Julia was off to the races. "I'm so happy for myself and my Big Wheel!" she announced when we finished. And though she could exhibit a bit more stoic resolve, Julia does have a good Robbie McEwen-style kick - or maybe it's Thor Hushovd? Maybe, for the pitiless way she leaves her followers behind, it's Lance Armstrong.




Still Going


Kids in the Spotlight

At different points on Wednesday afternoon, while sitting in front of my PowerBook to watch an iPhoto slideshow, both Julia and Genevieve managed to invoke Spotlight (the Mac OS X search tool, in the upper-right corner of the screen). I'm not sure this search term (Genevieve's) will turn up much.


A Fall Day

Maybe it was because there was just so much of it, and maybe because it was my first non-holiday day off since last Christmas, but today was a pretty good time. The weather was wonderful, and I took advantage: a long walk with Vivi in the morning in which she showed her love of the trees;


a fun rollerski around the block, racing the trucks hauling harvested corn and turkey-barn manure (in separate trailers, of course); and a long afternoon walk with both girls on the eastern side of the Arb, where we played with a wonderful natural "seesaw" - a tree that had fallen into a springy bush:

Good times. I hope tomorrow's as good, and that it starts 90 or 120 minutes later than today did.

Think Snow, then Truck It In

Thank goodness the summer is over, and the fall is halfway done. I can get this blog back to its real topic - World Cup cross-country skiing. The first races take place on Saturday and Sunday in Düsseldorf, Germany - not a snowy place in February, much less late October, but nonetheless the now-traditional site of the each World Cup's first events, individual and team sprints. (Where do they get the snow?, you ask? The organizers use artificial snow made in an indoor "ski hall" outside Düsseldorf, saved for the event, and trucked to the edge of the Rhine for the race.)


(Photo from the Düsseldorf race website.)

Last year's races were dominated by the Norwegians, who took five of the six podium spots in the individual races and placed first in the women's team event and second in the mens'. This year, I think the results will be different:

men's individual
1. Bjorn Lind (SWE)
2. Andy Newell (USA)
3. Tor Arne Hetland (NOR)
(The young but erratic Norwegian star Petter Northug will crash out in the final. Maybe a Swede will punch him.)

women's individual
1. Virpi Kuitunen (FIN)
2. Justyna Kowalcyzk (POL)
3. Marit Björgen (NOR)

men's team
1. Norway 1 (Northug's team)
2. USA (Newell and Torin Koos)
3. Norway 2 (Tor Arne Hetland? Øystein "the Sausage" Pettersen, who celebrated his podium spot last year by streaking the course?)

women's team
1. Norway 1 (Björgen's team)
2. Finland 1 (Kuitunen's team)
3. Russia 1 (Natalia Matveeva's team)

I think the American sprinters Newell and Koos are going to have a breakout season this year, with multiple podiums and even, possibly, a couple wins. Both men did well last season, and both raced well in the "Oktobersprint" - on snow from last winter that was saved all summer! - in Sweden earlier this week.

Note to Children

Waking up a 4:36 on a perfectly normal day is not okay. Resisting your morning "nap" at 6:48 is equally not okay. Go to sleep!

Best Question of the Week

The other day, Julia looked up into the clear blue sky, pointed, and asked me, "How is that line drawing?" I looked up to see a perfectly white, perfectly straight contrail cutting across the sky. She actually seemed to buy my explanation that the contrail was a special cloud made by an airplane, but she did ask the logical follow-up, "Is it a very small airplane?"

Whoo-whoo Goes There?

I went for a nice run through the Arb at about eight tonight. The sights were fantastic: a nearly-full moon lit up much of my route so well that my headlamp's beam disappeared, a dozen strobing jets were heading in to MSP, the Big Dipper was as obvious as cars' headlights on HIghway 19.

The best part of the run, though, was a sound. Running through the moonlit shadows on the road leading to the Arb's entrance, I had just started passing in front of Oak Lawn Cemetery when an unseen owl hooted three times, very slowly and very loudly. It was a week early, but spooky as hell.

Obama 2028!

Vivi made clear her stance on the upcoming presidential election today when, during an MPR story about Bill Clinton's fundraising visit to Minneapolis, she violently shook her head. And I do mean violently - hair flying, spare cereal coming back out of her mouth, eyes wild. Apparently she is not a Hillary booster.


My friend Jordan - who rolls the Wonderwheel pretty much every day - recently put me up for a blog meme about "five strengths I have as a writer." Given that I write pretty much all day at work, and during a good chunk of my non-work time as well, this is a meme that I like a lot, notwithstanding my sloth in posting a reply. Forthwith, my litht (plus one):

1. Command of the basics. Thanks to some good teachers in high school, I have a command of the technical side of writing - grammar, spelling, composition. Not that you shouldn't break some of those rules now and again.

2. Flexibility. I can switch back and forth between styles with ease, from the informal style of professional email messages to the straightforward but formally constrained style of grant proposals. In fact, I rather enjoy the challenge of shifting the mental gears - though not too frequently. It's good to let the motor hum for a while.

3. Reading skills. I am a good reader, equally able to subject a given piece of writing to everything from close reading to rapid scanning. In pulling out meaning and content, I can start to figure out how means to improve the writing: better word choices? restructuring the piece? cutting extraneous material? clarifying fuzzy ideas or sentences? beating the writer with an unsharpened #2?

4. Brevit. Excepting special cases (love letters, novels, dissertations), virtually all pieces of writing are better when half as long. In fact, in writing that sentence, I cut it down from over fifty words to twenty-eight and then to eighteen.

5. Appreciation for style. Though my style is probably no style, I love stylistically sophisticated writing, whether it's crystal-clear technical writing (a well-executed how-to is a thing of beauty), accomplished prose (David Foster Wallace, Gina Kolata, William Gibson, Sascha Frere-Jones), or expert genre writing (The Onion). I especially love funny stuff. Happiness is a warm pun.

6. A love for the tools. I love every way and means of writing - pens and pencils on paper, markers on whiteboards, fingertips on a laptop, talking out loud. If I could steal some of Julia's Play-Doh, I'd be all about the stylus and cuneiform.

High Points

Tonight's evening sprint included a rather successful outing in which Julia successfully and rode her Big Wheel from our house to the end of the block and back - about 400% further than she's ever gone before, and with a 100% reduction in meltdowns. She was pretty proud of herself, and I was pretty happy to see her finally start to figure out the complex skills of pedaling and steering that crazy thing. They didn't engineer it for maneuverability. And "plastic treads" is an oxymoron.

Genevieve was a very good sport during all this, mostly toddling along somewhere nearby, evaluating rocks and leaves, shrieking at the ducks, waving at passing cars. She made an occasional break for the pond or the street, mostly so that I'd chase her down and scoop her up, and then she'd let me carry her for a bit. She's been very cuddly with me lately, so this was pretty nice. At one point, I was trying to help Julia remember which pedal to push (the upper one) when I felt a little breeze in my ear. Concentrating, I realized that Vivi was whispering "nummy nummy nummy nummy nummy nummy" in my ear, just like I sometimes whisper in hers while I pretend to nibble on her cheek. Then she giggled and happy sighed happily.

Sniffing and Smacking

I dunno what it is, but Vivi was hilarious all weekend. On Sunday, I suspected some diaper trouble, so I asked her, "Viver, are you poopy?" She gave me her patented wide-eyed look of total innocence, meaning, "No." I smiled, thinking she was probably misrepresenting the situation, and asked, "Are you sure?" She twisted at the waist, bending back and down in a way that no adult could, and loudly tried to sniff her own bottom. (Further investigation revealed that she wasn't in need of a change.)

The day before, I was upstairs at the tea table with the girls playing "Trick Me," a game in which Julia and I trade silly "tricks." For instance, I tell her that one of their toy teacups is actually full of hot chocolate, she pretends to think it's true, and then when she looks, I say, "Tricked you!" Then she tries to trick me, usually with a semi-imaginative variant of my last trick: "Daddy, the, uh, the, uh, this cookie sheet [from their toy kitchen] has a chocolate hot cookie on it!" In this case, I reached eagerly for one of the imaginary treats, and Julia blurted out with equal parts delight in and concern over having conned me, "Tricked you!" I smacked myself in the forehead with my hand, the universal gesture of dumb-ass realization. "Oh, no! You tricked me!" While Julia giggled happily, Vivi watched from the other side of the table, then carefully, gently, but clearly tapped her own forehead, looking at the cookie sheet and trying to figure out just what the heck we were doing.

Book and Not-Book

Keeping her streak of early-morning bibliophilia alive, Genevieve on Friday opened up the girls' box of Sesame Street board books, pulled out the cardboard divider that separates one half-dozen from the other, and brought it to me with her "please read this to me" face. She was disappointed when I showed her that I couldn't open it up or read it to her. Stupid cardboard boxes.

Book and Not-Book

The Very Busy Evening 

Shannon and the girls picked me up from work promptly at four, and thereupon began a whirlwind 120 minutes that started with a drive to see some Halloween decorations on the other side of town and then continued at home with a few minutes in the backyard under our astounding red maple. (It is brighter than this in real life.)


That got dull, so the three of us took a short windy walk up the block while Shannon finished dinner. The girls held hands most of the way, at VV's insistence. (They are cuter than this in real life.)


At the end of our walk, I noticed what looked like a long stick edging across the road. Getting closer, we saw that it was a big tiger salamander, one of the seven species of salamanders native to Minnesota. It was having some trouble crossing our street, so i scooped it up in a box and brought it down to our nice muddy pond. (It was slimier than this in real life.)


Dinner was a whirlwind of getting as much food to VV as possible, and then we were upstairs for bathtime. Julia, as is her wont right now, ran around with a beach ball, pretending to be a seal (!?!?) while I scrubbed the chickpeas out of VV's hair. When the baby went to nurse, Julia took her own very quick bath, spent a few minutes of "playtime" by looking at a photo album, and went off to "sleep without ere a peep." Soon after, I was out the door for a long rollerskii under a perfect half-moon.

Color Me Impressed

This morning, just after her nodding episode, Vivi headed over to the bookshelf and pulled down one of her favorite books, a tiny Sesame Street board book called Favorite Colors. I asked her, "Do you want me to read Favorite Colors, honey?" She looked up at me with puzzlement, then headed past me, around the sofa, into the kitchen, and over to the pantry cupboard. I followed, wondering what was going on. Still holding the book in one hand, she pulled open the cupboard door and started lifting out the tin of crayons. "Oh, you want to color, honey? Sure!" She let me carry the crayons and some paper over to her highchair and happily entertained us both with a little scribbling and a lot of putting-and-taking of crayons into and out of the tin. She kept the book right there, too.

Nodding Off

This morning as she had her breakfast, Vivi indicated that she wanted something in particular by trying to point at it - perfectly de rigueur right now. I'd say, "Oatmeal?" She'd shake her head. "Banana?" Shake her head. "Cereal?" She wouldn't shake, and I'd give her a few Kix. After a few passes through this little routine, I said, "Vivi, you should nod your head when you want something, like this!" I demonstrated by bobbing my head. She watched, unblinking.

The next time through the which-food cycle, she nodded when I listed the right item, violently throwing her head forward and back and grinning at her quick mastery of this new mode of communication. I was delighted, and she was delighted at my delight. More bananas for the quick learner!

(The only problem is that she goes so far back that she hits the highchair seatback, knocking it into one of its recline positions, and leans so far forward the almost touches the highchair tray. A little muscle control will be fine.)

Bigger Sky Country


Autumn's hold on Northfield is unbreakable now. Any warmth is transient and thin, the sunlight is either wan or briefly intense, the breezes are cool if not chilly, and the wet leaves are thick on every surface. And since the leaves are on the ground (though the oaks and maples seem to be pretty stubborn when it comes to holding onto their beautiful but very different leaves), almost all the trees are showing the sky through their gray-brown branches, and revealing the upside-down continents of clouds.

And if what's above isn't enough, you can look straight ahead at the cool artwork literally dangling from a tree on campus.


Brain Drain

With the end of a huge crush of outgoing proposals at work (15 in eight weeks!), my brain is taking some time off. The first responsibility it seems to have dropped is thinking up blog topics. The second is spelinge: I initially titled this post "Brain Drian." I think I went to college with him. I owe Jordan a response to her kindly asking me to name my five strengths as a writer; I want to blog about (largely as a way to record) some little productivity techniques I've stolen/borrowed/invented; and there is some interesting stuff going on as the cross-country ski season approaches (even if you don't care one whit about racing, check out this post by the U.S. ski team's coach for some incredible New England autumn-color shots).

But listing is not blogging, so I'll fall back on a kid story:

Contemplating the task of putting on her pajamas tonight, Julia stood there, arms akimbo, and said, unbidden but Poohishly, "I have to put on my clothes/I suppose/I suppose/I'll start with my toes/I suppose." Then she laughed delightedly. I myself love a silly rhyme sometime, so I think this chimes just fine.

How Babies Are

Twice tonight - once after Vivi refused to bring a book over for me to read and once when Vivi was getting all up in it at dinner - Julia looked at her and said wisely, "You know how babies are."

Vivi 1, Parents 0

I write this post as a defeated man. Three nights into our attempt to get both girls sleeping in the same room, we had to call it off after Vivi started turning this evening into a crying fit. She's just not ready, I guess. Thankfully, her sister - miracle of miracles! - actually fell asleep with her sister crying just a few feet away, and stayed asleep the whole time. Vivi herself fell asleep instantly after being transferred from the big, strange crib in the big, strange room to her small, familiar portacrib in her small, familiar room. So much for that! We'll try again later, like when she's 14.

Aside from the evenings' traumas, the weekend was very good. Saturday was especially fine, with fantastic weather, lots of fun to be had inside and out, and a great walk in St. Olaf's Natural Lands. As a (literally) card-carrying member of the Carleton Is Best club, I have to grudgingly admit that the Oles have a good thing going. The girls liked it, too, collected a few leaves, some shiny rocks, the stray stick or two, and hopefully some good memories of crunching down the autumnal paths.


Somewhere Over In Rainbows

As everybody under thirty forty has heard by now, the English band Radiohead released a new album this week, culminating a stunning ten days which began with the band's shocking announcement that they had a new album, peaked with an orgy of discussion over their decisions to release the album over the web and permit fans to name a price for the download, and ended for many of us with (so far) three days of blissful listening. At about 8:15 on the morning of the release, I went to the band's website, paid about $10, and downloaded the files. Click click and I was listening to "15 Step," no more than five minutes after starting the process. (That's only slightly more time than it took me to cut through all the packaging of the last compact disc I bought.)

Ten minutes later, Shannon called to tell me that VISA had called about a possible fraudulent charge. Erk? I dialed the customer-service number, hit "1" to talk to a rep (in this age of phishing, why would an actual credit-card company ask its customers to enter their card number when they call?), and in short order learned that VISA had flagged my $10-something charge for the Radiohead album as possibly fraudulent, largely because the charge was listed as "WASTE/RADIOHEAD LT" - which is totally what a scammer would use, as opposed to, say, "HOME DEPOT" or "AMAZON.COM." I guess VISA's fraud algorithms don't factor in the name of the best band in the world.

Having straightened this out, I couldn't help but think - in line with the general thrust of Radiohead's music and ideology - that while the band might be sticking it to The Man with the name-your-price download scheme, The Man might have his own ways of getting back at us. So be it - I can listen to "Bodysnatchers" any time I want!

Best-Laid Plans

I was all set, this evening, to get this blog back to its vrai raison d'etre (French for "topic which is crushingly dull to everyone but the writer"), elite cross-country skiing, but damn if those girls of ours didn't scotch that plan. Shannon, cheating (as is her wont) by writing while I was putting the girls to bed, already wrote about the night's big experiment: putting Julia and Genevieve to bed in the same room. (No, not the garage, you horrible person.)

As I write this, they're both more or less asleep. Vivi is occasionally groaning her dissatisfaction, but Julia's quiet except for a few coughs. On the other hand, the spouse without a doctorate in psychology had to conduct some therapy with his partner, who was not feeling so great about the transition.

I think it's going about as well as we could expect, given that Vivi has slept in the porta-crib in the guest room for (literally) as long as she can remember, and suddenly she's in a the crib, perched tantalizingly near some inaccessible toys and able to see her sister six feet away. If she could, she'd certainly say, "WTF?" But the little cutie can't, and so now she's just struggling through the night. I predict tired, cranky, but ever-so-slightly more grown-up girls tomorrow.

UPDATE: I just went up with Shannon to check on the sleepers, and discovered Vivi sitting up in her crib, clutching her silky and her bear but stone-cold asleep. Have I ever seen anything sadder? I don't think so. She woke up when I tried to lay her down, of course, so I talked with her for a few minutes and finally succeeded, I think, in getting her to lie down. We'll see how that goes.

Talking with a Toddler

Actual dialogue with Vivi this morning:

Vivi: "Mama."

Me: "You said, 'Mama,' Vivi! Good job! Say, "Mama.'"

Vivi (more quietly, but grinning): "Mama."

Me: "Good job! Can you say, 'Dada'?"

Vivi (louder, and grinning wider): "Mama."

Me: "No! You tricked me! Say, 'Dada' for me."

Vivi (looking right into my eyes): "Mama."

Only 14 months old, and already contrarian!

My Kids

It's fun, each evening of a day when Julia's had preschool, to hear her recount the bits and pieces of the day. Today, most of those fragments centered on two different boys with whom she'd played at the kitchen, read books, and "acted silly." I'm sure all that was true. As we made our way through her bedtime routine, she started extrapolating in a very curious, center-of-the-universe way, claiming at different times that one of the boys is silly when he brushes his teeth "just like me" (though she's not silly at all then), that the other one was so "esscited" on preschool days (just like Julia), that one had a lot of "very interesting toys" including - of course - virtually all the same toys that Julia has. Hearing her talk about these two new friends, part of the Julia's "kids," I got the sense that she was pushing her imagination as far as she could to conceive of what the kids she's met at preschool must do during the 95% of the week when they're not in her company.

And speaking of pushing boundaries: today was the first time ever that Julia has gotten out of bed without one of her parents in the room. It's hard to believe, but true. She had to be awakened for preschool, so I opened her bedroom door and went to do something while she woke up. (Waking her up for preschool on Tuesday had kicked off a series of meltdowns, so we were trying to avoid that.) Not a minute later, there she was, ten feet tall and totally disheveled, walking up to me in her pajamas, proudly saying, "Daddy, I got up all by myself today! I am such a big girl!"

Why Let the Designers Have All the Fun?

With little else (RADIOHEADRADIOHEADRADIOHEAD) to blog about today, let me just share this picture (annotated on Flickr) of my office, new and improved with more desk space, some good shelves, and two monitors.

Having worked on the two-monitor setup for a week now, I have to say that it's an incredible boon: the simple ability to have a spreadsheet open on one monitor and a text document open on the other makes it well worth the time and effort of requesting the second screen, setting the pair up, tweaking Windows' settings, et cetera. I highly recommend asking for a second monitor, if you work somewhere that's amenable to it. The productivity gains are real. And it looks neat, too.

Office Space

Gravity Works

Monday, Shannon had the brilliant idea to drop the girls off with me when I finished work so that I could take them to the park near campus while she went for a run. The three of us had a blast enjoying the crisp air, the best playset in Northfield, and the company of a bunch of other great kids.

Genevieve did a surprisingly good job walking on the uneven pebbles, happily crawled through the ten-foot tunnel, and pleaded charmingly to get into the baby swing. The one thing she was leery of doing was crossing the suspended bridge: the bouncing was too much to handle while walking, and a bit scary while crawling. 

Julia was pretty much okay with the fact that I had to monitor Vivi all the time, and waited patiently for help climbing up the various pieces of the playset. Watching her choose activities, I was struck by how often she tried the climbing equipment versus the slides or other parts of the playset. There's something about going vertical that appeals to her. So while I helped Vivi traverse the bridge for the nth time, Julia ran ahead of us onto the far platform, where there's a short ladder to the top of the best slide.

The next thing I saw was Julia flat on her back on the ground under the playset. She'd apparently reached the end of the bridge and turned to look back at us, then stepped backwards right off the edge of the platform and fallen four feet straight down. I raced over there and scooped her right up (stupidly, in retrospect: what if she'd injured her back?). She wasn't even crying yet, and only did cry for a few seconds, being more interesting in telling me that she'd fallen. She couldn't be too specific about what happened, but she did let me make sure nothing seemed out of place, and within a few minutes was pulling out of my arms to get back to playing.

What a gut check.

One Headlight

The short days and jam-packed weekends have cut into my roller-skiing time: I haven't been able to get out on the roads since trying some of the Arb trails on September 22. Today's cold temperatures made me want to get out there again, though, so after the girls went to bed, I headed out to roll around our subdivision in the dark. 

The skiing wasn't hard: I doublepoled, the easiest and most efficient way to move on skis, and the "course" was smooth and almost flat, with an "altitude" differential between the high and low points of just 70 feet over 8/10ths of a mile. I did get blasted intermittently by a stiff westerly wind that drove the windchill down under freezing and at one point there was definitely some non-liquid precipitation in the air.

But honestly, it was sublime. In 50 minutes, I met no cars, had no crashes, never got chilled, and heard nothing more than my wheels humming (a sound I never heard in a summer of rollerskiing), my poles scraping the pavement, a few honking geese, and jets descending to MSP (every four minutes, heading north-northwest). With nothing much to look at in front of me - asphalt at night is about as boring as it gets - I looked all around. I could see but not hear a few cars racing down Wall Street Road out of town, more blurs of yellow light than anything. Manhole covers and water-main access points are located about four feet out from the curb. One house on the golf course has what must be a two-story picture window - pretty, but all I could think was, "Heating bills!" A surprisingly large number of houses were dark, for sale, or both. There was nobody else outside.

It was almost a shame to come inside and to wash the dishes. I'll do the subdivision ski again as soon as I can - though only after putting sharper tips on my ski poles. As the worn-out inner pair shows, 455km of skiing translates into a lot of poleplants.



That was a weekend to remember. On Saturday, the girls and I went to a favorite spot in the Arb to soak in the scenery (like the autumnal prairie above). Our Flickr page has a bunch more photos of the Arb visit, as well as backlogged photos from September and numerous shots from the weekend's other high point, a long and fun visit on Sunday to a nearby farm that sells pumpkins now and Christmas trees later.

Shannon's already recounted the trip (and posted many photos), so I'll just add that I can't wait to go back to cut a Christmas tree in December. I wonder if they'll let us use their pickup to bring the tree home.

Pumpkin Picking

Wandering around the farm with the girls, I was struck by the intensity of my memories of living on a similar farm, back when I was what they'd now call a tween. That farm, and this one, was full of semi-decrepit but heavily-used buildings, odd juxtapositions (like a clean bucket labeled "oil" sitting in the chicken yard), a wonderfully high level of general filth, the sounds and smells of animals, and a sense of everything having a purpose, from the showy rooster to the location of the pickup truck. It was a pretty good place to be a kid, other considerations notwithstanding, and I can easily imagine raising a kid in such a setting. In fact, Julia at one point said something like, "I love the country! I wish we lived in the country!" A few acres of fields and woods sure would make for some good running and skiing...

Much Cooler Than Today

Today's weather was tolerable only because it might well be the last hot day of the year. I prefer this forecast:

Oct 7 forecast
If there's a problem with this outlook, it's that the temperature only goes down by 20%, not 50% or 70%. 

Radish Sandwiches

Friday night, Julia was playing "hospital" with me. For better or worse, this game doesn't require any movement at all: she lies under a blanket, and I sit near her, "checking her vitals." In fact, I've recently delegated many procedures to an invisible "Nursebot," who can do most of the basic work (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, lung sounds).

Friday night, though, the patient didn't want invisible robotic care, and sent Nursebot off to dinner in the cafeteria. Unperturbed by this usurpation of medical authority, she then asked me, "Daddy, did you ever have a sandwich?" Given that we eat sandwiches almost every day, this was a strange question. I told her that yes, I have eaten sandwiches. She looked at me strangely and asked a strange follow-up: "Did you ever have a radish sandwich?" I laughed and said that I had not ever eaten a radish sandwich. Still fixing me with that weird look, she asked, "Was it good?"

I'll have to check for earwax next time the patient seeks treatment.


This morning, the cat was lolling by the baby-gate at the top of the stairs, presenting Vivi with an irresistible target for her clumsy but sweet affections. A few kisses on the back, some fairly gentle strokes along the head, and one or two shrieks of delight later, Sabine made her grumpy sounds and moved about twelve inches away.

Vivi took this in stride, walking down the hall to the bookshelf and retrieving a weird Swedish book that she loves. I thought she was going to sit down and leaf through it. Instead she walked back to Sabine, bent down, and laid the book down in front of her, face up and spine to the right. Then Vivi stood up and waited, clearly expecting the cat to reach out and start reading.

The Only Good Thing

About sick kids is that they're often more lovey-dovey than usual. Healthy Vivi, for instance, will sternly shake her head whenever I ask for a hug or a kiss. Sick Vivi, on the other hand. wants to be held at every moment, and will even give kisses. This afternoon, when I asked her for a "mwah," she reached over with one hand, turned my chin toward her, and then kissed me on the spot between by nose and my lips. Still, I think I'd rather she wasn't sick at all.

Think Snow


(A shot of snow on October 2 in West Yellowstone, Montana; borrowed from

Toward a Sociology of Meetings

Today I went up with a couple members of Northfield's semi-official "Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force" to hear about "Safe Routes to School," a grant program run by the state department of transportation which passes federal money down to schools, cities, or other entities that want to make it safer and easier for kids to get to school on bike or foot. It's a nationwide program, and pretty well funded as these things go. We'll see what happens to our plans to work up a proposal.

While the program's interesting in and of itself, the sociology of yesterday's "workshop" - really, just a lecture - on the application process was basically WTF. The meeting was at the transportation department's training center, just off the freeway in a northern suburb of St. Paul. We could hardly find a parking spot for all the state trooper cars in the lot: literally a hundred of them - more brown vehicles than a UPS depot. Out front, a big group of troopers were getting some sort of CPR training (the dummy was lying on a picnic table), while another group of people was assembled around a portable smokestack which turned out to be part of a test of EPA employees' abilities to visually assess the thickness of smoke. Inside, the place was swarming with state troopers. I haven't seen so many guns in a public bathroom since the last time I was up in the U.P. during hunting season.

The presentation on the program was pretty good. The presenter had a 190-slide PowerPoint deck (a 95-page hardcopy! o rly?), but she didn't read them to us, thankfully. On the other hand, she also didn't ever say the first "r" in "infrastructure." And across the aisle from me sat a guy who was clearly attending only because his boss had instructed him to physically occupy a chair for the entire four hours of the workshop. This guy was methodically and openly working his way through a big backlog of Roads & Bridge magazine, paying not one whit of attention to the talk.

The things people do at "work."

Can't Beet a Day Like This

Today was a day of excellent variety, including starting a good book on East German sports doping, having a good conversation on long drives to and from a meeting in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, learning some good stuff in that meeting about an interesting grant program (drawback: the meeting was oriented entirely around a 190-slide PowerPoint deck, which, thankfully, the presenter didn't just read for four hours), discovering on getting back to the office that Carleton IT decided to grant my silly request for a second monitor (dual 17" monitors = lots of screen), cutting out early to have some fun in the gorgeous weather with the girls, enjoying a fantastic dinner of roasted fall vegetables (roasted beets = my new favorite veggie), doing just the right number of evening chores, taking a long nighttime run in new shoes and under a starry sky, and now watching a bit of baseball on the tube. A day well spent.

Wah Wah Waaaaah

Last night at dinner - which was candlelit, as the power was out - I for some reason followed up some no-doubt brilliant comment by going, "Wah wah waaaaaaah," the "oh, snap" sound from old comedy shows. Vivi loved it, and tried to imitate me, saying "Dah dah.... [long pause, looking around at us all] daaaaah." It was my finest moment as a parent. Shannon teaches them manners; I teach them stupid sounds.


After well over a year of running, I think it's time to retire my running shoes. Annotated Flickr in memoriam.
857s mk. I

The Goose and the Gander

On Sunday, before the rain started in earnest, Genevieve and I went for a nice walk around the block. She actually did walk about half the route, on her wobbly little legs. We stopped at the pond across the street and watched the surly Canada geese squabble with each other over particular spots of water. Vivi did that whole bend-from-the-waist thing that she does when she's looking at something that defies imagination, and even laughed when the surliest fowl squawked at each other.

Then we turned a corner, literally, and a good twenty geese flew low over our heads, honking madly. Vivi was a few steps ahead of me, but turned in terror and walked/jumped/fell back into my arms, pointing up at them and yelling, "Dat! Dat!" When they were finally out of sight, she let me put her back down to walk some more. A few minutes later, when I heard another flock approaching, I scooped her up just before she went wide-eyed with fright. We made it back home without any more aerial attacks, but even once we were inside, the honking would sent her right back towards me. And then this afternoon, a few minutes outside was punctuated by one overflight that scared her so bad she fell down trying to get to me. Poor little honkophobe.

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