Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Granted, it is pretty

I decided not to bike this morning when I saw the snow. Instead I took the bus. It was 45 minutes late. I got very snowy while waiting. I continued to get snowy on the bus because the window next to my seat leaked. And even snowier walking the half mile from the bus stop to my office. I'm kind of wishing I'd taken my bike, though even if I got enough traction to remain upright I probably would have collapsed trying to power through the snow.

Ten minutes after I got to work (an hour late) my boss said we could all go home. But I'm waiting around 'til I can hitch a ride home with a friend. And hoping someone starts plowing so our plans for the evening aren't ruined.

Monday, December 22, 2008

only them

A: (forgetting for a moment that her brother isn't a human child, like yesterday when she tried to snuggle with him on the same pillow by the fire)

"Let's pretend I'm a princess and you're a prince"

C: (uncharacteristically congenial) "I'll be Obama and you can be Bush"

A: "OK!"

D: "She wanted to be a princess, not Bush"

S: "Yeah, that doesn't sound like a good game"

C: "OK, I'll be Obama and you can be Ralph Nader... (she agrees). OK Ralph Nader, go get Bush and throw him out of office."

A: Picks up the cardboard box that he indicated was Bush and tosses it across the room... (they go on to do lots of arrest and imprisonment charades with various members of Bush's administration. Cheney, for example, was a small, hard pumpkin...)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

he'll sleep tonight

One of my neighbors hired C to shovel his driveway for him. Not sure if he was being nice or if his three teenagers are that unhelpful; I suspect a bit of both. It took C forever but he did it, and he'd already shoveled our walk.

beauty contests would be more interesting if they had talents like this

C (leaving for school): Oh, I forgot the Obama picture I need for the demonstration!
D: What demonstration?
C: I wrote speeches for a demonstration at school. I'm going to be Obama and Owen is going to be Bush.
D: You can't have a demonstration at school. It's...
C: I have to GO! Bye!

S: So how did those speeches go?
C: It was great! At the end I pretended to hit Owen and then he pretended to kick me and then I pretended to knock him over!
S: So was this at recess or what?
C: No.
S: It was in class?
C: Music class.
S: Uh, what did your music teacher think of that?
C: She thought it was great!
S: ??
C: It was for the talent show.
S: You and Owen did a mock debate for a music class talent show? What did the other kids do?
C: Oh, singing and playing instruments and things like that.
S: Those are more traditional skills to share.
C: She said she'd never seen anything like it before!
S: I'll bet she hadn't. You wrote the speeches for both of you?
C: Yes. It was kind of hard because I was Obama and wanted to say lots of bad things about Bush but I didn't say all of them because I didn't want to make Owen feel bad.
S: That was thoughtful of you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

sing we joyous all together

Since we dug out the decorations, including the old Christmas songbook that Aunt Maureen gave us, we’ve been singing carols regularly. A not only has most of the lyrics memorized but can find the correct page for each song based on the pictures. Her favorite: Away in a Manger. I referred to it as a Christmas carol and she corrected me: “No, it’s a Solstice song.” When I suggested that it lays the Jesus theme on a little thick to not be a Christmas song she was a bit disgruntled.

C would know the lyrics of most of the songs if he were willing to think about them for a microsecond but he insists on reading the words. He’s singing in a slightly less monotonic way but I fear that he’ll forever sing as poorly as I do. I think his favorite is Deck the Halls, but this may be because I can’t bring myself to do the Twelve Days of Christmas with him too frequently.

(My secret favorite: O Holy Night. Thankfully this is NOT in the songbook. Most professionals seem to have trouble performing it well. While A would sound cute singing it and Dan might be able to do it some justice I think it’s best if we don’t try.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

C's reactions to YouTube videos

Radiohead (Creep):
I think he's a good singer but I don't like what he's singing about.

Jane's Addiction (Ocean Size):
It's great!!
Why aren't they wearing shirts?

Metallic (Unforgiven):
It's a sad song. I think it's about how people are never free.

Black Sabbath (Iron Man):
Do they just keep doing the same thing over and over again?

(Yes, I like to play happy stuff for him before bed.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

newsflash: it's cold

I just checked the temperature to see whether it’s REALLY cold and windy or if I’m sick and that's what accounted for my slow and painful bike into work. Indeed, it is “7° F (Feels like -7° F)” right now so it’s not all in my head.

(The trees misled me. How can they remain still when there’s enough of a breeze to prevent me from riding in higher gears?)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Morning treats from C

A breakfast in bed order form. Click to enlarge.

So apt to his personality. ("Leif who? "Leif me alone!")

Transcript of middle joke:
Who's there?
aroo who?
Aroo impeaching Bush?
Well, you should be!!!!

(Something tells me he made that up himself.)

C never had these

We'd never push our kids into particular careers.

Mad Scientist Blocks

Saturday, December 06, 2008

well, he could be neater

I think I'll put bits of the "Yes We Can" speech on a poster for him as a solstice present. (We already got him this book; we were amazed to find it on the shelves of an independent bookstore before Thanksgiving with details about the election. Impressive printing and distribution.)

they took my idea

Years ago I started leaving surprises out for C each day of December- usually a winter-themed library book, occasionally a pencil or something from the year before. I've included A in the tradition since she turned 2. She still enjoys the books/ trinkets but C was not impressed with them last year, so this year I'm leaving him a joke or a puzzle each day.*

This morning C gave me a puzzle to solve (scrambled word, with letters he'd cut out individually for me to rearrange, including one "mystery letter") and A hid a picture (labeled "MOMMY") under a block tower for me. It was super cute.

*Dan suggested leaving out Obama facts for him, which he would surely love, but I like to pretend I have a normal 8-year-old every once in a while. Not the kind who use their computer time to transcribe Obama speeches from YouTube.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

adult bath toys

There is a children's book about the true story of thousands of rubber ducks lost in a shipwreck being washed ashore and helping scientists learn about ocean currents. A loves it. It would be a very different kind of story were it following 130,000 inflatable breasts.

I should commission C to build a better mousetrap

We’ve bred smarter mice. Every year or two we have mouse problems but diligent live-trapping and releasing for a week or so has kept them under control. (I don’t doubt that mice remained in our walls/ basement, but if they’re not invading our living space I don’t have much of a problem with that.) This time our old traps were entirely ineffective- they were tripped, often with the bait stolen, but detained no mice. We bought another kind and caught a few. The captive mice often destroyed the more complicated mechanism of these traps, but we could live with that. Alas, we’re now encountering the same problem of the mice escaping after tripping the trap. We may be seeing evolution in action here- we took out the really dumb mice in past years and have already removed the dumbest offspring of those left.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I totally jinxed myself

A, realizing she desperately needed to pee, forgot to go in through the back door which was left unlatched for her and instead walked all the way around front to the door she has trouble opening by herself. While struggling with it, she wet her pants.

better than potty training

It's pretty fantastic to have kids who are old enough to independently decide to go play out in the snow, get themselves dressed for it, and amuse themselves unsupervised.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

tut tut

After years of eschewing weather reports, choosing instead to make my own best guess and bring in the laundry if it starts to rain, I have begun checking them the night before biking into work. So far it’s been more so I know whether long pants would be advisable rather than to convince myself to reconsider, though as ice becomes more of a possibility it will begin to serve that purpose. The forecasts are generally pretty accurate but not as detailed as I’d like- since they’re covering the whole region they can’t tell me just what time it will be snowing on Delaware Avenue, which is more relevant to me than knowing that snow will at some point occur. After four years of spending a good amount of time outside each day at Alfred, I could figure such things out myself pretty reliably. I haven’t managed to do so here yet but I’d like to make it more of a priority. There’s no excuse for not having a better grasp of typical weather patterns in a place I’ve lived for the past seven years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

basilisks and rats

(in the car today)

A: Wombats live in Australia too.
C: I don't think wombats are real.
S: They are actually.
C: Basilisks aren't real. But anacondas can be like 30 feet long. A, that's as tall as our house.*
A: Wow!
S: Anacondas don't live around here. But black rats snakes do and they can be as long as daddy is tall. They don't bother people though; they eat rats.
A: Why?
S: Because their bodies evolved to digest them and they think they taste good. Do you think they're right?
A: Yes, but people don't eat rats.
C: Not usually, but I wouldn't be surprised if people living in the Warsaw ghetto did. A, a ghetto was a walled area of the city where people were forced to live. It wasn't very nice in ghettos but there aren't any anymore.
S: If people are really hungry they'll eat just about anything. A lot of people eat chickens, and eating rats isn't all that different from that. It just sounds grosser to most people.
C (deciding that A needed additional education): The Axis was made up of Germany, Hungary, Japan, (blah blah blah) and in 1939 they (blah blah blah) and Poland (blah blah blah for several minutes)
A: Wait! I need to say something!
S: Hang on, C. What is it, A?
A: Sometimes we see the moon in the daytime!

* Note the voluntary not-unkind engagement with his sister. I remain somewhat shocked every single time it happens, even when he is trying to show off.

(I won't regale you with yesterday's car ride, in which I taught C the differences between the mean, median, and mode in a discussion of "average" speed.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

a big corporation sucks slightly less than before is a serious overpackaging offender. More then once we've been sent a single book in a box that would fit a dozen, and plastic has been used to shrink-wrap the book AND fill the empty space. But maybe they're getting a little better. They are starting to work with manufacturers to produce items with minimal packaging (which is not only less environmentally egregious but also less frustrating to open) and have "developed software that determines the "right-sized" box for any given item based on dimension and weight." I hope not to personally experience these changes anytime soon (we can get just about everything we need from stores we can walk to) but I'm glad it's happening.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A's birthday

It's hard to believe A is 4! She had a great 3 days of birthday celebrations (kid party on Tuesday with Nana and YeYe and Aunt Maureen also in attendance, birthday walk at her school and our immediate family party on her birthday, and this morning her play group kids celebrated with her).

I'm glad we have a 4 year-old who enjoys simple celebrations, like the duck themed kid party where we played games like Duck Duck Goose and had a cake with a duck on it...and doesn't require renting ponies or hiring clowns, etc. :)

Here are a couple photos from the last couple days. Don't forget to click for larger views.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

embarrassingly spot on

I've wanted to put this up for a while but BoingBoing crashed his server for a bit. Photoshopped sci fi/ fantasy book covers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We had nothing to do with it

C made signs and recruited his sister to campaign with him.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

halloween pics

C is cool...he's been campaigning in school a bunch and took it to the next step. he carved this himself.

A drew her jackolantern herself too, and helped with the carving (and scooping the massive amount of guts out of this giant pumpkin sarah grew in the garden).

she really loves the halloween songs at school--they sang to us after the parade...

C of course did the makeup and costume himself here--he is a "bloodstained black spy" and had neck wounds and blood on his shirt you may not be able to see... he really enjoyed going out for two rounds of trick or treating since A wanted to go before it got dark. Now we need the great pumpkin to take LOTS of candy away...

sarah is a superhero that needs a backstory... I am one of those arcade "crane" games (not yet attached to me in this photo). It was fun having people play...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

subversive schoolwork

Choice excerpts of C's spelling classwork below. The underlined word is the spelling word.

Alex P. Keaton strikes again:
Always try to make much more money!
I am saving money now to make a foundation for businesses later.

Reading fantasy to him out loud means he doesn't learn how to spell the REALLY important words:
Ogers are very unpleasant.

Perhaps I should challenge him to make the whole assignment an ongoing dialogue:
When will I start the mission?
Why do you want this mission completed already?

I think assignments like this almost beg for these kinds of random responses, but I do wonder about what free-association world they come from:
Would you like to make some guesses on the stealth of contestant no. 37?
I had some sandwiches for lunch and found a topaz in one.

And we don't even make him listen to them:
Obama and Micane will give many long speeches before the coming election.

And from math class:

I attached 3 plastic fingers to one hand. Then I cut off 7. How many fewer fingers do I have than I started? (I had 10 to begin with.)

He was supposed to come up with a word problem with the numbers 4, 7, and 11. We are indeed disturbed by the finger-chopping bit, but disregarding his sociopathic tendencies, I'm intrigued by the complexity of the problem he came up with. (The answer is 4, for those of you distracted by the blood.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I'm a mean actuary

I hope the numbers in this article are wrong. Because if not, the booster seat industry is a big scam.

“About 350 children ages 4-7 die in crashes each year in the United States.... Because half of the fatally injured children in this age group ride unrestrained, the first step is to get them belted.”

So 175 kids wearing seat belts or in carseats/ booster seats die each year.

“A 2006 study by the same authors found that boosters reduce fatality risk among booster-age children by about 28 percent compared with belts alone.”

Let’s pretend none of those 175 were in boosters, so the 28% risk reduction is obtained by all of these kids. That would mean 49 fewer children would die per year if the kids who use seat belts start using boosters.

If we pretend the unrestrained kids started buckling up, boosters would prevent an addition 49 deaths. So we’d be up to 98 fewer deaths per year if every one of the 16 million children aged 4-7 in America used a booster seat. The cheapest booster seat costs about $20. That’s a lot of money for preventing 98 deaths. Worth it, yes, if your kid would be one of them- but imagine if all that money went to, say, children’s health care! Or perhaps promoting public transportation, which would reduce fatalities among all age groups....

gollum's riddles

C reset the clocks in the kitchen before bed with the hope of tricking me into reading to him for longer.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I just need to remind myself that other people let their kids play GTA

I decided not to read past the third Harry Potter book with C because they get disturbing after that. But then I somehow thought it was a good idea to read him The Hobbit. Clearly I didn't really think this through. It's not gory, and doesn't delve into "evil" in the same way The Lord of the Rings does, but its casual violence is a bit jarring. I have to wait until A goes to bed before reading it.*

In the period when C's computer was out of commission (thanks for fixing it Dad!) I loaded Gazillionaire and a Doom-ish multiplication game onto our computer. But Dan let C borrow his laptop one day and C found a trial version of Fate . Bad parents that we are, we don't do much monitoring of his computer time so we didn't vet the game at all before he found it and played it. Luckily it appears to be relatively innocuous because he absolutely loves it.

* C is thrilled by the book, however, and I'm enjoying it too- I'm not sure if I've read it since I was 8 myself. The language makes it much more difficult to read out loud than most of the books I choose, and it's too complicated for me to give the characters different voices as I usually do. But that means I have to pay more attention to what I'm saying instead of letting the words bypass my brain.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

we didn't stop at pi

A is throwing a fit in the car- we're ten minutes from home and she's suddenly starving (despite having just eaten). We try distraction, empathy, humor, music, etc. and nothing is cutting it. Five minutes from home I can't take the whining any more, and tell her we'll have to pull over if she can't calm down. She pulls herself together and is silent for a few seconds. Then we hear a mournful whimper from the back- "10... 20... 30..."

Apparently A comforts herself by counting by tens. We joined in and got to 1200. She was happy by the time we got home.

(She often includes zero in her counting, both forwards and backwards. This may make her more developmentally advanced than the middle school kids I used to tutor.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

recruitment efforts

I convinced a coworker to try biking into work and, since she was too nervous to go it alone, accompanied her this morning. I was afraid that THIS would be the day that a driver did something stupid or we hit a freak rainstorm or something would else happen to convince her to never do it again, but it was happily uneventful. I doubt she’ll start doing it every day, especially since the weather is getting colder, but at least now she knows it’s viable, not unpleasant, and doesn’t take all that long. I’m unreasonably proud of myself.

fall garden

We have two enormous pumpkins growing, but one of them seems to be rotting on the vine. There are several small ones too but I don't know if they'll ripen before the plant dies. Or if they’ll ripen off the vine. Really I don’t know anything about pumpkins, except that if I allow them in my garden next year they will be re-routed out through the fence as soon as they have more than three leaves. Dan says I was foolish not to know that they’d trample over all my other plants, but since our pumpkins last year were all stunted from being planted in 2” of gravel and munched on by the deer, I didn’t. I should have taken Pumpkin Circle more seriously.

I transplanted a few strawberries into the fenced-in garden so maybe next year we'll actually defy the mammals and get berries in June.* The everbearing plants are still producing but Dan is less-than-appreciative of the tiny berries. I cut up old jeans to use as mulch in the strawberry patch and they're working really well. I used large swaths of denim with slits cut in them for the plants to poke through- effective and stylish. Unfortunately, I fear that I'll need to re-do it in the spring because I doubt that all of the plants will find their way up through the same holes.

The broccoli plants are hanging on but look pretty pathetic and unlikely to produce. The tomatoes also look awful but have a lot of fruit on them; it's nice to see them surviving despite the toll a month of rain took on them.

We pulled up the basil and drafted potluck guests to pull the leaves off the stems. Dan has frozen pesto.

Cowering under the pumpkins is a plant which, despite its attack, has produced several hot peppers, which add good flavor to chili. They also, alas, burnt my hand on Sunday. Someday I’ll learn. The scarlet runner beans are still flowering. Next year I'm planting more- we like them better than green beans.

The fall carrots failed and I forgot to plant spinach. Soon I’ll put in some garlic. (I wonder if it would be safe from the mammals or if it needs to go inside the fence too. I think I’ll try outside; it’s used as a repellent after all.)

A demanded an apple yesterday so I filched a few from the ground below a neighbor’s tree. Luckily she, unlike C, is undeterred by mottled skin. We want to ask the owners of our local apple trees if we can bring ladders over to pick but haven’t had a chance yet. (There’s a public apple tree near my office with lots of good lookin’ apples on it, none of which I can reach. All the limbs within my reach have stunted fruit that look like crab apples. I’m baffled and ladderless.)

*Y’all can give me copper tape for Christmas to help me defy the invertebrates. The slugs annoy me, but as long as I consider them relatives to sandworms I can live with them. It’s when I start thinking of them as Hutts that they really piss me off. When I encountered one last week that was about the size of A’s hand, they became Hutts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

what a lyricist

A, who is supposed to be sleeping, is singing rather tunefully, “Water, salt, and then then then then then- oil, molasses, then then then then- flour, yeast, and - then then then then then….“ She’s assisted Dan in breadmaking just about enough to take over the job.

Yesterday she was singing "Summer, fall, winter, spring" over and over again to the tune of Dona nobis pacem.

No, not crying....

Whatever I'm allergic to seems to be reaching its peak. Fall is my favorite season, but this is not its best aspect.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

wouldn't Bob be surprised if we'd left it there

So C is supposed to be watching Neighbor Bob’s cats this week. When he went to feed them today, one of them had disappeared- whether C left a door ajar or if the guy working no the house did, we don’t know, but the cat was found lurking in the woods, refusing to be caught. As Dan left tonight he asked me to go try to get it- “it’s almost come onto the porch; maybe it will like you better than me and C.” So I stroll over as Dan is driving away, find a docile cat sitting on the porch steps, pick it up, and toss it inside.

Then it occurs to me- there are bunch of cats in our neighborhood. I have no idea what Iggy looks like. So I retrieve C from our house to identify the cat. We find it warily circling Delphina, the cat that DIDN’T run away; she looks terrified.

C: “No, that’s not Iggy.”

Random cat was very happy to leave. Delphina hopefully will get over the trauma. Iggy remains on the lam.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This post is of no interest to you unless you have trouble with the Monty hall problem.

I never believed the "correct" answer to the "Monty Hall problem." (In brief: you're on a game show and pick a door, hoping for a new car. The host opens one of the other doors and reveals a goat, and then gives you the option of switching to the unopened door you didn't pick. Should you do it? The problem presumes you prefer cars to goats, despite goats being cuter and more ecologically friendly and producers of feta.) It turns out that you always should, even though in my mind it shouldn't matter. No matter how many times I heard it explained I still couldn't get it. In part this is because if the host opened one of the other doors without knowing what lay behind it, and just happened to encounter a goat, the probabilities would in fact be equal. But I finally read an explanation which helps me to wrap my head around it:

It may be easier to appreciate the solution by considering the same problem with 1,000,000 doors instead of just three (vos Savant 1990). In this case there are 999,999 doors with goats behind them and one door with a prize. The player picks a door. The game host then opens 999,998 of the other doors revealing 999,998 goats—imagine the host starting with the first door and going down a line of 1,000,000 doors, opening each one, skipping over only the player's door and one other door. The host then offers the player the chance to switch to the only other unopened door. On average, in 999,999 out of 1,000,000 times the other door will contain the prize, as 999,999 out of 1,000,000 times the player first picked a door with a goat. A rational player should switch.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

too many keys

Upon my arrival to work every morning, I must:

1) Unlock my bike lock from the frame
2) Relock it under the stairwell
3) Unlock the secretary’s office
4) Unlock the key box to get the key to the locker room
5) Re-lock the key box
6) Re-lock the secretary’s office
7) Unlock the locker room
8) Unlock my locker (currently using combination lock*; not sure if another key would be more or less annoying- I may steal the keyed padlock off C's window)
9) After showering, etc. re-lock my locker
(The locker room door re-locks automatically! Hurray!)
10) Unlock the secretary’s office again
11) Unlock the key box and return the locker room key
12) Re-lock the key box
13) Re-lock the secretary’s office
14) Unlock the door to my office- and then I’m finally at work!

This also occurs in reverse on the way home, but at least the secretary’s office is usually open then. I’m angling for my very own locker room key, which will eliminate more than half of the above steps, but I’m having to fight for it.

* Purchased for my middle school gym locker in 1987. I still know the combination because I taped it on the back- in hexadecimal. So only geeks can steal my dirty clothes. I don't actually think this lock is necessary to prevent theft, but I want to prevent overly-diligent maintenance employees from "cleaning out" my stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

mr potter

C obviously is enjoying hearing the Potter series (earlier books for now until he's older). Sarah is reading them out loud in the evenings... (in case you can't read what he wrote under her "Beware of Voldemort" it's "I can easily counter Voldemort.")

Thursday, August 14, 2008

happy code talker day

An early morning conversation today:

Me (just having gotten up upon hearing C coming upstairs). "Good morning!"
C: "Happy Code Talker Day Daddy!"
Me: (stares sleepily; does not quite compute yet)
C: "Argghh! Don't you know what Code Talker Day is?!!"
Me: "No, I don't, but tell me about it"
C: (some additional angstful noise) "Why didn't you know it was Code Talker Day today?!"
Me: (now waking up slightly) "You mean the Navajo Code talkers?"
C: (calming down finally) "Yes...Code Talker Day honors the Navajo Code Talkers who served in the Pacific in the war against Japan.."

Later on in the morning:
C: (holding his Code Talkers book from the library) "In 1982 the President awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers... In 2002 the others were given the silver cross [I'm making that up; not sure what medal they got, wasn't as big as the 29 got posthumously]...There were over 200 Code Talkers total during the war... (etc. etc.).
Me: (thinking it was typical of our government to finally honor native americans after many of them were dead)"Cool! What should we do to celebrate?" (He ended up setting off "fireworks" in the afternoon, which in this case were water balloons and various containers of water he dumped on the heads of A and her playmates out front--they liked it though at least).


Monday, August 11, 2008


Last Wednesday I contemplated biking into work, but the thought of packing up extra clothes and digging up the key to my U-lock was just too much for 7 a.m. To avoid having any such excuse in the future I brought in clothes/ towel on Thursday. So today I had no choice but to give it a try.

Traffic was low since I was out early and everyone’s on vacation, which made it less nerve-wracking than it might have been. I avoided the problem I have with exercising in the morning (can’t eat when I first wake up or I feel sick; can’t exercise until after eating or I’ll get dizzy) by taking my time and not particularly exerting myself. (There are only two uphills of any significance on my way to work. The route home is harder.) My only issues:

a) I could really use a side mirror. I can’t keep from drifting while looking over my shoulder, even for a second.
b) I couldn’t get in to the showers here until after 9. I did without today because it was a cool morning and I don’t have any meetings, but I do sweat buckets and will normally have to shower when I get in. I need to find someplace that will copy keys that say “do not duplicate.”
c) I suspect that if I rode home my quads would be unhappy with me. Obviously that problem will solve itself if I commute regularly.
d) Rumor has it that I’d be much happier with road tires than my current mountain tires. I’ll consider switching them out if I start riding more.

I’m probably not riding home because it looks like the thunderstorms are not going to clear up as I’d hoped. But we’ll see. (I was very much wishing I’d ridden last Thursday, when I sat in traffic for an hour on the way home due to flooded streets.)

C can ride surprisingly fast. On short stretches I can only overtake him by using higher gears. (Dan claims this is cheating because I have 21 and C has 10.) Unfortunately his bursts of speed doesn’t translate to getting places faster- he was taught at school to dismount the bike and walk while crossing intersections. Dan has been regularly biking the kids to the pool (2-ish miles) and it definitely slows things down. He’s starting to feel more comfortable staying on his bike past small streets at least.

Dan has been biking more and is starting to get disenchanted with having A’s bike seat permanently attached. In addition to looking dorky it prevents him from using the toe clips on the pedals. However, besides being useful, I also see it as a good theft-deterrent- if you’re about to steal a bike, you don’t want the one with the bright blue toddler seat on it, right? We’ve decided not to invest in a removable one for that reason and because we expect that she’ll be ready to use the tagalong bike next spring. (She won’t be able to help Dan by carrying six-packs of beer for him anymore but he’d have space for a bike rack to use instead.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I'm so dull that I blog about what I ate for dinner

I’ve had the hardest time planning meals since I started working. I used to figure out what I was cooking for the week, carefully maximizing efficiency (planning double batches of grains or beans or tomato sauce to work for several different meals) and minimizing monotony (the extra rice would go into a casserole rather than another stir-fry). Maybe because what little intellect I have left is devoted to other things or maybe because I’m now only responsible for 3-4 dinners a week rather than 5, I just can’t motivate myself to do it anymore.

So we end up with dinners like last night’s which, despite their eclecticism, actually work. I got beans going in the pressure cooker. Next step- figure out which vegetables from the CSA need to be used up most. The answer, unfortunately, was a large eggplant. I’ve never understood the appeal of eggplants; they have a funny texture and not much flavor and generally if they’re tasty it’s only because they’ve been slathered in something else that’s good. Why trouble to grow it when you could just plant zucchini instead? But eggplant it would be since my antipathy toward food waste far outweighs my eggplant prejudice (1). I wanted dinner to be ready within 20 minutes, so none of the methods described in the first two cookbooks I searched would do- there would be no salting or soaking and there was no way I was willing to leave the oven on for 30+ minutes for roasting on such a hot day.

But- a recipe for broiling! Which will only require the oven to be on for three minutes per side! That’s my speed. I’d never actually used the broiler before but I figured it out and slid in the eggplant, sliced and splashed with tamari. And it came out FANTASTIC. Still not quite enough flavor, though the soy sauce helped a lot, so I made a sauce with lemon juice, peanut butter, parsley, and some sugar to tone down the lemon.

Made a vinaigrette for the beans and cut up some CSA carrots and green beans for color. All I was missing now- a grain. I’d rather overused bulgher lately in my last-minute cooking so I went for the obvious choice- popcorn. (Do most families of four devour two batches of popcorn in fifteen minutes? Everyone with their own bowl, since we’re not good at sharing?)

And dinner was a hit. Or at least it got eaten, which is good enough for me.

(1) I’m not really an eggplant-hater; I dressed up as one for Halloween one year. But I still maintain that their good looks are hiding a dull interior.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

a geeky way to disturb your children

A: We can make pyand sometime.
S: What is pyand?
A: No, PI END.
S: (?)
A: It doesn't have to go on forever. We can write the whole thing down.
(Loyal readers may recall that we discussed pi with the children about a month ago. A has voiced frets over it several times since then.)
S: Well, um, in a way you're writing the whole thing every time you draw a circle.
A (thankfully ignoring my last statement): We should make pi end. Let's do that now.
S: Well, usually people shorten it, so we can just decide to stop after three digits and call it 3.14.
A: (displeased)
S: The rest of the numbers after that are so small that they're not very important anyway.
A: Why aren't they important?
S: Because they're so small compared to the first three numbers.
A: But I want it to stop at 9.
S: Oh, so you want it to be 3.14159?
A: Yes!!
S: OK, sounds good.
A: What is it again?
S: 3.14159.
A (after taking a bite of dinner): What is it again?
S: 3.14159.
A: 3.14159?
S: Yes.
A (very pleased): Oh!

wheat prices again

The last time I bought a 50-pound bag of organic whole wheat flour I thought it was expensive at $42.50. That was up from $26.50 the previous year. This time- $69.50. Ouch.

But hey, the Research Foundation gave us 3% raises, so we only took a small pay cut in relation to inflation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

luckily no kudzu

Abandoning a garden for more than a week is a dangerous thing to do in July. We came home to three ripe cherry tomatoes, five sugar snap peas from the one plant that’s still hanging on through the heat, and a pumpkin plant trying to take over Earth. While we were gone it snaked five feet across the garden (putting down roots ever 18 inches or so) over the chives to an unsuspecting tomato plant, and pushed up another four feet through the tomato cage. It grew more than a foot a day. Now that’s scary.

Monday night I wrestled it down. The plan was for the pumpkins to grow along the fence abandoned by the sugar snap peas and I redirected it that way. Looks like I’m going to have to monitor it daily to keep it in check. The tomato plants are having enough trouble finding places to grow without intruders; they’re wending their way over their neighbors’ cages and one has made a dive for the basil.

Lots of little zucchinis also greeted us, and only one foot-long. We ate it yesterday and it was still incredibly sweet. I made a tabouli-ish salad, only with beans and raw zucchini and without tomatoes, utilizing the mint plants which three people donated to us following the mysterious demise of our patch. C was hungry a few hours later so I offered him a raw yellow squash and a knife to cut it up with. I’m so glad he has become willing to eat much of what we give him. This is the first year I’ve even considered serving raw summer squash to my family and no one’s complained yet. (I think Dan has been tempted to but he knows better.)

Oh, and raw beets are pretty fantastic too. The first recipe listed here (but we don’t have fancy ingredients on hand so ours had walnuts instead of pistachios and no goat cheese). A mistook it for our Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. I feared she would burst into tears when she took a bite and the taste didn’t match but she didn’t bat an eye.

Twin Trees play-by-play (warning- long)

Day 1: The kids are so badly behaved in the car that Dan and I aren't speaking to them by the time we arrive. It rains as we unload the car. Dan and A go raspberry picking but A doesn't like to walk through the tall wet grass. Dan, whose packing responsibilities were limited to his own needs, finds that he brought no socks or underwear. We break out the Twice 55 songbook (1) and argue about whether there is ever any merit to drawing out the last three syllables of each line of the Doxology (2).

Day 2: We go to North Creek in search of groceries, sunscreen, and socks. C is unbearable. There are no socks to be found, though a Rite Aid employee suggests we try the deli (?!) next door. Alas, it is closed, and Dan considers rifling through a rafting company's lost-and-found. We stop by the beach at Ski Bowl on the way home. A leech attaches itself to A's ankle and its removal involves squishing it. (Refraining from jumping up and down and screaming EW EW EW, and instead smiling and telling A about the cute little "snail" that liked her so much, took all of my will.) At home we realize C never ate his breakfast; once he finishes it he remains unbearable but in a cheerier way. At least until he slips into the brook and scrapes up his leg. I distract him from the pain by musing about how Bactine has gotten away with falsely advertising its "no-sting formula" for so many years. A says it's been so long since we've been at our house that she doesn't remember what it looks like.

Day 3: I decide to go for a run, but think better of it about five yards up the hill on Cemetery Road. My parents join us for a hike around Thirteenth Lake and we pick lots and lots of blueberries. C loses his wallet on the trail and is distraught (3). We give up on the local map puzzle; while only 400 pieces, it consists solely of contour lines. Dan finds NEW socks for $10 at a rafting company and invests in a single pair (4).

Day 4: We head back into town for building supplies, ice cream, and TP. I steal an unguarded wireless connection in the Grand Union parking lot to ensure that Friday's work snafu didn't escalate. We bribe the kids to play together (5). We stop at the swimming hole again (in the rain) and are surprised to find a teenaged lifeguard on duty, accompanies by two friends loudly discussing the quality of their weed and Husker Du. I dirty every pot in the kitchen to make dinner while Dan tries to learn Spanish. We utilize the military songs in Twice 55 to convince C to sing with us (6), and find that despite the limitations of the house dictionary, it is able to define "caisson" for us.

Day 5: Rain postpones our beach plans so we sing "If I Had a Crowbar" while taking out a defunct piece of drywall from the Rose Room (7). My parents arrive with a new sheet and we commence grumbling about our ancestors’ building techniques (8). My mother walks the kids to the larger creek and I revel in the silence. Dan and I replace the terrifying pictures of puppies and kittens to the repaired wall, thinking that way no one will notice the expanse of white among the fake wood paneling.

Day 6: We trek up to Raquette Lake to see the work my parents have done on their cabin and to enjoy Golden Beach (9). My kids forgot to take their smart pills- A asks where she can fill her bucket with water at the beach (uh- the lake maybe?) and C cannot grasp the concept of floating in an inner tube. We decide to forego dinner out to avoid child-meltdowns ruining an otherwise good day and head home for the lasagna Dan had made in the morning before I got up (10). Dan coats the seams of a leaking roof with sealant and hopes it does the trick.

Day 7: C demands a trip to Hooper Mine and we comply. There are red raspberries and coyote scat on the trail. I encourage C to descend via the scary rocky cliff face (11) and rip my only pair of shorts (12) accompanying him. Dan and A drop us off at the driveway so we can lie around and read while they refill the water jugs and play by the river. I manage to create a reasonably tasty dinner utilizing the last of our food stores (13) and replace the lightstring leading upstairs with an equally antique and knotted drapery pull. We have a campfire after it stops raining. C escorts A into the woods to search for birchbark and, shockingly, refrains from pushing her into the ravine.

Day 8: I yell at people while packing and cleaning. And we’re off! Pictures to follow.

(1) Which really should be named "Twelve Dozen" based on its song count, but anyway.
(2) Especially since they still pronounce "'nly" as only one syllable.
(3) Dan and I both advised him not to bring it to no avail.
(4) He continues to save his lone pair of sorta-clean boxers for special occasions.
(5) Not for the first time, but this time was notable because it actually worked.
(6) Our enthusiastic rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic may have frightened away the rodents for the next few weeks.
(7) We are surprised to find that the fake woodgrain pattern was factory-applied to the drywall. The lumberyard, alas, doesn't sell it anymore. How shocking.
(8) The studs were rotated 90 degrees, so there's only 2" between the bathroom and bedrooms, and they were installed 4' apart. We don’t like to wonder what’s holding up the roof.
(9) An especially fun beach for kids, because it’s nice and sandy and stays shallow a long way out. It is always windy, however, which only my mother considers a benefit to a swimming beach. This also means there are lots of waves which produce ripples in the sand underwater. My cousin Rebecca told me that they were snakes lurking under the sand and I fully believed her.
(10) He planned to bring it with us to Raquette Lake but I forced him to rethink that when he had no plan for how we would cool it and then reheat it at dinnertime.
(11) I thought it would be an exciting confidence-building adventure, and I went first so I’d break his fall if he slipped. (I’d like to say I’d catch him, but chances are I probably couldn’t.)
(12) Peter Harris and the church thrift shop have failed me this summer.
(13) The 1935 Fannie Farmer Cookbook was no help in telling me how best to combine turnips, lentils, and feta but I managed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

vacation in review

we enjoyed a much needed week away from our house and work up at Twin Trees in North River (which now consists only of rafting companies as the sole businesses, but at least they sell socks for those who forget to pack them, like me :).

Even though there was a thunderstorm virtually every day, we still managed to fit in fun hike around nearby 13th lake where we picked wild blueberries, lots of swimming in various bodies of water--C is improving by the week with his swimming endurance and confidence, a day on Raquette Lake (the only sunny all-day day) with Jim and Shelley where the kids played in the sand on Golden Beach and in the water most of the day, our traditional short hike with a good view up to the old Hooper Garnet Mine--this year A was big enough to go to the high cliff overlook too and we fit in some red raspberry gathering there as well, some fix-it projects at the cabin, a campfire one night in between rainshowers, local walks and playing in the yard and brook by camp, and lots of reading and indoor time while it rained. Here are a couple pictures, below. Click to enlarge.


Friday, July 18, 2008

more raspberries

I have at least 16 quarts of whole black raspberries frozen now. As the season winds down it’s getting hard to find freezer-quality berries (there are still some that are firm and of perfect ripeness out there but they’re few and far-between) so I relaxed my standards yesterday and picked a batch to make jam with. We now have two quarts of very tasty preserves. I was too lazy to can them (it was HOT yesterday) so they’re in the freezer, but we’ll still be able to enjoy it all winter if I can keep people from eating it with spoons.

Raspberry season will likely just be beginning in North River while we’re there next week. Alas, I don’t think I’ll be able to convince my family to maintain their enthusiasm for long picking expeditions any longer. Especially amongst blackflies.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


A bawled for twenty minutes after she saw the tree limb with her brand new swing being hacked down. Dan spent a whole day installing the swing two weeks ago, replacing the baby swing and giving her a treat to help compensate for her broken elbow. Our next-door neighbor Sue, who owns the trunk of the tree, didn't trouble to tell us she was going to have the limb cut off. (And given that it only overhung our property, we strongly suspect that she only did it out of spite. We wonder if she watched Dan working on it, chuckling to herself.) We're friendly with all of our neighbors except her. She dissed Dan the day she moved in; we've been nothing but pleasant to her, but she just plain doesn't like us.

Now I'm so angry that I can't stop shaking, and am trying to figure out how to turn the other cheek rather than exact revenge. And trying to figure out where on earth we can re-install the swing so A won't freak out over its loss every day, which is going to be a trick because all the other potential tree limbs on our property are like 40 feet up.

Edited to add: Just learned that when Dan went over to confront her, the tree guys offered to re-install the swing for us on a higher branch. Sue said "no way." It wouldn't actually have worked anyway, but her attitude is totally ridiculous.

Monday, July 07, 2008

watched pots

We keep staring at the green cherry tomatoes but it doesn’t seem to make them ripen any faster.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

we are not alone

The gmail quick-reply box decided about a month ago to randomly default to reply-all. This is extremely hard for me to remember and decidedly not ideal. I've inadvertently sent replies to lists of people a half dozen times now- luckily none of them extremely embarrassing, but half committed minor social faux pas. Oops.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

CFCs be damned

The air conditioner in our car died (on the way to the party A broke her arm at- a decidedly ill-advised trip). This has of course led to the kids bickering over who has which window rolled down how far, but my biggest mistake in attempting to ameliorate the situation was to give them each ice packs on Saturday. A decided she was done with hers about five minutes into the trip and dared to put it down next to her carseat. C is offended if anyone other than himself dares to use that space, so the two of them argued over the precise placement of the ice pack for the rest of the trip. I had been debating whether we should fix the A/C but now I’m pretty sure it’s necessary.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

the song remains the same

We braved another concert outing with the whole family. (C was convinced to join us voluntarily by the lure of kettle corn and advance agreements to only attend from 10:15 to 3:45 and to stay home on Sunday.) We actually shocked him into dancing when we first arrived, but after he remembered that he hates music, he spent much of his time reading The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (occasionally asking me to help interpret tables for him; who knows how much he's absorbing about the 1950 per capita GNPS of the G-8, but it's somehow holding his attention). Except of course when he was taking breaks to beg for lemonade, antagonize his sister, or ask if it was 3:45 yet.

A, meanwhile, sweet-talked her father into spending an inordinate amount of time doing crafts at the kid tent and playing in the sandbox. I eventually managed to lure her away, but she was fairly cranky and wholly uninterested in the music, so after a while we let her paint in the kids' tent while we sat elsewhere (in view).

We heard a decent amount of music and saw a lot of friends, but like our last venture to Falcon Ridge when Alyra was a baby, we're not quite sure whether it was worth it given the constant child-management required. We considered bringing a friend along for C which might have helped- maybe in a year or two we'll be able to bring buddies for them both to keep them entertained. They each had friends over on Friday afternoon which was fun for all. Hopefully we'll be able to do more of that this summer to keep them distracted from each other.

Friday, June 27, 2008

C's last soccer game

C finished his soccer season last weekend with a bang... Great to see how far he and his teammates have come. They played the same "dark blue" team that they had played their very first game, after only one, 20-minute practice in the rain.

That first game of the season they were, understandably, very disorganized and got crushed. This time there was still the extra-tall coach's son on the other team who was able to dribble around people well and move down to score. And he and others still scored several points. But C's team scored more (unofficially of course, at this level/league they don't even keep an official score and certainly don't maintain team rankings...which is great...but the kids usually know who won, and the parents do to, even though we try not to mention it around the kids :)

C's team passed a lot to each other, which was one of the things his coaches worked on all season and it really helped them in this game. And they were just better individual players too. C plays better on defense--very instinctively in fact, so much so that the coach's were surprised that it was his first time playing on a team...but he wants the thrill of being on offense. So he played goalie for one quarter so he could then be guaranteed a chance to play center the next quarter (that's how they reward goalie participation). As you'll see in this photo, passing in an obvious way to start the quarter off...(don't forget you can click for larger views of these pictures).

I found it hard to get good photos of his great defensive playing. I was usually too busy cheering him on, and with the time delay on the camera and all... Here's a blurry one of him having just kicked it up field away from an opposing player (and a pass to a girl on his team no less).

Some of the highlights of his playing were an amazing save when the other team had bypassed his goalie, and the ball was on the line right in front of the goal just waiting a little nudge by one of the players running towards it, but he flew back there and kicked it out--to the cheers of his team and us parents... He also did a backwards pass (behind him, while facing away) to a teammate who scored a goal soon thereafter, and he was also proud of kicking it between some girl's legs on the other team...

Here's one of him going up to assist goal making if necessary. I hope he gets the satisfaction of kicking it into the goal himself one of these days soon...

All in all, a great way to end his first soccer season. He's already signed up for next Fall.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

know when to roll 'em, know when to fold 'em

D&D origami.

gosh darn it

I'm lucky not to have hit the problem of striking a balance between being likable and being taken seriously. Partly from not working in a cutthroat field, but partly because men over 50 have historically found me adorable in a remind-them-of-their-daughters kind of way and they do their best to make ME like THEM. Now that I'm running into younger men in positions of power (PRA and ADAI were run by older people and thus networks were generally older) and I'm getting older myself I might not be able to take the "likability" part for granted anymore.


I took the first step in trying to encourage fireflies to colonize our property. Strolling past A's preschool around 10 last night, I spied a presumably female firefly blinking hopefully on the ground. I relocated her to our garden and hope that the ones we've previously seen in our yard are males of her species.

it's the last day of school-

We'll see if C manages to effect a significant enough attitude adjustment for us to be able to keep him home next year. (I don't mind the homeschooling; I do mind the constant badgering of his sister.) Interestingly, our backyard-adjoining neighbor is pulling her same-age son out for next year, which could make things easier in many ways.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

now I know it's summer

The first black raspberry picking outing of the season is a treasure hunt; ripe berries are few and we trek farther along the trail before we're satiated. While A pops most of her finds right into her mouth, she (like Little Sal) likes to have a container for the few she wants to save. C invented berry-basket necklaces when he was four which usually work well. But they do need to be held to keep them from spilling, so we broke out Bucket Blast and belted a pail around her waist to make up for her one-handedness.

(Fashionable, eh? Note the empty-but-stained bucket; she does put berries in, but they are retrieved quickly.)

It worked well enough that C used one on our post-dinner walk, and when I'm picking in earnest next week I might too. We'll see how much my productivity increases with two hands.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I took C up North Street at 9 p.m. on the solstice so he could see the fireflies at their peak. It's hard to get him to express excitement over anything outdoors so his awe at the display was fun to see. He caught them and I contemplated them, unsurprised that anyone would believe in fairies.

He wanted to relocate a number of them into our yard but I suggested we find a way to attract them instead. Turns out the larvae eat slugs. Now I'm definitely on board with his plan. We typically see a few in or yard every night but not the numbers we'd like!

Little Elbows

An update to Sarah's post from yesterday. A and I only had to spend about an hour today at the orthopedic specialist's office to confirm that yes, her elbow does indeed have a hairline fracture. That gives her the dubious distinction of being the first person in our immediate family to have broken a bone, at least that we know of... Funny that she broke her elbow falling on soft grass/plants in the woods, while each of us has had what looked like more serious falls or injuries over the years without a break...

As you can see by the following photo, she is happy with her new cast, and doesn't seem to have been in any pain since it was immobilized. Cast-off date is 3 weeks hence...

hope for transit?

The number of Delmartians riders of "my" bus (the 18 at Four Corners at 7:22) has quintupled since last summer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thanks American medical system!

Dan and A have been in the ER for six hours now trying to figure out whether she broke her arm yesterday. (Minor fall, major reaction that's unlike her, and still hurts today). He just called and they're pretty sure now that they have the THIRD set of x-rays done (go radiation!) that it's not broken.

(This is why I sent Dan instead of taking her myself- I'd be throwing so many fits by now they'd have kicked me out.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

in which we deal with our son's annoying one-upmanship by doing it ourselves

C: I know more than any of you about anything.
D: Everyone has different types of knowledge which they know best.
S: I know how to use logistic regression.
D: I know how to change the oil in the car.
C: Well I know most everything better than you, and EVERYTHING more than A.
D: A knows people's names better than any of the rest of us.
S: When people we can't remember show up at parties we ask A what their names are. (This is in fact true.)
C: Well that's not really useful information.

A: Five hours is a far car ride.
C: You mean a LONG car ride.
D: We are far away from Oma and Opa's house.

A: I can count to 100.
C:You can't count to 1000. I can count to any number there is.
S: You can't count to pi.
C: Pie isn't a number.
D: Pi is the name of a number that's 3.14 something...
A: I can count to ten in Spanish. Uno, dos...
S: "Cosine, secant, tangent, sine, 3.14159!"
A: tres, cuatro, cinco, seis...
C: Shut UP, A!
D: and it's interesting because it's an irrational number that goes on and on forever after the decimal point.
A: siete, ocho, nuev, diez!
D: That's great A!
C: Shut UP, A! So how do you count to it?
S and D: YOU CAN'T.
C: Wow, that's weird.
D: Invisible numbers are even weirder.
C: How can a number be invisible?
S: You mean imaginary?
C: (giggles) If it's imaginary it's not real!
S: That's right, it's not a "real" number, and you can't count to it either, but it's useful when you're calculating things.
C: So what IS it?
S: The square root of negative one.
(Numerous other questions arose that got too difficult to field since (a) C has no experience with negative numbers except arithmetically and (b) we were in the car and I couldn't try to demonstrate anything on paper.)

(At our potluck, all the other kids were off playing and C hung out with the grown-ups for a while. His method of making conversation was to quiz us on WWII.)
C: What was the Marshall Plan?
Brian: The Marshall Plan was the U.S.'s post-war plan for rebuilding the economic systems of Europe (etc. etc. etc.)
C (shocked): How did YOU know that?

the basement shouldn't freeze

Because of the volatility of petroleum prices, our heating oil company is no longer offering prepay agreements at a preset rate. In the past we saved a lot by paying upfront for a year's worth of oil. The next few years will be interesting....

Friday, June 20, 2008

we can't be trusted

Last summer I was happy to be moved to the third floor because it didn't have autoflushing toilets. Alas, they've now "upgraded" here too. Interestingly this occurred the day after our organization was granted additional office space up here. Maintenance continues to work quickly 'round here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Dan and I decided to check out Rockin' on the River tonight; we figured it wouldn't be a particularly family-friendly concert but we wanted to go out and it was free and the opening act was a band we'd seen at a friend's wedding five years ago so there was some nostalgia there. ("Hey, remember when we only had to convince my parents to take ONE kid so we could go away overnight?" "Yeah, and Mala had So Much Food.")

Our method of getting C to leave the house voluntarily, especially for a venue where we may encounter people or, heaven forbid, music, is to settle on a reasonable timeframe and agree to buy him junk food while we're out. He settled in with some kettle corn and a book (Spies and Saboteurs of World War II, of course) for about five minutes before the noise started getting to him. He relocated to the hill along the side of the Green Island Bridge a little bit away. Eventually the volume even there was too much and I took him for a walk until the end of the first set, when we agreed to leave to make him happy.

It wasn't until we were leaving that it occurred to me that most kids don't sit by themselves and read at concerts. But given the other recreational activities taking place there it was probably for the best.

Monday, June 16, 2008

yes, I'm conducting a literature review

Most researchers have a financial incentive to obtain positive study outcomes. I don't have direct incentives, but my research center will not continue to obtain grants if we don't make our funders happy. And our funders are, for the most part, trying to maintain their jobs, which means the programs they run need to be funded and they don't want to risk this funding with bad news.

Even if researchers are not financially tied to positive study outcomes, they often are emotionally tied to the programs under study. Many of our funders are completely convinced that the programs they oversee "work," and no research would ever convince them otherwise, even if their jobs weren't on the line. It doesn't take too long to get emotionally invested in a project.

So we come up with something nice to say in our reports even if we don't find anything positive. And even though we own the rights to all the data we collect (one thing SUNY insists on when accepting grants), we don't publish anything negative or null results (in our case, usually meaning that an intervention did not have an effect).

Null results are rarely published even in more purely academic settings simply because such studies are often less interesting to read. They're much more likely to be rejected by top-tier journals unless they're refuting something previously published and have a larger sample or better design. Both of my published papers are of null results and we didn't even bother submitting them to prestigious journals.

This is a problem because 20 people could conduct similar research and even if only one gets statistically significant results (which with a 95% confidence interval is likely to happen by chance), that one paper is likely to be added to the published literature and all the others trashed- if not by journal editors, then by the researchers themselves who won't trouble to write and submit a paper that's unlikely to get into a good journal when they could be spending their time on more effective career-building activities. Meta-analyses of published work are becoming more popular; to compensate for small sample sizes in research on a particular topic, they collect all the decent published studies on a topic and analyze them as a whole to see if they have statistically meaningful results. Problem is, meta-analysis can not compensate for publication bias.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

natural selection in action

I seem to have cleared the garden of just about all the slugs that come out before 9 p.m. and all the slugs that are foolish enough to drown in beer. I picked off dozens surrounding the plants and beer the first couple of nights, but now I'm rarely getting more than four. I know they're out there since they're still doing damage, but apparently only the late-night teetotaling slugs remain. I'll have to go out there with a lantern sometime. And maybe some margaritas- perhaps it's just the IPA they're uninterested in? I can relate to that.

Word of advice: Unless there's no reasonable alternative, I advise against picking up slugs with your bare hands. I've been collecting enough that it's been the best option, but the secretions of a frightened slug are the stickiest, nastiest ectoplasm that I've ever encountered. They don't wash off with soap and water either.

I looked into the edibility of slugs, figuring that in an emergency there's enough of them to provide a significant amount of food. Even if they eat all our plants, we'd still have a highly productive slug farm, and people eat snails after all. Alas, I wasn't able to get a clear answer, but I suspect they're as nutritious if not as palatable as escargot. And easier to catch than squirrel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

why I'm not a farmer

In addition to another large batch of lettuce and mystery greens, our CSA today provided us with strawberries, basil, broccoli, and several summer squash. I just remembered to PLANT zucchini last week, and they're harvesting. I did just pick a pint of sugar snap peas, which is exciting, but apparently they're the only thing I should trouble to grow.

(Off to hunt more slugs, who are intent on munching up the zucchini, pumpkin, and scarlet runners moments after they've emerged from the soil. I got a dozen about half an hour ago- let's see if there's more. Another reason I'm no farmer- I can't even bring myself to kill the slugs I pick off. I relocate them across the yard to the Japanese knotweed.)

what goes around comes around

I let some fellow university employees suck up my air conditioning on Monday, and they've repaid me by delivering me ice cream. Not only that, but it's Crumbs Along the Mohawk, which sounds meh but is actually one of my favorites. Mmmm.

or on the bottom

(, of course)

Monday, June 09, 2008

very much a soccer mom

C always wants to play center in soccer. And he often gets to because he’s proactive about asking the coaches for it and he’s wily enough to have learned that if he volunteers to play goalie for a quarter (which none of the kids really like) he’s given first pick as to what he plays next. It’s not fair to say he’s no good at it- he’s about average- but he naturally plays defensively. He positions himself between the ball and his team’s goal, he hangs back to see how things are playing out before jumping in, and he’s more likely to make heroic efforts to get control of the ball if the other team is about to score. If he gave up the glory of playing offense he’d go from being a passable forward to become a sensational fullback. But he doesn’t buy it. *sigh*


June 1st, the annual date when we commit to only buying local produce, crept up without our notice. Perhaps this is a good thing, since my first thought when I realized was “damn, I should have bought more grapes and stocked up on some canned tomatoes.” Now I can’t cheat. Dan’s birthday celebration on Saturday led to multiple transgressions anyway (lemons and limes for drinks, which we agreed last year to make exceptions for; a bottle of rum, though I suppose we allow molasses anyway; and potato chips, the status of which remains uncertain- I say they’re against the rules, Dan says they’re not).

Our first CSA pickup provided us with radishes (which C suddenly likes), lettuce, spinach, bok choy, cilantro, and a mystery green (smells like broccoli, has a bit of a radish-like bite when raw that it loses when cooked). The first sugar snap peas are ripening in the garden, and we’ve harvested all of six tiny strawberries so far. We’re finishing up the last of our frozen black raspberries while eagerly tracking the status of this year’s crop (currently blossoming, as are the blackberries).

I’ve put tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, and pumpkins in the garden; basil and zucchini will go in tonight or tomorrow. Dan sacrificed the pale ale from the mixed case he was given for his birthday so our slugs can drown in organic beer.

A wanted her hair in braids on Saturday and was incredibly cute. One of these days I’ll invest in a comb so I can actually part her hair, rather than tie it into random clumps.

C used string to set up a spiderweb in his room. He hung matchbox cars from it too. I’m not sure if they were intended as decorative or to warn us of our fate if we dared to enter. Some things I'm afraid to ask.

Dan goes to Seattle this week and after that will be cutting his hours in half. Which is great because it solves child care problems and will give him a chance to do more work locally and actually see people, but a little sad because it was cool to be making so much money. Not that we were doing anything too exciting with it, but I was just getting used to the idea that buying prepackaged crackers didn’t have to be a special event. We’ll still have plenty (though less to throw at the mortgage) but we should take the time to look at the numbers and decide how much we have to play with.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

should caregiving be prioritized over a really good gig?

I like this article on workplace flexibility because it includes the suggestion that flexibility should be available to ALL employees. Reasonable work schedules are often only provided to workers who have an "excuse" for needing them. Even though I have only benefited from such arrangements- my hours were reduced at PRA during my pregnancy, and I had increased flexibility at the UW because I had an infant- I see it as inherently unfair to those who either work out more dependable child care coverage (having a parent home full-time; expensive day care) or who dote on their dogs rather than their children*.

In some countries employees may refuse overtime if it interferes with their child care needs. Honestly, I think ANY employee should be allowed to refuse- if someone doesn't want to work because they'd rather play rugby, an employer shouldn't be able to prevent that. The employer can instead sweeten the deal with enough incentives to get employees to work more voluntarily. There's a reason that industries that require overtime need to pay well.

No one else at PRA was able to chop two hours off their work day just because they felt like it, yet business proceeded as usual without my presence. (Really, it was to their benefit- I did the same amount of work for 20% less pay.) I wonder why the East Coast is so much less open to the freedom and flexibility part-time work offers both employee AND employer than the West Coast.

(Another cool thing from the article: an EU directive requires part-time workers' salaries and benefits to be the pro-rated equivalent of full-time workers' salaries. Wow. Something the article didn't mention: how important socialized medicine is to any of these options.)

* Dan did in fact call in to work once because Paco was sick. And he didn't even lie about it. But I doubt most people can get away with that.

it's the manufacturing, stupid

I hate that so much "green building" research, investment, and of course marketing is focused on new houses. (Example here, with free plans even.) While it may make people feel better about the brand-new houses they're building (usually on formerly undeveloped land), in most cases the manufacture and transport of the materials are far larger energy-wasters than living in an older, less-than-ideally constructed home. It's better than building a standard McMansion, yes, but not better than getting by with a house that's already there.

Some exceptions may exist- in some cases, it might be environmentally benign to build with materials gathered or harvested from or near your own land- stone, strawbale, cordwood. But improving existing housing stock almost always has a better payoff.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The local youth softball outfit is called the Bethlehem Tomboys. This bothers me but I can't quite articulate why.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

how long have you been keeping this from me?

Did everyone except me know that Venice doesn't have any cars? How cool is that?

in which I account for my filthy kitchen floor

Articles and entire books about making your own household cleaners have been around for years now. I've never really understood them. They generally list all sorts of combinations of basic ingredients to mix together in spray bottles or shaker jars to use on specific surfaces, which seems like far more work than necessary.

Maybe it's just that I have a low standard of cleanliness? I clean pretty much everything with just water. If it doesn't come off I'll add dish soap. If it's really stuck on there I'll add baking soda. I don't need premixed containers of Borax and whatever taking up space in my cabinets to get the job done. But then, I don't care if my floors are whiter than white either.

I suppose the purpose of these recipes is to replace the specific products that most people have been (inexplicably) buying for years with an alternative that can be put in the same kind of container and used in the same way. Maybe this makes the transition easier for some people. But I think that it (a) unnecessarily complicates the process, (b) focuses overly much on the commercial products, making the alternatives seem like weak replacements, and (c) encourages obsessiveness over housework ("even if you don't want to poison your kids with chemicals, you should still be spending lots of time cleaning!"). A lot of earthy-crunchy tips seem to focus on making life harder when rethinking your goals and standards may be a better way to go. Your goal is to have a clean house without nasty chemicals and disposable packaging? Well, try using what you have and see if it works, and reconsider whether it's really necessary to scrub the counters with disinfectant every day. Want to stop using toxic lawn chemicals? Just stop and see what happens; if you don't like the results, look for some fixes, but you don't immediately need to start applying liquid manure and attacking weeds with a propane torch. Really, dandelions are no less attractive than hollyhocks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

university maintenance part 2

Speak of the devil. I just received this message off the staff listserv:

For your information:

Per a phone call received from the Plant Department, Matt and a student will be going around our building today doing maintenance (oiling) of all door hinges and locks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

love is a battlefield

Instead of a unity candle at their wedding, these people made a unity volcano. (It's around 2:05.) At first I thought, "wow, C would totally do that." Then I realized that by the time he's old enough to get married, he'll be away beyond that- he'll produce something much more explosive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

university maintenance

The maintenance guy I see most frequently in my building always calls me “doctor.” “Hey doctor, how’s it going?” I don’t generally hear him greeting anyone else so I don’t know if this is his standard moniker for everyone at the University or if I’m special. It cracks me up either way.

Maintenance work here is all centralized, resulting sometimes in surprising efficiency (large teams of men with tools appeared last month to remove all of the winter air conditioner covers at once; the breathless coordination via walkie-talkie lent the operation a SWAT-teamish air) and sometimes in shocking inefficiency (it took over a month to move a desk once because they weren’t allowed to do it or lend us a dolly so we could do it until a work order went through official channels). The staff at Alfred had a bit more flexibility. A man named LeRoy (pronounced Le Roy, not Leeroy) was detailed to the house I lived in my last two years there. The University had just purchased it so it needed a few tweaks to adapt it to student housing, which made LeRoy’s work a bit more interesting than otherwise- I suspect he enjoyed getting to spend his days designing and building customized shelving rather than oiling door hinges. Maybe that’s why he was so accommodating when we asked him to help with random tasks like tweaking our composter so it could be turned more easily or adjusting our faucets so they closed more tightly. Or maybe his years of experience with students made him realize that if we were left to our own devices, we were likely to REALLY screw things up. An ounce of prevention and all that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Free Range Kids

Free Range Kids

As they get older, I'd like to give the kids more freedom. I feel that the risk of kidnapping is far outweighed by the psychological risks of being insulated and overprotected. But when community norms are such that letting kids do things on their own is an oddity, it's harder. I couldn't send C to the grocery store on his own without risking the cashier asking where his parents are, putting him in an awkward spot. The public library explicitly prohibits children under 12 from being left unattended. Some of the intersections near our house are not safe. And maybe because unsupervised kids are a rarity now, he would be a more likely target for a criminal?

I'm glad to live in a town that has amenities which permit more freedom to kids and teens than Clifton Park did- sidewalks, access to a bus line, streetlights. And I do see middle school aged kids doing things on their own- biking to friends', going to the coffee shop. But I wish we were a little bit closer to the time when Ramona Quimby had free reign of the neighborhood by the age of four.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And his shirt doesn't help either

C has had a series of "literature projects" due each week at school. Given his WWII obsession and unwillingness to follow directions, I suspect that his output has been rather different from what his teacher expected. The first week was supposed to be a "banner" about a book. C constructed a 3-dimensional military tank out of paper and attached it to a piece of paper (the "banner") with a string. I didn't see last week's, which was a mobile; I only hope that he didn't make the cutouts in the shape of swastikas.

This week, he was assigned to make a mask. His choice of character is not unexpected.

Yes, I tried to encourage him to choose anyone other than Hitler. Yes, I have an e-mail in to his teacher apologizing. Yes, I started to try to explain to him how Hitler's image remains very disturbing to a lot of people, but stopped when I realized I might be doing more harm than good. How to explain to a seven-year-old how the horrors of a war that ended before his grandparents were born are still so resonant?

of course it all ended in tears

Last weekend C wanted to test out a new boat he'd built and so we made a trip to Five Rivers.

A was shy.

The boat worked quite well.

Alas, immediately after this picture was taken, Dan slipped and both he and C fell in the water. C was furious and convinced that Dan had done this on purpose. He said he was not going home with us and stormed upstream. A started wailing, "I NEED MY BROTHER!" I send Dan ahead with A, assuring her that we would not actually allow C to spend the night outside at Five Rivers. I tailed C for about a quarter mile before convincing him to (begrudgingly) come home with us.

Monday, May 05, 2008

not a soccer mom

C's first soccer practice was last Monday. It was pouring. Half the kids didn't attend, and the coach thankfully sent them home early.

Lack of practice did not however prevent them from having a game on Saturday. It was at the "Soccerplex," which is a whole lotta fields alongside a highway, the noise of which adds to the chaos. Again, it was raining (though not as hard). Dan and I were surprised at the number of parents who enthusiastically delivered their children to the 9 a.m. game anyway- it was kind of a culture shock for us. We spent much of the morning entertained by the absurdity of the situation and wondering how many of the other parents felt the same way.

C played on half a field, with its lines painted across those of the full field, so it was confusing. That was perhaps the least of his team's problems however, since none of the kids had ever played together and C didn't appear to be the only one who only vaguely knew the rules. (Not our fault, by the way; Dan tried to go over them with him, but C rebelled halfway through.) A lot of the kids had been playing for years though (there were three-year-olds playing the next field over!) and some of them were surprisingly good, and even the clueless kids did better at maintaining their positions than I expected, especially given the well-meaning but disorganized coaching.

C surprised us by his ability to stand up for himself (requesting several times to play offense), management of his mistakes (he was able to shrug off being told to re-do a throw-in because both his feet hadn't been on the ground rather than getting upset/ embarrassed by it), and generally "normal" behavior. He didn't actually talk to any of the other kids, but he wasn't overtly antisocial either, which was good to see.

A was surprisingly patient for the first half of the game but then got understandably bored. She noticed the concession stand and tried to get us to utilize it rather slyly.

A: I'm hungry.
S: Here, Daddy packed potatoes for you!
A (whining): Daddy said he'd bring me a banana!
S: Really? Hmm- oh, here it is!
A (clearly disappointed that we hadn't screwed up): Actually I don't want a banana OR potatoes.
S: Well let me know if you decide you're hungry.
A: I want something different.
S: The game will be over in about 20 minutes.
A (giving up on subtlety): I think they sell food over there.
S: But we brought food with us, so we don't need to buy that.

I managed to distract her by running up and down hills for a while. But five minutes later, Dan appears and she again casually suggests a visit to the concession stand.

D: We didn't bring money for that.
A (bursting into tears): BUT YOU BROUGHT YOUR WALLET!!!!!

Friday, May 02, 2008

garden update, because I know you care

We had a week or so of summer, but now we're back to spring. The summer weather did make it easier to get the peas in our garden. This year we added a layer of horse manure in the fall and then put leaves on top; not the same depth of leaves as the previous year, but hopefully enough to keep most of the weeds down. (Though I have been shocked at the number that have already managed to work their way up through the 2-3" left of the leaves that were there all last season plus the 4 or so inches we put on top this year.) The only problem I had with the leaves last year was the slugs, and I have a few ideas for limiting their damage this year.

We plan on relying on a CSA for most of our produce this year since our gardening time is limited, so I didn't bother planting any greens. All we have in so far are sugar snap peas, which are coming up nicely. I'm putting in another row every week, which is supposed to extend our harvest; in the past I've found that the later plantings catch up to the first ones by the time the plants flower, but it's worth another try.

I harvested the few dried scarlet runner beans that managed to survive the deer last year. I'm not sure where to plant them since they obviously need to be inside the fence- I will sprout them first to make sure they're viable before devoting space to them.

Some of the strawberries' roots miraculously survived despite the damage inflicted by the deer last year. I'm not sure how best to maintain the plot (I'm not good at weeding, but don't want to use a heavy mulch because I don't want to drown out the strawberry plants) or prevent a recurrence of their annihilation. With Paco gone, we can only expect more trouble with wildlife.

We're clearing out our chest freezer to defrost it before we have greens to freeze, and discovered a forgotten bag of farmer's market broccoli that I used in dinner last night. Despite being thawed and refrozen when the freezer was accidentally unplugged, it was still amazing- much more tender and flavorful than commercially frozen broccoli. Maybe it's a different variety that's not chosen for its toughness? I wonder if it's too late to plant a spring crop.

more from the Fuehrer

I had the same reaction as this guy when C brought home his soccer "uniform" on Monday. Even more startling to me, however- the shirt is white. It is going to be covered in mud after the first game tomorrow, and I'm never going to get the stains out. Should I have a party for the whole team halfway through the season to convert from the white team into the tie-dyed team?

Given C's continuing independent study of WWII, I'm surprised he didn't point out the resemblance. Last night he asked me what started "the" war between China and Japan. I confessed to knowing nothing about it other than a vague sense of millenia-long cultural rivalries (which, of course, I could relate most closely to Nazism). He went on a bit about the U.S. not aiding Japan against China and Japan's motivations for bombing Pearl Harbor, which I also knew nothing about. I'll be needing to provide a lot more help with his research if he wants to trace back the antecedents to every war to the beginning of time. And I'll need to decide whether I should be actively engaging in my own study so I know what he's talking about.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008