Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Case of the Missing Hat

Tabitha has her hat back.

A while ago she came into the possession of a knitted set of hat and mittens, and she has loved them ever since. She especially loves the hat, since it has pompoms top and bottom that she can pull on to get the hat off, put it on, and generally just pull on for the sake of pulling on. These pompoms are so special that the cat hasn't eaten them yet. Yeah, they're that cool. It's a dream hat, all the way around.

This hat and mitten set is her default cold weather gear, and when they get wet and have to sit in front of the heater vent all day because she forgot to take them out of her backpack when she got home from school so she can't wear them to school the next day, well, in that situation the world just has bones. Big bones, right in the air, that get caught in her throat and make everything just sad and grey and lifeless.

Don't you hate when that happens?

So you can imagine the consternation here at the family mansion when it was discovered that sometime Friday, the hat went AWOL. She had it at school for the Third Grade Musical. She had it at the McDonalds for our celebration. She did not have it at home.

We searched the car. We searched her backpack. We searched all of the usual places that lost winter gear slinks off to, but no luck. I even called the McDonalds, and was told by some junior manager that nobody had turned anything in - why, he was staring at the lost and found box even as he spoke, and it was empty.

As was Tabitha's world.

Lesson: do not trust the word of junior managers, for they are lazy and deceitful even in cases involving children, for which they should be covered in molasses and locked in a tanning booth with nothing to do but develop a thin, flaky crust and think about how much they itch.

Not that I have strong opinions about this sort of thing.

I stopped by the McDonalds on Monday on the off chance that Mr. Junior Manager was lying, and I spoke with the cashier - you know, someone who does actual work - and he instantly retrieved the hat from where it had been since Friday.

So Tabitha is now happy, and the world no longer has bones. We like those days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Update 2/25/09 4:24pm

I am hanging out with Lauren.

[Lauren wanted you to know this, and typed it herself.]

On Watching the President's Speech

I actually watched the President speak last night.

It has been more than a decade since I voluntarily watched a US President give a speech. Clinton just got repetitive toward the end, particularly as the Republicans got so entangled in useless mudslinging (what do I care what he did in his spare time? That's Hilary's problem, not mine) that he could do nothing but address or avoid those issues, and as for the last guy, well, I'm not a great fan of being lied to. George W. Bush's relationship to reality was so strained that I didn't trust him to tell me the time, let alone lay out plans for my country.

All I can say is that I am really glad to have a President who is not actively harmful, for a change. I have no idea of Obama's ideas will work or not, but I am not afraid for my children the way I was during the Bush regime.

I was also impressed with the fact that Obama didn't really try to hide anything. He came right out with the basic problem we've had for the last thirty years - we want it all and we don't want to pay for it. There has been way too much emphasis on tax cuts and not enough on paying for the services we use - services like the military (good to see Obama's going to put the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back on the accounting books, so we might actually get some handle on just how far into debt the Bush regime has driven our children), like education, like infrastructure, like social programs, and so on. If we want services, we should pay taxes to support them. If we don't want to pay taxes, we should cut out the services. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our children and our nation to behave like grown-ups. The agenda set by our leaders since 1980 has ignored this responsibility.

And we have let them get away with it. Worse, many of us have actively abetted it.

There was a time when you knew where the parties stood regarding taxing and spending. Democrats wanted to tax and spend - to provide services, and raise the taxes to pay for them. Republicans wanted to not tax and not spend - to get the government out of the service industry and lower taxes accordingly. You could argue over which one of these positions was better for the country, but they were both responsible, grown-up positions to hold.

I have no idea where the Democrats stand on this issue today and I rather suspect that they don't either, but the Republican view since 1980 has been crystal clear: not tax, but spend like a drunken sailor.

Oh, I could put all kinds of statistics in here - my personal favorite being the graph of the national debt as a percentage of GDP, which declined steadily under both Democrats and Republicans from WWII to 1980, rose dramatically under Reagan and Bush the Elder, began to decline again under Clinton, and then shot up astronomically under Bush Lite - but the bottom line is this: Republicans no longer have any moral right to speak about fiscal responsibility.

I will reserve my judgment as to whether Democrats do or not.

But the next time I hear a "conservative Republican" complaining about how much debt the current stimulus package will get us into - the package that is being put into place in order to try to address the economic collapse caused by a decade of "conservative Republican" economic non-policy - I am going to get a big bag, fill it with one shiny agate marble for every $100 that the "conservative Republican" Bush administration added to the national debt, and drop it on their hypocritical little noggin.

Because it would make me feel good, that's why.

It was a good speech, and - unlike the drumbeat of irresponsible commentary emitted by the lunatic right - I wish all success to Obama. He's the only President we've got.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Code of the Snowblower

Winter is back.

The nice springtime temperatures that we enjoyed only so recently disappeared almost as soon as the words I wrote about them hit the internet, and it became February In Wisconsin once again. Now it is, after all, February in Wisconsin, so there is a certain amount of appropriateness to that. But it's been a long winter, and not even the girls are interested in having it hang around anymore.

And then it snowed Friday night. Five more inches of winter, stacked up on our driveway, demanding to be removed.

The Brotherhood of the Snowblower rides again.

I didn't own a snowblower until I moved to Wisconsin. I married into one, just as I married into a cat and a lifelong commitment to IKEA - it was a package deal. When we lived in our apartment, the snowblower was sort of an extra. I was younger and my back was stronger. Our driveway was just big enough for one car, and the sidewalk was narrow - it could all be handled with shovels. But with the house and its acres of driveway, I have come to appreciate the virtues of the snowblower. And understand the Code that goes with it.

The Brotherhood of the Snowblower has certain rules.

For one thing, there are time constraints. One does not haul out the snowblower before 7am on school days or 9am on weekends, or after 8pm, without risking the Wrath of the Neighbors. This you do not want to do, because of the sidewalk issue.

The sidewalk issue is one of those agile little dancing maneuvers that guys go through when they want to be nice but not too nice - kind of like the annual ritual one does when buying Christmas presents at the office. You want to get something that says, "I like working with you," or at least, "You don't make my life any more miserable than it already is because I'm working here, and I appreciate that." You don't want to get anything that says anything more than that, though, such as "Let's socialize outside of the office!" or "Let's see what interesting things we can photocopy after hours!" It's a fine line.

The sidewalk issue works like that. You want to be nice to your neighbors, and the City requires sidewalks to be clear after a certain amount of time, so if you're out there with the snowblower, you can just keep going down the block and get your neighbor's sidewalks as well. If you like your neighbor, that is, and if the snow is not too, too deep - there is a certain calculus of effort that goes into it, and if you have just a shovel you are excused from this entirely. When you do this snowblowing, your neighbor is thereby obligated to perform the same service for you, if the opportunity arises. Unless prior arrangements are made, it is considered bad form to make a point of always being the first one out there and getting your neighbor's walk all the time, as this creates an intolerable social-debt burden on the neighbor.

Also, you don't want to do more than his sidewalk, as this starts edging you into "photocopy" territory.

Snowblowers are also easily communalized in the event of large storms or mechanical failure. It is bad neighborliness to refuse the use of one's snowblower to a neighbor, even one you don't like much, if your own snowblowing is done. Like borrowing someone's car, though, the snowblower should be returned with a full tank of gas even if it didn't have one when you got it.

Turning your snowblower into a virility substitute is considered juvenile. That's what automobiles are for. Just get the snow off the walk, thank you.

Snow should be kept on your own property if possible, or in the street. Piling it up on your neighbor's property is okay if you get permission. If a new neighbor moves in, the old permissions still apply unless otherwise negotiated.

You never knew this stuff was so complicated. What do people in milder climates do with all the time they don't spend learning these rules?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Another Opening, Another Show

The big third grade musical was held today, down at Not Bad President Elementary, and it was a hit.

These things are always crowded, which is a good sign since it means that the families think it's worthwhile to spend their time watching their kids perform. You have to worry about a school where these shows get no audience. But the gym at NBPE is always stuffed to the gills with eager family members, most of them seated on the folding chairs in the middle of the room, but more than a few of them standing in Photographer's Row in the back. If I could have gotten the video camera to work, I'd have been there myself. It's nice to have this kind of audience show up, even if it does mean having to hire a Sherpa and a dogsled to get from where you parked to the school. Sherpas have to eat too, I guess.

Not that I couldn't also use the exercise.

Kim and I arrived separately, me having spent the day pounding my head against the requirements of On-Line U and Kim spending her day at Home Campus here in town. I got there first, staked out some seats, and went to collect Lauren from kindergarten - because you know that if Tabitha is performing, Lauren wants to see.

And Tabitha was indeed performing. She was one of the many narrators, and had been practicing her lines for months. All of the third graders had been doing that - the exuberant singing that filled our basement during Tabitha's birthday party last month was most of the score of today's performance, although this time we got to see the gestures that went along with it.

The kids filed in, the principal said a few inaudible words of welcome, and the show started! There was dancing, there was singing, and there was - of course - narration. Narration of the highest order.

Between Tabitha and Lauren, we pretty much have the market cornered on Narration.

She did a very good job up there, despite later protestations of fear and dislike - she marched up, said her lines clearly (and only her lines - earlier there was some concern that since she had memorized the lines of the other narrator in her pair she would say them too, but this Did Not Occur) and got back into place without knocking anyone down - a trick when the risers are that closely packed.

We all went out to McDonald's for pie afterward. There is no celebration like pie, even if it isn't much like pie at all.

Good work, Tabby. We're proud of you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Got You On My Mind

Today would have been my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary.

I'm not entirely sure why I remember this fact. We generally don't celebrate anniversaries much in my family, not even our own. February 18th was almost always a quiet day. The only one of my grandparents' anniversaries that I remember doing anything for, even so much as sending a card, was their 50th.

And my, wasn't that a shindig - a giant party at one of their favorite restaurants, complete with scores of people I was told I was related to. I'd never met most of them before, to my knowledge, and I haven't seen any of them since, but we had a grand time anyway.

As the oldest grandchild, I was drafted to be The Escort for my cousin Paula, who fit quite well into Nana's wedding dress. Keith told me about this on the drive over. "Didn't anyone tell you?" he asked. Well, no, as a matter of fact, nobody did. Oh well. Good thing my role - as with that of any groom at a real wedding - was simply to stand relatively straight and try not to do anything to distract people from the lady in white.

There were a lot of pictures taken that day - a LOT of pictures, even by my inflated standards - but my favorite was one someone snapped of Nana and Pop Pop at about the moment Paula and I emerged. It's not a great picture by most standards - dark and a bit too full of people to have any real focus. Nana has her head turned, looking at Pop. Pop just looks starstruck, lost in memory.

I really love that picture.

They were married for 61 years. Tabitha and Lauren know them as characters in stories, faces in photographs, but I remember them as my grandparents.

Happy Anniversary, Nana and Pop.

Wheels, wheels, wheels.

I am just astonished at how much I drive.

This year I really don't have to go anywhere, which is a shift from where I was twelve months ago. Back then, I was teaching at Far Away Campus, which was - as advertised - far away. It was a 93-mile commute each way, which meant that I was driving nearly 600 miles per week just to get to work and back, never mind all the other stuff you have to do in a town that has no appreciable public transportation system. I was at the gas station three times a week. They knew me there, and we'd sort of grunt at each other in fellowship. It was 5:45am when I walked in, usually, and that was about all we could manage. But it was a routine, and those are nice.

Now that I'm not doing that drive anymore, my driving has decreased. As it should. But even so - I now teach at the campus where Kim teaches, a mere seven miles from home, and I only do that twice a week. My other jobs either require me to go back to that campus, or work from home.

Yet I put over 200 miles a week on my car.

I don't really see how to change that. The girls have to get to and from school, and for long and complicated reasons involving my former status as a Fully Employed Person, the school they're in is not walkable from here. Food has to be purchased from the grocery store. And so on. It's not like I'm taking long Sunday drives about the countryside. The countryside is grey these days, and has never really been all that much of an attraction anyway. Now if it had used book stores, then that would be different. But all it has is nature, and even for nature buffs it can't be all that interesting at highway speeds.

It's a quandary.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

100 Days of Nothing Like Solitude

Today was the 100th day of school, down at Not Bad President Elementary, so of course there was a party.

At least Lauren’s class had one. By the time one is in third grade one is expected to put aside such childish things, apparently, which is a shame. What harm is there in celebrating arbitrary accomplishments? Thirty days without time lost to accident? Fiesta! Made it through the footnotes without falling asleep? That calls for a reward! It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your children are? You do? Well, my good man - this Bud’s for you.

It’s not like there aren’t any parties in third grade, though. I should know. I’m the room parent for Tabitha’s class, a position I hold largely on the strength of being unemployed last fall and willing to sign my name to a piece of paper. In return I got a contact list of all the students with their Listed Responsible Adults, and every so often a letter comes home from school announcing a new party coming up that I need to round up goodies for.

Valentine’s Day, for example.

I’m always amazed at how the magic words “I’m the room parent for the third-grade class!” allow me instant credibility with complete strangers. Does the Secretary of State know about this? I’ve got a suggestion for her, next time she calls North Korea.

So I call and outline what the class needs, and on the appointed day - voila! - there appear Goodies of varied shapes and hues. Tabitha reports that they look good, though unless they come pre-wrapped with ingredients listed she still knows to avoid them since food manufacturers put nuts into everything up to and including raw pork. She has her own snack stash, though, so she doesn’t miss out on any fun.

The kindergarten parties are less work intensive for me, as somebody else is that room’s parent. They usually involve work on Kim’s part though - kindergarten parties are craft- and project-intensive activities, and I am not the Craft Parent in this household. This is for everyone's greater good. For today’s party Lauren had to bring in 100 small items for a project. We originally thought that they all had to fit into one square inch, but closer reading of the rules has led us to believe that each small item gets a whole square inch to itself, which would be considered luxurious in mid-town Manhattan. So Lauren brought in not only the ice cream jimmies that she gathered under our original interpretation of the rules, but also the pennies that she wanted to bring in the first place. So that’s two projects, and we can only hope that there will be no additional rent charged.

We’re not sure what the next party is going to entail. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up and one assumes that it will not involve green beer, at least not at the elementary school level, though what it will involve is still an open question. Of course, next Tuesday will be the 105th day of school, and that only comes once per academic year so you might as well celebrate that too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Theater is a Virus from Outer Space

The theater is back in my blood. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it feels about right.

I spent an awful lot of time backstage when I was younger, starting in 9th grade when my buddy Art, realizing that our days on the track team were perhaps numbered, convinced me to try it. It turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made. My track days were indeed numbered, and the coach cut about a third of an already understrength team not long after that in what we all assumed was a fit of pique. Most of my friends in high school were people I knew backstage. And there is nothing like the theater to provide endless stories.

I ended up leading the ground crew for our production of Oklahoma my junior year, for example, and at one point in the show we had to get Laurie's house (complete with front porch) onstage. There was a scene going on in front of one of the traveling curtains ("I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No" I believe, though it seemed to me she was saying it an awful lot in that song), and we had to get the house set up behind it. Once we were done, the actors would file into place for the next scene, the traveler would open, the lights would come up, and the show would, as they say, go on.

There was a small problem, though. We had never actually practiced this maneuver under field conditions, and doing so for the first time with a live audience is always interesting, in the liberal arts sense of that term, sort of the way three-headed frogs are interesting. You never know what unforeseen issues you might discover, such as the fact that once we had wheeled Laurie's house into place - and it was a behemoth, roughly fourteen feet long, six feet wide and ten feet high, though thankfully on wheels - the porch would not go into place without sticking out in front of the traveler about two feet. We didn't think the singers would appreciate us doing that. That singing girl could probably think of any number of things to say should that happen.

There were four of us holding that porch - a fourteen-foot-long wooden platform - and I was downstage center, in charge and trying to figure out a plan before the singing stopped. The solution was immediately clear - we wait for the singing to stop and the traveler to open, we put the porch into place and let the actors get into position, then bring up the lights and move on with the show. It was perfect!

Well, it would have been perfect if we had told the lighting guy.

So the singing stops, the traveler opens, and - right on cue, it must be admitted - the lights come up. And there we are, me, Larry, Steve and Daryush, holding the porch and surrounded by a conspicuous lack of actors. "What do we do?" Larry asked. "Put it down!" I said.

So we put the porch into place. I then called my three partners over to join me at center stage, and we bowed as one. The audience applauded cheerfully, which let the actors get into position behind us. The show went on. And the four of us, with no cue upcoming for about twenty minutes, went outside and laughed until our sides hurt.

That's theater.

One of my many part time jobs these days involves the performing arts series at the campus where Kim and I teach, and Friday was the first show to take place since I was hired. And it was typical of the theatrical experience.

The performers had forgotten to send us any information about the show, such as a script, technical cues or requirements, that sort of thing. So when they showed up at around 10am Friday morning - no, 11am - no, make that around noon - that's when we found all that stuff out. And there I was, half the afternoon, climbing around the catwalk, hanging lighting instruments. At 6pm, when I came back for call, the star handed me the script and we went through the cues she wanted. And at 7:30, we opened.

It went well.

She was a very understanding performer, who was happy to work with what we could provide on the notice we got. She also put on one amazing show. Kim and the girls sat in the front row, and loved it. After the show the piano player took the time to talk to Lauren about playing piano - in particular, how to play in the dark, which had just fascinated Lauren during the show - and to sign Tabitha's program. Actually Tabitha got her program signed by the star as well, and the drummer. She wanted the sax player too but he had already left, so the piano player signed it for him too.

It was a good night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thawing Out

It's spring in Wisconsin!

Well, at least it's been above freezing for almost a full week now. That counts as spring around here. The birds, frozen in mid-chirp since Thanksgiving, have resumed making noise - which makes the cats even less sane than usual, but we forgive them for that. The lawn has bloomed with turd-blossoms from the neighborhood dogs - which has a similar effect on the cats, come to think of it. And Wisconsinites all over have broken out their sandals, though with the "winter grey" socks rather than the "summer white" ones. That doesn't affect the cats at all, though it still leaves me puzzled.

Spring, spring, spring. And not even Valentine's Day.

Of course this will end badly. We know that. There will be snow and ice, the back end will fall off the thermometer again and cut off the birds halfway through a song just as it did weeks ago, the piles of snow will again reach such heights as to make backing out of our driveway an exercise in hope over physics. This happens every year.

But for the moment, we're going to enjoy it. The girls have broken out their bikes and are once again cruising the 'hood, and there is no surer sign that winter is on its way out than that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Flat Iron Chef

I have learned a way to make coleslaw dressing from scratch. This tickles me beyond all reasonable proportion.

I have liked cooking for about as long as I have been doing it, which is to say since I moved into an apartment the summer after my junior year of college and suddenly had nobody around to do it for me. This was a shock. My parents lived not six miles away, and one night I was home eating dinner and then an hour later I took my stuff down to the apartment and moved in. I got up the next morning to go to my job on campus. And as I was walking home, I remember thinking to myself, "What on earth am I going to do about dinner?" Eventually I figured out something - spaghetti, I think, a meal that would be foolproof except that fools are so persistent - and it's been pretty much smooth sailing from there.

Since then I have made several fascinating discoveries about cooking, among them:

  • There is a reason for all the heat settings on the stovetop between High and Off. That reason is called "cooking the middle before the outsides catch fire." That is a memorable lesson to learn.
  • Different spices have different tastes. I distinctly remember once in grad school running out of the usual stuff I would throw onto meat and just rummaging around for other stuff of similar color and granularity to put on. Sadly, it was not the same.
  • Similarly, that if you mistake lemon pepper for garlic pepper, there is no saving the chili and you should just throw it away. In my defense, Tabitha was a newborn at the time and I am just amazed that I could find the spice rack at all amid the psychedelic sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations. Babies - they're better than tequila.
  • Food comes from the ground. As a city boy, it was quite a revelation when Kim pulled a something off a plant and handed it to me as if it were food. "What's this?" I asked. "Food," she replied. "No it's not," I said, "food comes in boxes on shelves." "Just eat it." (Pause.) "Huh."
  • It is easy to make things in the kitchen. You don't even have to know how. It's called "trial and error," and if you survive the latter, you get to have more of the former.
  • If you volunteer to cook dinner, you don't have to go on excursions to places that you don't want to go to. People are willing - even eager - to forgive your absence if you feed them good things when they get back.

And now I am a real cook, though my repertoire is sadly limited by time, money, and my own rather unimaginative palate. What can I say? I'll hold off on the subscription to Gourmet magazine for a while.

But I'm eating a lot more coleslaw these days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Change, Questions and Anxiety

I'm not a great fan of change. Not that anyone who knows me needs to be told that, really, but there it is.

I'm not opposed to change on principal, and I am reasonably adaptable when it comes down to it, but my threshold for seeing change as either necessary or good is somewhat higher than, say, Kim's. We ask different questions. When confronted by the possibility of change, Kim asks, "Is this better in any way than what we have now?" and if the answer is yes, then she does not hesitate. I, on the other hand, ask, "What do I want to do that I can't do with the old that the new will let me do?" This may seem like a similar question, but it is not. Often the new, the change, will not let me do anything that I can't already do, though it will let me do those things more efficiently or more elegantly. Or it will give me options to do all sorts of other supposedly cool things that frankly I have no interest in doing. That is not enough for me, the historian. It is for Kim, the scientist. Go figure.

Yet we remain happily married. Imagine.

Asking different questions is one of the chief causes of getting different answers. One of my standing complaints about the world is that so much of it is designed by engineers, people who do not ask the questions I ask about things. They want to know "what can I get this gizmo to do?" and all I want to know is "how do I get this thing to do what I want?" If you don't think those are different questions, you've never looked at an electronic device with a hundred identical buttons and tried to get it to turn on without consulting the manual.

Not that the manuals help much, really. They are written by people who think like engineers and are thus arranged by feature - this is what THIS does, this is what THAT does, and look at all the things THIS OVER HERE can do too! Cool, huh? Huh? Isn't that cool? Why, this device can replace every other object in your house, including your underwear and your pets! It can do it all!


I want chapters that say "You want to do THIS? Well, first you have to do that, then you gotta do that other, then you click your heels three times, punch in this combination of numbers, turn around and bay at the moon, and slide that switch over to the right, and you're there." And you just know that I'd run right out and buy some ruby slippers if I thought it would make the gizmo in question do what I wanted it to do. You know that.

They're missing a big market, shoemakers. I can't be alone in this.

There's a lot of change going on in my life right now, particularly my employment life. This is most obvious in my new teaching position with On-Line U. OLU has one of the most intensive teacher-training programs I have ever experienced - which in some sense is damning with faint praise, since the sum total of all my prior teacher training through four different campuses and two graduate programs was, and I quote, "Remember, Dave, anything you tell them is news." It is not meant as faint praise, though - at least OLU recognizes that professors need training just like any other profession, and they do a good job of it. I certainly have a lot more respect for them as an institution than I did before I went through the process.

Their training program is all about the on-line part, though - how to work the system, how to set up this or that technical aspect, how to deal with students you will never see. All necessary, of course, but you can tell that those are the questions that they asked.

They don't ask the questions I wanted to ask. I really wanted them to walk me through what an average school week would look like. What happens on Day 1? How do you get from Day 2 to Day 3? I'm well trained in the mechanics, but the flow is a bit of a mystery.

So it's a little anxiety-provoking.

I imagine that once I go through a semester with OLU it will all make sense, and then it won't be change anymore - it will just be work. I can handle work. It conflicts with my drive toward maximum entropy, but what doesn't?

In the meantime, I've got questions.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Club Dues

The Unemployment Club should have met today, but I had to cancel.

On the one hand, this is probably a good thing. It means that I am busy - and great googly moogly am I busy. I now have three jobs, all of which I am sure I will enjoy once I get through the initial "What on earth am I supposed to be doing now?" phase. Collectively they don't pay half of what my last full-time job paid, but they do pay and that is important for surviving the wreckage of the Bush years. Fortunately Kim is securely employed. It's going to be a long, hard year for a lot of people and I count myself lucky to have the employment I have.

Especially since the jobs do look like they will be fun eventually, and at least one of them already is.

On the other hand, having a couple of friends to hang out with and complain about the general state of the world was a wonderful thing. We only met a couple of times - it's astonishing how busy unemployment can be - but there would be food, there would be drinks, and there would be conversation. Those are precious things.

I'm hoping that once things calm down again we can start the club up once more - or, since one of the goals of the club was to go extinct because everyone got jobs again, to refashion it as a slightly different entity of employed people eating, drinking and solving the world's problems (hey Obama! We got your answers right here!).

It's my turn to host, anyway.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bedtime Man

I'm the bedtime man in our house.

When Kim and I got married, we divided up the chores, or at least the two chores that mattered to us. I got the dishes, because I freaking hate dirty dishes. It's one of the many little neuroses that make me the delightful traveling companion that I am, and one of the few that has any practical use in the real world. When I lived alone I often had the pans done before I sat down to dinner, which is not a sign of a healthy mind.

Kim got the laundry, in part because it is something that she likes to do and in part, I suspect, because she noticed that most of my clothing was a uniform shade of grey and what wasn't grey was vaguely red. She has since tried to explain the concept of separating colors to me, along with other laundry arcana such as the notion that different cycles and temperatures have practical effects and the entire idea of softener, but it's probably best that the laundry is hers.

Over the years we have continued to divide up chores as they come up, without any particular plan for doing so. Groceries? Generally mine, and putting them away is always mine. Household projects? Kim's. Left up to me we'd still be living out of the boxes we moved in here with in 1996. Except for garbage disposal maintenance - that somehow became mine. Which nearly balances out the fact that Kim is generally in charge of remembering tasks ("Did you call the doctor/plumber/school/random-task-oriented-person yet?" "Uh, no") and planning social events.

And so on.

Also, as a general rule of thumb, anything that involves putting away, straightening, or otherwise creating the appearance of cleanliness generally falls within my purview. Anything that deals with the creation of actual cleanliness tends to be Kim's. It's how we roll, yo.

Bedtime is mine, though, unless I am not home.

The girls and I go up at 8:30 most nights - a little later if important stuff such as the Super Bowl intrudes, a little earlier if we notice the girls are looking bedraggled. Most nights Tabitha heads into the bathroom for tooth-brushing and medicines while Lauren gets into her jammies and chooses an outfit for the next day, and then they switch. Then comes the best part of bedtime of all - story time.

Lauren has taken to reading her own stories recently, because she loves showing me that she can now read. She sits in the Reading Chair, and I perch on the corner of her bed so I can follow along and provide assistance when asked, and she sails on through whatever book she chose from the Beginner Reader pile that night. Tonight it was a Wall-E book.

Tabitha is a bit more used to being a reader herself, so most of the time she is content to let me read. We've been plowing through the Dragon Fire series by Chris D'Lacey recently. It's a very British series of books - we got the first two used off of, and they were the UK editions so I have to spend a lot of time translating into American - about a college student who is singularly unable to figure out what is right in front of his face. It's very true to life that way.

After stories comes Minutes, a tradition started by Kim years ago to give Tabitha some reading time on her own, but which since the girls now share a room is now more often given over to Statues. Both Tabitha and Lauren love these little cast-resin statues of various animals fantastic and real that are produced by the Schleig company. I don't know what precisely is involved with Statues, but they have a lot of fun with it.

Eventually Minutes comes to an end - usually around 9:30 or so - and it is lights out and goodnight kisses. Kim plays Haunted Pillow with each girl, and I park myself in the Reading Chair and, well, read until all is quiet.

Another bedtime, successfully managed.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thoughts on the Super Bowl

I almost didn't watch the Super Bowl.

I know this is bordering on unpatriotic, but there you have it. What can I say? The teams didn't interest me much. Despite living in Pittsburgh for four years, I never did become much of a Steelers fan - Penguins, yes; even the Pirates for a while; but not the Steelers. Besides, didn't the Steelers already have fifty or sixty Super Bowl wins? Great googly moogly, people, step aside and let someone else have a turn. And the Cardinals have always annoyed me for those inscrutable reasons that sports fans have for not liking a team that has little or no impact on either your teams in particular or your life in general. So as far as I could tell, it was a game between a team I didn't like and a team that had already won too many times.

Not great drama.

Nor was I all that interested in the commercials. There might have been a time when the ads deserved all the hype, and I certainly remember a few games where they were the most entertaining part of the evening, but the ads have been rather lackluster of late, and you can always find them on-line anyway.

There was also the fact that the Eagles were not in it, after coming so close once again. I think I'm just tired of that. It's disheartening.

But eventually I did get sucked into it, and it went pretty well.

The ads were a bust, at least those I saw, but the game was rather exciting. Weird plays. Solid plays. Stout defense and sharp offense. Lead changes right at the end.

So I suppose it was worth watching.

Rah, Stillers. Yinz did good 'n 'at.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Girls On Ice

The girls went ice skating yesterday.

About four years ago, we decided that what the girls needed was ice skating lessons. Well, Kim decided that. I don't really have all that many memories of ice skating from my childhood, so it wasn't high up on my list of things my kids should do. On the other hand, the memories I did have were pleasant so I had no particular objection to it. This is how a lot of things get decided in our household, actually.

At any rate, Tabitha and Lauren seemed excited by the prospect no matter how it came about, so off they went.

It turned out well, at least for Tabitha who fell in love with the process. She whirled, she twirled, she just ate it up. Lauren was not so amused, at least not initially. As with our abortive efforts to get her into soccer and gymnastics, she enjoyed the activity itself greatly but was not all that interested in being coached. What can I say? She's my kid. So when the first cycle of lessons came to an end, she opted out - but Tabitha was hooked, and has been enrolled pretty much ever since.

Lauren comes and goes. She's been in an "on" phase for a while, though, so she's gradually catching up to her sister. She's gone through the Snowplow Sam levels, and is into Basic 2 now. Tabitha is up to Basic 4, which involves a lot more free-flowing skating up at the other end of the rink, where the big kids are.

Most Saturday mornings during the school year we schlep our way over to the ice rink, fight through the wave of midget hockey players as they leave from their practice, and get suited up. There is a short interlude while we watch the Zamboni do its thing - honestly, who doesn't enjoy watching the Zamboni? It's like watching a harbor seal do ballet - and then off they go onto the ice. I retreat to the stands with a book of some kind - with footnotes if I happen to be teaching that semester, without if not - and I watch them skate around.

They do okay with the lessons - even Lauren is okay with them now - but the real treat is the "free skate" afterwards. Officially, they are there to practice what they have just learned. Unofficially, it's Cannonballs On Ice, with small bodies zipping by at high speeds in a generally counterclockwise motion. Mostly. There's always someone who bucks that system, and then the laws of physics come into play. Everyone seems to have the most fun at those moments, oddly enough.

I've got to get these kids to a hockey game.