Sunday, March 29, 2009

More News and Updates

1. The Tooth Fairy arrived, right on schedule. It's good that she doesn't let all that fame and fortune go to her head and start blowing off the little people who made her what she is today. Although you do have to wonder about someone who spends their time breaking into people's houses to steal their teeth. What does she do with them? There are only so many maracas one needs in life. Do they make good building materials? Well, whatever her personal quirks, she is a fairy of her word, and Lauren was very happy about it.

2. We also bought some Oreos for the railroad tracks thing. They're hard to see in this photo, since a) Lauren only lost one tooth, so it's kind of a monorail thing, and b) they're Double-Stuff Oreos, so the imprint tends to get lost in all that partially hydrogenated sugar. But it's there, yes it is.

3. There is no force on earth quite so strong as a conga line at an elementary school dance. We went to Not Bad President Elementary on Friday for the big dance, and a good time was had by all. They ran through all the classics - YMCA, the legally mandated Chicken Dance (see below), and most if not all of the High School Musical oeuvre - and when we got home we threw the girls directly into the bathtub. Can't ask for more than that.

4. It snowed last night. Yes, snowed. It should not snow after the first barbecue of the season, which was held the previous week here at Chez Us. And yet, there it was. Our poor barbecue grill, sitting forlornly in the driving sleet-like snow, grimly waiting for the world to catch up to where it clearly ought to be. I sympathize with that.

5. Kim and I went out to play cards last night. We've been part of a "500" group for a couple of years now, mostly because they're fun people to talk to as we find new ways to lose. It's an odd game - not the 500 Rummy that occupied much of my youth, but a bidding, trump sort of game with a number of rules that I suspect are unique to this particular group - but an enjoyable one. We spent an hour playing cards in the dark as our contribution to solving the world's energy shortages, and I expect to see a report on that shortly. Also, we won. For the first time. Ever. I suppose it is time to go buy a lottery ticket.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tooth Time!

Lauren has finally lost her tooth.

This was quite an accomplishment, actually. This tooth did not want to come out. It was a bottom front tooth - the very first one that came in, which makes sense. First in, first out. But the "out" part is important, and it took the tooth a while to catch onto its role.

It hung grimly on like a contestant in one of those "last person to take their hand off it wins the truck" contests, refusing to leave and growing gradually more begrimed and unwelcome until you finally had to ask yourself if the whole thing was really the smartest way of going about this process.

It hung on so long that Lauren could get it to flip sideways with her tongue, a trick she just loved to demonstrate.

It held on so long that when it finally did come out this morning, there was no blood whatsoever.

But now it's gone! Hurrah for Lauren!

We put it in a baggie so she could take it to school and show her teacher. Kindergarten teachers must get used to things like that. There is even a board up on the wall of Lauren's class that tracks this sort of thing, and now Lauren can have her own entry.

Of course, this means that we need to go out and get some Oreos, so that we can do the railroad tracks thing with the creme filling as required by law. Normally you have to have both front teeth out before you can do this, but this tooth hung on so long that the new one is practically in place already. Time, therefore, is a-wastin'.

Besides, there is never a bad time for Oreos.

Tonight the Tooth Fairy comes to visit Lauren, for the first time. Tabitha is an old hat at this, having traded several of her teeth for shiny golden dollar coins (the going rate, it seems, for such things). Lauren is very excited about all this, and will no doubt be trying to figure out some way to catch the Tooth Fairy in action.

This is a bad idea.

While it is possible that the Tooth Fairy herself might show up, looking like she does in all the pictures - a tiny, winged, beautiful woman in an exquisite dress, carrying a shiny wand and a velvet pouch to keep all those precious teeth - it is also possible that she may send an assistant to do the job, and that would be disillusioning. You never know what sort of rabble turns up in those "understudy" roles.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

iMac Goodness

We have a new computer in our house.

Kim's computer was slowing down to the point where she could not get any work done on it. Given that she does a lot of work at home, this was not an optimal situation.

Part of this situation was because we got her old computer six years ago, and the average lifespan of a computer is about half that, at least according to the IRS. And when it comes to valuing life, there is no better judge than the tax man. You know where you stand with the IRS - down the last mil - and if they tell you that your computer has passed from the "zowie wow!" stage through the "useful helpmeet" stage and into the "boat anchor" stage, well, there you go. Never argue with the IRS - remember, it wasn't Elliot Ness that got Al Capone.

Also, the old computer was full.

Really. Full. As in stuffed to the gunnels with programs, files, information and defunct children's games. As in "you have 6kb of hard drive space left." As in "I'll just go do a load of laundry while this program boots up." Full.

So we bit the bullet, adjusted our budget, and sprang for a new iMac. It arrived yesterday.

It's huge. It's fast. It has memory with a capital "f." It is made of teh shiny, with a coating of pure awesome. I may not see Kim again until summertime.

And don't even get started on the girls. Tabitha and Lauren really haven't had time to try it out yet, though Kim did let Lauren look at How the Grinch Stole Christmas on it last night. I get the feeling I may have my computer all to myself soon. Of course, the plan is to strip off all of Kim's files from her old one and let the girls have it, but we will see about that. It's not as if teh shiny doesn't appeal to kids, too.

The odd thing about this computer, though, is that it - like every other computer I've ever owned - cost roughly $1500. Every one. From my original Mac Plus I got in 1989 to the laptop I got in 1995 to the iMac I got in 2002 - all roughly $1500. All of Kim's computers were about that much too - the Mac Classic, the IIe, the old Bondi-blue original iMac, the spaceship iMac just now retiring. We have a fairly comprehensive history of the Apple product line in our house, and they all cost the same.

And yet, every time we upgrade, we get:

More RAM than the previous computer had hard drive space. My Mac Plus had 1 meg of RAM and an external 20 meg hard drive. The laptop had 32 megs of ram and 500 megs of hard drive. My current computer has more, but even if you added it all together you wouldn't get the RAM of the new one.

A larger screen than the one before. Often by whole number multiples.

Faster processors, generally by VERY LARGE whole number multiples.

And on and on.

Oh, someday this new computer will be full and old, and a large black-cloaked figure carrying a scythe and wearing wing-tip loafers will declare it "fully amortized." But until then we are going to revel in the pure awesomeness of its awesome awesomosity, with a side of awesome to go. Because we're just like that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rainy Day Thoughts

The girls are back in school today, both of them at once for the first time since last Thursday and only the second time in ten days.

Of course today is the day where the sun never quite rose and the air is composed mostly of raindrops and umbrellas. Because they need to get sick again, that's why. But we wrapped them up in waterproof coats and found suitable umbrellas (Lauren's favorite is now defunct and we had to find one of her old ones, even though it does have a hole in it, because the grown-up umbrella we gave her was "embarrassing" to her - she's going to be an interesting teenager, Lauren) and sent them on their way. It's dry at school.

So that leaves Kim and I home alone, it being Spring Break down at Home Campus. I could be doing work for On-Line U, but that institution has quite literally given me nightmares for much of the past week and I need to not think about it for a while. I could also be job-hunting for something that lasts longer than sixteen weeks, and certainly that is on this week's agenda - I have books I want to buy, and there must be income for that to happen.

I've heard it said that work is the curse of the drinking class. As with so many other things, I like drinking but I've never been all that good at it. For me, work is the curse of the reading class. They are similar in many ways, though. You shouldn't read and drive, for one thing. And both leave you prone to spouting useless knowledge at inopportune moments.

Mostly, though, I will let it rain. Rainy days are good for the tired soul.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The First Ice Cream Run of the Season

Friday was the first day of spring, depending on how one defines "first," "day," "spring," and quite possibly "of."

It's all a matter of the equinox, and when it falls, and whether that makes it spring or not, and whether the first day is the first full day or just the day when the equinox falls (or springs, in this case), and so on. It all gets frightfully complicated, and for my part I tend to assume that the 21st is always the first day of the new season whether or not there is an equinox or solstice on that day because it is more personally convenient for me to do so.

Seasons: the new Presidents Day.

So it was spring, officially, and to the Wisconsinite this can only mean one thing: it's ice cream season!

Of course Wisconsinites think that about Memorial Day, summer, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Christmas, New Years, and most days that end in "y." They are, as a group, obsessed with ice cream. The ice cream bunkers in our local supermarket are longer than a dental appointment and contain more varieties than there are beetles. When I lived alone, outside of Wisconsin, I would buy about a pint of ice cream a year and eat maybe half of it. I don't think you can buy ice cream in pints in this state. Ice cream in Wisconsin begins at the half gallon and proceeds from there through gallons, five-gallon pails, 55-gallon drums, and dumpsters. Fudge sauce is extra, but refills are free.

So we had to celebrate the arrival (or not) of the first day of spring by going out and getting some ice cream. Rather than haul out the winch and bring some home from the supermarket, we decided to go to our local soft-serve joint, which recently re-opened from its long winter's nap.

The place is an odd mixture of 1950s pink and early 1980s graphics, with glass walls so you can see all the goodies inside, two walk-up windows and one drive-up for ordering, a full staff of teenagers looked over by one motion-blurred adult, and a smattering of picnic tables (also pink) for hungry customers to eat their goodies. There is no indoor seating. The soft-serve is inexpensive, tasty, and contains no pesky natural ingredients to set off people's allergies. On a warm summer's night the walk-up lines stretch to the sidewalks and the drive-through line circles the building and extends down the block into oncoming traffic. Turning left into the parking lot is not recommended - better just to go around the block and come at it from the other side.

It was 44 degrees outside when we arrived.

Of course there was a line.

Tabitha got her "Dad sundae" - a vanilla ice-cream, hot fudge and marshmallow sauce concoction that was pretty much what I always got when I was her age and my dad would take Keith and me to the Dairy Queen in Upper Darby. Except for the decor, that DQ was pretty much identical to our little soft-serve place described above. Some things never change. Lauren had much the same sundae, only with creme de menthe instead of marshmallow sauce.

And it was good.

Happy spring!

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

So I filled out my bracket, because exercises in futility are what I am all about.

I don't really follow college basketball, for a number of reasons of which the fact that I - like everyone else these days - have precious little time in which to do so is probably the least important.

I've never liked basketball.

I hated playing it when I was in gym class, since the whole notion of getting that big ball into that only-slightly-bigger hoop that was positioned a mile in the air and a county down the road just struck me as unlikely. Trying to do so in front of a whole room full of my peers was thoroughly ridiculous, and if I were going to be ridiculous I could do so just as well from the comfort of a nice, soft couch, surrounded by books, snacks, and tea. Fortunately I graduated high school a few years before the future NBA megastar got there and I never had to pretend to care about him the way everybody else did.

I don't like watching it, as I do not understand the game at all. This is probably connected with the events of the previous paragraph, but so it goes. I like football and hockey, and I can't understand why they call fouls in basketball when clearly nobody is bleeding. Nor can I see the attraction of a sport where "good defense" means limiting your opponent to under one hundred points, scored in increments of two. I also like baseball, which gives you time to think about what just happened, what will happen next, your doctoral thesis, political issues, current movies, the life-cycle of moths, and the imminent return of the Malthusian Cycle in between the things that do, eventually, happen. Everything happens at once in basketball, and eventually someone is declared the winner. This is clearly wrong.

Plus the last 15 seconds of a basketball game can stretch out for geological eons, and eventually I start to feel like someone should just turn out the lights and send everyone home with a pat on the head and an "everybody is a winner here, so go get some ice cream" lecture.

Kim likes basketball - she understands it, and even was the scorekeeper for her high school team. She has tried to explain it all to me, but no matter how hard she tries my brain rejects such things and files them under the large and ever-growing pile labeled "Not Bloody Likely," along with literary theory, the merits of long hikes in the wilderness, and the entire neo-conservative evangelical world view.

But every year I dutifully fill out my bracket, because it is fun and because I like to see how I can crush the hopes of the people who do understand this sort of thing. I tend to choose my teams based on a number of criteria, most of which have nothing to do with the actual sport. I always pick the Ivy League team to win their first game, since one day they will. I pick teams where I or people I know have gone to school, though this does conflict with my general policy of not picking Big 10 teams. I refuse to support teams from politically objectionable states, such as Mississippi or Utah. In individual matchups, I tend to go with the team that comes from the place I'd rather visit or live in. And when all else fails, I dredge up half-remembered bits of trivia from Mike & Mike In The Morning and select the teams that they have discussed in the most detail, on the theory that they wouldn't do that for teams they expect to lose.

And the darndest thing about this system is that it is at least as successful as the ones used by people who live for this stuff.

When I ran the museum, I had an intern who loved fantasy leagues, ESPN and sports of all kinds. He was supremely annoyed when I picked more winners than he did, and when my Final Four was more accurate than his.

There is a lesson in that, somewhere.

I see that the President has released his own bracket. It will be interesting to see if I can beat it, though I'm not sure that doing so will make me feel better about the world.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

News and Updates

1. This working for a living thing really eats up a lot of time that might otherwise be spent blogging, surfing the web, sleeping, playing with my children, or reading. But it's this addiction to food and shelter - I can't shake it. So must work.

2. Lauren has been sick all week and staying home from school. It turned out to be an ear infection, which was odd as that was the one part of her body that she had not complained about. Her stomach hurt, her throat hurt, she had a headache, she had a fever, but nothing about the ears.

3. Kim is now sick as well, though with what we don't know. Tabitha has also looked tired of late. I suppose I'm next. Fortunately next week is Spring Break down at Home Campus (though not at On-Line U or Not Bad President Elementary), so I suppose I could get sick for my vacation. It would make sense.

4. Tonight we hosted an Irish folk-punk band down at Home Campus, and it was a hit. Lauren danced with abandon. Tabitha was fascinated by the violinist, and I tried to explain the difference between someone playing a violin and someone playing a fiddle. It's a conceptual thing.

5. Last week the Home Campus team, with yours truly on board, won another Trivia Night, this one a fundraiser for the local literacy council. Once again, our charge was simply to beat Local Tech, which would have been a whole lot easier if we hadn't been the two top teams and had to face off up front in a "best of 25" round. But we successfully defended the Home Campus title, and now we have two nice trophies in the case testifying to our mastery of things other people lead long productive lives without knowing.

6. I have been looking through the old family photos that I will eventually (I promise) scan in, and the main reaction I've had to the ones of me in high school and college is to wonder how I ever managed to get a date. Oh well. It was the 80s. It was not a fashionable time. I fit right in, though perhaps more so than was wise.

7. "It's not fun to smash things without my sister," said Lauren. I will try not to think about that any further.

8. The Ring is destroyed, but we don't know what happened to Pippen yet, so Tabitha and I continue to slog forward through The Lord of the Rings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

C is for Cookie, That's Good Enough For Me

Our house is full of Girl Scout cookies. But not for long.

All of the cookies that we so diligently tried to sell came flooding in a while ago, and we have spent a fair amount of time trying to get them to their intended audiences, with general though mixed success. We'd better complete this soon, though, since the Scouts want their money and if I've learned anything in the past year it's that you do not cross the Girl Scouts when it comes to their cookie sales unless you want to find out what a range of some of the more obscure badges - beginning with "Courtroom Drama" (a vulture with the scales of justice, cookies dexter, cash sinister) and culminating with "Cross-Cultural Collections" (two large guys named Vinnie, one holding a small box with air holes and the other a hammer) - really mean. You have to look at those badges carefully. There's more to them than you'd think.

We also bought a raft of cookies for ourselves, because Girl Scout cookies are some of the most addictive treats on the planet and we've been feeling a need for such things lately. We ordered some from Tabitha and some from Lauren, and when that wasn't enough we got more from Lauren when she was down at the local supermarket selling them face to face.

There must be a self-help program for this, truly there must.

My personal favorites are the Caramel Delites, which used to be called Samoas before, well, I don't know what happened really. Perhaps the Samoan community fired up his laptop and complained, though I can't imagine why he would. If they were called "Daves" I'd have been feeling pretty good, myself. Caramel, coconut, chocolate, shortbread - what's not to like?

The Peanut Butter Patties - which we can have at home now! - are just like Tastykakes, only crunchy.

And don't get me started on the Thin Mints. It's not pretty.

The functional unit for measuring Thin Mints is the sleeve. Nobody - not even diet mavens and supermodels - eats less than a full sleeve of them in a sitting. The others you can eat just one at a time and then go away, though why you would want to be so restrained is an open question. Not these puppies.

And then you sit there in a chocolate-peppermint haze, staring idly down at the spot on your stomach beneath which you are sure your feet are hiding and trying to remember any of the previous ten minutes. There was a sleeve of cookies in front of you then. Now there is not. And the thing is: it feels good anyway.

I wonder what the badge for THAT looks like

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What to do, what to do...

If you go to see Slumdog Millionaire, do not go immediately afterward to a Wal-Mart. The mental whiplash will just give you hives.

The girls had a sleepover tonight - or at least that was the plan. Their friends Ashley and Meghan invited them over, and they had been just buzzing with excitement for days. Ashley is in Tabitha's grade, Meghan in Lauren's class, so it was a natural fit.

So, with an evening to ourselves, Kim and I were faced with the dreadful realization that we are now fun-impaired. We no longer really know what to do with ourselves when we have large blocks of time without designated tasks to fill them. Our days are mostly working and taking care of the girls and odd moments in between - having an entire evening was sort of, well, intimidating, actually. But we couldn't let it pass, and if we stayed home we'd just end up working again.

So we went out and had a nice dinner, and then went to see Slumdog Millionaire - which is a very good movie, but not one that really makes you feel good about the world. And if you should go directly from the slums of Mumbai to the sheer overabundance of uselessness that is your average Wal-Mart, well, you have only yourselves to blame for the resulting psychological trauma.

Fortunately, home contains copious amounts of wine with which to assuage that trauma.

Eventually we toddled off to bed, only to begin a round of phone calls with distraught, overtired children that culminated in my going over and hauling them back to their own beds, where they sleep soundly once again.

Busy night.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Big Dance

I've never been much of a dancer.

Sometimes I'll get out on a dance floor and demonstrate this fact for all to see, flailing about like a dying halibut or, more often, moving my arms in rhythm to the music but keeping my feet firmly anchored on the floor - but not often and certainly not anywhere near as much as Kim would like me to. I did learn to polka for our wedding, as I was told it was a condition of our marriage - it's mostly bouncing up and down in double time, as far as I can tell - but other than that I am usually content to sit on the sidelines.

But tonight was the Daddy-Daughter Dance here in our little town. Lauren was not interested at all, and she spent the night with Mom. Tabitha, though, wanted to dance with her dad, and the odds of me saying no to that were nil. Some things are just important that way.

So we went, and we both had a very good time.

The event was held in what used to be the roller rink not too long ago. We had a birthday party for Tabitha there just before it closed, and even after all the renovations had turned it into a rather nicely appointed convention center I still found myself looking for the skaters out on the dance floor. There were none, which I found vaguely sad.

We arrived promptly at six to discover that we were phenomenally underdressed for the event - Tabitha still wore her school clothes, and while I had changed out of my sweatshirt and jeans, most of the men there wore suits and ties. Some had tuxes. But you know - that's not how we roll, Tabby and I. We were quite comfortable - Tabitha even kicked off her shoes for most of the night - and we liked it that way. Score one for us.

We got a rose for Tabitha, had our pictures taken a few times by the photographers they had stationed here and there, and then hurried off to the main event, where the first order of business was buying raffle tickets - it was a fundraiser, after all. Tabitha took the tickets and put them in the boxes she chose, and eventually won a basket of candy, most of which she designated as Lauren's. We then headed over to the food line.

There was much food, of the "small and easy to pick up" variety that these events specialize in. We picked it up and took it over to our place. It was a crowded affair, but we found friends to sit with, and we ate companionably.

Eventually the music started. Tabby and I are well-matched dance partners - we both enjoyed the process, but neither of us is going to be Solid Gold anytime soon. We did the Chicken Dance, of course, as no event in Wisconsin is complete without that, not even graduations and christenings. We formed a conga line. We did the YMCA motions. We wondered who let the dogs out.

I danced with my daughter.

And it was a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wii The Piiple

I am surrounded by Wii-tards.

I finally lost the battle over the Wii, not that it was a battle at all really. I knew from the moment that Kim and the girls fell in love with it over Christmas that we were going to get one, and that resistance on my part was futile. I’m not really opposed to it, I guess. Just not all that interested.

My video-game gene is malformed. When I was a kid in the 1970s, my dad went out and got us Pong, which allowed us to play paddleball on our old black and white television. Keith and I thought this was just the coolest thing in the world, and we played it so much that the TV ended up with a permanent ghost image of the Pong court. Eventually I graduated to other games: Seawolf, a WWII submarine game that as far as I know existed only in one arcade in Sea Isle City, NJ; Galaga, where the universe was threatened by attacking aliens and it was my job to die first so I wouldn’t be bothered by the screams of those I was supposed to defend; and – my favorite – Asteroids, where I was given inadequate resources and told not to get crushed by forces beyond my control for as long as I could, which turned out to be good training for life in general. The fact that eventually those forces would crush you no matter what you did was also good training, it turned out.

Ah, sweet memories of youth.

The ice rink where the girls have their lessons has a Galaga, oddly enough, and Tabitha and I play sometimes. She shoots, I maneuver. Eventually we die. All the fun in the world for a quarter – such a bargain!

But that’s where my video game life ended. I’ve never managed to figure out what to do with Grand Theft Auto or any of the games of the 90s or the current decade. I even missed out on PacMan. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a heroic last stand against encroaching cultural barbarism or the pathetic inability to grasp new technology and have some fun with it, or even whether that’s a distinction worth making at all. But there it is.

Does Myst count as a video game?

When her fitness club lost its lease, Kim ended up with some refund money to spend on something that would, in theory, make her move around enough to replace the fitness club. So, naturally, her thoughts turned to Wii.

UPS tried to deliver it on Friday, we think. At least they called to tell us they would deliver it. I was home all day, beating my head against the requirements of On-Line U and leaving splotchy marks in the shape of grades all over my students’ essays, but no Wii arrived. So we called them, and they called us, and after several rounds of this it was determined that I could go down to the UPS warehouse and pick it up on Saturday.

Kim spent most of Saturday setting it up, and then the girls took over.

They spent the rest of the day doing Wii things. Bowling. Climbing waterfalls. Jumping rope. Creating an army of virtual Wii people whose precise function is yet unknown, though I am staying away from any pod doors for the near future. It was quite a thing.

Eventually I suppose I will end up playing on the Wii. Certainly the girls have asked me to.

I wonder if there are aliens.