Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tabby's Got a Brand New Bag

Tabitha got a new bag for her emergency medical supplies this week. It's snazzy, and she can wear it herself, so we know that she'll have it should the need arise. That's always a concern.

Of course, she's still fairly young so we continue to rely on others to take action, should push come to shove. We're here when she's home, but when she's at school that is another matter entirely.

And a touchy one, it turns out.

Both girls are now in summer school. Our school district runs a number of classes in the summer time that are geared toward enrichment and fun rather than catching up on all the things missed during the year, and this is the second summer we've had them enrolled. Among other things, they're taking a class called Young Authors, where they each will be writing a book. Eventually that book will be produced as a hard-bound copy. It's pretty cool.

The first day of school was Monday, and it did not go as planned.

Kim took the girls over to Mas Macho President Elementary, where the classes are offered this summer, and since this was the first time we had a chance to find out who her teachers were, she asked them if they were prepared to respond should Tabitha need them to.


The short version of the story is that Tabitha spent the morning with Kim at her office while I spent the morning on the phone with various members of the school district staff. The district's head medical officer then spent a chunk of his morning speaking individually with the teachers about just how far wrong their ideas of how to be helpful were, and then I spent even more time with them over the lunch hour discussing in clear terms the proper way to be helpful. I think hints were taken, ultimately. Certainly they seemed to appreciate the gravity of the situation, when all was said and done, and that is a good start.

Tabitha is now reaching the age where she is beginning to get embarrassed by all this, I think. She's a mature and responsible kid, and it bothers her that she has to be as careful as she does - that she can't just go and do, the way her friends can. She understands the reasons for it and she's very good about following them, but that doesn't make it any easier. And it's just going to get less easy as she gets older. She'll be a "tween" come next birthday.

So we try to make it as congenial as we can. She likes her new bag. We do too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beating the Heat

It's hot out here this week. Big time hot. Hot enough to cancel the softball games hot. Hot enough to cook dinner on the roof of the car hot. Hot enough to make you long for the days when "warming trend" meant temperatures with real square roots hot. Hot, hot, hot.

It is in weather like this that Lauren finds Injustice. She has never truly understood why it is that girls have to wear shirts and boys don't, and it bugs her. We tell her that she can do whatever she wants, especially around the house - she's six, after all - but that isn't good enough for her. She is on a mission. She has found Inequity and requires it to be vanquished in all its forms.

Good luck with that, we tell her.

Personally, I'm with her. I've never really understood the squeamishness with which Americans in general approach the human body, and I think we'd all be a lot better off if we rearranged some priorities. It is truly weird, for example, that we refuse to allow children to see nudity in movies until they're 17, but we're perfectly fine with letting them at age 13 watch people in those same movies get shot. Frankly, given my choice, I'd rather let people run around naked than have them shot. But that's just me.

So in the meantime we just stick to the air conditioning and rail against the injustices of the world together. It's a bonding experience, of sorts.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever

Sunday was strawberry picking day out here in Baja Canada!

Every year we pack up the girls (and occasional visitors) and head off to the strawberry farm outside of town. We each get a bucket, and we share a row or two of strawberry plants, and we spend the better part of an hour or so pickin' berries, singin' spirituals, and plannin' on daiquiris.

Well the grownups really get that last part all to themselves. At least we hope so.

This year was a grey, overcast day, which suited us just fine. We've been out there in the summer sun, and that does take a bit of the zing out of the process. The girls marched out to the rows, buckets in hand, and commenced to denuding plants!

There is nothing quite like picking your own strawberries. On the down side, they grow rather low to the ground. This is great for kids, but tough on middle-aged backs. On the plus side though, it's easy to tell if they're ripe, and the people who run the farm build in for a certain amount of berries mysteriously disappearing between the plant and the bucket. Warm strawberries, fresh from the plant - if we could bring our own cream without raising suspicions, that would just be perfect.

The first time I ever went strawberry picking was in Connecticut, where my friend Julie was hosting a medieval feast. It was there that I discovered the eternal truth about strawberry picking: it doesn't look like all that many strawberries when you're out in the field.

It's kind of like Sam's Club that way. You get what looks like a reasonably sized container of whatever, and only when you get home do you discover that you have inadvertently switched orders with the Sixth Fleet, and somewhere out on the high seas there is an aircraft carrier wondering how to stretch a pint of strawberries across its entire crew while you are hoping only to dig your way through a sweet red avalanche to find the front door, only you don't feel like you are supporting the evil empire of corporate doom - it's just the neighborhood farmer, and that's just all right.

We've been munching on strawberries ever since, and eventually I will prevail upon Kim to whomp up a pitcher of strawberry daiquiris, which I will consume with a straw, preferably without taking a breath. Summer is definitely here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Have A Test For That

I spent most of today sitting in a classroom, watching people born while I was in graduate school try to get into college. It was better for the soul than watching the next crop of lawyers take their exams, anyway.

One of the many things I do around Home Campus is proctor standardized exams. It's not a bad gig, which is why it fills up quickly - if you want to do it you have to respond immediately to the plaintive emails that go out seeking proctors. But if you are fortunate enough to be selected, you do have to be prepared to spend more time than you would imagine reading things verbatim to people who just want to get on with it and go home.

How many times do you have to tell people "use only a soft no. 2 pencil; mechanical pencils are prohibited" before they get the hint and put away the mechanical pencil? Hint: you don't have that many fingers to count that high. No you do not. Not even if you have been duly respectful of fireworks your whole life and are not nicknamed "Lefty" or even "The Claw."

The LSATs were Monday, and the ACTs were today. Despite a level of official paranoia roughly on par with right-wing talk radio, the ACTs are almost laid back compared to the LSATs. I attribute this to their target audiences. Lawyers almost by definition - even in their larval stages - are people who naturally seek out any edge and are willing to bend just about any rule to their advantage if they can get away with it. In a courtroom this is called "litigating," and people who can do it without making too many stretch marks on the laws in the process are handsomely rewarded. In an exam it's called "cheating," however, and you just would not believe the variety and severity of rules that are in place specifically because somebody once got a bright idea that the LSAT people would like to avoid happening again. There's a creativity there that could probably solve most of the world's problems if it were harnessed correctly. It would cause new problems, of course, but nothing is perfect. High school students are much less artful in their attempts to bypass the system, and so the rules are rather more blunt and somewhat less encompassing.

You feel more like a camp counselor keeping the peace with the ACTs, instead of a prison guard in the financial crimes wing like you do at the LSATs.

So I stocked up on work, books and tea and headed in to Home Campus for some good old-fashioned proctoring - a verb that sounds far more intriguing than it actually is - this morning. There was a small crowd of us, and a large crowd of them, and eventually it all got sorted out.

Standardized exams are an awful thing to do to people on a sunny Saturday morning.

First it was the prologue - 72 hours of instructions, repeated on a 15-minute loop, which in effect boiled down to "put your name down and don't try anything funny." Then it was this test, that test and that other test over there, and finally it was over and they could go home. And after collating for a while, I got to go home too.

I cannot express in words how glad I am that my oval-filling days are past me now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

To Boldly Split Infinitives ...

Kim and I took a break from our respective Too Much To Do and went to the movies this afternoon. Kim had been jonesing for the new Star Trek movie for weeks now, and with the school year fast drawing to a close we figured this would be the last opportunity for a while to go see it without paying for a sitter as well.

It was quite good, actually. Especially if you, like me, have no real connection to the original series other than what your friends have told you, verbatim, since you were a mere child trying to escape their fanatic clutches and locate some actual entertainment.

In theory I should be the ideal Trekkie. I am a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy books - most of the books I own that don't have footnotes in them fall into one or the other of those categories. I have few social skills, as evidenced by my success in surviving graduate school and becoming a historian. I am a big fan of high camp. And I have the fashion sense of a refried bean.

And yet, I have never managed to become a fan of any of the sixty or so variations of TV series. I've seen a few episodes here and there, and enjoyed them well enough, but not enough to make a point of watching them again. I had never seen any of the movies prior to today. And none of this did I regard as a gaping hole in my life to be filled at the first opportunity, preferably in costume.

So the fact that the movie takes all the liberties that it takes with the Official Star Trek Canon and rewrites entire backstories of major characters didn't really bother me. It zipped along at a pretty comfortable pace. It told an interesting tale. It was full of shiny special effects. And there was no spandex on anyone. What's not to like?

Well, there is the fact that Kirk spends most of the movie getting his butt kicked. You would think a major action hero like that could win a fistfight once in a while.

And there's the fact that what passed for science in this science fiction film required not merely the suspension of one's disbelief but its actual hanging.

Also, all through the movie, as the stars zoomed off to one dangerous subplot after another, I kept thinking to myself, "Don't they have trained personnel to handle this stuff?" I mean, is it really the Captain's job to infiltrate the enemy's warship personally, along with the First Officer and Sergeant Expendable? Doesn't Starfleet have - I don't know - commandos or something? A SWAT team? Beat cops? Neighborhood watch? Anything?

It just seems a lot to expect of commanding officers, really.

But it was worth seeing and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon when we should have been working.

Monday, June 8, 2009


The advantage to being able to see your breath in June is that there are no lines for the roller coasters.

Six Flags Great America is not all that far from us, and we had nonrefundable, date-specific tickets for Saturday thanks to the Girl Scouts (who seem to be playing an ever-larger role in our lives these days - must check on that...). The fact that it was November - grey, rainy, raw and cold - was therefore irrelevant. We were going to go.

Plus, if we had canceled the trip, Lauren would have just exploded and the clean-up would have taken weeks. Tabitha was looking forward to the trip, but Lauren was just buzzing.

We got there not long after the park opened and immediately set about siphoning money out of our wallets and into their cash registers. All of these parks are designed expressly to separate you from your money, and they do a very good job of it. You just have to accept that going in. This is most clear at meal times, when a pizza (admittedly a tribal-sized pizza) and a refillable drink (refillable for free at *any*location*in*the*park* no less) will set you back more than gas, tolls and parking combined. You feel sort of obligated to drink a lot under those circumstances. We know where all of the bathrooms are at Six Flags Great America.

But we were not there to eat and drink! No! We were there to Party! And Move It Move It! At least we felt that way, since the only two songs on the park's loudspeaker system were "We Like to Party" and "I Like to Move It, Move It." Am I the only one who thinks that Sascha Baron Cohen's version of that last song, from Madagascar, is better than Kanye West's? I didn't think so.

We went on a number of smaller rides first - the double-decker carousel, the swings that spin around, and whatever it is they call the Octopus there - and then it was roller coaster time.

My children are roller coaster junkies. Life. Is. Good.

The first one we went on was based on the latest Batman movie, and featured a post-industrial setting full of light, graffiti, movie clips, and black sheet metal. And then we got to the ride, which was a small car that whirred around in the dark. It was a hit, as you can see:

Then we found the Viper, one of the two big wooden coasters at the park. We cruised right up to the platform and got on. Lauren and I went on first - she kept telling me that "this will be the ride of my life!" - and I think it was, at least for a few hours. Tabitha and Kim followed on the next car, and Lauren and I watched as they whizzed on by. Then we did it again, only this time with the girls together in one car. And again.

That's Kim in the blue coat, in the second car.
Tabitha is with her, but she's hidden.

We made it to the American Eagle coaster - the really big wooden coaster - just as it re-opened after a rain delay, which meant that there were absolutely no people in line at all. So we got right on the front seat - the girls up front, Kim and I just behind them. The American Eagle takes you right up into the stratosphere and then drops you pretty much straight down for about 130 feet. Naturally, we had to do it again after that, only this time switching from the blue to the red track.

The last coaster we went on was called the Demon, and it was a steel-tracked coaster with two loops and a corkscrew. Once again, there was nobody in line, so the girls and I went on three times in a row, without even getting out of our seats (Kim declined the third trip).

All this and food too.

We did a few other things as well, though nothing truly compared to the roller coasters. Perhaps my favorite from a nostalgic point of view was the old Bearcat cars, the ones with real gasoline engines and a metal rail down the middle of the track so you can't drive off into the park, the ones that the kids can drive.

When I was little, we used to go to a small park called Dutch Wonderland near Lancaster PA. In addition to having a permanent guest host (Chief Halftown, who had his own early morning kids' talent show on local TV back then) and quite possibly the worst food ever served by humans, it also had these cars. I loved those cars.

And so did the girls. I went with Lauren, and she was just transfixed at the idea that she was driving a real car. It gives me a decade to get used to that idea, I suppose.

We finally abandoned the park not long before it closed, and headed home. It was a good day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Go Hot Pink!

It's actually very easy to keep score in the bottom rung of Girl Scouts softball. You simply take the number of girls on each team. You multiply that by the number of innings. And then you write those two numbers down in the appropriate boxes.

It's a good thing we don't bother to keep score.

Or keep track of outs.

Or really much of anything at all except going out there and having as good a time as possible for three extended innings. When you have fifteen girls on one team and thirteen on the other, none of whom have any real concern for things like "throwing the ball to first base," "fielding the ball if it comes your way," or even "watching the ball in case it actually moves," a good time is pretty much all you can ask for.

And it was mostly what we got tonight, as Lauren's Hot Pink team took on the Lime Green team down at the field at Epochal President Elementary. The girls had a great time whacking away at the ball as it sat on its tee and then running merrily off to first base. The coaches had a pretty good time positioning the fielders in twelve different slots, the maximum our rules allow, which is kind of overkill since in practice the ball almost never reaches the baselines let alone the outfield. At times, the field bore no small resemblance to a pinball machine, with the ball caroming off various girls as it made its way out from home plate and then back in again. And most of the parents had a pretty good time watching.

Most of them.

As my dad taught me years ago, there is always that 10% that doesn't get The Word. And those parents ended up sitting right behind our team tonight. The Good Humor Twins were just shocked - SHOCKED! I tell you - that we didn't have all fifteen of our girls in the outfield at once, and they spent the entire game making faces and complaining loudly about how excruciating this made the whole affair. Then they spent about twenty minutes afterward complaining to both sets of coaches about it, and threatening to call the Girl Scouts organization and report us.

Well I certainly hope they spell my name right when they do.

The sad thing is that those parents weren't even there for our team - their poor unfortunate daughter plays for the other team. And yet they felt the need to eat lemons and urinate vinegar all over our side of the field. Next time, we position them at the bottom of a very large hole in deep right field and give them periscopes to watch the game. If they're good, we might even retrieve them afterward.

But such morons are not what this night was all about. It was about having a good time, learning some of the basics of softball, and whiling away a beautiful summer evening playing ball. And whiling was accomplished, yes indeed it was.

Go, Hot Pink!