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31Oct/05Off

Happy Halloween

Samantha Halloween 2005

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Filed under: Samantha 6 Comments
30Oct/05Off

Sam’s Story: Week 92

I don't think that I need to tell you that when you become a parent it changes who you are and what you talk about with other adults, but perhaps an illustration would drive the point home even further. The other night Ger and I were sitting at the dinner table. We sometimes aim to have Sam's daily Sesame Street viewing overlap with at least part of our dinner so that we can have some uninterrupted time together. While Elmo and Zoe cavorted in the background, we started talking about who the heavy hitters were on the show. You know, the Muppets who didn't have to worry about getting fired when they throw a fit over a too-small dressing room or scream about the wrong kind of M&Ms being served by the catering service.

The next hour's conversation consisted of debates over where each of the Muppets fall on the star continuum. We eventually had to agree to disagree on a few points, but here's my list:

A-List Muppets These are the top of the heap, the guys the show couldn't survive without if they were kidnapped and stabbed to death: Elmo, Big Bird, and Ernie. In that order.

B-List Muppets These guys are still headliners and may have their own recurring skits, but they get the smaller trailers: Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Grover, and Oscar the Grouch.

C-List Muppets Here's where the list gets bigger as the contenders for the upper echelons constantly bicker and claw past each other. These are mainly second fiddles and straight men to the bigger stars above: Zoe, Telly, Rosita, Baby Bear, Bert, and Snuffleupagus.

D-List Muppets These are the guys who couldn't even cut it as C-List, and who get called in when things like "Elmo doesn't do skits like this so Elmo thinks you should shove it" are heard on the set. This includes: Herry, Prarie Dawn, Stinky the --OH MY GOD! I just realized I'm sorting MUPPETS into categories! I just kind of blacked out there for a while and I wake up to see I've typed this. How could you people let me do this? I thought you people were my friends?

Well, to kind of clear the air, here's some pictures:





















Sam is getting more and more independent every day. At the playground this weekend she had no qualms about running, climbing, and sliding without any intervention from me. Well, until she ascended to such heights that she needed help getting down. Otherwise, she's going nuts, man. Ger also took her to a Mommy & Me party earlier in the week where everyone was supposed to be dressed up, so Sam went as a pumpkin-like sort of thing, kinda. Use your imagination.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 3 Comments
28Oct/05Off

Christine

Christine

I told myself that I'd take a break from Stephen King, but then found myself listening to this book. The main issue I have with Christine is the pacing. The first half is really slow, with all kinds of buildup that I suppose serves to deepen the relationship between the main characters and set up the drama to follow, but it just wasn't exciting. King largely makes up for that with the second half, though, which is pedal to the metal (literally) action leading to a conclusion that's pretty much classic King.

One other thing that struck me about Christine is that like Firestarter and many of King's other early works, it's not really a horror story in the typical sense. Sure there's violence and people are terrified, but King's main focus is on the characters and how the deal with the situations they're thrown into. This has always been, I think, his great strength as a writer and the thing that has kept him popular.

Filed under: Books 1 Comment
25Oct/05Off

Sam’s Story: Week 91

For a while there, I was wondering if Sam would be behind the curve a bit in terms of language. She actually understands a lot when you say something to her, and has been successfully following one- and two-step instructions like "get the ball and put it on the table" for quite some time. I wasn't going to worry unless she turned 17 without being able to say "want juice, please" but I was just wondering if she'd be a little behind the curve.

Turns out I need neither wonder nor worry. In the last couple of weeks Sam has been almost constantly adding terms to her little lexicon. A lot of it is still imperfectly enunciated, though, and Ger and I are usually called in for translations. But here's a handy chart if you ever find yourself alone with our kid:

Sam Says Table

And now, pictures:















Fall being here, we took Sam to her Court-ordered visit to the Pumpkin Patch. She was pretty interested in the chickens and the little airplane ride, but the actual real carnival ride left her less than ecstatic.

The last bit of news is that Ger and I have been laying the literary groundwork for potty training by buying Sam a few books on the subject. The one she constantly wants to read is called "You Can Go to the Potty" which is probably more popular than it would be if it were entitled "You Can Never Go to the Potty and Have to Hold It In Forever." Still this particular volume is quite anatomically ...frank. If I never read another children's book with the word "vulva" it won't be too soon.

20Oct/05Off

Personally, I welcome our new bird flu overlords

This is quite possibly the most absurd and comically pointless article I've ever seen. It pretty much speaks for itself:

Act now to minimise impact of bird flu on business

Companies should take practical steps to minimise the impact of any potential bird flu pandemic on their business, analysts have warned.

Organisations should not wait until an outbreak strikes to take action, since they might have very little time to prepare, according to IT research firm Gartner.

A pandemic could limit travel, disrupt supply chains and hit staff attendance, causing an overall business slowdown. But simple preparation would help employers respond quickly and effectively.

Gartner suggests companies take the following steps to protect their operations in the event of a pandemic:

  • keep staff informed
  • Assess contingency plans
  • Put someone in charge
  • Help staff work from home
  • Establish an online presence

The bullet list of recommendations are the best part. Quick! Establish an online presence in case of bird flu! For the love of God, establish!

Filed under: General 1 Comment
17Oct/05Off

Sam’s Story: Week 90

I like to think that I rank somewhere above average on an imaginary parenting curve, and that Samantha will be better off for it. But apparently I needn't bother, at least according to the authors of Freakonomics, the book I mentioned finishing earlier this week. The economist authors spend one chapter reporting on the use of regression analysis to find out if parents really matter when it comes to predicting a child's future success on achievement tests.

The answers, it won't surprise you to find out, are surprising. Apparently all of the things that matter about me and Geralyn are already pretty much set in stone or amino acid --the way our DNA zigs and zags, how educated we are, who we chose to marry, how affluent we are, and the like. Other parenting practices that we've been so faithfully following don't really matter nearly as much --how much we read to Sam, keeping our family whole, moving to a nice suburban neighborhood, and more.

So great. According to these guys and their New York Times best seller, Samantha is all set to roll down through a deep groove to whatever has been destined for her. Nothing I do matters. I'm reminded of late-night conversations I had with grad school colleagues about determinism and fate (which is probably another predictor of your kid's success). If everything in the universe behaves and reacts according to the strict laws of physics, then is there any such thing as free will? As Keanu once famously muttered, "Woah."

But after a bit of thought, it's not all that bad. There are other outcomes that matter besides scores on standardized tests. Sam's moral character, her happiness, and her health are all things that Ger and I can influence if we're lucky, diligent, and don't threaten to murder Elmo over failed potty training. I'm also comforted by the same facts that put the brakes on those distant discussions of determinism: There's a schism between the physics of large objects and physics on the subatomic level. Quantum physicists can't necessarily predict what say an electron is going to do between any two instants. So maybe there is some randomness in the universe and Keanu was wrong when he also said that God doesn't play dice. Or maybe it was Einstein that said that. I forget.

In other words, there's still hope on the subatomic level that Sam will turn out to be a criminal. So, yay?

Anyway, to clear your palate, here are some cute pictures.





















Something very significant happened at exactly 3:18 p.m. on Sunday, October 16 2005, around the time when most of the pictures in this set were taken. Sam and I were playing at the park, the first time I had been able to do so with her in a few weeks. That whole "voluntary control over limbs" thing had finally gotten to the point where she could really play on some of the playground equipment. In particular, I had taught her to climb up this one 50-degree ramp by pulling herself up by rails and putting her feet on the strategically placed footholds. Once up on the equipment, she'd run over to the slide, skitter down, then run back around to the ramp to repeat the process. She must have done this like 20 times in a row while I watched.

But then, right at 3:18 p.m. (I know, because I glanced at my watch when it was over the same way I had glanced at it when she was born), Sam turned and locked eyes with me. I think that right then, at that very instant, she began the transition from baby to little girl. There was (or I just then noticed) a quantum leap in her physical coordination, her posture was more erect and confident, and there was a burgeoning intelligence in her eyes that hadn't been there before. After a second or two she gifted me with a smile and ran over to the slide to continue her newfound routine.

Now to be sure, I'm not yet walking her down the aisle or sending her off to college or bailing her out of jail (the latter thanks to some quirky quark). It's thankfully going to be a long transition. It's just like when you first notice the sunrise if you're up early for some reason. The sky is still dark and you can't even see the sun yet, but the eastern horizon is starting to glow just slightly as it turns from black to white or orange. You just know that things are starting to change.

In a way, that look from Sam at 3:18 p.m. made me happy. In a way, it made me sad. It made me sad because I love her just the way she is and she brings me constant joy. Why would you want to mess with that kind of arrangement? But it made me happy because she has so much potential, she will do so many great things in her life, and she will make me even happier. And I don't need an economist with his regression analysis to tell me that.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 2 Comments
16Oct/05Off

Freakonomics

Freakonomics

This book is kind of hard to explain. It's nonfiction for sure, as the authors use economics to explore and explain everyday problems like crime, cheating on standardized testing, and getting parents to pick their kids up from daycare. Though it has a few themes that keep popping up over and over, it really lacks any kind of narrative thread, the way Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" does, but Freakonomics is much more likely to give you something interesting to say at your next dinner party (or whatever). It's just chock full of things that make you go "Huh... Never thought of that, but it makes sense."

My favorite part of the book, for example, was the chapter on the optimistic new graduate student who was sent into housing projects by his Econ professor to interview destitute Black people about how they feel about being destitute Black people. Within minutes of wandering around an area that probably looked like a sound stage for Escape From New York, the grad student stumbles into a group of teenage gang members, several of which just want to shoot him. He lamely (and absurdly) tries to get them to take his survey until the gang's local leader shows up, befriends (in a way) the young graduate student, and eventually teaches him how the drug-selling gang's org chart looks almost exactly like that of a McDonald's franchise.

Some of what Freakonomics has to say is a jagged little pill to swallow. One of the authors, for example, is infamous for demonstrating how legalizing abortion led to a nationwide reduction in violent crime (not including, of course, violence against fetuses; that went up). And then there's the chapters on what about a parent does and doesn't matter in terms of their childrens' future success. The authors, though, remain surprisingly objective through all the rough spots, and they even manage to view issues from various perspectives when needed.

So this is easily a great book. Chances are you'll find five or more things that surprise you just inside the first hundred pages. I know I did.

Filed under: Books 2 Comments
11Oct/05Off

The Dragonbone Chair

The Dragonbone Chair

Every once in a while I get the urge to read a high fantasy novel instead of something more highbrow, much like people get cravings for hamburger over steak or a desire to punch themselves in the groin instead of having a nice cup of coffee. Since Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn often comes up in discussions of "good" fantasy series, I gave the first book, The Dragonbone Chair, a shot.

It's almost aggressively generic, I think.

Here, let's count the tired fantasy cliches that one finds capering through this book's 800 pages:

  • The book's main character is a orphan boy who is really highborn
  • That same peasant boy gets apprenticed to a wizard
  • A ancient, faceless evil is trying to arise and take over the world
  • An evil counselor (a wizard, even) corrupts the king
  • The main character has prophetic dreams
  • Not to mention entering the "dream world" to get more prophecies
  • The heroes are aided by elves and dwarves (though they go by different labels)
  • The heroes embark on a quest to collect three magic artifacts needed to save the world
  • The main character falls in love with a princess

There's more, but I think you get the point. There's almost nothing interesting about the characters in this book or the world they inhabit. This is kind of odd, since I'd say exactly the opposite is true of the other Tad Williams books I've read, the Otherworld series. There Williams gave us a huge cast of rich characters that I came to care about and put them in an interesting, unique world described through overlapping storylines. There's very little of that in The Dragonbone Chair.

See the thing is, though, that I've already got the other two books in the series so I may actually finish them. But not right away. I need time to cleanse my palate and read something else. Fortunately there's a new George R. R. Martin book coming out next month, and he's a guy who really knows how to write great stories set in the high fantasy genre.

Filed under: Books No Comments
10Oct/05Off

Sam’s Story: Week 89

Slow week this week, so let's start off with the pictures right off the bat:









As you can see, Ger and Sam went pumpkin hunting with their play group this week, and they returned triumphant with a big orange gourd. Sam has become quite attached to the thing, actually, and insists on carrying it around the house whenever possible. I plan to repeat my Emoticon Jack-O-Lantern from last year.

What we may not be able to repeat from last year is Sam's success at Halloween dress-up. We've been looking for a good costume for her, but we've come up empty-handed for the most part. We may be forced to go with "toddler."

On Saturday we all three went to the birthday party for a friend of Ger's from her play group. Actually, it was her 2-year old daughter's birthday, but it's a kind of poorly kept secret that birthday parties for kids that age are really for the parents. At any rate, there were lots of kids there, and it was once again interesting to see how Sam related to them (not at all) and how she handled the chaos (extremely well). Sam's kind of weird in that at home she'll pretty much always try to demand attention, but put in the middle of a large group of people in a new environment, she'll take off and do her own thing. Like play with a truck or smell the roses. She's complex, man.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 2 Comments
3Oct/05Off

Sam’s Story: Week 88

Sam hit a couple of unfortunate milestones this week, sometimes literally. The first is "Baby's First Hacked Up Wad of Phlegm," which she produced on account of having a little chest cold this week. It was almost comical on account of the way she had no idea what to do with it. Less comical is the second milestone, which was "Baby's First Busted Lip." An energetic Sam was running around, carrying her blanket behind her when she got tangled up and went face first into some piece of injection-molded hard plastic from her friends at Fisher Price. I didn't think much of it at first even with the subsequent wailing, because frankly she does this kind of thing several times a day. When I did start to freak out, though, was when Sam turned to me and showed me how blood was streaming down the lower half of her face.

I shrieked something like "AAAHH! She's bleeding!" in response to Ger's almost nonchalant question of "What happened?" from the other room. I started running in circles as Ger came bounding in, fully expecting to see her daughter covered in blood a la Sissy Spacek in the last 30 minutes of Carrie.

I continued hopping from one foot to the other, befuddled and wondering what to do. My first instinct was to have Sam drink a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, but that didn't seem right and we just dabbed it on her lip instead. We really needn't worry, as it was just a little cut that stopped bleeding after a few minutes. Sam was understandably pissed at the entire world, though, and we decided to just put her and her now puffy lip to bed.

Pictures!












As you might see from the pictures above, we had another outing this week. Friends Gary and Jennifer were visiting from out of town, which gave us a chance to play tour guides. We went to Sea World, which Sam actually seemed to enjoy. Well, mostly. There was once incident at the dolphin show.

During one point in the show a supposed family comes down from the audience to participate in the act --feeding the dolphins, holding up a wire for them to jump over, that kind of thing. Eventually the daughter poses with the animals while Mom leans out over the water to try and get a good photograph. Uh oh! Mom leans out too far and falls into the water, causing all kinds of commotion. The audience gasps, the music in the background becomes more dramatic (which, by the way, was your first real clue that this is all an act), and "Mom" panics and splashes towards safety before being rescued by her new aquatic friends before revealing that she is actually a Sea World actor in disguise.

This entire chain of events completely freaked Sam out. As soon as "Mom" fell in the water, Sam went from smiling and pointing at the dolphins to an incurable, shrieking, basket case. I'm not sure she even understood enough to make talk of falling for the ruse meaningful, but I do think she picked up on the emotional change in the audience around her, as well as the new dramatic music and the general commotion. For the rest of the show she was inconsolable, and on the way out she even pointed back at the dolphin tank and shouted "No! No!"

So there you have it: my daughter now hates dolphins. Thanks a lot, Sea World.