jmadigan.net

30Oct/06Off

Sam’s Story: Week 144

It is, of course, almost Halloween. What was once perhaps the most bitchin' of holidays became, as I got older, utterly trite has once again become totally awesometacular again simply because we now have a child. Sam is finally getting old enough that we can dress her up, and unlike before, she can actually enjoy it. This we had two costumes again, the first of which we strapped her into so that I could take her to this little kiddie party at the local community center. I give you Purple Fairy Girl:

Sam was totally stoked to go to this thing, and since Ger was at a yoga class that night I got to take Sam by myself. It was mostly little games and crafts that were done in exchange for fun-sized candy bars. I guess when you're two years old a rousing game of "Drop the Bean Bag in the Bucket Right There In Front of You" really pushes your nascent dexterity to the limit.

They also had one of those inflatable structures that you can jump around in, kind of like a trampoline only marginally less dangerous. Sam was initially dubious of this gas-filled behemoth, but when she eventually asked to try it, I took off her shoes and tossed her in there. There was a big sign on the side of the thing that very clearly said "WARNING: ONLY TWO CHILDREN AT A TIME" but that really didn't stop parents from just flinging kids in there by the dozen. Soon the laughing, undulating mass of costumed kiddies was so thick so as to preclude any sense of safety. I saw Sam totally clobber no less than three kids before I could get her out of there.

The other Halloween related activity for the weekend was a visit to a farm owned by, inexplicably, a major dog food manufacturer. There were, of course, dogs and dog food to be seen. But there was also a hay ride and a haunted house that Sam seemed to enjoy. Some stuff in the latter scared Sam or utterly confused her, forcing me scoop her up let her bury her face in my neck while I hurried her towards the exit, but she actually asked to go through it twice. My daughter the fear junkie.

On the whole, though, I have to say that Sam is an easy going kid --sometimes a bizarrely easy going kid. She rarely throws fits and follows our shrill advice about staying away from hyenas most of the time. Still, she's entered into the years where this part of her nature has to compete with the forces of basic biology and childhood development that help her push back on the world and learn to get through parts of it on her own.

Take the other night, for example. Ger was out and I was one-on-one with Sammy, having just gotten her out of the bath and trying to get her ready for bed. Sam wasn't exactly going with the flow, probably thanks to the Halloween sweets she'd snarfed just an hour earlier. When Sam is in such a mood she's apt to bellow "I'M NOT COOPERATING!" and then proceed to illustrate her point in every way she can come up with. Think Ghandi, but more aggravating and not quite as motivated by concern for her fellow man. I had managed to get her dried off, diapered, and half of her pajamas thrust over her flailing torso, but when I tried to put on her pants she broke away from me and bolted for the bathroom.

"I want to brush my teeth first!" she said, scrambling up her stepstool and reaching for the toothbrush that had been prepared with a healthy dollop of unnaturally blue gel.

"Sammy, come on. Put your pants on," I protested. "This is the drill. You know the drill. Respect the drill!"

"Nooooo! I want to brush my teeth first!"

For what seemed a long time we stopped there, locking eyes with each other. She in the bathroom with her toothbrush, cocked and ready to be jammed into her mouth, and me crouching on the bedroom holding a pair of pink pajama bottoms at the ready. We were like two substantially ridiculous cowboys, all tensed up and facing off, but with stuffed animals as our audience instead of good townspeople.

"Samantha," I said, using her full name and that certain tone, just the way my mother had always done with me, "put on your jammy bottoms first."

"No," she said, locking eyes with me and leaning closer to the glistening toothbrush.

A lot flashed through my mind at this point. This had nothing to do with Sam's love of dental hygiene and everything to do with a power play. She was deliberately pushing the limit and testing my authority just to see if she could get away with it. And I, in turn, was faced with a parenting problem that could not be solved by simply loving her, keeping her away from hyenas, or doing anything else that was obviously in her best interest. If I wanted her to accept my role as an authority figure in her life, I would stop her, punish her, and force her to do it my way. Such respect and deferment could serve quite well in keeping her safe and passing along my values to her as we go on in life.

But on the other hand, I want my daughter to eventually learn to push back on authority when it's warranted. I want her to rely on her own judgment and instincts instead of always just rolling over and doing or thinking what she's told. Sure, she's not even three yet, but what if those foundations are laid early? If that were the right call, I'd let her brush away and put on the rest of her jammies whenever she darn well felt like it.

But I was stuck. I didn't know which was the right thing to do, so we just stood there for a few more seconds, looking at each other and waiting for the other to make the first move.

I decided to compromise just as Sam decided to call the question. She thrust the toothbrush into her maw and started brushing vigorously as I sprang forward with the pink jammy bottoms. I didn't stop her from brushing, but I grappled with her kicking legs to put on the pants while she squawked protests through gobs of blue foam. I heard the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in my head as we did this. A minute later she was completely dressed and rinsing out the last of the toothpaste. It had turned out to be, in fact, a lot more efficient that way than doing the two activities separately and Sam didn't seem to hold any kind of grudge.

"Come on, Sam," I said, turning off the bathroom light. "Pick out three books and I'll read them to you."

"Maybe," she said as she trailed after me, "you'll read me FOUR books."

And so it goes.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 2 Comments
26Oct/06Off

Book Review: The Farseer Trilogy

I just can't seem to stop reading fantasy fiction. Robin Hobb is another one of those authors whose name comes up when people ask about fantasy that isn't truely, terribly, unbearably awful, and I guess there's a grain of truth in that. While I was really ready for this trilogy to end by the time it chose to do so, it wasn't quite as bad as some stuff I've read.

In fact, there's actually a fair amount to like here. I really dug the way that psionics and mental powers like mind control and telepathy were this world's "magic." It was kind of a nice change from the typical wizards and spells and other ground that's been trampled flat by other authors working in the genre. Hobb is also to be heartily commended for creating a genuinely tragic character in the form of FitzChivalry, the reluctant hero of the trilogy. Fitz's life sucks, and it's genuinely moving to see him grow into such a noble man that so much is demanded of and taken from. His own virtues drive him into a world that he doesn't want to be a part of, and he loses everything as a result. He's kind of like the tree from that children's book The Giving Tree, except he totally wishes that kid would leave him the hell alone and he has like the world's most supersmart wolf as a pet. By the end of the series I was really feeling for the guy and had a genuine connection with him, and that's no small feat for a writer to pull off.

On the other hand, for the love of God when was it decided that every fantasy series had to be huge and thick enough to build a garden retaining wall out of? Absolutely nothing of any consequence happens for great stretches of these books. While it's nice that we get the nuanced character development and insights out of plodding chunks like this, it's really aggrevating to move at such a glacial pace. The third book's climax is also infuriating in its dragon ex mechanica way of wrapping up a thousand pages of conflict in a few measly pages tacked on as almost an afterthought. I understand that the war that threatens the people of this fictional world is just a backdrop and a plot device --this is a story about one man's tragic life and sacrifice, not a story about battles and war. But come on. The way that things ended just screamed of some kind of "Well, I've hit my word count goal for the series. Time to wrap it up and ship it out!" mentality. Some of the books' greatest mysteries (especially the nature of the Red Ship Raiders and why they were attacking the good folk of the Six Duchies) are solved in an off-hand fashion that just annoyed me and left me feeling bereft of some kind of satisfaction that I had been expecting since the beginning. Such a missed opportunity.

So, unless you don't mind daunting page counts and are a particular fan of the fantasy genre, I'd only recommend these books with strong reservations. Be ready to devote some time to them and be at least annoyed at the end, if not outright angry. I may eventually pick up Hobb's other series set in this same world, but I'll have to take a break for a while.

Filed under: Books No Comments
25Oct/06Off

Photo of the Week: Spout

Spout

Many books on photography mention some variant of the mantra "Look up, look down, look back" in regards to keeping an eye out for shots. Here's one where it paid off during a recent trip to the local botanical gardens. I like little details like this.

See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography No Comments
24Oct/06Off

I write other stuff, too

TIP

Apparently my column in the October 2006 issue of The Industrial Psychologist (or "TIP" to the cool I/O Psychologists) is out. I haven't gotten my print copy yet, but it's also available for virtual perusal by clicking right here. God, they still have that horrible picture of me where my head looks really tiny. I need to fix that.

Anyway, I'm sure this is of interest to exactly one regular reader of this site (hi, David!), but in this issue my colleague and I once again discuss research and other articles that exemplify the much sought after Scientist Practitioner. Here's a taste:

Finally, Roth, Bobko, and Switzer recently published an article in Journal of Applied Psychology that illustrates how practices can sometimes drive research instead of the other way around. The authors model the behavior of the “4/5ths Rule” for determining the presence of adverse impact in a selection system, but they do so using a variety of computer simulations in both hypothetical and realistic situations. For those of you in need of a primer, the 4/5ths rule, whose origin it turns out is more indeterminable than you might guess, is a relatively simple rule of thumb that says that a selection system creates adverse impact if a protected class’s selection ratio is less than 80% (i.e., four fifths) of the selection ratio for the most often selected class. This procedure is unfettered by complex statistical significance tests and thus preferred by courts and government agencies who don’t want to require such specialized knowledge of key decision makers when it comes to evaluating adverse impact claims.

Riveting, right? I could talk more about Samantha's potty training instead if you'd like.

Filed under: I/O Psychology 5 Comments
23Oct/06Off

Sam’s Story: Week 143

I'm not normally the kind of father to pay a lot of attention to milestones relative to other children, but I do tend to notice when Sam starts or stops doing things. Recently she's made great leaps in her communication skills, what with her ability to imagine conditional situations ("I could watch a DVD if we didn't need to go [out to run errands].") or outcomes ("I can go outside after Mommy finishes dinner. Are finished now, Mommy? Are you finished now?"). She's even starting to properly enunciate her F and S sounds. Sometimes, though, we still have a failure to communicate.

Take the other night, for example. All three of us were in the playroom, I on the floor with Sam and Ger sitting nearby doing some virtual errands on the computer. Sam had her Winnie The Pooh Megablocks out and was busily snapping them together. Her favorite piece of the set is a little swing that you can snap characters into, but she sometimes has trouble working it by herself. After a moment of arranging Tigger, Piglet, and their comrades, Sam looked at me and said "I think poo needs to come out."

Now, we're still hoping to get Sam potty trained by the time the new baby arrives, so this is exactly the kind of statement that will make me jump to action. I leaped up and held out my hand. "Oh, thank you for telling me. Let's go to the bathroom!"

Sam gave my outstretched hand an annoyed look. "Poo needs to come out, Daddy," she repeated without making a move to get up.

"I know. So let's go sit on the potty!"

She shook her head. "No! Get poo out!"

My shoulders slumped and I just stood there, looking down at her. "Sammy, we have to go to the bathroom to get it out."

"No, here!" she said, thumping the floor with her palm.

"Sammy, if you want to get the poo out--"

"You get it out!" she shouted. She was starting to get pissed.

"Me? I don't need to go!"

"I think," Geralyn broke in with the voice of well formed reason, "that she wants you to get Winnie the Pooh out of the swing." She pointed to the piece of the Winnie the Bear Megablocks, which had the titular bear firmly set in the swing where little hands often had trouble dislodging it.

"Ooooh, get the Pooh out."

"Yeah," said Sam, looking at me like I was the Chief Engineer on the express train to Stupidville. "Get it out."

Here's a few pictures.

Nothing too exciting up there, as we spent most of our weekend shopping for furniture. Which, by the way, is something I recommend you not do with a toddler. Not only did Sam want to sit in every chair we saw, but she insisted on molesting every breakable nicknack the store had set out on its displays. I tried to adapt to the danger by trying to play the "Do you see something red?" game, but that just propelled her into the act of trying to break red things, which seemed to be even more expensive.

Speaking of expensive, Ger's prenatal yoga instructor seems like a very nice lady from all I've heard, but she's a bit dippy. Ger was telling me how at her last class the instructor was reminding everyone that her "natural childbirth pain management" class still had slots open. Like all of them. For just $160, she could coach you and your partner on how to employ "body centered hypnosis, in which imagery and suggestion guide the pregnant mother through the journey of labor and birth." The flyer she handed out further promised to help you "integrate the coping skills necessary for dealing with pain."

Now, no offense to those who choose to practice more natural childbirth, but Geralyn isn't one of you and she doesn't need this class for $160. She already knows all the coping mechanisms related to very naturally and organically using her facial muscles and larynx to say "I want an epidural." When she went into labor with Sam it was like the first thing Ger said, even to the receptionist at the information desk in the hospital lobby. She then calmly repeated this hypnotic mantra over and over again until men came and threaded a flexible catheter into her spinal cord and injected a steady trickle of medicine.

The best part of the whole flyer, though is that it promises to give you "a tape of the hypnosis exercise" to play during labor. A TAPE. I mean, woah that's too high tech. If it's not on a metal cylindar that I can take it back to my drawing room and insert into my hand-cranked gramophone, it's beyond me. This is 2006, after all.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 3 Comments
20Oct/06Off

New RSS Syndication via Feedburner

You may have noticed the big orange "chicklet" over on the right with the words "Subscribe to xml feed" underneath it. That's because I recently added RSS syndication via Feedburner.com. For those of you not in the know, RSS is a technology that allows me to syndicate the content of this website so that people can read it with pieces of software (either standalone or online) called, perhaps unimaginatively, RSS Readers. So if you read 10 blogs a day, you can just do it from one interface. Well, if they set up their RSS feed to allow it. You can also have your RSS Reader alert you when something new has been published in one of the blogs to which you subscribe.

I've always had RSS feed in the form of an XML version of my main page, and I've pointed people towards it and Bloglines.com, the RSS reader I currently use. But I decided to give Feedburner a try, mainly because it has a few widgets and makes it a lot easier for readers to subscribe with their reader of choice. Maybe you don't like Bloglines. Maybe your'e some kind of freak. That's cool, that's cool. This is a big tent.

It's also perhaps worth noting that jmadigan.net is syndicated via RSS in its entierty. Because RSS feeds with only the first so many words followed by a hyperlink to the full entry make Baby Jesus cry. Please click all the Google Ads you like, but I don't particularly care about page views here. I'm happy to know people are reading the content, whether it's straight from the source or via a reader.

Everything in the RSS feed seems to work, you'll just get ugly formatting and won't see the new stuff in the Media or latest Flickr pictures inserts on the right side of the front page. The only thing that really miffs me is that I can't seem to add a link to comments or tags in the RSS feed. If you know how to do that, please let me know. Seriously.

So, if you want to try getting started with the new feed, click on the orange thingie. Or click here. Either way, follow the directions on the other side. If you need help picking a RSS Reader program, I like Bloglines.com because it's clean and simple, though I've been eyeing Google's Google Reader and may switch to that.

19Oct/06Off

Pregnancy Update: Week …something

It occurs to me that since announcing Ger's pregnancy a while back I haven't really talked about it much. This may seem kind of weird, since I wrote about Ger's first pregnancy every week leading up to Samantha's birth. I also obsessively read books, scoured websites, went to classes on parenting, and watched horrifying movies about the birthing process.

But the thing is, I've kind of been there, seen that. Not that I'm a superparent or anything, but the terrifying air of mystery and uncertainty kind of dissipates when you live through it. Even just once. And Sam is fine, so I figure if we just do what we did with her the new kid will be fine. Or at least no worse off. This isn't to say that we're being blase about the pregnancy. Geralyn is still taking wonderful care of herself --eating well, getting as much rest as she can (though she'd probably like more than Sam's nap schedule allows), and going to the doctor regularly. Plus she hasn't started doing cocaine or skydiving or doing cocaine while skydiving. There's no problems there.

What I'm actually kind of worried about is what will happen after the baby arrives, since I've got no experience with splitting attention between two miniature people. This concern goes back to our cat. You see, we have a cat, which I actually got well before I got married much less had Sam. When I first got the cat, I lavished him with attention, missed him when I was gone, and outside of one unfortunate time when he peed blood in my laundry basket because I fed him super cheap cat food ("80% ash free!") I took good care of him. That kind of changed once Samantha came along. Now when he pads into the room half the time I look over at him and say "We have a cat? When did we get a cat?" He, in turn, usually just glares at me, probably wishing that someone would clean the mother clucking litter box.

Not that Sam would let either of us forget to clean her litter box, but I do forsee some rough roads ahead as we have to give her less of our dwindling time and attention. Perhaps things will eventually sort themselves out once the new kid is old enough to play with Sam, who in turn should be old enough to, you know, not endanger her sister if left alone with her. But then I'm afraid that Sam will clue in to some kind of pyramid scheme, and next thing I know she has every kid in the neighborhood working for her. She's just that sly.

As far as names go, we have a short list of about six that we're keeping close to our vest. We even have an emergency boy name picked out in case of a surprise in the delivery room. I'm not saying what the names are, though. I'm not sure why, but we just don't want to disclose them, even to family members. Maybe we fear that they'll be stolen or that someone will tell us "Oh, I knew an axe murderer-slash-prostitute with that name" and totally ruin it for us. The other night Geralyn was at her prenatal yoga class when the instructor was chit-chatting with her and asked what she intended to name the baby. Ger's eyes narrowed to slits and she looked at the woman askance for a moment before replying "We hadn't really thought about it." Ger apparently gave all the right nonverbal cues to communicate "Shut your question hole, lady," and and the rest of the class proceeded in uncomfortable silence. But I guess we'll have to go public with it eventually. The child at least should know.

So, anyway, the baby is fine according to the doctor who takes our insurance company's money every week. Due date is still in mid to late December (holy crap, that's soon!) and we're still getting prepared. The nursery is set up and we've started stocking up on diapers and clothes (having another girl means free hand-me-downs!), but I still can't shake the feeling that we're overlooking something, something critical that the first day we get home we're gonig to be like "OH MY GOD WE FORGOT TO BUY A ____________!" And, of course, I'll be the one running out to the local Walgreens or Home Depot or the Yankee Doodle Candle Company at 11:30 p.m. trying to find one lest the baby be forever stunted or traumatized. Can anybody tell me what that's going to be? 'Cause I'd really appreciate it.

Filed under: General 4 Comments
18Oct/06Off

Photo of the Week: Horse Statue

Horse Statue

A picture of a horse statue taken just at dusk. Bonus cool points for anyone who recognizes it.

See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography 5 Comments
16Oct/06Off

Sam’s Story: Week 142

Why do I even keep sponges around? They're like little time bombs of bacteria thanks to the way we diligently moisten them and then cram them into some small, warm drawer for days on end so that they can breed new forms of life. The other night Sam cheerfully smeared some cheese spread on the carpet, so I retrieved one of these microbe magnets from the kitchen to wipe up the stain. Sam saw what I was doing and insisted on trying it out for herself, so I gave her the sponge and let her go to town. It WAS her mess, after all. Of course, I look away for like one second and then turn back to her to find that she'd crammed half the thing in her mouth and was sitting there with the other half jutting out of her smiling face like a diseased yellow tongue. Worse, she was actually sucking on it.

I, of course, shrieked like a little girl and snatched the thing out of her mouth. But sure enough like an hour later her nostrils are leaking and she's hacking like a cat with a particularly distasteful hairball. These things worked fast. So for the last few days Sam has had a nose made red and sore by all the running and blowing. This has in turn put her in a perpetually bad mood and caused exchanges like this:

"I want raspberry drink, Daddy."

"Okay, let me get your cup out of--"

"NOOOO! I WANT RASPBERRY DRINK! NOW!!! AAAAAAAHHHHHHH-HAH-HAH-HAH!"

Apparently she wanted me to lunge over to the fridge, yank out the pitcher, and pour it down her throat, but that would have caused a stain on the carpet and alas irony is lost on most two-year olds.

Here, at least, are some pictures of her in better moods:

There's several shots of Sam at another pumpkin patch which I got to attend this time (hooray, weekends). I've often worried about becoming one of those "baby people" that look forward to doing things like the pumpkin patch and enjoying life by using their kids as a proxy, but I gotta tell you: it doesn't bother me now. I have a blast just by soaking up the excess joy she radiates when riding a tractor or getting a new toy that fires bits of molded plastic into the air at dangerous velocities. I couldn't imagine life without it now.

But I guess it cuts both ways. This shot was particularly nerve wracking, but as they say, sometimes you gotta just let your children go and watch them scale a massive mountain of hay bails. Amazingly, though, Sam went right to it without any hesitation or fear. I just stood at the base, cringing and making a mental note about what still scares Sam (bugs, loud noises) and what does not (heights, sponges).

There's also this snapshot where Sam learns to use chopsticks, mainly to stab sugar packets wail on the table like a Tommy Lee having an epileptic fit. Sam's routine in restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, is actually pretty established. She knows the drill, such that we get exchanges like this:

"Hi, folks, my name is Chad and I'll be taking care of you tonight. Can I start you off with--"

"I want macaroni! And cheese! And lemonade! Please!"

I then apologize to the waiter, explaining that she pretty much treats us the same way and that he should totally read my blog.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 3 Comments
13Oct/06Off

Chihuly at the Botanical Gardens

The other day Geralyn helped me celebrate my birthday by dropping Samantha off at the grandparents' house and taking me to the local botanical gardens to engage in some relaxation and photography. That was cool enough, but to make things even better there was a traveling exhibit by some guy named Chihuly. Apparently this fellow specializes in glass sculptures --sometimes huge ones-- that he incorporates into natural environments. The glass shapes he creates are very natural looking, with lots of curves and no hard angles. Here's a couple of pictures to give you the idea:





(Note about pictures in this post: these are just thumbnails that are cropped down to 200x200 squares. Go ahead and click on them to see the full-sized, uncropped versions.)

It's really amazing stuff, and I was constantly in a state of wonder over how graceful, beautiful, and weirdly organic looking the sculptures were.

In fact, most of the sculptures were incorporated into the terrain to such an extent that they appeared, in a very weird way, to be part of it. You could easily imagine that some of the sculptures were in fact plants. Plants made out of colored glass instead of, um... plant stuff. Here's a couple of examples:





The thing is, that even though I took a LOT of pictures (somewhere north of a hundred and forty, I think), none of the wide angle shots of the sculptures mixed in with the greenery really resulted in interesting pictures. They were just kind of blah because they were too busy with no real focal point. It also didn't help that the place was so crowded that any wide angle shot was guaranteed to include some gawking goofball in addition to the elegant sculptures and lush flora. So, sorry about that. What I did find that resulted in some of my favorite pictures, though, was zooming in to focus on specific parts of the sculpture. This allowed me to focus on one piece among a tangle of other like this...





...Or to isolate certain parts of the sculptures like this...







That last shot of the red bulb was form what seemed to be the most photographed spots in the whole exhibit: a reflecting pool full of these brightly colored, teardrop shaped bulbs. And it was popular for good reason. The bulbs floated around gracefully in the pool and cast spectacular reflections (the red one above is a shot of just the reflection from one). Like everyone, I got a lot of shots, including these two:






Of course, the colors here and everywhere else were perfectly picture worthy in their own right, and even though it was late in the year there were still a few flowers in bloom:





Not all of the exhibits were outdoors, though. Chihuly also made some spectacular smaller pieces, including many that were on display inside the buildings. In fact, the ones below gave me a chance to try out my new image stabilization lens (which I introduced here) in a low light situation. The results are actually my two personal most favoritist shots from the whole trip:





And finally, I love my little girl dearly, but the fact that we had left her behind with her grandparents made the outing SO much more enjoyable. I could take my time looking for cool stuff and different pictures instead of keeping one eye on her (toddler + million dollar glass chandelier = nervous Jamie). It also meant that I wasn't thinking of taking pictures of her, which let me think about taking them of Geralyn. I shared my favorite shot of her in this week's Photo of the Week, but I also got these to nice shots of her, which I really like:





So, that's the outing in a nutshell and a few pictures. I highly recommend getting out to see these exhibits if they come to your town; they're just amazing. I have lots more pictures, but I have to hold something back for future Photo of the Week material, right? Hope you at least enjoyed these.

Filed under: Photography 10 Comments
11Oct/06Off

Photo of the Week: Crowned in Gold

Crowned in Gold

Sometimes I gotta remember to take pictures of the other beautiful girl in my life. Geralyn and I dropped Samantha off at her grandparents' house last Saturday and spent a good chunk of the day taking pictures at the local botanical gardens where many of the trees were changing color. It was kind of a birthday gift for me and this is my new favorite picture of her.

See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography 1 Comment
9Oct/06Off

Sam’s Story: Week 141

Sam used to have a "pack and play" playpen that long-time readers may recognize from old pictures. She became separated from it a while back when we left it at my sister's house in anticipation of just using it on the next visit, which never happened for one reason or another. Well, a few weeks ago I get an e-mail from my sister. It turns out that she had set up the playpen so some visiting friends could put their own toddler down to rest. Only that sleepy toddler was experiencing extreme gastrointestinal distress of the kind usually reserved for sick elephants. And it turns out that this child has a bit of an artistic streak, so short version: the playpen was befouled in a most thorough fashion --a fashion involving deliberate smearing, cramming, and grinding. So my horrified sister apologized profusely and told us to pick out a new one for the new baby so that she could buy it for us.

Seeking to save her a few bucks, Ger and I decided to try and buy a used one instead. So yesterday we went to some kind of "Baby Mania" event, and if you can just hold the words "huge baby-related yard sale" in your mind for a moment you'll probably start to understand my trepidation going in. It was basically a one-day swap meet where people could take the dried up husks of their old parenting equipment and sell them for pennies on the dollar to people like us who didn't want to pay full price.

As we pulled up to the event and saw the ocean of penny pinching parents swarming over the second-hand goods, I started to worry that once we got in there some crazed, new mother in a faded jumpsuit would grab Samantha, hold her up in front of me and scream "HOW MUCH FOR THIS? HOW MUCH?" And I'd be totally speechless, because I've never given the question adequate thought. It's also the kind of event where you have to assume that everything has at least trace amounts of other kids' filth on it, but you have to think "How much poop is too much?" because poop or no that exersaucer is a steal at five bucks.

But actually, it wasn't that bad. We walked out with a number of things, including a little fire truck that represents the best $0.75 we've ever spent judging from Samantha's enthusiastic enjoyment of it. No playpen, though.

Here's some pictures:

I like this one because of the precarious mounting of the tire swing and the way she looks like she's about to launch herself into disaster. This one also makes me smile, but mostly in memory of what she was doing when I took it. Ger had left one of her "Chick Lit" books on the counter and Sam picked it up to study the cover, which had a cartoon of two fish kissing. Sam then sat down and flipped through the book, stopping at each page to point at one random word and say "Fish..." and then to point at another another and say "Kiss..." She did this for like 10 minutes. Apparently it's a book about fish that kiss, and apparently Sam found it to be a page turner.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 2 Comments
6Oct/06Off

Saying it isn’t so dosn’t make it not so

In the last few weeks Sam has flittered in and out of these states of contrariness where she'll argue the opposite of any given statement just for the experience it seems to afford her. She recently demonstrated this again on a rainy day.

"I want to go play on my playground, Daddy."

"Sam, it's raining. You can't go outside."

"It's not. It's not raining."

At this point I walked over to the sliding glass door and looked out into the back yard. Despite Sam's proclomation, water was indeed falling from the sky. "Yes, it is. Look."

Sam joined me at the door and looked out. "It's not raining," she repeated after a moment, looking up at me like I was some kind of cross between a moron and a half-wit.

At this point I just shrugged and slid the door open. "Hokay, suit yourself. I'll keep an eye on you from here."

Sam just kind of stood there on the threshold to the wet world beyond, looking out at the deluge with a mix of confusion and annoyance. After a long pause, she looked back up at me. "It's raining Daddy. You can't go outside when it's raining. Close the door!"

I groaned, then slid the door shut. "This is totally going in the blog, kiddo."

Filed under: Conversations 4 Comments
4Oct/06Off

Photo of the Week: Squid Attack!

Squid Attack!

Suddenly a giant squid bursts into the room! Actually, this was a big hanging display at the zoo. To create this pic, I took a normally exposed shot, then did the following in Photoshop:

  1. Created a duplicate layer and selected the top layer
  2. Selected Filter -> Blur -> Motion Blur... and fiddled with the settings until I liked it
  3. Seleted the Eraser tool and set the opacity to around 30%
  4. Erased the top layer where I wanted it to be in not blurred (i.e., the mouth and eye) and worked my way from the center of the squid out, decreasing opacity to about 5% by the time I was to the outer edges. This allowed the unblurred bottom layer to partially show through where I erased.
  5. Erased the background with the opacity set to 100% so it was completely unblurred.

Nifty, eh? See the rest of my Flickr photostream.

Filed under: Photography 1 Comment
3Oct/06Off

Zoo Zoom (Or, fun with my new lens)

So, after talking about it for nearly a year, I finally added a telephoto lens to my camera playset. This one, the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. The longest focal length I had on my other lenses was 110mm, and that really wasn't enough to let me shoot right up someone's left nostril from a safe distance. I came very close to buying one of those fancy L-series lenses, which are absurdly overpriced and scream LOOK AT ME! I'M A H4RDC0R3 PH070GR4PH3R!, but I eventually decided that I wanted more focal length (i.e., more zooming) than the only one in my price range. And more importantly I wanted image stabilization. As far as I can tell, lenses with image stabilization have teams of tiny imps inside them. Whenever you focus on something, they all get to work and counter-jiggle the glass guts of the thing so that your pictures don't look like the camera was held by a meth addict quitting cold turkey.

So as I mentioned in Sam's last update, I went to the zoo to test the thing out. I figured wild animals fit the bill of "want to take picture of, but can't get that close to" and thus made excellent subjects to try this sucker out. Here are my two favorite pictures from that (click for larger versions):





Pretty good zooming. I'm sure that the groundhog would have ripped my throat out if I had tried to get close enough for that shot with a wide angle lens. But what I was really impressed with was the image stabilization. These shots of the sea lion show were taken from my seat in the bleachers, zoomed in to 300mm or so:





I'd zoom in and the image would be shaking and jittering around, yet when I pressed the button to focus the image stabilizing imps would jump up and make it almost rock solid. Combined with ample light, I got a nice crisp image. I haven't played with it much in low light yet, but I plan on experimenting with that next.

Just for fun, here's another picture of that bear, along with what Wikipedia tells me is his natural predator:





And finally that chipmunk and the leopard with whom he forged an unlikely but powerful friendship after being lost at sea for 100 straight days (in my version of events):





Filed under: Photography 3 Comments
1Oct/06Off

Sam’s Story: Week 140

Not a terribly eventful week this time around. I did get a new camera lens (more on that a bit later), though, and decided that I wanted to go to the zoo to test it out. Geralyn pointed out that Samantha might like to come too, so we made a day of it. After meeting disappointment when asked what kind of animal she wanted to see (her vote was an enthusiastic "COWS!"), Sam agreed to go to a little sea lion show they were doing. Sam kept calling them seals, but when I kept correcting her and calling them sea lions, she decided that "sea seal" was an acceptable compromise. She's a uniter, not a divider.

After the zoo I was pretty much ready to get some overdue lunch, but Geralyn wanted to visit this "Arthur's Day in the Park" thing the Public Broadcasting System was putting on for their younger viewers. She produced a clipping from one of those free magazines and noted that there was supposed to be food, games, and "photo ops" with PBS characters like Elmo, Cookie Monster, Bob the Builder, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Sam is into each of those people/monsters/animals to some degree, so I agreed. We made all kinds of extravagant promises to an excited Samantha about visiting her favorite characters as we headed over.

After searching for a spot in the overcrowded streets for some time, we finally engaged in some creative parking and trekked over to the park where the event was taking place. As soon as we broke through the outer crowd we were greeted by the sight of lines. Lines everywhere. Just sweaty, child bearing people queued up and waiting for ...what? We weren't sure. At this point Sam and I were okay, but a very pregnant, hungry, and footsore Geralyn wasn't too happy about seeing that half the state's population had apparently lined up at the only food stand. She plunged through the crowds to investigate the other lines, pushing her way to the front to see what everyone was waiting for.

Turns out, it was the much celebrated "photo ops" that the clipping had promised. There were several tents set up, and inside each one some poor schmuck in an Elmo or Arthur the Ardvark costume sat in a chair and gazed out into the unending sea of waiting children, his dead, googly eyes betraying all his lost hopes and dreams. I estimated that it would take about a week to wait long enough to get a five-second visit with just one muppet, during which I'd probably get an underexposed, off-center, and out of focus snapshot. I was about to point this out to Geralyn when she snatched Samantha up and held her up at eye level. "Look! It's Clifford!" she said, pointing at the barely visible big red dog through the pressing throng. "See Clifford? Let's go!" She then hefted our bewildered toddler onto her hip and clomped off to the next tent.

Similarly brief and long-distance visits to Elmo and Arthur ensued (Cookie Monster was apparently out back on break). Five minutes later we were walking back towards our precariously parked car and Geralyn was chirping "Did you have fun seeing all your characters, Sammy? You saw them. YOU CAN'T SAY THAT YOU DIDN'T SEE THEM! MOMMY'S HUNGRY!"

And a brief time after that we sat in a nearby diner, making it all up to Sammy by letting her eat a huge plate of pancakes at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Here are pictures.

There's plenty of shots up there of Sam at a pumpkin patch with her cousins, uncles, and grandparents. I think Ger was there, too, but I wasn't. They get to do all the fun stuff, like climb on pumpkins, drive tractors, and run through drainage pipes. I also like this picture, mainly because of the sign not four feet away from child and photographer alike.

The last thing I'll mention is an incident from this morning that made me aware of how Geralyn and I can have the same intentions and desires when it comes to parenting, yet make unique assumptions and go about caring for Samantha in different ways. I had jokingly handed Sam a dollar bill, telling her that she could totally retire by age six if she invested early and wisely. This prompted Sam to just kind of stand there and smile at her newfound wealth. We were running late, though, so Geralyn snatched the bill from Sam's hand and tried to shoo us, her two children, towards the door. For some reason this really upset Sam, who immediately burst into tears.

Now, it may not surprise you to know that a crying Samantha will get nothing but great sympathy from both Geralyn and myself. But what surprised me, on later reflection, was the differences in what we did because of that sympathy. Geralyn immediately went to her knees, apologized for snatching away the newfound treasure, and gave Sam a big hug while making all kinds of soothing sounds. I, on the other hand, ran to the spare change jar and brought it over, making promises that Sam could pick out any coin she wanted as a replacement.

So indulge me in some naval gazing and think about that. Ger had assumed that Sam was sad, startled, and probably a little angered by the way that she, Geralyn, had taken the new possession away. The appropriate response wasn't necessarily to solve some problem, but to empathize, apologize, and reassure. To mend hurt feelings, in other words. I, on the other hand, assumed that Sam was just pissed over the simple reality of not having her newfound treasure anymore. And the logical, appropriate response to that was to solve the problem by replacing the bill with something more durable, less valuable, and altogether more pleasing to a two-year old's senses. I wanted to fix the situation so that the source of her unhappiness was gone.

I don't think it's a guy/girl thing (I've known women who probably would have done what I do and men who would have done what Ger did), but it does bring to mind how we do differ, even when the situation and the desired outcome (i.e., a happy Sammy) are the same. And I guess that's a good thing, since it increases the odds that at least one of us will be right. Like in this situation; Sam was fine after a moment of hugs with Geralyn and a dip into my change jar.

Well, she was fine until we looked over and found her shiny new dime in her mouth. Then we took that away from her, thinking along exact same lines of how neither of us wanted to spend the next few days watching for "buried" treasure should she swallow it.

Filed under: Parenting, Samantha 2 Comments