Light update this week. Mandy is doing fine with her little pink cast, and we're enjoying the freedom to park in the handicap parking spaces at the mall. One odd thing that she's been doing lately, though, is to be really clinging with Geralyn. If even I try to pry her away, Mandy starts craying "MomME! MoMMMMMEE! MOOOOMMMMMEEEEEAAARRRAAHHAAAA!" until I relent and just pitch her back over to Geralyn. Mandy seems perfectly happy to see me as long as I'm not actually trying to touch her. I'm told (mostly by myself, muttering under my breath) that this will pass, but it's still kind of exasperating in the meantime.
Sam, on the other hand, is not clingy at all, yet she still spends much of her time trying to get away with things. Last night, after I explained that she could in fact not have another brownie, she crossed her arms and gave me what I can only assume she thought was a menacing stare.
"If I were a grown up," she said, biting off each word, "I could make my own rules."
"Yes but if you were a grown up," I retorted, "you'd have the judgment to make the rules good ones."
This was, of course, a bald and terrible lie, as evidenced by various wars, cigarette companies, tanning booths, and both the second and third brownies I had eaten myself while Sam wasn't looking. But she bought it. Thank God for childish naivete.
The other big event in Sam's life is that Geralyn bought her a little tent. Nothing fancy or capable of withstanding anything more than a gentle breeze, just a plastic and nylon jobbie that assembles quickly and has provided so far many hours of inexplicable entertainment. Sam was beside herself with glee (which is, by the way, just awesome to behold), and spazzed out by repeatedly climbing in and out of the various flaps. She then insisted that we bring it up to her bedroom, so that she could sleep in it. This proved, as we told her it would, mightily uncomfortable, but she persisted. Creeping into your daughter's room to check on her and seeing her two little feet clad in two little pink socks sticking out from a tent flap? That's like one of the best sights EVER.
Also, Sam went bowling, apparently. And she got the best score out of all the children and some adults, though the latter had a much higher blood alcohol level.
Note: These are books #19 and #20 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.
Okay, Internet, I've got a bone to pick with you: how come none of you ever told me about Terry Pratchett?
Okay, so that's not entirely fair. I'm pretty sure people have told me about Pratchett and his Diskworld series before, usually working in the phrase "He's the Douglas Adams of fantasy" into the description. But the problem was that I always felt that I had had enough of Adams after the third Hithiker's Guide to the Galaxy book, and whenever I scanned Pratchett's section in the bookstore I was immediately put off by not knowing where to start reading among the approximately five hundred thousand Diskworld books. I'm glad I finally took the time to find out that these two books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, jointly comprise the first tale in the series, and that they were definitely worth reading.
The Diskworld books are essentially satire of the high fantasy genre, or at least that's the foundation upon which everything else is built. This pair of books follows the misadventures of Rincewind, a utterly inept and thoroughly cowardly wizard, and Twoflowers, a clueless traveler who happens to be in possession of both endless optimism and a magical suitcase that's always wandering off and messily devouring people who get in its way. Things go from bad to worse for the two as divine powers both deliver them into and yank them out of all kinds of fantastic perils.
As someone who grew up reading plenty of this kind of thing and playing a lot of Dungeons& Dragons, I'm familiar enough with the genre and trappings that Pratchett lampoons. Yes, there's the Conan parody, there's the Dragonriders of Pern tribute, there's the in-joke about Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. But that's easy. The thing that made me almost immediately fall in love with these books is the author's dry wit and his ability to derive humor not only from the absurdity of the story (and believe me, it gets plenty absurd) but also from just good old fashioned turns of phrase, wry commentary, and jokes. The guy just has an amazing ability to stuff five or six jokes into a single sentence, most of them making masterful use of that trusty standby of British humor, irony. It's really smart and really funny, and the fact that it builds on the inherent silliness of the high fantasy genre is just icing.
I should also note how imaginative Pratchett is, which is a useful quality given his subject matter. He bounces his heroes from one (generally horrible and dangerous) situation to another at a frantic pace, and his ability to come up with new material and new situations amazes me. And while many of them are obvious parodies of fantasy staples, just as many seem to be wholly new creations. As one small (and obligatory) example, the Diskworld itself is a flat coin of a world that rides atop four enormous elephants, who themselves ride on the back of a colossal turtle with two continent-sized flippers that it uses to swim slowly through the cold reaches of space.
But at the same time, if I have one complaint about these first two books, it's that they're almost maniacal in their plotting. While it's nice to see Pratchett's considerable imagination and humor on display as we go from situation to situation, the first book reads like an extended doodle with little plot and a whole "gods playing games with mortals" subtext that's entirely dropped in the next book. There's also one Conan the Barbarian parody that's abruptly dropped in favor of another Conan the Barbarian parody who Pratchett apparently liked better. It's not until the latter part of the second book does an overall plot come into play, but honestly I was enjoying myself so much I really didn't mind. Expect to see lots more Discworld books reviewed here in the future.
Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:
The other week I flew out to San Francisco, California to attend the annual SIOP conference. Geralyn wisely decided that this was a prime opportunity for us to engage in some kid-free vacationing, so we made arrangements for per parents and cousin to watch the girls and she flew out there to meet me a day later. We took some pictures.
While I was busy sitting through lectures on how to measure the return on investment of leadership development programs and what the best practices are for establishing employment retesting policies, Geralyn hit the streets and did touresty stuff. This included Alcatraz prison.
The exception was Sunday, which was the day after the conference. I took a vacation day then and we headed out on a tour of the California redwoods in Muir Park (actually, I think it's technically a national monument). I got some fun shots, even if I had to lie flat on my back and point the camera straight up to do it.
We also drank some wine and went on a tour of some Sonoma Valley wineries. I was surprised at what a huge production the wineries in this area are after having only visited smaller ones in our neck of the woods and in Southern California. They're as much about tourism as they are about wines, but we still ended up buying four bottles to bring back with us. Great time, and it was nice to have something besides kids to take pictures of again.
Did I mention that the weather was awesome the whole time? It was.
More and more often, I feel like I don't have anything to write about on this blog. Many of the stories about Mandy feel like reruns of Sam's stories, and sometimes I just feel like I don't have anything new to report for that week. Occasionally, though, something happens and I know I've got to write about it, got to chronicle it, got to share it.
But to my credit, the thought "I should blog about this," didn't occur to me until we were on our way home from the emergency room.
Allow me to back up and gesticulate wildly. Sam, Mandy, and I were following our after-dinner routine of playing on the living room floor. Sam has this little pink chair. She likes to capsize it and climb all over it, pretending it's a mountain, a car, or a car on a mountain. And it just so happened that Mandy, who is learning to join in such games, was sitting on its base, leaning against it at a 45-degree angle with her legs splayed out and slightly raised off the floor. I later had to repeatedly imitate this position and pantomime what came next for the benefit of various hospital staff. Sam climbed to the top of the upturned chair and rolled down, laughing, to land right across Mandy's splayed legs.
The muffled snapping sound was my first clue that something bad had happened, and twenty minutes of mounting dread and not being able to stop Mandy from crying was the second. We all four loaded up in the minivan and rushed off to the nearby pediatric urgent care facility. There a nice lady terrorized Mandy by poking and prodding her, then made up for it by giving both her and Sammy popcicles, which was the absolute height of the trip for Sam. When held up into a standing position, though, Mandy would not put any weight on her right leg, so the doc told us to take her to the hospital emergency room. So back in the minivan we went.
At the hospital, the doctors took x-rays and confirmed that it was in all likelihood a fracture to her leg, right below the knee. The break actually wasn't visible on the x-rays, but the doctor there said that wasn't unusual, and such an injury was called "a toddler's fracture." I guess it's nice that they have a name for it. They said there was a chance that she had just a badly sprained knee, but to be safe they put a splint and cast on it. When asked her opinion, a generally pissed off and tired Mandy would scream and shake her tiny fist at you.
The next day after a night of fitful sleep, Ger took her back to get a permanent cast put on. She chose, of course, bright neon pink. Because that's the only choice that made sense. Obviously. You're stupid for even asking, Jamie. I swear, when I asked "Why bright pink?" Geralyn's response was "Because it will go well with that brown dress of hers." And besides being a bold fashion statement sure to set the toddler runways on fire --bright, fuschia fire-- she sprang for the fiberglass cast that we can at least bathe Mandy in, so that's nice. And after a few diaper changes where we handled everything with extreme delicacy for fear of bumping the cast and having it explode into a bright pink haze of fiberglass particles, we discovered that the thing is surprisingly durable. Really, you can bang the crap out of it without damaging it or even having Mandy feel a darn thing. Not that we do that, but you can.
Sam, to her credit, seemed to alternate between being contrite for her active role in her sister's ordeal and being completely oblivious to the whole thing. She knew something was wrong, and she periodically tried to give her little sister hugs and kisses. Usually by reaching across the damaged leg and squeezing as hard as she could, but it was the thought that counted. The rest of the time she chirpped happily about the popcicle that the nice doctor had given her, and that maybe perhaps she could have a blue one next? Or she asked when we could go home and eat some of the popcicles we had there. She never seemed particularly frightened by the hospital or the whole ordeal, except when they came to put the splint on Mandy's leg and wrap it. This sudden appearance of two big burly men dressed in hospital scrubs and bearing STRANGE THINGS convinced Sam that she had to go back out to the waiting room and study the fish tank immediately.
On the ride back home, though, Sam sat in her car seat, apparently reflecting on the night's events. In the sleepy silence she spoke up, squeezing each word out like paste form a tube. "If I had been careful, that wouldn't have happened to Mandy." I'm not sure if she was parroting or paraphrasing something someone had said to her, but if not then it's actually kind of a milestone with her. It's the first time I've heard her reason out, using the rule of cause and effect, what a situation would be like if something had not happened. It's nice to see that kind of mental agility developing, though I wish it had come about under different circumstances.
Not that this whole sibling-induced mishaps thing is without precedence in my family. When I was just a baby, my sister and her stupid friend apparently climbed underneath my crib, lay on their backs, and kicked up at the bottom of my mattress as hard as they could. I was lying on it at the time, so I flew up and arced gracefully across the nursery to crack my head on the side of the dresser several feet away. I harbor no grudge against her for this, however, even though I never have been able to divide by the number eight as a result.
At any rate, Mandy is doing fine now. She can't stand up with the cast on, but she has learned to crawl a bit. This actually has its advantages, like how we don't have to put up the baby gates all the time now, and her toenails are easy to trim. The cast comes off in about two and a half weeks. She's enjoying the additional pampering in the meantime.
Note: This is book #18 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.
Part of the idea behind this whole 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge was to branch out into genres and topics that I might not normally try. While I haven't read anything about perky single British chicks trying to make it on their own and find love in the big city or perky single British vampire chicks trying to fight crime and find love in the big city, this book by Michael Pollen about nutrition and eating well does signal a bit of a departure for me.
Pollen's manifesto here isn't actually that much about nutrition, though. His specific advice about what to eat doesn't get much more specific than what he presents as both his "eater's manifesto" and his seven word summary of the whole book: "Eat food, not to much, mostly plants." The rest is just elaboration.
The elaboration starts with Pollen's differentiating "food" from "non-food." He does this mainly by railing against what he calls "nutritionism," which is the recent trend where food scientists (and food marketing professionals) focus on the nutritional content of food rather than whole foods. A lot of this has its genesis from when the U.S. government wanted to recommend eating less meat and dairy, but the lobby groups from those industries had a Class A freakout and through political pressures got the recommendations changed to focus more on nutrients rather than foods. So "Eat less meat and dairy" got malformed into "Choose lean protein sources like fish, chicken, and fat-free dairy products."
This is bad, Pollen argues, because scientists and policy makers don't know that much about how the individual nutrients behave outside of their complex, whole food systems. And, worse, they're sometimes wrong in entirely harmful ways. Think margarine here. This whole nutrient obsession has also created bizarre creations like low carb pasta (what?), fat-free half-and-half (what IS one of the halves, then?), and other culinary impossibilities. Pollen goes into detail about why such concoctions are not "food" per se, but "food products" and generally bad for you. His advice is generally to avoid anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, especially if it tries to make health claims. Replace that stuff with whole foods, especially plants and especially the leafy greens of plants.
In general, a lot of Pollen's suggestions make sense, and the book is written in an easy to read, almost conversational tone that makes it easy to (pardon the pun) digest. Some of his advice is hard to swallow (dang, another pun), like eschewing (oops, puns everywhere) anything with more than five ingredients and only buying stuff that you've either grown yourself our bought directly from a grower. Still, it's good food for thought (ah, sorry), and a lot of what he says about how senselessly the government regulates food labeling gives you plenty to chew on (dang, that one just slipped in there).
Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:
I actually don’t have much to say about the kids this week, mostly because I didn’t really pay much attention to them. Not that I could have if I wanted, seeing as Geralyn and I were in San Francisco while the kids were not. I was in the city for the annual Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology conference (SIOP to the cool kids like you and me), and Geralyn decided that she’d take the opportunity to fly out to meet me there a day later, and that we’d both stay an extra day to do some of the first child-free vacationing we’ve had a shot at in four years or so. And, being the good parents we are, we left out extra bowls of food and water for the kids. Okay, I'm kidding. I think we left them with their grandparents or something.
This was, of course, great. When making small talk with people I only see at these conferences, they’d often ask "How are the kids?" to which my immediate response was always "Not here! HA HA HA HA! Is there any more wine?"
I was actually curious about how much I'd miss Sam and Mandy while gone for almost a week, and the answer of "some" might not surprise you. For one, I was really busy during the day every day, without much time to miss anything. Second, I consoled myself during our fancy San Francisco dinners by thinking "Man, Sam would hate this place. They don't have grilled cheese on the menu. I really did her a solid by leaving her behind." In the one case where we did eat at a place with grilled cheese on the menu I altered my plan a bit to work in the fact that it costs $18.00. The downtown part of San Francisco where we stayed was not particularly kid friendly.
The rest of the time, of course, I missed them terribly and am curious as to how they will react to our return. Hopefully they won't be too angry and thus won't take a cue from the cat and urinate on the carpet in protest.
Update: Just got home a few hours ago and after shrieking "MOMMY! YAY! DADDY! YAY!" upon seeing us, Sam's first question was "Where's my present?" Mandy babbled "Mama! Daddy!" over and over again, unless it looked like you were going to try to take her out of Geralyn's arms, in which case she shrieked at you. It's good to be back.
Note: This is book #17 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.
The full title here is Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes. There are surprisingly few monkeys or girls in this book, but it does tell the story of the lawsuit between the Dover, Pennsylvania school board and parents who didn't like the idea of religion under the thin guise of intelligent design (ID) being taught in their public schools.
One reason I picked up this book was that while I had soaked up some of the ID controversy through various other media, my knowledge pretty much stopped at "Dem Kansas people sure are dum, hur, hur, hur." The Pennsylvania suit actually went to trial first, and was more influential from a legal standpoint. Basically, here's what happened: a few very vocal and influential members of the Dover school board decided they wanted to reintroduce religion to public schools, and that the godless and anti-religious (to their view) science of evolution needed to go. The best way to do this was to start with a small wedge like creationism --the view that the Old Testament stories of creation should be taken literally-- and then widen the entrance until happy children everywhere are thumping Bibles during recess and that Goldstein kid just stands in the corner looking REALLY uncomfortable. Later, when they actually started getting legal council about how teaching religion in publicly funded schools is kinda sorta totally illegal and unconstitutional, the school board changed their tune slightly from promoting creationism to backing intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. ID posits that the universe in general and mankind in specific are too complex to happen by chance or evolution, and that they had to be designed by someone. They don’t come out and say that that “someone” is G-O-D, but that’s pretty much where everyone’s guesses start and end.
So this is what the school board did, even as their science teachers and a few dissenting board members yelled themselves hoarse in protest. And then some concerned parents --many of them Christians themselves-- said “oh no you di’ent!” and sued the board for violating their children’s constitutional rights. Because ID was still basically religion in the classroom. The school board and their council said “Nuh-uh! Is not!” and the judge had to take it from there.
As far as the book itself, Humes does a really good job of presenting the issues and the case surrounding this lawsuit. It’s clear that he’s on the side of the evolutionists, but it’s also clear from his account how the intelligent design proponents were using ID as a means of bringing religion into schools and had no interest in its scientific merits, which is convenient seeing as it has few. Humes tells the story of this conflict through its players, taking you meticulously through how each step was made and each decision was arrived at, from the beginning of the school board’s decision through the verdict of the resulting trial and its aftermath. The author is exceedingly detailed and specific, but at the same time he keeps the narrative moving forward and keeps things interesting enough so that I wanted to keep reading. Like any good story teller, he lets the characters in the drama shine and tells the tale through them.
Another great thing about Monkey Girl is that it’s fairly educational. I already knew the basics of evolution (animals differ, some of those differences are beneficial, those possessing such benefits proliferate, etc.), but Humes goes beyond the basics, both in his recounting of the trial testimonies and his own asides. After closing the book, I felt that I not only had a better grasp on the historic lawsuit and verdict, but also the issues and science surrounding it. Plus I was entertained, so what’s not to like?
Others doing the 52 in 52 this week:
- Jeremy reviews The Dark Knight Returns
- Heliologue reviews Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan
- Kevin reviews The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson.
- Natasha reviews Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult, Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat, Mud City by Deborah Ellis, and The Fiction Class by Susan Breen
It has become apparent that one of the big differences between Sam and Mandy is their predilection for television. When Sam was Mandy's age, we had already started her down that tube-lined road, and now she would watch a LOT more than we does if we'd let her. Watching two episodes of Curious George (or, occasionally, Dora or Diego) immediately after breakfast is a sacred part of her daily routine, and she has developed an odd fascination with Sandra Lee's cooking shows to the point where she gleefully (and a bit randomly) informs us that "It's cocktail time! Look at this BEAUTIFUL tablescape!"
Mandy, on the other hand, seems completely uninterested in the television, even when it's spazzing out with brightly lit cereal commercials and boot-wearing monkeys. We're not trying to change her behavior on this point, but it is odd. She'll occasionally glance at the tube and repeat something that catches her ear, but otherwise she'll mill around the joint and play by herself while Sam stares slack jawed at the set. Perhaps she does this because she knows it's the only chance she'll get without her big sister tackling her or belting out detailed playtime instructions like she's auditioning for the Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.
Speaking of injuries to Mandy's person, she had a rough time of it yesterday. In the morning she woke up with some kind of infection in her right eye. There were thick yellow cakes of what I believe is technically called "gunk" in her eyelashes, and the whole ocular area was swollen halfway shut. We cleaned it out, but you could still see yellow islands of the gunk floating across her eyeball like continents on a glassy globe. It was quite disconcerting, but besides doing a constant Popeye imitation, she seemed normal and unconcerned. Well, until she did a face plant into the base of a floor lamp and got a big bruise right under her other eye. That seemed to piss her off, and as this picture can attest made her look like she had gone 10 rounds in the ring with some kind of low-tech baby punching machine.
The nurse that we called on her pediatrician's hotline seemed similarly unconcerned as long as Mandy's eye wasn't, say, spewing a constant stream of vile black ichor across the room. Though she did give one cryptic warning in the form of "But just... assume it's wildly contagious." Great.
Now, for all of you who are leaning in towards your computer monitor and shouting "Pink eye! It's pink eye!" you can stop. Because yes, it's probably pink eye. That's what the doctor told Geralyn to assume this morning when she called him back, and I've got to the pharmacy and pick up some eye drops that we're somehow supposed to figure out how to squirt directly into a squirming toddler's eyeball --THREE TIMES A DAY. My plan is to actually try to squirt the drops somewhere else, like say up her nose, based on the axiom that you can never get these things to go where you want them to. With any luck, it'll miss and go right in her eye.
Note: This trilogy contains books #14, #15, and #16 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.
This series by Bernard Cornwell consists of three books: The Archer's Tale, Vagabond, and Heretic. I'm just gonna lump them all together here since there's really not a whole lot to set them apart. By that I mean that they've definitely got the trademarks of an overly prolific author who just churns stuff out within his comfort zone (e.g., I got tired of hearing about how an arrow head "pierced mail and leather" after the fifth time in one book) so that you get largely the same story being told 3 times, with slight variations and a big payoff at the end. So it makes sense to consider them all at once, because otherwise I'd just end up repeating myself. A lot like the author.
But actually, I kind of enjoyed these books despite how they felt stretched out and meandering. They tell the story of Thomas of Hookton, an English archer during the middle ages who is searching for the Holy Grail. The Grail-with-a-capital-G is, as you may know, supposedly the cup from which Christ drank at the last supper and which caught the blood from His side as He hung on the cross. The Grail Quest books are, as you might further surmise from this short description, works of historical fiction set towards the end of the middle ages. In a way, the books read a lot like fantasy except that all the fantasy staples that makes me groan and roll my eyes every other page are have blessedly gone missing. You've still got big beefy guys in armor who scream battle cries as they storm castles, trample the country side, and generally hack the living daylights out of each other, but you don't have tired stuff like wizards, elves, prophecies, magic, political intrigue, and whatever other junk most fantasy authors like to fish out of the recycling bin. It was oddly refreshing, even if it's only because I've not read much historical fiction before.
It's also a lot of what I would call "military pr0n" of the medieval variety. One of Cromwell's hallmarks seems to be that he takes an imaginary character (such as the aforementioned Thomas of Hookton) and slips him in to real historical events, like this battle or that siege or that some other big event that generally takes a name according to the "The Verb of Location" standard. Cromwell then goes to great, delightful lengths to describe the tactics and strategies that each side used, steeping the whole thing in human drama from a soldier's point of view. At times it read a bit like the instruction manual to a real-time strategy game like Age of Empires with detailed explanations about how the English placed their pike men along a low ridge that gave them an attack bonus against mounted infantry that stacked with their terrain bonuses AND faction attributes. Well, maybe it wasn't that blatant, but I still dig that kind of thing. And casting the main character in the role of an English Archer with his big ole longbow (though, oddly, it was never called by that name) gave him a good excuse to teach us all about archery and the overwhelmingly effective use of such archers in warfare. Fun stuff.
But even if there was a history-cum-videogame abstraction to the battles at times, I was nonetheless struck by how incredibly savage and harsh warfare apparently was in those days. Cornwell didn't shy away from vivid descriptions of bloody hand-to-hand fighting and brutal tactics that don't much resemble the romanticized image of a chivalrous knight of the Round Table. I was also forced to admit that Cornwell writes some of the best insults I've ever seen. When one side accuses the other of being "turds birthed from Satan's own arse" that's the kind of curse that you just gotta sit up and admire.
What about the story? Well, it's nothing too fantastic, mainly following Thomas around as he follows the trail of the Holy Grail while being pursued by his villainous cousin. Well, when he's not busy being an archer, bedding wenches (he goes through three love interests in a very James Bond-esque fashion in the course of the trilogy), laying siege to castles, and getting tortured by the Spanish Inquisition (which, by the way, everybody expected as soon as the first Dominican priest was introduced, contrary to what any flying circus tells you). But while his path is circuitous, this is the quest that ties all the books together, and it's resolved nicely at the end so that I was left with a satisfied feeling that I had seen something that was entertaining and a bit educational, but not necessarily full of itself.
Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:
I'm taking it lightly this week. Too burned out and too much to do. And if I don't at least put up this note and these few pics tonight I probably won't get to it.
Not much really happened this week, anyway. Sam was sick all weekend and I don't think she wore anything but pajamas even when we all went out to take my car in to the repair shop. Fun fact: she likes Tylenol but hates Advil. Who would have thought?
Mandy says hi. Like, literally, she says "Hi!" now when I come home from work. This is awesome. Another fun fact: thunder scares the bajeezus out of Mandy. The other night we were playing in the living room when a big peal of it went off, and she immediately got this "It's here! The apocalypse!" look on her face and mostly succeeded in climbing up my chest and on top of my head. It was cute.