Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holidays

I'm back in Pennsylvania for the holidays -- that's right, I said HOLIDAYS rather than Christmas, mostly because I am a member of the liberal atheist elite who devote their lives to destroying everything Christ stands for, up to and including Christmas sales of $10 off any purchase of $50 or more at Kohl's. (Also, I do not shave my armpits, but that might go without saying.)

Speaking of the HOLIDAYS, in college I had a friend who lived with a few other students in house off campus, and he and his housemates had gotten a Christmas tree. When he said it was the first time he'd ever had a Christmas tree, I was flummoxed. Was he really poor growing up? I asked. No, he said. I know he grew up in a big city -- maybe they didn't sell Christmas trees in the city. They do sell trees in the city, he said. I did eventually figure out why he didn't have a Christmas tree growing up, but it took me a surprisingly long time to remember that Santa doesn't come down Jewish kids' chimneys. I think Santa might be an anti-Semite, probably from hanging around with Mel Gibson too much.

I do not want to be responsible for
introducing my mother to
Angry Birds
Whenever I visit my mom in Pennsylvania, I make sure to ask her if she needs any help with the computer. My mom and stepfather often have a list of things they can't figure out that are actually pretty easy -- like saving an attachment from email to the desktop -- that I can can do for them. They just recently got Droid phones and are learning how to use those, so for Christmas my sister gave them a "gift" of three free apps that she would install on their phones. How great of an idea is that for a gift? It's FREE! And it will only take my sister a few minutes to install them. Why didn't I think of that? Next year, I will try to figure out a gift for my mother that will cost me nothing but a couple minutes of effort. Do you think she would like some dust bunnies? It might be tough wrapping them, but nothing's too good for the woman who gave birth to me.

I'm no newcomer to providing technical assistance to the un-technically inclined. At my former place of employment, I was by far the most tech-savvy of the people working there and as such wound up providing a lot of de facto technical assistance even though that wasn't my job. I learned firsthand what my sister has said for years: Be careful what skills you master, because then everyone will come to you for help. One person in particular would call me for assistance, and while I was always glad to be of use, I would get a little irritated when my coworker would proclaim that SHE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING, that the computer just SPONTANEOUSLY opened the wrong document and then deleted a bunch of paragraphs ALL BY ITSELF and could I please help because apparently her computer had EVOLVED INTO A SENTIENT BEING and it was PISSED. Hey, if you hit a wrong button, then I can help. But it sounds like what you need is an exorcism, and I used my last bit of holy water to tend to my philodendron.

Christmas is past which  means New Year's Eve is right around the corner. I always waffle on whether to make any new year's resolutions. Should I set resolutions as a means of striving to improve my character? Or should I just accept my foibles as part of being human? This year, though, I'm definitely going to make a resolution: 2011 is the year I stop shaving my legs, too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

O'Hare

Ah, O'Hare. My old nemesis. We meet again.

I had thought that on Christmas of all days, perhaps we could forge a truce. In the spirit of the season's peace and love, we could lay down our mutual weapons, the way that British and German troops laid down their arms on Christmas Day in World War I and came together for one single peaceful day before going back to killing each other.

No? No peace, not even on Christmas Day? If that is your wish. Then we will fight, fight to the death.

We were scheduled to fly out of Madison at 6 AM on Christmas Day, but when we got to the airport, we were informed that the pilot was "sick," meaning there was nobody available to fly our plane. I put "sick" in quotes because c'mon, the guy was scheduled to work at 6 AM on Christmas Day. ANYBODY who is scheduled to work then is going to call in sick. Plus, I would bet a bright and shiny quarter that the pilot opened a gift-wrapped bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve and the cancellation the following morning flowed naturally from that.

It would have been handy to know about the flight difficulties BEFORE we showed up at the airport at 5 AM, and in fact we did get a text from Orbitz that our plane had been significantly delayed, but only after we had checked in, gone through security, and found our way to the gate. If you live in Chicago, please drive to Orbitz corporate HQ and punch the CEO in the face for me. Thank you.

The agent at the gate in Madison got to work rebooking people, but American Airlines figures that they only need one agent for about every 279 customers, or about the same ratio, in Uzbekistan, of endocrinologists to the general population. It took the gate agent literally an hour to rebook the first customer. I don't know what he was doing with them but it might have involved offering grief counseling. And at that point in the process, grief counseling was very appropriate.

With no pilot available to fly our plane, a healthy pilot had to be flown in from Chicago, because apparently no pilots live in Madison. Maybe we have a municipal zoning ordinance against pilots or something. My understanding is that it's not that hard to fly a plane, and they could have scared up a couple of kids who like to play Flight Simulator, but apparently the airline is a real stickler for that regulation that the pilot must be an adult. Go figure.

Stella and Baby W were rock stars for the whole trip, which I really appreciated. Stella is such a great traveler that I think she is going to grow up to be one of those people who basically lives in airports, racking up mileage by the hundreds of thousands. I just hope she remembers her dear old ma and flies me down to Miami on a companion ticket with a free upgrade.

Part of our problem is that we missed our first flight out of Chicago to Harrisburg, and planes only fly to Harrisburg once every six or seven weeks, apparently. I don't see why -- Harrisburg has a beautiful, gleaming, state of the art airport that does a wonderful job serving the nearly 25 people who fly to it every year.

This trip was reminiscent of our Christmas air travel last year, when I got to fulfill a childhood dream of spending Christmas Eve in a Super 8 motel near the Detroit airport. Last year had the advantage in that the airlines completely lost one of my carry-on bags that I had gate-checked. I never did get it back, and while I couldn't remember exactly what I had inside the bag, my memory was suddenly much clearer when it came time to file my report to get compensation for my lost bag. Yes, now it's coming back to me: the bag was full of very expensive stuff. I do remember that a t-shirt I've had since college was in there, and how can you put a price on something like that? Yet somehow I managed to: $75.

We did finally make it to Pennsylvania, albeit very late. I have a feeling, though, that the nightmare is far from over. In fact, I think it's just begun. If I don't wake up in the morning, go looking for O'Hare.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vacuum

Baby W is getting close to crawling, but for now he just scoots around the room on his stomach. This means the floor is much cleaner than it used to be, for two reasons: 1) I vacuum it more often to make it less likely the baby can get his fat hands on the little bits of floor crud that he likes to put in his mouth, 2) but also because the baby himself essentially cleans and polishes the floor as he maneuvers around, because all the dust bunnies stick to his fleece sleeper. He reminds me of a Roomba, one of those robot floor vacuums that move randomly about the room picking up dirt. Every hour or so I shake him out on the porch to get him clean, then set him back down to suck up more dirt.

This floor is already clean.
Why do they need a vacuum?
By the way, I went to Amazon to read about Roombas, and one of the reviews that I read was 2,700 words long and had been updated six separate times over a time span of two years. That's shorter than most term papers I wrote in college, and something tells me that in college this guy shrank the margins and the font size in order to cram the most words possible into five pages. I recently learned a technique, about 15 years too late, where you skip a page number in a term paper -- for example, going from page 6 to page 8 -- so that what appears to be a 10 page paper is really only a 9 page paper. What cruel twist of fate caused me to learn this trick now? There was a brief shining moment during which knowledge of this kind of sneakiness would have come in handy, and it was during History of Russia freshman year. Now the moment has passed, leaving me bitter, much like a Bolshevik after the first failed Russian revolution, maybe, if in fact there was more than one. I don't think I wrote my paper on that.

I got kind of sucked into browsing reviews that this fellow has written, and I saw that he has written a review of a Scooba, a floor-washing robot, that was 1,500 words long. Baby W also doubles as a floor-washing robot or at least a floor-polishing robot. The wooden floors get a nice sheen after he rubs them all over with the front of his drool-soaked sleeper.

This same reviewer has written hundreds of reviews on Amazon, including a five-paragraph review of a tube of toothpaste. Now, I'm not exactly in a position to make fun of somebody else's useless hobby, especially in light of my useless hobby (hey, you're the one reading it) but this guy is devoted. He even reviewed Durex Play Quiver Lubricant, although he only gave it three stars out of five, saying it "smelled like paste." Immediately after that, he wrote a review for a bottle of Roasted Raspberry Chipotle sauce. Do not put these things next to each other by the bedside because in the passion of the moment you could grab the wrong container. Now THAT I would like read a review of.

Anyway, because of the baby, our floor is cleaner these days, but it's still not what anybody would call clean. I prefer to think of it as an indoor sod floor.

At least we have a functioning vacuum cleaner, which was not always the case. Our previous vacuum cleaner burned through a rubber belt every time we used it. To this day, when I detect the smoky funk of burning rubber, my first thought is, "Smells like a clean house to me!" We used to have a vacuum supplies store within walking distance, which was handy since we spent about a quarter of our pre-tax income on vacuum belts. The store went out of business not long after we got a new vacuum, which I don't think is a coincidence. I think it had something to do with the Bolsheviks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ice

We had a rainstorm followed a few hours later by a snowstorm and while the main streets have since recovered, the side streets, sidewalks, and bike paths are covered with a packed-down combination of snow and ice that on the spur of the moment I have decided to call "snice." Please adopt this terminology and let's see if we can get this thing to go viral! This would be my first experience with anything viral (other than chicken pox) since I am so out of the mainstream media that I regularly do not recognize the stars on the cover of People Magazine. I am thinking this could be a serious liability if the terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb, use it on an American city, and our civilization crumbles to their point where knowledge about Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber becomes useful in a post-apocalyptic world.

My ignorance of mainstream median means I have never seen Glee, which from the enthusiasm of my Facebook friends seems to be a major omission. David once had to watch an episode for work -- I know that sounds funny, but it's true -- and proclaimed it "boring," and since this is a guy who thinks 3.5 hours of a football game that ends in a score of 3 to 0 is fascinating, I took his comment to heart. 

Since I dodge mainstream media, you might think I rely more on outlets like NPR. But for some reason I never listen to NPR either, a fact that I'm sure bedevils NPR since I'm smack in the middle of all their target demographics. They're sitting around the table saying, "Let's see, mid 30s, graduate degree, on the 1 to 10 scale of being a wild-eyed liberal she's a 11, lives in the people's republic of Madison for crying out loud -- why isn't she listening?!?" And you know, I did turn on NPR recently but it was because I was stuck in a traffic jam in Milwaukee caused by the police closing down the interstate because some guy on the highway was holed up with a gun threatening to shoot various people. I suspect he was listening to NPR too. Hearing some twee story about a white mariachi singer who is also a part-time hedgehog masseuse probably sent him over the edge.

Why do I suspect this guy's name
is Walter?
Anyway, the snice on the roads means I am hesitant to ride my bike to work due to the slick surface. I try to be careful but I have taken a few falls on my bike, one (of course!) in front of a whole group of little kids and their parents who were waiting for the school bus. I hit the ground hard, and it was very, very difficult for me not to let loose with a whole string of f-bombs but out of consideration for the little tykes' ears I managed to bite my tongue, and let me just say that St. Peter better have been paying attention because I'm hoping that restraint weighs heavily on my side when I hit the pearly gates. When I wiped out on my bike, several parents ran over to me in alarm. One dad asked, "What hurts?? Is it your neck? Did you hit your head??" I managed to groan out, "It's my butt...I hit my butt really hard." Strangely, I didn't get much sympathy after that. In fact I did hit my head, but since I was wearing a helmet I had very little damage to the old noodle. So I'm thinking that maybe I should design some sort of protection for my other end. I could call it the butt-met.

All this snice means I'm taking the bus to work, which wouldn't be so bad except that when it snows the bus system apparently runs on a schedule known to none in this universe, where somehow the buses actually manage to make time run backwards. I think Stephen Hawking should come to town to investigate.

The roads have improved the last couple days, which is good because I need to get out and finish my Christmas shopping. Yikes, just a few days left! This year I've decided to take a one-size-fits-all approach to getting gifts. Everyone on my list is getting a butt-met. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Address

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that people with the same first initial (T) and last name as me (Cornelius) are morons. This makes me sad, partly because Cornelius is a great last name. It's not so common that there's somebody else in your high school class with the same name, yet it's familiar enough that most people can spell it and pronounce it. It doesn't lend itself to derogatory nicknames. I mean, you can try to work something up using the whole "corny" aspect of the name, but it's a lot of work for something that doesn't sting too much. I saw an obit yesterday for a fellow named Henry Crapp -- now there's a bad last name. On the other hand, think how much time his named saved his fellow schoolmates in their search for coming up with insulting nicknames for each other. His parents did their work for them.

Cornelius is a great last name, and it's better than David's last name, which is shorter but difficult to know how to pronounce or spell. I was determined that Stella should have my (clearly superior) last name, and in fact that's how I broke the news to David: "Hey honey, I'm pregnant and by the way thebabygetsmylastname." Apparently I love Baby W less, because he has David's last name. The holiday letters we get this time of year are amusing because nobody is quite sure what the last name of anybody in this family is, and they often come addressed to the written equivalent of David and Tamarine Mumble Mumble.

But the sad thing about people named T. Cornelius is they are apparently not very bright. I base this on the number of emails I get that in error, that have clearly been caused by some other tcornelius entering their email address wrong. For example, whoever has tcornelius@hotmail.com will buy something and accidentally list my address of tcornelius@anotherdomain.com. I am not going to list my actual address because apparently if you do the spambots immediately assume you're in need of penis-enlarging pharmaceuticals  and start sending you helpful sales pitches. From the emails I already get, I've calculated that penis-enlargement pills make up at least 10%, and some months as much as 12% of the national gross domestic product, with another 8% of the GDP generated by Nigerian royalty pleading for help releasing their fortunes.

A fellow named Timothy Cornelius helps prove my point. Every couple weeks he buys protein powder from GNC and gives them my email for the shipping confirmation. But I probably shouldn't make fun of Timothy; anybody who needs to buy extra protein can probably crush my skull as if it were a can of spirulina extract.

I also have somehow gotten into the email distribution list of Adelphic Union Lodge #14 in Harlem. I'm not quite sure what this group of men (and they are all men) is about, but I think their organization might be masonic-related, so they are probably going to have to snuff me out for even mentioning that they exist. I actually love being on this email list because of how they address each other -- they use the title Worshipful, then the person's last name. I myself have been addressed on this email list as Worshipful Cornelius. I knew something had been missing from my life, and now I know what it is: not enough people calling me Worshipful.

You know how when you buy something online and you have to give your name, you often have to indicate if your title is Mr, Mrs, Ms, etc? I'm starting a campaign right now to include Worshipful among the list of prefixes. There's one person I can think of who would be dead set against this idea. He's passed on, though, so I don't think we need to worry too much about Worshipful Crapp.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sledding

We have snow here and I have taken Stella sledding twice this week. Sledding has been an amazing experience because it has proved what I thought was a scientific impossibility: Stella can have fun outdoors in the winter. I always thought the idea of  Stella happily frolicking outside in the snow was akin to sightings of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker -- a nice idea, but you suspect that the birders were dipping into the Jägermeister before reporting seeing a bird previously thought to be extinct.

(Did you see that? I knew to put an umlaut on the ä in Jägermeister! I even know what Jägermeister means. Yes, I am certainly finding my undergraduate minor in German to come in handy, especially when it comes to accurately rending and translating liquor brand names.)

As long as I am contributing to the body of scientific knowledge, I would like to make another contribution, one based on months of rigorous scientific observation: The age at when boys begin to grab their junk is exactly 7 1/2 months. Hey, I know it's not the cure for cancer, but we all do what we can.

Stella may have been born here in Wisconsin but she does not like the cold. Perhaps the babies got mixed up at the hospital and somewhere in New Orleans there's a kid looking out the window right now, sighing and wishing for temperatures that make your nose hairs freeze. Stella is going to move south the moment she is able to, and I'm surprised she hasn't already set out for more moderate climates with her trusty princess bike (training wheels included) and a compass.

The lakes in town are going to freeze any day now, which means the ice fisherman will be out. People from reasonable climates -- defined as those where you don't lose an extremity to frostbite when you go out to bring the newspaper in -- are amazed to hear how popular ice fishing is, and that people will often drive out on the lake, either with a snowmobile or a truck, to get to their favorite spots. Ice fishers are very aggressive about what kind of ice they'll go out on. If the lake is frozen only to the extent that there is the equivalent of a single ice cube floating in the middle of the lake, then by golly there will be an ice fisherman on that ice cube.

That aggressive approach to getting out on the ice means that every year, some people (and their heavy machinery) go through the ice. It's very sad, and totally unexpected, because who could have predicted that a two-ton pickup would overload a surface that had been a liquid just weeks before? Who could possibly know that 4,000+ pounds would be too heavy for the ice, keeping in mind that a machine as limited as my blender has a function that can crush that same ice to a fine, powdery consistency that works just great for making margaritas?

When the lakes freeze, that's what I consider the real beginning of winter. And now that I know that Stella likes sledding, I foresee lots of trips to the hill, wearing our snow pants, boots, coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and long underwear. I usually bring along a little something else to keep me warm, too. It's called Jägermeister.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tree

The kids and I went to get a Christmas tree this weekend. David stayed home because although Christmas comes but once a year, the Packers play but 16 times a year (regular season), and he was feeling a different type of holiday spirit. The Packers are borderline mediocre this year and David apparently needs to spend every minute of every game concentrating on propelling them to victory, otherwise they won't make the playoffs. His focus broke during the last minutes of the Atlanta game last week when he got up to throw a load of laundry in, allowing the Falcons to kick a last-minute field goal to win. He's not going to let that happen again.

We need a small tree because we have a small house. I planned on getting a better tree than last year, when the tree lot owner saw us assessing various options and pointed out the most stunted, saddest-looking spindly-trunked tree on the whole lot as a good one for us to buy. You know how the oldest trees, those several thousand-year old bristle cone pines in California, are small trees, all hunched over with gnarly little branches? The tree the lot owner was trying to foist on us was quite possibly one of those, older than the birth of Christ. But I was on to this guy. As if! I thought. He is trying to get us to buy the ugly puppy of the litter, but I am going to let Stella pick out the tree and she is going to pick out a much better specimen.

Guess which one tree we came home with.

I thought it might be fun this year to walk the 3/4 mile to the tree lot with the kids and pull the tree back in a sled. But you know how sometimes when you come up with what seems like an ambitious but do-able plan, there's some small part of your brain that retains a firm grasp on what is and isn't a good idea, and that part of your brain starts clearing its throat and shuffling its feet and then after all goes to hell, that part of your brain gets really annoying and goes on and on about how it KNEW this wasn't such a good idea from the get-go, but would you listen to it, noooooo? Well, that part of my brain was acting up when it heard of my plan to walk the tree back home, but I'm happy to say that part of my brain was wrong, as our trip went off without a hitch. Still, the current score is something like Pessimistic But Realistic Side of Brain: 998, My Plans and Schemes, 2.

The tree lot is in a block with a decent amount of blight, to which the tree lot makes its own contribution. Here is the sign in front of their business:


In case that sign wasn't clear enough, they made this additional sign, which they obviously spent a lot of time on, possibly as much as six or seven minutes.


Across the street from the tree lot there is a vacant lot that used to house a business called Grillz that sold jewel-studded enamel overlays for teeth. It didn't last long, possibly because it was located in a neighborhood full of people who have some alternative tendencies but also have disposable income, and if they had to make a list of the thousand things they would ever spend money on, diamond teeth would be #996, right after chocolates in the shape of Justin Bieber's face, but ahead of fleece-lined earwax removers. Bewejeled teeth are just ridiculous, unless you're Dr. Teeth who for a Muppet has some pretty serious sex appeal. (Although though rumor has it he's a heroin addict, so he probably also has some pretty serious sexual dysfunction. For a Muppet, anyway.)

On the way back from the tree lot, Stella was goofing around and I experienced a rite of passage held in common with every parent who has lived in northern climates: warning your kid not to put their tongue on anything cold. I was proud to join a tradition that goes back to the Bronze Age, when cave women warned their offspring not to lick the mastodon spear.

The tree is up now, and looks great. We're getting ready for Christmas, and I had hoped to do all my shopping at one store, but then it went out of business. No matter, I'll just have to find a new place to buy all my sparkly teeth gifts.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rust

I'm revisiting the topic of renaming Wisconsin to help with our economy. Two posts ago, I suggested that an over-reliance on the letter W is dragging us down and the state should move to an I-based name. Reader Marce had the brilliant idea of renaming our state iSconsin. Why didn't I think of that? Then we would almost be as cool as iOwa.

I know these are politically charged times, but renaming Wisconsin to iSconsin is not a partisan issue. Ha, you didn't actually believe that, did you? Anything that is described as not a partisan issue is invariably a hotly-contested partisan issue. Here, let's try an example. "Babies are cute. That's not a partisan issue." But wait! Here comes the Coalition of Concerned Adults (CCA), which is alleging that most babies are freeloaders on the system. This group points out that the baby unemployment rate is scandalously high and they pay very little in taxes.  Babies often take their parents out of the workplace and therefore destroy jobs. Plus, everybody knows babies suck up a lot of BadgerCare health insurance money.

Does that sound cute to you? Only if you're an America-hating socialist! Soon you will be nodding your head along to CCA's argument that babies are destroying the fabric of our community and hindering our ability to be economically competitive. And that's even before the Alliance for Diaper Control weighs in.

Milwaukee is full, and I mean FULL,
of babies. No wonder they have
problems.
Another approach we could take to help getting Wisconsin back on track economically is to dump Milwaukee. Milwaukee is an ailing community, with a high prevalence of poverty and declining manufacturing base. Many rust-belt cities have met the same fate, with Minneapolis being a notable exception in that it has managed to retain a vibrant economy. Look, even Favre can get a job in Minneapolis!

I say we sell Milwaukee to Chicago for cheap and let them try to turn it around. Another alternative would be to take a very sharp saw and cut around the borders of Milwaukee County and then float it gently out into Lake Michigan. Perhaps Michigan would throw a rope out and tow it in for the scrap value.

The downside to these plans is that without Milwaukee, this state is basically South Dakota. Still those people  seem happy, all seven of them. (As an aside, doing so-called "research" for this post, which mostly involved eating marshmallows, I went to WikiAnswers and read a question that someone had posted asking what you call a person who lives in South Dakota. Another person had posted the answer, "They're South Dakotens, dumb shit," misspelling Dakotans. To my mind, this exchange pretty much sums up the internet.)

Ex-Governor Malleus,
Incus, and Stapes
Wisconsin is getting a new governor soon who has promised to put a high priority on creating jobs in the state and reducing unemployment. He's also pledged to make a lot of cuts in state government. I'm concerned that this will have a negative effect on the University of Wisconsin, which is one of the best things this state has ever done, edged out only by deep-fried cheese curds and the fact that for years we had a governor leading the state who had essentially the same first and last names (Tommy Thompson) which meant we only had to remember one name, thus freeing up valuable space in the Wisconsin memory banks. For some reason I appear to have allocated my share to remembering the names of the three tiny bones in your ear.

With apologies to Tommy Thompson, I want to go on the record as saying that people should not have the same first name as their last name. Finally, we've found an topic that is not a partisan issue.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time

A friend asked me how I found the time to start a blog, and I had to laugh because you could write a masterpiece in the time it takes Stella to get dressed in the morning. In the hours it takes her to finish up in the bathroom I could dissemble a steamboat and haul it over the mountains using donkeys and ropes I wove from hand-harvested spider silk. In the time it takes for her to put on her boots I could emigrate from Kenya, father a child by an American citizen, return to Africa, and die happy in the knowledge that I had planted a vine that could take root in the side yard of American soil and then as it grew, climb the house of the American civil society, and ruin the paint of capitalism, our market economy, and all that we hold dear as American citizens.

So there's plenty of time around our house, time for me to do whatever I want. And apparently what I want to do is spend that time hassling Stella to get ready. "I am only going to tell you ONCE to get dressed," I will say, before repeating that exact phrase 47 more times. My logic is that if I'm going to have to tell her dozens of times to do something anyway, I might as well do it upfront.

The other thing I do with all that time is clean up after the cats. My two are known far and wide for their prodigious upchucking. They're really quite sweet cats, but I suspect they're on the no-fly list, as their vomiting ability is such that one well-timed yack could bring down a plane. These cats can't have learned to throw up like that on their own. I suspect nefarious origins. I think that 50 years ago, all the owners of cat food companies put their heads together and realized that there was a limit to how many cats people would own and therefore a limit to how much cat food could be sold. But what if they somehow engineered a cat to eat twice as much cat food and still stay the same weight? Consumers would be forced to buy twice as much cat food! But how to make the cats want to eat all that extra food? Splice an easy-retch gene into the feline population, and sit back and watch the stock price climb.

The other thing I do with my extra time is mentally mocking people who have non-touch screen cell phones. Somehow, I've become the kind of jerk who thinks that having a touch screen phone is indicative of other people's worth. "What an out-of-date loser," I think when I see someone with one of the older internet phones. Keep in mind that I do not have a touch screen phone myself. In fact I'm not sure that my cell phone, a stripped-down pre-paid version I bought a few weeks ago, has enough in common with something like the iphone that the word "phone" could be used to described both of them. Maybe I should start referring to my phone as a "victrola" instead, and power it not with a charger but by turning a little hand crank.

The problem with developing an interest in particular phone, as I am trying unsuccessfully not to do, is that newer, cheaper, faster, better phones are continually introduced. The period before a new phone becomes obsolete is very short. It seems like a better idea to invest in technology that is cutting edge for a period of at least a few months -- in other words, almost as long as it takes Stella to put on her coat.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Governor

I know it's un-American to ride my bike to work but as long as I'm already committing treason by not consuming fossil fuels, I decided to be safe about it and get one of those extremely bright lights, the kind that's more akin to a car headlight than what you'd expect on a bike. I operate the light on the flashing setting to save the battery, and it flashes in a syncopated pattern -- blink blink blink BLINK, blink blink blink BLINK.  The strong strobe-light sensation makes the temptation very strong to immediately develop epilepsy right then and there. Fortunately the strength of the light means I'd be very visible to cars as I lay on the ground seizing.

Is it too late to make pumpkin pie?
I have my rear light back on my bike again after its several-week stint in a jack-o-lantern in lieu of a candle. This year I have left the pumpkin on the porch for far too long, as I seem to do every year. Once again it's gotten to the point where I'm going to need a shovel to scrape the gelatinous, only vaguely pumpkin-shaped, and highly repulsive mass off the stoop. I keep hoping the squirrels will take care of the pumpkin by nibbling on it (although at this point they might need a straw due to the pumpkin's consistency). But even the squirrels are avoiding the pumpkin, probably on difficult-to-refute food safety grounds. Or perhaps the thick layer of accumulated mildew is too thick for their teeth to penetrate.

I was using my bike light because those little votive candles are laughably poorly designed if the goal is illuminating a jack-o-lantern. However, if the goal is burning your hand as you drop it into the pumpkin's cavity, then they are well-designed indeed. Perhaps Martha Stewart could develop her own line of votive hand-burners, using wax produced by bees paid a living wage and given health insurance and profit-sharing, and sell them at K-Mart.

But let's cast aside talk of subversive activities like biking while not wearing a flag pin and talk about a more patriotic topic: the election. Wisconsin's new Governor-elect has vowed to return a federal grant to build high-speed rail connecting Wisconsin's two biggest cities, saying it would be a money pit. I think he's overlooking the true economic boondoggle to the state: Wisconsin's emphasis on the letter W. There's so much wrong with this letter, it's hard to know where to begin.

First, starting our state with the letter W puts Wisconsin second to last in any alphabetical list, which means that when you buy something online and have to chose your state from a drop-down list, Wisconsinites waste valuable time scrolling down to the bottom. I know it doesn't seem like much, but let's say that it takes each Wisconsin resident 2.5 seconds longer to find the state at the end of the list than had the state's name been at the beginning, and let's say that happens 10 times a year for each of Wisconsin's 5.5 million residents. You better believe I set up a spreadsheet -- this is an important economic issue for Wisconsin, and if I'm not going to stick my neck out and do a little work to promote a cause then I can't expect my elected officials to do it for me -- and I found out that statewide, Wisconsin residents spend 1,591 days scrolling down. That's more than four years we could have back across the state if we got rid of the W. I personally would spend my extra 25 seconds a year working in a steel foundry, seeking to reinvigorate Wisconsin's declining manufacturing base and thereby stimulating the economy.

There's also entirely too many Ws in Wisconsin place names, in locations like Weyauwega, Pewaukee, Waupun, Wauwautosa, and Wauweewywwwkingw. Okay, I might have made up that last place name. Also I might have made up "Wauwautosa," because seriously, that's not a real name, is it? My point is that W is an inefficient letter. It takes four strokes to write, and takes up too much room. W is complicated and pointy. It's vaguely European, and that is definitely not good. Don't the Germans use a lot of Ws?

Our new Governor should usher in a new era and with it the reliance on a new letter. I suggest we go with I, which is sleek and spare, and is more of a forward-looking letter, evoking ipads and iphones. I predict an immediate positive economic impact coming from this change, particularly in Miliaukee and Iisconsin Dells.

I'm not saying the change from W to I will be easy for this state. I myself will be impacted, as I will need to change Baby W's name to Baby I. We'll have to re-monogram all his diapers. But it's the right thing to do to help our state recover economically. If our new governor is to lead this state, he needs to make sure that we have strong communities, a well-educated population, and a solid public infrastructure. Also, he needs to do something about this pumpkin on the front of my porch. It's disgusting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WHO

Baby W just had a checkup and the doctor said that according to the growth chart used by the World Health Organization, Baby W is in the 100th percentile for height. I take this to mean that Baby W is the tallest baby in the WHOLE WORLD, a conclusion I had more or less come to on my own, but it's nice to have the confirmation. Stella is only in the 97th percentile for height, which means I might have to put her back on the rack and give the wheel another couple turns to stretch her out a little more. So there are a few five year olds taller than her, but they all live in Samoa. Or Latvia. I take all this with a grain of salt, because of course the World Health Organization is a fascist agency devoted to serving a secret Kenyan cabal that wants to destroy our country's economic and personal freedoms. The WHO merely cloaks its nefarious purposes under a guise of promoting breastfeeding and access to clean water.

On the topic of breastfeeding, Baby W does not need any convincing. He takes to the breast right away, even if he is tired or sad. Stella used to take some persuading when she was very tired and I knew that nursing would  help. Even though she couldn't talk, her intent was clear -- she'd whip her head around - no! no! no! no! until she latched on and then ohhhhhhh, that's verrrrrry good and her eyes rolled up and she was immediately asleep.

Stella still falls asleep quickly, but not as quickly as me. Every night at 8:00 PM I lie down with the kids and while I wait for them to fall asleep I make a mental list of all the things I am going to do after I get back up. The subconscious part of my brain spends that time laughing at the list-making part of my brain because apparently I haven't learned that at every night I fall asleep and then at 9:42 PM I jerk awake with a snort, and decide it's not worth it to get back out of bed. Even if the list-making part of my brain had put just one thing on the list -- changing out of my clothes -- I still couldn't have crossed it off.

Chupacabra?
So Stella and I are sharing a bed these days and sleep seems to be better for everyone. Sleeping in the same bed as a five year old poses special challenges, and if I don't position myself aggressively, my share of the mattress will be six feet long and one inch wide. I have developed a special technique to address this issue, one called MOVE. THE FUCK. OVER. I often augment it with a method I like to call The Shove.

We're heading up to the in-laws to get together with family and enjoy a great meal. Most of all the holiday is a time to give thanks, and when we watch football we will all give thanks we don't have the Lions as our home team. According to the charts used by the World Health Organization, they're in the 100th percentile for losing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cold

Winter is here, and don't give me any of that bunk until winter not starting until December 21st. Sure, maybe the pagans think winter starts with the solstice, but reasonable human beings know that any month when it snows counts as winter, which means in Wisconsin winter extends from October through May. I recently heard a foreign exchange student complain about the Wisconsin climate, saying the winter was unbelievably harsh, the spring unrelentingly wet, the summer unspeakably humid. Yes, but September is nice. Parts of September, anyway. September 4th between 2 and 3 PM is often quite beautiful, or so I've heard. I myself am usually too busy surfing on Facebook to process any external stimuli.

I hear they have no
income tax in Florida
I ride my bike to work and this time of year the commute starts getting very -- oh, let's just pick one of the adjectives people use to make it sound like cold weather has intrinsic value when in reality any Wisconsin resident who has any sense whatsoever turns snowbird two days after retirement -- "invigorating." No wait, "brisk." Or "gets your blood flowing." The temptation now that weather "puts roses in your cheeks" is to really pump the pedals to go as fast as possible on your bike. This approach does get you to your destination faster and generates extra body heat, but it also creates extra wind, making it harder to stay warm. There's a sweet spot among these trade-offs, but it requires a multivariate regression to identify. I need to start packing a protractor on my bike.

I still feel like I am new to my job, even though I've been at it now for most of a year. There has been quite a learning curve. You know how there's been a lot of research recently showing that the more competent you think you are, the less competent you are in reality? In other words, people who don't know very much aren't aware of the magnitude of what they don't know, so they have an overinflated sense of their own capabilities. Wiser people actually have a lower opinion of their competence, because they understand there is much they don't know. If that is true, then I must be a flipping genius at work.

My boss at work waters my plants, which I think is both a little odd and very sweet. When I first started, I bought a bunch of plants for my office and many of them went roots-up immediately, I guess pining for the promised land back at Home Depot. I felt a little insulted that a big box store could keep my plants alive but I could not. Apparently plants require water or something like that......? That's the kind of nit-picky detail I just can't be bothered about.

On Midwest Potato I prefer to talk about my kids rather than my work because at home, nobody can fire me. Not that the cats haven't tried. The heck with firing me; what the cats try to do is kill me, by running in front of me and then stopping suddenly while I am going down the steps. This is penny wise and pound foolish because yes, the cats have a half-million dollar life insurance policy taken out on me, but who will feed them if I break my neck on the stairs?

Weather is getting colder, wind is blowing harder, days are getting shorter. I'm not worried. I've got the most important thing a woman can have to get her through a cold winter. I've got my protractor.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Birthday

Stella is now five years old! She had three different birthday parties, including one in Pennsylvania, one with her preschool friends, and one with our neighbors. Of course all three parties involved copious amounts of cake and ice cream. To be competitive in today's increasingly obese world, children need to get an early start on being overweight and I am confident we furthered that goal this weekend. The heck with a pony -- really the best gift we could give her is laying the groundwork for insulin resistance so she can develop Type II diabetes ahead of her peers.

As an aside on the topic of obesity, on one flight of our recent trip the kids and I sat next to an extremely overweight fellow. Actually I made Stella sit in the seat next to his because I figured he couldn't help but extend beyond his own space into the space of the person next to him, and it would be best if the person next to him didn't take up the whole seat. All went well until Stella wanted to watch cartoons, for which I needed to access the controls on the armrest that was between Stella and her neighbor. His body had positively engulfed the armrest. I tapped him on the arm and made pointing motions to the armrest, until he understood and lifted up the side of his body with his hands to give me access. A few years ago I hung a bird feeder in a tree using a big hook, and in time the tree grew around the hook. I am worried about that happening with this fellow and the armrest.

Anyway, now that Stella is five, she has several new concerns about Baby W. One is that he sucks his thumb too loudly. That might not sound like a big sin, but you know who else sucked his thumb? HITLER!

Her other complaint these days is that Baby W's "face hurts her feelings." Is that the new-century way to say that somebody is ugly? Or maybe it's deeper than that and is meant to express a visceral dislike for someone's visage. In that case, I know several people whose faces hurt my feelings, but I'm happy to say that there are a lot fewer of them around now that Bush is no longer in office.

Stella got a lot of presents for her birthday, most of which include tiny parts that seem designed to be as attractive and as dangerous as possible to Baby W. Chief among these is a Lite-Brite toy. Remember Lite-Brite? This toy comes with a lot of small, colorful pegs that from a baby's perspective look delicious, sort of like giant rainbow sprinkles. None other than Martha Stewart suggests using Lite-Brite pegs to sprinkle on top of your strawberry-rhubarb cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting. According to the box, Lite-Brites have won the Paranoid Parents Association award for the last two years for Toy Most Likely to Perforate a Baby's Intestine.

Stella's fifth year is going to hold a lot of exciting experiences. This will be the year she goes to kindergarten, takes another trip to New Zealand, and learns to deal with a brother who is increasingly able to interact with her. I'm not looking forward to her turning six a year from now, because you know who used to be six once? HITLER.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rumsfeld

I just got back from attending a conference in Washington, DC, where I attended seminars on extremely wonky topics, like the schedules for state payback of federal loans for insolvent unemployment insurance trust funds. There was another conference held in the same hotel that took the opposite approach with this breakout session:


It turns out that Mary Foley has a whole "Living Like your Nail Color" enterprise, with a radio show, book, and even a blog, with topics like "What Base Coat Teaches Us About Life." I have exactly one bottle of nail polish, which I do not use on my nails. And I'm sad to say that I do not EVEN USE a base coat when using the nail polish to stop the runs in my tights, which means that I will not be able to use the base coat as a foundation for happy, healthy nails, just like we need a foundation for a happy, healthy life, according to Mary Foley. You have to admit that her presentation looks interesting, and maybe next year my conference organizers can take a page out of her book and offer a seminar on "Living Like Your Rate of Assumed 30-Year Return on Forward Funded State Pension Liabilities."

My inner lesbian does not like making fun of women, though, so I'm going to move on to the next obvious topic, which is Donald Rumsfeld. The American Spectator was holding a conference in the same hotel, and he was apparently on the premises. Several of my colleagues saw him, although I did not. I wish I had, mostly just so I could give independent confirmation back to David that the man still freely walks the earth and hasn't been chained to an anthill and covered with syrup as he deserves. (The fake, high-fructose kind of syrup. The real maple kind is too good for him.)

I realize you can't see his thighs
On a related note, when I was in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, David came with me and we stayed in a hotel very near a medical facility named after Ronald Reagan. David made me promise that if he had a heart attack while we were there, I would grab the steering wheel out of the ambulance driver's hands to make sure he was not taken to that hospital. I'm not sure where the closest hospital named after Jimmy Carter is, but if we needed to drive all the way to Georgia then that's where David wanted to go.

This time my mom watched the kids while I was at the conference. She also took me shopping, as she usually does. We got several zip-up fleece sleepers for Baby W, the kind with feet. These were desperately needed because I've decided that pants for babies are bullshit, man, just bullshit. How are you supposed to put pants on someone who can't stand up? It doesn't help that Baby W's thighs are nearly the size of my neck, and rippled with the fat that cascades down his legs. His thighs are like magnificent waterfalls of blubber. Thighs like that deserve to roam free and not be penned up in a pair of corduroys.

I'm glad to be out of the travelling mode and I'm looking forward to staying home for the next few weeks. The first thing I need to do is buy some nail polish. We're supposed to Live Like Our Nail Color, and the Wisconsin winters are way to cold for me to go around naked.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DC

I am in Washington, DC for my second conference in three months. No doubt this makes me a WASHINGTON INSIDER, which we all know is a terrible thing to be. When I am back in "real America" I will counteract my brief exposure to elitism by eating a bag of pork rinds. Dipped in mayonnaise.

The oddest moment of the conference occured when one good-looking presenter reminded me of someone, but I just couldn't think of who. It finally occurred to me: Brad Pitt. Hot stuff, right? But it's very disconcerting when your encounter with Mr. Sexiest Man Alive's doppelgaenger involves the topic of unemployment trust fund insolvency. Next year I hope the conference organizers can bring in a George Clooney lookalike for the seminar on state government pension financing systems.

My mom came to Washington, DC and is watching Stella and Baby W for me while I am at the conference, for which I am very grateful. She has great fun with the kids and even loves changing diapers. Back when Stella was very small and made her first visit to Pennsylvania, my mom and sister would actually argue over who got to change the baby's diaper, and would eventually agree to jointly change her Huggies. Stella was doing them a favor as far as they were concerned. My sister has unfortunately outgrown this attitude but my mom still considers it a privilege and an honor to change a diaper. Now that's what I call a grandma!

And these days Baby W needs a lot of diaper changes. You know how the U.S. deployed "bunker buster" bomb technology in the Iraq War? Baby W has developed biological weaponry in the form of diaper buster bombs. Every morning when he wakes up, his zip-up sleeper is wet from mid-thigh up to chest level. I've developed a special straight-arm technique for carrying him downstairs in the morning by his armpits so that no part of his wet body touches mine. Holding a 25-lb baby at arm's length is a great abs workout, and I think many pilates classes now include urine-soaked baby carrying as a core strengthener.

Baby W's diaper-busting moves means there is always laundry to do. The last load I threw in the wash included ten pairs of his pants. Ten! I'm not sure I've owned ten pairs of pants in my entire adult life. On the other hand, I leak from at least three fewer orifices than Baby W does. Sometimes four.

It's important to identify a poopy diaper before it gets a chance to ooze all over the baby's clothes, and I don't want to brag but I am somewhat of a diaper connoisseur. I would like to share the details of my technique, which I call The Sniff. Here's how it works: Hold baby in the air, facing away from you. Press your nose up against baby's bottom and inhale deeply. If the aroma is one of well-aged oak with hints of caramel, yeast, and banana, and a finishing note of the leftover lentil soup you fed the baby a few hours ago, then it's time to set down the Wine Spectator and change the baby.

If The Sniff is inconclusive, there's always The Peek. Cautiously slide a finger under the diaper's leg gussett and peer inside to determine contents. This method has a fairly high margin of error and I want to warn you that the results are not likely to pass peer review. The problem with this technique is that it's possible to accidentally overlook small deposits deep within the diaper, the kind of which I think of as Hearts of Gold. Now I would like to issue an immediate pre-emptive apology to David for my disrespect to Neil Young.

There is a third technique that can be used to identify a dirty diaper, but it is attempted by the very foolish, or the very brave. I call it The Dipstick. Fear it.

There must be some way to make a natural transition to jump from talking about dirty diapers to talking about Washington, DC but I just can't think of any cheap, obvious jokes that would link the two topics. So instead I will note that our hotel is next to what must be the world's largest Catholic bookstore, which has for sale both a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Pope Benedict and a book called John Paul II For Dummies. We're leaving the hotel tomorrow, when the kids and I go back to Wisconsin , and my mom goes back to Pennsylvania. I'm looking forward to seeing David, petting the cats, and getting back into the normal routine. I'm looking forward to enjoying the last days of Wisconsin fall and getting ready for Thanksgiving. But most of all I'm looking forward to pork rinds, dipped in mayonnaise.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Passports

Cute Child A
The whole family just got back from waiting in line to submit paperwork to get the kids their passports. Both kids look very cute in their passport photos, which I am crediting to the results of the recent election. Voters are angry and want things to change around here, and the first thing to change is that the electorate is no longer going to tolerate unflattering passport photos. Senator Feingold stopped fighting for his constituents and their right to look like decent non-felonious human beings in their photos, and look what happened to him. Thank you, newly-elected representatives, for protecting my child's future, particularly the future that encompasses the next five years before the passport expires and we have to get a new photo taken.

Baby W also has some thoughts on the election. As we were waiting in line to get passports he let out a loud grunt and voted copiously in his diaper, if you know what I mean, which I think was his way of commenting on the federal government and the illegitimacy of its authority to issue identification. Baby W's gone Tea Party on us, folks.

I had a brief moment of panic when the passport official fixed me with a gimlet eye and said, "You DID use black ink to complete the forms....RIGHT?" It turns out I had indeed used black ink, which is fortunate because apparently if passport seekers use blue ink to complete passport forms, the U.S. Department of State comes to a grinding halt, birds fall dead from the sky, Secretary Clinton makes a journey to the heartland to issue a personal rebuke, and the terrorists win.

The kids are getting passports because it's likely we'll make a trip to New Zealand soon to visit my father, who lives there. David has already visisted New Zealand and so won't be accompanying us. This means that I will be taking the two kids to New Zealand by myself. Yes, this is a daunting task, but I don't want your sympathy. What I want is your leftover prescription medications for the trip. Preferably Class II narcotics.

Cute Child B
When people hear that I do a lot of travelling to New Zealand, they are always very enthusiastic, because New Zealand has a reputation for being a beautiful vacation destination. And it's true that the landscape is scenic. But the cities, which is where I spend most of my time when I'm there visiting my father, are nearly indistinguishable from U.S. cities. When I spend thousands of dollars and 30 hours travelling across the world only to land in a city that has Starbucks and KFCs, it's a letdown. If I invest all those resources in travelling, I don't want the people at my destination to be white, for crying out loud. I would like to land in a place where they're selling turtles in the marketplace to make into fritters.

This is why whenever I see a Maori in New Zealand I want to chase after them and thank them for reminding me I'm not actually in Bismark, South Dakota even if that was my first impression, and maybe give them a litle kiss on the cheek if it wouldn't be offensive to their culture. (Maybe it would be better if instead of kissing, we rubbed noses in the Polynesian tradition.)

I'm looking forward to seeing my father, but there's just no way around the fact that New Zealand is very far away. I am disappointed that President Obama has done NOTHING about this issue, despite being in office nearly two years. Has he already forgotten how important the women-who-travel-to-New-Zealand-with-kids contingent was to the coalition that swept him into office? Obama needs to respond to the needs of real people with real problems. The way this country is going down the tubes, I have been tempted to move to Canada. Tempted, that is, until I found out that emigrating would require a passport.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Candy

Stella now has a whole bucketful of candy from Halloween, which means she thinks about nothing else all day. Unfortunately it also means that neither David nor I think of anything else all day, since hey, now there's a whole bucketful of candy in the house. I am very grateful that Stella has only a limited grasp of quantities, and at a glance can't tell the difference between a orange plastic pumpkin that has 100 pieces of candy and one that has 25 pieces of candy, and inquire as to the fate of the other three-quarters of the pieces.

Do not be confused.
This is from Halloween 2008
This inability to understand quantities extends to her own candy consumption. On Halloween, when David asked Stella how many pieces of candy she had eaten, she said, "Three...or seven....or twelve," which sounds like something a drunk slurs to a police officer who asks him how many beers he had before driving.

Stella got lots of tootsie rolls when she went trick-or-treating, and I continue to have nothing but disdain for tootsie rolls, which I suspect are not candy at all but instead some type of petroleum product, suitable for stuffing in the cracks in your house to help with insulation. The only other use I can think of for them is as filler for sandbags in case of a flood, or possibly rodent repellent. You know how really bad cheese like Velveeta, if you read the fine print, doesn't actually call itself cheese at all but instead is "cheese food?" Tootsie Rolls should be marketed as "candy food," since their relation to actual candy is very weak.

Stella's official Halloween 2010 costume was a green M&M, but she loved her costume from 2009 so much that at the last minute she switched and went as a beaver instead. Both David and I were secretly hoping she would use both costumes and go as a beaver dressed as a green M&M, because a kid dressed like that would be sure to pull down some quality chocolate, and of course mom and dad take a hefty commission right off the top of the haul. She didn't think that costume idea was nearly as funny as we did, though. Likewise, when people asked us what Baby W's costume was -- he was looking very plain in his stroller -- we replied that he was going as an 18 month old, which is a funny joke because he's only six months old but he's very large! Get it? GET IT? Well, I laughed.

Stella also got a big kick out of handing out candy. She sat on the front porch with a bowl of chocolates waiting for kids to come up the walk. If trick-or-treaters didn't approach fast enough, she chased after them. As always, I faced a dilemma about whether to buy candy that we like or candy that we don't like. My logic is that since we are going to wind up eating a lot of it anyway, we might as well get the good stuff. So I got three bags of Dove dark chocolate pieces, which was either very, very smart or the stupidest thing I've ever done. The fact that I had to eat lunch yesterday at 10:30 AM in an attempt to moderate my vicious sugar shakes from eating 37 pieces of chocolate before breakfast makes me think it's the latter.

And what's with the inspirational sayings printed these days on the insides of wrappers for fancy chocolate? I do not need any inspiration to eat more chocolate.

Stella's stash of candy is already starting to dwindle, although her interest in it is not. Now that Halloween is past, we are looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. This fall weather has been very mild, but winter is coming, with opportunities for sledding and skating. Wisconsin winters are always tough, but this year we are going to stay especially cozy, with the house kept warm by a thick layer of tootsie rolls.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cartoons

While David was in Los Angeles, I took some time off work, and the kids and I had a lot of fun together. We went to a play, canned applesauce, went to the children's museum, and had friends over for dinner. There was a minimum of middle-of-the-night screaming and very little brother-biting except for a few small nibbles when he got out of line -- just your basic brother maintenance, required every 5,000 miles along with an oil change.

I did have a scare one night while David was gone, when Stella and I were lying in bed together and she said very clearly, "I like Barbie.com." THAT sure got my attention. You know how a when a kid tells the parent that he or she is gay, and the the parent tearfully says, "Oh honey, I want you to know that I'll love you no matter what...but are you sure you're gay?" I felt like saying something like that to Stella, only pointing out that she has never actually seen Barbie.com, and also making a mental note to immediately cancel all internet service coming into the house to insure that she never will. Also, to move to central Mongolia where they're too busy shooing goats out of the yurt to log on to the internet.

To the extent we're able to, David and I have tried to shield Stella from pop culture. I think we've done an excellent job, especially considering that yurts are specifically prohibited by Madison zoning regulations. Stella has never watched Barney, doesn't know who The Wiggles are, and draws a blank on Yo Gabba Gabba. And I think it goes without saying that I consider the possibility of exposing her to High School Musical the moral equivalent of putting her on an ice floe and shoving it out to sea.

When pushed to the wall, though, my principles crumble, which I discovered on the last leg of our big cross-country trip. Stella had been patient, cheerful, and flexible for the whole trip but on the return flight home from Seattle her goodwill was beginning to fray. Each seat had its own television screen in the back of the seat in front of it, and after a ten-minute period of free entertainment, it cost $6 to watch television for the rest of the trip. Stella was enjoying the cartoons during the initial free period, and I started to warn her that the cartoons would soon be going away, when I thought wait! What am I doing? Save yourself! I swiped my credit card so fast I nearly sprained my wrist. At that point, I didn't care what she was watching, so long as it was entertaining. Stella could have been watching an episode of Sex in the City (Preschool Edition) at that point and I would have gladly discussed with her whether Manolo Blahnik makes rain boots that have little frog faces on the toes, in size 1. (Yes, but they cost $450.)

Stella got a lot of enjoyment watching the cartoons on the plane. The head phones didn't fit her right so she didn't wear them, but that didn't seem to bother her. It's funny how a four year old seems to know by instinct that someone getting bonked on the head with a hammer is hilarious. Mostly, though, she was just incredibly absorbed, watching very closely. I remember this absorption from when I was a kid and we used to get up to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Once we had a colleague of my father's staying with us who was visiting from France, and he was interested in watching cartoons too. He sat with us and actually laughed out loud a lot, and I remember looking away from the television over at him, and thinking, doesn't he know cartoons are not for laughing at? Cartoons are for watching intently for hours with your eyeballs two inches from the screen, if my behavior back then and Stella's on the plane was any indication.

It turns out that a preschool classmate of Stella's has been talking up Barbie.com. I know that the older she gets, the less our ability to protect Stella from our evil overlords at Mattel. Still, I'm glad we've been able to (mostly) shield her from commercial children's entertainment for her first few years. I think that by doing so, we've laid a foundation for her to better learn and thrive. And now if you'll excuse me, I have a goat to shoo out of the yurt.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fan #70

One of the biggest downsides of David being out of town is that I am missing my normal rendezvous with my early-morning running group. By the way, I just learned that word is both singular and plural, which is handy if you are Elliot Spitzer and you need to talk about your rendezvous with a special lady and you would like everyone to assume that you are using the word in its singular form when in fact you are not. I was fascinated with the Spitzer scandal when the news broke and I am re-living a little of that now, because apparently someone accidentally left the door to a television studio unlocked and Elliot Spitzer crept in and started a show. I am choosing to believe that is what happened, because I can't stomach the alternative that someone actively decided he would be an appropriate person to host an opinion show.

I also would like to point out that the correct plural of passerby is passersby, a fact that somehow I managed to retain despite the fact that I have not used the plural of the word in the 24 years I have known the correct form, and also despite the fact that I cannot remember my own cell phone number. My new cell phone, which I bought for $12 at Target, came in very handy on my big trip, by the way. Since then the phone has been turned off, sitting in a drawer, so be sure to give me a call on it! I did turn the phone on the other day and saw that I had missed two calls from numbers with area codes indicating the calls originated in the Milwaukee suburbs. Since I don't know anyone from that area, I am thinking the calls might have been political in nature. I'm thinking of returning their call and telling them I'm writing in Brett Favre, a man I once only half-jokingly said could run for Wisconsin governor and win, although something tells me he might have a harder road to Madison these days. There is actually a Brett Favre for Wisconsin Governor page on Facebook, which seems a bit....dated, although the page does still have 69 fans. I am sorely tempted to become fan #70, but I can't in good conscience throw my vote behind a man who spells his last name all weird like that.

I have been running with the same group of four people for years now, and I was happy to be able to rejoin them for early morning runs just a few months after Baby W was born. It took the better part of a year before I rejoined them after Stella's birth, because Stella really clung to me in the night and early morning hours, which Baby W does not do at all. Many times even now when I return from running, I find Stella having a screaming fit because I left the house for 45 minutes, and when I point out to her that David was two feet away from her and perhaps he could have provided her with some comfort, she looks at me as if I had suggested something as bizarre as that Elliot Spitzer should become a television personality. Baby W, on the other hand, is basically a 24-year-old trapped in a size 18-month onesie. He doesn't have the desperate neediness that Stella does, although he's always happy to see me, and glad I brought food. And like a  24-year old, he asks me to do his laundry and pick up his pizza boxes.

Autumn is a lovely time for running, and I am looking forward to David returning so I can get in some early morning hours. I love running, and I run all seasons, at any hours. There's one way I won't run, though, and that's for governor. My last name just isn't spelled weird enough.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Loop

David's gone to L.A. again. Every time I say that, I think of an old Oak Ridge Boys tune that starts out "She's gone to L.A. again, That's Lost Angel to me." When I was growing up, we heard a lot of Oak Ridge Boys gospel-turned-country music in our house, and as a matter of fact the first CD our family ever owned was an Oak Ridge Boys album. This meant it was also the first ever CD in our house to develop a scratch and I remember the panicky fear I felt the first time when the stereo started making unfamiliar wuh-wuh-wuh-WUH sounds as a result of the CD skipping. I was alone at home with my brother, and not having any idea what was wrong, we devised a plan whereby I put a shoe on my hand and then hit the off button in a way that we hoped that the rubber sole would insulate me from the stray electricity that was causing the machine to malfunction so strangely. I survived, so it must have worked.

Can you believe our family used
to debate which one was the cutest?
I'd love to say I stopped paying attention to the Oak Ridge Boys after their song Elvira topped the charts and their music got too accessible and wasn't hip enough for early Oak Ridge Boys fans like myself, but in fact the reason my attention strayed elsewhere is that Alabama was looking smokin' hot in 1986. So I had to go to the web site of the Oak Ridge Boys to see if they are still around, which they are indeed, and performing regularly at the Oak Ridge Boys Theater in Branson. Also -- and maybe this is so obvious I don't need to say it -- they now have their own Twitter account. From looking at their website, I see that several Boys have expanded their artistic repertoire beyond singing really really high and really really low to writing books. The book by Joe Bonsall, the guy that sings high, even has an endorsement from George Bush on the cover: "From My Perspective is filled with wit, heart, and charm, and written by one of God's special people." I take it that means Joe is Jewish.

David is in LA, although I can't say he's a lost angel. More like an agnostic with GPS. While he's been gone Stella and I have been working on canning, and have put up several quarts of applesauce. I like to say "put up" because it sounds like something a pioneer woman and her trusty four year old helpmeet would do in the early morn hours, before the pioneer woman had to go and harvest spreadsheets at the office. (I need to get those worksheets covered before the first frost.) I also like to use the construction "put up" when referring to canning because while I thought canning would be a fun and educational way for Stella and I to spend time together, and while she was indeed fairly interested for the first ten or fifteen minutes, "put up" is an appropriate way to describe Stella's attitude towards the canning experience as a whole.

We're also preparing for Halloween here. My mother sent Stella this year's costume, which is a green M&M. The costume consists of a green fabric shell and white rubbery gloves and shoe coverings that smell like somehow the manufacturer managed to distill the essence of every toxic material known to human kind into a single fragrance and pour it into the mold with the plastic.

Last year's costume
Stella actually goes trick-or-treating three or four times -- at school, in the neighborhood, on State Street -- and the amount of candy she amasses is staggering, and to my mind mostly unnecessary. To help cut down the stash to a manageable amount, we use some of the candy she has accumulated to give out to trick-or-treaters who come to our door. I suspect that those kids return home with their loot and their parents raid their bags to give candy to my kid, thereby creating an infinite loop whereby the same piece of candy is cycled through various residences and purposes until someone riding in a 2013 Labor Day Parade on a float advertising Yamke's Lawn Service tosses the piece of candy out with a handful of other candies and instead of being caught by a little kid it gets crushed to dust by the heel of a heavyset bagpiper.

I like it when adults dress up in costumes of their own when accompanying their kids on trick-or-treating missions. So I've decided that this year I'm going to wear a really scary costume, and go as some type of living dead creature with a head full of matted fur, and a snarling, drooling mouth. I bet you can see where I'm headed with this. This year, I'm going as an Oak Ridge Boy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Applesauce

As you may know, I have two children, one six months old and the other one nearly five years old. One kid cries at all hours of the night, gets separation anxiety if I so much as step out of sight, is totally dependent on mom and dad, and spends hours every day fussing and whining -- I'm thinking colic might be a culprit.

The baby, on the other hand, is chill.

Gratuitous cute baby shot
I don't understand how a kid who is almost ready for kindergarten can require so much more in the form of parenting resources than an infant. There is NO WAY I was this hard to manage when I was almost five years old. (Mom, please note: If you leave a sarcastic comment, I will delete it.)

The other day I saw an article in the paper about a mother in the Ukraine who tried to sell her kid to human-organ traffickers, and Stella has been so challenging recently that I admit I lingered over the article before turning the page. Stella must have seen me googling "call Kiev country code" because her mood has improved recently. Still, she doesn't really need both kidneys, does she?

David is heading out of town on a work trip, which means I will be solo parenting for the next few days. I have one main tool that I use to help deal with the stress of running the household without David: bad carbs. For me, not for the kids. It's amazing how a package of graham crackers can buoy my mood and give me additional mental resources to deal with unreasonable demands. I've prepared a handy if/then chart so I know the best carb-related method of dealing with various unpleasant scenarios. Some examples:

IF: Meltdown occurs, precipitated by Stella's re-discovery of five-day old microscopic scratch that needs a band-aid RIGHT NOW, probably exacerbated by my slightly sarcastic suggestion that she get her own band-aid so I could be free to mop up all the blood.
THEN: Consume one tootsie roll Stella caught at the Memorial Day parade, microwaved for 30 seconds to see if it will soften up. You can break a tooth on those things.

IF: "Look Mama! Baby W is a dog and I am tying this leash around him and dragging him around by his neck for a walk!"
THEN: Well, looky here. SOMEBODY -- somebody who is off on a work trip -- was trying to hide an unfinished bag of peanut M&Ms in the pantry behind the clam chowder.

At the orchard
It's true that Stella's been quite challenging recently, but we have managed to have some fun together too. A couple days ago we picked apples at a self-pick orchard. Then we made and canned applesauce together, which was a first for me. I am not known for my mastery of traditional female skills like canning, so I was pretty proud of myself. I think there's a decent chance the applesauce tastes pretty good, but we'll never find out because I'm so proud of my handiwork that I'd prefer to just have the jars sit on the shelf where I could show them off to unsuspecting political campaign workers who are foolish enough to ring my doorbell. Sort of like when Stella was learning to use the toilet, and the first time she pooped on the pot I happened to be out of the house on a run. David saved it to show me -- he saved it for me -- and when I jokingly suggested we have the turd bronzed, he got kind of a thoughtful look on his face. We could bronze these applesauce jars. And as long as we're at it, I'm also going to suggest we bronze the tootsie rolls. I think it would improve their taste. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chop

When David and I started first started dating, he had longish floppy growing-out hair that I thought suited him. In fact one of the first compliments I paid him was that I liked his hair. "Thanks," he said. "My mother gave it to me."

I'm okay with looking like a lesbian.
Then a few weeks into our embryonic relationship, he got a buzz cut, and I still remember the shock I felt when he poked his head into my room. Pointing a shaking figure at his hair, I hissed "Never. Never do that again." He has taken my request to heart and now sports a ponytail of varying length; sometimes he complains that it's so long it gets caught in his belt when he buckles it.

David's version of going to the barber consists of going out in the back yard occasionally and cutting the last four inches off his ponytail. Then I find the big wad of hair while I am doing yard work and panic. Hair is a creepy thing to find mixed in with the snapdragons.

Struwwelpeter
What I'm saying is that David has abided by my requests about his hair length, and I know he has a preference that I keep my hair long as well. So I felt a little bad about getting my hair cut short but did it anyway. You know how sometimes when you dress up a little bit, there's always someone who goes overboard on the surprised compliments and manages to convey, with actually coming out and saying it, that one of the reasons you look so nice is that it's such a contrast to your normal appearance? People seem to like my new cut, so much so that I suspect they are struggling not to directly contrast my new fashionable 'do with my old Struwwelpeter-like hair.

Thank you to anyone reading this for allowing me to make use of my German minor with that Struwwelpeter reference. (Struwwelpeter was a popular German children's book in the 19th century.) These days the only other use that four years of college German has is being able to remember that Weltanschauung has two 'u's in a row, and reminding David when he sings "Packers Über Alles" every Sunday that über has an umlaut. I should have minored in something more relevant to my daily life, like laundry.

It's a shock to look in the mirror and see a reflection that looks even modestly hip. Normally, my approach to fashion combines the influence of those women in polygamous ranch cults in Utah crossed with Wisconsin Eskimo. I have always told myself 'I'm too cute for makeup,' which of course is one dangerous step away from 'I'm too lazy for makeup,' which is why when Stella recently read a book that involved someone wearing lipstick, she had to ask me what it was. When I got my hair cut, I splurged and bought a tube of hair goop the stylist recommended, which cost $22, which was also far outside my normal spending behavior. I've now blown my beauty budget until 2014. Or, as they say in German, 2ö14.