Tuesday, November 30, 2010


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 "What an out-of-date loser," I think when I see someone with one of the older internet phones.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


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


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.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.