Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bees

Here's what we have in our foundation.
Times about a billion.
We have a gigantic, and I mean GIGANTIC yellow jacket nest in the foundation of our house. At least, I think it must be gigantic from the number of yellow jackets that I see heading down into the hole. If you stand in just the right spot in the driveway, you can see hundreds of yellow jackets circling the nest, waiting their turn to land. All those flying insects in a holding pattern reminds me of O'Hare, although despite the limitations of their tiny brains, these insects are way more devoted to timely arrivals than United Airlines. Also the yellow jackets are less likely to lose your checked bag in Los Angeles. (And they don't charge you $25 for the privilege, either.)

I find insects very interesting in general but I have an intense dislike of yellow jackets. If I had to make a list of everything in the world and put them in order based on how much I liked each thing, here's how the list would go:
#1: My adorable children and manly yet sensitive husband, none of whom mind that I'm cheating by listing three different people as the top item
#2: Nutella
#3: Caffeine
(Numbers 3 through 999,999,997 go here)
#999,999,998: Yellow jackets
#999,999,999: United Airlines
#1,000,000,000: Yellow jackets actually on a United Airlines flight. Granted, at this point this situation is theoretical, but I imagine that at this very minute, executives at United are trying to figure out how to smuggle nests of yellow jackets through security to install on all their Denver-Dulles flights. Or perhaps instead of serving peanuts or pretzels, which I don't think they do anymore anyway, United Airlines could serve tiny foil bags filled with yellow jackets. Lightly salted.

Compared to yellow jackets, honey
bees are likely snuggly little
puppies.
Another reason I don't like yellow jackets is that they sting seemingly without provocation. You can just be standing there, minding your own business and not threatening their nectar supply or having fantasies about funneling your car's carbon monoxide exhaust system directly into their underground lair, and they will just fly up and sting you anyway. They don't even have the decency to die afterwards, which seems to me to be the only respectable course of action. And they don't make honey, although if they did, yellow jackets are so vicious that the honey would probably have to be harvested by Navy SEALS. Driving Hummers.

I thought that perhaps we should sneak up on the yellow jacket nest at night when the Evil Stinging Insects from Hell are less active, and seal the entry hole shut with caulk. Problem solved! But after a little online research, it turns out that if you seal the yellow jackets inside, they start chewing their way into your house, and emerge in your basement. And when they do, they're angry. That is, they're even more angry than yellow jackets usually are, which means they're really quite angry indeed. In fact, yellow jackets as a species seem to have some real anger issues. Seriously, vespula maculifrons, you need to chillax.

Speaking of chilling, we've decided to let the cold weather take care of the yellow jacket nest. Hopefully the nest will not be back next year. I realize that even though we live in an urban area, we still live within an ecosystem and should respect the other animals trying to share our space. So I don't mind the odd possum in our backyard or when a raccoon gets into our garbage. But a yellow jacket nest can be quite dangerous, especially if one of the kids should disturb the nest. So I'm really hoping that next year we'll be free from any yellow jacket colonies, or even something worse: an infestation of United Airlines executives.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kiss

The good news here is that Stella is enjoying kindergarten very much. She has lots of stories to tell about new friends that she's made, and fun activities that she's done in class. She always hops out of bed eager to get on the bus. And guess what? Today I found out that she kissed a boy on the playground! No wonder she likes kindergarten!


Story time, snack tine, nap time, and then make-out time at recess. Seriously, what's not to like?

She probably inherited this behavior from her old lady. I remember when I was in kindergarten, I used to chase the boys, hold them down, and then kiss them. Don't worry, as I got older my flirting got a little less...direct. 

My behavior extended beyond just the playground. As a special form of torture, my sister and I used to hold my brother down and give him dozens of kisses, to his extreme dismay. This may be why he started letting our phone calls go to voice mail as soon as he grew up and got caller ID.

Stella has made lots of new friends at kindergarten (and some friends with benefits, apparently), but she also comes home and tells us about all the naughty things other kids have done or the mean things they have said. I think in a way she enjoys telling us about other kids breaking the rules. She told us about one kid who had said something mean, and when I asked for the particulars, she reported he had said "Baby bop." "Baby bop"? That's what passes for a mean remark these days? No wonder we're falling behind other industrialized countries. Our schools can't even teach kids to bully effectively!

Speaking of bullies, I remember a time in sixth grade when a classmate made an unkind remark to me. Staring at the ceiling later night I thought of the perfect rejoinder to his insult, a cutting reply that would really put him in his place. But of course it was too late...or so I thought, until the next day when he pushed his luck and repeated his mean comment, at which point I whipped out my scathing yet funny retort and he was appropriately humiliated. That kind of beautiful second chance has only happened once in my 37 years of life, but that one time was so perfect that I'll be happy even if it never happens again. In fact, since I am "friends" with all my old classmates on Facebook, I think I'll go post on his wall and remind him of our interaction so many years ago. Just in case he's forgotten. 

Anyway, when Stella reported she kissed a boy, I wasn't sure how to react. I saw the boy's parents at school and wondered if perhaps I should introduce myself, especially considering we'll soon be in-laws.

So to sum up: Stella is doing great at kindergarten, other than being a little free and easy with her affections. I can already see an improvement in her reading skills, she has learned several new songs she likes to sing, and every day she comes home talking about a new friend. I'm glad thing are going well, because if they weren't, I would be forced to take drastic measures. That's right: I would have to baby bop.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Deranged

There is some deranged part of my brain that insists on trying to learn skills that I will never be able to master. In certain areas of my life, I seem to actually gravitate towards activities that I am naturally bad at. What's up with that? I know I will never be good at these activities no matter how much I study or practice, yet I continue the struggle. Ad astra per aspera, one might say, which is Latin for "Look, I went to public school -- I don't know any Latin."

In other words, I got the sewing machine out again.

I'm not sure why sewing has traditionally been considered a woman's art, to be practiced in the domestic domain and not held in the same esteem of other, more manly skills. That shit is hard. And, at least in my experience, sewing involves a lot of swearing. Yet pioneer women, who were not known for their foul mouths, sewed up a storm. Here's how conversations would go if I were a pioneer woman:
David: Ma, shall I light the candle for you, so you can see better while you sew my shirt?
Me: Sure, but I -- now how does this work...aw, godammit fuck, I'm going to have to rip out this whole seam. Jesus Christ.
David: You seem to be having problems, Ma.
Me: No shit, Sherlock. And don't call me Ma. It creeps me the fuck out.
So possibly due to some chemical imbalance in my brain that I suspect could be successfully corrected with medication, I decided to sew a hat for my niece, for her birthday. Here is my niece:


She seems worthy of a sewing project, right?

So I undertook what seemed to be a simple fleece hat, easy to make, with the directions extensively documented with photos. Everything went smoothly, until of course I hit a road block. The simple-to-follow directions told me to take a step that didn't seem right to me. After puzzling over it for a while, and unleashing some really quality profanity upon it, I went and begged David to help me. He was also stumped, and we sat there looking at that goddamn hat trying to figure out the next step. I figured the directions just had to be wrong.

Of course, after a whole hour spent trying to figure out what to do, we realized the directions were correct after all. The problem was -- get this -- that David and I didn't properly understand how to turn the hat inside out. Let's see: 12 years of K-12 education for both of us, 4 years of college for both of us, 2 years of graduate school for me...that makes 34 years of combined schooling and we couldn't figure out how to turn the flippin'  hat inside out properly. It's no wonder the Chinese are cleaning our clock, economically. Their kids start learning how to turn hats inside out when they're in kindergarten.

Despite all the frustration, I'm actually quite happy with the end product. See below. (Creepy overall-wearing frog not included.)


The problem is that a little success can be dangerous. Now that I made a hat that turned out well, why not tackle a larger project? But see, that's the kind of thinking that can lead towards disaster. I think it's best that I stay at this level before I move on to a more challenging undertaking. I learned a lot while doing this project, though. And some of what I learned was even about sewing. But mostly it was about profanity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Milwaukee II

Last we heard from our intrepid reporter (me), I was venturing to Milwaukee to attend a convention of left-leaning economists. While the conference was definitely worthwhile, it was also a major downer. We spent a lot of time discussing how poverty is skyrocketing, how wealth disparities are at an all-time high, and why we seem intent on pursuing policies that exacerbate both those problems. On the other hand, the food at the conference was excellent, so that helped bolster my spirits somewhat. I recommend the cheesecake.

Baby W reads the beer
menu at a Milwaukee
restaurant
I'm still nursing Baby W, so David and the kids accompanied me to Milwaukee. Some might think that since Baby W is walking and talking (a little, anyway) he's too old to nurse. But I am a big-time believer in the health benefits of long-time nursing, plus I'm a hippie. (You can tell because I buy the unbleached coffee filters.)

I plan to offer Baby W the opportunity to nurse for many months to come. While this is fairly normal behavior in a place like Madison, I think David's family is somewhat new to the concept of extended nursing. They are far too polite to express any surprise, though, and anyway they would have to get in line behind my own family who also thinks I am a weirdo and is much more upfront about telling me so.

Anyway, I headed to Milwaukee by bus a little earlier than David, who followed in the car. Beforehand, I packed up the clothes, diapers, etc, that the kids would need and left the suitcase in the middle of the dining room for him.

I repeat: I left all the necessities packed up and right in the the middle of the dining room for him.

In the middle of the dining room.

Fortunately, we have a hybrid car, so that night when David had to drive the 100 miles BACK to Madison to pick up the suitcase (the one that was left in the middle of the dining room) and then 100 miles back to Milwaukee AGAIN, only a few endangered species were snuffed out.

One evening, after the conference,
I took the kids out for dinner
and just had the nicest evening.
Look at this great smile!
While I attended the conference, David and kiddos saw the sights of Milwaukee. He did not take them on a brewery tour. Even though I suspect he really wanted to. Meanwhile, I was stretching my brain while learning about tax increment financing and state-supported venture capital funds. After a day spent discussing topics like that, I could have used a tour of a brewery too.

At the conference, I was able to connect with people from other states who work in my field, and I left full of ideas for new ways to tackle old issues at work. I also realized that if you want to see a large collection of extremely sensible shoes, just check out the footwear of a gathering of people who think that an analysis of appropriate rates of return for use in estimating pension fund liabilities represents a rockin' good time. I saw some sandals that were dangerously close to Birkenstocks.

But we're back home now, and back to our normal schedule. David is relieved because it means that he no longer has to get up out of bed at a reasonable hour of the morning the way 99.99999% of the rest of the world does. (Not that I am jealous.) Stella is happy because she gets to go back to kindergarten. Baby W is happy because is once again able to torture the cats. I guess it's only me that's missing Milwaukee -- mostly because that was some seriously excellent cheesecake.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Milwaukee


I’m getting ready for a three-day conference, one on economic research and analysis. Believe me when I say whooo-hoo! I am going to motherfucking rock the session on state-supported venture capital funds!

Me in Milwaukee in my fancy
hotel room. See? It has a view
of a parking garage.
I suspect the wonk factor at this conference is going to be stunningly high, given that the people attending are mainly economists. I also suspect this is going to be a fairly unhappy group of people, given the extremely anemic nature of the economic recovery and the questionable wisdom behind some of the proposals to revive the economy. In other words, the hotel is going to be filled with conference attendees who are both nerdy and depressed. HELLO MY PEOPLE!

This conference is in the exotic city of. . . Milwaukee. This is bad because it deprives me of a chance to attend a conference located in a more glamorous city. Like maybe Dayton, Ohio. Or even Carbondale, Illinois. (Motto: “The Building Block of All Life, Right There in Our Name!”)

But holding the conference in Milwaukee also has some benefits for me, in that it is easy for David and the kids to come along. This is important because Baby W is not yet weaned. So if I don’t nurse him every couple hours, he gets angry and basically turns into the Incredible Hulk. Also my boobs explode. So all around, a bummer.

David will bring the kids to Milwaukee for a little sightseeing while I am at the conference. I imagine he’ll drive them around the decaying inner city, showing them what happens when the manufacturing sector disintegrates, affluent whites flee for the suburbs, and the educational system collapses. They may also take in the zoo.

Being in Milwaukee means that Stella is going to miss two days of kindergarten. She’s a little sad about that, and I wish this conference hadn’t happened so close to the beginning of the school year. But I know she’ll learn as much in Milwaukee as she would have at school, especially considering that their first academic unit in kindergarten centered around teddy bears. But I bet that’s only because they’re waiting until October to start the unit on Milton’s Paradise Lost.

You can tell it's a fancy hotel room
because each bed has six pillows.
Stella is going to love being in Milwaukee. She really gets excited about going to new places and doing new things. I hope Baby W will have a good time too. Recently he’s been quite crabby (perhaps teething?), and the only thing that makes him happy is to be outside at the park. So we spend most of our day at the park, and I’m thinking that it would help even more to spend all our time at the park. We could get a yurt and set it up by the monkey bars.

I’ll wrap this up because the kids are due here (meaning the hotel room in Milwaukee) any minute now. I’m looking forward to an interesting (and hopefully not too depressing) conference, and I know the kids are going to have fun too. David gets the short end of the stick of this experience, but there is a Les Paul exhibit in town that I think he will like. I’ll try to get out to see a little bit of Milwaukee even as I hope that next year’s conference will be held in a more attractive, less familiar city full of mystery and intrigue. I’m thinking Dubuque.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Revolution

Our house is in the middle of a technological revolution. I am really, truly, getting a cell phone. This represents a fundamental, comprehensive, and yes, possibly violent reordering of civil society in our house. It's a lot like what's happening in Libya.

This photo isn't relevant
to the post at all, but I was
going through some old pix
and thought I'd stick this
one in. Also, look! A clean
house in view behind Stella.
In theory, I actually got a cell phone about a year ago. At that point I had semi-involuntarily scheduled two back-to-back cross country trips (with kids) involving airports in four different destination cities. I generally have an overly optimistic view of what I am able to accomplish when travelling with two kids -- show me Mount Everest and I would say, "I could totally get a stroller up there, no prob" -- but even I realized that to retain any sanity I would need to get a cell phone for those trips.

So a year ago I bought a pre-paid cell phone from Target, the kind that flips open and was technologically advanced in 1989. (By which I mean 1989 B.C.) It did come in handy once or twice on the trip, and then when I returned home I threw the cell phone in a drawer and never used it again. I wanted to make sure that nobody called me on the phone, so I kept my phone number a highly guarded secret, which I did by forgetting what my phone number actually was.

The result is that when I first got the phone, I bought 400 minutes of air time, and now, a year later, I have...396.5 minutes of air time. So clearly it's time for me to upgrade my hardware!

Two goofballs.
Last week David got a fancy new cell phone, and passed his old smartphone down to me. Woo-hooo! I got me one of those fancy phones! Which is good, because let's face it -- anyone who does not have a touch-screen smart phone is an out-of-touch, socially awkward loser. And while that may have described me last week, now everything is different. Now, I am an out-of-touch, socially awkward loser with a smartphone. 


But already there is trouble in paradise. The phone is a Palm Pre, which from what I gather isn't actually made anymore, and so the apps are limited. You might not think this would be a problem considering that the pre-paid flip phone had exactly zero apps, unless you count as an app the fact that it flipped open.

But here's the deal: if there is one single thing that I want to be able to do with my phone (other than text and call), just one single solitary thing, it's this: I want to know when the damn bus is coming. There's plenty of apps for that, but none that I can find for the Palm. It is the pinnacle of Western civilization to have your cell phone tell you just where the bus is, and it pains me deeply that I can't have access to it. Also, I would like an app that pets my cats for me. But that's another issue altogether.

Despite my hesitations, I am jumping with both feet into the world of cell phone users. I'm even thinking it will make sense to drop our land line soon. That makes me a little sad, because I'm emotionally attached to the phone number we've had for as long as I've known David. But I don't think we can justify keeping the land line if we both have cell phones, unless there's some sort of new functionality that I'm not aware of. If the land line can pet my cats, then all bets are off.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Run

Every year I help coordinate a fundraising run/walk for a fantastic little non-profit organization that provides services to child abuse victims and their families. As always, the run/walk was held on Labor Day Monday, and I'm proud to say that it once again went off without a hitch, except for the fact that I had to start busting my hump at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM on a holiday. I would call that a hitch, a big one. 

Last year, I decided I needed a break, and although I did a little work leading up to the run/walk, I didn't even come to the event itself. It used to be that on Labor Day morning, I would be a ball of nerves from about 1 AM on, fretting over little details I had forgotten or the possibility that the weather wouldn't be perfect. Last year, though, when I awoke to thunder and heavy rain in the early morning, I had the luxury of rolling over and going happily back to sleep. "Suckers," was my sleepy, happy thought.

Hors d'oeuvre is French for "horse eggs."
This year, of course, I was among the suckers working at the event, and I'm happy to say that we raised more than $15,000 to help support important services to child abuse victims. As always, one of the hardest parts of organizing the event was rounding up enough volunteers to help out on the actual day of the event. I leaned hard on everyone I know to help, especially anyone for whom I once did a favor. Did I ever feed your cat when you were out of town? Remind you how to correctly spell "hors d'oeuvre"? Untruthfully swear to you that I barely even noticed the zit you were feeling self-conscious about when in reality I wondered when open pit mining had become legal? Then I probably I asked you to volunteer for this event.

Heck, if you are some sort of carbon-based life form then I probably asked you to volunteer.

(If you are feeling left out that I somehow missed asking you to volunteer, then by all means leave a comment! I'll sign you up to work at next year's event!)

Seriously, though, for a few days there I could barely restrain myself from begging anyone I made eye contact with to volunteer, as long as they seemed like responsible people. I generally took the fact that they had managed to keep themselves alive for as long as they did as evidence of sufficient responsibility to volunteer.

The friends who didn't come
through for me will not get a chance
to inherit my Escalade limo.
And that's a very sad thing.
Now the event is over for another year -- no doubt to the relief of my friends who for a while there might have felt that I valued their friendship only to the extent that that I could exploit their volunteer labor. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth, although keep in mind I have cut any and all non-volunteering so-called "friends" out of my will.

Thanks to everyone who supported the run/walk, either through your dollars or your time. Everyone had a blast at the event, and more importantly, we raised thousands of dollars to help protect our community's most vulnerable residents. And seriously, you can barely even see that pimple. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kindergarten

Stella started kindergarten today! In a way, I almost feel sorry for the public school system. They have no idea what they're in for. First a round of crippling budget cuts, and then this particular hurricane hits them. They best board up the windows and buy a generator. I'd also recommend filling the bathtub with water.

I suspect Stella will do very well in school, following in the footsteps of her parents, both of whom were good students in elementary school. I stayed a good student for my entire academic career, whereas David eventually discovered the pleasures of not living up to his potential. By the time high school rolled around, he was devoting significant amounts of time to making time with the ladies,engaging in loud and obnoxious socializing, and pursuing a wide-ranging array of misdemeanors. All this is ironic because he went to Catholic school, which you would think would have kept him on the straight and narrow. But apparently God doesn't mind if you feel up Sarah Van Den Heiden in the back of the bus on a field trip.

Anyway, Stella's first day of kindergarten got off to an alarming start. I helped her get on the school bus in the morning, then biked over to the school and scouted out a good spot to stand so I could get a nice photo of her getting off the bus on the first day of school. The bus pulled up and the kids got off one by one, but Stella was not among them. Then the bus closed its doors and drove off.

No Stella.

Where was she?

For lack of any other alternative, I decided that I must have looked away for a split second when she disembarked, as unlikely as that was. So I started looking for her. This was made more difficult by the fact that there were 80 billion kids on the school grounds at that point, and 40 billion parents. That is an exact figure. I counted.

No sign of Stella, but I kept searching, in part because I didn't know what else to do. Meanwhile, I mentally calculated how much I was going to demand when I sued the the school district. It was a very high number.

Then I started to get a little worried. The kids were lining up to go inside and WHERE WAS STELLA?

Just as I was about ready to call the police and demand an Amber Alert, Stella showed up. It turns out that the bus made an initial stop at another door of the school, to let out the kids who have breakfast at school. Stella got swept up in that group and disembarked at the wrong place, and it had taken a couple of minutes for the adults there to sort things out and walk her over to the right place where I was waiting for her. Fortunately, very little fazes Stella, and she didn't even realize anything had gone wrong. I, on the other hand, desperately wanted to throw myself on Stella's neck and sob "I thought I had lost you forever, my little darling!" but I used my smelling salts to revive me.

Once we were inside the school, I walked Stella into her classroom and kissed her the cheek. Stella cheerfully waved goodbye and I waltzed away. I was glad Stella is not the type of kid who cries on the first day of kindergarten. Not that there's anything the matter with that type of kid, mind you. It's just that my type of kid is better.



After her (less eventful, thank god) bus ride home, Stella reported that she had a great day of kindergarten. I think she's going to have a great school career.  As her parents, David and I will try to teach her how to succeed in school as she grows older. I will try to get her to study hard, challenge herself academically and socially, and engage in fun and rewarding extracurricular activities. David, on the other hand, is going to be focused on keeping her away from the back of the bus during field trips.