Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Updating (Warning: Boring Post Ahead)

Every now and then I take a look at my sidebar and wonder why I ever thought it would be a good idea to post a list of what I'm currently reading. And even less frequently I decide to actually update that list.

This time I not only updated the list but also added a little widget from LibraryThing. I'd catalogued a bunch of the kids' books several months ago (deciding that cataloging my own books was too daunting a task) and then forgot about it. I revisited it last night, added more books, and thought it might be fun to post a random selection, as I've seen on so many other blogs. I do wish I could change the "My Library" label to "Sean and Allie's Library," but I'll just assume that you all don't think I read Click Clack Moo for my own entertainment.

The result of all this is a bit more clutter on the sidebar than I'd like. Does anyone know how to make a pulldown menu for Blogger and care to share? That might tidy things up.

Perhaps this burst of book administrative activity will lead to an actual post about books. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Amazing Race

I’ve noticed a streak of competitiveness in Sean. He’s taken a break from the all-trains, all-the-time, play format to focus on cars, specifically of the racing sort. Any correlation between this interest and the pervasive presence of the movie Cars in our house is not the least bit coincidental.

If he’s playing by himself, he races one car against the other. If he’s playing with his sister, he races his car against hers. It’s quite a sight as they lunge across the kitchen floor with their cars. Of course, since he’s older and bigger, his cars tend to win.

He is not a quiet winner. “I WIN! I WIN!” he shouts. “I win the Piston Cup!” (a Cars reference for those not in the know) “Yeah! Bring out the Piston Cup!” (Fortunately, Allie isn’t quite hip to the zero-sum-game philosophy; when she loses a race, she shouts, “I’m second! I win too!”)

It spills over to other areas, too. When we race outside, he makes up for his lack of speed with a large dose of bravado. I’ve written about his NASCAR approach to riding bikes. Board games always begin with the announcement “I’m going to win!” I explain that we can’t determine at the outset who will be the winner; he ignores me.

And if he isn’t the most gracious winner, he’s an even worse loser. His reaction to a loss? Tears. Lots of tears. Stomping off to another room. Wails of “It’s not fair!” I’ve tried all sorts of coaching to counteract this reaction, but he doesn’t want to hear that playing a game is fun no matter whether you win or lose, that it’s important to be kind during and after a game, that no one will want to play with him if reacts so negatively to losing.

What I think he hears is “Blah blah lose blah blah.”

I’m not particularly competitive. I’ve never played a sport. I don’t understand the impulse to always win, win, win. It’s not that I don’t see the benefits of a competitive mindset; it’s just that I am discomfited by its more negative manifestations. I want Sean to strive to achieve and to do his best. As long as he’s considerate and kind along the way.

Judging from the events of earlier today, wherein yet another simple trip up the stairs was transformed into a mad scramble for first place, it looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pancakes

Sean's been obsessed with the solar system lately. It seems that we've been reading and talking about the planets and sun for over a week now. And like any good scholar, he's sufficiently engaged in the subject matter that he discourses at length to any willing, or captive, audience.

"You see, Allie," he began his lecture this evening, "the first planets to be recognized were Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They're named after gods."

"Really, Sean?" answered his enraptured pupil.

"Yes," he continued, stepping carefully around his huge solar system floor puzzle. "And then came the other gas planets, Neptune and Uranus. And Pluto is the smallest planet."

This is where Allie really got excited. She loves Pluto. "PLUTO! There it is!" she exclaimed, pointing to it on the puzzle. "It's a VERY small planet, right, Sean?" (I haven't had the heart to have the Pluto-has-been-kicked-out-of-the-planet-club discussion yet.)

I think I need to brush up on my astronomy if I am to further their celestial education. I can't pick out a constellation other than the Big Dipper to save my life, let alone recognize Venus. It doesn't help that the lights in my area are so bright at night that a clear view of the stars is hard to come by.

It's so cool that they're finding science exciting. Now, how to keep it that way...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Font Facts

I am a closet typography junkie. Okay, maybe not a junkie. Nor a practitioner in any way. But I like reading about fonts and kerning and layout and leading and stuff. It's not often I come across posts about typography in the blogosphere. So this post on the Mental Floss blog brightened my day. Did you know, for example, about the derivation for the Courier font?

Commissioned by IBM, Courier New was designed for typewriters by Bud Kettler in 1955. The font was nearly released with the name “Messenger.” “After giving it some thought,” Kettler said, “A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige, and stability.”

I had NO idea! And now I do. Very cool.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Bear of Very Little Brain

I was perusing one of our bookshelves the other day. We have two tall ones in our office/guest room, holders for the less prominent, slightly embarrassing, or shabby books in our collection. Here's where you'll find, among other titles, all the mass market paperbacks, stacked on the shelves in no order whatsoever: Seinglanguage sits next to The Golden Notebook, which sits next to Interview with the Vampire, which sits next to The Waterfall and Song of Solomon and The Kitchen God's Wife.

Tucked among all these grown-up books was a Dell paperback version of Winnie-the-Pooh. I had forgotten all about this book. When I flipped it open, two things caught my eye. First, the inscription:

(Yes, that's to me -- my family calls me "Sue". No one else is permitted to do so.)

And then, a note from my mother on a yellow Post-it note, dated Mother's Day 1997. It reads, "Someday you may want to read this to your own children."

In 1997 I had been married for one year. There were no children in even the remotest forecast, so I had slipped the book onto the shelf and promptly forgot about it.

It's funny that I discovered it now, when I've been looking for longer, chapter books to read to Sean.

We began reading it that same day. And here I have to make a confession: even though my beloved grandparents gave me this book, I don't think I ever read it. None of it seems familiar -- well, some of the stories have been Disney-fied; I've seen that Pooh movie. But the text itself and the illustrations are as new to me.

Sean loves the book; Allie professes to be interested but grows impatient quickly. Subtle signs, you know, like crawling into my lap to try to turn the page, demanding to find the pages with pictures, pointedly "reading" alternate, more compelling picture books out loud while I'm reading the Pooh text.

Has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to read AA Milne's prose out loud? It's almost like stream of consciousness for children -- long, rambling sentences that I find completely charming (and very British) but that I would think children may find difficult to follow. Like this:

"And if anyone knows anything about anything," said Bear to himself, "it's Owl who knows something about something," he said, "or my name's not Winnie the Pooh," he said. "Which it is," he added. "So there you are."


"Well, either a tail is there or it isn't there. You can't make a mistake about it. And yours isn't there."
"Then what is?"
"Let's have a look," said Eeyore, and he turned slowly around to the place where his tail had been a little while ago, and then, finding that he couldn't catch it up, he turned round the other way, until he came back to where he was at first, and then he put his head down and looked between his front legs, and at last he said, with a long, sad, sigh, "I believe you're right."

(May I just inject here that I LOVE Eeyore?)

I've found that the text challenges my dramatic-reading abilities -- to make the long chunks interesting and coherent I use lots of inflection and pauses and other actorly flourishes. It must be working; although Sean's attention flags a bit over some of the more tortuous passages, for the most part he follows the story pretty well. I am impressed and excited that he is now old enough to move beyond picture books. It opens a new world of books for us to read together.

And I'm so happy that I am sharing this book in particular with my own children, one that my mother knew I'd want someday; it's a bit like passing on a bit of my grandparents and my mother to the next generation.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I thought I'd take advantage of my ghost-town status to vent my spleen a bit.

I've been feeling annoyed lately.

I'm annoyed by the "organic food and local food, and better yet food plucked from the ground by your own hands, is best/you who eat prepared food are inferior beings corrupted by corporate farming" ethos.

And yet I'm also annoyed at the insidious inundation of character licensing deals and foot-long lists of artificial ingredients in food products.

I'm annoyed by the whole hip parent brouhaha and the implication that shodding one's child in Chuck Taylors is short-hand for enlightened rejection of those inherently distasteful mainstream parenting mores.

And yet I'm annoyed by a lot of "mainstream" parenting mores.

I'm annoyed by overintellectualizing and snotty dismissal of every single educational philosophy, blip on the cultural radar, and societal trend currently bedeviling the world.

And yet anti-intellectualism and the trashiness of pop culture annoy me too.

I'm annoyed at myself for feeling guilty over every single decision I make, whether it's the choice to buy Oreos or to let my kids watch some TV.

And yet I'm annoyed at my apparent inability to live a better, more socially responsible life. (I think that's what this whole post is about.)

(Why do I now feel so vulnerable for having written a cranky post that might offend someone? I live in fear of doing that, in case it hasn't been obvious. Sigh. I am so not the one to lead the revolution...)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ice Age

All around us the world glitters. Ice has glazed everything from the driveway to the lofty pine trees to the wispy branches on the azalea bushes. It’s beautiful. To look at, at least.

Navigating the ice on foot is decidedly more tricky, especially with two little children. A truly prudent decision, then, would have been to just stay home today. Just like yesterday and the day before. However, a quick cost-benefit analysis indicated that the cost of staying inside for another entire day (wherein cost = my sanity) did not exceed the benefit derived from venturing out.

Did I mention that the destination was swim class? Can you think of a better response to below-freezing temperatures than to jump into a lukewarm pool? Yes, of course you can. You are not, as my mother told me upon hearing of our field trip this morning, “nuts.”

All told, it wasn’t that bad. The kids did slip and slide their way down our driveway and across the parking lot of the Y. Despite clutching my hands, they did fall down a few times. Yes, it was in fact freezing cold poolside (albeit warm in the water). Oh, and the instructor was late. Poor Sean was shivering under his towel as we waited for someone to teach the class.

Still, on balance it was so good not to be rattling around the house, getting on each others’ nerves, for an hour and a half.

Now, with school having been closed for snow yesterday and with previously scheduled closings this Friday and Monday, we just have five more days to fill with fun and exciting indoor activities. If the past few days are any indication, all my ideas will be dismissed: “Do you want to color?” No. “Build with blocks?” No. “Draw?” No. “Practice writing some letters?” No. “Play with playdough?” No. “Do a puzzle?” No. Followed by the inevitable pronouncement, “I’m bored.” (In fairness, the kids are usually great at entertaining themselves, but when the doldrums hit they have a lot of traction.)

At least they love to read. I anticipate a book marathon this afternoon… What are some of your snow day survival tactics?

Postscript: So much for the marathon: "Do you want to read some books?" "No thank you!" Sigh.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fall Frolic (Now with Clarification)

Since we were snowed in today (What? Two inches is a lot around here!), I found myself a little wistful for the days when we could take a walk in the woods.

Don't get me wrong, it's not as if we are outdoorsy folks, but we do partake in nature from time to time. When it's nice out, of course. I'm not a big fan of being cold.

So, here's my first foray into posting a video online. It was taken in October; I love the little game the kids were playing with the leaves in the water. (And yes, my voice really is that annoying. Sorry.)

Edited to add: Don't worry about the kids' close proximity to the edge of the bridge -- the water is about 3 inches deep at most!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

From the To Be Deleted Folder

I never fail to be at least marginally amused by the subject lines of the spam e-mails that land in my in-box. Some recent favorites:

Shunt irritable
cursed bottom line
chaos memorable
Nobody on the team could hear
Thanksgiving shush
puff substitute
Blockbuster imperati

I don't know what these e-mails actually concern because I never open them. Others are a bit less opaque, such as the endless pleas from beleaguered officials from African nations who desperately need an influx of funds. Or the proliferation of lottery notifications. I'd be a billionare by now if I ever chose to claim those lotto winnings.

Mostly I am perplexed that anyone, anywhere, would respond to spam like this. Ever. Is there really anyone so gullible?

Gotten any good spam lately?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Some Days Are Like That, Even in Australia

At preschool pickup, Sean usually bursts out of his classroom room into my arms, thrilled to see me and happy about his day.

Today I was greeted with tear-streaked, blotchy cheeks and sorrowful eyes.

Before I even had a chance to ask him what was wrong, his teacher explained that she had had to take away the bike he had been riding in the playroom (where they go in lieu of playground time when the weather isn't permitting). She's told me before that he tends to ride the bike too roughly, banging into other bikes and tipping himself over. So I was dismayed to hear that not only had he once again been treating the playroom like the Indy 500 but had done so repeatedly, despite his teacher's warnings.

I tried to talk to him about it in the hallway but quickly realized that wasn't a good idea, unless I wanted the teacher and all the parents as witnesses to a meltdown. "We'll have a talk when we get home," I said evenly. "NO WE WON'T!" Sean choked out.

When we got home, I asked him to explain what happened. Silence. Back turned toward me. Eventually I coaxed the story out of him: the big issue, for him, was not just that his bike was taken away; it was that his friend, who was riding "even faster" than he was, was not similarly reprimanded. His indignation was palpable.

Oh, the injustice. How to tell my sweet boy that this will happen to him again, and probably again and again? I know just how he felt, and I wanted just to hug him and kiss away his tears. That would have ignored the whole Bike Derby problem, though. I empathized with him at first, and then explained that we could worry only about his behavior, not his friend's. That he would have no television today. And that if it happened again both television and bedtime stories would be going on hiatus for a few days.

He reacted to this by running upstairs and hurling himself on his bed in tears. I gave him a few minutes to be by himself, then went up and sat on the bed next to him.

"Just like in the Alexander book, remember? It sounds like this has been a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. Let's have some lunch and see if we can make it a little bit better."

"Okay," he sniffled, and accepted my hug.

I don't know if I handled this well, but at least I remained calm and didn't yell at all. I wish I knew if any of my attempts at disciplining are actually working...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Possible Remedy for the Blahs

In an attempt to wrest myself from the grip of this seasonal depression or whatever it is, I decided to take a drastic step.

I exercised.

Not just a walk, either (because it's 80 degrees below zero outside), but an actual get-your-heart-rate up, aeorbic, weight-bearing exercise session.

See, I figured that one of the reasons I am so tired all the time is the fact that I'm not getting any a lot of exercise. Even though it goes against everything I believe in as a card-carrying Lazy Person (credo: When tired, lie down).

On Sunday I selected one of the many exercise tapes I've accumulated over the years (before the kids were born, I worked out semi-regularly) and informed the kids that we were going to exercise. "Oooh! Can I do some extracises, too?" asked Sean.

Let me tell you, doing one of these tapes with children presents challenges over and above the ones that typically confront me -- I always have trouble with complicated foot and arm motions, for example, and tend to give up midway through any abdominal routine. But with the kids watching (they gave up participating within a few minutes), I also had to contend with the following:

--Allie climbing on my back as I attempted to do modified wimpy pushups.
--Allie needing immediate and repeated intervention as she got herself dressed on the couch.
--Sean informing me that I needed to be doing what the instructor was doing instead of standing there, staring, at a routine that was beyond my limited capacity for weight-lifting.
--Allie needing immediate and, thankfully, one-time intervention as she used the potty.
--Tripping over trains and train tracks that somehow had worked their way into my exercise space.

Still, I completed one 45-minute tape and did not collapse in a heap of exhaustion. I think I just might try another one sometime soon. Perhaps with a little less participation from the peanut gallery next time.