January 2008

Kid Update

Will (4 years, 2 months)

Listening, as understood by Will, is when you HEAR something and then DO exactly OPPOSITE what you have just been told. Action should be immediately followed by a cute, snappy phrase. Example:

scene: in the kitchen, making snacks for school
Me (giving Will the spoon for stirring): “Remember, it’s not sanitary to taste the dough before baking.”
Will (stops stirring, brings spoon to lips): “I’m just going to give this a little taste….”
Me: “WILLL!!!!!!”
Will: “That is TOO GOOD!”

Honesty, as understood by Will, is admitting that when you tripped your sister, you did it because that it exactly what you meant to do… because you realize that your Mom or Dad or Grandparent watched the entire scenario unfold. Example:

scene: in Granna’s bedroom, Will rolls over the floor to slam into Kate from behind, who buckles and crumples to the floor
Granna: “WILL! What happened!?”
Will starts to say I don’t know…
Granna: “WILL. Be HONEST. What was in your heart when you rolled to Kate?”
Will: “That I wanted to knock her down.”

Favorite Food: Hamburgers.
Favorite Song: Clean My Room by the Imagination Movers
Favorite Art Endeavor: Drawing Superheros and Bunnies
Second Favorite Art Endeavor: Tape.
Preferred Form of Parental Torture: Hearing what you say, but ignoring it
Preferred Form of Sibling Torture: I have it, you can’t have it
Favorite Show: The Wonder Pets
Favorite Story: Bartholomew and the Oobleck; “I Love You More” Stories
Favorite Song to Sing: Feed the Birds
Second Favorite Song to Sing: Sing
Favorite Conversation Subject: Reasons why we should let him watch “Star Wars”
Favorite Good Kid Activity: Cleaning up the kitchen table, setting the table before dinner
Cuddly of Choice: Big Toe (Ugly Doll)

Kate (20 months)

Please, according to Kate, is what you say very sweetly when you want to take away whatever Will has. Example:

scene: in the car, Will is looking at a piece of mail and Kate decides she wants it
Kate: WHINE….
Us: “Kate, use your words.”
Will: “She wants my flyer. But I am looking at it.”
Kate (in the sweetest voice possible): “Peeze, Woll, Peeze.”

Learning to speak, according to Kate, is a thoughtful process where one chooses which words and phrases to say and which to completely ignore, no matter what. Case in point: Kate will happily repeat “DAMN” after I utter it upon stubbing my broken toe, but will not ever, under any circumstance repeat the phrase “THANK YOU,” no matter how many times we parrot it to her or what bounty we hold out to encourage it.

Favorite Food: Cheeseburgers.
Favorite Song: The Monster in the Mirror (the “Wubba” Song) as sung by Grover
Second Favorite Song: Elmo’s Song
Favorite Art Endeavor: Paint.
Second Favorite Art Endeavor: Glue.
Preferred Form of Parental Torture: The Supersonic Screech.
Preferred Form of Sibling Torture: I must do whatever you are doing. Right. Now.
Favorite Show: Elmo.
Favorite Story: Elmo. A plus if Elmo has flip-up windows.
Favorite Rhyme: Ring Around the Rosie (really likes that “fall down” part at the end)
Favorite Conversation Subject: Emmy. (“Ehh-mee,” with accent on first syllable.)
Favorite Good Kid Activity: Giving her brother hugs
Cuddly of Choice: Elmo. And Ugly Dog.


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Things to freeze your arse off for while in DC

On Sunday, we slept until 9am, 8am Central Time, had breakfast and ventured in the 20-degree, clear sky D.C. day. Paul feared of frostbite at every turn, with good reason, since I was dragging him all over hillsides and sidewalks. We walked down to The Marine Corps Memorial, which I had never seen in person. I am embarrassed to admit it: but I didn’t even know it was in Virginia (I assumed it was near the memorials along the Mall area.) I also didn’t know it was so. damn. big. The thing is huge! After seeing it so many times in pictures, I was a little caught off guard when I noticed a lump in my throat looking up at it. It is surprisingly moving in person. (It is also surprising that the photograph of the monument on the National Park Service website is marred by a huge street sign in back of it. Yikes!) Can you see the Washington Monument peaking out to the right of the monument? It’s a beautiful view into the District from this hillside.Then, after a 5 minute detour due to being lost, we headed into the District. We ended up hitting Independence almost all the way at the Capital, at the end of the Mall. A parking space magically appeared and we took it as a sign we should get out and go to the Museum of the American Indian.
If you went to public school in the United States, chances are pretty high that you know next to nothing about American Indians. By American Indians, or Native Americans, I mean in indigeous peoples whose residence in the Americas (South America, Central America, and North America) pre-date European settlers. What I know about Native Americans I learned mostly by going cross-country with my family when I was 16 (our first family vacation, but that is another story). The bottom line of this learning was that I uncovered the horrible truth: we (European settlers and early White Americans) were shit-heads to Native peoples and are country continues in this legacy to this day. Somehow this message got watered down in schooling.

Side note… One Big Reason for this, incidentally, was because Lynne Cheney (AKA: the Antichrist) during her tenure as the Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 80s (*shutter*… a Reagan appointee… one of the many reasons that the nostalgia over ‘the Reagan years’ makes me hurl), she was hell-bent on an agenda for the design of teaching standards in American History. She advocated for “America-first” curriculum which heavily favored teaching U.S. students of the good ‘ole days when our country’s leaders were limited to wealthy, land-holding white men who own black slaves and discussed the merits of whether or not it was wise to let women learn how to read. Any type of programming which challenged the idea of the Destiny of America as some sort of Divine province worked against this ethnocentric vision. Programs which logically and realistically portrayed Native peoples or showed the happenings of history in a less-than-rosy light were Not Part of The Plan. So if you grew up thinking, “jeez, I know we’ve made some bad moves with Native Americans, but it’s all good, ’cause we’re the good guys!!” then you’ve got Lynne Cheney to thank. (Side note: she would rally against this very program when it was altered after her tenure at the NEH and later, she would advocate for the de-funding of the entire program. I watched her testimony on Capital Hill while I was a federal employee at the NEH’s sister agency, the NEA.)

Anyway, if you grew up in the Lynne Cheney bubble, there is a cure. This museum. It is fantastic.

The inside has a huge open atrium that circles up (not unlike the Hirschhorn) — like the inside of a huge hive. I only took A Photograph inside (below, of an Aymara Reed boat).

We didn’t have enough time to enjoy all of the exhibits but were incredibly impressed with what we did see. I think my favorite exhibit was on the Contemporary Lives and Identities of Native Peoples, focusing on several tribes (the Igoolik in Canada and Pamunkey in Virginia are the ones that I can remember). The honesty and clarity within the presentation of materials was striking. Other areas that stood out were pieces that illustrated the impact of disease in Native peoples as a result of Contact (a word capitalized through exhibits) and the immense quantities of gold and treasures stolen. The range of quotations, thoughtful and memorable soundbites, and video clips were impressive. The Museum is a beautiful tribute to what must have been an incredible creative partnership. I strongly recommend taking the kids and giving it a go… can’t wait ’til our kids are old enough to appreciate this sort of thing.

Across Independence was the Department of Education (where we parked) and after dragging Paul around the Mall, I noticed the little read school houses covering every entrance of the building. I had to get a closer look.

See the bell? It’s a school bell from Milford, Pennsylvania. The plaque reads:

Milford School Bell
Dedicated November 13, 1989
As an enduring symbol of the United States Department of Education’s goal to educate every American to his or her fullest potential.

George Herbert Walker Bush
President of the United States

Lauro F. Cazavoz
U.S. Secretary of Education

How nice! It’s to symbolize the Mission of the Department of Education to provide a quality education to all American children. What is that, in back of the bell? Those little red houses? What do they symbolize? A closer look:

Expensive edifices with no purpose, reminding us that the No Child Left Behind program reigns this country. You know, the program that works fitfully against the message on the “enduring symbol” emblazed on the monument that sits in front of the building. Ack! The irony!

We drove more around the District (read: got lost a lot) and finally determined that it would be too long of a walk to see the WWII memorial. Instead, we drove down to Hain’s Point, stopping along this bridge, by the George Mason Memorial.

Hi George!
Finally, we got to Hain’s Point (read: got lost and almost couldn’t find it). The Awakening was still there. The sky was crystal blue and we were the only ones there. (See that red car in the corner? That was the Ford Mustang the rental agency upgraded us to when we gave her Mardi Gras beads at check-in.)
Looking out Hain’s Point.
Will would have LOVED this sculpture.

It took us about 30 minutes to get the airport (26 minutes were lost) and we had an easy trip back (read: there were no kids to wrangle). Great trip!


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Tin Roof, Rusted (Part II): Party Conversations

One of the people I most enjoyed was a wife of one of Paul’s cooler co-workers, who is the Department head of the Math Department of a local high school and teaches AP Calculus and AP Statistics. She and I were discussing the importance of women in Mathematics and Sciences when she came out with this: “I have a class of 28, and each year, about 21 of them are female and all of them consistently outperform their male peers. Our student government is always female. So what I want to know is: WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING IN COLLEGE????”

A brilliant question placed so nicely within the observations and experiences of someone who faces it everyday. What is happening to women?

Once upon a time, Paul and I made similar observations about friends and acquaintances, noticing that they shared the same college: we joked that this particular university had a curious way of beating dreams and aspirations out of women. This particular university is also well-known for having faculty who openly have flirtations and affairs with students — and write about it — and maybe this isn’t a coincidence. What happens in college, and what happens after, and why is it so toxic to the promising potential in the talents of women?

Maybe it isn’t necessarily what happens in college, but is instead what happens afterward? She gets hired by Company X and gets stuck working with the guy with the roaming hands. This guy is pervasive everywhere and is typically one that everyone seems to like (or is maybe tolerated out of some strange peer-pressure fear), and while it’s well-known that he is inappropriate, he remains untouched by an indifferent management (make the environment more friendly to women? what is that a requirement of management?) Worse, he may be her boss. Or, her boss totally ignores her, calling in for the first time on the day she resigns. She gets paid less than her male peers, receives less promotions, and is hounded on her personal life (marriage and kids makes a working girl distracted, ya know.) Are all of these things illegal? Well, maybe, but they are all active and real… as part of corporate culture as power ties and pumps. Maybe my use of the word ‘corporate’ unfairly fingers business, which is not my intent: it is even worse in academia.

So what does the world offer to women, professionally? Well, I’d argue it offers all that it offers to a man — at a reduced pay, of course — IF the woman is willing to act like a man.

For a woman to be successful, she must remain aloof, act tough, rough, and hard (which will label her a “cold bitch” but is preferred to the alternative, patronizing treatment). She is constantly observed for signs of female-ness: did she marry, buy a house, or (gasp!) have a baby!? These are all connected to risk within the robot-male business model, where one must have no emotion to any thing but the job, dedicate all time to it, and reject life outside of work. Forget that 30 hours a week of work is the most efficient, connected to more completed in a work week, healthier employees, and a better overall company: you are required to be at work, even if you’re not doing anything at all, 12 hours a day, everyday. Not performing at this level is a feminine slip, a sign of weakness, and shows lack of dedication. Want to push back that 4pm meeting to 3pm so that you can make Tommy’s soccer game? Tisk, tisk… your priorities are all messed up. (Incidentally, if your male boss makes the same request, he’s just “being a good Dad.”)

A day of sexual harassment, hours and hours of extra work with little reward, pay out of whack with peers, and diminished opportunities for advancement… who would willing and openly choose this life? Staying home with babies (who actually need to be with their Mothers for more than the ridiculous 6-week window) does not sound like a “choice” but a rational path made by smart women who are lucky to have enough resources available to them so that they do not have to endure the torture of a sexist, hostile work environment.

If the work world was structured to be family friendly: to offer part-time opportunities with benefits (or have university health care so that benefits were not a requirement for families), and work options that allowed for quality jobs with less hours and more flexibility; if maternity leave was reasonable; if childcare was affordable and on-site for nursing mothers… in short, if women and families were valued, then I believe more women would remain in professional positions in all fields. Women “choose” to leave the work force because there is no other choice to make. I don’t think it a coincidence that so many women have part-time independent businesses, photography studios, craft endeavors, design consultant services: these are flexible areas where women can control their professional lives. Signs that women want to continue to develop themselves outside of their family identity and responsibilities, but cannot do so in the professional world. So they look for other places to do so.

So what happens to women to take them out of mathematics and sciences (and the professional world, in general?) Well, they get beaten. Enough licks and anyone with a ripcord will pull it to get out.

The whole situation sucks for men, too, who are expected to work, expected to find well-paid employment to support a family, expected to work too much, and expected to not notice that they are missed at home. What would it take to re-think how we work and who we expect to work? Is it too much to encourage young women to think beyond a life in homemaking and allow men to pursue art or craft-making without looking at him as irresponsible?


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Tin Roof, Rusted

Not really. Just thought it summed up the weekend.

We’re back. Some lessons:

— Flying without children is a treat, no matter what happens. You can sleep, read, use the bathroom, and actually have that bag of pretzels and cranberry juice from the attendant. These are true luxuries, even when they happen in coach.
— Shots pushed into your hand from someone who maybe a boss of your spouse is a very different type of peer pressure. Especially when you’re the one in the room giving out Mardi Gras beads.
— I have become the one who can handle cold. Paul complained of impending frostbite in the 20-degree weather on Sunday (granted, that hard wind was bitter, and I was dragging him all over monuments on exposed hillsides) while I surrendered winter gear to ease his pain. Make no mistake: the cold still hurts, but I didn’t find it particularly bad — and my ears were as exposed as Paul’s and I was wearing less layers and a lighter jacket. Still, I was shocked when (I-love-hockey) Paul admitted, “there is no way we can ever move to back Michigan.” Either he drank so much the night before that his thinned blood couldn’t take the cold, or my cross-campus marathons over iced paths and brutal winds hardened me more than I thought. It was a surprise: as long as the sun is shining, 20 degrees and freezing winds are no huge deal to me.
— We really do love DC. We mean that as DC, the area across the Potomac, where one is taxed without representation. There is no great desire to live there, although we admit that living in the District would not destroy us. Paul is perhaps less interested in the idea as me (and by interested, we mean “not 100% against the idea as something to do if we had to” and by had to, we mean “otherwise would suffer ignoble destruction”) — mostly this is because he is certain that the likelihood of the city being hit by a Really Big Bomb in our lifetime is at the same level of risk of New Orleans’ flooding once again. We’ve done one of the two and would like to stay with experience.

The point of the trip was for Paul and I to attend his company’s post-holiday (“no, we always planned it to be a post-holiday”) party. Thank goodness for the post-holiday idea, which is a brilliant one. Bummer was that it coincided with Krewe du Vieux and blasted those plans. But it was too hard to not take the opportunity: professionally, socially, politically.

The party was at Clarendon Grill, set in a flashy area of Northern Virginia located near Metro stops and built up with all the accouterments of the urban yuppy: huge Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, Container Store, and even an Apple Store… all glowing new and shiny with ‘clean lines’ and ‘simple design.’ It’s a fun area; young and hip, single and swinging. The hotel was perched on a hillside 2-blocks from Courthouse Metro and offered easy access to all the area’s offerings.

The party was fun, mostly because of some really cool and interesting co-workers. The rest of the fun was due to the incredible band, Gonzo’s Nose, a local cover band… a really, really, reeeally good cover band. You can’t have a bad time when them on the stage, nor can you avoid the dance floor all night (although Paul gave a valiant attempt, he eventually gave in over “Jessie’s Girl” and once broken in, became a permanent fixture to the pit). We brought throws in the requisite Endymion bag… beads of all types, a light-up crawfish, a few spears and tomahawks, Frisbees, some stuffed toys. Just a little NOLA spirit going out in party shwag.


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We’re off to DC for a very very very last minute (company sponsored) weekend, due to my parents generous offer to watch the kids.

And it’s SNOWING there. Will is going to freak out if he finds out we’re going somewhere with SNOW and he’s not coming. (This is the kid who shivers when it’s 75.) Cheers for good flying weather along the East!


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Old habits die hard

One of Will’s favorite pastimes is still with us. Eventually, he’ll get it right and prefer it that way. We’re enjoying it while it lasts.


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2007: The Video Review

It’s no great shakes (in Paul’s words, “you’re definitely a still photographer”) but it’s still a little fun. Just a collection of photos from the year. Think low tech. And enjoy.

The jury is out on whether the quality is any better, but it’s also on YouTube. Music nods to Louis Armstrong (Basin Street Blues), Buckwheat Zydeco (Mardi Gras Mambo), and Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Shimmy Like My Sister Kate).


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Yup, it’s like that.

A New Year’s holiday letter came in from a friend and mentor of mine at Virginia Tech. She wrote:

It’s been a difficult year – tragic, exhausting, and a bit surreal. Really, I don’t remember much of what happened before April, when we were shocked into a kind of violent parallel universe with the shootings at Virginia Tech. We still live there, partly, I think; there is a different feel to life in Blacksburg now, especially on campus. It’s not that we are on edge constantly, but that we are all more careful and more responsive, and thus busier and more tired.

Wow, I thought when it read it, that sounds pretty darn familiar. Maybe it was particularly poignant that this arrived last week… where my thoughts were with last year, when we were marching downtown over the unfathomable violent crime that continues to tear away at our city. The loss, the fear, and the fact that it isn’t changing is like a constant white noise in the background. But it’s part of everything that makes life here just a little bit… harder? grittier? riskier? I’m not sure what describes it, although my friend’s Blacksburg comparison made a lot of sense.

There is evidence of health impacts from the vagueness described above. Specifically, we know that people living in post-disaster zones experience higher rates of stress, fatigue, and related illnesses. Right now in New Orleans, there is an ongoing study of resting blood pressure rates — it’s being run out of various dentist’s offices. So, if you go to the dentist and get hooked up to a machine taking your blood pressure every 15 minutes, you’ll probably be asked to participate. The point is to see if us NOLA folks have higher resting blood pressure than average folks elsewhere. For me, the answer seems to be yes. (My BP is around 110/75 these days… more than the 100/70 I sported pre-K and much more than the 90/60 I had through both pregnancies. Granted, I wouldn’t run those results to JAMA, confounders as likely as they are, but it’s still something to think about.)


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Because no one else was around to Unicycle

We walked around the levee on the West Bank. Here’s the steamboat Natchez churning up the Mississippi, while Kate, Paul and Will (sleepy) look on.


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It’s a wrap

So the back is wrapped. There is a great deal of discussion going on regarding how to deal with this soffit.
Detail of the inside ceiling.
The inside.
The outside. Yup, that’s mildew on the existing siding. Yum.
Closer look at the wrap.
The back.

Update: remember all that doom and gloom over the hardiplank? Well, there is a reason Paul named his blog “This Old Grouse.” It is because his first response to things is, characteristically, not particularly cheery. Usually, I censor here with the knowledge that things will be fine, he just needs to take the best after preparing for the worst. Disaster scenarios have been a constant to each part of the project… it just happens that I blogged about the hardi-disaster scenario because I honestly thought, at least for a moment, that it could be true. See how hard this do-it-yourself stuff can be?

A quote of $6200? Not quite. Some misunderstanding was involved. Paul thought the quoted price was by board foot — it was actually by board. We did some foot work. Bottom line: the hardi will cost us less than $1000. Maybe up to $1200 when we include all the specialty trim pieces, cutting tools and saw blades. Crisis averted.

We’ve got other issues more pressing, anyway. Turns out that the windows we got are wrong. Not our mistake or even the mistake of the company we ordered them through — the factory didn’t follow the order and installed J-channels on the sides of the windows. These are channels used in vinyl siding installation and not used in hardiplank. The bottom line is that we can’t install the windows… and have a 3-4 week lead time for the next to come in. There is no guarantee these next windows will be correct (although the warehouse folk were as shocked as us, “Simonton never gets an order wrong!”) My darling Grouse is in a knot, as would be expected, and working out each scenario of disaster. It really sucks, since he’s been so incredibly on top of things in this whole stressful process.

New plan: start to gut the existing laundry/bathroom while we wait for the windows. This will be a rougher phase as we have no where to put the “stuff” in the existing space (which mostly includes tools, off-season clothes, wrapping paper and other assorted storage items, small luggage, linens, and laundry/cleaning supplies.) I may take the kids out of town for the weekend so that Paul can tackle the project (which includes shutting off water and electricity for awhile).


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