Sunday, November 30, 2008
After my grandmother passed away last year, my family started going through the process of figuring out what to do with all her things. Anything that could be given away to family members, was; anything left over that could be donated somewhere else, was. I'm not sure how much stuff got thrown away. For that matter, I'm not really sure I want to know....
Anyway, Tonya and I didn't actually possess a real dining room set or china cabinet. We tend to live pretty simply, for one thing, and it had never crossed our mind to spend the money to get these things. Besides, we have young children, who tend to be pretty destructive of anything nice that crosses their paths.
Ooh! That sure looks pretty. I think I'll eat it....
Well, Granny had a china cabinet, dining room table, and set of dining room chairs that now needed a good home, so we agreed to take them. And they truly are very lovely, except...
...except that the upholstery fabric on the chairs had already begun to disintegrate by the time we got them. And then, of course, came the kids, who are more destructive than cats--especially if there's a thread loose, or a little hole. It's a little like the way a pack of wolves will try to bring down the wounded caribou of the herd instead of picking on the healthy ones, right? That one has a hole in it, so I'll make it bigger! That thread is loose, so I'll pull on it to see what happens...
Well, by the time this weekend rolled around, the seat cushions on the chairs had started to look like this:
Yes, that is plywood you can see poking out through the shredded fabric. And no, none of the foam padding is left. Our bums had all of one layer of ratty fabric between themselves and the hard, cold plywood seat.
Two layers if you're wearing pants. Three, if underwear too.
And yes, you'd better be wearing clothes, because the seat is attached to the frame by screws that come up from underneath, and some of those screws are long enough to come up all the way through the plywood into your tushie. This is bad chair design of course, but wouldn't be such an issue if there were still a few inches of padding on the chair. But in its current state, we occasionally found ourselves sitting on pins and needles as it were, and wondering whether our tetanus shots were up to date.
By this weekend, I'd had enough. I announced that we were going to reupholster, starting today. (Meaning yesterday, of course. Pretend, for the remainder of this blog post, that it's yesterday when I refer to today, because when all this was taking place, yesterday was yesterday's today. Got it? Good. Moving on....)
Tonya and I discussed color and pattern. Given the nice little floral motif in the middle of the chair back, we decided that some kind of floral pattern would be good (say, a fleur-de-lis). And with the color of some of the surrounding decor--like the quilt we have hanging on the wall by the dining room table--we decided that a dark blue background would be good, too. So we were decided: a dark blue (or black) background, with a strong floral pattern in red or gold, would be perfect.
So I went off to a store to look for materials, and quickly discovered that blues and blacks are totally out of fashion. There were a few, but they didn't have a floral pattern of the right size or shape. And there were a few patterns that were somewhat floral-like, but were too close to paisley (and my wife hates paisley). There were a few patterns that I found that I liked, but they weren't in a good heavy upholstery-weight fabric that could stand up to our kids' beating (that is, the kids are doing the beating, not receiving one). And so many of the colors were so muted; there was nothing like a good, honest, deeply saturated navy blue to be had.
So after two stores and much agonized on-the-fly contemplation, I picked out something totally different than what Tonya and I had agreed upon, with the hope and prayer that she'd go for it:
Tonya liked it! (Whew...)
In a fit of I'm going to do this right if it kills me, I also picked out the thickest foam padding I could find (4+ inches), and a good amount of muslin for lining. Upon coming home, I set to work.
I have to say, re-upholstery--even for simple, drop-seat chairs like the ones I was doing here--is an absolutely exhausting activity. If you haven't done it, you can't imagine how much sheer muscle goes into the job. You're trying to compress 4+ inches of foam under the plywood base with your knees, while stuffing the foam that's sticking out of the edges with your fingers, and trying to wrap the muslin lining up around by pulling with all your might to get it tight, all while handling a staple gun. And when you're done with the muslin liner, you do the same thing again with the upholstery fabric. All told, you do this for a total of two or three hours per chair (counting breaks and other odd related jobs).
By the end of the night, Tonya and I had finished two of the four chairs, and our bodies both hurt. Our knees, our hands, our knuckles our, backs, our tushies(!), every muscle ached. It's a good thing we were actually reupholstering chairs, because our tushies needed them.
Yup, that chair on the left felt mighty good on this poor weary tushie when the job was finally done.
We're still learning, of course. If you look closely at the pictures of the completed chair, you'll see that the pattern is slightly off-center. That is purely a result of inexperience on our part; we thought we had it centered, but when we tried to pull the fabric tight for stapling in place, it pulled the whole pattern slightly to port. We were much more careful on the second chair, and got it much closer.
Well, considering how much our bodies hurt the following day, we're thinking that two chairs a night is probably excessive. But hopefully we'll have the other two done before the week is out. And then...
Turns out, Tonya and I differ quite a bit on our vision of what the "and then" part involves. Now that we have a little re-upholstery experience, I'm eying this sofa here, which is not in the greatest of shape and could use a recovering. Tonya most definitely is not. (Eying the sofa, that is. And Tonya is in a perfectly lovely shape.) Tonya is more interested in completely redoing the garage--putting in a finished ceiling with good lighting and a garage door opener, and building cabinets in which to store all our stuff in an organized fashion. Merely contemplating the size of this task strikes fear into my heart.
Homeownership is a never-ending voyage, isn't it?
Still, it's nice to be able to tackle little projects like this one once in a while. For a small amount of money and work, we made those chairs a lot prettier, a lot safer, a lot higher, and and a lot more comfortable, than they had been. That made Saturday a day well spent.
Even if we can barely move come Sunday morning...
But! It's not that nothing happened. It's that so much was happening that I didn't have time or energy to get to a computer. Here's what we did.
First, I mentioned in my last post that I took the Pillowfight Fairy to a production of Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by the Sacramento Opera. Good production. And Arby, if you're reading this, I liked your parody. My other two readers thank you.
Second, since my workplace gives us both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, I chose to take three vacation days and get the whole week. And this week turned out to not be anything like downtime.
On Monday, among other things, we decided it was time to start teaching the Fairy to ride a bike without the training wheels. I took the wheels off, threw the Fairy and the bike in the back of the van, and took her to a local park. She proceeded to ride into fences, benches, light posts, dirt piles, and anything else. She tells me she hated the experience, but the whole time she was there she was giggling like someone who's become slightly unhinged. (In fact, she would giggle even more when she was running into things, which makes me think that she might in fact actually have been slightly unhinged.) Well, she hadn't mastered the art of riding in a straight line by the time we left, but she had definitely made progress. That is, the time between push-off and entry into an uncontrollable spin was starting to lengthen. I think a few more trips like the one she had on Monday would do the trick.
And, of course, she complained a lot about it. This is the way things go with the Fairy, every time she's trying to learn a new skill: it's hard, it takes work, it's a little scary, so it's bad, bad, bad!--until she actually starts getting it. And then it starts to become fun, and she wants to do it all the time. We're hoping that this is what happens with her piano practice...
On Tuesday, we hopped in the van and drove to Tonya's parents' place, since we were going to have Thanksgiving with her side of the family this year. After lunchtime at their place, I grabbed the Fairy (only her, since the other two kids really were too young to appreciate this experience) and we went to the local Egyptian museum.
In our homeschooling, we're following the history scope and sequence laid out in Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind, and this has us teaching the ancient world during the first grade. Tonya has been teaching about the Sumerians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and a host of other dead people for the last several months, and I wanted the Fairy to have a chance to see all of the stuff she'd been reading about. So we looked at a bunch of coffins and sarcophagi, and a couple of (real) mummies, and a bunch of high-quality replica statuary.
(I also pointed out that, at just under 49 inches tall, she's not that much shorter than some of those coffins. People back then were a lot shorter than we are today. I understand that the average male stood about 5 feet tall, with the women a bit less than that--which means that the Fairy, at age six, is only a few inches shorter than an adult woman of ancient Egypt. Scary...)
There was a replica relief there of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, which got her all excited because she had just read about him in her schoolwork a few days earlier. The museum also has several rooms that are painted and decorated to look like an Egyptian tomb, and she found that interesting (and a little creepy--it was pretty dark in there). She also got pretty excited when she saw the replica of that famous Bust of Nefertiti, which she immediately recognized.
Of course, she's six--so the part of the museum she liked the most was the gift shop, where she picked out a coloring book about Nefertiti.
On Wednesday we all hopped in the van and headed down the coast to Monterey, to visit the excellent aquarium they have there. Tonya and I have both been there before, but the place has expanded quite a bit since then. They have some huge tanks filled with sharks, rays, sturgeon, sunfish, and (occasionally) divers. There were many smaller tanks with everything from eels to octopus. There was even a tank where you're allowed to reach in and pet the bat rays that are swimming around--although on Wednesday, the bat rays apparently didn't want to get too close to all those icky little kids.
Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving. And we drove home on Friday and just rested.
On Saturday we decided to start a new project, which will be the subject of the next post.
So anyway, now at the end of our 10-day break (since I got the previous Friday off as well), we're wondering where the vacation went, and why we aren't feeling the least bit rested. :-)
Nevertheless, tomorrow it's back off to work, ready or not. And that's probably a good thing; while these little breaks are nice every once in a while, I'm thinking more and more as I age toward senescence that the everyday routine, the work we do day-in and day-out, is at least as important to our well-being.
And in some ways, it's more relaxing, too.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Ok, this one is about the fact that we've accomplished half of the curriculum that Tonya had planned for the year. Now, about seven months back I blogged about our plans for this year and submitted the post to the Carnival of Homeschooling. The consensus among our commenters seemed to be that we were planning way too much, and that we were going to burn out both ourselves and our kid. Well, Tonya's post contains a well-earned "neener-neener" to all those naysayers. So far, neither the kid nor the parent/teacher are burned out. There are good days and bad days; and, of course, the Pillowfight Fairy doesn't particularly like doing her work (although it's mainly just the repetitive skill-building stuff she doesn't like, like the math and the piano practice). But she's making tremendous progress, and we're very proud of her.
The other post is this one about accountability. That is, she tackles the question, "to whom are we accountable?" from the point of view of a homeschooling parent. That's a big question, in my opinion, and one where someone risks opening a huge can of worms if he or she stares at it for too long....
Anyway, check them out.
I've always loved this time of year, especially when we lived in places that were surrounded by deciduous forests. And bit by bit as we've been (mostly unintentionally) killing off all the trees that were on this property when we bought the place, we've been replacing them with trees selected in part for their fall colors. This picture is of a red maple, acer rubrum, of a variety named "October Glory". Well, with our warm local climate the tree tends to turn colors about a month later--and this is the month.
We love the color on this tree. And oh, by the way: when the tree becomes fully grown, it will be about forty feet high and forty feet wide--so it will be more than twice as tall as it is now, and will extend just over that neighbor's fence you see in the background.
These are my three kids playing on the patio in what used to be a nice, orderly pile of leaves. Of course, if we'd actually wanted our patio to remain clear, we wouldn't have left the nice, orderly pile of leaves there. You see, the kids love this time of year too--and especially those big leaf piles. In fact, with the two girls having their birthdays in late October and early December, one of the big attractions we often do at their birthday parties is to gather all the leaves into one big pile in the middle of the backyard and let all the kids go nuts in it. Loads of fun, doesn't cost anything, and only minor cleanup is required. :-)
So you know that patio I mentioned above? We finished building that thing not quite one year ago. Turns out we had a few dozen stones of varying sizes left over. Well, the kids have discovered the stash, and have been trying out their hands at masonry.
Here the Adrenaline Junkie has been putting together a little homestead. She's actually pretty imaginative about the whole thing; she used some sticks and logs from the woodpile (with Daddy helping her to move them, of course) along with the stones. Now, I make her carry the stones herself, which has caused some amusing episodes. Turns out that Mommy has warned the girls to watch out for Black Widows (which we have in this area) in the pile of stones, and the very idea of these big black spiders now gives her the heebie-jeebies. She will start to pick up a stone, then see a bit of spiderweb or a daddy longleg, and then give a little yelp and drop the stone. Then of course she wants me to move it for her (because daddies are immune to Black Widows, dontcha know...) I make her carry them herself. She's nearly four, after all. Time for her to toughen up, I say!
Of course, whenever the Happy Boy sees the girls making something interesting like this, he comes over to explore. The result of this interaction usually involves much wailing and recrimination, especially when he gets into the place where she's trying to install flooring and drywall.
(I'm only partly kidding. The Adrenaline Junkie was trying to put in a carpet of straw today...)
So I decided to make a little structure of my own that would decoy the Boy away from the structure that his sister was putting up.
Here it is, in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. (Warning: some foul language in the clip, and some extremely dry British humor...)
One last one, which I put here for lack of a better place.
My wife got into one of her semi-annual "We'd better clean this place up before I go totally bonkers" moods today, so we've been tearing this place apart trying to get it looking less disgusting than it's been in a really long time.
Anyway, as she was cleaning all the papers off the writing table, she came across this little gem from the Pillowfight Fairy that neither of us had seen before:
I note that she's learning how to apostrophize! Seems this homeschool stuff is working.
Now if we could just get that Bad Household under control, maybe the Pillowfight Fairy--and my wife, for that matter--will finally be happy.
Congratulations to the two of you!
Any other readers of this blog who want to drop in and offer congratulations, head on by his blog and leave a comment. Just be warned: he moderates comments on his blog, so don't expect to see your little congratulatory notes posted anytime soon.
In fact, I sincerely hope that Roger Z has better things to do for the next few days than sit around moderating his comments... :-)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
So I was poking around these internets some time ago, and came across some story somewhere about a BBC-produced spoof of the older Dr. Who television series.
Now, back in the days when I still watched TV, I managed somehow to get hooked on Dr. Who. I knew a bunch of people in college who were into it, and they sucked me in. My wife probably saw more episodes than I did, but I did see enough to "get" it.
And part of the charm of Dr. Who is precisely that it is (was?) a low-budget affair, with props and sets that were made of cardboard, with special effects that rarely rise above the level of crude models and cheap camera tricks. But you know, the stories and episodes were fun.
Now being a TV-less household, and one that doesn't have time for much DVD watching, we don't keep up with the series anymore. I understand that they've relaunched and rebranded the franchise in the last decade or so. If so, I have no connection to the new stuff. But it's pretty apparent that there's still a fairly sizable fan base for the older series, even when it hasn't been burning up the airwaves much lately.
Well, back in 1999 the BBC put together a spoof entitled Dr Who: The Curse of Fatal Death. I'd vaguely heard something about this when it came out: it starred Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder) as the Doctor and Jonathan Price (Pirates of the Carribean) as his most dangerous recurring villian, The Master.
A couple of days ago, I discovered that the whole thing was on youtube.
Soooo... After my wife and I put the kids in bed last night, I got online, and we started watching.
And being big fans of the original series, we laughed ourselves silly. It is in fact a pretty silly bit of filmmaking, with a fair amount of slapstick and British naughty humor and Bill & Ted-type jokes thrown in, but they pulled it off beautifully. And it nails Dr. Who--the cheesy dialogue, the cheap sets, the contrived storylines, the running gags...
So, I thought I'd post it here for you, in the unlikely event there are any Dr. Who fans out there who haven't seen it yet (and who don't mind the occasional fart joke. Actually, these are pretty funny, so far as fart jokes go).
Here's the first clip:
And the second:
And the third:
And the fourth:
Enjoy. Or not, if it's not your thing.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Ok, well actually, there were numerous such moments over the time that we dated. But this one in particular stuck in my head.
My brother and sister-in-law were visiting me in the apartment I rented by myself. Tonya was joining us for lunch. I had made a lasagna from scratch the previous day, and Tonya and I were discussing the proper way to reheat it in a microwave. After all, it's too easy to give it a tough, carbonized outer shell while the inside remains cold. So we were discussing the options: microwave on lower power settings for longer periods? Cover it while cooking? Cut it into smaller pieces?
Tonya affirmed the last of these methods, in a wonderfully novel (and completely unintentional) utilization of the English Language that reminds me of all those wonderful reasons I love her:
"I think we need to reformat the lasagna."
So I repeated the words out loud to myself, rolling them around on my tongue, while my eyebrow did the Spock thing: "You say we ought to reformat the lasagna...." At which point Tonya finally saw the humor in what she had just said and started laughing at herself too.
Darn it! This lasagna has a bad sector! If we can't reconfigure it properly, we'll have to reformat the whole thing!
Of course, part of the reason it's funny is that it works, if you don't care about the appearance. And after all, it's leftovers for crying out loud; if someone is complaining about how their leftovers look messy on their plate, they're just too citified, sez I.
Well, someone else has apparently figured out that you can get a turkey to cook faster and more evenly if you just dump the core and reformat the stupid thing.
From the Instapundit:
A RECIPE FOR 45-minute Roast Turkey. Sounds good. And fast!I saw this and out of curiosity I clicked over to the recipe. Yes, it does sound like a viable way to do the deed, so long as the turkey isn't too big--8 to 12 pounds works the best.
Basically, here's the strategy: You get a really big, heavy knife--or heavy-duty kitchen shears--or even some good tin snips, if they haven't been lubricated with grease or mineral oil. You set the turkey breast-side down on a cutting board, and you cut the backbone clean out of the bird. This will, of course, involve breaking a bunch of ribs.
Then with the turkey resembling one of those really, really backless gowns they give you in hospitals, you turn the thing breast side up, and squish it down until it lies more-or-less flat. Then you season the thing with garlic, thyme or tarragon, salt, pepper, and olive oil or butter, and roast.
The turkey has been reformatted, so the heat doesn't have anywhere near as far to penetrate, and it's done faster--and with less opportunity to dry out.
The comments to this post were interesting, too. Apparently this method of preparation is called Spatchcocking. And, as might be expected, there are people out there whose first reaction to reading this method of preparation is to say, "No, no! You're doing it all wrong!" For instance, one of the commenters linked to this guy, who recommends a method of spatchcocking that involves removing the sternum (requiring the skill of a surgeon, it seems) instead of just flattening the bird through brute strength.
And I have to say, I read this paragraph from the latter link:
It takes a very strong kitchen shears to cut the backbone closely along each side to remove it. Some people have even been known to have a pair of tinsnips dedicated for kitchen duty to handle this part. Four hands have been known to make this part easier, two to hold the bird still, and the other two to cut with the shears....and somehow started imagining this delicate operation being performed by the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show, which of course caused my wife to ask what all the giggling was about...
Feh, I say. I suspect that all that careful preparation defeats the purpose for most people who would use the technique: how to get a bird done with a minimum of hassle in a reasonable amount of time.
Anyway, it's a remarkably simple recipe. Given how much my wife likes roast turkey--even when it's nowhere near holiday time--I suspect we're going to have to give this method a try at some point. When we do, your intrepid blogger will report the results of the experiment, so long as we all survive.
Monday, November 17, 2008
She wrote a column about the delayed maturity that seems to be affecting men these days. That is, measuring by those traditional markers of maturity--marriage, fatherhood, employment in a profession--men are maturing at later and later ages, and adolescence is lasting longer and longer.
Kay was concerned about this trend. She is an advocate for the health of marriages in our society, and from that standpoint the immaturity of men is a real problem.
But as I said, Ms. Hymowitz stepped in it. In a very small nutshell:
- Women are often just as immature as the men are--but this fact isn't noticed quite as much, because the ways that women are immature are more socially accepted by both men and women.
- It isn't just immaturity that is driving men away from marriage and parenthood--it's the fact that there are huge risks that attend men who embrace these things, especially if they happen to do these things with the immature women I referred to in point one. In short, men are starting to choose intentionally to avoid marriage and fatherhood, out of rational self-defense.
I myself blogged about her column, twice. The first time my column was sympathetic to her main point, because I've been concerned about the infantilization of our society for some time. The second time I chose to explore the points that got everyone else riled up--the fact that she wasn't really understanding the motivations of the guys that are putting off serious relationships, marriage and parenthood until much later (if ever).
Well, after receiving this barrage of offended emails, a somewhat chastened Ms. Hymowitz decided to write a follow-up column that tries to do justice to this other viewpoint, which she hadn't really been familiar with when she wrote the first column. Her new offering is here.
How does she do this time around?
Well, I think she's starting to move in the right direction. She acknowledges some of the challenges that men face, and notes that women (collectively) are responsible for at least some of their man-problems. So I give her credit for that.
But I sense that in attempting to make sense of the anger, cynicism, and pain that was vented in her direction in the wake of her last column, she's still trying to make the data fit a pre-conceived theory:
The reason for all this anger, I submit, is that the dating and mating scene is in chaos. SYMs of the postfeminist era are moving around in a Babel of miscues, cross-purposes, and half-conscious, contradictory female expectations that are alternately proudly egalitarian and coyly traditional.And...
Today, though, there is no standard scenario for meeting and mating, or even relating. For one thing, men face a situation—and I’m not exaggerating here—new to human history. Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.
By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.But then, when an SYM walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that. The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas.
This attraction to bad boys is by far guys’ biggest complaint about contemporary women. Young men grew up hearing from their mothers, their teachers, and Oprah that women wanted sensitive, kind, thoughtful, intelligent men who were in touch with their feminine sides, who shared their feelings.... Yeah, right, sneer a lot of veterans of the scene. Women don’t want Ashley Wilkes; they’re hot for Rhett Butler, for macho men with tight abs and an emotional range to match. One popular dating guru, David DeAngelo, ranks “Being Too Much of a Nice Guy” as Number One on his list of the “Ten Most Dangerous Mistakes Men Make with Women.”Now, to be fair, the points she's given here are important ones. There truly is confusion about what our roles--men's and women's--are in the dating scene, with the partial (but not complete) demise of the traditional courtship. And the problem of women being attracted to jerks and ignoring the good men is not only one that causes good men to fume, but--listen up ladies--it actively breeds more jerks.
Even though there is some truth in these observations, I think Ms. Hymowitz is missing the real problem men face today, the real tradeoff that so many have to make when dealing with women.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, there are huge risks to men in modern society if they decide to marry a woman and/or have kids with her. The fact is, women are every bit as capable of being immature, selfish, insensitive, greedy, and scheming as men are. The trouble is, our society has still managed to retain the Victorian myth of Female Virtue. Women are supposed to be upright and noble and caring and forgiving! And we expect to see that. And when women aren't, we often don't notice, because it doesn't fit the template--it's just an abberation, we think to ourselves.
One example: when a woman is selfish, men have no real outlet to complain. It's considered unmanly; we're just expected to suck it up and move on. When a man is selfish, it's considered socially acceptible for the wife to commiserate with other women; but when the woman is selfish, it's considered boorish--a serious breach of respect toward his woman--for a man to complain to his friends.
There's a lot I could say here on this point, but I discovered as I was considering what to write that I already said it all, in last February's post. So if you want to read what I have to think on this post, go here, where I was a lot more coherent than I am tonight.
The bottom line is that given the very serious risks involved--and the loss of freedom that comes when one enters a relationship--a lot of guys are either swearing off women altogether, or avoiding any but the most superficial physical relationships with them. And the point is, from their standpoint it's an entirely rational decision. They are materially better off treating women as pawns in a mating game, rather than opening themselves up to the kinds of deep, intimate relationships that could one day land them in divorce court.
Now, at this point I'm reminded of the words of G. K. Chesterton, to the effect that the purely rational man will never marry. Their decisions are entirely rational, and they know it.
Speaking as someone who believes in the institution of marriage and its necessity for a healthy society, there are no quick fixes. Our societal values, our popular entertainment, and our legal system are all conspiring against restoring the kind of environment in which healthy marriages are encouraged and nurtured. We've somehow created a system in which men almost have to be foolish (by any rational measure) to subject themselves to it.
That, my friends, is what we're up against here. And lamenting that guys won't "grow up" just ignores the problem and won't solve a single blasted thing.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
But it's not always easy to find the time or energy to play strategy games. We're just not much of a game-playing family, partly because the toddler thinks that all those smooth, pretty mancala stones are really yummy looking. Games just aren't part of our normal routine, so it takes a break in our routine to play one. And, of course, we mostly like our routine the way it is.
So imagine my surprise, just before dinner yesterday, when the Pillowfight Fairy (just turned six) comes up to me and says, "I want to play chess!"
Ummm, er... ok.
I was about second grade when my dad taught me how to play. The Fairy is first grade now. That's not too far different, is it?
So I pulled out the board and started explaining all the pieces and all the moves they make--leaving out for now the ones about courtesy (like touch-move) and capturing en passant (which even high-schoolers often don't understand). Turns out it took her a while to get the concept of moving along a diagonal. When I was trying to show her the queen's possible moves, I would quiz her: "Can the queen capture this pawn? How about this one?" and at first, she thought that any angled move is a diagonal, so her answer was always yes.
But eventually she figured it out, so I showed her how to set up the board, and we started playing. She wanted to be Black, because it was pretty; so I let her, and I got to go first.
Now, this being her first game, I kept explaining to her the ins and outs of what was going on on the board--pieces that I was threatening of hers, and consequences if she did that move instead of the other, and so forth. I saved her from disaster several times.
It's odd, playing your side while assisting your six-year-old with hers. Especially when you're really, really rusty. I kept finding myself trying to give my daughter advice, and suddenly noticing: "Oh, if she were to do this right now, I'd be in a world of hurt." And then of course, I have to explain that move to my daughter.
Basically, the game turned out to be very, very tense, and it lasted a lot longer than I expected. I ultimately won, but to do it I had to advance a pawn all the way to promote it to queen, just to have enough material to checkmate.
This morning, the Fairy was telling everyone at church who would listen: "My new game is Chess! I play Chess!" And she was drawing chessboards with schematic icons of the various pieces on the different squares. And just after lunch, she pulled out the chessboard and started trying to explain the moves to her not-yet-four-year-old sister. I don't think those lessons took, but she was doing a pretty good job of it.
Was it Charlotte Mason who believed that a student has never really learned something until they can explain it to someone else? Well if so, Charlotte Mason would be proud of our little girl.
Anyway, after she'd finished trying to explain the chess rules to the Adrenaline Junkie, she wanted to try something a little different, so she pulled out the checker pieces. She'd never played checkers either. So I set up the pieces and played a game with her. As with our chess game yesterday, I tried to explain to her the consequences of her moves in advance; and even so, I didn't have too much trouble winning--even though I haven't played a game of checkers since I was a pre-teen. (Man, has it been that long? I guess it has...)
I'm noticing a couple of hopeful signs.
One, the Fairy is now able to lose a game without breaking into a fit of wailing. I consider this to be some serious progress.
Two, she now wants to play these games. Of course, some of that could be their novelty: after all, she's only played mancala half-a-dozen times or so, she's played checkers once, she's played chess once, she's played Sorry maybe a half a dozen times, and she's played Uno maybe a dozen. It could be that she's just playing these games enough to see what they're like, then she's dropping it and going on to the next one out of curiosity to see what else is out there. Nevertheless, the fact that she wants to play these games now is encouraging--especially given the time and effort needed to learn the rules.
Third, she's starting to think strategically. She's not able to look more than a move ahead yet, but she's willing to stop and consider when I warn her that a move she wants to make could bring disaster. I suspect she'll start to set up forking attacks and pins and skewers any day now.
Fourth, I now know what it sounds like when she lets out an evil cackle. And everyone, I mean everyone, needs to develop a good, hearty "I'm going to take over the world!" cackle, and chess is a good way to learn.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The story was on Fox News, and was about an advertising campaign being put on by a bunch of atheists just in time for Christmas, trying to persuade everyone (in the D.C. area) that there's "probably" no God.
Fox News, in its usual way, put up a fairly sensational headline incorporating the phrase "The War On Christmas." This was what caught the Pillowfight Fairy's eye.
She knew enough to be worried, so in deep suspicion she asked Mommy: "What does that mean?" And so Mommy explained that there are many people in the world who do not believe in God the way we do, and want to convince others not to believe in God either. And these people are trying to do away with Christmas as a national holiday--at least, the religious portions of it. Some want to do away with it altogether.
And the Fairy got rather perturbed by this knowledge. Mommy reports that she had difficulty forming her thoughts into sentences after this. "Does this mean... they want to... that we won't... will we be forced to..."
She was becoming worried that there are certain Bad People out there who are trying to stop Christmas from coming. This isn't such a far-fetched idea, I suppose, to a six-year-old who's been raised on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
So Mommy realized that she had a lot of explaining to do here. First she explained that the word "War" in the headline was in fact just a metaphor, that it was a conflict of ideas, and that we wouldn't really have to start fighting over Christmas. The Fairy was in fact a little worried about that. And further, Mommy explained to her that no one would be stopping Christmas from coming. We're going to celebrate Christmas the way we always do, even though there are some people out there who'd rather wish we didn't.
I'm not sure how well Mommy's reassurances sank in, because both the Pillowfight Fairy and the Adrenaline Junkie (who overheard her sister talking about a "War on Christmas") were still talking quite animatedly about it when I got home from work some time later.
Of course, this means that both of them have been thinking about Christmas quite a bit today, and neither of them can possibly wait all the way to December 25th.
Pillowfight Fairy: I want Christmas to come now! I can't wait for it!It's going to be a long seven weeks. Longer if there's a war....
Adrenaline Junkie: Me too! Me too!
Mommy (responding to the Fairy): Yes, you will.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I made the Karmic mistake of snarking off at his misfortune in the comments of his blog post. I should have known better! I really should have! After all, there's a reason we refer to each other as Doppelgangers. If something happens to one of us....
Well, this time it was our turn. In the space of about 24 hours last week:
- We noticed that our central heating was blowing cold air, and...
- One of our toilets overflowed just as we were heading out to church, and we didn't notice since we were all in such a rush to get into the car, and...
- We discovered that the reason the attic fan didn't work was that it had never been hooked up to an electrical source, necessitating an electrician job, and...
- The clothes dryer wasn't drying very well, and...
- I discovered a small advance guard of ants in our kitchen. Smashed them flat, but you never know....
Well, when we got back from church, and I was headed into the back of the house, I walked on the carpet just outside of the bathroom, and... squish squish squish....
Oh, great. Now what?
Well, a little investigation revealed what happened. The Pillowfight Fairy had finished up her potty time very quickly, because we were trying to pile into the van in a hurry, and hadn't noticed that the toilet had become clogged. So she rushed out of the bathroom and into the van, probably just before the toilet bowl overflowed. And I suspect that there were some other problems as well--I have never liked the way the particular tank mechanisms on our commodes work. At any rate, the nasty water soaked about eight to ten feet of the carpet in our hallway.
Well, it took a few days, but we finally got all that dried out. It involved lots of towels and many, many loads of wash (with a "malfunctioning" dryer), but eventually it all got dried out. Now it just needs a good steam clean....
But then, there was the central heating.
We have an Amana heating/cooling electric heat pump, since we're in an all-electric neighborhood. We bought the thing, replacing a much older unit, less than five years ago. And we've had our share of problems with it before, mainly due to the fact that we keep clogging up the mechanism with dust.
Now when we got the thing, we dutifully followed all the manufacturer's recommendations for changing the filter on the air intake--every four months, like clockwork. But apparently we're a very dusty family, because that's nowhere near enough with us. About a year ago the unit malfunctioned, and when the technician came out, he had to unplug all the vents in the thing, they were so clogged with dust. And then the thing ran fine. Apparently, it had gotten so clogged that it couldn't regulate its own temperature, so it went failsafe. But when the technician unclogged it, it ran just fine again. And we became warm and happy again.
So we resolved to change the filters a bit more frequently than the manufacturer recommended. For the last year, we've been doing it every three months instead of four. That should do it, right?
But then last summer we noticed that it was having a wee little bit of trouble keeping our house cool. It wasn't terribly bad; we've got a well-insulated house, and we have ceiling fans, so we can survive most of the summer around here. Sacramento does get hot, often up to 110 degrees, but it usually cools down in the evenings, and with strategically-timed window openings you can get that cool Delta breeze through here to make things tolerable. So when our air conditioner started having trouble keeping up we just made sure to check the filters a little more often, and we coped.
This worked fine until the weather got cold.
We noticed one frosty morning about two weeks ago that the heat pump was working and working, but the air was coming out cold instead of hot. So we got suspicious again and called a technician. He came and, sure enough, pronounced our vents clogged with dust. He cleared them out, gave us a good talking to, told us the unit would take several minutes to warm up, and went on his way with ninety of our hard-earned dollars.
It didn't warm up.
So we called them back, and a few very cold days later, they sent out another technician. This time he did a more thorough search, and discovered that the "reversing valve" had completely ruptured. Trouble is, this "reversing valve" lives deep in the bowels of the machine, where you have to take the thing apart to get at it. And then you have to do welding to put it back together.
Our heat pump had a bad case of appendicitis. Or Patent Foramen Ovale. Or something.
So, they ordered a new part on our behalf. It showed up, and... it was defective.
So they ordered another new part on our behalf. Meanwhile, it was cold.
Long story short (Too Late! cries the peanut gallery), they finally got the thing in today, nearly two weeks after we first called them. And wouldn't you know it, the weather is expected to be warm next week. ;-)
Well, we're still thankful. It's actually pleasant in here, and Tonya managed to catch a comfortable nap today. And we think the improved temperature is helping out with the colds that our two younger kids have been fighting off. It almost makes it worth the extra $1,210 (in labor only--the part is still under warranty) that walked out the door to keep the previous $90 company. Hey, we just noticed that it brings it up to an even $1300! Isn't that fortunate.
Ah, well. To my Doppelganger, the next time you experience misfortune, I shall attempt not to crack jokes at your expense. I shall instead nod my head sympathetically, and start spreading garlic about my residence to ward off evil things.
At least until the ants find it.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
But! Just because I haven't been blogging much, doesn't mean that nothing has been happening in the Power household. Indeed, with three kids six and under, and a pregnant wife, there's always stuff happening in the Power household. Which also explains the lack of blogging. ;-)
Well, one of the things that's been happening is that I've been practicing the piano quite a lot in the last month. Remember my post from a month ago, in which I outlined my strategy for learning more sophisticated pieces of music--like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (First movement only, please) and Debussy's Clair de Lune? Well, unless my commenter Uvulapie (he of the oddly scanned face) has been doing an awful lot of practicing lately, it's a good thing for him that I chose not to take him up on his offer to race. I now have the entire Moonlight Sonata (First Movement Only!) memorized, and I can do it increasingly error-free (although there are two measures right at the bottom of the first page that throw me every time).
And I have thus discovered my super-power.
You know, every one of us has a super-power--some skill that we have, and only we have, that makes everyone else around us sit up and say, "huh..." when they see us in action. I know one young lady who used to go to our church, for example, whose superpower is that she can smell out a liar every time. She's a very nice, sweet young lady, with a bit of spunk in her personality, so she can be quite disarming--but do not try to pull a fast one over on her; she knows. You cannot bluff this woman.
(Incidentally, she has an older brother whose super-power is--I kid you not--that he can talk to chickens. Seriously--he tells them what to do, and they just do it. And it's not like they're trained chickens, either. He just has an inborn talent as the Chicken Whisperer. And he's not particularly content with his super-power lot in life, either: "Of all the powers I could have wound up with, why did it have to be this one?")
So what's my newly-discovered superpower?
I can put my wife to sleep.
Seriously. Here's how I do it:
- I go to work in the morning, leaving her with three very rambunctious kids.
- I stay at work all day.
- I come home at my normal time, about 6:30. She's usually pretty frazzled by this time.
- We eat dinner. She's eating for two, remember, so that by 7:15 or so all her blood has gone from her brain down to her digestive system.
- I then start to practice Moonlight Sonata (First Movement Only!), over and over and over and over...
- That pretty much does it every time. She's out cold on the sofa by 8:00, no matter what the kids are still doing.
(Incidentally, to read about the same phenomenon from my wife's perspective, she blogged about it here....)
So, if I have any readers left after the last week or so, do any of you have any superpowers you'd like to cop to? I'd love to hear about them, if you don't mind blowing your secret identities.
P.S. Claire de Lune is much harder than the Moonlight Sonata (First Movement Only!). I'm making progress--I'm about a sixth of the way through it--but it will take me much longer than a month to get it down....
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I think it's the uncertainty that got to me more than anything else. Now that it's actually settled that I'm going to man the walls and defending the last vestiges of Western Civilization from the ravaging hordes (for at least the next couple of years at any rate), I somehow feel calm, at peace.
This is me:
Anyway, I've got a few items to share with you--just some fun links.
ITEM: My sister-in-law, who is participating in the annual event known as NaBloPoMo '08 (Basically: commit to blogging at least one post a day through the entire month of November) has found and linked to a wonderful tribute to the music of John Williams. It's one of her friends' birthday and he's really into John Williams and anything Star Wars related, so she posted this for him. I've stolen it for you. :-)
ITEM: One of the political sites I follow quite a bit decided to do a "Roundtable" yesterday. This is a blog post where several of their contributors hash out some question of weighty import.
Now, perhaps this is naive, but for the life of me I can't tell whether the implicated contributors were actually contributing, or whether one guy decided to do a send-up of all the others. If it was the former, they're all brilliant. If it's the latter, that one guy is really brilliant, because he nailed all their personalities and writing styles. Alas, you'll really only get the humor if you've managed to finish not only the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, but the Silmarillion as well. If you get all the references here and understand all the humor, it means you're a total geek. I am a total geek.
Rather than allow the last remaining outposts of the Elves at Imladris and Lothlórien continue without disruption from the outside world, [Elrond] chose to invest the Elves in a grand global fight to rob Sauron of his power permanently, in the process destroying the Rings of Power of his own and Galadriel's. At the Council of Elrond, a Fellowship was constructed, representing Elves, Men, Wizards, Dwarves, and Halflings, all united by a supposed common cause.
But where are the Elves now? All gone West. Was this great act of foreign policy by Elrond a self-destructive act? Would Elves not have been better off allowing Sauron to remain, acting as a counterweight to the Men, and preventing Men from being an undisputed hyperpower in Middle-earth?
And stay for the comments at the end; some of them are priceless.
...I just forwarded it to my wife so that she'll know what real geeks sound like since I'm her only point of reference...
...I love each and every one of you dearly and I have for many years. I am impressed at your level of NERD.
...Is it Bad that I understood this whole thing without the use of Google or Wikipedia etc.?
Melkor/Sauron '12: I'm done voting for the lesser of two evils!
And the comments I liked best were the ones that were left by some of the regular commenters on the site, who happened already to have Tolkien-themed user names. Their comments on the post were delivered totally in character. The one by Sam Gamgee was priceless. And there was one by Finrod:
Hmpf, this would have been moot if I had gotten help when it counted
Personally, I tried to take out Sauron long before it was fashionable. If someone, anyone, had helped me take out Sauron back in the First Age, he wouldn't have been around to corrupt the Rings of Power and none of this would have been an issue.
ITEM: It's Punkin' Chunkin' time! I posted about this last year. Well, that time of year is upon us again, and this time Popular Mechanics did a story on it. "This" is a competition, held in Delaware every year, where amateur artillerymen bring their contraptions to the field to see who can launch a pumpkin the farthest. There are massive flatbed-truck-sized airguns for shooting pumpkins, and torsion catapults, and trebuchets, and centrifugal devices, and "human-powered" devices....
Popular Mechanics did a slightly longer post just before the event, that gives a little of the history and strategy of the event. It turns out that most of these artillery pieces are back year after year, each time with little tweaks done here and there to try to squeeze just a few more yards out of each shot. Some of these machines are practically being passed down from one generation to another. Most of them started out competing in the "Youth" category, but through the years were modified and tweaked, gaining more and more oomph until they are serious contenders for the crown.
And apparently, there's a shift underway: traditionally, the airguns can "chunk" a pumpkin farther than the more archaic weaponry--catapults and trebuchets. But it appears that the airguns may have topped out at a bit more than 4000 ft. range, with the record set in 2003. It may be that they're up against some laws of physics here: you just can't launch a pumpkin farther than that, by air power, without blowing it to smithereens right out of the barrel. But the catapults are starting to catch up, and it's no longer uncommon for chunks of 3000 feet to come from these machines:
The air guns, which rely on a sudden release of pressure to propel pumpkins out of their barrels, may have hit an engineering wall. Torsion catapults, on the other hand, are still benefiting from design tweaks that provide more room for the catapult's arm to swing and a more efficient angle of release.What happens if the catapults catch up to the airguns?
If the catapults, trebuchets and other more traditional seige machines bring an end to the decade-long reign of the air guns, Shade believes that artillery-minded teams might have to explore a new direction: rail guns.These guys are seriously hardcore. One of these years, I'm going. That would be one serious educational experience for our homeschool. :-)
"Down the line, they could conceivably put something together where one of those electromagnetic rail guns could come on board and blow everyone away," Shade says, referring to the high-velocity experimental weapon systems currently being tested by the United States Navy. "The problem right now is that they have to have a small substation at this point. But that will change. Remember the original cellphones? You practically had to drag them around with a handcart."
Another option—applying WW II-era German rail-gun technology to compressed-air cannons. Instead of a single release of air pressure, cannoneers could begin with a small amount of air and trigger successively larger releases of pressure once the pumpkin is in motion. That would require longer barrels, and possibly computerized, precision-timed charges, but Shade doesn't put anything past Punkin' Chunkers. "We have said for years, if the knowledge and ability and technology devoted to throwing pumpkins could be harnessed, it could solve most of the world's problems," Shade says. "And win some wars, too."
I love this country.
ITEM: Ok, so this item isn't as fun as my previous ones.
Michael Crichton, the author of such hard-SF staples as The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and State of Fear, has passed away at the age of 66 following a "private battle with cancer".
I'll lose geek cred for saying this, but I've never actually read any of his novels. But I have read a number of his essays and speeches, which are collected at his website. I found them to be well-reasoned and thought-provoking.
Crichton was very concerned about the state of Science in our polity. Science, in his view, was a process used to gain understanding of the world. But the demands of politics are often in direct conflict with the demands of science; and when this conflict happens, it is frequently the case that the process of science gets corrupted. After all, it's the politicians who have the tax money, and they can choose to fund or not fund whatever scientific study supports their worldview.
In particular, Crichton became a strong skeptic of the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis. Specifically, he felt that the process by which the scientific community came to its conclusions was nowhere near being rigorous; and he believed that the underlying processes that drive the climate are complex to a point far beyond what our puny predictive powers can foresee.
In 2004 Crichton published his novel State of Fear, which cemented his status as infidel in the eyes of much of the environmental movement. In this novel he explored the thesis that the fear of impending environmental doom is often far more dangerous than the environmental situation itself--and also more useful to demagogues. Crichton talked about this phenomenon at length in this essay:
But most troubling of all, according to the UN report in 2005, is that "the largest public health problem created by the [Chernobyl] accident" is the "damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information…[manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state."In fact, I would recommend pretty much any of Crichton's speeches--especially the one with the whimsical title of Aliens Cause Global Warming, about what happens when you allow the political process to corrupt the scientific process.
In other words, the greatest damage to the people of Chernobyl was caused by bad information. These people weren’t blighted by radiation so much as by terrifying but false information. We ought to ponder, for a minute, exactly what that implies. We demand strict controls on radiation because it is such a health hazard.
But Chernobyl suggests that false information can be a health hazard as damaging as radiation. I am not saying radiation is not a threat. I am not saying Chernobyl was not a genuinely serious event.
But thousands of Ukrainians who didn’t die were made invalids out of fear. They were told to be afraid. They were told they were going to die when they weren’t. They were told their children would be deformed when they weren’t. They were told they couldn’t have children when they could. They were authoritatively promised a future of cancer, deformities, pain and decay. It’s no wonder they responded as they did.
Anyway, he had a very sharp mind, and was one of the good guys. He will be missed.