Saturday, September 30, 2006

More of That Love Stuff, Plus Sand

It's Saturday, so there must be another wedding. Yes, indeed! Another of our dancers got married today in a gorgeous ceremony in the Rotunda at City Hall, involving heraldic trumpeters, a boys choir, a string quartet, a pastor (hers), a judge (his), and a lot of stress on the part of the guests as we watched the entire wedding party descend the massive staircase in step to the music. Major kudos, as the procession was flawless, even for the ladies in heels and the adorable flower girl and ringbearer (photo left).

Because of the extended time between ceremony and reception, we would have had to leave Q with a babysitter for half the morning, the whole afternoon and evening, so we reluctantly RSVP'd regrets for the dinner. Having been gone all last week, I didn't feel right leaving the little guy again so soon. I'll have to get the scoop from other friends, but I'm sure the reception was spectacular.

The Getaway Car

Instead of fine dining and dancing, I took Q to the park while SwingDaddy rode a bike race. The sand pit beckoned, and Q had a good ol' time, giggling and rolling in the sand. Great fun, but a huge mess. After a thorough dusting-off, we headed home, straight for the bath.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Too Incoherent to Stick to One Topic

While I was growing up, my parents spoke Mandarin Chinese at home (except for technical subjects, like math or computer science, which were discussed in English), and I have a reasonable working grasp of the knowledge. I'm not a particularly sophisticated speaker, but I can get by conversationally.

SwingDaddy took Mandarin classes in college, so we occasionally run into funny instances where I'll be able to translate a word for him, but when he repeats it and asks what "tone" it is, I have to answer that I have no idea. I didn't study the language, I just heard it as a kid and know how to say it.

One of the delightful side benefits of having a Chinese nanny is that my Mandarin has improved a great deal. When I'm working at home, I'll join Q and Nanny J for lunch, and we talk about how the kiddo is doing, weekend plans, and all sorts of things. On Mondays, I have to work a little harder to pull up the words, but by Friday, I can chatter away.

Yesterday at the office, I attended a marketing campaign summit with participants who'd flown in from around the world. As I was leaving the conference room, one of the Asia/Pac team leads followed me out. She introduced herself, and said she had a question for me. I looked up at the tallest Chinese woman I had ever met and waited.

"Do you speak Mandarin?" she asked. "We need a product specialist to give presentations in several cities."

A couple of thoughts zipped through my head. First, I've always used a translator when presenting to Chinese audiences because while I can chat and make conversation in Mandarin, I can't smooth-talk or produce the technical vocabulary. The medium-level knowledge that I have helps lots during Q&A though, since by the time a question is translated in one direction and the answer is translated back, it usually has nothing to do with the original intent of the question. I can understand the question and respond, with a little help from the translator.

Next, I thought: My Chinese has improved a lot lately. Maybe I could do it and visit cool cities in Asia. I sorted through the Mandarin vocabulary words I've added since becoming a mom.

Allergy. Innoculation. Registration. Diaper. Watermelon. Strawberries. Corn.

Hmmmm, not much that's useful in telephony marketing from that set of words. I'd probably better turn down the speaking opportunity and offer to train their local team on the material instead.

Non Sequitur warning.

Am I the only petite person to be frustrated with conference room chairs? There's usually a lever on one side of the chair, and if you depress the lever while sitting on the chair, it sinks down. When you reach a comfortable height, you release the lever.

The problem is that with some chairs, I'm not heavy enough to make the chair move. If I'm in a smaller meeting or among understanding pals, I'll have one of them sit on my chair to fix it for me. Yesterday, I was in a room of fifty people and not sitting close to anyone I knew, so I just sat with my legs dangling until they were numb.

I did have one really gleeful moment over my increased pregnancy weight two years ago – I could adjust my own conference room chairs!

Second Non Sequitur warning.

SwingDaddy, Q and I made a family trip to the grocery store tonight and had a pleasant time hanging out afterwards. It was a nice change from a previous evening this week when Q unleashed a full-out, teary, snotty, bawlfest over an unknown reason. Who knew that one small child could produce so much mucus.

This morning, I accompanied Nanny J and him to gymnastics class, and he did great! He's gotten over his wariness of Coach Roark (at least for today), and allowed the coach to help him through some somersaults on the crash pad and some flips on the bar. The age range is 18 months to 3 years, so he's younger than most of the other kids in the class and can't follow instructions as well, but he sure loves to be upside down.

At the end of each class, the children go up to the coach and receive a stamp on each hand. It seems to be the standard way to end any kids' activity these days. When did this start? Is it a sort of ritual to help them mentally make the transition between the end of one activity and the beginning of another? It seems to be pretty effective.

And one last note. When I was at the gas station today, there was a sign on each pump. "Carwash Out of Order."

I like to think that someone got even more confused than me, and they're figuring out how to make it more user-friendly.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Let's Get Physical

A couple of years ago, I figured I was through being beaten up and bruised. Parents of older children are no doubt wetting themselves with laughter at this moment, since I have years of toddlerhood ahead of me. Seriously though, I don't participate in contact sports, and I've mostly stopped doing acrobatics in dance. We'll still do a couple of smaller lifts and flips, but nothing really crazy that results in unceremoniously landing on my butt or head, or getting massive patches of bruises.

I've happily left those days behind me. We have younger dancers with fewer responsibilities who want to fly the stunts and get the glory, and that's ok with me. I'm through with being physically buffeted.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that mommies need to tolerate a lot more unintentional violence than I expected. Q will rush me, push me, yank on my arms, bite my knees, leave scratches on my chest from exuberance or frustration, either will do. It takes some getting used to. We're beginning a lifetime of teaching him how to control his actions without losing his spontaneity.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In Which I Complain More About Prices

In the aftermath of business travel are the realities of unpacking, the post-trip cold and expense reports. My head has been kinda stuffy for a few days, and I'm hoping that the vitamin C campaign I've been deploying will prevail. Generally, if I believe it'll work, it will. (SwingDaddy, using the voice of Luke Skywalker telling Princess Leia that the Force is strong in their family: "The placebo effect is strong in your family.")

Vanquishing the expense report requires no less voodoo. As much as I hate the fussy detail required in filing these and Flexible Healthcare Spending Account forms, I get a sort of sick satisfaction in successfully jumping the right hoops. I pull out my meticulously kept envelope of receipts ($3.89 bottle of water at airport inflated prices, $5.62 sandwich and juice, and later more expensive meals after arriving in New York), and tap them into the company Expense Recording System.

Although I've filled out all the little requirements, I will certainly be audited this time around because of my hotel bill. I travel enough to realize that a price of hotel room in Manhattan is not comparable to the local Motel 6 or even a Four Seasons in an average town. $300 for a night is a pretty "good" deal. However, the U.N. was in session last week (resulting in some excellent motorcades sirening downtown, as well as a coup in Thailand), inflating the prices beyond the norm, even for Times Square.

We're required to book travel through the company travel web tool and select lodgings from the pre-approved list of hotels. In fact, it's mandatory that we stay at a listed hotel – you're not supposed to stay with a friend or relative for liability reasons. So I picked a hotel where I've had good service in the past and planned on walking the eight blocks to the office. Piece of cake.

Then the price popped on the screen. $549 for a night. In some towns, you can build an apartment from scratch for that kind of money. Booking travel on the web is less expensive for the company than calling a real live person, but I made an exception for this case. I explained the situation to the call agent. She whistled.

"I booked someone into Manhattan for $750 today, but it's Fashion Week, so it's a little hectic. Let me see if I can find you a better price."

I could hear her tapping at her keyboard. Pause.

"Oh, honey. Leave it alone!"

The shock in her voice convinced me that the other hotels weren't going to be any better, and I kept the booking. Now let's see what the audit department has to say.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What's On My Head?

Q: It's nice to have a change of hats, even if it's a little big.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fountains and Cuteness

Hooray! US relaxes ban on liquids on airliners. Maybe eventually we'll be able to keep our shoes on too.

In other happy news, Q and I had a lovely evening while SwingDaddy attended a work event. Sometimes childcare seems like a litany of chores, but time with Q is starting to feel like I've got company. He's my little bud, and we hang out together.

After playing some alphabet games, we shared a healthy, home-cooked dinner. Can you tell I'm still feeling virtuous from the weekend of cooking? It needs to last for more than two consecutive days to make a difference, but better two days than nothing. Q chose his bites – bock bock (Italian chicken) or tay-toe (roasted potatoes) or bee (green beans) - carefully, and we wrapped up with some watermelon.

I needed to run a bank errand, and thankfully, the Safeway has an in-store branch that's open in the evenings. That has to be one of the best business decisions ever made by Wells Fargo. Every time I'm at the supermarket, there's a line at the bank kiosk. Q was really well behaved in line, and we made an event out of the errand by stopping by the fountain outside.

I have a newfound appreciation for public fountains. The kiddo loves them, and they are everywhere. He oohed and ahhed over the water and bubbles, and I held both his hands while he walked around and around the edge of the fountain. Being a parent has changed me in more ways than expected. A year ago, there was no way I could be content sitting around for a half hour, observing, and just being. Today, I could relish it moment by moment with my son.

I was wondering if he'd notice that the store immediately behind the watery attraction was a toy shop or whether I'd escape its clutches, but eventually his eyes grew big, and he toddled over to the store.

"You must hold mommy's hand," I said and we strolled inside. He did pretty well for a while, but eventually the cool stuff overcame his impulse control. I picked him up before he could do any damage, and we admired some trains and alphabet blocks. Then we turned a corner, and what do we see?

Cute plush sealife magnets! I stood there for a long time, looking at them. They were on top of a small television playing "Finding Nemo," so Q was content to stay while I struggled with my conscience.

Voice of reason: I really need to set a good example to my child about not making silly purchases.

Voice of cuteness: They are so cute, and he's too young to know.

Voice of reason: It's the principle of the thing!

I settled for taking a picture.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Drury Lane Revisited

Sunday mornings have turned into muffin time for Q and me. It's a cozy activity for us while SwingDaddy is off riding his bike, with lots of stirring and pouring. Plus we stock away munchies for the whole week. Today's batch was a new flavor – Cranberry Orange, Fat-Free, in honor of our new healthier family diet. Our previous motto, "Try to eat less poorly," just wasn't cutting it.

Last week, Mary P left a comment mentioning that "baking is only good for eating the batter," and that she's from the generation that wasn’t so paranoid about salmonella (from the raw egg in batter). It made me think about learned responses versus instincts.

For instance, my mom never considered cookie dough a treat. Why would you eat raw, uncooked dough? What a disgusting idea! Accordingly, it never occurred to my sister and me to beg for it, or even know that you were supposed to sneak tastes of batter until we were older and all our friends would battle for the mixing spoon. The concern about salmonella still comes in a distant second for me. For us, (dis)liking cookie dough was a learned response.

However, we've also heard plenty of stories from friends who grew up in the "no sugar" craze, where their moms would only give them carob. Basically, they were unexposed to candy or chocolate as young children, until some fateful day a well-meaning relative gives the kid a gumdrop and it's all over. Yum, our instincts for sweets are strong.

It's late and I can't think of a nice conclusion, so I'll just toss in a barely related factoid that I read. Supposedly, these days more cases of salmonella are developed from eating contaminated vegetables than from chickens and eggs. With the recent E. coli dangers, maybe we will avoid raw foods for a couple of weeks anyway.

Thanks to Nanny K for the photo! She discovered today that if you tell Q, "Smile and say cheese," he'll do it! SwingDaddy and Nanny K both deny any knowledge of teaching him how to ham it up. Who taught him? Fess up! :)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Year of Love, Casual Division

Instead of telling you about my last week on the road (3 different airlines in 5 days, driving on toll roads in New England (how quaint) with a co-worker I met for the first time at the airport, and a flight attendant on the U.S. Airways prop plane who looked about twelve years old and was perkily telling a passenger about how she and seventeen of her sorority sisters were meeting in New York City for her birthday and OMG! had tickets to MTV Total Request Live!), I'm going to write about today and how wonderful it is to be home.

Since the last time I took a long solo trip, Q has gotten a lot more cognizant and articulate. SwingDaddy reported that he asked after me each day. "Mama? No mama." So cool! I mean, I don't want him to be sad that he misses me, but woo-hoo, my baby misses me!

All three of us went to a picnic celebration in honor of SuperVideoGuy and his new bride. They'd had a small ceremony a few weeks ago and brought all the friends together for a happy casual gathering in the good weather. Q had a good time chasing his bouncy ball and being admired while we caught up with friends. While this wasn't technically a wedding, I'm still going to count it as the 6th marriage celebration of the season. It is lovely to see how each couple expresses their love and character.

Q has been getting darn good at his wooden puzzles. Beyond just chewing the pieces, he can actually get them to fit back into the right spaces. So, I figured it was about time to bring out the new ones that my parents brought for him on the last visit. I handed him a new animal puzzle. He upended it immediately and got to work.

I took a close look at the board and wondered if I'd made a mistake in bringing it out so soon. If you look at the first photo, you can see that there is a duplicate picture of each of the pieces in the actual board to guide the child. The new puzzle doesn't have that. All it has is the empty shape, so more skills are required to figure out where the piece goes. I thought, "Oh dear, he probably isn't going to be ready for this."

Q picked up a puzzle piece bearing the picture of a cow. "Moooo!"

"Moooo!" I said in return, hopefully.

He looked carefully at the board and at the piece. Then he put it in exactly the right place on the board.

That's my boy. Teaching mama what you can do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Really Outrageous Water

It’s midnight now and I have to get up in three hours to catch my flight, so I’m going to bed. I offer you the brilliant contents of my Times Square hotel mini-fridge, offering a bottle of water for $4.50. Four fifty, people!

I ended up melting some ice cubes instead.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgot that it's time for our quarterly emergency preparedness check-in again. More on that next week.

Updated: Emergency readiness post here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Auntie Tick-Tock

Another short post today, since I am still on the road.

Lady O will set her watch to stopwatch mode and let Q press buttons and hear beeps to his heart's content, earning her the favored title Ah-yi Tee-Ta (Auntie Tick-Tock). This keeps him occupied for entire minutes at a time!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Much, Much Cuter than Edvard Munch

Q “wonders” about the little twinkling star.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Flaubert, Rousseau, and Little Ol' Me

"We have fun being social rejects."
"I know," I said as gently as I could. I was using empathy, because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. "I just . . . I'm tired of being a Steph, you know?"

Meg Cabot, How to be Popular, p.123.

It's my first individual meme tag, thanks to Mayberry! The scoop: Tell us the 5th through 8th sentences on page 123 of the book nearest you.

Like Mayberry, I had to default to my nightstand for a book. My home office does have a bunch of books, but the ones nearest me are all research references on historical dance and etiquette, not things I'm actively reading.

Meg Cabot is the author of the fabulously successful Princess Diaries, great adult novels, plus an entertaining blog. The premise of her latest book is that a high schooler finds and reads an old etiquette book entitled, "How to be Popular," and antics ensue when her current friends feel threatened by her growing popularity. So, it did tie back to the books in my office after all!

I'm feeling a little goofy. Mayberry is reading Flaubert, HBM is reading Rousseau, and I'm reading . . . . a teen novel!

I tag SwingDaddy, Lady O, Momma to LG, and Kari, if you feel like playing. YF – if you've managed to work through the craziness to get connected to the internet again, come play too!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dragons, Tortoises, Capybaras, and a Snuggle Puppy

Highlights of the day.

Q helped me bake muffins this morning, studiously stirring in the blueberries and exclaiming, "oh no!" when I dripped a bit of batter. I set his little stool in front of the oven and turned on the oven light. "You can watch the muffins bake while I wash the dishes, honey."

He sat down to watch the muffins. A minute later, he was up, tugged at my leg with an expression that said, "Mom, this is about as exciting as watching paint dry," and headed for his bookcase.

Q's been happy to keep his books on the new shelves, except this morning, where he pulled all the books onto the floor in sudden frenzy. Once he had a pile, he lay down on top, looking like Smaug the Dragon defending his pile of precious gold.

I was too late with the camera and he'd already kicked out most of the books in the pile, but this shot just looks so funny.

SwingDaddy went for a bike ride, so Q and I headed for our first solo trip to the zoo. Our favorite lemurs were napping, but we got to see the tortoise in action as he marched around the perimeter of his enclosure at a good clip. Q kept a pace on the other side of the fence, checking out the big shell.

We also saw a guinea pig who looked like he was contemplating a leap across the moat.

We approached the last of the animal attractions just as a flurry of noisy families arrived.
"What is it?"
"It's a wombat!"
"No, it's a beaver. Look at it!"
"It looks like a giant hamster."

Uh, there's also a giant sign, identifying just what he is. I'm not blaming any children for being inobservant – it was the parents who were arguing!

After a spin on the carousel and some more muffins al fresco, we headed home to join SwingDaddy.

Mommy and Snuggle Puppy!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Year of Love, Purple Edition

Today we attended a beautiful wedding in the redwoods. Ms. Redowa and her new husband created a highly unconventional, inclusive, and logistically impressive party, all decorated in her favorite color, purple.

She told me that she admired my pink ombre 1930's style gown and worked with our costume designer to make the perfect purple ombre wedding dress. The long layer is detachable for vigorous partying. They were a stunning couple together, looking so happy.

Fascinating attention to detail: In an effort to be ecologically responsible, the invitations and programs were printed on 100% post-consumer-waste cardstock and all disposable plates and napkins were made from biodegradable potato starch. There were two full pages in the program detailing the contents of the hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and cakes, so that vegans and guests with food allergies could carefully select their meals.

Since this was the fifth of eight weddings that we're attending this season, I was expecting some event fatigue to set in. Quite the contrary! All three of us had a fabulous time and stayed all the way until Q's bedtime, enjoying the company, dancing, and performances by Ms. Redowa's own dance troupe.

Now I need to go rest, as my arms are aching from carrying the kiddo for so long. SwingDaddy and I can both check off "sustained weight lifting workout" for today.

P.S. Thanks for your kind words in the comments yesterday.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Soft Ghosts and Other Ghosts

I guess it's kind of embarrassing when you're excited to go shopping at Target, but it was fun even before life got complicated with a baby. Today, my mission was to find washable crayons for Q, on recommendation from several ladies from our moms' group. The follow-up to the mention of a shopping list should always be "and I also found . . ." so I will not disappoint.

The Halloween merchandise is out in full force, featuring the friendliest set of ghosts ever! There was a little beaded ghost coaster, a ghost oven mitt, a fabric ghost knife & fork holder (plainly just an excuse to make product, because who uses a utensil holder?), and best of all, a soft, squishable plushy ghost.

He was so tempting, but since we don't have much closet space, I can't justify bringing him home and storing for 11 months a year for the rest of my life. So I merely indulged my new hobby of taking pictures of cute things and filing away the thoughts for when we win the lottery and move into a big house.

On a totally different note, I saw a set of photos from the movie "Fanboy." I didn't know that they were actually making the movie! As Ain't It Cool News has reported, "Fanboys takes place in the fall of 1998, a time when everything was pure and Star Wars ruled the world once again. We follow four life-long best friends who travel cross-country in an attempt to break into George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. Their mission is to see Star Wars Episode I early when they discover one of the young men in their group is diagnosed with terminal cancer and will not live long enough to see the film in theaters the following May."

I love this concept. A roadtrip, friendship, loss, and Star Wars all together make me look forward to seeing how it turns out. There's a serious question there. Just how would you help a friend who isn't going to make it?

And now on a related note, a colleague who has been very sick for months is now at peace. He passed away this morning with his family around him, and we gathered at work in person and on the conference bridge (yes, telephony geeks to the end) to share the sad news. Rest in peace.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When Customer Service Doesn’t Suck

With topic-unrelated pictures of Q, just because I have some to share.

Earlier this year, I had a series of really annoying experiences with my Macy's credit card where the billing went awry, resulting in me getting off the phone with customer service, immediately driving to the store and paying the credit card balance with cash to avoid late fees. This goes exactly against one of the main purposes of having a credit card – so you don't have to carry around cash for your purchases.

After sorting that all out, I tried to use the card again some months later and got rejected. Great. Macy's is the one remaining store card that I keep, after shutting down the others to simplify my life, because you can get some great sale prices. I was going to lose a 25% discount on some much needed shorts for SwingDaddy, if they didn't accept my card.

I felt myself get a little steamed. "I want to cancel my card," I told one of two sales associates behind the counter. "Can I do that here or do I have to put it in writing? The hassle of straightening out the card isn't worth it!"

The sales guy was probably still in high school and while polite, was clearly hoping that his buddy would jump to his rescue. Indeed, that's what happened. Between them, they managed to get customer service on the phone right at the cash register, explain the circumstances, help to get the card fixed, and then rang up my purchase, including the appropriate discount.

I thanked them both, and settled my ruffled feathers. I thought – well, we often complain about terrible service, but this time I should really go to the website Macy's is always touting on the store receipts (where the guys had carefully written their names), and report that they did a good job.

Macy's sent an automated response to my blurb, and I didn't think anything of it. A week later, I received a long email, which read in part:

Dear Lady M:

On behalf of all of us at Macy’s, thank you for sharing feedback regarding your recent shopping experience in our store. . . .We are pleased to hear through your ratings and comments that you enjoyed a pleasant shopping experience in our store. We feel very fortunate to have both TJ and David on our staff.
I will read your comments at our next daily storewide meeting and will forward them to their department manager. They certainly deserve recognition for a job well done. I am pleased that they were able to resolve the problem. We wouldn't want you to close your account! (and so on and so forth)


VP, Store Manager
Macy's store ###

If I'd know their VP was going to read my little message out loud to the storewide meeting, I would have written something more eloquent!

This reminds me of a time at work when Lawyer S from the legal department was able to turn around an adjustment to a contract in three days, which is like lightspeed for lawyers, so I sent a quick email to her boss with thanks. It ended up getting forwarded up the chain, and I later got a response from someone saying that he was very happy that Lawyer S had done a good job and he was very happy to have her on his team and that everything was happy, happy, happy.

The sender's name was kind of familiar, so I looked him up in the company directory. Holy cow. I had received a "thank you for the thank you note" from the legal counsel to a $30 billion dollar company. I was feeling really flattered and then I realized that I must have written the first thank you note the legal department has ever received!

Write those notes. People sure appreciate them!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Five Pounds Ain't Nothin'

Last weekend, I took my first aerobics class in ages. It showed too. I've been working on dance technique in other classes and rehearsals, but my aerobic condition has suffered since having Q.

Good choreography is the key to an entertaining class, and the teacher didn't disappoint. The program's Indian bhangra-style dance had great Bollywood music and new (to me) patterns to learn. There was a lot more belly and pelvic thrust action than the average aerobics class, that's for sure!

The instructor told the class to bring 3 lb weights next week for a series of squats and leg lifts, 5 lbs "if you're a pro."

I have a set of mini barbells somewhere (perhaps behind the babyproof fence in the living room?), so it's time to dig them out. I might be kidding myself, but you've got to wonder if five pounds is going to feel like anything anymore, now that I'm used to holding 25 pounds of squirmy baby while picking toys off the floor.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tube of Toothpaste, Please

So it was a regular old business trip. I arrived at the airport and rolled into the ticketing area to see a series of large signs hanging from the ceiling, telling everyone where to go. What a difference from the confusion and chaos in Las Vegas a few weeks ago! I was so impressed that I had to take a picture. It makes an IE's heart beat with extra fondness to see neatly labeled lines for each group of passengers.

I followed the signs and selected a kiosk from my choice of four available stations to print my boarding pass, headed to the security booth, and waited for the one person ahead of me to remove his cowboy boots.

Hang on, you might ask. Did you say the one person in line at the airport? The airport security line where your shoes, jacket, and laptop must be placed in plastic bins while you walk through the metal detector in your socks?

My wonder at the smooth travel process evaporated when I remembered. Oh yeah, it's September 11.

It's a day when no one wants to fly. In fact, I'd planned on going out of my way to avoid TV coverage and didn't blog about the memorials, because it seemed like unwise mental preparation for boarding a plane later in the afternoon. As it turned out, work was so hectic that I didn't get a chance to see the news all day, so I forgot about the date until the ghost-town atmosphere at the airport brought it back into focus.

The gate agents boarded the whole plane so quickly that I was still wrapping up my PC power cord while jogging up to the desk. I tossed my almost full bottle of water (grrr) before walking aboard and finding my assigned seat. I put my jacket on the empty place beside me and looked around. Yep, a half-full plane. Superstition is a powerful thing.

When I arrived at my hotel, a few hours later, I asked for a tube of toothpaste. The registration agent reached to the side of her desk and handed me a little tube of Colgate. 10 points to the Hilton! They were well prepared. When I got to the room and found bottles of water, I was even happier. (By now, everyone knows that you can't bring liquids or gels onto the plane, right? If not, the TSA has plenty to say about it here.)

At lunch, I developed a business plan with the two other women among the three dozen people in our meeting. You can always get toothpaste, shampoo, and water at the hotel where you're traveling, but it's a pain to check in your baggage just for makeup.

We think we should arrange an on-line service, like Sephora, that provides sample size makeup delivery to business hotels. I bet you could make some good money. I'd certainly pay for it. You could enter "MAC foundation NC35" and "Clinique Moisture Surge Extra Thirsty Skin Relief Lotion" in a web form, and it'd be waiting for you at the hotel. No more thrown-away lip gloss at the security booth. No more waiting for checked bags!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Higher Math Meets Refrigerator Magnets

Professor Q explains the latest in hash algorithms.

He put a few letters in his mouth, so we had to pack up the whole set and tuck them in the "when you're older" drawer. It's a bummer, because he was having so much fun, but we're afraid he'll swallow one. At least we got a few good photos first (not that it's any consolation to Q!).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Totally Traumatized by the Drive-Through Carwash

The windshield of my car has been getting increasing opaque these last weeks, so after filling my tank at the gas station yesterday morning, I sprang for the extra $2 to cover a carwash. Little did I know how much drama would ensue.

I pulled around to the new drive-through carwash in the back. I'm always a little nervous of these things. Think about it: You're in a vehicle controlled by unseen forces and unable to see anything because rubbery tentacles are swishing soap on the windows. As it turned out, that part turned was easy. First, I had to figure out how to drive into the contraption.

I read the signs carefully.
Caution: Do Not Step on Wash Conveyor In Ground (OK, I'm in the car so I should be safe.)
1) Lower Antenna, Turn Radio Off (No problem.)
2) Fold In Mirrors (Not an issue for my car.)
3) When Light Turns Green, Drive Front Tire Between Guide Rails. Stop at Coin Box.
(Sounds easy!)

Driving onto that track leading into the gaping maw of blackness? Yeah, it looks easy from the photo angle, but when you're actually in the car, you're relying on the nearby convex distortion mirror to see your tire and the rail. It turns out that I drove in correctly, but chickened out and backed up because I felt the car turning. I thought I'd hit the rail, but actually it was just the conveyor doing a rough adjustment to line up the car.

I had backed up and pulled forward a few times unsuccessfully (I thought) when a car pulled up behind me. The driver was probably thinking, "Great, there's a moron driving in front of me." He honked his horn and yelled up from his car, "You're fine. You're lined up fine!"

Gratefully, I waved back, ignored the bumpy ride to get to the coin box, and entered the little code on my gas receipt. The automated voice said to go ahead.

Shoot. Was I supposed to be in Drive or Park? None of the signs said what gear to use! If I stepped on the brake, would I stress the transmission by not allowing it to be pushed along by the machinery? If I didn't step on the brake, would I run into machinery further along the track? There was nothing to do but go with my gut, which said to leave it in Drive.

A slew of swishy flaps descended upon the car, spreading soap, followed by water jets, and then hot air. I froze as the last blower came straight at me, bumped gently into my windshield, and thankfully passed over the car, leaving us undamaged and much cleaner. I stepped on the gas and shakily made my way home.

I'm bringing a coach next time.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Blue, No, Yellow!

Updated: Q's been learning colors and can pronounce a few reasonably well. "Yel-low" and "pur-ple" are particularly distinct, with "rwed, bwoo, gra" a little behind. Last week he was pointing to red toys and saying "bwoo!," which concerned me.

Is he possibly color blind? Should we get him tested so that he isn't penalized at school for misidentifying colors? Red-green color blindness is the most common form, and I wasn't sure about red-blue.

The next day, blue went out of fashion and he pointed at everything and called it yel-low. Whew! It's just a vocabulary issue, and that'll be fixed with time.

Afterwards, SwingDaddy and I joked about aqua-teal color blindness. Most of us never work that one out. Mauve-lavender? Ecru-taupe? As long as he gets the main colors down eventually, that's fine with us!

Happy Grandparent's Day!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Maybe He'll Be a Doctor

If Q decides against telephony engineering, maybe he'll study medicine. Then again, I think he just likes the thermometer now because he's discovered it has buttons.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Babushka Buffalo

Lately, Q has been playing lots with his toy buffalo, a gift from SwingDaddy's mom and stepdad. As previously reported, we "feed" Buff from a little cup, Buff wears the cup as a hat, and then I have to wear Buff as a hat. Buff and Blankie together make for an interesting sight too. Babushka Buffalo!

In other news, Q watched an episode of Bob the Builder where Bob learns to dance. Supposedly, he is learning salsa, but everyone is counting cha-cha timing out loud through the whole episode. "1-2-cha-cha-cha," over and over, for the benefit of an impressionable 18-month old mind. You can imagine what Q is now chanting.

Dude, we were gonna teach you swing before the Latin dances, but I guess you have your own plans!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Benji's Choices, Plus the All-Sealife All-the-Time Channel

Photo credit: Cha

asked a good question in response to yesterday's post about "So You Think You Can Dance." Should Benji, the contest winner, accept the job offer to perform in Celine Dion's show, "A New Day?"

SwingDaddy and I discussed this during the season. As a contemporary dancer, Travis was a more obvious fit for "A New Day," and we wondered exactly what they would do with Benji, one half of a swing team.

After the show finale, I read an interview where Benji said the same thing – Celine's show doesn't have any swing, so he expected to turn down the contract. However, Mia Michaels is a choreographer for the production, and was heavily encouraging him to do it, saying that they'd work to his strengths and make it happen. Presumably, he'd be able to bring a dance partner into the fold, maybe even his cousin Heidi, since she also has national recognition now, thanks to the TV show.

If that's the case, I think he should take it. He's a star in the swing dance world, but that's small compared to international showbiz. In "A New Day," he'll get to meet and make contacts with many of the producers, directors, and creators that come to visit Celine and also get to be part of a huge gig without the burden of bearing the box office.

Plus, Las Vegas, where her production is located, is a short hop from LA and Celine has long scheduled breaks during the year. He could still run off and tape the commercials and sitcoms he's being offered. He's also being offered work on Broadway, and this gives him time to figure out what to take and whether he can act. It's a win all around.

That being said, I don't know anything about his preferences or whether any of my assumptions about the entertainment business are true, so who knows what he'll choose. Others of his age and caliber in the ballroom world would continue competing for championship titles, teach classes and coach students, potentially for the rest of their careers. That is a successful life for many dancers, but Benji has a lot of other opportunities now. I'm interested to see his next gig.

Incidentally, I did a search to see if I could find the interview where he discussed the contract. I didn't pull it up, but I did find links to a fan site and Benji's MySpace page. I'm not going to post links, because I'm going to spare your eyes from the blinking, flashing, all-caps visual pain, but if you're curious, hit Google. I'm glad he (or any dancer) has an enthusiastic fan base, but whew, kids these days need more web skillz.

A news item that Benji was no longer expected to play Fred Astaire in a new movie drew an especially scary response from a fan: "Who is Fred Astaire?"


On a completely different topic, I have a proposal for a new website: All Cute Sealife, All the Time! I suppose that it would have a readership of one, so I'll just have to keep sharing my findings here instead. Two new things today.

1) Squid Soap. Thanks to Jenifer Scharpen at Blogging Baby for locating this hygienic and entertaining item.

SquidSoap works by applying a small ink mark on a person's hand when they press the pump to dispense the soap. The ink is designed to wash off after the hands are washed for about15-20 seconds, which is the time recommended by most doctors.

SquidSoap is lots of fun for kids, since they love to get marked. It makes handwashing more like a game. Also, the very stretchable squid toy is a blast to play with and will provide hours of entertainment.

2) Rocking Octopus. Thanks to SwingDaddy's sister, Rugger Mom, for finding this delightful rocker. We will have a full suite of cephalopod furniture someday.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

So You Think You Can Choreograph

Thoughts on choreography in general, as well as season 2 of the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

(Yes, I know that I'm way late on this post, since the finale was three weeks ago. I wrote most of this on vacation and didn't get a chance to pull it back until now. There's a picture of Q if you make it to the end.)

Even the most beautiful dancers will look bad when the choreography sucks, as illustrated in several soundtrack medley/dance revue fiascos in past years at the Oscars. However, a brilliant choreography just might be able to save a weaker dancer.

SwingDaddy and I had never heard of Mia Michaels before, but were tremendously impressed with her work. The “Why” duet for Ivan and Alison gave me goosebumps, and the sunflower number for Travis and Heidi showed how emotionally moving the contemporary form can be. (Edited: Correction from Lady O to say that Tyce Dioro was actually the choreographer of "Why." We admired several of his pieces too.)

Digression: SwingDaddy and I have mixed feelings about what used to be called “modern” dance, because there was a period of time in the late 90’s where the most dreaded event of our entire year was the annual modern dance student recital. Courtesy required us to make an appearance since we were heavily involved with the department, so we’d grit our teeth and watch the students writhe angstily to bad or no music in twitchy “choreography” of their own making.

Then one year, a faculty member, Diane Frank, contributed her own choreography, which made us understand that modern could be good, interesting and fun to watch. We went out and got tickets to Alvin Ailey, Pilobolus, and enjoyed some amazing performances (including some at subsequent years of that same student recital).

Back to the TV thread: Choreographers Mia Michaels, Shane Sparks, and Ron Montez all tailored their work to the dancers they were assigned each week. Ron even included a little hip hop riff for Ivan in one of the ballroom numbers. Other choreographers took a different attitude, saying, "Let's see if they're up for this!"

An authoritarian, non-collaborative choreography style may provide a truer reflection of the dancers' abilities, but I think also shows a limitation on the choreographer's part. In particular, there was one ballroom instructor who just about doomed all her dancers with lame material. She didn't make a return in following weeks, so the producers must have realized it as well.

Judge/executive producer Nigel was right that the greatest beneficiary of the show was probably the art of dance itself, rather than any one performer. Millions of people watched the show, and a small but important fraction of that audience will be inspired to buy tickets to a local performance and support dance theater.

The cash prize to the show is not big - $100,000, compared to $1 million for Survivor. It’s sort of an indicator for the field – very few dancers make a cushy living through performance alone. Let’s hope the show helps a few more make it! I'm looking forward to season 3.

Me too, mommy!