Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our House Has a Mind of Its Own and It Lost Its Mind

This is such an epic tale that it’s a struggle to actually write it, given my tendency to be a Small Happenings Blogger and not a Big Events Blogger (examples: have not yet written either child’s birth story, tale of medical woes from the last year, or various other drama, yet you know all about How Much I Love That Plush Octopus. Yeah.)

However, I’ve been quite inspired by Stimey, with her play by play in a battle-to-the-almost-death with questionable employees of a big box store, and various vomiteous (is that a word?) adventures. If she and others like her weren’t willing to sit down and share, where would I get my daily bloggy entertainment?

So here I am with a glass of orange juice, bottle of Vitamin C, and bag of Doritos (my long-standing remedy for squelching a cold,) and I’m determined to write this one out. It’s good for a laugh, even if it does involve a trip to the ER.

A bit of background: Two years ago, we moved into a house in which the original owners had spent twenty-five years lovingly customizing every aspect. Some things are brilliant, like the kitchen design and the garden of rosebushes. Some things are charming, but not useful to us, like the coat closet turned wine cellar. Others are baffling, like the infinitely flexible, programmable lighting system, which is tied into an internal telephone rig with mysterious patch panel and a whole-house security network that we hadn’t really paid attention to, since we almost always have someone at home. This last part? Remember that, it’s important.

A couple nights ago, SwingDaddy and I were working late on our computers when Q-ster stumbled into the office, laboring to breathe. One o’clock in the morning, the witching hour for croup. SwingDaddy immediately got the hot water running in the shower to generate steam, and I held the little dude as he struggled to breathe. It’d been thirteen months since the last bout with croup and we hoped he’d outgrown it already. Not so lucky. He obediently swallowed a dose of orapred, but couldn’t keep it down, which meant it was time for a run to the emergency room.

SwingDaddy kept him company while I threw together a hospital bag – spare clothes for both of them, roll of paper towels, a couple of plastic bags, blankie, and a book for distraction. As I ran back up the stairs, I could see the steam spilling out from the bathroom as they emerged, and I guess that’s what triggered the house alarm.

Hitherto unknown to us, there are sirens and speakers embedded in the ceiling of our house in multiple locations, both upstairs and downstairs. “Woooot! Woooot! Woooot! Fire. Smoke detected. Leave immediately. Wooooot! Wooooot! Wooooot! Fire. Smoke detected. Leave immediately.” A stern, disembodied voice alternated with the siren. I think the house decided that all that steam must be the signs of a fire and we needed to be warned of the danger.

Of course, the baby woke up. He is a child with serious vocal power, so if the house weren’t noisy enough, I now had an organic sound generator tucked on one hip. I held Buster with one arm while I slipped Q-ster’s shoes on his feet with the free hand. He was sitting patiently on a bench, concentrating on breathing while SwingDaddy flipped through one of a dozen security system binders left by the Original Owners.

I told him, “Just go! I’ll figure it out!”

He hoisted the little dude up and they headed for the hospital. I closed the door behind them, trying to decide where I should set Buster while I sorted through the user manuals. Then the house said, “Front door open.” The alarms shut down.

I think that the house figured either we made it outside, or help had entered, so it didn’t need to keep broadcasting the alert. Whew. I sighed in relief, and went to work getting Buster back to sleep, then cleaning up the bathroom from the evening’s events. Some draining, some scrubbing, tossing things into the laundry, until everything was put away.

I was dozing at 3am, when SwingDaddy and Q-ster returned. In the interim, the house, awoken to vigilance by the supposed fire situation, had moved into “nighttime security mode,” and the door opening triggered another house-wide alarm. “Woooot! Woooot! Woooot! Intruder alert. Front door open. Wooooot! Wooooot! Wooooot! Intruder alert. Front door open.”

Fortunately, Q-ster was perky and cheerful, a little hopped up from the dex’ injection in the ER, so he wasn’t at all put out by the excitement.

The other child, not so much. Buster woke up screaming. I tried to find a quiet place to soothe him, which was impossible, given the thoroughness of the Original Owners in their security installation. I settled for a nice dark corner, wrapped my body around the micro dude and rocked him until he calmed down.

SwingDaddy managed to convince the house that we were ok, and the alarms shut down. We put both boys to bed (AGAIN), and he went back to the master control panel to duke it out with the system, because we needed to be able to leave the house in the morning (Garage door open!) without the whole saga beginning again.

In our bedroom, there’s another access panel, so I could hear the house talking and talking as he cycled through the settings. Finally, it said, “Controls disabled.”

Silence. What a night.

So it appears that our house is sentient and a little confused, but distinctly benevolent. It’s looking out for us. We just need to do some coaching on the decibel level.

Any thieves or robbers out there – be warned, this house is connected to the world in ways you can’t imagine. And ways we’re not quite sure about either, but we’re working on it.

Photos (unrelated to topic) by YF.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dance Reality Show Shakeups and Jellyfish

Perhaps the best thing that has happened to Dancing with the Stars since Julianne Hough joined the cast: Samantha Harris is leaving the show! She seems like a nice enough person, but she can’t interview her way out of a paper bag.

America’s Best Dance Crew
started its fourth season tonight, and we’re sorry to hear that Shane Sparks is facing legal charges. I hope that he’s innocent, but I guess it’ll all come out at the trial. In the meantime, the replacement judge (Omarion) hasn’t added anything particularly coherent, but he may improve with time.

I haven’t watched much TV since So You Think You Can Dance wrapped up before Christmas, so it was fun to sit down with SwingDaddy and enjoy a show. After ABDC, we checked out an episode of Ace of Cakes and were well rewarded.

Look, a jellyfish cake!

It's too bad that the bakery FAQ says they charge a minimum $1000 per cake, because I'd totally order one! Well, plus we're not anywhere near their site in Baltimore, but we can imagine away some time-space-financial continuum conundrums for the sake of sealife, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Queen, Druck, and Moan

Good God, this child is lucky.

Buster has developed a deep love for the characters from the movie Cars, much like his older brother a few years back. All the grandparents have kindly supported his obsession, and his collection has grown from the one Lightning McQueen (Queen!) to a whole fleet, including Mater the Tow Truck (Druck!) and Ramone (Moan!).

It's been fun to see how each boy's likes and dislikes are so individual. At this age, Q-ster could not be parted from his drumsticks and broomsticks. He loved the movie Cars, but actual toy cars weren't anything particularly special.

Buster isn't as interested in drumming, making him an overall lower decibel child (although he's louder vocally), and instead loves balls and cars. Tonight, we kept him company as he pushed his little toys around the floor, chirping away about Queen and Moan.

If you also have a Cars fan in your home, check out these Pixar shorts: Cars Toons: Mater’s Tall Tales.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Forest in the Making

Just after the holidays, my business unit at work packed up about a hundred tons of bulky, heavy, expensive equipment, various desk trophies and family photographs, and moved down the street to another building, having outgrown old workspace. (Packing story told at the Silicon Valley Moms Blog in Sixty-Four Square Feet of Stuff.)

We all mostly settled now, and a forest is sprouting overhead.

Backstory: FourthBreakfast and I met the clever and crafty ljc for dinner a few months ago, and she mentioned ferrying a whole set of IKEA “leaves” back to New York, where she and her colleagues set them up above their cubicles.

Flash forward to now, when I came upon a Lova at IKEA, meant to be a canopy over a child’s bed, and loved its charm. It makes me think of Miyazaki’s Totoro, the woodland spirit and his leafy umbrella.

I lofted a big leaf over my cube, and shortly thereafter, my neighbor took orders from the rest of the team and brought back a whole set. We find the greenery cheerful and a nice distraction from the serious business at hand.

Thanks for the idea, ljc!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Geeky Geeky Nation

We got out to a Jonathan Coulton concert over the weekend and had a fabulous time listening to performances of IKEA and Tom Cruise Crazy. He and his opening band, Paul and Storm, were college acapella singers with a techie bent, now parents of young children, and we enjoy the combination of humor and great voices.

JoCo’s most well-known songs are Code Monkey, a tale of a programmer’s romantic side, and Still Alive, told from the point of view of the charmingly evil computer in a video game called Portal. I favor his songs about sealife – there’s one about a giant squid with self esteem issues, another about Ye Old Furry Lobster, and of course, Octopus.

They attract a geeky crowd, and we fit right in. Banter between songs required the audience to have wide ranging knowledge – ancient philosophers, modern physicists, 80’s arcade trivia, Hollywood pop culture, musical styles. A few crowd favorites:

Paul: What is the pirate’s favorite mathematician?
Audience: ARRRRRchimedes!

Storm: This next one is a tribute song, so get out your lighters, or at least get out your iPhone lighter apps. Or go and write a lighter app and come back quickly.”

I looked across the crowd. I didn’t see a single real lighter, but I saw dozens of iPhones glowing with images like these. Life in Silicon Valley!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The New Masters

The preschool teachers have outdone themselves again. Check out this octopus (the letter of the week was “O”) made from tracings of Q-ster’s fingers. “For you, mommy!”

We’ve thrilled at how his coloring and drawing have progressed this year. There were several long months where every piece of artwork was a roughly circular black crayon squiggle.

“Could you tell me about your picture, sweetie?”
“It’s the Death Star!”

And it went on, week after week. I couldn’t tell whether it was lack of interest in drawing, and therefore a quick scrawl satisfied the requirements, whether it was an artistic limitation, or whether we’d be getting concerned calls in middle school years about our son’s potential troubled streak.

Suddenly, he just got interested in coloring. I printed pages of Star Wars, Handy Manny, and Wiggles pictures for him to color. He paid great attention to detail. He started drawing (non-Death Star creations.) He used crayons other than black and brown. Hooray!

Last week, he brought back this Styrofoam contraption. “It’s my sculpture.”
There is usually some kind of theme involved at preschool – January has featured snowmen and igloos so far, so I inquired, “What is it?”


I see that we have moved into abstract representation already.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Chatter from the Boys

On a drive a while back, SwingDaddy and I were talking about a colleague who’d been named a Distinguished Engineer at the Company. As one of us said, “He’s now a DE,” Buster called out from the back seat, “F!”

Ah yes, the heady days of learning the alphabet.

A bunch of us were enjoying a holiday gathering at the home of friends currently undergoing major renovations. Q-ster’s little friend A looked at a hole in the ceiling, and said she was worried about rats coming down.

A’s mom reported that Q-ster replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

Very sweet, although I’m not sure exactly what he would have done about it. Lightsaber, anyone?

Buster used to see his big brother’s Lego Star Wars shirt and say, “Jones!”

It would drive Q-ster nuts. “It’s NOT Indiana Jones!

It’s a good thing that the micro dude’s vocabulary has now expanded to include the ever so important “Sta-Wa” for Star Wars.

Q-ster’s been “Irish dancing” around the living room a lot, and I asked if he wanted me to move the CD player, so he could put on music while he danced. He said no, he didn’t want a CD. He wanted a band. They could sit on the side of the room, just like in the Riverdance show. High expectations, kid.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shoes, Friends, Memories, Haiti

I wanted to bring a spare pair of shoes to work yesterday, since it’s been storming and I didn’t want to wear my boots all day. I went to my closet to grab a bag and found this:

Madame A, who has a tradition of using scraps leftover from costume construction to craft beautiful bags for dance shoes, sewed this for our dear, late friend Costume Conspirator. You can see the some of the gowns that match the fabric in this post.

When we went to CC’s house to help her sister sort through her dance things, we found the bag among her dozens of tango shoes. The bag was special and clearly needed to go with us, but Mme A wasn’t sure she could bear the memories just yet.

I took it home with me. Now, I could use it as a perfectly functional bag, if I could get over the slightly sacrilegious feeling of slipping in a pair of black mules for work. Really, though, CC wasn’t sacred. She was my friend. And I can think fondly of both her and Mme A when I pull the drawstrings and carry their bag.

It was still a little heart-wrenching. Inside, I found one sock (thrown away – sorry, I’m not that sentimental), a hairpin, and a tiny hairclip. Details of everyday life. I also found $17, probably stashed away for a post-rehearsal meal. I figured I’d donate it to a cancer fund in her honor, but in light of last week’s troubles, I’m going to send it to orphans in Haiti. She would like that, I think.

A partially related note: There are pros and cons to working for a large corporation, but this is a moment when I’m particularly proud of the Company that I work for and CC worked for. Immediately after the Haitian earthquake, the philanthropic board of the Company announced they were cutting a check for a quarter million dollars and they set up a matching donation campaign.

So far, employees have given over $500k in individual contributions, so $1.25M is heading to the survivors in short order. I’d already clicked to donate when I found CC’s bag, and this extra bit feels good, knowing that it really does add up to make a difference.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Clothes Make the Man

Last week, before all the crazy rain, the boys were playing “lacrosse” outside.

I insisted that Q-ster put on a jacket since it was getting chilly. He put on his new thick coat. Then he switched the lacrosse equipment for a hockey stick, since everyone knows that hockey is the right sport for winter gear!

Buster was just happy to get to wave around a stick. If you look carefully, you may be able to see that they’ve taken to wearing their “Big Brother/Little Brother” caps when they go out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

No Lack of Movie Tie-Ins

It all started with the blade of my little freebie letter opener getting dull and starting to make shredded messes of envelopes instead of tidy slices. I wanted a replacement, something like this:

Sadly, Target and Office Max only carry things that look like this:

Remarkably like a dagger, no? The issue, of course, is that I have two children, and I would like to keep them both alive. I am resigned to paying some sort of ungodly shipping fee for a two dollar piece of plastic and metal, but I suppose it will still be far less than whatever the emergency room fees would be charged for a lightsaber/letter opener knife fight patch-up.

I did an Amazon search and turned up some charming leads.

Indiana Jones letter openers, in the shape of Indy’s machete and Mutt Williams’ sword (which I don’t remember, so I suppose I need to watch movie 4 again.)

Harry Potter letter openers, in the form of the sword of Gryffindor.

From the Lord of the Rings, Narsil, as borne by Aragorn in the movie. Those of us diehard book fans will note that Narsil was carried by Elendil and was shattered at his death (The Blade that was Broken), so Aragorn only carries the damaged hilt in the beginning of the story. The reforged sword should be called Anduril. But whatever, it’s a letter opener too.

I think I might settle for these. Cute, and safe.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gift Food Wins and So-so’s

Over the last two years, we’ve given and received a lot of food gifts, so here’s my take in case you’re looking for ideas for birthdays, Mother’s Day, President’s Day, and next Christmas.

Harry and David – magnificent pears. Before a gift package arrived, we’d purchased some fruit from the grocery store, which then sat neglected for several days. SwingDaddy noted, “We should eat some of the mortal pears today,” so that they wouldn’t spoil while we were savoring the clearly divine Harry and David pears.

Speaking of divine, the petit fours from Divine Delights rock. Beautiful and tasty!

Wolferman’s – the muffins, scones, and such were fine, but not good enough to be worth the expense with the fancy packaging.

Harry and David iced cookies – I ordered the Halloween arrangement two years ago, because the photo looked so great. However, the cookies were individually shrink wrapped, and upon unwrapping, the edges all crumbled, ruining the look, and the taste was nothing special.

Chocolate dipped fruit from Edible Arrangements – stunning presentation and quite tasty. A good gift if there are lots of people to consume it quickly.

Do you have any food favorites to share?

No disclosures to make: No vendors provided any free product or payment.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Delurking Day

Yeah, I’m late to the game since I think this was yesterday, but feel free to pop in and say hi!

The photo is an uncropped image - the last in a series where Buster was charging towards me. I can’t believe it’s in focus!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Things For Feet

It’s a combination of holiday flashback and continuance of the Star Wars footwear theme. Yes, yes, we’re grasping for coherent topics

It seems fitting that the year I finally have four stockings and four stocking holders in advance of the Christmas season is the year that I can’t actually decorate the mantle with them because a certain 18 month old would pull on said stockings, bringing a heavy stocking holder (or two or three or four) flying down to his forehead.

So, we only got to enjoy this fireplace look for Christmas Eve, but we have next year to look forward to.

Q-ster had been persistently requesting “Jedi boots” to wear inside the house, since our household habit is to remove shoes within our home. Plus, I believe individuals are motivated not to kick things too hard (i.e. furniture or little brothers, for that matter) when their toes are unprotected, and his fabulous outdoor Jedi boots would tilt the balance of power.

I was able to find these knit slipper-socks at Nordstrom, and he was delighted to receive them Christmas morning. For those who may want to indulge their little Star Wars fan, note that I removed a set of pink pom-poms from the “boots” prior to taking this photograph, rendering them Jedi-worthy. The costume world opens up more widely when one is willing to shop on both sides of the store!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Obsession Continueth Through Generations

Adidas takes its turn as an enabler of Star Wars

Darth Vader sneakers. Check out the soles!

Shoes for Stormtroopers – love the “face” on the heel.

I like the TIE fighter-inspired kicks too.

All the shoes are men’s (not boys’) sizes except the Princess Leia model.

Did you ever think that metallic bikini would become a sneaker? Me either.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The View From Here

Some observations:

1) On a blue and white striped sweater, why does the blueberry stain inevitably land on the white stripe?

2) The likelihood of me resisting the Cupcake Courier is decreasing day by day, as the boys' birthday season approaches. Such a cute (although bulky) container!

3) Some folks have dogs or cats that sleep at the foot of the bed. We have an octopus.

Buster can takes great pleasure in identifying animals these days. Bird! Kitty! Doggie!

And of course, "O-pus!"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My First Peacetime Plush

I’m branching out! I’m making plush toys that aren’t weapons!

This is a Martian I made for a friend who is working on an animated creature movie, so that he can put it on his keyboard and use it as a pillow just prior to collapsing from exhaustion. I may need to make a spare, as he’s having some trouble getting the red fellow back from his daughters.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Another Holiday Flashback

While we were decorating the tree and hanging the new jellyfish* ornament, we made up a new song to the tune of “Up on the rooftop, reindeer pause . . .”

Jellyfish, what do you wish
Jellyfish, what do you wi-ish
Up on the housetop, squish, squish, squish!
Down through the chimney, jellyfish!

Q-ster and I sang it with great gusto all week, much to SwingDaddy’s chagrin.

*I have discovered a new form of cuteness – amurigurimi, which are crocheted figures. Here's a page of octopi pictures, and below are Buster’s apple and pear that I found at the same craft fair as the jellyfish.

Mayberry asked a good question regarding yesterday’s post about whether one retrieves the gift bag from the giftee.

My answer: We use the fabric gift bags for the immediate family and everyone gets back their original bags. I've started introducing the bags for gifts to friends as well, expecting that they'll keep the bags (and hopefully re-use them). For all the little girl birthday parties last year, I used a silky pink material, and the bags ended up being more prized than the presents!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Have Yourself an Eco Little Christmas

I’ve written about making simple fabric gift bags before, but I thought I’d revisit since fabric stores having holiday patterns on massive discount right now. A friend of mine joked about using a stapler if you don’t have a sewing machine, but you could also ask a friend to use hers for a few hours. Just make sure to pick prints with a dark background (not white) so that the recipient can’t see through the material and guess the gift!

My family has been using fabric bags for generations. My mom has had hers for a few decades, and the oldest of mine have lasted 15 years so far. I love bringing out the pretty prints year after year – they have memories of their own, just like special tree ornaments. I made a batch of new bags last year, since the old sizes, which were primarily for adult gifts like books and CDs, weren’t big enough to hold things like boxes of Lego and toy firefighter helmets.

Besides saving all that gift paper from being tossed away, it also makes wrapping a pinch. This year, I didn’t wrap anything until Christmas Eve, and I was done within an hour. There are always a few packages wrapped in paper from relatives who have shipped them to us, so the kids have something to rip and tear, but mostly our tree is surrounded by brightly colored, re-usable bundles.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Secret Schemes of Bath Manipulators

There are many reasons that parents should become heavily engaged in their children’s favorite passions. Some of them are helicopter parent-y, such as monitoring progress and making sure that their resumes are being burnished in preparation for the Ivy League.

Some reasons are thoughtful. When bad things happen, fictional accounts can help make sense of the situation. In the aftermath of 9/11, many children mentioned the destruction of the twin towers as something Lord Voldemort would have done, and Harry Potter gave them a framework for understanding.

Other parents use their knowledge for more nefarious purposes, such as convincing their children to take baths.

“We need to go fight Jengo Fett on the water planet of Kamino!”

This worked for two days, before we returned to “I doan WANNA.”

Tonight, I told the little dude that he could pretend he was a prisoner on the Death Star and that I was a stormtrooper marching him to the bath. He said that he’d rather be the stormtrooper. So instead, he marched me upstairs as his prisoner.

“Go upstairs!”
“I don’t WANNA!” I whined.
“You have to. Go!”

And then he took his bath. The end.

Well, until tomorrow, anyway.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Movie Critic Summarizes the Year

I read a post today ranking the top 25 movies the blogger had seen in the theatre during 2009, taking into account his “own expectations going in, resources available to the filmmakers, to the use of 3D” and so on. My list would be somewhat easier to compile.

Top movies I saw in the theatre in 2009:

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

And there you have it.

We did, however, get to watch much excellent dancing in the comfort of our own living room.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Where’d the Time Go?

While everyone else in the blogosphere is writing about all the things they did during the year 2009, I am just trying to remember what we’ve done over the last two weeks of vacation. It’s been a pretty awesome holiday.

I had some vague ideas of grand outings to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, museums in San Francisco, but instead, we stayed close to home. We climbed structures at two new-to-us playgrounds, visited a Lego exhibit at a local museum, sent holiday cards, wrote thank you notes, baked red velvet cupcakes, had playdates with friends, admired the full moon and re-enacted The Return of the Jedi roughly four thousand times.

Q-ster particularly enjoyed reading the Danny and the Dinosaur series that I got him for Christmas, which is simple enough for him to read with a little assistance, but has enough plot to entertain him. Next, I need to get to the library and check out everything else by Syd Hoff. I’ve gotten out of the library habit, because it’s so hard to get there during operating hours and Amazon is always available, but I want Q-ster to have those same fond memories of browsing the stacks that I have, not to mention the cost effectiveness!

We also picked lots of sweet Clementine oranges from our tree and played lacrosse with lemons. It was eclectic, but very satisfying family time.