Friday, May 29, 2009

A Gentle Font

Tonight I was fruitlessly investigating how to get my website's nice Skia font working with my computer's Ububnu, and instead found an even prettier font: Gentium.

This is now my default Firefox font, instead of Times New Roman. Much nicer for my eyes!

UPDATE: The font has four files. You can see the differences here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Following the Standard

Odd how for many years I was a "professional student", but these days I seldom get to enjoy an hour of sitting down to learn something new.

I decided to spoil myself with that today, and while Smiley napped I learned more CSS.

I found the websites that check HTML and check CSS for following the newest standards. After a bit of work my website is more compliant:
Those main pages look better, too. Huzzah!

(Why would anyone get rid of target="_blank"? Firefox already puts such links nicely into background tabs. I do not want to more effort than a simple click when using my links page!)


Amway was a pyramid scheme, but not a bad one. I remember when I was young that my mother enjoyed being part of Amway. She never tried to make any money, but we used a lot of LOC.

Now my sister is enthusiastic about Work At Home United, a similar scheme. associated with the "green" company Melaleuca.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how well Seventh Generation products work for me (and Consumer Reports agrees). Maelaleuca products are not as green, but neither was all that LOC.

It's funny how family traditions can be unexpectedly passed down through the generations. I hope WAHU makes my sister happy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teenage Nerd Coping

Yesterday, at Tugman Park, I met two other househusbands with young children. Perhaps Smiley will have new friends to see somewhat regularly!

One of the other men mentioned using skateboarding as his release from peer pressure during his teen years.

As a teen, I was nerdy enough to ignore peer pressure using words. Above my desk I wrote two sentences.
I am a member of the Second Foundation and my problem is I'm not hidden!

The judgments of one wise man are worth that of a thousand fools.
If I need to explain, it's no use explaining.

While going through boxes of old papers in early May I found an old, water-damaged three-ring binder holding my old Bar Mitzvah study notes. On the inside of the front cover, in my neat handwriting that has barely changed in twenty-five years, was the first sentence. I wonder now if I had used that binder for other things, or only that particular endeavor.

Wedding Vows

My family attended a friend's wedding earlier in May.

Naturally, my wife and I always think about our own wedding when we are guests at another.

Because of our families, we composed our ceremony to be a blend of Jewish and Christian traditions. Guests got to "flower" a wicker heart on the way to their seat, a tradition we stole from a traditional Easter service, and the chuppah was outside among flowers and decorated with flowers. Everyone sang the Shema as well as Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down. The ceremony had a unity candle as well as a broken glass, and both Jewish and Christian traditional blessings.

We also included things because of our own enjoyments. Our processional was Hole in the Wall played by a flutist friend, because of our SCA history. The recessional was Lord of the Dance.

We said two sets of vows. The first were the "vows of intent", in which the officiant asks two questions and the person replies.
[name], will you have [name] to be your wife,
to live together in God's covenant of marriage?
Will you love him/her, comfort him/her, honor him/her and keep him/her
in sickness and in health;
and forsaking all others be faithful to him/her
as long as you both shall live?

I will, trusting in God's strength.
The second were the "vows of promise" which the people getting married say (with whispered prompting from the officiant). We added the phrase "be cute with", and because of both our SCA history and correct theology we also added "or the world ends".
I, [name], take thee [name] to be my wedded husband/wife;
to have and to hold and be cute with from this day forward;
for better or for worse;
for richer or for poorer;
in sickness and in health;
to love and to cherish
till death do us part or the world ends;
according to God's holy ordinance;
and with this ring I pledge thee my love.

I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow.
Gold does not tarnish and circles never end.
I pledge with all that I am, and all that I have, and with the help of God
So shall our marriage be.
I'm still not sure why the "vows of intent" use you and the "vows of promise" use thee, but guess that the difference stems from some unconscious following of merged old traditions.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dry Squirrel?

From today's Fail Blog...

The End of Sar Shalom

There are no sects in geometry.
- François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire)
(Here is another blog essay I have had in draft form since January.)

Under God's guidance I led a Messianic Jewish congregation named P'nei Adonai from March 2004 until July 2007, when it merged with a second congregation named Sar Shalom.

At that time I became almost free of ministry responsibilities, which was quite providential so I could care for my wife during a difficult pregnancy and then adjust to my new role as househusband.

The non-profit named P'nei Adonai remains, but its purpose (and website) changed. The ministry is no longer a congregation. Instead, we teach local churches what we learned about Yeshua's first-century worship and worldview.

My family was part of Sar Shalom since the merge, but not always actively since the pregnancy and new baby, combined with my wife's extreme gluten intolerance, often made participation difficult.

In December 2008 my family left for a three week vacation to visit family. When we returned, Sar Shalom was no longer a congregation.

I have already blogged about some of the struggles and tensions that Sar Shalom faced during the twenty months of its existence. This essay will attempt to weave these pieces into a coherent whole so that others can learn from our experiences.

Let's begin with an institutional autopsy. A congregation can be "killed" in several different ways. Looking back, what happened to Sar Shalom?

Some congregations have a weak or abandoned vision. This was most of Sar Shalom's problem, as will be discussed soon.

Some congregations go bankrupt, but a lack of finances was never a problem for Sar Shalom. God provides for the work he has called his people to do, and Sar Shalom was deeply used by God.

Some congregations suffer a split, which was part of the problem at Sar Shalom. Usually a split happens when a group grows too large for its number of skilled leaders. At Sar Shalom a small split happened when a lack of clear congregational vision allowed a few families to be drawn into strange doctrine. These left the main group to worship together.

So the core problem was about the group's vision. Sar Shalom never had a focused vision, and without one could not withstand the stresses inherent in being so used by God. Families left, one by one, for a plethora of reasons.

Would enough families have stayed if the group's vision had been more focused, clearer, and held aloft more brightly? Perhaps. But had that been true, many of those families would not have ever joined.

The congregation fractured along four fault lines.

First, a Messianic Jewish congregation must know if it is a modernized first-century community or a transformed Rabbinic community. Sar Shalom was never sure, and this caused many families to always feel the group was slightly unstable.

Second (and probably most significantly), congregants must value having community. Over half those who attended Sar Shalom, when it was at its largest, were of families that had previously become dissatisfied with "the church", had left it, and had for several months or years been trying follow Yeshua as an isolated family. This is contrary to scripture, which states that the whole reason we are left on earth after joining the Kingdom of God is to form close-knit communities that demonstrate God's ways to all of heaven and earth. (Consider how often Paul uses the metaphor of community members are parts of a body!) But these congregants, having grown used to religious life apart from a congregation, easily returned to that model when congregational or inter-personal issues became stressful. How different from the perspective developed in a Jewish upbringing, which cannot imagine being Jewish apart from a Jewish community and expects (and braces for) the community to experience both the joys and tears of a large family.

Third, one member was secretly and actively planting division. She followed Ephraimite theology and convinced three other families to join her "camp" within the congregation. When the Autumn holy days arrived they left without saying farewell, intent to do things their way and not understanding that the community could have grown in wisdom and remained united if challenged to process the doctrinal differences together. Because Sar Shalom was small everyone had volunteer roles to help Shabbat services happen, and the three families that left were among those that did the most: the simultaneous loss of these families confused and temporarily crippled our weekly services.

Finally, the Messianic Jewish Vision understands that God is refining his people in preparation for the Messiah reigning on earth. Many at Sar Shalom were not willing to go through that refining. These left when they saw personal and painful refining happen within the congregation in Spring and Summer 2008 (even if they were not the ones being refined). Or they left during the many structural changes preceding Rosh Hashanah of 2008, or a few weeks later when Sar Shalom was used by God to do refining within another congregation.

During the years that I led the local Messianic Jewish congregation, I cast a focused vision and the group stayed small. Sar Shalom's leader attempted to create a more vaguely defined and welcoming community; it did grow large because it was more welcoming, but it also faded quickly because it was more vague.

Back in July 2008 I was pleased with the merge because I knew, through my own prayers, that its leader was called by God to his leadership role. The shutting down of Sar Shalom means one of two things.

One option is that God intended Sar Shalom to thrive but its leadership did not lead as God intended. I do not think this is true, but I will never know for sure. (It would be horribly rude for God to tell me!)

The other option is that Sar Shalom was destined to fail. This makes more sense to me. The twenty months of Sar Shalom's existence proved that in this location a welcoming and vaguely defined Messianic Jewish community cannot endure, for the reasons detailed above. In this place there is too much:
  1. tension between Jewish identity through first-century or Rabbinic Judaism
  2. readiness to leave the community rather than grow through family-like stresses
  3. abundance of harmful doctrines that are seductive to Gentiles who love Torah
  4. common human tendency to avoid situations intense enough to cause refining
Seeing this proved was valuable, for many people in this area longed for such a congregation and only now can rest knowing their dream is currently unobtainable.

Or perhaps what was really longed for, during the years when P'nei Adonai kept its focus and stayed small, was a place where people could either rest comfortably or shape the community to be what they wished. But the Messianic Jewish Vision has no place for resting comfortably, nor for leaders who are not leading by following God's specific instructions. Power from the Kingdom of God only comes to those whose authority is based on obeying God.

Currently Sar Shalom's leader and his family are enjoying some rest and recovery after being drained by holding up Sar Shalom. I have been greatly encouraged as I have seen this leader's growth in humility and patience during the past two years, and am sure that God has more plans for this man and his family.

Many families, including mine, are praying about what to do next. During the months of sunshine we have a nice park-like place near one family's home which is an obvious location where to gather informally to welcome Shabbat or celebrate Havdalah. I pray with eager expectation for what will be the next more-permanent development: there are many options but God has not yet favored one or revealed a hidden alternative.

UPDATE: In early August 2009 I heard from one of the "three families that left".

They claimed they did say farewell. This may well be true. However, the other congregational leader did not perceive this, and rudeness is in the eye of the receiver.

They claimed they were not "intent to do things their way" and left because of extremely hurt feelings from interpersonal issues (rather than a hesitancy to process doctrinal differences, as I wrote about). I must trust this account. Again, any rudeness they felt was real in their eyes.

In retrospect it is easy to see that the congregational leadership (which to some extent included myself) should have been doing more to bring more peace to interpersonal relationships among congregants. I can only apologize and say that I tried to do what it seemed I could do.

First Steps

Smiley took his first steps today.

(Previously, Smiley had taken a single step when reaching for something while standing.)

He just walked a few steps on two separate occasions. My wife filmed the second set of steps. He might take a few more steps any moment! I cannot process the video without prying the Flip from her grasp.

As Linus once said, "Careful with those first steps. Once you start walking you're committed for life."

UPDATE: Video here.

Confidence in Marriage

Every now and then I read some of Dr. Helen's blog, which I usually find interesting but repetitive.

Many of the people who comment on her blog are deeply distrustful of marriage because they view it as a game of chance. Here is an example from this post, from a commentor nicknamed Novaseeker:
45% of first marriages fail. Of the remaining 55% even if we assume 2/3 of them are "happy marriages", you're looking at ~36% of all first marriages being "happy marriages".
(Tangentially, his statistics are wrong. But finding data for the refined divorce rate in the U.S. is tricky because normally the crude divorce rate is reported, and neither rate actually measures the chance a specific new marriage will fail.)

However, having a happy marriage is not a matter of random chance. A marriage is successful because the couple does things.
  • What can be done before the wedding to instill confidence in the marriage?
  • What can be done after the wedding to keep the marriage healthy?
Here are a dozen answers my wife and I brainstormed.

First, things to do when engaged...

1. Premarital counseling helps by requiring the couple to discuss potentially controversial topics before the wedding. This gives the couple confidence that these topics (money, holidays and rituals, religious beliefs, what to teach kids, how to discipline kids, time with extended family, etc.) will not reveal surprise differences later on.

2. Maintaining open and constant communication will avoid having secrets and will prevent hurts from being hidden and festering. Each person can also see that the other is sympathetic to the other's issues and insecurities. If an engaged couple makes habits of transparency, then the couple can be confident it will continue in the marriage. (In contrast, being "on the same wavelength" about issues is a different facet of good communication that is often overvalued by engaged couples because it adds less strength to the marriage and is more succeptable to change.)

3. If both people continue to try to find new ways of being together and maintenaning the state of being in love during the engagement, then there can be more confidence that this effort and creativity will continue.

4. Both people should be mature enough that changes in personality are somewhat predictable. For example, those who still immaturely live by making comparisons with other people not only do unexpected things today but also show few (if any) hints about what their values will be like once they mature past that stage.

5. The engaged couple can have more confidence in the marriage if both are from a family without divorce, or from a divorce that happened late in life. If both people see divorce as abnormal and undesirable (or even unnatural and abhorent) there is less likelihood either would ever consider it.

6. If the woman is in her 20s, the husband should make sure he likes looking at her mother. He of course need not feel attraction towards his potential mother-in-law, but chances are his wife will look a lot more like her mother before she finishes her physical development.

7. Lastly but most important, both people should be used to intimacy with God. If each person genuinely gives him- or herself to God, then God will give them back to each other. Furthermore, the engaged couple can be confident that God approves of their match.

Next, things done within a healthy and happy marriage...

8. People who are happily married do things for each other. Confidence in the marriage is maintained when devotion is visible and active, and each person is clearly trying to stay attractive by the other person's tastes.

9. People who are happily married have shared goals. Each person sees the other values the marriage when they live as a team and strive for (and enjoy) joint progress.

10. The marriage will be stronger if the couple waits long enough before having kids. How long this is has no fixed rule, but the married couple must form well-established habits of being together and maintenaning the state of being in love. This is much more difficult after life gets hectic and busy with kids.

11. A husband can have more confidence in the marriage when he is very good with kids. If the marriage ended he would probably see very little of his children, so when wife considers him the best person for the kids he gains security.

12. Again lastly yet most importantly, continued intimacy with God allows each person to daily gives him- or herself to God so God can give the couple each other.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spellchecking with Violence

Like many people I appreciate how my word processor and web browser spell-check what I type.

But what happens when a word has two valid spellings? How do I know which usage is more standard?

(This happened the other day as I was proof-reading a Math 25 activity. It is legitimate to spell the word installment with one or two l's. Which is more standard?)

Perhaps there is a more respectable solution, but the only tool I know is Google Fight. Almost always one variant has vastly more appearances online, showing it is the dominantly used spelling.

Ryu's Most Secret Move

Back when I was young, one of the popular arcade games was Street Fighter. I remember that my brother became amazingly good at it.

There were always rumors of more secret moves you could get the characters to perform.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gluten Decontamination

Back in November I wrote about what a bother it was to be sure the clothes Smiley and I wore were free of gluten once we arrived home.

Since then I've developed a much better routine. The key was declaring the top of the washing machine and dryer as potentially gluten-unsafe. Since I do all the laundry, this does not inconvenience my wife.

When Smiley and I arrive home I set him on the dryer. He knows to stay sitting, and is quite aware enough of edges to not fall off. I wash my hands and face. Then I undress him down to his diaper, then remove my shirt, then wash my hands again. Then I pick him up, hold him at the sink as he washes his hands, and wipe down his face and hair with a damp washcloth.

Then I carry him upstairs to the nursery, taking a detour along the way to get a new shirt from my closet. I put him on the changing pad, put on my shirt, change his diaper and put new clothes on him, and then set him on the floor to play while I go change my pants.

When the weather is cool I always wear a flannel overshirt. This lack of formality probably confuses some of my math students, but it helps keep my wife safe. This "gluten unsafe" overshirt lives in the laundry room. I put it on before leaving the house as an extra layer of protection from bringing traces of gluten into the house. If the house is not too cold to change Smiley while wearing only my boxer shorts, I will also take off my pants in the laundry room and they too live there until my next trip outside.

Weight Lost

I last wrote about weight loss in February.

I'm currently at what our scale measures to be 157 pounds and 24% body fat, three-quarters of the way to my goal.

Hooray for exercise. I have not changed my eating habits significantly.

Paint Rolling

Tonight I spent three hours painting. Some friends are cleaning half of a duplex they own, before renting it out to new tenants. I painted one coat of white paint on the living room and three bedrooms. This was easy painting: the carpet had been removed, and I was not only doing walls, not trim.

I've only used a paint roller once before, and only briefly. I had hoped my friend would teach me good technique, but the only tip he had was to roll the roller on the bumpy upper part of the paint-roller tray to make the roller more evenly coated.

So I had to develop my own technique. Here's the story, not because I think I'm now an especially efficient painter but because re-inventing the wheel can be interesting.

Initially I approached the roller use as if I were trying to spread a thick layer of peanut butter on a slice of bread. Hoping only one coat of paint would be needed, I worked slowly across the wall trying to be thick and even. After about 45 minutes, as the paint started visibly beginning to dry, I saw my goal was stupid. The wall absorbed paint unevenly. There was no way I could predict how thickly to apply the first coat to result in an even result. Two coats would certainly be needed.

After another hour I had developed a better technique. First I would just put paint on half a wall. The way I move my arms, it was quickest to do the top half of that half-wall first and then the bottom. During this stage I watched the roller, not the wall: as soon as it became low on paint I would replenish it. Then I went over that half a wall a second time to spread the paint more evenly. During the second stage I still kept half an eye on the roller, for unlike a knife spreading peanut butter an empty roller moves very little paint.

Now I'm home, waiting for my hair to dry after my shower. The paint specks washed off my hands and face; hopefully starting a load of laundry promptly will do the same for my jeans.

I search online for painting advice and find this article but no pro advice about roller technique to compliment my musings.

Buying paints in half-full 5 gallon buckets and using a bucket grid does seem good advice. The paint-roller tray worked well, but did spill a few times as it sloshed when I used the roller to slide it across the floor; in my case that did not matter, but it is nice to know there is a better routine for painting in rooms that still have their carpet or other floor material.

The inexpensive, disposable roller I used was quite satisfactory. It would have been nice if the handle was six inches longer, for better two-handed pushing; longer than that and the increase in weight would probably have been noticeable.

Next time I'll wear gloves. I don't think I developed any blisters, but my palms were getting raw in spots after three hours of repetitive motion.

UPDATE: Nope, paint specks stayed on my jeans. I used to have "grungy chore" blue jeans that were left over from high school, but I got rid of them a few years ago when my wife decided I look best in black pants and so I switched to only owning black pants. Now I have "grungy chore" jeans again. :-) On the other hand, I only own two pair of plain black jeans and I wear them a lot; I should stop by Target soon to pick up a new unpainted pair.

Tuesdays are Library Mornings

Today is a Tuesday, which means two Tiny Tots story-and-song times at the library.

Smiley takes the 9:30 am bus, to share a bus ride with Mommy. Then he and Daddy stay on the bus and go to the library, which is adjacent to the main downtown bus station/hub.

The library opens at 10:00 am. We arrive a few minutes early, so I get to enjoy a cinnamon bagel with butter from the foyer snack shop. (Yum, gluten and fat!)

The story-and-song times last about 20 minutes, and happen at 10:15 am and 11:00 am. In between Smiley gets his second breakfast of food packed from the diaper bag.

We leave the second story-and-song time a few minutes early to take the 10:20 am bus home.

Poor Smiley was exhausted this morning, and falling asleep during the second story-and-song time. On the bus ride home I had to move him from the Ergo to my lap to keep him awake.

But then he stayed awake until 1:15 pm, and slept for four hours. He just woke up.

I got to read comics online, enjoy a short nap, eat a late lunch, write a math midterm, and catch up on being away from Facebook for over a week. Now it's time to get my wife from work, and then go help a friend paint walls. Roll, roll, roll the paint,...

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Bucket of Water

I don't think I win any parenting awards for giving Smiley a bucket of water to stick his head in, even if he did invent a nice way to cool off.

Five Minute Soup

A friend writes about her daughter inventing a soup recipe. It's a fairly complicated soup recipe!

In contrast, here is my simple five-minute soup recipe that I use all the time, in case the siblings want a head start on their attempts. ;-)

Note that I use a larger bowl than normal so I do not spill while stirring, and so the plastic plate we use to cover items in the microwave does not get anything but steam on it.

First, pour in frozen vegetables from a bag.1 If you want noodles, add them too.2 Add enough water to cover them; if your kitchen has an instant hot water spout then use that.

Second, microwave the frozen vegetables for a minute or two until they are mostly thawed. During this time cube half a box of extra-firm tofu.3

Third, remove the vegetables and water from of the microwave. Pour out half the water. Add between a teaspoon and tablespoon of organic miso4, depending upon how much you like it. Add the tofu cubes. Add rice (or duk) if you want it.5 Add seaweed flakes or strips if you like that.

Fourth, microwave everything for another minute. Stir and the soup is ready!

(Another great thing about miso is that Smiley loves it. If I am having trouble getting him to eat his vegetables then I microwave them in a Pyrex measuring cup with some water and miso. Ta da! Flavored vegetables he loves.)

1My personal preference is the Trader Joe's Vegetable Hodgepodge but more often I use something on sale at the local grocery store.

2The trick is to find noodles that get soft in the same time that frozen vegetables thaw. The noodle thickness will depend upon your microwave, whether you use rice of wheat flour noodles, and whether you use instant hot water. The initial experimentation is a bother, but once you have found the right noodles you're set forevermore.

3Tofu keeps well in the fridge if you fill the box with enough water to cover the unused tofu. If I open a new box to make this soup then I have about a week to be in a soup mood again.

4Soy products are the one item that everyone should buy organic, even if you are a healthy adult with a strong immune system. Non-organic soy products can be dangerous. The Cold Mountain brand is also gluten-free.

5You do have cooked rice in the fridge, right? I admit I use rice or noodles, but I suppose someone could use both simultaneously.

Marriage Advice from Vampires

Yesterday, at a friend's wedding reception, during one conversation I mentioned a conversation my wife and I had had five months ago.

Back in December, Glenn Reynolds linked to an article describing how a currently popular book among young teenage girls involves a certain sense of danger. Although neither of us have read the book, my wife and I had a good discussion about the article.

She made a very interesting point: the more interested a girl is in a boy the more dangerous and risky he becomes.

Why? The more she is in love, the more she wants the relationship to be sexual, and sex in the relationship adds all sorts of dangers and risks, emotional and otherwise. Note that we're only talking about what she wants, not how much time they have spent together or whether or not she knows that she will abstain from sex until marriage.

This dynamic can be thrilling. A small part is the generic thrill that comes from fun and dangerous activities such as roller coasters, but most of the thrill comes from knowing that the danger is increasing purely because you want him.

We could not think of an equivalent dynamic for boys, where a thing or person was perceived and enjoyed as more dangerous just because the boy grew more enamored of it.

I thought more about that conversation and saw two important truths about married life; both are lessons for the husband.

First, he must really communicate that he and the marriage is stable. The marriage will suffer if his wife still sees sexuality as dangerous and risky. Sex should not be a source of emotionally worry, there should be no worries about faithfulness or disease, and the relationship must clearly be stable enough to deal with an unplanned child (unless the couple never wants children, and then methods of birth control that are completely reliable become an option).

Second, he must replace the attraction of being "dangerous and risky" with a different kind of exciting unpredictability. But how can he be unpredictable while completely stable?

The answer is why most wives tend to care so much more about birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine's Day then most husbands. Those are the days when the husband will be doing something (stability) but she does not know what (exciting unpredictability). Will he buy her chocolates? flowers? jewelry? Will he have hired a babysitter and planned a night out to a fancy dinner and a show? Has he purchased new music to dance to in the dining room?

Of course, this need not happen only on special days. In fact, its best for husbands need to add fuel to the romance by frequently yet unpredictably finding new ways to communicate his love for his wife. As examples, he can give her unexpected flowers or other tokens of affection, cook her favorite meals, spend some extra time together that was originally scheduled for his work or friends, surprise her by doing more than his share of the housework, spoil her with touches and kisses around the house, and set aside extra bits of his time and energy to support her dreams, activities and priorities.

(If a husband need more ideas about ways to creatively give to his wife, he can always ask her while being careful to promise nothing1. That's better than visiting those silly poster shops at the mall.)

1I should write another essay on the proper use of listening well, promising nothing, and doing when the time is finally right. For now, I'll merely refer you to the masters: Matthew Cuthbert and Scotty (go down to his first conversation with Geordi in Relics).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All Caught Up

Well, Smiley was awake crying once each hour at 10pm and 11pm, and then finally threw up three times. Apparently soy milk does not agree with him. (Not sure, but that's the most obvious guess.)

When he finally went back to bed at 1am, I was too awake to also fall asleep. So I stayed up and sorted through photographs from March, April, and so far in May.

Now the Picasa album is all caught up!

(The videos are also all caught up, but that work was done earlier this week.)

When I organize photographs I move a copy of all of the good ones to a folder named "for Bubba". My next little chore is to copy those to a memory stick and mail it to my grandmother. She watches the photos in a digital picture frame, and goes to CVS to print her favorites. Then she mails the memory stick back to me for a new set. So her Mother's Day present, slightly belated, will be three months of photographs of her great-grandson.)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!

This year it was obvious what to make for my wife for a Mother's Day gift. She has been frustrated because on weekday mornings, when she is in a rush to get ready for work, it is not always quickly obvious if the dishwasher is currently for clean or dirty dishes.

So yesterday afternoon I took a photograph of Smiley just after he woke up from a nap, as soon as he went outside. (I later added the text box.)

Then I took a second photograph after he got dirty. He played pushing his little wagon and crawling. He played in the grass, in the dirt, and in the leaves. He helped me rake the whole yard. He played with water and with sand. And he ate a lot of squash by himself, using a bowl and spoon.

We already had two plastic photograph holders with magnetic backs. I'll put one photograph in each, and they will move between the dishwasher (for its current state) and the refrigerator (for whatever the dishwasher is not).

Friday, May 08, 2009

2009 Squirrel Count: Eleven

Well, as long as I'm blogging a lot tonight...

Unexpected Milestones

Last week Smiley achieved two developmental milestones I would never have thought of until I saw them.

The first was throwing. When he was younger he did not understand when I used my hackey sack or bounced a ball against a wall: he became excited seeing that the object was all jumpy, and then became disappointed that it immediately grew listless once handed to him.

But this week I tried practicing juggling with my Flying Penguini, and when he was given one he repeatedly threw it in an attempt to mimic me.

The second milestone was using his plastic shape sorter in a new way. Two weeks ago he mastered the circles (but not the squares or triangles). Last week he began putting a circle object halfway into the circle hole, then withdrawing it and trying the other holes. He was learning that each shape fits only one hole, an insight I had overlooked and had been taking for granted.

Today he was given a new toy: a "chunky" shape puzzle. Sure enough, his shape sorter experience transferred. He is able to consistently replace the circle and oval (the first quickly, the latter after some fiddling) but no other shape. He spends most of his time checking what happens when shapes are put into wrong but similar holes (circle-oval, square-rectangle).

The Kitchen Floor Rule

Smiley is now obedient to a fairly abstract rule: he is not allowed to crawl in the kitchen.

For many months this was simply too abstract for him to understand and we used a baby gate to keep him out of the kitchen when we were in it more than momentarily. But since mid-April the rule has "clicked".

The main issue is the dirt and bits of dropped food that accumulate at the edge of the kitchen floor under the counters. We don't want him trying to eat that. Since his first birthday it is less important because he is now allowed to eat nuts, but still...that gunk can get quite gross in less than a day.

We also don't want him underfoot while we're baking or carrying a full pot between the sink and stove.

So if Smiley is on his scooter or cruising while leaning on the cabinets then he is okay. It is only while crawling that he puts floor gunk into his mouth or sneaks underfoot.

I'm not sure how he learned the rule, except through repeated kind and patient moving him out of the kitchen when crawling. As a rule it was certainly too abstract for the type of "training" I wrote about earlier.

He was especially cute on Wednesday morning, when a toy rolled a short ways into the kitchen. He sat at the border between the dining room and kitchen and reached and strained to grab the toy without violating the rule.

Sometimes he cruises to keep us company in the kitchen. More often he sits on the border and watches from there. (His scooter has not been upstairs for a couple weeks.)

When the rule first "clicked" in mid-April he began to experiment. He tried sitting at the border and then came into the kitchen scooting on his bottom rather than crawling: nope, that was not allowed. He tried cruising to a certain cabinet and then sitting: nope, that was not allowed. He tried riding his scooter to a certain place and then getting off and sitting: nope, that was not allowed. He tried walking into the kitchen by pushing his little wagon: that was okay.

What prompted a blog post today? The baby gate has been leaning, unused, against a dining room wall for about a month -- until today. It was a sunny day and we were playing in the back yard. I needed a way to keep a muddy boy pushing a wagon full of collected grass, moss, and dirty leaves from following me from the deck into the kitchen when I darted in to get more tea.

Palindrome Kisses

Our car almost has 100,000 miles.

This will be terrible for Palindrome Kisses. Years ago my wife and I decided it was special and deserving of a kiss when our odometer was a palindrome. They were quick kisses, unless we happened to be at a stoplight, but more kissing never hurt.

One "trick" we quickly adopted was willingness to not count the leading zero. For example, not only would 092290 count as a palindrome using all six odometer digits, but 093739 also would count (ignoring the hundred-thousands place).

Once the initial digit is non-zero we won't be able to justify ignoring it, and will lose out on all those five-digit palindromes. Maybe primes are also worthy of kisses. Or multiples of three...

Socks Again

Yesterday I had to buy socks again. Apparently they last 14 months, since I last bought them in January 2008.

Adapting Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen wrote his famous song Hallelujah in 1984. He changed the lyrics in 1988. Twenty years later, the operatic group Il Divo changed the lyrics again to make them much more fitting for praising God.

Someone sent me a link to the recording of that last version on YouTube. It was a beautiful song, but for a while I could not place where had heard it before. Then I remembered it was in Shrek.

All of yesterday the melody was stuck in my head, and my brain wanted a rhyming, English adaptation of the Il Divo lyrics. Here is what I came up with:
The soldiers return home to stay,
Children once lame now walk and play,
No one is neglected today.
In the rainforest no one cuts down trees,
The orphans all find families,
All rejoice in good deeds, halleluyah!

Halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah

An atheist sees that God does care,
The hungry now have food to spare,
Each church has more than enough to share.
Wars and fighting come to their ends,
Throughout the world every sorrow mends,
All is peace and all are friends, halleluyah!

Halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah

The reign of God like a banner unrolls,
No corruption left in pure souls,
Love is complete when the Kingdom's whole.
We learned from suffering and travail,
Now evil vanishes with a wail,
A perfect world is unveiled, halleluyah!

Halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah, halleluyah
Halleluyah, halleluyah

Monday, May 04, 2009

2009 Squirrel Count: Ten

Just in case you've been wondering.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Almond Milk vs. Formula

Today Smiley is trying almond milk. I wondered how this cost compared to the formula he has been drinking.

So I did the math.

Enfamil Lipil formula with iron costs about $0.95 per liquid cup.

Blue Diamond Almond Breeze costs $0.25 per liquid cup.

That's quite a savings! Of course, the formula has much more protein and many more nutrients. Aside from waiting until the child is a year old to introduce nuts as food, the almond milk requires eating other foods to get the right nutrition. To be fair, those other foods should be considered a small hidden cost of using almond milk, but I cannot estimate it well.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

February Videos

In March, Smiley transitioned from baby to toddler. By April it was touching when he did very baby-like play. So it is cute to review these February videos, when he is still very much a baby, but not for much longer.

On the first day of February we gave Smiley a no-spill sippy cup at breakfast, to practice drinking on his own when not in his high chair. He never became very fond of it.

Also on February 1st we helped some friends move. Smiley played nicely with boxes and with his two- and four-year-old friends, but eventually it was too much.

In February he became even more fond of dancing.

For over a month his mylar wrapping paper squares had been among his favorite toys, but in early February we had to take them away because he became able to bite through them.

Back in December his increased gnawing had also meant he had to take away all of the boxes he previously had to climb on. We tried to use his Boppy arches as a jungle gym but that failed since he could not get up on top of them: he wanted to be on top of things, not just clambering over them. On January 10th we had finally let him try the stairs, which he could do well the first time after so much practice on boxes. In early February he was proficient on the stairs; by the end of February he was notably faster.

A big developmental change during February was becoming much more interested in how objects interact with each other than their individual properties. When playing with a new item his first questions switched to "what happens when I clap it against other objects?", "does it push well?", and "what does it go with?" (instead of the infant "what does it taste and feel like?").

The most obvious example of this change was his becoming so very fond of putting items in containers, which actually started the last week of January. Oddly, first associations would stick. Certain toys went into bowls, and bowls went into other bowls. Wooden beads went in my slippers. Food packages lived in the cracker cupboard. He learned his first word, "in" (aside from the "mamamama..." to refer to either parent, which does not really count).

He also developed a game, when I lay on the floor, of moving objects back and forth from one side of my legs to the other.

Another example of enjoying making objects interact was pushing things, especially his cooler, which is just the right size and slides well on any surface. He also finally learned to pull his wind-up hamster's cord by himself, with his teeth since his pincer grip is too weak.

As a last example, the question "What happens when I sit on it?" became important. One of the best things to sit on is the foot rests of the elliptical strider.

Here is a long play time on his ten month birthday. Here is a shorter play time a few days later. As a birthday present we put together an mp3 player for him, which I blogged about.

In early February he picked his stuffed animal rabbit as his favorite toy. Before this he did not have a clearly favorite toy.

He invented a trick of sucking food off his tray when he could not pick it up, and tried to practice what Terry Pratchett calls retrophrenology.

On February 11th he got his scooter. Combined with his interest in objects interacting, this led to a great change to his play routines compared to a few weeks prior. Now he was mobile! I blogged about the scooter here and here. His earliest scooter videos are here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

In mid-Feburary he tried macaroni and cheese, but was not fond of it. He tried playing with a bike light, which was somewhat entertaining but also something he was not quite ready to fully enjoy.

When visited by a slightly younger friend he shared nicely.

The weather was nicer for a few days. He tried eating oak leaves, but learned that they made him throw up. In this video he looks cute, but a moment after I stopped recording he threw up all over the sweater his grandmother knit for him and his scooter.

Towards the end of February he became briefly obsessed with the back door key, and with chuckling and cackling. He continues to be entertained by all three, but no longer obsessively.

He became trainable, which I recorded and blogged about.

He learned to carry toys while crawling, and to pivot while sitting.

His aunt visited, and he played hard to get.

He also tried taking a bath alone in the big bath tub for the first time, which worked great.

March Videos

Smiley began March with a diaper rash, so he played outside without pants. He was able to use his scooter on the lawn successfully for the first time, and lacking pants worked on his crab crawl to protect his knees. Later, with pants, he enjoyed his little sandbox and perhaps said the word "sand" although that could have been saying "in" (as in "I'm putting the sand in world outside of the sandbox"). The sandbox continued to be a favorite toy (it still is).

He enjoyed a visit from my wife's office-mate (who will be visiting with Smiley again tomorrow to babysit while my wife and I go see Spamalot).

He was not fond of towing his telephone. We did record a long stretch of typical early March platime.

On March 10th we got a new sofa and loveseat. On March 11th he tried my skateboard, which worked okay inside and outside but was not as fun as his scooter; after a few more days he lost all interest in it, to my wife's delight.

March 12th was a big day: he went to Parker playground for the first time. I blogged about that here. We returned the next day but he was too tired to play much.

On March 16th he began waving good-bye regularly. He had done some waving earlier in March but only occasionally. He also enjoyed pushing things down the stairs, not for the very first time, but this was the first time of playing that game for quite a while. He also did assisted walking with only one hand, a feat he sadly decided is less comforting and since that day has refused to repeat.

Stories were a well-established part of bedtime by March. His favorites are Goodnight, Gorilla, The Going to Bed Book, The Very Busy Spider, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Pat the Bunny.

On March 17th he learned to scoot down the back deck's ramp. (He was not able to scoot up it until April 19th.) He spent a lot of time on his scooter and with that ramp the next day (1 2 3 4 5). He also visited Parker playground again.

In February he began to enjoy music more. In March he noticed birdsong, and grew more interested in the recorders.

Towards the end of March he was sick, but still played well. Eventually the aspirator was no big deal. I gave him his first Duplos to play with on a rainy day when the border between carpet and tile was fascinating.

During March he still spent most of his time playing like a baby rather than a toddler. He did more with his scooter and bead maze, and first began to use his shape sorter correctly, but just as much enjoyed putting items in and out of a container, moving things back and forth, giving sloppy nose kisses, and being held up high. He also invented a game of lying on the floor with a parent above him, either restfully or as part of chasing.

(We did not get a video of his first time playing tag, back in December. My wife, watching us, made the timeless comment, "So the chasing and yelling come automatically, then?")

At the end of March my wife got new garden beds. Smiley helped move rocks. The plum blossoms were falling.

Smiley also enjoyed making new noises: the ts sound, roaring, and motor boat noises.

April Videos

(It has been a very long time since I faithfully blogged about most of Smiley's videos for a certain month, to provide commentary about why the video was taken. Was he doing something for the first time? Was he doing something a relative would care about? Was he simply cute? Here are the older links for videos from July, August, September of 2008. I also wrote about four during February 2009. I'm starting now to write posts for missing months, going backwards chronologically.)

So far I have only blogged about a few of Smiley's April videos. I mentioned when he identified a nose and eyes on a stuffed animal and rehearsed getting ready for bed, wrote about a playground slide mishap, and posted a comparison of scooter prowess.

At the beginning of April my wife's parents visited for two weeks, to be with us for Smiley's first birthday. I did not get a good video of grandpa, but here is one of grandma.

Smiley fell asleep swaddled for more than a year; we weaned him of that part of his bedtime routine on April 11th. Swaddling kept him warm during the cold months and helped him fall asleep more easily, but did limit his experience drinking from a bottle or cup by himself. So it was not until April 2nd that he used a cup regularly and easily.

We celebrated his birthday a day early, on Sunday, since friends could be with him more easily on the weekend. He was in a good mood in the morning and spent time outside. When his friends arrived we went to his favorite playground and he went on the slide and swing.

We saved his presents from family for the next day. He had forgotten about wrapping paper since Chanukah and Christmas, but enjoyed the toys. He became quite attached to his hammer, which was as fun to rub on the cobblestones as to use with the pegboard. He also was given a wagon with MegaBlocks.

During the next few days he decided it was much easier and more fun to simply push on the pegboard pegs, but we did not get a video of this until a few days later.

Three days later we found, lost in the Styrofoam peanuts of the box in which the wagon was shipped, a second toy: a xylophone. That day was also the first time Smiley wanted to be read a story simply as part of playing, rather than as part of his bedtime routine. A week later he found the xylophone's keys.

In early April he also caught a mild cold. The main problem was post-nasal drip: since Smiley could not blow his nose he got a lot of mucus in his stomach and would often throw up. Not until a few days after his cold was gone did he decide to practice blowing his nose.

On April 14th he began to use his two counting boards. He does not care about sorting the beads by color or shape, but now has the small motor coordination to put them on the pegs and enjoys this. The next day had another minor milestone: at the playground he used a large wood chip as a tool for quite a while; he had previously dug in his sandbox with an ice cream scoop or plastic shovel, and dug in the dirt with a handy stick, but had never categorized a stick as a tool enough to carry it with him to multiple digging places.

Smiley spends a lot of time climbing on me. Here is a video, not because it was a special event, but just because we realized that climbing on me was so normal that we never filmed it.

All during the second half of April he was teething, working on the four molars adjacent to where his eye teeth will some day come through. (So far three of these molars have broken through.) When he is teething he sometimes gets Tylenol. He occasionally finds comfort in chewing on cold food or a cold toy, but not typically. This video of him chewing on a cold toy frog was taken not because of his teething but because he now plays so much as a toddler that it was touching to see that he still sometimes plays on his back like an infant.

On April 17th he visited friends, and ate his first frozen dessert and stayed up very late playing in their tubes. On the 19th he got a bigger sandbox and first enjoyed kicking things. (Previously he thought running into a playground ball during assisted walking was funny, but did no kicking on his own.)

By April 19th he was adept at pushing his wagon, and the next day invented pushing it with his scooter.

During the final week of April he became a maniac for pressing buttons. He had enjoyed this before, but now really wanted to press every button and light switch in sight. We brought out an old Basis 108 keyboard for him to play with and gave him the bicycle light again.

April 25th was rainy, so I brought inside a plastic slide that we had purchased using Craigslist a few days prior. He also played with Duplos, the elliptical strider, and on his own learned to click his tongue. I also gave him his first successful horsey ride, but we did not get a video of this until a few days later when my wife was home.

On April 27th Smiley invented a way to crawl and take his stuffed animal rabbit with him. He also invented two-handed xylophone playing. Both happened when he was tired, but got a second wind.

The next day he ate peanut butter for the first time.

The next day we went to the playground again and he decided it was fun to beep noses while on the highest platform (which is tricky to simultaneously film).

On the last day of April we moved his plastic slide upstairs and he learned to climb up the slide. He also got a new toy: a toddler swing for our big oak tree. That evening he invented a new game of putting toys (especially his stuffed animal rabbit) up and down in the back of the plastic slide.