Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Daddy is such a good example

Daddy is such a good example
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Met Rachel for lunch post-zoo. It's a wonder she can take me anywhere.

(Experienced parents will notice the full glass of water in front of Melissa. Rookie mistake.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

I have chocolate milk on my butt

We stopped at Jason's Deli tonight on the way to the craft store to get Matthew some oil pastels. I was sitting next to Melissa when she knocked her full carton of chocolate milk onto the bench. She and I both got wet.

If I had a "days without a spill" counter for Melissa I think it might have gotten up to two, once or twice.  But not three.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's in a name?

Jonathan and I have waited until after the birth of each of our children before naming them. Of course we think about names for months and months. Jonathan likes to spend that time tormenting me with ludicrous concoctions. Before Matthew was born he proclaimed that Escher Euclid Ellis would be a fine name for a lad; Escher after the artist, and Euclid of course for the mathematician. "Then he could be triple E!" Ha ha very funny. Prior to Isaac's arrival Jonathan was digging through family names for girls on his side. "What about Octavia? The baby is due in August after all. If it's a boy he can be Octavian." Turns out Octavia died a gruesome death as a young child. Doubly no thanks! I think he was joking with that one too....

Matthew Browning:
Hebrew meaning "gift of God"

When Matthew was born his name was not on the list that we'd brought to the hospital. Right after his birth, the nurses wanted a name pronto, but I'd just barely had a chance to look at him. Jonathan took matters into his own hands. "I think he looks like a Matthew." I was still in "happy new baby lala-land," and quite frankly, sooo relieved to be done, that I readily agreed. He was named after Matthew Browning, the son of the great-great-grandfather that Jonathan was named after, Jonathan Browning the gunsmith.

Melissa Fay:
Greek meaning "honeybee"

Melissa is named for my great grandmother, Fay Melissa. We were thinking of using the name Audrey for a girl prior to Melissa's arrival, but the name didn't suit her. Instead we named her after my great grandmother who had red hair, aubourn eyes, and a "determined" personality. My great grandmother often claimed that she wasn't stubborn, just determined. By all accounts she was quite a strong-willed, incredible woman. Melissa didn't get the hair or eyes, but boy oh boy did she get the personality. In a three year old I call it stubborn though. May it serve her well when she is older! Fay is also my middle name, and a popular name in my family, all after my much loved great grandmother.

Isaac Rygg:
Hebrew meaning "he who laughs" or "laughing one"

Those who've read back in August already know about his name's history, but I'll recap in brief. Jonathan wanted to name Isaac after his best friend Ellis Rygg, using Ellis's last name of course. Ellis Ellis would be a little silly after all. :) "He can be a little Rygg now and a big Rygg when he grows up!" I wasn't so sure about Rygg as a first name, but certainly as a middle name. We tossed some names around the night he was born, but didn't reach a consensus. The next day we tried out Thomas Winward, a family name on my side. We do like to use family names for the history and stories that go along with them. Jonathan even announced that as the name to his family. I just couldn't bring myself to call him Thomas though. He wasn't a Thomas! So I asked Jonathan what he thought about Isaiah Rygg. Rygg yes, Isaiah no. Well then how about Isaac, I suggested? We tried it on for size, and Isaac just seemed to fit. Little did we know his personality would be such a sunny, happy one. "He who laughs" indeed!

A funny coincidence to our children's names is they all contained double letters. Matthew, Melissa, and Isaac. Isaac actually has double letters for all three of his names. If we have more will we continue that unintended tradition? Who knows?

Jonathan adds: Matthew wasn't on the list Rachel took to the hospital because it was too popular. (Top 3 baby name in the last 15 years.) Rachel is a bit of a name snob. :)

The Rodeo

Wow. I have not been pulling my fair share of posts lately.

Last Monday I took the kids to the San Antonio rodeo. Actually the rodeo is at night, but during the day it is like a big fair/carnival. The rodeo is BIG deal in San Antonio. It goes on for 2 weeks. We got there right when it opened, and first took in a puppet show. Most of the jokes were over the Matthew and Melissa's heads, but they were mesmerized nonetheless because of the puppets and the goofy guy with the guitar. Then we spent some time in the petting zoo with the llamas, goats, baby pigs, and deer. (There was even a kangaroo and joey!) The animals were quite friendly and not the least bit timid around small people, so that was fun. We stopped by the hand washing stations and then I lost Melissa for about 4 minutes and about lost it myself. When we got there it wasn't crowded, but a swarm of people converged right around the tent as we were leaving. I called and called for her. She was RIGHT THERE literally 3 seconds ago! A woman noticed me yelling for Melissa and pointed back in the petting zoo tent. Found her and gave her quite the lecture about staying right next to mommy at ALL times. That girl is giving me gray hairs!

Matthew and his buddy Jonah spotted the inflatable bouncing area so of course we had to stop there to get out the wiggles. And there was only one entrance and exit so I couldn't lose curly top. We watched a cattle herding event, checked out the chicken and dairy exhibits (where we took a break for ice cream), watched the pig races, and did typical fair stuff. It was kind of fun to take the kids to a "fair" since we didn't get to go last year. September was just too crazy.

To finish the day I let the kids pick 2 rides and then we had hot dogs and went home. Melissa crashed in the car on the way back so I carried her in and tucked her in bed. Matthew and Isaac both took a nap as well, so I got a break myself.

I would post pictures, but unknown to me the camera's batteries were nearly dead. I only got one picture before the camera gave up the ghost. Too bad.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The force is strong with this one

Even though _my_ wife wouldn't let me name him Jedidiah...

Friday, February 20, 2009

At the hoedown

Matthew's school had a cowboy-themed fundraiser tonight. They had Bill Miller barbeque and auctioned off various donations. The barbeque plates were at a $2 discount, which made it more palatable. Bill Miller is edible but not good barbeque.

Matthew had been excited that there was going to be things to buy, and very disappointed when I explained that (a) auctions meant you don't always win, and (b) the starting bids were all way out of his price range.

I really wish they wouldn't hype their fundraisers so much to kindergarteners.

Melissa had a good time, though: they had music playing and anyone could go up on the stage and dance. So she did. Just like Matthew.

At the hoedown
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I think I just lost 5 lbs...

Problem is, I didn't need to lose 5 pounds!

My abdominal muscles are reminding me of the workout they received yesterday from heaving. Blech. I'm keeping myself on a liquid diet until my gut feels more settled. Jonathan came home early yesterday to watch kiddos so I could lie down in bed. I felt better when the fever broke, but still pretty shaky.

Poor Isaac is sick too. Fortunately it's not a GI virus, those always seem more nerve wracking because you're worried about whether they're getting enough fluid in to make up for what they are losing. Isaac has some sort of upper respiratory virus. He's congested, running a low fever off and on and just feels miserable. This makes for long nights. Jon and I gave up around 4 AM and just watched an episode of Psych while cradling a NOT sleepy Isaac. He conked out by the end of the show and we all went back to bed. Thank goodness for netflix!

Here's hoping that today is a better day...

Update: Fever is back and feeling like crud again. No one wants to nap 'cept me. Looking forward to when Jonathan gets home this evening.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I found out why Matthew likes home-made lunches

"I'm usually the third kid to sit down. If you get a tray lunch, you have to wait in line with all the tray kids. And we don't have a very long lunch!"

I suspect that lunch period is plenty long -- but Matthew likes to talk. A lot.

Finding Melissa

Finding Melissa
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Matthew got up at 7. He assumed Melissa was up because she was not in her room. Damn. She usually sleeps in if she stays up late. Guess not today.

I took the trash out. Didn't see Melissa on my way out the door, so I started to track her down. Not in the living room. Not in the kitchen. Not in the play room. Not in the guest room.


I was getting a little worried. She hadn't sneaked out last night after I went to sleep, had she? It wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility, not after I'd found her running down the sidewalk by herself when arriving home after taking Matthew to school. Had the door been locked when I took the garbage out? I couldn't remember.

I knew she liked to hide under the cushions of the chair-and-a-half, so I checked there before panicing. And there she was, fast asleep.

Good news, bad news

The good news is that Melissa is now getting up to use the bathroom at night.

The bad news is, that was half an hour ago and I still hear her talking to her "friends" (stuffed animals).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let the rain come

Matthew looked out the window. "It's raining! YES!"

When it's raining we take the minivan. Otherwise we walk; Daddy needs the exercise. (But I put Isaac in the stroller instead of carrying him. I don't need THAT much exercise!)

Matthew prefers to ride. I guess walking is not cool. So the rain this morning made his day a little brighter.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Take your medicine like a man

Take your medicine like a man
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Isaac is teething, still. We're giving him Baby Tylenol at night to
try to ameliorate things. He does not approve, but he takes it with
much better grace than the others did at this age. Isaac just
grimaces and tries to turn his head away.

Hanging in there

I thought the kids were finally asleep, when I heard cries of "Daddy, help!" from Melissa's room. The cries took on a tinge of desperation as I headed up. When I got to her room, I found a naked three year old hanging to a coat hook in her closet. I lifted her down (only about a foot, but she couldn't tell) and she tearfully explained, "My diaper was wet." Apparently she was trying to get another one -- on a shelf seven feet up -- but finally met a climbing challenge she couldn't summit.

All I wanna do is rock

Isaac got up at 5. I took him downstairs and he snuggled into my shoulder, so I rocked him in the living room until he fell asleep. Usually he wants to play before he's ready to go back to sleep but not this morning. After half an hour he was in Limp Baby Mode: when you can lift his arm up and it goes up without resistance and flops limply back down when you let go, he's ready to be moved. Back to the bassinet with Isaac, and back to bed with me.

He woke up again at 6. Damn. He wanted to rock again. So we rocked, and he went back to sleep. I put him down in a blanket on the living room at 6:20 and he immediately started fussing. At 6:40 I thought I had him for sure but he started fussing again after 5 minutes of hope on the blanket. So we kept rocking until 7:20 when the big kids got loud, and I took him up to his mom.

Mornings like this, I think the iPhone is the best parenting aid ever invented.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Matthew's first baby sitting

Rachel came downstairs. "What happened, did you just dump the whole baby toy basket on the floor and turn him loose among them?"

"No. But I think Matthew did."

I had Matthew watch Isaac for fifteen minutes while I bathed Melissa. He had instructions to come get me if Isaac started fussing (in case I couldn't hear over the splashing), but he didn't need to. When I came down Isaac was in the center of a storm of toys, on the edge of fussing but not quite, thanks to Matthew distracting him.

Good job, Matthew.

The great hot breakfast crisis of 2009

Rachel makes cream of wheat with water. Dad always made it with milk.

I don't know if I can handle this.

(Rachel has never tried grits, but I trust that when she does she will agree that they are nasty.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Injection-molded plastic envy

While getting my new phone number, I asked the kiosk guy if he had any plastic display models my kids could have. He said sure, and gave me two. I had Isaac and Melissa with me -- all three is a real handful -- so Melissa picked one and I took the other home to Matthew.

All was not well.

Melissa's, you see, had a slide-out qwerty keyboard. Matthew's was a non-sliding model.

Matthew was violently upset by this inequity. So I gave his to Isaac instead. (Isaac was very pleased.)

Jealousy sucks. If Matthew had been the only one to get a phone (of either model) it would have been another forgotten occupant of the toy bins within a week, probably just a day. Rachel and I pointed out that he had a real working camera, among other things that his sister does not, but he was not mollified in the heat of his anger.

He ripped his bed apart to show us how angry he was, which sort of worked in that it does piss me off. The last time he did that we had him sleep on the raw mattress until the next normal changing of the bedding. The problem with that is he likes to wrap himself -- including his head -- in way too many blankets, which makes him sweaty and frankly stinky. So we don't really want him on the mattress like that. New solution: sleeping on the floor. At least that is easy to shampoo.

Matthew's attitude is normal: given the choice, most people would rather have less on an absolute scale, as long as they have more than their peers. Normal, but not really healthy, I submit. I think that attitude can be changed. And of course Matthew is young still.

Back to our story: I told Matthew that if he really thought the phone was such a big deal he could offer to trade his camera for it. He tried to offer his old film camera; I told him that wouldn't cut it. He said he would think about it.

I thought this would make him realize that the phone wasn't worth it, but he told Rachel that he did want to make that trade. Rachel didn't know what I had told him, and I was taking a nap, so Rachel said that Melissa was too young for a camera and put a stop to it there. So Matthew came up with the idea that he would share his train bean bag, which Melissa covets, in exchange for time with the phone. Melissa thought that was a fine deal, and the tempest in a teacup was over.

New phone number

My new cell number is 210 861 4702.

I'd rather keep the 801 number since so many people have it saved, but we wanted to get Rachel a local number and AT&T won't let us have the phones on the same plan while they are in different area codes. Lame.

(If you should have Rachel's new number, but don't, feel free to call mine and ask. :)

Valentines day food

I get Rachel a present on Valentines day. (At first I thought this might be sort of optional seeing as how it's an entirely artificial holiday, but I was wrong.) I discourage her from trying to reciprocate, though; guys -- and me in particular -- are hard enough to buy gifts for as it is, without adding another occasion into it.

So instead, Rachel goes all out on the food.

We started the day with German apple pancakes, a completely unhealthy and entirely delicious concoction of basically butter, topped with whipped cream. Also there are some apples for decoration. Delicious. (We first tried these at the Magnolia Pancake Haus here in SA, but Rachel's are better.)

Nobody was hungry for lunch, although Melissa did completely polish off her box of chocolates. That girl is a chocolate fiend.

For dinner we are having steak, with an ice cream cake for dessert. The valentine's day ice cream cake is our longest-running tradition as a couple, dating back to our very first valentine's day together. (Rachel still remembers walking to Baskin Robbins in Provo from the Glenwood.) That was a good cake.

Fortunately this is not the answer to as many questions as it used to be

Matthew pinched his finger while assembling a teddy bear wagon. Rachel told him to run his fingers under cold water. I asked her where the arnica was (a homeopathic remedy for bruises).

"Melissa ate it."

(Homeopathic remedies are basically sugar pills.)

The long now

We had a short conversation with Melissa the other night. Melissa was in a good mood, as she often is.

"Melissa, do you like being three?" Rachel asked.
"Yes!" Enthusiastically.
"When will you be four?"
"Next year!"
"No, silly. You will be four this year. When will that be?"
"My birthday!"
"When is your birthday?"

Her birthday is in May. Time is still a vague concept for Melissa.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dancing at the table

Dancing at the table
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That could have gone better

Today I decided give Isaac a taste of avocado. I tried to just give him a tiny mushy sliver of it, but no, he wanted to do it himself. He eagerly grabbed a fistful and managed to get a small taste in his mouth.

He worked his jaws for a few moments and looked thoughtful. Then his face screwed up in disgust. Before I could prepare he spit up copious amounts of milk along with the avocado all over himself and me.

Well darn. Guess I'll wait another week or two. Maybe he would prefer banana...

State Pride

Some recent school work Matthew brought home:

The writing is a bit faint, but in the picture to the right Matthew labeled the different cowboy accoutrements.

The booklet on top was like a "Brown Bear, Brown Bear..." for Texas. Each page had something unique to Texas such as the state tree, flag, flower, seal, Alamo and so on.

Today Matthew recited a jumbled history of the Alamo. It's kind of amusing to hear how things are processed in a 6 year old's mind. Reminds me of the game telephone.

The school's mascot is a cowboy, and there are lone stars, boots, and flags decorating the halls. Each afternoon I watch the color guard take down Old Glory along with the Lone Star.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My brief fling with Judo

This could be considered a continuation of my first post about another way my father has influenced my life. I could definitely make a theme out of that, but probably not the entire 25 items.

Let's start with the highlight of my judo career: some time around 1992 I competed in the judo junior nationals (one of three such tournaments -- the usa judo governance was confused, and for all I know still is) as a green belt and won my first match with an arm lock.

I was probably the only green belt in the tournament; most competitors were black belts, or at least brown. But I was an accidental tournament goer; Grant was planning to go, but in our last practice before the tournament, I threw him with taio toshi. He tried to avoid landing on his back, but broke his collarbone instead. Oops. Since we already had the plane ticket, I got to go instead.

That was as far as my judo career went, and it's really more of a testament to how obscure judo is in the USA than how good I was. I spent a lot more time on table tennis, and later raquetball, but I was never close to being able to win a match at a national event in those sports. (I did once beat one of the guys in this video in a mini-game to 7.)

I stopped practicing judo after leaving New Jersey. Grant and Christine kept playing recreationally. Telitha and David were more serious. Both trained in Japan with the best; Telitha was on the US national team (i.e., the best in the country in her weight class) and played in international tournaments including the Pan Am games. (The USA judo jacket I have comes from her time on the team -- they gave her one several sizes too large.) David repeatedly placed in the top 3 in national tournaments but never quite made the national team.

Dad never got on the mat himself, citing (with some justification) bad knees, but after years watching his kids fight feels himself fully qualified to second-guess international referree calls. I think he's actually reffed some local tournaments himself.

All this from a little ad Dad saw years ago in the paper: "free judo lessons at Princeton University." Free was always a good word; and we were trying to cut expenses at the time, dropping piano lessons. (A sacrifice I was elated to make.) A black belt -- and PhD -- named Mike Pontecorvo started a club for kids on Saturdays. Pretty soon I, and then Grant and David, who took to judo like a duck to water, were practicing with the university students. "He's like a puppy pit bull; he won't give up!" one of the students remarked, as David tried with all his 70-lb might to take his leg out from under him.

Love notes

(Rachel would like me to point out that he _has_ written me "I love you notes" before, and this one was occasioned by me telling him that it was time to put the drawings away as sacrament meeting at church drew to a close. Classic Matthew overreaction.)

Love notes
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A brave, foolish woman

A brave, foolish woman
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Meet our church ward's new primary president. I wonder if she knows
what she's getting into.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A girl with a plan

Melissa was impressed by Matthew's school PE night, especially the dancing. (4 of the 6 presentations, one per grade level, could be fairly categorized as "dances.") Melissa stood on our bench and bounced along with the music. She was disappointed when there were no more dances.

Melissa dressed herself this morning -- in a princess outfit. Then she put on her coat and came to me. "I go to Maffew's teacher and be in a show. I dance a princess dance. And all the boys will dance with me. And Maffew will watch with you on the bench."

I hope she isn't too mad when she realizes this isn't going to happen no matter how much she begs.

"See these slippers? I need to dance with somebody. A boy. Girls dance with boys. Girls wear dresses to dance." (Actually, none of the girls last night did, but hey.)

I will dance with her. Maybe that will be adequate.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sometimes the iPhone camera just isn't enough

Matthew square dancing.

Tech support hell

This is my Macbook Pro, seen from the back.  See all the cables connecting the LCD to the rest of the machine?  Yeah.  Those aren't supposed to be out in the open like that.

I spent 90 minutes (!) on the phone with Apple this morning reporting this and a couple minor issues to Apple.  You'd think "My machine is falling apart" would elicit a quick response of, "Okay, send it in and we'll fix it."  But no.  We had to jump through all sorts of hoops first.

I think this guy was new, because when I've had to send Rachel's first-generation Macbook in for much smaller problems it was a piece of cake.

Tech support he'll
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Learning the wrong lesson

Everyone remarked on Melissa's much, much shorter hair at church today.  She was happy to explain: "I cut my hair!  Mommy took me to the beauty parlor!"
Couldn't have gone better, from her point of view.

A reply to Chris

Chris wrote,
my companion Elder Kemmerer has a lot of problems with confidence and learning the language I've been trying to help him but he is such a dark cloud and freaking depressing to work with somtimes
I knew a missionary like that, in my last area.  My companion Ricky Olita and I were split up and both given a "greenie" to train.  I got Jeremy Anderson, who was later my brother David's zone leader.  Elder Olita got the short end of the stick with a bad-attitude American whose name I've forgotten.  He moped and dragged everywhere, sullen and begrudgingly.
Elder Olita was possibly the most dangerous man I have met.  He was apparently from a pretty rough part of Mindanao; I don't know if the stories he told about his mom taking out a contract on the men who killed his father were true, but I did get to see his proficiency with fists (via boxing gloves), throwing knives, and nunchucks first hand.  Not a guy to mess with.  When Elder Olita was pissed, he would be quiet, but there was a dark tension in him until the strain grew too great and he exploded.
An intelligent man would have realized that there were better people to take out attitude on than Elder Olita.  Lazy Boy failed this particular IQ test.
The tension built for maybe ten days.  Elder Olita poured out his troubles to me over lunch a few times.  Elder Olita had had a dim view of me as a companion before he got Lazy Boy, but now I shone by comparison.  (Yes, there's a long story there.  Another time.)
Things came to a head one morning when the three companionships in the house left together to begin proselyting.  Elder Olita was last to exit.  He checked his pockets but he didn't have the house key.  He asked Lazy Boy for it.  Lazy Boy took it out of his pocket and threw it overhand at Elder Olita.  Not to him, at him.  Elder Olita jumped at Lazy Boy with death in his eyes, but was intercepted by Elders Greenwood and Anderson.
They had a nice long talk with President Watts after that.  I think Lazy Boy lasted another month.  But not two.
Rachel: "You don't hear this kind of story at the MTC [missionary training center]."
Me: "It's like my mom told me years ago: if the church weren't true, the missionaries would have killed it off long ago."

Room cleaning, week 4

I think Melissa is getting the hang of this.  She only spent all of Saturday morning "cleaning," and did it right away when I announced I was going to the park in 15 minutes and anyone with a clean room was welcome to come.  There were no tantrums.
Matthew had about ten minutes of cleaning to do.  He got it done in time for the park but not in time for break dancing.  He was predictably mad about that.  Maybe next week.  (We went out to dinner after gymnastics practice Friday, and I saw an "urban dance studio" near the restaurant and stopped in.)
Melissa may actually be better about cleaning her room than Matthew now, both in terms of keeping it semi-sanitary and in terms of drama for the weekly hose-out.  She's easily more stubborn than her brother so I am surprised by this development.
Me: "Maybe we need to move more of Matthew's stuff into the common area."
Rachel: "What we need is to throw more stuff away.  Tops.  Unsharpened pencils.  Pieces of robots and legos and medals and odd coins and marbles.  Where do you put stuff like that?"

Life as a series of French classes

My friend Tim tagged me for a "25 random things about me" meme on Facebook.  I don't spend much time on facebook, so if I wrote up a list there it would probably be the first thing people saw about me for the next year or two and I don't know if I want that.  Besides, it gave me so many good ideas to write about that I want to write more about one or two at a time.  And finally, I owe Brian a letter this week, but I couldn't think of anything to write (Rachel always sends him the weekly SP), so this is for you, Brian.  Thanks, Tim!

(Uncharacteristically, perhaps, any errors or hyperbole in this post are accidental.  I'm sure my family will chime in with corrections.  We are nothing if not pedantic.)

I grew up with a father who wished he lived in a French-speaking country.  I don't remember him ever coming out and saying that but I'm pretty sure it's true.  I remember that by first grade he'd taught me a few words -- pamplemousse is the only one I remember from that era, before we moved to New Jersey -- but he didn't really dig in with a vengeance until Christine was born when I was 11.  He decided that he would speak only French to Christine, a resolution he kept until her adolescent anguish over being "different" got him to stop.  Although it was too late for the rest of us to pick up French purely by osmosis -- Telitha, the next youngest, was already six -- he instituted French Mornings so the rest of us could get some practice too.

This is how stubborn my father is: not only did he speak French to us every morning, he insisted that we reply in kind.  "En Français!" he would say, if we used English with him.  Often he would first have to tell us how to say it en Français first, but he was patient.  The rest of us, however, were not, and mostly spoke to each other in English.

Fifth grade was my first experience with public school foreign language education.  I don't remember the teacher's name.  I do remember tests about passé composé and other parts of speech.  If it weren't for Dad I would have quit right then: you don't learn a foreign language by memorizing grammatical rules, as proven by the millions of Americans with as much as 8 years trying.  Nor is it any fun.  But you can test it, and there's a certain kind of command-and-control personality that, having learned the wrong lessons from the success of the assembly line, insists that measuring (and optimizing for) a bad metric is better than measuring none.  This is flat-out wrong, both in software engineering and in education.

So what I really remember from fifth grade French class is an unctuous boy named Chad teaching me that "trojan" was another name for "condom," and "rubber" denoted a small one.  Ah, public education: reducing culture to the lowest common denominator, and not even completely accurately at that.

I also remember the teacher having us choose French names to address each other by in class.  Most of us took French analogues of our American names -- I chose Jean; William chose Guillaume, and so forth.  But the more flamboyant personalities chose wildly different names.

Sixth grade I was home schooled.  Then I convinced my parents to let me go back to public school for good, because it was so much easier.

For seventh and eighth grades I had Mme. Pinelli.  She spoke both English and French with a heavy accent, which from her surname I assumed was Italian.  More grammar drills.

Mme. Pinelli wanted us to assert, "Je sais!" [I know] when we raised our hands to answer a question.  I reported this to Dad, who pointed out that "Je le sais" was more correct.  There is enough of my father in me that I couldn't stand to knowingly practice the wrong form, so I marked myself by saying it differently than my peers every time.  I don't think the teacher appreciated being implicitly corrected, either, although I was not dumb enough to actually tell anyone else they were saying it wrong.

As a high school freshman I almost got into the advanced French class on the strength of actually being able to make myself understood in French, to a point.  But less than a week into class, the bureaucracy noticed, and I was sent to M. Gendaszek's freshman class, while the senior I had been sitting next to stayed, despite being unable even to pronounce the advanced teacher's name.  Not that I am bitter. (He pronounced Poncin roughly the same as "poisson," much to M. Poncin's dismay.  But I'm sure he knew his grammar.)

I have no strong memories at all of M. Gendaszek's class.

I really enjoyed sophmore and junior years with M. Poncin.  (This is a difficult name for Americans because its phonemes are not found in English -- it's pronounced like the French words pont and sein, if that helps.)  He was a native of Lyon, and had a delightful French accent.  He was a rebel who actually wanted to teach his students some French, so while he went through the motions of testing grammar and so forth, he spent most of his classes trying to get us to practice his language.

On Fridays, M. Poncin would show us an episode of French in Action, or as he called it, Mireille et Robert.  (Still possibly the best French tutorials ever produced.  My father meticulously recorded them on VHS when they aired on PBS one year; they are very expensive to buy officially -- they target schools, not individuals -- but you can watch them online for free now.)  I remember M. Poncin remarking that he was always amused by how fascinating high school boys found Mireille: not only was the actress who played her pretty, she did not wear a bra.

I've forgotten the name of my last French instructor, in college.  He had a terrible American accent (sensing a pattern?) but he genuinely loved French language and culture.  He spent a year in Paris scraping out a living as a street guitarist.  I still wish I'd done something cool like that.  Sometimes I think that it is not too late, but three kids requires a pretty huge activation energy.

So there's #1 for your list, Tim: 10 years ago, I spoke pretty good French.  The next 24 should be shorter.  If not, I'm sure Brian won't complain.

Drivers Ed

Drivers Ed
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Our church is next to a minor intersection. When Isaac gets bored of all his toys (which happens faster and faster), we go sit in the shade of the big tree on the corner and watch the cars go by.

Isaac likes being outside. He likes the breeze, and he likes the
constant motion of this particular scene.

Child development

Isaac is not very good at letting go of things yet, but he has very definite opinions about when he is bored of a toy. So he will shake his arm violently until the object of his displeasure comes loose. Then he will look at me reproachfully, as if to say, "I meant a GOOD toy."

The chaise-lounge was insufficiently pink

Melissa sprang into action.