Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Take me out to the ball game

Originally uploaded by jbellis
My sister Telitha and her husband Nolan took me to a Spurs game tonight. We congratulated ourselves on getting a ride from one of the parking lot attendants on an electric cart -- since Telitha and Nolan were each carrying one of their boys -- but then found we'd left the tickets back in the car and Nolan had to run back to get them. I told Telitha, "His birthday present just got twice as expensive."

This is the first time I've been to a professional sporting event. There were a lot of people there. Even from the very last row of seats (I kid you not), it struck me how TALL the players were. You miss that on a 2D television, somehow. And it was loud, with lots of flashing lights.

As with college sports, seeing that many people take a game so seriously seemed like a form of collective insanity to me at first. 20,000 people boo-ing at once is kind of a shock. CONFORM, it commands! I don't do conform.

But after a bit I got a little more acclimated to the noise and relaxed. Saw some good plays and hot cheerleaders. We left before they got to the "foul on every possession to stretch out the clock" stage.

Insanity doesn't seem too strong a word for the prices, though. Just one section below us the tickets listed for $100! (Telitha recommends stubhub to save money. Ours were $5.) I'm still boggling, a little. Telitha and Nolan's strategy of "get cheap tickets so you don't mind arriving late and leaving early to avoid the parking lot mess" seems like a winner.

Turning into my dad

Originally uploaded by jbellis
CCP had this demo of their MMO Eve Online at Pycon. I saw it, and my first thought was, "This is way too complicated."

I remember when my father started saying that about my video games.

Kind of a bitter moment for me: I've aged out of the target market for games.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One of those days

I took Isaac and Melissa to Wal-mart yesterday while Matthew took a much-needed nap. Isaac is a handful at the store now -- too big to want to stay in the cart, too little to be trusted out of it -- but Rachel needed a break, so I took them both.

Isaac lasted a few minutes in the Kid Chair part of the stroller, but as expected he quickly tired of that, so I sat him down in the business compartment, trusting that I could confiscate anything he looked close to ruining and move it to the underside of the cart before it was too late.

Butter: he tore it open, but I got it before any butter was actually eaten. Heavy cream: saved. Simply Lemonade: hahaha, good luck opening that one kid. Pork chops: I knew better than to give him the chance; those went directly to the underside. Can of frozen grape juice: saved, with the opening zipper half opened.

Can of frozen orange juice: not saved. Oh, and it wasn't frozen, either.

Isaac spilled a third of it down his pants, where it dripped through the cart mesh onto everything I'd stashed underneath, including Rachel's valentines day cards. (Crap!) I took the juice from him and just stood there, at a loss. There was so much sticky, everywhere, that I didn't know where to start. So I cursed a little, in French. If you're going to raise a child bilingual, you might as well be thorough! I didn't yell at him, but he could tell I was upset. (Ça ne va pas, non? Ça ne fait pas! Merde alors!)

Eventually I decided that there was nothing I could do to ameliorate things, so we got moving. Fortunately we only had Rachel's flowers left on our list. When we got to the checkout counter, trailing orange dribbles, the cashier saw the puddle we'd formed while waiting but didn't realize the source immediately. She bustled over with a roll of paper towels, and had satisfactorily contained the mini-puddle when she noticed the cause standing in the cart, watching her. "Oh, it was you!" she said, in an aren't-we-cute voice. Isaac was in a friendly mood, and rattled his cart at her in approval. This knocked the rest of the juice off of its perch, right at the cashier's feet. Now that was a real spill. I think even she was daunted, momentarily.

She got the "hazardous floor" flags, closed her counter, cordoned off the spill with the towels, and paged the mop guy. Unfortunately he was busy with a spill over near the floral section. Gee, wonder who could have done that?

We were at a lull in the action, so I took Isaac off to wash off his hands. For a kid who likes to get into stuff as much as he does, he actually hates having sticky hands, and he'd been brushing at them futilely trying to get them clean(er). So I hoisted Melissa into the cart with instructions to load stuff onto the conveyor belt while Isaac and I washed up. He was happier with his hands clean (his clothes were a total loss), and kept patting me anxiously to see if we were still friends. I reassured him that I still loved him, and we collected our groceries.

Fortunately, the woman in line in front of us whose shopping we'd interrupted by showing up and leaking all over had a sense of humor about it. I think she might have worked there, since she and the cashier were chatting away the whole time like old friends.

I took Isaac's clothes off before depositing him in the van.

Then we got home and Melissa broke the silverware drawer by dancing on it too hard, but that's another story.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

More peanuts

Odd how whenever I go to make one of these posts I either don't have enough to bother with, or I have too many.
  • Post-church Sunday afternoon wiggles: "Matthew, I don't want you tying your sister up!"
  • More wiggles: "Stop climbing up that wall with your rope; there are pictures hanging that I don't want you banging." 20 minutes later, I have to break up climbing the wall with piles of couch cushions. Yes, pictures were banged.
  • Matthew is outside sharpening sticks, in case he runs out of sharp things to poke bad guys with. He gave one to Melissa, who showed it to me: "Matthew gave me a stick! It's pointy! It's cold. I'm going to make it a bed for it to get warm. I'm going to keep it in my room and take care of it; that will be its home. It's a girl stick, because that's what I want. I will give it a pink blanket."
  • Matthew: "I can't find my stick. Where was the last time you saw it -- the one that I sharpened on both ends?" Me: "Downstairs, when you made me admire its pointedness." Matthew: "Well, what did I do with it after that?"
  • Melissa's breakfast of champions: honey nut cheerios mixed with cocoa puffs.
  • My co-worker's daughter, on learning to drive with her father: "It wasn't THAT big a deal. It's not like there was anyone on the sidewalk when I went over the curb." I'm really, really not looking forward to teaching Melissa to drive.
  • Rachel signed Matthew up for a bank account; now he's getting junk mail. He is, of course, thrilled.
  • Working at a BigCo has its upsides. I asked, "How do I send out these dozen t-shirts?" and was told, "Just give the addresses to Assistant X and she'll take care of it." That's pretty awesome.
  • Matthew: "Why is 'buttocks' more polite to say than 'butt?'"
  • I noticed Melissa squatting by her scooter. "Melissa! Do you need to go potty? Go!" Melissa stood up. "I don't need to! I already peed!" I didn't understand at first: "Go potty!" "I already peed!" and she pointed to the puddle on the sidewalk. Then I realized that she had, in fact, peed through her tights and onto the sidewalk, and I changed my command to, "Go change your clothes!"


  • Matthew: "how many feet are in a mile?" Me: "5,280." Matthew: "What!? That doesn't make sense!" Matthew discovers the virtues of the metric system.
  • Texas grammar lesson: the possessive form of "you all" is "your alls."
  • Good news: one month after joining the corporate mother ship, the Snack Closet has not disappeared; it just became three Snack Filing Cabinets. Bad news: we had to padlock it to keep other divisions from raiding our snacks. This puts a damper on rummaging. (Evil corporate plan all along?)
  • Isaac broke the ps3 by jamming multiple DVDs into it. Good news: Sony "fixed" it by sending us a replacement unit. Bad news: the replacement unit wants to format my hard disk--which fortunately I did not send in to Sony--presumably to prevent me from pirating my own videos.
  • Had my laptop open when Matthew asked why popping your fingers makes noise. Thank you, Google.
  • Matthew would really love to learn French with Isaac, and he tries hard to mimic me. So far, he is still comically unable to make a French r sound, among other phonemes. Melissa is more linguistically gifted but does not care.
  • Melissa is in love with tights, but sometimes her judgment is questionable. One outfit: black shirt, black tights, lime green skirt.
  • It bugs me to see Watterson is doing his best to pull a Salinger: achieve success, then spend the rest of your life hiding from it. I got a bootleg Tracer Bullet shirt on eBay to give Watterson the metaphorical finger. What a waste of talent.
  • Played Primus too loud for Melissa, who asked me to turn it down. I'm totally going to remind her of this when she is a teenager. Repeatedly.
  • Melissa: "The stars are really giant? They must be far away since they don't want to crush people. Those are nice stars."
  • Let the kids stay up late Friday night so they could sleep in Saturday, but they both both got up at 7 to watch cartoons. Crankiness ensued.
  • Good thing Christan's parents sent Matthew home at 6, because I get Christian and Conner mixed up and it would be embarrassing to call the wrong house to ask for my son.

Mr Mom again

160 years ago, Nathaniel Hawthorne (yes, that Nathaniel Hawthorne) was left in sole charge of his five year old son while his wife visited her parents. His journal entries have been turned into the under-appreciated book, Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny, by Papa, offering "a meticulous, blow-by-blow account of a man taking care of a young child by himself." Hawthorne spoke for all parents since Adam when he lamented, "it is impossible to write, read, think, or even to sleep, so constant are his appeals to me in one way or another."

Hawthorne had some advantages (his full-time cook and housekeeper) and a big disadvantage (no television). But fathers today still approach watching young children for days alone with the same trepidation. ("Every father should have some alone days with his kids," Rachel comments. "It's good for you.")

But when Rachel left for a long weekend in Washington for her great grandmother's funeral, I wasn't worried. Partly this was because I had Rachel give me a long list of activities before she left (although she ended up taking the zoo and Sea World passes with her). Partly because I was an Experienced Dad, no stranger to the rigeur of being harried to my wits' end. But mostly because Rachel was taking Isaac, so I would only have the older two. Two kids is easy... compared to three.

What does half a week with Dad look like?

We went to McDonald's every day, except Sunday. (But, I add, "only" once a day: breakfast Thursday, lunch Friday, and dinner Saturday.) I've said before that one of the drawbacks of San Antonio vs Draper is that McDonald's is the only fast food with a play area, so it was a near-monopoly. Bonus: free wi-fi, so I even got some work done.

I bought Melissa some flowers -- pink ones -- Thursday morning when we went grocery shopping. She was extremely pleased, and insisted they go on her dresser so she could see them in the morning.

Without Isaac to watch in the morning, I had pretty light duty on school days: after getting Matthew ready and out, Melissa usually wouldn't get up for another hour, and she had a great attention span for art at the table -- suitably protected with newsprint -- or reading games on the netbook. After picking up Matthew from school the fights^W sibling interaction would start and then it was substantially less peaceful.

When Melissa spilled red soda on her green skirt at lunch, I threw it out rather than attempting stain removal. It's a good thing Rachel was only gone a few days or her daughter might not have had many clothes left. Melissa spills very near to every single meal, no matter what kind of drinking vessel you give her. (And yes, it was an older skirt with the flowers peeling off it, for the record.)

Matthew and Melissa got chocolate chip cookies whenever they asked for some. But I did not neglect nutritional discipline: "you have to finish your pudding before you can have cookies!"

With Isaac gone, I could leave headphones or DVDs out and be reasonably sure they would be where I left them, intact, when I came back for them. This was awesome.

Unlike last time, I didn't save all the cleaning for the day Rachel got back. But, also unlike last time, the kids can actually help with the picking up now. At a glacial pace, granted, but with my laptop at hand, glacial progress is good enough; they picked up the downstairs on Friday and the upstairs on Saturday. I still got to do anything more complex than putting toys away, though.

The climbing wall

While Rachel was gone, I took Matthew and Melissa home teaching with me. When we arrived at Jasper's, we had to knock several times to be heard over the roar of the vacuum cleaner: a bad sign. Moments earlier, their three and five year old had been discovered industriously carrying packing peanuts from a shipping box upstairs, to shred them on the carpet. Apparently they'd been at this for some time before they were caught.

Jasper's wife was pissed ("do you know what your children have been up to?") and Jasper, who was no dummy, knew what to do: stay out of sight until the storm blew over. So Jasper decided this would be an excellent time to show us his climbing wall, safely out of the combat zone in the garage:



For scale, Jasper there is 6' 4". (He's also struggling to gain more weight than his current 160 lbs. Just to make all you people like me with the opposite problem feel worse about yourselves.) Not shown: the other half of the wall, off to my right.

After we left, Matthew asked when I was going to build a wall like that. "Maybe when Grandpa Ellis visits next, he can show us how to build one," I offered. "But first we have to buy a house instead of renting."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Grandma Sloan

May 30, 1905 - January 26, 2010

These are always the hardest posts to write. My last great-grandma, and the only one I knew very well died last week. Not only did she live a long life, but up until about 5 years ago, a very independent and healthy one. She had her shotgun, she had her dog, and so felt quite content to live on her own. Grandma really loved her great-grandkids, and we adored her in return. I remember many summers spent playing cards with her on the back porch and eating ice cream or cookies. She always had something for us and delighted in feeding us. I remember helping her in her vegetable garden, collecting the fallen apples in a wheel barrel, or tossing a ball for her beloved Pomeranian, Toto.

When my family moved to Washington, we stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa Van Duker for a few months while my parents looked for a house. Grandma Sloan lived at the bottom of the hill right by the bus stop, so we'd stop by her house first after school before heading up the hill. She was always waiting for us and we'd spend an hour or so chatting about our days, "helping" her clean up any pesky leftover cookies, and running around her yard with Toto.

Later, my parents moved to Puyallup. Due to the school situation, I opted to stay with my grandparents to finish off the school year. One of the highlights of my day was seeing grandma. She always had a big smile. We'd talk about the news of the day- she was very well informed about the latest in the news- or read the jokes in the Reader's Digest together. Sometimes she'd tell stories and other times she'd ask me to play my viola. Now I wasn't any great talent, but she liked to hear me play anyway and I'd oblige. She loved the few Irish jigs I knew. Grandma's mother was Irish and her father a Scotsman, and she told stories of how as a child she had to wear the family plaid. The 11 children lived in Canada on a farm and rode horses into town to school. She truly saw many remarkable changes in her lifetime.

At the funeral, Grandma Van Duker reminded me of one of the stories she'd tell from her childhood. Apparently her father had a mean goose that would chase them all over the yard and hiss at them. One day four of the youngest kids were left home alone while their parents were out and about. They decided to teach the goose a lesson. They captured the goose into a great big butter churn and then started churning the goose around and around. The goose made a huge ruckus and when they felt it had enough the let him out. The goose staggered around the yard and became quite docile from then on. Never bugged them again. Unfortunately for the butter churn, the goose was loose- leaving a horrible mess to clean up. They hurriedly scrubbed it with soap and bleach before their parents got back. From then on they never ate butter again from the churn and their father would puzzle why they never wanted butter with their bread!

Within the last few years it got harder to see grandma. Her mind started to go and sometimes she'd remember you and other times not. Visits tired her and I would stay for a short while until she fell asleep. Her body was just slowly giving out on her. You could tell when she was there though. Her blue eyes would just sparkle.

Four years ago, when I told her the name of our second child she got excited. "That was my mother's name! You named her after my mother!"

Melissa and Grandma July 2006

I know it was time for her to go. Her spirit was stuck in a broken body. Her friends, siblings, parents, and only child all died before her and she missed them terribly. It is hard to be on the side saying goodbye though, and I miss the grandma and person that she was and regret that my children won't know her. For them, all I have is a few stories.

Miss you Grandma.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Isaac Cleans Up Part 2

We keep our garbage can on a 2 foot high ledge in the kitchen. Recently the little man has discovered that he can now climb the ledge and access the garbage. Yesterday he took all of his unused diapers and deposited them into the trash can. That evening he helped clear the table of all the used napkins. He was so pleased with himself.

Today he has been putting his dirty diapers in the trash. Hmm, this can be useful! Still, we're keeping a close eye on the garbage can. When I dressed him this morning he vigorously protested the shirt I'd picked out. While I was getting another (more acceptable) shirt, he toddled off with the rejected shirt and tried to put that in the trash too!