Monday, December 31, 2007

Just in Time for Darwin Day

After visiting the Darwin exhibit at the Auckland Domain Museum, my brother made this spiffy image from a photo of Charles Darwin. At my insistence, he's rendered it wearable and there's still plenty of time to have it in hand before Darwin Day on February 12th!

Now, how many links can YOU put in one blog posting?

Saturday, December 29, 2007


One of Elise's gifts this Christmas was a "Fur Real Friends" kitten. We've been encouraging her to pick a name for this thing, largely because it's getting cumbersome that she calls it "the kitten who kneads her paws." I threatened to tell the story of Tikki Tikki Tembo, but that only made Andy nervous and did not speed the naming process one iota.

So, I resorted to my favorite child annoying tactic: endless suggestion. "How about Brunhilda?" I asked. "Emily? Anne? Gertrude?" Etc. I can be really persistent.

Finally, Elise looked me in the eye and said firmly, "Mommy, I will name the-kitten-who-kneads-her-paws LATER."

"Really?" I asked. "That's a peculiar name for a kitten. Are you sure you really want to call her 'Later,' Elise?"

"Yes, Mommy." (Imagine an impish grin here.) "The kitty's name is Later."

Friday, December 28, 2007


Such a sanitized name for an abhorrent practice, this "waterboarding." And just what does it mean to "simulate drowning?" Andy and I have thought for some time that if people actually understood what this "enhanced interrogation technique" is and does, there would be riots in the streets. No WAY is there any question about this being torture.

And yet our President and his rotten regime have bought themselves some credibility by confidently stating that there is some gray area. When I was a very mediocre member of my high school debate team, we learned that this was an underhanded, unsportsmanlike tactic, and it was strongly discouraged. And I called out my opponents for using it. No, you do not get to win just because you are good at asking rhetorical questions with a suggestive tone of voice. Not yours!

Clearly, our national debate has a tragic flaw because we let Bush and others in his administration do this with impunity on just about every policy issue. (Catch me when I'm less tired, and I'll cite examples. Right now, I'm so worked up I want to stick to the subject of torture.)

I don't like reading about the specifics of what my government is doing to keep me safe. It scares the bejeebus out of me. I never signed off on keeping any human being incarcerated indefinitely without a chance to appeal or even to know the charges against them. I never agreed that the CIA could take people to far-off places so that the laws of our country wouldn't apply to their "interrogation." I never once agreed to so much as imagine that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply for everyone. And I get Habeas Corpus-that is not negotiable.

This evening, I read an account written by someone who tried waterboarding on himself, and it sickened me to the very center of my being. My government is doing this to actual people, and they claim to be doing it on my behalf. I was appalled before, but now I'm enraged. And I am convinced that you should be too. As a human being.

A terrifying account of "waterboarding" that is not suitable for all audiences.

If that doesn't convince you that the perpetrators of this form of torture are war criminals, I urge you to evaluate your attitudes. If you're as outraged as I am, let's figure out how best to stop the torture. (I really don't know where to begin. If you do, gentle reader, please share.)

This requires action.

Bringing Out the Best

(And no, this is not a mayonnaise commercial.)

We here at Steingruebl World Enterprises used Chirstmas as an excuse to kick back, relax, and generally enjoy the peace and tranquility of a quiet day at home.

While I don't think we were unique in that this year, it's mildly disturbing to see how others spent their day. For example, priests in Bethlehem. Or Antarctic base staff. Really, people, aren't you embarrassed?

Blogging games

In spite of the fact that I've been writing this blog for a year and a half, I'm relatively new to the blogosphere. One of the things I've learned recently is that bloggers play games where they issue a challenge to other bloggers and then everyone has a fun time writing about something new and interesting and tagging their friends. (Some of you already know this of course, but some of you don't so I thought I'd explain.)

So, today I got my first official, by name, tag. Wahoo! So, I'm playing. :)

1. What was the best gift your received ever?
Swimming lessons. Andy got 'em for me the Christmas before we got married so I wouldn't feel freaked out the whole time we were honeymooning in HI.

2. What was the worst?
There have been some things I didn't particularly like, but those were universally given with love so they never counted as bad. I'm sure I've been given some rotten gifts in a passive-aggressive sort of way, but I can't remember what they were.

3. What's the best gift you've given someone else?
That would be Andy's birthday present in 2004. Really, we worked on that one together though, and she's currently sitting on the rug playing with Tinker Toys with him...
4. What's the worst?
One year, I wanted to knit an absolutely gorgeous wool sweater for Andy for Christmas. Unfortunately, I was new to knitting and didn't get the gauge right so it ended up being big enough for a giant. (We finally gave it to a friend.)

5. What did you get this holiday season?
An iPod Nano, a watch with a planisphere, tickets to a Cake concert AND a night away from home while Grandma and Grandpa take care of the kiddo.

6. Where did it fit on the best to worst scale (best being 1 and worst being a 10)?
I'm thinking about a 9.

And now, the fun part! I tag Peter & Roni, hoverfrog, and James.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fun With Stars

I had not intended to write anything today, but sometimes the daily blog reading is just too much fun and I find stuff I want to share.

For starters, it's Johannes Keppler's birthday! "Well, whoopdeedooo," you might say. Well, some of you will be happy to learn that you can blame him for my astronomy habit. He figured out the orbits of the planets, made spiffy telescope eyepieces to increase their field of view, and he designed eyeglasses. See, all his fault. The article to which I've pointed is well-written, short and well worth a read. I like the Universe Today blog in general because it tends to have good astronomy material. And their podcasts are great. I listened to their recent one about Mercury last night and learned a lot.

Another of my favorite astronomy blogs is Bad Astronomy. I've been bummed that the San Jose library system doesn't have one single copy of Phil Plait's book, and finally bought a copy for myself today. Maybe I'll get to donate it to the library when I'm done with it. Dunno. At any rate, he recently pointed to an opportunity to vote for your favorite Cassini pictures. (Cassini is hanging around over dare by Saturn.) Follow the links, there's some cool stuff! Also, if you'd like a nice annotated selection of great astronomy pictures from this year, have a look at his top ten list.

If you haven't already, take a gander at the list of "Astronomers and Atheists" on my sidebar. There is some fun reading to be done!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

We here at Steingruebl World Enterprises would like to extend our heartiest holiday greetings. Even this guy. He's feeling generous because of the new "grinchy-claus hat and coat" I knit for him this year.

It's a longstanding tradition here that we don't travel at Christmas. Too much stress, too many logistics, and too much opportunity for offending our families. We figure that by staying home, we offend everyone equally, and we can get away with spending the entire day in our jammies.

This has helped us get a good start on all of our tradition-making, which is fun. For example, there is the annual Christmas Eve making of cookies for Santa, as done by Elise and her daddy.

(And yes, this year we opted not to do things from scratch.)

With the cookie baking firmly in hand, we got a very excited girl up to bed, and she even managed to fall asleep and to sleep until about 6:30am, which was nothing short of amazing given how very excited she was. It's a good thing she slept so well, because while she was zonked out Flapjack helped Santa do this:

Arriving downstairs this morning, Elise made a beeline for the giant dollhouse saying, "Wow!" and then promptly burst into tears. She was extremely worried that Santa had completely ignored her list, and she was heartbroken. We talked about it for a bit and then she noticed that Santa had also brought some wrapped presents. Peace was restored.

Until she realized that Santa had only brought the computer and not the Diego puppet she'd requested. Luckily, Santa put playdoh in the stocking, which pretty well distracted Elise for the rest of the morning. She kept wanting to go play with it instead of opening more presents.

This is somewhat of a foreign concept to the grownups here at the household. Back in our day, we tore into paper and opened everything all at once before pausing to play. Elise has always been the one to appreciate each item fully before moving on to the next thing. Which is fantastic, but it does mean that the chaos of gift unwrapping lasts longer than I ever thought was imaginable. Next year, I think we'll try to be a little more sensitive to the pace she wants to set, because I suspect it will keep her from getting quite so overwhelmed.

It was really good to finally break into the playdoh.

It was also very fun to discover the joys of her new kitten who kneads her claws when you pet her or feed her. This new (as yet unnamed) cat joins the posse of stuffed animals that now must go with Elise everywhere. We are now up to Teri, The Kitten, Flapjack Junior, Pukeko (a NZ bird who was a birthday present from Uncle Peter & Auntie Roni) and this meowing purring wonder. I anticipate some carrying-on come school on Thursday...

The rest of the day was a blurr. We had french toast and sausage for breakfast. We also learned that Elise can chug orange juice. Somewhat of a novelty because she usually doesn't like juice of any sort. Then, we played with toys. Nonstop. All day.

A high point for me was when we took the glow-in-the-dark stars Santa brought and worked together to put them on Elise's bedroom ceiling in various constellation patterns. We managed the big and little dippers, the summer triangle (with Alberio), Cassiopeia, Delphinus, Pegasus and most of Orion. Elise was so helpful, and tonight she was just blown away by the stars on her ceiling. I may have to relocate Cassiopeia a little, but otherwise it's a pretty decent representation if I do say so myself.

As the day wore on, Elise's attention span got shorter and shorter, to the point that she couldn't concentrate for more than about 2 minutes on anything. And then it was time for dinner. Elise actually ate ham, broccoli and a roll, and seemed to enjoy it. It took less than 20 minutes for her to fall asleep at bedtime, which wasn't surprising given how hard she played all day. We reflected that she hadn't stopped talking for so much as 30 seconds all day.

So, that was our Christmas. It was wonderful, relaxed, fun, and exhausting all at once. I have no idea what I'm doing up at 11pm finishing up this post. Well, that's not true. I want to remember this day because it's been fantastic. We hope your Christmas has been fantastic as well.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Visit with Santa

On Wednesday afternoon, I took Elise to see Santa. She'd been pretty excited to let him know that she wants a new computer for Christmas (the Barney one inherited from cousins being entirely outgrown long ago) so I wanted to be sure she got the chance when the lines weren't too long.

We hopped on the train to go to San Jose's Christmas in the Park, and while we waited for Santa to arrive there we looked at the decorations around the park. Fun kitsch.

A nice big girl came up to Elise while she was waiting on a bench and talked to her about her toy kitten and talked with her about Santa, which I thought was cute.

When it was our turn to see the big guy, Santa and I simultaneously pointed out that there was a nice seat next to his chair, so she need not get too close if she didn't want to. That was a pretty good thing. And, here is the photo sequence from their visit together.

Nervous giggles turned into big giggles as Santa laughed with her. At the end, I helped her out by telling Santa about how very much she wants a new computer. And a Diego puppet, but I suspect Santa will only be bringing the computer. Santa seems to be in a pretty good mood when he's in downtown San Jose, so we'll likely visit him there again in years to come.

OLPC, First Impressions

Amidst the holiday hoopla, the "get one" portion of the "give one, get one" OLPC promotion arrived. (It's the cute little green and white one on the left, next to my Macbook for size comparison.) I've actually not been all that interested in this project, but my brother is. And, since the promotion was only good in the US, we've got this little unit in our clutches and will send it off to Uncle Peter as soon as we've played with it and blogged about it thoroughly.

Fresh From the Box

For starters, this little machine is adorable. I mean, look at the colorful little person on the cover. And that bright green and white just screams "play with me!" In fact, it is so cute that Elise had been begging us to take it out and play with it since it arrived. It was the first thing she wanted to muck with this morning.

We opted to just plug it in and will save battery testing for someone else, but again the attractive green cord is lovely and highly visible. I don't think we'll be tripping over it any time soon.

I had to look at the diagram as to how to open the thing up, which was mildly distressing for me. I mean, I play with technotoys often enough that I should have been able to figure it out, right?! That accomplished, I liked that the screen has some semi-hard stops to hold it in position with frequent use. A little stiff at first, but I think it's well designed for its intended purpose. The keyboard is tiny and also cute. I like that it's all enclosed and covered with that green squooshy stuff. Elise wanted to push the buttons slightly harder than needed as they do feel a little uncertain at first. Nobody will be breaking any speed typing on this, but since that's not really the point I figure that's OK.

The touch pad has a durable feel to it. Elise had no trouble using it, if four-year-old computer skills are any measure. I am slightly disappointed by the small size of the buttons for clicking, but maybe that will just encourage kids to learn the keyboard shortcuts.

The other main physical appearance/feel thing that bears mentioning is that the unit is top-heavy without the battery. Sitting on the sofa with it on my lap, I felt I was in constant danger of dropping it. I think this would not be a problem with the battery installed and use on a flat surface, but it's something to be aware of.

The Turing On

The OLPC takes about the same amount of time to boot up as my Macbook, so glean from that what you will. It was fun for Elise to type her name and then click the little person to choose what colors to be. Very cute. And nice that there can be several profiles on one machine without much difficulty.

We're still learning how to navigate around, but the applications we tried were fun. Elise liked the drawing program and the TamTamJam program as well. I suspect that as I fiddle and learn how to use these applications, she will get more out of them. She was annoyed that the cool snake icon took her to an opportunity to try some programming. But then, age four is hardly the target audience. Turning the machine off after we were done was a little non-intuitive, but I think we managed it okay.

So, those are our initial impressions of this little unit. Cute machine, ambitious project. Glad to have a chance to play with it!

Friday, December 21, 2007


I just looked at my inbox (it's 6 minutes to midnight here) and realized that there is no way I'm catching up with all of the email I haven't been answering in the past week. Yargh. I will get there, just not tonight.

But, not to leave you empty handed, check out this cool video about bonobos:

And, be forewarned, looking around the website from which it comes is dangerous. And fun.

So, here I am, the email dodger extraordinaire introducing you to danger...

Monday, December 17, 2007


I think it's a good thing "they didn't have the internet when I was a kid" or I'd be full-time addicted to entering online contests. In the past few months alone, I've won movie tickets from my local library, a fabulous prize from one of our favorite Kiwi blogs, and now one from Science Blogs. Behold, the latest spoils reaped from my life on the interwebs:

Cool! It's a mug that looks kind of like labware, but it says right on it that it's for potable stuff only. I now have a mug that says "potable." This mug came to me because the nice people at Science Blogs were running a contest for their gazillionth commenter. I was, of course, not that commenter but I was a commenter and they selected some of us at random to receive this fabulous prize. I had nearly forgotten about it, and then this thing of beauty arrived in the mail today to put a smile on my face.

Speaking of forgotten contests-I do indeed remember that prizes need to be awarded in our pareidolia contest. My slowness in this has everything to do with the fact that I could not for the life of me figure out what I'd be sending off as a prize. For future reference, it helps to have a prize in mind before announcing a contest.

Competition was fierce, fierce I tell you and the judging was difficult. I had to walk all the way upstairs to ask Andy to choose a number between one and four inclusive. He chose "two."

Here, then, is the winning description of the following picture:

hoverFrog said...

"The smiley face of the Comedian's badge from the Watchmen comics by Alan Moore."

Well done, Sir. Your prize has been selected at random from the collection of mugs currently clean and in my cupboard. Please email me your preferred postal address to claim your prize.

And, in the spirit of the Science Blogs people who helped inspire this contest, if the rest of you most excellent contestants will send me your mailing addresses, I will issue a limited number (three, to be exact) of commemorative "First Steingruebl World Enterprises Contestant" postcards and send one your way.

Thank you to one and all for reading and for playing along and for being patient while I sort out this prize-giving stuff. It's an honor to have you here and reading what I write.


Our friend Job got us into buying gingerbread house kits from Costco when Elise was a year old, and we've been doing them ever since. With varying degrees of success. Last year, for example, we were impatient and the frosting didn't set up and the whole thing fell down.

This year, though, Elise is the Christmas crafter extraordinaire. We sat down as a family to put together our masterpiece, and it looks pretty good if I do say so myself. This is a really fun thing to do together. Thanks, Job!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


"Mommy, can you induce Flapjack to shake hands with you?"

I've played so much Candy Land lately that it was odd to play cribbage the other day and actually shuffle cards.

"Let's play the 'throw the balloons up in the air game!'"

"Flapjack Junior got very quiet in the room and I knew that she was either sound asleep or getting into mischief."

"Tell me the story about how when Uncle Peter was a little kid and Grandma Char always knew that when he was quiet he was asleep or he was doing something he shouldn't do." (Imagine all of that being said in one breath, very fast.)

We read How the Grinch Stole Christmas at least twice a day, every day.

"Let's play the 'throw the pom-poms up in the air game!'"

"I don't have pink eye, Mommy. I don't like eyedrops!"

At school, they're counting the days to 100 days of school. There has been a marked increase in counting at our house. And thanks to Dora, some of that is in Spanish.

"Is it past my usual bedtime Mommy?" "Yes, Punkin, it's time for bath and bed." "But I'm not tired and I don't want to go to bed!"

Ten minutes later, quiet.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The "Reason for the Season"

A bit of blasphemy from the most excellent people at LOL god...

Further proof that abstinence only "education" isn't our best bet?

A Kid Named Jello

Day number two at the new school.

"So, Elise, did you meet any new kids at school today?"


"Do you remember any of their names?"

"One boy, he told me his name is Jello."

I love this school. If only because the very place inspires conversations like this one.

The rest of the day was a bit of a mixed bag. Linda, the wonderteacher, was out today. Somehow, in all of the excitement, nobody thought to look for Elise's lunch bag in her cubby. They offered her the school hot lunch, which of course she didn't eat.

I found out about all of this through the following exchange.

"Mommy, did you put pretzel fish in my lunch today?"

"You should know the answer to that-tell me!"

"I don't know, Mommy. I didn't like the lunch that the teacher made."

"What food did the teacher make?"

"I don't know Mommy. I just didn't like it, so I didn't eat it. I'm hungry. Can we have pretzel fish at home?"

Sure enough, untouched lunch. Sigh. She ate it when we got home, and loved every bite. Including the pretzel fish.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

War on Science

Please note that I have accurately tagged this as a "Rant."

And here we all thought that Bush and Darth Cheney were too busy trying to start a war with Iran to focus on anything else. Nope. Turns out they have nearly infinite capacity for mischief.

All of that denial about global warning was apparently part of a coordinated attack. And the House Oversight Committee Report on it is pretty clear. Inexcusable. Really, really inexcusable. For shame.

How'd we get here? Is it that Americans are functionally illiterate when it comes to science? Is it that we don't pay attention? Is it that the consequences of full-on stupid aren't instant, long-lasting and hit-you-over-the-head obvious? Go ahead and guess my opinion on that one...

So, since we've clearly let ourselves down by assuming that our elected leaders wouldn't purposely steer us down a path toward a new Dark Age, isn't it time for some action?

How about a science debate?! Sign their petition. It's a good idea.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

First Day

Elise and Mommy, ready for Elise's first day at her new school. As you can see, she's a little apprehensive. Teri Bear's ear doesn't make it into Elise's mouth unless she's pretty worried, or falling asleep.

As it turns out, school was good. I had to spend some time with paperwork and parking and other such things, so she was on her own for a little bit, had me with her a little bit, and then spent the rest of the day at school on her own. She did a great job.

One thing I noticed was that Elise did a much better job of following directions when I wasn't nearby. She's normally pretty good at following directions, but school is a different story altogether. She seems to really need a personal invitation, and her previous teacher wasn't interested in doing that. So, when I watched Elise space out and put Teri Bear's ear in her mouth when she was asked to join a line, I was pretty nervous.

Well, talking with Linda (Elise's teacher) after school, I was relieved. Yes, Elise had needed personal invitations to follow directions. But unlike our previous school experience, the teacher continued to say that Elise didn't seem to be defiant. She needs to feel comfortable and safe about what's going on and then she's fine.

Can you hear that sigh of relief? I have a lot of confidence that this new school is going to work out.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Old Tree, New Tree

With birthday festivities over and done with for another year, we put up the Christmas decorations this afternoon. Elise is a fabulous helper, and we have a nicely decorated tree to prove it.
It hasn't always been so easy to put up the tree. For the past five years, we had a gorgeous but humongous tree. Nine feet tall, as big around as a VW bug. It put a real cramp in our living quarters every year. This picture from last year shows it shoved in a corner with half of the bottom branches unassembled, and it still took up the entire living room.

So, a few weeks ago I sold the old tree on Craigslist to finance a new, smaller tree. The guy who bought it called after assembling it at home to say how thrilled he was, so it's nice to know it went where it is appreciated.

The new tree is not quite as bushy and full, but it also takes up significantly less floorspace. It is also hinged, comes in 3 manageable sections, is pre-lit, and stores in one convenient box. All in all, a better bet for us.

Elise's favorite ornaments to put on were the six glass hummingbirds that Grandma Char gave to Andy several years ago. They're all hanging in a flock on one side of the tree. The one ornament we had to fight to get away from her was our traditional tree topper, seen here:

Oh yes, we have a fuzzy representation of our parrot on top of our tree ever year. The difference this year is that it takes a chair rather than a stepladder to get it up there.

Party time! Excellent!

The birthday girl had been looking forward to this party for eons, and spent all morning asking if it was eleven o'clock yet. As party time approached, she insisted on putting on her new princess dress and her tiara. You may not be able to tell from the above picture, but Elise really liked being dressed up for a party in her honor.

We invited three friends and their parents, keeping to the total number of kids present to the number of years the birthday girl has under her belt. I learned this from my parents and I have to say it is a fantastic idea. Just the right amount of crazy.

One really good thing about having a party for this age group is that it takes very little to entertain them. Andy blew up a mess of balloons this morning, and the kids had a blast. Check our our girl in motion:

Also, having a cat when your guests don't have pets is aces, because they spend all of their time inhaling the dust bunnies under your beds while trying to lure said cat out of hiding. Kid entertainment and housecleaning all in one!

When it was time for cake, Elise was ready. She loves candles, she loves being serenaded with the happy birthday song.

And here she is, telling us her birthday wish. "I wish that I will grow up to be big."

And foof! Beautiful candle extinguishing technique.

Our favorite parts were watching the kids chase balloons, and watching the giant smile on Elise's face as we all sang to her. It's possible that Elise loved every single minute of the party. She kept hollering, "This is so fun!" and "This is such a great party!"


Thursday, December 6, 2007

LOL Grinch

Flapjack takes her shot at stardom. The cuddly snowman can't save you now, big guy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Four Years Old!

That's right, our girl turned 4 years old yesterday (December 4th). Huzzah! For some unknown reason, I neglected to take any pictures so you may have to take my word for it that she was adorable and fun and had a fantastic day. It's very nice to be doted on for a day, no matter what your age.

The day started at 5:30am, when we heard loud and clear from upstairs, "Oh maaaaannnnn! It's hard to sleep all night when it's your birthday in the morning!" At this point, we figured sleep was no longer our friend and we'd better get up.

Not being big on delayed gratification ourselves, we "did" presents first thing. Elise actually liked her new baby doll enough to play with it and snuggle it, which I considered to be a real coup. In times past, she's held dolls by a leg or a strand of hair and carried them at arm's length like they're radioactive or something. This one, however, she likes and I think it will be fun for her.

Great Grandpa sent some really cute clothes at which Elise gazed with one eyebrow raised. Clothes are awesome when you're the parent trying to come up with cute stuff for your kid to wear, but when you are that kid they seem kinda pointless. Ah well.

Along with the doll, we got Elise a kid-friendly digital camera. A spendy gift, but also sturdy and in its second design iteration so I figured it was probably worth the money. I remember how much I loved my first camera (though did not remember how I got it and loved hearing my dad tell the story when we called the other day) and what a new window on the world it was. On the one hand, film made every shot count and I was careful about many of my shots. On the other, careful can also lead to neurotic. I'm glad we've managed digital imaging for this generation.

Picture taking has been good for Elise in another way that I was hoping for as well. She is often confused by perspective, and it's only recently that she has started to understand that I can not see which Candy Land card she's drawn unless she turns it to face me instead of just her. The camera seems to be giving her a lot better grasp of what she can see versus what others can see. And honestly, it's just amazing to see her working on documenting the most important things in her life. We have a lot of pictures of Mommy and Daddy and Flapjack, not to mention the stuffed bear and cat. At some point, we'll get the pics off the camera and post some of the more choice ones as a slideshow here.

Elise's favorite gift of the day came from Grandma Char and Grandpa Karl. It's a little car and camping trailer made by Fisher Price. Two girls with a purple car and a pink trailer are all outfitted for camping adventures. Hours and hours of fun. This evening, she was pretending that various tinker toys were food to cook over the fake campfire so that the girls could have a huge feast when their friends came to sleep over. Awesome. There's a "radio" in the trailer that plays some cute little tunes and that gets us up and dancing. Elise REALLY likes this toy, and I don't blame her. It's cool!

(As an aside, whoever designed the packaging for it should seek professional help for their twist-tie fetish. Each little piece of plastic was secured with a minimum of two ties, most of which were taped down inside of folded bits of cardboard. This has been a growing trend in toy packaging, and I hate it. So, all of you crooks who like to steal bits of toys out of their packages, knock it off so that the rest of us can experience a little less frustration, okay?)

After presents, we made pancakes for breakfast and had a fantastic time with that. Then, more playing before friends Kaden and Danea arrived to play and then go out to lunch. They brought with them a beautiful princess dress which Elise wore with style and grace. She may well have been born a princess and we never knew it. It was fantastic to see the three kids playing together and having so much fun. We were floored that Elise was so gracious about sharing her new toys with her friends. It was clear that she was just loving sharing her fun day with friends. The sort of thing that warms parents' hearts.

Lunch, cupcakes, naptime, and then a trip to the doctor for Daddy. (His leg is mostly better-that was a good present for our girl, lemmie tell you!) We went out for dinner, and the fantastic waitress at the restaurant brought out an ice cream sundae for the birthday girl. The whole place lit up with the smile Elise produced when she saw it and the candle. How does such a small person get so big with joy personified? I dunno, but I love it.

A fabulous birthday all the way around. Or as Elise said after dinner, "This has been quite the birthday, hasn't it?" Our big girl, four years old already.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It Must Be December

There is frost on the rooftops this morning! Wow.

Poll results will be analyzed and contest winners will be announced at some point this weekend. Stay tuned for more exciting details!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Golden Compass

I'm always amazed by what strikes fear into the hearts of some of the faithful.

I read the first two books of this fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman several years ago and found them enjoyable. And then I didn't think about them at all. With the recent spate of movies made out of fantasy novels, I had sorta figured I'd skip this one.

But by golly, it's frightening the Catholic League. This is strange to me because, by and large, the Catholics I know are intelligent and secure in what they believe. I can't imagine a movie threatening that, but what do I know? Clearly, I have a higher opinion of my friends than does Bill Donohue.

That alone would be enough to get me to pick up these books again, but Pullman's response was priceless. One of my favorite quotes ever now,

"Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world."
That about sums up my feelings as well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My First Lousy Kaiser Experience

We haven't made a big deal out of it here, but Andy hasn't been feeling so hot for the last few weeks. Something went haywire in his right hip and it progressed from causing mild limping to rendering him unable to walk without insane amounts of pain.

Through all of this, he regularly called Kaiser to make appointments and to follow up. I'm not saying that any of the doctors were blatantly stupid, but I do wish the process had been better. In spite of the fact that they have access to all of your records right there in the exam room, it seems like the doctors don't read any of 'em. Not even enough to follow up on the last guy's notes. Very frustrating.

A lack of continuity of care isn't what necessarily happens when you have an acute ailment that needs immediate attention. Andy attempted to see his primary care physician, but his office never called him back. When they finally did this evening, it was dramatically after the guy could have made himself useful. Clearly, it's time to find a different physician in the group. To make matters worse, he was shunted between general practitioners and rheumatologists. None of them were willing to address anything more than symptoms. And none of them had any reasonable suggestions for pain relief other than whatever they felt like prescribing at the moment.

The crowning glory of this experience was waiting for 45 minutes past our scheduled second appointment of the day today. With a nap-deprived girl who was getting pretty tired of doctors. I finally asked the receptionist if the doctor was behind. Nope-they just forgot about Andy after he'd checked in.

When he finally saw the doctor, she was happy to rule out an arthritis. That's it. Take these pills, sit on your butt for a week, that ought to fix you up. Nothing about anything else that might help the muscles relax and heal. No recommendations based on anatomy/physiology as to how he should sit. Just take the pills. Couldn't even pretend to care about an underlying cause, much discuss it with the patient and his very worried wife.

This last complaint isn't unique to Kaiser. It's very hard to find anyone who will take you as a whole person when it comes to pain management. The closest I've ever come was my personal trainer back in Chicago who was also a massage therapist. She'd coordinate anything with anyone. She also taught me to combat acute pain and control chronic pain. I wish there were more people with her training and expertise. We could use someone like that here. Right now.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fun with Pareidolia

Quick-what is this?

Imagine my surprise at seeing something looking back at me when I took this plastic cup out of the dishwasher today.

Pareidolia is the sort of thing that has people seeing dead popes in bonfires and selling Jesus crepes on Ebay for exorbitant sums. I think that the intelligent and all-around fantastic readers of Steingruebl World Enterprises can do better than that, and should be rewarded.

Therefore, I hereby announce our first big contest with fabulous prize. What does this smudged face on this cup look like to you? Submit your responses below and we'll announce prizes when we get around to it. (Better enter soon so you don't miss out, I'd say!)

Like Mother, Like Daughter

At the recent "Return to the Moon" night at NASA Ames, Elise had an opportunity to pretend to be an astronaut. It's safe to say that she did not get to indulge in brownies and coffee like I did when I was a kid living on the moon.

Luckily for Elise, technology is always improving and there's the possibility (slim, but still there) that she could one day tell her kids about her cool moon house. To me, this thing looks a little like one of those bouncy house things that people rent for kids' parties, only without the annoying Disney characters plastered all over the outside. We're going to have some fun making up stories about this one!


In an effort to provide more pictorial splendor, I submit for your viewing pleasure the following:

These little cuties are the newest babies at Happy Hollow. We were there a few weekends ago and I had to obsessively snap pictures of the darling fuzzballs. Absolutely adorable.

It was a cloudy day, and the planes at the San Jose airport were taking off toward the south (which is noisier than when they land from that direction) and the adults were extremely aware of this. Each flight caused them to circle around the babies and watch the sky until the threat was gone. I wonder if they're always so threatened by the planes, or if they've just become that way with the new babies.

Regardless, seeing these two little critters made me want to pick 'em up and snuggle 'em.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

It's easy to be thankful when things are going well. We're healthy, happy, and well fed here at Steingruebl World Enterprises. It's a wonderful thing that we don't take for granted.

With the major changes in our lives in the past few years (becoming a family of three, moving to California etc.), each holiday reminds us to stop and look how far we've come. A year ago, we were still trying to figure out this place called the Bay Area. We were also trying to figure out where to put the furniture. A year later, we are a little closer to finding ourselves and it feels so good.

One of the biggest changes between last year and this was dinner. Last year, Elise decided that she absolutely could not try one bite of the feast. This year, she had about five bites! Even bigger than that is the fact that she tried four "new" things that she has heretofore refused to eat. It was awesome. She's not sure she likes any of it, but she tried it. We are so proud!

The one damper on the day has been a persistent, crippling pain in Andy's leg. It's been getting worse over the course of about two weeks now. Things were markedly better for most of today and then he landed right back where he started. We're hoping a good night's sleep will help. Thankfully, we have three more days of weekend to get it sorted out.

I hope this post finds you healthy, happy and well-fed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We did it!

Elise, Andy and I dropped off the enrollment fee for Elise's new school today. It was good to see that the rest of the family agreed with my assessment of this place. I think it's going to be a great fit, and we're really looking forward to getting started!

I knew we'd done well when we toured the classroom together and I had another look at their science table. There were new projects! In only a week, they'd moved from sprouting a corn cob and looking at bones to looking at birds' nests. Awesome. They were also in the process of taking apart an old sewing machine screw by screw. Exploring and doing are exactly what a preschool should be about!

Can you tell I'm excited?

First Light

My shiny new ST 80 saw its first light tonight! After non-naptime this afternoon, Elise and I took it out to look at the moon and I was suitably impressed. After dark, I took it out to look at a bunch of stuff and compare its views to those of my bigger reflector.

First impressions-
The Good
-Easy to haul over to the park
-Fantastic contrast and sharp images
-I could get used to looking at things right-side up

The Bad
-Smaller aperture means less light gathered means less nifty view of fuzzy things
-Tripod takes some getting used to, especially when fingers are cold
-Blue tinge around the edges of things
-My newest eyepiece doesn't really work well with this scope for a number of reasons

On Balance
I like having a "grab and go" scope now. To get really comfortable, I still have visions of carting around a whole mess of stuff (like my adjustable chair, some charts and some eyepieces.) But, for nights when I just want to get outside this is aces. I'm also anticipating some really nice moon and planetary views with this.


A big Thank You to all who have voted in the new poll thus far. If you haven't voted, please take a moment to let your opinions be known.

In response to what I'm seeing, I've gone back and labeled old posts. From here on out, there will be any number of snazzy labels from which to choose. All of the old stuff has at least one mostly-relevant tag, and new stuff will be tagged slightly more accurately. That way, one need not read everything to get to (what I hope you consider) the good stuff.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Polls are Open

Howdy, Gentle Reader!
It's Monday here, and I'm getting ready for Tuesday. Tuesday is often voting day, so I've put up a poll just for YOU! Yup, you.

This blog started out as an account of what we're up to. In an effort to be aware of the wishes/desires of my loyal readership, I'd like your opinion of where we are now. I'm realizing that this has morphed into more of a peek at the inner workings of my mind than the workings of our family. I'm contemplating keeping this blog as a habitat for family news only and starting another one for my various hobbies and interests. Please lemmie know your thoughts in comments and/or in the poll so that I can plan my next move accordingly.

And, thanks for reading. :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Another weekend is just about to end, and we've been busy little bees here at Steingruebl World Enterprises.

1. Found a preschool. After lots of drama and looking at too many of these places, it turns out finding the "right" preschool is a lot like identifying obscenity. I know it when I see it. This place is about a 7 minute drive from our house, and is also right by a train station. It's clean, sunny, secure, and the staff all seem engaged and happy. My special favorite was the number of science projects sitting out and obviously in progress in the classroom Elise would attend. We're signing up tomorrow. Big thanks to all who have helped me with this-your help and encouragement have seen me through this confusion.

2. I have a new telescope. Today was the annual SJAA swap meet, and I scored a little refractor at a great price. Now, I just have to find a mount. My goal with this is to have something that is truly grab and go so that we can get out on clear nights without lugging the behemoth to the end of the alley. With this little scope, I can take advantage of the fact that the lights at the neighborhood park are malfunctioning and I should be able to enjoy some nicer views for less work. Yes, I'm lazy. The icing on the cake is that it's cheaper to get a good solar filter for this one than my 8", so I'm looking forward to observing my favorite star sometime soon!

The best part is that this is very portable, so I can travel with it. (Yes, NZ relatives and friends, I'm thinking of you specifically.) Of course, I met a guy at the swap meet who was selling his 8" Portaball (which has been his travel scope) so that he can afford an ingenious little 10" made by my friend Eric. It's a good move for him, and if I were similarly inclined I'd skip the Portaball and commission one of Eric's beauties as well. But given that $1700 would dwarf all of my astronomical purchases to date, I'm awfully happy with what I've got.

My actual favorite purchase of the swap meet will begin my foray into the world of amateur telescope making. One club member put together a lovely package of lenses and instructions for making your own telescope just like Galileo's. Tomorrow, Elise and I will go for a walk to purchase a 2" mailing tube and some (more) glitter glue so that we can put this puppy together. (The glitter glue is for decoration, I should specify.) I am amazed by what Galileo did with his telescope. I'll let you know how my project turns out, and if you like it I'll get you hooked up too.

3. Flapjack is driving me nuts. We have been trying new kinds of litter to see if we can limit the odor surrounding the box. As it turns out, our cat likes perfume as much as I do. However, I have never climbed up on a counter to write my protest in a box that once contained oranges. Suffice it to say we got the hint and have switched to (yet another) kind of litter which has only baking soda for stink control.

Another surprise was the fact that she must have climbed up on the kitchen table to barf on my jacket which was sitting on a chair. When did this cat decide that counters and tables are no longer off limits? I should just figure that her, "Oh yeah?! You and what army?" look means trouble and expect to be horrified.

On the plus side, she's been chasing down the bugs that we brought inside with Elise's new leaf collection. And she's been very cuddly. As I write this, she is curled up happily in Elise's little chair in the living room. Cats.

4. We've got a cool new babysitter. Mary is awesome. Firm, fun, reliable, and available when we need her! Well, mostly. Her schedule is packed, but we've managed to squeeze in and I love coming home to find the place tidy and my child happy. It's been nice to get out.

5. I've read the first two chapters of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. It's a great read so far. Who's out there joining me in reading this? Discussion group whenever you're ready!

6. I am very tired and should be in bed by now.

Happy start of the week, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Silly Novels

Lest my faithful readers imagine I've become waaaaay too serious of late, I'd like to recommend a series of mystery novels.

Carrie Bebris has written a series of very entertaining mystery novels based on characters from Jane Austen novels. Ms. Austen may not have known it, but Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were in for some adventures and fun after she got done with them.

At any rate, prepare yourself for the titles. Pride and Prescience. Suspense and Sensibility. North by Northanger. I've devoured all three in less than two weeks, and it's just the sort of break my tired brain has been craving. The first two center around supernatural events that kind of annoy me, but they were still fun. My favorite by far is North by Northanger, maybe because that's the bit of Austen I've read most recently.

It's getting to be the time of year for a nice cup of tea and a good book of an evening. And what with the writers' strike and all, go ahead and turn off the TV so you don't accidentally cross any picket lines. * Happy reading!!

*Okay, I can't be entirely frivolous tonight. Here's the less lighthearted part of the post...

Austen's work is all in the public domain which means that adaptations etc. are all fair game. Thanks to lobbying efforts by the likes of Disney and other media conglomerations, the stuff for which the currently striking writers would like to get paid will pretty much never hit the public domain. Copyright law is so much more exciting than one might otherwise imagine.

So, to recap, one could argue that the writers' evil overlords have managed to secure exclusive rights to profit from their work in perpetuity. I'd strike too.

Judgment Day

For those of you who've missed it, the nice people at PBS have put transcripts and video of the Nova program Judgment Day up online. It's all about the town of Dover, PA and its attention-getting ploy to insert "intelligent design" theory into actual science classes.

I've actually only watched half of the two hour program so far.

The thing that strikes me most forcefully as I watch this program is how much I've personally discounted the culture war we've got brewing here in the US of A. After watching this show, I think I have a better understanding of where "the other side" are coming from. I don't like it, but I think I get it.

In Dover, the people who were pushing the ID agenda were almost painfully "just folks." Nice people (by and large) who like to keep things simple and are earnest about being "good." The gentleman reviewing textbooks and declaring them "laced with Darwinism" is probably a really fun grandpa.

And there is something to be said for wanting life to be simple and uncomplicated. It's clearly a theme that crosses a lot of cultural boundaries. I've seen it among urban folk musicians, back-to-the-earth types, the deeply religious, the deeply "spiritual." There is always someplace to which we can retreat where life is more pure, more distilled, more fascinatingly meaningful. And the good news is that you don't have to go that far back to get there! I can't believe we so foolishly abandoned the good old days, and why isn't everyone else trying to reclaim them with me?!

But this wishful thinking comes at such a cost. Unfortunately, as a society we've developed a real aversion to differentiating between wishful thinking and reality. Don't step on my delusion! How dare you! And I can see how people would want to defend their comfort zones tooth and nail. But we've got to get some more reality-based comfort in our lives. Honestly. It would be a lot simpler than the mental gymnastics required to hold on to some flaky half-baked notions. And I'm not just talking about belief in various deities. People are willing to believe any number of strange things based on the fact that said belief seems to simplify some troubling aspect of their lives. Don't think too hard about what it does to the rest of their lives (and the lives of others) or it will make your head hurt.

For awhile now, I've been realizing that my own education in biology isn't that great. My last formal study was in 9th grade with a teacher who touted gaps in the fossil record ad nauseum and told us how if Lamarck was wrong Darwin could have been too. All of this a mere two years after the Supreme Court said he should have known better. Unfortunately, they didn't teach civics until three years later, and the football coach in charge of that class never got around to mentioning the Establishment Clause. And by then Mr. Bradley was off trampling on the constitutional rights of other unsuspecting students. As far as I know he taught the other stuff of the course pretty decently, but I may have a few gaps in my understanding of the fossil record after my stint in his class.

I've had the book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero and Carl Buell recommended to me, and I'm gonna read it. My local library doesn't have it on hand, so I'm hitting the bookstore in the near future. If anyone else out there wants to join me in a little book discussion group here on the blog, please lemmie know and we'll do this together! I can't fault simple people with opinions I don't like for being ignorant if I'm ignorant myself.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I knew it could be done!

When I was a kid (and this time the story is for real), we spent a significant amount of time traveling down the highway in the car. I noticed that the hum of the tires sounded different on different pavement, and speculated that one could use that to build a kind of "musical highway." I also figured that it could be designed to help keep drivers awake on long trips, and that it could also help regulate speed.

Well, the Japanese have beat me to it. I'm so tickled.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Childhood

As Related to Elise By Her Mommy

When I was a kid, we lived on the moon. We had our own little moon colony house where we lived very happily. Of course, I was much, much bigger then and have shrunk down as I've gotten older and we've moved back here to Earth.

At any rate, one of the best things about living on the moon was that we drank coffee and ate brownies all of the time. You'd think we'd have got tired of eating brownies for so many years, but we didn't.

Sometimes, Grandma Char would get fed up with all of the noise Uncle Peter and I were making in our relatively small house and she'd tell us to go outside to play. "Go make some noise out there in the vacuum!" she'd say. So, we'd spend a lot of time getting into our spacesuits, grab our Trader Joe's grocery bags, and head for the air lock.

I've told you about the air lock, right? So that all of the air didn't go "swooosh" out of our house we had an airlock on the door. To go outside, we'd open the door to the airlock, walk into the airlock, close the door to the house. When that was sealed, we'd open the door to the outside, walk out and close the door.

Collecting rocks on the moon is fun because it's a lot easier to bring a bunch of them home at once. For one thing, they're not as heavy! For another, with gravity being what it is you can go "boingy, boingy, boingy" all over the place and cover a lot more ground than you could just walking on Earth. Uncle Peter and I used to have contests to see who could fill their grocery bag first. The only rule was that you had to pick interesting rocks. If they didn't look like meteorite fragments or something left over from when the moon was first formed, it wasn't fair game. Anyway, we'd fill our bags and head back home.

When we got home, we'd go back in through the air lock. Once inside, we'd take the rocks to the living room to compare and see who had found the best collection. This was very important. Very, very important.

At some point, Grandma Char and Grandpa Karl would want the living room to be picked up. This meant that somebody had to take the rocks back outside. Whoever had the least interesting or most boring collection had to get back into their space suit and take both sacks of rocks back outside. It takes an annoyingly long time to get a space suit on, so I always tried to get the best rocks so that Uncle Peter would have to take the rocks out.

The thing about taking rocks back outside when you live on the moon is that your mom almost always has rules about where you can put them. No dumping them right outside the airlock, because we need to be able to get in and out without tripping all over piles of rocks. Don't dump them near the house because it will block the view out of the windows. Finally, Uncle Peter found a place to put the rocks that didn't get us in trouble, so we always put them in a big pile not too far from the house. One of these nights, we'll take out the telescope and I'll show you just where we left that pile.

Oh, and when we were not playing with rocks, we played a lot of board games. I know that Candy Land is your very favorite, but we didn't have that one! Can you believe it? Of course, we had something very similar. It was called Hydroponic Land. Living on the moon, you have to grow your own plants so we didn't even know what candy was. Hydroponic Land was all about growing and collecting nutritious things to eat. Same game, different characters.

Of course, Elise knows that this is all made-up but she loves it and requests this story right along with all of the "real" stories about when her parents were kids. It's fun to make this one up, and I can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing each time I added another element. It's going to be fun to see where it takes us next.

In case anyone imagines that I've somehow lost my background in education, this is actually a part of my ongoing space "unit." All of this is part of being stoked for an event at Ames next weekend. Of course, one could also argue that it's an excuse for me to engage my kiddo in my new hobby so that we have something fun to share.

Or maybe I did live on the moon, drinking coffee, eating brownies and collecting rocks.


It's okay to admit to being a proud wife, right?

My husband, of whom I am very proud, has been working on a new policy that went live on his employer's website this weekend. He likes to say that a lot of people worked on it and his boss was especially supportive etc. I'm his doting spouse, however, so I will think of it as "his" industry leading policy. You, gentle reader, will understand that this thing was a team effort, and that my husband is COOL.

What is this policy? I've had it explained to me this way...

A lot of people like mucking about with websites that don't belong to them and finding the parts that can break. To my understanding, this is a lot like counting coup. You find a weakness and say, "Ah hah! I'm tapping you with this stick because I can!" All of your friends are going to see just how cool/geeky you are. Anyway, if you're an upstanding hacker you'd probably also like to let the people who run a website know that you've found a weakness. But if you've been nosing around and then tell the people who run the website about it, you wouldn't be unreasonable to expect them to take you to court.

Enter this new policy. Simple, elegant, to the point. (Just like my husband.) Yes, we want to know if we've missed something that could harm our customers. Follow a few simple rules and don't be a jerk, and we're all good. It's a new thing out there that makes a lot of sense. It's been great seeing this get off the ground.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A better day

As many of you probably guessed, today was bound to be a better day than yesterday. I am pleased to report that we've had piles of fun, Elise is currently sound asleep for her nap, and I'm about to get off my lazy behind and get the house straightened up a bit in honor of the impending visit of a potential new babysitter. Wahoo!

This morning, Elise was determined to prove she was in a happier mood, and she did so by asking Andy if she could sit on his lap as he drank his coffee. He said yes and she ran around to the other side of the table. What?! Oh, that's because she wanted to shift her bowl of Cheerios closer to Daddy so she could eat and snuggle at the same time. And then she asked for yet another "story about when you were a little boy." It was cute.

Then, we noticed that our feline gardening helper was back outside. Elise chased said kitty up and down the sidewalk until it became too much. Kitties are so weird about gleefully shrieking children...

Our big accomplishment of the morning was to make a nice, visible schedule for Elise. She gets in the habit of not knowing what's going on from one minute to the next and then ends up kvetching about everything. I figure that with a schedule it all looks written in stone (or at least brightly colored shapes) and she'll be better at anticipating. And maybe whining less. We had great fun working on this together, and it ended up taking most of the morning. Much more fun than the "muck out the garage" plan I'd hatched earlier.

So, here you can see our newly upgraded family command center. Clock, family calendar, Elise schedule.
And the good news is that from a distance I can even see what's on this chart. I can be more organized too!

I have also managed to schedule three whole preschool visits (at places with openings!) for next week when the sitter will be here, so with any luck I'll have some good news on that front in a week's time.

Here's hoping the afternoon and evening go as well as the morning has.