Friday, June 29, 2007


Wow-a big day for Silicon Valley. A new Trader Joe's just opened in the shopping plaza up the way from us. Say hello to ease of consumption. Thanks to this revolutionary advance, I will now be able to buy toothpaste (Target), cat toys (PetSmart), cheap bits of foam for craft projects (Michaels) and yogurt (Trader Joe's) all without moving my car from one massive parking lot. Of course, one is still expected to drive from store to store.

Apparently, this sort of shopping is not available internationally, as my brother in New Zealand expresses an attitude of mystification at the notion of so many big box stores all in one place. All I can say to that is, "At least there are no currently disclosed plans to pave over the park across the street from this shopping center and put in an Ikea."

Of course, we made sure to have all of the necessary accessories when we set up our first trip to the new Trader Joe's. Our reusable grocery bags stay in the back of the car for just such occasions, and Elise and I both wore flip flops. If anyone out there is still concerned as to whether or not we're assimilating here in CA, that ought to put your mind at ease. Lines were long, but we passed the time by chatting with one of our neighbors about the neighborhood foster cat that was outside making an unholy ruckus early this morning.

The thing that is immediately apparent about this new Trader Joe's is its sleek design. Between the wider aisles and the airplane decor (it is, after all, about five feet from the end of the SJC runway) it far outclasses the skanky Safeway we've been frequenting. Not only that, but the way this shopping plaza now so seamlessly integrates our various shopping experiences, I think it really will revolutionize our lifestyle. From what I saw today, there is no question of it living up to the hype.

Best of all, I got out of there for just over $42, whereas the other much ballyhooed unveiling that happened today would have cost me $600 to bring home. I long ago drank the Apple kool-aid and love my MacBook passionately, but at this point in my life the grocery store is clearly the bigger story.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mr. Mastodon Farm

We've been big fans of Cake here for a long while, but didn't acquire their Motorcade of Generosity CD until Andy bought it for my birthday this year. I can't believe I've been missing out on this since my freshman year of college.

At any rate, Mr. Mastodon Farm has been in my head for the past week and refuses to get out. On the one hand, I'd like to be able to think about something other than birds and swatches. On the other hand, my head seems to really enjoy wrapping itself up in this extra catchy masterpiece.

Oh, and apparently the man in the moon has gas. Or something like that.

But who needs gas when there are organic fuels available?

Maybe I need sleep.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A few months back, we became members of the local public radio station. The decision to do so was a tricky one, since we really miss WBEZ and feel like KQED has some catching up to do programming-wise. Some of the stuff that airs here lends credence to the definition of "liberal" as someone so open-minded their brain has fallen out. But hey, they're still the best game in town so we contribute and just write e-mails to complain about the worst of the drivel.

At any rate, our "thank you gift" arrived in the mail today, also to mixed reviews. We're all agreed that it doesn't actually fulfill a burning need in our lives. I think it's pretty cool. I also think it's probably more useful than a canvas tote bag-feel free to disagree...

The item in question is a Solio solar charger. It's a charger that can be plugged into the wall, but is designed to be plugged into the sun. Three cute little solar panels fold out to charge the unit's internal battery and whatever little device needs powering. Phones, music players, etc. It has adapter tips for pretty much every kind of cell phone, USB and mini USB, and even 12volt. All very exciting. Granted, we don't haul that much gear around with us on a regular basis and this might be a time-consuming way to keep the cell phone charged, but it seems like a good idea. Having it in hand at least gives me the chance to figure out what I can do with it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


After all of the fun she had stargazing last Monday, Elise decided she wanted another go of it this weekend. Saturday afternoon, she took a two hour nap. So, after a fun dinner with Cousin Geetha (who is now in town and celebrates her birthday tomorrow), we put on some warmer clothes and hopped in the car to search for a patch of darkish sky. The park we found wasn't bad, but the well-lit tennis courts guarantee that we'll be finding a different stargazing location in the future.

Elise was thrilled to be able to impress us with her knowledge of the moon and Venus-she knows where they are no problem. I tried to introduce her to Saturn, but by that point she was most interested in picking clover flowers and it likely didn't stick.

The Schmiedeskamp grandparents found a telescope at a garage sale that should add an extra dimension to our visit later this summer. If her reaction to a pair of toy binoculars is any indication, Elise will likely introduce us all to a new form of space flight when she sees this telescope. Not bad for $3. Top that, NASA!

Today, when Elise wanted to play with her new (also $3 coincidentally) binoculars she exclaimed happily that she could go out and look at the sun! Aaaaaaaugh! I must have been a little too serious in my lecture about NEVER looking at the sun because she got very quiet and wanted to snuggle on my lap for a good long while. I thought she was going to weep. But you know, even at the age of three-and-a-half, she gets it. Unlike some people. Given the seriousness of this, I think we'll even wait awhile to do anything with pinholes and cardboard, just to make sure there is absolutely no confusion.

Speaking of eliminating confusion, I've found a couple of astronomy blogs that I really like. The first is called Star Stryder. She has nice explanations of some concepts that are pretty key to understanding basic astronomy, and I like her writing style. Worth checking out!

The second one is called Bad Astronomy. Very informative, very readable, and the occasional fun tidbit thrown in.

Finally, if you like looking up in the sky and wondering about what satellites you're seeing zip by, or you'd like to see the Hubble Telescope or the International Space station, Heavens Above is the place to be. You put in your coordinates, and then you can get whole lists of what you'll see when and where. It's pretty fun to watch some of those satellites. I was too busy gabbing at Friday's star party and missed seeing the space station, but thanks to this website I know when to look again.

That's about all for now. I hope you've all had a great weekend!

First Kid at Hester Park

Many months ago, we arrived at the library for our regular Friday story time to discover that the park right next to said library was closed. Closed!! After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we learned that the old playground equipment was apparently very old and in need of an update, so they had decided to tear it all out and start over. Okay, we thought, how long can it take?

It took a loooooooong time. The library was closed this Friday morning (so no storytime) but we decided to go in the afternoon anyway. As we were parking, we noticed that the giant fence around the playground was being removed. Needless to say, we raced to choose our week's reading material and dashed outside to play. Nobody else was there yet. By the time we left, there were at least two, and maybe three families playing. This is one popular park. And the improvements are nice, in spite of how long it took to get them together.

Those of you who know us well will not be surprised to see that this is how Elise chose to spend most of her time:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Day of School

Today was Elise's first day of school. We arrived at 8:45, and got to spend some quality time with Clara (the teacher-see pictures above & below) before the rest of the students arrived. I left at 9:30, just as the kids were getting ready to go outside to play. When I checked in later in the morning, Clara told me that Elise was doing brilliantly and is "just a wonderful human being." Nothing instills confidence quite like someone appreciating the full magnitude of your kid's greatness...

I picked Elise up at noon-we're easing her into this whole school thing. When I arrived, she was sitting at the writing center with two other students, and they were all happily coloring and playing with stickers. We've been a little slow to introduce scissors here, but that didn't stop Elise from giving them a try today. She did a great job!

Tuesdays are "Be Excited About Reading" (BEAR) days at school, so each child brings in a book to share with the class. Elise's choice for her first day was "Hairy MacLary's Caterwaul Caper" by Lynley Dodd. This book was a gift from her Auntie Kiwi in Dunedin when she was born, and has been a firm favorite from the moment she laid eyes on it. Clara said that Elise clearly loved being able to share this treasure with the class, and I think it was good to have something familiar to take with her. (The gal at dooce sent her daughter to school with a Dora book and things went well. Something about books-they're just magic...)

So, school was apparently fun, and Elise is looking forward to going back again tomorrow! All of this makes me very glad, since this could easily have gone the other way. I'm sure we'll have some ups and downs as she gets used to this whole school thing, but so far it seems to be giving her some great confidence. Yay Elise! You did it big girl-your first day of school!!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Elise's First Observation Report

For weeks now, I've been promising to take Elise stargazing if she sleeps during her afternoon rest period. This is not so much a reward as it is the mommy's selfish desire to show the kiddo the sky paired with the knowledge that it wouldn't be much fun if said kiddo is overtired.

So, today Elise fell asleep during her rest time. It might have been better to do our first stargazing at a time not directly before her first day of school. But, a promise is a promise.

We headed out as the sun was sinking below the horizon, and we found the moon and Venus. Elise really enjoyed having a name for them, and also seemed to enjoy giving our binoculars a whirl. Maybe this weekend we can take her someplace with darker skies and introduce her to the joys of lying on her back and watching the stars go by.

My First Observation Report

Saturday June 16, 2007
Coyote Lake County Park, CA

Met Lou & Adolfo (friends from SJAA) for viewing. Lou brought and set up a small frefractor for me to use. It was windy, cold, and humid and we packed up and left by 1am.

Since this was my third ever time looking through a telescope, I spent a lot of time just getting oriented. Lou got me familiar with the "summer triangle" of Deneb, Vega & Altair. Under Lou's tutelege, I was able to find M6 & M7 using the tail of Scorpius as my jumping off point. I also revisited M13 and the Ring Nebula from our last viewing session, just to prove to myself I could do it!

Randomly on my own, I ended up looking at the Lagoon Nebula, and it was something. Can't wait to go see it again.

This was also my first chance to get a really good look at the moon. Since it was at about 6%, I had a chance to see just a sliver, and even saw the outlines of things just at the outside edge. And, it was fun to see details even in the shadowy part. A lot of astronomers avoid the full moon, but for awhile I think I will be looking for one, especially if I can get ahold of a filter so it's not so bright in the 'scope.

My favorite observation of the night came when I took a closer look at Delphinus. Through a 9x50 spotter scope, it looks like the Flying Spaghetti Monster!! I felt I had indeed been touched by his noodly appendage. Awesome.

Other highlights included meeting a guy who was there with his 16 inch telescope. Really nice viewing through that! The part of the Veil Nebula we saw was just gorgeous-especially after he found his O3 filter. Early in the evening he told us about the feral pig he'd seen there a few days before, which made me a little skittish. Later, when we heard what sounded like a dog fight with some squealing involved, I was just as glad that there was some other guy closer to it than us. Might have been some dogs fighting, might have been coyotes. My bet is coyotes and feral pig.

And, while it doesn't have much to do with stargazing directly, I figured out how to drive our car without engaging the running lights. It really stinks at a star party to suddenly get someone's headlights in your eyes. The whole sky just disappears. Our car has these running lights that are mostly handy, but not so good for being out with astronomers late at night. Lou suggested that I try driving with the hand brake just slightly engaged and that did it. So, I will no longer be the evil killer of night-vision at these things. :)

Thank you for bearing with me as I post my astronomical adventures. I'll label these ones "Astronomy" so if you'd rather skip posts like this in the future, it's easy to do so.

I will end by saying that Venus is looking mighty bright and lovely out there these days, as is Jupiter. We missed Saturn tonight when it started hiding behind the moon, but it's pretty fun to see too. A good pair of binoculars will let you see all kinds of good stuff on the moon, and maybe even make out Saturn's rings. Get out there and have some fun, and tell us all what you see!

Sunday, June 17, 2007


We really are still out here-I promise! It's been busy and we keep thinking we have fabulous things to post, and then it's bedtime and nothing gets written after all. Hmmm...

So, a lot of news has piled up, and I've mostly forgotten all of the millions of cute things Elise has done lately that seemed like they needed to be immortalized on the interwebs. We'll get more pics and stories soon because...

PRESCHOOL starts Tuesday! Elise is starting at Making Friends Preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning this week. She's not too sure about the whole thing, but a recent burst in self-confidence has us convinced that the transition should be pretty smooth. Well, that and the fact that the teacher is amazing. Exciting times!

Andy has been busy with all kinds of things. Recently, he replaced his old Powerbook with a new Macbook and it's been a good change. We're working on getting the Powerbook ready for Elise to use (with monitor, keyboard and mouse added), but that's probably going to take awhile. I don't think I will be able to sit and play too many more PBS Kids games in the near future, so it's good to take our time.

But back to Andy. He was in Seattle the first part of last week for a conference at Microsoft. We missed him here, and Elise was thrilled when he got her out of bed Thursday morning. Speaking of Thursday, there is a touch-rugby league that plays up the street from us on Thursdays that Andy is going to check out. He also had a chance to play tennis with a friend this afternoon, so watch this space for more news of sporting activities here at Steingruebl World Enterprises.

I've been missing my jug band friends back in Chicago and really searching for my niche here. After reading Big Bang by Simon Singh, I decided to look up the local astronomy club. Wow, is this a fun group of people. Even with the light pollution we get here, there is so much to see! The club has a loaner telescope program, of which I will probably take advantage until I've saved up for the telescope I'm coveting. A new friend, Lou, has taken me under her wing and is helping me navigate around the night sky. It's amazing. She just lent me a book called Turn Left at Orion, and I can't wait to get my hands on a telescope and start finding the things it lists. The one major problem with this hobby is that it requires a certain amount of sleep deprivation. Last weekend was brutal because I went to two star parties in two nights, but one good night of viewing this weekend has kept us all a bit more sane.

This Friday, we're expecting to see Cousin Geetha roll into town for the start of her whirlwind year of grad school at Stanford. Should be fun! It seems like the summer is already starting to fill up with all kinds of good things. With any luck, we'll get in some good school, sports, astronomy, camping and general goofing off.

I'm sure there's more news that I'm forgetting, but that's the big stuff. Hopefully this finds you well-drop us a line when you get a chance!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Three and a Half

Today was a big day at our house. Not only is it the queen's birthday celebration(a wink and a nod to Uncle Peter & Auntie Roni in Kiwistan), but it's Elise's half birthday! Three and a half years. Three and a half. That's nearly four!

A lot of exciting things are coming up, most notably the start of preschool. We got word today that Elise's first official day will be June 19th. She's pretty excited, and we have high hopes that it will be just the thing for her. Mommy is getting boring at home full-time. (Or so we imagine.)

So, not terribly newsy or interesting, it just seemed like a good idea to mark this milestone. Three and a half!!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Misleading Signage

We've been driving past this place since we got here. Quick-what kind of business is it?

Given the font and color choices displayed on the banner, we assumed "adult entertainment." And then we noticed the "karate" part. And we giggled.

Maybe it's a sign of how much less man-made visual stimulation there is here than in Chicago, but we're noticing signs more here. After nearly 10 months, we ought to be used to things here, though. It's great to see signs that make tile emporiums look like hair salons, restaurants that look like check cashing loan sharks and hair salons that look like bookstores. Are people here more creative, or do they not realize they're bucking convention? We may never know, but in the mean time it's really fun to spot these things.

And, as an aside, here is my new favorite YouTube video. (Caution-animal violence but it all turns out well in the end.)