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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Parkinson's is a horrible, awful disease. The slow theft of everything one holds dear. One of the worst things is does immediately is take away one's ability to move around.

I remember learning about the work of Thomas Reiss shortly after my grandmother was beginning to decline steadily from Parkinson's. Today, one of my favorite physicists has an excellent blog entry about his clever glasses to help people with akinesia walk. Glasses to help with walking?! Oh yes. I wish they'd had these puppies a decade ago...


My grandfather Ralph always used to tell stories about when he was a kid in school. A particular point of pride for him was the way his teacher appreciated all of his hard work in class. One day, she sent a note home to his mother reading,

"Dear Mrs. Schmiedeskamp,
Ralph is the most trying boy I know."
Today, more than any other in recent memory, I am sure that Elise has inherited some of the finer traits of her ancestors. Or maybe today was opposite day and nobody told me. This kid woke up CRANKY. And she stayed that way.

The only time I had a minute's peace was when I was doing exactly what she wanted me to do. Te rest of the time, she was a little tyrant. I've never heard so much "why"ing and foot-stomping in a twelve hour period! My favorite is the ever popular, "Mooooommyyyyyyyy! Quit. Telling. Me. What. To. Dooooooooooo!"

In the past, a day like this would have killed me. Today I just feel like I've been hit by a garbage truck. This was messy and unhappy and full of frustration, but I feel like I did well. I didn't give in and take orders from my kid. I responded promptly and firmly to misbehavior and kept every promise I made. And it worked some.

Of course, this is the second night in a row that Elise has thrown a gigantic tantrum at the prospect of eating what I've cooked for dinner. This is the second night she's refused to eat and gone to bed without supper. We're assuming she will eventually get hungry enough to eat things she's liked perfectly well in the past in spite of the fact that we're all sitting at the table together.

I've taken this all in stride and am resolved to keep this kid busy helping me tomorrow playing quietly in her room. We're gonna be fine. It was just a very draining day.

The worst part of the day came when Elise tried to close my hand in the crisper drawer of the fridge because she did NOT want an apple for a snack. I said something to the effect of, "Oh no you don't, young lady. Time out!" That part was cool. The uncool part was that I attempted to pick Herself up off the floor and deliver her to the time-out place. Something wrenched, and now I'm back to faint echoes of the pain that so clouded summer 2006. Aside from hurting, it throws me back to the weeks and weeks when I was incapacitated and miserable. I have sworn to myself that I will never do anything to incite that kind of agony again, and here I go doing it in a test of wills with my progeny. Argh.

On the bright side, we met a friend for a mommy & me movie this afternoon. I am not a fan of "kid" movies because they are almost always full of themes that are not appropriate for the small fry, but I LIKED Bee Movie. It was funny for both of us, the stuff that was over Elise's head was not crass or violent, and we learned a lot about honey bees.

Tonight was my turn to escape. I indulged in a bit of retail therapy. It was a blast! Of course, this can't be a habit but it was a welcome break today. I needed to pick up some buttons at the fabric store, and while I was there I noticed that the "fall" decorative stuff was all 60% off. Apparently, right after Halloween is Christmas, and forget about turkeys and stuff. So, in a fit of home-making craftiness I present to you, gentle reader, my new wreath that I made out of my own head with nuts to spare.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Cooking isn't my favorite thing in the world. At our house, that's much more Andy's domain. So much so, in fact, that this morning when I lamented that I was out of Cheerios he went ahead and whipped up some pancakes. Good stuff.

Anyway, we're working on improving the collective Steingruebl diet, so that means I'm at least getting dinner started before Andy gets home. It makes a huge difference when we all eat at the same time. Tonight's menu item was enchiladas, but I just wasn't feeling it. (Especially after a rousing chorus of "But Mooommmmmyyyyyyy! I don't like enchiladas!) Time to try something new.

Into my pan went ground turkey, black beans, diced chiles, frozen corn and some seasoning. (Obviously I cooked the turkey before I added that other stuff.) It looked like this:
Then, I lined a round baking dish with a tortilla and put some of that cooked up stuff on it, and covered it all with cheese.

A few layers like that later, and I was ready for the finishing touch on my "taco pie."

Oh-right...Now it's finished!

After twenty minutes in the oven, we had this!

And after twenty minutes at the table, we had this.

Elise didn't want taco pie. She informed us in her most pathetic, whiny voice that she wanted strawberry pie instead. I think she was annoyed that we laughed. Then she told us that she did not want any dinner at all. Sigh. I'm convinced that she will eventually eat like a civilized person.

We liked my concoction, and will likely have it again sometime soon. Or maybe we'll all just have strawberry pie for dinner. Not that this is wildly better than that, but it's a start.


Our flowers were looking pretty sad after a summer of slugs and aphids, so Elise and I did some planting this morning. It was fun!

Some crisanthemums, some daisies, some "false heather". Everything looks fresh and new and with any luck will keep the neighbors' dogs off the grass. In an attractive way.

We met a nice neighborhood kitty who exchanged eskimo kisses with Elise.

Isn't that a pretty kitty?
And now a pretty kiddo in her beflowery surroundings. Note the strategic placement of the pots-there's no WAY the neighbor's stupid dog is killing our grass with his nonstop urine now! (mwahahahaha)

The pink geranium has been blooming non-stop all summer. Next to it is the butterfly bush that suffered slug damage early in the season. Now, it's been transplanted to the actual dirt next to the front door in hopes of disguising some of its faults. That, and it just looks really pretty peeking up next to the steps.

I was especially pleased with this choice to fill the planter where the butterfly bush used to live. It's like having a pot of sunshine on my doorstep!

So, those are our gardening pictures. We're pretty happy with our morning's handiwork. We're going to be doing some crafts after naptime today-I hope you have something similarly fun to do with your day!

Unwelcome Missionary

The image above shows the signage in our front window. I figure that the "neighborhood watch" one is pretty common and therefore self-explanatory. The second "no preaching" one is a little less common, but when I put it in the window I still expected that people would figure it out.

What do you think? Is it clear?

Our little housing development is a favorite with missionaries, I assume because one can annoy a large number of people with relatively little physical exertion.

We get a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses. Even though they mostly only speak Spanish, I'd have thought our sign would warn 'em off. Nope.

Then, a few weeks ago we got a new breed altogether. This visit was from two young men, one obviously the tutor training the "new guy." While I was cooking dinner, I saw the tutor look at the sign in my window, and then peer through my window at my child playing on the floor. It was late afternoon and still light out, so I didn't have the blinds closed.

Within moments, the student missionary rang the bell, his dementor apparently keeping a safe distance out on the sidewalk.

The dude starts in on his spiel about how he's with the church of something or other. I stop him in the middle by saying, "This home does not accept religious solicitations." "Yes..." he says. "We have a sign in the window to that effect. Good evening." And I closed the door.

I don't know much about the missionary mindset, but I wonder what would compel anyone other than a cretin or a criminal to intrude someplace where they are not welcome. If I have asked them to stay away, why waste their breath on those who will clearly be "ungrateful" for their efforts? Spend your time going after the clearly gullible, I say! And if your deity values my personal space so little that you are compelled to get all up in it, what would I gain by joining your little dogma circle?

This problem of inconsiderate missionaries isn't likely to go away any time soon. As long as there are people out there convinced that they have the only path to the Truth, there's going to be some creep knocking on my door.

My own personal code of conduct really doesn't let me be rude to strangers. I especially can't be obnoxious to someone who honestly appears to be trying to do a "good" thing. The trouble is, by disregarding that sign in my window I think that a missionary cedes credibility regarding benign intent and should be taken to task for it.

What do you do when missionaries come to your door?

Monday, November 5, 2007


It's a little frightening that the presidential election is a year away and it already feels like the process has been one obnoxiously long slog. I don't like any of it. The Republicans make me ill, pretty much all of them. I see no redeeming qualities. And that's not just a product of my lifelong liberalhood. Those guys are nutbags.

The Democrats aren't impressing me much either. Obama has been my favorite from the start (he is my former Senator, after all) but his recent pandering to religious homophobes has me anxious and confused. Hillary, in spite of being the apparent front-runner, is really a pain to listen to. Have any of these people who love her so much actually listened to her talk? It's awful. She makes no sense and answers nothing. I don't think she could state her own name unambiguously if her life depended on it. Not cool.

Hilariously, John Edwards (who I think is a populist idiot in many ways) has a new commercial out that gets to the heart of my problem with Hillary. I'm hoping that it will get a little press and she'll have to actually answer a question or two.

On the other hand, Hillary is the only one I've seen with a clearly stated science policy. Really, every candidate out there should have one out there just to counter the outright disgrace of the Bush administration and their War on Science. And I can't believe we haven't been collectively been taking them to task for repeated atrocities. Candidates with firm science policies are a good start.

We have us a critical thinking gap, friends. What are we going to do about it? Embrace Pastafarianism and try to forget? One small-potatoes approach tickles my fancy so I committed my first subversive act over the weekend, sending this from the biology section back to the humor section where it belongs.

I'm up waaaay too late now. Hope you are all well. We'll try to take some pictures tomorrow!

Book Review: The Gift of Fear

I just recently finished reading The Gift of Fear, Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin DeBecker. Like so much of what I've read lately, it was recommended by something that I read on some blog somewhere.

Most of my life, I've been of the opinion that it's silly to spend time worrying about the senseless violence that seems to happen so randomly and so often. As a college student in Chicago, I learned the various common-sense things that generally keep a young lady safe in the big city. And it should be noted that I did just fine, as do lots other people.

The main point of this book is that by denying to ourselves that humans have the capacity for violence, we set ourselves up to be victims of it. Most often, the acts of violence that seem so senseless and unavoidable are neither. With a knowledge of how certain situations escalate to violence and a willingness to listen to your intuition, you really can save yourself a lot of grief.

My favorite part of this book is the last chapter in which the author describes the difference between fear and worry. The first can be a powerful motivator to self-preservation. The second is pretty much worthless and keeps you from being able to assess any actual threats that might present themselves. With the number of people I've met who carry their fear around like a magic talisman, it was worth reading this whole book for the final chapter alone.

One of the other things that really caught my interest was what to do with stalkers. I've known some people who have been stalked by exes, and WOW do we all have a very poor sense of what to do to make them go away. The common wisdom of changing phone numbers and getting restraining orders is almost always a bad idea, and DeBecker explains why. Keep your old phone number and hook it up to an answering machine, and get a new phone number that you give to people you actually want to hear from. Save stalker messages as evidence for police. A restraining order is a piece of paper that can lend a false sense of security, and may even incite a stalker to violence. If nothing else, I recommend this section as a dating guide.

I have now managed to lose the page, but at one point DeBecker makes the point that dating is a game of high stakes predicting already. It makes sense to also do some thoughtful predicting about violence as well. Having seen one friend in a violent relationship, I agree wholeheartedly.

This book also discusses workplace hazards. From this I learned that it's best to really check references. Every time. And check thoroughly. If you do that, you greatly reduce your chances of making the news as part of a workplace shooting. And, if there's someone being weird it's a good idea to get them out sooner rather than later, before they build up enough motivation to be violent.

Learning about predictable violence is actually very comforting. I feel like I have better information about staying safe as I wander around in the world. I hope my review has at least sparked your interest enough for you to check this book out at the library. To quote the title of an aptly named Flannerey O'Connor short story, "The life you save may be your own."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Figured it Out-Now What?

Ah, the joys. Just when we think we've got something figured out parenting-wise, it all goes pear shaped. Not even the trials and tribulations of adolescence prepared me for the abject confusion of parenthood!

For the past week and a half, Elise has been sliding back to her pre-Montana visit self. Heightened anxiety about everything, trouble sleeping, sensitivity to sound, obsessive circular thinking and poor self-expression stand out most. Well, most after constant clinging to Mommy for dear life. We were starting to get alarmed, and then the earthquakes hit. The ensuing bedtime crisis distracted us for a few days, but then we realized things were continuing to deteriorate.

On a hunch, I started talking to Elise about school when I went up to get her out of bed Saturday morning. Her thumb was immediately in her mouth, a sure sign of stress. I had struck a nerve.

We talked for awhile, and I told Elise how the school we'd both liked the week before was full, and how it would be quite awhile before she started. And we'd be talking about it a lot before we ever went. The thumb comes out of the mouth. Look of concern.

"Mommy, I want a school where you will come with me every day and stay the WHOLE time."

So that's it, eh? I found myself wondering what in blazes that woman had done to my girl in her previous preschool life. I knew the experience had been isolating, but this is a stronger reaction than I'd expected. What I do know is that my child's personality changed dramatically for the worse while at that school, and the prospect of going to any school triggers some of the same behavior. We're going to have to think through our return to the world of school a little more carefully than I had imagined.

So, I guess we'll be continuing to work on the preschool thing. I had dismissed a co-op setting out of hand because I didn't think Elise would react well to having rotating shifts of "in charge" adults around. I also think it would be an invitation to her to manipulate unfamiliar adults and keep things going at her own speed. My assumption was that this would be a bad thing, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe a little power over her surroundings with Mommy present a good deal of the time (at least to start) would be a good thing? I dunno.

I sure would like some advice from anyone and everyone out there who has experience in this area. The strange behavior that had us so worried is almost completely gone, and all that remains is the deathly fear of separation. How do we help our girl go to school?