Thursday, February 28, 2008

More Books, Please

This week, I don't think we checked out enough books. We've read all of the ones we have so much as to dull even Elise's enthusiasm for the favorites.

Never, fear, however! Based on the lively discussion of Skippyjon Jones I've reserved a copy of that (which may not be in for a few weeks) and also the "other" Polo book. We're also going to look for some of the items on Aunt Linda's most excellent cat book list.

On to this week's favorites...

Watch Out!
by Jan Fearnley
Little Wilf (oh, do I love names like this!) is a very good little guy who tries to listen to his mom but man is it hard. He falls down and gets hurt a lot as a result. We like that at the end the mom fails to heed his warning and causes the biggest mess of all. And that it's all okay.

The Muffin Munching Dragon
by Stephen Cosgrove, illustrated by Robin James
This was a huge favorite of mine when I was a kid, so I went looking for it in the library's online catalog. Luckily, they had one copy in Chinese with an English translation in the back. In this story, a greedy dragon inadvertently causes some rather backward seeming villagers to become destitute. Elise doesn't really like that part except for the fact that it gives her a chance to comment that the dragon couldn't possibly be that horrible. And in fact, the dragon does figure out how to solve the problem so Elise likes it as much as I did.

Will You Take Care of Me?
by Margaret Park Bridges, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Every time Elise gets a little more independent, the change is followed by extreme clinginess and anxiety on her part. Usually some annoyance on my part as well. One particularly hard day last week, Andy suggested that I talk to her about how growing up doesn't mean we don't take care of her anymore. The effect was magical. Then, when we were at the library we found this book. The little kangaroo has some flights of fancy that lose all of our attention pretty quickly, but Elise definitely tunes in for the end. It's nice to have a gentle story that helps with this separation/growing-up dialog we're having.

Three Up a Tree
by James Marshall
We've enjoyed the Fox books by this author so much that we picked up one of his about some different characters. Elise likes that there are three stories in this book, and that reading it keeps us going longer than the average book. I don't know how much she likes the stories, though. We've got to find some more long books.

Caillou: The Phone Call
Adapted by Marilyn Pleau-Murissi, illustrations adapted by Eric Sévigny
I really hate it when I'm hanging out with someone and they spend a lot of time on the phone. Kids are apparently the same way, and the phone has been a struggle at our house for a long time. Seeing one of her favorite TV characters being blown off by his mom for the telephone has made some of the yelling and foot-stomping go away here, at least this week.

Pippin Takes a Bath
by K.V. Johansen, illustrated by Bernice Lum
When I was a kid, our dog Patches did not like baths. She didn't give us quite the same trouble that Pippin gives Mabel in this book, but she sure did look miserable after the torture that was bathtime. Elise was inclined to think that this story was the height of silliness (who doesn't like baths?!) until I told her all about Patches. Silly dogs.

And, not a book review at all but a music recommendation. My friend James blogged about the latest offering from They Might Be Giants, and we are now hooked. Longtime fans of the album "No!" we were thrilled to watch the podcasts of the ABCs and 123s. And, we've gone out and got both of them, which is nice except that the songs are at least as insidious as Laurie Berkner's stuff, only more weird.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Resident Photographer

In case it wasn't already very very clear, we're quite proud of our girl. With so many reasons for this, I'm sure I'd drive away the last of my readers if I were to enumerate. (We're all very modest here.) Today, I'd like to share the latest.

I told Elise this morning that the foggy weather is the sort photographers love because it is the perfect light for taking pictures outside. With that in mind, she agreed to a photo expedition to the park. She hasn't been using the camera she got for her birthday as much as we'd hoped, so it was nice to see her enthusiasm. I was not prepared for the absolutely amazing photos she turned out, though.

Presenting: Elise's photographic debut!

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lady

Sunday, February 24, 2008


We've been doing a lot of "girly" things here of late. I'm not exactly an expert, but we sure do have fun. In case you were wondering, yes, Elise does know how cool she looks in her sunglasses.

It all started when Elise was actually willing to sit still to have her hair put in braids. Woah.

Of course, that devolved into playing with cars in unusual ways, but I'd like to mention that when she's being deliberately silly Miss Elise is oh so gentle. Hence the smile not a grimace.

Enchanted by the nail polish I thoughtfully left out in plain view, Elise was interested in sitting for a pedicure. She thought it was a hoot when I fussed over her, bringing beverages and reading material while she waited for her toenails to dry.

We had been growing out Elise's bangs, figuring that it couldn't look any worse than the haircuts we've found for her around here. However, she has so much thick, wavy/curly hair that barrettes were not covering it. Rather than spend $25 for the privilege of having some well-meaning person cut her hair short (thus rendering it unmanageable) I dug out my copy of How to Simply Cut Children's Hair and dug in.

Of course, I don't have any "after" shots, but have now dug out the camera again and will be taking care of that. I left the bangs a little long and they're getting in the way already so we may be destined for another haircut shortly.

I should also mention that Elise organized her own dresser (with some supervision) and now picks out her outfits every day. Last weekend, she was so excited for her friend Liem's birthday party that she bounded out of bed when her night light turned off (her signal that it's morning) and dashed to her dresser to pick out clothes. Yesterday, she declared to me that she was not "in a brown mood." "I'm in a pink mood, today," she said. And she was-it suited her perfectly. As does her smile. :-)

Always Greener

It seems the height of silliness to have wheatgrass growing in our cat's water fountain, but that's what it's come to here at Steingruebl World Enterprises.

The fountain came into play when I got tired of taking care of water dishes for two cats after Elise was born. I wanted them to have nominally clean water but didn't want to have to deal with it ever two hours. Plus, they drink more when there's running water available. Now that it's down to Flapjack (Diesel has a happy home with Arlo & Sally) I don't have to use the giant extra reservoir.

So, now that Flapjack seems to stay well hydrated, she still craves greens. I mean really craves them. She dashes out the front door to eat the grass. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but I have no idea what the gardeners put on the grass here but I caught them spraying roundup the other day and have no desire to have that tracked into the house on little cat feet. Oh, and she also eats any flowers we bring into the house. Also probably not good if you know anything about how a lot of 'em are grown. And, the vet has pointed out to us that lilies of any sort are very very bad for kitty digestion.

While wandering around the pet store last Thursday, I came across a "grow your own" kit for Flapjack's water fountain. The little basket hangs over the side, a basket with seeds pops in, and ta-daaaaa! you have a little hydroponic operation ready to go. I got this going on Thursday, and we pretty much watched it growing this weekend.

Amazing, right?

If you're a cat, it is apparently scary. Very, very scary. Oh no! It's grass in my water dish! Flapjack has been standing in the space behind the dish and peeking her head around to the farthest corner from the grass in a vain attempt to not see it while she drinks. She has made it clear that she is NOT going to eat the grass. Even though it's conveniently right there where she slurps down her water.

Will the wheatgrass grow to be 6 feet tall before I finally have to get rid of it? Will Flapjack cave and give it a try? Would she leave less vomit for Roomba to find in the middle of the night if she did? We'll report our findings in a future installment.

Flapjack has apparently overcome her fear of a grassy water dish, and has been munching with great abandon. I haven't been able to catch her in the act, but here's photographic evidence of the aftermath...

Economics of Fandom

Back in Chicago, we were White Sox fans. And, we went to what I consider a fair number of games in a season in spite of the fact that we never indulged in season tickets.

This was an easy way to be a fan, largely due to the hospitality of our friend Job. Not only did we have free parking at his place just a few blocks from Comiskey, but we'd generally barbeque before the games and save on food, too. An added bonus was that we had someplace to wait out rain delays, and we could use a clean restroom while waiting for traffic to clear. And, once Elise came along we had fantastic babysitters who offered their services for less than an arm and a leg.

When we got to San Jose, we were faced with the reality of the long trip to either SF or Oakland to see a major league game. Tickets are much more expensive, we have to pay for parking, the public transit stinks, we get hungry since it's about a 6 hour outing, and babysitting is consistently around $20/hour. We've been to two games in Oakland and none in SF. Major League Baseball is just not our thing here. It's even hard to follow the Sox since they're not regularly broadcast on TV out here. I'm not paying extra for a special baseball watching privilege. So long, Sox. We still love you, but you're too expensive here.

One option we have yet to pursue is the San Jose Giants. Elise is big enough to go to games this year, I think, so we'll head out to the thrill of minor league ball and probably have a lot of fun. For a lot less money.

Of course, watching Sharks on TV today reminded us that with our basic satellite service we can watch any game we want. We can walk up the street to games of a predetermined length if we want to shell out for tickets. This means we don't have to pony up for extra sitting just for travel time. We don't ever seem to have our act together enough to get the cheapest tickets available, but we're working on it. My goal (hahahaha) is to someday have friends who also like hockey enough to split season tickets. And if they also have kids we could split kid-sitting, too! One can dream...

Who knew sports fandom could be so complicated? Apparently, it's not all about just shouting at the television.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Library Time

We seem to be branching out into bigger kid books, at least this week. It's fun!

The Fire Cat
by Esther Averill
Pickles the cat learns to do big things, and takes up residence in a firehouse. That's the short version. This is the longest book we've ever checked out, and it's also right up there at the top as far as numbers of reads. It's no surprise that Elise has memorized practically every word, but I'm beginning to think I could recite it in my sleep as well. Oh Pickles, you clever kitty you. Oh, and this book has also got Elise thinking about punctuation. Exclamation point.

Get Well, Good Knight
by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
A very good knight works hard to help three little dragons feel better when they have a cold. On the way, he discovers that wizards aren't necessarily the best at comfort food. There are three Good Knight stories, and they're all very well done. Great stories, great use of language. The three little dragons are fantastically cute, too.

Time to See the Doctor
by Heather Maisner, illustrated by Kristina Stephenson
We've written about another in this series previously. In this one, the boy gets an ear infection and his big sister helps make the trip to the doctor less scary. I love this author, but more importantly Elise loves her. There is just the right amount of scariness in the story, and just the right sort of resolution, at least for the 4 year old mind. We still highly recommend this "First-time Stories" series.

Polo: The Runaway Book
by Régis Faller
How do you feel about combining books and adventures? We heartily approve. Polo is a picture book in the finest sense. All illustrated, with very few words. Elise was a little suspicious at first since the story never gets told the same way twice. The illustrations are fantastic, and the story is very entertaining no matter who narrates. Apparently, this is the second book featuring this character, and we'll be looking for the original this week. Great for storytelling and the imagination.

First the Egg
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
This is a lovely take on the age-old chicken and egg question. With pictures of eggs, chicks, chickens, developing tadpoles, frogs etc., this is a very engaging look at growing and changing. Simple words and simple (and beautiful!) illustrations make this fun for Elise to read to her stuffed animals. An extra bonus is the cut-outs in the pages that bridge the space between the young and old.

What Will Fat Cat Sit On?
by Jan Thomas
It may not be apparent from our book selections, but Elise is into cats. In this book, a cat looks for a place to sit and various other animals don't want to be squished. It's silly. We like silly.

Pizza Kittens
by Charlotte Voake
We only have one kid here at our house, but even so we very clearly recognize the three kittens in this book. And their suppertime shenanigans. Do we ever. Family meals can be tricky. Sometimes compromise is necessary.

Does anyone out there have any favorite books featuring cats that you'd like to recommend? Write in your suggestions before 10am tomorrow and we'll look for 'em!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


"Mom, can you take me to school now?"

"Well, Sweetie, I have to get dressed first."

"Okay. You should get dressed and take me to school now."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sharks and Oilers

Alas, the Sharks fell to the Oilers tonight. It wasn't the prettiest match I've seen since I started watching hockey two weeks ago. Lots of penalties and sprinting across the ice, and the Sharks just didn't keep up. If I didn't know and like some people in Alberta, I'd be nursing quite the grudge after the Sharks' recent losses to both Calgary and Edmonton. As it is, I'm hoping the Sharks will look a wee bit better on the their upcoming road trip.

One interesting thing to note, though. If this had been football, Grier would have celebrated his short-handed goal by pointing in the general direction of the sky, and maybe a quick prayer. Since it wasn't football, he settled for pointing to his team-mate who made a stellar assist. Draw your own conclusions from this single event, of course. But I'm starting to believe that hockey requires less in the way of divine intervention to be interesting.

Library Bonanza

This week, we apparently picked a lot of winners. Welcome to our longest library list yet!

Star of the Week
by Barney Saltzberg
Stanley is pretty excited about sharing his favorite things with his classmates until he realizes the universal truth we all learned when we were young: Kids are mean. No matter what this star student shares the other kids, as led by a bossy girl, make fun of him for his strange tastes. But, he sticks out the week and ends up broadening everyone's horizons.

Look Out, He's Behind You!
by Tony Bradman and Margaret Chamberlain
Little Red Riding Hood can be a pretty scary story, but this telling of it makes it fun. For starters, it has flaps to lift. Second, the wolf isn't all that scary. Third, nobody gets eaten or axed or anything. The downside is that LRRH doesn't get to comment on her grandma's teeth, but the entertainment value of the rest of it balances that out.

Scaredy Cat
by Joan Rankin
The scared little kitten in this story is deliciously drawn. Hazards of domestic life are presented from the perspective of said kitten, and the mom kitty explains stuff. My favorite part is that it shows how distorted perspective can sometimes be useful. As when dealing with eensie-weensie spiders.

Valentine Surprise
by Corinne Demas, illustrated by R.W. Alley
Lily wants to make a valentine for her mom, but hearts are notoriously hard to cut out. Many imperfect attempts result, and wouldn't you know it but the mom is thrilled with all of the effort. Without being preachy-just lovey.

Just Like Daddy
by Frank Asch
Little Bear does almost everything just like his dad. With a nice twist at the end. Elise likes to "read" this one herself and chuckles at the end every time.

Fox at School
by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall
This is a collection of three stories about a fox at school. I think this fox is a character in several of these easy-to-read books, so maybe it would all make more sense in context. Elise loves the stories here, though. And she has taken to saying "hot dog!" when she's excited about something.

Silly Tilly's Thanksgiving Dinner
by Lillian Hoban
Tilly Mole isn't that bright, or at least she has some serious short-term memory issues a la Memento. We have read this one so many times that Elise could likely recite it in her sleep. She certainly reads it to her stuffed animals plenty. All I can say is that I hope I have friends who are as quietly understanding of my foibles as Tilly's friends are of hers.

Down by the Bay
illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
a Raffi Songs to Read book
This is one song that I actually did not know until we learned it at the library during story time. (Yes, I hear that collective gasp-hard to believe there is a kids' song I didn't know, eh?) Anyway, we brought this book home and I proceeded to sing the song to Elise. Lo and behold, last night she serenaded me while looking at the pictures for word cues! Even better, this morning we sang together and she actually attempted to match pitch with me. Better still is that she met with some success!

Dino Pets
by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Gideon Kendall
In this story, a clever young man takes his piggy bank to a pet shop and brings home one dinosaur after another as they each prove unsuitable. The biggest, longest, fastest, scariest, smallest dinosaurs are each introduced, and then there are "dino facts" at the end of the book. I like that it describes how "facts" about dinosaurs change over time as we learn more about them. I think Elise just likes that there are dinosaurs just like she learned about at school.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

McCain Proves Himself Small

The one thing that has heartened me about the prospect of McCain as the Republican front-runner this time around was that I figured we could count on him to stop torture if he's elected. He's been reasonably outspoken in the past, but being a serious contender in the race for the presidency has made him small.

I had to go back and listen to the story on All Things Considered again because I just couldn't believe it. Sadly, sadly, McCain voted AGAINST the intelligence bill banning the use of any interrogation technique not in the Army Field Manual.

Oh, the humanity.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Date Night

We just got back from a lovely night out. First, dinner at a place up the street and then a stroll onward to see the San Jose Sharks. Date nights are fantastic. I recommend them.

The restaurant we went to has good beer and also live music on the weekends. I would like to say for the record that it's probably a good thing that I was a teetotaling goodie-two-shoes in college or I'd have drunked out and lost myself in the blues clubs of Chicago. Seriously. Don't tell my parents, though, or they might worry...

The last professional hockey match I attended was the Wolves back in Chicago, and that was long before Elise came along. Andy is luckier, as my dad took him to see the Sharks when my folks were visiting back in January.

Wow, are Sharks games fun! To start, there isn't nearly the freaky security at the Pavilion that there is at the United Center in Chicago. Second, there's a giant shark blimp that they fly around the lobby while people are walking in. And, it's a pretty decent and family-friendly crowd. My favorite tradition is the making of giant chomping shark jaws with arms and hands when the Sharks have a power play. Om nom nom nom.

The Sharks weren't looking their finest tonight, but somehow managed to pull it out in overtime. Exciting!

And, even more exciting was getting out for an evening, just the two of us. Not every date night can include a hockey match, but it was great that this one did!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Waterboarding Revisited

For those of you who haven't been paying attention to Senate Intelligence Committee hearings and the vile utterings of White House spokesman Tony Fratto, Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin sums it up pretty nicely when he writes:

We Tortured and We'd Do It Again
(link may require registration at the WP website...)

When it comes right down to it our elected leaders, and therefore we fellow Americans regardless of how we've voted in the past, torture human beings in the name of security. Further, the Executive branch of our government has unilaterally decided that torture is okay, so really it would be a waste of time to look into it. Move along, no war criminals to see here.

And then, we get the justifications for this abomination. The cowardly assertions that we only did it three times and it was for a good cause because look how much we learned are particularly hard to stomach. Fear has made us an ugly, ugly nation.

For the sake of argument, let's imagine that "intelligence" gained through torture can be trusted. It's a scary world out there, so maybe pick 1 lucky detainee to torture. And assume that this detainee gave up information that allowed you to take immediate action to save the lives of 25 people. Or of 250 people. Or of 2500 people. This is the fantasy scenario for people who think torture is a good idea. And so I ask you, gentle reader, how many lives an act of torture rates for you. Is it allowable if you could absolutely without a doubt save one life? How about one million? What if there was some doubt as to whether you would be saving those lives, or indeed any life at all?

In the real world, we know that torture does not produce reliable intelligence. It is on TV that immediate and complete information can be gleaned from one individual to prevent harm to others. TV isn't a great stand-in for real life. When it comes right down to it, there is no evidence that "enhanced interrogation" does anything but render its proponents and perpetrators criminals against humanity. Torture also spreads fear, discontent and malice.

That is an unthinkable price to pay for my opportunity to blissfully spend that special tax rebate. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were tortured so that millions of Americans could be free to acquire stupid mortgages that they couldn't pay for. Three human beings, no matter how nefarious and horrible, suffered torture so that frightened Americans can (insert stupid consumerist waste activity here) secure in the knowledge that someone somewhere is doing something about "the terrorists."

I have a problem with that.

The fact is, terrorists are an easy target. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to go running around after bad guys. And everyone feels like they've "done something" about a problem.

Well, feel free to apply some of that go-getum spirit to problems that plague humanity on a real scale.
Start with drunk driving which killed over 16 thousand people in the US in 2005
Want to think globally? What about the 2.1 million adults and kids who died of AIDS in 2007?
Too many? Okay, then let's talk about the 853 thousand kids under the age of five who die of malaria in a year.

Terrorists have so little impact compared to drunk drivers, and yet we don't have anybody advocating the waterboarding of drunks to find out who they drink with and when they might be expected to drive. The loss of several thousand people on one horrible day has people so frightened they'll do anything, anything to make it stop. Spread way more death out over a year and they drive to their favorite bar after work. I'm not nearly as afraid of terrorists as I am of stupid people. The difference is that I'm surrounded by teh stoopid so it begins to look normal.

So, when the elected leader of my country unashamedly promotes fear, ignorance and torture for all of the world to see I am sickened. And I'm going to do my level best to see those torturing torturers in front of a war crimes tribunal-the only place a just society has left for them.

This Week's Books

In spite of the fact that we were a little late to story time at the library last Friday, we managed to select a pile of books that included 5 clear winners (from Elise's point of view-the one that matters!)

Bugs in Space
by David A Carter
Who doesn't like a pop-up book? Throw in a hero named Bug Rogers and it's a guaranteed success. I was impressed by the quality/build of this particular one because usually library books with moving parts are trashed and this one is fully functional.

If You're Happy and You Know It!
by Jane Cabrera
This is a favorite song to sing so we were predisposed to like this book. Because of the fun, bright illustrations Elise likes to "read" this one to herself over and over. We like to hear her sing.

The Cat Came Back
by Fred Penner, illustrated by Renée Reichert
Between a newfound love of singing and an ongoing love of cats, this one is a hit. We like listening to Laurie Berkner's version of this song in the car, and we like reading about this particular cat and singing about it at home. Still dealing with the stress of the idea of a cat being "lost forevermore" (even though it does come back).

Beauty and the Beast
A Disney Read-Aloud Storybook
Adapted by Ellen Titlebaum
Does anyone remember how I banned Disney from our house very early in Elise's gestation? We've done a decent job of avoiding that stuff without being all crazed about it. I have to admit to a certain soft spot for the story of Beauty and the Beast, though. We checked the movie out from the library a few weeks ago, and so last week when we went back Elise saw the book and we had to bring it home. And read it over and over again. Overall the book isn't that bad. It's a little disjointed as a story. I like that it introduces some good vocabulary. I dislike that so much page space is given over to describing the violent parts of the film in great detail. Because of this, (and many other concerns,) our ban on all things Disney continues, with the now-that-the-cat's-out-of-the-bag exception of Beauty and the Beast.

My love of this story comes entirely from Patricia McKinley's inspired retelling that my grandmother introduced me to when I was in high school. When Elise is old enough, we'll replace that Disney drivel with a real story!

My First Day of Nursery School
by Becky Edwards, illustrated by Anthony Flintoft
A girl's first day of school is a big deal, and it's a little scary. Luckily, even the kid in this story discovers that school is pretty fun. I think the appeal for us is that Elise has recently made this transition herself, and likes to see how another kid manages it. It's good to revisit those first days of school with a feeling of mastery. I like that the end of the book puts just as much emphasis on the second day of school as the first.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Every now and then I get feeling all "linky" and want to pass some things on, and this one of those nows and thens. All kinds of interesting things to read about on these here interwebs...

Happy New Year
It's the year of the rat, if you're of the Chinese persuasion. There is a whole lot more Asian culture of all varieties here in Silicon Valley, so I'm working on learning more of these cultural type things. For an astronomical spin on the current celebration, I recommend Astroprof.

It turns out that terrorism really was born in the Middle East. Apparently, it's been proven that domesticated cats come from there. Sure, it starts with puking up bits of houseplants, but the pattern of shoe eating and furniture destruction (not to mention biological warfare including "out of the box" thinking) is pretty clear. Talk about escalation! Al Quaeda are just the tip of the iceberg, I tell you.

Something Fishy
Yes, I've mentioned it before, but I'd like to say again that I highly recommend Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish. What a great read! I learned so much, and aside from a better understanding of our planet's fauna, I can also dazzle my friends at parties. D'you know where the bones in your ear came from? I do! And you can too... In a similar vein, as recommended by my brother, I point in the direction of an interesting article on viruses.

Fundy Mental
We're expecting to spend the end of June in a place with some of the most impressive tides in the world. This is due to the impending nuptials of our good friend Job to the lovely Sarah. Not only will there be a wedding, but we can go looking at fossils and other such wonders. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point to a blog about the place, too.

Atheists are People Too
One of my favorite bloggers suffers from Lupus, and it stinks. I had been reading her blog for a few months before I realized she was living with this, which either says I'm very oblivious or she's a brave person. I prefer the latter, and suspect it's more true too. Anyway, after realizing that PMomma's sun sensitivity was keeping her from being with her 4 great kids in her own house, fellow blogger Berlzebub took up a collection. Happily, loyal readers have donated plenty toward getting getting some high-class UV-blocking film installed on windows. Hopefully, this will allow a really great family a bit of the normalcy of which Lupus has so unkindly robbed them. And this would not be a complete entry without mention that 3M has given a very nice discount and the gentleman doing the installing is also wonderful and kind.

That's my round-up for today. Hope you're all having a good week!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Today, I made history. I voted!

Well, maybe not a lot of history, but it's cool personal history. Here's the long, sordid tale...

When I was 18 years old, I lived in Montana. On my 18th birthday, I filled out my voter registration application and mailed it off. It was a rite of passage for me, and I was so tickled that I'd made it in under the deadline for registration for the next election.

But as the election approached, I still didn't have my registration card. I followed up, and it turned out that there was no record of my application in the county registrar's office. And, they gave me a lot of attitude when I tried to figure out where my application could have gone. It looked like I'd miss voting in the first election of my adult life.

As luck would have it, my grandmother's stepdaughter (technically step-aunt?) worked for the Secretary of State's office at the time, and remembered seeing my application come through. She had even called Grandma to say I'd registered. After a few phone calls, a sworn affidavit from Shannon that she had indeed seen my application before the deadline, and some very grumpy Yellowstone County election staff, I was able to vote.

And, you can bet that I made sure to vote as a Montanan through college because all of that was just too much hassle to go ahead and change my registration willy-nilly.

But, when I graduated and decided to stay in Illinois, I figured it was time to register to vote there. It was much simpler than my first ever voter registration.

While registration in Illinois was easier, voting was a little trickier. Although much of the "Democratic Machine" that has run Chicago for eons is dismantled, it's still a major driving force there. I remember when they did away with the "straight Democratic ticket" where you could punch one line and vote Democrat in every race. Hah!

As of my last voting experience in Chicago, the following machine-like vestiges were still in place. Friendly "neighbors" stand the legal distance from the polling site and hand you "information" about some of the more obscure races on the ballot. And you always get a "receipt" when you vote, apparently so that you can prove to the appropriate persons that you did indeed do your civic duty. Knowing even a little of the history of voting in Chicago made it a thrilling experience every time.

Almost exactly four years ago it was primary time in Chicago. I pushed Elise's stroller (through slush if I remember correctly), and was met near the polling place by a man with information about the candidates for the water board. (This was before the US started using "waterboard" as a euphemism for torture-it had to do with water regulation rather than human rights violations.) I knew how I wanted to vote in this race, but had not been able to find which candidates represented my position. This guy made it easy-just vote for the candidates not on his list. I was so pleased.

Slightly less pleasing was the fact that ramp access wasn't immediately apparent at the polling site. I know now that it was there (the neighborhood association has a potluck there every year and we used the ramps all the time), but at the time it looked like a lot of stairs for a sleep-deprived mom pushing a stroller. About four burly looking guys were lounging about in the entryway, talking quietly and with unlit cigarettes hanging off their lips. These weren't neighbors, they were party men. It was clearly their job to make sure that people were getting in to vote.

So, they made a huge show of 3 of them carrying my stroller (and child, apparently a "cute little guy") down about 5 steps. I said, "Thank you." One of the guys said, "And I hope you'll remember Dan Hines when you vote." To their credit, the other guys shushed him, but wow. Hines was the establishment candidate in the senate primary. That's the one that Barack Obama won. I think it's ironic that just this weekend I heard a news story on the radio that included Dan Hines getting out the vote for Obama. The Chicago Machine knows how to mobilize for its favorite candidates, that's for sure.

And just how is it that I made history today? This was my first election as a registered voter in California. I got to vote for the Senator I helped elect back in Illinois, but this time as a candidate for president. I got a taste of California ballot initiatives. I don't like these propositions, but they are the way things are done here so I hope that I'm doing a good job figuring them out in spite of what I consider to be their dubious constitutionality. I have now been a registered voter in 3 states in my adult life, and it's always an interesting ride.

The nice man who put my ballot in the box this morning told me that he came to California a long while back. He was in the service and didn't want to go back to New York when he was done. This very weathered old gentleman stayed here and picked peaches and apricots, and he worked in the cannery that is across the park from where I now live. That cannery that is now being converted into lofts. I wish I'd had the whole morning to sit and listen to his stories, because I bet he's got some great ones.

When I think of politics I find it easy to get disheartened and to feel like what I do is of limited importance. But then, I walk to my polling place and cast a vote. That act keeps me connected to my community. It acknowledges the past and demonstrates a commitment to the future. The "system" as we know it is full of problems, but that does not change the fundamental nature of voting as a connection to community. So get out there and cast a ballot for democracy when it's your turn to vote.

I'm Heather Steingruebl, and I approve this message.

Good Career Move?

Some of our faithful readers have exactly the sort of skillset that would make them perfect to be astronauts! It's worth considering...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No, Later!

Have you ever been in a store with a kid who whines and begs for everything in sight? It's annoying, isn't it? We've turned it into a bit of a game here at Steingruebl World Enterprises. The way I see it, I practiced this well enough as a kid to be brilliant at it as an adult and there must be some way to use this "skill" to my advantage.

Enter "pre-emptive" begging. When I take Elise through a store, I ask her repeatedly, "Do we need one of those, how about one of those, are you sure why not one of those then?" She spends our entire trip through Target so busy telling me that we don't need blenders and socks that there is not time for her to get her "whine" on. It's a fun game for both of us, and makes the errands go faster besides.

Today, we had a quick errand to run and Elise brought Later. We had what we needed in hand, and all the way to the check-out Later kept saying, "Meow, do we need one of these?" and pointing to things on the shelf with her little paws. (Elise was helping with the pointing and doing the interpreting.) The whole time, we were both giggling and I was saying, "No, Later!"

I have to admit that when I'm playing with my kiddo and having a fabulous time I'm used to the world around me seeming to stand still. So, it didn't register at first as a family stood across the aisle with the kids staring open-mouthed and the parents looking befuddled. And of course when I did realize what they must be thinking I giggled all the more. A little later, I noticed a girl about Elise's age staring at us and looking aghast. It was fantastic.

Who knew that running errands with a kid who asks for everything in sight could be so much fun?

Socially Networked

After missing out on a particularly fantastic bit of news simply because I wasn't "on" Facebook (congratulations, Scott!), I figured I'd better join up. This is dangerous, because it looks like it could be a serious way to waste time online. As if I didn't already do enough of that.

I'm still working on finding the people I'd like to keep up with there, so feel free to send me a nudge there if you so desire. Because I'm realizing now that someday I may well measure my self-worth by the number of "friends" my little profile page says I have...