Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Extended Christmas

Thanks to the snow that fell before and after Christmas the world around our house is beautiful. The highways have been another matter. Sarah and Jake drove to Des Moines in a blizzard and returned in an ice storm, or vice versa. But we have a good 10 inches of snow on the ground and the temps promise to keep it skiable for several days at least. Not that we've skied, but we have good intentions.

Jennifer flew into town last week, followed by her luggage. She and Ann assembled a 1000 piece jig saw puzzle in record time, using our magic expanding dining room table as a work space. They went to the Frida Kahlo exhibit with Sarah Thursday, and Johanna stayed with me for nap, play and lunch. As they drove away they saw a pileated woodpecker up the block, which was cool because a few minutes after they left it was on our locust tree, all loud and lovely.

Antonio and Crystel came over on Christmas day, fun as always. They and their moms brought us a great bounty of fudge and kettle corn and a beautiful bird house the kids had painted. We sledded with the kids yesterday near Ann's friend John's house along Minnehaha creek, and we all had a great time despite hitting the hay bale barrier at the bottom a number of times. I'm surprised we're not sorer than we are.

We celebrated the Saturday before Christmas at the Nassifs' house. They fed us dinner and gave us all manner of gifts including a bread knife I am genuinely afraid of. The evening turned into a Johanna photo shoot, the results of which can be found here. Sarah, Jake and Johanna had their blizzard-drive to Iowa the next day…

Ann is in the kitchen drawing a map for Jennifer, who is moving here from Seattle and trying to get a better sense of where things are. They're going to tour greater Longfellow (our neighborhood) in a bit. I am going to the grocery. I forgot cat litter last time I went, which with three cats has led to an untenable situation. Jennifer is a frighteningly proficient knitter and has finished a sweater for Ann, created a pair of socks for Crystel from scratch, and worked on I-don’t-know-how-many-other projects while she's been here. Above are Jennifer and Ann modeling Ann's new sweater and its twin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Why are some days wretched for no apparent reason?

Ann and I worked out at the Y this morning (Friday), our normal workout, then the day tanked. Ann developed a migraine, I had a headache and what felt like a bad sinus-allergy thing, and neither of us accomplished much of anything the rest of the day (sorry Phoebe - your present will be in the mail really soon).

The news had mentioned an air quality alert a few days ago, so - grasping at straws - I checked online and found the air was still "unhealthy for sensitive groups," and Ann and I definitely comprise a sensitive group. As it turns out the Air Quality Index is updated hourly and logged to a fare-thee-well, and today's levels of around 100 and dropping barely compare with 144 on Wednesday (higher being worse, and 150 called just plain "unhealthy"). They say the effects of poor air quality are cumulative, though, so I've officially blamed the AQI for our malaise, and I'm taking solace in the fact that it's improving. I also turned the furnace fan on full-time to get some use out of that 3M filter the furnace guy said not to waste our money on. I'll leave the question of how the many healthy and productive people in the community cope for another day.

Related to the AQI is the CFI, or Comfort Food Index. For dinner I had a can of the Amy's brand spaghetti stars I overbought for the kids and four flaxseed toaster waffles. Ann had graham crackers and milk. When all else fails, lower your expectations and have comfort food.

HEY, it's winter as of about 20 minutes ago. Hmmmm.

Happy Solstice.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Today Ann and I took Crystel and Antonio to the Children's Theatre Company presentation of A Special Trade. It was nicely done, with singing and dancing and puppets and spontaneous audience participation - "Can’t you see her? She's over there! Behind the fence!" - but the play was essentially two people representing Johanna and Me, baby and grown up, neighbors and good friends. The actor playing Me got stiffer and older as puppet Johanna grew up into beautiful actress Johanna, and eventually I got sent to the hospital for a prolonged stay, and when I came out I was puppet Me in a wheelchair and Johanna pushed Me around while we laughed and sang. I hated it.

The kids were fully engaged and laughed at the silliness and slapstick.

On the drive home we asked them what they liked about it, and when my turn came I said "I liked the puppets." Crystel asked "what puppets?" I explained "well, Nelly when she was a baby, and Bartholomew after he was in the hospital, and the dogs…" They really had done a marvelous job with the human actor in clear view behind the puppet, vocalizing and controlling without really being present, and I thought I'd explain that to the kids. I said something about the role of puppets and imagination and… It's not so much that I lost Crystel and Antonio at that point, but that I lost them while A) I was in the full flow of intellectual discourse regarding creativity, and B) they were in the back seat with four beanie babies putting on a six person show needing no props, no script, no rehearsal, and no audience.

Ann and I, in the front seats, imagined continuing to apply our dull grown-up standards: "These kids just aren't listening. They'll never learn to be creative if they don't get the proper theoretical background. Harumph!"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Johanna at One

Tonight we're babysitting our neighbor Johanna, one year old last September. She was in a great mood and kept herself (and us) entertained with little direction or distraction. At one point, though, she walked to the door and burst out crying, clearly wanting Mom. She let herself be comforted, but she kept the bag her pajamas came in firmly in one hand and her cup of milk firmly in the other. We read and played, she walked and was carried, but she didn't let go of the bag or the sippy cup. Getting towards bedtime Ann put a Windham Hill Christmas album on and danced to it while I sat with Johanna and played percussion with a beaded gourd. Johanna is usually an enthusiastic drummer and dancer, but she just clutched her things and watched. After a song or two, though, she put down her milk and emptied out her bag, sock-by-sock, all as though to say "ok, I'll stay;" then she pulled a table over and started pounding on it, smiling and dancing. After another few songs she went to bed as though it was her greatest wish, and went straight to sleep.

I'm so impressed with her transition from principled non-participation to full engagement. Lord knows I've tied myself in knots often enough in my life, holding back for one reason or another when I'd really rather be participating; and it can be damn hard to make that transition.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Swim School

Last night I took Crystel and Antonio to their weekly swimming lessons at Foss, a great swim school they've been going to since they were two or three. Driving there was a riot of improvised Christmas songs akin to a poetry slam.
We were early enough to have 15 minutes in the waiting room where we read two books while keeping half an eye on the Tom & Jerry cartoons playing. Reading and watching cartoons seemed incongruous until I remembered talking and watching football with Ann's dad at Thanksgiving - everything stops when there's a good play, whether it's a punt return or a launched cat, then after a comment on the play you go back to what you were doing. Crystel had determined, brooking no argument, that she was the mouse and I was the cat. When the cat was shot up into the sky she interrupted the reading briefly with "look what's happening to you!", then went back to the book. Antonio said he was the very active crab on the beach.

They're in separate classes so they went to their own lanes and met their teachers and two or three other students, and worked non-stop for half an hour. They've been working on the crawl strokes and now they're integrating breathing into them. They work on everything from back stroke to breast stroke to diving to the bottom of the pool. Crystel can casually swim to the 9’ deep bottom of her pool at home and can swim the length of it underwater, so grabbing rings from the bottom of a 3 foot pool is fun but not much of a challenge.

Both kids pay attention to their teachers. Antonio was a little fidgety when he first started the class years ago - a normal enough state - but soon after he started Tae Kwon Do training we noticed a profoundly changed and respectful attitude towards his instructor.

On the drive home I took my normal freeway without thinking and almost brought the kids to our house. Antonio pointed out some American flags, which Crystel subsequently referred to as "Mall of America Flags," which had Antonio slapping his forehead with mixed amusement and exasperation. Both kids sent me home with heartfelt statements of their love for Ann.

I'd never taken pictures at Foss before because of condensation worries for my camera, but I kept the camera warm and had no problems, and finally got some shots. Lighting, motion and reflections were wild cards, but some of the pictures turned out nicely.

Starting in January they'll be going to a Foss location closer to our home and theirs - all the better.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What now?

For some reason we're paying to host a web site we haven't updated in years. I'm not sure which is dumber, paying for hosting when sites like this host for free, or being stuck in a complicated personal web site model that takes so much work I just don't update it. Either way, here we are.