Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve Cleaning

I think I've read that in some traditions cleaning the entire house before the New Year arrives is customary. For us, it was necessary.

All the windows in the house were just replaced and it left a bunch of dust and bits of vinyl throughout the house. Since the workers left yesterday afternoon, I can't count how many loads of bedding, throws, clothes, assorted baby toys and coverings, etc., we've run. Plus pretty much every piece of furniture has been moved and more vacuuming than we've done since we moved in has occurred.

And we're still not done. The new windows are installed properly (as opposed to the old horror-show windows we had before, which means we lost some windowsill space and Evelin is busy repotting plants and trying to find new homes for others).

Despite the disruption, the new windows look good, and they should keep the inside temperature more consistent no matter the outside temperature. Plus they open and close at our command, as opposed to the old ones, some of which only held open/closed with the help of a dowel pin.

According to the windows guys, the windows we had were only manufactured and installed for a short period of time in the early to mid 1970s. They were basically two storm windows sandwiched together, so in a sense they were double-insulated, but not in a good sense.

The new ones are the full monty: tilt in for cleaning, easy to open/close, divided panes above a single pane, Argon-gas filled, UV coated, and so forth. It already seems warmer and quieter.

Of course, the two days of installation weren't the easiest on Celeste. I was working at home (after a half day on Wednesday, I was coughing and sniffling too much and was basically ordered home by my department), which left Evelin free to take her out for a walk to get away from the dust and noise, but much of the day was spent with her in a closed off room that had already had the windows changed out. And now we're keeping some windows cracked to help air out the smell from the caulk.

Actually, I'm not sure what's up with the little girl. Over Christmas, she was at her best — smiling, playing nicely, even letting out her first real giggles — but the past two days she's seemed a little sullen and more than a bit cranky. Last night she was screaming so bad when we tried to put her to bed that I thought she might have an earache or something. (It turned out there's no fever, and while she is a bit stuffed up, she doesn't seem to be abnormally so. She has a pediatrician's visit scheduled for next week, so we'll ask lots of questions then.)

Evelin is pretty sure she was overtired between bad naps during all the work and post-work cleaning, plus we were trying to clean things up and probably missed many "Hey! I'm tired!" signs.

It probably doesn't help that I'm holding her less and playing with her less at the moment: I don't want to spread my germs to her, and I've been a bit on the wiped-out side of things. That's not fair to Celeste or to Evelin, but hopefully this will pass soon and we'll all be back to normal. At least the windows are all already cleaned.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

: Terrorist Toddler Twins

Okay, so maybe I'm being unfair, but my twin nieces were running around with typical toddler runny noses during Christmas and since then my father, their father, the neighbor's son and son-in-law, and I have all come down with some sort of cold.

I have no proof that القاعدة (al-Qa’ida) is using toddlers as a vector for biological warfare, but it feels like it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Home from the Holidays

As one might have gathered from my Boxing Day entry, we went down to Louisiana for the holidays. It was a good trip, and we got to see a lot of friends and family, despite the unusual weather.

We flew down last Wednesday and Celeste proved herself a true road warrior. It was a challenge traveling with all her accessories, plus our bags, and whatever presents we didn't have Amazon ship directly to Hammond, but we made it through every stumbling block TSA and/or the airlines set up ... although, not always with grace: Trying to remove shoes, undo belt, get Celeste out of her carseat, collapse the stroller, and put all our stuff on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed was handled better on the return at Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) than it was on the way down from Washington Dulles (IAD).

The only problem was that the gate agent at IAD didn't want to let those traveling with infants and small children to board early. She called out first class and passengers with disabilities; someone else then asked about children, and she conferred with the person at the podium who say "yes," but the gate agent didn't say children over the PA. I was watching all this go down, so we approached the gate and got a bit of attitude ("If we let everyone traveling with children board right away, we might as well open up the entire plane to everyone.") although we were allowed to board.

Maybe it's just me, but if I ran an airline, I would want babies to board as early as possible to give the parents time to settle the kid in and to keep the carseat from wacking anyone in the head in a crowded aisle. The flip side (and the same thinking) is that I expect parents to wait until the plane is mostly clear before trying to get out for the same reasons.

That said, Celeste was the best flyer out of the three of us. I was annoyed by all the baggage we had and the lines; Evelin was feeling ill from the turbulence; Celeste, however, slept through most of the flight. She did need a diaper change after we'd boarded but before we left the gate and she started wailing in the bathroom at the rear of the plane. It looked for a bit like it would be an ugly flight, but she calmed down and went to sleep before we started taxiing to the runway. And she stayed asleep, despite a pretty bumpy ride, until our final descent.

We brought along two small bottles (2 ounce) for the way up and down, but since she didn't take one on the way up, she had both during the descent. Trying to warm the first bottle, Evelin shook it to the point where some of the milk was starting to turn to butter, but Celeste didn't seem to mind. On the flight back, it was much of the same; Celeste slept until the descent, but this time she didn't want a bottle at all. She just sucked on the Soothie the entire time.

Besides the events of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, we had a pretty sedate visit. On the 23rd there was a party where Celeste got to meet Santa Claus (she didn't seem impressed), and the rest of the time was just spent hanging out.

I did spend part of one day testing the invisible fence that my parents and the neighbors use to keep their dog, S---, in check. He broke through it one day to follow my mom and Evelin on a walk, so I was shocking myself to see if the batteries were dying or if the range setting was too low or what. Probably going along on the walk was worth the short shock to S---. (While frying turkeys on Christmas Eve, my brother; the neighbor's son, A---; a cousin or two of his; and some other friends were playing with S---'s collar; we thought that might have killed the batteries, but they were still registering 6 volts, so we tried a different yard-size setting.)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Over the Pass and Through the Swamp ...

... to Grandmother's House We Go ... or not.

So this is what we planned for Christmas: Everyone was going to be in New Orleans for the first time in a long time. Evelin, Celeste, and I flew down on Wednesday; my brother (A---), his wife (N---), and their twins were driving in the same day; all the other out-of-town cousins and my mother's sisters were making their way to the Big Easy; my grandmother was going to have her 15 great-grandchildren all in one place for the first time (and the 16th one is due any day now, so it could have been an even more hectic day).

While packing to head South, I called my mother to check the weather forecast and to see what baby supplies/furniture we needed to bring vs. what she'd assembled from friends and her sisters and she told me it was supposed to be a white Christmas in New Orleans. Yeah, right. I remember exactly one "snowfall" from my childhood and that was a Twelfth Night sleet/ice storm that left a bunch of soggy hailstones that my brother turned into our South Louisiana version of a snowman and snowballs. While I was in college, there was a winter slush fall one year back at home, but I was away and so it doesn't count.

According to newscasts, the last white Christmas in New Orleans was in 1954, the year my youngest aunt was born. [UPDATE: Actually, the news reports were based on a faulty report from the National Weather Service. Christmas 1954 was 70°F and sunny; Christmas 1953, however, trace amounts of snow fell at the downtown post office.]

This year it snowed pretty hard, keeping my parents, my brother and his family, and Evelin, Celeste, and me on the roads and out of New Orleans.

We were supposed to be at Aunt B---'s for 1:30 p.m. or so. We'd seen flurries and a bit of weather here on the North Shore and the weather and news reports were telling us that some of the elevated highways, including I-55, which runs from Hammond over Pass Manchac and down to LaPlace, and I-10, which runs from LaPlace to New Orleans, were closed.

But this was a command performance. We weren't going to let a little ice and snow stop us. A---, N---, the twins, and my mother were in one vehicle; Evelin, Celeste, my father and I were in the second. We headed south, taking the old frontage road that parallels I-55 through Manchac Swamp; there was a concern that the tall bridge at the Pass would be closed or icy, but there were no troubles. Tangipahoa Parish did a pretty good job of sanding overpasses and bridges.

St. John the Baptist Parish, however, did things a little differently. As we approached where the frontage road passed under I-55 and approached I-10, we hit a traffic jam. No big deal; we figured there might be some traffic with people coming off I-10 to get onto U.S. Highway 61 (Airline Highway), but it was pretty much progressing only a few inches at a time. When finally we reached the head of the line, we found a sheriff's car blocking one of the two lanes and everyone trying to pass was being challenged as to their destination one car at a time.

Of course, the most frustrating thing was not being able to figure out what was the problem. Was there a wreck? Was it just volume due to traffic being diverted from I-10? What approaches to the city were still open? We tried tuning to an all-news station, WWL(AM), but they were airing some "Christmas Around the World" musical program from Disney World; they broke away at the top of each hour for CBS Radio news, but the local situation — freak weather and major road closures throughout the listening area — was mentioned only twice during unscheduled cutaways from the program. We also tried tuning to WDSU-TV (87.7 MHz on the FM dial picks up the audio carrier channel for the TV Channel 6 station), but there was no news to be had; traffic information was being delivered via crawls, which don't work too well on radio. My brother's new XM Radio system also wasn't any help; New Orleans isn't among the metropoles that it provides traffic and weather information for. We ended up calling the neighbors back in Hammond to see if they could relay us any information from the TV news crawls.

Having figured it was something like this, we'd called my brother's car to coördinate stories; if the deputy asked, we were headed to LaPlace. This was true because we planned to take River Road to the Bonnet Carré Spillway, which we could cross on the old surface-level road. The deputy wasn't having any of it. "We're going to LaPlace." "Where in LaPlace are you going?" "We're headed to River Road" "Where on River Road are you going?"

He said he was just trying to spare us from clogged highways into a city where all the bridges were closing, but we didn't want to show our hand too much and he eventually let us pass. A--- may have said he was with us, because his interview process seemed to go more quickly.

We took a shortcut to get to Airline Highway and immediately saw that it was a parking lot, so the spillway-crossing plan was a go. Traveling along River Road was a breeze. We made good time along the winding road, but, as we approached the levee crossing we ran into traffic; an officer was blocking the access road to the spillway. We made our way to the head of the line and I got out to ask about options and was told that New Orleans was shut down. "The bridges are all closed," as was the spillway. He said that the Airline Highway bridge might reopen sometime soon, but he didn't want to tell us anything for certain so as not to get hopes up. Plus traffic on the highway was visibly a mess.

With this news, we called in our regrets to the New Orleans crowd and began retracing our route along the river and through the swamp. In all we were traveling for about three-and-a-half hours (Celeste slept the entire way). We got home a bit dejected for having missed the full-family affair, but settled into a quiet evening (well, as quiet as an evening can be with 15-month-old twins in the house), feasting on leftovers and finagling some leftover desserts from the next-door neighbors.

Sunday turned into our make-good day. I-10 and I-55 were still closed, but the Causeway was open, and we headed in to see everybody (just not at once). One aunt and her children and grandchildren were out in Metairie, staying at an old friend's house, so we stopped there for a visit first, and then headed into the city to see my grandmother. My youngest aunt and her husband, along with a first cousin once removed and her husband met up with us there and chatted for a while before we went to lunch with my grandmother. The final aunt we stopped by to see on our way out of town. It was a busy swing through the city for Celeste, but she will have plenty more visits to New Orleans in her life that she'll remember better, so I don't feel too bad about. There were a lot of cousins who we didn't get to see, and it would have been cool to have everyone together, but hopefully in another two years or so we can manage to pull it off again without the weather getting in the way. And, as nice as it would have been to have everyone together for Christmas, we did have a better quality visit (at least with my grandmother) on Boxing Day the way things turned out.

Along the drive home, I suggested taking the river route to see what the spillway route looked like (at this point the interstates and highways were all being reported as open, so we assumed the spillway would be too). The drive along the river was nice and we got roadside views of Destrehan and Ormond plantations, but when we got to the spillway, a big sign said "closed to through traffic." Well, "no through traffic" is not "no traffic," so we drove around the barricade and headed into the spillway.

As we were going along, we saw others in the spillway, but we also noticed some water leaking from the Mississippi River through the timbers that make up the spillway gates. My father remarked that the neighbor A--- had said the river was very high when he'd gone fishing on it south of New Orleans right before Christmas Eve. About two-thirds of the way across, we found out why the spillway was closed to through traffic and probably why it was closed the Christmas day: Water was running (fairly swiftly) over the road. We watched the truck ahead of us ford the water and decided to risk it, too. It was a few inches high and maybe 10 yards long, but my parents' Explorer had no trouble getting through, although my mother was a bit nervous. We probably could have made it across on Christmas day too, if the sheriff hadn't been blocking the roadway (although it might not have been passable if someone in a smaller car had gotten stuck in the water).

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Long-Term Damage?

So I ran across the street to a pet store during lunch to pick up a Christmas present for my brother's lab and I found myself wondering whether or not some of the dog toys would make good baby/toddler toys.

I'm not thinking of giving Celeste any rawhide chews or anything, but the JW Pet Hol-ee Roller ball looks like it would be a fun toy. It's easy to grab, stretchy, bouncy, and non-toxic. (It's made from "100% natural rubber.")

I'm sure this is the sort of thing that could lead to years therapy for Celeste when she finds old pictures of herself playing with a dog toy, but I'm thinking about going back to get one to use as an in-office stress ball ...

UPDATE: Okay one downside for some people would be that "100% natural rubber" is the same as latex and can be an allergen. And Evelin thinks the ball tastes icky; I don't think it tastes good, but I don't think it's that bad. (Since Celeste is licking so many things now, we're occasionally tasting toys to see if things taste gross ...)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Crunchy Cars

So about a week-and-a-half ago, Evelin and Celeste were in a bit of a hit-and-run incident. Everyone is okay (Celeste slept through it all), but the T.R.U.C.K. did get a nice dent and scratch on the rear driver's-side door, a piece of torn trim, and a strike on the wheel that I don't think did any real damage, but I'm a tad paranoid. Evelin was driving down the street and the other driver pulled out of a parallel parking space and struck her. Evelin remained calm enough to call the police and to start to get the guy's information: She got the license plate and VIN# before the other guy put two and two together and decided to speed off. Evelin asked him to stay until the police arrived, but he said he was headed to the police station. Big surprise: He wasn't. Another big surprise, when the police ran the plates and VIN#, they didn't match.

Anyway, everyone's okay, insurance is taking care of things, but since it's a hit and run, even though our insurance won't take a hit, the insurance company does adding to the collective liability of all policyholders.

So today, I cut out of work early to do some not-quite-last-minute Christmas shopping. While waiting in the Ballston Commons mall parking garage for a car to pull out of a parking space, I head a nice *blort* sound and turned to see a minivan attached to the side of my car. Their bumper struck my rear driver's-side door (not quite the same place where the T.R.U.C.K. got hit, and thankfully not touching anything more than the door), putting a nice little crease in the panel.

Just another thing to deal with ...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Sleep, Glorious Sleep

Well, one thing I can probably write a whole string of entries about is sleep and sleep strategies ... or lack there of.

A few weeks ago, we have two nigh-perfect nights of sleep from Celeste and then it fell apart rather rapidly. I should back up and note that <touch wood>Celeste is a good baby, no signs of colic and most of the time pretty agreeable</touch wood>; however, it seems, in general she'd rather be awake. Not that she wants to be interacting with us 24/7 — actually her most common look I've already dubbed as the "I'm so out of here when I turn 18" look — but she wants us to at least be within eyeshot (preferably closer than that) and she does not want to fall asleep. During the day, when she hasn't napped for hours, you can see how hard she's working to keep the eyelids open.

When she's that worn down, I have found that stroking her forehead and sweeping down across the nose and eyes (tricking her to close her eyes) sometimes works. The eyelids are too heavy to pull back up. It may only buy 30 to 40 minutes of sleep, but it's something.

But getting back to a few weeks ago, we started swaddling her again. For a while it seemed the swaddling was unnecessary so we stopped; when the sleeping troubles kicked back in, it took us a little while to remember swaddling. The problem was that the startle reflex would kick in and with her arms free she'd practically shake herself awake. But swaddling would help stymie that action and help her sleep past that point.

This week, however, we had to shift strategies again. She hasn't lost the startle reflex 100%, but it has diminished and being swaddled was leading to big struggles to free her arms that would wake her up (and get her worked up).

It's a mixed bag thus far: She doesn't fight the swaddle, but she still fights sleep. Evelin seems to have the magic touch, but sometimes I can get her to sleep (see the eye trick above). Also, it seems my foolproof lullaby is not longer working. For about 10 days, The Smiths' "Cemetery Gates" worked like a charm; now it's old hat. She'll listen politely (and hopefully absorb the anti-plagiarism lesson from the lyrics), but it doesn't calm her to sleep anymore.

I don't know if the fighting sleep so hard is typical or not, but her overnights seem to be pretty much by the book. To bed somewhere between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., awake for a feeding around midnight; awake again for 3:00 a.m. or so and then looking to wake up sometime around 7:00 a.m.

For us, the trouble point is the 3:00 a.m. feeding. Afterwards, she may catnap for a half hour or so, but then she starts talking or whinging to get our attention. If I go in to see what's what, she gives a nice big goofy smile that is so cute that I want to pick her up and play. Evelin (for good reasons) forbids such a reaction.

Monday night, we played the "Hey somebody come see me!" "Made you look!" game for about 90 minutes before we decided to bring her into our bed. Once there she looked back and forth happily at each of us for a while and then fell asleep. Tuesday night, I convinced Evelin to bring her to our bed after only a half hour of the game. She was a bit more up and took longer to fall asleep, but she was so happy and sweet, and I think we all sleep better this way. Evelin's not convinced, and she's rightly concerned about setting up a pattern that will not be easy to wean her from.

So, where we are now, is trying a bit of everything short of spiking her milk to get Celeste the sleep she needs (and, as a collateral benefit, the sleep Evelin and I need, too).

UPDATE: (from the comments): I don't want to jinx anything so the next paragraph is in Pig Latin*:
Eshay eptslay ettypray ellway astlay ightnay; oinggay otay edbay eforebay 8:00 pay.may., akingway aroundway idnightmay andway enthay eepingslay oughthray untilway aboutway 4:30 away.may. andway enthay eshay eptslay inway erhay ibcray untilway aboutway 6:45 away.may.!
We'll see if it was an aberration or not tonight ...

*Unfortunately, it looks like that's only an English —> Pig Latin translator, so you're on your own for translation back to English ...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bad Marketing Poetry

Okay, so if I'm going to blog, I should blog. Even if it doesn't involve how cute Celeste is.

The marketing manager for the company where I work just left my office and the bad poetry below is mostly her fault. She had just finished some last-minute renewal wraps for two of our publications. When we talked about renewal wraps last week, I'd suggested she try a parody of "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handy, maybe from a television engineer with the soul of a poet. Or something equally bad (but funny).

Today, after describing the finished wraps to me, I reiterated the bad poetry idea, and she admitted that she did consider using a haiku or limerick on the wrap. Which lead to the following:
Renew to Ensure
[seven syllable magazine title here]
Your Job Enrichment
There once was a subscriber to [magazine title here, rhymes with "bar"]
Who stumbled late out of the bar
The subscription had lapsed
His forehead he slapped
When a review he missed of the latest in CD-R
I then offered up something a little more freeform:
Like fresh flowers
   and refreshing rain
[magazine title]
   Sign up again

Monday, December 13, 2004

Is Anybody Out There?

Celeste in her Christmas best

Well, I wouldn't blame anyone if they aren't reading this anymore. I have been a total slacker for the past month (and I haven't been too on the ball since Celeste was born). Evelin thinks I'm not motivated anymore because at least one lifechange is no longer delayed; I think it's because I'm just tired and distracted by work (and maybe still burned out after the election).

Anyway, a few things I just want to note so that I remember to go back and create real entries at some point — pacifiers; sleep strategies; "better than a lava lamp"; car wreck; demiurban dad; ... — I'm sure there're other entries I've missed. Eventually, I'll get back on track.