Wednesday, June 28, 2006

They're Back!

Yesterday afternoon, Evelin, Celeste, and Quinn rolled up in the T.R.U.C.K. as I waited outside. I could see the big smile on Celeste's face through the window ... that was pretty cool. They'd had a little weather and a meltdown or two along the drive, so, timing-wise, it worked best to drop off M--- at BWI as they passed in hopes she could catch a flight earlier than the one she was booked on. Otherwise, she would have had a half hour at the most at our house before we'd have to drive her to the airport.

Celeste spent a good bit of time checking out her toys and looking around. Quinn just sort of rested up to stay up later than Evelin or I wanted to ...

It is amazing how much Quinn's changed since I last saw her Sunday morning (and she was mostly asleep then): She's holding her head up much, much better and she looks so much bigger.

Monday, June 26, 2006

10.06 inches

From 7:00 a.m. Sunday to 7:00 a.m. Monday, we had 10.06 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. And while things dried up some today, it's raining again ... and it's supposed to rain on and off thoughout the week ... and into the weekend.

I'm really glad we harvested the garlic on Thursday ...

Addendum: From The Post
Just over 10 inches of rain fell in Hyattsville over the 24-hour period ending this morning, according to the National Weather Service — rivaling the record for the highest rainfall ever at Dulles Airport, 10.67 inches that fell during when Hurricane Agnes hit the area on June 21, 1972.
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Outhouse Art

I don't know if there's a term for the genre, but I tend to like the temporary public art installations that pop up periodically. The current one nearest to us is the Fear the Turtle thing at the University of Maryland (this one is particularly nice), which I've noticed before but Celeste and I saw a few when we went to the linguistics lab.

This morning in The Washington Post, however, there is an article about the first protest statement to build on the same idea: Outhouses of Unger [ WP | State Journal ]. To protest exurban expansion and overdevelopment in Morgan County, West Virginia, some residents of the town of Unger have set up "multicolored outhouses along county roads and the main streets of the county seat, Berkeley Springs," according to the Post. According to the Outhouses of Unger website:
We are pleased to announce the creation of a citizens group to oppose high density subdivisions. The name we have chosen is Outhouses of Unger. We chose that name for two simple reasons. The first is that the outhouse is a symbol of Morgan County and West Virginia's proud rural heritage. The goal of our group is to keep Morgan County rural. Second is that those of us that live near this development are scared to death that our wells will go dry and become contaminated from the construction of that many homes in such a small area. Our motto is "If Your Well Goes Dry, You'll Need One Of These".
The outhouses themselves look to be more protest than art, but it still is a neat project. The organizers' site even includes plans and instructions so sympathizers can build their own outhouse protest art (the designs look to be on the small side, so I don't think anyone would want to build a functional outhouse from the plans).

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Change of Plans

So I'm home today, which was expected, but at a much earlier hour and sans Evelin and the girls. On Friday, we drove up Massachusetts for my mother-in-law and her twin brother's birthday party. Although the girls were good, it was a pretty long drive through intermittently dreich weather. We stopped in Easthampton to visit K--- and T--- and their baby boy, J---, which was nice. J--- is about 8 months, but a big boy and on his way to walking.

After the visit, we headed back to the Mass Pike, where we passed through two strong thunderstorm cells. Celeste was less than impressed and started saying "Home. Home." We told her we were going to her grandmother's house, but she just said: "No. Our house!"

Eventually she calmed down, and when we finally did make it to Evelin's parent's house, Celeste was ready to see the grand'rents and some toys she hadn't seen since Christmas.

The party was Saturday in Gloucester. Since the girls fell asleep shortly into the drive, we took the long way there — via Boston so Evelin could get a look at the Zakim Bridge.

The party was a nice, relaxed affair. The rainy weather kept us inside for the most part, but we did take a short walk down to the ocean and on to the rocks. Celeste thought it was neat, especially when I'd give her pebbles to drop/toss into a tide pool.

We ended up staying way too late at the party (until after 7:00 p.m.), which left the girls falling asleep on the ride home and very much off schedule. Celeste transitioned from her carseat to crib okay, but Quinn had a rough time getting back to sleep, and both girls awoke during the night.

Sunday morning is where the change in plans hit me. On Friday, while Evelin's dad and I were running out to pick up diapers and other supplies, Evelin and her mom, M---, started talking about extending her stay in New England. I needed to be back at work on Monday, and M--- had something she needed to do on Wednesday.

So that Evelin and the girls could stay, I flew home on Sunday and M--- is driving with Evelin back to Maryland on Tuesday. Depending upon how long it takes them, I'll either give M--- a ride back up to BWI that evening or Evelin will drop her off on the way home.

I checked the train and airlines and found a decent fare on Southwest from Manchester. I hate Southwest — I can't stand the A–B–C seating thing, I don't like the phony jocularity of the staff, everything about the airline just grates on me — but it was shorter and cheaper than the train, and I wouldn't have to get someone to give me a ride into Boston or to Springfield. So, I got bought the ticket and made it back to Maryland with no real incident.

Once at BWI, however, I had to figure out how to get home. Last time I came home earlier than Evelin, it was planned and we left a car at the airport; this time, I ended up taking the B30 to Greenbelt and then cabbed it from there. My other option was a train to New Carrollton, but it cost five times as much ($15 vs. $3) and only left about 10 minutes earlier. I would have taken Metro to a closer station and then walked home, but it was raining pretty hard and I was tired.

Home without the girls, I did a little futzing, ran down to The Mall to see what I could see at Natural History, the Botanic Garden, and the Postal Museum. Then it was back home to just sort of crash/relax.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Postcrossing: 100 Cards

With the card I received last night from the Groningen, Netherlands, I've had 100 postcards sent or received via Postcrossing since I signed up in the beginning of February. Most of the cards I have received have been pretty interesting — a few handmade cards, a couple of funny ones, some cute animals, uzw. — and I think the ones I've sent have been okay. (Evelin's been less than impressed with a few cards I've bought for mailing, but the replies from the receivers have been mostly positive ...)
postcrossing history map
Of the 100 cards, 47 have been sent and received/entered (red lines) and 46 I received (blue lines). Not shown are six that are still traveling (one of which is expired), and one that is in limbo because the user was deleted from Postcrossing before my card was received/entered. The longest travel time for any received card was 30 days for one from Brazil; the shortest was one I sent to Germany, which was received/entered within three days. One card is MIA after 126 days, so it's officially scored as "expired" although there's always a chance it could end up getting entered. It was sent to Manaus, Brazil, so that might be part of the reason it's taking so long.

As the map shows, there've been a lot of postcards to/from Finland: 37 in total. The next largest batch is to/from Germany at 15; the Netherlands and the United Kingdom at 10 each; and then Brazil and New Zealand with five each. Of the U.K. postcards nine involved England and one Wales. Three cards have been sent to or received from Portugal; two have involved Austria, Canada, France, and Singapore; and I've had one card to/from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, and South Africa. Actually the Finland number, as high as it is, is slowly decreasing. At one point earlier in the year, about 45% of my cards were to/from Finland.

Actually, my total number of cards sent/received should be 102 instead of 100 because I sent a second postcard to the guy in Manaus in case the first one was lost. I did a similar second card mailing to a user in Germany after about 50 days and that card was entered very quickly — things do get lost in the mail sometimes ...

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This and That

It was about 85°F this afternoon, but humidity in the sub-50% RH range, so after a little waffling I made it out for a 7-mile bike ride during lunch today. I headed over to the W&OD trail, which I've been on a few times, but took a turn off at a random side trail and, after a few surface streets, found myself in Lubber Run Park. It doesn't (as best I could tell) connect up with the rest of the trail network directly (at least not from the way I approached/left it), but it was pretty nice: very shady, totally vacant, and a chipmunk paradise. I don't think I've ever seen so many Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) in one place; every few yards of trail, I'd see another one or two.

Other than that, one belated blog task I've failed to do is to give a big thank you to The Late Greats for converting to MP3 and tracking Rosanne Cash's appearance on WXPN's Free at Noon series.

And another thank you to The Scotch Blog for the Glenfiddich hat I won last week.

Finally, this isn't an experiment Celeste is signed up for, but Cancer Research UK has found that children's taste for fish and meat, but not for vegetables and sweets, is inherited. [ BBC | Press Release ] Based on our own experiences with Celeste, she definitely likes her fruits and vegetables, but is relatively neutral toward meat and fish. Evelin offers it to her sometimes when we're out or happen to have some in the house, but she never really goes crazy for it (excepting a brief craze for cheese melted on chicken, but that passed). Now if the study had found an evolutionary bias toward loving blueberries ... that would be Celeste's sort of study.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Which Flower is Bulorfulling?

Among the many offers for formula, portraiture, diapers, etc., that came streaming through our mailsolt after Quinn was born was one interesting plea from Infant Studies at the University of Maryland. Basically researchers and students in the linguistics, psychology and speech and hearing programs are looking for kids from birth up to age 10 for help with various studies about cognition, hearing, and language acquisition.

Naturally, I couldn't pass up the chance to offer up my first and second born for the sake of science. I filled out the card (and if any one reading this is in the D.C. metropole and has a young kid or is about to, check out the program website; they're always looking for more kids for the database for possible studies) and sent it in and within a week or so we got a call for a linguistics study involving Celeste.

Basically, the goal is to look at how kids might learn/understand verbs. After Celeste spent a little time doing puzzles and free playing with one of the researchers while I filled out a consent form, a word inventory*, and other paperwork, we went into a little room with a big screen television.

I'd put out the caveat that Celeste doesn't really watch TV (every now and then outside of the house she might get a glimpse of what I tell her is a "magic light box," but usually it doesn't hold her interest too long), but they didn't think that would skew the data.

Basically, Celeste sat in a highchair in front of the screen. I sat behind her so she couldn't see me (and I couldn't cue her or otherwise affect the results). And then, with at least two cameras recording, the video started. It seemed a bit like a Baby Einstein video, albeit with some made-up words: "Look at the flower. The flower is bulorfulling. Which flower is bulorfulling?" The researchers were tracking which images/parts of the screen Celeste was watching at what times to see if she looked in the right direction when the "Which flower is bulorfulling?" question was asked.

From where I was, there were at least one or two times when she tilted her head in a way that made me think she was looking where they wanted her to, but I couldn't see her face to know for sure.

The actual test lasted about 5 minutes; the paperwork and playtime before hand took about 30. And Celeste came out of it with a new book, Elmo's World: Animals!. I dinnae mean for her to get a Red Menace book, but she kept focusing in on the Sandra Boyton books she already owns; I just saw "Animals!" on the spine and pulled it out for her. She immediately noticed Elmo.

UPDATE: Here's a description of the research methods being used by the language acquisitiion lab. Although the specifics outlined are different, I'm pretty sure the test Celeste was part of fall under the "Preferential Looking" method.

Also, despite joking that I would, I didn't tell the researchers that we've been trying to speak only Proto-Indo-European around Celeste ...

*Only spoken words were counted, so things that Celeste only signs, such as MILK, weren't counted even though she knows and uses the sign for the word. I also couldn't count the kissy noise that means giraffe; for some reason giraffe wasn't one of the animal sounds in the inventory.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Catching Up With My Life

Wow, has it really been nearly two weeks since I had a real entry? Nothing to really blame it on — it's not even 過労死 this time ... I'm in a rare quieter moment at work; I've just been wiped out.

So what's the best way to run down the past two weeks? Gerunds.

Smelling ... I had a good little cooking jag over the past two weeks: spaghetti squash with asparagus and ricotta, asparagus–mushroom pizza, a chickpea stew with sweet onions (from Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure), potatoes and olives (from The Greek Vegetarian), artichokes, and a few other dishes.

When I was making the spaghetti squash and asparagus dish, I ran out to pick some rosemary from the plants Evelin put into one of the beds. When I got back inside, Quinn was fussing. I put a little bit of rosemary under her nose and she quieted up immediately. I hadn't realized rosemary has a calming effect, but it really did work for a moment or two with her.

Weighting ... Thinking of Quinn, she had her two-month appointment last Thursday: She was 12 pounds, 4 ounces; 23 inches long; and head circumference 15.5 inches. We figure she's gaining at least more than an ounce a day at this rate. This kid is solid.

While on the subject of Quinn, she's rolled from stomach to back three times when angry during tummy time.

She's still a pretty good sleeper: She has trouble getting to sleep, particularly in the afternoon/evening, but she will sleep from about 7:30 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. without a peep.

We're also trying to give her a bottle once a day to get her used to the thing for when Evelin goes back to work. I am a bit worried about my first afternoon alone with the two of them.

Crying ... Actually, last Tuesday, I did have a few hours alone with the girls and it went about as poorly as I could imagine. Evelin had a post-natal checkup with the midwives and both of the girls were napping when it was time for her to leave. Of course, Celeste awoke about 10 minutes after she left and Quinn woke up about 5 minutes after that.

It was okay for a little while, but then I figured that Quinn was hungry and I gave her a bottle. It worked about as well as when I tried it with Celeste for the first time. There were tears and much back and forth trying to figure out what would make her happy. Celeste was obviously stressed out — by the crying, by me being unable to stop the crying, by my being frazzled about what to try next, ... — and was running back and forth making suggestions. "Boppy!" "Swing!" "No-No!" MILK. "Diap!"

She actually was a really big help — getting things like the Boppy and the BabyBjörn for me — but the only thing that really helped was when Evelin finally got home. Since then, we've given her a few more bottles, mostly with little initial success, but she did okay yesterday. (Tonight, not so good, however.)

Singing ... Celeste is pretty demanding, popping up with new words and requests daily. She really enjoys singing (or at least being sung to) and she will often tell me to "Sing, Da-da!"

A few nights ago, she had a middle-of-the-night wakeup. I went in a calmed her and took her out of the crib to sit quietly for a little while. As soon as we sat down, she said, loudly, "Sing, Da-da!" I told her "No, it's night; time for sleeping." She sat there quietly for a while, but after about 5 minutes there was this fairly quiet, and slightly plaintive, "Sing, Da-da." It was really cute, but dinnae work.

Thinking of signing, I've been using "Cemetry Gates" as a lullaby for a long time with her. When we drove to North Carolina, I put together a few mix CDs for the drive, including one with "Cemetry Gates." When the song started, I kept an eye on the mirror to see if Celeste noticed: At first she was going on with whatever she was doing, but when Moz got to "If you must write prose/poems ..." she looked up and pointed at the radio and smiled. Now whenever I sing the song, she starts saying "Car CD! Car CD!"

Forgetting ... I'm sure I'm forgetting more than a few cute/interesting/stupid/blogworthy things but that's all I have at the moment ...

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Birthday−1 Boy

I'm way behind on blogging lots of things; hopefully this weekend I'll catch up, but I need to blog this first. Tomorrow is my 37th birthday. I'm low-key about these things in general, but there is an any-excuse-for-cake crowd in the office, so I ended up being fêted this afternoon.

Later in the day, a coworker walked by in the hall and congratulated me on my birthday. He then asked: "Are you older than me?" I said, I don't know; how old are you? "46," came the reply....

He seemed a little embarrassed to find that I was a decade younger than him, but at the same time how ragged (and graying) do I look for him to have thought I was closer to 50 than he is?

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Poor Paci

Trauma tonight for WubbaNub, Celeste's pacifier: Being a bit cheeky at bedtime, Celeste threw Wub to the floor twice as we were getting ready for bed, so I asked her if she still needed her paci. She said, "No." So Evelin cut the pacifier part of WubbaNub free from the dog, and handed Wub back to her. Celeste looked a bit gobsmacked and then said, "Cut, passy?"

To back things up, Celeste has always been more of a pacifier girl than Quinn. Quinn will take one every now and then, but she's not dependent like Celeste was. For the most part, the pacifier for Celeste was only in bed, and when she reached a certain age (I don't remember how long ago) the pacifier went away and there was only WubbaNub.

Over the last week, Evelin and I started talking about when even Wub would go away. WubbaNub is only approved for kids without teeth, and on the way back from Montreat, we noticed that the pacifier part of Wub was starting to tear.

We tried just having it disappear, but allowing it to return if Celeste asked for it. She started asking often. I tried talking with her some about suttetræ, the Danish pacifier trees.* I wasn't sure of the details, but I told her that when she was ready we could send her paci off to Denmark to be placed on a suttetræ. That kind of made her a little defensive and apprehensive, but we did come to an agreement that not all big girls need pacifiers and that while Celeste may need one now, she knows she doesn't need it forever.

Since Celeste wasn't cottoning to the idea of giving up Wub, we went ahead and ordered a new one to replace the tearing one.

Fast forward to tonight. Celeste was pretty sad about the de-pacified Wub. She first threw the dog down, then kept trying to hide it. Eventually, she started looking at the stuffed animal — laughing at the yellow foot pads, wagging the tail, feeling the ears, and then getting to the nub of the pacifier stem. That made her sad again, and she tossed it aside.

We talked a bit more about it all, and Celeste said she didn't need Wub, so I put her to bed and she seemed happy enough. After a while, however, we could hear her normal putting-herself-to-sleep chatter shifting to "Passy. Cut. No." and then just "Passy. Passy. Passy." So ... she is now enjoying the new WubbaNub — Evelin said Celeste was really happy to see the new Wub — and sleeping soundly.

*Actually, I wonder if the Arboretum, Brookside Gardens, or even the National Zoo would be willing/interested in creating a suttetræ ...

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hurricane Season

And so it starts again ... When I was a kid, hurricanes were always exciting. After last year and Katrina, I'm hoping the 2006 hurricane season is a dud.

NOAA and the National Hurricane Center just released its Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook for the 2006 hurricane season and the list of names for the year. The names for the first three storms of the year will be Alberto, Beryl, and Chris.