Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

I'm a big believer in New Year. I like the idea of having a starting point, especially one which encourages people to make positive changes. In that spirit I like to make resolutions for myself. My record is spotty (of course), but having a plan is a good thing. It helps you keep focus.
For next year:
  • Write a publishable novel.
  • Learn conversational Italian.
  • Be able to play a little piano.
  • See either a comet or the northern lights.
  • Attend a stage play.
Nothing about weight this year. That never works out somehow.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year. A new leaf, a new path maybe. Make the most of it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Aniversary

To my blog, which started four years ago today. A lot has happened since then, huh? I hope that the next four are at least this good.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Playoffs!

Hooray for the Vikes. It turned out that they didn't even need to win today but I'm glad they did. It would be a little more satisfying if the Giants had played all out but frankly I'll take it. They host the Eagles next Sunday at 330p. I'm not confident, but it wouldn't be that surprising if they won. My guess is that the Eagles will be favored by about 2.
The day started with only five of the twelve playoff teams locked into their spots. That meant that there were many games that still had meaning for at least one of the teams. The conventional wisdom is that these games greatly favor the 'meaning' teams. Tell that to the Bears and Bucs.
For only the second time in NFL history, an 11-5 team (the Patriots) will miss the playoffs this year in favor of either the 9-7 Broncos or the 8-8 Chargers, depending on who wins tonight's game. This has already led to some talk of unfairness. TMQ thinks we should grab the top twelve teams, regardless of conference or division. I think this undervalues the divisional system by a wide margin.
There is a tremendous amount of tradition wrapped up in the divisions. Every year when the schedules come out fans first check out when and where they'll be playing their divisional foes. Then they check out other strong teams and cold weather road games and the like. This stuff matters.
And it all evens out over time. Last year the Patriots went 16-0 and earned homefield against a very weak division. The other three teams only one six non-divisional games (out of a possible thirty). This year's AFC west won 11 of 40, right in that same ballpark.
I've heard a suggestion (don't remember where or I'd link) that teams should be barred from the playoffs if they don't have a winning record, and I could live with that. Keep the 8-8 teams out and invite the next best one in the conference to play. That could add a little more drama at the end. Wonder what the owners would think?

Overheard

From the FP Gal:
"You know how you get anxious for baseball? Well I'm anxious for garage sales."

That makes me feel much better.

Dippin'

Per usual, we had our pre-football McDonalds for lunch today. Lately Relia hasn't liked the chicken we've made for her so I wanted to get her some mcnuggets and see if some better product would get her interest. She loved em.
About halfway through our meal, the FP Gal asked her if she'd like some mustard for her nuggets. This is the way that the FP Gal likes them and she wanted to share with her. Relia is wearing a black shirt today and all I could see was mustard yellow stripes all over her. She squirted a small dab in Relia's container. Relia looked at it and then daintily dipped her nugget in. Just like her mommy!
I was very surprised. She must have watched how mommy eats and then imitated her. Relia really is in a monkey-see-monkey-do phase. (Of course, as I write this she is trying to put her babies bottle in her ear, something that she's never seen her parents do before.)
And now we're going to watch some football!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Open question

For years people have said that the best thing about SNL was the Weekend Update, the part where two members do short clips as fake news casters. Every time that I've seen this they have a brief bit where a different member impersonates someone famous. Here is the question: in the entire history of the show has this impersonation thing been funny? Even once?

First Phrase

Relia has her first sentence down. She has apparently heard us tell the cats to 'get down' over and over. That's because Ozzie and Sana are naughty and won't stay off of the tables. Anyway, she picked this up and now tells them 'gi doe'. She even uses it in context! We think this is her way asserting power over someone else.
It's kind of a shame that the kitties don't listen.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Have a great Friday

50 Discoveries from 2008

A very interesting list. (Number 27 is somewhat worrying.)

Christmas stuff

For a nearly minute to minute update of Christmas day, you can visit my lovely wife's blog here (warning, there are about 20 pictures of our adorable daughter). Just thought I'd add some notes:
  • Relia really turned the cuteness factor up to warp 12 yesterday. She's at that wonderful stage where she's not really aware of how cute she is. That makes it sweet instead of trying.
  • She got two dolls, one big and one little. She loves them both and it's a little surprising to me just how maternal she is. The FP Gal and I had a brief discussion today and decided to stop saying "You're such a good mommy!" and instead say, "You're such a good babysitter". It's easier on her poor father that way.
  • Of course just after we decided that we found her standing on the big doll's chest in an effort to reach the couch. She still has a ways to go before we trust her with real babies.
  • Relia is picking up words very quickly. She's learned 'birdy' in the last couple of days. My mom has a canary and she quickly realized he was a 'birdy'. Today she saw a poster of an eagle and also decided it was a 'birdy'. (I'm sure this is common but we can hear the words clearly even if complete strangers probably couldn't.)
  • Another addition to her repetoire is kissing. She puckers up and makes fish lips. You can offer your cheek or your lips. If you kiss on the mouth then she laughs hysterically. My dad got a sample of this today and he loved it.
It was a lot of fun and we have even more family fun together tomorrow.

A Holiday Tradition

Favre Uncertain About Future

Thursday, December 25, 2008

RIP Eartha Kitt


We've listened to this song about 100 times in the car over the last month. What a strange coincidence.

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone has a very nice Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Week Before Christmas

For the lack of posts this week. I'm busy trying to keep my head together. This should have been easy because it was a very short work week for me (office closed Wed-Fri) but I'm finding it tough. Let me blame it on the cold weather. And the continuing barrage of snow.
We're just about ready for Christmas. Tonight we'll stay home and snuggle together watching movies. Tomorrow morning we take care of two bits of family, then more on Friday and Saturday.
Relia has no clue that she'll get presents tomorrow. In all honesty, she'll almost certainly enjoy the wrapping paper and boxes as much as the gifts themselves. (Right now she's doing a combo of sweeping and knocking books off of her shelf.) We'll tackle Santa next year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Packers/Bears

I refuse to cheer for the Packers tonight.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Touchdown!

Relia has added this to her repertoire. Not really the word, but the signal. Against all odds, someone else taught it to her.

Date movies

In Roger Ebert's most recent 'Movie Answer Man' comes this question and answer:
Q. I have a pet peeve about the practice of describing a movie as a "date movie." As in, "Oh, it's a good 'date movie,' but otherwise I'd skip it." Surely a movie good enough to see with a date is also good enough to see on one's own? The statement implies one of two things, in my eyes: 1) Women don't have the taste in movies men do, so it really doesn't matter what you take them to as long as they are entertained. 2) You're going to be much too busy attending to other matters to be concerned with what's happening onscreen.
Nathan Gearhart, Kansas City, Mo.

A. Young men (and women), heed this warning! Only marry someone whose taste in movies is as good as, or better than, your own. Otherwise, you will be doomed to seeing Date Movies for the rest of your life, and almost by definition they aren't worth seeing at all.
First of all, what a limited definition of a 'date' movie! We typically think of these as 'first date' movies or more completely 'movies to see with someone when you're still getting to meet them'. These movies would generally:
  • Be on the light side.
  • Be noncontroversial.
  • Not be extreme in terms of nudity or raunchiness.
  • Go light on the profanity.
  • Be uplifting.
  • Not be too long (two hours max).
Lots of great movies would violate several of these guidelines and that's ok. I wouldn't see 'Schindler's List' on a first date. 'Million Dollar Baby' was a tremendous movie but not a good one with someone I didn't know well. The Lord of the Rings movies were great but each of them was so long that you wouldn't have much time left for the date outside of the movie.
And frankly, it takes a certain snobbishness to write off date movies. Sometimes you're just in the mood for something lighter and there's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean bad taste.
Ebert's point about matching movie taste is a good one but kind of an obvious one as well.

Blizzard

Yesterday we had a nice big blizzard, that felt more like March than December. Nice big flakes and a bunch of them. Of course, we decided that it would be a good day to drive all over creation.
The FP Gal's parents offered to watch Relia so we could get some shopping done. We dropped her off and hit a half dozen different places. The stores were busy but not overwhelmingly so. We also stopped at Wendy's for lunch. (Can I just say how much I miss Dave Thomas? I know that most CEOs are dull people, but he always had a spot in my heart. And this new slogan 'Way better than fast food' bugs me deep in my curmudgeonly soul.)
Then I dropped the FP Gal off at her parents so I could go grocery shopping. When we arrived, Relia was out braving the deep snow. Pictures are here. Went shopping and got some stuff for green bean casserole, which I love but have never made before. It looks simple enough. Also got things for the FP Gal's chicken noodle 'soup' (the quotes will come down when the end product is soupy').
Picked them up and had to run one more errand. Poor Pagoda (my car) was certainly tired of the winter weather by then. She needs new tires and wipers. She did the won't-start-now-but-give-me-ten-minutes thing again at the grocery store.
Then home and we settled in for the night. Just about the time we got there, the wind picked up and the temps dropped quickly, ending up somewhere south of zero. It's been very cold so far this December. Subzero earlier than it usually is.
Lately we've been dreaming of Mexico.

Doesn't it look nice?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Little Monkey

Relia is just growing and growing and growing. Today she showed me that she can pull herself onto the piano bench without any help. That gives her access to everything on top of the piano, which has been serving as one of our last flat surfaces that is out of her reach. No longer.
I'm thinking we may need some suspended nets. We can tuck things in there and then hoist them up out of reach. The FP Gal thinks this might be too much of a reaction. I think it would look just like some of the rooms on Trading Spaces but that might not be a selling point.
The cats are finding this situation out too. She can easily climb to any of their usual sitting places. They take it in stride, mostly. Sana has the occasional slap fight. Relia finds her hisses very funny. No scratches yet, but I'm sure that will come when she's big enough to really corner one of them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Survivor Finale

Here is Jeff's final blog. He really lays into the jury for being bitter. The FP Gal said this was the whiniest season she could remember and I'd have to agree. So many people thought that they should just be given a longer stay and who cared that other people were actively playing against them. How annoying!
Can I make a confession here? I didn't care for Sugar. She was a huge player and her actions had a big effect on the game. But I really didn't respect what she did because it seemed so random. Someone spoke harshly to someone else? I'll switch sides. Someone tells me that someone else is lying to me? Without any more thought, I'll switch sides. The trick to staying in her good graces was to be the last one to talk to her.
I'm glad Bob won. Older engineer types seem to do really well at this game. I wonder if anyone else finds that inspiring?

Pretty snow

We had a nice snowglobe type snow today. Very nice to look at, not so much fun to drive home in. Also, it's much colder than I thought it could be for this much snow. Isn't there a minimum temperature for this?

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Viking Bar

Tonight's 'How I Met Your Mother' featured a Viking bar in New York City. It was weird. One of the main characters is supposed to be from Minnesota and his part is regularly written as if the writers have only vaguely heard of the state.
As a service, I'd like to offer some tips to help them in case they try to do this again:
  • Minneapolis and St Paul are collectively referred to as 'the Cities' by anyone from the state. Calling them 'the Twin Cities' sounds as odd as obsessivly referring to New York as 'the Big Apple'. It's a small error and perfectly understandable but it tips you off as outsiders.
  • You were very close with this one but the game that haunts Viking fans is the 1998 NFC Championship game. The game happened in January of '99 but it was part of the '98 season. The '99 one had St Louis hosting Tampa Bay. Check with your football guys, they'll set you straight.
  • Your bar has people ripping on Canadians. Any bar filled with people from 'the Cities' and featuring border animosity would show hatred towards Wisconsin. (Is there Canada bashing up north? Seems kind of pointless. Anyone help out here? Carrie?)
Overall it was sweet of you to include us. And it was a valiant attempt. Do me a favor, next time, check with some of your affiliates here. They'll set you straight.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vikes win!

And they looked good doing it. If they win either of their last two (or if the Bears lose one of their last two) than they clinch the division and almost certainly have the number three seed. I wouldn't have guessed that earlier in the season.

Brand New Week

Let's see if this one passes the Kate test.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Children's TV

Ok, so our parenting skills have gotten an assist lately. Relia has started to notice the TV and we've been using it as a pacifier. She hasn't been feeling well (we think, communication is sometimes iffy) or at least she's been much fussier the past few days. The alternative seems to be letting her yell and yell without any idea of what she wants. This serves as a distraction if nothing else.
And you know what? I'm already tired of this gentle world where every child shares and picks up after themselves. Do these plaster saints convince any kids at all? I'm very curious on this point. It seems like kid TV took a turn for the puffy sometime in the mid-80's or so. I'd love to talk to some school teachers that started teaching before then. Are kids more likely to share now? Or play gently?
I've got my doubts. My guess is that even very young kids are cynical enough to discount the behavior as 'just something adults want us to believe'. Or maybe as likely, they don't look to these shows for moral lessons. I certainly didn't look to Bugs Bunny for them.
Not to put too much emphasis on this. At this age, she just likes the active music and the fun colors. Frankly, her name is Relia. And she likes to dance!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A righty

Just so you know, Relia eats peas from a spoon much easier with her right hand than with her left. Apologies to my Dad and my Mother-in-law. On the plus side, now she can play second base and shortstop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Babies crying on TV

There oughta be a law against them. We've put our screamy little angel down for the night and the show the FP Gal is watching has a baby crying faintly in the background. Yes, I'm on alert. Yes, I wish it would stop now.
Similar thing with radio ads that feature sirens. No matter how many times I hear the ad, I still check the rear view mirror and hurriedly put my automatic in the glove compartment. Sometime it will cause an accident.
Sickness update: I'm feeling better though my tummy is still upset. Took some Pepto yesterday evening and about an hour later had a 'clearance event'. Felt much better after that. Not perfect, but better.
Then came last night. Relia had a rough night, but that was only part of the problem. I simply couldn't get comfortable. I turned over so many times, you could've hooked me up to a generator and powered our neighborhood. The poor FP Gal slept through most of it (at least that's what she's telling me) but I couldn't. Throw in some genuine insomnia and I got maybe 30 minutes of sleep before 4a.
Why use that cutoff instead of a more reasonable waking up time? Because that's when Relia decided she was done for the night. We brought her into bed with us but it was obvious that she was done with laying down, darkness and not being fed. So, downstairs we went!
Neat parenting tip (and I hope hope hope that this effect doesn't wear off quickly), after eating I started up 'Spirited Away' and brought her to the couch with me. She was mesmerized and at some point we both fell asleep. I'm pretty sure she was. And then later, she got up and ran around. I know this because she woke me by tapping a tupperware cup on my glasses. I thanked her, took it and rolled over for more sleep.
Eventually the FP Gal woke up (probably at her usual time but I wasn't rationally aware anymore). I took a body check and decided that I was still too sick to go into work. Got Relia over to daycare with full Daddy Zombie behind the wheel of the car. And then went back home and collapsed.
Once I woke up I felt a bit better. Tummy is still off but not violently. The FP Gal came home a bit early because she's now not feeling well.
Note to Relia, don't make us call the gypsies tonight, dear.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sick today

Didn't go out to shovel again today. Instead I woke up feeling sick. All day long I've felt like I need to throw up. But it just won't happen. Awful feeling and now I'm considering doing shots or something to make it go.
Also, the temperature keeps going up and down in the house. I hope this isn't that awful flu stuff that I keep hearing about from other people.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Next Reading Project

Ever since I finished the Great American Novel project a few months ago, I've been a bit at odds. October was spent reading 'His Dark Materials' and 'Anathem'. Last month was spent writing for NaNoWriMo and also reading 'Midnight's Children' for a book club. But I knew that I'd need some kind of focus going forward.
(No, I don't know why I need to do these projects. I didn't do this back in school, as my high school mates can attest. I didn't do this when I lived alone and had enormous amounts of time. I just don't know.)
I tinkered with a few different ideas on what to do next. I've been reading some Man Booker Prize winners and enjoying them. Time magazine's top 100 novels is intriguing. Even toyed with reading biographies of all of our past Presidents. But I'm going a different direction.
Instead, I'm going to read all of the Hugo Award Winners. The Hugo is given out each year to the top Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel. I've read some of them already and enjoyed them quite a bit. Good sci-fi stretches the mind and challenges the reader. This list should give me plenty of good stretch.

Snow!

The headline on the Strib site today said 'First Significant Snow of the Season Today'. I found this somewhat funny because it's been insignificantly snowing each day for the past week or so. Dustings here and there, not much more than an inch but it's been snowing. All of the yards were covered with white.
Of course by significant they meant that today we were going to be hit by a real snowstorm. They predict six inches total by storm's end. I just shoveled about three of it. The other half is due sometime in the morning.
I've said it before, I don't mind the snow. It's the cold that gets me. Today was easily warmer than the weekend. Shoveling was even kind of fun. (Trying to keep a positive attitude...)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cold

Yep, it's winter in these parts. Over the last few days we've been around 10 degrees more or less. Add in some strong winds and powdery snow and you have a party!
Yeah, I'm not loving this.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - 2008

Jamal Malik has done amazingly well on India's 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'. And that's a problem. You see, he is nothing, from a slum. Doctors and lawyers don't do this well at the game and yet this 'slumdog' is answering every question. He must be cheating.
The movie opens with Jamal being tortured. They will find out how he's cheating and who is helping him. Or they will find out how he was so lucky to answer each of their questions. His story spills out and they do find out.
This movie is based on the novel 'Q and A' by Vikas Swarup. I haven't read it but it reminded me of a Rushdie novel. It details a long personal history and shows an incredible degree of interconnectedness. The story is amazing.
This is a great movie and it's already receiving some Oscar buzz. It draws you in. It shows stunning pictures of India. It's script is very well done. The camera work and music is well put together without being too arty.
Be warned that it's not always an easy movie. It shows abject poverty. It features children in danger, some being hurt. There are tense moments and many laughs.
I wouldn't be sad to see it win Best Picture. It's certainly worthy of that level.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Seventh Heaven

(The FP Gal forced me to write this or else she'd out me.)
Yes, I've got a new TV show that I enjoy. WGN plays back to back episodes of Seventh Heaven, weekdays at 5p and 6p. It's hard not to watch.
For those of you not familiar with it, Seventh Heaven follows the trials and travails of a southern California family. The father is a minister, the mother is a minister's wife (a tough job) and they have seven kids. Each episode they run into various troubles and somehow the family pulls through. Standard TV, right?
Well, what makes this different is that the family is filled with good people. The parents are easily the toughest, most loving parents I've ever seen on a TV show. The brothers and sisters genuinely act like they love each other. I find myself thinking that it's the type of family I'd like to raise.
Yes, it's hoakey. And sometimes overly sweet. But that's kind of ok. Most modern television is so cynical and 'ironic' and overly self-reverential. 'Seventh Heaven' is almost shocking in it's decency.

(There I wrote it. And yes, I think this makes me an old man. Or somebodies parent. Possibly both.)

Tip

For the FP Gal.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Anathem - Stephenson

Neal Stephenson creates large, dense worlds. 'Anathem' is the perfect example of that. It takes place on a human non-Earth planet. The protagonist, named Erasmas, is a kind of secular monk. Many millennia ago, this planet exiled their scientists, philosophers and other thinkers into walled off monasteries. Each monastery is dominated by an giant clock that is designed to run for decades without human help. The clocks are also connected to various gates that are designed to open at set intervals.
Erasmas, for instance is in an area that opens up every ten years. This allows them to connect with outside world for brief periods. There are also groups that make contact once every hundred years and millenarians, every thousand. All of them, necessarily take the long view history and don't concern themselves with the outside world very much.
But then something happens. A strange light is found in the sky. Members of the order are unexpectedly cast out. Big things are afoot.
The whole book is big, sometimes too big to really focus on. It wasn't really a page turner, and not Stephenson's best work. But my mind kept turning back to it. Weeks after I finished it, I still think about it.
Part of the Stephenson's inspiration for this work is the idea that our current society is too impressed with the new and the flashy. He has created sanctuaries dedicated to thinking and learning. We don't make century long plans today. The people of this book work in thousands of years. It makes an impression.
At times, 'Anathem' reminded me of both 'The Name of the Rose' and 'A Canticle for Liebowitz'. The first for the intrigue and the second for the unmistakable apocolyptic feel. It's not a book for everyone but I found it deeply rewarding.

His Dark Materials - Pullman

This is the trilogy that the book (and then movie) 'The Golden Compass' came from. It's a fantasy story set in an alternate universe, at least starts there. The time frame is slippery, in some ways the world is less advanced than ours, in some ways more. In it, the Catholic Church is much more powerful than in ours, almost a throwback to pre-Enlightenment Europe.
The most interesting difference is that everyone in this world has a 'daemon'. This is some kind of manifestation of their soul. It takes the form of an animal and is in direct, constant communication with it's human. Each daemon can take the form of different animals until the human becomes an adult. They are visible to others and tangible. It's hard to read this without wishing for one of your own.
The first book stars Lyra, a young girl who has been left as a charge of Oxford. She become swept up in a plot that involves kidnapping, northern lights and giant armored polar bears. Along the way she meets witches and gypsies and a golden monkey. 'The Golden Compass' was easily the high point of the series and it's a very good adventure/fantasy novel.
Then the trilogy slips. The other two books are ok but not special. The 'church as villain' theme seems very forced and there are many places where characters give forced anti-religion speeches.
The author, Phillip Pullman, was very open about writing these books as a way to create anti-religion skeptics. Unfortunately for the books, these spots make the stories drag. There have been comparisons to C.S. Lewis' Narnia books and in some ways the two series resemble each other. Lewis has a lighter touch and it helps.
In some ways, the whole trilogy feels like a missed opportunity to me. The 'daemon' idea is a great one and it's well developed. There are other elements, such as the Subtle Knife, that are equally great. It's a shame that Message interfered with Art.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Exhausted

Relia has taken to waking up between 4 and 5 in the morning. This is not a good thing. Last week when the FP Gal and I had time off it was a limited problem. One of us would get up with her while the other one slept in. After a couple of hours, we'd switch.
That didn't work this morning of course. To make it worse, I was too jazzed from the Viking game to go to sleep easily last night. So my night went like this:
11p - in bed
1145p - admit that I can't sleep and go downstairs
130a - back to bed and sleep
430a - Relia wakes
432a - Relia comes to bed with the FP Gal and Zombie Daddy
433a-6a much kicking and wrestling, some whimpering and general miserableness
6a - my alarm goes off, the FP Gal goes downstairs, blessedly taking Relia with and making me promise be down at 625a
605a-625a - nirvana
625a - Zombie Daddy achieves the ground floor

We can't keep doing this.