The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


We have been in Baltimore visiting my Grandparents. I don't seem to be getting much work done. My days have been split between amusing the kids and doing things with my Mom and Grandmother. If there exists a clothing store in Charm city for women of a certain age, I went there this week.
In addition to seeing family, the goal of this trip is to stock up on all of the items that I can't get in Normal. Here are the results:

IKEA: a new office chair and a quilt for Joseph.

The Asian foods market, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc: rice, sauces, and snacks.

I replaced the broken menorah and stocked up on Chanukah candles for next year. Also, I got a Chanukah mug from Starbucks which I intend to use every day.

I found a couple of winter skirts, a shawl and a scarf.

I spent several days helping my Grandmother clean out the basement. It was a pretty awful job--I probably have Hantavirus from all of the mouse droppings. However, I saved a couple of things from Goodwill, including a princess phone, and a cup that gives you drink recipes.

Best of all, I found a winter coat! I have been looking for a long coat for two years, with no luck. It is beautiful, and it feels great--it's cashmere blend. Also, we went to Whole Foods ("The Food Museum"), and some lady wanted to know where I bought it, so it must be a pretty nice coat, no?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Christmas poo

Our trip has been made more difficult due to Joseph's recent digestive problems. He is known for his bowel movements of unusually large size (both length and girth), however, he has not had a bowel movement since we left Normal. We have started giving him oral laxatives, which have caused all sorts of messy side effects. As we are traveling with only 6 pairs of underwear per person, I have been continuously running the washing machine with the same few pairs of underwear (and lots of bleach).
Today we visited one of Danny's relatives (his brother's baby mama, also a distant cousin), and a miracle occurred: Joseph was visited by the Christmas poo. This event was not only a big deal for us--it also broke the toilet. Three wise men tried their luck at fixing the afflicted toilet but were unable to unblock it. A plumber will be called after the holiday.

Christmas on Staten Island

A neighborhood Santa came by to see the kids on Christmas Eve. Sam was rather non-plussed--Sam kept trying to engage Santa is a technical discussion about Star Wars. Joseph was polite, but kept a good two-foot distance from the man. (Maybe this is because last week Sam and I were discussing whether or not it would be cannibalism if Santa ate children, because he is a jolly elf, not a human. This was the same discussion in which we were trying to figure out if being attacked by a vampire bear was more or less awful than being attacked by a plain bear.)

Because we already had "Christmas" two days ago, while all the other kids in America were shredding wrapping paper around the tree, I woke up to find my kids playing chess at the foot of our bed.

Monday, December 24, 2007


We went to visit Don, Gege and new baby Oliver who live in Shanghai but are briefly staying in Manhattan. Although it was a short visit, a good time was had by all. We at some good Manhattan-French pastries, hung out is this fabulous apartment, and then said our goodbyes until next year.

After breakfast, a little floor time.

The trip to the train station.

We had planned to visit Manhattan, but Joseph fell asleep in the car, so we just saw the sights from the car, and drove back to Staten Island.

Hating the dogs

Danny's parents' dogs have figured large on this particular visit. First, there are 6 of them. Although they each weigh-in at less than 15 lbs, that is still a lot of dog. They are various small toy breeds, of varying degrees of inbreeding. Usually one or more of them is boarded when we visit, but due to a scheduling glitch, the pack was present in full force.
These little buggers are not at all trained, and can be unpleasant room-mates for various reasons that I will not discuss here. Danny and I sleep downstairs near where the dogs are. Our first night here, they escaped into the house at 4am, and again at 5 am, and it took Danny until morning to rassle them back into their designated area. Last night, one of them started barking at 3 am, and continued to park every 10 minutes for the remainder of the night. Both of us are exhausted. Given that we had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to make this road trip, we have had less than 5 hours of sleep a night for three days running, and we are no longer cheerful. I hope that tonight will be better.

The offending curs

Joe walking said beasts

"Mommy, what are the dogs doing?"

I miss Argos. He is staying in the "Las Vegas Suite" at the doggy spa in Normal. He was rather freaked out when we left him behind, and we have called the kennel at least 6 times to find out if he settled in, but no one either answers the phone or calls us back. Clearly, we could not bring Argos to NY, due to the other dogs. We also could not leave Argos at either of the other two kennels in the Bloomington-Normal area: the owner of the one kennel was just arrested for throwing poisoned meat into the yard of the competing kennel and sickening two dogs. (So one kennel is run by a psychopath with no empathy for animals, and the other kennel has a poisoning problem).

Poor Argos. I hope that he is doing this at the kennel:

"Christmas" on Staten Island

We are now on Staten Island, NY visiting Danny's family. The road trip was uneventful: 14 hours of good weather and smooth traffic driving followed by an hour of gridlock trying to get on the island. Because of some scheduling conflicts, we celebrated "Christmas" at Danny's parents' house on Sunday 12/23.

This year's tree was minimalist--no tree, only ornaments. I like it--it reminded me of a Festivus pole.

Frenzy of presents. Grammy made some good picks for the kids. A Darth Vader transformer for Sam--it transforms into the Death Star--and a blue Power Ranger with an eggbeater-like spinning blade for Joseph.
Sam and Joseph are totally geeking out over Battlebots, Star Trek and Star Wars these days. For Chanukah we gave them vintage Battlebots books and a DVD of the 1999 Battlebots World Championship. So, for Christmas, they got vintage Star Wars and Star Trek The Next Generation Books. I must say, it's really easy to shop for nerdy kids, especially since Danny and I were nerds as kids and know the literature.

Joseph and Victoria enjoy the yearly shipment of Playmobil. I admit it--I am addicted to Playmobil. I may even keep ordering Playmobil after the kids have outgrown it. This year: moles, foxes, badgers, vultures, a puppet show and a playground set.

Holiday stories. Another creepy Anne Geddes book with the unnaturally photogenic children. My theory is that the babies are actually taxidermy mounts.

Joseph sings Over the River.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Local news of importance

Sit down everyone: The Normal Soooooooo Convenient convenience store is shutting down. Apparently, the addition of a new median strip makes it soooooooo inconvenient. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Link to the news story

Monday, December 17, 2007


It snowed 6 inches this weekend! Guess which one of the kids doesn't like snow...

Did you guess correctly? Sam loves the snow--he had a great time!

Apparently, Sam needs to be taught to do his snow angels face up, but a good start.

Argos is loving it. He has been asking to stay outside all day every day.

Sam tormenting Danny with snow

Argos in the snow. (There's nothing to hear, so don't bother to turn up the volume, or you'll just hear breathing.)


My current research project is getting me down. For the last month, I have been doing experiments involving artificially perfuming crickets with each others' cuticular hydrocarbons. It is a simple experimental design, and all the crickets have to do to make this experiment work is mate normally. However, the crickets are from inbred lines, and they seem to be having trouble remembering how to mate.
Consequently, I have had inbreeding on my mind lately. I love horror movies, but movies about inbreeding creep me out. I taught Human Genetics for several years, and I always found the parts about disorders in inbred human populations to be morbidly fascinating. And I can't be alone in this interest--there is a whole genre of horror that draws from our revulsion for inbreeding.

The classic 1970 film, El Topo includes an subterranean community of inbred wretches.

The only episode of the X-Files that I can't watch is "Home" about the family of deformed inbreeding pig farmers. Apparently, this was the only episode of the series to warrant a parental advisory.

The recently remade "The Hills and Eyes," 1 and 2 are about being captured by inbred mutants.

Various other horror movies about the consequences of inbreeding:

Why all these movies about inbreeding? My guess is that on some level we all know that we have those four recessive lethal alleles just waiting to be expressed, so we have reasonable anxiety about genetic abnormality. However, to put a positive spin on it, inbreeding makes horror attainable for anyone. You don't have to be a mad scientist, alien abductee, or possessed by the devil--all you need is a little inbreeding to make your own homemade monsters. Also, from the viewpoint of Hollywood, a supposedly real person with a cyclops eye is way scarier and much cheaper than a convincing cyclops alien monster.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Random Chanukah pictures

Well, Chanukah is over. It now occurs to me that the two-month-long celebration of pre-Christmas, Christmas and post-Christmas may be more unpleasant knowing that people around here consider Chanukah to be some kind of crazy fringe holiday, but hopefully I will be proven wrong.
Apparently, the region has run out of salt, so let's hope that there will not be another ice storm for a while.

Sam passed his test and was awarded his yellow belt in TaeKwonDo. He is very proud. This week they learn falling technique, which will be helpful for Sam. (He's a natural at falling!)

Joseph breakdancing. Every Monday and Tuesday night when Sam goes to TaeKwonDo, Joseph and I stay home and bake, do yoga and/or dance. Joseph has developed a variety of new yoga poses including a set of poses for each of the Transformers. This is a picture of a dance that he invented called the Spinax dance.

It occurs to me that my Land's End virtual model is dressed like Adam Sandler as "Little Nicky." My coat did finally come in the mail. As my model predicted, the smallest women's coat is huge on me. I look bizarre in it--I have a tiny little head and undersized legs sticking out of a smooth walrus-like padded torso.

Footage of lighting the menorah.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More Chanukah and more ice

I got a lead on where I might be able to find Chanukah candles--apparently, one of the Asian food markets usually sells them. Ordinarily, I would dismiss this as unlikely, however, the Asian foods stores around here also tend to sell Mexican and Indian food, beer or whatever. Saturday we went to all the Asian food stores, but no luck.
Friday I did a presentation for Joseph's school about Chanukah. I read "It's a Miracle," which is a reasonably secular book about one family's miracles (the little girl who wanted a pony then grew up to have a horse; the class clown who made his sad parents smile; the dentist who taught his parrot to help around the office, etc). Joseph brought in his Little People Chanukah set to show the class. This set was a present from Grandpa Joe and Grammy many years ago, but every year the kids get it out and give it a workout. It has a little Jewish family sitting around the table with a menorah, which lights up and plays Chanukah songs.

We had another ice storm this weekend, and we were iced in. Everything was closed because both the streets and sidewalks were repeatedly coated in ice. But, HA! not me--I still have my strap-on crampons from when I lived in Pullman, WA, and I was able to easily hike it to campus while all of the undergrads were clinging to trees in their UGGs.

The dog is deeply confused by the snow and ice. For a while, he kept coming inside, bugging me and then asking to go back out. Perhaps he wanted me to turn it off? This morning he was very enthusiastically retrieving iceballs, so I guess that he has accepted the weather.

Some menorah lightings. Note the attempt with birthday candles--they ended up wilting sideways.

Since we got our new digital video camera, we have had so many problems that we have pretty much stopped making videos. So, I figured that a bad quality video from the regular camera was better than nothing. Apparently, the school district has the kids learn a Chanukah song. I had never heard this song before. Sam doesn't know the song either and is trying to copy Joseph to keep from being left out of a photo opp. I also like the part of the video where the dog gets yoinked out of the way.

For whatever reason, after seeing this sign I had a dream that I gave everybody beer nuts for their Chanukah/Christmas present.