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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Manhattan on $25

We go into Manhattan every year. Last year Joseph was not old enough to walk long distances (but too old for a stroller) so we were stuck driving into the city. But this year we decided to ditch the car and take public transportation. We took the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan and the subway to the American Museum of Natural History.

The kids' first subway ride!

I love the origami tree the AMNH has every year. This year's theme was fossils, so the tree was covered with delicate origami skeletons, ammonites, etc.

Joseph had a meltdown in the Hall of Birds of the World. He sat down in a corner to sulk, and I sat down on a nearby bench. He attracted the attention of a crowd of young Japanese women, who took pictures of his spectacular pout. When Joseph peeked up to make sure that I was still watching him, caught me looking at him, and then dramatically turned away and scowled, the girls all giggled and "Awwed" at him. Eventually Sam came over to show Joseph the secretary bird, which got Joseph out of his funk.

There was a Kwanzaa festival in the Hall of Biodiversity, so we didn't get to see most of the exhibits that the kids were looking forward to. There were dancers, though.

Because we didn't have the car, we had the chance to go out of the museum to find lunch. I had an amazing chicken cutlet sandwich at a deli. Now why can't they do that in Normal?

Yet again, I tried to get a good family picture. No luck, but here are the attempts.

Christmakuh on Staten Island

We all spent an exciting time in Staten Island with Danny's family. The kids were very enthusiastic to see Grammy and Grandpa Joe (Danny won't let the kids call him 'Gramps' because it makes him think of cramps). The kids got Egyptian-themed Christmas presents, including a pyramid to excavate, a wrap-it-yourself mummy and a little archeologist with a tent and digging kit.

Joseph got to play with his cousins Cameron and Callahan and Karen, Danny's brother's fiancé.
Cameron, Callahan, Joseph and Karen

Cameron, Callahan, Mike and Karen

Due to the overlap between Chanukah and Christmas, we lit the Chanukah candles on the sideboard next to baby Jesus.
The kids lighting the candles with Great-aunt (Sister) Alyn in the background. By the eighth day, Joseph was able to light the candles and say the Chanukah prayer without help!

We took our bi-annual trip to the Staten Island Zoo. It was a misty day so very few people were at the zoo. The animals were all oddly happy to see us. The reindeer looked pretty malevolent and kept trying to escape.

The petting zoo animals were all ravenous for Rye-crisps, and the kids were happy to accommodate. Joseph was especially eager to feed the turkey. After Joseph finished dispensing crumbs, he cheerfully announced: "I'll be back to eat you at Thanksgiving!"

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mellowing out in Baltimore

Danny, the kids and I (and Argos) went to Baltimore for Chanukah. Grandma Dorinda couldn't come, so the kids got to spend more quality time with their great grandparents than usual. It was a low-key holiday, and we spent most of our time doing nothing in particular.

I think that everyone had a very nice Chanukah. Saul and Martha opening presents:

The angry young artist explains his artistic vision to his fans.

Lighting the candles. We had kind of an excess of chanukiah. I brought our two menorahs from home, and my grandparents also had two.

Later, cousin Melissa brought Aron over to visit. Sam really enjoyed playing with him, although Joseph was a little jealous and stand-offish.

We spent one morning visiting the Inner Harbor. The Torsk has received some minor restoration since last we saw it.

Joseph has been reading books independently for a few weeks, and he was delighted to show off his mad skills to Grandma Martha.

Joseph reads:

Joseph did all of his own menorah-lighting this year, and he is gradually learning the prayer. On this night, Grandpa Saul was humoring us by lighting one of the menorahs, although with so many people saying the prayer, Joseph got a little lost:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ice day

The crickets have taken me hostage again. I am determined to finish this experiment before I leave for Baltimore, but it has been an incredible hassle. I have been working long hours all week in preparation for the main event, which was scheduled to take place today. And what else was scheduled for today? A massive ice storm, of course. One bizarre aspect to living in the flyover region is that weather forecasts are dead-on accurate. An ice storm was predicted for 8 pm last night, and darned if it didn't start raining at exactly 8:00.

School was called off for both kids. We had 1.5 inches of ice accumulate in the night, and I was awakened at 6am by the sound of a massive tree limb rolling down the roof and crushing our fence. Surprisingly, the electric fence wiring that we had woven through the chain link was intact, so Argos can still go out without escaping.

In the morning I strapped on my crampons and hiked to work. And bizarrely enough, the place was hopping. I usually get to work @ 8:30 and I see no one. However, today there were tons of people around, each vying for the "Look at Me--I Risked My Life to Get Here and I Am a Martyr for Science" award. Eventually ISU issued a statement saying that only "essential employees" should come to work today, so perhaps we all harbor feelings of self-importance.

The experiment went reasonably well, but now I am stuck here waiting for the last few stragglers to do their thing...

Sledding on Jersey Hill before the ice storm

Friday, December 12, 2008


Yesterday was a lucky day indeed. After two years of searching, I finally found a 15-35 degrees C winter coat that meets my stringent criteria: waterproof, hood, windproof, fit well, non-ugly color, not too expensive. I found a girl's Astoria North Face coat at Dick's on sale. Score!

I also stopped by Target and bought my dream boots! Ever since I found out that I was moving to the midwest, I had an idealized pair of winter boots in mind: wedges, waterproof, grippy treads, lined for cold weather, black, close-fitting but roomy enough to tuck your pants into. And here they are!! Score 2!

As an aside, lately I feel guilty when I go out shopping. So far, Danny and I have felt zero negative effects from the recession. We don't own a house, our investments are diversified, our jobs are so far unaffected and we have no debt. And when I go shopping I get to buy cheap gas and take advantage of all of the economy-stimulating sales. I feel kind of like the Bubba Gump shrimp boat, but maybe with a little economic survivor guilt added in.

When I got home from shopping, I got the best news! All week I have been freaking out about the F.D.A. panel evaluating asthma drugs. I have always had exercise-induced asthma. Until I was put on Advair 5 years ago I had never been able to participate in any aerobic activity. Numerous gym teachers forced me to run until my lungs got hot and raspy and I couldn't breathe. The first time in my entire life that I successfully ran a mile was as an adult grad student.

I have been really enjoying the past five years. I run daily and try whatever sports and sporty-like activities present themselves. However, in the back of my mind I worry that it will all go away: one day I will lose my health insurance or Advair will be pulled from the market and I will gradually slide back into a permanent sedentary state. However, today is not that day. Advair was given a positive recommendation by the F.D.A. panel. (Score 3!)

not Blivin Santa

Apparently Joseph caused a bit of a ruckus in his kindergarten class last week. He announced that he did not believe in Santa Claus and was basically booed down by the other kids. Joseph, as I have mentioned before, is a very independent guy, and does not easily bow down to peer pressure. But he has clearly been thinking it over.
Joseph sometimes draws what we call "kinetic" pictures: rather than drawing what happened at a point in time, he draws action as it occurs. The end result of these kinetic drawings may be hard to interpret (especially if night falls, and he colors black over the whole picture). I think that in this picture, the "not Blivin Santa" character with the sword seems to have slayed the "Blivin Santa" character. Or maybe the one transformed into the other?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Goodbye Rodblagojevich

Ow. The whole thing is so awful that I'm embarrassed, and I'm not even from Illinois.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One more birthday card

Here's the final word about Danny's 40th birthday from the good people at Toothpaste for Dinner. Happy Birthday Danny!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Do you like gingerbread?

Well, do you?
Probably not as much as Joseph does.
Yes yes yes!
No no.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday hijinks

Our social calendar is booked this time of year! This weekend, before and after taking Danny to Chicago, we went to the Phi Sigma Biological Honor Society Holiday party and the ISU Children's Holiday Party. The Phi Sigma party is always great, but this year it was held in the Bloomingtion Center for the Performing Arts, which is a fantastic venue, so it was even better than usual. The event is potluck, and everyone around here is such a great cook that it was really a feast! There was free beer and wine with a professional cash bar for the other drinks.

There was even a band! The (unnamed) band was loud but good, and drove the old folks out. The kids had a great time: the room was so large and high-ceilinged that they were able to run around in one part of the room without bothering anyone in the dining/induction ceremony area. Santa came and gave some gifts, too.

Joseph's dance mix, including a little break dancing, some pole dancing and a one-man stage dive.

The supposed highlight of the ISU Children's holiday party is a performance by the Gamma Phi Circus, one of only two collegiate circuses in the US. The performances were a little uneven, with a little too much focus on athleticism and too little on showmanship? There were no major falls, just a lot (A LOT) of bobbles, drops and minor falls.

Sam thought that he was a little too mature for the circus. Luckily I wasn't, so I poked him until he enjoyed it in spite of himself.

Santa visits the circus! Also, Al Bowman, the president of ISU visited the circus. Now, if they had gotten Santa and Al Bowman to do the Russian swing, that would have been entertainment!

Joseph requested a snake from the balloon-bending man. Wow--you should have seen the guy sweating it out to make this finely honed piece of craftsmanship.

Our special little snowflake!