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

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Ha! Although various people have given me a hassle about it, I NEVER STRETCH before I run. I run at least 6 times a week for years, and I rarely have any soreness, etc!
So read this article!

Attractive offer

Joseph's consistently favorite toy has been Magnetix, which is a magnetic construction toy. He has constructed two figures: "Ziggo," and "R2D2" that he carries with him everywhere in a small metal candy tin.

Unfortunately, I now find out that several children have died by ingesting TWO unglued Magnetix magnets. Apparently, the tiny high-powered magnets managed to attract each other as they passed through adjacent loops of intestine, causing holes and death/emergency surgery. The manufacturer of Magnetix is very squirrely about all of this: they claim to have recalled the defective product from stores and changed it to prevent magnets from coming loose (and thus small enough for ingestion) in the future. However, they have never released any information about which sets have been "corrected" and which sets are still harmful, so I have no way of knowing which one we have. I went online and found out that Magnetix is actually a cheap knock-off of Geomag, a similar but superior magnetic construction toy which is made so that the magnets can't come loose. So, I ordered a bunch of Geomag, and managed to convince Joseph to retire the Magnetix and reconstruct Ziggo and R2D2 from the new set. He seems OK with it.

Anyhoo, If I gave anyone's kids Magnetix as a gift, please let me know--I will buy you some nice new Geomags.

As an aside, did you know that cows are intentionally fed a "cow magnet" to keep bits of barbed wire and metal debris from passing all of the way through the digestive tract? The magnet is retrieved when the animal is eventually slaughtered.

What The Onion has to say about toy recalls

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Champaign dreams

We took a road trip to Champaign this weekend. Although Champaign-Urbana is/are not a large city/ies, it is/are much more cosmopolitan than Bloomington-Normal is/are. Oddly enough, during this trip, I was reminded of some of our international travels from yesteryear. (Perhaps living in Normal makes any trip anywhere a trip to the *BIG CITY*)
The purpose of the trip was for me to get a winter coat on sale. I found a coat, as well as some waterproof boots.

We had an excellent French dejeuner at Carmon's. This place has savory crepes that reminded me of an excellent dinner that Danny and I had on Île de Groix in Bretagne about a million years ago. We also had some French onion soup and French cidre. The kids liked the Bananas Foster crepe OK, but I don't think they really had their horizons expanded in any substantive way.

We also stopped at a huge Asian food store. I found something that I was not at all expecting. When I was living in Kunming (also about a million and a half years ago), the staple starch in all the meals was er kuai ("fish bait") which is fried/boiled/steamed slices of rice dough. It has the consistency of super al dente pasta or an unusually big chunk of pad Thai noodles. I have never seen er kuai for sale at any restaurant or food store in the US. The Asian food market in Champaign had vacuum-packed Korean rice dough that I hope to cook into something like er kuai later in the week.

On the road again

The stunningly beautiful landscape of the fly-over region--it just goes on like this as far as the eye can see..

Invent new games with a runny nose!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

TaeKwonDo videorama

Sam takes TaeKwonDo very seriously and practices hard. Today he tested for his orange belt and did very well! Danny brought the camera and took some video. (Sorry for the glut of videos--they are each less a minute long.)
Here's Sam breaking his board. He tells me: "I'm pretty proud of myself!" He broke his board on his second kick, which is pretty amazing. The fact that he is being observed by judges doesn't seem to phase him.

Here is Sam sparring with Kelly (she is also a Master's student in the Saki lab).

Here Sam is sparring with Kel. Kel is a green belt and larger than Sam, but he is trying not to knock Sam out.

Here Sam is demonstrating his orange belt forms.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Drier beware

Yesterday I found a giant booger on my bath towel.
Children are such a gift! (At least I hope that it was from one of the children).
It reminds me of the story "Detectives" from David Sedaris' Naked:
It was one thing to sit in front of the television, second-guessing a third-rate detective program, but quite another to solve a real case. We were well into our summer reruns when our household was shaken by a series of very real crimes no TV detective could ever hope to crack. Someone in our family had taken to wiping their ass on the bath towels.
What made this exceptionally disturbing was that all of our towels were fudge-colored. You’d be drying your hair when, too late, you noticed an unmistakable odor on your hands, head and face. If nothing else, life in the suburbs promised that one might go from day to day without finding stool samples in their hair. This sudden turn of events tested our resolve to the core, leaving us to wonder who we were and where we, as a people, had gone wrong.
Soul-searching aside, it also called for plenty of hot water, gallons of shampoo, steel wool, industrial scrub brushes and blocks of harsh deodorizing soap. The criminal hit all three bathrooms, pausing just long enough to convince the rest of us that it was finally safe to let our guard down. I might spend twenty minutes carefully sniffing the towel only to discover that this time they’d used a washcloth.
“Well,” my mother said, thumbing through the newspaper one Sunday morning, “The person doing this is one sick individual. That much we know for certain.”
“And they eat corn!” Lisa said, patting her head with a t-shirt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More complaining

Danny and I have been married for 14 years. Back in 1993 when we got married, things are not as they are now. There were no internet wedding (and shower) registries, and no national chain stores to register at. So, we got whatever presents people thought that we would like, and we got a variety of interesting and interesting presents.

Of course, nowadays, everyone registers for wedding gifts online. It has been explained to me by a couple of my 20-something friends that it is presumptuous to assume that one could find a better wedding present than the gifts requested by the couple. Also, the guideline that each wedding guest should give a gift at least $50 in value to recoup the cost of the wedding has been recently taken as the law of the land. Although there are plenty of reasonable couples who are grateful for any and all wedding gifts, I have also heard young brides complaining vehemently about guests that either gave gifts not on the registry or of insufficient value.

So, I have been giving out a lot of wedding presents these days. (Yes, I pick something from the registry of sufficient value.) Couples register for plenty of stupid things: $250/ table settings, $50/ Egyptian cotton towels, panini makers, cigar humidors etc. And I always pick something and buy it. But this weekend I snapped. (Sorry Michelle and Rich, it happened while I was looking at your registry. But please don't be offended--your registry was very reasonable. It was just the cumulative effect of so many registries in the last few years.)
I buy all these $50/ dinner plates for other people and then I just look around me and see a house full of plastic and particle board. It's not as though we spent our wedding gift money on some other exotic thing--we mainly spent it on paying for expenses associated with the wedding and our extravagant grad-student lifestyle. (Bart, don't make fun of grad students. They've just made a terrible life choice.)

I have cooked at least two meals a day every day of the week for at least the last 8 years. Where's my All-Clad cookware and KitchenAid stand mixer?

Danny and I are tragically pragmatic---we would like to have nice things, but there is always something more practical to buy than housewares. We have no formal china, nor do we have glass glasses. We do not own a china cabinet, an entertainment center or a coffee table. (On the plus side, Danny's parents gave us some cool Chinese restaurant-pattern melamine place settings, and I love our utensils from Target.) Our kitchen table was a generous give-away desk from our friend Jeff--it needed to be refinished when we got it, and we didn't do such a good job with the sanding. We all sit at this bumpy thing 2-3 times a day, every day. All of the kids' drawings have lumps and divots in them.
So, I SNAPPED. I went out to Meijer and bought some permanent furniture--a beautiful solid maple kitchen table and chairs. I LOVE them! If we are going to be hauling our furniture all around the the country, at least we can get some furniture worth hauling. Now I should be OK to buy some happy couple that $25 ergonomic spatula and $35 eco-friendly reclaimed-wood wooden kitchen spoon.

I also got a computer desk for the kids. They had been using Sam's toddler desk--when Sam sat at it, his knees were at his ears. New chair from IKEA.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Sam chose to do his class project on Ernest Hemingway, who apparently has ties to Illinois. He worked really hard on this puppet of Papa Hemingway. I helped him with the hat, and Danny and I gave him suggestions about the structure, but he did everything else. Hemingway is carrying The Old Man and the Sea.

I didn't know about this assignment in advance, but luckily, I have a vast stockpile of craft supplies. When the Rubidoux JoAnn Fabrics across the street closed down and everything was 70% off, I went nuts and bought a little of anything that I could imagine using. I'm glad that we didn't get rid of all that crap when we moved.

Too many Lincolns

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Abraham, Martin and Me

I helped escort Joseph's class to a performance of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra yesterday. It was entitled: Abraham, Martin and Me. It was an performance devoted to celebrating Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. It was excruciating! The (white) conductor gave a long (LONG!) impassioned speech about what it would be like to be an African stolen from your family, owned, and forced into labor, and how Lincoln and Martin Luther King (Jr! she never remembered the Jr!) empowered black people. So cringeworthy. It totally took me back to my elementary school days. I specifically recall a puppet show about multiculturalism in which the puppet that represented my brand of diversity was a HORRIBLE caricature. I was mortified! It affected me profoundly that all the other kids would believe what the puppet said because it was presented to them as a lesson in school.

Throughout yesterday's performance of I kept imagining that some 6-year-old black girl (likely the only black kid in her class) was being forced to hear all of this in the presence of her white peers. And starting on the bus ride back to school, and for the rest of her life, would be aware of the curious stares of her classmates and feel embarrassed. I am sure that the conductor was well-meaning. She probably just wanted the white kids to empathize with the black experience. However, I think that this is the root of the problem: it was a lecture about black people specifically for consumption by white people. Being the subject of the empathy is like eavesdropping on people talking about you. I am sure that (WASPy) educators have no idea how it feels to be on the receiving end of such well-intentioned passion. The conductor is probably drinking some tea at home, and feeling like she did a good thing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Swimming and consequences

Sunday the ISU Faculty/Staff Wellness Program had a Free Family Pool Day. The kids were very excited to swim--they haven't been since the summer. I guess that swimming outdoors all winter every winter in California caused me to have a tan all the time, so I thought that that was my natural color. Only recently have I realized that I am actually pale and varicose-veiny. I swim a couple of times week at ISU during Faculty/Staff swim, but all the other swimmers are old men so I figure that they probably can't see me very well. It was really not so tasty to walk around all cold, wet, pale and blotchy in front of people. I think that my hair froze on the way home. The kids had a great time.

However, as a result of this adventure (and despite the silicon ear plugs), Joseph got an ear infection. Joseph has ear tubes, so he actually has EAR FLUID COMING OUT OF HIS EARS. We had to find a pediatrician in Normal. Joseph was prescribed ear drops FOUR TIMES A DAY FOR 10 DAYS. How can such a medication exist? Has the drug company ever tried to put eardrops in a 4-year-old? Danny will have to show up at Joseph's school every day to administer one of the doses.

Also, some A-hole decided to break our headlight. The car was parked serenely in our driveway, but perhaps it insulted one of the drunken undegrads walking down the sidewalk? (I would also like to point out that in 8 years of Rubidoux and Riverside, no one ever vandalized either of our cars.) Replacing the headlight cover requires removing the front bumper, so we actually have to have this repaired in a body shop.

Gamera dissected

I found this picture of Gamera dissected, and I am dying to find out what the captions say. So, if you can read Japanese, please help.

My speculation is that the organ in his heel produces the fire that shoots out of his leg holes when he flies. He seems to have four stomachs. One is probably his fire-breath. Maybe the white one is some delicious milk to cool his fire/acid reflux? You can tell by the caption over his head that he is OK. But why is he carrying a shoehorn?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Sam and Joseph made their Valentine's day cards for school. For whatever reason, they both chose the theme of Godzilla attacking the city with hearts. I think that Joseph may have thought of it first.

Madison is Joseph's Valentine. Joseph and Madison play together nearly all of the time, and he recently told me that "Madison is my girlfriend." Joseph also told me that one day he would marry Madison (after he asked me to marry him, and I told him that I was already married).

Sam likes to do a male and female version of his Valentines and I am not entirely sure why. I asked him if he thought that the girls wouldn't like Godzilla too, he thought not. He told me that "The girls would prefer a more feminine card" (he pronounces it "fem-i-9" because he has clearly never heard anyone say it aloud). Personally, I would rather get the Godzilla card, or maybe Gamera.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More cricket porn

My departmental seminar is tomorrow, so I cleaned up my "cricket porn" clip for mass viewing. Here it is:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sledding, date night and strange weather

With a foot of snow on the ground, I was really psyched to take the kids sledding. Sam has been sledding once at Big Bear in CA, but Joseph has never been. Saturday we went sledding on a small hill near us. Joseph was highly resistant to the whole idea, and was very disagreeable getting to the park. (Does this sound familiar?) At the park Joseph refused to sled, but had a good time playing a game of his own invention in which he hurled his velociraptor into a snowdrift, admired the shape of the hole in the snow, and then found the dinosaur.

After about 40 minutes, Joseph suddenly announced that he wanted a turn sledding, and he had a great time. Sam loves sledding and enjoyed himself greatly.

Sam assists me in sledding without a sled

Danny says that sledding is A-OK.

Sunday, we went to Jersey Hill, which is the main sledding spot in town, and the kids had a great time. Joseph was giggling all the way down the hill, even as he ran into obstacles and bowled people over.

Sam is a sledding pro, and beats all of us for speed and distance.

I am happy to say that both kids carried their own sleds uphill.

Danny and I finally found a babysitter, so we went on our first date in Normal. For weeks I have been asking everyone for restaurant and entertainment recommendations, but have heard only mediocre reviews. Oddly enough, Bloomington-Normal has a freakishly high ratio of restaurants to people, yet none of them are good. (For a good laugh, read the review of the faux-French restaurant with commentary by David Sedaris.) We ended up at "Jim's Steakhouse," and had an expensive meal in a reasonably ambient restaurant with OK food and a piano bar. We were the youngest people in the place, for sure. We could not find anything (other than a movie) to do in town, so we went to a grad student Mardi Gras party where we played drinking games.

What have I learned from this experience? It is not as though I don't want to grow up and be an adult, but why are the grown-up options so boring? So, don't forget to take a Tylenol and drink a lot of water before you go to sleep. I can't but think that we would have been better off to forget dinner and entertainment and just check into a hotel room for four hours so that we could participate in marital relations whilst we were looking our best and more awake than usual.

As I am siting here, I am experiencing a weather first for me. Although it is only 20 degrees outside, we are having a full blown hailstorm with thunder and lightning. I had to come home early from the dog park where Argos was playing with his friend Jerry Seinfeld the Vizsla. The storm caused some local residents to have their power go out in the middle of the super bowl.