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

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Silent nights

This weekend the Normal Theater was showing "The General" with Buster Keaton and "City Lights" with Charlie Chaplin. I had to read the text and "interpret" the action for Joseph, but both kids had a tremendous time. We have been taking the kids to silent movies whenever we could since Sam was 2, but apparently HE HAS NO MEMORY OF THIS. Danny and I fondly recall Sam laughing his ass off at Laurel and Hardy selling Christmas trees and hiding from Marley's ghost in "Scrooge" but Sam has forgotten it all. Probably Joseph will forget all about the movies that we saw this weekend, but maybe one day, he will be trying to act all cool and retro/alternative with his new tweenaged goth girlfriend by taking her to see "City Lights," and he will have an inexplicable feeling of deja vu which he will be too self-consciously nonchalant to discuss.

Sam's favorite part of The General was when Johnnie loses his sword, and it skewers an enemy sniper. (This is the only graphic violence in the movie.) Buster Keaton was really the Jackie Chan of his day--the stunts are both inventive and relentless.

Joseph's favorite scene was when the Tramp surreptitiously watches the lovely blind flower girl and she dumps a pot of water on him. Both kids were laughing out loud throughout the movie.

The anticipated yet somehow unexpected ending when the not-blind-anymore girl discovers that her mysterious suitor/savior was the Tramp just kills me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We Go Chicago

This week the kids were on Spring break. Among other fun and games, the kids have started their own blogs (see the links below). I took off work Wednesday, and we drove to Chicago for edutainment and window shopping. We spent most of the day at the Field Museum which was awesome. It was a great museum, although neither the webpage nor the floor plan of the museum sold it very well--once we got there, we had no idea where we were going or what we would see. However, we were continuously surprised by the diversity and detail of the exhibits.

Sam decided that he wanted to read every word of each display, so we proceeded methodically through the mammals, reptiles, dinosaurs, and the evolution of life (with added bonus extinction!)

Tyrannosaurus Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton of them all...

Watch out for the giant sloth!

A rare picture of Sam without his cheese-eating grin (the trick is tickling!)

After the museum, we went to historic Old Town. (I needed some "foundations" to go with my maid-of-honor dress, and Normal was surprisingly lacking.) Old Town has all sorts of neat little (gentrified) stores that are missing in Normal. The kids played in a courtyard park. We smelled things in the spice store. We tasted many fantastic olive oils and vinegars, and bought a pricey (but transcendent) bottle of Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar at the Olive Oil and Vinegar store.

We spent a long time lèche-vitrine at the chocolate shop, which seemed to specialize in random molded chocolates like chocolate T rexs, swans, tools, toothbrushes, etc.

There was also a fantastic aquarium store with the best invertebrates that I have seen since I left CA. (I am a fan of the invertebrates. In my opinion, if your tank doesn't have great invertebrates, then why bother with fish--just keep a tank full of rocks and mold.)

A good time was had by all. The kids were very good with the 2.5 hour drive each way, likely because of the portable DVD player. (They saw Destroy All Planets on the way to Chicago and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on the way back). I was worried about the dog, because we had never left him alone and loose in the house for such a long time, but he was completely fine. When we got home, the kids went to sleep right away, and slept for so long that they were still out when I left for work the next day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stop drop and roll

Argos had a great day at the dog park. First, he was tag-teamed by a pair of hyperactive teenager chocolate labs.

Then his buddies Smokey and Princess showed up. Smokey weighs about 40 lbs, but he must have a lot of personal charisma, because Argos simpers before him.

Later, Carl showed up and dominated Smokey. The resolution of this three-way festival of dominant mounting is that everyone agreed to dominate Argos.

Video of Argos getting his clock cleaned

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Puppet Time

Sam and Joseph were so enthralled by the YouTube video: Potter Puppet Pals in 'The Mysterious Ticking Noise," that we spent the better part of the day making our own family of puppets. Joseph made the Joseph puppet all by himself, and he drew and helped design heads and costumes for several other puppets (See--having Joseph watch an entire season of Project Runway with me wasn't entirely a waste of time!) Also, there was a special guest appearance by Ernest Hemingway.

The original:

Our family version:

Random Easter activities

The kids dyeing easter eggs. This was made more difficult by the fact that the eggs were cage-free organic eggs, which always seem to be brown. Why? Because people think that brown eggs are less "engineered" looking. Now there is no logical reason that organic or cage-free chickens should lay brown eggs--egg color is a heritable trait correlated with chicken "ear lobe" color.

Grammy and Grandpa Joe gave the boys an excellent book about chicken development and what is easily the scariest and loudest Easter chick that I have ever seen. Joseph initially fell out of his chair laughing when the chick started up.

We had an Easter egg hunt in our front yard so that we could be sure that the dog wouldn't get any chocolate. It was snowing at the time, but luckily, it was not too cold. People driving past our house kept honking and waving at the kids as they hunted for eggs.

If you look closely, you can see Argos watching out the window.

This year we had mainly chocolate in the eggs. The grocery store sells those Palmer holiday chocolates bulk, and I couldn't resist the little foil bunnies. We also bought a couple of small Bionicles that we broke down into pieces and put each piece into a different egg. (Now that I think about it, having the kids search for a hundred severed body parts is kind of Jeffrey Dahmer serial killer creepy, but whatever.)

Dividing up the loot

Pie Time

Joseph helps me cook on Monday and Tuesday nights when Danny and Sam are at TaeKwonDo, so we don't have many pictures of Joseph cooking. Here are some pictures and videos of the apple pie that Joseph and I made last night. Joseph helped be cut up all of the apples and mix the filling.

Pie baking videos! Don't be alarmed--Joseph is only brandishing a butter knife.

All that baking must have worn Joseph out--he fell asleep on the floor after his bath

Thursday, March 20, 2008

BigDog robot

I have always been a fan of robots, but I think that the "BigDog" robot gave me nightmares.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The case of the dog in the night

Argos has had an incident. Now, anyone who remembers our old dog Ivy may recall that she was prone to causing mayhem and being generally disobedient, despite being considered a canine good citizen by the AKC and having excelled in competitive obedience classes. Back in the day, I was accustomed to being publicly shamed by my dog. (Good practice for having children?)

Ivy and Sam

But Argos is different. He is a mild and pleasant dog. He is clingy enough that he never wanders (even off leash) and he really doesn't have the creativity to engage in any disobedience and shenanigans. He gets along with every dog that he's ever met, and people are rarely frightened of him because of his oafishly happy demeanor. So, never in a thousand years, would I have predicted the nearly tragic series of events that befell us on Saturday. So don't go and be an ass and tell me that I shouldn't have done what I now know that I clearly shouldn't have done.

Stupid bread.

I was walking Argos at @7:00 Saturday night through uptown Normal. As I have done many times before, I stopped at the bakery counter to get a loaf of bread. I put Argos on a down-stay, and tied his leash to a heavy metal chair. I went inside, and as I was getting my bread, for some unknown reason, something spooked Argos and he got up. He must have noticed that the chair was "following" him and he freaked out. The chair was a heavy iron thing that must have weighed at least 60 lbs, but when Argos started running, it went airborne. Argos ran down the sidewalk yelping and screaming with the chair sparking on the sidewalk behind him. I was chasing him, but in panic mode, he was way too fast for me.

Argos ran across the street to the "NV" nightclub, where he narrowly missed shattering the plate glass window with the chair, and ran back across the street to the bakery (luckily it is a street with only occasional traffic), again nearly hitting the bakery window with the airborne chair. After he passed the bakery, he tried to flee home, which was when I started freaking out: there is no way to get to our house without crossing heavy traffic. I was running after him at top speed, but even trailing the chair, Argos was a half-block ahead of me.

Argos rounded the corner of Linden, and I was sure that if he crossed College, he would be hit by a car: the intersection of Linden and College is extremely busy. Because Cosí restaurant is so close to the street, drivers can't see pedestrians until they are already in the intersection. I kept running after Argos, and bracing myself for the squeal of tires and whatever noise a 111-lb dog and a 60-lb iron chair would make when they hit the front of a car. But when I rounded the corner, he was just sitting at the curb next to the chair as if he were waiting for the light. A woman who I know from the dog park, was standing in the doorway of Cosí next to him. She said that she recognized Argos, and I guess that either Argos stopped at the intersection because the woman at Cosí opened the door which distracted him, or because I always make him stop and sit at that intersection and his conditioning overrode his blind panic. Regardless, when I got to him, he was sitting there sheepishly next to the chair (as if I had tied him up outside of Cosí). (I went back and gave that woman a thank you card drawn by the kids and a Target gift certificate!)

Oh yeah, Malamutes can pull over 1000 lbs.

Everyone in uptown Normal eating dinner in the surrounding restaurants and bars saw this odd spectacle, and Argos was greeted by many people as I backtracked, returned the chair and made sure that no damage had been done. On the way home, I ran into the Animal Control guy, who was literally there within five minutes of this five-minute event. He was clearly amused by the whole thing, so no harm done. Well, almost no harm done--a big beefy guy at NV got a bruise on his leg from the chair. When I got home, I found out that Argos had musked himself in fear, and since I didn't have the energy to bathe him, dog and carpet were sprayed with Febreze.

Corn hustlers

Illinois is in the news again: two sisters are auctioning off a corn flake in the shape of the state. The top bid on ebay is $200,000. If you want it, bid now--the auction ends Thursday! Perhaps inspired by all of the press, someone else is trying to auction off another corn flake in the shape of Illinois, but has has received no bids. (The bubble for Illinois-shaped corn flakes has burst, I'm afraid.)
New ebay entries as of Tuesday morning: 6 more corn flakes shaped like Illinois, an "I'm a sucker" sign made out of corn flakes by someone from Illinois, a $5000 Illinois corn flake T-shirt, and a corn flake shaped like the Elephant Man.
update 3/19: the ebay auction was ended supposedly due to ebay's restriction against selling food. The flake is now being sold as a coupon, redeemable for the flake (no bids).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day

Normal made the national news for the Pi Day misdeeds of two teenaged boys. Here's the original story in the Pantagraph.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My head is exploding

It is Spring Break at ISU. All of the twittering flocks of undergrads have migrated south. We are having some lovely spring-like weather. Around ISU, the people remaining on campus drift dreamily across the quad. But not me. It is crazytown around the lab. The grad students have a break from teaching and classes, and with end-of-the semester deadlines looming, all of their neglected research has become an urgent priority. Because I am helping two grad students get their experiments up and running, I have been swamped all day every day with a thousand details of experimental design. (To clock reverse or not clock reverse, if so, which incubator and when? How to set up the video camera to record automatically? Continuous or scan sampling? Should experimental animals be allowed to mate before the experiment and with whom? How long should the implants be left in? How to use the spectrophotometry software? What to do when the door to the lab with the spectrophotometry plates is locked? ANOVA or ANCOVA? etc etc etc etc etc etc etc...)
The crickets are kicking my ass again.
So very tired...

Also, I don't know who the hell this woman is, but I hate her.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Argos gets his

Argos is almost 2 years old. He was neutered at a young age, and is only gradually realizing his size (111 lbs) and that he is male. He started lifting his leg a few months ago, and now he lifts his leg most of the time. So far, he is still very mellow and not at all dominant with other dogs.
Argos has a dog friend Carl, who is a 65-lb St. Bernard/Golden Retriever mix. Carl is a very sweet rescue dog who was likely neutered late in life, and retains a very macho attitude. Carl is not above marking you if you stand still for too long, and has been mounting Argos since we started coming to the dog park. Argos has never minded Carl's amorous attentions, and usually just stands there with a sheepish smile like: "Just happy to be included..." Saturday, Argos was feeling his oats, and started to return Carl's dominant affections by mounting him repeatedly with oafish glee. Carl was very good natured about it, but when Argos was finished, Carl walked up behind Argos and very deliberately peed on him. I suppose that Argos had it coming to him.

By the way, do you wish that you had a dog but don't have the time to care for one? The good people at Animal Makers will be happy to make a dog to your specifications. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wine and consequences

Well, I am not much of a drinker (except when I am). I tend not to drink except socially, and because I don't have much of a social life, that kind of takes care of itself. Also, unless I have just had an exceptionally hearty meal, I can't usually have more than two drinks before I get stupid.
However, I have had occasion to drink for two Saturdays in a row, and I now realize that I must be getting old, because I don't recover like I used to. Last Saturday, Danny and I went to a faculty wine tasting at my P.I.'s house. Everyone brought a < $11 bottle of red wine in a brown paper bag, and we had to evaluate the wines and see whether we could figure out which was the $50 "ringer." The kids got to play Wii sports, so they were delighted to be there. (Sam especially liked Wii boxing until Joseph knocked him out.) There were 12 wines, and even just tasting @ 2 tbsp of each one, I still couldn't get through half of them. Here's the final scores, if you are looking for some cheap red wine:
I wasn't particularly drunk at the wine tasting, but the next day, I had SUCH A BAD HANGOVER. I never get hung over, but my head was pounding until 2 in the afternoon. When I finally got around to getting out of the house, I had to run the dog for 5 miles before I finally felt normal again.

Wow! Red wine is especially great for your heart if you are a rabbit! (Until they kill you to dissect out your aorta)

This weekend, we had a potluck for the Saki lab at our place. I think that I am finally getting a handle on the midwestern thing. At our other two parties, there was this pause after everyone had been there for a little while, which I now realize was supposed to be when board games were brought out. We actually did not own any board games (although we have @50 D&D dice), so Joseph and I went out and bought games: the new version of Cranium and Twister (Joseph picked it out because they play it in preschool).

I made texturized vegetable protein white chili (our lab has a few vegetarians), brown rice, various munchies and chocolate birthday cake (three birthdays in the lab this month).

I also made up a new recipe for white sangria with green apples, blood oranges and kumquats. It turned out really well, and the fruit (which had marinated overnight) was fiendishly delicious and lethal.

Last week at Saki 's house, Sam beat him at Wii boxing, so Saki challenged Sam to a round of Twister, and Sam won again. We played Cranium late into the night and had a great time. Sam played with us, and he did REALLY WELL. He is a freaking genius or something. He remembers random facts about how many ribs humans have, as well as various other bits of book learnin.' He is also very good at interpreting charades--he actually won the final point and caused our family team to win the game.
I was only mildly buzzed last night but this morning I woke up with an EVEN WORSE HANGOVER. (Not even the slice of birthday cake that I ate for breakfast helped). I am forced to conclude that I am getting old, and not even a Tylenol and a glass of water before going to bed will save me.