Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences

It's cold here.  Not that anybody should be surprised, because it's cold everywhere today.  The Wednesday dad meetup at the Zoo was changed to the Museum of Science and Nature, but I'm pretty sure nobody actually went.  It's too cold.

I think people here and kinda in shock.  We all know generally in the back of our minds that it gets cold in Denver, sometimes.  And the cold here is generally fairly pleasant.  A nice dry cold that chaps the lips and cracks the cuticles, but nothing like the cold that settles in around the great lakes.   That cold grips you through the heaviest wold coat and shakes you.  Here the cold just lightly touches on you, and if you can stay out of the wind, makes you think its not so bad.  Winter here isn't a penance we have to live through to enjoy the rest of the seasons, but brings its own special beauty.  But the first cold snap of the season is always a surprise.  Maybe the fact that it was a balmy 75 degrees on Sunday has something to do with it.

I traded pleasantries about the weather with the checker at Trader Joe's last night.  I had run out for some bananas.  The kiddo's digestion need them...don't ask.  The drive over was a little slippery.  We discussed how much we liked the change.  75 in November is not right, but might be the new normal.  It's good for the gas bill, but bad for the planet.  The cold snap reminded us that we live in a pace with winter.

This is really where the story starts.  This morning the house was cold. I turned the heat up.

The kiddo's feet were cold.  After breakfast I dressed him in a warm onesie, fleece lined pants and a long sleeved shirt made from the same material as lumberjack long underwear.  I put socks on him.  I was out of socks with the little rubber nubs.  The result is that I turned all the hardwood into an ice rink.  Think Bambi on a frozen pond.  He wasn't put off, but each sprint across the house usually ended with a thump that rattled the dishes in the cabinet.

So I put on a pair of shoes on him.  Well made sneakers from Carter's with big rubber soles.  Now instead of each lap around the house ending with one big thump, we now had a whole lot more little thumps.  The patter of little feet.  This is fine.  As long as I hear the feet, I know were doing something safe.

However now we came to a different problem.  As we ran each lap, his fine hair started to fly away from his head in fluffy halo.  I'm sure the fleece lined pants played some role.  The first time he approached the table with the metal frame came as quite a surprise.  Zap!  Then it became a game.

The new skill of the month is climbing higher and higher.  First it was the padded ottoman, with help from the drum/stool.  Then it was onto the couches.  Then it was on to the side tables and dining room chairs.  Places that used to be safe from the biddo are no longer safe.  His penultimate goal now to climb atop the chair near my laptop to bang on the keyboard before dad can get to him.

I went into the bedroom to look for something and left my chair pushed out.  Normally he follows me into the bedroom, where he might have the opportunity to push the buttons on the Fax/Printer, or stand on the bathroom scale, or open a drawer in the closet and manically toss all the clothes on the floor.  This time he did not, and since I was vaguely distracted I did not notice that the patter of little feet had gone coldly quiet.

I emerged from the bedroom to the sight of Robin standing on a dining room chair happily emptying the contents of the salt shaker onto my keyboard.  On the screen there was a message about deleting the last restore point.  He gave me the merriest grin.  It was the grandest thing he had every done, that grin said.

Here is where I usually try to tie it all together.  I never knew, before being a parent, that it was possible to feel so many things at once.  A touch of anger at the mess, chagrin that it was pretty much my fault, pride that he was able to do it, terror he'd fall, and gratefulness that he hadn't chosen the cup of coffee in easy reach instead of the salt.  I'm sure there were loads more.  But it all really winds itself into one emotion, like individual threads twisted around themselves into a rope.  I have no name for that emotion, I just know that I feel it and it ties me securely to my kid.  I suspect all parents feel it to some extent.  Without it, I doubt any child would survive to age three, what with their willingness to just step off the table they just climbed up onto with no regard for the hardness of the floor.

Friday, October 31, 2014


A short post.  Just a remembrance of Halloweens past.
When I taught tech theater at San Mateo High School, I used to take Halloween off from teaching. Instead I would turn off all the lights in the theater but the ghost light, get all the kids to sit down house left and tell them ghost stories. Some of the stories I remembered from stories my dad told around the campfire. I usually made up a ghost story or two about the theater itself.
 One story I refined over the years was of Phil the construction worker who was working on the grid late one Friday night. The rest of the crew left the theater, and Phil miss stepped and fell into one of the cable slots and got stuck. Being a large man, he didn't fall through, but was stuck for three days. where he hopelessly banged on the grid with his hammer calling for help. Help didn't arrive until too late. Now, when the theater is dark, you can hear him bang his hammer.
After my first year of telling this story, I would recruit a student who'd already taken the class to sneak off and get a hammer. At the end of the tale, they would bang the hammer on something in the back of the theater. It was awesome watching the reaction of some of the kids. I can be a pretty good storyteller.
There was another story of a little girl who got left in the theater and ended up locked in the booth. How she died varied on the year, but sometime when you turned off the booth lights you could catch a glimpse of her face reflecting in the glass.  Especially when you print out and paste a little girls face on the back wall of the booth.
Man I miss messing with young minds.
For a long time there was this full size cutout of a guy we called Chuck.  I've no idea what show he was from, but Chuck always ended up in the darkest places, where you would turn a corner and he'd be there.  It was kind of a fun game, trying to scare folks with Chuck.  He often landed in the booth bathroom. 
My dad's favorite scary story was about some kids exploring an old haunted house.  In the last room the saw an eerie coffin floating toward them.  Not to be deterred, the kids whipped out some Vic's vapor rub and stopped that coffin. 
Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chivalry is Dead? Good.

Empty bus seats.

Last week one of my wife's cousins posted on facebook that chivalry is dead because all the men on the bus to the rental car place didn't jump up to offer her a seat.  She is two - three months pregnant and was actively resisting the urge to throw out her stomach and yell, "Is chivalry dead in Denver?"  It was a humorous post, meant in jest, but I took real offence to it for a couple of reasons.   My wife just rolled her eyes at my offense.

Let's start with the lessor of the reasons for taking this post amiss.  Please don't throw aspersions on my City based on the actions of people on a bus from the airport to the car rental building.  The only person on bus from Denver was probably the driver, and I doubt you'd want him to give up his seat for you.  I have pride in my city, which is generally considered pretty polite.  Last Friday Alice Louise and I went to the aquarium lounge (which is awesomely cheap) for happy hour and met another couple with two children.  Conversation was stuck and at the end they commented that they'd never felt as welcome in a city as they did in Denver.  Conversation striking is apparently my new hobby.

I want to explore this idea of dead chivalry.  My first response to her post was to say that it's rude to assume someone is pregnant.  Her response was, "I  am a women."  And that's when we got to the meat of the matter.  The next comment, from someone I don't know was, "Men, you always, always give up your seat to a woman.  Always!"  My response to that was "I always give up my seat to someone who needs it.  Last time I saw you [cousin's name] you were a robust woman in the prime of life.  Why should I give up my seat to you?  I'm curious, what entitles you to that seat?"  I actually meant it in a conversational way.  And I am curious as to why being a woman means men have to give up their seats, especially from a woman's point of view.  But the nuance of language is lost on the internet, and the comment probably came across as more heated that I intended.   The next commenter called me rude, actually called me "RUUUUDDDDDEEEE!" so I let it drop.

Since then I've been thinking a lot about chivalry a lot.  I open door for people if I get to the door before them, without regard for gender or age.  Sometimes I get stuck in a door holding eddy, where I hold a door for a whole train of people pouring in or out of a building.  Almost everyone says thank you, and occasionally someone tries to take the door from me, thus rescuing me from the eddy.  But I don't consider that chivalrous, just polite.  Chivalrous is something darker, something less than polite.

Let's get a little historical perceptive here.  Bear with me, some of this knowledge I'm dredging up from my Chaucer class in College

Lamia by John William Waterhouse, 1905.

Chivalry actually got its start during the medieval period best characterized by the tales of King Arthur and his knights.  Chivalry was a code of conduct for knights.  The root of the word is actually horsemanship and a lot of  the code was dedicated to how worship god to make war on the infidel.  But it also encouraged knights to seek the favor of ladies, often the ladies of their liege lords.  Of course being polite to your liege lord's lady was important for keeping your own head.  It is important to note that these relationships were not based on sexual desire, but a more romantic ideal.  Doing deeds for the favor of a lady gained you esteem among the other knights.

This system evolved out of a real political necessity.  Knights were mostly powerful landless men on horses in full armor.  There was a real problem that when these men got bored, they would ride through the country side cutting down the common folk, folk who were vitally important to growing the food for the kingdom.  But you couldn't send these men away or they would return with some rival lord and take your land.  So a real effort was put on creating a code of conduct.  Part of that was connecting these men to a higher power.  The church did some of this work and a lot of christian morality was infused into the stories of the knights and ladies (hence the focus on the chaste relationship between knight and lady).  There were also many stories about the chaos that ensued when the boundary between idealized love crossed over to carnal love.  Here look to the story of Lancelot and  Guinevere whose physical love basically destroyed Camelot.  The lord could order you to battle, but the lady could inspire you to win.  Just don't expect to see her naked.

So Chivalry was really a system designed by men to control other men using women.

Pre-Raphaelite Painting
Lamia by John William Waterhouse, 1905.

In the more modern era, Chivalry sort of became the booby prize awarded to women for their unequal position in society.  It's like "Sorry women, you can't own property, or vote, or drive, but let me tip my hat to you, hold the door for you, or give up my seat."  Instead of actually giving women an equal stake, society gives them empty gestures and expects them to be sated.  The more chivalrous the treatment of women, the more unequal the genders.

However, as we move toward a more equal society, the less chivalrous the relationship between the genders become.  This is a good thing.  There is something cheap and fake about chivalry.  Its application almost always seems condescending, and self-serving.  Look at me.  I'm giving up my seat for a the weaker than me woman.  What I good man I am.

Now, I'm not advocating jettisoning politeness.  Give up your seat for someone who really needs it.  Hold the door open for people.  And say thank you to the guy or girl holding the door open for you.  Just don't do it because you want to be chivalrous.  And Ladies, when all the men around you don't jump up to give you their seat, don't be offended, be excited that you live in a society moving closer to equality.  The men around you think you're strong enough to stand, if they are even thinking of you at all after their long flight from Debuque.    

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Spoonful of Heroin

Screen capture from the iconic 1984 Apple commercial.

This post is inspired by a post I read over at Raven's Writing Desk about turning chores into games, a post I read at DadCamp about malls replacing play areas with walls of Ipads, and a post at DadRites about kids and video games.  In my brain it all starts as discussion about boredom.

I think about boredom and how to manage boredom a lot. Sometimes I defeat boredom but thinking about boredom.  Mostly I wonder how I'll manage Robin's boredom in this day and age of instant gratification and screens.

My kiddo is only 15 months, so the concept of boredom hasn't yet kicked in, other than the restlessness at being in a parked stroller for more than a few minutes, or that third hour in the car seat on the way to grandma’s house. But it is an issue I think about all the time. My fear is that I have zero basis to build an understanding of boredom in the age of screens. Computers used to be huge clunky things that you couldn't lug around. Video games at the dinner table were kinda of an absurd thought.  Sure I was often took to get off the computer and come to dinner, but they were separate events and needed occupied their distinct spaces. But now we go to dinner with my sister and her almost 3 year old, and he’d rather watch Jungle Book videos than interact with the rest of the table.  If you take the screen away he fusses until you have two options: give in or go home.  This is not a critique of my sister's parenting style.  She kept him away from screens until he was almost two.  She used to angle for the table at the restaurant with no visual access to screens.  But screens found a way in anyway.  Some days you just want a quiet meal with out a fight.  I totally get and support that.

From the Disney Movie "The Jungle Book" based on the book by Rudyard Kipling
Screens are addictive.  They are the glowing embers of the primordial camp fire that mesmerized our ancestors.  Staring into that fire is built into our DNA.  Screens short circuit the brain's reward system.  Instead of feeling good for accomplishing real things in the real world, we now feel rewarded for achieving things in the screen world, like watching videos about Baloo.   The real world can't compete.  How else can we explain the emergence of games that reward people for activities they should enjoy just on the merits of the activity.   

I'm a prime example.  I've had a Fitbit for over 2 years.  That alone got me walking more.  But when you introduce Ingress to the mix, my step count skyrockets.  Ingress is a game played in the "real" world on your phone.  You have to walk places and interact with portals.  You get points and experience for linking portals and you can only link portals if you have physically visited them and gotten a portal key.  I'm doing pretty well.  I'm level 7 in two weeks.  To achieve level 7 I walked almost 100 miles in two weeks, most of that pushing Robin around in a stroller in City Park.

I am a Proud Frog.

This is both good and bad.  The pragmatist in me thinks: "This is the way the world is now, therefore games that exploit this new reality and get people moving in the real world are good." Maybe attaching "Achievements" to learning math will encourage kids to put in the work to really understand it.  The cynic wonders how sustainable is a society built on people living only to score virtual points. (Two possible answers are Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom available here for free, and this epic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal).   It seems a little too close to the "gold star" problem this generation already suffers. The crazy homeless conspiracy theorist in me wonders if its all a plan by the Illuminati to hook us all on games so we don't notice the slow erosion of wages, rights, and intellectualism.  Panem et circenses.

If I'm susceptible as a kid who grew up mostly interacting with the outside world, how is Robin to cope? 

I try not to take my phone out at dinner (unless it's to resolve a bet, or check the weather, or check what time the zoo opens, or ...).  But when my wife and I relax in front of the TV after the kiddo is in bed, I usually have my ipad on my lap. I’m on facebook more than I should be when the kiddo's awake and terrorizing the dog.  But some days being alone with a toddler is excruciatingly boring. I’m usually very good about not being bored. I can find something interesting in anything set before me. But that skill is sorely tested sometimes being around a being whose greatest joy is grabbing your coffee off the table when you look away.  I know I should turn off the ipad, or shut down the facebook.

The answer I think is to induce boredom.  Let's make defeating boredom without a screen a game.  How?  I have no real answers, but I do have a few ideas.  

  1. Be up front about the dangers of too much screen time with your kids. I happen to think kids are pretty smart.  They can smell BS, but they can also sense truth.  Tell them that too much screen time leads to lower academic achievement, lower social IQ and less tolerance for delayed gratification.
  2. Make certain times of the day and certain days of the week screen-less time.  For everybody.  We're toying with the idea of no screens once dinner starts until bedtime.  There are loads of studies that show that this could be a good thing from helping kids (and adults) sleep better to improved family relations.  I'm just not sure how this will apply to the adult time after the kids are in bed, since its the only time we have to watch TV, or play Destiny.
  3. Get lots of analog toys, without "prebuilt" sets (modern Lego, I'm looking at you), and put them in a room where the kids can play with almost complete freedom.  Creative play leads to creative adults.  Let them take their things apart.  Just consider it part of the cost of doing business.
  4. Let kids play.  DadnCharge said this better than I ever could on his blog about banishing the play date.
  5. Let kids be bored.  Boredom isn't the worst thing.  The brain hates being unused.  This is why the writing exercise where you just start writing "I don't know what to write." over and over usually leads into a story idea.  The brain wants to be engaged.       
My parents thought being bored was the key to unlocking the imagination. And I think they were right. I don’t remember being bored as a kid, but I do remember the incredible adventures I’d have as Ghost of the Galaxy (or if I was powered up Ghost of the Universe), in the backyard, or running about the neighborhood. We had plenty of toys, most of which I completely disassembled within a week, never to be reassembled, or reconfigured into other toy monstrosities.  This served me well.  In school I was always able to find the fun take on assignments. And I learned those skills by turning boredom into something else, like an alchemist turns lead into gold.  Sometimes my teachers would get annoyed, like Mrs. Whinery when I wrote a compare/contrast essay on different colors of blue.  But it worked for me.

The ability to see boredom as an opportunity to achieve is something I will strive hard to get Robin to understand.  Understanding that getting the school work, or any work, out of the way before turning on the video game or surfing the web will vastly improve the value of those activities.  Learning to take pleasure in a job well done will be important.  Besides, everyone knows that feeling then the procrastination is full on.  The specter of work avoided hanging over every click of the mouse on Buzzfeed. My truth, learned from years and years, is that the hardest part is just starting.  Get over that initial voice saying it'll be boring, or hard, and you will usually find yourself immersed in the project.  Some tasks are boring, sure.  But when you're finished you can indulge yourself guilt free.

Julie Andrew's as Mary Poppins in Disney's "Mary Poppins".
As Mary Poppins sings, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” My fear is that screens will turn that sugar into heroin and this generation will just skip the medicine entirely and never get out of rehab.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I actually made it out the door and met other dads last week.  The first big step was Toddler Tumble Time at the Jewish Community Center.  I arrived about 10 minutes early.  I'm unable to not be early or at least on time.  Too many theater calls I guess.  No one else showed up for about 15 minutes.  So Robin had the mats to himself.  When people did start to arrive it was like a flood gate opened and suddenly the room was full of kids and parents.  I did that awkward standing by wall at the middle school dance thing for a little while.  But luckily there were other dads from the Denver Dad Group there and they were more out-going that me and so after a few quick hand-shakes and name exchanges, I was suddenly part of a group.  A Denver dad.  That's a huge step.

It was supposed to be "lightly structured" activities,  but the instructor didn't show up, so it was just a toddler free for all.  Robin got saturated with the activity after about 40 minutes and kept running out the door into the lobby, so we packed up and headed home.

But my week wasn't done.  On Wednesday night I went to a meetup with the Britax public out reach rep, Sarah Tilton.  About 9 dads came, including a couple I'd met at the meetup.  I brought David along.  Sarah talked about an hour about car safety and gave some pretty interesting advice about when to move kids to different seats.  The coolest thing she talked about was this new type of car seat called the click tight.  Basically the whole seat of the car seat opens up, you thread the seat belt through and then close the seat and it cinches down the belt.  No need to pull the belt tight or anything.  Then she did a raffle to give away three free car seats.  David and I both won.  Pretty cool.  I selected the Britax Marathon clicktight seat.  In red and black to match our other seat.

Then on Thursday I walked over to Coor's Field to watch the Rockies.  Paige and David had decided to take Jack to a game.  But last weekend also happened to be the National Stay at Home Dad's convention in Denver.  The first night, the Denver Dad's Group hosted a meetup at the Rockies' game.  So I walked over and met Paige and David and their friend Ebony and her daughter Victoria.  They had seats along the third base line.  The stadium was pretty empty.  The Rockies haven't been good in a while, so David was able to take Jack and Victoria down to the front row, near the guy who retrieves the foul balls.  Usually he tosses them into the crowd, to kids.  Jack was chatting him up, so after the next foul ball the guy handed it to Jack.  Jack took it with a great grin, then tossed it back on to the field.  "Do it again?"  Hmm, no Jack.  David put the ball in his pocket.

After a couple of Innings, David and I headed to the rooftop.  Sometime in the last few years the stadium tore out the top tier of seats on the eastern side of the stadium and installed two floors of bars and restaurants.  It's standing room only and you can watch the game from the rail.  Any ticket can get you onto the rooftop, but you can also buy a rooftop ticket for like $14 which comes with a food voucher of $8.  It was a perfect place for the dad meet up.

Looking around when we arrived, we didn't see any folks that looked like a group of dads.  There were quite a few fit guys in work shirts who clearly work down town and quite a few woo girls.  We gave up on the first deck and headed up to the top deck.  A short walk from the stair we saw them.  A group of guys with t-shirts and pot bellies.  David and I nodded.  We'd found our people.

Again we sort of mingled awkwardly.  David was a good sport putting up with me dragging him to a group he doesn't really have any connection with.  I looked around and then in a burst of out-going-ness introduced myself to a couple of guys I recognized from the dad bloggers group on facebook.  After a couple of minutes of small talk David pointed some of the guys from the Denver Dad's group that we knew.  I met a guy named Marc that I hit it off with pretty easily.  He has a six month old and so we instantly had a lot to chat about.  At the end of the night we exchanged numbers.  When I have him my number he said "Bay area?"

"Yeah, I did my undergrad out there?"

He got kinda serious and asked, "Where?"


"Really?  What year were you there?"

Turns out he was at Stanford as a grad student at exactly the same time I was there.  Small world.

I am an introvert.  My ability to speak seems to melt away in a large group, unless I'm there in some sort of work situation.  But I do have sudden bursts of extroversion, when that inner voice is tamped down and I can get out in front of my shyness and meet folks.  I've been pushing myself hard to get out and meet people.  To do things with people.  I think it must be related to this current push to take care of myself.  I'm losing weight again and trying to walk more than 10k steps a day.  I'm pretty proud of myself for that.  The last two weeks I've walked over 100 miles. (198,000 steps).

But I know that this phase of exercise and extroversion is probably just a binge.  At some point it'll get too cold to take the kind of walks I've been taking, or Robin will stop being content to ride in the stroller.  But hopefully the guys I meet now will be enough to push back against the gravity of introversion and get me out more.  It'll be good for Robin.  It'll be good for me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Granddad's Chicken

I like to cook.  I've enjoyed it since the time I stayed home sick from school and made potato soup with my mom.  She let me add the spices.  I added a fist full of garlic powder, more garlic powder than should be palatable.  It was the best soup ever.  I was probably 8 or 9.

My dad didn't care for my pancakes.  To be fair, I was experimenting with the ingredients and would often added too much baking powder.  I really thought pan cakes should be cakes.  Unfortunately the centers would rarely cook before the outsides were totally burned.  He had good reason to dislike them.

Sometime early high school/late middle school the grill became my responsibility.  It was a perfect fit.  Fire and I go way back.  I was very good at steak (back when I actually ate such things regularly).  The best steaks happened when I took a few pieces of the old fence wood piled in the back yard and added them to the side of the coals just before I put the grate on the grill.  They made for a smokiness that I've never been able to duplicate.  I'm sure true grillers are mortified.  I was always one to experiment.

My best dish on the grill is still my best.  I call it "Dad's Chicken" although I'll have to modify that soon to "Granddad's Chicken".  Robin will never get to know my dad, but he will know his grilled chicken.  For those of you playing at home the recipe is simplicity.   Buy chicken thighs with both bones and skin intact.  Melt equal portions of butter, soy sauce, and lemon juice in a sauce pan.  Heat the grill to medium and set it to indirect heat.  On gas, just light the outer burners.  On charcoal split the coals into to piles on either side of the grill.  Place the chicken down the middle of the grate and baste lavishly.  Put the lid on.  Turn and baste the chicken every 10 minutes for about an hour, then move the chicken, skin side down over the coals to crisp up the skin.  You can tell the chicken is cooked when the juices run clear.  Try not to over cook them.

My real transition to cook happened post college.  There were no real opportunities to cook in college, other than helping my friend Joe brew beer.  After college I met Wil, and Wil introduced me to Alton Brown's Good Eats.  Alton has probably made many a guy like me into a cook.  He has the same spirit of food that I do, and he's not afraid to try out crazy meals.

Now I am the primary food preparer the house.  Alice Louise is an awesome cook, but I have taken on the duty.  Generally I cook dinner every night and we eat the leftovers for breakfast and lunch. When a meal or recipe doesn't turn out as I'd hoped, Al is generally kind enough to eat it anyway.  She is a good measure of an experiments success.

I'm kinda righteously proud that we only ever opened two bottles of baby food for Robin, and that was more because we had them rather than any real need for them.  I'm fond of saying that one of the greatest hoaxes ever pulled on the people of the world is convincing us that babies need special food.  Robin eats what we eat and so far is a good eater.  Of course the other shoe of pickiness could drop anytime,  I'm also proud of the snacks I've made for him.  I'll post my recipe for fruit rollups at a later date.

I also like to bake bread.  Hoax number two of the food industry is that baking bread is hard.  It's not. It takes four ingredients.  Flour, water, salt, and yeast.  Try this.  Mix  500g of flour with 350g of water with 10g of yeast and let sit for 20 minutes.  Yeah, I like to weight my ingredients.  After 20 minutes mix in 10g of salt with another 25g of water. (1g ~ 1ml of water) and mix by squishing the dough through your hands.  If you're going to be around all day, turn the dough every 30-60 minutes by grabbing the bottom of the dough and folding it on top of itself.  Turn 1/4 a turn and do it again until you've done it 4 times.  After 4 hours the dough will be puffy and not so sticky.  Pour the dough out onto a baking pan lined with parchment and shape into the type of loaf you want.  Then cover with a moist tea towel and let it rise until your ready to bake it.  If you are not going to be around all day, after you add the salt, put the dough in the fridge.   An hour before you want to bake it, get it out of the fridge and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Fill a pie pan with water and place it on the bottom of the oven, then set the temp to 425.  The water creates a moist environment in the oven which keeps the crust from setting before the bread has expanded while baking.  Bake the loaf for 40 minutes, rotating 180 deg halfway through the process.  This will reward you with beautiful bread.

I love to cook.  As Alice Louise likes to tell people, it is my current creative outlet.  It's the activity that makes me most feel like I'm contributing to the well-being of the family.  My hope is that as Robin gets old I can interest him the joys of cooking, in the science of food and the artistry.  But mostly I want to instill in him a life long love of eating good healthy food.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Last Night

Last night was pretty rough.  Robin woke up around 1:50pm screaming.  Sometimes he'll wake up and then settle in a couple of minutes.  Last night that was not to be.  After about five minutes Alice Louise got up and went up to see what was up.  

Sleep training for the Robin man was very successful once we committed to it.  The first attempt was pretty disastrous.  We started on the Monday after Christmas vacation.  We weren't really ready and he wasn't ready either.  I put him down for the first time in his nursery and then we prepared to wait him out. Unfortunately he had caught a bug and with it some intestinal discomfort that lead to some massive diaper rash.  So we did the 5, 10, 20 minute interval check ins, but he just wouldn't settle.  He cried so long that he actually lost his voice.  After 4 hours we gave up and decided to postpone until he was in a better state.

In a couple of weeks when he was ready we started again.  We read a couple of different sleep books and decided to follow the plan involved checking in on his every few minutes with steadily increasing intervals.   This time we started on a Friday when the sleep deprivation wouldn't effect a work day for Alice Louise.  We put him down and started the 5, 10, 20 minute visits, alternating between Al and I until after about 2 hours he soothed himself to sleep.  The next day it took maybe 40 minutes, and after that he just started going down right away.  

That wasn't to say there weren't hiccups along the way.  The occasional cold or tooth would interrupt the night.  But for the most part he is a great sleeper.

Which makes night like last night that much more painful.  See, my kid is an over achiever.  When most kids would be content to cut one tooth at a time, Robin has decided to cut four molars at the same time.  It's made him a bit pickier of an eater, and has definitely affected his sleep, but not in any sort of predictable way.  His naps have been pretty short this week, with an hour nap in the morning and only about a 45 minute nap in the afternoon if I'm lucky.  And oddly, when he gets less nap sleep, he also shorts his night sleep.

After about 5 minute Alice Louise came back to bed.  He hadn't wanted any milk, and after a few minutes she had put him back down.  It seemed to be successful.  Just has I had drifted off again he started up again.  I went up this time and gave him a shot of Tylenol in case it was his mouth keeping him awake.  He eagerly sucked down the grape flavored goo and after a few minutes of rocking he settled, so I put him back down and headed down to bed.  He gave us another 5 minutes, then was up and crying again.  I went up again and decided to change his diaper, which was wet, but not too bad.  After another few minute of cuddling he seemed ready to settle, so I dropped him down in his crib with 5 pacifiers and headed down again.

This time he gave us maybe 10 minutes.  It was about 2:30 when he started up again.  Slowly at first with little pocks like an engine trying to start.  When the full chainsaw of crying started Alice Louise got up again and went up.  It took a while to sooth this time, and that meant sleep was not to be for me either.  Between the baby monitor and the baby it was a nonstop barrage of unhappy baby sounds.  Since the baby monitor is on a little bit of a delay and we can hear him pretty well in our room, it was like a call and respond of discomfort.

Alice Louise soothed him and read him a couple of books, but every time she even tried to get him back into his crib he would start up like it was the worst thing that has every happened to him.  Which meant every time I drifted off, I would be started awake.  After about an hour, around 3:30 he finally fell asleep.  

I know that Alice Louise by far gets the rougher deal on nights like last night.  I try to help, but there are somethings that she does better than me.

This morning she snoozed her alarm a couple of times and she let the kiddo sleep in.  She left for work without seeing him, which is always a little sad for her.  He work up around 7:30 and was his usually cheery self.

Before I was a parent stories like last nights would have concerned me a lot.  But now its just part of the package and perhaps a little like a badge of honor.  I didn't really miss out on that much sleep, just an hour and a half in the middle of the night, but it will probably mean an early night for us tonight.  That is perhaps the most startling part of his new phase in my life, that going to bed at 9pm is a fine thing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pay to Stay

Switzerland is paying every citizen a salary of 2500 francs per month regardless of whether they work or not. The reasoning: if people don't have to work so hard to survive, then they will take the time to pursue in the important things in life.  Art, reading, science, blogging, sky's the limit.

Here is my modest proposal.  Do the same thing here.  Not for everyone, but for parents.

My reasoning:   Almost every issue can really be boiled down to an issue of time, that is, there is not enough of it.  Why do we have so little time, well for the most part its because we have to work so much just to meet the bottom line.  Sure some people work because they enjoy their jobs, but I suspect that a lot of people work because they need the money.  Putting aside the cons for now, here is a small list of things I think may be helped by paying parents a salary.

1. Terrible diet. 

Most people eat terribly.  In Michael Pollen's latest book he quotes an analyst in the food industry about the definition of a home cooked meal.  He found that the number of families that actually cooked meals from scratch on a regular basis had become so low that it was statistically irrelevant, so they revised the definition of a home cooked meal to a meal cooked by opening two different packages.  That's right, a home cooked meal is adding a can of tuna fish to the Kraft mac and cheese.

Why are families not cooking as much?  I suspect because they don't have the time, and they don't have the energy.  The work day is getting more and more stressful as employees are asked to do more with less for less pay.  Wages are stagnate and so are getting smaller every year in relation to buying power.  Something has to give, and more and more we are out sourcing our meals.  The further away from the home the food is prepared, the more processed it is.  The more processed food you eat, the less healthy you become. Processed food is also cheaper.  Higher quality food either costs more or takes more time to prepare.  Paying parents would give them some breathing room.  Maybe they could work a little less and find the time to make home cooking a priority again.

2. High Costs of Child Care.

The cost of child care is ridiculous.  For a typical two income household, most of the second income is taken up by child care costs.  Quality care for one child in Denver, where I live, can cost anywhere from $1000 a month to $2500 a month.  Two children, probably double.   If you wanted to instantly boost the economy, give parents enough to cover these costs.  Parents will spend this extra money.  Parents will put some of it into college funds.  Parents will add more to their investment accounts.  Parents will improve their houses.  If I had the extra cash, I would put the kid in daycare for a while and remodel the kitchen.  This is money that would benefit everyone not just parents.

There is a story going around the internet right now about that mom who was arrested for letting her Daughter go to the park while she worked at McDonald's.  If that mom had the extra money to put that girl in daycare, or enroll her in a day camp at the zoo, etc, she wouldn't have had to make the terrible choice between letting her daughter sit all day around a McDonald's or hang out relatively unsupervised at a park. This would be a huge boon for the working poor, especially single parent households.  Even cheap child care is too expensive for someone working for minimum wage.

3. High Unemployment.

If more parents started working part-time, or became stay at home parents, there would be more work for those seeking jobs.  There would be more money in the economy because parents would be spending more, so there would be more work to be done, and therefore more jobs.  Also, maybe the extra cash would allow parents to get more education to help them find more productive jobs.  I've looked into the continuing education around here.  It isn't cheap

4. Poor work/life balance 

Work should be something you love, but for a lot of people its about paying the rent.  Imagine if your mortgage payment wasn't an issue any more.  Would you be willing to take a job that paid less if it let you have more time with your family?  Would you consider working part-time if you could afford to do it?  Extra income for parents could make a decision like this easier.  Parents with more time could volunteer at schools more often.  One of the best indicators of the quality of a school is parental participation.

I'm a stay at home dad and think this is an awesome idea.  Staying at home with the kids is work, hard work, so why not pay people to do it.  Raising the next generation of minds should be important enough to subsidize.

Now I know that there are a lot of reasons why this would never work in the US.  People have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of government hand outs.  People will ask where would we get the money.  If we were serious about helping people we could find the money.  We spend insane amounts of money on failed fighter jets; why can't we pay money to keep families from failing. There is a lot of evidence that giving money directly to the poor does more to lift them and their kids out of poverty than any other type of help.  This idea would do more than that, it could lift America out of mediocrity.

Please like and comment on this.  Share it if you agree, Share it if you don't agree.  Let's start a conversation.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Story of a Nursery

This week I'm in California designing lighting for Side Show at CMTSJ (Children's Muscial Theater, San Jose) the largest children's theater in the country.  So instead of a deep thought, I thought I would brag about the work I did on the nursery before and after Robin was born.  So here is the Story of the Nursery.

Like every project in an old house, I started working on the nursery with an eye solely to rebuilding the old double hung windows.  Robin was due on the 23rd of June, so I set out to start repairing the windows starting in April.  But the weather in Denver was very strange that year and it didn't snowing until late May.  Sometime in later part of May I decided it was now or never.

I wish I had taken photos of the starting place, but I didn't.  The sashes were rotten and the glass was barely hanging on.  The previous owners had filled the resulting gaps with, I kid you not, hot glue.

This is a different window in the house that I've not gotten to yet, but it shows the level of decay.  Imagine about twice that damage and you get a good idea of my starting place.

On day one I took out the sashes for the windows with my Uncle Peter's help and stepped out on to the roof to remove the storm window frame.  Taking the frame off, we encountered two rather large hornet's nests. That immediately terminated the window work for the day.  I sprayed them down with Raid, and waited the 24 hours to scrap them off the house.

One of the sashes after hours of paint removal.

I took the molding off the interior portion of the window and took it to dip and strip.  There were eight layers of paint to remove.

The view of the windows from the exterior.  You can see all the deferred maintenance in the exterior shakes, and also the awesome lavender of the house trim.

I set about scrapping paint, rebuilding, and glazing all the sashes.  I ran new sash cords and generally cleaned up the windows.  Things were progressing pretty well.

Then I decided that I really hated the wall texture, which to my eye looks like someone let a 5 year old finger paint the plaster.  After again consulting with my uncle about the best course of action, I decided I would just try and scrape down the worst bumps and repaint the walls.  

This proved to be a pipe dream.  I started scrapping down the texture and the top most layer of plaster/dry wall compound started coming off the wall in huge sheets.

The issue I soon discovered was that the top most layer of plaster/drywall compound was applied directly over 4 layers of wall paper.  Some of it quite beautiful.

But it meant that I had to peel that layer and all the layers of wall paper off the entirety of the room.  I'm glad I did it because I discovered an entire row of base board molding that had been covered up.  Along two walls someone had run Masonite halfway up the walls before applying a layer of plaster/drywall.

As I stripped off the layers of plaster I discovered that a lot of the underlying plaster was pretty rotten, which meant that large portions of the walls had to be demoed down to the lathe.

I also discovered some pretty impressive structural cracks.

And a old doorway into the room next door.

I took out the plaster I had to remove and set about filling the gaps with drywall.  I didn't have access to any car larger than my Jetta, so I bought a bunch of 2' x '2 pieces of drywall and set about puzzle piecing the walls together.

This last photo was taken on June 2nd.  Remember that date.  I bought some quick set mortar and filled all the large structural cracks.

On June 3rd I started taping the seams and mudding the seams.

I took a shower and was just about to check my email when Alice Louise called me from the hospital.  She's been sent there by her OB after they detected protein in her urine, which could be a sign of preeclampsia. After a couple of hours they sent her home.  Around midnight she poked me in the back and said that we needed to head back to the hospital.  Labor.  The protein from before was her water breaking.  Next thing I knew:

Robin was three weeks early.  One day past when he would be considered preterm.  He was pretty small, but very healthy.

A few weeks passed before I got back to working on the nursery.  My sister and brother-in-law came over to help.  I applied pounds and pounds of drywall compound to the wall and created a sort of old world smooth texture to the walls.  In July my friend Jay flew out and helped me strip the paint off the remaining molding and repaint.

I did my best to reveal the detail in the corner blocks.

We chose a nice baby blue for the walls and a deep blue for the molding.

I didn't touch the closet.

Unfortunately we kinda scorched the carpet while stripping the molding.  Besides all the work on the walls had pretty much rendered the carpet disgusting.  So I decided to remove it.  Alice Louise and I went and picked out some nice bamboo engineered flooring and I set about removing the carpet.  I discovered one layer of carpet, one layer of padding, a layer of linoleum tile, a layer of sub flooring, another later of linoleum tile, more sub floor, and finally the original fir or spruce floor.


After a long day of demo I removed about 1.5 inches of material from the floor.  I then set about installing the hardwood bamboo.

Notice the line of white around the bottom of the molding.  That is how much I lowered the floor.  I still have yet to scrap down the texture on that line and repaint the molding.  I have matching quarter round for the base of the molding, but I've not gotten around to installing it yet.  Now that Robin has moved into the room it has become more challenging to work in room.

One of the best parts of this project was discovering the beauty of the hardware buried under 8 layers of paint.

All is all it was a very satisfying project.  Its mostly complete.  Rock On!