Wow, what a day

21 01 2008

I’ve been in my new building at Microsoft for about a year now. Today was the clearest day it’s ever been. Every time I walked to the kitchen, I was treated by views of snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies. This pretty much sums up why I love living in the Pacific Northwest:

Cold light on the clearest day of the year

What was even more amazing was watching the moon rise over the mountains as the sun was setting behind our building. It really doesn’t get better than this. Sorry, far-flung family… it’s hard to imagine living in a more beautiful part of the world.

Sunset light, rising moon

An Evening with Alex

21 01 2008

Molly had to work late today, so I was in charge of picking up Alex, feeding him, bathing him, and putting him to bed. Let me just come right out and admit what I did wrong: I forgot to give him his evening dose of antibiotics. Hopefully we won’t be responsible for creating an awful strain of drug-resistant sinusitis.

What I did that was right — or at least memorable — was feed him his first home-cooked meal that I wouldn’t be ashamed to eat myself. Normally, Alex gets exciting fare like plain vegetables, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or plain noodles. We’ve frequently tried to give him the same food that we eat, and he doesn’t touch it. So we keep giving him the old stand-bys.

Well, that drives me nuts. Yes, I know I was a picky eater when I was his age (and for a loong time afterwards), but I’m not a picky eater now, and I really want Alex to eat more than I would at his age. So as I cooked an evening meal of peas and noodles, I had the inspired idea of putting them into the same bowl with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese instead of serving them plain in separate bowls. This is a better meal than many UW students would be eating!

At first, I thought this experiment was a failure. Within 30 seconds of getting the food, he was saying, “All done!” Luckily, I’ve learned that when he says “All done,” he doesn’t always mean that he’s done eating his food. Instead, he means… well, I haven’t figured out what he means, but he frequently keeps eating his food and gets mad when you try to take it away. And sure enough, he went on to eat half the bowl. I had to grab the camera to document this memorable occasion. Ignore the dirty face.  This was history in the making — I didn’t have time to stop and clean him off.

Dirty Face at Dinner

Now, it turns out that having the camera out put Alex in the mood to get his picture taken. “Alex cheese!” he said. I got him to do one of our favorite facial expressions: He puts both hands up to his cheeks and says, “Oh no Mama!” (He’ll frequently go through the whole family. “Oh no Daddy! Oh no Cleo! Oh no Mo!” Don’t ask why.) Here he is:

"Oh no mama!" (In focus this time)Oh no mama!

When he got down from the table, he grabbed his own camera. He tried to take a picture of Cleo (she’s blurry in the background of one of the pictures). I think it’s funny, yet inevitable, that he’s not yet two yet knows what a camera is.

Reloading the filmThe Photographer in Action

Our Day at the Pacific Science Center

21 01 2008

Sunday, I took Alex to the Pacific Science Center. Considering I volunteered there (almost a decade ago! damn I’m old), I’m a little surprised I haven’t taken him there yet. I always thought that he was too young for most of he exhibits.


They have a whole room on dinosaurs now. Alex liked them. His verdict: “Dinosaurs big.” (Imagine him stretching his arms wide.)

There’s the butterfly house. He liked that (although it’s nerve-wracking for the parent, since I was sure he’d trample a butterfly with every step).

Butterfly and Goldfish

This past weekend at the science center was special, though — it was the 34th annual Model Train show. Which means there were lots of trains for Alex to see and even ride on. He loved it. He can now recognize and say “Thomas,” as in “Thomas the train.” (Awkwardly for us, the way he says “Thomas” sounds a lot like “hummus,” which happens to be one of his favorite foods. So we never know if he’s asking for a snack or if he’s asking for his train.)

The Iron Horse RailwayAlex in the TrainChoo Choo!

Book Review: The Story of Forgetting

21 01 2008

Once again, my favorite web site LibraryThing connected me with an early reviewer copy of a book. This time, it’s The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block.

This is a beautifully written novel that, if it doesn’t exactly defy convention, at least smooshes together at least two genres into a single novel.

One genre is the Faulknerian tale of family passions and deep secrets that span decades. This is the tale of Abel, an aptly named hunchback living on a Texas farm. Block helpfully points out at the end of the first chapter how Abel’s story is a retelling of the Fall. Over the course of the novel, we see Abel’s slow-motion expulsion from Eden.

The tale of Seth is a coming-of-age story. Seth is an awkward 15-year-old (redundant?) dealing with the problems that all 15-year-olds deal with in all coming-of-age novels: sex, annoying parents, and how to fit in. Oh, and a mother with early-onset Alzheimer’s, which Seth stands a 50/50 chance of inheriting. Did I forget to mention that?

Alzheimer’s is really the central character of the novel, and I must say Block handles this part of the story wonderfully. When I was an awkward 15-year-old, I watched my best friend’s dad slowly disappear into dementia. Watching this disease work on its victim and family is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Like a science-fiction plot device, Alzheimer’s makes the victim live his life backwards, with each new day erasing the most recent memories. My friend’s dad was at the forgot-how-to-feed-himself stage when I stayed with them for three weeks at their lake house in New Hampshire. Even though my friend and I were at the peak of hormonal, irresponsible teenagedom, we were considerably more mature and capable than his dad. I remember the terror we felt when we returned to the lake house one day, couldn’t find his dad at first, and then saw him drifting 20 feet offshore in the aluminum motorboat, vainly trying to start it. It was the last time we left him unsupervised. I still shudder to think of the damage he could have done to himself or to someone else on the lake if he managed to get the metal blades spinning. And this is the man who, just a year earlier, had taken me out fishing in that same boat.

Alzheimer’s is harder on the family than on the victim. But I know from watching my friend that most families find a way to cope. The Story of Forgetting does a great job showing the impact of the disease on people and on families and how different people cope.

Of the two stories smooshed together, I liked Abel’s story the best. It’s got passion, deception, pure love, and bittersweet redemption. Seth’s story is a close second. While I could clearly identify with a nerdy, self-conscious teenager, there were elements of this story that were just a little looser and less effective.

One of the things I admired most about this novel is the writing. Block can create some great, original sentences and images. He can jump back and forth effortlessly between storytelling styles. So I’m completely in awe knowing that he’s just 24 years old. We’ll hopefully have many more decades of similarly well-written and sensitive stories to enjoy from him.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

17 01 2008

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Material World Books and Ten Speed Press, 2007.

I’ve read a lot of food books lately. Fast Food Nation will convince you to give up McDonald’s. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, while a little preachy at times, makes a strong case for becoming a locovore. The most influential food book I read last year was The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like nothing else I’ve read, it shows the impact of the industrialization of food on our health and, more importantly, our culture. I must admit that I still eat industrially-produced meat and vegetables out of season, but both of these are habits I’m trying to change based upon what I’ve read.

The clear intent of all of the other books was to persuade me, the typical American reader, to change my eating habits. Each book had a clear agenda. Each is a forceful participant in the debate over the modern American diet. Hungry Planet is a different food book. While it has biases (it bemoans the invasion of fast-food and hypermarkets into many cultures), the primary purpose of this book is to just present the facts. If the other books are debaters, this book is You, the reader, get to draw your own conclusions.

The centerpiece of the book are portraits of 30 families in 24 countries, each posing with a week’s worth of food. There is a succinct travelogue for each family that gives you a sense of daily life in the culture, and lots of gorgeous pictures and informative captions. By the end of the book, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled the globe several times.

By presenting these families side-by-side, the book emphasizes the immense variety of food cultures in the world today. Because many of the family portraits span three generations (grandparents, parents, and kids), you also get a sense of how taste in food is evolving over time in each culture. Across each family, you see the same story replayed over and over: As a population gets more wealthy, people start to first consume more meat and then more fast-food and convenience food. The book lets you debate whether this trend is good or bad (or more specifically, which parts of this trend are good and which parts are bad) — but it’s hard to deny the trend when you have all of the evidence in front of you.

My main conclusions? After reading about life today in Chad, and Mali, and after reading what it was like for older generations in China, Poland, and Bosnia, I’m grateful that that the problem I face is one of abundance. While I never really though to of it before, I now understand how profound it is to know my family will always have enough to eat. And I now appreciate that this security is not only a rare thing in human history, it’s also still a precious thing in today’s world.

I’m still going to try to eat more seasonal foods, eliminate CAFO meat from my diet, and eat more from my local area. Hungry Planet makes me grateful this is the food dilemmas I face.

Alex’s note today

16 01 2008

Alex was in a very good mood today and easy to lay down to nap again. He loves carrying around one of the baby dolls and pretending to help them go to sleep.

Maybe there’s hope for him being a big brother after all.

The good mood bit surprised us… he was in a foul mood this morning. We think his ears were hurting him because the pain killer wore off during the night.

Black Beans

16 01 2008

Sometimes, Alex gets carried away with being helpful. For instance, when we scoop dry cat food into the cats’ bowls, he wants to help. The result is cat food gets all over the place.

In general, asking him to stop doesn’t work so well — but redirecting him to something else usually does. In the case of scooping, Molly had the great idea of putting black beans into a pot and letting him scoop that with a measuring cup. He loves it. Yes, it makes a mess — but it’s a mess that pretty easy to clean up.

Last night, we let him scoop black beans again. He had a great time.

Scoop 'em upPosing on the floorLook at all of the black beans