Friday, November 17, 2006


My grandpa died yesterday and I wanted to share a few memories. I have just started putting things back up on the walls (post-construction) so today got out and dusted off the clock he made from an old violin. It has a swinging pendulum that adds life to any room and is now ticking away in the office. It goes well with the cello lamp he made that is in the living room and the saw-blade clock that has graced every home we have lived in. I think that next I will go and tune the 1923 Gibson he sold to Greg (for an extremely reasonable price), the banjo guitar, and the mandola. The mandola he made for me from a tenor guitar so I could play with the same fingering as my viola. In this way, his vibrations and love of music live on.

Unlike most of my family, my Grandpa liked garage sales and old stuff. He liked to take something free and junky and fix it up like new. He liked to recycle, re-purpose, and reuse, way before it was trendy. I love these things too and see the same interest in Rees, the other collector and bargain hunter in my immediate family. I think Rees’s fascination for odds and ends is innate; I did not teach him to enjoy garage sales and garbage picking. And now I see that grandpa was the likely source of these interests.

I will think of grandpa every time I go down to my new basement studio. I loved his basement workroom and the feeling of creativity it harbored. It was his retreat. It was organized, but cluttered, and filled with innumerable fascinating things. I realized yesterday that, deep down, I’ve always wanted to have a room just like his. Now I do! He is the inspiration for that.

There were lots of other sides to him as well (he remembered everyone’s names and loved to tell stories, for example), but it was on this practical level that we connected most. He had a great sense of function and design and understood how things worked. He was careful and thorough and his patient work ethic will always be with me. It is something you don't see so much anymore and I am grateful I had a chance to experience it through his example.

He was not the sentimental type, so I will keep this short. But it is always nice to reflect how people have influenced you and how they will live on even after their old, tired bodies are gone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yes, I guess he did…

It was a cold morning and Kadin was getting ready for school. He is pretty conscientious about this and usually does a reasonably good job. When he said he was ready, I pointed out that he still needed a fleece and some long pants. He protested that he WAS wearing a fleece. Okay, he was wearing a thin, fleecy shirt and though it was technically “fleece,” it wasn’t “A fleece,” so I explained that it was important to wear layers. One thin layer of any material wasn’t going to be enough.

When we leave the house he is wearing a fleece over his fleece, but still has on shorts. “Shorts?” I ask. It was pretty cold. “Yes,” he said, “See? I put on layers.” Sure enough, he was dressed in two pairs of shorts. He was also wearing long socks, so it just didn’t seem a battle worth fighting.

Then, on the walk to school, as he and Rees were running around, the inevitable happened. He tripped, fell, and skinned both his knees. Not the time to rub it in (“I told you not to wear shorts…”) I instead picked him up and carried him the rest of the way to school.

We headed directly for the nurse’s office and some band-aids. The lights were off in the nurse’s room, but the principal was in the hall just outside. When I mentioned we were in need of a couple of band-aids, he came into the nurse’s room and showed us where they were. I was a little self-conscious that my kindergartner was wearing shorts, as his bloody knees so vibrantly illustrated, so I pointed out that I had suggested he wear layers, hence the two pairs of shorts. “Well,” the principal responded, an all too familiar tone in his voice, “He really did follow your instructions.” Yes, of all people, the principal should know about kids pushing the envelope. I’m sure it happens to him all the time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Craft of the month: clementine lanterns

Here is a nice autumnal idea that I found in my Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac (see plug at A few plugs).

Take a clementine orange and cut off the bottom. Carefully remove the fruit and leave the white stringy, pithy stuff that comes from the stem in the middle, attached. This will be the wick. You should now have a clean clementine skin in the shape of a cup with a wick in the middle. Pour in a few spoonfuls of oil, then light the wick. You will have a nice, glowing latern.

Note of caution: I was enjoying my clementine lantern, but accidentally left it burning. NEVER DO THIS! When I came back home, we still, thankfully, had a home, but the cup had fallen off its candle holder and made a dark, burnt spot on the table. My theory is that when the oil ran out, it started making enticing crackling sounds, and the cats came over and knocked it off. So use this neat idea with caution!

My next project? Refinishing the table.

Friday, November 10, 2006

It figures

We were a bit late to piano yesterday and there was a fender-bender in the school parking lot so it was a little tight getting out. Then at the next major intersection it took us about five light changes to get through. That was highly unusual. But we still had time to make it. Then we got stuck in traffic on campus. Maybe there was some event? To kill time, I turned on the radio and it was playing the Alanis Morrisette song Ironic, where the chorus goes: "It rains on your wedding day/ It’s a free ride, when you've already paid/ It's the good advice, that you just didn't take/ Who would of thought? It figures." And one of verses says, "It's a traffic jam when you're already late." By the end we were really late and I had lots of time to reminisce about the last time Alanis Morrisette hit the nail on the head.

It was 1997, Rees was just over 24-hours old, and we were home from the hospital for the first night. Things were not going well. Rees was upset, he wouldn't nurse, he wouldn’t sleep, and I was a wreck: in pain, exhausted, emotionally volatile. A nurse called to check to see if we needed a home visit or if we could wait until tomorrow. When I broke down in tears on the phone, she concluded that we did indeed need a home visit and said she'd be over in an hour.

Things were in chaos. There was laundry, milk, and dirty diapers strewn across the floor. There were two sleepless parents and a screaming, hungry baby that I wanted to just put back where he'd come from. How could anything ever be okay again? Then, miraculously, it all changed. I remember when the nurse arrived, the sun was coming in the window and shining on the bed where a sleeping baby lay in a nightgown that made him look like an angel. Greg had thoughtfully put on some soothing Mozart that drifted in from the other room. All was superficially well as we chatted with the nurse.

Rees woke up and she declared him healthy. She looked me over and declared me a wreck but gave me amazing reassurance. To this day I feel she saved my life. And then, as she and Greg and I were summing up, the Mozart CD ended and the next CD, one left in the changer pre-baby, came on. There was a pause and then the most horrible, caustic voice I had ever heard in my life screeched, "Do I stress you out?" It was Alanis Morrisette, someone whose edgy voice and music we had enjoyed a mere 48-hours before. The nurse looked up, startled, "What was that?" Greg, eyes wide, jumped up to turn it off. Adrenaline surged through the room. Alanis, the answer is, "Yes!" Haven’t been able to listen to that CD since.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Internet gaming

Rees came home one day last spring all excited about a game a friend at school had mentioned called Club Penguin. It was on a site Rees frequents where he can sample short, free computer games. Club Penguin was different from the other games because it was an interactive game. You can make your own character (a penguin) and interact with other penguin characters that other people have invented.

The boys were really interested in signing up, but they needed an email address. I didn't want them to use mine, so I made accounts for both of them on hotmail. As our first foray into the internet, I found myself teaching them not to use their real names or real information. On the one hand this felt weird, like teaching them to not tell the truth, but then I thought it could help them understand that other people may not be who they say they are online either. They could be anybody. I told them to use a name and age and zip that was close, but not quite right.

Kadin, in typical stubborn fashion, balked when I said, "Okay, now it wants your password. You need to use something you can remember." "I don't want to." Just because I said "need to" he refused? We went back and forth on this for awhile, me explaining why, him refusing, until we finally came up with a password he could remember. I mean really, it was not like I was doing this for my benefit!

So they signed up to Club Penguin and were off. I have never played the game, but here is the deal from my limited understanding: You create your penguin character and go around your penguin world playing games like tic-tack-toe and connect four with other penguins. When you win, you get "tokens." You can then spend your tokens at the store and buy things like clothes and toys and pets. It all seemed rather commercial to me. Then there is the hitch. You can only buy one kind of pet and only buy most things, like an igloo or decorations for your igloo, if you join and become a member. Membership is a subscription that costs approximately $6/month. Real dollars.

The neighbor boy came over during this and he was really interested in the game too. So he ran home to "play" with Rees. It was then that I knew that we had really entered a new world. In my day, we never went home to play with someone else, we stayed together in the same place. How passé that all seems now.

This penguin game looked very superficial to me, but it was novel for the kids. Rees bought a pet and that hooked him for awhile. Kadin loved it and would happily create new personas every time he logged on. Here was my five-year-old playing internet games with other people—supposedly other under-eights—in other places. It all seemed harmless, but the thought of lots of other pretty young kids around the world playing was odd. Kadin, for example, would start a game and then just walk away. That's something you probably wouldn't do in the real world, but he seemed unperturbed by such behavior in the virtual world. Lots of the penguins in the game seemed to just be standing around, clueless. Kind of like if you had a room full of under-eights and a couple of board games in the real world, if you think about it. These are truly strange times.

Rees and Kadin really wanted to join/subscribe, of course. We talked about this and about how much money it was and where they could get the money. We also talked about other ways they could use their money instead of buying toys for a character on the internet. And we talked about how the game was designed to get them to want to give it their money. The neighbor boy did join and bought more pets.

And then, the betrayal happened. The boy next door came over crying. Apparently one of his pets had run away. "I didn't play with him enough, so he left," he said.

Wow, so that is how they keep you coming back. If you don’t log on often enough, your pet runs away! I guess that you could argue that it is better to have a virtual pet run away than to ignore a real pet. Or that it is fine to have a virtual pet that requires no real TLC, but this virtual pet did demand screen time. And it is another way they get you to spend your time and money with the internet game. Games are designed to be addictive, but this is a whole new level of commitment.

The upshot is that so far, neither of my kids has joined, but they still, Kadin especially, enjoy playing from time to time. This all happened last spring, and now it seems that these interactive games are everywhere. The novelty has worn off and now this is a normal way for the kids to play.

It truly is a strange new world. I just heard a whole radio program today about one of these virtual worlds called "Second Life" that is for adults. People make their own virtual characters called Avatars and the can own virtual property and start virtual businesses where people buy virtual services or virtual products. People design virtual cars and make virtual inventions. There is a lot of real money going into this virtual world as well. Real commerce is happening via the virtual commerce. Real companies are getting involved. Reuters and Wired have created reporting desks and have real journalists assigned to report on news from this virtual world. Radio programs have sprung up in the virtual world to report on issues from Second Life.

It is a little bit hard for me to get my head around this or understand how someone would want to put that much time or money into something like this. But I don't think that will be a problem for my kids at all.