Friday, December 31, 2010

Tee hee

Oh yeah, and if you haven't been over to my Flickr stream, get a load of this. While I was editing pictures from our Charlottesville trip, Tom mentioned something offhand about how it would be amusing to take one of the photos of Soren on the bench with the bronzed Madisons and edit it so the boy appeared to be a statue as well.

"Geez, that's going to be tricky and kind of complicated," I said. "Challenge accepted!"

The above is the end result. I think it came out pretty good. ;)

Rounding out 2010

Day 266

Day 356

Yesterday (Thursday) was highly unmemorable. I spent much of it editing and uploading pictures from our Charlottesville trip. Tom & Soren were out running errands for a little while. Tom made tasty stuffed peppers for dinner. The UPS man brought me a Christmas gift from Tom's parents - a very amusing t-shirt. Other than that, there's really not much to say about Thursday!

Day 267

Day 357

Today I dragged my lazy bum to the gym, mid-morning. I've been trying to go a few times a week, again. Doing circuits - 5 minute jog, 4 different arm/upper body exercises with dumbbells, hanging leg raises - two or three times. The gym's been weirdly crowded the last couple of times, such that the last free treadmill is being snagged while I'm on my third round of exercises. I've been using that as an excuse to not do a fourth circuit. ;)

Tonight really doesn't feel like New Year's Eve. I have to keep reminding myself (or other peoples' Facebook statuses keep reminding me). Funny how parenthood changes your perspective on things like that.

I cracked open the calculus book this afternoon for the first time in a while. It's infuriating how easily I get tripped up by stuff, working through problem sets. It shouldn't be this difficult! The errors I'm making are really lame! I know I won't get any better unless I keep working at it, but jeez. I hate feeling incompetent, even with regard to something as admittedly tricky as calculus.

I've got to write the Year in Review post for 2010. I feel like it zipped by so fast, so I'm actually kind of looking forward to digging back through the blog archives to remember just how much we did this past year. I didn't get through quite as many books as I'd hoped (sort of petered out at the end), but I'm pretty sure I read more than I did in 2009. I'll definitely start a new list for the new year, keep going with that. Maybe a movie tally as well, since we've been renting more stuff from Redbox these days.

Happy New Year, everyone. :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two days in Charlottesville

Day 264

Day 354

Tuesday morning, we packed up and headed out for our mini-vacation to Charlottesville. It's only a 2-ish hour drive, but there were a few different things we wanted to see, so we opted to stay overnight. As we were driving, we started seeing a bunch of signs for James Madison's home, Montpelier. We decided to stop in and have a look.

As ours were the only kids in our tour group, the guide let Soren "help" by pushing the buttons on these little audio player stands that were in some of the rooms. They played snippets of people reading letters written by/to/about Madison. He found this task exceedingly thrilling. Poor Eleri was just about due for her nap when we started the house tour. She made it about halfway through before deciding she'd had quite enough, thankyouverymuch. So I took her outside for a bit, and she eventually calmed down. One of the other docents took pity on us, standing out on the front porch in the cold, and invited us back inside to stand with her in the hall until our tour group was done.

Montpelier has only recently (in the last 6 or so years) begun to be restored to how it looked when the Madisons lived there. The docent in the hallway told me they'd stayed open and continued to give tours throughout the renovation process, often having to shout over jackhammers and the like. Crazy. Currently the house is pretty much restored as far as the building itself is concerned, but many of the rooms are still empty or unfinished.

The grounds are, no surprise, extensive. The last private owners of the estate were the duPonts, and they were really into horse racing. There is still an annual steeplechase right there on the (enormous) front lawn, every November. The gardens behind the house are also really neat, and Soren had a fine time frolicking through them. And of course, I took a bunch of pictures.

We ate some lunch and then continued on our way, checking in at our hotel and then driving over to check out the UVA campus. It was pretty neat. The student housing that's along both sides of the center pavilion is interesting and old. There were piles of firewood outside every third or fourth door, and chimneys coming out of the roof. Fireplaces in dorms? I can't be the only person who thinks that sounds like a bad idea. ;) That part of campus (among others) was designed by Thomas Jefferson, so I guess unless there have been major renovations since the school was built, those fireplaces might actually be the only source of heat for those rooms? In which case, brr.

Before too long, it was dinner time. We'd arranged to meet one of Tom's blogging friends for delicious tapas. It was super busy, and we had to end up waiting kind of a long time for a table, but it was definitely worth it. We've had nothing but good experiences thus far, meeting internet friends in real life, and this was no exception. Toward the end of dinner, Soren said to our new friend, "You're a favorite man for me!" Hehehe and awwww.

Also, we had a little bit of a celebrity sighting at the restaurant. Charlottesville resident Dave Matthews came in while we were waiting for a table and stood not 3 feet from us for a while. Amusing!

Day 265

Day 355

Wednesday we got up and made our way over to Charlottesville's Downtown Mall for breakfast. It's an open air pedestrian mall that was, sadly, mostly closed when we arrived, but we eventually found a restaurant (Cafe Cubano) that was open for business. Stuffed to the gills, we got back in the car and drove to Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson. Soren was super excited that we got to ride a shuttle bus from the visitors' center to the actual house. Hehe. I was a little worried about taking Eleri on another house tour so close to naptime, especially since she started fussing while we were waiting for our tour to begin. Fortunately though, she fell asleep right before we headed inside and slept the whole time! Of course, we couldn't possibly have perfect luck with both kids; Soren was the whiny and disgruntled one this time, but he managed to hold it together enough that we didn't have to leave.

Again, I took a bunch of pictures (coming soon to Flickr), and soon we were on our way home again. Eleri howled in protest for much of the drive, eventually falling asleep when we were about 5 miles from home. Figures! All in all, a very fine trip. I'm glad we went!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Two by Ishiguro

A couple of months ago, I read Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. It had come highly recommended, and I was looking forward to reading it, even though I knew next to nothing about the plot (I certainly hadn't seen the movie or anything). I was quickly taken with Ishiguro's writing style. He manages to pull off a very natural-seeming narration. It's very easy to imagine you're being told a story by an actual person, complete with digressions and that slight disorganization of real life narrative flow. The story was intriguing without seeming overly contrived.

And then it was just over. It's like someone never gave Ishiguro a bad grade in school for failing to write a decent conclusion. I was left wanting more, or at least more of a resolution. I realize that's probably part of his schtick (in real life things are rarely resolved in a tidy little package), but I do read fiction at least in part for the escapist experience. So yes, I suppose it's silly of me to praise Ishiguro's "realism" in one breath while criticizing it in the next, but what can I say? I was a very satisfied customer until the end.

Basic plot of the book: what if there were, for lack of a better phrase, clone farms? Limitless supply of replacement organs available, improving length and quality or life for all. Except, of course, for the clones, who are, after all, real people with real thoughts and feelings. They are brought up to be very matter of fact about their fate, but there's no getting around the truth of the very raw deal they're getting.

I'm actually pretty curious about how much had to be changed and/or added for the movie adaptation. I'll have to rent and watch it when it comes out.

Anyway. As I said, I enjoyed nearly the whole book. So after I finished it, I looked at the library to see what else (besides Remains of the Day, which I also hadn't read) Ishiguro has written. Turns out he wrote a collection of short stories, called Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. I picked that one up, thinking the short story format might appeal to me more than being all emotionally invested in a novel, only to have it just...end.

Again, I would say that of the five short stories, I was perfectly satisfied with the first four. And if the fifth hadn't been the last, I might have been less perturbed by the way it ended. But then it was just over, and I found myself wondering what the point was. I know, a more discerning literary scholar would probably be all thrilled with the subjects of incompleteness and loneliness and lost love. But you know what? There's happiness and satisfaction in real life, too, at least sometimes. Ah, what do I know? Ishiguro's certainly impressed all the literary critics, if his many awards are any indication. My gripe really does just come back to the conclusion, or lack thereof. The writing itself definitely lived up to the hype, as far as I'm concerned.

An outing to the Brr-tanic Garden

Day 263

Day 353

Note to self: Regardless of how much she may appear to like them, resist the urge to feed Eleri a bunch of beans. After eating a fair number of them out of my lunchtime Chipotle burrito bowl yesterday, she slept kind of restlessly all night and then woke herself up with gaseous discomfort at 5:30am. She tossed, turned & tooted for a good 90 minutes before finally falling back asleep. Tom (who had ditched us a little after 6:00 to get some more sleep on the couch) was kind enough to tend to Soren in the morning and let El & me sleep for a few more hours.

But then we all got up, armed ourselves against the cold - I don't think it broke 35 today, and it was windy - and headed to the metro station. One train ride and one very chilly walk later, we arrived at The Good Stuff Eatery, our lunchtime destination. We'd been meaning to try this place for a while, so we were happy to finally get around to it. Tom had the Sunnyside burger (dairy fresh cheese, Applewood bacon and a fried egg on a brioche bun with Good Stuff sauce), and I had the Smokehouse (Applewood bacon, sharp Vermont cheddar and fried Vidalia onion rings with chipotle BBQ sauce), and then we split an order of Village fries (sprinkled with thyme, rosemary & sea salt). The kids snacked and shared bits of everything. The verdict: the toppings were outstanding, and the herb-y fries were quite tasty, but the burgers themselves were a tad overdone and really kind of small for the price. Plus, the eatery has the disadvantage of being both tiny and very popular, so it was pretty crowded. Overall, I'm glad we went, and I'd like to check out the sister establishment, We, the Pizza (located right next door), but I don't think we'll be returning to Good Stuff anytime soon. Certainly not so long as we have relatively convenient access to BGR.

Burgered up, we forged back out into the cold and made our way to The U.S. Botanic Garden. (I know, I always thought it was "botanical" too, but apparently not.) This time of year they have a big model train display set up in one of the rooms of the conservatory, and we thought Soren might enjoy checking that out. And indeed he did. We wandered through a few other rooms afterward; that place is surprisingly large. I of course took a ton of photos, which I'll hopefully get around to editing over the course of the week.

Tomorrow we're off to Charlottesville for an overnight stay. We'll go see Monticello, walk around the UVA campus, see what there is to see. Should be fun!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Post-Christmas sloth

Day 262

Day 352

Soren played & played & played with his new train set today. I'm glad (though not at all surprised) that he totally digs it. He's also getting lots of use out of his doctor kit and toy drill, while Eleri follows along behind, chewing on whatever he's most recently discarded. ;)

Eleri's been doing something resembling a downward facing dog yoga pose, only with her head touching the ground. Just flips herself upside down and hangs out there for a few seconds. It's quite funny. She's picked up a couple more signs in the last few days; she's had "milk" down for a while, but she's starting to occasionally add "food" and "all done" to her repertoire as well. Baby signs are helpful!

We did very little of note today, though I did spend a couple of hours going through photos, organizing and getting the blog all caught up (see below). Tom & Soren went to the park while it was snowing around mid-day (hardly any snow I'm told Soren wanted to "zoom" on the swings again and again. Other'n that, much lounging about and eating treats from our stockings. I did make it to the gym before dinner, but I doubt my exercises burned off anywhere close to the number of excess calories I consumed today. Oh well. That's what the holiday season is all about, right? ;)

Thank you for your patience

And now, a glut of photos (some of which will be followed by a short story from the day or Captain Random snippet of detail...not all of 'em though, or we'd really be here all day). I'm like 3 weeks behind at this point, so this is going to be a long one. I recommend snack and potty breaks, if needed.

Here we go!

Day 241

Day 331
That's right. The last time I posted photos here, it was the day we took our Christmas card pictures.

Day 242

Day 332

Day 243

Day 333
The pediatrician recommended we get this liquid vitamin D3 for Eleri. It's lemon-flavored, and both the kids love it. Soren is sure to let us know when "it's time for elemon." Hehe. Eleri is also well trained at this point to open up her mouth and stick out her tongue when she sees us get out the dropper.

Day 244

Day 334
Soren's becoming quite adept at putting letter sounds together to figure out short words. He's not consistent by any stretch of the imagination, and he still loves to string together his letter cards into nonsense words ("E...O...U...R...Q...D...T...A...spells...! I need different letters!"). But if he's concentrating and possessed of the requisite patience, he can figure out 3- and 4-letter words remarkably well.

Day 245

Day 335
This was a Thursday. I know because it was the first time we availed ourselves of the Tuesday/Thursday open play session at the Barcroft Rec Center. It's the same place we went to watch Tom play indoor soccer; the same room, in fact. For two hours, the whole room is full of push toys and scooters and balls, and the kids can play with whatever they like. Soren and A ran around for a good hour and change, and even Eleri found some things to play with. Later in the afternoon, we had to go to the mall for something, and we stopped by the play area there before heading home. Eleri crawled all around and climbed on stuff. Crummy and blurry though this cell phone picture is, you can tell she's having a wonderful time.

Day 246

Day 336

Day 247

Day 337

Day 248

Day 338

Day 249

Day 250 / Day 340

Day 251

Day 341
It's like Soren has forgotten how to properly mug for the camera. Asking him to "smile" results in quite the scrunchy nosed grimace. It's actually pretty hilarious (and no, not super surprising).

In other news, this is one of my favorite pictures I've taken of Eleri, recently.

Day 252

Day 342
Snow day! We got a couple of inches of snow in the late morning, the first actual accumulation of the season. We were cooped up in the morning (a resurgence of coughs and snotty noses keeping us from our scheduled playgroup activities) but we all bundled up after lunch and went outside to play and explore. It was Eleri's first real experience with snow (I'm not counting February's snowpocalypse/snowmageddon, when she was all of a month old), and she was quite amused. We didn't stay out too long, but we had a good time.

Above, you can see Soren siting at the computer, doing one of his favorite things of late. Yaya sent us a digital advent calendar, which plays little animated videos for each day of the month. We've incorporated it into Soren's daily "screen time" allotment, and he thoroughly enjoys clicking though the different animations, revisiting his favorites every day. He is becoming quite proficient at using the mouse and can find and start both the calendar widget and his Hooked on Phonics game from the Start menu, all by himself.

Day 253

Day 343

Day 254

Day 344
This was a Saturday. I had my last riding lesson of the year in the morning, and then in the evening we went over to Max & Agnes's to eat tasty food with them and Alice. On the menu: choucroute with sausage and duck, veal osso bucco, broccoli, and some of the most marvelously delicious potatoes I've ever had in my life.

Before dinner, I took Max up on an offered Dogfish Ale World Wide Stout. Unfortunately, I forgot that this was the same kind of beer that I split a bottle of, last time. And sipped very slowly. Because this particular beer happens to contain 18% alcohol by volume. And doesn't happen to mention this fact on the bottle's label (only on the box). So as I say, I forgot all of these helpful facts and just drank the beer, before dinner, at the general speed at which one might consume a "normal" beer. Heh. By the time I figured out something was amiss, I was about 3/4 of the way through the bottle. We all had a good chuckle over my mistake.

Day 255

Day 345

Day 256

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Day 257

Day 347
The batteries on my dSLR died while I was taking food photos at Max's, so the next few days I used my point-and-shoot camera until I located my battery charger and charged up the dSLR's batteries. On this day, I'd let Soren play with the point-and-shoot for a while in the afternoon. This photo of Eleri is one of the ones he took, and I actually like it quite a bit!

Day 258

Day 348

Day 259

Day 349
Tom's been playing these YouTube Christmas Extravaganza videos for the kids. A couple of years ago, Wade Johnston asked some of his favorite YouTube artists to collaborate with him on a collection of Christmas songs, and this was the result. Among the artists involved: Soren's adored Pomplamoose. In the photo above, those giant Legos are Soren's headphones, and he's singing O Come All Ye Faithful. Of course, he doesn't really know the words, so "Christ the Lord" is sung as "Christolo." Hehe.

Of all the YouTube Christmas videos, Soren's favorite is probably this one, featuring Danielle Ate The Sandwich singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. He parrots the bit at the beginning off & on throughout the day while he's playing. It's pretty funny.

Day 260

Day 350
Christmas Eve! I actually managed to get Soren's stocking finished this year, attaching the front part of the stocking to the back with hours to spare. ;) For being someone without a ton of skill in the domestic arts, I'm pretty pleased with myself for how it turned out.

I'll give myself a bit of a break before starting on Eleri's. ;) Fortunately, I think I'll probably be able to get hers done in less time than it took me to do Soren's. There was a pretty steep learning curve that prevented me from being super efficient at the beginning, but I ought to be able to apply what I learned and get through hers a bit more easily.

Day 261

Day 361
Merry Christmas! Tom got me a sweet new fisheye lens, which I of course had to bust out and play with immediately. The kids had a grand time opening all their presents (and then strewing them across the living room), and we had a lovely and chill family day. Possibly the best gift of all was the fact that both children slept until 9am that morning! Hehe.

Whew! Caught up once again. I'm sorry I've been having trouble finding the time to blog on a daily basis. Makes it much more intimidating when I have a few days, and then a week, and then multiple weeks, to catch up on. Once again I shall endeavor to be more consistent with my updates. But you know how that'll probably turn out. ;)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!