Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Does It Mean. . .?

So, I just spent a LONG weekend nagging the kids to get ready for the first day of school. We bought school supplies, and I nagged and nudged and ordered them to pack their backpacks, and go over their class lists, and assemble their equipment, and clean out their closet full of last year's stuff, and made them pick out what they were going to wear. . .

And I STILL got a phone call because somebody forgot something and needed me to 1) find it and 2) bring it to school.

Does this mean I should stop nagging, or should I assume that my nagging meant only one thing was forgotten?

Oh, That Isn't What You Meant?

I was out on the river the other day, watching the alternative to water skiing: wave boarding.

Suddenly, I understood how the Bush Administration could keep saying that they didn't use torture at Guantanamo or Abu Garib. They just confused "water boarding" with "wave boarding!"

(Slapping palm against forehead) OH! So you mean we aren't subjecting suspected terrorists to healthy outdoor water sports? Who knew?

What I Did On The First Day of School

Did I mention? That today was the first day of school? Have I made that clear? Not that I'm happy about it or anything. . .

So what did I do with the family gone. Did I run around and clean up all the messes from the summer? Did I run 47 loads of laundry just because I could? Did I get out and pull weeds from the sadly neglected garden?

Of course not! It was a gorgeous day--bright and clear, with a lovely breeze and so I jumped into my little car and went to the zoo.

There are two zoos here. The Minnesota Zoo is where we usually go--it's large, it's glamorous, it's a zoo that exists not just to introduce people to animals, but to help preserve endangered species by participating in breeding programs and international efforts. Today, I went to the other zoo.

The Como Zoo lies inside the city limits of St. Paul, and has a humble beginning. It was started as a deer park when someone donate a pair of deer to the city. I went there often when the girls were little: it was free, it had a sea lion show, it had many different kinds of animals in an area easily managed by little legs. While it no longer showed animals in iron cages on concrete slabs, you could see those old cages still attached to one of the education buildings.

When my girls were little, there was a rickety carnival that set up on the edge of the park, run by the kind of carnies you thought only existed in the movies. These (mostly) men were tough and grizzled, tattooed and dried out. Their skin was dark from the sun, and possibly also from the thousands of cigarettes they smoked. The rides ranged from toddler-level to teen-level, although there were only a few of each kind. Everything rattled, and shed paint flakes, and had the eerie aura of being only half real--you could wake up one morning and it would all be gone, with only grease spills and trampled grass to show it had been there.

About five years ago, the city ended its contract with the carnies, and built its own rides. The first year this happened, my kids were disappointed, as all the new rides were too small and too tame for them. With the loss of the rides, we tended not to go to that zoo any longer, becoming members of the newer, more glamorous zoo. I was not prepared for what I saw when I went there today.

A great deal has changed in the last five years! The rides area, called "Como Town" has added back many of the old carnie rides, but with new and shiny bright equipment. It has added places to climb and dig, rides that require pedalling to make it work, and a sort of go-cart track that is used to teach kids traffic safety. Almost everything has an educational component, and now it's larger than the old carnival ever was, with more food, more guest services, and more restrooms, all brighter and cleaner than before.

Como Zoo has also opened an enormous Visitors' Center, which provides a clear entry point, and offers wheel chairs and strollers and clean and lovely bathrooms, as well as a gift store that looks like it actually is profitable! The polar bear exhibit has been closed, and the bears sent to another zoo while a new habitat is being built. This is a wonderful thing, since the old space was terribly small, made mostly of concrete terraces, and the bears tended to swim in the tiny pool in mind-numbing circles.

Even the Primate House has expanded, with at least four new species of monkeys and lemurs, with several updated habitats. Yes, the older exhibits remain, and seem a bit small for the animals, especially the giraffes. But surrounded as they are with all the new construction, they no longer feel tired and old, but rather temporary and soon to be remodeled and expanded.

This is only to the good, and I highly enjoyed my day at the zoo. Although I was the only person there who didn't have at least two kids under the age of 10 with me.

The New Beginning

Today, my girls went back to school. The house seems quiet without them here, and a little empty. This is when I can start to focus on my work--however I define that.

Not that this summer has been anything like as hard as when they were younger and looked to me to organize and enrich their lives. Those days when I felt like an ER surgeon must feel--constantly on call and having to be ready to rush to someone's aid when they call. Now, with the girls being older, and with iPods and computers and headphones and YouTube, the house actually isn't any quieter then when they are here: it just feels like it.

So, this feels like the right time to make a change to the cast of characters of this blog. "Pony" is now nearly 4 inches taller than I am, and will be eligible for drivers' training in a matter of weeks. "Bunny" has also topped me, though not yet by much, and has started 7th grade. Those names were what we called them when they were babies, and they no longer fit these Amazon warriors. So I'm looking for what to call them.

"Bunny's" new name is likely going to be "Sursels." This is her nickname from German camp--she made a name tag with her German name, "Ursel" but decorated it with squiggles, and so her camp buddies read it as "Sursels." "Pony" is harder. Her Chinese name is phonetically close to her real name, so I don't want to use that. It translates into "Elegant Writing," which isn't a good nickname at all. Maybe I'll just call her "Tonks" in honor of her love of reading, Harry Potter, and punk rock.

So here's to a new year, new beginnings, and new names.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympics Overload

So, really, I like the Olympics. I might even go out on a limb and say that I love the Olympics. I love opening ceremonies and will even sit through the parade of nations. I watched them 12 years ago after delivering my baby and having to be awake for 2 a.m. feedings. Did you know that rhythmic gymnastics as 2 a.m. are mesmerizing?

Captain Sweetie comes home and the Olympics come on. Which is great--I like watching people at the peak of a sport where only the tiniest of margins marks the difference between gold and silver. People who have spent their productive time training their bodies to do things I wouldn't want to do even if I could.

But I am TIRED of NBC's coverage. It's not Olympics, it's The Michael Phelps Show! Starring Michael Phelps! Produced by Michael Phelps! With the Michael Phelps Orchestra! Last night, we were treated to a montage of his races, because now that he has won EIGHT GOLD MEDALS IN A SINGLE OLYMPICS it appears NBC is physically cannot last an entire night without Michael Phelps.

It is not Michael Phelps' fault. He is being as thoughtful and cooperative with all the dumb ass interview questions as it is possible to be. But lay off the man already! You don't really need to ask him how he feels being the #1 most requested friend on Facebook. What do you think he's going to say?

I blame NBC. It's like they have this terrible crush on the guy (they are not the only ones, it seems) and they are all writing "Mrs. Michael Phelps" all over their trapper keepers, and decorating it with hearts and flowers. They've already picked the wedding colors and decided who to ask to be maid of honor. Let it go! There are other sports, you know.

Last night, an American woman won gold in discus, which was apparently the first gold any American has won in 76 y. ears. Not that there would be any interest in watching any of that competition, which is an event that dates back to the original Greek Olympics. No way! So we get a Michael Phelps retrospective dream montage, and we see the discus thrower for the duration of time it takes to play her national anthem at the podium.

I know--broadcast television sells viewers to advertisers, and their job is to put out something that the most people will want to see. Apparently, NBC has decided that most people want to see Michael Phelps, and aren't interested in anything else--not even his TEAM MATES who swam the OTHER THREE LAPS of the relay that brought Phelps his 8th gold medal. Nope. If you just listened to the commentary and didn't look at the pictures, you would think Phelps swam it all by his ownself.

It's just a sport! Not even a sport NBC covers any other time than the Olympics. Michael Phelps did something no one else has done, but he didn't invent cold fusion, or discover a cure for cancer, or save drowning puppies. He got in a pool, and swam. Fast. Get over it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The News From Munchkinland

Well, it happened. Less than a week after her 12th birthday, Bunny is taller than I am. I am now officially the shortest person in my family.

I have long expected this--after all, Captain Sweetie is quite tall, and the girls have always been the tallest of their grades. So it wasn't nearly as traumatic as, say, turning 30 had been. But nobody really warns you about this happening--the day your kids are taller than you are. I mean, I am not a particularly short person--hell, I used to be the tallest girl in my class for years!

Fortunately, I know more nasty tricks and I have a MUCH more forceful personality, so I don't expect to have to give up my utter domination of this family. Plus, I still have the car keys.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kiss 'n' Tell

So, I haven't been posting much lately--mostly I've been too busy making out with my new Prius. You know how it is, when you first fall in love, and you can't think about anything but the one you are totally crushing on? Yup. It's like that.

Do you think it's cheap to sleep together after the third date? Because I'm totally having the Prius' babies. Think how cute a baby Prius would be! Kind of like a Miata, with better gas mileage.

The touch screen in the center of the dashboard operates just about everything except the brake pedal, and it won't get you a Diet Coke, but short of that, it's amazing. Kind of like an iPhone, only bigger, and you can drive it. It takes voice commands for phone calls, gives incredibly useful driving directions--better than Google maps, or even your own husband/wife. Too bad Amelia Earhart didn't have a Prius navigator along instead of Fred Noonan, know what I'm saying?

I've had the car for a couple of weeks now, and I'm finally starting to notice a few things that are less than optimal. Some things are probably not included to cut down on the weight and improve the gas mileage, so I don't begrudge those--things like motorized seat adjustments, for example. It doesn't come with all the DVD screens and cup holders and skee ball lanes you can get on the minivans these days--it's a "family car" potentially, but not really a "mom car"--you'd never get the entire soccer team in it, for example. It supposedly seats five, although the middle back seat is pretty slim.

A major improvement (other than the gas mileage) over my last vehicle is that the Prius has an auxiliary jack in the center console between the two front seats, as well as a 12 volt outlet (what used to be known in the quaint old days as a "cigarette lighter"). This allows me to plug in the iPod directly to the stereo system, avoiding the hassle of finding unused FM frequencies. With the purchase of a nifty little "car kit" from Belkin, the iPod plugs into the outlet, and the audio jack runs from the charger to the auxiliary jack, which produces better sound than plugging in through the headphone jack. The downside? The iPod can't be controlled through the stereo controls, so you have to manually change playlists, albums, whatever. This can apparently be addressed through the addition of an aftermarket item, but shouldn't it be standard? If satellite radio capability is standard, can't they do the same for my iPod?

Another minor stereo glitch is the way that it posts information from radio stations. The audio screen shows six (pre-set) stations--the one actually playing is highlighted, and shows the name of the band and the song--more or less. There are only a limited number of characters visible at any time, which means that you have to watch for a significant amount of time to get all the information. Distracting much?

There is a "message" option, where a separate screen shows the station, band and song in an easy to read format, with no odd broken lines, no time delay to scroll. BUT! The message screen DOES NOT work while the car is in motion.

The other glitch is that once you change stations, the last bit of message remains on the screen--posting old data about what WAS on the LAST time you tuned in to that station. So I was driving around with "FOGHAT" staring at me--which I assure you I did not actually listen to.

Every day it seems I learn something new that the car can do, or else there is something new I can customize. I turned off the annoying reverse beep, programmed in my default destination for the GPS navigation, enabled Bluetooth for my cell phone and entered my four most frequently called numbers.

So, I'm off to see what else I can do with it. It's like a really good boyfriend--it's perfect, AND it can change!

Points to Ponder

They say that exercising the mind helps avert senility. So, as a public service, here's something to stretch your brain around:

If a man determines to fail, and he succeeds, which has he done?

Feel free to send me your $20 co-pay, and I'll submit the bill to your insurance.

Photo source here.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, A Review

With the kidlets off for two weeks of summer camp, Captain Sweetie and I have had to fill the sad and lonely hours, taking what consolation we can from the echoing emptiness of Castle Evil, and desperately filling the long days with what amusement we can find.

HA! Fished you in! We are totally treating every night as Date Night! On Wednesday night, we took ourselves out to see Brendan Fraser's movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. Or rather, Brendan Fraser's FIRST movie in what promises to be the Summer of Brendan Fraser. (The Mummy comes out next week.)

The question arises, "Why is this a movie, and not a theme park ride?" Because frankly, if the seats moved in sync with the action on the screen, and fans blew wind through your hair, you'd think you were at Universal Studios theme park.

To start with, the movie was shot to be seen in 3D, pulling out every 3D trick the film makers could think of. Trilobite antennae wave in your face; a yo yo flies out of the screen at you; a Swiss Army knife hovers in the air--none of which have any point other than to highlight the 3D effect. Some theaters do show this in 2D, which must be even more pointless.

The plot, such as it is, is that Brendan Fraser's older brother Max went missing some 10 years ago after a trip to Iceland. The seismic events he was studying seem to have re-aligned precisely as they were 10 years ago, so Brendan Fraser and his brother's sullen pre-teen kid go up to Iceland to follow his trail.

They meet the incredibly competent and cool Hannah, who is a mountain guide and leads them up to one of Max's sensors. A storm blows up suddenly, and the three take refuge in a cave. Of course, lightning strikes the hill and the cave gets closed off. Our Intrepid Three have to find another way out.

They have some adventures, yadda yadda mine cars, yadda yadda rappelling, yadda yadda follow bio-luminescent birds and they find the other world hidden inside the earth. Our Heroes immediately find a tree-house that contains items from the original expedition (which is chronicled in the Jules Verne book) as well as signs that Max had been there. But time is short, as lava is rising and making the place to hot for human survival.

Cue the Act 2 adventures: yadda yadda build a boat; yadda yadda ugly fish with big teeth getting eaten by pleisiosaurs; yadda yadda parasailing; yadda yadda some nonsense about reversed polarity so north is actually south. We get a very silly sequence involving running from a T. Rex-- which, contrary to any survival strategy that actually works, chooses to turn away from the ocean teeming with life, and chase a kid the size of a single tooth across a baking desert. No, I don't know why either.

Our Heroes get separated, get reunited, and finally escape back to the surface by riding a dinosaur skull up a volcanic tube which turns out to be in Italy. Yay! The End.

Really, the whole thing would be totally pathetic, if not for charm of the principal actors. I mean, how can you salvage a movie that gives us Brendan Fraser brushing his teeth and gargling in 3D? At least Brendan Fraser plays a smart but bumbling nice guy; the character of Hannah is actually tough and resourceful and doesn't scream once; the nephew is attractive and believable, with the added bonus of not being Spencer Breslin. As it is, though, you would probably enjoy this movie more if you chug a couple of margaritas before putting on the 3D glasses.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Love, Prius Style

So I've had my Prius two and a half weeks, and man does it rock! I'm getting roughly 50+ miles per gallon, which is really the only reason I bought it. My 1998 Odyssey is still in excellent condition, and runs really really well. It only gets about 22 mpg, and when gas was hitting its head against $4 per gallon, better mileage was the tipping point to getting a new car.

Although I didn't get a new car so much as I got a computer with four tires and a steering wheel. It seems like every day requires me to program something new. Today, I managed to get the garage door opener (cleverly located on the rear view mirror) programmed.

Did you know:
  • That the plural of Prius is Prii (pronounced PREE-eye)?
  • That you cannot operate your iPod through the stereo controls? (Boo!)
  • That certain touch screen features are disabled while the car is in motion?
  • That window controls on the arm rests mean your dog can open his own window to stick his head out?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Blame it on Microsoft

After some quick research, I have come to the conclusion that the reason this blog was not openable on Internet Explorer for the last two days is NOT due to my indifferent posting skill, but is actually a glitch in IE7. It is a correctable problem, but first you have to know that it is there.

At least one fix can be found here. I have not tried this program, and I make no promises that it will fix the problem. What WILL fix the problem is to ditch IE altogether and go with Firefox, which is what I have done.

But for those of you who are still in thrall to the clutches of Microsoft. . .I mean, "still using Internet Explorer" I have replaced the actual Harry Potter 6 video clip with a link instead, which will take you to YouTube where you can watch it in it's spooky entirety.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Reason 4,538,116 To Switch To Firefox

I have just been informed by Captain Sweetie that my previous post cannot be opened in Internet Explorer. There is apparently some problem with the embedding of a YouTube video of the newest Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince trailer.

I am not a particularly savvy programmer, but this should not be! I am therefore posting this in an attempt to make the blog openable in IE. Look quick, or I may have to take down the trailer too.

New Harry Potter Trailer

I don't know about you, but now that Rowling has released the last Harry Potter book, I am less ravenous to see the latest movie. I guess I was always watching them to get a clue about what would happen in the next book. Now that the world KNOWS what happens, the movies seem like more of an after thought.

Which doesn't mean I'm not going to go see it opening weekend, of course.

See it here.

FYI--the boy playing young Tom Riddle is Ralph Fiennes' nephew, so there is THAT creepiness -- it's terribly believable that this little boy will grow up to be this: