Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Screwtape Letters

I read The Screwtape Letters recently for book club. Like many books I've read for various clubs, it's not one I would have chosen. However, in this case, I was not pleasantly surprised by enjoying it.

The concept is really cool. The book is made up of a series of letters that Screwtape, a senior demon, has written to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is trying to tempt his "patient," an Everyman, to their side in the battle of good and evil. Sounds fun, right?

Well, it isn't.

Even though the book was short (about 100 pages), I found myself skimming to get through it because it was so verbose. It was incredibly preachy, and it was very clear that CS Lewis was trying to push a Christian agenda in the book. At the same time, it was really boring. I won't be reading this one again.

The Namesake

I'm a bit behind on posting about books, so I might have missed a few that I read. Oh, well. My most recent book is The Namesake, which I picked up because my mom had a copy of it and I was looking for something to read.

For the most part, it was excellent.

The Namesake is Gogol Ganguli. His parents are Indian immigrants to the United States. Gogol was supposed to be a pet name, chosen because of a connection his father had to the Russian writer Gogol. But for various reasons, Gogol's name stuck. It's appropriate because the name mirrors the difficulty Gogol has in finding his place in the world. It's not Indian, but it's not American either, and neither is Gogol.

Gogol struggles for his entire life to find his place in the world. He finds his parents awkward and embarassing at times and is reluctant to leave his friends for extended trips to Calcutta. But in India, he is so moved by the Taj Mahal that he ends up being an architect. He falls in love with a very waspy girl and winds up living with her and her parents in what appears to be a true life Woody Allen movie. He's happy with her, but still feels this concept of "other"-ness. And when his father dies, he realizes that his ties to his own family were stronger than he'd realized.

For a while, it looks like Gogol has managed to find his place in the world, when he marries an Indian girl. But their relationship is doomed by the fact that neither of them have quite accepted who they are yet.

As I was coming to the end of the book, I kept hoping that Gogol would somehow find his place in the world. That somehow, things would be resolved. It never happened, and in retrospect, that seemed appropriate to me.

Meet the Parents

Jack and I have started a delightful new Sunday routine. He and I go out and do something fun in the morning while Steve writes. Even better, when I put Jack down for his nap, Steve and I then go out together, usually to hunt for a new Stately Wasser Manor.

This week, we went to Niabi Zoo. It's a small zoo, but hey -- Jack is a small kid. Besides, the zoo has pretty much any animal you'd want to see, a train, a carousel, and is a 10 minute drive from Temporary Wasser Manor, so what's not to love? Plus, we got a membership to the zoo, the Family Museum, and another museum, so it's free for us to go. Jack, in fact, had already been earlier in the week with Steve.

Jack and I spent some time looking at the elephants and monkeys, then he told me firmly, "Go see Roary Mommy Daddy now." Jack then proceeded to tell me exactly how to get to the tiger exhibit. I stopped along the way to look at a map, but I shouldn't have bothered, because the kid knew where he was going.

When we got there, both tigers were out. Jack and Roary were thrilled. We spent a long time with Jack holding Roary up to the cage as Roary delightedly said, "That Mommy Daddy! Hi, Mommy! Hi, Daddy!"

Before you start spinning some elaborate (and tragic) backstory about how Roary's parents came to live in the zoo, let me tell you: Roary's Mommy-Daddy are everywhere. Any time we see a tiger or even an orange cat on TV, in a book, wherever, Roary is very excited and declares that it's his "Mommy-Daddy!" In fact, the cat doesn't even have to be orange -- Roary spends a lot of time talking to the purple cat in Brown Bear.

After a long visit with the tigers, Jack, Roary, and I spent more time exploring. We saw kangeroos, including a baby in its mother's pouch. That was cool -- I don't think I'd ever seen that in person before. We watched a bear play in the water. Jack was brave and fed a goat at the petting zoo. And Jack loved the reptile house, where we spent a lot of time watching a turtle try to get off its back. All in all, it was a really great day. I am tempted to go again next Sunday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reserved For Family

One of the reasons that Steve and I decided to initiate Operation Relocation was to be closer to family. Since Jack was born, that's been more and more important to us. So far, this change has manifested itself in small ways. We tend to have a big Sunday dinner as a family, which has been nice. I loved having cause to buy a 10 pound ham for Easter. And Yoda knows it's been great having built-in babysitters so Steve and I can go on the occasional date.

Yesterday, though, was extra nice. It was my stepdad Doug's last official day at work before retiring, and his co-workers had a coffee to honor/roast him. Ordinarily, it'd be the kind of thing that I'd think, "Oh, that would have been nice to go to." But since we live here now, we were actually able to be there.

The staff at John Deere, where Doug worked, really went all out. Doug has, for reasons not worth explaining, dubbed himself Lord of the Crystal Swamp. The room where they had the part was decorated to look very swampy, down to the plastic frogs on the tables that Jack gleefully gathered up. Mom and Doug sat on matching thrones at the front of the room, and Steve, Jack, and I got to sit at a table with a sign on it proclaming, "Reserved for Family."

There were several very funny speeches from Doug's co-workers, and Steve and I both also spoke about Doug and his retirement. It was obvious that Doug was really well-regarded and respected. I was really happy to be able to see that for myself and to help Doug give the send-off that he deserves.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Welcome Home

One of the best parts of my day is Jack's reaction when I get home from work. Usually, he's in the middle of something fun, so he's a bit distracted. Watching Monsters with Daddy, riding his trike with Grandma, something like that. So, he'll say a casual, "Hi, Mommy."

Then, he realizes what he's just seen. He'll race away from what he was doing and will get to me as fast as his little legs will carry him.

"Mommy home!" he'll yell, often accompanied by a Flying Tackle Hug. Sometimes, he'll then give me a follow up question, such as, "No more work?"

"No more work," I'll assure him. "Mommy is home."

Then the Cub and I will go off to play together.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Now that I've finally gotten around to learning how to get pictures off of my new digital camera, here's a photo essay of what's been going on.

Look at how empty Stately Wasser Manor was when we were ready to leave! Here is Jack, pretending to be a "bad guy," and chasing his daddy all around the empty house.

Behold, more empty space. Just wild.

Here's Jack hunting for Easter eggs. Actually being able to walk and pick up eggs, unlike his previous two attempts.

Easter morning, Jack scored eggs with stickers in them, a Dora DVD, Play-Doh eggs, and some matchbox cars. At the end of the day, he told me, "Jack like it Easter Bunny."

This is when Jack was pretending Roary was a baby. If you look closely, you can probably see a bit of orange fur under those tissues.

Jack proves once again that he's my son by immediately falling in love with Whitey's Ice Cream.

This picture I thought was supercool. Jack is sitting in the wheel well of a gigantic combine at John Deere Commons. The tires on the thing were taller than I am.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Big Boy

Jack continues to amaze me. Thanks to his sudden and passionate interest in using the potty, I bought him one over the weekend. He has totally taken to it. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, he stayed clean and dry all day long. This morning, there was a minor incident (due to the fact, I think, that I couldn't get him to the bathroom soon enough because someone was in there with the door locked), and he's otherwise stayed clean.

So far, this has taken almost no effort on our part. Sure, it's not over, and I'm not ready to buy him the big boy underpants yet (he has requested Elmo), but considering how little time he's been at it, Jack is doing a truly remarkable job. I am really proud of him.

At the rate he's going, in the next few days I expect him to announce that he's taught himself to read and to ask if he can use my credit card to pre-order the new Harry Potter.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Surprisingly Cool

Steve and I have made the discovery that our new home, the Quad Cities, is suprisingly cool. If you don't live in the midwest and have become (purely by accident on my part) a bit of a snob about it, you certainly wouldn't expect a section of Illinois that is nowhere near Chicago and a couple of cities in Iowa to have any kind of cool factor. And yet...

There are more independent coffee bars here than there are in all of Northern Virginia. Sure, there are fewer Starbuckses, but Starbucks isn't exactly cool, is it? Almost all of the public libraries here are new and gorgeous AND include yet more coffee shops. Why did no one think of that idea before?

There's a lot more for us, as a family, to do than there was in our old neck of the woods. On a cold day, we were pretty much limited to taking Jack to the play area at the mall (unless we wanted to take a pissed off toddler on a really long road trip). Now the options abound. We can keep things simple and take him to look at the fish, cats, and bunnies at Teske's, a garden store that sells pets. There is a play area at the mall here, too. The library has a gigantic children's section, including. Or, we can get more creative. Steve tells me that the Children's Museum in Bettendorf is amazing. I had a great time taking Jack to John Deere Pavillion to climb on all of the tractors they had displayed. There is a cute little zoo to go to when the weather gets nice, plus several other museums we haven't visited yet. All that, plus plenty of parks, walks along the river, and so on.

And life is indeed simpler and slower. This morning was really a great one for me. I woke up, got dressed, and had time to drink coffee, read the paper, and cook a pot of steel-cut oatmeal. Then, I woke up Jack and got him dressed. He wanted both waffles and eggs for breakfast, and I not only had enough time to make them for him, but also to watch a bit of Dora before work. That drive to work took about 13 minutes and included a nice drive along the Mississippi River, where I watched a barge drift along.

Plus, Jack just called to tell me that he went poopy in the potty. Life is good.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Last night, Jack was getting ready for his bath. He asked Steve if he could go pee-pee in the potty. Steve held him up under the arms, and lo and behold...

Jack went pee-pee in the potty!

This fabulous accomplishment was met with a great deal of cheering, as well as singing by Mommy and Daddy. And this morning, I made sure Jack told Grandma and Grandpa the big news so they could cheer for him, too. Jack, of course, was incredibly pleased with himself.

Jack going in the toilet was a completely unexpected development, considering that we have done absolutely nothing to encourage it. We don't have a potty chair, no potty-related books or movies in the house, and have really not talked to him about it much yet. Jack was completely self-motivated. I'm really proud of him.

At this point, we're not ready to go for broke and buy a whole lot of underwear and get ready to go laundry... unless that's what Jack seems to want. He's still young, especially for a boy, so we are really going to let him decide how much he wants to do right now. Steve and I are going to buy him a potty this weekend, so he'll have the option if he wants it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ro Baby

Jack is really ramping up his efforts to be the Cutest Thing Ever. He has started a new thing in which he pretends that Roary -- usually a tiger and his BFF -- is a baby.

He will cradle Roary in his arms very tenderly. You'll hear a quiet, high pitched little, "Wah, wah," because Roary is crying. And Jack will tell you very solemnly, "Roary baby."

Last night, Jack took Baby Roary and very gently put him in a little blue bin, just the right size for a baby tiger bassinet. He then covered Baby Roary with enough Kleenex to make a blanket, gave him a tiny kiss, and told him good night. Jack whispered to me, "Shh! Roary sleeping."

I just about died from the cuteness. But then, Baby Roary woke up and started crying. Jack had me hold him for a minute, making sure I cradled him the same way he does. Then, Jack carefully took Baby Roary in his arms and started singing "Rock A Bye Baby" to him.

Jack is a good little guy.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jack vs. Vac

Jack and I had some mommy-son time, something that's incredibly rare at Temporary Wasser Manor these days. Steve was out at a coffee shop doing some writing, and my mom and Doug went out for a dinner date, so it was just me and my little man. I made macaroni and cheese for dinner because, as he put it enthusiastically, "Jack like it mac and cheese."

A couple of times, Jack asked for Daddy, Grandma, or Grandpa. I told him that they were bye-bye and that we were going to spend the evening together, just mommy and Jack. He seemed to like that idea, because it prompted him to compose a song about me, which consisted of him singing the word "Mommy" over and over again to the tun of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." He is such the charmer sometimes.

After dinner, I decided to do a little cleaning, so I got out the vacuum cleaner. I told Jack that he could help me push it and warned him that it would make a loud noise. Jack was listening when I told him that, but when faced with the actual loud noise, he was kind of nervous. He was okay for a while, but eventually it was just too scary and he indicated that I should put it away.

I unplugged the vacuum and Jack immediately started to bitch it out. Jack told the vacuum that it was too loud and "not nice," and that it was a "bad guy" and repeatedly told it, "Go away!" Roary and I were like, "Yeah, you tell him, Jack!" I put the vacuum in the closet and Jack proudly slammed the door behind it.

He then basked in his triumph over the evil vacuum cleaner, declaring, "I did it!"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Look what I found at the grocery store!


Yoda bless Swiss Valley Farms and the team of geniuses working there who came up with the idea of adding coffee flavoring to milk, because that is pretty much the only way you can get Betsy to drink milk. You have saved me from becoming a hunchbacked old lady. My only regret is that this wonderful product was not available when I was pregnant.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Calgon, Take Me Away... No, Farther

It's such a cliche. Women are supposed to take time for themselves, perhaps relaxing with a lovely bubble bath. On Sunday night, I decided to do just that. As I sank into the lovely grapefruit-scented bubbles, my reverie was interrupted with, "Hi, Mommy!"

Jack had barged his little diapered ass right into the bathroom. He asked me what I was doing and if I was going to get "all clean." I assured him I would, but Jack decided to make sure by chucking all manner of bath products into the tub after me.

I'm pretty sure that's not how it was supposed to go.

But hey! It turns out that working a job with fewer hours and without a stupidly long commute does indeed relax me, put me in a better mood, and give me more time to spend with the boys. Looks like this plan is going to work!