Monday, November 29, 2004

Back To Work, You Sluggard!

A good Thanksgiving. Had dinner with some friends across the street and the family of their son's best buddy from second grade. No work to rush to, no school to rush to, no rushing, period. A nice break from the Fall grind. We have to get back into it now, of course. With a vengeance.

I'm one of those people that doesn't think you should be thinking much about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. This year I swear I saw stores sneaking some Christmas d├ęcor up right after Halloween. It must not be as bad as I sometimes think; if stores really were moving Christmas up earlier every year for as long as it feels like they have been, we'd be hearing carols over the MUZAK in July.

Anyway, I still like to wait until Thanksgiving is done before giving much thought to Christmas. Problem is, that doesn't leave you with much time to do all the things you'd like to do. You have to think of things you'd like and see that the list is available (if you're the sort of family that does that), you need to shop for your loved ones, either in the increasingly insane stores, or on-line (which is calmer, but then you have to sweat things getting delivered on time); we need small things for Jacob's Advent Calendar, I need to get the lights up (and lights will be different this year, since we've pulled up a bunch of shrubs I used to drape the lights across), and…well, you get the idea.

This year I have more time available to do all these things, thankfully. No sneaking an extra half-hour into my lunch break for shopping. No need to squeeze the lighting into the half-hour of daylight left after getting home from work. Which is good, because looking at today's to-do list make me wish for one of those time-turner things from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Wanna see?

A few more groceries
Gift list for Jacob to his grandmother
I need to call three different people for three different things
Pay bills
Fold and put away laundry
Sweep floors
Make a vet appointment for one of the cats
Clean the litter boxes
Fiddle with Trish's scanner
Create a "garden tool nook" for Trish
Add to my blogroll there. A lot more than two links need to be on it
I need to write a book review
I have lines to memorize for acting class
I need to stuff leaves into the composters
I need to cook up some old meat and fish for dog food
I need to mail some stuff
I need to deposit checks at the bank.

If I can get half that done I'll be thrilled.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Minor Notes

This being a holiday week, I shan't be blogging much. Those of you observant types might have noticed that I have finally added some links. Only two at the moment, but I do intend to link back to all of you who have been kind enough to place me on your blogrolls. Probably I will be doing that over the next couple of days instead of writing up new stuff. But of course you never know when something interesting will turn up.

Enjoy your thanksgiving holidays!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Kiss the Food Preparation Specialist

I have blogged before about food issues, but I've never touched directly on the subject of getting Jake's meals. Back in the first part of this year, I used to live for Friday morning, not only because I got to sleep in, but also because I didn't have to deal with the issue of getting Jacob's breakfast and lunch ready.

It had developed into a hassle on a day-in, day-out basis. This time around, it's not so much, because of our effort to plan ahead. When I was a kid, I ate cold cereal for breakfast pretty much every day of the school week. Usually, it was Cap'n Crunch. We don't want to go that route with Jacob, but it does make our job a bit more complicated.

Here are the factors we need to consider. Breakfast should be ready quickly, to give him the maximum amount of time to get through it. Ideally, it would have protein in it (my wife's side of the family has this weird "morning slows" thing that protein seems to help) and complement his lunch and dinner in terms of stuff (your food groups). Lunch has to be something that will be okay to eat cold, can be put together fairly quickly, will fit into a lunchbox, and it also needs to complement his other meals. Both need to have plenty of variety, so he doesn't get sick of eating the same thing every single day (this was always a killer for me the first time around -- how to keep from repeating meals too often). We also like to avoid overdoing it on pre-packaged food. And last but certainly not least, both need to be meals a mom or dad who have just gotten out of bed and have not had any caffeine can make without violating any FDA or EPA requirements (I'm dead certain our kitchen is not OSHA-compliant, but fortunately I can only sue myself).

Like dinner meals, planning ahead and artful use of leftovers can work wonders (save some bacon from a weekend breakfast for a Tuesday breakfast or sandwich). Fruit is always good, keeps well, and is easy to mix up (banana one day, apple another, grapes another, etc.). Add condiments to the lunch (ranch dressing with the carrots, or maybe ketchup).

For Jacob at least, repeating the same things on a weekly basis is okay. We are kinda stuck with meat sandwich one day, cheese the next, PB&J after that, etc. etc. every week. That business of stuff that will be okay cold is a killer. I do try to vary the bread types, and toss in a bagel or a breakfast biscuit (Trish's excellent idea) from time to time.

One day a week, we let him take in a lunchable-type thing. But only one. For the most part, those things are just crap in a fancy package. Our local Whole Foods used to carry something called "The Good Lunch" which was mostly organic. It was still too high in fat, but at least the total calories were not indicative of a meal better suited for a company of US Marines than sub-teenagers. Unfortunately, they quit carrying it a while back.

So there you have it. A short look at the things we try to do to keep our son fed in a healthy and tasty manner. I'm happy to hear any suggestions from the gallery, and if you need any, I hope this entry sparked an idea or two.

By the way, here's a little trick to keep your PB&J sandwiches from getting all mushy (from the jelly soaking into the bread). Put the peanut butter on both slices of bread, and the jelly in the middle. The PB will serve as a lining to prevent the jelly from turning the bread into mush. Slick huh? Able to cook with Argon or not, Trish had never thought of that one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Rain Rain Go Away

It's raining. It has been raining here for 4 days now. Today will be the fifth. According the the weather guys, we might get some sun tomorrow. I suppose for folks in Seattle or the UK, this must be par for the course, but we just aren't used to this level of continual steady rain for days on end.

Jacob at least can amuse himself on the computer or playing in the neighbor's garage with his buddy Luke. The dogs are pretty much stuck. I'm unwilling to walk them in the pouring rain, and with one exception, they don't want to go. Hubert pretty much hates the rain, and will wander to the front door and look mournfully at me, perhaps hoping the weather will be better out that door, as opposed to the door to the back yard. The back yard, of course, is a swamp. At the rate things are going, it may become a lake, which will pretty much put paid to my plans to file for federal funds to protect a wetland. Marquis isn't too wild about the water falling from the sky (on walks he enjoys splashing through shallows but refuses to swim), but is willing to go out long enough to do what he needs to do and give the squirrels a quick once-over. George doesn't care about the rain. In fact, he doesn't seem to be aware that it's raining.

Speaking of George, he's got his funnel off, and he has had his sutures removed. Still has some swelling in the spot, so I have to keep up with the warm compresses. I wonder at what point I should ask the vet about it.

Last night as the thunder rolled and the rain contrinued to fall, the dogs refused to settle down. Hubert was especially problematic. He kept ringing the bell to go out (we've trained the dogs to ring a small bell haging from the doorknob when they want out. It saves mucho wear and tear on the door). We'd get out of bed, let him out. He'd come right back in. We'd feed him, he'd eat, we'd all go to bed. He'd eventually get up and ring the bell again. Lather, rinse, repeat, as they say. I finally removed the bell, and got some sleep.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Reader

We have this ranch. Its located around 100 miles south and west of San Antonio, at the intersection of highways 97 and 72. There is much that could be said about this land (1200 acres, give or take), but all that is necessary right now is that it takes about 3 hours to get there from our home north of Austin, and we needed to get down there and take a look around.

One problem we've had in past in making the trip is that three hours is a long time for a little boy to sit still. I cannot complain (much) about Jake's ability to put up with this journey. He has done about as well as a guy his age could be expected to, but there were times when the patience of his mom and dad wore mighty thin.

But not this time. You see, at some point over the course of the summer and fall he has become a Reader. Not just able to read, but a Reader. There's an important distinction here. An ordinary reader is capable of reading, perhaps even at a very high level. But a Reader wants to. And not just Dick and Jane either. I think he first started reading independently with Zia. No, I'm not kidding.

We've been reading the Harry Potter books lately. He's seen all the movies, and was sort of agitating to read the next book. I convinced him to start at the beginning, and though we started by having Trish and I do all the reading, he has gradually taken to doing a lot of it on his own, briefly before we finally make him turn out the lights, at odd moments at the house, and on our way to run various errands.

This past Saturday, for three hours on the way down, and another three hours on the way back, he read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Six hours of reading. I'm not sure if I should be proud or scared.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Domesticity Isn't Always Pretty

I sure don't want this blog to turn into "10 Easy Ways to Brighten Your Whites without Using Bleach" or anything, but I had to share this, its a case of my outsmarting myself.

When I was in college and doing the MBA thing, I took several marketing classes. One of the things we learned was about ways to increase the sales of your product by finding ways to get people to use more. "Lather, rinse, repeat" is one example. Arm and Hammer Baking soda is another (it seemed for a while there they had a new use for baking soda every week).

Anyway, I've been suspicious about the amounts recommended for various uses of household stuff for quite a while now.

About two months ago now, I noticed that the glasses in our dishwasher were coming out covered with a bit of a film. They just weren't sparkling clean. I re-wahed some, but it didn't do much. Then I thought that it was just a too-full washer, but over the next few days, the size of the load didn't matter. Then I refilled the rinse-aid dispenser. No good. Then I tried running the washer empty except for some stuff supposed to help clean the washer and get rid of calcium deposits. No help. I pre-washed the glasses. Zip. I was getting a bit frustrated. What's the point of a washer if you have to re-wash half the stuff?

Finally, I consulted the owner's manual and carefully read the directions on the back of the detergent box. they indicated amounts to be used based upon the hardness of the local water. Well, I had no clue what the local hardness in parts per million was, but I knew it certainly wasn't soft.

Based upon my marketing classes, I had been going a bit light on the dishwasher detergent. So this last time I filled it up about 2/3 of the way instead of 1/3 to 1/2.

The glasses were much cleaner. The next time, I loaded the detergent thing up the whole way. Super clean glasses. So now it was clear what was going on. I had been underfilling the soap dish, and thus the water wasn't getting enough of whatever chemical reaction was needed to keep the calcium from sticking to the glass. Busted!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Revenge of the Funnel Dogs

George update:

He's smashed two e-collars so far. The current one is looking pretty banged up, but no cracks yet. He upended a legal pad my tea was sitting on this morning, spilling it into my keyboard.

I literally poured tea out of my keyboard. Too often people use the word "literally" as a form of hyperbole, but in this it its the actual truth, I poured spilled tea out of my keyboard.

It's still working, but I'm guessing its about to become an insect hazard as the sugary tea sends out its tiny siren call of tasty goodness to the zillions of sugar ants living in the walls. At least the keys aren't sticky.

He's also developed some swelling on the place where the surgery was done, so now I get to apply warm compresses to it three times a day. At least he's pretty good about keeping still while doing it. Just rub his tummy and he blisses out.

I hope I can make it until Friday.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Attack of the Funnel Dog

Our middle dog Geaorge, tangled with something a couple of months ago that left a small knot under his right eye. We're sure some bug, like a scorpion, did it, because it appeared overnight. Heck it might have appeared in minutes. Anyway, the first round of treatment didn't get rid of it, so recently we took him back to the vet for a more radical bit of surgical removal. As a consequence, he has a bunch of stitches across his face, and he is now a funnel dog.

You may have seen these things. They are called e-collars because the resemble the giant collars and ruffs of the Elizabethan era. George is supposed to wear this thing for 10-14 days, until he has his stitches out.

Now the reasons for this are sound. Basically it boils down to protecting the wound until it heals. Dogs scratch, and those claws can be rough on sutures. It also helps keep dirt and what-not away. But they do make any animal forced to wear them look completely ridiculous. And even if animals lack concerns over their appearance and dignity (something I am given to doubt, even for dogs), they hate the collars, and with good reason. It's weird, it's strange, it's on their heads, and they don't understand what the heck is going on.

I like the vets we deal with, but one thing vets ought to be forced to do is spend some time with the animal at the beast's home before prescribing any sort of behavior modification lasting more than a day or so. In theory, George is to be on very restricted activity. He is to be taken on a leash into the back yard to do his business, then brought back in. No walks, leashed or otherwise. For 10-14 days from his surgery.

Yeah, right. This is a part-lab barely out of puppyhood. He's a teenager in human terms. These dogs are not slugs, people. They like to run around. George is no excpetion. He's also so totally a dog in that he dashes around when you come home, jumps up on beds with, gets in your face to lick it and get petted, etc. And there is more.

You see, George is a believer in the Squirrel Conspiracy. I'm not entirely sure what he thinks they are going to do if they get to hang out in our yard unmolested, but whatever it is, its bad. Really bad. And it is his job to make sure they are kept away. And he has to be out there as much as possible keeping an eye on things.

It has more than a small element of the ludicrous. If we're upstairs, every time we move towards the stairs, he's down them. And waiting. I really do not know if I can impress on y'all just how eager this dog is to run outside. I can stretch a certain way while sitting in my chair at my computer, and he's off whatever bed he's laying on and down to the landing. Assuming of course, he hasn't been sleeping on the landing in order to get a head start on the next opening of the door.

By now you've probably figured out that the odds of keeping such a dog in restricted activity are somewhere between slim and none. At least, not if I have any interest in maintaining my own sanity. We have two other dogs that like to go out periodically and check to make sure the squirrels haven't tried anything funny (they just aren't obsessed about it), and George would go nuts (no pun intended) if he were prevented from joining them. So he has to go out unsupervised (for at least short periods) and he has to go on walks.

Now, remember that e-collar he has to wear? In order to do its job, it has to cover his face, which means that it sticks out, funnel-like, all around his head. What should be the predictable result of a largish but lean dog who likes to dash about but now has to carry around something bigger than he is?

Yup, he crashes into everything. He's knocked stuff off the coffee table, cleared the fridge of low hanging magnets, walloped my legs innumerable times, scratched up walls, moved chairs and smashed into doorways. He also broke the first collar in about 24 hours. I ran out and got another, and so far its holding, but it does have a (duct taped) crack in it, and the snaps that hold it in place have been yanked out at least three times so far.

We've got about 7 days to go before he can get rid of the stitches and collar. I'm not sure anything below three feet is going to be able to make it that long.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Post Halloween Note

Trish likes Milk Duds. A lot. The Tuesday after Halloween, Jacob came downstairs carrying an empty Milk Dud box. His expression was gravely puzzled, a bit like that of a puppy from whom you had just taken a very fun and especially tasty sock. Please note for the record that a bag containing at least 3-5 pounds of candy was squatting in near-overflow conditions on the kitchen counter.

He said "You said you would ask me before eating any of my candy." He didn't precisely say J'ACCUSE! but you could hear it.

Trish was caught off guard. "Bear, you were already asleep. I didn't want to wake you."

"You said you would ask."

Hugs and apologies restored the situation with no harm done, though I nearly sprained my face trying to maintain a neutral expression.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Halloween Debriefing

We had a nice Halloween. Jacob went as a Cheyenne warrior. Or was he Crazy Horse (Crazy Horse was Sioux, but at the time of Little Big Horn, was working with the Cheyenne)? I got confused after a while, things shifted a bit near the end.

Trish is always in charge of Jake's Halloween costumes, which is a good thing. They are always pretty cool. He's been Robin Hood, a pirate, Bob the Builder, and a knight. I think I might have been able to get him into a sheet he wouldn't trip over...

We met up with the neighbor kids and did the loop of our block. Our block sits off by itself, not reachable by other residential streets. You have to go out to the main arterial and walk down a length of sidewalk. Not all that far, but you could be spending that time wandering more easily reached streets and getting a lot more goodies. So after the initial rush, things get pretty quiet at our house, and this year was no exception. I took Jake around the block, which went much faster this year (he skipped some houses in his excitement, but mostly he can just move a lot faster on those growing legs). Then Trish took him to neighborhoods farther afield. All in all, I'd say everyone had a great time, except maybe the younger two dogs, who had to stay in the house. Hubert sat out on the sidewalk with us and helped distribute candy, but I'm not sure he enjoyed it exactly, what with all the odd noises and strange creatures wandering about.

The weather was good, a bit warmer than it should be for this time of year, but the forecasters had been predicting rain. It stayed dry until the kiddos were done, and sometime during the wee hours we got 1.5" of the wet stuff. I finally find the perfect lawn sprinklers, and have no need of them (some day I'll have to talk about my quest for the ideal lawn watering device).

And after that, Fall finally arrived. It was pleasant yesterday, but today we've got the gloom and wet and cold (for Texas) of November. About time, too. But I'll have to stop wearing shorts, and they are mighty comfy.

Oh yeah, keep hearing about something going on today...Correction, detection, dissection, or some such. Gonna have to look into that, it might be interesting.