Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sisyphian Task

Jacob got some balloons last night from Uncle Brian and Aunt Teresa. He loves them* dearly. You know the old adage: If you love someone, you have to let them go. So this is where one of the balloons wound up today:

As you can see, we have a nice cathedral ceiling in our living room with an open walkway on the second floor. Too bad the balloon was too far to reach from the second floor. Aus a tool was required. Here were the three I thought might do the trick:
A fan, a feather duster and a ball walk into a bar...
The fan was useless, since any breeze it generated was too weak to move the balloon. The string moved around a little. The telescoping feather duster seemed like it would do the trick. Appearances are deceiving:
Maybe a footstool would have helped (or a tripod)
I did think about using the vacuum cleaner's telescoping wand to suck down the balloon's string and thereby get the balloon, but I feared the balloon would get destroyed in the process. That left hitting it with a small, Nerf-like ball. The sort that Lucy likes to chew on because she can get chunks out of it. Luckily this ball has joined Raggedy Ann and Andy in WITSEC, so it was fully able to serve in a covert mission while the children slept. After two hits (shamefully the number of throws was many more than two), the balloon made it to a reachable spot:

In fact, I left it for Jacob to find. After his nap, he was delighted to grab the string and pull in his balloon. All is well until the next release. Or Lucy gets a hold of it.

*I realize the use of "them" is ambiguous. Of course he loves the balloons AND Brian and Teresa.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Product Non-Review: BugBite Teether

The folks over at ThinkGeek offer a wide variety of practical and impractical items to satisfy the geeky needs we all have. I assume you must have some level of geekiness in you if you are reading this blog post. You can assess how high you rate by considering how you are reading this: more points the more recently you purchased the reading item; still more points for how mobile the item is (desktop vs. laptop vs. handheld/smart phone); yet more if you actually are mobile right now. But I digress. Certainly you must have some idea of how much of a geek you are.

One of the items purported to be practical is the BugBite Teether. Consider their justification:
When babies are born, they really can't defend themselves from zombie invasion. About all they can do is hope that their brains are small enough to not be noticed in the teeming hordes of screaming adult humans. If that fails, they need to hope their supersonic screaming drives away the zombies. Luckily, at about six months, babies start to get teeth, giving them a line of defense. It's important for parents to encourage their baby to use these shiny white weapons by giving them a teether.

It's an interesting argument. By "interesting" I mean completely silly. The irony of using biting against zombies who are famous and fearsome for biting is not lost on me. Also not lost on me is the fact that biting a zombie seems just as likely to turn the biter into a zombie. It all comes down to the  mechanics of the zombie epidemic. If a voodoo curse or death has to occur before one can become a zombie, then the little biter would be okay. But if a virus or some such biological contaminate causes zombification, then your setting your child up for failure. And no one wants their child to be a failure, do they?

We have not purchased this product, so I can't comment on the quality or durability of the construction. Or how tasty it is. So I can't recommend or not recommend the teether. But don't think this is a panacea for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

Maybe they should make some sort of teether that tastes like brains that you can throw at zombies to distract them while you make your escape. Hopefully they'd be sold in multipacks. Or the teethers could be so attractive that the zombies fight over the teether rather than mobbing you. I'll have to look for a suggestion box on their web site.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zombie Review: The Walking Dead, TP 2

The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman

ZPAA rating

Late teens and up (use your judgment based on content summary below)

Gore level

8 of 10--Zombies are less prominent but still gruesome in glorious black and white (or at least as close as you can get to glorious in black and white).  So, close to a 10 for gore.

Other offensive content

Lots of bad language (f-bombs and such), human on human violence and abusive language, an extra-marital affair that causes stress and acting out, several instances of sexual activity. There's no nudity but there's also no doubt about what is going on.

How much zombie mythology/content

There's still no explanation of the origin of the zombies, but that isn't what the book is really about. Some of the characters flirt with the idea that maybe the zombies could be cured, but the idea is presented as impractical and highly unlikely (how do you unrot flesh?).

How much fun

The enjoyment of The Walking Dead series is not based on fun, wise-crackin' zombie hunters. The series tries to delve into the issues of how people would react and would change for better and for worse during a zombie apocalypse. The conflicts are resolved in thoughtful and thought provoking ways.

Synopsis & Review

Volume Two of The Walking Dead starts with the burial of the previous leader of our group, Deputy Shane. A flashback reveals that he had at least a one night stand with Sheriff Rick's wife. Very soon after the group packs up to go, she reveals that she is pregnant. It isn't stated but is clear that she isn't sure who the father is. Thus begins their life on the road to find a more permanent place to settle since it's fairly clear the government isn't going to come and save people near major cities like Atlanta.

The group must be moving north, because they deal with a lot of snow. On the way, they pick up an African-American ex-football player, his daughter and her boyfriend along the way. With the RV getting very tight, the group jumps at the chance of living in a gated community they stumble upon.

Spoiler alert!! The gated community does not work out so they hit the road again. As they hunt along the way for food, Rick's son is accidentally shot by a farm hand on a nearby farm. The farmer is a former veterinarian named Hershel Greene. Greene patches up the son and lets them stay while the son recuperates. When Rick asks if they can stay in the barn, Greene says no because his other son is in there along with other zombies. Greene hopes that they will be cured. Rick thinks that's crazy. The situation deteriorates when a failed zombie capture results in the death of several people and the extermination of the 10 or 15 zombies in the barn. Then Glenn from Rick's group shacks up with one of the farmer's daughters, causing more trouble. Tense discussions are had and Greene kicks them off the farm. Quickly running out of food on the road, the group thinks they've hit the jackpot when they find a prison that looks like it's still intact.
End Spoiler!!

Seeing the group abandon the 1950's concept that the government/army will save them, they begin their search for a more or less permanent home. This hope is quite palpable and they start to wonder what a normal life would be like. They never get too far because problems keep cropping up to force them to move on both physically and personally from whatever comforts they may find. Life seems only to get harder for them as a parent dies, they face a pregnancy without the familiar medical care, gas and food become more scarce. The hope of a stable future is what keeps moving them forward. The end of this volume gives them what they think will be a permanent solution.

The plot moves along fairly well. Characters come and go (yes, "go" is mostly a euphemism for "die") at a reasonable pace, i.e. they aren't one-dimensional stereotypes but well thought out and well developed. And well executed (in both senses of the term). The reader does start caring more and more for the core group. Intriguing subplots are woven into the story as well (what are the daughter and boyfriend up to besides intimate relations?).

I can't wait to find out how they deal with the new situation they are given at the end of this book. Come on, volume three!!

Available at Amazon (see link below) and at fine comic stores near you, like my favorite Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, Maryland.

By the way, here's the trailer for the series that will start on AMC Halloween night 2010:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: What the Heck Were You Expecting?

What the Heck Were You Expecting?: A Complete Guide for the Perplexed Fatherby Thomas Hill. Three Rivers Press, 2000, 141 pages, $11.95 US.

Brief overview of content:

The book follows a standard format for discussing issues relevant to husbands who are also fathers. After pre-birth and the first day, the book goes month by month through the first year  followed by chapters on the toddler years and "childhood and beyond." The chapters are divided into several sections:
  • What Your Above-Average Baby/Child May Be Doing
  • What Your Wife May Be Complaining About
  • What You May Be Concerned About
  • What It's Important to Know
  • What to Be Terrified About This Month
  • A Few Things to Say to Let Her Know That You Are Caring, Sensitive and Up on the Required Reading
As you might guess from these headings, the book is a very comical take on the practical advice a father needs to have. Legitimate good advice is mixed in with comical commentary. For example, when discussing teething pain the author writes about rubbing a little Scotch on the baby's gums to ease the pain. He then discusses the best types of Scotch, from which regions and the importance of not skimping on price where your baby is concerned. Such "medicine" is also helpful for the father in dealing with the child's growing pains.

Author overview:

From his Amazon page: A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Thomas Hill is a creative executive for Nick@Nite and TV Land. A veteran of Harvard, the United States Chess Federation, and fatherhood, Thomas has five children and lives with his family in Verplanck, N.Y.


1. Read cover to cover vs. consult as needed.

Since the book is divided chronologically, it is easy to read one month's worth of advice during that month or just before it comes. There's no index but the table of contents gives a detailed outline of each chapter's contents beyond the bullets mentioned above.

2. Readability.

Light-hearted and highly entertaining, this book is very readable.

3. Helpful to a parent?

The book is one of the few that are written from the dad's perspective and focusing on his role. The advice in the book is entertaining and mostly useful, though some part just seem added for comical effect. Reading it is reassuring--you know you're not the only dad who is clueless.

4. Did we use it?

In spite of the excellent advice on buying Scotch, I still haven't made a purchase. We did go "low key" for Jacob's first birthday party, which the author recommends. First birthday parties really are for everyone else to get together and have a good time. Jacob and Lucy won't remember their parties at all. Except for all the pictures on Facebook, of course.

Sample text

On how babies think: The key to understanding babies lies in recognizing that their primary task during these early years, beyond the basic survival skills, is to analyze and comprehend how the world works. They are scientists. Furthermore, you should recognize that as a parent you are not a fellow scientist, a lab assistant, or even a great teacher. You are part of the experiment. You are one of the prime subjects of observation and study. [p. 88]
Truer words have never been spoken. We here at the Zombie Parent's Guide couldn't agree more. We know who is in charge and have some vague idea of what is going on. As much as they will let us know. I hear the master calling for a snack and must go now...

Note: this book is not available new from Amazon unless you want if for the Kindle, so you'll probably have to hunt around libraries and local book stores for it. Or buy from one of the Amazon partner sellers. You should support local sellers and libraries anyway, because where are you going to find stuff when the zombie apocalypse happens? Who knows where Amazon warehouses are hidden? I found this book at Royal Oak Bookshop in Front Royal, Virginia, so maybe don't try there since I bought the last copy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jacob Tries to Raise His Genius

Lately, Jacob has started to take books off the living room bookshelves and flip through them. These books are Mommy and Daddy's collection, including many works from my days as a philosophy graduate student. I caught Jacob in the act with one particular volume:

What, where are the pictures?

The book in the photo is Aristotle: On Interpretation, Commentary by St. Thomas and Cajetan. Maybe he is looking for ways to interpret what we tell him in a more favorable light. Parent says, "Jacob, finish eating your vegetables." Jacob says, "If I don't eat any more, then I am finished." We better put that book on a higher shelf.

He has also pulled down several volumes from the Loeb Classical Library series. In case you don't know, this series is famous for having the original Latin or Greek text on the left-hand page and an English translation on the right-hand page. Since it is just as easy for Jacob to read Greek and Latin as he reads English, the books provide no additional challenge to him. Wanting to know about souls and breath sounds awfully Frankensteinian to me. Luckily, Aristotle doesn't mess around with the occult or mad science. Jacob will need to do more research. I'll keep a close eye on him next time we go to the library. Or when he is trying to get new videos on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zombie Review: We're Alive

We're Alive: A "Zombie" Story of Survival

website for the podcast
subscribe in iTunes or Zune players

MPAA/ESRB/Other rating

Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics/ iTunes tag Explicit

ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Gore level

4 of 10. Since this is an audio drama, you don't see anything. Some of the sound effects are pretty realistic sounding but not stomach churning.

Other offensive content

Lots of bad language, increasing levels of human on human violence, two innocent animals in jeopardy (or are they innocent?!?).

How much zombie mythology/content

The zombies here are mostly classical, spreading their infection via biting others. The big difference between these and classical zombies is they move faster (28 Days Later speeds and up) and some of them seem awfully intelligent. There is a hint of a "ground zero" from which the zombies emanated, but no details have been given by the end of season one for the origin or cause of the zombies.

How much fun

Both situational humor and occasional jabs at zombie cliches are found in this podcast. The story line grabs the listener and brings you along for a great ride. The characters are engaging and well acted, making you want the next episode asap.


Three soldiers, Michael, Angel and Saul, are called up to help quell a riot in Los Angeles. When they get to their headquarters, they realize this is no ordinary riot. People are going after each other in frenzied, frantic attacks everywhere. These soldiers wind up at an apartment building which they think will be relatively easy to fortify. Gathering a random groups of civilians and whatever supplies they can, the intrepid band searches for answers about how the zombie hordes started and how they can be stopped.

This audio drama comes out in weekly installments of about 20 minutes each (season 2 starts/started on August 23, 2010). The production values are extremely high, with great sound effects and atmospheric music. The writing is sharp and with the podcast format the creators can have cliffhanger endings to episodes without shoehorning them into a time slot. Consequently, there's no filler and also nothing left out except to create more suspense.

The actors all deliver fine performance. Some of the characters when first introduced seem a little cliche (I'm thinking primarily of the "no field experience" officer who leads two Iraq War vets and the very Clint Eastwood-esque gun store owner), but they are quickly moved beyond one dimension through character development. The cast is big enough to give the listener a variety of people to identify or agree with while not losing track of who is who. Also, the role of narrator switches from the army guys to other characters, allowing a balance of points of view and following different action in different locations.

I've really enjoyed what I've heard so far and can't wait for the next season of episodes to start next week!

Sample text

Check out their promotional video (warning: one use of crude language)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Purpose of Eyes

Lucy tipped her hand this week. Last week we reported her interest in the eyes of Raggedy Ann. Yesterday she inadvertently revealed what her plan was for those peepers.

In the afternoon, Mommy noticed that something wasn't right with Lucy. She was keeping her mouth shut far too long. And what was that mysterious bulge in her cheek? It was this:

Obviously, there's no pic of Lucy caught in the act

We couldn't believe that she had tried to swallow an eye! Even a little magnetic eye. That brought back bad memories of the dinner scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for me. Which makes me think, "Maybe Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn't really such a let down." But, alas, it was.

Rest assured we are keeping both eyes on her lest she get both eyes in her.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: Pottywise for Toddlers

Pottywise for Toddlers: A Developmental Readiness Approach to Potty Trainingby Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Buckham, M.D., Parent Wise Solutions, Inc., 2005, 135 pages, $9.95 US.

Brief overview of content

This book could easily have been divided into three parts. First the authors discuss what's required before you begin to potty train. Readiness involves not only the physical development and control (to some extent) of the child, but also the volitional readiness (the child wants to go potty) and the parent's (or parents') readiness (knowing what to do and being committed to following through). Also, the potty training infrastructure (e.g., potty chair/seat, training pants, rewards, sippy cup, doll, etc.) for this program is described so that the reader will be fully prepared to move to the second part.

The second part deals with the actual training. The plan focuses on an intensive training that should take only one day, though they do encourage mommy or daddy to give at least four days in case extra work is needed. On the first day, the parent has the child train a doll how to use the potty, going from drinking from a sippy cup to checking dryness to using the potty. Then the child begins the program, using rewards to reinforce success. The key concept in this training program is "dry and clean."  Using the potty is just the means to achieve this end. The child gets a reward for checking and staying dry and gets a double reward for using the potty to stay dry and clean. This process is repeated regularly throughout the day (checking dryness with reward, sitting on the potty, getting a double reward for using the potty). The authors do acknowledge that not everyone can make this time and focus commitment and give some tips on having a longer term plan (training over weeks or months).

The third part reviews common problems, setbacks and questions that come up during training and immediately thereafter. Practical advise is given on accidents, bedwetting, tapering off giving rewards, etc. Since a big part of their recommendations is to have a more or less regular schedule for the child, an appendix describes how best to structure a toddler's day and gives a chart that can be adapted by the reader. A subject index also helps the reader quickly get to relevant information.

Author overview

Blurb from the back of the book: "Gary Ezzo, M.A., serves as the executive director of Growing Families International. He and his wife Anne Marie have authored a number of parenting curriculums translated into fifteen languages and utilized by more than two and one-half million households. The Ezzo's have two daughters, six grandchildren, and reside in South Carolina. Robert Buckman, M.D., F.A.A.P. is the founder and director of Cornerstone Pediatrics in Louisville, Colorado, where he resides with his wife Gayle, and their four sons."


1. Read cover to cover vs. consult as needed.

This book is a short, quick read (one or two night's worth of reading, tops).  A subject index and a chapter with answers to specific questions or for specific scenarios (like what to do if your little boy is aiming all over the place when he pees) can be used for a quick consult. So you could read cover to cover and consult as needed!

2. Readability.

The authors do a good job of balancing between academic precision and a more personal tone. They always talk about "you" and "your child" not just "a parent" or "a child". "Your child" is almost always referred to as "she" and "her" (except when speaking of specifically male potty training issues). "You" always seems to refer to Mommy, too, so I guess I'm off the hook for potty training according to this book! My wife may disagree...

3. Helpful to a parent?

Being aware of the signs of potty training readiness is very helpful for a parent. The progressive potty training program is laid out clearly in steps and with pictures, so it is easy to follow what they recommend or adapt it to your particular circumstances.

4. Did we use it?

And here's the rub. We tried it a few months back. Angie took Jacob to the local convenience store and bought some treats. Saturday morning, Lucy's Raggedy Andy got stripped (thus solving one mystery) and put on some of Jacob's big boy underpants. Angie ran through the training with Andy, giving him a cracker for checking his "dry and clean" status and giving double rewards for using the potty (Angie masterfully made up sound effects). Jacob was very excited about all of this. Then his turn came. He was okay for a while. He checked himself a few times. Then he took a dump in his big boy underpants and all heck broke loose. The mess was more than Angie could take, so potty training ended then and there. We still get him to sit on the potty now and then. He's had individual successes, one with Mommy and one with Granny, but no consistent results. Jacob has upgraded to size five diapers. I hope he doesn't make it to size six. Check back for future reviews of other potty training books.

Sample text

On readiness for potty training:  Of the many universal laws of child development, one in particular has specific application for the sport of potty training. It's called the structure-function principle, and it states that a child cannot perform certain functions (activities), until specific developmental structures are in place and sufficiently mature. This is a fancy way of saying don't start training your child until she has both the capacity to learn and the ability to achieve. (pp. 14-15)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raggedy Ann and Andy Join WITSEC

Today I caught Lucy trying to collect supplies for a new science experiment. At least, I hope it is some experiment other than making Mommy and me into zombies. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lucy woke up around 2:30 from her afternoon nap (too early if you ask me). Since Jacob was still asleep, she and I played in her room for a while. She flipped through some books and played with blocks and started pulling dolls off her shelf. Two of her dolls are Raggedy Ann and Andy. Each are about two feet tall with smiling faces and shiny, plastic eyes. You know, the eyes that have little black disks inside for pupils that slide around as if the dolls are looking around while they are being tossed around. Lucy took a special interest in Raggedy Ann and Andy. She tried to pull their eyes off. I stopped her the first time, then the second time, then a third time. Worried for her safety and theirs, I decided to remove them. The dolls, I mean, not their eyes. They have now joined the Witness Security Program, commonly known as the witness protection program. They've been moved to a new location and may rejoin the family at a later date. Here is their farewell picture.

Such lovely eyes

You may notice the lack of clothing on Raggedy Andy. He didn't rush off without an outfit. The true fate of his clothes will be revealed in the next blog post.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Zombie Review: Tell My Horse

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston

ZPAA rating

Teen and up

Gore level

2 out of 10--This book is pretty low on the gore. Some animal sacrifices are talked about but only occasionally in detail. No zombie gore at all, amazingly enough.

Other offensive content

There's some sex talk as a part of voodoo ceremonies. The ceremonies also include some minimal blood and gore related to animal sacrifice. Some sects of voodoo are described as cannibals. Also, an extensive description of a wild boar hunt is given, along with killing and cooking the boar.

How much zombie mythology/content

This book is famous for providing a first-hand account of a "real" zombie in a Haiti hospital. Also the book describes in detail the process of raising a zombie and cites many examples of Haitian zombie folklore.

How much fun

The book is part history and sociology of Haiti and part presentation of Hurston's experiences with voodoo practitioners and ceremonies. She uses anecdotes well to give life to discussions of the voodoo pantheon and voodoo beliefs. For a serious work about the topic it isn't dry or academic. It's more of a mild adventure exploring the Haitian culture. The writing is especially clear and engaging. The first hand accounts give the reader a feeling of "being there." But if your looking for a blood-soaked zombie splat fest, look elsewhere.

Synopsis & Review

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaicais part historical review of certain major events in the history of those two countries, part travelogue and mostly overview of the religious beliefs and practices of the locals. The historical review is about a third of the book and is less fascinating than her own personal experiences as an initiate to the voodoo religion.

Hurston says that Haiti is rife with zombie folklore and most anyone can tell stories of both recent and long past raisings of the dead. The rich and well-to-do generally pass off the stories as myth but the poor people take it more seriously, or at least present it as real.

Her experience with voodoo was not limited to collecting stories. She also stayed with several houngans and bocors (both types of voodoo priests) and witnessed various ceremonies with her own eyes. The religion is a mishmash of Christian and African elements along with some local innovations and terminology. Often after reciting a Catholic litany of saints, a litany of loas (voodoo gods) is chanted as well. The voodoo gods are separated into the Rada or Arada gods (the good ones) and the Petros gods (the evil ones). She never says if raising the dead is done by only the good or only the bad gods, but she does say that the bocors and houngans who do the raising are considered evil.

Generally, three reasons are given for raising the dead. First is to have slaves for hard labor. Many tales are told of relatives seeing their recently deceased working the dock yards or hauling supplies like a mule. By the time the authorities are involved, the workers have moved on and the foremen have no idea who the relatives are talking about. The second purpose in raising someone is to take revenge. What better way to get some payback from an enemy than to make that person a pack mule after death? Finally, people who have requested a favor from a loa (voodoo god) need to pay back that favor with victims who will be raised and put into the loa's service. The ceremony is called the Ba Moun or give man ceremony. This last is especially unnerving, because the victims must be someone known and loved by the debtor, typically relatives. Since the debt must be paid yearly, it's quite possible to run out of people to offer, in which case, the debtor's life is forfeit. Only desperate people sign up for this.

The ceremony itself is detailed in the book. While not gruesome, it is thrilling and chilling to read. The most chilling description is of a patient at a hospital who is claimed to be a zombie. Hurston went to investigate. The woman was found naked wandering a street in 1936. She went to a farm claiming it was her father's farm. The boss of the farm finally met her and recognized her as his sister who died and was buried in 1907. Now she was in a hospital. Hurston met the woman and even took pictures, giving this description of her last picture: "Finally the doctor forcibly uncovered her and held her so I could take her face. And the sight was dreadful. That blank face with the dead eyes. The eyelids were white all around the eyes as if they had been burned with acid. It was pronounced enough to come out in the picture. There was nothing that you could say to her or get from her except by looking at her, and the sight of this wreckage was too much to endure for long." (page 195) Unfortunately, the picture of this woman on page 180 does not bear out this frightening description. And, of all the voodoo ceremonies Hurston participated in, none of them involved raising or using zombies.

Many other stories of voodoo and zombies are told in the book. The writing is very fluid and conversational. The reader is completely engaged while reading. I would definitely recommend the book for those interested a first hand description of life and voodoo belief in Haiti.

Sample Text

A Jamaican burial ceremony to prevent the return of a loved one: "So as soon as the body was placed in the coffin, the pillow with the parched peas, corn and coffee beans sewed inside it was placed under his head. Then they took stronger methods. They took four short nails and drove one in each cuff of the shirt as close to the hand as possible to hold the hands firmly in place. The heel of each sock was nailed down in the same way. Now the duppy [i.e. ghost] was 'nailed hand and foot.' The brother of the corpse was summoned and he spoke to the dead and said, 'We nail you down hand and foot. You must stay there till judgment. If we want you we come wake you.'" (pages 42-43)