Sunday, February 27, 2011

If You're Happy and You Know It Make Up Some Lyrics

Today Jacob spent a good half hour reading from a book and pretending that it had the lyrics to "If You're Happy and You Know It" inside. He quickly ran out of the official, standard lyrics. This impediment did not stop him. In case you don't know the song, here's a quick video of it:

The structure of the song is quite clear. All the budding lyricist needs to do is substitute other ways to express your happiness. Jacob is very expressive. Check out this partial list!

  • Rub your eyes
  • Listen to this song
  • Play your recorder
  • Read your magnet
  • Lap your loos [not sure what this means]
  • Make the sign of the Cross
  • Alleluia alleluia
  • Make your face [it wasn't clear how to do this]
  • Sleep in your bed
  • Wiggle your people

I hope you're happy and you know it!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Clever Marketing or Computer Error

I was hoping to review the latest zombies-in-outer-space console game, Dead Space 2, but the price is a little high if I'm just reviewing it. A friend sent me a month's free subscription to GameFly, a company that rents out console and hand-held games much like NetFlix does for DVDs. So I signed up for my month and put Dead Space 2 at the top of my queue.

The availability of the game has been low since it was just released and is a big hit. Also, I believe it's a longer game with an unfolding storyline as you battle Necromorphs in a massive space city called "The Sprawl." The turnaround on mailing discs is also very slow compared to NetFlix, so a subscriber needs to have good timing when mailing back other discs. We wound up playing a bunch of good and not so good Kinect games (none with zombies).

The timing never worked out for us all month, so today I went online and canceled my account. I wasn't surprised that I had to click on a "Cancel my account" link on several screens as GameFly asked me if I was really serious about canceling or if I wanted their cheapest subscription rate. The rub came when they asked me to use up my last two days of the account on this page:

Note the date when I should cancel and the date of this posting. I hope this error is some random computer-generated mistake and not a Machiavellian trick designed to get me to pay for a month! I continued cancellation and opted in to GameFly's Terms of Cancellation and then double-checked that the account was really cancelled. It was. We do have one disc at home that we have to return in seven days or else they'll charge us the purchase fee.

I think this service would be a good deal if we played games more often and if they had a better turn around time. If this were a break up, it'd be partly my fault and partly their fault. I have no regrets about breaking up, other than not getting to play Dead Space 2. I'll have to check the used game racks at my local game store to see if it's cheap or even available.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Victory at Red Lobster

You may remember from previous posts that one thing zombie parents dread is going out to eat in a sit-down restaurant. Sure, a place like Chick-fil-A or Wendy's is a lot easier because the food is a lot faster and the restaurants often come with child distractions like play areas or kid's meal toys. Sit-down restaurants have distractions like crayons and doodle paper but the kids can't run around like they do at more casual places.

We decided that we need to give the children more practice at sitting down and behaving in restaurants because that is just part of life for us. So today we went to Red Lobster for lunch. We had a gift card from Christmas (thanks Granny and Grandpa!) and it was a convenient conclusion to running Saturday morning errands. We arrived about 11:20, so the lunch rush hadn't started. After briefly admiring the lobster tank, we were shown to our table.

Jacob and Lucy both had high chairs and sat catercorner from each other. Lucy doodled on her paper kid's menu with the crayons provided. Jacob started looking through the table menu that advertises all the appetizers, special meals, drinks, and desserts. Angie and I made our choices and chose a chicken strip meal for the children to split. When the waitress came for our order, Jacob pointed to pictures in the table menu of what he wanted: lobster tails and a margarita. Luckily the waitress paid more attention to his parents than to him. We all enjoyed a laugh at Jacob's request, which only encouraged him to make further requests later. He loved the waitress.

The salads and fabulous biscuits (I don't know how they make them so great) came quickly. Lucy and Jacob started on biscuits while Angie and I started our salads. After a while, Lucy asked for salad. Angie wasn't finishing hers, so she gave Lucy a bite. At first, Lucy made a face but she ate it up and asked for more. Jacob loved his biscuit and his milk, not asking for anything else.

Eventually the meals came and we cut up the chicken into bite size pieces. Angie offered them french fries since their side was fruit. The kids ate it all up like there was no tomorrow. Lucy kept asking for salad, which amazed and delighted us. Jacob was content to dip his chicken and his fries ten times in the ketchup in defiance of the absent Grandpa. Everything was going so smoothly.

Then we were finishing up and asked for the check. We paid our bill and cleaned up a bit, then headed off to the car. We stopped at the lobster tank on the way out to say goodbye. Then we climbed into the van and headed for home.

It was the best dining out experience we've had at a sit-down restaurant. The kids stayed at the table and didn't even ask to go wandering around. The meal was yummy and a good time was had by all. Part of the success was being there early so food wasn't delayed. Also, it was just us four so it wasn't a big family order. And the food delivery was well paced--salads and such came quickly and covered until the main meal arrived. Jacob enjoyed looking at the little menu and interacting with the waitress. Maybe we'll try a Tex-Mex place next. They give chips and salsa early which should help, along with the fun decor and maybe even a tortilla-making machine! Regardless, I hope we can repeat this success in the future.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jacob's Lingo

Jacob is getting better and more creative at expressing himself orally.

Lately I've been trying to warn him if he won't be able to play with something soon. I have a nice microphone for podcasting that looks just like the microphone Bruce Springsteen uses in a video Jacob likes. Jacob discovered the mike in the study and quite often begged to go there to sing. I wasn't crafty enough to record him singing, since that would require turning the computer on and a host of other complications and distractions. Anyway, I was done with podcast recording and had decided to put the microphone away the next day. So I told Jacob he wouldn't get to play with it after that day. He went nuts and said, "I don't want to play with the microphone anymore! Put it away! PUT IT AWAY!!" I tried to explain that he had the rest of the day, but he wouldn't hear it. So I put it away. Similar incidents have happened with library toys and puzzles that had to go back. Even though he is upset, he usually doesn't get violent (occasionally a toy gets tossed across a room) and he is pretty coherent.

Some phrases are less coherent and sound like idioms translated directly from another language. At the store the other day, I was talking to Jacob and then Lucy demanded my attention. In order to switch me back, Jacob said, "Come back with your face!" That certainly got my attention since it took me a little moment to parse it. What did he mean? Where did he get that from? Mommy and I never said anything like that before.

The worst examples are when your children repeat things back to you. On a typical morning, getting socks, shoes, and jackets on two toddlers is more of a challenge than it should be. I find my patience bleeding away as one child will get socks and shoes and then run off while the other child finally decides to come, sit, and be shod. As this was going on the other day, Jacob grinned and said to me, "You kids are killing me!" I almost asked him where he heard that before. The answer came to me in an instant--me. At least it wasn't swearing, which I only do in my head on rare occasions. Luckily, the kids can't read minds. Then I would be in trouble.

Conversations with Jacob certainly are fun. I'm looking forward to what he will come up with next.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Eve 2011

Valentine's Day has a regular tradition for us. My mom will buy a singing Valentine for us from my sister's Vienna-Falls Chorus. The chorus is part of Sweet Adelines International, the four-part acapella barbershop harmony organization for women. One of their annual fundraisers is to send out quartets to serenade people in homes, restaurants, and businesses. We've enjoyed many visits by quartets.

Last year, my sister's quartet came to serenade us at our house:

This year, another quartet came and sang us two songs and gave us a box of chocolates. Here's some pictures of J with the quartet:

And here's some videos from two years ago. Alas, the Dejabel Cafe in Wheaton has since closed.

Book Review: Manifold Destiny

Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine! by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller. Simon and Schuster, 2008, 147 pages, $14.00 US.

A guest review by my wife!

Brief overview of content:

Let’s say that your children behave atrociously in restaurants, but you’d still like a hot meal now and then during a long day on the road. Or, let’s say that the zombie apocalypse has come, and restaurants are death traps, but you still have access to a car and gasoline (a la Zombieland). In either of those cases, Manifold Destiny may have the answer for you. This book teaches you how to cook using the heat from your car’s manifold. Yes, under the hood.

Author overview:

From the back of the book: “Nearly twenty years ago, Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller opened the world’s eyes to the beauty of car-engine gastronomy in the original Manifold Destiny.”

“Maynard and Scheller are pioneers in the utilization of alternative fuel sources. Writing about their car-cookery twenty years ago for People magazine jump-started my food-writing career.” - Alan Richman, food and wine critic.


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

This is readable cover to cover, since it’s a very short book - but you can certainly get the idea from reading the intro and the recipes that sound intriguing to you.

2. Readability.

The book is intended to be both humorous and practical. The authors have a fine sense of the ridiculous nature of their topic. For instance, the book contains many drawings of how to wrap food in foil and wedge it into your engine. In these drawings not only are the engine components labeled (fuel-injector housing, etc) but so are the hands that are tucking the food into the engine. The book also contains recipes “customized” for various cars and driving locations - mainly providing the authors an opportunity to add various regional and automotive jokes.

3. Helpful to a parent?

If you want to warm up hot dogs while on a tour of Yellowstone, this book can tell you how. However, if the very idea of wedging foil-wrapped anything under the hood of your car causes your blood pressure to rise, then you’ll want to take a pass.

4. Did we use it?

Although our little zombie overlords are very poorly behaved in restaurants, we must confess that we are not comfortable with the chance that we’ll destroy our car’s engine with a poorly placed foil package of couscous. How could we possibly confess our sin to our mechanic? However, our zombie grandparents have tried this technique and report that they enjoyed an excellent fish and rice dinner in an I-95 rest stop.

Sample text

“Consider the phantom 1920s Rolls-Royce, a car we heard about from a curbside well-wisher in Manitou Springs, Colorado, when we stopped for lunch during the big rally. This guy was watching us conduct a fuel-injector-housing foil-cone test (while at lunch, plan for dinner), and told us that he had heard of a Jazz Age Rolls that had had a little oven cast right into the engine block. A special touring model, he said it was. Did this wonderful car ever exist? And if it did, was it one of a kind or an extremely limited-production model? Why wouldn’t the PR people at Rolls talk with us when we called them? Why, if what they were trying to come up with was a Toyota-style bun warmer, didn’t they call this edition a Buns-Royce? Why would they do that, when “Buns-Royce” sounds like a dancer at Chippendales? Why is there being rather than nothingness? Ask questions. It’s the only way you’ll learn anything.” [p. 24-25]

Don't wind up like Mad Max, eating dog food from a can! What a terrible way to spend the zombie apocalypse:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

L's Lingo

Language skills are coming fast and furious for L. She is getting more adept at telling us what she wants ("cracker" or "milk" or "juice"). At her godparents' home, she was able to identify a wide range of stuffed animals, including a whale, a giraffe, and a lion. She's great at asking for cell phones and knows how to hold them up to her ear and say "hello" and "goodbye." She hasn't figured out how to dial them, for which we are grateful.

Lucy says my name a lot!
L is developing a lot of skill with contractions. Her favorite sentence structure is "It's _____," where the blank could be any number of words. When I get up in the morning and she sees me, "It's Daddy!" If she can't get some toy out of a box or a granola bar from inside its wrapper, "It's stuck!" If she sees a certain toy/sticker/video/doll, "It's Diego!" She hasn't done much with "I'm" other than "I'm poopy." She makes that claim often, and quite often erroneously. On the other hand, she's always dead right when we drive around the corner to our house and says, "We're here!"

Lu has also created a new contraction. As she grows bigger and more capable, she wants to do things on her own. Whether it's walking up or down the stairs, getting into chairs, or using forks or spoons, she often warns us off by saying "by'self." That's her way of saying that she wants to do it "by myself." She's so cute when she says it, how can a parent say no? So far, she hasn't wanted to do anything too dangerous yet. Hopefully it stays that way.

With all these skills, it's not long before L and J start plotting together. World domination, here they come!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another Recording at Forgotten Classics

I've recorded another tale for the Forgotten Classics podcast. It is a myth from Guam called "Two Lovers." Download it now from here. Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: Goop Soup

Goop Soup by David Lubar

"A book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then." C. S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories p. 38--this quote was at the beginning of this book!

ZPAA rating

8 year olds and up.

Gore level

2 out of 10--The goop in the title shows up pretty early as green slime in the water pipes. Green slime shows up in a bunch of other places, including the climatic action. Nathan removes a limb to help at one point. Less gross than the last one, which was less gross than the first book.

Other offensive content

Lying, speeding, roughing up of a character, using potent body odors for plot devices and other minor misdemeanors.

How much zombie mythology/content

Our hero is still the same old zombie, though the scientists at BUM are acknowledging that there's more to what he is than science can explain.

How much fun

While not as enjoyable as the first two books, this is still a fun, quick read that makes you smile and keeps you interested. The plot takes a little while to get going and the ending is a little too over the top even for the suspension of disbelief you give an accidental zombie.

Synopsis & Review

SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE SECOND BOOK: Nathan has begun working with the Bureau of Useful Misadventures (BUM) to fulfill his dream of being a hero (isn't that what we all dream of?).

Nathan starts training for his first full mission with BUM. His contact, Peter Murphy, attempts to teach him important skills like following without being noticed, picking locks, and playing dead. You would think the last would be natural for Nathan, given his zombified state, but isn't as easy as it seems. Like all heroes in training, he fails early on in the basic tasks.

A much more difficult task he faces is a doctor's appointment where he has to convince the doctor that he's alive. Both the people at BUM and his school friends (Abigail and Mookie) want to help him but with very different approaches.

Meanwhile, the green slime/goop of the title starts showing up in all the faucets and water-based products (the school cafeteria serves the title's Goop Soup). The distressing phenomena eventually tie into Nathan's BUM mission.

As I mentioned above, the book is an enjoyable read. Like the last volume, the story is a little slow at the beginning but starts coming together nicely. The reader doesn't recognize immediately how things will tie together. A lot of the interest is centered around Nathan's relationships to his parents, his contacts at BUM and his school friends. His parents love him but without knowing his condition, they cause problems. After he injures his foot, his mom insists on taking him to the doctor. The people at BUM want to use him as a spy and push hard to get him to do what they want. His school friends want to help him get through on his own terms but don't know best how to do that. A nice relationship develops between a BUM doctor and Abigail, Nathan's nerdy scientist school friend, so the characters aren't as cut and dried (read, "one dimensional") as they are in other popular fiction.

The book includes a chapter from the next book and a reader's guide with study questions and activities.

Sample Text

On the enemy of BUM, starting with their acronym and working it out from there (p. 30):

[Mr. Murphy:]"RABID. Raise Anarchy by Inciting Disorder. They're dedicated to destroying freedom and democracy."
"That's a long, boring, and complicated story, Nathan. To tell the truth, politics often doesn't make much sense. And even when it makes sense, it can be quite depressing. I'll give you the short version. They want absolute power and total control. That can't happen as long as people are free."
I thought about that for a moment. Even though Mr. Murphy felt it was too complicated for me, it sounded sort of familiar. Power and control. Any fifth-grader knew all about that. "So, really, what they are is bullies," I said. Or gym teachers.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

J Performs for Superbowl XLV

In a new effort to achieve an even greater level of evil, my son has decided to re-enact the pernicious pastiche performance (I do not dare to call it "art") that is known as the Half-Time Show for Superbowl XLV. If you haven't seen it, consider yourself spared a front-seat view of the collapse of Western Civilization. Not only is it a crime against humanity, it is a crime against inanity.

That being said, I did find the show entertaining in a "it can't possibly get any worse--wait, it just did" way. Just when you think the Tron outfits and entrance are done, up pops Slash! Down comes Usher! Abstract neon shapes on the field turn into the word "love" during a song about love! When one of the Black-Eyed Peas' Tron suits went from a white LED square to a red heart shape, I thought they achieved the pinnacle of block-headedness. But wait, bring on the block heads! Here is J, representing that culminating moment:

Notice L fleeing in terror!

In order to avoid the British critique of being called pants, J decided to wear none. You should just be glad, dear reader, that I only have a picture and not a video.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Library Level Up

Both J and L have made big progress this week and it's all thanks to the library.

One of the many pre-school/children's programs at the library is a story time that's called "Pajama Time." Attendees are encouraged to come in their pjs with their blankets and teddy bears. J has been going on and off to Pajama Time for a year and a half at least. At the end of the stories, singing, and dancing, the storyteller usually stamps the hand of each child with something appropriate: a snowflake for a winter theme or an apple for a doctor theme or a triceratops for a dinosaur theme (no, I did not make that last one up!). At first, J refused completely to get a hand stamp. Eventually, he decided he wanted one but not on his hand. Cue parents scrounging for a piece of paper to be stamped. My impression was J thought that either the hand stamp was a boo-boo that would hurt or he just didn't want to be dirty. But this week, J decided that he wanted the stamp on his hand. We went to PJ Time twice this week and both times he got the stamp. J has definitely leveled up.

L hadn't been going to PJ Time because it was during her bed time (7 p.m.). Now that she's over a year and a half old, we decided to let her try it out. She loves it (including hand stamps)! The only problem was tonight. When we didn't go to the library after bath time, she was upset. Eventually she calmed down and settled into the bedtime routine (milk, stories, song). We're not discouraged to keep from going. She gets a level up too!

The next step is for one of us to stay with the kids during the story time while the other parent gets to use the library without constantly monitoring a rambling and rambunctious toddler or two. Imagine the research we could do! The books we could find! The naps we could take! We might get to level up soon too.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Zombie Review: The Reapers Are The Angels

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

You've got to love a book that starts with the most famous quote from Pet Semataryby S. King: "Sometimes dead is better."

ZPAA rating

Teen and up

Gore level

5 out of 10--The protagonist's favorite weapon is a Gurkha knife called at khukuri (or its variant spelling as kukri), so there's a lot of mashing and slashing with that, along with assorted other zombie killings. Plus, the zombies do need some sort of brain damage to ensure no more activity, so there's extra blows inflicted quite often. Some grotesquely over-sized and under-fleshed humans perform unsavory surgeries.

Other offensive content

The typical assorted bad language and attitudes; one attempted rape and one fairly graphic consensual non-marital sex scene (other scenes are just alluded to); a punch to the crotch; the main character can't decide if she's good or evil; lack of quotation marks around direct quotes.

How much zombie mythology/content

The numerous zombies (also called "meatskins" and "slugs") are slow-moving, flesh-eating, needs-brain-damage-to-kill-them types, though people seem to come back from death as zombies without being bitten or otherwise infected. The story is set about twenty-five years after the zombies rise and only hints at their origins.

How much fun

For a book set in a squalid, run-down zombie apocalypse, many moments of beauty and grace are found by Temple, a fifteen-year old girl searching for safety and solace. These moments help to alleviate the bleak oppressiveness of the world in which they live. She has a certain wisdom tinged with melancholy. She wrestles with whether or not she is a good person, as do other characters. What to do with people and how to treat them (as living and as undead) are also mulled over, which I find very interesting.

Synopsis & Review

The Reapers Are the Angels follows the life of Temple, a fifteen year old girl trying to live out her life in a world overrun with zombies. She is mostly a loner though she accepts the company of others and winds up traveling with a companion for a good part of the book. "Loner" is probably the wrong word. She is a searcher, looking for moments of beauty and for understanding of the world (though she already seems to have insight into the world and its ways). She believes in God and in a moral code but struggles with determining the right thing to do and freeing herself from the past evils that have scarred her. She experiences the "crackerjack miracles" God uses to show the world is not abandoned, hope is not lost, joy is not a thing of the past. Her blend of optimism and pessimism are compelling, even more than her spunkiness (only in the best sense) and her mad skills at zombie kills.

This story begins with her living alone in a lighthouse on an island a couple hundred yards off the coast of Florida. She enjoys a simple life and experiences the miraculous beauty God gives, a school of fish lit up like electricity on a moonlit night. The next day she discovers a smashed up zombie on the beach. The waters are getting lower as time goes on and it won't be long before the island is easily accessible from the main land. So she sets off in search of a new haven, or at least new adventures and miracles. She has a vague plan of seeing famous sights across the United States (mostly Niagara Falls). As she runs into different groups of survivors, they keep bouncing her off in different directions, paths she hadn't planned on but that she does choose (sometimes reluctantly). The world is well imagined. She runs into a great variety of people and monsters, giving the author the opportunity to reveal more of Temple's character, the world around her, and how she struggles to find her place.

This book has a very similar feel to The Roadby Cormac McCarthy, describing a journey of discovery and self-discovery through an apocalyptic American landscape. The main characters wander through byways and people's lives with a bigger goal in mind. Some people are good and some are evil, and the protagonists of both stories struggle with which categories they belong in. But the similarity ends quickly. The Road is pretty bleak and unrelenting; this book has moments of grace and joy throughout. God is quite absent in The Road where His fingers seem to be all over the place in The Reapers Are the Angels. The son has some optimism and hope which his father tries his utmost to protect, though he himself seems only to live for his son. Temple has her dark past but also hopes and dreams for the future, even in a landscape of fallen infrastructure and the risen dead. Even though they are similar, a more profound note of hope sounds throughout The Reapers Are the Angels.

Another difference is the writing style. Alden Bell writes in the present tense and uses no quotation marks, which is unusual but easy enough to follow. McCarthy uses the past tense and almost no punctuation other than periods and the extremely rare comma. Being a little fastidious, I found McCarthy's style to be a little too affected (are we to assume his apocalypse destroyed not only all vegetation but also proper punctuation?) and was constantly wishing his editor had more of a backbone. It never seemed natural or fitting to the story. I suppose I could have saved myself by listening to it as an audio book. But I digress too far, I am reviewing Bell's book. Thanks for letting me get my gripe with McCarthy off my chest.

As a bonus, check out a great discussion of The Reapers at A Good Story Is Hard to Find.

Sample Text

I had a hard time finding a concise bit of text to give a flavor of the book, so instead of some tidbit from the middle, I'll give you the opening which is quite vivid and a perfect start: 

  God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.
  Like those fish all disco-lit in the shallows. That was something, a marvel with no compare that she's been witness to. It was deep night when she saw it, but the moon was so bright it cast hard shadows everywhere on the island. So bright it was almost brighter than daytime because she could see things clearer, as if the sun were criminal to the truth, as if her eyes were eyes of night. She left the lighthouse and went down to the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter-waves tickled her ankles. And that's when she saw it, a school of tiny fish, all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced around her ankles, and she could feel their little electric fish bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in the moon at the same time. And that was something she hadn't seen before. A decade and a half, thereabouts, roaming the planet earth, and she's never seen that before.
  And you could say the world has gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are holding sway over the good and the righteous--but here's what Temple knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to and whatever evil she's perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish--which she wouldn't of got to see otherwise.
  See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don't miss out on nothing you're suppose to witness firsthand.
(pages 3-4)

One commenter asked about my opinion of The Reapers Are The Angels, since I got a little lost in saying how The Road compares unfavorably to the book. I did enjoy it quite a bit and highly recommend Alden Bell's southern gothic zombie novel.