Next Stop, Vaudeville

Yesterday morning, Jason and I were sitting at the table, as usual, eating our breakfast. I was just finishing my English muffin, pondering the improbability of the silence of the last several minutes, when Jason came up with a request.

Jason: Daddy!

Me: Yeah, buddy?

Jason: Water!

Me: You want water?

Jason: (points) Doggy water!

Me: That's right, the dog has water. Do you want water, too?

Jason: Yeah.

Me: OK, I'll get you some water, but you have to say please, first.

Jason: Please. First.

Last Weekend

I meant to post these pictures on Monday, but between Jason getting sick and a particularly busy week at my office, I just couldn't find the time. I know, "Excuses, excuses." In any case, here's what I have from last weekend's photos:

We went to a new park in Liberty Station on Saturday:

We got some lunch at a seafood place nearby:

Then after we ate, I took some pictures of the Point Loma marina:

The rest of the set:

Poor Judgment

Dinnertime has been an an interesting example of Jason's development lately. On the one hand, he's becoming more adept with his utensils and his aim is also improving, which means that a much higher percentage of his food actually makes it into his mouth. On the other hand, he's more or less decided that he's done with bibs and knows how to remove them on his own. The net effect is that by the end of dinner every night his chest and lap are covered with food. We usually deal with that by just stripping him down after the meal, which is fine anyway because there's usually less than fifteen minutes to go until his bathtime.

Tonight went more or less as usual in that regard, though Jason did jump the gun a bit and started trying to get his shirt off before he was finished eating. After he was done and I took him out of the chair and got his pants off, he started complaining about his diaper. Juliette glanced down and, sure enough, it was sagging heavily between his legs. Still, he hadn't pooped and his bath was just a few minutes off--it seemed like a waste to put a brand new diaper on him at that point.

Of course, while we were discussing our options, Jason decided to take matters into his own hands. He managed to slide the diaper halfway down his butt before we noticed, and although we initially wanted him to leave it on, we quickly relented and helped him get it all the way off, leaving him naked except for his right sock.

"No wonder he wanted it off," said Juliette, hefting the diaper in one hand. "This is the heaviest diaper you've ever had, buddy."

"Is this a good idea?" I asked. "What if he starts peeing?"

"Well, we'll just have to wipe it up," she replied.

You can all see where this is going.

Jason was overjoyed about his newfound freedom and immediately scampered off to the living room with a shout of glee. Juliette peeked over the couch to find him digging around in his toybox. "Mike, look how cute!" she cried. "You have to take a picture of this."

I hemmed a bit about the light being bad but grabbed the camera anyway. I was just entering the living room when Juliette let out a little shriek.  "He's peeing!" she laughed. I glanced down and, sure enough, there was a little puddle growing by his feet. What's more, he managed to pee through the wicker of his toybox, spraying all the toys inside.

Being dog owners on top of being parents, we've gotten pretty good at cleaning up messes on our carpet. There's always a bottle of Nature's Miracle under our sink these days, and a mini-carpet shampooer in the closet. On balance, not really that big a deal. It certainly livened up the evening a bit, though. I just hope Jason isn't heading into a little nudist phase, or else this scene might become more common than I'd prefer.

The Stone War

By Madeleine Robins

In something of an odd coincidence, this is the third book out of the last four I've read that was about New York.  This one came to me via a co-worker, with whom I've been trading books and DVDs lately. I lent him my copies of Forever, Good Omens, and Neverwhere, and he lent me The Stone War.

The book is set in a dystopian near-future New York City where crime and homelessness have run rampant.  Most of the city's residents have retreated into locked-down apartment buildings staffed with armed guards, while the homeless have been granted the legal right to squat in doorways and street-side gardens. The main character, John Tietjen, is one of the few who loves the city the way it used to be and still walks the streets unafraid.

This is the scene as we are introduced into Tietjen's life, and we watch as he interacts with his neighbors, argues with his ex-wife, and tries, unsuccessfully, to get his children interested in the city. Suddenly, while he's away on a business trip, an unknown catastrophe falls upon the city, with thousands killed and most of the rest fleeing as refugees. Tietjen makes his way back to New York, discovering an eerie ruin, covered with damage that no natural causes can explain. He brings together a small community of survivors, who must fend for themselves against the challenges of rebuilding, not to mention darker forces loose in the city.

Overall, The Stone Rose was an enjoyable read, but I kept feeling like it could have been more. It was author Madeleine Robins' first novel, and had many of the strengths and weaknesses first novels so often have. On the one hand, Robins' ideas were strong and she clearly has a passion for writing--older writers often seem to burn out long before they actually stop writing, to their readers' detriment. Unfortunately, her vision just wasn't executed that well. Much of what's set up in the initial parts of the book is dropped completely after the disaster, which left me feeling very unsatisfied with the overall direction of the story. Too, it's never really explained or resolved just what's so special about Tietjen, though numerous references are made to him being so. And the picture of an empty New York City, twisted and ravaged by supernatural forces, is wonderfully evocative and provides an opportunity for some truly dark or eerie scenes, I couldn't help but feel that Robins wasn't able to fully deliver on that promise in the way a more experienced writer might, though she did reach in that direction.

It may sound as though I'm bashing the book, which isn't really my intention--as I mentioned before, it was pretty enjoyable overall. I think the reason for my disappointment is just that there was so much potential for this to be a truly great story, but unfortunately that story never fully materialized.

Started: 4/12/2010 | Finished: 4/14/2010

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Earth Day

Juliette volunteered to work her school's booth at the 2010 San Diego EarthFair, so we decided to make an afternoon out of it.  Jason and I walked around while Juliette was working, and after her shift was over we got some lunch and hung out.

It was pretty crowded:

Some people were very opinionated:

Others had somewhat questionable fashion sense:

In the end, we had a pretty good time:

And here are the rest of this week's set:

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer was the second of two movies that Juliette and I saw while we were visiting my parents. Neither of us knew anything about it going in--we'd never even heard of it. But my stepdad said that it was good, so we figured we'd give it a chance.

As it turned out, The Ghost Writer was Roman Polanski's newest thriller. The title character, a nameless writer played by Ewan McGregor, is hired to re-write the memoirs of Adam Lang, a former prime minister of the UK, played by Pierce Brosnan. As you might expect, though, all is not what it seems, and as the writer works, he begins to uncover secrets about Lang's past that put his own life in danger.

The only other Polanski film I've seen is Chinatown, and while there are some similarities--in each film, the protagonist is a lone outsider who is brought in for a seemingly innocuous job, only to find himself caught up in much bigger events. The Ghost Writer, though, falls far short of Polanski's 1974 classic.

There just wasn't much to work with, really. None of the characters are particularly interesting or well-rounded, and none of the performances are inspired or quirky enough to make them work in spite of the lack of material in the script. Instead, the entire film hangs on the plot and atmosphere. That can work when the story concept is original or unexpected, but while this movie does have enough twists and turns to keep most people guessing, it doesn't do it any better than any other conspiracy thriller, nor does it really bring anything new to the genre.

In order to make up for the underwhelming script, Polanski tries to manufacture tension with his filmcraft, presenting us with bleak, forbidding images, everything in harshly desaturated grays. On top of which, the pacing is very slow for much of the movie--there are long stretches with very few lines. The idea must have been to heighten the sense of isolation by making everything seem cold and quiet, but it just didn't work very well for me.

There wasn't anything horribly wrong with The Ghost Writer and I imagine that there are a number of people who would agree with my parents that it was pretty good. But in the end I just didn't feel engaged by it, which seems to me a rather glaring flaw in a thriller. Still, it was nice to spend a little time in a movie theater again, eating popcorn and sitting next to Juliette without any interruptions. That's something I definitely don't get enough of these days.

Viewed: 4/3/2010 | Released: 3/19/2010 | Score: C+

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One of my favorite parts of fatherhood is hearing Jason laugh. Fortunately for me, he laughs a lot. He laughs in the bath, he laughs in the car, he laughs at the dinner table. It's not all laughs, of course, he talks and whines and yells and cries, too. But the great thing is that no matter how worked up he might get, he's never too far from laughing again.

Interestingly, Jason seems to have started developing a real sense of humor lately as well. He learned the word "funny" a week or two ago and since then whenever he finds something amusing he not only laughs but also announces loudly that it's funny. More than that, he also understands "not funny." And when you stop and think about it, it's kind of amazing that a person so young and inexperienced with the world can grasp such a slippery concept. Or maybe it's not. After all, most people can discern whether or not something is funny, even if we can't explain why.

As much as I'm fascinated by Jason's continued development, there is one small down side. An example from a car ride this past weekend is illustrative:

Juliette: (sneezes)

Jason: (laughs) Mommy funny!

Juliette: (laughs) Is Mommy funny?

Jason: Funny!

Me: Is Daddy funny?

Jason: No.

Story of my life...

Crazy Heart

My first instinct as I sat down to write this review was to make some kind of comment about how late it was in coming. But, going back through my review archives, I noticed that an annoyingly high proportion of my reviews start that way, and reading them one after another, it just sounds whiny and self-indulgent.

This review is starting off much better, I'm sure.

I think I first heard about Crazy Heart in the lead-up to the Golden Globes, when everyone was talking about Jeff Bridges' chances at winning Best Actor. Of course that piqued my interest, since Bridges is one of my favorite living actors. Then he won the Golden Globe, and then the Oscar, and I put it on my Netflix "saved" list and more or less gave up on seeing it in the theater.

It turned out, though, that it was still playing at the independent theater down the street from my parents' house when we went out there to visit them, and Juliette and I were happy enough to take my mom's offer of babysitting. We actually considered just staying in and going to bed early, but my mom was so eager to spend time with Jason and so insistent that we enjoy ourselves that she practically shoved us out the door. I'm glad she did, though. (Thanks, mom.)

Most of what I'd heard and read about Crazy Heart said it was an adequate but not terribly impressive film that was turned into something more by the strength of Bridges' exquisite performance. But I think that it really had two pillars holding it up--not just Jeff Bridges, but also the music.

There was a time in my life that I described my musical tastes as "everything but country and rap." Since then, though, I've found something to connect with in both genres. I'm still not much for the sort of country-pop that seems to be in vogue these days, but some older stuff--Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Strait--does resonate. The music in Crazy Heart hearkens back to those earlier styles of country music, I think, and works well largely because the songs really mean something in the context of the narrative. It also doesn't hurt that Jeff Bridges is a surprisingly good singer.

Of course, I can't write a review of this movie without talking about the performances, especially Jeff Bridges'. And he was brilliant. But that's not much of a surprise--in my opinion, Bridges is one of the most consistent actors currently working. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall were both also excellent, and Colin Farrell was also surprisingly good.

Still, for all the talk this movie got and continues to get for its performances, what's really stuck with me has been the music. Juliette commented on the way out that she wanted to start listening to country now. I think it very well may come to pass.

Viewed: 3/31/2010 | Released: 12/16/2009 | Score: A-

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Last Day of Spring Break

Jason managed to drown Juliette's phone this past weekend, but fortunately she was due for an upgrade anyway. One feature of the new phone that she's been enjoying is the ability to record video:

To commemorate the last day of her spring break, we decided to take a trip to the zoo. We have a membership there, which is nice because it means we can just pop in for an hour or two and spend a longer time at just a few exhibits, rather than rushing to try to see the whole park. In any case, we had a good time:

I Hate My Utensil Caddy

Juliette and I have a nice little system for figuring out our nightly chores. When Juliette cooks, I do the dishes. When I cook, I do the dishes. It works out perfectly because Juliette gets some time to relax in the evening and I get the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the dishwasher has been loaded properly and the dishes have been cleaned to my standards. There is one thing I hate about doing the dishes, though. I hate the utensil caddy.

You may be thinking, "But Mike, why would you hate your utensil caddy? All it does is sit in your silverware drawer and make sure that your salad forks and dinner forks stay separate. Surely you don't hate your utensil caddy. After all, what could it possibly have done to you to inspire such strong emotion?" I do hate it, though. And I'll tell you why: it's because I'm a crazy person.

I hate that my utensil caddy is made out of widely-spaced wire mesh, because it means that every time I open the silverware drawer, the butter knives slide through the spaces in the mesh grid and stick there. I end up either having to unstick them before taking them out to use them or remembering to open the drawer very slowly every single time. Or deal with bent butter knives. People, this is not a choice I should have to make.

As annoying as that is, it's not such a huge problem. After all, I could just go get a new utensil caddy, one with smaller gaps, or which lacks gaps entirely. (I shouldn't have to do this, but it's still an easy enough solution.) What really drives me up the wall about my utensil caddy is something common to every caddy I've ever seen. It is an inherent design flaw.

Imagine that you have finished washing and drying your dishes, and now must set about putting your utensils back where they belong. If your house is anything like my house, you've probably got two or three forks to put away, maybe four, and perhaps six or eight clean ones already in the drawer. So you drop your nice, freshly cleaned forks back into their neat little caddy spaces and go on about your business.

Some time in the not too distant future, you will need a fork again, of course, so back to the caddy you'll go. And most likely you'll take the fork from the top of the little pile in the fork space. But, people, that is one of the forks that you just put back in there. What about those six or eight forks sitting on the bottom of the pile? Odds are, you won't get down to them at all unless you have company over, which at my house, anyway, happens no more than twice a week and usually a lot less. This means that a small minority of your forks is being used at least 2.5 times more than the rest, and is thus accumulating that much more wear than the rest.

Of course I recognize that you can easily avoid this problem by either always taking the fork from the bottom or by always putting away the clean forks on the bottom of the pile. But that is completely unsatisfying, because either way it means you have to take out all of the forks to get to the spot you want and then put them all back every single time. And that's just unacceptably inefficient.

Look, I already told you that I'm a crazy person.

Like most crazy people, I'd like to blame it on my parents. I know that's kind of a cliché, but in my case I think it's probably true, since this particular sort of crazy seems to run in my family. Trust me, if you've ever seen the look on my aunt's face when someone says that they may have accidentally spilled a drop of spaghetti sauce into the crack between her stove and counter, you'll know that I'm not making this up.

I'm convinced, though, that it's not just me and my mom's family who are crazy like this. Somebody else out there has gotten worked up about stuff just as ridiculous as a utensil caddy. So tell me: what's your bit of crazy?

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