Tuesday, August 29, 2006

From the Bookshelf: Parenting Books

We bought a whole slew of books on parenting the other day. I guess we feel that we've transitioned from infant care -- survival and stimulation -- to a more nuanced phase in which behaviors and communication will play a bigger role. So while we used to be worried about sleeping (The No-Cry Sleep Solution), Eating (Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right), and Medical Care (What to Expect in your First Year), now we're on to other ideas.

* Positve Discipline by Jane Nelsen

* Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen

* How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by H. Norman Right

* Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

I haven't even skimmed all of them yet, so I can't give reviews. On first impression, the first two seem like complements, two approaches I might use. The latter two seem a little more squishy. (Reading the first chapter of Playful Parenting made me want to wake the Monkey up and play with him.)

Day after Day

Yesterday, I was going to blog about how "dialed in" I felt as a parent and household member. The Monkey and I spent a great, interactive day together, yet I still managed to buy groceries, improvise a quasi-gourmet meal, clean up the house, help get the Monkey to sleep for the night, etc. etc.

Today, I got no downtime -- the Monkey took his nap in the car -- and a lot of problems seemed to crop up that should have been apparent yesterday.

That's parenting for you. Or maybe that's just life.

But it's definitely parenting.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Porchblogging: Phase One Complete

Feast your eyes on masonry, unencumbered by wood. Feast, I say!

If this were Architectural Digest instead of this blog, I would have moved the PVC pipe, the sack of mortar, and the mixing buckets. But that's Architectural Digest for you: so pretentious.

Good in the Back

I blog anonymously, mostly to protect the identity of the Monkey. As such, I don't post photos of him on this blog. But I gave him his second haircut a while back, and I think it turned out pretty well. Especially considering that I didn't have the advantages the Monkey Mama had at his first haircut: namely, another parent around to hold his head still. Accordingly, I was a little bashful with the scissors in the front -- near his eyes -- but I think I did a good job elsewhere. As a wise man once said, his hair is getting good in the back (at the end of the 4th verse).

Planes and Things

In addition to construction equipment, the Boy is into helicopters and planes. When he hears one, he looks up. And just as we are fortunate to have an active construction site at the end of our block to indulge his curiousity in that aspect, we are lucky to live near the helicopter flightpath to the nearby hospital.

Today, the Monkey Mama and I showed the Boy his first Richard Scarry book. Richard Scarry [warning: link contains profanity] rocks! The Boy is fascinated by the rich detail, cute pictures, excavation equipment and flying machines, and situations that are evidently frought ("Oh no! Lowly Worm has lost control of the steamroller!") And as the Monkey Mama was pointing out a picture of an airplane in the book, prompting the Monkey to produce his idiosyncratic sign language for it, we heard the sound of a plane going by.

Yesterday and this morning, I brought the Boy by the nascent construction site. I was trying to catch them in the process of erecting the big crane. Apparently, that's a job requiring more thoughtful consideration than either of us have the attention span for. But I looked down the street this afternoon and saw the big red crane up and running.

New Medium

En route to the bathtub, the diaperless Monkey peed on the Monkey Mama. I think her order of operations should be revised so that the diaper comes off a little later in the program.

Parenting is a team sport, and there's no "i" in team. Of course, there's no "i" in Schadenfreude, either.

But more than anything, this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me glad that blogging technology was unavailable to my parents in the 1970s. (Hat tip to Matthew Yglesias.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Porchblogging: Best Laid Plans

In the absence of actual photos of considerable recent progress made on the porch, here are some Sketchup plans.

The first is a schematic of the built-in storage and bench I am planning to build when the contractor is done. (He gave me a break on the price; I don't want to throw in a lot of custom built-ins at the last minute.) Leave suggestions in comments by clicking on the timestamp below.

The second is a more recent incarnation of the plans that will hopefully convince DCRA to lift my stop work order.

Splash Park

Times are hard for the Monkey (and his family). He is cutting two molars simultaneously, and 6 or more teeth simultaneously. The Monkey Mama could use some more sleep, and the Monkey Daddy has had easier days than the ones he's been having.

Only one solution: Turtle Park! The giant sand box, the extensive collection of play equipment, the shaded swingsets...perfect.

And today, I learned about another feature: there's a 20-foot square fenced in concrete patio that shoots six-foot water jets from the center, and a smaller fountain in the corner. That's right: a splash park!

The Monkey was pretty subdued -- it was strategically close to nap time -- but he still had a good time playing with a bulldozer in the sand, watching other kids, playing on the swingset, and sauntering into the splash park.

Odd, though: Turtle Park is in the whitest, richest part of DC of which I am aware. And the prospective splash park slated for Petworth is...delayed.

What's the Sign for "Sign"?

Here is the Monkey's idiosyncratic sign language vocabulary:

primates generally (monkey, ape, gorilla, orangutan, etc.)


let's go that way! (just kidding: it's a point)

ceiling fan
church (we showed him once, he picked it up the next day)

I am probably missing a few. I'm glad we started doing the BabySign thing. He gets so much satisfaction from signing a word, or hearing us say a word he's just learned, or just the fact that we "get" him.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Porchblogging: Another Go

The concrete is done, but for the ground slab. The wall(s) and stairs are complete. That means it's time to build the deck: a transition point in the work, and a milestone in the contract. (Time to bust out the checkbook.)

But my contractor is wondering how I'm doing on the permit application. Hell if I know. It's been two weeks since I've heard that nothing's been done.

So tomorrow I'll go down in person, and hope (again) for the best.

I'll even bring a picture of my neighbor's backyard, which plainly shows that the other side of my retaining wall is...a void. My neighbors' steps to their basement are on the other side. This means that there is virtually no load coming from that side of the wall. And there's no load coming from my side of the wall. Which means it's more like a masonry fence than a retaining wall...which should minimize the engineering requirements they lay on me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Backhoe Frontloader Dumptruck Steamshovel

The Monkey is in a serious infatuation with heavy construction and excavation equipment.

Just our luck, then, to have a major excavation project just around the corner at the Petworth Metro site. And numerous row houses in the neighborhood that are being converted to condos, which usually involves propping up the facade with a steel I-beam and then excavating the basement by hand or machine. Not to mention the minor thing going on in the backyard.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Porchblogging: Antipodal Edition

Apparently every DCRA employee has a voicemail greeting that promises to return my call "within 24 hours or one business day." But it is all lies, all lies.

Meanwhile, construction continues apace. The retaining walls by the upper stairs are poured and curing, as are the lower stairs. Tomorrow, two men should be able to pour the upper stairs and the storage slab. Then the masonry portion of the project is over, and only the screened in wooden deck will remain.

It's the disjoint between the two schedules of progress that is truly alarming.

The Best County Fair in the County

On a friend's recommendation, I went to the Montgomery County Fair with the Monkey today. Who knew there was so much agriculture in Montgomery County? Granted, the prize-winning vegetables did not immediately impress. But the sheer tonnage of livestock -- dairy cows, beef cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, pigs, horses and ponies -- was genuine.

The Monkey no longer needs to take my word for it that cows moo, goats baah, and roosters cock-a-doodle-doo. He's seen all these animals before -- at Drumlin Farm in Massachusetts, and at the National Zoo -- but he's never heard them quite so vocal.

There were some antique tractors and pump engines, and a highly stimulating midway. (I did not lot the Monkey fall victim to any carney barkers.)

It was a great afternoon, and the Monkey took it all in. Part of me is just glad that his "range" is up to 4 hours: he can go out for that long and still have a rewarding, positive experience.

Porchblogging: Regulatory Limbo Edition

These pictures are a little behind, but they show the parging of the foundation wall before it was covered with plastic sheeting and backfilled with dirt, and the full height of the retaining wall that will surround the underporch storage area.

They have since poured another retaining wall that runs alongside the future concrete steps to grade.

I am in regulatory limbo. After two visits to the DCRA, they told me to come back Friday. On Friday, they told me they hadn't gotten to my permit application, have a nice day. And they gave me a number to call so I wouldn't have to waste my time in person. The following Friday, I called the number, which was a message stating that the number was no longer active and that I should call another number. Which was a voice mail leaving another number for immediate response. Which was the voicemail of the receptionist. (A receptionist has voicemail?) I tried another few numbers -- including at least one wild guess -- and I talked to exactly no human beings.

This is just one of the many reasons why it didn't automatically occur to me to obtain permits.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

High Five

The heat -- or at least the infernal humidity -- had broken. And an erratic sleeping schedule over the past few days had created a fussy Monkey and a fatigued Monkey Daddy. Rather than stay shut in with the Boy, I put two and two together and took him to the Zoo.

New animals for the Monkey: anteaters, sea lions, and beavers.

The anteaters(!) are personal acquaintances of my friend, who used to be Curator and Lead Keeper of the Nashville Zoo (the former home of the anteaters). They are kind of the same size and shape as our dog, but with more extravagant tails. (And is it rude to mention that their noses are slightly on the large side?)

The sea lion show was just beginning as the Monkey and I rolled past. We spent the previous weekend at my parents' condo in Virginia and had taken him for his first swim. With the concepts of swimming and pools recently acquired, the sea lions appeared to make an impact.

The beavers sat around in the sun and scratched themselves. I don't know what kind of an impact they might have had.

My goal for the trip was to go to the Bird House, where exotic birds run around and shriek. The peacock was especially raucous, and the ducks were cavorting nicely. Afterwards, we sat on a bench and I fed the Monkey his lunch. Then we walked back towards the main zoo via a long bridge suspended over an active construction site where a new Asian environment is being built.

Below us were a large steamshovel and a bulldozer. They were working in amazing synchrony: the steamshovel would scrape and gather a large mound of dirt; the bulldozer would plow into it; the steamshovel would swing laterally into the mound to top off the bulldozer; and away the dozer bulled, back up the hill from whence it came. Literally tons of steel were swinging around and coming within scant feet of each other. It was impressive.

At some point, the bulldozer went off on its merry way, and wasn't coming back anytime soon. The steamshovel operator, seeing the transfixed Monkey on the bridge above, brought his shovel to its full extension: just a few feet below where we watched from the bridge. Then the operator had the shovel wag up and down, in a crude hydraulic simulacrum of a wave.

I felt like giving the steamshovel a high five right back.

On the way back, we briefly paused by the elephants and the giraffes. But the Monkey was tired, stuggling to keep up his engagement, and too well fed. So we boogied for home and he fell asleep in the car. At home, I lifted him out of the car seat and he barely stirred. I brought him to his crib and he slept for two hours.

I wondered back to our first trip to the zoo, when I barely knew how to feed him or get him to nap, and when the sight of a giraffe spun the gears of his little Monkey brain like tops.

Like A Stack of Old Newspapers

I remember picking up the habit of reading a daily newspaper my freshman year of college. I would have an early class, then get some coffee and a biscuit and gravy (it was the South) and read the paper. I didn't have a subscription, so I would just buy the newspaper at the newsstand.

One day I bought the paper, but either I found a friend to talk to or I had to study for something, and I never read the paper. I brought it back to my dorm room, intending to read it later. I found it a few days later, and opened it up to read it... and then realized it was old, perishable, out-of-date.

Life has been busy lately: too busy to blog. And I find that some really great ideas I had for blog entries are no longer "of the moment."

I suppose it's the blogger's lament: not enough time to post, and then the ideas for posts -- not to mention the memories of the events themselves -- seem to slip away.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Awe of the Wall

This is how much wall two people can build on a 100 degree day (heat index==114).


And is that level enough for you, or what?

Pulse of the City

Riding home on my bike through the heat was hot. But the 15 minute ride was well within my capacity: near the end, my pulse rate was about 150. And after I was home for 15 minutes, I was back down to 105. Right now it's about 82 -- higher than I'm used to for a resting pulse, but I guess that's the excitement of blogging for you.

We had some thunderstorms tonight, so that should bring cooler weather. Heat emergency: over. Time to head down to tidewater Virginia for a three-day weekend of R&R.

Porchblogging: Rebar edition

The Point of Whoa is past, and construction has begun. A concrete footer has been laid, and rebar pokes out of it approximately 24" o.c. (or every third planned cinder block void), and more frequently on the corners.

It's pretty official looking, and the rebar in the corner is set several feet into the earth. These guys aren't joking around: they're doing the job right. (I wish I had known they were going to this much trouble before I submitted my plans. Oy.)

The dog, as always, looks concerned.

Here are two shots of the underporch drainage system. A drain at the foot of the steps and another drain on the face of the main slab meet at a "Y" into an existing drain. (There is another existing drain -- not visible in the photos at the bottom landing. I guess that one is for draining my basement from the inside out the next time the neighbor's water main breaks.)

Incidentally, I'm proud to say that if you google "porchblogging," this site comes up first.

Just wait until the porch is finished and I can drink a gin & tonic on it. Then the porch blogging will begin in earnest.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

R-H-Y, T-H-M

The Monkey has always enjoyed dancing. For him, it looks like bobbing his head up and down, and maybe shrugging his shoulders along with it. Now that he's able to stand up for a long time (with appropriate support), he's added bending at the knees to the routine.

But it's one thing to do all those things. It's another thing to synchronize them. The Monkey is getting it together.

Just Two More Hours

At work I was pounding my way through some electronic drudgery, cleaning up a data set for later use on a policy question.

Just 10 minutes before it was time to leave, it finally occured to me: a way to work smarter rather than harder, a way to program the computer to do the dirty work quickly.

At another phase of my life, I would have been happy to throw in two more hours to follow that lead. But now, that's what tomorrow is for. It was time to go home and get back to the Monkey.

What it's Not

It's not just the heat.

And it's not the humidity.

It's the air quality.

(At least, that's the way it seemed to me on my bike ride home.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wonderful Son (Summertime edition)

We truly have a wonderful son. He put up with DC heat, politicians, bureaucrats, and strange nutrition. And he smiled throughout, and made things easy on his dad.

First up on Monday: Groundbreaking for the new Park Place development in Petworth. (Links to news stories.) This event served mainly to prove, yet again, that politicians look silly with hardhats and shovels. But it's also going to be a good thing for our neighborhood: they're developing the site directly above the metro stop, with street-level retail and 150 new condos (20% of which will be "affordable.")

Of course, there will be construction-related hassles, and parking is about to get a lot worse...but it will reduce the walk to the nearest coffee shop from .5 miles to 500 feet. And nearby parcels have already been assembled for other developments. And the local grocery will continue to improve, and maybe get supplemented by an organic grocery. And New Hampshire Avenue will be planted with trees in the median strip.

But the weather was hot. And our Boy can't take much heat. His total exposure was 30 minutes, partially under the shade of his stroller, and with cold water always on offer. I got to hear three or four speeches and watch the shiny shovels strike the dirty dirt, and then we went to the reception at the Sweet Mango Cafe across the street to cool down. (The speeches were mercifully brief, especially considering the lead-off speaker is running for mayor. Adrian Fenty's got my vote...and even this loudmouth agrees.)

We didn't stay at the reception long; just long enough to talk with the Monkey Mama's yoga instructor (a local business leader) and a couple of community activists of my acquaintance. There were a couple of protestors chanting "Affordable housing YES! Gentrification NO!" I asked one of them, "What about a little of both?"

But the Boy and I had bigger fish to fry: the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Reglatory Affairs (DCRA).

I was up until 2am the night before revising my drawings into plans. After being invited to resubmit my permit application, I got some input from my neighbor the engineer over the weekend. There wasn't really time to juggle the homeowner-engineer-contractor-architect-client-etc. input into the project. But there never is, right? The architect always wants to do something the engineer doesn't want, and then the client changes his mind, and then DCRA gets their say, and the dance begins again. That's why construction is hard.

The Boy fell asleep on the walk between the Metro and the DCRA. It was about 6 or 8 blocks, and I covered his stroller with a light-blocking blanket. He had eaten potato and broccoli just before we left, so he was in pretty good shape. He slept through my pick-up of the surveyor's drawings I had ordered Friday. Then he slpet through the first meeting with the Homeowner Center expedited-fast lane-pilot project. My permit was not expedited, nor put in the fast lane, nor a model for any other project. As an inspector kindly told me later, "You're just the same as all these other shmucks." (It really did come across kindly, though.)

The Boy woke up just as I was taking a number to line up with the shmucks. We couldn't leave the waiting room, for fear of missing our number being called. (Later I found that I could see the number being called on a red LED display through a glass partition, so I expanded our pacing range.) And I couldn't know how long it was going to take. And although I remebered his premeasured baggie of formula powder -- honest, officer! -- I had forgotten the premeasured bottle of water. I was so intent on keeping it nice and chilled against the heat that I left it in the refrigerator. So I did a little amateur potion-making in his sippy cup, and the Boy was satisfied.

This is where the true wonderfulness of our son comes in. He was calm, relaxed, and pleasant for two hours while the Monkey Daddy waited for the number to be called. He was curious, so I had to follow him around and keep him out of trouble. ("Sorry about that thick roll of architect drawings, sir!") But he was enjoying the busy room full of applicants and inspectors, a melting pot of developers, architects, engineers, homeowners, agents, facillitators, clerical staff, a security guard, and a janitor. We played games while he sat in his stroller. In particular, he is getting good at throwing a water bottle for distance. This cracked him up...to the delight of at least one shmuck who was watching. Even with a fullish diaper for the last few minutes, he only fussed just as our number was called.

Anticlimax. I was informed of my shmuckiness, and told to call back in a week or so. ("Call back Friday, and see what happens." --- "I appreciate your optimism.") Since the excavation was complete and ready for cement and rebar, I was hoping for sooner rather than later. We'll find out more Friday. Or Monday. Or whenever.

I changed his diaper and we went back out into the heat. But only 6 blocks later, we were at the doors to the Monkey Mama's office, and out she came. We cooled off in the Building Museum, and we fed him chick-pea salad and bits of my veggie sandwich. He was so happy to see his mama, and to crawl around on the vast indoor expanse of carpeting (with a foutain!) inside the museum. He did manage to mug a toddler, before I could pry his hands off the kid's hair. (This is a troubling behavior worth keeping an eye on.)

But we said our goodbyes and metro'd back to the house. Back in his home environment, he was just as happy and relaxed as he could be. Some playtime, some dinner, the return of Monkey Mama, then bathtime and bed.

I was hoping that his adorable face would have some juice at the DCRA. To show you just how demented an institution the DCRA is, it did not.

I feel so fortunate to have such an easy-going, happy kid.