Archive for the 'Personal' Category

Environment, Personal

Praying Mantis in the back yard

I was hanging up laundry to dry when I spotted this praying mantis on the table next to me:

Praying Mantis Praying Mantis

I’m not sure where in the world it came from. These critters are not native to Minnesota and won’t survive the winter, but after taking a lot of pictures of it with my son and checking that it wouldn’t do damage (thanks @jojeda), I put it in the front garden where it could feast happily on whatever insects it found there.

Funny, Personal

Another scene from my life with Kiara

K: Look at this beautiful bowl I got.

Me: Cool design, sort of a Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cthulu thing going on.

K: I thought it was women swimming…

Me: …

K: I don’t want your dreams.

Funny, Personal

Another scene from my life with Kiara

Here’s a tip. When telling one’s spouse about a story in the Onion, make sure they’re awake enough to notice that you said it’s from The Onion.

I started telling Kiara about this guy who was caught in a scented candle store during a mall shooting.

“I looked around at where I was and told myself there was no way in hell I was going to let them find me curled up behind a floor display of Midnight Jasmine Housewarmer jar candles.” …

Much of Mull’s desperate plight was captured on mall security cameras. In the grainy footage, he can be seen inching his way slowly over the blood-slicked floors and past the contorted bodies of other victims before collapsing unconscious in the entrance of The Sharper Image.

She looked at me, horrified. “Oh my god, is his wife alright?”

That’s when I realized that she had been asleep when I started talking and missed the crucial bit.

Then again, maybe it’s just safest not to share stories like this, period.


Keeping Warm

Kiara and I were snuggling on the couch watching Earth 2 last night, and I noticed she was shivering. Huh. It was a little colder than I expected. I have the thermostat set to drop to 60 after 11 p.m., figuring that if we’re not in bed by then, which we rarely are, it’s our own damn fault if we’re cold. But Kiara was really cold.

Turns out the batteries in the thermostat needed to be replaced, and the furnace wasn’t running. It was below zero last night, so yeah — we were cold. Easy enough: turn the heat off, replace the batteries, replace the batteries again because the first set didn’t work for some reason, reprogram the settings, and go to bed.

Did you notice the step I missed? Yeah, neither did I until I got up in the morning and saw that it was now 50. Brrr! It seems that it helps to turn the heat back on.

So there. A little tip, from me to you. Sleep well.

Parenting, Personal

What We Say About Santa Claus

“I told Owen that Santa’s dead.”

Those were the first words out of Kiara’s mouth when I arrived home one day last year.

If you press her on this now, she’ll insist that she didn’t tell our dear little then-four-year-old that Santa Claus is dead. Just Saint Nicholas. Big difference. :)

We’ve never made a big deal of Santa Claus. Every year people ask if we’ve taken our kids to see him. No, we haven’t. Seeing Santa wasn’t a big deal for us when we were kids, and we don’t want to make a big deal of it with our own children. “What?!” you exclaim, “You have to take them to Santa!” No, not really. Heck, our own mothers look at us strangely when we bring it up.

This is about the time when people assume that we’ve already told our kids the “truth” about Santa, that Santa isn’t real.

No, we tell them that Santa is dead. :-D

Hah. Far from it! We read the stories, “The Night Before Christmas” and the rest. There are so many good ones, it’s not only hard to avoid, it’s pointless. They are an important part of our cultural tradition.

When Owen (now five years old) asks if Santa is a real person, a natural question with a Santa on every corner, we shift the discussion away from talking in those terms. We say that he is very real to a lot of people, that people all around the world tell a lot of different stories about Santa — for example, the Swedish will tell you that Santa lives in Spain. We don’t shy away from the fact that in some parts of the world, he’s just not a significant part of the Christmas tradition at all. We explain that Saint Nicholas was real and did some Very Good Things, and that people started telling stories about him to keep his memory alive, that some of those became stories about Santa Claus. We don’t give him gifts “from Santa,” although others do; we just don’t make a big deal out of it. We stress through our words and actions that the important thing about Christmas is not Santa Claus and presents, but the time we spend with our family, being generous and loving, and infusing the entire year with the Christmas spirit.

At this age, the difference between fantasy and reality is not as distinct as it is for (most) adults. Whether Santa is “real” or not is a non-issue. The magic of the stories, the magic of the season is very real, and that’s what we hope our children carry with them.

Books, Personal

Legal Lit Crit

In the five years between graduating from high school and starting college, I spent a great deal of time immersed in literary theory and criticism. How else was I going to spend all those late nights drinking coffee in dark, smoky coffee houses? Once at college and on my way toward a French degree, I continued to read and work deeply in lit crit. But it began to wear on me. A couple years in, by the time I reached a point where coursework had us diving headfirst into literary theory instead of just dipping our toes, by the time when it became the focus of the program, I had had enough. It had all become just so much BS.

Still is.

Sometimes, though, sometimes, it’s fun to read something like this: “Harry Potter and the Unforgivable Curses: Norm-formation, Inconsistency, and the Rule of Law in the Wizarding World.”

Environment, Personal


As part of Marketplace’s series of stories on the American consumer economy, they did a short piece on a family of compacters, people who have sworn off buying anything new for a year.

My family is doing that this year. Nothing new, save a few exceptions like food and hygiene products. We’ve officially been at it since June, though we actually started about a month earlier. From our compact, which borrows from others’:

We plan to follow the principals of the San Francisco group, as follows:

  1. To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract our negative impact on the environment.
  2. To support local businesses, farms, etc., reducing resources used for transportation.
  3. To reduce clutter and waste in our homes.
  4. To simplify our lives.


  • Don’t buy new products in stores or online. (Exemptions: children’s pajamas, socks, underwear, swimsuits, and common sense items such as food, hygiene supplies, medicine, cleaning supplies… Use the “fair and reasonable person” standard. You’ll know in your heart when you’re rationalizing a violation.)
  • Borrow or buy used items as needed (resale, garage sale, antiques, free internet…)
  • Services: barter or support local businesses (plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, veterinarians, dry cleaners, house cleaners, etc.) and encourage used parts (rebuilt transmission, salvaged headlight unit…)
  • Gifts: give used items or “experiences” (museum memberships, massage, classes, charitable contributions…)
  • Plants: perennial exchanges, cultivate from free/shared cuttings or seeds. If necessary, purchase from local businesses, farmers markets (not the Home Depot Garden Shop)
  • Arts and Crafts: First line of attack: Artscraps! When absolutely necessary (for the professionals and talented amateurs in the group), buy from local businesses and use as you go. DO NOT STOCKPILE!
  • Magazines, newspapers, books: no new subscriptions or renewals — read online or from the library, buy used books, share.
  • Movie rentals, music downloads: Both OK. Used CDs are OK – or buy directly from artists.

Why are we doing this? Mostly for environmental reasons, to lessen our impact by consuming less. We also have in mind the idea that we can reduce the clutter in our small house. We certainly have clutter aplenty! One of the reasons that we bought a small house in the first place was to limit the amount of stuff that we accumulate. I don’t want a bunch of crap lying around. Buying less new stuff helps, or at least should. We have to be on guard not to buy more old stuff instead, while trying to get rid of things we don’t need.

Buying nothing new might seem extreme. But to tell you the truth, it hasn’t had much impact on our lives. We already bought most things used, including clothing. Yes, other people’s pants. Kiara sews and knits a lot (and does a whole lot of other things), so it’s not like we ever buy mittens. We already used cloth diapers. We used cloth bags at the grocery store when possible. That sort of thing.

The compact has helped clarify a couple decisions, like whether or not to subscribe to a newspaper. We occasionally get tempting offers right around when we realize that we’re not keeping up on the news, but we don’t really need to have a lot of paper dumped on our doorstep every day.

It’s raised interesting and sometimes difficult questions: what about school supplies? Do we send a bunch of used crayons? What if we can’t find used uniforms that fit Owen?

We’ve discovered resources for finding used things. Craigslist is obvious and useful, but there are thrift stores that I never knew about, and the Twin Cities Free Market. Sometimes cities or counties make wood chips available for mulching. Friends and neighbors have tools that we can borrow, and to whom we can loan what we have. There are resources out there in the community if you just look for them.

The biggest sacrifice for me has been books. I buy a lot of technical books, the sort that don’t turn up in local used bookstores or libraries. I’m an early adopter, so they’re often the sort of books that are out of date as soon as they’re published. Sometimes I can get an e-book, but often not. For now, I just make do without. With all the information now available online, many question whether technical books are even necessary, especially on cutting-edge technology. Maybe they’re right. I’ve come to admit that I’ve bought books that weren’t strictly necessary, but the books sure were a hell of a lot easier to read on the bus than a web site.

Overall, though, I feel like the compact isn’t quite the right response to our effort to reduce, simplify, and declutter. I know that we could be doing more. Inspired by the efforts of No Impact Man and, more locally, Riot for Austerity, I wonder if striving to do something else like reduce our energy usage by 50% wouldn’t be more in line with what we’re really trying to do. Reducing consumption is a good step, but it focuses on consumerism rather than a broader range of issues, of things that we do that impact the environment and complicate our lives.


A squirrel at the door

Kiara called us over to the back door, to show us this:

squirrel at door

It visited with Owen for quite a while:

owen and squirrel

It came back later to visit the cat. I couldn’t get the camera in time, though.


How Can You Tell?

A conversation between my wife and her mother:

K: Sam’s really excited about that.

Her mom: How can you tell?

Yeah, I deserve that. A poster boy introvert raised in Minnesota, I am usually… less than demonstrative. If you only ever talk with me about something I know well, you’ll see something quite different, but by and large I am quietly reserved.

Kiara jokes that I should wear a little badge on my chest so that people know when I’m upset:

Sam is upset

and when I’m happy, I could flip it over:

Sam is happy

I thought of this today when I was talking with someone about something that I think is really, really exciting, and I realized that I was giving practically no cues that inside, I was dancing like mad.

Gotta work on that.


Another scene from my life with Kiara

Me: Can we go see the Helvetica documentary?
K (without hesitation): No.
Me: Really?
K: Yes. I am here to thwart all your font-based film-going hopes.

Damn. I thought for sure she’d bite on that one, but I underestimated the strength and breadth of her life goals.

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