Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Backstory: DH is away in the wilderness for a week on a work retreat (OK, he's totally at that Burning Man bacchanalia, but all the previous is also true) so it's just been me and Jackson. I've explained that Daddy is traveling for work and he'll be back in {X} days. Tonight I found my ever-missing phone (this time it was in a secret stroller pocket!), which has a wallpaper of DH, and Jackson was overjoyed to be back in contact with Daddy, even though there's actually no cell service where Daddy is, so it's all pretend and must remain so for {X} days. :)

P.S. Turn your head or your computer to watch the first video since I forgot video footage can't be rotated like stills. Oops!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Baby after our latest hike up and down the Westchester Bluffs Fire Road.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pattern Recognition

My brother is getting his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering/autonomous systems/robots, so as Jackson begins the intense learning phase of toddlerhood, it's apparently sparked quite a few convos between brother and dad (grandpa) about the pattern recognition work the kiddo is doing right now and how sophisticated and complex a computation it is.

It's amazing that anyone figures out anything at all. Two things I noticed today:

Horses, or, in our little world, "nay-nays" (because "horses say neigh-neigh"), are one of Jackson's favorites, and he can spot a horse at 50 paces. It can be a cartoon, a photograph, a big Budweiser horse, a pony, or even the rear end of a racehorse, and he correctly identifies it as a "nay-nay". But lately we've been exploring some complexities of the English language, namely that the word horse sometimes appears in places where there are no horses.

What is a baby to make of "seahorses" or "horseradish" or the idiom "hold your horses"? At one point can he understand that seahorses are fish but their heads look like horses, so the Great Namer dubbed them seahorses? (In the meantime, I'm just helplessly saying, "Yes, water nay-nay!") And horseradish is even more complicated, because you have to explain "radish", and then try to explain that maybe it was such a bitter food that old-timey farmers thought those radishes were only fit to feed to horses and other livestock, and therefore the Great Namer called it "horseradish." That's a lot of information! When will he have the knowledge base for that to make sense?

Similarly, I dare a computer to correctly to correctly distinguish between a car and a truck 100 percent of the time. Semi-trailers are trucks, and Mini Coopers are cars, so if the size is extreme, that's doable distinction, but what about minivans, crossover vehicles and SUVs? Are they cars or trucks? And what to do about armored cars, which are probably trucks but are called cars? Me and Jackson are clearly going to be parsing the finer points of car, truck, bus, train, farm vehicle, construction equipment and so forth for many, many years!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Richard Scarry's scarlet macaw,
from Best Storybook Ever
Jackson's Very, Very Busy Day

Today we hit the farmer's market, where we got some produce and some beautiful marigolds, and where Jackson fell off a picnic table bench (argh, but no harm done), and then we took a long hike across the park to the library. Mommy forgot the stroller so Jackson got lots of practice walking on an uneven surface! We met some other great moms and nannies in the children's section of the library and Jackson commanded their attention by shouting (at non-library volume, of course) "Baby! Baa! Bear! Book!" And so forth.

After a nap in the car and a quick lunch, we made our first visit to the Star Eco Station. The Star Eco Station is a little zoo and animal rescue center right here in Culver City. They're located between Jefferson and "Ballona Creek", just north of the Baldwin Hills. The Eco Station turned out to have the great animal collection, which was well-served by our enthusiastic eco-minded teen tour guide and the small, approachable scale of the whole place. It's just an industrial warehouse refurbished to be a combo wildlife-rescue facility slash educational destination for kids, so everything is close and contained.

Jackson has demonstrated some interest in macaws after seeing them with his grandma in Las Vegas, and we were delighted to see that one of the main features of the Eco Station is their fabulous bird/parrot/macaw/cockatiel collection. We learned lots about different kinds of macaws: scarlet, military, hyacinth, blue-and-gold and more! We also saw three chincillas in real life. Chincillas and macaws are two of the more unusual animals featured in one of Jackson's favorite books, the Roger Priddy My Big Animal Book. I loved being able to give Jackson a concrete-ish association to go with pictures from familiar books.

Oh, and did I mention they also have 10 baby alligators? According to the tour guide, an unsuspecting Fedex driver was on the freeway when he heard a "scuffle" in the the back followed by the sound of a box falling off a shelf. Fedex guy pulled over, went in the back, and discovered 10 baby alligators making a break for it. Fedex guy called the police, police called U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and USFWS called the Eco Station. Long story short, if you know any responsible adults who want an alligator, I think I can get you a deal!

(The Eco Station also had two big alligators, two caimans and bunch of other interesting reptiles, including the biggest, scariest reticulated python I've ever seen, and two incredibly charming and mobile desert tortoises that live out front.)

Anyway, Jackson was overtired so it wasn't our greatest expedition ever, but he loved the macaws, even/especially the ones that were being rehabilitated because they'd been abandoned and were depressed/anxious and thus plucking out their feathers in grief. (Cry with me, animal lovers.) I swear he particularly bonded with one sweet hyacinth macaw that looked like a plucked chicken. And when we left, Jackson did his usual "By-ee!" and I'll be darned if one of the talking blue-and-gold macaws out front didn't say "Bye!" right back. Too cute!

The two major downsides to the place are (a) money, everything costs money, and (b) you can't just tour the rooms on your own--as Andrew knows I jokingly follow a strict "20 minutes per duck" policy on wildlife encounters--so that was a bummer for me. I think we could have easily spent an hour just on the parrots.

All in all though, the Eco Station had a fantastic friendly staff, we had a great tour guide, and it was a really fun trip to a cute little zoo.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I like expensive things. I just do. Or maybe I just hate cheap crap made in China, but as a general rule, if there's a fancy deluxury version of something, I want it. I know kids can be entertained by toilet paper rolls, but I'm secretly like, "I want the toilet paper roll handcrafted from endangered teak by resurrected Homo floresiensis!" As such, I'm feeling all pleased with myself that my better angels beat my spendy shoulder devils today and that I still provided my child with an excellent childhood experience.

1. Paper REUSE! There's been much debate in this house recently about if children are entitled to clean printer paper for scribbling. My husband's brother never let him have new paper to write on when he was little, so we're like, "Mmmm...scrap paper, what's up with that?" Anyway, we discovered today that the ridiculous free phonebooks that (a) still exist, (b) are delivered to your house for free, (c) still exist LOL, are nothing if not 600 pages of perfectly useful, handsomely bound scrap paper. Yay! (It's not like the kid even knows how to hold a crayon anyway.)

2. Bug Cage REUSE: I have been literally agonizing over the question of bug cages, because that's the kind of weird that I am. The one we had as kids was handmade by my crafty grandfather, but that's now a family heirloom, so what does one do when one wants to imprison a cool bug for nature study by children? Big Lots has some appalling plastic-crap-from-China models, but I don't want to subsidize that! Anyway, today I caught a green fig beetle to show Jackson. Green fig beetles are these magnificent iridescent emerald bugs that sound like B-29 bombers. They are beautiful and interesting, and so clumsy and slow that even someone like me can grab them right out of the air if they fly low enough. I carry the bug in the house and tell Andrew, "Um, can you get up and help me find a jar to put this thing in? I can't open my hands or it will escape." Husband gamely comes to the kitchen to help me find a jar when he's like, "Would this work?" This is a empty plastic box that recently held strawberries, and I'm like "THIS IS GENIUS! It's SEE-THROUGH and comes with pre-made AIR HOLES!" Suffice it to say, we got the big bug in the container, Jackson was interested enough to say "Bug! Bug!" a couple of times, and even nature cynic Andrew was impressed by the bug's color. Long story short, bug season and berry box season coincide, so henceforth we shall use reuse berry boxes for our bug cages. Now if only I could catch the lizard that lives in the compost bin...

Baby during intermission
The wolf, he bad
3. FREE ENTERTAINMENT: I find myself stunned that this is real or even exists, but I took Jackson to a free play at a Culver City park and it was awesome. The Culver City Public Theater sets up show for two months every summer in a grove of trees and entertains kids for free. We saw a production of Big Bad Wolf Tales by Blake Anthony Edwards (Eric Pierce was awesome as the wolf), and Jackson was rapt for the first act. (Less rapt for the second act, by which time he had figured out: "That is not a wolf, mom, that is a man. Also, I don't really understand English, and I don't get any of these pop culture references at all.") Parking was free and plentiful, we sat under a shady tree, and there were even dogs in attendance, all the better to entertain small boys who don't yet have an appreciation of the finer points of The Stage.
For All My L.A. Mamas

Bookmarking this for myself and others: List of free days for Los Angeles area museums:


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Just finished reading It's a Boy!: Your Son's Development from Birth to Age 18 by Michael Thompson, Ph.D., which was recommended by a mom friend of mine who is a teacher and read it with the rest of her school as part of their annual group reading program. I completely recommend it for all moms (females!) of boys (males!), as it efficiently explains the developmental stages to come, how boys may differ from girls, and how the "boy code" and the evolution into manhood effect your small person (soon to be a big person).

Now, as much as I appreciated this book, my overwhelming response was some combination of (a) outright denial--oh no, my son will never be like this, and (b) Tumblr-style DO NOT WANT. The reading problems, the fart-humor phase, the spastic energy, the boy-on-boy bruising trash talk and brawling...it all just sounds awful. Now, I know that's because I AM A GIRL, and I know that the Genghis Khan/Don Draper of it all is what MAKES THE WORLD, but dear lord, do you have to be such unreasonable assholes about it all? Ugh. SO...besides the fact that I'm now terrified about having a son (in a more informed way), here are some takeaways:

  • Definitely getting the kid a study-skills class somewhere between fifth and seventh grade (or earlier?). The author recommends such a thing as a palliative for the "disorganized" boy that emerges at about age eight and can get worse from there.
  • If I wasn't already fanatical about teaching the kid to read before school in hopes of avoiding the nightmare suffered by my mother upon her discovery that LAUSD was not equipped to teach my learning disabled/dyslexic brothers, this book underlined that boys in particular struggle with the demands of the schoolroom and that falling behind in school at an early age can be devastating. Fanaticism now goes to 11! 
  • I'll take just about everything in this book as another reason to stay married to my baby daddy. In fact, after reading this book I'm beginning to suspect that the whole reason to have a husband may be so that you have someone to manage your boys once they become, you know, boys!
  • Boys are awesome, and if you can keep them from jumping off the roof to their deaths when they are 11, they will eventually reward you by turning into great young men.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Trip to the Chicken Zoo

Jackson is freaked out by--and then excited by--a real live rooster. The gawdawful racket in the background is from a cage full of 100-plus budgies between the two rooster cages.

Jackson meets a mouse. (He was sticking his finger up his nose for a while and I was desperately trying to convince him to use a tissue to blow his nose, but then I realized he was just signing mouse, LOL.)

When we went to the real zoo the other day, Jackson hopefully signed "chicken" a couple of times, but there ain't no chickens at the real zoo. 

Luckily, Los Angeles is a vast and dense place, and you can find at least a version of just about anything you care to have. To wit, there is a shop a couple miles south of downtown called the Polleria (Spanish for, roughly, "chicken store"). At the Polleria, you can buy, should you so desire, chicks, pullets, hens, roosters, ducks, ducklings, turkeys, poults, pigeons and so forth. Then, if you're hungry, you can go next door and have them slaughtered and dressed to order. So yes, I did take my toddler on a field trip to an abattoir, but let's focus on the live animals for the time being. 

I covet chickens, and it took me forever to find a local place that actually has them. (Ordering live chickens online seems to either cost a fortune or result in 12 unsexed chicks landing on your doorstep. No thanks.)

Anyway, I asked this time--the staff speaks Spanish-only for the most part but there was a bilingual teenager working today who translated--and I can get a point-of-lay pullet for $2.25 any time of year. They also sell doghouse-lookin' things that can serve as chicken houses, for the fairly reasonable price of $65-$85, but no run or egg boxes or wheels etc.

Today I merely treated the Polleria as a chicken zoo for Jackson. He got to hear what a cock-a-doodle-doo really sounds like (it sounds loud!), he got to see chicks ("BABIES!!"), hens (complete with recently laid brown eggs), ducks, pigeons, doves, ducklings, big bunnies and baby bunnies, plus fish, mice, rats, boas, pythons, lizards, tarantulas and scorpions. I really liked the scorpions, and the beautiful scary roosters, and I got an important lesson in how many FLIES live in and around a chicken house. Dear lord, going to have to keep that in mind if I want to do any future chicken-keeping. 

Anyway, I think it was a fun trip, and it's actually a lot closer to our house than the real zoo. It's usually just a straight shot down Slauson from our house, although today there was (a) construction on Slauson, and (b) a bank robbery on Florence that had all the streets closed for blocks around. That's life in the big city.

Should you live in Los Angeles and want to visit the Polleria yourself, it's technically called John's Feed and it's located at 2048 E Florence Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90001.

Visiting the Polleria yourself? Just look for the giant chili-light-wrapped chicken on the roof.
Pollos, pavos, conejos, palomas, patos, codornices; vivo y fresco.
The section where you can get flats and flats of eggs (chicken and quail) and/or have your chickens slaughtered and dressed is located around the corner from the main store, adjacent to a used car dealership.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I read somewhere that a kid is considered a competent walker when he can go 50 feet without falling. Well, today Jackson blew through that. He walked from our house to the end of the block, without falling once, without running into the street, with greeting several strangers along the way, and with a tremendous amount of toddler determination. And as Andrew pointed out, he wasn't even planning to worry about the kid's development until  he couldn't walk at 18 months, so the fact that he's a totally capable walker at 16.5 months is a nice thing.

On a related note, I made one last trip to Borders tonight before that chain closes for good (they're down to 30 percent off at the El Segundo location, in case anyone cares). I was browsing the book chaos while Jackson was happily pulling toys off shelves, and he caught the attention of a nice lady. He proudly announced "book!" and she launched into a enthusiastic response. Long story short, after chilling with Jackson for a while, she told me she was a speech therapist and that he was doing great on language development for his age, so that's another yay!

I'll try to post more videos soon. I want to get one of him walking at this age, and one of him saying all his toddler-y little mispronounced words before he grows out of them: "Bewwy" (berry) "Seeee-wee" (seaweed) "Dokee" (turkey) "Bobble" (bottle) "Ruck" (truck)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When I was at Stanford, grad students were the object of our constant scorn because they wore bike helmets and outfitted their bicycles (on which they commuted to and from their off-campus apartments) with all manner of seemingly absurd geegaws and doodads. Well, I am now that nerd. This old bike was bought used about eight years ago. It's terribly rusted from being abandoned outside for years at a time. I just used a hearty helping of WD-40 to loosen up the rusted-shut clips on the back baskets. I also just installed the pink bike bell I've had in the garage for about four years, put batteries in the back bike light and installed the 60-kajillion-terrajoule LED front bike headlight. I removed the front bike basket because it was getting in the way of the headlight. Somewhere a wrongly maligned grad student is laughing...

The good news is I might be getting more exercise. We have a wonderful Sprouts Market close to us now, and I have delusions of grocery shopping on a daily basis, visiting my local markets by bike, à la the Europeans or No-Impact Man. (Watch the No-Impact Man documentary if you ever find it on TV or in the library, it's a fascinating family story that almost reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, although of course it's Upper-Middle-Class Professionals in the Big City instead.) I used my bike to go shopping tonight, and aside from the two or three near-death experiences (I think I need to inflate my tires better?), the ride was beautiful, the August full moon was a treat and now I am eating chocolate-covered pretzels, whee!

At one point during our trip to Vegas, Jackson revealed that (a) he had learned the sign for "zoo" without having previously let on, and (b) he would like to go to the zoo again, please and thank you. So today, the little boy got his zoo, and mama's happy because this was the third and final trip necessary for the membership fee to not be a waste. Whoohoo!

We had a great time. Jackson wore his best lion shirt for the occasion, and even though the lions themselves were unavailable, the zebras, various monkeys, various apes, the giraffes and the birds were all awesome.

This silverback gorilla was having a breakfast of yesterday's stale zoo popcorn and yummy greens.

There's a lady chimpanzee in a hammock in the back of this picture. Shortly after this was taken a gentleman chimpanzee came to visit her for an efficient tête-à-tête, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

We had lunch with this adult male orangutan, who had curled himself into a ball and smushed himself into the corner of his exhibit area between the viewing window and a wall. I suspect it was cool against the glass. We tried to wait the old boy out in order to experience a livelier orangutan experience, but he was better at sleeping than we were at waiting.

"Bur! Bur!" We both liked the aviary, where Jackson got to see some supercool greater flamingos (his enthusiasm about them is pictured above--I was a little worried he was going to wiggle through the bars in his excitement). The flamingos were being bossed around by a fabulously pushy scarlet ibis that was about a third their size. ("Move, bitches!" "OK, OK, but why do you always have to be so mean, red?!") We also saw a crowned crane. I decorated Jackson's room with illustrations from Gustaf Tenggren's The Lion's Paw, which features a fairly excellent bestiary, so it was awesome to see a real crowned crane and a real scarlet ibis, because we talk about those two birds all the time.

The goats, sheep and ducks were also a hit. Several of the monkey ladies had monkey babies clinging to their fur which I thought was awesome. And I didn't spend any money the entire trip, whee!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Baking Project

Our apple tree gave us 6 lbs 5 oz of Anna apples that were getting too ripe to be good for "eating out of hand" so...

I used a recipe from The Art of Simple Food to make them into open-faced tarts. There's still another bag of apple slices left over in the freezer, maybe to save for Thanksgiving? Seriously, if you're hungry, please come over to my house and soon, because this is too much food for our little family.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Year One

At some point during the past nine months plus 16 months, someone (I wish I could remember who) told me the Gessell Institute of Human Development series were the best books on understanding your kids. You may have seen these around, they're a series that runs from "Your One-Year-Old, 12 to 24 Months: Fun-Loving and Fussy" to "Your Ten-to-Fourteen-Year-Old." The focus is on developmental milestones standard to the age, what they can and cannot do, and what the parent can do to cope. They're way old-school, some apparently are based on material first published in the 1950s, my edition is published in 1982 and very much of the 1970s. (The pictures of '70s tots in snowsuits are excellent!)

Anyway, I found the one-year-old book at one of my used bookstores, and here are my takeaways:
  • Apparently if you raise a human infant and chimpanzee infant together, their capabilities don't really start diverging until they are 18 months old.
  • There's one chart of how 18-month-old kids move around a room versus say, four-year-olds. The 18-month-olds move like they're the ball in a pinball game; apparently they "think on their feet" or their feet are their brains or something. In the same timespan, the four-year-olds move, like, once.
  • They claim 15 months and 21 months is easier than 18 months when so many things are aligning for them at 18 months that they kinda freak out. (The book says this in science talk, I say it in Valley Girl. Forgive me.) On pages 86-87, they have some nice developmental schedules that split the year into three parts, rather than considering all one-year-olds en masse. 
  • Apparently many 15-month-old kids can combine two words, but I'm really not sure Jackson has done this yet. I am waiting with bated breath, I tell you. Apparently Jackson's spoon acrobatics are normal at this stage, and they can't really handle a spoon right until sometime after age two. Also, at this age, he should be able to "imitate a stroke of crayon upon paper" rather than just scribbling. Hmmm...All I know is the kid likes his Mickey Mouse Magnadoodle.
  • One-year-olds are very often shy around everyone except primary caregivers; they are able to loosen up again around age two.
  • In case of meltdown, "Gross motor activity may be his best outlet." Apparently stroller rides count (or maybe even car rides) as well as setting them outside to run in circles.
  • If the kid gets one meal and two snacks a day, he's probably getting adequate nutrition. (Sigh. Jackson eats like five meals a day.)
  • They describe a body-type personality analysis that is now said to be outdated junk science, but just the same, this is pretty much my kid: "The plump, good-natured endomorph will enjoy good food, will enjoy other people, couldn't care less whether he comes out ahead." In the face of such fatalistic pronouncements, however, I must respond with a quote from the great revolutionary Sarah Connor: "No fate but what we make." So there!
  • I have applied this advice repeatedly since I read it and it's made my life much better: "You will get much farther with the child of this age by lifting him bodily and putting him where you want him to be than by talking to him." Also: "Do not expect him to do things to please you. Do expect him to do things to please himself."
Their recommended reading list for this age, in Appendix B, is mostly a relic of the 1970s that boils down to "small children need durable board or cloth books filled with rhyming verse," but I was introduced to and will be ordering Charlotte Zolotow's The Storm Book from the library based on the Amazon description. 

In any case, I found a lot to value in the first of the Gesell series, and I will probably read the followups eventually. Of course, I have a lot of other baby reading to do as well. My bedside table currently includes The Girlfriend's Guide to Toddlers, Diaper Free Before Three and Potty Training for Dummies. Plus I have six pounds of apples from our Anna apple tree that I need to do something with, I have to pack for Vegas and so, yeah...I suspect the kid will potty train himself before I get the required reading done. 
Parenting Milestone!

OK, so we're nowhere near the "binky removal" stage, but by god, we're done with the *$%@# white-noise machine. We realized that monster (we had the worst model ever) was more of a crutch for us than useful for Jackson, so we've been going without for about 10 days now, and we've had no problems at all at either naps or bedtime. For a long time, turning on the white-noise machine was our version of "It's bedtime and that's final," but lo and behold, the kid sleeps just fine without it. Progress!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Baby Booty

This is the only picture I managed to snap during our trip to the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum. Suffice it to say, Jackson was too busy chasing butterflies to pose for a proper snapshot.
A Story About the Letter "K"

The kid would not to sleep, so we ended up on the floor of the kitchen talking about milk "bobbles" and the alphabet. The cutie pointed to the letter "K" in his alphabet magnet set on the dishwasher, so I told him "K" is for kangaroo.

Cue hilarious, clumsy baby imitation of the sign for kangaroo.

Then I told him "K" is for kitten, which is a baby cat.

And then I told him "K" is for kisses, and even though I have no idea when he learned the word kiss, he instantly crawled up and kissed me sweetly on the cheek.

Awww...I love you too, baby boy.