December 15, 2009

robot story about the origin of thanksgiving

once upon a time there were some people
named pilgrims, and they had a ship.
they also had a robot with them.
they were looking for a place called america,
across the ocean.  it was so far,
and they had eaten all the food they had on the ship.
they were very hungry.
when they finally got to america, 
they looked around, but they didn't see anything to eat.
there was a beach, but they couldn't eat sand.
there were trees, but they couldn't eat wood.
there were bushes, but they couldn't eat leaves.
so they decided to split up.  they said,
'robot, you go that way, and we'll go this way.
let's meet back here when we find some food.'
the robot said: OKAY, and off he went.
the pilgrims found some people who already lived
in america, and these people shared some seeds with them.
they shared pumpkin seeds and corn seeds 
and bean seeds and potato seeds.  
the pilgrims planted the seeds in the ground, 
and waited for them to grow.
it was almost winter, and the seeds did not grow.
the pilgrims were getting hungrier and hungrier.
just then, they heard a noise in the sky.
it was getting closer and closer.  
what was that coming toward them?
it was an airplane!
the little robot was flying the plane. 
he waved to them through the window.
he zoomed right above the pilgrims' field
and from his plane he dropped down boxes and boxes,
and the boxes had parachutes on them
and all they floated down through the sky.
when the pilgrims opened the boxes
they found food and candy
and chewing gum and matches
and they were so happy.
and they said 'Thank you, robot!  Thank you!
Where did you get all this?'
And the little robot said: FROM THE FUTURE.
And he flew away.
The pilgrims had a big meal to celebrate 
and they decided to call it Thanksgiving.

a robot story from october

once upon a time there was a robot.
he lived in a cottage in a field, a little house that he fixed up,
but that was in another story.
he also had a helicopter, parked out in the field.
when the propellers went around and around
they made a huge wind.
one day, the robot decided to fly his helicopter into town
and play robot music with his friends in the plaza.
he landed it in the plaza, next to the big fountain.  
but when he found his robot friends, they told him
that they couldn't make music because they had no instruments.  
the drummer robot had no drum,
and the saxophone robot had no buttons on his saxophone,
and the trumpet robot had no mouthpiece on his trumpet.
they said that a big gust of wind came
and blew away the drum, 
and blew the buttons right out of the saxophone,
and blew the mouthpiece off the trumpet, 
and they were all lost.
so the robots started looking around 
to try to find the pieces of their instruments.
they looked up at the bell tower, and the robot said,
"IS THAT YOUR DRUM UP THERE?"  so they climbed the bell tower,
but it wasn't really a drum, it was a bell.
and they looked in the fountain, under the water,
and the robot said, "are those the buttons of your saxophone?"
but no -- they were coins, shining at the bottom of the fountain.
and they looked through the windows of a coffeeshop, 
and the robot said, "is that the mouthpiece of your trumpet?"
but instead, it was a shining silver coffeecup.
so the robot decided to use his helicopter to look around.
he flew all around the town.
he didn't find the instruments, 
but when he got back to his robot friends
they said that a huge wind
blew the pieces of their robot instruments right back to them.
the drum blew off off the top of a building,
right into the drummer robot's arms.
all the buttons of the saxophone came skittering down the street,
with the wind pushing them along.
and the mouthpiece of the trumpet came sliding down a drainpipe.
so the little robot got out his guitar
and they all played music.

another robot story, with many key elements dictated by elliot, especially the sleeping

once upon a time there was a robot
who was sailing a pirate ship
looking for somewhere to be alone.
he sailed and sailed, and on a day
when the sky was very blue and the sea was very green
he saw some birds flying around.
he said: HEY BIRDS
And the birds said: Just keep flying west
A little farther
And you'll find something
The robot sailed all day and all night,
and the next day the sky was very gray,
and the sea was very purple.
The robot saw some dolphins swimming and jumping
and he said: HEY DOLPHINS
And the dolphins said: West a little farther,
And you should find an island.
The robot kept sailing,
all day and all night,
and the next day the sky was very white,
and the sea was very blue,
and the robot found some big turtles swimming.
And he said: HEY TURTLES
And the turtles said: Yes,
Only a little further west and you will find it.
Just then the robot caught sight of the island
And he sailed closer and closer,
And finally he was in a little bay,
pulling his pirate ship up on the sandy beach
with his strong robot arm.
Then the robot went to sleep under some trees
because he was very tired after all that sailing.
When he woke up, he looked all around the island.
It was a small island,
with tall trees good for climbing
And rocks in the bay for sitting on.
The sun was shining again.
And the robot said to himself
And just then, he saw the birds flying into the bay,
and the dolphins swimming into the bay,
and he saw the turtles crawling their way up onto the beach.
And they all had a party together
And it was so much fun.

October 14, 2009

Two bedtime stories about robots

Just for fun, we will now share two stories from our rolling repertoire of made-up bedtime tales. The first story is a month or two old; the second one we just made up tonight. These stories tend to sort of mutate over time; I'll get bored with something, or Elliot will suddenly demand some change. These are really just snapshots.

once upon a time, there was a robot
who liked to eat ice cream every night before he went to bed.
but as everyone knows,
when a robot eats ice cream, it makes his mouth stick together.
the robot was lying in his bed, almost asleep,
and there was a full moon in the sky,
shining into the room.
and then, coming down the moonbeam, down and down,
a tiny silver beetle
came right into the robot's room
and he sat upon the window pane,
and he said: Robot, robot, awaken
for i am a magical beetle
and i will grant you one wish
anything that you desire, just say it,
and i will give it to you.
and the robot said: Mmffmllnlmnnn.
and the beetle said: What?
and the robot said: Nrmflmflltrrmnmmm!
and the beetle went away.

one night, a few weeks later,
the robot ate his ice cream and went to bed.
it was a full moon that night, a big round moon,
and the moonlight was shining through the window.
the robot was almost asleep
when suddenly a tiny silver beetle came down the moonbeam,
down and down,
right into the robot's room,
and sat upon the windowpane.
and he said: Robot, robot, awaken,
for i am a magical beetle
and i will grant you one wish,
anything you desire, just say it.
and the robot said: Flmrnmlmnrlrmr.
and the beetle said: What was that again?
and the robot said: Wflmnrrrmnrrrmlm!
and the beetle said: I don't understand what you're saying!
and he left.

well, a few weeks later,
the robot was about to eat his ice cream,
but he discovered
that there was only one spoonful of ice cream left
in the whole house.
and he said: Only one spoonful of ice cream in the whole house??
and he ate that spoonful of ice cream,
and he went to bed.
the robot was almost asleep,
when suddenly the full moon came out from behind a cloud.
and down the bright moonbeam came
a silver beetle, down and down
right into the robot's room,
and sat
upon the windowpane.
and he said: Robot, robot, awaken,
for i am a magical beetle
and i will grant you one wish,
anything you desire--
and the robot said: I WANT SOME ICE CREAM PLEASE!
and so the beetle gave him a big bowl of ice cream
and it was

once upon a time there was a robot who had nowhere to live.
he mostly walked around the town.
one day, he came across an old house in a field.
it was old and broken down.
he said (in a robot voice): HELLO HOUSE
the house said, hi, robot.
the robot said: HOW ARE YOU
the house said, well, i feel little bit sad. my front door is all broken down.
the robot said: DON'T WORRY I'LL FIX IT FOR YOU
and the robot jogged back into town
(clomp clomp clomp)
and he found a big wooden door in a dumpster.
but it was a little too big for the house,
so he turned his arm into a saw, and he cut it to the right size.
then he put it over his shoulder, and he jogged back to the field.
and he put in the new front door.
the house said, thank you!
now i have a new, beautiful front door made of wood.
and the robot said: YOU'RE WELCOME
the house said, but i'm still a little bit sad.
I have lots of broken window panes.
the robot said: I CAN FIX THAT
and the robot jogged away, down the road, to the beach.
(clonk clonk clonk)
and when he got there, he turned his arm into a laser.
he melted down some sand,
and turned it into brand new window panes for the house.
then he carried the windows panes over his head,
and he jogged back to the field.
he put the new windows into the house.
and the house was very happy.
the house said, thank you, robot! that is so much better.
now i have no broken windows.
the robot said: NO PROBLEM
the house said, but i'm still a little bit sad.
i have holes in my roof, so when it rains,
the rain comes inside.
the robot said: I KNOW WHAT TO DO
and the robot jogged into the forest.
(crunch crunch crunch)
he found some reeds, and he turned his arm into a scythe.
he cut the reeds, and he bound them together, and he made a
whole new roof for the house. he rolled up the roof,
and he carried it back to the field.
he ripped the old roof right off the house,
and he rolled on the new reed roof.
wow! said the house.
i feel so much better now!
thank you, thank you for fixing me up.
the robot said: IT WAS NO TROUBLE
but then the house said, you know, i'm still a little bit sad.
and the robot said: WHY IS THAT
and the house said, i'm sad because no one lives here.
i'm an empty house.
would you like to live here?
and the robot was very happy, and he said: YES
and he moved into the house,
and they were friends.

This was the first night I told this story, and Elliot already has changes he wants to make. He said, "Next night, can it have a mama in it? And can they all go to the beach?"

September 04, 2009

In A-2

We are set up in Ann Arbor and open for business! Will post more v. soon.

Please see my Facebook profile (under the Info tab) for our new home address and home phone number (which is not a landline, but will ring both of our cellphones).

We don't have interwebs at home yet, but there's a Chicago Public Schools teacher on an Amtrak train, right now, headed east. She's carrying the goods: a DSL modem. Her name is Kate. And we need what she has.

P.S. Yes, they call it A-2 here (as in, "A-2 Window and Glass", "A-2 Auto Works" and not AA. For reasons that should be obvious.

P.P.S Elliot is doing well -- about 85% of his normal awesomeness level, which is good under the circumstances. But he's totally sleeping in our bed and we can't do a thing about it.

August 12, 2009

Supporting a family: health insurance, retirement, etc.

If Sarah were going to buy health insurance for our whole family through the University of Michigan -- and she's not going to -- but if she were -- a comprehensive insurance plan for the 3 of us would cost nearly $1500 per month, out of her pocket.

That is the number UM would withhold from her paycheck. It's not a particularly fantastic health plan either; it's simply fine, and would cover Sarah, her spouse, and her 1 child.

Post-docs are somewhat modestly compensated affairs. But this is still a full-time job at a premier institution -- the 18th best university in the world, according to the U.S. News list. So the sort of funny thing about this is that, depending on the level of Sarah's retirement savings withdrawals, tax withholdings, life insurance, disability insurance, etc., if she DID get the health insurance for her family, I think it would be possible for her to achieve a take-home pay of zero from this university.

Again, we're not going to do this. Fortunately I have health insurance for us already.

But it really might be a nice absurdist exercise to get that paycheck with all zeroes printed on it. You could frame the paycheck in a nice gilt frame and save it for when the toddler grows up. Print a caption that says, "Full-time tier-1 university job with benefits, America, 2009." Put it in his hope chest!


August 08, 2009

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Well, yesterday was quite a day, if you're us. Sarah turned in her dissertation to the Northwestern English Department. Her dissertation defense happens in one week. She could soon be Dr. Mesle.

Short paragraph! Long summer.

Sarah's been working toward this day, with afterburners, for probably 12 to 14 hours a day, since June, with literally one or two days slacking off for vacation in Utah. Weekends mean nothing around here! Work in the morning, work in the afternoon, dinner hour, and work into the evening until 11 or 12 or 1. I don't know when the last time was the girl got 8 hours sleep. We had to buy her a brace for her right hand, because of the cumulative effect on her wrist & tendons of all that typing & mousing.

The final document weighs in at about 200 pages, but I don't know how many pages she had to write to get to that 200 -- maybe 500, maybe more, who knows. And it's entirely composed of dense, scholastic argument, threading its way through some fairly uncharted and neglected literary-historical terrain. The last chapter came particularly hard, and took months longer than expected.

For you birth-nerds out there (and you know who you are, and I hope you count me as at least an honorary member), our standing house joke this summer was that Sarah was delivering this dissertation after a big shot of pitocin and no pain meds of any kind. For you Bill Cosby fans out there, you're supposed to imagine grabbing your bottom lip and pulling it over the top of your head . . .

So we printed out two copies, last night, and hand-delivered them to doorsteps well after dark. With a blazing-fast new laser printer which can spit out 32 pages per minute, the print job took almost 15 minutes and nearly a ream of paper. Elliot came along for the delivery ride, in his pajamas, because his father had the bright idea that the child might fall asleep in the car. But of course not; he naturally found our behavior incredibly stimulating, not to mention confusing, and wasn't going to miss a trick. He ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and asked a lot of questions. Sarah gripped a single, gigantic sunflower (from me) between her knees and stared around like Robert de Niro in Awakenings. We were in the suburbs, so it was unusually (to us) dark. A night of low clouds over the city; Elliot kept remarking that the sky was orange.

The real meaning of this writing, this laboring, this delivering, is that (barring any unexpected turbulence, touch wood) Sarah will be able to begin a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan in one month's time. The meaning of THAT is that we'll be moving to Ann Arbor at the end of this month. So yes, in case you hadn't already heard, we're taking our exit from The City of Big Shoulders.

The excellent preschool which Elliot landed a spot in -- last month -- after a year or two on the waiting list -- has now handed over his spot to someone else. He'll be starting over at a preschool associated with the U of M. (Fortunately, we think that the new preschool will be excellent also.)

We've rented out our condo out to a Northwestern professor. They'll take it over on September first.

And we've rented a little house for ourselves in Ann Arbor. It has 3 bedrooms, a garage, and basement, a white . . . picket . . . fence (!) (WTF, who am I?) and probably some other things we're entirely unused to.

July 28, 2009

Going to start blogging again, real soon now.

But in the meantime, here is a reproduction of today's Facebook status message.

Brandon Harvey is sort of a shabby velveteen rabbit today. Vaguely blackening eye, for example, from all the hours I spent in inconsolable Elliot's bedroom last night. He got enthusiastic toward 6 am and accidentally head-butted me in the face.



March 11, 2009

Words of Wisdom

So, Michael Pollan (you know, the Omnivore's Dilemma guy) is collecting "food rules"--trying to get an archive of sorts of different bits of food wisdom from different families and cultures. I was glancing at the list, and noticed this bit of advice:

"I am not responsible for what my child eats. I am responsible for what I give my child to eat."

As the parent of a picky child, this seemed both very reassuring (ie: it's okay if they don't eat the green vegetables) and very bracing (ie: it's not okay not to give up and stop offering green vegetables, just because they haven't actually eaten one in months.)

If you want to take a gander, you can find the article here.

February 23, 2009

right now

elliot is running up and down the hall, being generally cheerful and charming and yet looking vaguely dangerous and exhausted around the eyes.  why exhausted, you ask?  well, because he has skipped his afternoon nap.  this is starting to be a thing.  it's happened at least once, if not twice a week for the last several weeks.

brandon and i were both terrible nappers, so i suppose there is a certain justice to this.  but really i don't think elliot is ready to give up his naps...he just ends up miserable and crabby by 5:30, and it's not good for anyone, let alone him.  anyway, we're trying to experiment with different strategies.  if anyone has afternoon nap strategies, i'd appreciate hearing them.

ps: now he is singing this amazing stomping hard core version of "rain, rain, go away, come again some other day."  it's really intense and involves a lot of wailing on his ukulele.  that has nothing to do with napping, though.  i just thought i'd share.

February 12, 2009

Vaccine anxiety has a day in court

To some readers it's self-evident, but perhaps to a lot of others it might be news that there is currently a widespread fear -- surprisingly widespread -- that vaccines (or certain vaccine combinations, or vaccine preservatives) can cause autism in children.

There's now been a court decision rejecting this claim.
The court said the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the parents' claims — and backed years of science that found no risk.

"It was abundantly clear that petitioners' theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive," the court concluded. (AP) (italics mine)
Lots of articles

This all bears a strange resemblance to the way that debates about evolution have also landed in the courts (in Dover, Pennsylvania, for example).

In both cases, the scientific evidence is out in the open, and quite lopsided in its findings, and so it should, in theory (maybe with the help of the press and the academy), be possible to arrive at a general public consensus. But that system didn't work somehow: consensus fell apart.

So now it falls to a court to reaffirm that the studies are sound, and that they show what they say they show: evolution is a really good theory, and there's no causality between vaccines and autism.

(This article links to an intriguing study which suggests that there could be some link between autism and TV. But it's pretty speculative, and it's just one study.)

January 27, 2009

Mmmm, dirt!

In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.

These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries.

. . .

Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. He and Dr. Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Latest news on the 'hygiene hypothesis', which, I admit, I find pretty darn persuasive. But I have a little trouble with the worms (further down in the article).

That said, we do know people with Crohn's disease. And they would probably prefer worms.

January 14, 2009


Cousins, typically (plus S.O.'s; sadly minus Anne and Peter)

All but Anne and Peter:

Grams (with Bob and Barbara)

My Grams, Kay Mesle, passed this morning very early.  My Mom reports that in the minutes between when they could tell she was going and when they could tell she was gone, my dad whistled (he's an excellent whistler) the tune to the following hymn.  Unless you are RLDS/Community of Christ, you probably don't know the you'll just have to trust me that it is very beautiful, and very very right for her.

There's an old, old path
Where the sun shines through
and the savior walks
all the way with you

There's an old, old path
made strangely sweet
by the touch divine
of his blessed feet.

January 12, 2009

The Basic Hilariousness, or, 'Don't Cry'

We are still waiting for news about Sarah's grandmother. Elliot is still teething, diaper-rashing, and grumping some. Those last 2 molars are barging in. Boy wasn't very interested in dinner tonight.

But, as against all that, there is the basically comedic fact of Elliot's existence, lest we forget. Here's a Mad Lib.

While seated this evening on the edge of our bathtub, I spooned Elliot mouthful after mouthful of ____A____ for about ____B____ minutes, out of a _____C_____. His bath toys consisted of _______D_______.

Most of the time I was there, Elliot entreated me to ____E____ about various things. "You ____E____ about the fish? Now you ____E____ about the beater?... I'm swimming. In the ocean. Swimming! You want to ____E____ about me swimming?" I had to ____E____ and ____E____, but when he went to bed, he had a nice round belly, and I think he will sleep a long time.

A. Mueslix cereal with oats, blueberries, and beige flakes of some kind which he referred to as "turkey"

B. 40 minutes

C. A little plastic Cubs hat (possibly this originally contained novelty ice cream?)

D. A KitchenAid™ beater attachment, a metal bowl, a plastic fish, a green hair roller (which each of us wore in our curls, solemnly trading it back and forth), and a long flexible tube which he referred to as a "choo choo train"

E. "cry". (Sometimes after he asks me to cry or "whine" about something** (e.g. "This hat's upside down! This bowl is too small! This train is too long! This magnet is sticky!") he'll comfort me, putting his hand on my cheek, bringing his face to my face, and brightly saying, "Don't cry!")

** It all started as an anti-whining campaign, sort of a reverse psychology thing, but I don't know what it's turned into now.

January 11, 2009

Light a candle

This is a picture of Elliot, almost two years ago, with my Grams and Gramps--note how Elliot and Grams look similarly interested, and also impish.  They both have eyes a color my Grams calls "Tweed."

Grams turned ninety a few weeks ago--on the Winter Solstice, actually.  She is, as I write, in the midst of the process of leaving us.  She has been doing so in about the best way I can imagine--gently, while wearing turquoise silk pajamas, surrounded by family who are absolutely sure of her love.

I will have more to say about this is the days to come.  It has been an odd day here--both sadly and hopefully waiting for a phone call with the final news.  We went for a walk in the snow; we made hot cocoa.  We sent our love.  

As you feel able, please join me in hoping for a peaceful passing.

NB: the following is not a fantastic video, but is fantastically apt.  This scene happens over and over at our family gatherings.  Some regular conversation about whatever is going on, while quietly and off to the side Grams tells you what you need to know.

January 07, 2009

consumer safety parenting issue

So do we all have opinions on the new child safety rule going into effect next month? I certainly don't--I really hadn't started reading much about it until this morning, and, well, it's not like I have much time now. But anyway, here's the gist of it: there's a new law going into effect regarding the safety of items intended for children. It's partly a result of all the toy recalls of the last year. One of its stipulations (it seems--I haven't read the whole bill) is that all goods sold for use by children must be tested for some toxins (such as lead) and until they are tested they are presumed hazardous and cannot be sold.

I have not yet looked carefully to read about the particular standards--whether they are based on good science, whether the limits they establish are reasonable, whether the toxins they are testing are the important ones--so that's the first thing of issue.

But the second issue is that, apparently, testing is quite expensive, and thus this restriction will make it virtually financially impossible for small children's retailers and particularly resale shops to stay in business. Which is an issue both economically and environmentally, obviously. I'm not sure if the articles on this point are accurate or just sort of hysterical--"are they going to policing yard sales now???"--but it seems worth investigating.

You can read the bill here; if you do a google "news" search for H.R. 4040: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 you can read various responses to the bill. You'll note that the main sponsor is Bobby Rush, our hometown guy--so any chicago-area people who have thoughts on this might want to give him a call.

UPDATE: of course, our friend the Green Mama has already blogged about this. more details here.

January 04, 2009

On staying focused: a Dialogue

Elliot: Mixer! Mixer!
Elliot: [farts]
B: Do you need to poop?
Elliot: No, that's a mixer.