O Nyan Nyan Nyan

Our Christmas tree is up on deck! It’s our third Christmas on this houseboat. Last night we put the best ornament on top of the tree!

nyan cat treetop

Then we sang a carol to our tree… SEVERAL TIMES.

O Nyan nyan nyan, O nyan nyan nyan! Nyan nyan nyan nyan, nyan nyan nyan!
O Nyan nyan nyan, O nyan nyan nyan! Nyan nyan nyan nyan, nyan nyan nyan!
Nyan nyan nyan nyaaaaaan! Nyan nyan nyan nyan!
Nyan nyan nyan nyaaaaaan! Nyan nyan nyan nyan!
O Nyan nyan nyan, O nyan nyan nyan! Nyan nyan nyan nyan, nyan nyan nyan!

I haven’t wrapped presents yet and I don’t think we’re having much of a big deal for xmas itself since Moomin will be in NYC. But I’m glad we have a festive tree and lots of lights on deck.

Anyway! Enjoy some awesome Original Nyan Cat video…

If you missed that whole thing then here’s the explanation.

Nyan Cat, also known as Pop Tart Cat, is an 8-bit animation depicting a cat with the body of a cherry pop tart flying through outer space. While such absurd themes like flying kittens and pastry cats have been around for some time, the surreal humor behind this particular combination has captivated YouTubers and online art communities, spawning dozens of fan illustrations as well as receiving some mainstream coverage in April 2011.

I love it that my kid understands silly Internet memes and has a great sense of humor… In fact I’ve been using Nyan Cat to remind him to do his homework, so that instead of nagging him I just start playing the Nyan song!

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DNA singalong

Tonight Moomin showed me a bunch of YouTube videos with songs about DNA. His teacher had emailed last week to say that everyone in the class should be studying for a big test and should be able to explain what chromosomes, DNA, genes, traits, amino acids, proteins, nucleotides (sugar, phosphate, 4 bases), and codons are, and how they are related. Moomin drew me a diagram of all of their relationships and explained it very well to me!

Then we watched the DNA replication song, which some teenagers made at 4am to the tune of a song by the Backstreet Boys:

So awesome!!!

And the DNA song, which is very corny but also great:

It turns out there are a TON of silly videos and songs about DNA, mitosis, and all sorts of subjects, mostly made by students sometimes for school projects and sometimes just to make studying more amusing. I love it that Moomin’s teacher shows them this sort of thing in class, especially the videos made by other kids!

dna replication diagram

A while back Moomin had to write a 2000 word short story about organelles. I had a really good time reading it and editing it. It was probably the longest continuous work he’s ever tried to write, and so I helped by typing what he had, printing it out, and then editing it as I would anyone else’s manuscript, picking out places ripe for expansion and suggesting points where whole new scenes could be developed. I noticed that where my impulse would be to describe the scenery and create an emotional atmosphere with landscape, he invariably would create a scene by making characters actually do something and talk to each other to express their capabilities and personality. I wonder what we could have done with an organelle role playing game!

Two of his classmates came over the other night, saw the houseboat, had pizza, and they all discussed their debate topic for 2 hours straight. They have to argue the “pro” side for genetic screening for newborns. They thought of pro and con points, how to argue them, and planned who would do which parts of the debate. I only listened in a little bit but I was impressed with their ability to actually work together.

Posted in Parenting, Projects, School, Science | Tagged , , , | 197 Comments

Minor acts of heroism

I gave Moomin all the swag I brought him from GeekGirlCon, and after plowing through a big stack of comic books he got very excited at three of them. “Mom! These are the best comic books EVER!!!” They were the three printed issues of Minor Acts of Heroism, which you can read as a webcomic too! He couldn’t quite describe why he liked them, because he was reading them all over again for the third time.

“Three young kids deal with life, love, water monsters, teleportation, super science, and all the other crazy stuff that comes along with being superheroes.”

minor acts of heroism cover issue 1

From the look of them and all the laughing the minor heroes must be a bit sarcastic, Percy Jackson style. Moomin liked the alternate pages and the extra sketches and info in the back and tomorrow morning is probably going to faint when I show him the trivia pages.

We are up to the Beorn chapter of The Hobbit (which I read to him years ago, but it’s ever better now.) He likes the funny bits. (Of course I always liked the horrible bits best.)

In other news, Moomin is writing a short story for scienc class, called The Organelle Adventures, where all the characters are parts of a cell.

It was an average day in Cell City, Animalia. Mike the Plasma Membrane was standing guard. Nicky the Nucleus was reading the book of DNA.

I can’t wait to see how this story goes. It’s not done, but the character descriptions completely rock and remind me of Moomin’s dad’s role-playing game character summaries.

I should have brought Moomin to GeekGirlCon but had no idea it was going to be so awesome. More about the con later! Anyway, the comic books are signed (so cool!) and I showed Moomin the photo of their creators, who were super fun to talk with about comics and feminism.

Minor Acts of Heroism creators!

Posted in Books, Comics, Creativity | Tagged , , | 337 Comments

Hula hooping lasso trick

This summer Moomin mastered hula hooping with two or three hoops. It looks so cool! I wish I could do it!

getting his arms under the hoop

master of three hoops

Hooping in Dolores Park

milo with two hula hoops

He also learned a cool trick move from his aunt Minnie. You reach around behind your back and grab the hoop, then spiral it up above your head and somehow magically keep it going WHILE ALSO SOMEHOW keeping the other hoop going. Moomin picked up how to do this on his second try and then after a few more tries, could do it fairly smoothly. Impressive!

What can I say. He certainly didn’t get this talent from me!

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Dubstep pop and lock dance video

Moomin loved this video and I did too! The dancer is called Nonstop and is part of the group Remote Kontrol. He is amazingly good at the kind of pop and lock that imitates computer and animated film effects. You can see places where he rewinds, strobes, does slow motion or speeds up, and just plain looks unnatural like an avatar in Second Life or a video game. No special effects though — all dance!

We watched this a few times in a row. I felt a little bit like I was hallucinating, watching him.

three images of the dancer named Nonstop

Moomin is in a pop and lock class at his dance studio and thinks the stuff about isolation is interesting, but it isn’t his style and he prefers hip hop to breakdancing.

While I watched more of Nonstop’s videos I thought of rehab exercises and moving underwater. Though I will never dance like this I think of the motion of walking and gait in the way I imagine a dancer might, concentrating on all the little muscles and how I’m balancing.

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The boring parent

For the past few weeks I’ve been injured and/or ill, and not the most entertaining parent. The most I was able to do was drive Moomin to the library. For a few weekends we just laid around reading. We both read a bunch of Warriors books, the Percy Jackson series, the Five Ancestor series by Jeff Stone, and Moomin read The Golden Compass, The Blue Hawk, some Elfquest and One Piece Shonen Jump comics (which are very good!)

One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a 17-year-old boy who gains elastic abilities after inadvertently eating a supernatural fruit, and his diverse crew of pirates, named the Straw Hat Pirates. Luffy explores the ocean in search of the world’s ultimate treasure known as the One Piece and to become the next Pirate King. On his journey, Luffy battles a wide variety of villains and makes several friends.

I also read about 12 Georgette Heyer books which were on sale for $1.99 each for the Kindle.

We played this typing game and Moomin spent lots of time reading the Justice League and Warriors web sites. I showed him how to start a Tumblr. (We’ll see!) Most of the time though, honestly I just hid in my bed and tried to make time pass. It was hard to cope. The big highlight of the day was going up onto the roof to sit in the sun on sleeping bags and read up there.

On deck

It was a good highlight as it’s beautiful on the roof of the boat. You can see that being sick and cranky doesn’t make my hair look any less awesome….

On deck

Last weekend I felt well enough to go out. We hung out in Oakland with my friends and their twin 3 year olds which might not have been thrilling for Moomin except that it was a board game party with brownies and pizza. Now my friends have the highest thumbs up ranking despite having tiny incoherent rugrats who talk about pee and stickers all day. He might even have thought the rug rats were kind of cute and creative…

On Sunday we drove to the Musee Mecanique which he hadn’t even been to. Ambitious since it is at Fisherman’s Wharf and I would have to find somewhere to park and use my wheelchair in unknown territory, in a crowd. This plan worked out really well though! There was (expensive) parking right next to the pier with the museum. In fact it was valet parking and with the validation from a nearby restaurant it only cost $12.00 for a few hours — really not bad!

Moomin was amazed at Fisherman’s Wharf and thought it barely even looked like San Francisco. People from out of town might think that’s what San Francisco is but to him SF means the Mission District and Bernal Heights, the Zoo, and downtown. He was struck by the similarity to Jeju Island (I assume the touristy bits of Jeju) right down to the expensive fish sticks and people busking all around the harbor. We looked at the battleship and the submarine (from the outside) and then hit the Musee Mecanique. Moomin was shocked … VERY shocked… that I got $20 in quarters. That is EIGHTY quarters! How can anyone spend 80 quarters!?

We slowly worked our way through the strange mechanical arcade games. We both really liked the baseball game from 1937, which kept score and was fun to play. Moomin and I both also liked the Snake Eats Snake mutascope peep show. I did all the scandalous peep show machines of ladies from 1898 in their underwear. We watched a huge array of very creepy puppets dance around or be executed or rescue people from burning buildings.


Then we hit the back of the building where the 80s arcade and pinball machines were. Hyperball and the Indiana Jones pinball game were both excellent! For the Indiana Jones one, you fire your pinball by pulling the trigger of a fake pistol.

Milo playing Phoenix

I got the high score on Phoenix, losing my cool at one point to yell at Moomin for reaching into my game and putting my forcefield on. Arcade game etiquette, dude!!! Then nearly ruined my entire arm trying to impress him with my PacMan skills.

Moomin explained to me at length in the car about how he has never really liked video games. I told him how when he was little I would try to get him to have fun playing simple games, but it would just stress him amazingly. Anything with a time limit or where you could fail, he would break into an actual sweat and would start to freak out. But then after playing Plants vs. Zombies and a few other things, he realized he likes and hates particular kinds of games. Anything that’s from a first person (limited or omniscient) perspective, he hates, which rules out any sort of shooter game or things like Super Mario Brothers, or anything where you run around and explore with a character. He likes games where you are more like a general controlling lots of different things or characters at once and it’s more about strategy, and if you decide what to do with different resources he likes it even more. Is this kid ripe to play Civilization or what!?

Anyway, our San Francisco adventure was a nice trip. I’m thinking of buying the Kids’ Guide to SF again (the last one got juice spilled on it in the car & grew a coat of mold). Then Moomin could pick exciting stuff to do during the times when I feel up to going out. I’d like to come more to San Francisco and explore it with him as we might explore a strange city while traveling. It balances our inevitable weekends of nothing-but-reading!

arm wrestling robot

Posted in Books, Comics, Travel | Tagged , , | 167 Comments

Reading Gilgamesh

Today I picked up Moomin and we went to the community center pool for the afternoon. I got a ton of work done while he messed around in the pool and read one of the Redwall books, then I played Marco Polo for a while and threw diving sticks for him and some other kids to fetch. For a while they were my robot dolphin transformer superhero assassins and it was the perfect game since all I had to do was sit there and throw things.

Marco Polo was better than boring old physical therapy. I like to play it with more elaborate rules, with “fish out of water”, and the rule where if the person who’s It says “Marco Polo” everyone has to freeze until It moves or calls out “Marco” again. Squid‘s daughter Iz taught me another rule where if someone’s out of the water but touching, you can call “mermaid” and they’re caught.

Moomin had his dance practice, and I was able to work from the dance studio too since I can still work offline. But it was handy to still be online through my phone and tethering! It’s seriously awesome to have reliable net access on my laptop wherever I have phone coverage.

Back on the boat I had to do a lot of tidying and moving things, because the boat owner had come earlier in the week to power-wash the deck, and everything from the deck and pilothouse was in the main cabin and bedrooms. Sleeping bags, jackets, toys, boxes of things, bags full of bags, shoes for me and Moomin and A. and Oblomovka, fishing rods, extra blankets, flowerpots… It is still all over the place. I gossiped with our neighbors, who invited us to sail next week and told me about a new kind of powerful longlasting expensive electric outboard engine with a lithium-ion battery. Another neighbor talked about wanting to learn to sew and make canvas and start a business.

Moomin laid on the couch on the deck reading Whales on Stilts for the nth time, giggling. He laughed all the way through it. Dinner for him was a corn dog, some carrots, strawberries, and bread and butter. I didn’t have dinner because I’m having stomach problems from taking too many Advil-like pills for pain and it hurts to eat and lie down. Walking more and trying to be more active and exercise is going well, but still hurts a lot. Anyway, I’m hungry, but would rather sleep and not be in pain than eat! I’m not sleeping (yet) because I resolved to blog more in the next month (inspired by going to the BlogHer conference and realizing I miss simply documenting what we do, how we live, and what I’m reading and thinking.)

Gilgamesh book cover

Tonight we read from Gilgamesh. I had forgotten that every other chapter talks about prostitutes… oops. Before we read it Moomin noticed that the back of the book said it’s 1500 years earlier than Homer and since we had The Odyssey right there we had fun making the books talk to each other. “Aw yeah The Odyssey I OWN YOU… ” Moomin enjoyed telling me everything he remembered about Gilgamesh from Cartoon History of the Universe (the best book ever!). He pictures Gilgamesh as a tyrant oppressing the people, and kind of a warmonger. He also talked about Enlil, the god of wind. So in the book — the Herbert Mason version — Gilgamesh did sound like a spoiled and horrible king. “Actually, so far, Gilgamesh is a total jerk,” Moomin commented as Gilgamesh slept with all the virgins in the Temple, worked the people to death building the walls of Uruk, and whined about how lonely and bored he was to his mother. “Poor, poor, king!” (sarcastic.)

Gilgamesh continued to be a jerk on the way to the battle at the forest of Humbaba. “It probably wasn’t even a monster… it was just like, he wanted to go to war and pillage some tribes, totally at random!” Enkidu doesn’t want to go but Gilgamesh *was* warmongering and totally careless. “War! Totally fun! Let’s go chop down all the cedars for totally NO REASON!” Then he hesitates to go first and then when Enkidu is being attacked, doesn’t step forward properly to save his friend. Let’s not forget too that Humbaba is made out to be sort of the Caliban of the Sumerian gods, their slave who builds their buildings because of his great strength. “Well, he’s kind of like a superhero going to fight evil, I guess, in his mind.” “Yeah sure mom.. a JERK superhero!” I don’t know if anything can really rescue the story at this point! Why didn’t I realize before what a butthead Gilgamesh was? When I was Moomin’s age (and older) I liked tales of kings and warriors!

I liked the part in Mason’s version about Gilgamesh thinking over his mom Ninsun’s interpretations of his dreams and call for the gods to protect him as he and Enkidu are on the way to fight Humbaba.

Her words still filled his mind
as they started their journey,
just as a mother’s voice is heard
sometimes in a man’s mind
long past childhood
calling his name, calling him from sleep
or from some pleasurable moment
on a foreign street
when every trace of origin seems left
and one has almost passed into a land
that promises a vision or the secret
of one’s life, when one feels almost god enough
to be free of voices, her voice
calls out like a voice from childhood,
reminding him he once tossed in dreams.

Good quote to stick on a mom blog, isn’t it?

Anyway, I think Gilgamesh was experiencing daytime parahypnagogia, along with his obvious sleep disorder!

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Manatees and ponies in Seoul

This summer Moomin took two long trips with his dad, one to Korea where they went to Jeju island and Seoul to visit relatives, and another to upstate New York to Lake George.

Moomin got to see manatees at the aquarium in Seoul with his cousins!

And saw wild ponies on Jeju, and did all sorts of cool stuff at Lotte World, and saw turtle boats at a museum.

He also built a treehouse with his other cousins and swam every day and got to go in boats in New York:


Most of the time he was with me on our boat, we read, kayaked a little, and just hung out. He got the 3rd Scott McCloud book. He had quite a lot of dance performances. We joined a pool club and went swimming a bunch. We hung out at my sister’s house and messed around with her chickens:

milo feeding the chickens

I was out of town a bunch of times myself, and I felt like I didn’t have a whole lot of mom-ing to write about over the summer. I missed Moomin a lot, but was super happy he got to do so many exciting things (rather than the big event of the week being “going to the library with mom”.)

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Dawn with her fingertips of rose

We are still reading The Odyssey at bedtime, and since that just happened it’s what I’ll talk about!

But here’s the quick catch-up news: I haven’t had Moomin here a whole lot this summer – I went to WisCon, then he was in Korea with his dad for a couple of weeks, at a cousin’s wedding, and I was at a conference and got to visit my friends and their awesome tiny daughter in Boston. But in the last couple of months we went to Maker Faire and soldered and saw tons of things and hung out at the Noisebridge table. We’ve kayaked little bits here and there, but no long voyages. We got bicycles — mine is a folding one. Moomin had a ton of dance performances, played violin at a school concert, and had some choir concerts too. He watched a fair amount of Doctor Who and is studying a big book about the last few seasons of the show. We went to a totally kick ass local pool club which I hope to keep going to – I swam 10 laps. I think that’s all the catching-up news.

So, about Odysseus. Tonight Milo and I got to the bit in The Odyssey where they leave Kirke’s island to go to the land of the dead. (I was regaled in the middle with bits of gossip about Percy Jackson and how they went to CC’s Spa, or something, but I haven’t been able to stomach reading that series yet.) So after having a really awesome bath and a feast and sleeping with Kirke for a year, Odysseus finally takes off and arrives at an entrance to Hades. Odysseus keeps back the shades from the pit of blood with his sword and only lets some of them drink.

book cover for The Odyssey

Then the story cuts back again back to Alkinöos’ hall again where the queen and king propose giving Odysseus a huge party the next day to have sports contests and give him amazing presents. But first Odysseus is about to tell some more stories of talking to the shades of the heroes of Troy.

From Milo’s perspective the ancient Greeks were all about being drunk, doing stupid things, and crying — they all burst into tears before and after every incident, when they tell stories, and during every drinking bout! He is skeptical of Odysseus’ supposed cunning and wisdom. So far, he manages to do everything wrong, even when specifically warned not to do it.

After I sang the unicorn song, I was trying to make up something funny and Homeric about the unicorn of the gods (and failing) but he said something like “Except the unicorn is NOT loveliest of all, we hate it and with every statue we CURSE THE EMPEROR” and I realized he was quoting a story from Digger, a comic by Ursula Vernon about a geologist wombat and her companions — a bit about a sculptor who for years had to carve only statues of unicorns to please the emperor. So I was totally cracking up as he continued reciting long chunks of story from Digger and then pedantically explaining to me that it was kind of like a prequel, or a prologue, but it was technically after the story not before it though it was chronologically set before the story. I countered this with a long winded and vague attempt to explain how Aristotle classified every sort of literary technique but that couldn’t make up for the fact that I have no idea what you call a thing like a prologue that tells a bit of the story that came before.

We looked up through the hatch at the stars. Right now if you like just right you can see the Big Dipper.

We’re reading the translation by Robert Fitzgerald which I love because it’s good but also because I grew up reading it over & over. If you try to read it with a younger kid you might try starting with the Polyphemus story, in the middle, and then cut back to the beginning — or just read bits and pieces and stitch it together later.

It was a nice opportunity to explain that the myths Moomin knows from D’Aulaire’s or other books might be different from the “facts” of the myths in The Odyssey and that we have all sorts of sources for who does what and what happens in the stories & so what’s true varies. We also talked about how if you were telling it from memory you could expand certain bits infinitely and just keep stretching it out — and put in different spirits of the dead telling their stories at the pit of blood.

I hope he likes the poetry and that some of the amazing language sticks with him.

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Maker Faire is coming up!

I’ll be at Maker Faire this weekend and on Saturday afternoon will be at the Hardware Hacking Area, teaching people how to solder. The rest of the time I’ll be wandering around or camped out at the Noisebridge table, poking at the 3-D makerbot printers and learning more about them.

Milo soldering

We went to Noisebridge last weekend and practiced soldering with Mitch Altman, who said last year he and volunteers taught around 3000 people to use a soldering iron. There are kits to make a little MakerFaire badge with a blinky light. Moomin learned how to make them and then practiced teaching me how. I’m always impressed with how clear his explanations are!


Anyway, if you’re at the fair, come and say hi!

Posted in Creativity, How-To | Tagged , | 63 Comments

Tabloid Junkie

My city has a very cool town square between the old courthouse/history museum and the movie theater, with fountains and lots of space for kids to run around. I really like the street fairs and music events. At the last one we went to, Moomin’s hip hop dance team was on stage doing a complicated 5 minute routine to Michael Jackson’s “Tabloid Junkie”.

I think parts of it were choreographed by Gary “Gee-1” Kendall who used to be part of the studio and its dance troupes and then was in JabbaWockeeZ. The teachers tell the kids about Gee-1 and they have retrospectives in his honor, with posters and tshirts. He must have been amazing and I always like how he’s remembered and the kids who never knew him look up to him.

The event was for teenagers and I was also happy to see the local high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance or LGBTQ organization. They seem to have the old-style name, but the longer and more inclusive alphabet philosophy. How cool that not only do they exist, we have an “old-style” name to look back on at all. I talked to the kids at the table and tried to say how happy it makes me they’re doing whatever it is they do, but my god, it’s impossible to convey! Imagine how someone from The Daughters of Bilitis or The Mattachine Society must feel looking at a huge gay pride parade. Even the names of their organizations had to be obscured.

LGBTQ club from Sequoia High School

As the kids danced to Tabloid Junkie I thought of how different the world is since my experiences as a young queer kid. Kids are still bullied and shamed and kill themselves over harassment about their sexual orientation or gender presentation, but at least in some areas, we have all this out-ness right in the town square.

The lyrics to Tabloid Junkie are about not believing everything you hear, like gossip that someone is homosexual or bisexual. That could be taken as meaning that being gay is a negative thing but I think the way it’s presented comes out positive and as a message of acceptance for the kids. I can’t even imagine in my schools in Texas in the 1980s that anyone would have allowed the word “homosexual” in a song in a public context with kids performing. So, I approve hugely!

Anyway, they are fabulous dancers and I love this video! Moomin and most of the team come out at around the 1:30 mark. One of the things that amazes me is how long this dance is and how the dance moves don’t repeat very much. They have learned this enormously long sequence of separate moves. Also, they look amazingly cool.

youth hip hop team

Posted in Creativity, Music | Tagged , , , , | 126 Comments

Geeking out with Zometools

This weekend Moomin and I played a lot with Zometools. We made a rhombicosidodecahedron!

milo with zometools

The little white nodes in the picture are all rhombicosidodecahdrons themselves, so we thought we’d try to make that shape with the parts from the kit. Once we figured it out, we added stuff internally to make it look more complicated.

Then we made a buckyball helmet out of pentagons and hexagons!

I ... AM ... ZOMEON!!!

This is basically the best toy ever. The white node parts have three kinds of holes: rectangles, pentagons, and triangles. The blue, red, and yellow parts are color coded so that their ends fit into a particular shape of slot. You can get completely lost in making weird geometrical shapes for hours!

They were invented by people who were involved with Drop City, a utopian experiment in the 1960s.

Posted in Creativity, Projects | Tagged , , | 71 Comments

Like super long distance vision

Moomin’s getting glasses! It turned out that he has trouble seeing the board when he sits in the back of the class. He gets other people to read it for him. “Not a complainer, then,” the eye doctor said. He’s right on the edge of needing glasses, but for now it should be fine for him to move seats to be nearer to the front of the room. Our doctor said he could wait to get glasses for another six months to a year.

I wanted to make sure he doesn’t feel bad about that or miss the details of the world. So we took the test glasses and looked out the window. Moomin could then read signs more clearly, see tree branches and leaves instead of blobs, and so on. He was intrigued at the thought it was like a new superpower.

Harry Potter day

We might keep his glasses in the car, so he can look around while we drive places, or wear them in the kayak so he can actually see the birds I point out rather than semi-faking it. “Oh yeah Mom… I see it….” (totally unconvincing)

The eye doctor said it isn’t good for kids who are mildly near-sighted to read or do homework while wearing their glasses. She also advised us both to stop after every book chapter and focus on distant things to give our eye muscles exercise!

I had thought that while we were in Mountainview we might eat lunch somewhere interesting or get ice cream. But of course Moomin would rather eat his sandwich and cookies and get back to school faster so as not to miss class. He likes time off school, but is too conscientious to enjoy playing hooky.

In the car we also discussed war for some reason. I explained the draft, and a little about the history of women in the military. We agreed if there were a draft, it should include men and women both. I explained that some people skipped out on the draft for Vietnam or declared themselves to be conscientious objectors. He said he thought being a CO was the way he’d have to do it, because he would not want to kill anyone and doesn’t believe in war. I’m not sure of this, but I think that if you want financial aid for college, you have to register and can’t be a conscientious objector; also, it might be impossible to be registered as a CO while there isn’t an active draft declared. I’m a little unclear about all this. Guess I should find out!

I resolved to read him the bit of my dad’s memoir about being drafted and what happened during his training. I’ve read it to him before, but he may have forgotten!

Vision tests drive me into a spiral of being totally neurotic. Am I really seeing this letter on this row? Or am I over-cleverly remembering it from a minute ago when I read it with a stronger lens? Is kind-of seeing a letter enough? What if I fake it too well and get the wrong glasses? I wish eye doctors would change the letter cards to be different between every possible lens so that I could trust my own reactions and perceptions.

New glasses

Posted in Parenting, School | Tagged , | 64 Comments

Green kayak’s light

Moomin made up a good superhero oath based on the Green Lantern Oath while we were out in the kayaks picking up trash.

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No litter shall escape my sight –
Let those who worship pollution’s might
Beware my power – Green Kayak’s light!

Spring Break

This is so perfect because his kayak is green and he’s a huge fan of Green Lantern!

If I ever get it together to bail the rain out of our boats, we can go out again on our anti-litter mission and clean up the creek some more!

We were talking about our system of “badges” for things like joining the Water Rat Club and the Harbor Club, which is just some index cards up on the wall that list what you have to do to put your name on the card. I suggested “Trashmaster” for taking out the trash and “The Sucker Club” for vacuuming but that led to Moomin figuring we might as well not have clubs anymore if they aren’t going to be fun ones. It was a good try.

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The Great Escape

We’re in the jungles of Florida! We keep ending up at tiki bars, eating slightly disgusting fried things. I had a piece of gator tail. On day 1, we stayed in Minneola, a tiny town right next to a lake and something called the Citrus Tower, in rolling limestone hills. Moomin and I made up a whole fake and very pompous history of the Citrus Tower rather than actually go to it. Here we are at the Minneola Grill having pancakes:

Minneola Grill

For most of our time in Minneola, we drove around looking for Action Games and Comics, which turned out to be a really nice store that runs game events and sponsors local cons. Moomin picked through the dollar bin, and got an Aquaman book and a Jimmy Olsen book (as you can probably tell from yesterday’s post.)

We got to Homosassa & settled into our rental house. It’s right on a canal that connects to the Homosassa River. When we got here an electrician was fixing the water heater, and he super nicely put the kayaks from the dock into the water for us! The river really was right there, out of the canal and under the bridge that is Fishbowl Drive, right at the point where the river heads into the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park and is off-limits to anyone but manatees!


There were manatees all over the place. We mostly stayed still, floated around, and watched for them. Other boats were all around us including big pontoon boats with snorkelers. Seeing the manatees is maybe not all that exciting because it’s just like seeing a distant brown spot in the water and then their head comes out, they whuffle through their nostrils a bit, maybe you see their tail as they dive again. Still! Sometimes they were right next to us or under our kayak!

manatee right under our kayak

The trees and pilings around us were also full of anhingas, ibises, great blue herons, and snowy egrets. It was totally birdwatching paradise.

In the wildlife park I was pretty excited by the spectacular water bird area. It’s a tiny zoo but very well run. The bird ponds and tiny islands were covered in park birds but even more wild birds. There were wood storks, ibises, sandhill cranes, herons, egrets, pelicans, everything you could think of, stalking around and gulping fish. They’d hop up on to the railings and sit next to us, quite close!

Wood stork

The park manatees were mostly asleep with their heads in a bin of romaine lettuce. You can see that it might be a little underwhelming. I really really loved this park and would go back. It was very accessible, except for the underwater viewing room which did have handrails on the stairs, at least. They have a lot of loaner wheelchairs. I think they may have even had powerchair loaners but I’m not sure of that. Still, it was easy to get all over the park in my manual chair. Moomin pushed me up the arched bridges when I was tired.

park manatees

I have been resting a lot, while Moomin reads or plays with legos. We spent some time cutting out pictures of fish and manatees to paste into his notebook and also played a long time with tops made out of legos.

the arena of dooom

To make a top from Legos, use an axle and a big gear. You’re done! Spin it in an arena made out of books, or on the palm of your hand!

After kayaking today and then a nap for me, we went about 2 miles down the road to the Yulee Sugar Mill ruins. We discussed its likely history before hand and I predicted the historical markers would talk up how great the owner of it was and celebrate the days of yore without mentioning the word “slavery”. This tickled Moomin’s sarcastic fancy so I think he was looking forward oddly to this very boring local attraction. When we got there, the gears on the ruins looked AMAZINGLY like things Moomin had just been making out of Legos all week so we tried to figure out exactly what was going on with the gears and rollers and steam engine and boiler. The historical marker signs didn’t disappoint, or, well, I guess they did disappoint but since we expected it, we were pleased. Loudly and obnoxiously we narrated the missing bits of the signs and how glorious Senator Yulee exploited black human beings like they were objects from land stolen from the Native Americans by soldiers and made disgusting amounts of money from the sweat of people he kept in slavery and degradation. Moomin added that he expected that Certain States never do seem to mention about slavery. I have properly infected him with a respect for History with graphic novel biographies and things like the story of Oney Judge which shows what a jerk George Washington was. I’m glad it’s sunk in early.

We had lunch at McRae’s (the 2nd tiki bar of our trip) where we watched countless fishing and tour boats, saw a couple of manatees, a million pelicans and herons and things even in a busy port, and skimmed the gift shops to find the perfectly tackiest present for QueenofSpain who is in Orlando on vacation with her kids right now trying to beat us in tacky souvenirs. I couldn’t bring myself to really buy it, but there was a sculpture made of shells that was SCALLOPS PLAYING POKER. I might have to go back and buy it and ship it to her. It was magnificent right down to the tiny playing cards and cans of beer and the grotesque shell-faces of the scallops complete with googly eyes. I may dream of it.

At 4pm, the mosquitoes come out, so we come in off the lawn where I set up to rest and nap on a blanket in the sun.

I think Moomin likes having a toilet where you can flush the toilet paper here in our palace of a rental house (unlike on a boat) and the long boring afternoons of me napping or reading or uploading photos while he fools about on the floor with legos and comic books, just like at home. I think some kids would be bored with this vacation but it seems just about our speed.

Posted in Boats!, Books, Comics | Tagged , | 73 Comments

Why do aliens come to Earth? by Moomin

Here are some interesting thoughts about superheroes, their equipment, and their friends. For instance, you know how Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, and he inserts this giant key into a giant keyhole. What I wonder is: why someone doesn’t just crawl through the giant keyhole? That thing is just about as tall as a normal man.

Superman with a giant key

Also, another thing. I think that a sidekick’s sole purpose is mostly just to say, “Gee jiminy jinkers!” and “Leaping lionfish’ and other ridiculous exclamations like that. Oh, they occasionally help the superhero, and they sometimes get kidnapped, but that’s mostly why there are sidekicks. It makes one wonder why some idiotic comic book writers would even bother.

Then there’s Jimmy Olsen. Let me list most of the things that happen to him. He has grown 6 arms, got a shape-shifting head, turned into a Jupitarian, a Wolfman, an incredibly fat boy, Elasticlad, the human porcupine, Bizarro Jimmy, the cosmic brain, Jimmy the Genie, a giant turtle man, and he has an identity in Kandor, the shrunken Kryptonian city, as Flamebird, a kind of copy of Robin, you might say. Oh yes, he also accidentally got mutated into some kind of freak with a 1 foot long tongue, hair all over his face, and an incredibly round balloon body. Luckily this was only temporary, as were all the other transformations. But the point is, why does everything happen to Jimmy Olsen? And why does Superman always leave so many chemicals and rayguns along with Jimmy figuring that they’ll be safe in THIS guy’s hands? I mean, it seems in every single Superman comic every single freak guy or super device or potion seems to slap down on Jimmy Olsen. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Why exactly do all the aliens seem to come to Earth? Or, more specifically, superheroes of Earth or invasions of Earth? I’m not entirely sure about this but I think there are two reasons. One, we infest the planet. There are billions of us all over the planet and we keep reproducing. Very big harvest for aliens! Also, according to these comics, there is a ridiculously large amount of superpowered people here. Something that confuses me is why aliens would come to these people — seeing as there are probably other people who could do the same sorts of tasks? For example, once aliens apparently tried coming to Aquaman for his assistance in getting some kind of essential device underwater. Their excuse was that these aliens could not live in salt water. But you’d think there’d be other aliens around there who could live underwater.

That’s pretty much all I have to say. Please send any interesting answers or opinions if you have any. Thanks — Moomin.

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Visit to the manatees

We’re on our way to Florida to kayak with manatees. I tried to plan a trip that would be very easy for me to handle as a solo parent, but that would be something Moomin wants to do, like his dream vacation. We’ll see. I’m a bit sick and exhausted and unsure I can do this.

We are getting the hell out of Orlando as fast as possible in a rental car, and staying in a funky little motel in a small town by a lake for one night. The Lake Minneola Inn and Tiki Bar looked fairly accessible, and has a restaurant in it, and grounds next to a lake so Moomin can wander around with out me & explore.

On the way out of that town the next morning I plan on getting donuts and going to the comic book store and a drugstore. We’ll get a bunch of comics, sunscreen, snacks, juice, bug spray, and so on. Then drive out an hour or two to another smallish town called Inverness. I planned this all out by examining the route on Google Maps, zooming in on the towns to see if there were interesting places to go… like bookstores! Then, also checking towns on Yelp. In Inverness there is a secondhand bookstore and an Italian deli within a block of each other. I plan on filling our rental car with cheap books and groceries!

In Homosassa we have a tiny rental cottage, on a canal, that comes with its own kayaks. It’s on a river that flows from warm springs. In winter, the manatees come up the river to hang out in warm water. 10 minutes by kayak (or car) from our rental cottage, there’s a wildlife park and manatee refuge, where Moomin’s adopted manatee (named Ariel) lives.

The things I am worried about are basically: not having enough energy to do things with Moomin, being too sick or exhausted to do the necessary errands to feed us or get supplies, and last but not least, Moomin’s likely reaction to the existence of mosquitoes.

For backup, I have taken down some numbers of people who do errands and housecleaning from Craigslist who are local to Citrus County.

And I figured this will be as much like our regular life as possible – a small place right on the water with kayaks and a lot of books – That I will be able to manage it and Moomin will be amused.

But, with manatees!

My first thought for this dream vacation was Isla Mujeres and having a little electric cart to go all over the island and going on charter cruises to see ocean life. Plus in theory I would get to practice my Spanish. Then I realized Moomin still gets maybe a bit too motion sick to enjoy charter cruises around the actual ocean, and that he doesn’t eat anything that doesn’t come in nugget form so maybe sticking to the US and England or any other place they eat a lot of bland fried things is a good idea for a couple of years.

Really hoping I have the energy to make it into and through the awesome looking Homosassa manatee park and that I can get around it in a wheelchair (I think so!) and that I can hobble about well enough to obtain and make us things like hot dogs, and get into a kayak, and that it doesn’t rain the whole time, and the Internet works in our cottage, and that it is not a place full of scary hicks who will beat me up for being weird looking city slickers, and that we are not eaten by alligators.

Most of the time we will just lie around in bed reading, as usual. BUT WITH MANATEES NEARBY.

You should expect very excited reports and a lot of photos soon!

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Thundertail! she meowed

I read a bunch of Moomin’s books while I was sick, including ones I’d rejected before for being annoying. After a couple of those Warriors books about housecat clans in a forest, I got kind of excited about writing a Warriors filter for text or some stupid clan name generators. For the filter, just replace any variant of “said” with “meowed”. Add in a sentence now and then about what the characters are doing with their tail or ears, and some StarClan related invocations of the sacred.

Book cover for Warriors

There’s got to be a role playing game for this, right? Even if there isn’t, I’m going to have to make one up and run a campaign just so I can enjoy everyone being named things like Snowpaw and Startail.

The very annoying thing about these books is that there’s just no way that all these packs of cats could live in a patch of forest outside a housing development somewhere. A few cats, okay, but these clans pile up a delicious, bloody heap of “freshkill” every single day as if voles and rabbits and starlings were inexhaustible.

On a more meta level the plots depend on characters not telling anyone about the weird prophecies or visions they’re experiencing or about some dangerous anomaly. Just like Harry Potter! But with cats. Then, there seems to be a fairly grotesque idea of the role of gods and religion. The cat gods send confusing visions on purpose to confuse and test the faith of the tribes. Grrrrrrreat. I’d tell the StarClan to shove it!

One of the very amusing things is how the tribal cats sneer at the domestic cats. “Kittypet” is a terrible insult!

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | 147 Comments

Video games when you’re sick

I’ve been really ill for most of January and February. Moomin’s dad has taken care of him most of the time, bringing him to me on weekends. I don’t have a lot of energy so we’ve been spending time reading, playing video games, and watching Sarah Jane Adventures episodes.

Moomin got very obsessed with a game on the iPad called Peggle.

Screen shot of iPad game Peggle

Peggle is a bit like pinball, but you shoot the balls from a device you can aim, and have to eliminate different colors of pegs on the game board. There are a lot of cheesy special effects and temporary powers and FEVER!!! point multipliers. But the best bit is that as you finish every level, the ball goes into slow motion as it hits the final peg. “Ode to Joy” starts to play. Fireworks go off! Stars and explosions! A giant rainbow shoots across the sky! It’s incredibly hilarious. When I first played it I laughed my head off because it perfectly expresses the happiness and satisfaction of finishing a level of any silly game! It raised our self esteem a few million points every time the fireworks went off. After several levels and a trophy Moomin declared, “OH MY GOD I AM A MASTER ! OF! PEGGLE!!!!”

Before I became more interested in the Egyptian protests than in gaming I was learning to play Elite, in an open source version called Oolite. It’s a bit hard to play. Elite was a space trading and combat game from the 1980s for BBC Micro and Acorn computers, with 3-D graphics. After watching Oblomovka play it for a while I installed Oolite on my Mac and then some expansion packs to make the spaceships and planets have niftier textures. It took me a while to learn how to fly a spaceship with pitch, roll, and whatever the 3rd axis is (yaw?) and the display in which everything seems backwards. After a while and a lot of shrieking in panic I got the hang of it.

I love games, but try not to play too many of them anymore, because the repetitive motion hurts my hands very quickly. Playing nethack is a huge treat I let myself have when flying somewhere on a plane. So I was a bit afraid Elite would mess up my hands. It turned out to be okay.

Docking is quite hard! The space stations rotate, and you have to line up with the docking bay exactly from a nearby beacon, get close, then match rotation. It feels weirdly retro and exciting. Here’s what it looks like as my Cobra Mark III lines up for docking:

Screenshot from Oolite of a Cobra Mark III docking

I loved the trading aspect of the game and am gung-ho to earn enough galactic credits to upgrade my combat lasers. But I also just love going to the different planets, seeing their market rates for Radioactives or Furs or Food or Jewels, keeping track of their government types, and all that sort of record keeping. It made me think of old style Galactic Conquest or Master of Orion. There is also an enormous Oolite Wiki in which directions on how to play the game are unclear on purpose, with references to the Elite *novels* and fanfic.

New commanders are named “Jameson” by default. Oblomovka made me hiss with outrage at one point when I was complaining I couldn’t find a docking station. “Soft eyes, Jameson, soft eyes…” OMG.

I don’t think Moomin will like Elite yet. Far too frustrating when you blow up your ship or get shot by pirates. He was a total wizard at Plants vs. Zombies, playing it all the way through twice. He is unsure about Angry Birds. If you have any other good game recs for us, let us know!

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The moment of school dropoff

Every time I drop Moomin off at school I feel a sentimental pang as he walks away, looking so self-possessed and independent and alone, trundling his giant backpack on wheels. These days, he looks a bit cool and teenagery. Just a little.

back to school

I remember how acute that feeling was the first time I dropped him off at the bottom of the hill to walk into school himself, rather than going to the classroom door with him. And further back from that, it was so hard to drop him off at the very first day of school! So different from nursery school where I could drop in anytime and see what was going on. There he is, in a system completely separate from his parents, having experiences I will never know or understand.

That feeling hasn’t really changed though Moomin is in 6th grade. You’d think I’d be used to watching him walk away with his backpack and violin. He’s resolute and a bit wistful. Maybe this will sound silly, but I always think he looks heroic, in a way that no one else will notice but us. I admire him just for going to school every day, and working at it in the way that he does.

second grade! a loose tooth!

Last night I was sick with bronchitis and not able to read out loud. Moomin read to me instead from his book, Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce. It’s book 4 in the Protector of the Small series. In this series, Keladry becomes the first girl to enter knight school openly and she faces tough challenges to be accepted. She also is befriended by a flock of intelligent sparrows, a loyal dog, and an abused warhorse who won’t let anyone but her touch him. Though Moomin has read the first two books over and over, this is the first time he’s ventured beyond into books 3 and 4, where Kel grows up and becomes a knight.

Book 3 is notorious for its mention of magical birth control — Kel’s mom gives her a sex ed talk when she’s about 15 or 16 and tells her if she is dating boys she should go get a birth control charm. In Book 4, Lady Knight, a war starts and Kel gets her first independent command building and defending a refugee camp while giant necromantic robots attack.

So after Moomin read to me aloud, I sent him off to brush his teeth and get into his pajamas. He read by himself for a while longer and then called me in to say good night. Instead of just curling up for bed he was very, very excited and wanted to explain his thoughts on Kel’s command. Moomin always says that he isn’t a good leader. People sometimes want him to be in charge or make decisions, but he doesn’t like it. He likes to follow instead. We have talked a bunch about how, if that’s so, it’s important to know what makes a good leader, so you can decide who to follow!

Moomin explained to me that he thought Kel’s speech to the new refugee camp, as she took command, was amazingly great. She was firm about being the leader, but she wasn’t conceited. She explained how she was young, but had seen battle before. She said she was willing to listen to everyone, to show that she was fair. She used humor, a little bit, so that people would laugh. And she kept it short, so that people wouldn’t be bored. Then, she was lucky enough that one of her former enemies, a former bandit, stood up and said how tough she was in combat. That meant everyone knew she was tough, but she didn’t have to boast. Moomin was overcome with admiration for the way she handled the scary moment of taking command. I felt so proud of his analysis and insight!

Milo at the park

I thought about that this morning as I dropped him off at school and watched him walk away, facing his long school day like a small hero. I thought about how kids judge their teachers’ competence and leadership, and their own.

That’s all! Just an ordinary morning!

Posted in Books, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 364 Comments