Saturday, December 30, 2006

We Survived Christmas!

Norah and her DaddyI mean no offense to any of the wonderful family and friends with whom we have visited this holiday season…but Moonshot and I propped our feet up Tuesday night and breathed the sigh of content relief that comes upon surviving another Christmas.

I don’t mean that to sound as grinchy as if might be read. We loved our time with our dispersed families and it was wonderful to gather round the various trees and bask in the warmth of friendship and love. But, having treasured that, the welcome embrace of familiar routine is a sweet, sweet embrace indeed.

On Saturday we traveled north, to Iowa. We arrived at Husker and Panache’s wonderful old farm house just in time to unload, feed Norah and rush back out the door sans child to meet Elsa and Talap in Cedar Rapids, about an hour away. They were visiting family in northern Iowa so we had arranged to meet them half-way for dinner. We spent the first half of the trip to Cedar Rapids convincing ourselves that leaving Norah with the grandparents was very relaxing…not stressful in the least…no, very relaxing. By the time we passed through Coralville, we were starting to believe it.

We were only a little late to dinner and since that’s actually early for us, we felt pretty good about the whole thing. We spent a wonderful evening chatting with our Minnesotan friends between venue hops. Seems everything in Cedar Rapids closes early: restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations (but that didn’t vex us until the return trip), so the “party” kept moving around until we settled into a 24-hour Tippins.

We only called to check on the baby once and we really did relax and have a great time with our far away friends. All in all, it was a great evening and excellent practice for our bed and breakfast coming up in January as a delayed anniversary treat. Baby steps to leaving baby.

After a fitful night of sleep, Norah and I went to church with the grandparents and let Moonshot sleep in. She had not enjoyed the thrill of a truly quiet house to sleep in for months and I was happy to give her the chance. Norah slept through the service and I was thankful for her presence in my arms. She gave me something to focus on while I was conspicuously not responding to the call and answer devotionals. Husker did his best to keep reminding me that I didn’t have to sing, didn’t have to respond, and didn’t have to feel awkward…but you just can’t help but feel a bit out of place when a room full of people are professing in unison a belief that you don’t share. No matter how kind they may be…you’re still the odd man out. But after the service, Grandma and Grandpa beamed proudly as we introduced Norah to the truly friendly folks and drank coffee from Styrofoam cups. One nice lady even pulled me aside to let me know that she thought I write very well. What? Oh right…this blog. I tend to forget that real people other than the ones who post comments read these ramblings from time to time. Obviously, pictures of Norah were the draw for Nice Church Lady, but it was nice to know she liked the words as well. So, if you’re reading this, Nice Church Lady…thanks for making me feel welcome.

RimeAnyway, when all was said and done, church really was a pleasant time. Norah got coo’d at, I got to play both the proud father and the randomly complemented blogger, and Moonshot got to sleep in. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to get out and see the freezing fog (which I now know is called rime) on all the trees. Hauntingly beautiful. (Click to see the finer details)

Later that afternoon, Mouse and FreddyJ arrived and shortly after them came Moonshot’s Grandmother from Nebraska.

Festive NorahThe rest of the weekend went smoothly. We lounged. We ate. We opened gifts and then listened to newly received cds, watched newly received movies, and read newly recieved books. Arlo played with Hobbes and we all played with Norah. And then, on Tuesday morning we packed up Zazu the Outback and headed back home. Both our exhausted munchkins slept nearly the whole 5 hours.

And that brings us back to where you found us when you joined…our feet propped up and toasting the successful completion of a wonderful Christmas. With Norah dreaming peacefully in her own bed, we drank our Scotch as we snuggled under our blanket and watched our Battlestar Galactica.

Ah, blessed routine.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Maintaining Christmas

My Christmas spirit has been lagging this week…thrown for a loop by the power of my own imagination. Normally at this time of the year, I am rushing madly about in a festive but last-minute effort to get all my shopping done as I whistle jolly tunes to myself. This year has been different.

Moonshot and I have, for the last several years, alternated Thanksgiving and Christmas between my family and hers. It’s a typical arrangement, I think, for married folk with no kids. This year we spent the Day o’ the Turkey with MoMa while Husker and Panache get us for Christmas in Iowa.

The problem with my holiday mood begins with the fact that MoMa and Jet are Christmas nuts. Actually, they’re nuts about any excuse for a family get-together, but Christmas really gets them going. They revel in the pageantry of the season and stack huge assortments of gifts under the trees. They cook apple cider and invite friends and family over to sing carols on Christmas Eve. They stuff stockings for each other and wear festive hats while unwrapping the presents. They cheer for good gifts and call out “Next! Next!” to Jet as he serves his role as Santa and fetches the next package. The Iowa folks, on the other hand, are more subdued. Holidays with them are more relaxed affairs focused primarily on quiet time together. They go to candlelight church service enjoy the peace that is Christmas morning.

Now, I really do love both of these approaches and it’s wonderful to have one of each style of Christmas each year. I grew up with the rowdy paper-shredding festivity of my family so it feels natural to join in the chaos. Conversely, the time to prop up my feet and breathe in Iowa is always a welcome rest during the stressful holidays. However, there was a tradition I had not even been aware of until this year. No matter where we were on the 25th, the Iowa Christmas has always come first. This year, however, we switched the order. And it has doomed me to a Scrooge-like denial of the upcoming holiday.

Last Saturday night found Jet sleeping in our living room and MoMa in the guestroom. We did everything we could to convince ourselves that it was Christmas Eve so that we could wake in the morning and really feel that electric charge. The problem is…I think it worked too well. As the last tattered bits of brightly colored wrapping paper had settled to the floor and Norah sat surrounded by the piles of new toys she had aquired, some trigger deep in the recesses of my mind switched off the Christmas lights and declared the holiday season complete.

And to compound the issue, we’ve got all the shopping done…something that has NEVER happened this early. Can it be Christmas without hectic, last-minute mall runs? And it certainly doesn’t help that the weather has been rainy and depressing. It’s just not the kind of weather that makes you want to whistle “Sleigh Ride.” All these factors have added up to a mental state in which I am looking forward to going up to Iowa, but have to keep reminding myself that we’re going there to celebrate Christmas. The radio announces that there are shopping days left and I am shocked every time. I walk around our decorated house and in the back of my mind I’m thinking about taking it all down. I’m fighting the good fight here, but I think I’ll need some help. I’m hoping Husker and Panache have cider and carols…otherwise I may just stare at them with confusion when they hand me a present.

Jolly Green, Rollin’ Along

As a belated update on Norah’s continued development, I am pleased to announce that Norah has displayed her skills at the tummy-to-back roll maneuver. While there were three witnesses to this wonderful achievement, it almost occurred that I alone saw it.

MoMa had planned on heading back home Sunday afternoon but was convinced at the last minute to stick around until Monday morning. “You’re the owner of a business that can operate one day without you. What better reason to take advantage of that than to spend Christmas with your granddaughter?” I said as Moonshot sang, “Cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,” in the background. Quite an effective double-team.

That evening, MoMa and I were playing with the Little Miss; watching her thrash contentedly about during her tummy-time while Moonshot played the piano. As Norah’s attempts got closer and closer to the tipping point, I called Moonshot over.

“She’s been that close all week,” she replied calmly. She kept playing for about half a minute before strolling leisurely into the living room. Not ten seconds after she arrived, Norah crested the rolling point and flopped onto her back with a huge grin. We cheered so loudly that Norah started to cry. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement, eh? Not wanting her only roll-over experience to end in terror, we promptly flipped her back over and she once again flopped herself right back onto her back. We cheered again…but more softly and with big, silly happy faces that made her smile back at us.

Since that time, Norah has decided not to showcase her new talent again. Having witnessed this pattern in her development before, I am not surprised. The child delights in teasing us with these advances and then taking them away while she ponders the deep implications of her newfound power. However, the fact remains…the days in which our daughter will stay where you put her are numbered.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Story Behind the Stuff

I was sitting on the couch a few nights ago. Moonshot was putting the already sleeping Norah into her crib for the night and Arlo was nestled beside me as I sipped from a glass of whiskey. As I often do when I sit in this particular seat, I took a moment to reflect on how much I really do like our little house. From the archways, to the colors we’ve painted and to most of the little details…I really love our home.

“I should take a picture of this and share it on the blog,” I thought. But then I started looking more carefully about the room. I’d have to straighten up the room a bit, put away a few things that would probably bug Moonshot or me when we looked at the photo later. Not much…but more than I wanted to do with a whiskey warm working in my belly. But then, I started thinking that maybe all the little oddities where actually the important part of the proposed photo. Every little thing sitting around was placed there at some point by the typical goings-on in the Gren household. And then I started thinking about all the stuff in the room. Where did that come from? Ah yes. How about that? Oh, yeah, I remember now. And I realized that the stuff around me, both the random items lying around and the intentionally placed items like decorations and furniture, comprised a tapestry that told alot about us and our life in the house

So I took the picture. And I’ll try to wade through all the stuff that shows up.

Christmas Trees – Three pre-lit we bought together in an after-Christmas sale. They used to live out in the sunroom each year, and the big tree would sit right about where I’m sitting in this picture. However, earlier in the year we moved a TV into the living room and there is no longer space enough for the tree. So, the big tree headed for the sunroom and the woodsy trees with the rustic Santa came to the front rooms.

Train – A Christmas present from Moonshot last year. I look forward to expanding the collection…but have no idea where we’ll set it up as it grows. I grew up listening to Ol’ Salvo’s stories about training hopping in his youth, so there has always been an allure about trains for me. However, since I had never really thought about getting a model train, this is an example of my wife knowing me better than I know myself, because I love that model train.

Piano – Tucked behind the trees is Moonshot’s Yamaha U-1 upright piano. She and her students sit there in our dining room every Monday and Wednesday evening while Norah and I hide upstairs. The piano was our first major purchase together, bought right after she moved in with me. She had long dreamed of owning this precise piano and I was overjoyed to be able to buy it with her. Moonshot plays more often around the holidays because she loves the Christmas music…and I love that because I get to hear her play.

China Cabinet – I have no idea how old that secretary-style china hutch is, but it’s a family heirloom. It was passed through our family to my Dad’s sister DeeAnn. When she finally decided that she was never going to restore it, she passed it along, blackened with age, to Dad. The condition it’s in today is a testament to his hard work on this piece. There is an old skeleton key that locks each door and drawer on it. I remember locking and unlocking the whole set repetitively as a child. If you look closely enough, you can see my Dad’s brassed baby shoes in the nook next to the holiday greenery. There is also a glass angel standing at the lower right corner of the hutch’s mirror. It was a gift from the choir teacher for whom Moonshot played piano accompaniment last year. Usually, angel-themed decorations don’t get displayed in our house…but Moonshot puts this one out. While I know she does not miss that teacher…I’m pretty sure she misses accompanying the choir.

Baby Gate – Leaning against the wall next to the china cabinet you’ll see a baby gate that has been forgotten there for a couple weeks…ever since Duke and Pinky came over with their boys and we needed to protect them from the basement steps. I really should put that away.

Dad’s Photos – On the wall over the piano, just barely peaking out from behind the trees, there are three black and white photos that my Dad took years ago. Of the countless pictures he developed back when he was an amateur photographer with a basement darkroom, these are the only three I have. There is one of train tracks that is just beautiful…won him an award of some sort. One of a teepee with skyscrapers in the background. Great subject matter…only pretty good as a picture. The last is of the snow-covered back yard of the house in Kansas City where they lived when I was born. Not a great picture, but since I’ve only got three…it’s on the wall.

Grandfather Clock – An heirloom from my Grandma Norma, MoMa’s mother. It doesn’t work. I need to get some piece for it, but have never got around to tracking down the missing piece. The clock had lived at Uncle Norman's for years until he realized that I liked antiques. And just that quickly, I was the proud keeper of a broken clock. It speaks volumes about my attachment to heirlooms and to my procrastination. Have to keep it, probably not ever going to fix it.

TV Tray – Next to the 2-Seater couch, you’ll see a TV tray piled with miscellaneous stuff. This tray is a new addition to the living room, brought out in the early days of sitting with Norah. We have no end tables in the living room so this one TV tray migrated in from the sun room. We make our peace with it by telling ourselves that it’s not really a piece of’s just a temporary thing. And yet it has not left this room for over four months now. You can see Christmas cards that Moonshot has been working on piled on it.

Baby Swing – This is one of the many things that were passed on to us from the O’Fallon crew. Both Superfly and Mr. Chubbers had outgrown this, so their aunt Dolly donated it to Norah. We never turn it on since the swinging annoys the little miss, but she loves to sit there and keep an eye on things. We appreciate her conservation of batteries and are still very thankful for all the cool swag we got from our friends.

Rug – This is a remnant from my cash-flush past. Long before Norah and even before Moonshot, I was fool enough to spend enough money to get hand-woven area rugs for the living and dining room. It’s absolutely stunning and I still love it…but what a horrible rug for a household with child. We can’t use cleaners on it and since the cash rich days of my youth are gone…we can’t afford to have them cleaned. So we try to be as careful as we can and dream of the day when we can pay someone to come make them sparkle again.

Dog Food Bowl – Look carefully at the floor next to the baby swing and you’ll see evidence of two things. A) Arlo does not like to eat alone. He will, in fact, go without eating if he is not given the opportunity to feast while close to Moonshot or me. And B) that I’ve come along way from the days when I was paranoid about protecting the rug.

Chew Ring – Arlo is a toy destroyer. I have seen him destroy in five minutes a toy that a dog five times his size had been working on for weeks. He is small…but woe to any toys he comes across. So, the only toys we get him are durable Kongs or Nylabone material. The ring you see is one of his favorites. The shape allows him to get his paws in the hoop to hold it steady whilst he attempts to shred the resin-like substance.

Blue Elephant – You can see part of a bright blue, stuffed elephant that Ol’ Salvo and Peanuts got Norah for Christmas last week. The floor on the other side of the coffee table is where Norah spends a lot of her down time. There’s usually a blanket and a few of her toys down there. This also brings up just how lucky we are that our dog seems to understand the difference between his toys and Norah’s. Cuz really…baby and dog toys have enough similarities that we never would have dreamed that we were going to be able to leave her stuffed toys lying about. Such a great dog.

Coffee Table – This is a new family heirloom. The marble comes from a coffee table my Dad had before I was born. It was just a big slab of marble on spindly, little legs. My folks loved that table until I started walking and head-butting the hard marble edges. Eventually, they realized that I was not going to learn to stop hurting myself, so they traded coffee tables with my Grandma Lu (Dad’s mom) since she had a more forgiving piece of furniture.

About 6 years ago, Grandma moved into a retirement home and had no more need of the marble. She passed it back to me. At this point, Ol’ Salvo was in a marathon woodworking session in which he wanted to make something for each of his 13 grand kids. I turned the marble over to him and explained that a more substantial table built around the marble would be very cool. He delivered it himself on the day I moved into this, my first house. You can only see the edge of the piece from this angle, but believe me when I say that it is beautiful. It’s a hand-made piece made by my Mom’s dad from marble of my Dad’s that I remember from his mom’s house. There’s all kinds of nostalgia wrapped up in this coffee table.

Spit-Rag – The lower right corner of the picture is evidence that you are looking at the home of a spitter. Spit rags can be found in nearly every room of the house. I’m notoriously bad about just leaving one behind, forgetting where I left it, and grabbing another one.

I think that about covers everything in the room. Feel free to play I-Spy with the picture and ask about anything else you see poking around corners.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Depressing Calculation of Time

The posting of this blog seems even more appropriate after a week-and-a-half absence from posting. Oh, how the time gets away from me. And while I could list all the events of the past week or so that have kept me from my blog…I prefer to blame the graphs below

“Every year seems to fly by a little faster.”
“When I was young, summer lasted forever!”

Go ahead and fill in your own similar sentiment, it’s a common enough theme. How is it that one minute you’re a ten-ten-year-old counting the agonizing days until Christmas, and the next you’re a thirty-year-old parent wondering where all your holiday prep time escaped to?

I’ve heard many an explanation for this time warp phenomenon. I’ve read a doomsday prophet claiming that time itself is speeding up and will soon spiral away into incoherence in these final days. I’ve heard others say that as we get older, we just get busier so it just feels like time is speeding up. Both arguments have their points. I mean…time is a slippery thing. As the only dimension that appears to just have one direction, it generally just hurts your head to think about it too much. However, since it makes my headache worse when I start imagining that the very structure of time and space itself is changing just so I can explain why my summer vacation zipped by so fast, I think I’ll stick to the idea that our perception of time is changing.

So, I present to you a little theory I like to explain to people at inappropriate times…birthdays, busy Christmas seasons and the like.

The mind measures the passing of time in relation to the amount of time that it has previously experienced.

That’s it. The rest of this post is just me explaining what I’m talking about with that sentence. So, if you’ve already got it…you can go ahead and jump down to the comments section. However, while it seems like a simple statement, there are some sobering results.

Here’s an example of the above statement in action. To a ten-year-old, one year is 10% of his life. To a 20-year-old, it’s only 5%. So, having previously experienced only half as much time, a day in the life of a ten-year-old is perceived by that ten-year old to be twice as long as that same day perceived by a 20-year-old.

Therefore, each day really IS shorter than the one before it.

This means that the bulk of your life as you experience it is front-loaded in your childhood. By the time you get around to wondering where all the time went, you’ve probably already passed the halfway point of your perceived life.

Depressed yet? No? Ok, then…let’s look at some graphs!

Note for the Geeks really interested in the math here:

I’ve been toying with this idea since college, but had never really sat down and tried to crunch the numbers. When I did, the immediate problem I found was that those first four years constitute a HUGE portion of your life since every minute to a newborn seems like an eternity. At first I tried to reconcile that...change my equation to fix the apparent flaw. However, I realized that there need not be an error at all since we can’t remember those years properly.

For the first few years of our lives, we are unable to string together our memories into sequential events. An infant has yet to learn the magic of turning past, present, and future into a cascading story. When we DO learn this, we redesign our memory filing system and thus are unable to access all the old stuff that was filed in some different manner. Our infant memories may still be floating around in our brains, and we may even remember snippets or scenes…but the cohesive flow of memory doesn’t set in until we learn how to file them correctly. Therefore, maybe that first year DID pass at an outrageously slow pace…we wouldn’t remember it. And since we’re dealing with perception of time…I chose to discard the periods of time that we can no longer perceive. Plus…it makes the percentage chart below much less disturbing.

Also, all the number crunching assumes a life span of 80 years.

Graph of the year's percieved lengthThis chart shows how long each year feels to the person living it. Notice they get faster at an exponential rate. (click to bigify it)

Sure, sure, so the years keep getting faster...that's somewhat depressing. However, the real kicker comes when you start asking, "How much of my life have I already experienced?" Since the "long" years are probably behind you and you really only have the fast years to look forward's not a pretty picture. We reach the half-way point of our experienced life right around 19.

So I leave you to ponder the depressing graph below. You're welcome to argue the finer points of my theory. I'll even send you my spreadsheet if you'd like so we can haggle over the numbers. You're also welcome to just roll your eyes and wonder why someone would spend so much time making charts like these.

Anyway, I don't claim that everything is correct here...but it sure feels about right, doesn't it?
Graph of the year's percieved length

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's Beginning to Look Alot Like....

We’ve had our first snow of the season in St Louis. Unfortunately, it came in the form of “the worst winter storm since 1973.” Granted, I have no way of verifying that claim, but it’s been all over the TV here so I figured I’d report it as fact. Only four months after the last great blackout in St Louis, again hundreds of thousands of people are out of power. While Casa de Gren has stayed warm and well lit, we’re hoping for a speedy recovery of power to those who are even now huddled in shelters across the metro area.

However, when I got up this morning…I didn’t know anything about all the people without power. I only knew the first snow had fallen and that it was Norah’s first snow and that it was beautiful.

The Gren HomesteadNorah and Moksha in the SunroomArlo plays in the snow

A Totally Unrelated and Insignificant Exchange

About 15 minutes ago, Moonshot called a new Thai restaurant and placed our order for delivery. Now, I didn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but I did hear Moonshot repeating all her information over and over again. She gave the address at least four times. About five minutes after hanging up, the phone rang.

Woman: Hello, this Thai Kitchen.
Moksha: Oh, hi.
Woman: Did you just place order?
Moksha: Yes, yes we did.
Woman: Yes. What is your phone number?
Moksha: [stunned silence]
Woman moving on from her absurd question: What is your address?
Moksha: 1625…
Woman interrupting: yeah, yeah, yeah…did you want to pay by credit card?
Moksha getting nervous: Yes. I DID pay with a credit card.
Woman: Yes, yes and that card is xxxx…
Moksha: Ma’am...[woman continues to read card number] Ma’am [reading continues] Ma’am
Woman: That your number?
Moksha: Well I don’t have it in front of me…but that sounds kinda like our card.
Woman: OK. Thank you for ordering
Moksha: Sure

Hang up.

Not really sure what that accomplished. She literally didn’t confirm even ONE of the details. I hope we get our food