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Thursday, March 31, 2011  

The Right Stuff

Dave and Tara always seem to know exactly what to send M. Edium for Christmas, and this year was no exception. Aware of his interest in rockets and building stuff, and in our interest in giving him educational toys, they sent him a rocket to build. You know, just like in The Astronaut Farmer only smaller.

Happy Boy

We had plenty of fun putting it together, but this week we got the opportunity to have plenty of fun trying it out. Now, none of what follows should be construed in any way as Dave and Tara's fault. It's my kid's.

1. On the day M. Edium decreed for our maiden flight, he had lost the three stabilizer fins. As you can see from the picture, these are flashy, sci-fi-looking pointy things made of foil-covered balsa wood. You'd think they'd be hard to lose, but he managed. I, in turn, managed by cutting some new fins out of a cardboard box. They weren't precision, or anything, and one of them even had a hole through it, but I hoped they would just keep the thing from zooming around the park like an untied balloon until it clocked someone on the bridge of the nose.

2. While carrying the rocket to the park, M. Edium tripped and fell over nothing at all, landing on the rocket. The fuselage was undamaged, but now at least two of the already-imperfect fins waggled limply. This proved to be an even bigger problem when we got to the launch site and discovered that the fins are not only aerodynamic, but structural. They're supposed to support the whole weight of the rocket before launch. In this condition they couldn't support an argument.

3. It's a chemical rocket, in the sense that it runs on vinegar and baking soda. You pour the vinegar into the "fuel tank" (essentially a plastic bottle that takes up most of the fuselage), put the baking soda into a plastic tube that fits into the fuel tank, give the whole rocket a firm shake, set it down, and stand back. It was getting close to bedtime, so I'd brought enough fuel for exactly one launch. After we got to the park, we upended the rocket and carefully poured the vinegar into the "nozzle" at the base, which took a few minutes because we were carrying it in a sport bottle (and remind me to rinse that out before Trash's next karate class). Once it was all in the tank, M. Edium immediately did what came naturally, which was to turn the rocket upright again. And since we hadn't closed the fuel tank, ¾ of the vinegar splashed out onto the snow.

Obviously NASA would have postponed this launch several dozen times by now, what with missing stabilizer fins, jury-rigged replacements, no way to keep the rocket pointing upright, and a quarter of the required fuel. But what the hell, we were here, right? They launched the Challenger, after all.

While M. Edium retreated to a safe distance (actually several safe distances – dude was half a city block away), I stuck the tube of baking soda into the fuel tank, gave the whole rocket a shake, and tried to figure out how I was going to keep it upright for the five to eight seconds until it went off.

Again, a minor rocketry/chemistry lesson. As the baking soda and vinegar mix, it foams up, as anyone who has ever made a model volcano (including M. Edium) knows. This is carbon dioxide forming. This gas is trapped inside the fuel tank by a rubber stopper, which pops off when the pressure becomes too great, sending the rocket soaring up to three hundred feet above out neighborhood. In theory. If the stopper's in too tight, the instructions warn, it won't pop. If it's too loose, it won't build sufficient pressure before it pops. The instructions don't really tell you what to expect if you're only using a quarter of the recommended vinegar, but I can guess the answer is "not great things."

So I tried sort of balancing the primed rocket between its one good stabilizer fin and the fingertips of one hand, but it tipped over. And the stopper popped, and the rocket skated about twenty feet across the snow. But at least we saw a good demonstration of the driving concept, right? Which led to the fourth problem:

4. "I wasn't looking," M. Edium said.

Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff is a great movie about the triumph of innovation and the American spirit, but it's also about the triumph of persistence. In most of the film, we're battling to catch up to the Russians in the Space Race, because of course back then – and even later, when the movie was made – we only knew about the Soviet successes and not the horrifying failures that came to light decades later. In the sequence I'm thinking of, rocket after American rocket explodes on the launch pad, sinks back into its own exhaust, or just pops off a pathetic little nose cone as though it's being piloted by Astronaut Gonzo.

Of course these were seen as failures, especially when they were the culmination of those dramatic countdowns they used to do. But NASA learned from every failure, and figured out how to fix the problems, and now here it is 2011 and we're all shuttling back and forth between our vacation homes on Ganymede and Europa.

The point is that NASA kept trying, and so will M. Edium and I. On our own, much smaller scale, if it's true that you learn more from your failures than your mistakes, this has turned out to be an even more educational toy than Tara and Dave realized. Having four launches' worth of failures in one attempt will do that.

posted by M. Giant 10:02 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011  

Pok in the Eye

There are things that a son can say to his father that are like stabbing him through the heart with a spear made of dry ice. Things like "I hate you" and "Are we there yet?" and "I think I did something to your computer." In M. Edium's case, the phrase in question was "I think I like Pokémon better than Star Wars." We swore we'd never tell him what (or who) to love, but now I have some sense of what it felt like for fathers of earlier generations to hear, "Dad, I'm gay."

I was plenty into Star Wars my own self, starting when I was a year older than he is and going on from there through a period longer than he's been alive. I've been quite happy to share his Star Wars interest for the past few years, even though Star Wars means Clone Wars 80% of the time these days, and Clone Wars means proto-Stormtroopers as good guys, and ass-fugly spaceships, and a stripe-haired, orange, alien Bratz, and a dashing hero who's basically Young Hitler. Not always easy to get behind.

But at least it makes sense. A battle between good and evil. Pokémon, I don't get at all. Even the books don't clear anything up. I've tried to read a couple, and they don't make a lick of sense, even the ones printed in English. I was six pages into one of them before I realized it was supposed to be read from front to back and I'd started at the end.

I can understand how it started with him. M. Edium learned about Pokémon (God, it's even annoying to type) at either kindergarten or Montessori, I really don't care which. He knew kids who had Pokémon cards and thus he wanted some, so Trash went online and bought him a batch of used ones for a price so low they were almost worth it (or so we thought at the time). That made him happy. He started bringing them to school and showing them to people. Then he wanted to look at the new ones every time we went to Target (especially the shiny ones), and then he was wanting more, and then Trash found someone local on Craigslist who was selling a whole shoe box of them for 20 bucks, and now he has thousands of them. You know how if you're ever unwise enough to use glitter in your house for anything, suddenly the glitter is insidiously everywhere? Multiply the size of all those shiny little motes by a few hundred, print some nonsensical words and a freaky dead-eyed cartoon character on each one of them, and you have our house.

And yet somehow M. Edium is learning to identify them by sight. Or at least that's what it seems like to us; he could be uttering nonsense syllables and we wouldn't know the difference between that and his explanation of which Pokémons battle with, evolve from, are bigger or smaller than, or have sex with which other Pokémons.

It's not all Trash's fault, of course. M. Edium's own pack-ratlike tendencies mean that of course he was going to hoard Pokémon cards, and stash them in various different places around the house and refuse to commingle the "special" ones in the shoe box he keeps the others in. There are little stacks of Pokémon cards that I'm running into all over the house, like the corn kernels and alfalfa pellets I run into when I clean Bucky's cage.

And maybe I'm to blame as well. It's possible I'm encouraging his interest too much, being too indulgent. Today he showed me a printout of different Pokémon creatures crowding a single sheet of paper, seeming to jumble and writhe before my horrified eyes like a bestiary imagined by an alternate-universe H.P. Lovecraft who grew up on Japanese cartoons, and asked me which one I like best. I probably shouldn't have held back, but I couldn't bring myself to be totally honest with him.

"I hate them all," I said instead.

"Even that one?" he asked, pointing hopefully to some round, compact bundle of anime-face and nightmare fuel.

I cast around in my mind for something positive to say and landed on, "I'd like to have one of those to roast alive on a spit."

"What about that one?" he asked.

"I'm not filled with rage and loathing as long as I don't look at it directly," I sugarcoated.

Every once in a while, Trash and I are momentarily broken-hearted at seeing some new sign of how much our little boy has grown up. But now that Pokémon has returned him to babbling incoherent made-up words, and relating stories that make no sense, it's like we're getting a taste of that all over again.

UPDATE: Apparently Trash also had this exact conversation with him, verbatim.

posted by M. Giant 8:52 PM 4 comments

4 Comments:

The only good thing I have found so far about Pokemon is that the cards don't hurt as much as Lego when you step on them.

By Blogger My name is Andy., at March 30, 2011 at 3:24 AM  

I actually didn't mind the Pokemon and even worse, Yu-Gi-Oh cards once I realized that figuring out the "battles" involved doing some fairly complex math. Go, math skills! My boy has them; I do not.

By Blogger Marchelle, at March 30, 2011 at 10:01 AM  

My daughter has only one Pokemon card, given to her by one of her (boy) friends from school. (She does, however, have a vast assortment of Star Wars toys, both Original Flavor - mostly acquired thanks to eBay and CL - and Clone Wars. She is her father's daughter.)

She seems to have skipped right over Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh and gone straight for the Bakugans. The bad part of those is that they're pointy to step on if they're open, and they roll and trip you up even more if they're closed. I suppose I'm grateful she isn't into Pokemon though Andy does have a point that the Pokemon cards would be less painful to step upon...

By Blogger Heather, at March 30, 2011 at 3:44 PM  

I feel your pain. My 6-yr-old came home from kindergarten recently and told me about her great and unending love for "Justin Beaver."

We thought a lack of television in the home might make us safe, but we were horribly wrong. Kindergarten is a hotbed of dangerous knowledge.

By Blogger Bunny, at April 6, 2011 at 11:44 AM  

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Sunday, March 27, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Sucker Punch

I have two introductory paragraphs for this review, so bear with me and you can pick which one you like better.

Intro 1:

Chao and I have gone to see midnight movies at the Uptown Theater a few times. Two of those were 3-D adult films from the 70s. The thing is that the Uptown only has one screen, so when you get to the ticket window you just say, "One, please" without having to state the title of the movie. And thus I feel less pervy doing that than I did asking a ticket vendor for a ticket for Sucker Punch.

Intro 2

Trash doesn't like going to movies in the theater, but she encourages me to go. She knows it makes me happy to see a new release in the dark, loud, distraction-free (welcome to Minnesota!) environment of the cinema. After M. Edium is in bed, she often sends me on my way to check something out, because she loves me. And also because it means that every once in a while, she can collect on these cumulative favors and send me to something like Sucker Punch.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of goodwill towards Zack Snyder. I loved his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, and credit it with the current zombie renaissance (if the term "zombie renaissance" isn't redundant, heh heh). Unfortunately, it was also the last Zack Snyder movie where he could bring himself to put a normal-looking sky on the screen. Watchmen was doomed to disappoint no matter what, and any other director who filmed it would have made the same crucial mistake, that being to agree to take the gig in the first place. I just wish he'd settle down and tell a story again.

That's not happening in Sucker Punch. Imagine if you took Shutter Island, Inception, Moulin Rouge, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Kill Bill, and a dash of Showgirls and threw them all into Final Draft. You would then have about one-third of the janked-out kookiness that fills this movie.

The other two-thirds are mostly accounted for by a series of fantasy sequences so literally over-the-top that one sometimes finds oneself looking down at airplanes. As you're probably aware, the heroine of this story is a pigtailed blonde named Babydoll (allowing us to dispense with any feminine empowerment argument in favor of this movie right off the bat) who finds herself wrongly imprisoned in a mental hospital. But is it truly wrong for her to be there? Because as we see over the course of the movie, girlfriend is seriously fucked in the head.

So the deal is that she supposedly escapes into an alternate reality, which is where most of the action takes place, but then she keeps escaping from that reality into even more bizarre realities. And her fellow inmates get to come with her somehow. I don't know, you're probably better off not wasting much time trying to figure out how the various layers of reality interact with each other, because you'd probably be the only one. You're better off trying to untangle the gender politics. There might be a case to be made about women boldly fighting and working together to defeat their male oppressors, if they weren't guided on their quests by an old white male guru character and if they didn't do it while exposing their cleavage and thighs and spectacular hair and makeup. But then, you know, who would see it?

Bottom line, it's all about those fantasy sequences. As a result, it keeps veering back and forth over the line between the fever dreams of a horny twelve-year-old boy and the fever dreams of a self-loathing twelve-year-old boy.

The aforementioned Chao regularly hosts "bad movie nights" at his house, and has been doing so for several years, since several homes ago. He's always telling me about the next ridiculous crap, which is always something nobody ever heard of but it, say, features a gun that shoots fists, or something like Executive Koala, which is a taut psychological thriller about a businessman who has the head of a koala.

I can't wait to tell him about Sucker Punch. There's crap in there even he won't believe.

posted by M. Giant 10:18 PM 1 comments

1 Comments:

I ALSO, can't wait to hear about what you "really" think about this movie. Seriously, it sounds like a winner. Plus with the rage that CGI invokes in me, it should be a catastophic event!

By Blogger Chao, at March 30, 2011 at 10:21 AM  

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Rango

Whenever I see a trailer for a new animated movie that isn't from Pixar (and as a parent I see pretty much all of those trailers sooner or later), my initial default reaction is a strange kind of suspicious yet dismissive eye-roll. I should probably stop doing that, because it's not really fair. Besides, have you seen the trailer for the next Pixar movie? Oh, my gaaaawd.

That was also my reaction to the Rango trailer, but as with most of these animated movies, I actually ended up liking it. It may look like a Western with talking animals, but there's quite a bit more going on than that. It's really more about a chameleon with an identity crisis. Get it? A chameleon with an identity crisis! Ha ha!

After a musical prologue by an owl mariachi band who will serve as the Mexican Chorus for the proceedings, the movie opens with a lizard voiced by Johnny Depp grappling with a really well-animated case of existential angst (actually dramaturgical writer's block, which to a screenwriter amounts to the same thing), before being unceremoniously flung into…well, the rest of the movie.

And so begins the Hero's Journey, with all the mythic Campbell elements those capitalized words imply. The movie doesn't properly start until the lizard makes it to the tiny, archetypal Old West town of Dirt, and, through a combination of bluster and luck, quite literally makes a name for himself, getting hailed as a hero and appointed sheriff (a job with the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer). From there, Rango tap-dances up and down Maslow's hierarchy for the rest of the film, and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that most of the needs on that pyramid end up getting met. It's a kids' movie, after all.

But only just. Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, because why not cast a British voice as a Wild West gunslinger?) nearly drove M. Edium out of the theater, and I'm pretty sure M. Edium didn't really follow the plot any better than I did. Even though the town is in crisis, the movie keeps insisting that it's Rango's story, which must be great news to the townspeople who are counting on him to save their furry and/or scaly asses. The mystery behind what's happening to the town is barely dealt with, in comparison to the time (and a rather witty, if not entirely sensical, Timothy Olyphant cameo) lavished on Rango's final trial of endurance.

But then, this is a Gore Verbinski film, which means the story itself is distantly subordinate to how it's told. Be sure to expect all of the stylistic restraint you enjoyed in Pirates of the Caribbean. There are plenty of eye-popping, fast-moving, server-crashing action sequences to punctuate Rango's long periods of whatever, and it's all so gratuitously detailed, from the giant cast of critters and varmints to every dusty, sand-pitted surface, you sometimes want to say, "Enough already!" The style extends to the soundtrack, which is so sweeping and iconic that I both think it flirts with plagiarism and intend to recommend it to my dad. Plus it features the definitive bluegrass version of "Ride of the Valkries."

Remember how Johnny Depp spent all those years trying to subvert his own teen-idol image by making himself look as weird as possible in as many movies as he could? He's outdone himself here, playing a character with individually-articulated goggle eyes, a neck shaped like a less-than sign, and a long row of teeth creepier than Depp's own (come on, you know it's true). But alas, this movie proves that not all of his charisma comes from his looks. I suspect that Captain Jack Sparrow wasn't the role that got him on cereal boxes because of the costume and the guyliner and the beard-dreads, but the voice. Rango uses that same voice, but with the Keef Richards drawl replaced by a Western one. Sorry, Depp, you're still charismatic even when you're green, scaly, and molting. Sucks to be you.

That voice is also the main reason why Rango wouldn't be better if you watched it dubbed into a different language without subtitles. It's a visual deluge that makes an effort to be about something…but maybe about too much.

posted by M. Giant 7:40 PM 2 comments

2 Comments:

"a job with the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer." Hee-larious!

By Anonymous Sara, at March 24, 2011 at 5:45 AM  

I really expected to Like Rango based on the reviews, but I didn't care for it and neither did my daughters. It was kind of gross, actually--that one guy with the arrow in his eye? Ick.

I did get excited during the Star Wars homage, and the previous sheriffs' tombstone epitaphs cracked me up: "Hold my beer and watch this!"

By Blogger lar, at March 24, 2011 at 10:58 AM  

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Monday, March 21, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Cedar Rapids

I thought Cedar Rapids was going to be two hours of "Hey, look at the rube!" And, okay, I was actually kind of down with that. The small-town-boy-in-the-big-city thing may be played, but if the aforementioned big city is Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that's a whole new level of rubitude.

Turns out it's more like a coming of age story, if you can have a coming of age story where the lead isn't far from forty. Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, a naïve, idealistic, second-string insurance agent from Brown Star Insurance of Brown Valley, Wisconsin (a brace of self-contained ass jokes that are about as subtle as the movie's cruder gags get). He really only has one vice, and even that one doesn't count because he thinks he's going to marry her.

So an unlikely series of events means Tim is sent for the first time to represent his agency at a conference in Cedar Rapids. His boss, played by Stephen Root, is desperate to once more win the conference's "Two Diamond" award, whose very name is a constant reminder of how low-stakes this all really is to anyone who's not involved in it. Which is…not Tim.

Now, as we've learned from Mark Twain, the most corruptible people in the world are those who have never been exposed to corrupting influences. Thus we know that when Helms is sent to Cedar Rapids, it's only going to be a matter of time before he's drinking, developing inappropriate relationships with a married woman and a prostitute, paying bribes, smoking crack, playing way too many scenes without enough clothes on, and using salty language like "bullroar." But of course, this is a feel-good movie, which means that even if the big, bad world changes him, he changes it right back, just a little. Please try not to puke now.

I think this would make an interesting double feature with Up In The Air. Compare Ryan Bingham, who's so seasoned he can get through security in the first ten seconds of his movie, to Tim Lippe, who thinks he doesn't have to because he's friends with the TSA guy. And that's just the beginning of their diametrically opposed approaches to business travel and the perks and dangers that go with it. The little rental car that Tim pronounces "sweet!" would be a deal-breaker for Ryan. But then Ryan has a deal-breaker that isn't one for Tim, romantically, so there's that.

However, with its odd trio of salesmen thrown together in a Midwestern hotel suite, Cedar Rapids reminds me of nothing so much as 1999'sThe Big Kahuna, in which the characters played in this movie by Helms, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and John C. Reilly were played by Peter Facinelli, Danny DeVito, and Kevin Spacey respectively. But I won't hold that against Cedar Rapids. The Big Kahuna was a bad one-act play turned into a worse movie. In fact, I'd say Cedar Rapids is what you'd get if you took out The Big Kahuna's single-track philosophical arguments and replaced them with jokes, more (and more interesting) characters, additional locations, fun adventures, moral dilemmas, interesting stuff, and other good reasons to see movies.

posted by M. Giant 9:48 PM 0 comments

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Friday, March 18, 2011  

Pat Down

M. Edium’s lab partner came over to finish up their science project this morning, and she was bursting with exciting news, as they do at that age. It was all about how a leprechaun had been to their house overnight to drop off candy and toys and a cache of gold coins for St. Patrick's Day.

Now, we do Santa and the Easter Bunny and we'll do the Tooth Fairy and of course we've done the Birthday Demon, but we don't do any of that leprechaun crap. At all. We've never even heard of it. I barely remembered to put a green shirt on him before kindergarten to keep him from getting pinched.

I remember a few years ago when I started to read a book about raising boys that says we tend to socialize all of their emotions out of them but anger. Enough of the rest of that first chapter was bullshit that I bailed on the book that very night, but that's always stuck with me. Our culture is one that doesn't really encourage boys to express their emotions. Is it only a matter of time before M. Edium becomes shut down and repressed?

"I'm pretty jealous about that," he said forthrightly. If it's a matter of time, it's plenty of time.

"Well, that's what happens when you're Irish," Trash told him. "And you're pretty Swedish."

"Just wait till St. Olaf's Day, though," I said, dredging up some vague memory of my sister saying something about it when I was a kid that she may have been making up in the first place. "St. Olaf brings it."

After they got to work on the science project, Trash sent me to sneak out the back and head up to Walgreens for some last-minute St. Patrick's Day stuff. I figured I'd get it on clearance, but it had already been cleared. I had to settle for some green gumdrops, a little box of green Easter Peeps, and a General Grievous action figure with two lightsabers, one of which is green. After his lab partner left, we gave this sad little collection of gifts to him and told him the truth about where they'd come from, because who wants to deal with that leprechaun blarney every year? Besides his lab partner's parents, obvs.

He was happy about the action figure and his favorite candy, which is good, although he's inevitably going to get socialized out of showing his appreciation for Peeps no matter what we do.

Also, I think that book was wrong about boys not being in touch with emotions. Embarrassment is an emotion that comes to you when you get older, after all. And I'm pretty sure I saw him show some clear signs of it when I was going on about St. Olaf.

posted by M. Giant 8:46 AM 1 comments

1 Comments:

Oh, Lord, my mother gave me a book that I think is the same one. Oy. I found out that my old school district gives a copy to all of the teachers, so, yikes. God, I hope it's the same one; who needs more than that?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 18, 2011 at 9:11 AM  

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011  

It's Science but It's Not Fair

I remember my first science fair project, in fourth grade. I had looked forward to being able to participate for years. When I was finally old enough, my dad and I made a miniature steam turbine out of a lubricant can with a pen barrel poked through the screw-on lid, heated by a blowtorch, pointing the steam at a turbine wheel made out of the top of a soup can. I got the idea from a book whose author had clearly never tried the experiment himself, and never expected anyone else to because we had to make modifications for weeks to get the damn thing to work. I think back to being one of the winners at that year's district science fair and I think to myself, "Why the hell did those teachers let a fourth-grader into a crowded gymnasium with a blowtorch?"

I look forward to helping M. Edium with his fourth-grade science project. But I just can't seem to get excited about his kindergarten science project.

Yes, they seem to have done away with the age requirement since my day. I remember spending so much time neatly handwriting my written report, and now they've opened it up to people who don't know how to write yet.

M. Edium was, I think, more excited about the idea of the science fair itself than about any particular science project. But even when we explained to him that no, your Star Wars Lego spaceships are not considered science, he was still down with participating.

For a while, Trash and I were at a loss as to how to get him started. After all, part of the advantage of making kids wait until fourth grade to put something together for a science fair is that it's a good bet that by that time, they've at least been to a science fair.

But as so often happens, the key ended up being something we just had lying around the house. Sometimes it can be something as simple as an old electronic component or some Alka-Seltzer or whatever, that can serve as the jumping-off point for something that becomes bigger. Such was the case here. Our breakthrough came when we realized we had something in our house that might just help him brainstorm ideas. And that is the approximately two dozen different kinds of do-it-yourself, at-home science kits that he likes to experiment with.

Sometimes it's just all about the intuitive leap.

He ended up going with the avalanche kit. That's pretty fertile territory. He can learn all about what causes avalanches (snow), the different kinds of avalanches (deadly and deadlier) and how to survive them (don't be in one), among other things. I spent a little time showing him some avalanche videos on YouTube, but it's hard to stay away from the amateur videos. I've learned that there are three types of avalanches based on their morphological characteristics: dry snow, wet snow, and slab. By the same token, there are three types of amateur avalanche videos, broken down by what the camera operator says: Holy Shit, Jesus Christ, and Oh, Fuck.

The other problem is that he wants to spend all his time on the project "practicing," like it's all about the performance. He might be thinking about a science circus rather than a science fair. I would totally go to a science circus. Unless of course it was being put on by kindergartners.

Luckily, Trash hit on the idea of having him partner up with one of the other kids in his kindergarten class. She's been over to our house before when we dug out a science kit, so she thinks of Trash as the "science mom." Between Trash, and M. Edium, and the other kid, and her mom, there might not even be anything left for me to do.

I consider that experiment a success.

posted by M. Giant 9:02 AM 2 comments

2 Comments:

Man I thought this was going to be another animal disection with what you had leftover in your freezer :(

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 17, 2011 at 11:19 AM  

Remember, we're going to the home school whack-job christian science fair this year at Har Mar Mall. I have it on the calendar to remind me in January. I can't wait for you to see why God thinks it is ok to combine a live sheep brain with loudspeaker wiring while subsequently plastering bible verses to poster board like a crazy-prophet-cat-lady. Be there.

By Blogger Chao, at March 30, 2011 at 10:24 AM  

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Monday, March 14, 2011  

We'll One Day Have Paris

As of today, Trash and I have been married for, no shit, exactly 19.5 years. We know people who have been married longer, but in most cases we're friends with (or married to) their kids.

Last night, Trash asked me what she thought we should do for our 20th anniversary in September. We don't have that thing where it's the job of one of us to arrange a whole deal and surprise the other. Too much work for the person arranging it and then too much work for the person who has to pretend to love it.

I suggested Paris, but as Trash pointed out, even though we're young and can afford it, our travel range is fairly well limited by how far we can fly within the battery life of M. Edium's portable DVD player. More than two hours beyond that is fair to neither him nor his fellow passengers. So I started trying to think of places in the continental U.S. that a) we haven't been to yet, and b) are sort of romantic. Ummm…I hear Virginia is for lovers? But at the time we were both pretty stumped.

We were in bed and the lights were already off. The only illumination in the room came from Trash's computer monitor, which had also not gone to sleep yet, giving off a dim, gray, low-angle glow from across the room. While we were talking about this, she turned her head to look at me and her lip curled oddly.

"Why are you smiling like that?" I asked.

"I wasn't, I was biting my lip," she said, starting to laugh.

"Oh, it looked like you were smiling in this light."

"That would have been a weird smile."

"I was going to say."

"Why did you think I was smiling?"

"I thought you already had an idea for our anniversary…and it was evil."

She laughed so hard she couldn't fall asleep for another half hour.

The reason I brought up Paris -- and have been, every once in a while, for the past three years -- is a line from a song on the Thelma and Louise soundtrack, which we listened to incessantly during the road trips of our early and mid-twenties. The line goes, "At the age of 37, she realized she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair." In our early and mid-twenties, that line struck us as unspeakably sad. I mean, how much would it suck to be 37?

As for that realization, we're on the north side of that number now, and have yet to make it. Yes, we've got a six-year-old, but we also have resources, and a future full of options. We know how fortunate we are to never feel trapped. One way or another, a tepid Parisian breeze will ruffle my wife's hair one day, even if by that time the sports car is being driven by M. Edium.

In the meantime, I can still make her laugh even after 19.5 years. Which is better than Paris any day.

Suck it, Paris.

posted by M. Giant 9:42 AM 7 comments

7 Comments:

How about Niagara Falls? If you go to the Canadian side, it would be international. They even speak French in Canada! Also, it's considered a romantic spot - or at least used to be, back in the day....

By Blogger Heather, at March 14, 2011 at 1:07 PM  

Let me suggest Savannah, GA. The historical district is amazing, there are lots of little, romantic restaurants, the beach on Tybee Island is every bit as beautiful as Hilton Head and not nearly as crowded, and they have a cool Civil War fort complete with working canons that M.Edium will probably love. If you can stay away from the tourist traps like Paula Deen's place and Mrs. Wilkes, it's a fantastic city.

By Blogger Sheryl, at March 14, 2011 at 3:05 PM  

Y'all are so cute, it's almost sickening. Congratulations.
Also, I second the recommendation of Savannah, GA.

By Blogger DuchessKitty, at March 14, 2011 at 3:58 PM  

I always figured that the next time I had a hankerin' to go to Europe but couldn't deal with the flight, I'd return to Quebec City. It's French-speaking (but also English-speaking!), one of the older settlements in North America, feels "foreign," and they love dogs, so they probably love kids, too. Of course, I live in Seattle, so it's probably just as easy for me to go to Europe as to Quebec.

By Anonymous Megan in Seattle, at March 15, 2011 at 11:03 AM  

FYI - Most international flights now have a library of movies available on demand on the in-flight entertainment screen at your seat. In economy class. There might even be outlets to charge the portable DVD player into. Perhaps Paris is not really out of the question?

By Anonymous Kate, at March 16, 2011 at 4:58 PM  

Paris. There will be in-flight movies; if you bring your laptop that's another source of movie watching for him; and it's actually a *great* city to go to with kids. M. would love running around either the Catacombs or Pere La Chaise, and if you want a little less dank, he'd probably adore the Luxembourg gardens and the Eiffel Tower. Seriously. The reasons you gave don't work, and it's 20 years! Do it!

By Anonymous BK, at March 18, 2011 at 8:14 AM  

Go to Paris! I routinely go on 10 hour trips with my kids (who are 6, 4 and 9 months) and they love it! So much to do on Intl flights. I buy some fresh art supplies and puzzle books and a few tiny toys they haven't seen before and we're on our way. The in flight entertainment also often has some video games in addition to the movies. And they sleep for one whole leg (the one to Europe) as it is at night.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 21, 2011 at 6:13 AM  

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Thursday, March 10, 2011  

Dance Card

Remember play dates when you were a kid? Me either. In fact, the first time I ever heard the phrase was on an episode of Friends. For a long time, whenever I heard it I would also hear Chandler in my head telling Rachel, "You just turned [Ross] on and sent him on a date with a stripper." Eventually, though, I got over that, and now you'll have to.

But it would be awfully get-off-my-lawn of me to complain about how what used to be "Can I go over to _____'s house?" has evolved into a ritual of scheduling and preparation not unlike arranging multilateral peace talks. But it has taken a while for us to get the hang of it.

Maybe part of that is because we're lucky enough to live on a block with a half-dozen other children under eight, so we haven't had to work at it all that hard. Indeed, it's not at all uncommon for M. Edium to ask, "Can I go over to _____'s house?" anyway. But none of those kids, even though we consider them all his friends, goes to either of his schools. He has friends there too, so why shouldn't he get a chance to hang out with them as well? Hence the play date thing.

Trash and I had good intentions, but got off to a slow start. I was on a field trip with his Montessori school and so had plenty of time to work up the nerve to approach the mom of one of M. Edium's favorite classmates to set something up. And when I had, I realized that I had only the vaguest idea of when to schedule it. Mainly out of blind luck, I managed to come up with something that slotted in between school, karate, gymnastics, and swimming, and felt pretty proud of it. Trash would have been prouder if it hadn't been on her birthday.

Not that Trash has a perfect record either. I won't get into details, but although she did a fine job of getting one of "her" first play dates on the calendar, it was with the wrong kid.

Turns out it's much easier with kindergarten classmates than with the Montessori kids. They're all in afternoon kindergarten class just like M. Edium is, so they tend to have their weekday mornings free. M. Edium goes to Montessori four days a week, so he only has Friday mornings free. Thus we have developed a friction-free system whereby a different kid (or kids) can be dropped interchangeably into that handy slot on the weekly schedule. It's just a question of picking a kid and determining whether it's going to be at home or away. Like scheduling a high school football season for one team, except you only have to do it a week or two at a time.

Through this system, we've had a play date for M. Edium every Friday morning going back to mid-January. Some have been at our house, others at the other kids' house, and a few have already been reciprocated. The only problem is keeping them all in our heads, because you don't want to be talking to one parent about a play date and have to say, "Oh, sorry, we can't do four Fridays from now because he has a play date with Tucker that day because his original play date with Chloe got cancelled after Aidan and Hayden and Jayden had to reschedule with the Ians." I don't know the etiquette, but who wants to come off that slutty?

posted by M. Giant 9:34 PM 0 comments

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011  

The Wheels on the Bus (and in my head) Go Round and Round

There's this thing M. Edium does four times a week that I try not to think about too much. He gets on a bus and rides across town by himself.

Obviously, that's a gross distortion of what actually happens. About halfway through the school day, one or more of his Montessori teachers reminds him to put his coat and boots back on to wait for the school bus that will take him to kindergarten. They watch out the front window until the bus pulls up outside. Whichever teacher it is walks him across the tiny parking lot and right up to the door of the exact same bus that picks him up every day. M. Edium says hi to his bus driver by name, and sits down with the other same half-dozen kids who ride that bus ever day and who will be spending the next three hours with him at kindergarten. At the end of a 1.8-mile ride he gets off and meets his kindergarten teacher. He's done this, like, ninety times and he's never actually alone and it's a complete non-issue for him, but I'm not sure I'm over it yet. To the point where we pick him up at the end of the day instead of letting him ride the bus home. I'm just not ready for that. One of his classmates, who lives about seven blocks from us, tried taking the bus home the first week and ended up getting on the wrong one. You can imagine what a nightmare that was for that mom.

It also reminded me of something that happened when I was only a year older than M. Edium is now. My first week of summer school after first grade, I followed some kids I knew onto the bus, but as they got off at places I'd never seen before, I realized that I knew them from class, not the bus. Finally the bus was empty except for me, and I had to confess to the driver that I'd gotten on the wrong one.

She did not take it well. In fact, she screamed foul-mouthed abuse in my lost, frightened, seven-year-old face the entire 1.8 miles back to my neighborhood, and when she dropped me off four blocks from my house her sendoff to me was, and this is an exact quote which I am not making up and can still remember verbatim 34 years later, "If you ever do this again I'll beat the shit out of you." Dead serious.

So obviously my parents complained, and obviously the bus driver got in some kind of trouble, but even so. These after-the-fact remedies weren't much help to me when I was (it seemed) far from home and at the mercy of an unstable adult stranger with a large vehicle and no witnesses. That traumatic experience at a tender age left me with a lifelong fear of authority, making mistakes, confrontation, buses, beatings, and shit.

Obviously it was a different era. Get in a time machine and go back to that day, and you're three-fourths of the way to Mad Men, two-thirds of the way to Happy Days before it got lame. It would never happen today. A bus driver who pulled that in 2011 would be fired, blacklisted, imprisoned, and launched into the sun. And anyway, the one who did it to me is probably good and dead now. Someone that unhealthy-looking and rage-addled isn't likely to have outlived Kurt Cobain.

But you know what? I'm fine with picking up M. Edium at school. I don't know what I'd do if the bus came and he didn't step off it. I'm in no hurry to find out.

Besides, this way all the foul-mouthed abuse he gets on his way home comes from me.

posted by M. Giant 10:43 PM 3 comments

3 Comments:

When I was 6 or 7 I used to take the bus to daycamp. It dropped off early one day (or Mom was late to meet it, and you can imagine what position my mother takes on that), but the bus just left me standing alone on the side of the road in a neighborhood not my own. I ended up getting a paper delivery boy to sit with me on the sidewalk while I waited. I can clearly remember telling him he had to help me because he was "bigger" and he might have been about 10. He waited, Mom showed up, and no real harm done but I simply refused to take the bus on my own after that and Mom spent the summer driving me all the way to daycamp. Now, if I meet the bus on my sister's behalf, I practically have to sign an affadavit in order to walk my niece and nephew home.

By Anonymous Christine, at March 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM  

The first time I rode the bus home from kindergarten (so, 1977?)I got to chatting with another little girl, and we both rode right past our stops...to the end of the route, where the bus driver booted us. Yes, let us off in a strange neighborhood, two five-year-olds! (Again, like your story, something I cannot IMAGINE happening in this day and age without serious consequences). The boy whose stop it was let us tag along with him to his house, and his mother drove us both home.

I never saw that other little girl again--she was not on the bus the next day.

By Blogger AngieNCSC, at March 9, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

My story is sort of the flip-side of all of yours. I grew up an only child in Washington D.C. and 2 days per week I had to take the CITY BUS by myself all the way from Dupont Circle down to the Smithsonian where my mother worked.
And it was no big deal. I don't ever remember anyone even batting an eye at the fact that this 6 - 8 yr old was by herself on a crowded bus with random strangers. But that was the mid-70s for sure; things felt safer back then. At least to me.

I can't imagine this scenario happening at all in 2011. You're understandably concerned about your child getting on a sanctioned school bus. Can you fathom M.edium getting on your local Metro bus?

The more I think about it, what the heck was my mom thinking?!

By Blogger DuchessKitty, at March 14, 2011 at 3:23 PM  

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Sunday, March 06, 2011  

Seriously?

downsized_0306011721.jpg

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More snow coming down right now, to add to the six fathoms of it we've already had this year. M. Edium is enjoying it and is on his way outside. Trash and I, however, are just about ready to move to New Mexico. We'll break it to him when he comes back inside.

For now, he wants to tell you a joke: What does lightning wear beneath its clothes?
Thunderwear.

Thanks, we're here all week. Alas.

posted by M. Giant 3:30 PM 2 comments

2 Comments:

I love that joke. I would really like to know where all the people in your life got their nicknames. I can't think the word "trash" or "trashcan" without also thinking, "Somewhere out there is a woman whose husband lovingly calls her 'Trash.'"

By Anonymous Heidibide, at March 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM  

Heh, you want to avoid snow, move to Anchorage. We've had next to none this year. My husband's snow-shovel has been looking awfully lonely and forlorn lately.

-T.Rhodes

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 7, 2011 at 12:26 PM  

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Thursday, March 03, 2011  

Neal Before Zod

Being a fan of Neal Stephenson since my old bandmate Kraftmatik lent me his copy of Snowcrash (he had me at the main character's name, Hiro Protagonist), I knew I was going to read The Baroque Cycle eventually. I just wasn't particularly looking forward to it.

It's not the size of it; I'm not afraid of a big book. I loved Under the Dome (even if an event on page 3,950 pretty much renders most of pages 1-3,949 moot), and Stephenson's own hefty Cryptonomicon kept me riveted, at least between the math problems that kept popping up every ten thousand pages or so. In fact, undertaking to read The Baroque Cycle, which consists of three bunker-busting tomes averaging 4,785,832 pages each, gave me the reassuring feeling of knowing what I was going to be reading for a good long while.

And I have been reading it for a while. I started the first book, Quicksilver (the others are The Confusion and The System of the World, and another reason I put off starting for so long is that I somehow thought there were four of them and I only had three) in September or October, I don't even remember which. And I confess that I've cheated on it with several other books since then, but they were all really good (Packing for Mars, Going in Circles, Full Dark, No Stars, World War Z, and Year of the Flood--okay, mostly really good).

It's just that it seemed like such a departure for Stephenson. I'm the last person to want to put an artist in a box (I once bought an Anthony Stewart Head album, okay?), but why was the greatest living cyberpunk writer (yes, I said it, Gibson) doing a historical novel in 17th-Century Europe?

I shouldn't have worried. Yes, it gets off to rather a slow start, but so does a supertanker. Then, before you know it, you're immersed in the 17th-century versions of the story elements that make up Stephenson's sprawling comfort zone: bleeding-edge science and technology, large and troublesome stashes of gold, unlikely shifting alliances, cryptography, smart people (both book- and street-), etymology, long periods of enforced chastity, architectural chaos, journeys to exotic locales, elite swordfighting and weaponry, Japan, the etiquette minefields of rarefied social classes, Qwghlm, nerdy Waterhouses, swashbuckling Shaftoes, and, every once in a while, a dizzying, showstopping list of random crap like this one.

And I love it. By any standard, it's a towering achievement, so much so that it seems churlish to point out its flaws, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to. At a total of 83.2 million pages covering more than a half-century, pacing and structural problems are unavoidable, with the events of a single day sometimes filling hundreds of pages while elsewhere years pass between one page and the next. There's a metric shitload of themes in play, some of which you're not going to care about (which may or may not be the same ones I don't care about), and with all those balls in the air, it's sometimes a little jarring when Stephenson goes after one that rolled off the stage during the part I was reading around Thanksgiving. But what else is he going to do? A book this length without those issues would be a dull, boring, monolith, and even if I find myself slogging through another lengthy explication of international œconomics and geopolitics during the reign of Louis XIV, at least I know there's going to be a heart-pounding, over-the-top, chase/battle/escape scene coming along any time now. And anyway, there are worse ways to learn about international œconomics and geopolitics during the reign of Louis XIV.

Because one of my favorite things about Neal Stephenson is that he writes about boring things in an interesting way, a goal I frequently meet half of. I even read his computer manifesto In The Beginning, There Was The Command Line… and found it fascinating, even if I violently disagreed with its conclusion that you can't really choose an operating system until you've programmed your own, because, noooo.

And it feels tacky to complain about the small-worldness of The Baroque Cycle. In a narrative that literally circumnavigates the globe, people from different plot threads are always encountering each other like a fifty-year season of Lost. And let's not even get into all the celebrity cameos by historical figures like Ben Franklin, Georg Friedrich Handel, Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Christiaan Huygens, Robert Hooke, William Penn, John Wilkins, Benjamin Franklin, Blackbeard, Liebniz, every European monarch of the period from Charles II to Peter the Great, and Isaac Newton, who's less of a cameo than a second-tier character. Oh, looky there, I got into them.

But all of it's okay, even if it's implausible, because it's fun. And just when you're getting used to already knowing something about some "new" person that a certain character has just met, because you met them six weeks ago, suddenly there's an encounter that I'm not going to spoil except to say that it's going to make you want to go back and reread the previous hundred pages or so. And honestly, given how much time you've already invested, you might as well.

Really, the whole thing is just crammed chockablock with shit he shouldn't be getting away with, from a show-offy scene in a banca told as a dramatickal allegory encrusted with classical references and wordplay, to a long epistolary section decoded from an encrypted needlepoint. Seriously. But he does get away with it, because it's awesome.

So, having been reading this novel (I prefer to think of it as a single, eight-book, three-volume work) for more than one percent of my life, it's almost become part of me. Now I'm on the home stretch, with only a few thousand pages left to go. But I haven't finished it yet, and I'm not sure I want to. That's why I'm writing my first-ever book review about it now, before I'm done reading it, while my love for it is still complicated yet large.

Because the thing about a book I love is that as much as I want to see what happens, I don't want it to end. And the thing about the other Neal Stephenson novels I've read is that they don't end -- they stop. You can appreciate the distinction, especially if you've read Neal Stephenson. If that happens again after half a billion pages, I'm going to be pissed.

posted by M. Giant 7:55 PM 3 comments

3 Comments:

I read the whole damn thing, exhausting though it was, and now every time someone makes a reverent reference to Isaac Newton I get the giggles. Also, I may never forgive Robert Hooke about that dog.

As soon as you recover your strength, try 'Anathem'. You know you are reading Stephenson because your head feels as if someone is opening it with a can opener.

By Anonymous Mary Holland, at March 4, 2011 at 9:04 PM  

I've read the whole thing twice through, and Cryptonomicon four times and loved it so much. Reading your review is making me itchy to go drive a frontloader over to the bookshelf and hoist them down for another go round.

By Anonymous TampaBeeAtch, at March 7, 2011 at 3:37 PM  

I wasn't running fast enough the first time I tackled these. But I will try again some day. Character name Hiro Protagonist makes me smile whenever I think of it.

By Blogger Nimble, at March 9, 2011 at 1:42 PM  

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011  

Post-Modern Family

Trash and M. Edium and I had originally planned to drive down to Iowa to see her mom this past weekend. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before here, but I'm pretty sure I haven't because it's kind of a long story.

It's not just her mom we see when we drive down. We also see her stepdad. And we also see her three adopted sons, ages four, three, and two.

I should probably explain, but don't expect it to be funny. A few years ago, Trash's mom, who was retired, decided to become a foster parent. If you've never done this -- and I certainly haven't -- what it involves is basically making yourself and your home available to host kids who are, as they say, "in the system." Most of these kids have been through more hell in their short lives than you and I will from now until we die, so it's all about creating a safe, stable environment. Or as much as you can given that it's not really meant to be permanent.

Anyway, Trash's amazing mom had, at different times, a dozen or so kids who were with her for a while who then got to go back home after their respective parents got their respective shit together. Then she was asked to be a foster mother for a toddler whose parents were abusive.

We know this about those parents because the toddler had a baby brother who was a year younger. Or we should say, we know there was a baby. The parents didn't seem to. Judging from his condition when my mother in law got him, they seem to think they had a loud, smelly houseplant. I'm not going to go into detail regarding the extent of neglect and abuse that was visited upon this child in the first half-year of his life, because that's behind him now. The good news is that at three and a half, he's been walking for almost a year, he can speak a few words, and his skull is much more symmetrical than it used to be.

But at the time my mother-in-law was given responsibility for this almost-completely-wrecked-before-it-started human life, the non-parents who brought him into the world were pregnant with a third child.

Let me assure you that these kids weren't just "taken away." The parents were given more than one chance -- too many, if you ask me. Long story short, by the time the third son was born, the State of Iowa was pretty well convinced that these people had no business being parents of anything, ever.

So that left my mother-in-law, pushing sixty and responsible for three small children, all under three years of age, while social services looked for someone to adopt them. And that's another long story, but you can probably imagine how a search for adoptive parents for three brothers a year apart, the middle of whom has special needs, went. They came back and told my mother-in-law they might be able to find homes for them all. Homes, plural.

So rather than split them up, my mother-in-law adopted them all. Which effectively put an end to her career as a foster mother, but launched her new career as an actual mother (for results of her first child-rearing career, please see Trash and her two siblings).

I don't know how she does it. I remember how exhausting it was just having one kid at those ages, and we got to have them one at a time instead of all at once. Last weekend, the youngest one got sick and spiked a fever so high he had to spend a couple of days in the hospital. We were going to go down and help out, but then the middle one got the flu and we didn't want to risk exposing M. Edium. I feel bad for not feeling worse about not getting to help supervise four small boys for the weekend.

But the long-term situation remains unchanged. These kids' birth parents, thanks to a plea bargain deal, are not only not in jail but merrily churning out more kids in a different state somewhere. And my mother-in-law is busy raising three toddlers while in her sixties. Sounds like a Modern Family spinoff waiting to happen.

I guess we'll have plenty of time to supervise them all eventually, is what I'm saying.

posted by M. Giant 7:20 PM 7 comments

7 Comments:

I thought I was doing pretty good taking in a foster cat when I was 40, but adopting three toddlers at age 60 is saintdom. Please let your readers know if we can help out at all (Amazon wish lists, etc.) All the best to your MIL and your three brothers.

Liz

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 2, 2011 at 5:36 AM  

Yes, please let us know if there's any help that can be provided from afar! What a story. God bless.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 2, 2011 at 6:49 AM  

Yes, someone that giving surely deserves some help from strangers! I have a 3 year old and a one year old and can't imagine throwing another toddler into that mix.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 2, 2011 at 8:24 AM  

Um, wow. Holy crap. Do you think those boys would want some crochet Star Wars guys? Or space aliens or hedgehogs or anything of the type?

By Blogger Jen, at March 2, 2011 at 5:14 PM  

Amazing! I know Trash is proud of her mom!

By Blogger SharonCville, at March 3, 2011 at 7:35 AM  

PLEASE spill the journalistic beans on that retarded couple. Leave an anonymous tip for a local reporter; or better yet, go for the full-on Deep Throat. Get the records and name those fuckers in the press. It's the only thing anyone will pay attention to.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 3, 2011 at 2:09 PM  

Amazon wish list or other kind - please let us know how we can help! Maybe even a spa certificate or housecleaner fund for MIL?

- JeniMull

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 4, 2011 at 8:06 AM  

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