Saturday, December 11, 2010


“Pizza is so good!” Ulysses said.

He elaborated:

“Pizza is good because you can have it for dinner, or lunch, or snack.

“Or even for dessert – like spinach.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ulysses' Nutrition Facts

Anaxagoras, presocratic philosopher.Image via Wikipedia

U: Nutrition is eating good food. Like vegetables. That's nutrition. Good guys like to eat good food.

V: So what do bad guys eat?

U: Oh! Bad guys don't want good people to eat good food.

V: What do they want them to eat?

U: Bad guys just want everyone to eat fructose.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ulysses' Science Facts: The octopus

Octopuses swim headfirst, with arms trailing b...Image via Wikipedia

U: Do you know what an octopus is? An octopus is an animal with a whole lot of legs. Lots and lots of legs.

V: How many?

U: Oh! Thousands and thousands of legs.
V: I thought they just had eight.

U: Eight? No! They have a lot more than that.
Thousands. Do you know what an octopus eats?

V: What?

U: An octopus eats birds. And do you know why an octopus eats birds?

V: Why?

U: Because they're soooo delicious! It goes up into the air and gets the bird and eats it.

V:  Do octopuses fly?

U: Octopuses? Of course not.
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

String Theory and Theology

Cover of "Parallel Worlds: A Journey Thro...Cover via Amazon
Today I was a worship associate for a service at the James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation for the second time. The topic was "String Theory and Theology."
I researched and read all I could over the course of about a week and a half. Several days in, I realized I wasn't going to understand string theory well enough to write anything about it in time to make a presentation by the end of the week! So I decided to do readings instead.
The book I studied most was Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku. Donald and I bought a book of his called Hyperspace in the early 1990s when we belonged, briefly, to the Book of the Month Club. We never read it. It looked really cool. We were too intimated by it, I guess, to ever actually crack it and start reading. From what I could see of Parallel Worlds, published in 2005, it seemed to update a lot of stuff from Hyperspace. So I figured that I owed it to the guy to at least read one of his books, considering that I had waited so long on the other one that it might already be obsolete!
Chalice lighting
Grave of George Gamow in Green Mountain Cemete...Image via WikipediaOur opening words come from the physicist and cosmologist George Gamow, born in 1904 in Odessa, Russia, who attempted to escape the Soviet Union by sailing to Turkey on a raft and went on to become one of the originators of the big bang theory of the origin of the universe, which he heroically defended against ridicule for years before it became generally accepted.
Gamow wrote this poem:
There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

Pastoral Thought: "Cosmic Music"
Different levels of magnification of matter, e...Image via WikipediaThe reading is excerpted, abridged and somewhat rearranged from Parallel Worlds: A Journey through creation, higher dimensions and the future of the cosmos, by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
The link between music and science was forged as early as the fifth century B.C., when the Greek Pythagoreans discovered the laws of harmony and reduced them to mathematics. They found that the tone of a plucked lyre string corresponded to its length. If one doubled the length of the string, the note went down one octave. If the length of a string was reduced by two-thirds, the tone went up a fifth. Hence the laws of music and harmony could be reduced to precise relations between numbers. “All things are numbers,” they said.
They dared to apply these laws of harmony to the entire universe. They failed because of the enormous complexity of matter.
In some sense, with string theory, physicists are going back to the Pythagorean dream.
According to string theory, if you had a supermicroscope and could peer into the heart of an electron, you would see not a point particle but a vibrating string. If we were to pluck this string, the vibration would change; the electron might turn into a neutrino. Pluck it again and it might turn into a quark. In fact, if you plucked it hard enough, it could turn into any of the known sub-atomic particles.
On a violin string, we can generate all the notes of the musical scale. B flat is not more fundamental than G. In the same way, electrons and quarks are not fundamental – the string is. All the subparticles of the universe can be viewed as nothing but different vibrations of the string.
The “harmonies” of the string are the laws of physics.
The lowest vibration of the string can be interpreted as the graviton, the point particle of gravity. 
As the string moves and breaks and reforms, we find Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
If Einstein had never discovered relativity, it might have been discovered as a by-product of string theory.
Music provides the metaphor for the nature of the universe, both at the subatomic level and at the cosmic level. 
Einstein said his search for a unified field theory would ultimately allow him to “read the Mind of God.” If string theory is correct, we now see that the Mind of God represents cosmic music resonating through ten-dimensional hyperspace.
Closing words
Our closing words are from the philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned to death 1600 for refusing to renounce views such as this.
“Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of his kingdom made manifest; he is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.”
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Enough, already!

Flaming chalice symbol (for Unitarian Universa...Image via Wikipedia
I gave this talk at James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation as the Pastoral Thought for the worship service titled "Spiritual Harvests: Accepting your highest good." Maison Cruz was the lead presenter. Bryan Verstegen provided music.
Good morning, good morning, good morning!
(Quieting response from congregation) Alright, that’s enough.

(Sternly) I said that’s enough.

(Hands on hips) I’ve had just about enough.

(Nonchalantly) Well! That’s enough of that!

“Enough”: I thought that was a good thing.

In fact, I’ve heard it said that you can’t have too much of a good thing.

It should follow, logically, that “enough” can’t ever be a bad thing.

So how much is enough? Is “enough” a “how much”? Is it an amount at all?

Or is it a state of mind?

I know I don’t make enough money.  I think. But what does that mean?

I have enough to eat. I have a place to live. Heat in the winter. Clean water. Shoes. I have a little boy. And that means I have enough to worry about. But I’ve never worried that maybe he might starve.

But I don’t have enough to buy a house. Or visit Spain. Or even my own hometown.

So naturally it seems to me that I’d be happier if had more. It’s like, I have enough. But I don’t have enough.

But enough still is better than not enough. That’s simple enough.

Or is it?
Keith Ellison (politician)Image via Wikipedia 
I want to share an excerpt from the current UUA World magazine. You probably have it at home – you might have looked at it enough times, saying you ought to read it – but you might not have had enough chance to read it. This is from a speech given by Keith Ellison at this summer’s UUA General Assembly. Ellison is a U.S. Representative from Minnesota. The speech is titled “There Is Enough.” 
Conveniently for me.

Ellison gives his take of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes:

[The disciples] looked at each other, and they looked at him and said, that’s not enough to feed all of these people. It’s not enough. They’ve got to go home. We can’t help them out…
And Jesus, he didn’t argue with them. He just started handing out food, and as the scripture goes, there was enough. There was enough … [T]he scripture says that after the meal, there was not just enough. There was more than enough, and they had to pick up what was left over.

Then Ellison suggests some ideas for what might have actually happened. He says he doesn’t know, but he seems to favor this one:

[M]aybe what happened is that the disciples’ perception of scarcity was misinformed and actually there was more than they understood there to be. Maybe there was abundance. Maybe there was radical abundance, though they saw scarcity.

Like the villiagers in the telling of “Stone Soup” we just heard, Ellison thinks maybe the disciples were looking at something that was actually enough, but their fear, their scarcity consciousness made them see it as not enough.

He goes on to make his larger point:

And you know, today, there’s enough. There’s enough for you and for me. There’s enough for the straight and the gay. …. We don’t have to throw anybody under the bus. We don’t have to chase anybody out the door... 

There’s enough. Right? But you know what? There may not be enough if we continue to spend more than any other nation on the military. …

There may not be enough if there’s greed, if there’s hoarding. There may not be enough if we take the bountiful oceans that we’ve been blessed with and we pollute them with fossil fuels that spill into our oceans. …

You know there may not be enough if we squander and waste what we have. There may not be enough if we devote all of our resources to war-making and killing and destruction. But there is enough, brothers and sisters, if we will embrace love….

Ellison’s assumption here is that “enough” is a good thing. We need to realize that we have enough, we have plenty, and not squander it and destroy it, because then we would have “not enough,” and “not enough” is a bad thing. That’s the assumption this reasoning is based on. That “enough” is a good thing.

But I wonder. Whether having enough might actually be the problem. A problem that it is very, very difficult for the human animal to overcome.

Guns, Germs, and SteelImage via WikipediaIn his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” author Jared Diamond describes how inequity has come about in human societies. And how it has come to be the dominant pattern on earth.

It seems that whenever, wherever there’s not quite enough, people figure out how to share. How to get by. How to get along. But wherever there’s plenty – wherever there’s enough – there’s poverty. It’s a tragic paradox, but it tracks around the globe and through history.

For instance, wherever grain is cultivated – the Fertile Crescent, China, Mesoamerica, South America, the places where food production was independently developed – chieftains arise, and then kings. Right away, society splits into strata. Hierarchies.

Why? Why kings and grain? Why does grain mean kings?

It’s food that lasts long enough to store. It’s food that you can grow enough of to store. Stored in places. Places that can be controlled.

Now, right away, there are people with more, and people with less.

There’s so much food that not everyone has to spend their days hunting it and gathering it. Now some people can devote themselves to other things: and now there can be artisans. Stonemasons. Smiths. Scribes. Priests. Soldiers. 

Soldiers who can go out and get more territory to grow more food, and bring back slaves from those places. Slaves that can do the menial tasks that by now there’s technology to do. Like, slaves can build temples to communicate the message about following the king and listening to the priests to fulfill your role in producing the food – and by now all the other technologies – that make the society run that controls the flow and distribution of food. And all the other stuff. Stuff that you now need to live in that society.   

In this book, Diamond describes the Polynesian Islands, thouands of islands in the Pacific, with all different climates and conditions – how the toughest islands to live on were the most egalitarian, with sophisticated systems for conflict resolution.

In the subarctic Chatham Islands, for instance, the soil wasn’t rich enough for farming, so the Polynesian settlers had to revert to hunting and gathering. There was never quite enough for the population to grow, so they learned to keep one another going. They couldn’t kill each other; there weren’t enough people to spare. They had to learn to get along.

While in Hawaii, the soil was rich enough and there were enough inland streams for irrigation and the sun was warm enough to grow plenty of crops. There was building stone for sturdy dwellings and aquaculture to farm enough fish for plenty of protein. A tropical island paradise, right? Enough of everything! Plenty!

But here was despotism. Empire. Incessant and ferocious war. All this plenty was only for the kings and the ruling classes and the priests. Rations and bloodshed for everybody else.

In America’s Great Depression, when so many people didn’t have enough, in reality there was plenty. Plenty of wheat. Plenty of coal. Plenty of money! And you can’t have too much of a good thing, right? Unless it’s not where it needs to be.

And it seems that when we humans have enough, or more than enough, somebody gets control of it, and those people just won’t let it go, voluntarily.

I guess because they feel like if they do, they just won’t have enough.

Which brings us back to “enough” being a state of mind.

Today our corporate executives with multimillion dollar golden parachutes clearly don’t feel that a few hundred thousand dollars a year is enough. They need their income in the millions. But for them to have that, everybody else needs to have less. Less pay, less insurance, less time off. All those ridiculous expenses, those unreasonable perks, that are forcing them to place jobs overseas where people are happy – desperate! – to see them come, because they don’t demand so much. People who have a lower expectation of “enough.”

What does it all mean? What does it all add up to?

I would go on.

(Looks at watch) But I don’t have enough time.

Thank you.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Working hard at EVP

Sigurd and I ran into one another at EVP coffeehouse. I had gone there to get some work done while Ulysses was at his enrichment summer classes at nearby Hamilton Middle School, Nico's alma mater. Sigurd had gone to get some math work done in peace and quiet away from home the last chance he had before getting ready to travel with the family this weekend to The Netherlands and Spain for the summer.

As you can see from this picture, we both got lots of work done and did not let chatting and catching up become a distraction.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

A light snack

As Donald was passing by, Ulysses snatched up the flashlight, switched it on, and proceeded to make a great show of pretending to devour it: "Nyam, naym, nyam!"

"Ulysses, what are you doing!" Donald cried. "Why are you eating a flashlight?"
"I wanted a light snack!" came the reply.

Donald stopped short, then looked at me suspiciously. "Did you teach him that?"

I nodded, beaming. (Hey! I was beaming! Get it?)

Donald paused, and shook his head. "I'm calling Social Services."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


"My backup is 14% done so far," I announced to Don. "24 gigabytes."

Ulysses looked over my shoulder at the progress bar of the Carbonite backup I've been running for the past week.

"See? I'm backing up my computer. That's how far I've gotten. I have all this way to go."

"You're backing up?" he said, sounding alarmed.

"That's right."

"No! Don't back up! Never back up. Always go forward!"


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Plus, it's the only one with avocados

"Earth is my favorite planet," Ulysses announced.

"What do you like about best about it?" I asked.

I try not to ask why anyone likes what they like. I try instead to invite them to tell me about what they like.

Years ago, in California, I learned that asking "Why do you like x?" can put people on the defensive and shut them down. "Why do you like avocado ice cream?" is really sort of aggressive -- it puts a person in the position of defending the fact that they like what they like. Hence responses along the lines of, "Because I do."

Instead of asking "why," then, we might ask "what." "What do you like best about avocado ice cream?" is more likely to help a person feel more comfortable about sharing. And it's more likely to trigger specifics to come to mind.

In my own thought experiment as I write this, my internal response to "Why do you like avocado ice cream?" was "I just like it. It's good." And I felt a little silly for liking avocado ice cream as I thought it. When I asked myself "What do you like about avocado ice cream?" my answer came as "It's rich and creamy and tasty."

Then I asked myself "What do you like best about avocado ice cream?" Interestingly, this question had the most comfortable feel of all. Somehow it triggered the most specific details immediately. I thought, "Such a pretty shade of deep green. Such a velvety mouthfeel. Such a luscious, silky, aroma. Such a delicate flavor." I could see and feel the scoop digging into the tub. Also I like it that the flavor of avocado goes so nicely with sweet. I never would have thought it!

Back to Earth.

Ulysses answered, without hesitation, "It has green grass and blue water."


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Star Wars AT-AT Walker birthday cake

For weeks, Ulysses has been describing the cake he wanted for his sixth birthday party: a "Giant Robot Cake." All good Star Wars geeks will recognize this as an AT-AT Walker as seen in the Battle of Hoth, in the early scenes of The Empire Strikes Back.

After some slices were taken out, the head adopted a more lifelike angle!

The luscious cake interior. I assure you, no mixes were involved. Everything is completely from scratch.

I have to run to U's kindergarten party now to deliver 24 Storm Trooper cupcakes. I promise more details in this very post ASAP!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Never to eat dirt again

We got a new vacuum cleaner. I never thought I'd want to look at dirt, but it seems the clear-canister models with "cyclone" action are the future. Target had only a few bagged models. We could see the writing on the retail display wall: vac bags are are going the way of the floppy disk. Heck if I'm going to fingernail-cling to the past when it comes to least-favorite-chore appliances. Make way for the future!

Donald left our 20th-century green Dirt Devil out for Ulysses to see when he got home from school. Why not just throw it out? U might be sad. You never know where the sentimental attachments lie. We might need to engineer a transition. It's better to be safe when it comes to the emotions of a 5-year-old.

"A new vacuum cleaner!" he said at the sight of the bright yellow machine, compact and serene on the newly crumb-free living room carpet. "It's soooo cute!" I noticed he wasn't calling it a "mess robot," and marked, with an inner sigh, the demise of another little-kidism. "This one is for me!" he went on. "This is my vacuum cleaner!"

He spotted the old green one, which suddenly appeared hulking and clumsy next to the sporty new Eureka, with its ring handle and gleaming dilithium dirt chamber. "Now we have two vacuum cleaners," he said.

"That one's broken," said Donald carefully.

"We're throwing that one out," I said.

Ulysses regarded it. "It got old," he pronounced. "Poor old vacuum cleaner. It'll never eat dirt again."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cellular Peptide Cake -- with Mint Frosting

Data: "What kind of cake is that?"

Worf: "It is a cellular peptide cake. With mmmint frosting."

This exchange takes place in Act 1 of Phantasms (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 7). Data has discovered that, although he's an android, he can dream. In Phantasms he discovers how disturbing dreams can be, when he wanders into Ten-Forward and finds Counselor Troi as a giant cake with a slice taken out of her, no less.

No worries, Troi assures Data in the closing scene: "Sometimes a cake is just a cake." She presents him with a cake in the shape of Data.

Ethan Phillips's, in The Star Trek Cookbook, provides a sponge cake recipe for you to make your own cellular peptide cake. However, his is made with 10, count 'em, 10 yolks. No whites. First of all, this will yield a deep yellow cake with a relatively dense crumb, not like the ethereally pale and loosely bubbled cake Mr. Worf is forking in. Second: 10 yolks! Not when I'm paying four bucks a dozen for fantastic, farm-direct, organic eggs. And what am I going to do with 10 whites, eat egg white omelettes? Make angel food cakes? Say, what is it about angel food cake that gives it that bone-white paleness and exceedingly open crumb? Hmm, could it be ... egg whites?

The sponge cake found in Mark Bittman's sweeping How to Cook Everything is made with an equal measure of yolks and whites. It gave me just the right spongey consistency. Because I made a half recipe, using small 6" cake pans, and because the Keene Organic's eggs are so big, I only needed to use two. (I weighed them out to find two Keene eggs that equalled three standard large ones.) A very simple recipe. Basically, beat yolks and whites separately with a little sugar, fold them together and stir in flour and a pinch of salt. It was really delicious, not least because those eggs are SO good. "You made this with a sponge!" Ulysses proclaimed.

The Star Trek Cookbook's frosting is chocolate mint, which makes no sense to me at all, because the only color you can make it after adding cocoa powder is going to be -- brown. Besides, did you hear Mr. Worf say, "Chocolate mint frosting?" Of course not. I got mine Starfleet-uniform blue by using Wilton's Sky Blue color and adding just enough No-Taste Red to shift the hue just right. I used my favorite buttercream recipe, which is from the C&H powdered sugar bag (1 pound sugar, 2/3 stick of butter, 1/4 cup milk, 1/8 teaspoon salt), plus a little cream and glycerin to get it really creamy and really smooth. Plus about 3/4 teaspoon mint extract which in retrospect was probably three tmes more than was needed.

I traced the insignia from the Star Fleet Technical Manual. Don't you have one?

I used the tracing paper stencil to outline with black royal icing, and then filled white buttercream using a star tip, appropriately enough. I sprinkled gold and silver shimmer dust, also by Wilton. over the white. Sparkly!

Purists will note that the angular bar behind the insignia is closer to the design of a comm badge circa 2370, as in the STNG movies, while Counselor Troi wore a badge with an oval shape behind the arrowhead at the time of Phantasms, which takes place in the 2360s. So sue me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Your brain on dreams

The Disney Channel's perky PSA showed an assortment of animals and people deep in slumber. The energetic voiceover: "Sleep is how your body rests!" followed by an exhortation to get proper rest.

I was folding clothes nearby when this caught my attention. "Hm," I thought out loud, "I would have said, 'Sleep is how your brain rests.'" I was about to go on that it's perfectly possible to lie down and rest your body without being asleep; that the change in brain state is what makes the difference between sleep and wakefulness.

"No!" said Ulysses, forcefully. "Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I repeated, "because your brain waves..."

Ulysses cut me off. "Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I said, unhelpfully.

"Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests."

"Sleep is how your body rests."

"OK, OK, whatever," I said.

* * *

At bedtime, I tucked Ulysses in and said, "Now it's sleep time. Shut your eyes and go to sleep."

"Sleep is how your body rests," he reminded me.

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I said.

"No! Your brain has to stay awake."

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Your brain has to stay awake, so it can dream."

He kinda had me there.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Too far gone

Ulysses was watching a kid show this morning before kindergarten. The main character, Special Agent Oso ("the unique stuffed bear" who helps children break down daunting tasks into manageable procedures via the scientific method) was assisting a little girl with her homework assignment, finding three wildflowers to press in a book.

The girl needed to find a daisy -- described in the show as a flower with white petals and a yellow center. She and Oso found themselves amidst a field of yellow-petaled flowers with white centers, white-petaled flowers with black centers and so forth. At each new flower discovery, Oso addressed the television viewing audience:

"Are these the daisies we're looking for?"

After the third iteration of this, Ulysses burst out:

"These aren't the droids we're looking for!"

He's way gone.

So safe

"Good guys save the world," Ulysses said.

I looked up from the bamboo cutting board where I was using my favorite carbon-steel knife to dice fine an onion for the mountain of paprikash I was preparing for supper. Inches away, several pounds of chicken crackled vehemently against the intense heat of the flat, shallow sauteuse and of one of our biggest skillets. To save time, I had filled up multiple pans for the pre-browning. The over-the-stove vent was turned on, and it pulled lustily, if not all that effectively, at the fine oil mist that escaped up through the mesh of the spatter guards covering the pans.

"What's that?" I asked.

Ulysses was only a few yards from me, but on the other side of the noisy vortex of Maillard, and so not easy to hear. He was at the play table, a sturdy 6'-square cedar job Donald built him years ago, playing with his medieval knights, which he'd long ago divided into good guys and bad. His two castles -- one good and one bad, as he had instantly and irrevocably deemed each one as it came into the household -- were locked in combat. Cannon from the good guy side pummeled the bad castle, and when the bad guys tumbled from their crenolated turrets, U piled them up and slammed them away into their own dungeons.

"Good guys save the world." That was what I thought he'd said.

I took a breath.

"That's the idea," I said, finally.

"The world is so safe!" he exclaimed. "So safe."

To this I could not muster a response.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye, chompsticks

Yesterday, we had spaghetti (low-carb from Dreamfields, the best!) and meatballs for breakfast. Fabulous red sauce, Newman's Organic marinara bolstered with caramelized onions and multicolored peppers. Last week I turned several pounds of on-sale ground chuck into many quart sacks of meatballs and froze 'em. Grated Romano. A satisfying start to a Sunday.

Ulysses joined us at table, new but catching on with him. He didn't want the red sauce, but was happy for me to squeeze some Annie's organic ketchup (the best!) over his pasta, along with plenty of romano. He even was thrilled to have meatballs in his bowl, although he did not deign to eat one.

His utensil of choice: chopsticks. He asked for them by name, but for the first time really called them "chopsticks." Up until now, he's always said "chompsticks." A great name for them, I've always thought, and plenty more descriptive than the real one!

No more "chompsticks," I guess; once he switches over to the regular word, there's never any going back to the cute-kid version. Thus our "cooking room" now is just a kitchen. We no longer hear of "PP3O" and "R2D-toon" as the names of that loveable pair of Star Wars droids.

At least Admiral Ackbar, he of The Return of the Jedi, is still, in Ulysses's words, "Eggroll Ackbar."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Just a tree

"Put the ornaments in storage so our birthdays can come," Ulysses said.

Last night I finally dived into the daunting project of separating out all the little toys and wrapping bits that had gotten mixed up with the Christmas village and HO gauge (get it?) train set under the tree, putting away the holiday glassware and replacing it with the everyday mugs, taking down the cards -- and that reminds me, I still haven't made a holiday e-card to send friends and family.

U had protested whenever the subject of putting the Xmas stuff away came up. It wasn't really much of a conflict, because I was nowhere near actually doing it -- always something pressing to take care of, no good time window for it -- until last night, anyway. Meantime, plenty of good toys from Santa were going unplayed with, as the tree and the expanding unorganizable pile around it took up valuable play space.

Donald and I pointed out that, with the tree up, there was no space to celebrate the household birthdays coming up, mine in a week and U's in mid-Feb.

As I picked and packed, I was reassured to hear U encouraging me. Good, he got the message about making space for the next life event. Then:

"Just leave the Christmas tree up. That way it's still Christmas."

Well, maybe it's a gradual letting go.

* * *

The evening progressed without incident, if you don't count having your head and back made into a human slide for Backyardigans figurines several times over as an incident. Ulysses was proud to figure out how to open the complicated train storage box "all by myself," with only minor breakage of the styrofoam inner casing -- "Oops," said U -- fixable with a tape gun.

No complaints as the ornaments came down and got put away in the little individual plastic cups of their original packaging.

"That box is still missing an ornament," U pointed out.

"That was the ornament that broke the day we put the tree up, when you crawled behind the tree to follow the train and the tree fell over and everything came off," I reminded, matter-of-factly.

"Oh, right," he said. "And then we fixed it?" he added, apparently hoping against hope.

"No, it was one of those things that can't be fixed. It got smashed to smithereens."

"Smithereens, right!" he said. It's one of his favorite words.

Knickknacks and garlands, the set of 12 figurines representing historical Santas around the world, the matching poinsettia apron and tablecloth from Donald's grandmother, the pair of wooden camels from a 2008 yard sale, all disappeared into boxes.

"Don't forget the lights," said Ulysses. They were the only thing left on the tree, and I disentagled them from the branches. As I stuffed them into their box, I noticed it was printed with a copyright date of 2003. That meant we had got them for the Christmas I was carrying Ulysses, just before he was born.

Ulysses looked up at the tree. "Now it's a tree," he said. "It was a Christmas tree. Now it's just a tree."

He was smiling.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My big man

Our neighbor, Jayne, dropped over today.

"How are you doing, Ulysses?" she inquired.

"Doing good," he answered.

"Do you like school?"

"Yes! I have fun."

"And your birthday is coming, too, isn't it. What are you going to be?"

I expected to hear "Six."

Instead, he said, "I'm going to be a big man!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ends with a "k"

Yesterday Ulysses had off from kindergarten for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday. A day off for him means a day on for us, of course, but I'm always glad to be around him.

Last night I asked him, "Are you looking forward to going back to school tomorrow?"

"Mm-hmm," he hummed with enthusiasm. "It's fantaskick!"

"Fantaskick?" I said.

"Yes!" he replied. "Fantaskick ends with the letter 'k'!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Princess Leia: Where's the crown?

For over a year, one of U's favorite video games has been Lego Star Wars II: The Original Adventures. This is, of course, the interactive-play retelling of the original movies (the ones I think of as "the real ones") starting with the 1977 release that Changed Everything. His favorite character: Princess Leia.

"Princess Leia is a princess," Ulysses observed many times last summer. "But Princess Leia doesn't have a crown."

By gum, he's right. How did I never notice that?

"She's sooo beautiful!" he says, and has been saying frequently for several months now. Remember, he's not talking about Carrie Fisher, the human. He's talking about the cartoon video game character based on the blocky Lego toy based on an idealized, simplified construct of a fictional inhabitant of a fantasy universe last played by a flesh-and-blood actor over a quarter of a century ago.

He's seen the three 1970s-1980s movies several times, but he always goes back to the Playstation II as the lodestone. I'm pretty sure he thinks they're some sort of live-action adaption of the game. A novelty, perhaps.

So I always have to wonder when he says, with some heat, "Princess Leia is so beautiful!"


In kindergarten, his class has been learning about rhyming words. I was impressed when I heard Ulysses singing this song, to the tune of "The Wheels On the Bus": "Mouse and house are rhyming words, rhyming words, rhyming words. Mouse and house are rhyming words; they sound a lot of like." (I'm assuming the teacher sang "alike," but I'm not going to correct him; those cute little-kid linguistic quirks will be gone forever soon enough.) "Wall and ball are rhyming words..."; "Cat and hat are rhyming words..."

Wow! I thought, he understands what rhyming words are! I tried to introduce him to the concept a few months ago, but had gotten nowhere. Great, he's got it, I thought.


"Princess Leia and Amidala are rhyming words, rhyming words, rhyming words. Princess Leia and Amidala are rhyming words; they sound a lot of like."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The old switcheroo

"Why can't we have a sticker on our car?"

Ulysses eyed the shiny row of well-scrubbed clunkers, lemons and rust buckets facing the highway as we drove by. Each sported a garish set of four digits in the top portion of the passenger side of its windshield. These numbers, I surmised, were the "stickers" U coveted.

"Those cars have stickers! Why can't we have a sticker, too? Those cars all have stickers. I want a sticker on our car."

"That's a car store. Those stickers show how much money you have to pay to buy one of those cars," I explained. "If we put a sticker in our window, then somebody could come and give us that much money, and then they would take the car, and then we wouldn't have it."

Ulysses answered quickly -- more quickly than I expected -- "We could take that money and go buy back our green car."

He was referring to the Dodge Caravan we traded in last March. We were lucky to get it while it was working to a dealer who would take it despite its quirks. We were also lucky U didn't seem traumatized by its loss, what with its being his favorite color and all. This was the first time in nearly a year that he'd mentioned it.

So this mention of the green minivan caught me by surprise. I had meant to quell the sticker campaign, but he had taken it in a new direction.

I paused, thinking how to respond.

"We don't know where that green car is," I tried.

"We can put a sticker on the gold car, and then somebody will buy the gold car, and then we can take that money and go buy back the green car."

"That green car is gone," I said. "There's no place we could go to get it. There's no way to find it."

"Somebody will give us money for this gold car, and then we can buy back the green car."

I switched to a new rationale. "But without the gold car," I said, "how will be able to go get the green car? Without a car, we won't be able to go to it."

U fell silent. It was the last word on the subject. Until the next day.

Don and I were driving U home from kindergarten. An urgent voice piped up from the second row: "Doald! We have to put a sticker in our car so someone can give us money for it so we can go get our green car back!"

Startled, Donald turned to me for interpretation. I filled him in.

By now Ulysses was pumping up the drama. "Some bad guy came and stool our green car. We need a sticker! We need that money! Doald! We have to go find the green car and get it back!"

"We traded that green car for this one," said Donald, reasonably.

"What?" said Ulysses, catching his breath.

"We made a trade," he repeated. "We traded the green car for the gold one."

"Oooh!" Ulysses crooned. "So it was the old switcheroo!"