The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Sat, 12 Mar 2005 Baby Drinks

So, we had eaten dinner, and were having some hot chocolate: Isaac, Grace, and I were drinking it out of mugs.

Baby Vera started yelling (not crying or screaming, just kind of... yelling, and waving her arms to get our attention, basically saying "Hey! Hey! I want some too!")

She would not calm down until we gave her something to drink (a small amount of water) in a cup with a handle like ours. She neede a little assistance with the fine adjustments, but had the basic movements right, and managed to drink some water out of a real cup, holding it (mostly) herself, and then she appeared to be satisfied and stopped yelling.

She was born October 29th. That puts her age at... hmm... exactly 9 weeks from her date of birth to the last day of December 2004, plus 10 weeks to the day to reach 11 March 2005, for 19 weeks, or if you measure by irregular calendar months, a couple of days shy of 4 1/2 months.

She is nearly crawling, too. We've got to start getting the house baby-proofed!

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Sun, 06 Mar 2005 Star Trek, Bismuth Crystals, and Baby Fatigue

So, we received in the mail a really cool bismuth crystal from an eBay seller. It gives our dining table a wonderful Star Trek feel. To find them, check out the seller's eBay store, Bismuth Crystals Unlimited:

Ours is a 225-gram crystal, which was the second-biggest one that he had available. These things are fascinating. They are "natural" in the sense that they grow without prompting, in very pure molten bismuth cooled slowly, with the remaining molten metal poured off to expose the crystal, but "unnatural" in the sense that the conditions that make these very large, beautifully-colored crystals would probably never occur in a natural setting. (I say "probably" because it is a big planet and a big universe! Who knows? There might be an planet-sized, chemically- and isotopically-pure crystal floating out there, produced in some incomprehensible stellar process...)

We've been watching episodes from the Star Trek (original series) first season DVD set. Most of them have been quite the fun blast from the past, especially "City on the Edge of Forever," "Balance of Terror," and "The Corbomite Maneuver." "Balance of Terror" features some very fine acting, even if the writers can't keep track of the difference between phasers and photon torpedoes. Kirk's reputation as a total ham is not truly justified. But last night we stumbled across "The Alternative Factor," which none of us had any memory of ever seeing before.

We quickly found out just why we could not remember it; even our friend Olivia, who was a seriously dedicated Star Trek fan: it is terrible! The episode features nauseous spinning-screen effects, photographic-negative effects to indicate an alternate universe, and even contains the immortal line of dialogue "Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!"

There is the germ of an interesting alternate-universe story in there somewhere, but the storytelling is just awful: everything is told, instead of shown, in long and confusing talky scenes in which the techno-babble phrases like "negative magnetic corridor" pile up thick and fast. The storyline constantly contradicts and muddles itself (initially we are told Lazarus is traveling in time, but this seems to be an unnecessary complication; we're told that the planet is "dead" and "destroyed" but in fact it looks a lot like Southern California; there are repeated references to alien invasion and end-of-the-universe scenarios, and we are tortured by constant repetition of a painful music cue and cheesy "universe-flipping" effect. At the end, Kirk learns the truth, alone, but suddenly Spock and everyone else seems to have been informed as well, without ever being told. It is just terribly sloppy. Dilithium crystals don't look anything like the dilithium crystals shown in other episodes. One half of the two-sided hero/villain is identifiable mainly by his exceptionally cheesy facial hair. They definitely weren't all masterpieces!

As an exercise, maybe Grace and I will take a shot at rewriting "The Alternative Factor." She has some experience in screen-writing, and I have some experience in writing short stories, so maybe we can come up with something better. It could be fun; it could even play into an interesting home-school exercise for Isaac.

A baby update: Veronica is just past the four-month mark. She can't quite sit up on her own, but she will happily lie on her belly or back and play with toys. Yesterday she ate a Sears tool catalog. (Well, not really, but she ripped a bunch of the pages out and tried to stuff them in her mouth). She has discovered her toes. She's very stong, and seems to really enjoy working out: wrestling, doing sit-ups and push ups -- basically, anything that gives her a chance to work her baby muscles hard makes her giggle and laugh her head off. She will be crawling very soon!

And me? Although she really is a great baby, and sleeps most of the way through the night, she wants a lot of attention, and we do our best to give it to her. The end result is that I am generally always just a little bit more tired and distracted than it seems like I should be. When she does get to sleep, and I'd like to stay up and study or write, I usually just crash instead. Having a baby at 37 is probably quite a bit harder, in terms of stamina.

Grace certainly has it worse: she is Vera's caregiver all day, every weekday. She has been really great about trying to give me a little bit of time to myself on some evenings and weekends, but she is definitely tired too. A long winter with multiple bouts of colds and flu has not helped any, either! With any luck as the days get longer and warmer we'll get some energy back.

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Wed, 02 Feb 2005 Five Lakes Grill

To celebrate Grace's 32nd birthday, last night we drove to Milford and ate dinner at Brian Polcyn's restaurant, the Five Lakes Grill.

The space and atmosphere were pretty decent, but not wonderful. I have no love of Muzak, and there was a lot of it, but at least it was not loud.

The food was great. We've been meaning to make the trip ever since reading a review in the Atlantic several years ago. The review has been stuck to our closet door with a magnet ever since then. Now we can take it down!

Grace had the rack of lamb, which she described as the best she's ever had. The only flaw was that the wilted spinach with it was too salty. The salad was good. We split glasses of a house Shiraz, which was quite tasty.

I had a special, marinated skirt steak with a sweetish currant sauce, served with vegetables including blue potatoes and asparagus. The meat and sauce was excellent, and the vegetables excellent, but the combination didn't really sing. Not all specials wind up working out as well as the tried-and-true dishes; that's OK. It was quite good anyway.

We had a charcuterie platter appetizer; it is one of Polcyn's specialties, and he teaches charcuterie. The sausages were all excellent, including a seafood sausage. He also had a great prosciutto.

Isaac had a Greek salad with fried calamari on top, which he enjoyed very much, and a pot pie with pearl onions and duck confit, which was wonderful. He loved it, although he was getting a bit full and had to take some home.

For dessert Grace had creme brulee, which she again described as the best she's had: a great crackling burnt sugar coating on top, fresh berries, and a custard that was not overly sweet. I had a lemon tart, which was excellent, and which came with a little chocolate cup with rasberries that tasted house-made. Isaac had a thick hot chocolate, which was bittersweet and rich, although the combination of caffeinated soda and dark chocolate got him pretty wired up, so perhaps it was not the best thing to give him at ten o'clock at night. The coffee was excellent.

The entire meal cost us $150, before tip, which is quite a bit, but it was one of the best restaurant meals we've ever had, so I don't consider it an unreasonable amount to spend for such a special occasion. We took baby Veronica with us, and that worked out fine; she didn't fuss much, and even slept on the seat of the booth for part of the meal.

It was a good time, and a good reminder of how unimpressive most of the downtown Ann Arbor restaurant have become. I would not be surprised if we were back there soon.

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Sat, 22 Jan 2005 Singing on the Brain

So, Veronica loves singing, and Isaac loves to sing too, so last night we took both of them to see Singing in the Rain, the Gene Kelly musical, at the Michigan Theater.

It was a strange coincidence: on Saturday night we watched the documentary I had ordered from Netflix, "Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer." Then Sunday afternoon, after attending a memorial service for a friend, we saw that Singing in the Rain was on the marquee of the Michigan Theater!

I had seen this musical on video, but had been a bit bored, especially by the long fantasy sequence "Broadway Melody." But on the big screen, it was just amazing. I'm disappointed that we missed "An American in Paris," which has an even more remarkably fantasy sequence. The print was excellent, and not very scratched, with a very clear soundtrack, although the colors seemed a bit unevenly faded and would flicker a bit from scene to scene.

It also makes me remember how many great movies I used to see at the Michigan, and how much we are missing out on right here in Ann Arbor. I miss living within easy walking distance of downtown. But we should at least come downtown a few times a year to see a movie at the Michigan Theater!

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Baby Boogers

So, my baby girl is almost four months old and my grandmother is 101. That's quite a spread of living relatives!

She's been a joy, and cute as can be. It is thrilling to see her developing new skills. She has unfortunately been a bit sick this winter, with mild flu-like symptoms and accompanying discomfort and fussiness. A doctor friend told us that babies born late, with meconium and the amniotic fluid, were often "snurfly." That fits baby Veronica -- she's often full of snot. We have been running a humidifier, and suctioning her nose out with a rubber squeeze bulb (she really doesn't enjoy that very much, although she is getting used to it and doesn't seem to be so frightened by the process any more). We might try taking the nurse's advice and putting a little bit of salt water up her nose with the bulb to help loosen up everything, although I get the feeling that she will be even more unhappy about that.

She has also forgiven me for slipping while trying to trim her tiny baby fingernails and accidentally cutting off some of the flesh on her finger. Her fingernails are a source of endless difficulty because we have to keep them extremely short, or she scratches up her face (or our faces). We're afraid she's going to scratch her own eye. But cutting them, even with a baby-sized clipper, is difficult. It is easiest if she is sound asleep, but turning on a bright light will wake her up, and in dim light it is very hard to see what we are doing. So I tried to do it while she was awake, with Isaac distracting her. But she is wiggly. Oops.

Then of course I had to clean the wound, which added insult to injury because of the sting. She was pretty upset about that. Fortunately it is a small wound and is quickly healing. Forgetting my guilt over hurting my innocent baby girl will take considerably longer!

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Mon, 03 Jan 2005 The Tsunami

Well. Usually not much interesting happens between Christmas and New Years. This year: ka-pow. The most devastating natural disaster of my lifetime. I could try to write something adequate to the event, but I don't feel up to it. I am very deeply saddened. Last night in our family prayers I said that it while we mourn the dead we should be devoting most of our attention to the survivors, because they face huge dislocation, upheaval, disease, famine, and all the horrors that refugees confront, whether refugees from war or disaster. I am heartened by reports that aid is getting through. The challenge will be managing a long-term reconstruction and, we hope, putting in systems that will help prevent events like this from becoming so murderous.

This disaster was not about global warming per se, and it wasn't a weather event per se, but as sea levels rise and storms become more energetic, the massive flooding scenario is one that is bound to be repeated. Nations like the Maldives, that are only a few feet above sea level, just don't have any protection against whatever the tide and wind might bring them.

It also saddens me that we would like to contribute cash, but for the moment, can't. I'm worried we'll bounce checks this week if I gas up my car or pick up some groceries. There's just nothing in the checking account, and won't be for perhaps another month, assuming my job lasts. We had a cascade failure: the muffler blew out on my car, I got a speeding ticket, and we managed to trigger a pile of bank fees covering several hundred dollars more. We're just barely above water. My parents contributed money to help us buy Isaac a bike for Christmas, and we barely managed to do so because so much of the money they gave us was eaten up by bank fees.

It's embarassing to be struggling like this. If we weren't still devoting so much of my income to pay down debts, this wouldn't be happening now. Getting into debt out of school, and retaining bad spending habits for a decade or more, was definitely the worst thing to happen to me, in terms of undermining my long-term security, feeding depression and anxiety, and all that. I take personal responsibility for it, but a deregulated Citibank certainly hasn't helped matters. I've also tended to choose, for the most parts, jobs that haven't paid competitively, because I was more interested in the kinds of work and the work environments that they offered. I'm still looking to make that tradeoff in the future, if we can manage to do so.

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Fri, 10 Dec 2004 My Christmas List

My Christmas list. Things I can't afford to buy myself this year.

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