Friday, November 23, 2007

In which we are not (quite) scammed

I offer this post both as an entertaining story and a service: don't let this happen to you!

Our family was downtown this afternoon. We had a quiet morning, went to noon Mass and then all went to a Starbucks en route to the main library. Eric needed some caffeine to get going on studying and I needed some food to deal with children's book hunting. Downtown was pretty festive today: no one was working but the many department stores were mobbed and everyone was in good holiday cheer.

As we sat enjoying our food and drink, a respectable-looking middle-aged man came in and asked the cashier for change. The cashier said they'd been super-busy and didn't have any change to spare. The man headed back out but as he passed by our table he hurriedly and distractedly tossed four five-dollar bills in front of Eric and asked, "You got a twenty for four fives?" Eric pulled out his wallet and I looked, curious, because neither of us usually has any cash on hand. The man asked me almost frantically for directions to New York Avenue which I obliged as Eric handed over the one twenty dollar bill I'd seen in his wallet. The man called something over to another customer and then looked down at his hand and showed Eric a one dollar bill, saying "You only gave me a single." Eric was bewildered. He'd already pocketed the four fives so he opened his wallet again. There was no twenty in there this time and he was just about to give the man his four fives back when I was struck with unusual boldness and said, "No. He gave you a twenty." There'd been a twenty in the wallet a minute before and if it wasn't there now, the man must have it. He pulled the twenty out from under his arm and said, "Yeah, but I wanted twenty ones. You don't have em?" He gave us the twenty and took back his one and fives and disappeared quickly out the door.

Pretty slick. In hindsight this all sounds like one of those chain e-mails you read, thinking, "How could someone be so stupid?" But it all happened so quickly that we didn't even realize we'd been almost scammed until the man was out of sight. First, why would anyone want a twenty for four fives? And why did he drop them all on the table before Eric had even reached for his wallet? Second, why does a pedestrian in Chinatown need directions to New York Avenue (obviously weird to anyone from DC)? Third, he picked a man eating with his two children and distracted the wife with conversation keeping us off balance through the entire transaction. The man changed tactics so quickly at the end that we were left thinking we'd been confused--but only for a minute. We talked to the Starbucks employee who said the man had had a lot of cash and we called the cops but I bet that guy made a killing in Chinatown today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Margaret loves to help cook . . .

Well, Family, you were all very much missed this year. We haven't made it to any home for Thanksgiving since we got married. The last time we made the trip back to DC it took us fifteen hours and we haven't been too anxious to try it again. Once we added in kids and college students holiday travel really became impossible. We thought about coming this year, at the last minute, but it just really wasn't possible. But we really wanted to be in New England this year and everyone was very missed.

So, in lieu of an actual visit, I thought I'd share a bit of our Thanksgiving meal with you. We started the day with Mass at our parish and then attempted a visit to the National Gallery. A favorite artist of ours has an exhibit right now and we went to the Gallery last year. The kids weren't really up for it this time, so I played with them in the lobby while Eric browsed the exhibit for a bit. We stopped for Starbucks for some festive treats and then came home for naps.

Eric and I love to cook together, though we rarely do it. Today we started dinner prep at 4:00 and ate just after 7:00. Not too bad considering that we were trying several new recipes including the main dish: Rabbit. We'd never had rabbit before but a turkey is too much for the four of us and we wanted to eat something authentic and seasonal. Rabbits are easy to come by around here--Eric just set up a couple snares on the Mall and . . .

Fixing the bunny sauce.

Just kidding! We got the rabbit at the wholesale market up the street. It was really good and, actually, tasted pretty much exactly like turkey. We also had oyster dressing, real cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and roasted root veggies. I didn't make pie but my dad left some chocolate here a few days ago, so I think we'll eat that as soon as the kids are asleep!

Joseph waiting anxiously to eat the "bunny."

All in all it was a wonderful feast and wonderful day. Our family certainly has much to be thankful for this year. Eric is trying his darndest to get a job closer to home so we can all see each other next year, but it's a lot of luck.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 9, 2007

You didn't miss anything!

I posted a few weeks ago that Margaret had started walking but our camera wasn't working. I was so sad that the blog would have no record of her first steps. But, then, Margaret didn't take any more steps. Here and there she'd toddle a few steps to get from one piece of furniture to the next but mostly she refused to really learn to walk.

We go to Daily Mass a few days a week at the Basilica at CUA. Margaret is almost always too noisy to stay in the church so we hang out in the hall where there are stairs and ramps and wide open spaces. Margaret mostly climbs up and down and up and down. The last couple of days she's insisted on my taking her hand so she can walk around. Today she forgot and let go and took about twenty steps towards me (while I held my hands just inches from hers). This afternoon at home I coaxed her into crossing the room a few times. Then Margaret was hanging onto my legs while I was busy peeling potatoes. I felt her let go and looked over my shoulder to see her toddling across the kitchen. That was the first time she'd ever walked without me begging her to do it, so I think it's official now. She's pretty much toddling all over the place and I got a minute of it on video. Hopefully our slow connection will upload it before I go to bed tonight!

Update: Well, now it's the next night and I still can't get this very cute video to upload. If our computer situation improves in the next few days, I will post it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The climber . . .

. . . has reached new heights.

Advice? The high chair is now sitting on top of the table.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Baby Signs

There's a big trend among parents these days to teach sign language to infants. I got interested in this idea when Joseph was a baby and we made a few attempts here and there during his first year. He learned his first sign (ceiling fan) just before his first birthday. He learned "more" Thanksgiving Day. By New Year's he was learning signs about as fast as we could teach them. By the time he began talking the next summer he knew about eighty signs.

Some people worry that teaching sign language to babies harms their verbal ability. There is no real evidence for this as long as the parents speak to their kids as well (not a problem at our house). Most researchers agree that learning signs strengthens a child's overall linguistic ability. Joseph's verbal ability continues to impress many people we meet. It's hard to believe this is the same kid who was recommended for speech therapy at ten months of age (we declined the therapy).

Our success teaching Joseph to sign has made me an enthusiastic advocate of this mode of infant communication. It's a lot of fun and reduces frustration all around. It was amazing to sign with Joseph. He was always watching the world around him and always thinking. He would notice tiny things we'd missed and sign to us. Sometimes we had to look really hard but we always found that he was communicating real things. This has continued to hold true with Joseph's verbal communication. He always has a reason for saying what he's saying even if that reason isn't immediately apparent to his busy, scatter-brained parents.

We've started signing with Margaret. In some ways she's picking it up even faster than Joseph did but sometimes we wonder if she gets it. Sign language acquisition works the same way as verbal language acquisition. Signs are often imprecise or will all look the same for awhile. Margaret does a pretty clear "more" (food is such a good incentive!). She also has lots of opportunity for "doggie" as we have a pair of frequent barkers next door. The ability to sign "doggie" has completely eased her fear of the dogs. The same thing happened with Joseph when we taught him the sign for "siren". Margaret claps when we say "good job" and she usually manages "all done" when she doesn't want more to eat. She will sometimes do a loose approximation of the "nurse" sign.

This week I tried to branch out a little. We'd tried to teach her "hat" before (tapping the top of your head). She just hit herself in the face. We were reading a book about a zoo and I showed her "lion" (running hands through hair): she hit herself in the face. I tried "giraffe" (open hand along neck): she hit herself in the face. I tried "hot" (blowing) when the oven was on: she hit herself in the face. I guess we have a little work to do on subtlety.

I had an interesting insight into her personality when I tried to teach her "book" (opening palms in the shape of a book). I showed her and she immediately saw that I was trying to show her a sign and she tried to do it. She couldn't do it, so I took her hands in mine and did the motion for her. She tried to do it herself and couldn't. She made a frustrated sound and held her hands out to me so that I would do it for her again. Joseph probably would have just made up his own sign if he couldn't do the one we showed him. Margaret is a perfectionist. If she sees how book should be and can't do it, she won't sign book at all.

After all that . . . Margaret loves the camera so much that I can never capture her on film. As soon as she sees the camera she stops whatever cute thing she was doing and runs for the camera. Instead of illustrating this post with pictures of her signing I've shown her new favorite skill: climbing. We left the room before church Sunday and found that she'd climbed into the stroller all by herself. She was quite pleased and this activity kept her very busy and quiet during Mass later in the morning.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

One week late but we all had a great time celebrating Joseph's birthday last weekend. Joseph has known his birthday is "October 27th" for several months. He put in his request for chocolate cake in August. His therapist asked him last Friday where the chocolate cake would come from (wondering if I was going to make it or buy it) and Joseph answered, very solemnly, "From Heaven."

I don't know if the cake was quite that good, but Joseph was pleased. Our favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood loves Joseph and told us to stop by on his birthday. They put a candle in a huge chocolate muffin for him, so he got cake for breakfast, too!

Grandma Marga decided just a few weeks ago to come to town for the festivities. She helped put together a birthday feast of lamb and stuffed squash and we had a couple other friends over to help us eat it. Joseph got lots of books and is loving all of them.

Grandma too pity on Joseph, Son of the Craftless Mother, and carved a jack-o-lantern with him. I was very impressed. "Jack" kept us company at the dinner table for a few nights.

The kids continue to get along and mutually enjoy each other's toys. Margaret, in fact, was much more excited about Joseph's birthday than for her own.