Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Eliana first: She put boots on her doll.

Or as she put it, “Look! Baby wears boots.”

Eliana put boots on her doll

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Eliana first: She loaded a video.

It took less than 24 hours for Eliana to discover that the cabinet storing all our videos and CDs was without its child-proof latch. She found the video “The Mysterious Islands” and walked it over to the TV. I think she liked the picture on the case. She opened the Xbox tray, took out the Kinect game disc, set it aside (instead of in its case – naughty), removed the video from its case, loaded it into the Xbox, and closed the tray.

In everyone’s eyes except hers, Eliana is far too young to be manipulating discs or an Xbox, but she apparently had spent months secretly learning the necessary skills by watching her parents and brother. No one had any idea what she was doing until the Xbox controller app on the PC I was using indicated that the Xbox had been turned on. I went downstairs expecting to find Ethan trying to figure out to start a Kinect game by himself. Instead, Ethan was outside, and only our little girl was in the basement.

Not wanting to disappoint her, I spared sharing the detail that the video she chose was Blu-Ray, which Xbox 360 doesn’t support. I stuck with the “discs are too fragile for little girls” theme, which she took well.

Eliana loaded a video.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Eliana first: She encouraged a friend to slide with her.

Eliana was on the of the kiddie play set at the park with another girl about her age. At one point they were on the central platform together, when her friend started going one way to crawl through a tube. Eliana went the other way toward the slide. At the top of the slide, Eliana turned to the girl and asked her to slide down with her.

At least, that’s what I think she was asking. I don’t know for sure, since I don’t speak baby talk gibberish, and Eliana didn’t use any of her English words. Fortunately, the other girl, also being a little one, spoke baby talk gibberish fluently. She came over and slid down right after Eliana.

Eliana encouraged a friend to slide with her.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Eliana first: She borrowed a book from her brother.

Eliana has a bin of books and a drawer of books in her nursery. For her bedtime stories, I chose three books from the drawer and asked her which one she’d like me to read first. Eliana picked up the books, put them back into the drawer, and walked out of the room. I could tell by the sound that she was walking to Ethan’s room.

Eliana returned shortly with one of Ethan’s favorite books – not a picture book, and certainly not a baby book. She sat down in her baby rocking chair and motioned for me to sit next to her. She handed me the book. It was Redwall, by Brian Jacques, a children’s novel that I’ve been reading to Ethan since before he turned four.

Ethan and I are nearly through the book. Since Ethan was already in bed and I didn’t want to disturb our place by reading to Eliana, so I started over and read a couple pages from the beginning. Eliana was captivated, not only in the dialog and its voice characterization, but also in the narrative, painting pictures such as the habit-wearing protagonist’s oversized, floppy sandals.

It’s hard to say how much Eliana understood, but she clearly enjoyed it. She also enjoyed when I took out a baby book with lots of pictures and read that to her, reassuring me that she’s not all grown up just yet.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An Eliana first: She talked on the phone.

As Beth was talking on the phone to her mother, Eliana walked over. Beth asked Eliana if she wanted to say something and held the phone down by her. She said “Hi” to grandma.

Another Ethan first: He secured a load.

Ethan asked me to help him find our box of bungee cords. You can’t be too careful when hauling a wheel loader in a dump truck.

Ethan secured a load.

An Eliana first: She gave Bunny a ride in the swing.

Eliana put Bunny in the swing and then asked me for help with putting down the lap bar. When Bunny was snugly in place, she pushed theing and gave her a gentle ride.

Eliana gave Bunny a ride in the swing

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Another Ethan first: He swung by himself.

With Eliana wanting to swing more and more, the timing for Ethan to learn how to pump so that he can swing by himself couldn’t be better.

Another Ethan first: He took out the trash.

Lounging on a comfortable deck chair is no place to be when you remember that the trash needs to go out. That is, unless you muse out loud to yourself, “I wonder if Ethan is old enough to take out the trash.” Only the garbage was time sensitive; the recycling truck wouldn’t come until after lunch. Ambiguity, however, can be your friend, especially when a five year old gets inspired. After five minutes or so Beth went to inspect. (No, I didn’t stay lounging; Eliana wanted me to push her on the swing.) Beth’s report was of a perfect job, worthy of continued enjoyment of the weekly privilege for at least a dozen years.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another Ethan first: He left bunny behind.

While Ethan was putting on his shoes to go with Beth to the general store, she asked him to look around the house for bunny. He asked how far away the store was. When Beth said not far, he decided, “I don’t need bunny. Bunny can stay home. The store is close.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another Ethan first: He rode his bike without training wheels.

Grandma lent Ethan a bicycle that was a size smaller than the John Deere bike he normally rides. It took less force to pedal and felt a bit more stable with its lower center of gravity. This gave Ethan the confidence to ask me to take off the training wheels.

We started on the driveway. I held the back of the bike as Ethan put his feet on the pedals. I took a couple steps with him and let go. Ethan rode ahead about thirty feet, slowed down, and put a foot to the ground.

Next, we tried a longer run. There were no cars on the street, so we started right in the center. I held on to the seat again, this time just long enough for him to get his feet on the pedals and start forward. Straight and steady he went down the middle of the road, past a couple houses. He turned awkwardly to the left as he approached his destination, our mailbox, and came to a less-than-graceful, but acceptable, stop.

On the way back, Ethan had the advantage of a gentle slope, so he tried starting by himself, and it worked. With ease he steered from the road onto the driveway.

This gave Ethan the confidence to call out with excitement, “I want to ride to the bank!” For months he had been asking to ride his bike alongside mine, rather than ride passively behind in the trailer. My response had always been that the training wheels made his bike too slow, and that we could ride alongside when he was good at riding on two wheels.

Ethan believed that time had come, and despite the brevity of his five minutes of logged training time, I concurred. The entire route was slow, low-traffic residential streets. He stayed safely by my side while my bike coupled with the big, yellow trailer with Eliana inside provided a highly visible hedge about him. The only difficulty was down the larger hills. Up was fine, but Ethan was too nervous about braking to slow himself while still maintaining balance. So he walked his bike until he reached bottom then hopped back on to chug up the hill that followed.

The bank teller was impressed. Not only did Ethan get to enjoy riding his bike without training wheels, but before we departed for the ride back home, he also enjoyed a congratulations candy bar.

Monday, May 27, 2013

An Eliana first: She greased a bread pan.

While the rest of the house slept, Eliana and I were up making breakfast pizza and bread for our family and a couple guests. We were out of butter, so I choose shortening to grease the bread pans. Eliana wanted to help as usual. She did well. I learned that her little fingers make it especially easy for her to get into the corners of the pans.

I also learned that Daddy’s little baby loves shortening.

Greasing a bread panGreasing a bread pan

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Another Ethan first: He worked for food.

At the circus, the ringmaster offered all the boys an opportunity to earn some treats in exchange for cleanup work after the show. Ethan had earlier enjoyed some blue cotton candy, finding it more appealing than his other options of an elephant ride, camel ride, pony ride, or bouncy castle. So with his appetite whet for more, we was a willing and able employee.

It wasn’t a bad entry into the labor force. Considering the value of the popcorn, cotton candy, and snow cone that he earned, relative to his five minutes of effort, I estimate his bill rate was $120 per hour.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

High-tech microwave repair

What do you get when you microwave a zucchini squash with an undersized vent slit?

Microwave with exploded squashA broken microwave latch

You get a hot exterior, which closes up the vent, tremendous pressure buildup within the squash, and a explosion whose enormity rivals only that of the mess.

You also get a door blown open by the force, a broken latch, and an excuse for a friend with a 3D printer to replicate a part. You can't buy just the latch, and the smallest assembly containing it is the entire door which goes for more than a new microwave.

Repair attempt at gluing on a washerRepair attempt 1: Glued metal: Before embarking into the bleeding edge technology of 3D fabrication, I gave a low tech solution a try with a washer and some good glue. But would the washer shape work, and will it hold over time? After the glue dried, a simple free-hand test provides all the answer I needed, and left me with a (harmless?) washer sitting on the bottom inside of my microwave housing.

Repair attempt 2: Computer-replicated part: Since a search online didn’t turn up any existing models for this part, I needed a replica. Wouldn’t it be incredible if the computer could model one for me, especially since I have almost zero experience with making 3D models? Following instructions online, I first took a 38 pictures of the good part from all different angles. The back deck was a perfect setting: an overcast sky meant diffuse lighting, and there was a break in the rain. Autodesk 123D converted the pictures into a model.

The model captured the top portions of the part, but not the bottom, since I had no photos of the underneath. The model also included the deck. I figured out how to delete the deck from the model and mirror-image-copy the good half of the part to the bottom half. Still, the model was not very accurate and quite “wobbly”. It was clear this approach was not going to work.

Repair attempt 3: Hand-modeled part: Since the computer couldn’t capture the part in the detail I needed, I now had an excuse to get into 3D modeling. Fortunately, I had friends who helped me select software. After a couple quick trials, I found SketchUp worked the best for me. Still, figuring out how to center shapes and tell them not to always stick to each other was tricky, but I hacked my way through it, albeit with far more copy and paste than I'm sure is necessary. I didn't attempt the countersink and pilot hole where the screw goes. I planned to use a different technology for that – one with a cobalt tip.

I provided the file containing the model to a friend with a 3D printer. He fed the model into the 3D printer software. The software added some legs needed to support the thin tab during the physical part creation process, which he later clipped off by hand. After a couple hours of printing, he held in his hand an accurately dimensioned part – strong too. Whether strong enough, I would have to find out when it arrived in the mail.

Printing a microwave latch

Playmobil firetruck broken axel pinIntermission: Comparison with fire truck part replacement: While waiting for the microwave part to arrive, we learned that Ethan's Playmobil fire truck's axel pins can't handle 40 pounds of downward boy pressure. We also learned about the difference between the lifecycle engineering of a German-designed $30 child's toy and a $300 American microwave. I was able to go online, find the toy, find the part, and then call in to order a replacement, which according to their web site would be a few dollars. When I actually talked to the customer representative on the phone, she said they’d be happy to send me the part for free. Of course if every company worked that way, where would we find the geeky cool fun of modeling and fabricating a part from scratch?

Reassembly: The replacement part arrived in the mail and fit nicely. After I drilled a pilot hole, the original screw held it tightly into the door. There was a moment of despair when the initial test using just the door chassis failed to turn the light off (actually running the microwave without the full door in place seemed like a bad idea). It turned out the latch receptor in the microwave body was still in the closed position after the explosion. A firm pull with a needle-nose pliers remedied the situation. The feel of opening the door is good and solid, just as it felt the factory-made latch a week ago.

Now the microwave, depending on how you feel about aesthetics and conversation pieces, is even better than new!

Microwave latch replacement partMicrowave latch replacement partMicrowave latch replacement part

Microwave latch replacement part

September update: All was good for a couple months, until one day when the microwave no longer sensed that the door was completely shut. The problem was that the plastic latch (pink in the photo below) stretched to the point that it pushed the sensor past its sweet spot. I noticed that if I held the door slightly ajar, the microwave would cook. That was fine for taking the edge off ice cream, but inconvenient for all other foods. Beth found that taping a penny to the cavity’s face provided the right spacing without having to hold the door by hand.

EJ had an idea for a permanent solution. He had been experimenting with aluminum castings, so he tried his hand at casting an aluminum latch. The second and third parts from the left below were interim parts in the casting process, resulting in the left-most part. After shortening the spacing protrusion with a grinding wheel, the part fit perfectly, and we were back to a fully functional kitchen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

An Eliana first: She made bunny give kisses.

As I was holding Eliana in the church foyer, reminding her to be quiet, she thought of a quiet activity: she held bunny up to my face and made kissing sounds as bunny kissed my cheek.

Later at nap time, Eliana made bunny read a book in her crib. However, I don’t believe Bunny knows how to read yet; I think she was really just reading the pictures.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Eliana first: She climbed the play set ladder.

Following as usual in the footsteps of her older brother, Eliana climbed the play set ladder to join Ethan at the top.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An E&E first: They planted a garden.

Sowing seeds in rows today, and weeding and watering for weeks to come – the hopeful result: sugar snap peas, basil, carrots, and most of all, an appreciation for the food we so often take for granted.

Planting a garden

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Another Ethan first: He shot an arrow.

Ethan's arrow on its way to the targetThe camp staff was willing to let anyone who was strong enough to draw a bow shoot at their targets, regardless of age. Ethan was more than excited to try. He’d been asking me about shooting with a bow and arrow for a year. I’d told him he probably wouldn’t be ready until he was about eight years old. He proved me wrong. Not only could he draw; he hit the target about half the time. Among all the camp activities, including horseback riding and boating, archery was easily his favorite.

Ethan drawing a bow

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ethan on career planning

“I'm gonna grow up and get a computer and work for the money. Or, you could work.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A new twist on a familiar word

Ethan had probably listened to the Patch the Pirate album “Limerick the Leprechaun” a dozen of times, yet it seemed as if some key elements of plot were still over his head. Foremost was the true identity of the Limerick, which the program revels early on program to be Shameless McGreedy, the man whom Mr. O’Connor recently had to fire for untrustworthy behavior.

As I walked through what Limerick said to give away his identity, Ethan responded with a look of unbelief. Limerick couldn’t possibly be Shameless McGreedy; he was all burned up.

It was at that point that I realized that neither the album nor I had shared with Ethan the meaning in this context of the word fire.

Monday, March 18, 2013

An Eliana first: She wished Mommy good night.

Every night when she goes to bed, we say “Good night, Eliana”. Well, this time, I was so surprised to hear a very clear, “Good night” back.

~ Beth

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fascination with nuclear energy

I took the kids ice skating this afternoon. On the way home, I wanted to resume listing to a podcast I had started on nuclear energy. Ethan didn’t like that idea, instead wanting to listen to a Patch the Pirate recording. Normally, I’ll play kids programs, but this time I decided to go ahead with the podcast.

Despite being mostly way over his head, the interview with a nuclear energy expert turned out to be more interesting that Ethan had imagined. When we got home, he asked if he could stay in the car and keep listening.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ethan on heights

“We’re up so high it’s like a map on the iPhone.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Another Ethan first: He swam across the pool.

The swimming pool at our Florida resort destination varied from 3’9” to 4’10” in depth. Ethan could perceive the difference and was always held a deeper respect for the deep end, yet the irony was that the entire pool was a “deep end” to Ethan. The two exceptions were a stairway in the corner and a sun seat, which was a two-foot-wide ledge along one wall resting six inches underwater.

The resort had an inflatable vest that Ethan wore to float around the pool the first three days. That third evening we swam late enough that there was no one to give the vest to at the end of the day, so I put it among a pile of damp towels so it wouldn’t blow away in the strong wind. Who knows what the resort laundering staff did it, but the next morning when we went to check out the vest again, no one knew where it was.

Ethan had some preparation for the dilemma. His swimming lessons at the YMCA had him on the shallow end of the pool doggie paddling with a flotation belt. He’d practiced with me in the big pool at the Y a few times swimming as far as he could with the swim belt.

This time, he was on his own. For half an hour or so, he played around on the sun deck and stairway and took little swims to the other corner wall. Next he swam to me in the middle pool. Then a bit further and further. Within an hour, we was swimming across the pool.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

An Eliana first: She set her place at the table.

As Beth was preparing dinner, there was a quietness about Eliana. The typical sounds of her playing with toys or Ethan were missing. While often a sign of trouble, this evening it meant a welcome surprise: she quietly pushed her high chair into the dining room and brought over her tray and bib in preparation for supper.

Eliana set her place at the table.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An Eliana first: She cleaned up for Ethan.

Usually Ethan practices when his sister is asleep. And, part of Ethan’s violin practice involves him picking a Life Saver, unwrapping it, and saving it for the end of his practice where he gets to balance it on the tip of his bow. The wrapper ends up sitting on the piano bench until his lesson is over. Then, he puts it in the trash (after Mommy reminds him, of course).

But, tonight, Eliana was up for the lesson. As we started our practice, I noticed that she walked away, and then I heard the cabinet door close. I thought to myself, “Could she have?” To my surprise, the Life Saver wrapper had vanished from the piano bench and found its way to the garage can, thanks to a seagull.

Update: The Seagull was smiling and, after I praised her for throwing away the wrapper, Ethan noticed something in her mouth. While at the garbage, throwing the wrapper away, she had apparently found our friend’s gum and decided it would be tasty. Ewww!

~ Beth

Monday, February 4, 2013

Eating with etiquette or not at all

Eliana had no interest in her tortellini at dinner tonight. It didn’t matter whether we put the spoon in her hand or tried to feed her ourselves. What did end up mattering was the utensil. The rest of us were eating with forks. After all, eating tortellini with a spoon is for babies – but apparently not toddlers. Once we gave Eliana a fork, the tortellini became a culinary delight.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Eliana first: She prepared her seat for breakfast.

We typically eat breakfast and lunch in the dinette and dinner in the dining room. I usually move Eliana’s high chair between the rooms. Now I no longer need to.

Eliana preparing her seat for breakfast

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Eliana first: She blew on hot food.

The grilled cheese sandwich was just a tad hot, not enough to actually require cooling. Still, any reason to act like Daddy and Mommy is reason enough.

Eliana blowing on hot food

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Eliana first: She played the kazoo.

Eliana playing the kazooEliana isn’t one to just hum along by herself, but put a kazoo in her hand, and she’ll make merry music for you.

Eliana playing the kazoo