Monday, January 04, 2010


Back in the Saddle Again

I hope your Christmas break was restorative. A few highlights of ours:

- The Boy scored his first gametime basket! As the center, he usually focuses on rebounding, but he made an elegant shot despite good defense. He was grinning ear-to-ear as he made his way downcourt after that. Go, TB!

- We had the worst tree ever. It toppled over at one point, dropping needles and spilling water from its base onto the carpet. Even upright, it dropped more needles than I thought possible. When we finally put the flippin' thing out of our misery, I spent over an hour vacuuming on hands-and-knees to get all the needles out of the carpet. I'm thinking it may be time to relent and get an artificial tree.

- Since they've been great and we go pretty light on trendy toys, we relented and got the kids a wii. I had thought of it as a videogame system, but the kids see it as a video paper-doll kit. They spend most of their time making and remaking their avatars (called "mii's"), as well as some of TW and me. That use hadn't even occurred to me.

- Bowling is the family-friendly game on the wii, but even there the generational differences show. The Boy throws his entire body into his swing, throwing his arm at such a severe angle that the ball actually crosses the entire lane, going from extreme right to the left gutter. The Girl does a little jump when she swings, landing on one foot with the other leg bent at the knee at ninety degrees. Practice, practice...

- We did the cross-multiple-states thing to see family, and again got lucky with timing and traffic. I think we're gonna pay that back with interest on a forthcoming trip. TB is about the same height as his eleven-year-old cousin, which is pretty impressive for an eight-year-old.

- Reading! Glorious reading! I actually got to read stuff just because I wanted to! Ah, the joys of breaks. TW got me All Over But the Shouting, an oral history of the Replacements, which I devoured in an afternoon. The highlight was Westerberg's recollection of trying to convey setlists to Bob Stinson, the guitarist who never actually learned the names to their songs: "The fast one, Bob." "The sorta fast one, Bob." "The one that sounds like this, Bob." If you know the mighty 'mats at all, you know that sounds right.

- I also did a "what the hell happened to Northern Town" twofer, Hollowing Out the Middle and Methland. Reading those two back-to-back was a wee bit depressing, but they painted a hell of a picture. (Yes, this is the kind of stuff I read of my own volition. Yes, I know.) The first detailed how the public schools in flyover territory encourage the best and brightest to get the hell out of flyover territory; the second detailed what happened to some of the folks who stayed. If you're old enough to remember when flyover country held a vibrant middle class, it's alarming. Together, they confirmed my suspicion that my adolescent drive to get the hell out of Northern Town wasn't just teen angst; it was also substantively correct. The culture there has never really been captured on film, though Beavis and Butthead got close. (If you've seen Dazed and Confused, imagine a much less affluent version of that.) This is the culture that gave rise to Timothy McVeigh, who actually struck me as a familiar type. It may not be in the immediate best interest of areas like that to export young talent, but you can't blame the young talent for leaving.

- Finally, I got to take a crack at Saving Alma Mater. That one gets its own post, probably later this week.

- TW and I took the kids to a children's concert in a lovely old theater. Children's music is far better now than it used to be; many of the old 'alternative' rockers have gone this route as they've gotten older, with heartening results. TB and TG had a blast, and it was nice to be able to see a band I had caught in its grownup incarnation about fifteen years ago playing for my kids. The band made the obligatory reference to playing in the daytime, but I kind of like that.

- Ah, sleep. If I were king of the universe, I'd mandate that workdays couldn't start until, oh, ten-ish. Alas. And now it's back to the land of the living...

Give up on trees. Buy poinsettias. They actually look better, and they don't shed. You can easily plant them once the holidays are over. They come in several colors, but the classic green-and-red is best. (On the other hand, they are poisonous to dogs and cats when eeaten. It's hard to put presents under them. And they don't hold ornaments very well.)
Welcome back, DD. And thanks for reminding us what breaks are for!
You clearly haven't seen "Nimrod Nation," which gives you eight gloriously painful hours of film documenting life in the northern Midwest. I haven't read those books, but I imagine them to be equally depressing.
Another great feature of the Wii, if have WiFi in your home, is that you can connect to Nintendo to buy games from the older, long outdated systems. For $5 or $10 they're a good value, and they are stored in the Wii, no disks or cartridges to fool with. In my view the gaming experience of the older games is better than more recent efforts. I recommend to you the Legend of Zelda.
A Wii game I'd recommend is "Endless Ocean". No combat, just diving to look at fish on a tropical reef. I find it soothing, but there's a lot of stuff you learn (about fish) as the game progresses and your character explores. There's missions you can undertake, a mystery to solve, and tourists to guide — none of which are mandatory, and you can do them when you want to.

In-game rewards are more diving equipment and clothing/hairstyles to customize your character, which should amuse the kids.

It also connects (if you have WiFi and the internet) to other people playing it (if you have their codes, so they have to be friends not random strangers) so if the kids' cousins had it they could go diving together.

Oh, and there's dolphins to train to do tricks and stuff, although I haven't bothered with that part of the game yet.

And an aquarium to stock and maintain with species you find on the reef.
The UP of Michigan is a bit north of the northern midwest ;-) but Watersmeet does make a good example of where brain drain takes place. A colleague at my CC left a town on the same highway (one that might play the Nimrods in football) and never looked back.

DD, I'll be interested in your take on Saving Alma Mater. I missed the IHE review of it at the time, but found some things in there on budgets that I take exception to. I've documented that only a small part (1400 of 7000) of the tuition increase at one school was due to state budget cuts after inflation was taken into account. That is, tuition today is more than twice what it needed to be if the only thing going on was a drop in state funds going to that R1 state university.
I cannot recommend Mario Kart highly enough. Endless fun.

Also, I find it delightful that They Might Be Giants has gone into kid's music.
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