Oh $#@^! On the expressiveness of toddlers

My boy’s got moves.

I think it is great that young children have no internal filter. This makes my boy extremely expressive. His face beams enormous smiles, and his eyes sparkle more than any adult’s can. When he runs around and decides to strike a pose, wide legged and arms reaching to the sky, he is more commanding than Elvis. I imagine this is what actors try to tap into when they bare their souls on stage or on screen.

The greatest actor in the world clearly has no filter.

Sometimes, though, I wish there was a bit more of a filter. We were sitting down watching an episode of Mythbusters last night. It was about their third attempt to replicate the JATO car myth. My son loved it, even though he is still very young. It had cars and rockets, everything he needs to dash about “oohing”,  “aahing”, and “wowing.” It’s hopefully a great way to get him interested in STEM.

The show culminated with the Mythbusters launching their rocket-powered car off of a ramp in an attempt to get it to soar through the sky. Instead, the car disintegrates into a spectacular cloud of dust, fire, and debris. And that’s when it happened.

“Oh, $#@^!” Say what? What did my kid just say?

“$#@^!, $#@^!, $#@^!” My toddler keeps repeating as the car tumbles into yet another skyward roll.

“You mean, oh boy.” My wife tries to gently correct him, hoping that a lack of overreaction will ensure that he isn’t rewarded with our attention for having uttered such profanity.

“$#@^!” bubbles out as the car comes to its final rest.

I look uneasily towards my wife. She looks back. Her face is a mix of uncertainty and barely contained laughter.

The swearing stops. It is as if it never happened. My boy looks on as the Mythbusters go about examining the wreckage. The toddler is fascinated by the outcome.

Then the replay. “$#@^!”

Gah! We spend a few more minutes coaching him into more suitable alternatives.

I’m not quite certain where he picked it up, because we don’t exactly run around the house lacing our conversations with profanity. He may have heard it once, and then it stuck. What is quite amazing is that he knows exactly in which circumstances it would be used.

I just wish he had picked something a little less vulgar with which to express his surprise and anxiety.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some more soap bars. There’s a filthy mouth that may need some cleaning.

An awesome candied ginger and ginger ale recipe (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/candied-ginger/)

Candied ginger. Oh yeah! — Image from http://www.davidlebovitz.com

Last weekend, my wife decided to try to make some candied ginger. She pulled up this recipe from http://www.davidlebovitz.com.

It took a lot of work, but it yielded a very fragrant and potent batch of sugary deliciousness. This is a treat that will slap your tastebuds hard and burn its way down to your belly, all while letting you know it’s there for quite some time. I couldn’t help but gobble more than is probably healthy when they first materialized on the counter top.

My name is Max, and I think I’m now a ginger addict.

Best of all, this is the recipe that keeps on giving. If you decide to keep the gooey solution that the ginger boiled in and mix it with some bubbly water (we used Nestle lemon and orange sparkling water), you have some home made ginger ale. It blows the big company stuff out of the water.

Give it a shot! I dare you to feel the burn.

Blog statistics are sometimes too much information

I am still learning the ropes of the art of blogging. From time to time, I take a moment away from writing to take a glimpse at my blog’s statistics. It may simply be an attempt to appease my vanity, or perhaps I truly am seeking to leverage analytics to improve my blog’s performance. Either way, I find the little bar with vertical lines projecting out of it irresistible on occasion.

Some of you may recall an article I posted a while back in response to the media seemingly taking interest in Chris Hadfield’s cell phone bill during his latest stint in orbit as commander of the International Space Station. This has by far been my most popular entry. Since I don’t have an enormous following, it’s not like millions of people are falling over themselves to read what I have to say about astronauts. However, I do get a little information from time to time about the nature of the queries sent to search engines that eventually land eyeballs on my page.

Most of these search terms are fairly innocuous. One combination of words arose on two separate occasions over the past couple days that I could not help but wonder at: “Jeremy Hansen astronaut wife.” What on Earth (or out of it) are these people searching for? Despite my best efforts, my mind cannot help but explore the spectrum of possibilities to glean some insight into their minds.

At first glance, this could somehow refer to a sophomoric attempt to ogle the man’s wife. Perhaps she is quite a looker? Perhaps the search strong looked something like this: “Photos of astronaut Jeremy Hansen‘s hot wife?” This is a very androcentric interpretation of the information available, and not a very flattering statement on modern society.

I would rather think that, if he is married, she is a fantastic person in her own right and has many accomplishments that are the equal to his. Perhaps the intended search string was something along these lines: “How many PhDs does astronaut Jeremy Hansen‘s wife hold?” or “Which orphanage did astronaut Jeremy Hansen‘s wife save?”

What if this is a search motivated by young women running some background checks on the rising star in an attempt to determine whether Mr. Hansen is an eligible bachelor. The search string might look something like: “Does Jeremy Hansen the astronaut have a wife?” It is an equal opportunity world after all, and he’s got quite the smile.

It’s not often that scientific personalities become superstars, but this man’s pulling it off enough to be the subject of eclectic internet searches.

As with grammar, punctuation and context can prove essential to successful internet searches.

On teaching toddlers to get dressed

My boy is fresh out of the bath, towel shed, and dashing towards his room in his birthday suit. He squeals gleefully all the way down the hallway. I guess being able to run around for a few minutes without your style being cramped by diapers is pretty liberating. Shortly after, he is in his diaper waiting to don his pajamas before partaking in a little bedtime story reading.

Not tonight. We make it as far as the diapers, but he wiggles and yells and eventually gets his point across that he wants nothing to do with the PJs we’ve got picked out for him. Thinking ourselves quite clever, we reach into the closet to pull out his favourite onesie. It has a big monkey on it. You can’t beat monkeys on PJs.

“No. Not monkey!” he announces sternly. A pout begins to take shape.

Say what? What do you mean “not the monkey?” Monkey is the man. He’s da bomb. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for the monkey, kid. Why would you so suddenly toss him to the wayside? We try again.


He hops off of his little stand and runs towards the closet where he starts to haul out every possible pajama in the storage rack. The vigour of his rummaging and velocity of the rapidly-ejected clothing was reminiscent of Yoda prying through Luke’s survival boxes during their first encounter on Dagobah. LucasArts may be dead, but I couldn’t help but work some Star Wars reference into this post. Sorry, I digress.

He eventually settles on a set of striped blue PJs. Fine. We can do this. My wife goes to put the pants on when freakout session #2,487,351 of the day erupts. Terrible twos indeed. “No. Want put on!” there is a hard, self-convinced edge to his voice.

“That’s what we’re doing here, honey, we’re putting your PJs on.” my wife’s angelic patience took everything into stride.

“No! Put! On! Me!”

I dunno, kid. I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re seeking to accomplish here. Put. PJs. On. You. My darling spouse’s more insightful take on the situation is that he wants to put on his clothes himself. Ha! He’s just a toddler. There’s no way. What? Oh, they’re both serious. I guess I’ll hide that smirk and support this new initiative.

It was well worth it. My wife patiently guided our little one through the process. He pulled most of it off fairly well. Nothing to really write home about. Except for the wedgie he gave himself while hauling with all of his might to pull his pants up over his diapers. That was priceless, and well worth writing about.

Once the tears were finally done rolling down the side of my cheeks from all of the laughing, he was ready to be tucked in and slipped quietly away into sleep.

My only disappointment with tonight is that I now can’t take credit for giving him his first wedgie when I teach him to wrestle a few years from now.

Montreal’s water situation: a sad statement on what we find to make stories of

I’ve been watching the situation with Montreal’s boil water advisory with a mix of bemusement and consternation. I honestly cannot believe the tempest in a teapot that the media in Quebec are whipping up over a non-issue. Lets examine some of the key facts:

1. Something happened to the water supply level that caused sedimentation in the system to get kicked up;

2. Staff decided to send a PRECAUTIONARY boil water advisory;

3. There were some problems with getting the word out in a timely fashion, and some wanted politicians, not bureaucrats to be the talking head to the issue;

4. As far as anyone can tell, other than a little dirty water, there is no actual health risk.

I hate to say it, but this seems to me as one of those things that should be a minor news point, not one that is the leading story any time I flick the radio on for the past two days. It’s something where everyone involved can walk away from saying “hey, I’ve got a few lessons learned from this, and can take some measures to ensure that if something serious were to happen, I will be prepared.” A little over a million people in Montreal don’t have access to clean drinking water. They have to boil it for a minute before they can use it. Most likely, they are doing this in their homes, and getting the water from the taps that are in their homes.

Let’s take a moment here to think about the people who are truly affected by the lack of clean drinking water. Somewhere between 700 and 800 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. We aren’t talking about a little sediment that makes the water look yucky. We’re talking about the kind of water that makes you terribly sick and has good chances of killing you kind of water. Let’s not forget that, about half the world’s population don’t have access to water in their homes. They have to walk a ways, sometimes a very long ways, to get their water. Then they have to boil the heck out of it on a fire, that they probably build with sticks and a variety of dried animal dungs, and are left mostly with a little bit to drink in some form of tea or other. They don’t simply pop a pot on the stove and flick a switch for ten minutes.

Did I mention they have to do it their entire lives? Not a few hours or a couple days, but every single day they are on this earth.

It may simply be the privilege I’ve had to travel to some of the world’s most difficult and primitive spots that has given me the perspective to take a moment and breathe before losing my mind over a short-lived inconvenience. For this to be making such a furor in the headlines is either a sad statement of how soft and completely insulated from the rest of the world we have become, or what lows politicians are willing to stoop to in order to score some points against the opposition.

Either way, I’m not impressed. I’ll wager most of the planet isn’t either.

Hopefully the experience will make some people take the time to think about some of those people out there that are in terrible need, and take some action to make things better.

Apparently, eating half a honeydew melon before going to give blood is a bad idea

So there I was, trying to perform my civic duty and show a little altruism by going to donate blood tonight. There was a mobile clinic conveniently set up in one of the local schools, and they were staying open until well after dinner to allow as many people as possible to show up and donate.

The plan worked. There were lots of people in line waiting to generously donate, which was not something I was expecting. Not in such numbers, anyway. I mean how many other crazy, work-driven individuals must be out there that want to give away their precious body fluids? Certainly they would elect for more reasonable times that allow them to spend the evening with their families? They actually found a cunning plan to get around that by bringing their families with them. That’s right donation by clans. I guess it has been a while since the last time I gave blood (the stone age), so it’s only appropriate that I am not fully up to date with the current practices for this region.

None of this would really have been a problem had it not been for a gastronomic misjudgement at dinner. I chopped up a honeydew melon for dessert. It was good, sweet, and very, very juicy. I lost track how much I gobbled down, but it was probably more than half. Had the clinic only been a quick in and out, there would have been no problem whatsoever. As the lineup had me sitting quietly in a chair trying to come up with witticisms for Twitter for more than an hour and a half, the truth about the melon’s liquid content began to sink in.

It’s not that the bathrooms were that far away. Indeed, they were only a thirty second walk outside the spacious gym we were set up in. It’s that as I watched time slowly crawl by, I began to develop the irrational belief that if I left just then, a drove of numbers would be called, and I would miss my turn. The concept of being relegated to a longer wait while my wife was wrestling my toddler to sleep back home left me anxious to hang in there.

As the minutes pressed on, so did my bladder. Eventually, I caved in. It turns out that I had the time, and the need, to swing back to the place where so many of us met sad fates in our scholarly youths. Indeed, another gentleman my age joked that the last time he had been in a school washroom he had been dodging bullies trying to push him into the urinal. Time does change things. But not much. I was tempted to push the man in, because he was taking his sweet time at the only spot in the diminutive washroom.

Three rushed visits to the washroom later, my number was called. I quickly found out as I was going through this second round of screening that I was ineligible for donation because of a temporary medical condition. Shoot. I just spent an hour and a half to get that news? Oh well, I guess I’ll head home to spend some quiet time with my wife before going to bed.

When I reach the front door, I can see my kid sitting in the couch, munching away on apple slices and watching one of his favourite shows. My wife looks up. “I tried. Three times. He won’t sleep.” She explains. “Your turn.”

I guess this night is one of life’s little paradoxes.

Thankfully, the fourth time was the charm.


On toddlers, sleep, and lightning storms

We’ve had a couple days of nearly continuous heavy rain. Meteorological activity culminated last night with a heavy thunderstorm that pounded our area from about 1 AM to 4 AM. It was one of those that probably scraped away all of the grass seed I put into our lawn this weekend and I am surprised to hear birds chirping in the trees this morning. I was certain they had all been peeled off of their branches and washed down the storm drains. In fact, if it had been a little windier, I would have been worried about waking up in the Land of Oz.

Our child has been sleeping through the night in his own bed for a long time. Last night, he crawled into our bed to seek refuge from the driving rain pounding on our home’s walls. I had gotten up to get a little water when I realized that his bedroom door was open. I must have made some noise, because my wife asked me where I was going.

“Just going to check on our boy. I think he may have wandered off.” I answered.

“He’s in here.” She whispered.

“Where? On the floor?”

“In our bed.” She sounded a little exasperated.

He had snuck in like a ninja. I’m so proud of him. He was also securely ensconced between our two pillows. I have no idea how I had missed him. Since he was quiet, and apparently asleep, we let him stick around for a little bit.

Then it began.

Thump. Thump. Thump,Thump,Thump. Ba-bump! Little feet began flailing around. Soon fingers began poking hither and tither. Our little one was quite clearly not sleeping, and rapidly getting bored.

“Alright kiddo, off to bed.” My wife hauled him up and tucked him into his own sleeping spot.

Ah, sweet oblivion, take me…what? He’s back. The door to our room slowly creaks open. It’s like something out of a horror movie. Little feet pound rapidly on the floor, and with one epic bound he lands squarely into the middle of the bed where he scurries up to his little hiding spot between the two of us.

The storm is still going. I guess we’ll give him another few minutes. Then I bring him to bed.

This scene plays out three more times. By the last, the storm has abated, and it is calm outside. Yet, I have come to fear the rapid pitter-patter of little feet sneaking out of their bedroom. Somehow, they portend an extended period of poking, prodding, and babbling that are magnified far beyond the expansive bounds of our king-sized bed. I’m not quite certain by what manner of metaphysical magic that our kid is able to take up so much room that neither of the two adults have any option but to dangle precariously near the edge of the bed, one breath away from teetering over the abyss.

I finally give up and move into the guest room. That gives my wife and our temporarily elephant-sized toddler the place they need to get a few winks. I may even have gotten a bit of sleep, too.

Parenthood is all about knowing when to pick your battles. I’m going out to the hardware store and buying some sandbags and barbed wire. The next time there’s a storm, there’s no way the little ninja is getting into our room.

Whew! I just uploaded 40 photos to deviantArt.com, and boy is my modem tired. http://maxshields.deviantart.com/

A brave new horizon

I’ve got an unfortunate habit of taking zillions of pictures. This used to cause my parents great consternation, since I got my first camera back in the day of film. With a little hindsight, I now realize that they must have made a few sacrifices to feed my habit. This may explain why I never saw an Aston Martin in the driveway, but rather why they could only afford a beat up Gremlin. Mom, Dad, so sorry. If only I knew.

On the other hand, now that digital has risen to take up an omnipresent place in our lives, knocking the likes of Kodak from their vaunted position on top of the photographic world, I tend to take more pictures than I ever have the ability to go through. I’ve cycled through the photo count on a few of my cameras now, so the file names have stared duplicating on occasion, making the tracking down of images a little more complicated than it should be. If I were properly disciplined, I should erase the bad pictures in camera and only keep the cream of the crop. However, I’ve found that a few of my bad photos serve as good backdrops for other art projects, so I guess I’m still coming up with solid rationalization for my pixel hoarding habit.

A short while after starting this blog, I opened a deviantArt account to store a few pictures that I could link into as needed. I never got around to placing more than a single picture on the site. My wife happened upon it a few days ago and poked fun at me.

Don’t let my brilliance dazzle you.

“You’re wasting space.” She sternly announced. It’s not like the few megabytes that the image takes up on the deviantArt server are taking up much physical space. She just seemed somehow put off by the vacuum I had created in cyberspace by not adding anything more to accompany such a lonely image.

In response, I decided to go through some of the thousands of pictures I’ve taken over the years, and have started the process of uploading them to the site. Thankfully, the process on the server’s side is smooth and relatively painless. Unfortunately, my ancient (well, not so much, but it’s pushing past seven years) iMac is starting to feel the burden of its increasingly-full storage. I’ve taken the precaution of backing up my most precious files on external drives, which also slows things down, since I’m now having to stomp all of that data through these tiny little cables (that’s how it works, doesn’t it?) and then usher it out of my home which is inconveniently located at the very end of a high speed network connection. If the bandwidth reaches too high, my connection is knocked out of action as the pipeline tries to gulp for air. When it’s done catching its breath a few minutes later, the process continues.

All this to say that I’m now sprawling out on the internet. I hope I don’t make it look like an overfull coffee table from which no one wants to pry away a jelly doughnut-stained photo book.

Caution! You may find weird and wonderful things at http://maxshields.deviantart.com/

20. Some unpleasant creatures. And some wildlife.

23thorns makes an excellent and poignant point about the necessity of respecting wildlife. We all too often forget our place in Nature. This rant puts us back in line.


When I was young, I used to love watching wildlife documentaries. My best were the ones narrated by Sir David Attenborough, but most of them followed a fairly similar formula. A large, dedicated team of wildlife photographers would go out and, with incredible patience, over a period a year or two, collect hundreds of hours of film. Film of nature in its natural state. This would be pared down to a few hours of incredible footage which would be clearly and exhaustively explained by Sir David in his sensible, well-modulated, and inimitable voice.

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