Jan 20 2011


Today at the doctor’s office Davy was pronounced infection-free: you’d never know, the doctor said, that his ear had ever been infected at all. Davy also got weighed and measured: he’s seventeen and a half pounds now, but his once-astounding growth has tapered off. He’s now midrange for weight and height, and following a more normal growth curve.

Robin didn’t have an appointment today, but I did take the opportunity to ask the doc if I should be worried about Robin’s continuing resistance to potty-training. “The current advice is just to give them their space,” he said. “We used to push early potty-training and caused a lot of problems and bred oppositional behavior. There’s a wide age range in toilet readiness. The day will come when he wants to do it.” Then he gave me a little handout that says “Toilet training is not a contest. Success with toilet training does not mean that your child is more intelligent or advanced than other children. Additionally, having trouble with toilet training or starting at a later age does not mean that your child is lazy, stubborn, defiant, or a slow learner. And remember — accidents are going to happen. Girls usually complete toilet training earlier than boys. First children usually take longer than subsequent children to complete toilet training. If your child is not making progress with toilet training and is between two and four years old, it is reasonable to take a break for two to three months.” One thing the handout does suggest is encouraging Robin to change his own diapers, so I’ll probably try that before giving the whole subject a rest for a bit.

Jan 19 2011

Dinosaurs on Parade

This afternoon I discovered this little tableau, neatly lined up on a corner of the kitchen counter:

dinosaur parade

I think it works especially well with the somewhat murky water of the flower vase lending a prehistoric jungle vibe. I made up a funny little poem for Robin about it:

Dinosaurs on parade!
Dinosaurs on parade!
They’ve got it made
They want limeade
They’re dinosaurs on parade!

He’ll implore us
Stegoceras [note: it’s Steg-OSS-erous, not a stegosaurus]
The boss of us
Goes clippety clop!
They’re dinosaurs on parade!

Jan 17 2011

More on Dogs

Another thing that’s got me off-kilter today is that a new family has moved into a house at the end of the street, and they’ve got three bullmastiffs in their yard.

I don’t have a general problem with the bullmastiff breed. I mean, it’s not like they’re pit bulls. But I have a problem with these three dogs.

A bullmastiff is totally capable of ripping a three year old child to shreds in seconds, and these particular bullmastiffs are obviously convinced that their job is to scare away anybody who happens to get too close to their property. Unfortunately, “too close” includes the sidewalk, and in particular a stretch of sidewalk that we walk down twice each day—once to go to the park, and once to come back.

They’re behind a wrought iron fence. A wrought iron fence that has lots of gaps in it. And my three year old is CRAZY about dogs, ADORES them, wants nothing more in his whole soul than to get up right next to them and pat them and be licked by them, and when he sees three bullmastiffs leaping around behind a wrought iron fence and barking their heads off—barking a message that to an adult human translates very clearly to “Put a toe on my property and I will FUCK YOU UP”—what he thinks is “Ooh! Doggies!”

It just makes our daily walk a lot more stressful. And that family has a kid (an older kid, but still) living there, too. Why on earth would you want three big angry aggro dogs in a house with kids? It’s senseless.

Jan 17 2011

Eventful Day at the Park

I guess I knew it had to happen sooner or later, but I’ve been dreading the day that Robin learns how mean other kids can be. He’s nothing but the soul of sweetness himself: I think since he doesn’t see other kids regularly, he’s always just delighted to get a chance to play, and he’s very friendly and downright eager to share his toys. Today when we got to the park there were a bunch of other little boys—two just about his age and one littler. Robin was thrilled and immediately grabbed his truck and trotted over to the nearest kid, offering to share.

However this little boy was shy, and his dad commented that he has the same truck at home (it is quite popular around here), so Robin’s maneuver wasn’t the successful ice-breaker that he’d intended. The other boy—his name was Owen—wouldn’t say “hi” even at his dad’s prompting, and in fact kept turning to put his back to Robin. This was fine; I just explained to Robin that Owen was feeling shy and suggested that we move on.

So Robin took his truck and went up to the other little boy, who was playing in the sandbox. Robin smiled and held out his truck. The other boy scowled and threw a cup full of sand straight into Robin’s face.

Robin wailed, of course. His eyes were crusted with sand and he immediately rubbed them, which only made things worse. The other parents made their horrible little monster say he was sorry and then hastily packed him up and left the park, possibly because I might have murdered him if he remained within reach. It was just awful. My little boy was being so friendly and so nice and here he was, hurt for no cause, just because some other kid was a little jackass.

I got the sand out of Robin’s eyes as best I could, and assured him over and over that he’d been good and I was so sorry for what had happened. And he bounced back, as three year olds do. Owen’s dad came over and commiserated, and the littlest boy—who, as it turned out, was Owen’s little brother Patrick—came over to show Robin his ball. So Robin played with Patrick for a bit, and watching them Owen got over his shyness, until by the end of our time at the park Owen and Robin were running all around like the best of friends. In fact as we were getting read to leave Owen said, “Maybe I could have a playdate with Robin?” And his dad agreed that sounded like a good idea, so I gave him our phone number. So it all ended well for Robin, but it was a pretty difficult episode nonetheless.

I hope Owen’s dad does call. (He does in fact have a name of his own, which is Michael, but his slot in my brain is “Owen’s dad.”) Owen was a real nice kid, and his birthday is within a month of Robin’s, and his family lives nearby. It would be awfully nice for Robin to have a neighborhood friend.

Jan 17 2011


Exciting news at the Phillips household! We have put down a deposit, and are on the waiting list to bring home an American Mastiff puppy from Capell Creek Kennels when the next litter is born. The puppies won’t be born for a couple of months, and won’t be old enough to bring home for a little while after that, but: we are going to get a puppy!

We visited the breeder last spring and spent a great day getting to know her dogs. Our favorite of the pack was Molly, so when I saw on the website that Molly is expecting, I started lobbying hard for a puppy. Robin, of course, is highly enthusiastic about the idea as well.

We did a lot of research into various dog breeds, and settled on the mastiff because: a) they have a great reputation with kids, b) they have a low prey drive, meaning that they get along well with smaller animals like chickens, and c) their exercise needs are moderate—unlike a Lab which really needs to run every day, a mastiff is happy with a long walk. From the breed standard:

The American mastiff is a combination of grandeur, good nature, and gentleness. Dignity rather than gaiety. They are neither shy nor vicious. The well trained American Mastiff is calm, controlled, and confident. Understanding, patient, and loving with their family, especially children. They are generally aloof towards strangers. A well-socialized American Mastiff is friendly yet sensitive and alert to changing situations. They are not aggressive by nature but will defend their family if necessary. They respond to threats with judicious warnings and courageous action if needed.

The mastiff is one of the “gentle giant” breeds, related to both the Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard, but short-haired. The American mastiff was created by an outcrossing of the English mastiff with the Anatolian shepherd: as a result they look and behave a lot like English mastiffs, but tend to be somewhat leaner and a bit more active. They also have a drier mouth than the standard English mastiff, and fewer problems with hip dysplasia. The breed is tightly controlled: we’re actually lucky to have the Capell Creek kennels near us, as there are only eleven breeders worldwide approved by the American Mastiff Breeders Council.

I am super excited about the puppy. What should we name it? So far the shortlist is: Ada, Nora, Lucy, or Dahlia (nickname Dolly) for a girl, and probably Virgil for a boy. I told my sister about the names and she observed, hilariously, that Virgil is such a dignified name that she’d find it somehow mortifying to watch Virgil poop. So there’s that to consider I guess!

Jan 16 2011

What’s for Dinner

The veggie boxes are back! The veggie boxes are back!

Yesterday we picked up a box full of leafy goodness: chard, kale, cabbage, carrots, onions, six sweet little Fuji apples, four oranges, two grapefruits, three pears, three zucchini, two bell peppers, four sweet potatoes, and a handful of small red potatoes. Then we went out for Chinese.

But! This morning I had a grapefruit for breakfast, and Robin had an apple and an orange, and also a banana, though it wasn’t from the farmer’s market. (Sam, who is not enamored of grapefruit, turned up his nose at our impromptu fruit salad and decided to go pick up some doughnuts.) And tonight we’ll eat rosemary-garlic pork loin roasted with the potatoes. I like to have the leftover pork on sandwiches, topped Philly-style with provolone and garlicky chard (traditionally it’s broccoli rabe that goes on top, but I think chard will be an easy substitution), so we’ll do that tomorrow. Robin and I will also have the kale in one of our usual bulgur salad lunches.

Tuesday I want to try using the onions, carrots, and cabbage in this recipe (I’ll make some dark bread to go with it). Wednesday we’ll have whole wheat spaghetti with pesto—at the farmer’s market I bought a little tub of cilantro/almond pesto that smells amazing. Thursday we’ll have pan-grilled sausages and peppers, and roasted sweet potatoes as a side, and Friday this tasty-looking recipe for whole wheat pizza topped with zucchini, garlic, and cheese.

Jan 13 2011

The Baby Is A Clue

This will make no sense to those of you who are uninitiated into the ways of the PBS show “Blue’s Clues,” but Robin has really latched on to the polo shirt he received as a Christmas present from his Nonna and Pappy. He calls it his “Steve shirt” and he wants to wear it every single day:

steve shirt

Today he’s wearing his Steve shirt as usual, but he also got really excited about Davy’s outfit. Can you see why?

the baby is a clue

“The baby is a clue!” he shrieked. “The baby is a clue!”

Jan 6 2011

Tattúínárdœla saga

So I’m on this Icelandic kick right now—I recently read the Kalevala for the first time, and my to-read stack is currently topped by the Saga of the Volsungs, Viking Age Iceland, and The Sagas of Icelanders. So imagine my delight when a friend linked me to the Tattúínárdœla saga: “What If Star Wars Were an Icelandic Saga? In Old Norse with English translations.”

On the Daudastjarna, there were many men who marveled at Tsiubakka’s height and broad build. And when they had come to the dungeon, a Stormtrooper asked, “Where are you taking this giant of a man?”

“To the dungeon,” said Lúkr, “He was on the ship that Veidr captured.”

The Stormtrooper said, “I have not heard tell that any man was found on that ship, and we should tell Tarkinn, Jarl of Stórmof, about this first.”

But when this soldier turned around and went to bear these tidings to Tarkinn, Hani the Duelist threw his axe and felled him. Two Stormtroopers saw Hani attack the man, and they each took an axe in hand and went to his aid. Lúkr fought them off with great agility, and struck at them with the strength and fearlessness of a lion. Soon the Stormtroopers had been killed by Luke, for they had only short-shafted axes, but Lúkr struck hard and fast with the spear of Víga-Óbívan.

This is so completely excellent. The best part is that it really is also written out in Old Norse. I left a comment for the author saying “This is possibly the best thing that the Internet has ever given us,” and I meant it, too.

Jan 6 2011

Play, Again

Yesterday at the park there was another little boy who Robin was delighted to play with, except this boy’s mother kept yelling at him the moment he stepped off the paved areas. “No, Javier! It’s dirty!” Over and over, the moment the kids wandered into the sandbox or under the trees: “No, Javier! Get back over there! It’s dirty!” I try not to be judgy about other moms, but I was pretty boggled by this—it’s not like the kid was wearing his Sunday best or anything: he was in gray sweats. And Robin was obviously confused every time his playmate got reprimanded. We’d brought one of his trucks, and he really wanted to share it with the other boy—who was quite interested—but of course what the boys wanted to do with the truck was run it through the sand, an impulse which seemed to horrify the other mom. Eventually I felt so bad about what was going on that we left the park.

This morning the New York Times has another article on the endangered activity of play, which reminded me of yesterday’s sad scene. But also one factoid jumped out at me: “Only one in five children live within walking distance (a half-mile) of a park or playground, according to a 2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control.”

We live three quarters of a mile from the park, and now that the rain has cleared up we walk there almost every day. It’s a bit long for Robin (he’s quite tired by the time we get home), but he can and does walk it. In fact he’s eager to: sometimes he comes up to me with his shoes in hand, saying brightly “Take a walk!” I think car culture has really warped people’s ideas about what “walking distance” is.

Anyway, it’s just sad that the conversation is starting from this crazy point, a point where elementary schools have eliminated recess, and doctors are handing out 75-page instructional manuals on how to play, and little boys have mothers who won’t even let them run a truck through a sandbox.

Jan 4 2011

Fewer Churches! More Bars!

I think I’ve mentioned before that we’re in a so-called transitional neighborhood—to the north and west of us it’s really nice, but to the south and east it gets pretty dodgy. So I’ve spent some time trying to analyze what sets the nice neighborhoods apart from the sketchy ones. Part of it’s obvious—in the good areas, people keep their houses in good shape and they take pride in their gardens and lawns, while in the bad areas there’s graffiti, and trash in the lawns, and boarded-up windows, or windows that have bedsheets hanging over them instead of curtains. Some of it’s a little less obvious and I can’t tell whether it’s cause or effect: the nice neighborhoods have a lot of “greenscaping,” big trees shading the streets and planted medians and so forth, while the bad neighborhoods are all concrete.

And some of it’s really counter-intuitive. So, part of the obvious problem is that in the really bad areas there’s no shops aside from liquor stores. In the good neighborhoods there are commercial districts: the one closest to us is the Laurel district, where we go to have brunch on Sundays or take Robin to his toddler dance class (which I really need to describe in another post). The Laurel has lots of restaurants: Italian and Thai and Chinese, a burger joint and a diner and a couple of fast food outlets. It has clothing stores and a toy store and a barbershop and a laundromat and a great little independent bookstore. It has the Kids ‘N Dance studio, and a gym, and two grocery stores, and a bunch of other stuff. The farmer’s market where we pick up our veggie box is there. In short, we go there all the time, and we wouldn’t have bought this house if it wasn’t convenient to the Laurel district or something like it. In and around the other shops, there’s a couple of bars, which is so completely normal that I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except:

There are other commercial districts to the south and east, but they’re abandoned and derelict. Drive around in that direction and you find no restaurants, no grocery stores or produce stands, no clothing shops, no bars or lounges or nightlife of any kind—nothing but liquor stores. Frequently there are knots of young men standing around outside the liquor stores, drinking.

The only thing you’ll find open in these neighborhoods, other than the liquor stores, are the churches. There are a ton of churches. Churches in the old single-screen theaters, churches in what used to be a boutique or a tailor’s shop, churches hastily built up on the lots left when other buildings are knocked down. We’re talking like five churches in a block. There are really a lot of churches, so many that Sam thinks some of them must be fronts for something else. I just think the churches flourish in areas where the people have given up. I was talking this over with my dad and he had a great quote which I cannot remember exactly, but it was something about looking heavenward when all hope of material recourse is gone.

In conclusion, bars are a sign of a healthy neighborhood. You want bars. You want places where people can go to have a drink and be social in the evenings, as opposed to drinking out of brown paper bags in the liquor store parking lot. You want venues for nightlife. And you don’t want churches, or at least, not too many of them. The people should not be living on prayer. So when I think about what east Oakland needs, that’s where I start—fewer churches, and more bars.