Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't ever say "You're Smart"

Ashley Merryman: On Parenting from PopTech on Vimeo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A case of the Mondays

A secretary at my work sends out emails she titles "Monday Motivators". Normally, I just grind my teeth, ignore her notes, keep calm and carry on. But not today. Today, she emailed out this gem (excerpted, with my notes inline):

Shifting Gears
How do you really start your Monday morning?

First, it starts (like all mornings) with waking up and the thoughts that are swirling your head when you first arise. Your thoughts can be, "I can't wait to get to work today and tackle my projects". Or, "I wish I could just stay home today". The idea is that we are forming our attitude about our day as soon as we awake. Where does your thinking go from there?
From there, honestly, my thinking goes to bludgeoning the sender of this with a binder. But let's fight that urge and read on.

Here are some tips that I hope will help you especially in December to jump start your Mondays:
  1. Just think, "Oh boy, it's Monday - one day closer to the weekend!" I assume you were supposed to receive a lobotomy before this step; she must have just omitted that for brevity's sake. A downside is that after deteriorating your brain enough to think this thought, you might lose your job.... and defeat the very next tip!
  2. Tell yourself, "I love my job and I am thankful I have a place to go where many people are home because they don't have a job" I, personally, do not think of my work as "a place to go" as much as "a place to get paid". But obviously, for you it's more of an outing! This is starting to make sense.
  3. It's great to get out of the house and be around others who can stimulate your thinking and growth. It is nice to get out of the house. Where should we go to get the rest though?
  4. Underneath it all, we all feel good after we have put in a good day's work. Where do you work, a farm in the Dutch Country?
  5. Who knows who may come into your life today that will impact your future? That is exactly what people are afraid of, actually, I think.
  6. Eagerly get out of bed and don't lay around an extra 15 minutes. Get your body moving. That is one of the best ways to get the flow of blood going and feel more energetic. And then make sure you eat a decent breakfast. And eat more vegetables.
  7. Put on some music while you get dressed to perk you up. (Don't put on the news; it's usually depressing). If you find the normal morning news depressing, I think I have some idea of why you have hard time coming in for work at a DEFENSE CONTRACTOR'S OFFICE.
  8. Better yet, play holiday music while you dress. What a great idea, because you totally don't hear enough holiday music when you get out of your house this time of year. Try this selection!
  9. Think about the wonderful holiday activities you will be doing and the time you will be spending with friends and family. At work?!
  10. Consider ways to make a difference in the life of those who are less fortunate than you. I think it's nice and subtle how this follows the previous tip. Of course, after thinking of your friends and family, your thoughts will turn to how you would prefer to spend your time with homeless people rather than see your drunk uncle Sal one more time. Nice.
  11. Post an inspirational or motivational quote at home or at work that you can focus on throughout the day. Great idea. May I suggest this one?
  12. Treat yourself to something special today. Awesome; I'm on my way to unplug your ethernet cable.
Next Monday is going to be a cinch.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Baby Geekstones

5 months: discovered Newtonian Physics (by dropping object from high chair).
10 months: performed force/reaction experiment using cat's tail and the rest of cat.  A highly effective demonstration.
1 year and 2 months: made his very first standing wave! (with a slinky)
1 year and 3 months: examined properties of rigid versus flexible connectors and the best point at which to apply force in order to get maximum force vector in the right direction.  Push toys are far superior to pull toys.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pictures from this weekend

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our Beach Trip

Our family beach trip 2009 from Olya on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ratatoille is next

I made this recipe when the weather turned cold, so we could feel snuggly and warm with a stew dish for dinner. (Of course, the weather promptly became warm as soon as I made this. You are welcome.) I've never made cassou-anything before, but this turned out really really well! It took about one hour of prep, about $35 to feed 3 people for a week's worth of dinners, and one slow cooker to come back to a heavenly-smelling garage. :) All courtesy of Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame. Here is the recipe, from Williams-Sonoma site.


  • 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 8 pieces and trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup panko
  • 4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions (about 3 medium onions)
  • 2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 can (35 oz.) peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and
    coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 12 cups cooked Great Northern beans or other small white
    beans, drained
  • 6 fully cooked or smoked chorizo or garlic sausage links,
    about 1 1/2 lb. total, each halved on the diagonal
  • 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 lb. baguette, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
  • Coarse sea salt, such as sel gris, for garnish


Season the pork generously with kosher salt and pepper; set aside.

In the stovetop-safe insert of a slow cooker over medium-high heat, combine the canola oil and panko. Cook, stirring constantly, until the panko is toasted and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the panko to a baking sheet and season with kosher salt and pepper.

Add the bacon to the insert and cook until crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Reserve the bacon fat in the insert.

Add half of the pork to the insert and brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining pork.

Add the onions and 1 tsp. kosher salt to the insert and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth. Remove the insert from the heat and add the beans, pork, chorizo and garlic.

Place the insert on the slow-cooker base, cover and cook on low until the pork pulls apart easily with a fork, 9 to 10 hours. Skim off the fat, and remove and discard the garlic. Fold in the panko and the 1/4 cup parsley. Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and pepper.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat the broiler.

Brush the baguette slices with olive oil. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, on top of the cassoulet, overlapping them. Broil until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Let the cassoulet stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle each serving with the reserved bacon, sea salt and parsley. Serves 8 to 10.

Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner, The French Laundry.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

If you're happy and you know it

Recently, a study has been making a stir in the news - a study on women's happiness. Apparently, not only are women less happy now then before (no one seemed surprised by that), but there was no larger predictor of female unhappiness then.... wait for it... kids. Obviously, every American news outlet proclaimed that children are the biggest obstacle to female satisfaction (with the feminist movement providing a background chant about how this 'male' idea that women find intrinsic pleasure in raising children has been PROVEN WRONG!)

I think that this interpretation of the study is stupid. But only because 'happiness' in America is a stupid word. It has no bittersweetness. It has no melancholy. It has no in-between, no gradient, no looking back, no hesitation, no quiet joy. American happiness is filled with sticky-sweet pure goodness, it's a 10 on a 1-10 scale, it's cotton candy, it's apple pie, it's the stupid-happy wag of your golden retriever puppy.

Yeah, kids will knock that out of you. You know what else will? Any life worth living. Because there is only one way you can stay blissfully, dopey happy: by not doing much. Anything else will seriously reduce your American Happiness Quotient.

The thing is, nothing comes without its opposite. To know joy you have to know sorrow, to have excitement you have to see boredom, adventure is the opposite of routine and there is no satisfaction without obstacles. When reminiscing, people often say "We only remember the good times". But remembering the bad times would be like remembering the cost of a movie ticket instead of the movie itself. Everything has a cost, and the higher the pleasure you seek, the higher your payment could be. There is nothing better than being in love - but to get there, you have to drop your guard and become defenseless. Many people get devastated in the process, and yet still agree that it was a fair price to pay for such joy, however brief.

Without ever having children, or being in love, or taking a risk, or going on an adventure, you are happier, I guess - the way zoo animals are happier than the wild ones and the way people who've never been in love are happier than the brokenhearted. But I think we have confused what matters for 'Happiness' instead of 'Fulfillment'. If you don't know what you are missing, and happier because of not knowing, is it worth it? (Wasn't this the question what drove Adam and Eve out of the garden they were in at the time?)

At the end of our lives, we will hardly be asking ourselves "Was I blissfully dopey happy for most of the time?" Instead, most of us seem to want to find a purpose, an accomplishment, a story that leads to its conclusion, a 'to be continued' sign. American 'Happiness' seems to mean 'Feeling Nothing Negative'. But there is only one way to experience that: spending your life carefully avoiding entanglement with anything and anyone. It's not clear how such a life would be different from not having one at all.

So please, ignore this stupid study. Have kids - even if you are an American woman. They will bring you great joy, return your sense of wonder, fill you with worry and make you paranoid. You will be proud, filled with self-doubt and unknown confidence. You will get a limited-time ticket back to childhood, and for that you will pay dearly in new anxieties. But you will not trade it for the world.

I will leave you with a little song from the Russian classic film "The Irony of Fate". It's actually a lighthearted jingle. Yep, Russians consider these topics appropriate for lighthearted jingles. We are a cheerful people.

"To Have or Not to Have"
If you do not own a house,
A fire won't threaten it's life.
And your wife will never leave for another
If you do not
If you do not,
If you do not have a wife.

If you do not have a pet dog,
You won't have to see his end,
And you and your friends won't quarrel
If you do not,
If you do not,
If you do not have a friend.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

If you do not have an auntie,
You won't have to lose her and cry.
And if you are not living,
Then you will not,
Then you will not,
Then you will not have to die.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First trip to the zoo

Friday, November 6, 2009

This is my favorite thing this morning.

And a perfect thing to start your weekend.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I feel this way sometimes

I would be the smaller owl: dopey, sleepy, but profoundly content with leaning on such a spectacular, manly, confident and hot owl to my right.

We did not teach him this.

And we did not pick this song, either. Really. And check out those moves! (And check out the bit of sound engineering done in the middle!) We didn't teach him this. We couldn't have. We don't have these skills. He is bopping with the best of them and is probably our best hope of getting into a dance club at this point. :)

Clubbing is next from Olya on Vimeo.

Celebrate the pony

In honor of Elijah's first-ever pony ride, here is one of my favorite Russian cartoons, with song lyrics by one of my favorite Russian poets: Yunna Morits. My pathetic translation follows the video, but I strongly recommend you learn Russian to appreciate it fully. :) Even without understanding the words, the cartoon is sweet and requires no translation.... you just need to have grown up. Enjoy.

When it is hot or chilly outside,
And pony trots to get to work by nine,
All trolleys from the transit depot
And all the transit depot buses too
Are waiting just to take you to the zoo,
Right to the front of pony-riding line.

The pony has long silky bangs,
Like a curtain over his eyes.
He travels to faraway places
Where Mom used to ride
And Dad used to ride
When they were my size.

To places where zebras roam
And hippos swim and orchids flower,
A plane can take you only once a week,
Then big ships have to travel for a week,
Then big trucks bump around for a week -
And pony gets you there in half an hour.

The pony has long silky bangs,
Like a curtain over his eyes.
He travels to faraway places
Where Mom used to ride
And Dad used to ride
When they were my size.

I'd ride on the pony all day and all night,
I would be a grandpa, and still not give up,
I would be a grandpa, and still not give up,
I'd never give up, never stop.

A plane that's soaring above the clouds is awesome,
And every single ship is awesome too.
But ships are hard to hold in your arms,
And planes are hard to hold in your arms,
And pony is so easy to hold on to,
And how magical holding him is to us.

Toot the Horn

Thank you to our grand-uncle, grand-aunt and cousins for the awesome gift. :) Notice the styling one-leg push-off - faster dismount means faster fire-fighting assistance!

Wagon Test Drive from Olya on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A walk in the park


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Photo Practice!

I have a Canon digital SLR and love it.  But, after having had it for 3 years, I still don't feel I'm taking full advantage of my awesome camera.  I can take pictures, and I can take pretty good ones, but it takes me FOREVER to get the settings right.  And when you are photographing a fast-moving toddler/dog/cat/husband, you can't take forever to set up.  So when I've had to get pictures fast, they have always turned out badly.  I have decided to fix that by this year's holiday time.  That's right, I am making a pre-new year New Year's resolution.

I'm going to read this book: The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion: one chapter a week.    And for that entire week, I am going to practice.  I'll be taking pictures using the techniques from the chapter of the week.  And I'll post the results here.  Hopefully this public commitment combined with risk of embarrassment will ensure I will actually learn. 

Do it with me! I'll start reading at Chapter 5 (Photography 101), as the previous chapters (including but not limited to "What is the SLR anyway?" are thankfully already clear in my mind.  Hey, there are 12 chapters in the book and we are going to start already at chapter 5! See, I am a believer in setting yourself up for success.) You can get the book on O'Reilly Safari here:

Well, this should be good.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A First.... But don't say the T word!

I got my first foot-stomping, arm-waving, high-pitch screaming, scrunched-up face with huge tears running down his cheeks today.


And that is all I'm going to say about that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hurray for all things fall!

We went to Butler's Orchard Pumpkin Festival today (together with 1000000 other people. At least it seemed that way. You could pick yourself a minivan model at that place right along with your pumpkin - the parking lot should've been called 'minivan patch'. Anyway).

They have everything. I mean everything. Hay rides. Pumkins. Petting zoo. Farm animals (sans-petting). Pony rides. Slides. Giant slides. Biggest slides you've ever seen outside of 6 flags. Candied apples. Face painting. Mazes. Anything missing in this list? They had that too.

Elijah and I took two hay rides, picked out a pumkin (Wombat-sized :) ), watched piglets, sheep and goats with great delight. We walked through leaves, we walked through hay, we walked through mazes. We watched Rubber Ducky Derby. We watched tractors. And then..... we RODE A PONY!

This was Elijah's first pony ride, and I wasn't sure how he would do. He's not too crazy about the ride-on toys he has, but he does enjoy riding Bismarck and so I thought we'd give the pony a shot. Oh my gosh. As soon as the pony started moving, Wombat got the giggles. He giggled, and reached for the silky pony mane, and giggled some more. He rode, and pet, and giggled. :) Such joy.

See if you can pick out our pony shot in the slide show below. Hint: it doesn't show the horse itself (the person taking the picture got too close). Boo. It is, however, followed by a picture of our horse.

After 2 hours of this fall madness, we got back to our minivan patch. Wombat was too tired to protest the car seat (a rare condition!) As the russian saying goes, 'tired but feeling fulfilled' we trekked home to dream of ponies trotting in the fall crisp air.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Well, this is fun.

On our walk with Bismarck today, somehow Wombat got a hold of one of the dog treats. Taking the treat away from him will cause mucho screaming, I know that. So I watch him like a hawk, making sure he doesn't try to eat the dog treat (as I pull the wagon and also hold the dog leash).

Halfway through the walk, the following takes place repeatedly:
- Wombat, staring at me with a sly look, sloooooooowly moves his hand with dog treat to his mouth.
- I lunge toward him, saying "no no no no eating that!"
- Wombat giggles happily and waves hand with treat out of my reach.
- Repeat.

After he did that a couple of times, I caught on that he was playing a game called "get Mom to jump". So I decided to not respond - you know, like they say in those baby books. So the next time he sloooooowly moved his hand with dog treat to his mouth, I didn't jump toward him and instead said "no, no, it's not a nice game".

Wombat gave me an even more sly look, giggled and with a "oh, is that so?" expression on his face stuck the dog treat into his mouth. Causing me, of course, to jump toward him, at which point he promptly giggled, got the treat out of his mouth and waved his hand out of my reach.

I am so going to get a run for my money.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great Falls Park, from up high

He enunciates

Two months ago, I was a little concerned that our Wombat hasn't really said any words yet.

Two weeks ago, Wombat started running around after the cat giggling "kid-dy!kid-dy!" the whole time.

Two days ago, Wombat ran to me saying "Ma Ma!", to Grandma screaming "Ba Ba!" and to Daddy screaming "Da Da!"

In the morning, Wombat and I were getting ready - Iggy had to go to work early. Wombat made a couple of circles around the living room, mumbling "Da da da da da". Then, standing by the gate to our front door, he said "Da da? Da da?" "Daddy had to go to work early today, but we'll see him later" I said. He looked up at me and said "Da da ba bye?" Gulp.

While dropping him off at daycare, I tried to sneak out as soon as he settled into his chair for snack - I think that if I sneak out when he doesn't see me leave, that doesn't upset him as much. As I turn around and begin sneaking, behind me a little voice says "ba-bye?". "That's right, bye-bye, Mommy will be back later" says the teacher. "Ba-bye...." repeats my Wombat with a pleading look in his big dark eyes.

Now that he can say things it is so obvious that he understands way more than he let on. Gulp.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tour de Backyard

You gotta admit, first bike ride is a Big First.  And look  - no training wheels! :)

Bike Ride from Olya on Vimeo.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Science Friday

Over on The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer has a typically great post about recent research on infant development.  It turns out babies understand more than originally thought.  Of course, any parent could have told you that, especially after watching a child effortlessly repeat something you just did yourself with great effort.  I swear Wombat can probably crack into a safe at this point.  (He is able to screw and unscrew caps on things, and he has a basic understanding of numbers.  I believe those two skills are all that's needed to open any safe.)

Here is my favorite quote, on attention in little ones:
If attention works like a narrow spotlight in adults - a focused beam illuminating particular parts of reality - then in young kids it works more like a lantern, casting a diffuse radiance on their surroundings.

"We sometimes say that adults are better at paying attention than children," writes Gopnik. "But really we mean just the opposite. Adults are better at not paying attention. They're better at screening out everything else and restricting their consciousness to a single focus."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My healthcare rant (done as a guest, so I'm on my best behavior!)

I'm guest posting at Vicki's awesome website today, while she is vacationing in the "historical Motherland", as Russians refer to their country of original origin. Vicki let me write something for her blog, so you know she is a kind, generous and giving person - and also fearless. :)  See my post here, and do subscribe to Vicki's feed.  Once she returns, her writing will be something you look forward to seeing each day.  For now, you are stuck with me.  Let's hope she gets back soon. :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Armed with walking skills, we now embark on many expeditions, collecting loot at every step.

Toy Box Discoveries from Olya on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One small step for man....

.... a giant leap for our household. :)

Up and Running from Olya on Vimeo.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vinny Pooh

Elijah has been allowed to watch a weenie bit of cartoons lately - the Russian version of Vinnie the Pooh. May I say, the Russian Vinnie is the one and true Vinnie the Pooh :) Here, for your cultural enrichment, are the videos of my beloved childhood cartoon. Even with subtitles!

A disappointment

Lately Elijah has been spending a lot of time on the toddler side of his daycare room. He loves it. He loves being with the older kids, loves all their toys, enjoys all their activities and has even picked out his favorite armchairs. Yes, they have armchairs there. I will give you a moment to take that in. I have not seen a hearth and/or slippers yet, but may be that's only because it's still summer.

Anyway, today when I picked him up, he was hanging out on the infant side and gladly came over when he saw me. I packed all the bags, we waved bye to everyone and headed for the door, to get to which you have to go through the toddler side of the room.

As soon as we were on the toddler side, my little kid lept out of my arms, onto the floor and crawled all the way over to the toddler's toys, grabbed the toys, climbed into the armchair and started recruiting other toddlers (who were having their snack) into playing with him. I tried to get him to come back to me... nothing. So, finally I picked him up.

He cried. He. Cried. Can you believe it?

And, at home, when we were playing together, I was throwing 2 balls in the air to entertain him. He watched for a few seconds, and then brought me a third ball. I can't juggle 3 balls, so I spilled them all over the place, at which point he lost all interest and went off doing something else.

So there's my day. Basically, I'm a disappointment. Wonder what's easier: learning to juggle 3 balls, or becoming as entertaining as a group of fun-loving toddlers? Sigh. May be I'll just buy a kid-sized armchair.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's my party

Happy Birthday to Elijah - who spent this week on top of his very own toy-store-sized toy mound. :) Thank you very much, everyone, for your support of marsupial progress :)

Birthday Cake from Olya on Vimeo.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Here is a picture of the snowglobe we brought back with us from Bavaria as a memento of our Neuzschwainstein trip (honeymoon for short). Wombat likes to play with it. Guess what is his favorite thing about this snowglobe:

A) Beautiful castle inside
B) Lovely music played by the snowglobe
C) Snowflakes falling beautifully on the castle in the snowglobe

....and the answer is.....THIS!

What is it, you ask? It's the wind-up mechanism for the snowglobe that makes the music play. Wombat cares about nothing else about this globe, and as soon as he gets his hands on it (which he very much wants to do), he flips it upside down and focuses on the mechanism.

If you are still not sure what to get him for his birthday, I'd say a graphing calculator is appropriate.

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