Thursday, April 23, 2009

Death of a chinchilla

Yesterday, we discovered April, our youngest chinchilla, dead of unknown causes. Her left thigh was plucked bare of fur but had no wounds. The only sign of distress on her was fur matted with what looked like snot or chinchilla vomit below her nose and mouth.

I think the fur may have been pulled out by April's cage-mate and mother, January, in some sort of attempt to get her attention.

We buried her in the pet graveyard under our crabapple.

In case you're wondering, bare chinchilla skin looks surprisingly human but feels thicker and supple, like a cheek with pores. The skin is whiter than than mine, just about Bjorkish in hue.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rain delay

Saturday morning saw Houston and much of the US threatened by thunderstorms, as was our flight home. We had a departure scheduled at 12:50 p.m. for a 4:20 p.m. arrival in Cleveland and a flight home to Montreal an hour and a half later.

I checked flight statuses up until we climbed into the car for the trip to the airport. Our intended aircraft was delayed in Phoenix for 37 minutes, Continental's Web site told me, but should leave Houston on time.

After our hour-long drive through rain, we arrived at our terminal, where the fancy board on the wall told us our flight was delayed two hours. Good thing I'd checked the Web site.

As usual, I had to fail to use the express check-in terminals before waiting 20 minutes to see an agent. Since we nearly always fly between Canada and the US, express check-in terminals almost always opt to ignore us.

Of course, we were going to miss our connection in Cleveland. Laura, the besieged check-in attendant who dealt with me, at first told us we'd only be able to fly home Tuesday, possibly Monday. I politely (I swear) informed her that was not acceptable. She looked and looked for alternatives and came up with two. We could fly to New York and stay overnight Saturday, then fly out Sunday. We could also fly Sunday morning directly to Toronto and on to Montreal at 6:00 p.m.

She pled our case to a Star Chamber on the other end of the phone, but told us the bad news that Continental would not spring for a hotel room in New York. That left us with Toronto, which meant that I'd have to schlep two kids and three pieces of checked luggage through Canadian customs and on to Air Canada for a second check-in. Still, I had little choice. Luckily, upon reserving our seats for the next day, the 4:00 flight from Toronto to Montreal popped up, so we grabbed that instead.

By the time we were organized for Sunday, the airport's underpasses had flooded. We spent a while trying to get out of the airport without risk of drowning the car. We found a flattish road that would take us out but even on that we had to cross three bodies of foot-deep-plus water flowing so quickly they had whitecaps. My friend Ron Jackson took this photo of his backyard that Saturday afternoon. While the winds weren't as strong, Houstonians have told me the volume of water was of hurricane proportions.

We got to spend an extra evening in Houston, the first part of which we spent at a backyard barbecue birthday party for my mom's neighbour. He was turning 43 - my age. About a dozen couples attended, but even the folks around my age seemed so... - well, old to me. I felt completely out of place. I don't among other friends in my cohort, it was just these people. the wife of the birthday man was a bubbly, giggly 28-year-old, who certainly helped highlight the difference.

I spent an hour at the party, had some great food, then retreated to my mom's house to make other plans.

Our flight home was as good as can be expected. Air Canada had system trouble with our bags and baggage tags, but the agent eventually resolved the problem by deleting all records of our bags (which took a while to learn how to do) and issuing new tags.

We got home warm and dry.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


We went out to a lovely Mexican restaurant called Tampico, a Mexican seafood place we visit every trip.

The snapper, shrimp, and crab legs were excellent as always, but the entertainment put a few exclamation points on our night out.

My brother sat next to me, his wife across from him. Their rambunctious, loud, but cute 18-month-old only child flitted through several seats over the course of the meal.

The kid is a handful at restaurants, if my three experiences with him are a valid sample. He doesn't appreciate the value of quiet conversation or a place to relax, and why should he at 18 months old?

Let me set the scene for the highlight. My brother's wife is talking to my mother, who sits to my right. On my left, my brother holds his kid on his lap, facing the table, and bends over as he tries to feed him.

Unfortunately, no one noticed the danger, not even your superdad author. My brother had unwrapped the cutlery from the napkin to get the fork he was using to feed his kid. As the kid squirmed, his hand found the pointy steak knife within reach. He grasped it and, as kids do, he threw his hands up in the air.

His little fist flew up and connected with my brother's nose, then stabbed him in the face with the knife. My brother reached up and grabbed his nose and eyes, shouting, "Take the baby! Take the baby!"

The baby was took, and we surveyed the damage. My brother had a bloody nose from the blow and luckily the tip of the knife had missed his eye by millimeters.

Whether his father or laptop keyboards, the kid has only succeeded to temporarily incapacitate his victims. He's got a way to go.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Passover 2.0

The traditional Haggadah with the red and yellow cover is chock full of rabbinical and Talmudic commentary that's so boring and, frankly, pointless. Several years ago, Elvi took it upon herself to edit a Haggadah for our family, and it's a great hit. It covers all the salient points of the holiday, keeps all prayers and parts of the seder, adds songs, but disperses with the tedious debates.

It's a big hit, and is spreading. Maybe we should publish it....

All that is preamble, really, to Passover 2.0, "Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah". It's a hoot.

Our own departure was ridden with minor plagues, but I weathered them well. We got in the Continental line at Trudeau/Dorval airport and an airline rep for Northwest asked us if we were on the 6:00 a.m. flight to Detroit. I knew we were on a 6:00 flight, but I didn't know our intermediate destination. He asked us to follow him to the Northwest line. I thought it was odd, since I knew we were flying Continental, but it was 5:00 a.m. and I hadn't slept at all that night. So we followed him.

Of course, the Northwest system couldn't find our flight, and neither could the extremely fetching counter lady at the Northwest desk. The original Northwest guy figured out that I'm an idiot and redirected us to the Continental desk, but told us to use the first-class line to avoid the queue.

At the Continental desk, the same fetching lady took care of us, She explained she works for both airlines. It was, however, her first week, possibly day, on the job and it took a while and the help of two other agents to get us checked in. I didn't mind.

US Customs provided the next delay. A couple two spots ahead of us in the line for our official proved a little too suspicious and the agent (officer?) took a while interviewing them before personally guiding them to the interrogation and strip-search chamber. When it was our turn, he sent us right through without asking to see the pointless permission slip I need to carry to "prove" Elvi allows me to take the kids across the border.

We switched planes in Cleveland, as it turned out, and only had to wait about 37 seconds to board our next flight. THe timing was unusually perfect, but we had one more delay to wait out. About 15 minutes out of Houston, a passenger on our plane fell ill two rows ahead of us. There was a doctor on board, and a nurse, and fortunately the emergency wasn't too serious. From what I overheard, I suspect the patient was a diabetic with low blood sugar. Upon docking at the gate in Houston, we had to wait for the paramedics to remove the patient before we could debark.

More on this vacation later, perhaps. There's not much to write about - and that's a good thing.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Duck season! Rabbit season! Baseball season!

Yesterday was the annual six-hour crankfest known as the Irrational League draft. This year's was a standard draft and I think I did well. My batters are all starters except for the catchers, both of whom are backups, but with a bit of oomph in their swings. I have no Jack Wilsons this year, but Cristian Guzman comes close. Guzman was the only batter pick that made me cringe.

I left Jamie Moyer on the table slightly too long and he was drafted a few spots before I would have grabbed him to complete my pitching staff. Instead I had to go with either Mike Hampton (ugh), Zach Duke (double ugh), or Joel Pineiro (more double ugh). I went with Hampton under the assumption that he has the most chance of being good, even though I think they will all disappoint.

My keepers were Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Ludwick. I wasn't happy keeping Ludwick, but he was the best option. Now, my team, with my projections....

C: Ramon Castro: .265, 11 HR, 30 RBI
C: Yorvit Torrealba: .260, 5 HR, 35 RBI
1B: Lance Berkman: .300, 30 HR, 90 RBI, 10 SB
2B: Luis Castillo: .275, 40 RBI, 20 SB
SS: JJ Hardy: .275, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 5 SB
3B: Ryan Zimmerman: .295, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 5 SB
CI: Nick Johnson: .295, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 5 SB
MI: Edgar Renteria: .285, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 10 SB
OF: Carlos Beltran: .275, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 20 SB
OF: Ryan Ludwick: .265, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 5 SB
OF: Matt Kemp: .276, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 30 SB
OF: Randy Winn: .285, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 15 SB
OF: Cody Ross: .255, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 5 SB
UT: Cristian Guzman: .290, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB
UT: Skip Schumaker: .275, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 10 SB

I think the team will reach a .280 average and 255 HRs - probably good for second or third place. I expect to finish near first in RBIs with about 1035. Steals should top 140, which will also rank fairly high, say third or fourth. Figure 33 points in hitting. I have three shortstops for trade bait, although I did last year, too, and no one wanted them.

My pitching is both better and worse than last year. It's better in that I have three bona fide closers whereas last year I had one, plus a wannabe. My closer choked and lost his job (Manny Corpas) and my wanna be came through. I had better starting pitching last year. This year's starters are all injury risks, but should be good enough to help we win the rate categories. Wins will donate the fewest points to my score.

SP: Rich Harden: 12 W, 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
SP: Chris Carpenter: 10 W, 3.55 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
SP: Randy Johnson: 12 W, 3.70 ERA; 1.20 WHIP
SP: Dave Bush: 13 W, 4.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
P: Braden Looper: 13 W, 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
P: Mike Hampton: 10 W, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
RP: Kevin Gregg: 33 Sv, 3 W, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
RP: Heath Bell: 25 Sv, 3 W, 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
RP: Chad Qualls: 25 Sv, 3 W, 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
RP: Josh Kinney: 4 Sv, 2 W, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

I figure I'll end up 85 saves (top three finish), 81 wins (sixth, maybe fifth place), 3.80 ERA (top two), and a WHIP of 1.24 (top two). Split a few hairs and that grosses me another 33 points or so, to give my team an expected 66 points overall - and that total is money in the bank. Of course, the starters' health has to hold up.

My reserves are OF Matt Holliday (yes!), 1B/2B Jeff Baker, SP/RP Cha Seung Baek, and RP Will Ohman. Impending free agent Holliday is a gamble on next year (I think the A's will be in the race long enough to keep him the whole year), and the others are all useful plug-ins. Between Schumaker and Baker, the only position at which I'm without a back-up is 3B, and I expect big things from Zimmerman.

I'm more confident this year than I was last year.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Another article

Fame inexorably rolls on for my kids. This week's Suburban has an article on the Novice B Coupe Montreal game.

The score subhead is wrong. It was JSH 2, Cougars 1. At least this article got some of the names right.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Happy birthday, Child Two!

Although I recently covered Child Two's mathematical triumph, here's evidence I wasn't making it up. Here's more.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Still champions (of the west)

We played JSH, the champions of Hockey Montreal's Novice B East League on Sunday. We had played them in a tournament in January, losing in a shootout.

The first period ended 0-0, but they probably had the edge in play. The second period was all ours and we took a 1-0 lead. The period ended as we had a two-man breakaway crossing their blue line.

Normally, our games progress without interruption but for the playoffs, the zamboni cleans the ice after the second. We had time to sit in the dressing room and plot strategy for the third. Unfortunately, our opponents could also take advantage of that opportunity. They came out stronger. Our boys started back on their heels and never recovered. We lost 2-1. Child Three played superbly - but so did the other goalie.

I think the big victory to win the Western League took a little wind out of our sails, but no matter. We all had smiles at the end of a great season.

We had another nervy moment last night. I use a little FM device that lets me listen to my iPod on my car's FM radio. By "my iPod", I mean Child One's specially engraved gift iPod. I never leave it in the car but stick it in a pocket and take it with me.

Last night, I went shopping with the two younger kids, and the iPod. on the way back to the car, I too out my keys and discovered the iPod was missing from my jacket. We retraced our steps all over the giant Loblaw's but didn't find it. The smile on the kid at customer service revealed that he felt the same way I did about the possibility that someone would turn in an iPod they found in the store. Regardless, I left him my card and he promised to staple it to a note. He cautioned me that there was little hope, and I agreed - but some hope is better than none.

Back at my car, the guy parked next to me was pulling out of his spot. His withdrawal revealed more and more asphalt and there it was! The iPod had fallen out of my pocket right next to my car and hadn't been run over by the guy who was pulling out.

Lesson learned: don't put the iPod in a waist pocket of a jacket. Pants or breast pockets only.

Bonus April Fool fun:

Netsurfer Digest used to track all the great online April Fool hoaxes. While I'm less diligent about that, I am impressed with two of Google's efforts. Check out Gmail Autopilot and the panda-loving CADIE.