PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

September 23rd, 2006

The Introverted Parent

After decades of both blatant and subliminal harassment, I was fortunate enough to discover that I was an introvert. Well, that’s not quite accurate, I knew I was an introvert, it’s just that I had been conditioned to believe that this was a defect, on par with other forms of mental illness. It was only after dabbling a bit in Myers-Briggs personality typology that I learned that introversion was not a character flaw, it was a predisposition. And that there were others that, like me, did not enjoy being surrounded by strangers.

(If you want a quick run-down on the difference between Extroversion and Introversion, this is a good summary)

This was a revelation. After all those years of apologizing because I didn’t really want to go hang out in a crowded bar, or go to someone’s party, or even stand in line for tickets, I could acknowledge that my feelings were legitimate. For those of you that may have realized that you are now (gasp) living with an introvert, I suggest you read this excellent article on the care and feeding of introverts.

It’s all well and good to acquire self-knowledge, and to reach some accommodation with your own predispositions. However there are still obligations imposed by society that require us to face difficult situations head-on. And for us introverts, there are few obligations quite as demanding as a Grade School Open House.

My wife, bless her heart, is active in our children’s school. She has a nametag. She has been on committees, worked in classrooms, and knows the staff by their first names. It is not unusual for a small child I have never seen before to run up to us and give my wife a hug. I strongly support her commitment to our school and her involvement in our children’s education.

Except when it begins to conflict with say, having edible food in the house, but I digress.

However, even though my wife is glad to shoulder the burden of being a parent activist for our children, there are still several times each year when I am invited to attend a function at their school. And by invited, I mean expected to attend. The Open House at the beginning of each school year is such an event.

I believe that It Takes a Village to raise a child, and I’m the first to acknowledge that this school is Our Village. I think it’s important to hear the school’s priorities, and their philosophy on conflict resolution. It’s good to actually meet your child’s teacher, and hear what they expect from your child. But dear God, I’d rather have my toenails pulled out with rusty needle-nose pliers than attend Open House.

The school is filled with parents and small children. The noise level is indescribable, as children from kindergarten to fifth grade are constitutionally unable to either sit still or remain silent. Plus, younger siblings being pushed around in strollers add their wails and shrieks to the mix. Going down the hallway means rubbing elbows with the horde, while squeezing into the cafeteria for the spaghetti dinner ($2 suggested donation) or into the gymnasium for the presentation requires a genuine effort of will. And of course with so many bodies, it gets hot and stuffy in short order.

This would be challenging for me under the best of circumstances. But I don’t have the option of coping with the chaos when I’m fresh and rested. No, I have to come straight to the school from work, straight from my evening commute. I’m starting out feeling wilted and cranky, and it only goes downhill from there.

After perching on a tiny wobbly bench seat to eat spaghetti and garlic bread from a paper plate, after sitting in a noisy gym listening to the principal describe how important it is to read to my children, after fighting through the hallway like a salmon trying to spawn, I am now perfectly willing to saw my own leg off in order to escape.

We run into parents that we know. They look at me with concern. “Rough day at work? You look really tired.” Frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from the constant struggle not to run screaming out onto the playground to get away from all of you. And every second I stand here in this waterfall of sound with a couple hundred other parents, and still don’t bolt for the door is a minor miracle.

Eventually, the evening comes to an end. Teachers have been introduced, classrooms have been visited. We have found our children’s artwork in the hallways. We have learned the expectations for homework in each of our children’s classes. Hands are shaken, and meaningful noises are made. And then I can finally escape. Escape home to the computer, or the XBox, or the solace of a good book. Finally, I can take a deep breath and begin to unwind from the stresses of the day, in the refuge of my own space.

And I try not to think about the Christmas program looming on the horizon.

September 20th, 2006

Wet and Wild

Okay, I’ve ridden home in the pouring rain twice now, and I have to say, I don’t like it.

I’m not a big fan of riding when it’s cold. But I have a whole new perspective now on cold and dry, versus cold and wet. My glasses get covered with rain droplets, and they fog up. As my socks get soaked, my toes get cold. Puddles obscure the potholes in the bike lane, and the whole bike jars when I hit one. It’s just thoroughly miserable. By the time I get home, I’m chilled

The last time I visited my General Practitioner, and I explained that I was riding my bike a lot more for exercise, he said “What are you going to do when it starts raining?” I’ve got rain gear, I said. I put fenders on my bike. I’ll keep riding.

He just looked at me. “Get a gym membership.” he said. “So you keep exercising over the winter.”

Please, just let me get through September, and we’ll see how it goes.


The girl continues to be … better. Lately, though, she really seems to be pushing her luck with some particular behaviors. If you tell her to do something, she’ll argue with you. If you tell her to do it NOW, she’ll dawdle. She’ll ask one of us, while we’re fixing dinner, if we can order in Thai food, and when she is told ‘no’, she’ll stomp off and pout.

It’s beginning to drive me crazy.

Several times her behavior has been outrageous enough that either the wife or have checked to verify that she has taken her pill for that day. And she has.

This has worried me a bit. It seems like the girl is acting out in ways that we had hoped her medication would help mediate. Are we losing ground? Is she accommodating to the meds? But when I actually mentioned my concerns to the wife, she quickly gave me a reality check. It seems that the mothers of the other girls that are pushing 11 years old are seeing the the same kinds of behavior.

This isn’t something that we can deal with through either therapy or medication. This is the looming foreshadow of having a teenager in the house.

I’m afraid.

September 17th, 2006

Family Dinner

My sister called me up this morning, and told me she felt like cooking something. She wanted to know if I wanted to cook something and have dinner together.

Silly question, really.

I made a list then ran off to the store for a couple of roasting chickens. After stuffing the cavities with about 50 (unpeeled) cloves of garlic each, I tied up the drumsticks and dusted them with an herb rub mixture. This is what they looked like:

Garlic Chicken - rubbed and ready

Once the Traeger was preheated, I tossed them on the grill and cooked them at ~325 degrees for about 2 hours and 45 minutes, using pecan pellets. When they came off the grill, they looked like this:

Garlic Chicken

I fished the roasted garlic out of the birds to squeeze onto bread, but it wasn’t quite soft enough to be spreadable. My sister brought over a huge pan of scalloped potatoes and ham, and some fresh sugar snap peas.

I made a tart to finish out the meal. It’s one of my favorites for summer get-togethers, and really shows off Oregon’s supply of delicious berries:

Berry Tart

That’s a pastry crust, cooked, and filled with a mixture of mascarpone and heavy cream, whipped with a little sugar and a touch of vanilla extract. I tossed blackberries, raspberries and blueberries with a glaze made by reducing a little orange liquour and marmalade, then piled them on top of the mascarpone. This is one of the best recipes I have. It always turns out terrific. The glaze adds a touch of sweetness, but doesn’t cover up the fresh flavor of the berries at all. The mascarpone filling is heavenly and light. Usually you would also add sliced strawberries to the mixture, but my wife loathes them.

With the weather turning, and berries going out of season, I don’t know how many more meals like this I will be preparing. This one turned out well, though.

September 14th, 2006

I Shouldn’t Feel Guilty

I got back in the saddle again this morning (or in my case, back on my comfy recumbent seat) for my morning commute. Forecasts were for cool and showery, so I wore a shell. Of course, there was no rain, and I got a bit overheated. But if it starts raining this afternoon, I will be PREPARED.

I had a bit of excitement coming into downtown. As you come in on Barbur Boulevard, two lanes split off to the right to go down to Naito Parkway. The two left lanes continue on into downtown and become 4th Avenue. If you are a cyclist, you need to get across those two lanes in order to continue on Barbur.

The more aggressive bike commuters usually just take a lane and charge on over, crossing two lanes of traffic (see Path A below). And, if the traffic is clear and I have plenty of room, I will do the same. But if there’s traffic in those first two lanes, I won’t. Instead, I’ll go down to a crosswalk and wait for a break in the traffic to cross (see Path B below).

This morning as I approached the decision point, the traffic was pretty heavy so I opted for the crosswalk. I arrived there at the same time as a pedestrian who was walking to work. A car in the first lane stopped promptly. After a moment or two, a truck in the far lane braked heavily and came to a stop at the crosswalk. The car behind the truck also braked heavily and stopped. Unfortunately, the third car didn’t start braking in time.


The pedestrian and I started across the crosswalk, and he remarked to me “I was waiting for that to happen.”

And it’s a recipe for disaster, putting a crosswalk there. But looking back, I wouldn’t do anything differently than I did. If I was going to assign blame, I suppose the fact that traffic is routinely flying through there at 10-15 mph over the speed limit doesn’t help. But most importantly, nobody leaves enough distance between themselves and the car in front of them. If that third car had been following the ‘two-second rule’, I don’t think they would have had that fender-bender. Unfortunately, almost NO ONE in Portland follows the two-second rule.

And of course I can’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet the driver of that third car doesn’t think the collision was their fault.

September 12th, 2006


WARNING: The following post contains an excessive amount of gratuitous whining.

In stark contrast to yesterday’s entry, which concerned a weighty and serious topic that deserved all the respect I could give, today’s entry is just pretty much me ranting. Feel free to skip over it.

Item the first: Commitments and obligations have conspired to keep me from riding my bike to work for the next two days.

Item the second: I have reached a point in Halo-2 where (due to my own poor strategic planning, I’m sure) I am facing two Hunters armed with fuel rod cannons, whilst I have the game equivalent of a slingshot.

Item the third: As an experiment, I picked up a “European Farmhouse” breakfast at a new bakery downtown. The Farmhouse breakfast was supposed to include “a selection of fine cheeses, fresh fruit, and baguette”.

What I got was cheese slices pulled from the sandwich supples, NO fruit, and the baguette was an HERBED baguette, with some funky rosemary/chervil/thyme flavor that did not go at all well with the cheese.


September 11th, 2006

In Memoriam

I generally try to avoid posting on the obvious topics. Everybody is going to be posting on the anniversary of September 11th. It will be the topic of every blog, on every network, on every news program. The repetition of it will further deaden our memory and outrage. The event itself will be swamped by our ostentatious homage to the tragedy, and eventually all we will remember is the memory of the memory of the event.

It shouldn’t be like that.

Five years ago I got up to go to work, and heard something about a plane crash in New York. At that time I was taking light rail into downtown, so I was away from a radio during the train ride, but I got out at the Galleria and walked down to Bad Kitty coffee. The radio was on at Bad Kitty, and as I waited for my coffee the news was very bad indeed. The owner handed me my coffee and said something like “It sounds pretty bad.” Yes, it sounded very bad.

Like nearly all of us, I spent the morning looking at pictures from New York. Buildings were burning, buildings were collapsing. People were hysterically looking for loved ones. Dusty white firemen and police officers looked as if they’d been flocked like a Christmas tree. Millions of pieces of paper were fluttering down out of the smoke-filled sky.

It was like being hit in the stomach. You couldn’t avoid putting yourself in that building, and imagining what it would be like to try and get out. Or worse, to be one of the people trapped above the flames, and know there was no chance of rescue. The clips of people leaping to their deaths, choosing the long freefall to oblivion instead of being roasted alive, made it even more poignant, if such a thing was possible.

The Pentagon strike, which would have been the story of the decade on any other day, seemed almost an afterthought. And then we heard the news of Flight 93 being flown into the ground, and each of us put ourselves on that plane, and wondered if we would have the strength of will and the strength of character to do what those passengers did.

It was a horrific, horrific day. The events that occurred were shaped out of such monumental evil it was almost biblical. Even those of us that had serious misgivings about our nation’s foreign policy in the middle east were aghast. That anybody could contemplate such slaughter, let alone carry it out, strained our belief in a humanity capable of redemption.

It brought us together, all of us Americans. We listened to the national anthem, and it brought fresh tears to our eyes. We were humbled by the outpouring of sympathy from our allies, and even from those who used to be our fiercest enemies.

And what has happened since that darkest of dark days?

Everything has changed. We’re no longer the injured victim, we’re the bullying conqueror. We don’t have the sympathy of the world, we’re hated and feared. And worst of all, the tragedy of September 11th, one of the worst moments we have experienced as a country, has been politicized, wrapped in the flag, trotted across the stage, and used as an excuse so many times that it has largely ceased to have meaning, other than as a partisan talking point.

And perhaps of all the damage done by the Bush administration, at home and abroad, including the erosion of our constitutional rights, the abuse of our allies, and a single-minded crusade across Iraq that has cost us the lives of more Americans than the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers did, this is what angers me the most.

The lives lost on September 11th should ALWAYS be remembered with sadness, with sympathy, and yes, with anger. And they should be remembered as something almost sacred — an unwilling sacrifice, and a marker of the morning that Things Changed. We should never downplay the horror of the events of that day. We should never gloss over that reality by making it the subject of a movie of the week. And we should absolutely never, ever, use that dark day as some sort of political tool, dredged up to further an agenda, and then discarded when the public grows tired of it.

To those who lost their lives high over New York, or in the Pentagon, or trapped on United Flight 93, I promise that I will remember. And I will try to help my children remember. So that the impact of that evil act will not be lost.

September 9th, 2006

Yep Yep Yep Yep Yep Yep

I was on the computer, and also talking to the Boy, and in response to something he said, I answered “Yep Yep Yep Yep Yep Yep!”

He had no idea what I was talking about.

Fortunately, we live in the age of instantaneous information overload, so I was able to educate him almost immediately.

If any of you out there are similarly clueless, here are the Sesame Street Martians:

By the way, when’s the last time you actually used a rotary telephone? I can’t even remember the last time I touched one.


September 7th, 2006

It’s just a rat with a furry tail

I arrived at the house last night glowing with the exertion of my ride home. As I coasted into the driveway, I saw the wife come out of the back door and walk to meet me.


She never comes to meet me, unless she has bad news. I gave her a very suspicious look.

“What did the children do?” I asked.

“Nothing. They’ve been fine.” she replied.

Okay, that meant it had to be something that was her fault. Before I could interrogate her further, the back door flew open and the girl bounced out.

“BABY SQUIRREL!!” she screamed.

“GET BACK IN THE HOUSE. I’m talking to your father.”


Oh. This was going to be bad.

It seems one of our neighbors found a baby squirrel in a tree they were cutting down. The poor thing had looked stunned and shocky, and of course my children had insisted that we take care of it. The wife had put it in a plastic bowl, with a little blanket, where it was still laying motionless.

“We’re not going to keep it.” I said.

“Of course not.” said my wife. It seemed that one of our other neighbors had rehabilitated injured squirrels in the past. It was hoped that we would be able to pawn it off on him. Unfortunately, he had acquired two Bassett Hounds in the meantime, either of which could have finished the little guy off in a single bite. So it looked like we would be keeping him at least overnight. Meanwhile, the wife and kids couldn’t stop ooohing and ahing at the little rodent.

In my opinion, a juvenile squirrel that remains that still and quiet while in the presence of this much hoopla and kerfuffle is not just in shock - - they’re not long for this world. I was thinking internal injuries, but my wife disagreed. By the time we went to bed, he/she/it was bedded down in a freshly cleaned and sterilized cage, on an old t-shirt, tucked under an old diaper, with fresh water and hand-shelled sunflower seeds close at hand.

By this time he/she/it had quit blindly staring into space, and was showing every sign of settling in and getting comfy, turning around under the diaper and curling up to sleep.

I don’t know if it ate or drank anything overnight, but this morning when we checked on it, it was under the diaper with just its whiskered nose and beady eyes peeking out.

Yes, it’s terribly, terribly cute. No, we aren’t keeping it.

And that’s final.


Well. The wife took our squirrelly houseguest to the Audobon Society, where they identified it as a Fox Squirrel. Unfortunately, Fox Squirrels are a non-native species here in Oregon, and they are, in fact, outbreeding the native species. As a result, the Audubon Society of Portland Wildlife Care Center does not accept Fox Squirrels for treatment. Which left the wife with something of a dilemma. In the end, she opted to euthanize the little critter rather than either releasing it into the neighborhood, or trying to reunite it with its mother. It’s a tough choice, but I think the right one.

Particularly since she will be the one that will have to explain it to the kids. Oy.

September 6th, 2006

Color and Season

The human retina contains light-sensitive cells. There are three types of color-sensitive cells, or cones, that allow us to perceive more than 10 million different shades of color. An additional type of light-sensitive cell in the retina, the rod cells, have a very different response to light. In normal situations, where ambient light is bright enough to strongly stimulate the cones, the rod cells play virtually no role in vision at all. However, in dim light, the cone cells are understimulated, leaving only the signal from the rod cells. The result is a sort of monochromatic vision. Put simply, in conditions of dim lighting, colors can appear ‘washed out’ or even absent. In particular, as autumn progresses and sunrise begins to come later and later, the period in the early morning wherein one’s vision is largely black and white is similarly extended.

Which is all really just a long-winded way of explaining why I am once again wearing dark navy blue socks with gray slacks.

September 4th, 2006


Whenever I go riding these days, I’m under a lot of pressure. I feel compelled to be increasing my mileage, so I can improve my endurance. Or trying out new routes. Or increasing my average speed. And I go riding because I need to stay in condition, or to decrease my insulin resistance, or to compensate for the ice cream I had for dessert last night.

I rarely go riding just because I want to.

But I rode to work last Friday, and I will be aggressively riding to work all through September as part of the 2006 Bike Commute Challenge, so when I decided to go for a ride today, I could do so without pressure. I could just ride for the fun of it.

I could just go ramblin’. Because I’m a ramblin’ guy.

So, I rode into downtown Beaverton and checked out the new coffeehouse Ava Roasteria. You can see my comments over at Portland Metroblogs. After that, I rode a few blocks down Hall to The Bike Gallery to get some new cycling socks. Unfortunately, it was closed for Labor Day. No worries, no pressure. So then I pedalled over to the Tualatin Hills Nature Park, although I didn’t even get off my bike there but just circled the parking lot. I came back to Murray and, because I’m just a bit of a masochist, I climbed up and over the big hill on Murray, then came home via Brockman and the Fanno Creek Trail.

When I got home, I was good and hot, so I stood under the oscillating sprinkler in the front yard and let the icy drops of water bring down my temperature a bit.

Labor Day. The end of summer. There’s so much I didn’t get done this year, and soon the rains will begin. As I recall from last year, by the time we reached the end of September, it was already getting dark and cold in the mornings, making it hard to get motivated to keep riding. I’m really not ready for the summer to be over.

Well, at least I’m not going back to school tomorrow. Ha!