Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holding on to a Totalitarian Regime: Lesson 1

Toward the beginning of this year, I was listening to an interview on NPR about the then-recent Libya uprising. The expert being interviewed essentially stated that the reason the Libyan rebels were having trouble pulling together was because they a lacked a shared culture that a more unified public educational curriculum provides. The only unifying piece of curriculum across the country was a couple hours of study a week of Ghadaffi's Green Book.

I couldn't help but laugh while listening to the interview. The reason why a totalitarian regime was performing well (at the time) against its rebels was caused by a lack of unity in the public education curriculum? If there is one thing that totalitarian regimes rarely skimp on, it is indoctrinating the future generation into followers. If Ghadaffi skimped on this area (with exception to some limited study of his Green Book), it very well could have been the driving factor in his downfall.

To be pithy, I don't think we're ever going to see a totalitarian regime implement school choice and vouchers. Public education was one of the most effective ways at controlling the masses throughout the 20th century.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Return to Blogging

My blogging hiatus is coming to an end.

Here's a picture I drew to celebrate:
(You'll need to click on the image to get the full effect)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In the meantime...

Slow post season. Ugh.

While I wait for Ashley to proof-read my awesome upcoming blog posts on fun fun fun economics, here are some pictures that I uploaded recently. As you might know, I'm not a huge fan of traveling. So, while I am on work trips I try and think of potential good captions before taking a picture. Thus, at least on work trips, the caption comes before the picture. :D

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Apologies

Dear Man Who Lives Upstairs (not to be confused with The Man Upstairs):
I hope you have had a nice five weeks while our family has been away. We left with a 9-month-old who woke frequently during the night, but you hopefully didn't hear him much as I was vigilant in promptly nursing him back to sleep. We have come back with a 10-month-old whom we are trying to teach how to sleep through the night. And, as I'm sure you noticed last night when he woke screaming every hour during his first four hours of sleep, he still has a long way to go.

So, to be brief: We're back. I'm sorry.

Love,
The Millers

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Standup Economist

Saw this on Greg Mankiw's blog. It's well worth watching:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Baby Food

I thought making my own baby food would be a lot harder than it is. Turns out, all there is to it is steam or bake, puree, and freeze. That's it. Somehow, though, I still manage to screw it up on occasion.

Exhibit A: Carrot fail.
I thought I'd be so clever and use my steamer bags (leftover wedding gifts...I guess I should steam veggies more often) to steam teeny tiny carrot pieces. They never got quite soft enough, and finally they got totally scorched. I tried again in the steamer basket over the stove, which worked much better.

Exhibit B: Beet fail.
The beets took much longer than I thought they would to get soft, and the bottom of the pan ran out of water. I only noticed after I smelled scorched beet juice. You'll be happy to know that after a whole lot of dish soap and elbow grease, the pan is as good as new. The beets themselves turned out well after I added more water, and Joseph seems to like them.
And they don't stain if I get the bits rinsed out immediately.

Other successes include green beans, peaches, pears, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and pureed chicken.

It's been a lot of fun to watch Joseph taste new things, and I love the bright colors and interesting textures of fresh fruits and veggies instead of the muted colors and lack of texture of the prepackaged stuff.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Protest

Once upon a time, Joseph's crib looked like this.

Isn't it lovely?

A few weeks ago, I found him standing up gnawing on the Tigger part of the mobile, so I took the whole thing down. In exactly the same place where the mobile was attached, he began chewing on the crib rail, something he hadn't done at all before. His crib now looks like this.

Isn't it lovely?

Those rail guards my mom is sending can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Correlation Is, In Fact, Causation

I realized this morning that over the past several days, I have stared blankly at my Facebook page trying desperately to come up with some clever, witty, or otherwise amusing status update. And then it hit me. There is a direct correlation between the number of hours of sleep I get at night and my cleverness. My last semi-clever post was over a week ago regarding Joseph's tooth gap (even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile). Before that, at least a month. Joseph has been more or less constantly teething for over two months, so sleep for both of us isn't great. He isn't really cranky during the day, but he wakes up every 2-3 hours at night, and not always hungry.

I'm not saying this to get pity or advice. I'm simply putting out there the hope that sleep will return someday and I will become more entertaining because of it.

Also, if another one of my Facebook friends gushes about how her baby sleeps through the night, I may punch myself in the face.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tourists

The Raisbecks (my mom's brother's family) were in town and decided to visit us. They took Joseph and me to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
View of Ellis and Liberty Islands from the boat.

Registry room at Ellis Island.

The two of us outside the main building on Ellis Island.

Looking at the Manhattan skyline from Liberty Island.

With the great lady herself. Someone's fingers got in the shot.
I was kind of surprised how impressed I was with the Statue of Liberty. I imagined what it must have felt like to be on a boat for weeks and then to see this as your first view of your promised land. She really is a thing of beauty.

Tuckered out after a long day.
Thanks again to Mike, Anita, Alex, and Sam for taking time out of your summer vacation to visit us. We love you lots!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yoga Baby

I think I'll take the hint from Joseph and get my yoga mat out again. He's a natural!

Here's Downward-facing Dog.

And Pigeon.

And Cobra. Great form!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eight Months

Joseph turns eight months old today, and I'm enjoying spending my days with him more and more. Of course, there are the days when I feel as though I'm chasing him around the house trying to keep him away from dangerous items and items away from my dangerous child, but we have fun. A laundry list of things:

He crawls. Everywhere. And he's getting speedy.


He has four teeth, two each on the bottom and top. Nursing has gotten...interesting.

You can see his top left tooth. He really is living up to his in-utero name of Cletus.

He has FINALLY figured out the jumpy swing. Yesterday he actually bounced more than once. He started wailing as soon as I was out of his vision, but he can do it, and he seems to enjoy it as long as I'm around.

He pulls himself up to standing by using the furniture, the crib, or my hands. He's rather proud of himself.

I bought a jogging stroller off Craigslist. I'm finally feeling capable (read: getting enough sleep) of exercising in the mornings. Joseph seems unimpressed by going fast, but he does enjoy touching the wheels, which are more often than not coated in goose droppings. Ick. We're working on staying away from gross things.

In that vein, he's also becoming more aware of my tone of voice and commands. "No" is being used far more frequently than I had originally intended, but when it comes to short, punchy statements that convey that an action is impermissible and/or dangerous, "no" has no equal. I'll tell him to stop when I see him heading toward some forbidden realm, and he'll usually stop. It's about 50/50 of him actually being redirected to another toy or part of the room, but it's a beginning.


Everything is a toy: the stereo, the crock pot, the photo albums, and occasionally those items designated as toys. I thought I was being so clever when I moved things he was getting into from the bottom shelves; he's just moved up a shelf. D'oh!

I broke down a couple weeks ago and bought an actual toy. It's a small red four square ball. I love it. I think Joseph is warming up to it. He'll chase it around the room and gets excited when I roll it back to him.

"This little piggy" is hilarious. Though I am wondering at a pig eating roast beef. While it's clearly not cannibalism, pigs and cows are definitely neighbors on the farm.

Sleep has gotten better for everyone, I think. We've implemented a pretty consistent bedtime routine, and although he still wakes up to eat (this is what I signed up for when I decided to breastfeed), he occasionally wakes up and goes back to sleep a minute later without help or food. Progress!

Naps have also gotten better. He'll usually have one long nap (60-90 minutes) and then one or two shorter naps (30-45 minutes). My life has gotten much easier because of this.

I've given up on having all of my apartment clean all at the same time. I've now broken the chores up to one room a day. I can get this room done in 30 minutes (in case the nap gets cut short), and I don't feel nearly as overwhelmed as I did a few months ago. I'm also trying to make one new recipe a week. There have been a lot of black bean soup nights at our house since October, and it's time to liven things up.

His diet is getting more adventurous. He's had avocado, sweet potato, squash, peaches (not a fan), oatmeal, and pears.

He learned how to wave last week. It is adorable. He'll give Jake a big wave when he gets home at night. He'll wave to grandparents on Skype. So. Cute.

We sure love this kid.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nothing that a rap can't fix...

If you tire of conventional economic arguments, here is the awesomer version:



And, in case you missed the first one:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Musings

Yesterday was hard. Joseph has become super clingy in the last week or so, which makes trying to do anything even more difficult than it usually is. Nearly every time I sat down to play with him, he'd abandon his toys and flop his way over to me. It's adorable the first twenty times, and then it starts to wear. As soon as I'd get him distracted a little with a toy and get up to do something else, he'd wail and flop ineffectually in my direction.

Mothers always talk about getting their bodies back. I always assumed they meant that they wanted their figures back. While that's certainly a component, I think it's even more that my body is always in demand by someone else, usually Joseph. I've enjoyed breastfeeding, for the most part, but I look forward to wearing a dress in about 6 months. I also look forward to the day my hair won't be seen as a toy (or lately, food) and I can wear it down. While wearing a dress.

Joseph's feet are clammy. This didn't bother me when it was winter and he was wearing socks all the time, but now that it's warmed up, his feet drive me crazy, especially when I'm trying to get him down for a nap. I'll put my hand on his chest and he'll wrap his legs around my arm (which is kind of sweet), but then his clammy, sticky feet are all over my dry arm. Ick. I nearly lost it yesterday. I can usually deal by putting the other hand on his chest so he can't reach it, but sometimes only the one hand will do.

The couple I wrote about a few posts ago were finally able to adopt a sweet little baby boy. I was trying to get Joseph to sleep while I read about it. I couldn't help but smile to myself at their pictures on Facebook. And then my child gave a mighty scream that broke my reverie and then continued screaming for several very long minutes. Having a baby is awesome most of the time, but the hard stuff is REALLY hard.

I really do like being a mom. It hands-down beats any other job I've ever had. But there's also way more pressure than with my other jobs, so much far-reaching responsibility for this one tiny person. Am I feeding him the right things? Am I making the right medical decisions? Am I a failure because he doesn't sleep through the night? Am I helping him develop language and motor skills? How do I arrange this small apartment that has almost no storage so that he doesn't pull the crock pot down on his little skull? In all my jobs I've prided myself on being knowledgeable and competent. In this job, I'm neither.

This is not to say that I don't read and try to find out, but it seems that all the information on raising a child is contradictory. Feed him cereal at four months or exclusively breastfeed until he can feed himself? Ferber as teaching a valuable skill or Ferber as torturing your helpless child? Binky or thumb? Nothing you do is ever right, at least to someone, and that someone always has something to say about it. As if mothers needed more guilt.

However, avocados were a smashing success. After the frustration that was rice cereal, it's nice to know my kid will not be looking to my body for sustenance for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Toys

(Note: I began the post shortly after Joseph turned 5 months old. As I am just now getting my life together, I haven't finished the post until now. Current updates will be in black.)

Joseph has lots of toys. OK, he doesn't really, but that's because I'm just not into buying/having lots of toys. The toys people have given us we love, but I really don't go out and buy him anything. We will be getting some wood blocks and big Legos like these and Lincoln logs when he gets older. But why buy toys when we have fun things to play with right here already? Allow me to illustrate:

Some of his favorite toys: (L-R) My camera case, old socks without mates, and wipes box we refer to as Baby on the Box.

Since the advent of teeth, he has chewed several of the corners and on the bottom. Given how much wet paper we've found on the floor and in his mouth, Baby has gone away for now.

Besides, we prefer to give him toys that allow him to "act and not be acted upon." In other words, toys where he can use his imagination, that allow him to be in control, rather than the toy telling him what to do. My dad told me about a toy truck he saw several months ago that made noise and said about six different phrases and even moved. As an experienced parent, he noted that it was the kind of toy that kids get sick of really fast. Once a child figures out that it only says those six things and only moves in these certain ways, he will tire of it and move on to something else, and you've just spent a lot of money for a toy that got quickly cast aside. I'd like to avoid this situation as much as possible, at least until Joseph is older and is begging for the latest toy for Christmas or his birthday. (Sidenote: the other day I read an interesting article on Slate that discusses toys and teaching preschoolers and how too much direct instruction actually decreases creative play and discovery learning. Check it out.) Besides, electronic toys are super annoying.

So we don't have a lot of those at our house. We do have toys and Joseph is learning and playing. His current favorites, Monkey and Tigger (we're not real creative with toy names at our house). Monkey was a Christmas gift from Josh and Aly, and Jake found Tigger while he was in Thailand in January. Joseph will talk to Monkey just like he talks to Baby on the Box and pictures of himself. He has a much higher pitch, just like he's talking to a real baby. I think it's adorable. He's taken to sucking Tigger's tail. I just try not to think of what goes into painted stuffed animals from Thailand.

I've started making Monkey talk back to him by moving the toy's head and talking in a different voice. Joseph loves it and gets this giddy little smile on his face each time I do it. I've also started hiding Monkey under the blanket and playing peek-a-boo. I'm amazed how much Joseph likes this game as well.

The next set of toys are what I call "rage-inducing." Joseph will play with them for a minute or so and then begin to scream. Whatever it is he wants them to do, they are not doing it, and he will voice his displeasure. (Clockwise from top left: Caterpillar, Octopus, Keys, and Ring)


He's gotten much better with these toys in the last several weeks. He especially likes the sound that they make when he bangs them against the floor. The crab connected to Octopus will still occasionally make him mad, but he's figuring out that the crab also makes an excellent chew toy in addition to making Octopus sing when pulled.

Next are the neutral toys: Elephant, Rattle, and Rings (I'm not sure how to distinguish Ring from Rings. So sue me.). He likes these when I give them to him, but he doesn't usually pick them from a group of toys. He gets mad at them much less often than those in the previous group.


Finally, we have the books. He likes sitting and reading books with me, but they're also just another toy. He'll usually sit for at least one story out of Frog and Toad, most of a Dr. Seuss, a few pages of Winnie the Pooh, and all of a board book. He's figured out that he can play with the book once I close it, and he really likes that.


The Old MacDonald book is a huge success. It sits on the shelf above the chair in his room. If I get out a Dr. Seuss or some other book, he'll twist around so he can see Old MacDonald and stare at it longingly (or whiningly) until I get it. There are five animals, and I've come up with five more, and he'll sit through all ten verses and even sit through it again occasionally. Pooh has gone away until he can sit without touching the pages. Touching=ripping right now. He's also begun chewing his board books. There's a big brown spot where the corner of his Joseph in Egypt book used to be. I guess he can't play with books unattended for awhile.

My mom also bought him some great Fisher Price blocks (you can see them here). Joseph has become a pro at spinning the wheels with a single thumb. He has not yet figured out that they also spin when you push the guy on top. All in good time.

And because I can't figure out where to put this in the post, here's a link to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about a toy expo and how toy marketers are taking the fun out of toys by making them too educational.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May showers bring...

I have always preferred rain and darkness to sun and light. Perhaps that puts me in the villain category. If that doesn't put me in the villain category, perhaps my attempts to create a black hole with a large hadron collider will.

Anyway, this last week's weather and the forecast for the next week make me wonder if we accidentally moved to Oregon. Perhaps it's a valiant attempt by the Northeast to call down the rain here before it reaches the Mississippi? You can send the thank-you's in advance.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"As everyone knows..." Inflation edition

Sometimes in your life you hear a phrase so many times, you assume it's true. Then, one day you get a crazy idea, "what if that's not true after all?" I've had this happen to me quite a few times lately, and I thought I'd start sharing. Hopefully this is not boring as dirt and helps you understand economic news just a little bit better.

Inflation - CPI is the consumer price index (most popular inflation index). There is also the term "core CPI," which excludes the more volatile prices of food and energy. You'll hear in business news things like this quite frequently: "Inflation was X% for last quarter, but the less volatile core inflation rate that the central bank pays more attention was X%." Got it. Core CPI is a truer measure of inflation, and the total inflation just swings wildly each way around the core CPI. However, after 10 years of following business news I thought, "They've said this every year except in the fall of '08 - spring of '09. Sure, food and energy is more volatile, but is it systematically higher, and is core CPI lying to us?" So I took a gander at the stats (the following from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, bls.gov):





Since about 1999, core CPI has been systematically lower than total inflation. Yes, core CPI is less volatile, but it's also lower. I believe this is also important because food and energy are the two most important indicators in the index. They are the goods that in economics are called "inelastic." If the price of gas, electricity, or food goes up, you tend to consume just about the same amount and then cut back on something else (that new TV, Redbox instead of going out to the movies, etc.) instead.