31 July 2009

Sonar Jamming Tiger Moths

I just found out the neatest thing about moths and bats. Bats, we all know, use sonar to detect their dinner in-flight, in much the same way that submarines detect target ships or airport radars detect incoming planes.

What's super nifty in this article I just read in Science is that several kinds of moths use countermeasures to jam the bats' sonar signals. How cool is that? Who knew that there was this whole sonar battle going on over our heads in the dusky skies? It's a neat little piece of natural technology. (Thanks to Britannica for the image.)

26 June 2009

The Way of the Toddler Calmer (II)

Last night I used another trick for calming an over-tired toddler. In this case the dear beloved over-tired 3 yr old in question was fixated on asking Mommy about a party blower that her cousins had.
After dimming the room and reading a few stories, I told her that I would go get Mommy to hear her question, but only after she went and lay down in her bean bag with her eyes closed until I counted to 60.
"one, two, three, four, ... fifty-four, 'ifty-five, 'fty-six, 'fty-seven, 'ty-eight, 'ty-niiiiine, thirty, thirty-one, ..." and so on in an ever softer voice, until I heard her breathing change and the question was safely deferred until morning.

15 June 2009

The Way of the Toddler Calmer

Over the course of the last seven years or so, there has from time to time been one cranky toddler or another in the Diller house who was too tired to get to sleep. Most parents will know exactly what I'm talking about: a condition known variously as "over tired", "T.R.S.", "frantically tired", etc.
My early attempts at dealing with this condition were typical testosterone-soaked white-belt attempts to be tougher than the toddler, not to be manipulated, to meet strength with strength, and so forth. The predictable outcome was usually to emerge frazzled after far too long when said child finally exhausted his or herself to sleep.
Behold, after seven years training by the 3 year old masters themselves, the black-belt way: redirect and seduce.
The "I want Mommy, I want Mommy, I want Mommy" or "I wanted two pieces of cheese, I wanted two pieces of cheese..." or fill in the blank with some other demand, is actually excess of energy that needs to be redirected. The most effective method is to startle the wailing one into laughter. Witness Caroline tonight, who was crying for Mommy to stay, but Mommy was unwilling to stay after repeated violations of under-the-shirt personal space. Nothing at all against Mommy, who has very lovingly tucked and kissed and prayed and sung, but a change of character is called for (This could just as easily be Mommy switching out for Daddy). Enter Daddy, who bends down and repeatedly asks, "What? I can't hear you through all the wailing. It sounds like someone is saying I want to play in hay!"
"No Daddy" sniff! sniff! "I want Mommy to stay." Resume wailing.
"I thought you were saying you wanted to play in the hay."
Silence. "What?"
Now the moment is right. I have her attention. Time for the bait and switch.
"I thought you said you wanted to play in the hay. Does your back still itch like you were telling me earlier?"
"No" sniff sniff!
"Because I was thinking wouldn't it be funny if you got one of our chickens to climb on your back and scratch it for you?"
This silly and not actually very funny proposition provides the miniscule excuse necessary, and out comes a flood of over-energetic laughing. If you've heard it, you know it. It's too loud and it's too hard, but the release is palpable. She was just looking for an excuse to laugh, which has a lot of the same energy as crying, but it makes you feel a whole lot better.
I watch her body relax. I see the tears start to dry. I hear the shaky breaths start to even out.
Now it's time to switch into relaxation mode. The tension has been released, she's ready to be seduced into closing her eyes and sleeping. We play the make-pancakes game on her tummy. All of the ingredients are poured out and mixed up with Daddy fingers on the soft tummy. The pancakes are poured out in spirals. The loooong wait for the bubbles to form before we can flip them. The eyes closed better to imagine the smell. Anything she wants can go into those pancakes, usually chocolate chips and pecans. After a lip-smacking taste, she lies back and is asleep within a couple breaths more.
Isn't that better than cry-it-out?

13 June 2009

Sweet Music of the Lawn Mower

Sometimes it takes a special event to snap out of a long blogging hiatus. Well, today was something of a landmark in the only father-son relationship in our house. I was out mowing when Ian came up to me. Whether or not he was in fact prompted by his mother I neither know nor care because some of my favorite words came out of his mouth, "Hey Dad, need any help?"
"Sure can you fetch me the gas can?"
It was high on a shelf, and I almost went to go help him, but then he came beaming around the corner, gas can in hand, and I thought, "Onward and upward, today." I had just asked him whether he wanted to push the mower, and he had just said yes, when there was a quick interruption. My dear wife is a little squeamish about these things and needed me to come in and help Eliza, who this morning was suffering a freak stomach bug complete with shakes and vomiting.
Porcelain intimacies all complete, I came back out to find Ian waiting faithfully next to the mower. (Unheard of, if you don't know him.) Before long, he was happily running the mower back and forth across the grass.

So for today's mowing, the new responsibility and the joy of eating up the long grass was its own reward. Look at the smile.

What a joy to watch him pitch in with such enthusiasm. It won't be too long, I'm sure, before we start to pay him for lawn mowing, but today was special. He's also learning a skill that can earn him his own real money. Adventures to come...

27 March 2009


There is a beautiful Texas thunderstorm over Austin right now, and I would like nothing more than to be sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair watching it, listening to the thunder and the rain drops.

26 March 2009


Random side note before I get started: How many blog posts are titled "Busted!"?

Background: This morning during the breakfast routine, 3-year old Caroline was reaching for a box containing fresh bottles of food coloring. Given her history, I made a command decision to head off disaster and said, "Caroline, put those back please, if you touch them, you'll get color stains all over your pajamas."

Later: I'm in the bathroom brushing teeth and chatting with Hannah when Caroline appears at the door, very sober expression on her face. "What will happen if I touch what, now?" I had already forgotten the incident from earlier, and I squatted down to ask her to repeat the question. "What will happen if I touch them, now?" "Touch what, Sweetie?" "The food colors." "Oh, the food coloring bottles. You'll get color stains on your pajamas." With deadly earnest and not a hint of a smile: "I touched them." There were no (new) color stains on her pajamas.
Silence reigned in the room as I absorbed this. Hannah started to shake, stifling a laugh. "Busted," she whispered.

Moral: While backpedaling to rephrase my warning and admonition, I realized that kids listen, whether or not they acknowledge, and when it's to their advantage, they will hold you to your words. (See this post for another recent example from the same child.) To all the Daddies out there: be careful!

25 February 2009


For the last four days, I've been dealing with a terrible bout of flu/cold/something terrible. I never really spiked a big fever, but I did get achy all over. There were times when I could only lie in bed and moan. My wife has been such a big stud to manage everything and help nurse me through it.
I feel like today might be the final stage of the illness. Everything migrated to my head, and I've had a scratchy throat/nose/ears all day. It's been painful to swallow. I tried to take a nap without much success. One thing has helped a lot: sinus rinsing. A few years ago I bought a neti-pot and started using it periodically. It helps a lot for preventing hay fever after I work in the yard. Particularly in situations like today, too, it can make a big different. Not only did I get a huge bunch of junk out of my nose and sinuses (I'll spare details) but also the salt water calmed the back of my throat to make swallowing less painful.