Eulogy for a Chicken
Everything bad always happens to Phoenix. I find blood in the coop and discover someone's hurt a foot, it's Phoenix. Someone gets harassed by all the other chickens -- Phoenix. I back up and accidentally step on a chicken, the dog decides it's fun to see squawking and flapping, the run door blows closed while a chicken is walking through it -- Phoenix.

But bad things will not be happening to Phoenix any more, because she died this morning. I found signs in the nest box a few weeks ago that something had gone seriously wrong in the egg-laying tract of one of the chickens (a series of shell-less eggs, along with some rather disturbing lumps), and presumably whatever tumor or system failure caused that is behind her demise. I don't think she was in pain at all; she was a chicken, and chickens put an awful lot of energy into not looking sick, but she seemed like a happy, active bird right up through last night.

I will miss my scaredy-cat Fifi-bird.

20-Month Update
The Morgan creature, she is a wonderful creature. She's active and curious and affectionate.

She's getting into art now -- she likes crayons and sidewalk chalk and paint. She still just scribbles, but sometimes she identifies the scribbles as dogs or Papa or what have you. Occasionally she'll start a drawing and then ask a grownup for help with that drawing (rather than asking the grownup to draw a new thing, which she's been doing for ages). That's kind of a fun exercise in figuring out how to incorporate the existing lines, so I hope she keeps doing it.

She likes wearing the grownups' clothes and decorating herself and others with stickers. She has definite opinions about which of her own shirts and pants and pajamas and hairclips and hats she should be wearing at any given time -- and she can remember what all she has and make these decisions without actually looking at the clothes, which personally I find impressive. She loves her rainsuit, and jumping in puddles. She likes purple a lot.

She is very interested in doing what other kids are doing, especially slightly older ones. She doesn't always try to play with them, but she carefully watches what they're doing and if they do something new and exciting will go over and repeat the action, like a very attenuated game of follow-the-leader. She also likes to order people around -- parents, other kids, the chickens, the dog. (These last don't listen.) At the library the other day, Morgan and another little girl were sitting next to each other working on puzzles, and Morgan decided that the most efficient thing to do was say "Baby help!", pass her pieces to the other girl, and point to where she ought to put them. So I guess she's practicing her leadership skills....

Her language is astounding. She's picked up a lot more Spanish in the last month or two, and her English vocabulary is... well, at this point if she needs a word she probably has it. She's started using more verbs. Her recent interesting concepts include "everybody" ("Brooks chin. Morgie chin. Mama chin. Ev'ybody chin!"), "somebody" ("Suzi car!" "No, that's a different blue car." "Somebody car."),
"probably" (::phone rings:: "Who dat? Prob'ly Mommy. Prob'ly Papa."), and "last night", which appears to indicate the past in general ("Walk the doggie mama last night," when I only walk the dog in the mornings). She's trying to figure out past tenses -- she only uses them for a few verbs but she tells a lot of little stories about things that happened (For instance, we brought a new toothbrush to FOGcon, so now it is the "hotel brush". "Hotel brush! Went to hotel!" "Papa toast burn! Doggie woof!"). She's also doing a lot of planning and breaking things down into steps ("One book. Then feed the bocks [chickens]. Then breakfast."). "Who dat?" is a constant question. We're trying to train to use "What's that?" for things that aren't people, and she'll happily parrot it but I guess "Who" is easier to pronounce, so that's always what she starts with.

She's really into testing limits right now. Not in the sense of trying to get away with breaking rules, but really clearly looking for edge cases. For instance, I told her it was not safe to stand up in a restaurant high chair and she needed to sit down, so she tried sitting on the back of the high chair with her feet in the seat, to see if that counted. Testing is a really interesting process -- it reveals a lot about both her thinking and my assumptions. If all goes well I will quickly learn to predict some of the edge cases she'll come up with so I can pre-classify them into okay or not okay and I won't have to think it through on the spot so much. She likes applying the rules or usual procedures (putting things away when she's done with them, insisting that she wants socks, shoes, a jacket, and a hat before going out even when it's not actually cold enough to need the jacket and/or hat, etc.). I frequently end an activity by saying we'll do it X more times and then move on to the next thing, or if she's asking for something like a hug while I'm making dinner I'll tell her I'll do it once but only once, and now "One book" is a proposal I will likely hear about seven times a day as we transition between various activities. (I usually go with it unless we have unusual time pressure, but I do keep it to one book. I can be bargained with, but no changing the bargain in the middle!)

She's still into counting. If she's counting on her own it usually goes "One, three, jump!" but she likes to tap each thing in a group while an adult provides the counting numbers. She's also starting to look through books on her own, pointing out things in the illustrations or repeating phrases she's memorized. She is startlingly good at keeping the titles of even very visually-similar sets of sequels straight. She likes Todd Parr, Mo Willems, and Sandra Boynton particularly.

When we pass a bunch of cars in a parking lot, she likes to pick out the one she wants to drive. Sometimes she assigns other cars to other people, too. She's surprisingly happy in her car seat, although prone to motion sickness. She loves going for rides in the bike trailer.

There is no more baby left. She is all small child now. It is a little disconcerting sometimes.

Packing for FOGcon
Whee! Soon we will be on our way to Walnut Creek for my very favorite local science fiction convention, FOGcon!

I am very much looking forward to it, although I haven't got much forward left to look in. :)

(It's not too late! We sell memberships at the door! And if you have other plans for part of the weekend, the day rates are super-reasonable.)

Morgan's Joke
Morgan tells a joke. It goes like this:

"Morgie joke! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

It is pretty funny.

Counting and Colors
Morgan has gotten interested in counting things recently. Since she's been focusing on it, she's getting better very quickly, so I had better record the adorable mistakes now before she zooms past them.

Her first number word was "two", and she used it for any group of more than one.

Then she got "three", and started counting small groups like this: "Two, three, two, three, two. TWO!"

Now she is starting to get the idea that the numbers go in an order, and has picked up four and five (although I don't think she's said "one" yet). She is getting better at pointing at all of the objects in a group, and at pointing at each one only once, although that is clearly going to be a long road.

She's also been learning colors. For a long time, if you asked her what color something was, she'd say "blue". Now she'll probably say "purple", or if you've been asking her a string of colors and telling her the right answer each time she'll often repeat the most recent color. However, she can answer questions like "Do you want the purple shoes or the brown shoes?" with the correct color word, without seeing the shoes, so I'm not sure what's up with that. Maybe she understands color words as indicators for specific familiar physical objects, but hasn't actually figured out what generalized characteristic they refer to?

Asking for Help
There are two situations in which I ask for help:

1. It would obviously be quick and easy for the other person to do the thing, and would be significantly easier for them than for me at this time. Examples: While you're up, could you get me a glass of water? Since you're taking the car to visit a friend who lives near the pet store, can you pick up dog food on your way home?

2. I am incapable of doing the thing, and the results if the thing does not happen would be awful. Examples: I am really, really sick and just cannot manage walking the dog. I have an important meeting at work but someone needs to be home to meet the repairman.

So there is this enormous missing range in the middle, where it is hard for me to do a thing (but not completely impossible), and the results if it doesn't happen would be bad (but not necessarily catastrophic), and the thing would not be trivial for someone else to do (but might still be easier than it would for me). If there is no time pressure on these, I can usually work around to asking for help if I need/want it, but when I am sick or otherwise partially incapacitated it is extremely difficult for me to ask for help with daily or already-scheduled things, especially when the people I could ask are also sick or busy or otherwise dealing with whatever it is that's got me functioning at less than full capacity.

Partly this is because explaining the task, in enough detail for the other person to do it, can be more effort for me than just doing it, because of how my brain works (my introversion, let me show you it). Partly this is because I do not have a simple way to compare how difficult it is for me to do a thing with how difficult it is for the other person to do the thing, and I only want to ask if it will be easier for them than for me. I think this second part is probably broken. I mean, (1) it is not actually a moral imperative to create maximum total easiness at all times, (2) even if it were, I am not the only person who can do the comparing-relative-ease work, (3) "no" is a possible answer, if the other person would rather not do the thing.

On the other hand, if the other person says "no", then I have just wasted all this valuable energy I could have spent doing the thing on finding the person, explaining the thing, asking for the thing, maybe discussing relative energy levels for a while... which is all clearly suboptimal. So minimizing "no"s seems like a reasonable strategy to conserve energy, except that then I am missing out on some "yes"es that would save me more energy. But the task of calculating the probability of "yes" times the amount of energy saved, with consideration for the amount of energy spent on asking and careful examination of the amount of energy I actually have, is really a lot of work. I don't have a simple bright line other than the near-certainty of getting a "yes" in the situations outlined above, so when I don't have the time to sit down and work out the calculations, I default to not asking.

What heuristics do you use to decide when to ask people for help with things?

FOGcon 4 Programming
FOGcon 4 programming sign-ups are open!

Have you ever wanted to be on a panel? Have you ever wanted to moderate a panel? Have you ever thought, "Boy, I wish they'd asked me which panels I wanted to attend before they put this schedule together"? Now is your chance! Come tell the FOGcon programming team what you want to see and what you want to participate in:

(If you haven't registered yet, you can do that too! Memberships available online until February 21st or at the door; child care slots available only until Feb 7:

FOGcon 4. Walnut Creek. March 7-9, 2014. With honored guests Seanan McGuire, Tim Powers, and (posthumously) James Tiptree, Jr. Join us! It'll be fun!

Quick 17-month Update
This has been a big month, developmentally speaking. Morgan is putting words (and signs) together more often, adding lots of new words to her vocabulary, and playing independently for longer periods of time. She has begun imaginative play, which I find very exciting. Possibly relatedly, she seems to be afraid of the dark now. She's not visibly scared, exactly, but she won't go into dark rooms. She likes to identify objects around the house by who uses them: She'll watch me fold laundry and identify each article of clothing as "Mommy", "Mama", or "Papa"; she points out the various bottles of shampoo in the shower by user; stuff like that. (The vacuum cleaner is "Papa".)

She's kind of lost interest in potty training but now she's very into washing her hands.

Particularly interesting new words:
other side (pronounced "ho-tai")
apogado ("off", but she uses it to mean "I want to play with the light switch")

Morgan's pronunciation is still in that phase where familiarity and context are needed to decipher it. Morgan got a bit distressed while we had friends over for dinner before Christmas, saying "kuh! kuh!" "Oh," said wild_irises, "She's saying 'cup'! Do you want your water?" But 'kuh' is not 'cup', 'kuh' is 'sock'. She was unhappy because one of her socks had fallen off.

The overlap in how different words are pronounced is sometimes funny. In Morgan-speak, cats say mouse, dogs say wolf, and cows say moose. The most overloaded syllable is probably "ba". Things "ba" can mean:
ball (including other round things like lamps and satellite dishes; not balloons, though -- those are "boo")
the sound a chicken makes
the sound a sheep makes

Getting Out the Bad Luck
Today I broke the zipper on my sweatshirt pocket. It is stuck closed with a handkerchief in it.

Then I smacked into a curb while parking. The tire blew up and the wheel bent. I spent the afternoon dealing with that instead of doing anything fun or useful -- now the car has one new wheel, four new tires (the rear ones were worn out and the store didn't have the existing size in stock, so the new ones are slightly bigger), and crooked steering.

The guy at the tire store said maybe I had bad luck in 2013 that needed to be used up. So I hope it's all gone now. We will start on 2014 soon.

Miscellaneous Life
A few weeks ago, we all got a cold. After I'd had it for a little over a week, I announced that I was done being sick, really, and I was getting behind on Christmas prep, and I could stand to get better any time now. So it promptly turned into the Death Cold From Hell, and I was completely flattened for a few days. Andres stayed home from work to watch Morgan so I could sleep all day, is how flattened I was. I wore my pajamas for over 36 hours in a row. Entirely flattened.

Now I am back to just normal levels of sick, and apparently getting better, so I have caught up on a few of the Christmas-prep things I did not get to while I was more sick earlier. I still need to get stocking stuffers for the pets (suzanne made them stockings, so clearly those stockings should be stuffed), wrap one more present (in the event that it arrives before Christmas, which it may well not), assemble Morgan's gift from my dad (Christmas Eve), decorate the tree (probably tomorrow; if not, then Monday; I know some people traditionally decorate on Christmas Eve but I am pretty sure we are already past the latest I have ever decorated a tree), and figure out what to do about Christmas cards (see next paragraph).

I missed sending out Christmas cards last year [1], so I wanted to be sure to do it this year. When I asked what a good time to take a picture would be, "after we're all over the cold, so we don't look like death" was suggested, but at this point (a) I won't be over it by Christmas and (b) Morgan fell against a bookshelf this morning and is going to have a giant forehead bruise for a while here, so I think we have lost our standing to attempt to not look like death. Also I think I am missing a bunch of cousins' addresses and would like to track those down. So I can either: print out some recent snapshots of Morgan and include them with these commercial holiday cards I have; take Christmas snapshots and use them to make New Year's cards; or take a semi-formal group shot and make New Year's cards.

I think I will do that first one for my grandparents, since they are very fond of snapshots of Morgan, and maybe then see about the addresses and work out something or other for New Year's cards for everybody also. That is probably a reasonable balance of wanting to Christmas card and still having a brain full of snot.

I have a hard time letting go of things when I'm sick.

The other big thing here besides me being sick and us getting ready for Christmas is that Galen had surgery. He has had these lipomas (benign fatty tumors) for years, and they've been growing slowly that whole time. It was kind of a tossup whether they were ever going to get big enough to really be a problem, but since they continued growing we decided that we'd prefer to have them removed now, so that we wouldn't have to have them removed later, when he's older and frailer and more at risk from the anesthetic. (That sentence has some really complicated tenses.) Anyway, that all went well and he is now a sad dog in a head-cone for a while, so he does not pick at his stitches. He was a very sad dog indeed the first day, but he is now energetic again and does not understand this "restricted exercise" concept.

Oh, oh! And Morgan developed a "yeah" to go with her "no"! It is very very exciting to be able to ask yes-or-no questions and get two possible answers!

[1] I have alarmingly sketchy memories of last December. It was the month I tried going back to work after maternity leave, and determined that that wasn't going to work. I know we got a little tree, and decorated it, and... that is about what I remember about the holidays. We took a picture to make a Christmas card with, and it had the dog in it and everything, but we wanted to do some digital cleanup first and then the actual card part just never happened.

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