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Sunday, May 28, 2006

What's so funny?

So, the topic that Horyon remembered that I didn't was Maxine's sense of humor.

I was playing with Maxine, and she was in a laughing mood. She is a good-natured baby, but she isn't always laughing-happy. On this occasion, I found that if I turned away from her and took my glasses off, when I turned back she would laugh. Turn away again, replace the glasses, get another laugh.

What's so funny?

Humor is a hard thing to nail down even between adults, of course. Something that I consider to be hilarious might, to you, be lame, or vice versa. And if you have ever tried to delve into why exactly something is funny, you find that ultimately the answer is "It's funny because it makes me laugh." We all know that the best way to kill a joke is to explain it.

I enjoy making people laugh. Not that I've ever considered being a standup comedian, I just feel good when other people laugh at what I've said or written. I often incorporate humor into my classes, though I would consider it to be very basic humor. Slapstick seems to be funny across cultural barriers, such that I can get a laugh out of even the most stone-headed of my students by throwing in a Three-Stoogesque fake dope-slap upside someone's head. To encourage students to listen, I frequently throw in something funny, like threatening to throw a student out the window, or telling them that I will die if they don't improve their English. I teach the same lesson six times to six different classes, and by the 3rd time, I know what will make them laugh and how to milk it. (I also know which parts of the lecture they won't understand easily and how to make those parts clearer, but this post is not about education, but about humor. If you feel that you have been educated by this post, whether deliberately or accidentally, please feel free to complain.)

I believe that laughter is usually connected to surprise and incongruity. When we are suddenly confronted with something that is not what it should be, in just the right way, we laugh. So humor is closely connected to one's concept of normal. It's hard to figure out what Maxine will find funny, because she is still working on defining normal. Something that is funny to her one day will be normal the next, and therefore not funny. Maybe. Anyway, though we can often make her laugh, it is a bit of a stretch to guess at why she is amused. Here are some other activities (besides the glasses trick) that have been known to maker her laugh:

Horyon does a little dance that finishes by pointing with both hands at Maxine, who then laughs.

Tickly fingers, sometimes touching the chest/neck, and sometimes hovering ominously, accompanied by "Deedle-deedle-deedle" sounds.

Being picked up quickly and held over my head. (Strangely enough, Horyon does not like this activity, and always tells me to slow down. Except when she is being picked up, then she's all like "Higher, Rob, higher!")

Tongue clicking, especially when accompanied by nodding the head.

Playing with my face.

Sometimes just seeing one of us, especially after a long separation, makes her laugh.

She often laughs while getting her face cleaned. Ticklish lips, perhaps?

And here is something ominous to this father: she smiles and laughs and has a great time whenever we take her clothes off. I am really, seriously, ardently hoping that she will outgrow this one.

None of these activities are guaranteed to get a laugh, but all of them have, at one time or another. For a few weeks, Maxine thought it was very funny when I laughed. We had a small number of laughing conversations: I would laugh, she would laugh at me, back and forth for ten minutes. We actually caught a few minutes of one of these on video. I'm already looking forward to showing this to the first boyfriend she brings home.

Being quite small, she does not have a large reserve supply of laughter, and so she quickly runs out. You can tell that she is running out of laughter when her laughs last a shorter time, going from "He-he-he-he-heeeee," down to "He-he." It is also a sign of diminishing laughter when she stops squealing.

Often a laughter shortage can cause her to tap into her crying reserves, and vice versa. She easily and regularly gets into that mood where she's not sure whether she's laughing or crying, and in the end it can go either way. It's such a wonderful potential to see, like a large boulder balanced on the top of a hill. The right push can cause it to go either direction. Likewise, Maxine can be easily stimulated to go into full-blown tears or laughter. Being tired makes it more likely to be the former, but it isn't a guarantee.

It's an amazing thing, because we adults are always so much in control of ourselves. We rarely, if ever, let ourselves get to that place where the emotions are surging strongly, yet they haven't chosen a final direction to go. When I see Maxine going through this roller coaster, knowing that it will continue like this for a long time, my feelings are mixed. When I think back on my adolescence, and what a pain in the butt it was, I am quite happy to be where I am now, thank you very much. But part of me wishes that I could go back and ride the roller coaster with her, and experience life as a child again. The amazing highs and lows. When she is happy, that happiness is her entire life. When she is tired, she is completely grumpy. No apologies, no efforts to cover it up. No satisfaction until she sleeps. And when she is in pain, she does not hesitate to let anyone within earshot know about it

She is quite proficient at sitting up now, and is beginning to stand. She still needs to hold on to my fingers, but we caught her just yesterday standing while holding onto her... toy thingey.
I'm not really sure what this toy is. It has four big buttons that play notes that go together reasonably well (a major chord with the tonic repeated at the top of the octave), or a variety of children's favorites (Old McDonald, Bingo, Yankee Doodle, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and a nice little BeeGees medley). It also has little things that twirl around and make noise when you spin them, and a small plastic mirror. She likes it enough that we got a more expensive version to keep at Grandpa and Grandma's house.

(The one they have is more expensive because it has five notes, in a regular scale, and you can play them at the same time, just like on a real keyboard, and it plays a number of little songs, and has these stars that light up when you press the notes, and it actually sings the notes in a slightly disturbing childish chorus: "Doh, doh, doh." Best of all, if you leave it on, it gets lonely. It likes to be played with. It even plays a little song if you leave it alone for more than a couple of minutes. It doesn't give up. It demands attention until you turn it off or play with it. Needless to say, once we had opened the package and tried it out, I recommended that we allow Grandpa and Grandma to entertain Maxine with this one.)

So Maxine can stand. And standing, as most of you know, is often an intermediary step in falling down. Because Maxine is not so good at standing yet, we always keep a close eye on her while she is doing so. But we don't really watch that closely when she's sitting up. Still, the knock she gets on her head from falling over, even with a blanket on the floor, is enough to hurt. And she lets us all know just how much it hurts.

First there's a short cry, then the calm before the storm as she takes a deep, stuttering breath and wails. The tears come soon after, and continue until she is either exhausted, or distracted by something else.

"Your diaper is full. Mommy is far away. You are hungry, and you have just bonked your head. Isn't it time for a Pepsi?"



p.s. Don't hate on me. We don't feed Pepsi to Maxine.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Elanor Corrections

Hi everyone.

Looks like I didn't research as much as I should have. Jon sent me an email with some clarifications/corrections, and I thought that instead of giving myself another chance to get something wrong, I would just cut and paste from his email. So here you go:

I do have a couple of minor comments on CF-related stuff. I think the statement about colds and flus "often ending that life" overstates a bit; while some bugs do eventually lead to enough accumulated lung damage to lead to lung failure and death, this usually takes many years; IOW, it'’s usually not any *one* infection or inflammation that kills, it'’s the cumulative affect over (hopefully) many years. Illnesses are dangerous, but usually in an '“another brick in the wall'” sense as opposed to an immediate emergency. There can be exceptions where an infection will cause immediate danger, but those are rarer. But in the (increasingly) longer term, of course, eventually the lungs will fail.

Also, just a slight clarification: you'’re absolutely right to say that I wouldn'’t trade Elanor for anything, even a fuller life with a different daughter (that phrase hits the nail on the head). I can never wish that she had not been born with CF, because that would mean that she would have been a different person; Elanor came from the mixture of that specific set of DNA from me and Clarissa. But if I had the ability to target that defective gene right now, I would "“take it away"” in a heartbeat!

He also told me what a great guy I am, in spite of my innacuracies and exagerations, but I thought it would be tacky to include that, so I didn't.

Also, I just made my donation on their website:

The first time I hit the "submit" button I got an error message. I had to retype all my information, and it went through the second time. I'm a bit worried that I donated twice as much as I intended, but I don't think so. I urge you all once again to contribute to this most worthy cause. For this particular event, I believe you have until about June 16th, though you can still contribute to the CFF after that deadline.



Friday, May 19, 2006

Help Elanor

Hi Everyone.

Some of you may know my friend, Jon VanHoose, and his wife Clarissa. His daughter, Elanor, was born almost two years ago. Her first year brought a few unexpected problems, especially with low weight gain. Last year, after many tests, she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

I was not very much aware of CF before I found out about Elanor. I have found out a few things since then: It is genetic, so there is no cure. However, gene therapy may someday provide a true cure. The median age of survival for a person with CF is 37 years. CF causes the mucus of the body to be too thick. You may think that mucus is just a nose thing, but it is also very prominent in the digestive system and the lungs, so CF patients often have digestive and respiratory problems. A common problem is that a cold or flu will settle into the lungs and stay there for the rest of the patient's life. Often ending that life.

This has been a heavy burden on the VanHoose family, but one that they have taken well. Jon wrote to me once that they could not wish that Elanor did not have CF, because it is genetic. It is a part of who she is. To take it away would be to make her another person, and they would not trade her for anything. Not even a potentially full life with a different daughter.

I thought I understood him at the time, but since then Maxine has come into my life. Now I do truly understand.

I've never met Elanor in person. The last time we met Jon and Clarissa "they" were pregnant, so Elanor was only sort of visible in silhoutte. But Jon is my friend, and my love for him extends to his family.
No one can say for sure what Elanor's future will be. Treatments have improved since CF's discovery in the 1930's, and life expectancies are increasing. Still, Elanor does not now have a normal life, and is likely to be different from other children her age for some time. She has spent a large portion of her life in the hospital, taking more injections than I would wish on anyone. Catching a cold is not just an inconvenience for her: it is a threat to her life.

I'm not writing this to ask for sympathy for Jon and his family. I am asking that you do something. I am asking that you join me in praying for them, for strength and health, and for God's grace to be on them all. And I am asking that you consider helping financially.

This Saturday (May 20th, today in Korea) they will be participating in Great Strides, a fundraising walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They are doing pretty well with their fundraising so far. Actually they've passed their goal by more than 400%. Still, I encourage you to make a contribution. You can do so at this page:

The deadline is around June 20th, and the link to donate at the bottom of the page connects you to a secure link for entering credit card information.

This is what Jon wrote to me:


As many of you know, our daughter Elanor was diagnosed last year with cystic fibrosis. This month, our family will be participating in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation'’s "“Great Strides"” fundraising walk on May 20. Cystic fibrosis is a severe, life-shortening genetic disorder that affects about 30,000 people in the US. Ongoing research and clinical advances over the last several years have had a great impact on the lives of those with CF, both extending life expectancy (now into the 30s) and improving quality of life. The CF Foundation has been a major force in these advances, helping to set clinical standards, providing funding, and coordinating research.

If any of you are interested in helping sponsor "“Team Elanor,"” contributions can be made electronically at the following web page. We would appreciate any amount you might choose to give.


He feels funny asking people to give, but I don't. This is not giving money to Jon or his family. This is giving money to an organization with a track record for helping people survive and searching for better treatments and a cure.

Once again, you can simply click on the title of this post, "Help Elanor", to connect directly to the CFF page for Team Elanor.



Sunday, May 14, 2006


Here's the thing: I started doing this blog for a couple of reasons:

#1 My emailed updates to friends, family and other interested parties were getting out of control. Keeping track of address changes was a hassle, I would spend weeks between starting to write an email a finishing it (most of that messing around, with like two hours of non-stop writing right at the end to follow up the first paragraph written two weeks earlier), and the emails that I did send just sort of disappeared into the Ethernet. I wanted something a bit more lasting, easy to keep track of.

#2 To remember.

I have a terrible memory. Well, terrible in a practical sense. I can spit out entire Monty Python sketches almost verbatim, and I'm not too bad at song lyrics, but the events in my life, the things that happen once, seem to leave my head faster than the first class passengers bailing out of the Titanic. And so I write.

At first it was journals. A "Journal" is just a more manly way of saying "Diary", I know. I've looked back at some of them, but not for a long time. I remember that I started when my Grandpa Sack died in the fall of 1988, but I couldn't tell you for the life of me what exactly I wrote. However, I have memories of that time that were reinforced by the writing, feelings more accurately preserved than by memory alone. And I can easily go back and remind myself of what happened, and how I felt.

Well, it would be easy if I were in the same country, but that's a different problem.

I also want to pass some of these memories on to Maxine. The daily stuff changes so subtly that we don't even notice when something has changed. For example, a few entries back I had a fixation on vomit. Yesterday Maxine nailed me good, soaked the leg of my shorts, and my real leg as well, got her own pants, and a big blotch on the sofa cover. And I was shocked, because I couldn't remember the last time she had done that. And then I was shocked because I couldn't remember the shift from fountain-of-vomit girl to less-than-the-average-university-student girl.

I've seen blogs with automatic things to fill in, like "Music I'm listening to", "Mood", "Book I'm reading", etc. I kind of thought "Number of diapers today", "vomit count", "poopy diaper", "amount eaten by Maxine" and "Trouble sleeping" would be good categories for me to keep track of Maxine, but there's no way I could ever keep up with that kind of information, and I'm not sure that even I would find it interesting or useful, much less anyone who happens to be reading Roblog.

My point: Sometimes when I sit down to write Roblog, I can't think of anything to write. Not surprising, I'm sure, but quite annoying, especially when I remember saying to myself (or to someone else) "I have to write that in the Roblog." A couple of days ago Horyon told me I should write about something that happened. When I sat down to write this, I remembered that she had said that, but not what she wanted me to write about. With some trepidation, I asked her what she had said I should write about. I kind of expected to have a whole entry about how I can't remember what I want to write about, but she came through for me!

But I'm not going to write about it now. Too much other stuff to cover.

Here's the main one: at church on Sunday, I was talking with my friend Mike, and a Korean woman I don't know came up to me and said, "You Gabrielle?"

"No, I'm Robert," was my quick and witty reply.

Then she figured out that she had made a mistake: "You baby Gabrielle?"

"No, my baby is Maxine." I figured that would settle it for sure.

"Really?" she said.

"Yes. Really."

As she walked away, Mike said to me, "It's like she didn't believe you! That was totally cung!"

I was kind of floored, but kept my cool, and pretended that cung was just another word that everyone uses. Well, everyone with good breeding, anyway.

"Definitely. Definitely cung. A most excellent example."

I had emailed back and forth with Mike about a month and a half ago, but he's never mentioned Roblog. As far as I knew, he had never seen it. And so now he is the first person to ever use cung in my presence without having first discussed it. And I must say, that he was a very cung choice for it.

Just by way of informing those of you who aren't familiar with Korean culture and the status of foreigners here, it is not cung for a person to come up to you and start a conversation with no "Hello", "How are you?", "What's your name?" or any of that nonsense. It happens way too often to be cung. If there were a manual for foreigners living in Korea, there would no doubt be a paragraph or two about this phenomenon.

I have to admit, part of me wants to follow up the first question with "Who are you?", but that part is usually shouted down by the rest of me that doesn't really want to get into a lengthy conversation with someone who I don't know and who obviously doesn't speak English well enough to know that "You Gabrielle?" is at best a C+ conversation opener. I'm sure that she's a nice person, and meeting at church suggests that we have at least one thing in common. Nowadays I don't have any spare time for the friends I have already, much less making new ones, but I haven't been interested in making this kind of friend for a long time.

I sometimes worry that Korea is making me hard-hearted.



Monday, May 01, 2006

Technical Stuff and cung

I don't know how observant my three readers are, but I do have some idea of how often they check my blog.

If you go down to the bottom of this page, you will find a banner for "Site Meter". Click on it, and it will take you to a web page with statistics on how many times my site has been viewed. I thought it might be interesting to see. I'm averaging 9 per day, so I think that means that Uncle Bob, my Mom and Earl are each looking at it three times per day.

Guys, I'm not a professional, but I don't think that I would be too far off base if I used the word "obsessive" to describe this kind of viewing.

Anyway, I thought you'd like a little glimpse into the guts of this thing.

Back to cung. I thought I would Google "cung" and see what popped up. These are the results I found:

Cung is a common English spelling for a Vietnamese name. Google spat up the famous Vietnamese martial artist Cung Le. I must confess, I am not so much worried that Cung Le will stumble on my Roblog as that he will kick the crap out of it. I sincerely hope that he will think back on how he was bullied as a child, and decide to cut this particular nerd some slack. I also got the composer, Cung Tien, and a scientist, Ven-Dat Cung. Ven-Dat Cung's thesis was on "Parallel Space Searches in Artificial Intelligence and Operations Research". I believe this means that he wants to create giant robots to dominate the world. I still couldn't tell you for sure whether it's a given or family name. It may be either. It also turns out to be a chunk of the title "Silent Night" translated into Vietnamese. At any rate, I don't believe that there are many Vietnamese people named Cung who will read my blog and get upset about it, as long as none of you tell Cung Le what I'm up to. And if I'm lucky, "Cung" means silent in Vietnamese, so they won't say anything to me about it.

Yes. Sit back and enjoy the twisted logic.

Cung is also a language of Cameroon. One of 279 living languages. If I'm reading the report right, it's spoken by about 2000 people. It seems pretty unlikely that any of them will stumble across my blog and bug me about stealing their language name, so I think I'm OK on the Cameroonian front.

In other words, "cung" is not taken in English.

I had lunch today with Earl and Indra, another coworker, and I had occasion to say that something was very cung. So I did. I said it. Just like that. Figuring that it rhymes with "tongue", only it's easier to spell. Indra immediately asked what the hell we were talking about, expressing his jealousy over not knowing a word that both Earl and I were conversant with.

We explained, and he nodded with the satisfied smile of a tyrant who knows that the peasant who just back-talked him will soon be shopping for a new head.

So I've been working on word forms. Please let me know if you have any preferences, or if you think something doesn't work:

cung (adj): Unsurprising, yet unpredictable. ex: When John came to work wearing purple pants, it was cung. It was very cung.

cung (vb): To give an impression (to someone) that something unsurprising, yet unpredictable has happened or will happen. ex(vt): His excuse cunged me. I was cunged by his excuse. I'm sure your performance will cung me. (vi) Grisham's latest novel about an an existentialist hooker trying to get revenge for copyright infringement cunged.

cung (noun): The state of being cung, an action that is cung. ex: Her essay was rife with cung. That was a cung.

I don't see an adverb here. Cungly? I can't come up with a proper use for it. You either cung or you don't. You do something with cung or without. An action is cung or it isn't, a little or a lot. But you don't do something cungly.

Actually I'm not certain about the noun or verb forms. Other than the continuous (cunging) and past/past participle (cunged), I don't see any inflections happening either. This might be better off as just an adjective.

The point: I would like to field test this word. I'm sure that everyone who reads this will find occasion to use the word cung, now that you know it exists. So please do. And don't forget to nod sagely as the people around you ask what it means. Tell them, but don't mention where you got it. Not specifically, anyway. Just say, "I got it from the internet. It's a kind of global university, you know."

And be sure to let me know when you have used it. The more detail the better.

Thanks in advance for your assistance and support. Mom.



Her First Cold

Last night my girls came home sick. Yes, both of them. And I can feel my body screaming, "Me too, me too! I wanna piece of that action!"

Well forget it, bod. We're staying healthy until this long weekend coming up.

Friday is the celebrated holiday Children's Day. On this day, people like to drag their kids to Children's Grand Park (I've been there, and it really is quite grand when it's not packed with snotty whining brats) and buy them stuff. Until they hit middle school, at which time most of them are pretty much cut off.

On top of that, I am giving exams today and Wednesday, so I give my students their next class off. In other words, Thursday, Friday and Monday. Poor Friday students, they're forced to waste a perfectly good holiday.

So I've got myself a five day weekend coming up. And believe me, I will be resting lots in between grading exams.

But back to Maxine's cold. (Sorry, I'm tired enough to be very easily distracted). She wasn't sneezing or coughing any more than usual (less than I do), but she was running a fever of up to 38.6 C. Fortunately for me, last night while taking her temperature I didn't realize that that was over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Horyon managed to sponge bath her down to less than 100, and they slept together on the living room floor. Apparently Maxine slept fitfully, requiring occasional basting, feeding and watering.

This morning she was much better. Her temperature was down to around 99 degrees, and she was in a better mood. Horyon had to go to school, because in Korea you don't stay home when your baby is sick. (I apologize if that sounds bitter or angry. Trust me, it's not as bitter or angry as I actually feel about it.) Thankfully, Horyon's parents came to our home early, and we went together to our pediatric hospital. The doctor read through Horyon's written account of the previous evening and night, reassured us that everything would be OK (a doctor's main job, don't you think?), wrote us out a prescription (because nothing reassures like medicine), and sent us on our way.

While mother- and father-in-law went to the pharmacy, I fed Maxine and she went to sleep in my arms.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here, but having Maxine go to sleep in my arms is one of those high points of being a father. It's a lot like having Horyon fall asleep in my arms, except that I can pick Maxine up without straining, and I'm less likely to bang her head on the door frame. I'm not sure exactly why it feels so good to have a baby fall asleep in your arms. I think that part of it is the trust issue: Maxine does not think, even for a second, that I might drop her, or draw a magic marker mustache on her while she's sleeping. Part of it is the transition she makes. One minute she looking around, trying to grab my beard/nose/glasses/hair/clothes, trying to escape, and whining a bit, the next minute she is drooling all over my shoulder and emitting cute little baby snores. While she's sleeping, her entire body is so relaxed. You can open and close her hand, position her arms and legs, draw a magic marker mustache on her. Whatever you want. Her hands are so soft and warm. She doesn't have the tough skin that we have from dealing with the world all day long for year after year. When she sleeps in my arms, I am at peace with the world. Test grading, grade distribution, traffic, and the lack of a good BBQ restaurant on this continent are all a million miles away.

So yeah, last night I could have used more sleep. It would have been nice to go to bed with my wife. It would have been wonderful if Maxine had been her usual healthy self. But I'll take it the way it is, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.