Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Life Immitates Art

Even from an early age (starting in the womb, in fact), our kids have been influenced by the culture around them. They've begun to emulate their favorite artists and performers from many creative disciplines...


Traditional Tragedy / Comedy masks
Amelia and Edson - 12 months


American Gothic - Painting by Grant Wood
Amelia and Edson - 10 months


Fred Astaire dancing in 'Royal Wedding'
Edson - 8 months

Action / Adventure

Indiana Jones
Amelia - 2 years

Family Films

E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial - E.T. hiding amongst the toys
Amelia - 8 months


Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'
Amelia - 8 months


Luciano Pavarotti singing
Edson - 6 months

Science Fiction

A Narn from Babylon 5
Amelia - 33 weeks gestation (ultrasound)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Farm woes

I love our new life. Really I do. But every now and then, it gets the best of me. Today was one of those days.

Our donkey hates our goats. We have them separated now, and one of the boys has a fracture near his rear hoof after a run-in with Jinx. Should have known from the name... So now I'm adding donkey trainer and behaviorist to my list of duties. The goat should be fine in a month or so, but meanwhile, he's going to have a splint to deal with, and cramped quarters. Of course, we don't have much shelter for him in his temporary holding pen, and, of course, it instantly rained today.

Our "new" pickup truck tried to stall any time it idled, making for some interesting footwork while taking the goat to the vet. And it sounds like fireworks any time I take my foot off the gas pedal.

Two of my six apple trees are sticks. Two of my six blackberry bushes are sticks. One of my cherry trees is struggling mightily. The bugs are after the brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower (which I forgot to blanch). A fair amount of our pasture is golden brown, due to some mismanagement. Luckily, we have way more pasture than livestock, and we've had a bit of rain, so it's not a total disaster.

The pine trees I planted out back now have clover growing over their heads. At least they'll get a little nitrogen boost in the soil, if they can survive the competition. One of my oh-so-clever rain barrel irrigation contraptions has sunk into the mud far enough that the water drains to the wrong end of the barrel.

And after a quick review of our finances, we are well beyond broke.

Now you know what happens when suburbanites try to become farmers overnight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Doing the math

Sorry to harp on the peak oil thing. I think I lose half my audience every time I bring this up. When did I turn into an activist? I'm just having a hard time shaking the idea of the end of life as we know it...

Eleutheros had a post titled "Do the Math", in which he stated that if every kernel of corn* grown worldwide were turned into ethanol, it would amount to about four days' worth of fuel for the US. He didn't include his calculations, so I thought I'd try to "do the math" myself.

"The math" in this case is just some back-of-the-napkin stuff - mostly unit conversions. Nothing fancy. If you trust my math skills, feel free to skip to the end. Note that my math skills are pretty shaky...

My sources are just whatever came up first on Google.

So here goes:

According to this link, there were 598 million metric tons of corn produced globally in 2002. (That was the first year I came across. Let's assume it's typical.)

598 million metric tons * (2204.6 lbs/metric ton)
...converts to 1.3 billion lbs of corn.

A bushel of corn is currently defined as 56 lbs.

1.3 billion lbs * (1 bushel/56 lbs)
...converts to about 23.5 million bushels of corn.

According to this article, a bushel of corn can produce 2.7 gallons of ethanol.

23.5 million bushels * (2.7 gallons/bushel)
...tells us that 63.5 million gallons of ethanol could theoretically be made from all the corn grown globally in one year.

According to this, a barrel of petroleum has 42 gallons. After refining, it could be made into about 19.5 gallons of gasoline.

So if we say that 1 gallon of ethanol can replace one gallon of gasoline, then

63.5 million gallons * (1 barrel / 19.5 gallons)
comes to 3.2 million barrels.

(The 1-to-1 ethanol-to-gasoline ratio is likely flawed, but this is
getting too complicated. Let's just say 1-to-1.)

According to this source, the United States currently uses 20 million barrels of oil per day.

3.2 million barrels * (1 day / 20 million barrels)
amounts to 0.16 days.

So if we can stop using corn for livestock feed, corn starch, corn syrup, corn oil, corn chips, corn stoves, corn bread, popcorn, candy corn**, corn on the cob, corn dogs, creamed corn... er... sorry, I was channeling Forrest Gump for a second...

If we use all of the corn grown in one year for making ethanol, and production is still propped up by using current (petroleum-heavy) farming practices, it would keep the U.S. running for just under four hours. Or, if you prefer, Argentina could last almost a week. Or we could supply Togo with their fuel needs for the entire year.

Feel free to check my math. I'm sure this must be due to rounding error.

* - Corn = maize. I know in some places "corn" is a generic grain term.
** - I checked. Corn syrup is an ingredient in Candy Corn

Gone fishin'

I don't like to eat fish. Not freshwater fish, not saltwater fish, not shellfish. Anything that swims in the water tastes terrible to me.

Lots of people don't believe me. Or they think I'm exaggerating. I don't know why. "You just haven't had fresh fish," or, "You just haven't had good fish." "Not even shrimp?" "Not even lobster?" You could just as easily replace seafood with rancid meat. "You just haven't had good rancid meat," or "Not even rancid T-bone?" Do people do that with other foods? "You just haven't had fresh lima beans..."

Oh, I've tasted fresh fish. I've tasted good fish. Pan fried, batter dipped, broiled, baked... it just tastes awful. I have to guess that since there are many others in the same boat (is that a pun?), that there must be a gene that says, "seafood BAD!"

As such, I also don't really like fishing. So why then, was I so eager to stock our pond with fish?

To be honest, I really don't know. It just seems right, I guess. A pond without fish is like a woodland without birds.

I love the frogs. They're kind of underdogs these days. (Underfrogs?) They have a hard time finding habitat, and I'm glad we can provide it. But at the same time, frogs alone don't make a healthy ecosystem. So now they've got some competition.

Added to the mix were:
25 channel catfish (including a few albino)
15 largemouth bass
25 hybrid bluegills
2 triploid grass carp
2 scoops of fathead minnows

The grass carp are interesting. They are herbivores, and they're used to keep vegetation down. They eat three times their weight in vegetation per day. Since our pond is rife with cattails, algae and other aquatic plants, a couple of these should keep it under control. They are a non-native species from Asia, and in Ohio it's only legal to buy and sell sterile triploid grass carp. I might add a couple more later, but I wanted to start small. I don't want them to clear all the vegetation.

The bass are the predators. The fish farm folks recommended I release the bass and minnows at one end of the pond, and the rest of the fish at the other end. That way the bass could fill up on minnows and let the other fish find good hiding places. It's hard to believe these guys are that voracious, since they're not much bigger than the other fish, but apparently they eat everything in sight.

The minnows didn't fare too well. Not because of the bass, but just the trip home and the transition from cold water to warm water. I took my time letting the water adjust, but about half of them didn't make it.

Most of the other fish were pretty stressed too I think. It was quite a change from the icy water in their tanks to the shallows of our pond. But eventually everybody swam away.

(While I was getting them acclimated to their new home, I saw what I'm guessing was a bullfrog froglet. It had legs but still had a good sized tail. It was also the size of a VW Microbus.)

I have to guess that the albino catfish are not going to last long. High visibility is okay for tropical birds, but advertising your whereabouts to bass, heron, foxes and whoever else wants to eat you is probably not a great survival tactic. And to think that the fish farm normally charges more for them.

In any case, it should be interesting to see how this all turns out. Especially when August rolls around and half the water is gone. I understocked quite a bit compared to the size it is now, so hopefully it'll work out. Otherwise, it's back to the frogs I guess. They've still got the "marsh" in any case...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Peas in a pod

Thanks in large part to my wife's research on how to prevent mealtime toddler wars, our son is a fabulous eater for a three-year-old. Don't get me wrong, he still prefers his hands to his silverware, and he'd still eat M&M's and drink Sierra Mist all the time if we'd let him. But he loves to try new things, and he makes surprisingly healthy choices sometimes.

Tonight's dinner was a simple one-dish meal consisting of ramen noodles, carrots, zucchini, chicken, and some herbs. He skipped the meat completely, ate some noodles and carrots, and polished off every last piece of zucchini. He then asked for more zucchini. And more again. Last night his dinner amounted to some black beans and corn, and two helpings of lima beans. At a fast food drive-thru, he'll consistently pick mandarin oranges or applesauce over french fries, and a turkey or ham sandwich over hamburgers or chicken nuggets.

On the flip side, my daughter won't eat her new cereal bars because they're a slightly different shape from the old ones. It took months to get her to eat the old ones. Madcap Mum sent us a link suggesting that a gluten-free and/or dairy free diet might help her out. About the only things she will eat are gluten-ful and dairy-liscious products. Well that, and dirt. She'll pick potting soil over brownies, sand over sandwiches, and mulch over macaroni.

And the doctors told us they were twins...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Time flew...

My week off is just about over. Tomorrow it's back to bits and bytes and other such nonsense. Sigh.

It was a good week, for the most part. Oh sure, my daughter was up (for good) at 2:00 in the morning three nights in a row. I wish I could get by on so little sleep. She also learned how to turn childproof doorknob covers. E5 had quite a creative variety of tantrums. And we now have two broken down pickup trucks. I can't even tell that story at this point.

I did put a new radiator on the tractor. It was a simple operation, but for me, quite a milestone. I cut a lot of grass. There's still some to be done, but it's better than it was. I fixed our busted mailbox. I got my grapevines planted and my serviceberries moved. I got my sunflowers planted, though they may be too late. I weeded most of the front flower bed. It still looks pathetic, and it should't really be called a flower bed, since there are no flowers at this point. But still.

I didn't get any of the big stuff done, but I had a lot of fun. An old college friend came over with his wife and toddler. My dad, step-mom, and grandmother came down to visit the kids. My inlaws babysat for a few hours.

Amelia started her new special needs classes. Coincidentally, she also started touching our chins when she wants food or drink. This is a sign that we've worked on for ages. It's okay with me that she touches our chins instead of her own, because it's the first really abstract communication she's learned. And E5 pooped somewhere other than in his pants for the first time. (Luckily, it was in the toilet.)

The kids and I blew up an inflatable pool and filled it up in the back yard. We saw a really cool waterfall. We bought some gluten-free snacks to try with Amelia (thanks again Madcap!) which, of course, she will not eat. Well, except for the pretzels. Those are apparently okay. We bought a bunch of fresh fruit and gorged ourselves on it's fruity goodness. We cooked out on the grill. Betsy Red finished up her medication, so we've been able to drink goat milk again. (I really do like it better. Maybe someday I'll try a blind taste test, just to see if it's not my imagination.)

We saw a new batch of cute little baby killdeer chicks in the driveway. (Same spot as before.) We saw an odd sunset with a dull gray sky but a bright red sunset. We had beautiful weather all week. It got a little hot here at the end, but not unbearable.

My sore muscles, tired body, and farmer's tan tell me I'm forgetting some things. But you get the idea.

And not once did I miss sitting at a desk all day...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Harvest time

Our son is an expert strawberry picker. He can hear them getting ripe. No need to worry about birds getting them. He gets every one, the moment it ripens.

The only problem is, he eats them. He will share his favorite toy with his sister, he will share his favorite ice cream with his daddy, and he will share his favorite drink with his mommy. He will not share his strawberries, except at gunpoint.

Our strawberry patch is in it's first year of production, so we're not seeing many, but we're tasting even fewer. Hopefully next year we'll have more than he can eat. Otherwise I may need to expand the strawberry patch...

Out, out damn spot!

All around our front porch (and to a much lesser extent elsewhere) we seem to have little black spots on everything. On bare wood, on painted wood, on vinyl siding. It looks like somebody's been walking around with a black pen. On the siding, it seems to be in lines or groups. Any ideas?

Fly poop? Mold spores? Alien life?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Time flies

I'm taking this week off from work. I'm not going anywhere. It's just a chance to get some things done that I can never find time for.

The problem is that the days seem to disappear way too quickly. I know it's only Monday, but it feels like I've gotten about a half day's worth of stuff done since Friday night.

Part of it is just the nature of being a parent. Particularly a parent with a very inquisitive three-year-old who never stops talking, and another who never stops tearing up the house. But I don't know where the rest of the time goes. It just goes. I have a rather ambitious list for the week. I know I won't come anywhere near completing it, but I hope at the end of the week I have at least a handful of things crossed off.

I often run into problems when there's a chain of dependencies. I need to get the grapevine into the ground. But first I need to move the serviceberry to a more permanent home and away from the grapevine's home. I want to put the serviceberry in front of the propane tank, but because of it's curved shape which is hard to mow or trim around, the area under the tank is a haven for weeds. So I decide to cut back the weeds, create a weed barrier, and cover it with mulch or pea gravel. But I don't have anything handy to accomplish this with, so it's off to the store. And if I'm going into town, I should hit several stores to get the other things I'm going to need for other to-do items. Otherwise it's wasted time and wasted fuel making more trips. But then I need to put together a list of the rest of the items I need before I go. And if I leave now, it puts me too near the siren call of fast food when I'm bound to be hungry. Plus, I either have to face the wrath of my son who hates to be left behind (and I don't really mind taking him), or I have to expect him to fall asleep in the car, have an abbreviated nap, wake up grumpy, and stay that way for the rest of the day.

Trips like that are a black hole of time. I drive into town to pick up a few things, and come back missing half of them. They don't have what I'm looking for, I forget my list, they're out of stock, it takes too long to find so I have to cut my trip short and skip a destination...

Suddenly it's dinner time, then cleanup, then bedtime for the kids, and all of the sudden, it's dark outside. I thought the days were supposed to be getting longer as we near the summer solstice! I think it's a myth.

At least it's still Monday. Never thought I'd say that.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A History of Oil

This link is rated PG by the Just-Invented Policital Correctness Association (JIPCA), for political content, economic peril, and confusing cultural references.

Robert Newman's "A History of Oil" is a British humor take on the geopolitics of oil. Funny, fascinating, and a bit frenetic. And also a bit frightening. But I already scared you with the Peak Oil ghost story (as well as stories about my frightening mechanical incompetence) so maybe you're getting used to it. Or maybe you've wandered off to have a sandwich.

The video is about 45 minutes, so if you're going to watch it, get comfy and bring some popcorn. And if you're on a dial-up connection, well, bring a good book too. Or don't click that link.

If that sounds too long, just give it 60 seconds and see if it sucks you in. You know you'd spend an hour watching people eat bugs on Survivor or mangle show tunes on American Idol, so quit yer whinin'!

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Colorful Day


I took 17 small bags of lettuce, swiss chard, mesclun, and spinach to work in a cooler, to share with co-workers. Wow, 17 bags. That sounds like a lot. The greens are growing so fast we're not even coming close to keeping up. It looks like the spinach is about to bolt. The lettuce is in the shade of the giant broccoli and cauliflower leaves, so it's hanging in there. The mesclun is starting to fall victim to bugs, turning into swiss cheese. I'm not a huge fan of this particular mesclun mix anyway. There's one plant with a pale leaves with a slight blue tinge and purple veins that is just too bitter for me. The bugs don't like it either, so it's thriving.

We ate our first homegrown strawberries of the year last night. Barely a handful, and pretty small, but it's a start. Hopefully there are more on the way. They were even better than the farm market strawberries we bought last week.


Now our new pickup truck won't start. Well, sometimes it will start and stall. Sometimes it will turn over and them make an awful metallic sound - kind of like if you try to start a car that's already running. Fortunately, I went ahead and bought a 3-month add-on warranty for not much, complete with towing. It's still a pain though.


I was a bit groggy this morning from being up in the middle of the night. When I put Amelia to bed, I fell asleep. I woke up at about 2:30am and realized I needed to do something for my job before morning. I had intended on doing it last night after the kids were asleep. The half hour task ended up taking two and a half hours.

Anyway, so somewhere along the way, as I was trying to become functional this morning, my daughter, um, filled her diaper. Then she put her hand down the back of her diaper. Then onto the side of her face. Then on her ankle. Lovely girl. So now there's dookie everywhere and I'm just not ready for a Code Brown this early. After some quick cleanup, she got a nice long bath, and I decided to skip breakfast. What a way to start the day...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Woke up with a major, major headache. Complete with nausea.

Extremely grumpy son. All day. Fought at every opportunity. Even made up some arguments from thin air.

Futile work day. Nothing accomplished. Had to work late.

Well water tasting terrible. Almost undrinkable. Tried to carry softener salt bags downstairs. Handles broke on two of the four bags. Turned the shutoff valve the wrong way before changing filter. Sprayed water all over myself, the floor, the walls. Son came running in, slipped on the wet floor and ended up soaked. Freaked out. Meanwhile I dropped the old filter, along with lots of nasty rusty brown water into the salt tank. "Easy Open" salt bags wouldn't tear. (Why don't they make the handles out of "Easy Open" perforation, and the opening out of handle?)

Daughter fell asleep at 5pm. And 5:30. And 6. Screwed up bedtime. Probably nighttime also.

Donkey decided to pester the goats again at dusk. Had to give him a time out.

Can't form coherent sentences. Day end soon? Please?


Poor Jinx. He's had a hard time adjusting to his new home.

For about the first two days, he stayed in the far corner of the pasture (despite the pouring rain), so he could get the best view of the neighbor's horse. He had no interest in the shelters or the goats. I think he was homesick and wanted to be in a herd of his own kind. Or at least something close. He brayed pitifully from time to time.

Once he realized that his equine cousin was unreachable, he decided to try to join his caprine pasture-mates. Only they were a little freaked out by his presence. He tried to join them in the shelter during a rainy spell, but they slipped out en masse and ran to the other shelter. After a while, he came over to their second shelter, and they scurried out, around the back, and into the first shelter.

Once the sun was out again, they stayed in the same general vicinity, but if Jinx ventured too close, the goats were off and running. He'd occasionally chase after them, but it wasn't clear whether this was playfulness, frustration, or just an attempt to follow their lead. They're still keeping a little distance, but that distance is getting smaller.

Then last night, after we brought home a second goat buck, he got aggressive. I think he was doing what we pay him to do - chase away strangers. Because we had to divide up the pasture along gender lines (we're not ready for breeding yet), we only had one shelter in each half. We've got materials for one more shelter, but it's not ready yet. Since goats are less tolerant of rain and they're not ready to share yet, and since he was being a little too aggressive, we decided to temporarily move him to the other pasture with the cows. This would also give him a chance to commune with the neighbor's horse from 15 feet away instead of 100 yards.

Watching me move him from one pasture to the other would have been comical to any observers. I've read a couple of books by Monty Roberts, and several by Mark Rashid about horse training and handling. But a donkey is not a horse. And even so, I have essentially zero experience with such things. There aren't too many books on handling donkeys, and this is a young donkey with just a little training. It, um, interesting.

Despite all this, I used the handling techniques as I understood them, with some small degree of success. We're learning together, Jinx and I.

Once we made it to the other pasture, we had several bovine friends to cope with. They're used to being around other livestock, so I wasn't particularly concerned, but you just never know. The cow and calves came over to check us out. I led Jinx down to see Zippy, the horse, who had come out to greet us at the far fence. One of the calves feigned a charge at me. The beat of hooves coming fast made me flinch, but I stood my ground and he never really came close. I went ahead and made my exit anyway. They seemed mildly curious about Jinx, but didn't really put forth much effort to investigate.

After an uneventful night and day with the cattle, Lori brought him back in with the girls in the goat pasture, and he was happy to be reunited with his new herd. We're getting there.

He really is a sweet little guy...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Garden photos

Sorry, nothing pretty. The flower beds are too
neglected and overgrown for public viewing...

The rain barrel / soaker hose / tomato & pepper bed

Three raised beds.
Veggies in the
closest two beds,
in the third,
and compost bins
at the far end.

Close-ups of the two vegetable beds.
We can't keep up with the greens.
Nothing else is
ready yet.

The first "sister" is planted.
Not much to look at, I know.
(You can see by the bare dirt that
this is where we had some
drainage work done.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Oh the Humanity

This is quite possibly the most extraordinary musical performance of all time...

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I'm tired

I hate being tired from not enough sleep. However, I love being tired from getting a lot done.

I was able to make the switch from the former to the latter. Great weather gave me a chance to spend all day outside.

I made an impromptu garden bed for the last of the peppers and tomatoes that I couldn't bring myself to toss in the compost pile. The soil is not the best, but hopefully if I baby them just a little, they'll produce. Because the spot I picked is weedy, I spread some newspaper on the ground around the plants and put some mulch on it to hold it in place. Before doing that though, I ran a soaker hose near each plant. The soaker hose comes out of my rain barrel, which the plants should screen and shade a little over the course of the summer. Symbiosis.

Since the soaker hose was pretty long, I extended it beyond my little solanaceous bed. At the far end, I (finally!) got my little "three sisters" experiment underway. I created seven small hills spaced four feet apart, arranged like this:

x x
x x x
x x

In each hill, I planted seven corn kernels, in the same pattern. I think the recursiveness appeals to my inner computer geek.

I spread newspaper around this whole area also, and put some old straw on top as a mulch. Once they get to about 6 inches, I'll put the beans and squash into the hills. The middle hill gets the squash. Actually, they're birdhouse gourds, just for fun. Maybe I'll try edible squash next year. Can anybody recommend a good one? I'm not a fan of the ones I find in the store.

I did make one mistake on this setup (besides the late start). I think the corn variety I bought initially (Golden Bantam) is too small for this use. I bought another local variety and planted a mix of the two in each hill, just so I can (hopefully) try a little of the Golden Bantam. With two varieties so close, seed saving is probably out the window.

In the long gap between the tomatoes and the corn, I'm planning a couple rows of "Mammoth" sunflowers. The one thing that gets me though is that the seed packet says to sow the seeds on the surface, because they need light to germinate. First off, I'm pretty sure I've planted sunflower seeds in the ground and they've done just fine. Second, if I sow them on top of the ground, then they are not seeds, they are bird food. If surface seeding is something specific to this variety, then that's the last I'll be seeing of them.

I bought a couple of Concord grape vines. I had hoped to build a grape arbor to shade the south-facing windows of our house (while still letting the sun in during winter), but I think that's probably going to have to wait until next year. I had every intention of waiting until I had an arbor before getting any grape vines, but priced at 2-for-1, and in good shape, setting fruit already, I just couldn't pass them up.I figure the grape vines can climb on our back yard fence in the meantime.

I also grabbed some locally grown strawberries. They are so good they make your eyes roll back in your head. In fact, I think I need to go eat some right now...

The grapevines may be my last impulse buy for a while though. We bought a new pickup truck. Well, a very old pickup truck, actually. It replaces the other very old pickup truck that just bit the dust. This one is even older (1986!) but the price was right. It's in excellent shape, considering the age. Well, except for the broken winshield wiper knob and the leaky gas tank. (It has two. The other one doesn't leak.)

I hate spending money on vehicles. Especially money we don't have. Hopefully we can recoup some of it by selling the other truck. The big old rebuilt diesel engine should be worth something by itself. We're thining of selling our little '91 Honda too. I hate parting with a vehicle that's paid for almost as much as spending money on new vehicles, but our debt is getting uncomfortable. I guess I just don't like dealing with the whole automotive realm. You're just always pouring money into them. A necessary evil, I guess.

Enough words. Hopefully tomorrow I can provide some pictures.


PS - The strawberries were good. I only wish I could share...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Aahhh, Glorious Sleep!

I had a rough night last night. My son was very difficult at bedtime. I got paged twice by my work, an hour and a half apart, for two different problems. My daughter woke up just as I was finishing up, so I went in to lay down with her since I was awake anyway. Of course by the time I did get sleepy, she was wide awake and bouncing off the walls. Eventually I gave up and just got up and got ready for work. I had to get up early anyway, since it was my day to be in the office.

I have a very long commute on Thursdays. The good thing is that I only have to do it once a week. The rest of the time my commute is from the bed to the chair. (I usually take the scenic route through the house to get breakfast and such.) I was tired enough on the way down to Cincinnati this morning that I stopped at a rest stop and took about a 15 minute nap. That was actually enough to get me through the day.

It sounds like a bad day. It was a bit of a bad day. But oddly enough I feel good.

I feel good because it reminded me that days like this used to be a regular occurence. There was a time when days like this would have been welcome.

We knew having twins would be hard, especially at first. And boy, was it. One baby waking up every 3-4 hours, and one baby being awakened every 3 hours. You do the math. You know how you feel when you have to get up way earlier than usual, like if you've got to get to the airport for a very early flight or something? You force your body to get up even though every fiber of your being is screaming "Sleep!" And anybody who's ever had an infant child hospitalized (twice in our case) can tell you that it's nearly impossible to get any sleep under those circumstances.

But you expect that period of sleepless nights to end after several months. Along the way, or maybe from the beginning, my daughter developed sleep problems. For about the first two-and-a-half years of her life, her sleep habits were very nearly random. We tried to find patterns, we tried a variety of techniques and read every book on infant and toddler sleep patterns we could find. We renamed the "No Cry Sleep Solution" "The No Sleep Cry Solution." Everybody had advice. None of it worked. We felt pretty incompetent.

She would stay up until 2am. We'd get her up at 7:30am. She'd nap for an hour. The next night, you'd think she'd crash from lack of sleep. She'd stay up until 4am. My wife and I would take turns crashing on the couch while she charged around the living room making raspberry noises while the "Finding Nemo" DVD (her favorite) played in the background. A week later, she'd sleep 12 hours straight and still try to take two naps.

We spent weeks charting her sleep habits, coloring in boxes to represent the hours when she slept, marking whether she woke up on her own or we woke her up, marking mealtimes, etc. Instead of finding a pattern, we had created a crossword puzzle, with darkened boxes all over the place.

With some help from a sleep clinic, and some experimenting on our own, we finally found that the combination of adjusting her medication schedule, giving her melatonin at bedtime (autism spectrum often includes melatonin deficiency), and strictly regulating her sleep schedule does the trick. Sort of. She still has one or two nights a week where she's wide awake in the middle of the night. Sometimes she turns her light on. Sometimes she stares out the window. Sometimes she just giggles to herself.

But it's soooo much better than before. She often just needs one of us to come in for a few minutes and let her know we're around, and then she entertains herself in her room while we sleep. She generally goes back to sleep within an hour or two. This arrangement is unusual, but certainly manageable.

While we were struggling to figure out a solution to this problem, I transferred to a new department with my employer. I'm a database adminstrator, and part of that job means getting up in the middle of the night when things break. It's not a fun part, but it comes with the territory. It's one reason the job pays well. It also encourages lots of preventative maintenance.

The problem I ran into was that the department I moved into had many, many more databases, many, many more inconsistencies, and many, many more reasons to send out pages in the middle of the night. Once every fourth or fifth week, I was on call. That meant getting up whenever things went bump in the night. It was pretty bad to start with, and got gradually worse over time. The department's high turnover rate meant that there were constantly new people to break things. The new department also had and "all hands" policy that meant that if something was broken and you got paged for it, you had to join a conference call and stay on it until the problem was resolved... even if you could not fix the problem or contribute to the solution! By the time I left that department in March, the on-call person was getting an average of about 12 pages per day, for 7 straight days. The record was 140 pages in a week. Fortunately, I escaped that Hell, and I'm back with my old department.

Between my daughter and my job, I was a mess. A good night's sleep used to be an extreme rarity. It was not uncommon for me to have to go into the office on two hours of sleep, only to look forward to five hours of broken sleep the next night. I think I hit bottom when we were living in a tiny apartment with half our things in storage and no relief in sight. That was one of the hardest stretches of my life.

Now, despite being on call all every single day, I get paged about 3 times per week, and they are during daylight hours more often than evening hours.

Thankfully, it appears that both of my sleep problems are essentially solved. Last night was a reminder of how it used to be all the time. Odds are very good that I will get a solid eight hours of sleep six nights out of seven. Maybe more. And if I do stay up late, it's because I just feel like staying up late. Sleep is no longer the rarest luxury.

I can't tell you how happy that makes me...