What Happened When My Computer Caught a Virus (or, a Pioneer Life Thrust Upon Me)

April 29, 2010

My computer caught a virus a few weeks ago – a nasty one that pretended to be antivirus software, continually opened windows and pop-ups, and which directed any web browsing to discount Taiwanese shopping sites. I turned the computer off once it started loaded some kind of porn onto my desktop.

When I took it in to be fixed, the computer guy asked if there were any files I needed them to get me right away. There weren’t. If this had happened at a different time – if I was still in school, or if I hadn’t done our taxes – I would have been much more panicky. But, as Dave pointed out, the more you do on a computer, the more trouble it can cause you. I think I was ready for a break.

The virus had also corrupted my operating system, and so a week without a computer stretched into two. And I have to say, other than being out of the loop with all the people I only communicate with by email, it was great. Also at this same time one of our cars needed a bunch of work done to pass inspection, so while that was in the shop, Dave took the other car to work and I had no car and no computer. I felt like I should make my own bayberry candles and put up preserves. My world shrank around me, and rather than being claustrophobic, it was freeing.

On one of the first computer- and car-free days, I was making dinner early while Zuzu napped. I felt an incredible urge to call someone – anyone – to have someone jabbering in my ear while I peeled potatoes. I didn’t, though, and let my mind wander while I cooked. How much time do I spend surfing the internet to avoid thinking about my life? A lot.

Even on days where I didn’t get much done, I got a lot done. When there’s no internet to run to every 20 minutes, you can fold laundry, wipe down the bathroom, and make dinner early. You can clean your desk, on which you’ll find all manner of important buried paperwork.

When there’s no internet, you can also look your child in the eye. How long have I been talking to the kids while staring at a monitor? Eli, our spirited boy, was noticeably calmer. And, really, so was I. Having no computer meant that a huge chunk of my day – let’s be honest: hours of my day – was suddenly free. So I did the housework and the meals and everything else, but with that much more time to do it, I wasn’t rushed. So when Eli needed something, I could help him. Or I could get him to help me. He can help me cook and clean, but he can’t really help me cruise the internet.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to realize it: being on the internet is not “me” time. It’s time spent in a mildly frantic state searching for me time, but mostly just reading other peoples’ writing. Which is good a lot of the time, and interesting sometimes, but not particularly vital. I can read other peoples’ writing with those books and magazines and newspapers I have. And I could have more time to do writing of my own.

So, friends, I’m stepping back (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?). I’m soon to have a fourth baby, and while I need to focus on her, and the others, I also need to focus on me, and on Dave, and on grown-up, non-kid things. Idle surfing is focusing on other people, not on me. I also have gotten all in a tizzy with the idea of supplementarily homeschooling Henry and the others (that is, keeping him in public school, but adding to it more formally at home). There are so many subjects he wants to know more about that he’s not going to learn anytime soon at school, like biology, and Latin, and ancient history (and ok, yes, I was inspired by a blog, In Need of Chocolate, to do this, but still). So I’m excited to do the formal teaching and to really work on creating this little 4-pack of eggheads.

I’ve always wanted to meditate. I know it would be good for scattered, unfocused me. But I’ve never been able to make it work. There are just too many people and distractions in my house. The two weeks without a computer, though, I got a lot closer to meditative chunks of time, suddenly able to catch snippets of calm while doing dishes or folding laundry, or just sitting outside while the kids played in the yard. I was also able to let my mind wander in a way that makes me consider my life a lot more. This is something that doesn’t happen when the magnet pull of the computer calls me back every 20 minutes to see if anyone has emailed more, or if a new post has shown up on one of the many blogs I plugged into Google Reader.

My plan is to find a sweet spot during the day of uninterrupted time – a half hour or 45 minutes – when I turn the computer on, check email, do online banking, and buy anything I need to get (because what would I do without internet shopping? most of the time I really cannot be bothered to load everyone in the car and take them to a store). And then I’m going to turn the computer off. This will mean, clearly, a lot less blogging, if at all. Sorry. But I owe it to myself, my family, and my children, to be a responsible, calm, happy grownup. I realize this is all possible because I am lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, and that I was already somewhat disconnected electronically (I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t use Twitter…). But I do know that I wasted a lot of time maintaining a false connection to the outside world through this electronic computer box, and it’s time I maintained a real connection to my own self, for one.


Children’s Book of the Week: Henny Penny

April 26, 2010

Henny Penny, retold and illustrated by Jane Wattenberg

This book just cracks me up. It’s one of those that I wasn’t sure would translate into kid heads, but they think it’s as funny as I do. You may better know Jane Wattenberg as Mrs. Mustard, she of Mrs. Mustard’s Baby Faces (that book that everyone has when they’re baby is born, and it’s pretty much the only one that the baby seems genuinely engaged by). Anyway. This book is a lot wackier than Baby Faces.

It’s pretty much the classic “sky is falling” Henny Penny story, word-wise. But the illustrations are these crazy photo collages, where the various fowl are traipsing by the pyramids and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Plus somehow Wattenberg managed to get (or manipulate to get) photos of these animals so they are making the most perfect facial expressions. Plus the near-final image of the fox with duck feet sticking out of his mouth is just priceless.

And I guess when I say that it’s standard, word-wise, that’s not quite true. There’s some pretty hilarious dialogue, like Henny Penny saying, “Chickabunga!” when she gets hit in the head with an acorn, and other birds saying things like “Shake, rattle, and roll! The sky is falling! It’s coming on down! Henny-Penny saw it and heard it and it SMACKED her on her fine red comb! We’re FULL TILT to tell the king!” I hope I’m getting the fun of this book across. The pictures are very silly, and very funny, and the words move things along at a fun, somewhat ridiculous, and goofily rhyming pace.

Now go check out Jane Wattenberg’s website. Jumping sheep and everything.


Children’s Book of the Week: Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

April 19, 2010

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

This is my Earth Day book pick. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it has really grown on me (it’s one of those books that has been helped rather than hurt by the fact that Eli wants it read to him every 20 minutes). It tells the true (albeit heartily embellished) story of over 3 tons of garbage from Islip, NY, that, in 1987, had no where to go. So some businessmen decided to toss it all on a garbage barge and tow it to North Carolina. Where it was rejected. And then it was towed all over the coast, all the way down to Belize, where it was turned back at every port, until it was finally towed back to New York, where it tooled around the harbor for the summer, until Islip was forced to take it back.

A huge part of this book’s appeal is in the illustrations, which are elaborate hand-built sets made of clay, fabric, and, well, various garbagey bits. But the kids also definitely get the point. They like the humor in the story, but they understand that there’s a reason not to just throw things out, because you’re just contributing to garbage-barge-incident kinds of problems. I appreciate that this gets an earth-friendly theme across without being all sanctimonious and obvious about it. Mostly it’s a fun story with great pictures, and then, at the end, you do think about where all that stuff you throw in the bin under the kitchen sink goes.


Children’s Book of the Week: The Loathsome Dragon

April 12, 2010

The Loathsome Dragon, retold by David Wiesner and Kim Kahng, illustrated by David Wiesner

I thought by now we’d checked all the David Wiesner books out of the library, but little did I know that there were more. I found this one while I was wandering in the fables section (ok, and I realize now that I have yet to check the card catalog, maybe there’s a treasure trove in biography or cookbooks or something).

This one is so exciting that I started to read it right there in the library, and then Eli wondered about it, so I started reading it to him. Then Zuzu got fussy because it was her naptime, and Eli and I were genuinely a bit distressed about not being able to finish the book and find out what happened. Then she calmed down for five minutes and we breathlessly read the rest of it. Phew! And Henry devoured it when he came home.

In many ways it’s a classic fairy tale, but somehow the way it’s told, plus of course Wiesner’s always-amazing illustrations make it totally engrossing. A widower king is bewitched into marrying an evil enchantress, who is horrified to see how much he loves his daughter, and turns the daughter into an awful dragon. The spell can only be broken if the king’s son comes back from his long sailing voyage and kisses the dragon before a year is up. The dragon goes around eating everything and tormenting the village until a wizard figures out what the spell is, and tells the villagers to give the dragon milk every day. The dragon is still awful, but at least she isn’t eating anyone any more. They send off a letter to the prince, but he’s far off and on a ship, so it takes a while for him to get the message. It’s all very nail biting. Love it!


Julie’s computer offline for a week

April 8, 2010

This is Julie’s mom, her computer has been infected by a virus.  She has no access to a computer for 5-7 days.



Your Weekly Zuzu

April 8, 2010

Quintessential Zu: chocolate all over her face, boy sweater, hat, necklace.

Also the hat nicely shows off the That Girl flip she gets going most days:


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Children’s Book of the Week: Ancient Egypt Drawing Book

April 5, 2010

Ancient Egypt Drawing Book by Ralph Masiello

Henry is all about Egypt these days, and I’m all about getting Henry to focus more and put more detail into his drawings, so this book happily satisfies both of us. There are all the classic Egypt icons — pyramids, eye of Horus, Egyptian gods — as well as some more obscure things (who needs just any old Sphinx when you can have a Hieracosphinx, an Androsphinx, and a Kriosphinx?). Each drawing takes you step-by-step through how to do it (like Ed Emberley’s Make a World) and throws in a few little facts, as well as artistic hints. Henry has drawn some pretty impressive stuff, I have to say.



April 2, 2010

Zuzu still doesn’t say much in the way of real words, but she has added “Mama!” Or, I should say, “Mamamamamama!” said in an annoying nasal semi-whine. It’s definitely enough to spring me out of bed at 3 a.m. It’s also making us wonder if she’s going to talk like Fran Drescher when she does start talking. (Though, I guess, considering the way I get a whiny NJ thing going myself sometimes, that might be understandable.)


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Triumphant Return of DRIVE BY PRESS

April 1, 2010

Remember Eli and his most awesome Mexican wrestler shirt? Now you have another chance to get your own! This Friday (tomorrow, April 2) at MECA, from 5-8 p.m., in front of the Porteous Building at 522 Congress Street.

Here’s the poster, featuring Eli! Thanks, Adriane!


CATEGORIES: activities