Monday, January 30, 2006

Some recent Austin doings: his first snowball fight happened on the way to Jenny's last Monday. He bunched up some snow and came charging after me.

And Mari: she's picking up words every day. "Hat" came recently and she was trying to say "lion" today. She loves spinning around in circles, and also holding things under her chin (like her socks, after pulling them off). Not sure what this means, but maybe she'll play the violin in a Sufi chamber music group.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Book review on other blog

Hey, I posted a book review on my "professional" blog, you know, the one I direct potential employers to so they don't have to read this drivel.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I haven't checked these out yet, but I clipped the "Ask the Teacher" column from the Boston Globe (January 8, 2006) and Ellen Peterson ("the Teacher") mentioned a few websites that deal with learning the alphabet. Here they are:

The last one seems defunct. If anyone checks these out and has comments, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New Year's Eve

We celebrated New Year's Eve with Amy, Aaron and friends. It was also the penultimate night of Hannukah.

Here're some Babes 'n' Babies.

We stayed up until midnight, EST, and then crashed, even as some friends of Amy andAaron went out to another party.

New Year's Brunch

Well, I'm about two weeks behind on everything, so here are some pictures from New Year's Eve. For brunch, we went over to Scott and Andrea's place in Orinda. Edie had described it, quite properly, as a "compound," you know, the kind of place where you could establish a cult. This cult would no doubt surround Andrea, Scott's wife, who made the fluffiest pancakes I have ever had. Well married, Scott. (She's Canadian, of course.)

Here's Scott with his oldest son Ben.

Ben with his best friend Monique.
Here's Monique's dad Mike and Monique's sister whose name I've already forgotten (here I'm baiting Mike to stop lurking and comment. It's Sara, right? Or Sarah?).

All the kids. Maia is the only one who doesn't have sibling yet. Get cracking, Edie and Bill! (But then you'll have to change the name of your blog. May I suggest: "Penguel"?
Are you reading Edie's blog? Lots of posts lately. Apparently they're raising a little ape out there -- a little ape that speaks Chinese.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


This story from Morning Edition reminded me that my brother-in-law Stephen introduced me to something great on the Internet. I used to always use Mapquest to find directions. Then, I started using Google maps and really liking it. The initial draw was the satellite imagery, but really, who needs that? But I got used to the clean look and the elegant way the map refreshes as you slide one way or another or zoom in and out.

But then Stephen (a Yahoo employee) told me to check out the new Yahoo maps. Using Flash, the maps are nice looking than they used to be and have that instant refresh thing that Google has. Yahoo also has a neat Inset map which is helpful and the locate feature works pretty well. Another thing that's great is they let you map multiple stops. What would be even better is if you could "pick up" addresses from the map and insert them so you could see the route given, and if it passed near Fenway on a game day for instance, let you click on Storrow away from the park and insert that as your "B" address, between "A" and "C". When going to Scott's house in Orinda from Albany, I had to manually guess at an address to take us through the hills on Rte 24 rather than go over the hills (the latter route was calculated to be 1 minute shorter, but come on).

Also, given what was discussed in the NPR story, I hope they allow you to tweak the algorithm to your liking: more or less highway driving, etc.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pacific Catch -- Yum!

Yay! We had lunch at the newest Pacific Catch restaurant in the Corte Madera Town Center (keep going -- it's right around the corner from the Safeway). According to this page today, the restaurant ranks as #8 in popularity for San Francisco eateries among TripAdvisor respondents.

I'll admit to bias upfront: we know Aaron Noveshen, the chef, and Amy Shimm, who helped design some of the elements in the restaurant.

That said, we love this place. The location in San Francisco was nice -- a little tight, but the Corte Madera restaurant had lots of seating when we showed up around noon on a weekday during the holiday week. By the time we left an hour later, the place was pretty full, though.

Julie had the salmon teriyaki rice bowl that she talks about all the time (the last time she had it was two years ago). I shared the mixed catch with Austin in part because I love the coconut shrimp (the sweet and spicy dipping sauce is half the joy). Aaron had told us on our last visit that the coconut shrimp was a challenge put to him by one of his partners -- could he make a version that tasted fresh and interesting and wasn't just a cloying pander to an American palate for sweet fried nuggets of food? Done. The fried fish and oysters were also delicious as were the fries (this early review singled out the delicious sweet potato fries and asked for regular fries which have since been added to the menu). Bill was kind enough to share his excellent tuna poke -- delicious chunks of sushi grade tuna in a tasty marinade.

Do you have kids? The staff was so friendly -- they handed out chalk boards to all the kids to doodle on while we waited, and when we asked for an order of fries to hold off the kiddies it appeared very quickly.Here's Mari, looking concerned that her "twin cousin" Maia is already writing Chinese (albeit with a Hungarian lilt to her brush strokes).

Aaron tells us that the place is a kiddie madhouse from 5:30 to 6:30 so if you have kids, swing by. They're more than tolerated here and you can eat decent food. And if you don't have kids, maybe you should come after 7 pm. The prices are pretty fair -- you can have a good meal for cheap or a better meal for more, but it's not going to break the bank even if you go for the gusto. (On this page, one guy says he thought the food was expensive but a few others called it cheap.)

Oh, and I have to mention the dessert. This one Julie and I have both been talking about for two years: mochi balls with chocolate sauce. Yes, chewy, sweet Japanese rice dough covering ice cream and served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce. Austin loved it as much as we did.

We have only two words for Aaron: Atlantic Catch! Atlantic Catch!

Bay Area Discovery Museum

On our Bay Area visit we also stopped by the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. That's across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and across the Richmond Bridge from the East Bay (I don't think I had ever been over the Richmond Bridge before -- it's as impressive as its more famous co-bridges).

It's essentially a children's museum built on the grounds of part of the Presidio -- and not far from San Quentin where all California executions take place! Exciting!

We didn't stray far from the first building we went into, with exhibits on frogs (there's Austin on a lily pad waterbed with Cate) and other local wildlife.

Austin's also really into skunks now. It began with the "stinky skunk" T-shirt Baldwin sent and was reinforced by a cute board book at my sister's house called I Love You Stinky Face.

The museum was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, but it's one of those kiddie things where you really need to buy a membership because the regular admission prices are pretty steep.

Oh, and I should mention that I spent some time talking to Maia's daycare provider Tibor and he was incredibly nice. Great manner, calm and reassuring and friendly with all the kids. It'd be neat if Maia learned some Hungarian to go with her English and Chinese.

Berkeley: Aquatic Park

Here's a picture of the playground in Aquatic Park, Berkeley, CA. Officially, the playground is called Dreamland for Kids, but because it's right by some active railroad tracks, the local kids refer to it as the train park.

It's a really great structure that is not made from pre-fab parts but actually built out of logs and lumber. (Architect's plan of the playground.)
Towers, ramps, ladders -- they're all here on a wood chip surface. Also, old school tire swings:

Here's Austin checking out one swing with Luca (in red) and Elliott (in blue). The landscaping is pretty nice, too, and includes a butterfly garden maintained by the local garden club.

In fact, the whole park was built by volunteers (some pictures here). One of the architects involved lives a quarter of a mile away and is named (and here I'll actually use last names because he deserves the credit) Seth Wachtel. Along with being a great designer and directing the undergraduate architecture program at University of San Francisco Seth is also an excellent father to Maia, Elliott (above in blue) and Oliver (below in dad's arms). And his wife makes a mean pumpkin soup.

Here's a San Francisco Chronicle article on the park.
Today Jenny, our daycare provider, told me that Mari is very clever. That reminded me of an incident over Christmas.

"You don't dress her warmly enough!" my mom told us.

How do you know? "She went up to your father and asked to sit in his lap." So? "And then she zipped up his vest." So she thought he was cold. "And then she brought her own fleece over to him and tried to get her arms in it."

I guess she was cold.
The other morning Austin saw a bottle of Jim Beam on the kitchen counter. "What's that?"

That's whiskey.

"Whiskey? Are you going to drink it?"

Not right now, we drink that at night.

I took him to daycare and forgot about the whole thing until I picked him up again.

"Dad, it's dark outside."


"That means it's night."

Sure does.

"You can drink whiskey now!"

See -- I told you he's half Irish.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


So, every year I resolve to be better about staying in touch. I'll keep working on it.

This year, actually starting in November 2005, I also resolved to keep my inbox small. Like 10 items or less. I still hang on to some things for an egregiously long time, but I'm trying to respond and file or delete and stop staring at the same things every day.

So far it's working out all right. In fact, if you have less than 8 items in your Gmail inbox, there's extra white space.

So write to me and rather than wait until I have time and thought power to respond in a meaningful way to you, I'll just zip back a shallow message of acknowledgement. Happy New Year!

Other photos

I will eventually write about our trip to the Northern California rain forest and post pictures, but meanwhile here're some snaps from other people in which we make cameos -- nice to see what you look like as a supporting player rather than the star of the show (as Hunter and Maia clearly are here).

Here's my cousin Ching's photos of our visit to his house -- as well as others from the holiday season. Austin was very impressed with Hunter's toys (I was impressed by how Hunter sat down to draw, and then taped his drawing on the wall). If you saw all of the photos taken from various Cheng cameras on Christmas eve, you could probably reconstruct the entire night at ten minute intervals -- and in 3-D. (Hey that should be an episode of CSI, reconstructing a crime from a photo happy Asian family's event.)

Edie also posted photos -- we're in her Christmas photos and New Year's photos (brunch and dinner!). Maia is Mari's doppelganger, born 5 days apart and sharing three letters in their name. I was worried they might explode or fuse together if they touched but instead they just patted each other nicely or (in the case of Mari) stared furiously at her mommy playing with another little girl.

Monday, January 02, 2006

For Turks and Turkish speakers

We just got back from California yesterday. Here's Austin at Logan airport. I let him sit on the bags coming back from St Martin, I think, and he asked to do it again.

As I pushed him, I kept saying, "You're the pasha! You're Austin pasha! Make way for the pasha!" He giggled and stayed still.

Later in the taxi, I asked him, do you know what a pasha is?

Yes, he says, it's some sort of monkey that lives in the woods and elephants try to eat him.

(Actually, it's an Ottoman title for a general with political power, but I liked the monkey answer.)

Saint Martin


It's the New Year, and I need to finish some things up from 2005!

Overall, St Martin was a great trip; nice with kids, and good for adults. There are two good official websites for each side of the island, the Dutch Sint Maarten and the French Saint Martin. Each website lists lots of things to do -- a zoo, butterfly garden, watermelon farm -- but we basically did three things: go to beaches, shop and eat well. Here's my report on our week just before high season (apparently the island changes dramatically with the influx of people).

Culturally, the most interesting thing about the place was probably the split between nations. It can also be annoying since a call from one side to the other is international long distance. I should point out that the border consists of a sign that says, "Bienvenue a Partie Francaise" on one side and "Welcome to Dutch Saint Maarten" on the other. They also use different official currencies on each side, the Euro and the Guilder, but both sides happily accept and give change in US dollars. There were actually some nice "sales" on the French side with merchants who offered 1E=1$ prices.

The Dutch side seems more American, with American franchises and American style supermarkets (even a Costco-like "Cost U Less" warehouse store). Philipsburg in St Maarten also had lots of duty free luxury shopping (jewelry, clothes, electronics). The French side had little boulangeries and boutique-y shops.

The beaches are beautiful, white sand beaches on turquoise water. We quite liked Orient Bay Beach, but you should know that a nudist colony occupies the southern end of the beach so lots of naked (or near naked) people walk by. Orient Bay had lots of restaurants on the beach and drink service. Also, it's fun to watch the kite surfers off shore.

For visitors with kids, I'd recommend Mullet Bay Beach. The water there was gorgeous and very still, the beach long enough and not too crowded, and there were two cute "lolos," local vendors with grills who served barbecued chicken, ribs, burgers, fries, and drinks. There were also some neat "sea grape" trees that were easy for kids to climb. Mullet Bay is a little hard to find, though, not well marked. From the east, you have to take the second left after the pharmacy and then take your first right into the dirt parking lot. I guess I'm ruining the secret now but, what the hey, we're not going to be back too soon, I think.

The food on the island was excellent. We didn't have much Caribbean fare (we were told that The Jerk in Philipsburg is the place to go for that) but we had great European and Asian food. Everyone who had visited in the last twenty years recommended the Fish Pot Restaurant in Grand Case. I had the bouillabaisse and was very pleased (and stuffed). Julie had a seasonal special: the grouper with a vanilla bean sauce and liked it very much. And we shared the souffle for dessert. Although the restaurant was fairly formal, they were extremely nice and accomodating to our kids. Each table had a goldfish bowl on it and they brought an extra over so Mari and Austin could each watch one. And when Austin got tired, they even put some chairs together as a makeshift bed for him to lie on.

This level of gracious yet flexible service was found elsewhere. We returned to Grand Case for dinner at Il Nettuno, and Italian place whose French owner spent some time in Washington -- that explains all the Redskins fan paraphernalia. Opting for a simple meal, I had the bolognese sauce over homemade pasta. Very tasty. The restaurants in Grand Case are along the main street and on one side overlook the water so Austin had fun looking through the rails at the boats and sea.

Our best meal was at Mai's in Marigot. Located in a former colonial home, you have to walk upstairs and seemingly through a wealthy Vietnamese home to get to the tables. Family heirlooms, portraits and furnishings decorate the restaurant. The shelves are filled with Mai's family's books. Mai herself is a lovely lady who came around to our table and told us about her life travels from Vietnam where her father worked for the French army to Algiers, Madagascar and virtually everywhere the French had a military presence in the 20th century. After marrying a Frenchman who was born in Vietnam, they opened a restaurant on Saint Martin three decades ago and are still going strong. The food was absolutely delicious (I had the beef with peanut sauce, Julie had pork with pineapple) and beautifully served on unique place settings. Between the warmth of our hostess, the taste of the food and the fascinating decor, we all had a great time.

If you've seen my pictures of the Villa Robinson where we stayed, you may be wondering how we found it. The Robinsons are kind enough to donate a week at their Villa to medical charities and Joe and Mary won it in a raffle for the Mass General cancer center.

All in all, a great trip.