Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The library of New Bedford, MA has set up a program to encourage reading: if you read 50 books in one year, they will give you a prize (and you will be entered in a drawing for more prizes). Pretty cool.

Of course, that leads one to wonder, how many books have I read this year?

Well, since I've been keeping track on Goodreads, I had a place to look. Last week it looked like I had read 37 books in 2010 (9 days to go!). Since then, I've been finishing up the half-read books lying around the house and got two more up there. If I'm lucky, I might hit 41 or 42 by the New Year, but 40 is more likely.

I have to admit, too, that a lot of those books are comic books (some of them are huge though -- the Walking Dead compendium is 48 issues, or over 1000 pages), and some are children's books. But in my defense, I read a lot more comics and kids books that I don't put on Goodreads because I don't feel they are all worth noting.

So 50 books next year? Hard, but doable. Cancel that New Yorker subscription!

My other thought about reading next year was to have a year of presidential biographies. That would cut down on thinking about what to read and there are plenty I have wanted to tackle for a while: Edmund Morris on TR, Grant's autobiography, American Sphinx, John Adams... Of course, those are big books so I might have to aim for 30 or thereabouts (or read a lot of quickie thrillers in between).

(Feel free to "friend" me, or whatever, on Goodreads, btw.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Just for the record...

... Mari's stated ambition now, at age 6, is to be president. She thinks it would be extra neat if she were the first "girl" president.

I asked her if I could come visit her in the White House.

She said, "Well, only IF you're still alive."

Fair enough.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Art: updated with pictures

The kids are becoming artists!

The art teacher at their school chose 3-4 projects from each grade to contribute to the art exhibit at the Dept. of Education building and both Mari and Austin's were chosen! Mari made a flower out of paper and Austin did Chinese brush painting.

Not only that, they each published a photograph in the Working Writer's Daily Planner. Pretty neat!

Austin with his painting of mountains and bamboo. His teacher recognized his minimal use of strokes.

Mari with her flower. Very symmetrical and three dimensional and with a detailed background.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Just invited someone over to our house and he replied with this e-mail:

Unfortunately I’ll be in Erbil that day. [I added the link.]

Can't really argue with that.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latest photobooth

From July 2010

On Wikileaking

Not that anyone asked me, but here's my thoughts on Wikileaks:

When there is a war that may involve illegal or unethical conduct and you expose that conduct, that can count as a principled stand. Agree or disagree, with the names of individuals redacted to protect their identity, I was generally on Wikileaks side.


When you expose diplomatic communiques just because you can, you are being a douchebag. What is the principle here? Transparency uber alles? Wikileaks has just crossed the line into being one of those assholes who thinks that truth telling is absolute and goes around telling everyone that their kids are ugly, their wife is fat and people are talking smack about them behind their backs. Thanks! Didn't need to know!

If there was a secret plot that would have a 95% chance of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, would this jerk publish it on the internet for everyone to see? Are there not some secrets worth keeping?

And in the case of the diplomatic cables, aren't there some secrets not worth sharing? I mean, did anyone not think Berlusconi is an aging lothario bully who tries to paper over his failings with flamboyant sex? Is anyone surprised to hear that Medvedyev is Putin's puppet, or that Sarkozy has a real insecurity problem? Is this news? No, this is a late night comedic monologue. Anyone who is surprised was probably surprised when they learned that there are homosexuals in the Roman Catholic priesthood. 

That said, is it nice for people to point your failings out to your face? No, it's not. 

I guess what I wonder is, what is the point of this latest document dump? How does it help anyone's agenda? Will it end wars? Begin dialogues? Does it do anything positive? Or is it just a net negative?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Post Halloween binge


I'm tired of being constantly pestered "Can I have some candy?"

The kids had a decent dinner tonight so I told them they could eat as much candy as they wanted from 6:30 to 7. Exciting and kind of gross.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Two years ago we took Austin's training wheels off his bike and tried to teach him to ride. He tried, we got frustrated, he got frustrated, snow fell.

Last year, we tried again and he tried hard and by the end of the summer, he was getting up and riding in a parking lot.

Earlier this summer, he was scared to try again but now he's doing well and feels like he can ride around the block by himself.

Earlier this summer, we bought Mari a Float, a bike with removable pedals. Last Monday, Julie and I played tennis while the kids had their bikes on the basketball court next door. Austin was soon riding around in circles, stopping and starting at will. Mari shoved off with her feet and glided a few yards at a time.

Yesterday, I put Mari's pedals on her bike and she tried it, went ten feet, then got frustrated. She refused to let us touch her, touch the bike, talk to her about bicycles or even look at her (except when she was mad that we weren't watching her).

This morning Julie and I played tennis again and when we were done, Mari was riding around in circles like a pro! Her second day with pedals!

We're very proud.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Toronto 2010

We went to Toronto for a week. And I record here our schedule and impressions for sake of memory and so when people ask me what to do in Toronto, I can send them a link.

Keep in mind that we have two kids, currently age 7 and 5.

Our first day, a Saturday, we went to the Skydome / Rogers Centre and saw the Red Sox play the Blue Jays! There were a lot of Red Sox fans in attendance. Mari lasted for about 5 innings, and then we stayed for one more before heading out to walk over to Harbourfront and Queen's Quay. Harbourfront was hopping with an electronic music festival which included lots of hip hop dancing. At Queen's Quay, we looked in on the Museum of Inuit Art. Although I learned something from the museum, I wouldn't put it on a must-see list. That said, Julie was charmed by her first visit to the Harbourfront.

On Sunday, we hung out at the pool with my sister's family. For lunch we went to Asian Legend on Shepherd Ave. The food there is very good but not particularly distinctive.

Come Monday, we let the kids go wild at Ontario Place! Every year we admire Ontario Place and wonder if we need to go again. And every year the kids demand it and we find more for them to do. This time around, they were much braver in the water park and we went down the big slides a number of times. Austin turned out to have outgrown the kiddie rides but is now tall enough for the full sized bumper boats! That was great. As usual, some of the most seemingly prosaic equipment was the most fun, in this case, some trick basketball hoops. Everyone from age 2.5 to 40+ had a lot of fun shooting hoops.

Tuesday was spent in the orbit of the Pacific Mall. Julie ordered some new sunglasses, we had lunch at the Mongolian BBQ and then more shopping! Also, bubble tea. We had dinner at my friend Sheldon's new house and he let us play on his drum set! Loud fun.

Wednesday was a day out for Julie and me. We started out down at the Beaches, walking the boardwalk and then heading up Queen Street East. We stopped in the Purple Thumb which had lots of neat locally made and designed clothes and accessories. For the lack of one size, Julie would have bought a dress. The nice ladies there suggested we try the desserts at Dufflet. We took their advice! In fact, we had a gazpacho and a ham and brie sandwich there before gobbling up two tarts: key lime and apple berry. Yum. Still in the Beaches, we stumbled upon Ends and bought some clothes. Not high fashion, but cheap. Like, 99 cent T-shirts (quality cotton, no obnoxious labels or sayings).

We then ventured west to Leslieville. Julie was struck by how many specialty dog stores we've seen in Toronto and declared her favorite was The Bone House, in part because it's small but every item seems well selected (as much organic and Canadian manufactured as possible). Found a great new collar for Boo! We had a couple of beers at Lil' Baci while waiting for my sister and Stephen to join us downtown. The Denison wheat beer (with a note of banana) was very good and we liked the name and glass of another beer, Flying Monkeys, whose motto is "Normal is Weird."

Once we met up with the rest of our group, we went for another drink (hey, it's our annual bar hopping tradition) at Swirl. Not the easiest place to find, you can see the black and white decorated door on the left of the Bone House in this photo.

I heard about Swirl in this review, and sure enough, the food is cooked off-site, stored in mason jars and is pretty good. We had the duck rilletes and a cheese plate from the Leslieville Cheese Market across the street. And I had a nice pear white sangria. (oops, forgot in the first draft to mention Ed's Real Scoop -- a very good ice cream shop at 920 Queen Street East. Apparently Ed was inspired by Steve Herrell's ice cream in Boston!)

From there we went to the Distillery District and Julie and I saw Jitters at the Soulpepper repertory theater. Great fun, and we enjoyed seeing actors we liked from other productions.

Thursday, the whole family went down to the ROM. We saw an exhibit of the Terracotta Soldiers from Xian and was again amazed at how nice the cafeteria is (not aesthetically, but good, decent food at non-gouging prices). Afterwards, we sent up to see the animal exhibits and there were lots of educators showing off hands on exhibits. That was really neat. Julie was amazed by the spider crab. I popped upstairs to look at the Middle East exhibit and watched Clemens Reichl in a two minute film about a lion from Babylon.

On Friday, we went to Ding Tai Fung. This is Julie's favorite restaurant in the area, serving Shanghai style dim-sum including xiao long bao that are so juicy, they seem like soup dumplings. Plus they make mini-dumplings and there is a big window on the kitchen where the kids can watch the dumplings being made. Yum. The mini-mall nearby had some good bubble tea and then we took the kids to the Kidstown waterpark. No giant slides, but otherwise as good as the Ontario Place water park. And free.

A great trip. What was best: discovering new neighborhoods in Toronto. Live theater. Ontario Place.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kid update

So here is where we are these days:

Mari is suddenly very interested in words. Unlike Austin, she has not taken to reading early; instead, she likes writing. So she's learning to spell so she can write little notes, not so she can read a book. Maybe this is in reaction to her brother, but in any case this week she has been spelling out words as we bike to school "S-T-O-P!" "G-O D-A-D-D-Y!"

Two odd quirks from these months. Mari has decided she doesn't want to have babies. Why not? Because she doesn't want to breastfeed. The idea kind of creeps her out and gives her the giggles. I explained to her that she doesn't have to breastfeed, that she can give babies bottles but that hasn't quite sunk in yet.

The second thing is that she has a friend, Clare, at school who is Korean. (Her dad is working here for 3 years and then they are going back to Korea.) Thus, Korea has become a country that Mari is very interested in. Any foreign language: "Is that Korean?" News about Afghanistan on NPR: "Is that near Korea?"

Austin, meanwhile, has been obsessively reading Ryder Wyndham's novelization (for Scholastic) of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also likes reading children's bibles. And, he's writing jokes. The one that made me laugh the most is this:

Q: What do you call an atom's privates?

A: The pe-nucleus.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nurture Shock

A long review and summary of the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman because I think it was good and had lots of information that I feel I will need sooner or later. Basically, it's a parenting book that looks at sociological studies to determine if modern parenting styles are truly effective in delivering the results we might want. No surprise, that they heavily market the positions where good intentions have bad results.

So here's the Cliff Notes version, for you and for my memory. (Please note, the book is really good and filled with colorful detail and is worth reading):

Chapter 1: Praise.

This has been going around for a while: if you tell your kid that they are "smart" they get freaked out when challenged because they don't know the answer. Better: remind kids that change is possible and constant, or more specifically: your brain is like a muscle and it gets bigger when it works harder.

Chapter 2: Sleep.

Kids need sleep. They need it more than adults do. They aren't just tired after missing some sleep at night, they are slipping behind in their development. Teenagers need sleep and their sleep times tend to be late shifted, so high schools that start later (like 8:30 or 9) find their average SAT score jumping by dozens of points. For little kids, as little as 15 minutes of sleep lost a night will translate in 3 days to work being a full letter grade lower. i.e. 15 minutes of sleep loss changes an A student to a B student. 30 minutes will make a B student a D student. Much of the lost sleep comes in the "slush" period between the evening routine and actual sleep. Spending extra time chatting with your child might be nice for you, but in the long run is not best for your child.

Chapter 3: Race.

Kids are aware of race. They are not "color blind." Further, they already have stereotypes that they are building to make sense of the world. Parents should be explicit about race, and about the achievements of individuals and groups. It's not enough to say, "we're all equal" because kids don't understand that concept.

Chapter 4: Lying.

Kids lie. A lot. And it's not easy to tell if they are (in tests, random adults score at chance levels when trying to determine if a kid is lying).

Kids learn lying from adults. And little kids define lying as saying something that gets you punished. (So swearing is sometimes considered "a lie.") Kids see adults "lie" all the time. White lies, or just approximations ("Just call him 5 so we get the discount; he just had his birthday last month") that seem harmless but to kids seem like adults lying. Broken promises count as lies, too.

Punishing lies does not help. Praising honesty (Geo. Washington) tends to improve honesty.

Don't force kids to lie. "Did you do this?" when you know they did, will only encourage them to lie to you. Better to just explain what was wrong and explain what would be right.

Chapter 5: Kindergarten testing.

Children's minds are so unformed at age 5 that testing for "gifted" children at this age is ridiculous. There is more correlation with later intelligence when kids are tested in 3rd grade.

Chapter 6: Siblings.

Better to teach them to have fun together and not fight than to try to resolve conflicts. Best predictor of siblings getting along (age difference is not one): how well the older child plays with friends. Kids learn from their friends how to play with their siblings, not the other way around. Shared fantasy play is a huge factor, agreeing to imagine a shared scenario.

BTW: books that try to illustrate and solve sibling conflict, like the Berenstain Bears, or Sesame Street books, just exacerbate them. The conflicts are much more part of the story and better remembered than the resolution.

Chapter 7: Teen Rebellion.

Did I mention that kids lie to their parents? All teens lie to their parents. The best teens lie a little less. Most teens fight with their parents. For many of them the fighting makes them feel bonded and protected by their parents. In fact, some choose to tell the truth just to provoke a fight just so they know their parents are concerned about them. Parents who are lenient because they want their kids to tell them everything are still lied to and the kids turn out worse. Bottom line: stick to a few basic rules and be flexible enough to make exceptions and your kids will lie less to you.

They also have crazy hormones that screw up their pleasure levels, so they need to do extreme things to get a kick out of life. Also, the one thing they hate the most is peer rejection (like asking a girl out or standing out in a crowd).

Chapter 8: Self-Control

Here they discuss Tools of the Mind, a pre-K and K curriculum that emphasizes planned role plays (like firemen or house) where children make a concerted effort to stay "in character" and thus build their imaginative abilities. Bottom line: get your kid into one of these programs, or if not, recognize that playing, especially make believe play, is very important to kids' development.

Being able to pay attention to oneself, to judge one's work (best letter forms, or checking own spelling), and to concentrate on one task are all elements of self-control. Self-control leads to higher order thinking and much better learning in general.

Chapter 9: Agression.

There are 3 main kinds of aggression, including relational aggression (using words to attack a relationship "you're not my friend anymore"); kids who watch PBS shows show more relational aggression than kids who watch violent cartoons (!).

Relational aggression is usually a sign of intelligence, because the kids understand the social effects of what they are doing; some of these kids end up being very good at directing groups and become the popular kids in high school.

"Progressive Dads" tended to have as many aggressive and disruptive kids as "Disengaged Dads" (and presumably more than "Traditional Dads"). The authors' conclusion was that P Dads tend not to have consistent discipline so the kids test boundaries more often.

Chapter 10: Oral Language acquisition.

It's all about listening. While it's important that kids hear lots of language spoken around them, it's more important that parents  listen to kids and respond to what they are saying without delay. This encourages the child's speech and improvement. This is especially important with infants, but could have benefits as kids acquire more vocabulary as well.

That's it! Well written book, much recommended.