Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011 Year in Review

Hello there!

Time to write about our family's accomplishments this year, making special care not to mention any disappointments or setbacks, yes, it's the Christmas letter, 2011 edition!

Honestly, this was a pretty good year for us. We went on some nice trips, we tried new activities and skills, and some of the new things we learned last year became annual activities by dint of doing them again.

The big trip we went on was to the Canadian Rockies and the national parks of Banff and Jasper. The parks were spectacular, the company (Julie's mom and stepdad and her sister's family) was excellent, and we were luckier than most when it came to spotting wild animals. We saw a grizzly bear, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. We also got to walk on a glacier and took a white water rafting ride through a glacial river (yes, it was cold -- ask Austin, who jumped in for a dip).

We visited eastern Canada, too, on our annual pilgrimage to Toronto. My parents took the kids to African Lion Safari, Julie and I took in the AGO and went shopping. We also hit Ontario Place, the ROM and ate lots of delicious Chinese food.

We also visited Florida and went down to NYC for a beautiful second wedding (renewal of vows). Closer to home, we went to a lovely wedding at Harvard Square. Soon it will be unremarkable, but this was the first gay wedding we attended, and it was so lovely that our only conclusion is that it must have strengthened our own bonds of marriage.

Mari is getting big and starting to occasionally get into that zombie reading state that has afflicted Austin for a couple of years. It is possible to pry the book from her fingers long enough for her to eat, but only just (she loves the Mercy Watson books -- thanks for the recommendation, local independent bookstore!). Mari had a spring dance recital, played soccer in the fall, felt confident enough on her bike to ride the Minuteman Trail and can do a pretty good cartwheel. More gymnastics are in her future! Mari also learned to knit this year and is working on a scarf. Pretty neat!

Austin is getting big, too. In the spring and summer, he played Little League and had a lot of fun. He went to a tennis camp this summer and played soccer in the fall. One highlight was that he passed the deep end test at Hale Membership Beach, meaning he spent the next few weeks clambering up (and splashing down from) the Aquajump, a floating trampoline. He climbed Mt Monadnock with Julie this summer! Among the books he enjoyed this year were Tom Sawyer and Hatchet (the latter inspired some experiments in fire making using flint -- turns out the key is to have a lot of dry, fluffy tinder).

Julie swam/rode/ran the Hale Triathlon again this year. This time she placed 2nd in her age group! She's continues to teach the communications seminar at BU Med School and has taken on running M&Ms and all sorts of academic responsibilities. She still practices medicine at Dorchester House. We're still part of the Newton Family Singers and Julie has really stepped up; she organized and conducted our carols in front of the Waban Tree Lighting, and is a featured singer on a number of songs in our winter concert. She's still too shy to play the accordion on stage, but it's just a matter of time.

[transition into third person mode:]

Jack is now teaching at Dorchester House! The Clemente Course is being held in the new wing of that building and Jack is back to directing the course, too. He continues to do some freelance writing, and this fall worked as an intern at the public radio program Here and Now at WBUR. Fun! Being such a BUR uber-fan, it was a treat to learn that the people who work there are as nice and sharp as he hoped -- maybe more so. He's still playing guitar (and mandolin) with the NFS, and played bass at the Lowell Fiddle and Banjo festival, accompanying his friend Andy on banjo (trying to channel Victor Wooten). (if you're wondering what the festival is like, here's a video page)

We had lots of houseguests this year, including Pauline, Emma and Val, Amy and Aaron, Edie and Bill, Amy, John and Lucia, Hadas, and my parents. You're welcome, too!

Stay in touch, be healthy, and have a great 2012!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Portland, ME

We went up to Portland 10 days ago to celebrate our 10th anniversary. My in-laws were nice enough to take the kids to Pittsburgh and an adventure with their cousin and aunt and uncle.

But enough about them.

We had a great time in Portland. We stayed at the Eastland Park Hotel, a great location and with a terrific view from the hotel bar at the top floor. Our first night we had dinner at 555 at 555 Congress Street. Julie had the tasting menu: onion soup, beet salad, lobster mac and cheese, cheese plate and a pumpkin dessert. I had a market salad and divers scallops and housechurned ice cream (chocolate-coconut and coriander-pistachio and another that I'm blanking on but was unexpected and delicious).

The next day, a Saturday, we took our bikes and rode down to Two Lights, a state park with view of two lighthouses. Biking around Portland is terrific -- not too hilly, not that many cars and we got great advice from the Gorham Bike and Ski shop. Anyway, Two Lights was beautiful, with large hexagonal rocks in the crashing surf. It was the last weekend of the season for the Lobster Shack and we enjoyed a modest lunch there.

We rode back to Portland with a detour around to see another lighthouse, at Portland Headlight. We rode down Commercial Street and found the Harvest on the Harbor Festival. A tent was set up with lots of vendors handing out samples of food and wine and beer, so we rushed back to the hotel to change, hopped into a taxi and got into that tent! It was a great way to sample food from lots of restaurants in the area and we even got to hang out with cookbook author Kathy Gunst before and after her cooking demonstration. We liked her cookbook and bought a copy for a friend.

On Sunday, we were a little more mellow, riding around town to the West Promenade to see some beautiful old houses, including one with a squash court on the third floor (the owner was outside gardening and told us about it) and the house Julie stayed in when she did a rotation at Maine Medical Center. We then took the bike path around to the east side, by the water treatment plant (!) and the remains of the USS Portland. We ended up near Duckfat, a small bistro that makes incredible french fries (may be the frying the medium that helps). Soooo good.

We did some shopping in the Old Portland district where we enjoyed the Maine Pottery Co-op and Julie tried on some clothes in a designer's little studio. We wanted to have a little sustenance before we hit the road so Julie had a salad and I had a delicious BLT at the Local Sprouts Cafe (a food co-op that the hostess at 555 recommended to us).

In all, a great urban adventure, terrific biking, and delicious eating. We had a wonderful time and look forward to bringing the kids with us next time to see the Victorian Mansion, Cryptozoology Museum and the ropes courses.

Monday, October 03, 2011


I did it!

Sometime late last year I read that New Bedford was sponsoring a contest to see if people could read 50 books in a year. I didn't sign up but I've been tracking my reading on Goodreads and I just hit 55, with 3 of the books being solely picture books for children. (That does include, however, books like Scenes from an Impending Marriage which is a very short book of cartoons about wedding planning; on the other hand, it also includes at least one book that was more than 1000 pages long.)

From here on, I'm just coasting... until I finally pick up Moby Dick. (Meanwhile, next to my bed is "Why You Should Read Moby Dick" by Nathaniel Philbrick.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New band

The kids were banging around on their instruments and have a new band. Their name? Introducing...

The Diarrhea Bunnies!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Toronto 2011

A late report of our July visit to Toronto. It's been a while, so nothing will be in order and I'll probably only remember the highlights but...

First highlight! My parents took the kids to African Lion Safari. Apparently, it's much nicer than it was three decades ago when my parents were last there, and the kids had a great time, not only riding around the park in a car, but also getting to touch and ride on animals in a zoo area.

And the reason that was a highlight: Julie and I got to spend the day downtown. We had fun shopping in the Umbra store, a Canadian company that designs housewares, and then we visited the Art Gallery of Ontario. The main reason to visit the AGO was to see Abstract Expressionism at MOMA, which was a nice show -- I especially liked the short videos that showed conservators re-enacting technique, like Rothkos very thinned out washes -- but we were most impressed with Giuseppe Penone's tree sculptures. Displayed in the gallery at the front, north end of the building under the new facade designed by Frank Gehry, the gallery was wonderfully lit with lots of natural light. Penone took trees and carved chunks of outer rings from them until he exposed an earlier, younger version of the tree. Really striking.

The rest of our day was spent around Queen Street West, including shopping at Outer Layer which was chock full of fun stuff and nice people. That's where I spotted a purse hanger; Julie thought it was sort of ridiculous. A visit to Kensington Market was fun, with all the import shops and some neat artist's shops (a great print-making shop whose name I've forgotten).

In the evening, we picked up Pauline from the airport! We got to spend the rest of the week with her.

On Canada Day, we went down to Harbourfront. It was pretty crowded but it was fun to see a crack jump-rope team in action and we saw a nice documentary called "Finding Farley" about a young family (the son was about 2 or 3, and they had a dog) tracing Farley Mowat's journeys around the country. Some beautiful photography and scary amounts of black flies.

During the week we visited the ROM, and saw a cool exhibit on water (I was amazed at the early use of dams and the latest water devices: playground equipment that pumped water into tanks in Africa -- kids play and they provide water to their community!).

We saw The Glass Menagerie at Soulpepper; we'd previously only seen comedies at this repertory theater. The show was good and I was particularly impressed with Jeff Lillico, the actor who portrayed the Gentleman Caller.

Soulpepper is in the Distillery District and because it was Jazz Fest in Toronto (as well as Pride Week), there were a number of combos set up around the plazas. We also found a store that sold purse hangers and with the encouragement of Pauline, Julie found them delightful. We later had a search for them in the Pacific Mall.

Once again, we made it to Ontario Place and with the kids being much better swimmers, they had a lot of fun in the water park. We also saw some circus acts around the park and Austin and Julie saw a "4-D" movie about dinosaurs.

One new place we went this time was Scarborough Bluffs. It's changed since I was a boy, from erosion and also with what I think is a new system of water filtration. The trails were not particularly long, but it was a pretty walk.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Mari lost her first tooth last night! And another one is loose...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seven Bridges Road

A recent obsession with the song Seven Bridges Road led to lots of time on YouTube and Wikipedia, and even an actual book. I figure after making a little effort, it's worth putting together some of the information for others.

So, Seven Bridges Road was written by Steve Young and recorded for his album Rock Salt and Nails (1969). Here's a YouTube of a version by Young from his second album, named after the song:

There are more recent live recordings online and he plays and sings the song in a similar style, as a singer-songwriter.

In 1973, Iain Matthews, of Fairport Convention (and other rock/folk/pop bands) recorded the song with the harmonies that have come to define Seven Bridges. It appears on his album Valley Hi.

Who arranged the harmonies? Well, if it wasn't Matthews, perhaps it was the producer of Valley Hi, the former Monkee Mike Nesmith!

According to the photographic history book The Eagles: An American Band (p. 166), Don Henley and company would sing Seven Bridges Road in their dressing room as a vocal warm up before shows on their Hotel California tour (that album was released in late 1976). The band later performed the song on stage and a version of it was recorded for Eagles Live. The liner notes to Eagles : The Very Best Of (2CD) state that they learned the song from Steve Young, but they clearly borrowed harmonic ideas from Matthews. Here they are from Seattle 1977:

The Eagles version has become the most iconic, although Dolly Parton's all-star bluegrass band does a pretty fine job by it, too. Here's Dolly:

More recently, Keith Urban (Mr. Nicole Kidman) has been bringing up opening acts to sing the song with him. In 2009, Sugarland add two voices to Urban (as well as a mandolin). I have to say, one thing I love about Sugarland is how happy they seem to be to be making music. It's not perfect, but they're having fun and projecting that; a charming stage presence.

In 2010, Urban was on tour with Grammy winners Lady Antebellum. The female vocalist, Hillary Scott, doesn't seem to know the song as well as the guys, but she wings it and finds her harmony lines.

Finally, a couple of non-professional acts. The first is an earnest attempt, but the recording makes clear the problem of pushing the bass part too hard. Let it resonate, but don't sing it out, man. (Also, something's a little off with the guitar. That's the time to just pause out of this one...)

The second, by the Hartley Brothers sounds great (and has a terrific toy poodle pontificating).

A great song by Young, terrific arrangement by Matthews and Nesmith, and kudos to the Eagles for bringing it to the attention of a whole lot of people.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

Kid poetry

By Mari:

There's a bug in your nose
and it bited your toes.

By Austin:

I Am a Leprechaun

I am a Leprechaun
all happy and Healthy
I am a Leprechaun
I love green and I'm wealthy,
I am a Leprechaun
I hate those vampires
When Leprechauns get their powers
I'll set all vampires on bunches of fires.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tiger Mothering

I just finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
 by Amy Chua and now I feel like I can actually comment on it legitimately.

So: it's funny (humorous, not strange. well, a little strange). Chua is a funny writer and has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. She mocks herself as much as she promotes herself.

The book is told in short, very readable chapters that are occasionally repetitive, but every chapter is provocative and amusing.

That said, I did not come away with a favorable impression of Chua. Not because of her parenting (or rather, not simply because of her parenting) but because she is an insufferable snob. She is status obsessed and presents herself as deriving no pleasure from her life except achieving milestones. When her mother-in-law dies, Chua's daughters eulogize their grandmother as life-affirming and someone who was full of joy. Chua's chapters about the woman, in contrast, present her as having impeccable taste: she wore great clothes, collected great art, ate great food and Chua strives for her compliments.

Another example: she has three sisters and Amy claims to be closest with her sister Katrin. I have no reason to dispute this claim, but her way of explaining how similar they are is to mention that both she and Katrin went to Harvard as undergraduates and also went to Harvard professional schools (Law for Amy, an MD/PhD for Katrin). Sure, except she's a lawyer and another sister went to Yale and then Yale Law School, so superficially, it seems to me that being a lawyer is a lot more similar to another lawyer than to a scientist unless you overhype the Harvard brand.

Similarly, the pushing of her daughters is all toward Juilliard or Carnegie Hall (and then the main hall at Carnegie Hall) -- she admits she doesn't expect or want her children to become professional musicians, she just wants them to have amazing college applications.

She complains about over-the-top bat mitzvahs but the amount she spends to celebrate the Carnegie Hall performance -- they amount she spends just to audition for new teachers -- is insane. I think she recognizes the hypocrisy and means it to contribute to the humor, but it's still crazy and hypocritical.

And don't let the Chinese/Westerner comments fool you: she's a Western snob. She obsesses over European classical music and insults Indonesian gamelan music and discounts Chinese music. She imposes Chinese discipline in order to instill Western culture in her girls. Ironic? She doesn't really do irony.

Ultimately, Chua's value system seems very superficial.

What she does do well, however, is to present ambition with a lack of shame. I think it's good to have high expectations for your kids, and Chua is not lacking in expectations.

Oh, do you want to know how it ends? Her younger daughter Lulu rebels and refuses to continue on the mommy track of violin playing (she continues to play, but for herself -- no more mother hovering marathons of practicing). Instead, Lulu pursues tennis. Not a bad choice, but Chua is only satisfied with this decision when Lulu starts winning competitions. If it's not measurable, Chua has no interest.

So, is it worth reading? Sure, it's a quick read and there's plenty to muse on so it's a high return on your time investment but that's pretty faint praise, I have to admit. Have we already all moved on? Perhaps, but this book will certainly mark a moment in parenting literature.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Chinese New Year Letter

Our semi-annual (as in, when we remember to do it) Chinese New Year letter is now online, with news of our activities in 2010. Happy New Year!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mari's Joke

The latest in a series of original jokes:

Q. Why DIDN'T the cat cross the road?

A. It was a scaredy cat.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Austin's latest jokes

So, among his daily misfires, Austin came up with a couple jokes that I thought worth passing along.

Q. What's a Chinese pirate's favorite number?

A. 2 (pronounced "Aarh!")

Q. What happened to the robber who needed a nap?

A. He got ar-rest-ed.