Wednesday, December 31, 2008

crashing to a close

So, tonight is my first black-tie event in recent memory, courtesy of a neighbor who's been throwing a NYE gala for several years. It should be a grand time. First, though, I have to sort my way through the early evening dinner party and kids while figuring out a whole new way of preparing paella.

Since we have at least two members of the group who eat fish but not more carnivorous options, I've dropped the chicken and the chorizo from the usual preparation. Instead, I'll build this year's paella around squid, clams, mussels and shrimp. There will be asparagus and peas in it, as well as home-roasted peppers. For a bit of a nod to southern traditions, I may also throw in some black-eyed peas. We'll see how the mood strikes as I'm working on it.

If it all comes off well, it will be a hell of a way to ring out another year of lessons in life, and a perfect introduction to a year that I hope brings even more positive steps forward for Banana and me. What that means exactly is hard to say, but I am determined to get even better about paring our life down to essentials and being more mindful and better about getting things done.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I watched Banana really push herself at skating today. It helped that she had new (to her) skates and that we had a friend along (thanks, Eileen!) who was a polished enough skater to teach her a thing or two... like skating backwards. I realized one of the things that worries me about Banana, however.

As anyone who knows us or regularly reads this blog knows, she is an independent, head-strong little girl. Her usual reaction to being told she should take lessons or join a team is to say that she already knows how to do whatever-it-is. She will then, as she did today, demonstrate her version of whatever-it-is. Sometimes she's successful; sometimes not. I have yet to figure out how to convince her that someone can teach her how to do things better—and why that's valuable.

Granted: she's a smart, headstrong six-and-a-half year old. Still, I worry that she will follow my path. That is to say that she will follow the path where she does just enough to know she can do something well and then veers on to something else.

As I explored in an earlier post, it's a tricky question—this question of how much to push, how much to encourage, and when to let something go.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Notes from the holidays

Some days as a parent you feel like a super hero. Some days you feel like a super villain. I guess the key is finding the balance—remembering that at the best moments you will stumble and the worst moments you will do better. That said, here are some mental notes from the holiday season...

  • A girl will fall in love with a pair of cool new boots. She will wear them every day. Gift success...

  • It will be very interesting to see how many brands and/or retailers survive the current recession and holiday season. The sales are absurd. The discounts are so deep it's impossible to imagine how brands like Jos. A. Banks will maintain profitability and viability.

  • The grocery shrink ray hit Reilly's food. California Naturals shrank the mid-size bag of their Herring and Sweet Potato food from 20 pounds to 15 pounds. The price remained the same. As a result, the per-pound cost went from $1.50 to $2.00, and the longevity of a bag is reduced from three weeks to two weeks. I appreciate the company's need to deal with rising costs, but I do not appreciated such a drastic loss in value for the consumer.

  • Mad Men is an exercise in excellence.

  • Once you accept that the holidays are about more than an orgy of consumerism, it is easier to see the beauty of the season. What it really comes down to is the ways in which any one of us can make the people around us feel better.

  • Your grandmother's traditional dishes come out better when you stop reading the recipe and remember how to cook and how they tasted when she made them.

There will be more to come later...

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Good Day

Christmas this year began with my Grandmother's Swedish meatballs on the eve. It was a mopey start, however, because Banana was going to be with Mére until mid-day on Christmas. Even so, the meatballs and gløg came out well. In fact, I'd almost say they were the best I've ever done. Practice does make perfect, as my grandmother's example showed.

Christmas morning was a bit mopey as well as it is less fun to wake up without a kid chomping at the bit to open her presents. Nonetheless, I got up, made coffee, and worked at finishing up Christmas preps. Then a wonderful thing happened: Mére called to say that Banana wanted to come over earlier than planned. I had to race a bit, but things came together and I even managed to get showered before they showed up.

What followed was brilliant. Banana was naturally excited about the spread of presents—though in reality it was less this year than last year. Better yet, she was excited about everything she opened—from the stocking gifts to the Schoolhouse Rock DVD to the iPod Shuffle (pink, with her name engraved on back) to the Hanna Andersson outfit (including boots) to the framed picture of her ballet group from the spring. Honestly, it was sweet how she reacted to each and every one, and it was even sweeter that she made a point of saying "Thank you" for each and every one she knew was mine. And when it came to the Santa gifts (iPod and Pixos), she was beyond happy that Santa had remembered what she'd asked for.

The second part of our day — the day with the extended family — was mostly drama-free, too, which helped turn this into a grand Christmas. Ultimately, what made it great was the sense that the people who mattered — including my ex-father-in-law who came over for a bit while Mére rested — all had a grand time. Cynicism aside, it truly is a wonderful life sometimes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Buy

On Friday, I tried to reach three Best Buy stores. Unsuccessfully. My goal was to find out how I could place an order for in-store pick-up in Ohio. After finally calling the main customer service line, I learned that there is, in fact, no way to place an order that someone else will pick up. This seems like something that should change...

Friday Fun - another Muppets edition

TV in the holiday season wouldn't be the same without the classic run of kids' holiday specials. There are many that bear repeating, and there are others that probably never should have existed in the first place. And there are others that I frankly wish would be repeated...

And kudos to them for doing this in German...


And Neatorama reminds us that there was also once a Fat Albert holiday special. I'd forgotten that one...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

a foot grows in the brain

No kidding. A pediatric surgeon was operating on a three-day old baby and...

"The foot literally popped out of the brain," Grabb told TheDenverChannel Wednesday.
The appendage threatened the newborn's life.

When [Dr. Paul] Grabb performed the life-saving surgery at Memorial Hospital for Children in Colorado Springs, he was in for another surprise: he also found what appeared to be parts of an intestine in the folds of the infant's tiny brain, in addition to another developing foot, hand and thigh.

Picked up from Boing Boing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bleed the World

Brilliant satire via Boing Boing:

Monday, December 15, 2008

art and pondering

These pieces are both more than two years old. Banana was not quite four when she did them. I'm still amazed by the control of line and image. In the bird, the use of color is surprisingly good.

I keep these near my desk at work. As much as any picture I have of her, these are my constant reminders of what faces me and what I'm responsible for day after day, week after week. The talent and potential are remarkable in all children. I remain constantly aware that it is my job to foster that rather than hinder it.

Without a doubt, my parents did what they could to foster my interests and talents. I went to Interlochen for summers when I was a teenager to study flute and later composition. My parents enrolled me in gifted programs and Saturday enrichment classes. I had piano lessons. We traveled extensively. For all this effort, though, it was the Nikon EM my father bought me in ninth grade that probably most influenced me — well, that and all the time we spent in bookstores and around computers.

What I mean to say is that I've started to see all of the time spent on music and the sciences as mis-placed energies. While I was being given every chance to succeed in those areas, I was also doodling. When I dove into Dungeons & Dragons, one of the things I most enjoyed was designing and drawing maps; another was meticulously painting those little lead figures we all collected. And while I was doing this, many of my musician friends would obsessively practice, and some of them have gone on to careers in music. My experience was different: when I got to college and out from under my parents' expectant eyes, I stopped playing and switched to theater.

This is where the camera comes back into play. In those years, I also took picture after picture, and in my last year at Interlochen, I was one of the photographers and editors of the camp yearbook, Scherzo. With the exception of showing up for classes and lessons, the flute was all-but-ignored. The camera was my companion. And when we were doing the design, photo cropping, and paste-up in the layout meetings, I slipped into the element that I would return to again and again until it became a profession in the mid-nineties.

In recent years, I've come to realize that the areas that truly interested me were not the areas I was exploring. My one regret for all the years I spent at Interlochen is that I never took a single visual arts class. Same with college. Why? I don't know. I was trained to pursue certain areas and not others. Even my mother acknowledged as much when I broached the subject with her. The fact was my parents didn't recognize what I was showing an interest in, and I didn't tell them that there were reasons why I didn't practice nearly enough. In the end, though, none of that can be changed. What's done is done; what I've learned on my own over the years, I've learned on my own.

Fast-forward to my life as a parent. I have a child with remarkable creative talents and not-inconsiderable scientific experience and knowledge. The latter I can only foster tangentially; her mother is a better resource there. On the creative (and athletic) side, however, I've made some clear decisions. I will do whatever I can to support the things she actually shows an interest in, but I will not push her in area once she's said she doesn't want to pursue it. Currently, this means I am supporting ballet, art, and possibly ice skating. Soccer and piano are out so far, as are other musical pursuits—though she has shown an aptitude there. And as long as she keeps working and wants to keep working at her ballet positions and her drawing and painting, I will do whatever is within my means to make sure she gets as far as she can. I just won't decide what she should or should not be doing, and I will not push her past the point she decides she's not interested.

Hopefully, I'll see years and years of elephants and birds—or at least brilliant ideas and solid achievement.

subway junkie porn

If you love turn-of-the-century New York and if you obsess over the history of subways, this video picked up from Gothamist is pure crack.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fun - the Cowboy Junkies edition

So I used the next band on my shuffle to determine this week's Friday Fun, and I picked a few of the top clips that allow embedding. Enjoy. I do.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Banana has a habit of waking up early. Today took the cake: 4:55 a.m. What's particularly odd is that she went to sleep almost an hour later than usual. The early wake-up—particularly since she insisted that I should get out of bed too—was a surprise to say the least. And since I am emphatically not a morning person and find it difficult enough to get out of bed at the usual time (6:15), I am not dealing particularly well with this recent trend.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

note to self...

Most Chinese takeout food tastes the same, whether it's Richmond or Fayetteville or Bloomington. I don't know why I even bother any more. It's not like I'm ever really satisfied by looking at the same menu again, or like anything I eat remotely resembles the real stuff I ate while traveling in China. (A special exception is in Charlottesville. Then again, they only serve dumplings, buns, noodles and soup.)

Days like this make me miss living in New York and Boston. Just saying...

(Shot borrowed from here.)

the great Christmas debate

We live, of course, in a consumption-driven society. Getting, wanting and spending are the drivers of our lives. We live between the poles of want and need, and there are even whole sections of kindergarten curricula dedicated to discussing the difference between desires and necessities. But there is no other time of the year when it seems to become as crucial to consider the want vs. need question than at Christmas time.

Banana and I talked the other day about what she was going to ask for from Santa. The list was short, only three items. At the top of the list was an iPod. At the bottom of the list was a complete Littlest Pet Shop set. Believe it or not, I'm okay with the iPod. Shuffles are $49—not inexpensive, but also not bank-busting. When it came to the Littlest Pet Shop, however, I suggested that she probably shouldn't ask Santa for it. Since the summer we've been periodically purging toys, and several Littlest Pet Shop items have been purged. She said she'd play with the complete set, and with all the self-assurance that six-year-olds possess, she told me that the complete set was very different from the other stuff. I persisted a bit longer in part because while none of these things are needs, I am acutely aware that I want to spend money on things that will be used and would much rather spend the same amount on something that she will use for the foreseeable future rather than a few months. (The Polly Pocket racing set from last Christmas is a prime example here; friends play with it more than she does.)

So that brings us to the boots. Does Banana need $60 boots from Hanna Andersson? Probably not. But there are two reasons I will splurge. First, compared to the Circo boots at Target or similarly disposable items for a third of the price, I'd rather spend more on something that won't look worn out in two weeks. I also see a value in teaching her to look for higher quality items that last longer rather than seeing inexpensive as better. Second, I realized recently that Banana is seriously lacking in little girl clothes. She's been wearing more jeans this fall, but when she gets the chance to "girl up" she does. And I realized that her dearth of more-stylish clothing is a direct product of my pragmatism. Just as I'd rather spend more on a few better-quality items, I also tend to spend money on clothing that is more "practical."

The thing is, a little girl should be able to look like a little girl — even if she lives with daddy rather than with both parents. So these boots and the faux shearling coat she'll be getting from Grandma? They're also an effort to remind myself that life isn't all about jeans, sneakers, and fleece jackets.

Monday, December 08, 2008

life costs $40

Lately, I've been hit with a series of random and unexpected expenses—water filters for the coffee maker, water filter for the refrigerator, arthritis meds for Reilly, an impromptu dinner with the family, the Christmas tree, a batch of random necessities from Target, membership dues in the Ad Club. To a one, these expenses keep hovering in the forty dollar range. Individually, none of them are budget busters, but taken together and with other random expenses that have popped up lately (vet check-ups for old dogs can be expensive!), I'm suddenly in that uncomfortable position of realizing that Christmas is coming and I'm going to have to be a little more budget-conscious than I was expecting. Then again, it's probably time to sit down and take a close look at the budget line-items again.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Friday Fun

Good stuff. Maybe you can figure out my mood.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

RIP Odetta

There's a remarkable interview the NY Times did with Odetta in 2007. It's a remarkable piece of oral history with some brilliant insights into her life and mind, and a few amazing moments of song. There are some pretty amazing moments of song here too:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

oddly sad

The post on Craigslist is titled "i need a digital camera for my daughter for christmas." In it, the poster offers: "i have 2 leather jackets for trade i mens dress jacket medium ,i ladies dress jacket size small both black." I may be reading this completely wrong, but it strikes me as very emblematic of our current moment that someone is looking to barter his and his wife's leather jackets for a digital camera for their daughter. I know what it's like to feel so close to the bone. Had I been able to upgrade to the SLR I'm looking for, I would offer him my point-and-shoot for free...

Monday, December 01, 2008

brings tears to my eyes

I hope for this little boy's sake that he will not be able to remember the the horrific events he just witnessed. By the same token, I hope that he will retain some glimmering memory of his parents before that day.

Friday Fun (on Monday morning)

I don't know why, but this one came to mind yesterday. It's a classic...

And while we're in the land of odd covers, how about a ukulele cover of "Come Sail Away"? Why not? Come on...

(picked up from Boing Boing)