Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Is there anything quite like watching your Dad pushing your daughters on the swings in the park at the end of the street where you grew up? The swings you played on as a kid?

That's rhetorical.

Central Park Zoo

That's a sea lion there in the tank.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"Jack the Pom Pom"

We have recently discovered that the girls, particularly Madison, love to watch cooking shows. I guess it's no huge surprise, they have a big play kitchen in our living room that is stocked with fake food, pots and pans, plates and utensils, and they love to stand around it and make meals for us. In fact the coffee with the Sunday New York Times experience Gwen and I enjoyed in our apartment in the city pre-kids has been replaced by coffee with the Sunday New York Times sitting on the couch of our suburban home while the girls "cook" our breakfast and bring it to us. The chicken drumstick with side of green beans, amorphous plastic blob of red pasta sauce and pineapple top is the meal to get.

The first cooking show that really resonated with the girls was the Jacques Pépin series, "Fast Food My Way," which we watch on a digital cable channel we get here called WLIW-Create.


Ava calls Jacques "Jack the Pom Pom" - thinks this is his name - and will frequently hoist her sippy cup in the air and recite his signature line, "Happy Cooking!" while looking for someone else at the table to toast with. I'm not making this up. Jacques has so pervaded our consciousness that, in addition to family-friendly viewing, he now provides time analogies while driving in the car. We figure a 30-minute show is good for three to four recipes, so driving time is marked in multiples of "Jack shows" (30 minutes), and "Jack recipes" (10 minutes). A trip to my parents' house, which is about 45 minutes away, is described at the outset as "One Jack show plus one and a half Jack recipes," and moves down from there. When we are in the car Madison asks for a time update about every three minutes, so this system has been helpful.

The girls were so into watching Jacques that earlier this year I actually went looking for his contact information on the Web to request a signed photo for each of them. I thought they would get a kick out of receiving mail from someone they watched on television... Jack the Pom Pom.

Years ago I probably would have wound up with some literary agent, a production company, business office - some machinery built to shield and protect the "talent" I was trying to reach. In the world of Google, in about five minutes, I wound up with Jacques Pépin's home phone number, address, a map and satellite image of his neighborhood and driving directions that would have been very helpful in the event I had any interest in visiting him there. (Don't worry, Jacques, we respect your physical privacy) I sent him a very flattering (and accurate) letter letting him know about his two youngest fans and received a prompt reply from his assistant, who said Jacques and his wife were traveling in Mexico and he would be happy to send the signed photos when he returned. Several weeks later they arrived, with another nice note from the assistant. Classy guy, great cook, good safe and unthreatening child viewing, we have found, except when he's de-boning a chicken or gutting a whole fish, at which point our television has a momentary lapse in service, which is mysteriously resolved when the menu item has become indistinguishable.


As noted above, Jacques reigns supreme in our house, but here are some other cooks/cooking shows that are in our steady rotation:

Daisy Martinez (very close second to Jacques... sometimes actually takes the lead. Unbelievable amount of energy and joy. If everything she makes is really as good as she presents during her little on-screen tastings she may be the best cook on the planet)

Lidia Bastianich (great show, unbelievable recipies, also offers an organic opportunity to tell the girls about their Italian heritage, which is not in any way getting through at this stage)

Tina Nordström (have to be careful here... she sometimes does some gnarly things with animals/fish that are far too recognizable in their pre-cooked state, nice breezy on-screen persona, though, and she's usually cooking with an aesthetically pleasing body of water or green field in the background)

Caprial and John (nice people, seem happy together, good friendly show with an emphasis on Pacific Northwest ingredients and spirit. Sometimes wonder whether they rip each others eyes out when the cameras stop rolling)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"The Shriek"

I got home early enough tonight to catch the girls and get the shriek. Not really anything else in the world like it and there is no way any words I string together here will do it justice. (Parents out there know what I'm talking about, I presume especially fathers with daughters, so I'm not making myself out to be special here or anything) The experience of walking into the house or up the stairs and at the instant of recognition hearing a couple of little girls SHRIEK "DADDY... DADDY... DADDY'S HOME... DADDY... DADDY!" in unison for a brief moment and then independently, machine-gun rat-a-tat style, two little beings clamoring to be the first to secure some individual and undivided attention.

This is typically followed by hugs and kisses and some kind of unifying moment so no one wins and no one loses, or at least a good honest attempt to be fair and equally attentive. Nothing like the shriek. My own little Beatlemania moment... Sir Paul got 50,000 anonymous strangers in Shea screaming at the top of their lungs, I have Madison and Ava at the top of the stairs. No complaints.

Apple Product Suggestion

I got my first iPod as a Christmas gift from Gwen and the girls in 2003, after coveting the device for about a year.


When I opened it up that morning I wasn't disappointed... the packaging was cooler than anything I'd seen before. I hadn't been this excited by a new consumer electronics device since I bought my Palm V in the late 1990s. To me, the iPod was one of those things you sort of couldn't believe you were allowed to own, so far ahead of anything else out there and so transformational in terms of your personal experience... STACKS of cds all fit into this little thing the size of a deck of cards, and you had them with you anywhere, anytime... it was unbelievable.

It was also terrific in the car with the girls because we put all of their music on the thing as well... Baby Bach, Barney, Dora, Laurie Berkner, Green Day, it all went on the iPod. And from about the age of three, whenever Madison heard a new song she'd immediately ask if I had it on my iPod. We'd download songs from iTunes and listen to them on our morning drive to her school.

Earlier this week we were on our morning drive and I was clickwheeling at her request to "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson. Before I got the song going she asked, "Daddy, do you have the words from songs on your iPod?" I told her no, just the name of the song and the artist/performer, but as the day went on I kept thinking about her suggestion, which really made a lot of sense particularly since the one thing you really lose through the iPod/iTunes experience is the cd art/lyrics. They've started including these "digital booklets" with some new releases but I've never been able to figure out how they work and their most significant manifestation for me has been "failed to load" error messages when I sync up the iPod. Madison was onto something... a new capability and option on the iPod that would enable the device to scroll lyrics to the songs as they played.

This was the kind of thing I would have loved to e-mail to Steve Jobs directly, but I don't have his address. I did a quick Google search and found numerous people speculating on how to reach him, but nothing seemed too reliable. I work in media relations so I naturally gravitate to the press people anyway, and found an e-mail address for a guy in Apple's corporate communications department and sent along Madison's idea along with a nice and truthful accounting of how much we loved the company and particularly the iPod.

To his credit, I got a note back within an hour, but it was very brief and had a boilerplate "thank you for your comments... we always appreciate hearing from our customers" feel to it, so I didn't delude myself into thinking that Madison's concept was getting any traction over at Apple. It was also the kind of thing, I noted in my original e-mail, that probably came up in an iPod group brainstorm about five years ago. Another possible reason for the perfunctory response could have been a general wariness of external ideas or suggestions on the part of technology companies in the post-Blackberry patent troll world.

I had no way of knowing whether my innocent little message prompted an afternoon of hellish terror for this guy, sitting in his Cupertino cube with beads of sweat rolling down his forehead and headlines like "Five-year-old's Lawsuit Threatens iPod Shutdown" running through his mind. So I really couldn't blame him for acknowledging my e-mail and moving on. When I got home that night Madison was already in bed, and as I said goodnight to her I mentioned that I had sent her idea to the people at Apple who make the iPod and, smiling ear-to-ear, she immediately responded that "they should put the words on the computer, too, on iTunes." The idea that this little girl, the product of my genes, knew the term iTunes and could properly use it in a sentence - let alone advance the product - was a point of some personal pride.

The next morning I sent my PR contact this additional wrinkle and never heard back. I'm sure the follow-up had this guy lamenting ever indulging this e-mail maniac in the first place. It is a good idea though.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

First Post - "What's chicken made of?"

For quite a while now, I've been thinking of starting a blog. Nothing elaborate, just a place to come and knock out a few thoughts without any real expectation of anything in return. Wasn't quite sure what I'd say, or how much time I'd really be able to devote to it, or even how much I'd want to put out there in the public domain - ["I've decided to quit my job, if anyone from work is reading this please don't say anything... We had Ken and Susan over for a glass of wine last night, Gwen and I have decided that we hate them... what a relief, the doctor FINALLY diagnosed the fungus!] But as a frustrated writer the notion kept coming back around, so there seemed to be something to it.

About a week ago I realized how to frame this thing in a way that made sense to me for a variety of reasons. I was lying down on the floor of our home office and my five-year-old daughter Madison was sitting at the computer, asking me for the letters to spell the words she wanted to write on her "clear page," which is what she calls a blank Word document. No prompting, no direction, just serving as a kind of audio dictionary so she would know which letters to find and tap to give life to the things she wanted to say. The first sentence she threw out was, "I think this world is perfect," so this blog, this effort, is named for her. We recently moved into a new house, so the rest of her entry was devoted to toys in boxes, our search for a new swingset and, finally, a closing acknowledgment that "the people who live in this house are named Gwen, Madison, Jim and Ava." Ava is our three-year-old. Gwen is my wife and the person who spends most of her waking moments with Madison and Ava, which - as is always the case for those lucky and cursed enough to find themselves in that situation - brings with it plenty of ups and downs. More ups than downs, to be sure, but absolutely a fair share of those "I can't believe I'm playing play-dough for the 10th time today I used to have an office I used to have a life I used to have adults to talk to people listened to me where am I and how did I get here" moments.

Those are our girls up above.

So the thought that occurred to me on the blog front was to basically track the progress of the girls and relate special or meaningful moments through a sort of parenting journal that I could keep in this form. This idea was appealing to me because things happen every day that I want to document so I don't forget, and with this forum at my disposal I am able to sign on at a moment's notice and get something down. I guess I could fill up my Gmail account with messages to myself as well, but let's try this for a while and see how it goes.

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about: a few weeks ago we were sitting around the dinner table eating chicken, and at the end of the meal Madison gets this kind of thoughtful look on her face and says, "Daddy, what's chicken made of?" And I sit back and my mind races through a dozen possible responses, literally going down each road and finding a reason each time to turn back and ultimately I say, "well, it's made of chicken." And she's satisfied with that for the moment and we move on and I breathe a sigh of relief. Did I fail her, did I miss an opportunity to tell her about the reality of the slaughtered animal we just consumed? I don't think so, but you never really know. My "made of chicken" answer seemed to work in the moment and that was it.

Another time, a few weeks ago, we were in the car and happened to drive by an enormous cemetery... the kind of expansive burial site that you just can't miss. And I have my rear-view mirror flipped down so I can see Madison in the back and she's staring out the window at all of these headstones, and I can SEE her mind working and eventually she says, "Daddy, what are all these blocks in the grass?"

I know exactly what she's talking about but I pretend I don't and ask what she means. "Out there, on the grass, what are all these gray blocks?" Once again, so many roads, so many reasons to avoid them. Is this the moment, at the ripe old age of five, where she learns that people die, and when they die and "go up with God" - a concept we've already reactively introduced - their bodies are left on Earth and something has to happen to them so they get buried in the ground in these special places, called cemeteries, and they put a stone on top of them so their family members and friends can find where they are when they want to visit? The possible nightmares associated with that simple description multiply like pop-up windows on a visit to CNN.com... Maybe that would have been the appropriate thing to do... but it didn't feel right, didn't feel entirely necessary, so on this morning my preferred response was, "hmm, I don't really know," at which point we were well clear of the cemetery and the subject dropped.

This is the place for moments like that, and although some people reading this may already have me 0-2 in the parenting department I have to say that Gwen and I really do try to be thoughtful, careful and very attentive parents. We think the results have been good so far and I look forward to returning to this space and documenting moments like this as time marches on. And it does march... Madison will be in kindergarten next year and it feels like yesterday that we brought this little bundle home from the hospital with no idea at all what to do with her or how much she would change our lives. Ava came about two years later on a January day when we had workers in our backyard trying to pound through frozen dirt to replace our faulty and 50-year-old cesspool... we said goodbye to the crew on the way to the hospital and by the time we brought the girls back two days later we had a brand new septic system all ready to go for the additional laundry, bottle washing and unspecified waste water requirements of our fourth resident.

It's late and that's all for now. I'm glad to have started this and we'll see where it goes...