Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007

A witch and a rock star. And the changes in Madison's general attitude and disposition from the moment she put on the sunglasses, leopard-skin accented jeans and fake wireless microphone have me seriously rethinking the Joe Simpson "Breed Your Own Meal Ticket" strategy, which heretofore seemed bulletproof.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

D Minus 5, And Counting

Can you guess where we are going next week?

Here's another hint.

First time with the girls, and they're just a little excited about it. We've extensively consulted friends who have boldly gone where we we haven't gone before (at least as adults) and gotten some good and helpful advice. We've pre-booked a princess breakfast, some kind of "not so scary" Halloween parade, a variety of dinners and two hours of on-site credit counseling.

I have to laugh every time I see that commercial - which has been in heavy rotation lately - featuring the set of eager and fresh-faced parents pricing out a Disney vacation. The Web site spits out a quote of something like $1,600 for a one-week stay, prompting the couple to take turns pinching each other and saying things like, "that's not so much... and they're such good and loving children... we can DO this!"

That must be the "Work While You Play" partial-employment package, the one where you take the kids into the Magic Kingdom during the day and then rotate overnight shifts cleaning character costumes and fishing popsicle sticks and baby wipes out of the "It's a Small World" water, because we're already into Walt for a multiple of that quote and we haven't left home yet.

But we really are looking forward to the trip. You can never be completely sure, in advance of such an enormous undertaking, but I think we're ready. We're strong and healthy and appropriately branded, after taking delivery about a week ago of the Disney Crocs pictured above.

Wish us luck. We'll report back on our progress, maybe even send along a dispatch or two from The Happiest Place on Earth.

Monday, October 22, 2007

We Finally Addressed The Lack Of Pumpkins

We got about halfway through Sunday when Madison and Ava started asking why we didn't have any pumpkins at our house. The fact that the bright orange orbs had been showing up in increasing numbers on stoops and doorsteps around our neighborhood didn't help. With an afternoon soccer game on tap, we weren't exactly in a position to kill half a day wandering around a muddy field, so we took the easy way out and drove to a local nursery that had an ample supply in various sizes, all picked and ready to go.

Only someone acting as an agent for two little girls smiling and jumping around in the general vicinity of a cash register would agree to pay more than $30 for four decomposing gourds without haggling, but that's a pretty good description of where I found myself once we'd made our selections. After being robbed paying, we went home and our little artists outlined the cut-outs on their respective creations with Sharpie markers. Then I went to work with our best paring knife, which was not exactly up to the task. I actually had to chisel my way to lopsided smiles and small eye/nose holes, at one point coming within a centimeter of opening up a deep and unnatural seam between my thumb and forefinger. Luckily, I emerged with just a small scratch.

Madison and I harvested the seeds from both of the large pumpkins (Ava got a whiff of the earthy interior and ran screaming from the scene) and Gwen toasted them up with a little oil and salt. They were actually very good - better than I remembered from my own childhood.

We placed our new gutted friends on the front stoop, like everyone else. We may light them up next weekend in anticipation of the big day. Right now they are providing food and shelter for a seemingly endless parade of local ants, who seem very happy we finally got with the program.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Judging A Book...

I haven't done much video on here, but I couldn't resist posting this clip from the show Britain's Got Talent. It's a little dated, goes back to about June or so, but I'd never heard about it until it was sent to me earlier today in an e-mail. Gwen, Madison and Ava all watched it, and were all blown away, so it became something of a family affair.

This is really well worth the four minutes. The before-and-after reactions from the judges (who include the easy-to-please Simon Cowell) alone are priceless. And the guy, a cell phone salesman named Paul Potts, ultimately won the competition. And a whole new life.

And, since I'll likely never have a better chance to include this on my blog, here is Pavarotti with the same material. I don't consider myself any kind of opera fan, but wow. The last few seconds of this clip are sure to astonish anyone with a pulse. Even Luciano looks amazed by the notes he was capable of.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Saturday (Firstborn)

Reading Labels

All the press and chatter about toys made in China being recalled due to lead safety issues has apparently filtered down to our 6-year-old, Madison, who has been wandering around the house over the last couple of weeks reading the labels on crayons, paints and other items and expressing dismay whenever she encounters the line “Made In China” on one of her prized possessions.

We have not been actively messaging this, or using the steady flow of disturbing reports (Dora, Polly Pocket, now Winnie the Pooh) as a point of national pride. “Don’t put toys in your mouth, wherever they’re from,” and “wash your hands,” is about as far as we’ve gotten. Although it is fair to say that Crayola products, typically emblazoned with the words “Non-Toxic,” “Made In U.S.A.” and all kinds of official-looking stamps and seals, have taken on a new level of ascribed benevolence in our house.

This morning in the car, Madison was sitting in her booster seat and scrutinizing some new kind of colorful twisty pen. “This one’s OK,” she boldly announced. “No China!”

“That’s great, Maddie,” I responded.

“Dad,” she said, still staring down intently at the pen.


“What word do these letters spell? K-O-R-E-A.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why I Paid For Something I Already Had For Free

Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. I was living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when Thom Yorke and his compadres broke through with the song Creep on a radio station I still miss, KROQ. The first time I heard that guitar-heavy chorus kick in, driving down the 101 Freeway in my Acura Integra, I was hooked. I loved Pablo Honey (the Creep disc), the follow-up effort, The Bends, and of course the band’s signature work so far, OK Computer.

Probably the best live show I have seen in my life was Radiohead at Radio City Music Hall in New York, during the OK Computer tour. I cashed in a favor from the only friend I have who knows famous people so Gwen and I could get into Saturday Night Live on the night Radiohead was performing as the show’s musical guest (when she was about five-months pregnant with Madison), and saw them on two subsequent tours through the city.

We had OK Computer on auto-repeat for much of that first pregnancy and for several months after Madison joined us, and I’ll be damned if Karma Police and the bell work at the beginning of No Surprises didn’t do a better job of calming her down as an infant than any Baby Einstein video ever could.

But even though I kept going to see the band live, and listening to the old favorites, I have to admit I found its recent studio efforts fairly disappointing. Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief were, for me, pretty discombobulated “experimentations” that did not work particularly well. There were a few nuggets in there, (National Anthem, Knives Out, and Where I End And You Begin come to mind), but buying all three of those discs left me feeling pretty taken, in the end.

So I didn’t exactly have high hopes when reports of the band’s latest release, In Rainbows, started rolling through my RSS reader a couple of weeks ago. And it wasn’t even the arrival of a new Radiohead cd that was commanding so much media attention, but rather the way the band was planning to distribute it – without studio backing, through its own Web site, and with “buyers” paying whatever they wanted for the download, all the way down to nothing.

“Nothing” sounded about right to me, particularly after having tossed off perfectly good money for songs like Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, Treefingers and Life In A Glass House. So when I visited the special Web site the band had put together to distribute the disc the other night, and got to the box provided to indicate how much I was willing to pay, I entered 0.00, proceeded with my download, and a few seconds later was listening to new Radiohead songs, gratis.

I felt a little bad and uncomfortable about it, in the moment, and even worse when I’d been through the tracks and discovered they were really very good. I’ve read a few positive reviews of the disc, but most of the press has focused on the idea that the way it was released will likely be considered a watershed moment in the history of popular music. I think this may be right, and if I owned a record company right now I would be terrified, or apoplectic, or both.

Radiohead has done something important here, they’ve gone beyond their recent pattern of self-indulgent studio tinkering and dismantled the very machinery of the industry that served them so well for so many years, for the benefit of their fans, the people who actually consume their music. This “name your own price” thing is a little gimmicky, and probably not something that is sustainable or will become pervasive, except for musicians who are already rich and want to make a point. But the idea of a performer going direct to the public with a creative work, cutting out the middle-man and making the process of consumption even easier, is unbelievably important and powerful, it seems to me.

During the too-brief period that Pearl Jam was the Biggest Band In The World, it decided to use its power and influence to make a stand against Ticketmaster and the expense of going to a concert. As a result, very few people were actually able to see them live – during a period when they should have been conquering the planet and broadening their appeal. They tried to break the rules, change the way things were done, and the result was a destructive and ultimately self-defeating campaign that hurt the band much more than the establishment.

Radiohead’s little experiment in music distribution is much more well conceived and holds far more promise. So tonight, still feeling a little bit sheepish for cheaping out during the original transaction – although I still believe that approach was justified, given the quality of the band’s recent output – I went back online and threw the guys 5 pounds and 4 pence (about $10.24), in honor of the exact moment when little miss Madison chose to grace us with her presence, following a night spent in New York-Presbyterian Hospital, listening to a Pitocin drip and OK Computer.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Breakfast Orders

We were playing "school" in the basement this morning. Madison, our teacher, was reading books and running the class through various craft activities, when the notion of breakfast came up. We discussed various options, and Madison took it upon herself to write up our "orders" on a couple of post-it notes.

Without saying anything, she posted them on the cabinet next to our stove. I have to say I didn't notice. The girls settled into a show, I had a second cup of coffee and scanned the papers. When I went back into the den to confirm what everyone wanted to eat, Madison said, "Dad, check the orders. Did you see the orders?"


beans and
coffee and

toast with
cream cheese
eggs (with) salt
and butter
orange juice with

It turned out to be a good little system, our humble tribute to short-order cooks everywhere.

Chapter Books

Madison's latest rite of passage has been the move from picture books (think "Goodnight Moon," Strawberry Shortcake or anything by Eric Carle) to "chapter books," mostly a series called Junie B. Jones.

She has one of these with her basically at all times, including at Ava's soccer game early yesterday.

We set up her portable chair and she was content for the better part of an hour, except when she saw Ava give up a goal and ran over (with her book) to offer some sisterly advice, namely that goalies are allowed to use their HANDS.

We missed last week's game in favor of the apple picking trip, and Ava's performance out there on the field (after surrendering goalie duties to one of her diminutive teammates) definitely suffered. Distracted and disengaged, she twirled around and chased after the ball only in response to our sideline urgings.

I briefly considered doing a riff on the basketball scene from the Great Santini, ("Ava, put him down... put him DOWN... score a goal or you don't come home. Score a goal or you won't EAT!"), but I didn't want to mortify the other parents and children in attendance on an otherwise quiet and foggy Saturday morning.

We'll see how she does next week and assess whether or not we need to start withholding fresh mozzarella or snack. We're giving her the benefit of the doubt for now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Life On "Planet Mom"

Two of my friends from college started a company a few years ago called Planet Mom, which designs and sells T-shirts and other forms of apparel to the "Mommy" demographic. The items all carry funny and attitude-laden messages, the kind of "yeah, I get that, I totally get that" statements capable of making any Mom the hit of the play-date or pre-school drop-off.

They just came out with a new set of shirts, and one in particular caught my attention because - Mom or Dad - it expresses a feeling I'm sure many of us have had at one time or another.

Here it is:

We all have our own personal examples of this dynamic - elaborate vacations for toddlers who can barely walk, Redwood swing sets that resemble small villages, dinners out at real restaurants, dancing lessons, organized athletics, art and music classes, Webkinz stockpiles that border on the obscene.

Early next year, our girls will make their fifth annual family pilgrimage to Aruba, a few weeks before Ava turns 5. I'm not sure I left the country before junior year of high school, and that was for an educational exchange trip to England, not a week of swim-up bars and water slides.

My childhood vacations involved cramming into the back of the Family Truckster with my two sisters for the long drive down to Florida, catching a few days at Disney, and then turning the car around to head back home. We'd fold down the seats so we could lay next to each other and sleep, in between rounds of asking whether we were "almost there," an approach to highway travel with children that would, today, probably result in parental arrest.

No complaints from me, we all turned out fine, but I have to say I think the ladies of Planet Mom are onto something.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Apples And Ice

We had a good and active weekend. Saturday morning we were up and out of the house by 9 a.m., headed for a BBQ lunch in an upstate New York campground and an afternoon of apple picking. It was a nice day, and we now have about 100 apples in our refrigerator - Empires, Macouns, Red and Yellow Delicious, Jona Golds, all our favorites.

Sunday morning we were on the road even earlier, this time to get into the city with a group of friends and catch "High School Musical: The Ice Tour" at Madison Square Garden. The girls loved it, especially Ava. Madison had a good time as well, but she was a little distressed that the "real people" from the film weren't the ones skating around out there on the ice. Her enthusiasm was also muted by the fact that the entire production, even down to the chatter between the songs, appeared to be lip synced. It was still a good and lively show, though, and well worth the trip.

We made it back home in time for Madison's afternoon soccer game. Gwen took her to the field so I could stay home with Ava and watch both the Mets and Jets lose. Let's just say the day went decidedly downhill after we parted company with the fake Troy and Gabrielle.

[Madison (far right) and friends storm the Garden. At some point in her development, Madison may decide that she'd rather not have her Dad trailing her with a camera on her way into a concert. Happily, we aren't there yet.]

[Ava rocks out before the start of the show.]