Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pre-Microwave Wilderness

The latch on our microwave broke so that it won't open. It is astounding how dependent we have become on this technology. As a dad who prepares food (calling what I do cooking is a vast overstatement) the microwave is a necessity.

Yes, you can heat up leftovers on the stove, but then I have to wash a pot. It is easier just to eat everything cold (or make sandwiches.) No problem for this frigovore. But my kids are very picky and it basically knocks the leftovers off the menu. Once starting down this path, we almost invariably end up ordering pizza.

But pizza delivery does not solve every problem (although you'd be surprised just how many problems can be resolved by ordering a pizza.) When my daughter was over-tired and tantrumy, I thought to give her milk. But lukewarm milk had the opposite effect of warm milk - it only enraged the beast.

The repair guy came. My son and a friend were playing "head ball" the object of which is to bounce balls off of the other player's head. (I taught him this game - which I invented with my brother decades ago and played at the inter-collegiate level.) I could have told them to be still and stay away to give the repair guy peace, but this is not a command that seven year old boys can process. So instead I told them to get away because when the repairman unscrewed the sides of the microwave it would release deadly radiation.

The boys looked at each other. "Deadly radiation?" "Didn't radiation make the Hulk green and strong?" "What about the Joker?" "No, that was chemicals."

After some discussion, they stood very close and very still. Silent, eyes closed, but breathing deeply, trying to suck in every particle of precious radiation.

We'll see if either of them sprouts wings or a third eye (with my luck my son will become SkunkMan: Beware Evildoers, for Justice Stinks!)

The repair guy needed to schedule a follow-up appointment. "A week from today, next Tuesday - that's what the..."

"It's the sixth," I said immediately. He began counting, "Today's the 30th, tomorrow..."

"Trust me," I said, "Tuesday next week is the sixth, because Monday is the fifth."

"That is when his school re-opens," I continued, pointing to the little meditating gargoyles.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have Yourself a Very Restful Christmas...

Although we don't actually celebrate Christmas (what with being Jewish and all...) the kids did get together and give my wife and I a magnificent gift this morning. They slept until 7:30! Then they came barging into our room yelling.

The slept late because we kept them up very late, watching the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I read it to my son and am reading it now to my daughter, so they are big fans.

My daughter liked Aslan and Mr. Tumnus and Lucy. But she really liked the White Witch.

"When people disagree with her, she turns them into stone! That's cool!"

Much to her disappointment, I will not be getting her a magic wand for Chanukah (Target is all sold out...)

I've read the entire Narnia series to my son, we are now listening to Harry Potter on CD, and he just saw the very cool One Man Star Wars (plus he knows the entire series by osmosis).

So I asked him which was his favorite. He looked at me for a long time, I thought his head might explode. But after a while he said, "I like them all - but football is my favorite."

I am trying to raise a geek. But despite my best efforts I may get a pretty normal kid.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Other Parents Describe my Daughter

At a recent parent's night at my daughter's school the parents were asked to introduce themselves and say something about their child. The descriptions were in the realm of what is generally expected.

"My daughter likes pink."

"My son likes cars, trains... really any form of wheeled transportation."

When my turn came I said, "My daughter likes telling people what to do."

The parent of a regular play-date partner corrected me, "No. She likes it when people do what she says."

"Right, she really insists compliance!" another parent of a friend added.

I hadn't thought of this proviso, since for me obedience always went without saying.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dental Tales

My dentist bit me.

He had his reasons.

It was my first trip and my mom had calmly explained that the dentist's job was to make sure my mouth was healthy, which meant that he would be putting his fingers in my mouth. My mom firmly instructed me not to bite him.

I hadn't planned on biting him and I was a generally trusting kid. But since my mom mentioned it...

"What happens if I bite him?" I asked.

Here, my mom had many options. She could have reminded me that you should not bite anyone, or she could have threatened consequences. Instead, she looked at me slyly and said, "He'll bite you back."

This was unexpected. "Really?"

My mom kept that sly look again.

The dentist's office was really marvelous. The crazy cool chair like a giant banana, little spit toilet, the tools, and the statues of teeth all over the place - it was a wonderland.

So the dentist began poking around and, curious, I took - well not really a bite - more of a nibble. (Dentists taste latexy.)

Next thing I knew my nose was in the uncomfortable grip of a disembodied jaw. It was a pair of the tooth statues wired together. Later I learned they were the plaster impressions used to make the terrible headgear I had to wear throughout high school.

"Don't mess with the dentist!" he smiled.

I later learned our dentist had been a ragamuffin with my father in their misbegotten youth. My mom had set me up. (Again I am grateful that YouTube was decades away.)


Years later I witnessed a bar scene. A bunch of Marines were razzing a guy a bit. The guy was definitely losing face was with a date. Not something for yours truly to get involved with. But I ran into the guy in the men's room and said something supportive. He smiled, "I'm in the Navy - a dental tech. I make Marines cry."

Glad I learned my lesson early.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Velcro: One Less Knotty Problem

I've praised velcro before for its ease on morning when untangling knots is a Sisyphean task. But I've grown to appreciate it on other levels as well.

My son is now seven and he can't tie his shoes - neither can any of his friends. I don't know what they learned in kindergarten - I remember shoe-tying being the focus of my sixth year on this mortal coil.

But this is ok. When my son and a buddy are over, and I've dozed off on the couch, I don't need to worry that they are going to tie my ankles together. They try, but they just sort of tuck the strings into the couch pillows and do not get the pleasure of watching me stumble.

It is also one less torture I have to worry about him inflicting on his sister. I recall my friends and I bored after school lassoing my brother - it isn't the sort of thing one should put past any little boy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nothing to Fear Factor

So my wife really likes horror movies. I cannot share this passion with her. You see, I get really, really scared.

For a long-time I elided the problem. When it was time to pick a movie, I could usually steer us towards something more palatable and less scary. Then she started to figure it out. She'd ask me about classic horror movies (like The Shining) and my responses would be unclear. I could fake it for a while because I had read the Mad Magazine parodies of a lot of the movies. But this facade could not last forever.

The other night she tried to bait me into watching The Exorcist - but I've already had enough experience with demonic possession.

I should start out easy on this. My son and I are listening to the Harry Potter series together. He loves it, I'm having nightmares.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


"Hey kids, we have a new President!" I announced this morning.

"Was it the brown dude?" my daughter asked.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Essence of Fatherhood: Little Sacrifices

Last night I saw the essence of fatherhood.

Because his school was closed I let Goofboy stay up late and watch Monday night football. A very big, exciting thing for him.

I have (besides a residual hatred for the Yankees) absolutely no interest in sports. I was looking forward to getting in some good treadmill time and watching my idiot sitcoms. I am attempting to maintain spiritual balance - as I do something good for my body, I pump garbage into my brain. Alternately, I eat Twinkies when I read Kierkegaard.

But my son kept coming downstairs to see me. He looked despondent and a little lonely.

"Hey buddy, put the game on downstairs with me - let's watch together," I told him.

So, for 90 minutes I watched a game that I had no interest in, while listening to his extensive color commentary and fury at officials. It was a tiny sacrifice to make the night special for him.

The big sacrifices (like money and time) are barely noticed as the years go by. And the dramatic ones - like rushing him to the hospital in the dead of night - are really nothing but human decency. I'd like to think I would do those things for anyone in dire need.

But to give up a little pleasure to give him a great one - that is what being a dad is all about.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Show & Tell Stimulus Plan

I have come up with a fool-proof plan to re-invigorate the American economy and thus save the international financial system. It is so simple, so obvious, and so perfect.

The key is to target a tiny, but critical segment of the economy that leads to a ripple effect that extends to other critical sectors.

No government outlays are necessary, the key is very simple. Congress should immediately mandate daily (or more) show and tell sessions for all school children: preschool through college - graduate school will be exempted.*

What will that do?

Typical households will quickly run out of things to show, necessitating continual purchases of toys, stuffed animals, souvenirs, knick-knacks, collectibles, baubles and other somewhat interesting items to be discussed at circle-time.

Thanks to the explosion of China as a manufacturing power, tchotchkes are less expensive then ever before in human history - so this would cause undue fiscal hardship on only a small percentage of families. For those families that had trouble purchasing a steady stream of doo-dads a modest financial aid program, perhaps modeled on food stamps could be initiated.

Again, what will that do?

The point of the program is not to stimulate small manufacturing (in China) although that would be a useful by-product. As families found their homes flooded with a never ending flow of objets d'show'n tell they would need larger and larger homes. They would begin looking into expanding their living quarters, taking advantage of the depressed housing market. Soon, home sales and new home starts would begin to rise. This is the crucial element of the economy that needs a jump start.

What if people just ignore the "Show & Tell Act of 2008"?

No law is effective without enforcement, and the most effective enforcement in this case is that students who fail to bring something in for show & tell will be dismissed from school for the day. This guarantees that parents will make sure their children bring something to show.

In Conclusion

This plan is too late to help either candidate win the election. But whoever wins should build a bi-partisan coalition to enact this low-cost policy, with almost no downside.

A highly skilled visionary will be needed to oversee this complex, revolutionary, and essential program - and I know just the graduate student in public policy to run it.

*I'm in graduate school. Isn't my macro-economics class serving me well?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Youth Vote at My House

My son has been firmly in the Obama camp for a while (despite an early flirtation with Huckabee.) My son's argument was simple, we've had lots of old Presidents.

My daughter's stand was unknown, she expressed a fondness for McCain, because he was "wrinkly" but I doubted her level of commitment. If I read the fuzzy bathtub letters right (and it's tough to say, since, at four, she can't read or write), she's made her call.

The truth is, over at Goof Manor, only one man in the world could compete with Obama -

That's right! We're talkin' bout Taft.

For the youthful generation, no President is a greater source of interest or fascination than old #27. Whether it was his need for a plus-sized bathtub, or his fixation with canned ham, or maybe those terrific pictures of him golfing there is no President better for a good belly laugh than Taft.

Can ya dig it?

Taft has become a regular subject of discussion in our home. The other day my daughter had an enormous poop (she's potty trained, but still needs a little supervision). I won't go into details, but it made me recall the middle school science unit when we learned that there are over 20 feet of intestines inside the human body. Potty time is, unfortunately, a family affair so my son got involved and offered color commentary. My daughter looked up from her throne and asked, in a strained voice - her face showing the wear and tear of production, "Is it because I eat like Taft?"

Two Versions of "Taft" to the tune of "Shaft"

The kids love this one.

This one is a little raunchier.

This is totally different, not "Shaft" themed but very informative.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Drinking Lessons

As we sat in our Sukkah, I resolved to make good use of the time and teach my children an essential life skill while celebrating the joy of Judaism's harvest festival.

I brought three little glasses and poured a bit into each. Then I showed them, first you tap the glass three times on the table. Then, before we clink glasses we shout out our toast. The classic is of course l'chaim which means, in Hebrew, "To life!" But others are possible, "To mommy," "To Spongebob," or "To waffles."

Then, we slammed it down. My son tried to sip, but I explained that this was forbidden, we must gulp it down and exhale with a loud, "Aaah!"

After the first few, my kids got tired and wanted to quit. But I wouldn't let them. I told them they needed to see this through. Together we finished a fifth - of Dr. Brown's Black Cherry soda.

In about a couple of decades they can graduate to the real stuff, I just want them to be ready.

Yom Kippur Lessons

On Yom Kippur there is an afternoon lull when the morning service ends and the evening service begins. Since it is a fast day, adults are usually getting a bit cranky and sluggish by this time. My son was in the Youth Lounge at our synagogue playing games and I thought he might want to go home and have something to eat (he's only seven, too little to fast.)

However, when I got to him, he didn't want to leave, and I saw why. He was engaged in an intense game of pool. A game to which he had just been introduced.

The written manual of Jewish law is called the Shulchan Aruch (which literally means "Set Table" in Hebrew - you can see how important eating is to Jews.) But somehow, I don't think this was meant to refer to racking the billiard bills.

But he'll always have fond (if atypical) memories of the Yom Kippur he learned to play pool.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cookie Campaign

I am tired of the elections (who isn't at this point.) But the are creating some difficult discourse in our home. The other day my son asked, "Dad, I need cookies."

I did what any responsible father would do and said, "Is that how we ask for things?"

My son walked away, surprising, but in the short attention span theater that is the mind of a seven year old, not unlikely. A few minutes later, my son and daughter walked into the kitchen - my daughter planting herself firmly in front of me and my son standing behind her. She began:
Daddy. Some people don't want us to have cookies. But a lot of people like cookies. Cookies would make us happy. You should give us cookies because we need to be happy. They will make us strong. Daddy. Consider it. It is your duty. Give us cookies.
Then my son stepped forward and announced, "I'm Barak Obama and I approved this message."

Clearly the Obama campaign has raised way too much money if they can afford to advertise extensively on Nickelodeon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Power of Media

So I am listening to a new book, and, while driving carpool the kids asked to hear a little. My daughter thought the reader sounded just like the narrator of The Egyptologist*. So, looking at the box I saw it was read by Andrew Sachs who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers.

So I began telling the kids about Fawlty Towers and when we got home I found some videos on YouTube including this one of Manuel getting smacked around:

When their mom got home, they swarmed her and began hitting her yelling, "You're Manuel! You're Manuel!"

They learned their lesson about hitting and I learned mine about the impact of TV violence. We all had long timeouts.

*Capsule review of The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips - It was pretty good, but a little too long, and I saw through the big twist about halfway through and listened to about 8 hours till the end hoping to be wrong.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Holding the Line in the New Year

Rosh Hashanah,the Jewish holiday that just initiates a time of contemplation, for taking stock and considering how to better oneself in the coming year. Thinking along those lines takes me in certain directions, which this comic strip (Rhymes with Orange - contact your local paper about carrying this terrific comic today!) captured my life perfectly.

None of this was helped by the fact that, after a week of tremendous effort, my son's shofar skills have improved from "dying alpaca" to "walrus in heat" (which isn't that far off from how the thing should actually sound.) I have been overthrown from yet another household title. I am no longer the Risk champion of the house. My son has also learned he can beat me at dodgeball by getting inside and throwing at my shins - and he walloped my slider over the neighbor's fence for a home run (granted the ball was a foam and didn't break right.)

Being regularly bested by a seven-year old - my efforts at self-improvement will focus on identifying areas where I can still defeat him and hold the line, lest my household authority deteriorate further. Maybe I'll break out the old Atari and play him at Asteroids or Pong. But not Missile Command - that spooky noise when your defenses fail (as they inevitably must) and the world comes to an end will give him nightmares.

I still have those nightmares.

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Year Sounds.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year is almost upon us. Preparations for this holiday are extensive, physical (cooking, cleaning) and of course spiritual as we consider how we can be better people in the coming year.

Central to the religious celebrations is the blowing of the shofar which is made from a ram's horn. The sound is to inspire us, but actually getting a sound out of the thing is a trick - you don't actually blow, you sort of purse your lips and spit.

It is a trick my son intends to master. So he has lengthy sessions spitting into my shofar. He can get a sound, but instead of the pure and clear inspirational note, it sounds like a herd of very sick alpacas.In fairness, I'm not much better.

We also went to our synagogue and helped set up the hundreds of chairs needed for the services. My son was great, working harder - pound for pound - than anyone else. However, he also learned a few things about human nature as he watched a few dozen grown-ups argue about how to best arrange the chairs to maximize comfort vs. seating capacity vs. aesthetics. Then, after rows of chairs were set up, competing factions would adjust them, changing spacing - creating new access rows...

Watching this, anyone who believed in the Zionist Conspiracy would have been quickly disabused of the notion.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Old Jokes & A New Hope

One of the pleasures of my life is that my wife has not heard many old jokes. What is stock to most of the joke-hearing world is unknown to her. This is great for me, I can crank out "Priest, minister, and Rabbi" jokes as the day is long. It also makes teaching them to my son that much more fun.

Of course he is still learning the construction. I've tried to explain the maxim articulated in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors: "If it bends, it's comedy. But if it breaks..."

Sometimes his efforts at jokes are sound like a joint effort between Henny Youngman and Lawrence Ferlingheti. Just the other day he tried one on me:
Why did the chicken cross the road?


To fix the tractor.
But sometimes he gets it just right.

One of his jobs is to get my newspapers in the morning (I get three - I don't exactly read them, I just get them). Usually he doesn't "feel like it" and I've fired him a dozen times. But this morning he hauled them in and said, "Daddy, you need to get two more papers."

"Ugh, why? When would I read them?"

"C'mon Daddy, you can never refuse a fifth!"

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Daughter's Dibbuk

For a traditional Jew Shabbat is a special day, a day of peace, reflection, and joy. For me it is also a day of just a little fear.

There is a beautiful tradition in which parents bless their children - placing their hands gently on the heads of their offspring and reciting a blessing in Hebrew.

My daughter hates this custom. At first we thought perhaps I was squeezing her head too hard (my son had that complaint, but I became more careful.) My little girl runs screaming when I approach, yelling, "Don't bless me! Don't bless me! I don't like this!"

My wife still blames me (a good first instinct on most things) and my heavy hands. But I have my own theory - I am waiting to see if she spins her head all the way around.

Anyone know a rabbi who does exorcisms?

Meanwhile, my son offers to be blessed twice, I keep trying to tell him it doesn't work that way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vacation sans kinder

Not much blogging, in great part because Mother Goof and I headed off to Belgium for a week. (There was a beer festival in Brussels, although really a beer festival in Brussels is a bit redundant.)

Did we bring the little Goofs? That would not have been responsible. They were watched by my mom. Many friends of mine drop their jaws at this, "Your mom stayed with your kids for over a week while you went on vacation? You are sooo lucky to have such a great mom!"

I remind my friends of what Bill Cosby told his children about their sweet grammy and gramps, "They aren't nice, these are old people trying to get into heaven."

Still, we were grateful and my mom deserves something special for this. One possibility I proposed was some special time with her grandchildren. Surprisingly my mom passed.

Missing Scent

My son is a sensitive kid and we were worried that he would really miss us. So my wife gave him a shirt she had slept in. He slept with it and he didn't miss us as much.

His little sister is more independent and self-possessed. But, this morning, just before she shooed me out of her classroom, much to my surprise, my daughter informed me that we should have also given her a shirt to sleep with while we were away. I asked her if she would have liked a shirt from Daddy. She rolled her eyes, "A Daddy shirt is just stinky."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Democrats Pitch Soccer Moms

As an honorary soccer mom (I am a dad, of course, but I drive most of the carpools) I found Mass. Governor Duval Patrick's speech particularly compelling. He spoke of growing up on the South Side of Chicago where neighbors looked out for each other worked together to enforce shared values. He said, I paraphrase:
If Ms. Jones down the street found you were making trouble she would straighten you out herself. Then she would call your mom who would straighten you out again.
Are the Democrats in favor of beating other people's children?


As a regular carpool driver this is a policy initiative I can support. Carpool driving is maddening, because you can discipline your own kid - but you have zero leverage over the other kids in the carpool. The other kids know this and will abuse this power vacuum mercilessly. It is an open question whether the Democrats are sufficiently realistic about international relations - but clearly they understand balance of power arrangements in the carpool.

Best of all, being Democrats, not only will they support disciplining other people's children - they'll probably subsidize it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama & Children First Thing in the Morning

Michelle Obama says she wakes up every morning and her first thoughts are of her children. I am unimpressed. The defining feature of parenthood is waking up every morning to children screaming.

On the rare occasions when I do not wake up to the sounds of children screaming - they are still first in my thoughts. This is because silence can mean only one thing, they are quietly coming closer to harpoon me with a tinker-toy spear.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Feline Fears

Clearly I am continuing to be deeply affected by the news that a big cat is loose in our area. The media coverage may have subsided, but for me the terror continues. Look at what I've been drawing on my daughter's lunch bags. This first one, no big deal.

But when my daughter saw this, she screamed and ran away. As an artist I guess I should be flattered that my work actually moved someone. My wife had to reduce the fear factor with a few quick strokes of the felt tip.

Initially this cat was a cougar. It has since been downgraded to a Savannah Cat. Although the Savannah Cat is only one third the size of a cougar - - it is three times as evil and it remains on the loose.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Physics of Phelps

So everyone is blown away by Michael Phelps. But what is with the super-low swimsuit - everyone else makes do with the full-body version. Is he planning a post-swimming career in plumbing (so he can stay around the water)? Or does the hint of tush cleavage act as a spoiler?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Torture on Tisha B'Av

Yesterday was Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. It is a day of mourning for the many historical tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people (amazing they could fit it all into one day!)

Traditional Jews fast from sundown the evening before through to nightfall, about 25 hours. Knowing that not eating for more than an hour or so makes me cranky I arranged playdates for my children.

My daughter and her friend played a few rounds of "beauty salon" in which they used magic markers to paint their toenails. Then they decided to play "restaurant."

Since I was nearby, lying on the couch drooling slightly (I had been fasting for 20 hours), I got to be the customer. They served me dish after dish, a salad made from wooden cucumbers and carrots, a bristle block sandwich, and some plastic cookies.

It looked good enough to eat.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Clash of the Gordons

I was poking around the Web today, looking for the lyrics of a song I could teach my kids and have them serenade my wife when she returned from her trip. At first I was thinking of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

But in the process, I learned something that really bugged me - Gordon Lightfoot isn't bald.*

The two celebrity Gordons I know of (and for some reason, I don't have any actual friends named Gordon) are both cueballs, so in my universe, people named Gordon should be bald.

One of the Gordons is of course, Gordon of Sesame Street.

The other is G. Gordon Liddy.

Good Gordon vs. Evil Gordon

Both burst on the national scene at about the same time - in 1974, when I was a little boy. Gordon joined Sesame Street and Liddy played a crucial role in destroying our nation's innocence by engineering the Watergate break-in. Thus good Gordon and evil Gordon - at least in my mind's eye.

Liddy of course plays into the stereotype of bald men as evil masterminds. (Any chance of getting references to Lex Luther banned as "hate speech?")

It is a stereotype that oppresses me regularly as I join their ranks (at a rate increasing daily...) Fortunately, Gordon of Sesame Street was a shining counter-example, a mastermind, but for good. So good was Gordon, that there is a Gordon Fisher Price person. It is safe to say that there will probably never be a G. Gordon Liddy Fisher Price person (if you really want one, just bite the plastic hair part off of any other Fisher-Price character - the Fisher-Price figures can't resist, they have no arms.)

Come to think of it, a Watergate-themed Fisher-Price set would be kind of cool and might be an important step to addressing the shocking deficit of civic knowledge among America's youth.

*I knew "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was really long and dirge-like - just the ironic mood I was seeking. Of course when I discovered it was the tragic story of an iron ore ship freighter that sunk in a November storm on Lake Superior (killing its 29 crewmen), I decided it would be kind of inappropriate.

I should establish something here. I never really listened to music. When all the other kids in high school were watching MTV or listening to tapes on the Walkmen - I was doing "something else." I am at a loss to describe what it might have been. So my knowledge of music and familiarity with songs and musicians is idiosyncratic - with an emphasis on the idiot. I am particularly prone to songs that when heard for even a few bars get stuck permanently inside the skull and also commercial jingles. I am also incapable of understanding lyrics clearly.

I hope this clarifies something...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Eloquence in the Morning

My long-suffering wife is away for a few days. No problem - I've got that dad thing down. But, in the mornings it is my wife who is the "go to" parent.

So, as usual, my little girl came into our room at an ungodly hour (although in fairness I consider any AM hour with a single digit ungodly) and commanded, "Get me my milk, please."

What coffee is to adults, apparently milk is too children.

I rolled over, looked at her and said wryly, "No, you get me my milk."

She furrowed her brow, "No, I'm little!"

An argument that had the virtues of brevity, elegance, and absolutely truth, I thought as I stumbled downstairs to heat her milk.

Having mastered the classic trivium (logic, grammer, and rhetoric) now she needs to learn to count so she can take on the quadrivium.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Summer Camp Initiation

My son came home from camp really excited for, "Color Wars!"

My wife looked concerned, "We need to pull him out - I don't like this."

"Yeah, I hated color war when I went to camp, I was always the one dragging down my crew," I shared - dredging up long repressed memories of summer initiations.

My wife's eyes got wide, "You are in this? Why didn't you tell me? You could have endangered all of us!"

Then I remembered, my wife grew up in Los Angeles - and not as a member of the "summer camp attending" class (although summer camp in LA seems redundant.) In her mind, color wars implied something beyond three-legged races and pop-tart eating contests.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All-Star Jokes

A special day here at the Goof home. My son loves baseball, but rarely gets to see a game (games start around 8 and he needs to be in bed around that time.) But he came home from camp and took a nap so he could stay up late.

Normally he has to wait for the morning papers - which he obsesses over, clips, and marks up. For the rest of the world print newspapers are slowly dying out for everyone else - but I am raising my son in a different era. He will be like the last of the Mohicans.

They did a great program with old Hall of Famers. I tried to explain to my son how Ralph Kiner was a real old-time - long retired when I was a collecting baseball cards. Of course they had my hero Eddie Murray and other Oriole greats - Franks and Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and of course Cal Ripken. I was also happy to see Robin Yount, who's name adorns my boyhood glove, that I still use.

Best of all was Yogi Berra - my son knows all about Yogi. How, after Mary Lindsay (wife of NYC Mayor John Lindsay), told Yogi he looked nice and cool, Yogi responded, "You don't look so hot yourself."

How after Yogi was hit by a foul ball, he was taken to the hospital where doctors X-rayed his head and found nothing.

As I write this, it is the fifth inning. I asked my son if he wanted to stay up and watch it. He said, "Dad - I never refuse a fifth."

Yep, I'm raising my son for a career in vaudeville. Or maybe he can work the Catskills.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

John Henry vs. The Bicycle

In one of the many statistics courses I've had to take (and muddle through) we learned about the John Henry Effect:
One group may view that it is competition with the other group and may work harder than than they would under normal circumstances. This generally is applied to the control group "taking on" the treatment group.
The effect is named for the classic American folk hero about a mighty steel-driver on the crews that built the railroads across the country. One day, the owner of the railroad buys a steam-powered hammer to do the job and John Henry challenges the machine in order to save jobs of his work-crew. In a tough mano a machino contest John Henry bests the machine but dies in the process.

I had my own little John Henry effect. My son has begun riding a bike. We go out to the trail, he bikes and I run along-side him. He is only seven, his bike still has training wheels, but he still peddles faster then I run. I am inspired, this is man against machine. I push myself to new limits. My heart pounds, my legs strain, my breath is ragged. It is MAN vs. MACHINE! AGE vs. YOUTH! I run like the wind (or at least a gentle breeze.)

And today, in defense of honor - I kept my son in sight for 87 seconds.

Strictly speaking, this may not be an illustration of the John Henry Effect, or it might be...

The fact is I didn't do very well in the class, which is why I volunteered to sing John Henry, Steel Driving Man in class for extra credit.

Yes it was kind of embarrassing, but it was also good preparation for my thesis defense (currently projected for 2017.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Celebrations and Gifts - Mamawala Redux

The first half of summer is full of celebrations at the Goof home. Father's Day, Fourth of July, my birthday (on the one hand a reminder of my spiral towards decrepitude and death - but also an excuse to loaf and have a drink with lunch), and another one, ummm, yeah...

We were married on Father's Day, so when it comes it should be a bit of a head's up to yours truly. This year on our anniversary, as we went through our morning stumbles, my wife asked me, "What day were we married?"

It wasn't a trick, we were both so tired and overwhelmed that we just forgot. Still, I felt bad. At work I asked all of the women I worked with if they had any jewelry they could spare? They were not sympathetic.

I did convince an intern to take on an emergency baby-sitting job so I could take the long-suffering Mama Goof out. One of my big problems with baby-sitters is that they are one of the only elements of the economy that still require cash (along with vending machines.) Why can't today's web savvy baby-sitting teens get Paypal accounts? At $12 an hour, the extra 20 minutes to get to the ATM to pay them is a defacto surcharge.

Here, I was saved by mamawla. I still had the wad of bills she had foisted on me for Father's Day - and could pay off the baby-sitter.

No hard feelings, because on my birthday I got the best present - exactly what I wanted. It was a weekday, but I got to sleep in (until 8) and my wife took on my major morning chore. She applied the sunscreen.

I've written before about all of the tiny factors that make parenthood much harder today than it was in the past. One is lunches, which absorbs my wife's energies every morning. Our kids don't have food allergies, but their classmates seem to have a full spectrum of vulnerabilities that need to be navigated.

I take on the other great enemy of health - the sun. Every morning the kids fight me on the sunscreen issue. I can't just hold them down, because the sunscreen makes them all slippery. Plus, in chasing them around I get sunscreen all over the house (I don't corner as well as I used to.) So I threaten, cajole, and beg. All this without coffee (which I invariable manage to flavor with sunscreen.)

When my mom called to wish me a happy birthday, I asked her if she had to chase me around the house to put on sunscreen? She laughed, "Only at the beach. For a regular day at camp, there was no need."

"No need! Did you want me die?"

She reminded me that when she was young sunscreen didn't exist, people put on oil and just sat in the sun like rotisserie chickens. She was a product of her times. Simpler, easier times...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Mom's Prison Break

This morning, as we woke up, my wife looked at me oddly.

"I was dreaming - it was so real," she began.

"What about," I asked.

"I think I was in prison."

"Sounds like a nightmare. I'm sorry, are you okay?" I tried to be sensitive.

"We went to bed early. They gave us food. They made everyone be quiet all the time. There was a toilet right in middle of my cell," she murmured, then she looked at me and beamed, "It was wonderful!"

"Even the toilet with no privacy?" I asked as she got up to go to the bathroom.

Before she answered, my daughter zoomed into our bedroom and began banging on the bathroom door, "Mommy, mommy! I need to come in."

"I need my privacy!" my wife yelled back.

"I like your privacy too. Let me in, I want some!" my daughter yelled back.

I tried to distract my daughter, apparently she "needed" a band-aid. When I asked her to show me the wound, she couldn't - because of course she didn't have one. She is at the age where band-aids are really accessories. Her brother had come in and on hearing his sister wanted a band-aid helpfully offered to hit her so she would need a one. For a seven year old, that's a win-win.

I shooed away my son, got a piece of masking tape and drew Scooby-Doo on it. After four tries my daughter was satisfied.

When my wife came out of the bathroom she had a bemused expression. "The prison toilet was the best part. I didn't mind if they watched me - just so long as they were quiet."

I await signs of her impending crime spree. I fear that she will start a new trend that our criminal justice system is not equipped to handle.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Father Goof's Fourth

Pyrotechnics are nice, but I try to teach my kids something about the meaning of our national holidays. So, over and over again I recite to my kids these beautiful lines from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the purfuit of Happineff.
Cheap joke at the expense of our Founding Fathers? Maybe, but they can take it. And in making my son laugh a bit about it, he also remembers these profound words about a government that, by design, seeks to help its people live a decent life. Imagine that - a country that in its central founding document wants its citizens to at least have a fair shot at not merely survival - but happiness.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Grappling Geopolitics

My kids and I have had a lot of big wrestling sessions lately. It might be the early sunrise. Sunlight causes them to get up and come into our bedroom and yell. Sunlight makes plants grow, water evaporate, and children get out of bed in order to shout at their parents.

Since I am not similarly effected by sunlight, I prefer to stay in bed quietly moaning and cursing Apollo. So my kids jump on me. This is better than getting up, they aren't that big. So we wrestle. My favorite tactic is when my son has me "pinned" to get his little sister to climb on top of him. Technically she is on his side, adding her weight to his to dominate me. Then I pick her up and drop her on him. Effectively, I use my daughter, to batter my son. (There are lots of blankets so no one is really getting hurt. And the combat is purely physical - if this were psychological someone might get hurt.)

So as I drift in and out of sleep, occasionally waving my arms to brush off little combatants - my mind drifts and I start to think of my daughter as Italy in World War II. That is, the British determined they were happier to have Italy as an enemy - weighing down the Germans.

Then I wondered why I so readily associated wrestling with international affairs. Then I remembered that my introduction to wrestling came in the era of The Iron Sheikh and Nikolai Volkoff who teamed up as "The Foreign Legion." Volkoff sang the Russian National Anthem before bouts. This was the 1980s, the symbolism (as with everything else in the world of Vince McMahon) was ummm... unsubtle.

I doze again, thinking "The Influence of Professional Wrestling, American Public Opinion, & Foreign Policy" might be a good PhD thesis. It might explain a lot. It would be way more fun to research than anything else.

Then I awoke with a start, the Axis powers were attempting an assault on a peripheral position by head butting my legs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baby Borrowers: Bad TV or Free Baby-Sitting?

Tonight The Baby Borrowers is premiering on NBC tonight - soon. Five teenage couples each take care of a baby, then a toddler, then a pre-teen, then a teenager, and then someone who is elderly. Relationships are tested, words are exchanged, and diapers are not...

Suffice to say, I won't be watching. Father Goof is no fan of reality TV to begin with, and this sounds truly dreadful (although a bit of schadenfraude watching other people suffer through parenthood does seem in order).

But what got me is Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales wrote, "...we don't get to know enough about the kinds of couples who would lend their infants to a piece of exploitainment like this..."

Quite frankly, that's a no brainer: Parents who want free baby-sitting!

The producers do not want the infants to die on them and will intervene on that front if necessary. If (as the posted video teaser suggests) the teenagers can't get the kids to sleep - so what? That's their problem (and in the meantime, I would have slept fine without a baby crying every few hours). The baby will sleep on his/her return.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catch of the Day

It is a beautiful day and somehow I did not get outside. My work did not go well. So when I got home I asked my son if he would please play some ball with me. He didn't really want to. But I begged him.

It was buggy and he complained about all the mosquito bites, but I pitched and he humored me by pretending to be flummoxed by my change-up (the drop in speed from 12 mph to 8 mph really throws him).

While we were at it, he told me about camp (it's his second day - much better than the first, which was also good.) I thanked him for making my day.

The things he has to do to for his parents!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Handy Man Can & The Field of Nightmares

I am not a bad husband, overall. I have my strengths and my weaknesses, but when asked, my wife's big complaint about me is how completely and utterly "unhandy" I am with tools. I do not build, fix, or repair anything. My father-in-law was a regular McGyver and his yard is a treasure trove of decaying tools, inventions, and jury-rigged devices of uncertain origin - or, as my children call them, "toys."

My father can also fix things, but I did not inherit this, despite his efforts to teach me. I believe that I was a poor student because as a southpaw, I am at disadvantage in attempting to repair right-handed devices - just another way rightey keeps us down!

So I am sending her (through the very private medium of this blog) this recent Washington Post article about Jim Scardina who's -
entire front yard is a baseball field. With dugouts, bleachers, even a concession stand.

Piece by piece during the past 10 years, Scardina has built the field from scratch, to the astonishment of his neighbors, the disapproval of his wife and the delight of his son....

But it didn't stop with grass on the outfield. Scardina started working on accessories: A bathroom so players wouldn't have to hike all the way to the house. Bleachers and a concession stand for the kids.

Then one day, Michelle Scardina noticed a big shed being erected beside the house. At the time, they were using a tractor to mow the grass on their 10-acre lot. "A storage shed for the tractor, that's how he explained it," she said.

But within months, the tractor shed had somehow transformed into a $100,000 winter baseball training facility with a bathroom, shower, kitchen and office. Two batting cages were installed with 90-mph pitching machines. An area to the side served as a mini-infield for the boys to run drills.
This will be a quick lesson that she should be careful what she wishes for. I have lots of big ideas. Recently I've been considering a catapult system to send the kids to school so I don't have to drive carpool, but I can't find a good contractor.

But since my primary medium is words, the biggest danger my wife faces is that I'll start another blog. The pen may be mightier then the sword, or hammer, or even the lathe. Perhaps my words will change the world. But they won't clutter up the yard (although my office is a wreck.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Father's Day Finances: Mamawala

One last Father's Day gift - my wife, after talking to her mom handed me some cash. I looked at her quizzically - not that I mind being handed cash.

"It's from my mama," she explained. Although of course I am grateful that my mother-in-law likes me, this is, however, a worrisome sign that her usual good sense is failing.

But here is the thing, it was my wife's money - and we basically pool our money so what was I given exactly?

My wife shook her head, "Just take it - my mama said to do this so we have to do it."

Suddenly I understood the hawala system, one of the informal financial network used by diaspora communities to transfer money. The system works entirely on trust, one broker will release money strictly on the say-so of a broker on the other side of the world.

Mamacita is running her own network, and I'd best go along with the mamawala.

So what will I do with my good fortune? I'll take my inspiration from former major league pitcher Tug McGraw, who, when he was asked how he would spend his $75,000 salary (this was 1975) said, "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey. The other 10 percent I'll probably waste."

I'll do like good old Tug McGraw, an old, sluggish, married Tug McGraw who needs to be up early the next morning.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day Card Update

Below (no link, just scroll down) my I wrote about my daughter's disturbing Father's Day card. Bouncing her on my knee this morning, I asked her about it again.

"Sweetheart, why did you make the person on the Father's Day card all bloody?"

"Daddy, I did it to make you freak out."

Well, it kind of worked.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Cards: Portrait by an Artist as a Red Man

So my kids made me Father's Day cards - pretty standard stuff (and as such, painfully sweet.) My son's card had a picture of my pitching to him, his drawing of my face had black magic marker blotches because I hadn't shaved. Great!

My daughter (she's four) made a card featured below.*

After my son explained his card, I asked my daughter about her work. She explained, "That's a bloody man."


"The sun, the clouds, all bloody," she continued.

"Daddy, maybe it is from that time you had a lot of nosebleeds and got blood on everything," my son suggested helpfully.

I learned my lesson - never ask an artist to explain his or her own work, just appreciate the spirit that went into it.

One source may have been some of our recent reading. Their Trotskyite grandfather gave them Big Bird's RED BOOK, with its focus on the need for discipline and monster/child unity in order to prevail in the class struggle (Mr. Hooper is obviously a symbol of bourgeois control over the means of production - particularly of milkshakes). Still, politics aside, Big Bird puts it best when he says, "Red is a very beautiful color. I think you're going to like it."

*Astute readers may have noticed my daughter's card was signed with an "E" that she made herself. It is the first letter of her name. Recently, when I was catching up on some work, she expressed the opinion that my boss was making me work too hard. She announced that she was "Going to write him a letter!"

She made a neat card, with lots of drawings and when I opened it up, inside was a big letter "E."

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Past Father's Day Entries

I've built up a bit of an archive of Father's Day pieces.

My favorite is my first - Fatherhood and Today's Dad about how previous generations of fathers had it easier, with a reference to the late great King of Tonga Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (I expect they will have another - who can refuse a fifth?)

You can read the full Father's Day Archive here.

Gaming Lessons Part II: Seizing the (Father's) Day

Risk is much more to my son’s liking. Counting and remembering may not appeal to many little boys, but world domination is right up my son’s alley. He likes it so much, that this morning I woke up to hear him trying to teach his little sister how to play. She is only four, and while she was eager Risk was a bit over her head both in mechanics and in purpose. She is less interested in domination. When we play chess the Queens meet in the middle of the board, have tea and invite the bishops, knights and castles to join them. For some reason the king is always busy checking his email.

My son became frustrated and starting yelling at his sister for not paying attention, so (after a few moments of enjoying this delicious irony) I accepted that, Father's Day or not, I could sleep no longer and went down to play her part – naturally she had chosen pink.

The die was cast, and it kept coming up in his favor. While I sought chokepoints (Iceland is good, so is North Africa) and to develop adequate force ratios, my son favored a more direct stratagem: “Attack!” His tiny expeditionary forces trounced my citadel in Quebec, my firewall in Ukraine, and my strongholds in Peru and Kamchatka. Soon he needed more pieces then the game provided, so he started using red pieces to augment his forces. A canny move, since my aged eyes had some trouble distinguishing between his red and my pink pieces.

Not that he needed much help. As four straight rolls went against me in the battle for Egypt I envisioned a newspaper headline spinning out, reading: Nile Defenses Shattered as Demoralized Pink Armies Collapse. But then, my small Mongolian contingents put up a surprisingly fierce resistance. I began composing lines for a future history textbook:
Unfamiliar with the terrain and overconfident from their stunning successes, Blue Armies found themselves bogged down by a tough insurgency in the depths of Mongolia’s deserts.
Finally, at my last bastion – inevitably Madagascar – the garrison fought well. I imagined its commander exhorting his men in their doomed defense like Hector at Troy and delivering bombastic speeches like Henry V calling on history: “To always remember the courage of the armies of Pink!”

But a few more rolls and it was over.

As a graduate student of international affairs, who has studied Sun-Tzu and Thucydides, it is humbling to be bested. It was also a lesson in the role of fortune in human affairs (and perhaps a warning that my coursework in conflict management is not serving me well.) The laws of probability decree that we all have a certain number of favorable rolls of the die in our lives. But perhaps these favorable rolls are bunched up at the beginning, for, as Machiavelli instructs, “…fortune always favors young men because they are not so much inclined to caution as to aggressiveness and daring…”

So my duty as dad is to teach him the things he’ll need when fortune’s favor shifts – as it inevitably will - diligence, virtue, and perhaps just a bit of cunning. That is my Father's Day Lesson, to teach my son guile, but as to girls he’ll be on his own.

(And to some extent so am I - I can't teach my daughter anything about guile, or much of anything else. She is four and knows everything.)

Gaming Lessons Part I: Naval Intelligence

My son, at seven, is finally at the age where he can play board games, and it is chance for me to impart some fatherly wisdom.

We started with Battleship, the classic game of naval combat. But this requires sitting still, remembering things and counting – not the traditional strengths of little boys. We play a more active version, which probably better exemplifies war at sea.

When he has a friend over, they team up to take me on. They add a dimension of intelligence and counter-intelligence. One will distract me, while the other tries to learn the location of my ships by sneaking around the dining room table where we play. Crawling under the table is permitted if they still have a submarine, but aircraft carriers or not, aerial surveillance by climbing over the table is forbidden by international treaty, and by mom. When the spy reports back the wee Admirals gesticulate madly at the board and discuss their findings in a chatter that brings to mind monkeys trying to write Shakespeare. Their intelligence analysis needs some work. Unless I actually give them the coordinates, they only locate my ships by chance.

Sometimes, after a disputed call, we wrestle it out. How can there be a disputed call in so straightforward a game as “Battleship?” When one party can’t count or keep track of moves the game acquires a more subjective component. This is historically accurate. Classic naval engagements were frequently settled by boarding actions.

To compensate for their poor naval intelligence, I’ll give both my son and his friend a strike in one turn. My son’s comrade will announce “E9.” “Miss,” I sigh. Then after a several minutes of shrieks and grunts, my son will announce their second strike, “E9!”

“Guys, it was a miss two minutes ago, how can it be a hit now?”

More monkey chatter. “Guys. I’ve told you before, don’t move your ships.”

It is now my turn, the chimpanzee chatter increases as the commodores discuss maneuvers to counter my strike (my 15 second old admonition not to move their ships already forgotten). If I paid attention to their increasingly manic gestures, I could locate their fleet readily, but I will let the little Nelsons have their Trafalgar. Instead, I warn them with a phrase so familiar, but almost never used in context:

“Loose lips, sink ships.”

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our New Pet Gets Sick...

We have a new pet. It is a goldfish, but it is not gold (it's black.) It has big bulging eyes, so it has been named "Big Eye." This is the first fish in several decades of fish owning in my family that is not named "Fishy."

Unfortunately, within a few days of buying him, Big Eye began to move sluggishly. My wife noticed that he was covered in white spots. We told my son that Big Eye might not be with us for long. He began to wail. His little sister consoled him, "Don't worry! I'll fly to the pet store and steal another fish for you."

My wife Googled "goldfish diseases" and identified the fish as having something called Ich.

Fish get Ich when they are stressed. On telling this story, more than a few friends have laughed at the concept of a stressed fish. But, in fairness, being taken from home, transported great distances, and dropped into a completely different environment - where there are no other fish - is probably pretty stressful. The human equivalent would probably be an alien abduction.

Thankfully, there is a cure and I volunteered to make an emergency run to the pet store (there was an element of selfless heroism - but also I am listening to a terrific book on CD.)

The medicine cost $5, about $2 more than the fish - still saving a life is like saving a world.

The Ich medicine has some interesting warnings. First of course is not to eat it. I cannot imagine under what context I would be tempted to eat fish medicine (maybe if I were abducted by aliens who kept forgetting to feed me), but I guess from the Ich medicine manufacturer's perspective it is better to be safe than sorry.

But the bottle also advised that this medicine was not for use on baby whales (full grown whales presumably are ok.) When would this come up? Hopefully professionals at aquariums would have the necessary background to make this judgment without relying too heavily on the instructions on the $5 bottle of medicine.

How would non-aquarium workers even encounter a baby whale? Who keeps whales as pets - James Bond villains possibly? Does Dr. No send his minions to PetCo when his precious Orcas just don't show any appetite for the most recent capture?

The most likely scenario would be encountering a beached whale. But who takes fish medicine with them to the beach?

Regardless, Big Eye is not a baby whale (what a wacky underwater sitcom that would be) because the medicine has worked its wonders and he is no longer Ichy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Speaking Truth to Daughter

"Daddy, why was that man yelling at you?" my daughter asked.

"I parked in the wrong place."

"Daddy, lots of people yell at you."

"Well, your daddy is kind of a dork."

"No Daddy, you're not a dork. You are a man."

My wife chuckled, "Sweetheart, the two are not mutually exclusive - in fact they tend to coincide."

Better she should learn this fundamental truth at four.

Primary School Primaries

Our long national nightmare is nearly over – the Primaries are over and we can enjoy the Olympics this summer. My nightmare ended earlier, when Mike Huckabee dropped out.

With football season over, my son has been following the primaries closely. Every morning his first question on waking up is “Who won?” The explanations are taxing. If CNN “political strategists” can’t explain super-delegates, what chance do I have with a six year old? (Although, in fairness, he understands the NHL playoff system – so maybe I’m the problem.)

Somehow my son decided he was rooting for Mike Huckabee. Maybe it was the funny name, maybe it was his down home charm, or maybe it was because I told my son he used to be fat (my son loves stories about William Howard Taft). Possibly it was because he thought Huckabee’s wife Janet was “Inter-Planet Janet” (from "Schoolhouse Rock - I've got the whole video below.) I don't think my son's support was due to Huckabee’s policies (about which my son was blissfully unaware).

The reasons don’t matter. While I try not to infuse him with my politics (I’ve learned from the mistakes of my Trotskyite father), in our social milieu of liberal Jews (possibly an oxymoron) open support of Mike Huckabee is verboten. If my son actually said something about it at school it would spread like wildfire and we would never be able to schedule another playdate again. We would probably have to move.

Now with Huckabee out, my son has shifted his support to the much more palatable Barak Obama

Personally, I had a soft spot in my heart for Huckabee. I’m not a creationist, but the kinds of people who get worked up over creationism are the kinds of people who are really fun to annoy (like middle school teachers.) I’m not so old that I have lost the joy of provoking apoplexy in a tightly wound pedagogue. This may have been Hillary Clinton’s problem – she reminds people a bit too much of the middle school teacher who insisted you would use algebra when you grew up or who tolerated no dissent on the proper diagramming of sentences.

Another nice thing about the primary season being over is no more mad maps on the cable networks. At one point, CNN's John King used his interactive map to focus in on a home in northern Indiana, which in turn was watching CNN - where John King was focusing in on their home. It was pretty trippy, but I believe he was playing fast and loose with the time-space continuum. Speaking of which, here is "Inter-Planet Janet." I loved her, in my heart and now it is too late...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Partying Pesach Style

Passover as a Jewish holiday is more marathon than sprint. It starts with a bang, the Seders - family, food, and tradition. Then the full implications of the Passover dietary restrictions (no flour, bread, or corn) set in and it becomes a very long week of eating potatoes, matzah, and the attendant digestive complaints.

To top it off, the last two days of Pesach are also a holiday and observant Jews don't work or watch TV, use computers, travel etc. So basically after a week of getting progressively grumpier about the food - you get two days of cabin fever holed up with your family (not that you don't love them...)

The solution is lubrication by libation (it may be politically incorrect - but many situations are vastly improved by a drink or so). Unfortunately, while Passover is deeply spiritual, it is not a holiday big on spirits. There is wine (actually required for the Seder) but beer and hard stuff is out. Man cannot live by wine alone (at least I can't.)

There is a liquor that is kosher for Passover. It is called Slivovitz. It is Hungarian plum brandy - it is potent. In the annals of drinks it holds its own with grapa (which I've been told tastes like gunpowder) and the "smokestack lightning" distilled in rural communities that inspires so many UFO sightings. Drunks in the gutter will turn down Slivovitz. Hardened drinkers who use astringents to mix "Witch Hazeltinis" will pass. Looking closely at a class full of Slivovitz hurts your eyes.

It is the alcohol equivalent to fruitcake. I've never known anyone to buy a bottle. I am working with several bottles (virtually untouched) that I inherited from my grandparents, who I believe received it from relatives in the old country.

But, still when you need I drink, you need a drink. After years of experimentation I learned a secret. Pineapple juice and lots of it! Somehow the sweetness and flavor counter-act the tremendous punch of plum brandy. I can't give an exact formula, something like five parts juice, one part Slivovitz. This reduces the Slivovitz punch down to a manageable tang. And that, of course, is the point.

Party On. Chag Sameach.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sorry to be gone so long...

Someone forgot lost the password to his own blog.

They don't call me Father Goof for nothing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'm Back! After a Long House Arrest

One afternoon my wife came home to find the kids wearing my pajamas and whacking each other with whiffleball bats.

"Mommy we're Jedis!" my daughter announced, while wearing my (not fresh) pajama bottoms tied up under her armpits and swinging a green bat at her brother's head.

"Yeah, I'm Qui-Gon Jinn" my son yelled, parrying, while wearing my pajama shirt like a cloak.

"More like Qui-Gon Dork," she muttered, "Now where is your father?"

I was in the kitchen making chocolate chip pancakes with whip cream - for dinner.

She took away my blog...