Thursday, December 29, 2011

How I met Mama Goof

Kids, I know you hate the smell of beer brewing by our hotel when we visit LA. But I think it is wonderful, and it has a special memory to me.

I know your mom told you the story of how we first met, and what a dork she thought I was. How I was wearing all black when I met her and her roommate (my close friend) to go to a movie at the Art Museum. I was really only wearing all black as a joke for my friend, I didn't know any women would be joining us. Of course I was pretty clueless back then, so maybe I would have dressed all wrong anyway...

But I did a little better because the three of us laughed at the movie, while everyone else say stone-faced taking it seriously.

What was the movie? It was called Tokyo Decadence, you know what, it's really not appropriate.

You remember mommy told you how afterwards the three of us went out and I kind of freaked mommy out. When she told me she was a statistician, I got all excited because I was so into baseball statistics. Mommy had never met anyone who got excited about statistics before - including other statisticians.

You want to know what this has to do with the beer smell, don't you?

So back then, I brewed beer. Why don't I do it anymore? Well because I have two little people living in my house who constantly need things from me and that doesn't leave me a lot of energy for making beer. Also, I'm just not as good at it as the guys at Dogfish Head.

Making beer is pretty special, because what happens is you make a huge mix of boiled malt, seasoned with hops, and dump it into a jug of cold water. When it cools, you put in yeast. The yeast are tiny one-celled creatures that eat the malt - which is mostly sugar - and poop out alcohol.

You don't care? Well this is my story, so you have to sit and listen to it.

Right so basically, when I drink beer I'm drinking poop. Laugh away. Here is the thing, the alcohol eventually kills off the yeast. At first it is yeast heaven in there, and the little guys are eating away and probably building advanced yeast civilizations. But then they begin polluting their world and killing themselves. I wonder if there are little yeast environmental activists who campaign to control yeast population growth. But their cause is hopeless, the yeast just can't help themselves.

What does this have to do with mommy? Oh, right.

So I lived in a grubby apartment with this guy who I had gone to college with and was working with. We had been friends when we moved in, but after a while we were starting to get on each other's nerves. One day I brewed a batch of beer but left the windows of the apartment closed so the beer odor lingered.

My roommate said this was disgusting (I disagreed, I thought it must have smelled way better then two gross guys). But he said it made him gag and insisted that I, "Get it out of there right away."

So I called my good friend, he didn't mind my bringing it over and finishing up the batch, but he wasn't going to be home. His roommate would be. She said I could bring it by and finish it up.

And I did. You know your mom, right? There was no way I could do any kind of work and not have her start helping.

So we made beer together and drank beer together. And we talked and we kissed, and that was our first date.

That is why the smell of beer being made is so special to me - I think it is the best smell in the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In LA & Back Where We Belong

The Goofs are, yet again, on one of our regular junkets to LA. For most of those trips we have stayed in the same Holiday Inn. GoofBoy mastered walking at this Holiday Inn (at three AM, which was just awesome.) The staff no us, even after periods of turn-over there is still someone who remembers us and looks after us. (Just last night the desk clerk provided me with boiling water and asked after the health of my in-laws.) The staff think I am a bit slow, since they've seen us coming all these years and I still haven't learned to speak Spanish from Mama Goof.

The kids too have certain expectations. For years, as a toddler, GoofBoy talked about going to the hotel and "making coffee." He was endlessly fascinated with the coffee-maker in our room. Now there is the swimming pool - which has often been the highlight of our trip.

I've written many articles in the breakfast area downstairs and innumerable blog entries in the bathroom while my family slept.

Also, I was at this hotel on 9/11.

But every once in a while, for some deep human need to mess with stuff, we try a different hotel. Our last trip was one of these experiments. The alternative was cheaper, but it was farther away and the breakfast wasn't as good. Also, it was only two stories high. GoofGirl began complaining immediately. She strode to the window, tossed aside the curtains and said, "Oh look, you can see the dumpster. Who wants to look at a stupid dumpster?"

I hadn't realized (since I am the last to get up, because I've stayed up late the night before blogging) that the Goofs got up each morning in our regular Holiday Inn and looked out the window. It isn't in a particularly nice area - but we always get a room on the same (quieter) side at the fourth floor or above. The view isn't bad.
There is another nice bonus to, we are close to a Budweiser plant. It isn't nice to look at, but the several times a week the area has the wonderful smell of beer brewing - unfortuntaly, I can only post a picture, not the smell.
So, on this trip we are back at our regular hotel and everyone is happier. Plus, on a clear day, you can see the Hollywood sign from our window.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tiny Woman, Giant in Kindness

Is there a term for aunt-in-law?

There should be.

A year ago, about this time, I was in Los Angeles at the funeral of my wife’s beloved aunt, known to all as Nana.

She was four foot ten, and a giant.

Her life did not begin with tremendous promise. She was born in a provincial town in Guatemala to what we would now call a single mother, who did not live many years after her birth. She and her younger brother, my father-in-law, were sent to live with relatives who put them to work. (Social services in in the twenties and thirties in backwoods Guatemala left a bit to be desired.)

They both worked hard - very hard – taking advantage of what opportunities came their way, and they stayed together. They were each others only real family.

In the 1950s, my father-in-law, a man of great industry, had an opportunity to come to the United States. He insisted on bringing his only close relative with him.

They made their way in the United States and my father-in-law got married. Nana did not and stayed living with him. It is easy to imagine this being a difficult situation. But it was the opposite.

She and her sister-in-law were like sisters and, more importantly, friends. To my wife and her siblings she was a second mother. It goes without saying that she was another grandmother to the little Goofs. GoofBoy remembers her beautiful garden. GoofGirl remembers the yummy beans she made, and how sometimes Nana would invite GoofGirl to help her in the kitchen. BOTH however, immediately thought of her yummy sweet cookies.
This picture was from a couple of years ago, GoofGirl would be almost Nana's height now.

Nana was a brilliant cook (a talent that my wife happily - for me at least - inherited.) She worked as a seamstress and taught her nephew (my wife’s brother) how to sew. It is a skill that served him well, he is a surgeon now.

Nana's secret was simple. She was kind. She lived to serve and found great joy in it. All her life, she would truly rather cook then eat. No surprise that the she had a green thumb, the plants too could feel her love. When she died, her cat Winky kept lingering around her bedroom – looking for her.

Her last few years were difficult. She was very sick, but she held on, there was iron in that little frame.

She was a tiny woman with a giant heart.
It rained as we laid her to rest. Somehow, it always rains for funerals - even in Los Angeles. But not every funeral is graced with a rainbow. Nana could teach the angels a thing or too about kindness and the cherubim are about to get a bit chubbier.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ghosts of Hanukkah Past

Tonight was the first night of Hanukkah. So our house smells like a fast food joint and the little Goofs – overexcited with toys and gelt - didn’t want to sleep.

I am grateful that Hanukkah is eight nights – because I still don’t know what to get Mama Goof, but I’ve still got a few days to figure it out. (Suggestions anyone?)

And of course we have Manny the Menorah. A boss at a previous job gave it to me and we’ve had it since before GoofGirl was born.

Since it comes every year, I’ve got a few past entries on Hanukkah.

Last year, since GoofBoy started showing an interest in philosophy, I tried to tell him how Hanukkah wasn’t just a battle with weapons, it was also a battle of ideas. He liked the battle part, but as soon as I mentioned Aristotle he knew it was going to get boring.

When I think of presents and holidays, I think of China and how their cheap toys are spoiling a generation of children. I have even wondered if this is actually a devious, inscrutable plot to destroy our civilization. (On the other hand, I did see a way to use cheap toys from China to revive the American economy.)

Happy Hanukkah world, and seriously, any suggestions for Mama Goof? I’m dying over here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Smacking Sounds

Slate just had an article on why parents aren’t hitting their kids anymore. The article found that the big divide in hitting or not appears to be socio-economic class. The article states:
Plenty of spanked children may grow into well-adjusted adults, but this is one reason why, for example, corporal punishment on average correlates with lower measures of cognitive ability, such as IQ.
It turns out we’ve been running our own little experiment on this, since I’ve been hitting GoofBoy a lot lately. Not as a disciplinary measure. We were hanging out and I playfully slapped the back of his neck. GoofBoy looked up with a start at the wonderful loud sound it made. I’ve been trying to reproduce it since.

GoofBoy does not love being used as a percussion instrument. He assures me it doesn’t hurt, but it is just a bit annoying having someone sneaking up on you and smacking the back of your neck all the time when you are innocently reading the paper, building Legos, studying, or taking a shower (it really echoes in the bathroom.)

So, quite reasonably, he has taken to slapping me on the back of the neck in response. So now the two of us are running around the house trying to sneak up on one another and smack each other on the back of the neck in order to make an amusing sound. We even compare notes.

“Too much cupping on that one dad!”

“Good job boy, nice reverb through my ears! But a little more speed and less force, my head jerked forward, so you lost a lot of sound.”

Naturally the lady Goofs want no part of this.

The question is will our continuing little drum circle lower GoofBoy's IQ - or does it show that I just started out with a pretty low IQ?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Logarithm of the Flies

Recess was always a bit of Lord of the Flies - I was usually Piggy (I was awkward but could use my glasses to start fires).

But GoofBoy’s recess seems to be getting a lot more dangerous. He regularly comes home reporting things like, “I played goalie and was literally hit, in the groin, 140 times!”

“Buddy, aren’t goalies allowed to use their hands?” I suggest.

I’d like grandkids in a few decades. I have other questions. Recess is only 35 minutes, so how is it possible for one team to get so many shots on goal? Just how bad is the defense?

But I can’t ask them because GoofBoy will think I’m making light of his obviously serious injuries.

I know that there is hyperbole here, but it is tough to know exactly how much. One day he reported being at the bottom of a dog-pile of like “a hundred kids.”

After some questioning, it turned out it was just one kid who, “...was running down a hill, couldn’t stop and fell on me.”

This sounded plausible, if their school was in the Alps and his count was only off by a factor of one hundred. I just need to log everything he says.

Sometimes the injuries are for real – he and Carpool Buddy collided and had a full speed collision. Carpool Buddy is on crutches, GoofBoy limped a bit but was OK. But with Carpool Buddy out of commission, GoofBoy is doing far less running then he needs. This will lead him to play even harder during his brief recess outlet – increasing the likelihood of further injuries.

At the very least I will need to add another power to my logarithm.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

GoofBoy's Biblical Wrath

GoofBoy is heading towards adolescence. We are not looking forward to this. He is getting angry and stubborn at unexpected times for vague reasons. At our Friday night Shabbat dinner we had a recent, unexpected flare-up.

MamaGoof makes a very nice lentil soup, but GoofBoy has never cared for it. MamaGoof insisted that he try just a little. I have often tried to explain to my children that when their mother puts food in front of them, they must eat it – whether they are hungry or not.

It makes life easier.

There are two types of parents in the world. Parents who worry if their children are eating enough and parents that don’t. I am of the latter category, but MamaGoof is very much in the former. I figure they aren’t going to starve whereas MamaGoof is very concerned that they just might. Unsurprisingly, she is much more passionate about this then I am. Also, I prefer she not worry about things (giving her free time to find new things to worry about.) So I push the kids to just eat whatever she gives them.

But GoofBoy really dug in his heels about the lentil soup. He stared at it, pushed it around the bowl, and kept muttering something. As MamaGoof pressed him, he left the table and stormed up to his room.

I went up to talk to him. Not invested in the issue I took a jokey approach, but he began yelling at me to, “Get out! O. U. T. Out!”

I am, despite my antics, still the adult so I rebuked him sharply and left.

He came back downstairs after a while and we returned to our typical Friday night activities of wrestling, laughing, and (for the adults) drinking wine.

The next morning over breakfast GoofGirl began telling us about the Torah portion for the week. Going to a Jewish day school, this is a big part of their studies. It was the story of Jacob and Esau. They were twins, but Esau was born first and the favorite of their father Isaac. But Jacob tricked Esau into giving Jacob his father’s birthright. Esau, a hunter came to the tent, starving and insisted Jacob make him some stew. Jacob said he could have the stew in exchange for the birthright. Esau said, “Sure!”
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised [his] birthright.
MamaGoof looked at him, “Did you not want to eat the lentil soup because of Jacob and Esau?”

GoofBoy nodded.

“Buddy,” I began, “I’m not the great patriarch Isaac. I don’t have a birthright to give or withhold. We weren’t asking anything for lentil soup, just that you try it ok? Remember, honor thy mother and father, please.”

He didn’t look convinced. It is going to be a long decade.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Learning by Writing

In my own little contribution to NaBloPoMo I posted every day for a month, and in the process I learned a few things.
(By the way this neat image comes from a very cool website - From Old Books which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

First, three blogs are too many. I have this one about my family and a pair of professional blogs, one on my work and one on my graduate studies. For the first few days of November I managed each one – but it just couldn’t last. I’ll be merging and revamping the other two.

Second, if I sit down to write, I can in fact come up with something. But, quality suffers. This is a fundamental challenge for a lot of people Рthe curse of perfectionism. It is a shibboleth, a pointless ideal. Many of my posts are unremarkable, so be it, but sometimes just by pressing forward something neat comes out. It is a firm, practical reminder of a universal truth, expressed through a number of clich̩s:
90% of life is just showing up.

You’ve gotta play to win.

The key to achieving great things, is starting them.
For someone who lives too much in his own head, it is always good to get this reminder.

Third, if the little Goofs aren’t generating material it is because I am not paying attention. I am a pretty good dad and they definitely get time from me, but when I take them on adventures, I get material and have a good time. In a small way, maybe blogging makes me a better parent – although I’d like to think doing cool things for them comes first and the material is just a happy (if occasionally embarrassing) by-product.

Fourth, I need readers. My content overall is pretty good (when I’m on my game I’m a poor man’s Dave Barry - so Gene Weingarten I guess.) But, just like I bore down and forced myself to write every day, I also need to bear down and market. Time for another truth wrapped in a cliché – this one from Bobby Knight:
Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.
But this raises a fifth point (I can never refuse a fifth) why do I do this at all. On a certain level, I hope it will bring me attention – it is an outlet for some of my creative juices. But it is also a record of my life and my kids and family. I find that moments that are, as they occur, profoundly lovely that I am sure I will remember forever, are gone in a day or so. I run several time a week. I have no illusions that I will ever have any fame as a runner. But it satisfies.

So a sixth point, I set a goal with my blog and achieved it. That too was satisfying. As I wander into middle-age and having gone through some difficult stuff recently (maybe I’ll blog about it if I can ever get ahead of the curve) it is important to learn what will really be satisfying because life is too short for the ersatz.