Thursday, November 07, 2013

Versions of Venison: On Autumn & Death

With school closed, I had charge of the little Goofs. I had work to do, but with the gorgeous fall weather I could not let them sit around all day and watch an entire season of Cupcake Wars (Amazon Prime has changed our life.)

So I insisted that there would be a late afternoon expedition.  We hadn't visited our favorite promontory for hurling rocks into the creek for sometime. (Although we had hurled rocks into other bodies of water fairly recently.)

Joined by the indominatable 3C, we did exactly that, I spent a lot of time playing on my phone - which in retrospect is a little ridiculous when you are surrounded by this:

3C hadn't joined us on one of our "throwing rocks into water" adventures, but was game. She got even more excited when they turned to launching logs into the creek because this required teamwork and coordination. (It's more fun to do than watch, as you can see.)

But, autumn days (like autumn itself) is all too brief. I didn't want us in the woods after dark (lest we truly learn what the fox says.)  So we turned home.  The trail goes under a major road near our home and close to the creek was a deer lying on the ground.

"Look a deer, I wonder what it's doing there?" 3C observed.

"It looks like it's sleeping," GoofBoy added.

GoofGirl is no fool. "It's dead. Why did it die? Why is it there?"

Thoughtlessly, I observed, "Maybe it was hit up on the road and was thrown into the air and landed here."

"That would have been an amazing YouTube video," GoofBoy exclaimed, then added, "Rough on the deer though."

"I'm sure the deer conducted a full investigation. CSI: Bambi, with deer wearing lab coats and with magnifying classes.  Did they drew a chalk outline around the corpse?" I riffed.

"Dad, I don't want to go on this trail anymore," GoofGirl stated flatly.

"Hey nina, maybe the deer died here of old age, after a long life."

"Why would the deer die here?" GoofGirl demanded.

"This was her favorite spot."

"Right, in all of these woods, why would this spot by a grubby bridge be a deer's favorite?" 3C chimed in.

"Well," I said, thinking quickly, "When she was a fawn and it rained she would come under here with her mommy and stay dry.  She always felt safe her.  Now, after living a long life and being a mommy to a lot of fawns and maybe even grand-fawns, she wanted to come back here one more time.  Then, she looked around at the woods and creek, thought about her life and had one last breath."

We walked on the trail.  3C and GoofBoy ahead chatting (possibly a first, ever) and GoofGirl held my hand.

"Daddy," she said, "I know the deer got hit by a car and died and I am kind of freaked out about it. But thanks for trying."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bar Mitzvah Planning II: A Festival of Wonks

"You know buddy, I have some contacts.  I could call in some favors so you could have a star-studded bar mitzvah," I suggest as I drive him home from track practice.

"What are you thinking about Dad?" GoofBoy asks nervously (and not without reason.)

"What if you had your bar mitzvah party at the Brookings Institute!"

"Does it have anything to do with Brooks Robinson?" he asked warily.

"No, but you could meet Strobe Talbott!"


"He was the Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administion," I press on, "And then maybe you could have a special roundtable about Energy Market Regulations and Climate Change Policy! Wouldn't that be awesome?"

GoofBoy groans.

"You aren't really into domestic affairs, would you rather have a foreign policy bar mitzvah?  We could do it at the Atlantic Council.  I hear Brent Scowcroft makes balloon animals.  Well, not animals, but balloon figures of old foreign policy hands like, well - Strobe Talbot!"

Believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. If I wear him down, maybe we can do the bar mitzvah party at Dogfish Head! I don't know if his friends will get much out of it - but I know I will.  Too bad that while Judaism states that at 13 boys are counted as men, the right to drive doesn't come along with that.  It would be so handy if he could be my designated driver.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Bar Mitzvah Plannning I: Nerf Wars!

GoofBoy is in seventh-grade, which means it is annus bnai mitvahus: the year of the bar mitzvah.

GoofBoy frequently has two invitations a weekend, which means a LOT of parties. So be it, GoofBoy likes to party.  It also means we have to plan his bar mitzvah.

For many children the “performance” of reading from the Torah and delivering an appropriate lesson about the reading is an enormous source of stress.  But GoofBoy will have no problem.  He has an easy confidence and (thanks to years of Jewish day school) an impressive command of Hebrew.  But, while GoofBoy likes to party, we do not particularly like to plan parties.

Some of GoofBoy’s friends have had rather elaborate affairs (so I’ve heard, I haven’t seen since I’m not invited.)  I have heard tales of gaming tables, multiple DJs, and all you can eat sushi buffets.  GoofBoy has come home with bags of swag like an Oscar nominee.  Fortunately, a wonderful thing about boys is that they do not tend to be style conscious.  Boys, as a rule, tend to seek interesting ways to release energy.  Multiple high-end DJs are one method, but a pile of rocks will often do just as well.

So in that spirit, I had a simple brainstorm.  Fifty kids (girls are certainly invited, but I’m not expecting a lot of yeses from that quarter), fifty high-powered Nerfweapons and Rock Creek Park.  There are woods, cliffs, open fields, and a stream.  It would be epic.

(The pics give some idea of the varied topography.)
I came up with a few possible variations.

The Most Dangerous Game: Some kids are hunters, others are hunted. They would switch off until it was time for cake.
The Hunger Games: Only the winner eats – I really like this option since kosher catering is pretty expensive.
Basic Training: After the ceremony the kids change into battle gear, put on their Nerf vests and safety glasses, put their Nerf rifle on their shoulder and march to the park.

This is only the beginning.  I see dozens of boys charging at each other across an open field like in Braveheart (I could spring for some Nerf swords).  I see them re-enacting every war movie cliché ever, as one kid sacrifices himself, going down in a flurry of Nerf darts so the rest of his squad can live.  I see bicycle-riding cavalry, amphibious assaults, and maybe even some trench warfare.

GoofBoy’s friends are pretty keen on this (especially since the party favors will be advanced Nerf artillery), but my obsession with scenarios and battle planning has soured GoofBoy on this option. (Probably for the best, I have no idea how to get permits for this stuff.)

Back to the drawing board – but I think whatever I come up with next will make GoofBoy wish for the simpler times when I was just planning a Nerf battle.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: The Day the Crayons Quit is Fun for all Ages

A boy comes home to find a pile of letters waiting for him.  They are from his crayons.  They have some complaints about his coloring habits.  Does this sound like a great premise for children’s book?  It is!

In The Day the Crayons Quit (by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers) each color has a distinct personality, from over-worked red to under-used white to peach which just wishes its wrapping hadn’t been torn off and is now too embarrassed to leave the box.

I’d better stop now – I don’t want to give it all away.  But it is a really cute story.  The little Goofs are not in the 3-7 target age group, but my friends who have kids in the right age group, tell me their kids LOVE it.  Also, I sent a copy to my nieces, so I definitely think it is good (only the best for them.)

The only problem is that sensitive children might now worry about the hurting the feelings of their crayons and stop using them altogether.  But I don’t think that is too likely – the fantastic illustrations (by the renown Oliver Jeffers) will make readers of all ages open up a box of crayons.  Hopefully it will inspire young Picasso's to make greater use of the less used colors.

Full Disclosure

I know Drew Daywalt, the author, we went to college together and he’s put me up a few times on visits to LA (he even got me a job for a day working on a set – but that’s a story for another time.)  So I guess I owe him.

But the truth is, I find that I am tend to be extra critical of work my friends have done.  I worry that it will stink and so I put off looking at it.  Drew co-directed the movie Stark Raving Mad.  I passed it in the video store for months before I finally rented it (pretty good – not Casablanca, but definitely fun to watch).

I had The Day the Crayons Quit on my desk for about a week before I read it.  I needn’t have worried.  It is terrific.

One More Thing

Tomorrow, July 22 Barnes and Nobles bookstores across thecountry are having readings and drawing activities around this book.  If you have kids in the 3-7 age range and the time, find one and swing by and pick up a copy.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Missing Papa: Part II

In one of their last conversations, my father-in-law told Mama Goof:
Quiero un caballo.
What kind of horse, Daddy?
Why do you want a yellow horse? 
Para ir a mi casa.
But we couldn’t take him home.  My father-in-law, one of the best men I’ve ever known (and I’ve known my share of the great and the good), was losing his mind.
Papa (his daughters called him Daddy, but I called him Papa) was well taken care of.  He couldn't stay at home, his wife and sister couldn't care for im. hHis children placed him in a comfortable assisted living home.  They found a caretaker for him who did everything in his power to make their beloved Papa comfortable.  The caretaker came from a place where the elderly are revered and he cared for Papa as though it were his own father.  At the funeral, the caretaker shed many tears.
But the loving care could only be a palliative in a lousy situation.
Did he know who we were?
He wasn’t speaking much.  He mumbled a bit in Spanish, a word here and a word there were clearThe little Goofs were wonderful.  They never complained about visiting abuelo and were never uncomfortable around him.  They hugged him and kissed him.  They puttered around in the big yard at the home.  GoofGirl picked grapefruits off the trees and GoofBoy played pool with some of the other residents.
Abuelo made regular circuits around the yard – his caretaker knew he had to move at least a little every day.  The little Goofs walked with him.  GoofBoy “played” ball with him.  GoofGirl drew a picture for a school assignment with the caption, “I helped my abuelo walk.”
With Alzheimer’s the mind goes.  But does the soul remain?
Papa worked hard his whole life.  Sitting still was never an option for him.  As long as he was able at the home he puttered in the yard picking up leaves and shredding them.  And he scouted the yard for things to disassemble.  The caretaker would laugh and tell us, “He’s looking at the water outlet and hoses for his next attack.”
Still, without tools he couldn’t really get to work.  He tore apart his bed on a regular basis – frustrated and for something to do.
One time, I saw a gleam in his eye as some workmen opened up the shed in the yard.  Papa knew if he could just get into that shed, he would find the tools he needed and maybe even his caballo amarillo.  Then he could go home.
I won't post  pictures from the home, they are too said for me.  I prefer to remember him strong, vigorous, and smiling - while working in the yard or sipping Moxie Blue Cream soda his son-in-law bought at a joke.  We really only had one (and later three) things in common.  But we got each other ok.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Missing Papa: Part 1

This is MamaGoof's first Father's Day without her father, although in a sense we lost him years ago.

My father-in-law was one of my heroes - a strong brave man.  (He wasn't a substitute father, I've got a dad and I'm good with him.  This isn't about my dad, it's about my father-in-law.)  He was born in a backwoods town in Guatemala in the 1920s.  He didn't know his father and his mother died young.  He and a half-sister were farmed out to relatives who made them work.  And that's what he did, he worked.  He told me a story about playing matador with the "little bulls" on a farm where he was a hand (he smiled, but it sounded terrifying).  I also heard a story about his working at a brewery - that sounded less terrifying.

He and his sister, Nana, ended up at the German Consulate and an American family looking for domestics visited Guatemala and hired them.  They did that for a while, then my father-in-law started working in construction - he got along well with some difficult bosses because he could do the job right.  Nana worked as a seamstress at a factory, there she met a nice lady and suggested that she meet her brother.

Papa went to work at a GM factory, a hard job, but even harder since he worked the evening shift and had spent all day doing yard-work for extra money.  They invested that money well - Catholic school for their four children.  It paid off, they got a two medical doctors, a PhD in statistics, and a dental hygienist out of it.  It isn't just that the children are all accomplished, but that they help people, they relieve pain and cure illness.

I know there is a lot more to this story and it is to my great regret that I didn't learn Spanish so I couldn't really talk to them.  Although they were always very sweet to me.

He could build or fix anything. He had a number of inventions around the house, and I can only imagine what he could have accomplished with a fraction of the blessings he provided his children (or that yours truly takes for granted.)

He wasn't just a Horatio Alger, doing right all the time.  He had a big infectious smile and loved to joke.  His formal education was limited, but he loved to make clever puns (that I couldn't appreciate because they were always in Spanish.)

He traveled with a tin of pequin chilis because he needed the fire (his daughter inherited his high tolerance for radioactive food.)  He always offered one to me, grinning.  Wisely, I declined.

Growing up, MamaGoof thought her father was Fred Flintstone.  He worked in construction, had a big square face, and loved his ribs - it made perfect sense.

And he loved being a Grandfather.  He and the little Goofs would putter around the yard, poking at plants and exploring his endless collection of tools.  We would go to the park and he would happily dig in the sand with his grandchildren.  On the ride to the park, he and GoofBoy would play-fight in the backseat and laugh.

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Mom & Jackie Robinson?

In writing about taking the little Goofs to see 42: The Jackie Robinson Story on Mother's Day I forgot to mention that I actually have a story about Jackie Robinson and my mom.

Not that they ever met, or were even in the same city at the same time.  It isn't that kind of story.

When I was a kid I was extremely interested in baseball history including lots of biographies of baseball greats including Pee Wee Reese, Tony Conigliaro, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and of course Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, sadly, died relatively young from the complications of diabetes.  Whether this was connected to the enormous stress from his years in the majors or just bad breaks is not clear - although this particular biography made the direct causal connection and discussed his medical case in great detail.  I don't know why a children's biography of Jackie Robinson would go into such medical details, but it was the 1970s - an odd time.

One afternoon a friend of my parents came by for coffee.  His youngest son had just been diagnosed with diabetes.  As we sat around the dining room table chatting my mom encouragingly said 

"Well, no one dies from diabetes."

"No, people do die from diabetes!  Jackie Robinson died from diabetes," I announced, happy to contribute to the conversation.

"That was a while ago, the treatments are much better now," my mom said - in what I now realize was a very cool tone.

"No, it was only seven years ago.  And before he died he was bleeding out of his eyes!" I added helpfully.

"Thank you for sharing how smart you are." mom said, her tone just a few degrees above Kelvin. 

Our guest smiled wanly and took his leave.

Later that day mom asked to speak to me.

"Do you think Brian's dad has already talked to doctors about diabetes?"


"Do you think he probably knows all about the risks of diabetes?"


"Do you think he wanted to hear about how awful diabetes can be?"


"It's called tact - you'll need to learn it," mom dismissed me.

I won't claim to have learned tact - but an important part of growing up is at least knowing that it exists.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

42: The Jackie Robinson Story (Our Mother's Day Movie)

So it was Mother's Day, and I did what I do - take the children away so Mama Goof has time to herself.  She sorted through old paperwork - you can lead a horse to water...

After chauffeuring them to their morning activities I plotted out an adventure for the little Goofs.  It was a beautiful day and the greater DC area abounds in opportunities, but the little Goofs resisted.  So I made them lunch and insisted they accompany me on a walk in the park before I took them to dinner and a movie.  They reluctantly agreed.

But the park means a stream (and the little Goofs really, really like streams).  More, GoofGirl has found a new redoubt from which to hurl rocks into the water.  This spot has particular charm because it is at least 30-40 feet above the water, leading to extremely satisfying splashes.

After over an hour of this I had to drag them away if we were going to get to our movie.  I would like to do an experiment and see just how long they could keep at the project of digging up rocks and dumping them into the stream.  I'll need a tent and some food because I think they'd be happy doing it for days.

I hope they never change.

Dinner and a Movie
The options for kid movies appears a bit weak right now, but GoofGirl suggested the movie about Jackie Robinson.  Like any responsible parent I checked to make sure it was appropriate and found out it contained bad language. I don't have a big problem with my children seeing modest bad language in a movie - I assume they already know the words, but they also need to know not to use them.

So we got dessert and dinner - in that order  - and saw 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.

The kids really liked it and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it could be sappy and there were few chewy twists to the plot.  But it is simply a great and inspiring story.

GoofGirl was furious that people were treated the African-Americans were treated in that era.  She demanded to know why people could believe the things the bigots in the movie believed.  I didn't have an answer that satisfied her, my efforts to introduce historical context had little weight to GoofGirl's outraged sense of justice.

She also showed some keen insight, recognizing that had we lived then, these things would have applied to us since MamaGoof is Latino (and I guess so are the little Goofs.)  This only made her angrier.

Her big problem with the movie was that the baseball scenes weren't as clear to her.  So I went over the rules and basics.  As I did so, she narrowed her eyes and said, "Oh, like in kickball."

Sigh.  "Yes, like in kickball."

GoofBoy loved it to and hoped to apply some of the tactics in his upcoming Little League game.

I warned him sternly, "If you yell racial epithets at the other team, I will kill you!"

GoofBoy rolled his eyes, "Dad, the whole point of the movie is that it didn't work!"

Unfortunately, GoofBoy did not have the opportunity to sow dissension on the basepaths like Jackie Robinson - he was hampered by not getting on base.

As for me, well I liked it.  The story is inspiring pure and simple.  But there were other touches I liked.  Seeing the era of post-war baseball brought to life when crowds came to the ballpark wearing jackets and ties and General Managers sat around their leather and wood offices smoking cigars evoked of an era of grown-ups.  When I was kid, the old Brooklyn Dodgers were already legends - I remember reading a biography of Pee Wee Reese and names like Ralph Branca and Eddie Stanky were already bits of baseball lore.  And Red Barber, the great radio announcer...

But all of that was lost in the shadow of the real center of the movie - Branch Rickey.  Harrison Ford was terrific portraying that worldy, sanctimonious fox.  Rickey could was a giant in baseball history - a genius executive and a tremendous judge of character.  Rickey could deliver a sermon while counting ticket receipts and mean every word.  Ford captured Rickey's tremendous charm, but could not hope to capture Rickey's boundless energy.  The big screen is simply too small.  Robert Rice in The New Yorker back in 1950 wrote:
"Any pitcher who has experienced the physical, mental, and emotional strain of working with Rickey for half an hour is likely thereafter to regard pitching a nine-inning game as a peaceful way of spending a summer afternoon."
I have to end on this note - three decades after Robinson integrated the major leagues - when I was at the plate I wanted to be Eddie Murray.  That I was an awkward white kid, while the great Eddie Murray was graceful and African-American was irrelevant - I really wanted to be him because he embodied everything 10 year old me thought was awesome.

And I wasn't unique.  The equally awkward and white Ken up the street wore a shirt that had "Singleton" on the back (for Ken Singleton) while other kids wanted to be Lee May or Jim Rice.

I understand GoofGirl's anger at the incomprehensible injustices she saw in the movie and am sympathetic to those who argue times don't change fast enough.  But I am glad that they have changed at all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oz the Great and Very, Very Long

Mama Goof is cleaning the house for Pesach, and while I have been offering to help clean for weeks she has not even acknowledged my offer.  Normally, if I want to help, I just do the task.  MamaGoof assumes I will do "it" wrong (and she's probably right.)  But if I don't do it too wrong, than - as long as it is fait accompli - she tolerates it.  But I am bound to do Pesach cleaning incorrectly.  (Pesach is a Jewish holiday in which bread and a huge range of other foods are not consumed and the house must be cleaned thoroughly.)  MamaGoof knows that if Pesach cleaning is left to me I will thoroughly scrub the house with a flour-based cleanser thus necessitating that we burn our house to the ground (or at least she re-wash everything thoroughly.)

So the best thing I could do was take the children out of the house and leave MamaGoof in peace to scrub to her hearts content.

So I took them to a movie.  They unanimously agreed on Oz the Great and Powerful.  When they don't agree on things, I can usually manage to get my way on these things.  I was pushing for ZeroDarkThirty.  With its theme of the triumph of good over evil, plus a healthy dose of waterboarding I thought it was the perfect family movie (although GoofGirl might have gotten ideas.)  But the little Goofs were a solid majority voting block, so we were off to see the wizard...

It is visually incredible (especially in 3D) and very long (130 minutes.)  It isn't fair to call it spectacularly boring, but it is accurate to call it boringly spectacular.

There are some neat moments and, while I had my problems the kids loved it, and that's what's important.

But from my perspective, before we get to the odd and/or predictable plot points and constraints needed to make the story work, were my problems with the witches.  There were three (just like in MacBeth - but there the similarities end.)  They really annoyed me.  Rachel Weisz was ok.  Mila Kunis (who I generally like and enjoy seeing on the big or small screen) was unbearable.  Her tone, her words, just did not work for me.  Then Michelle Williams, who is also a fine actress, was yet another witch.  This might not have been her, but the dialogue she uttered was all wrong.  At one point she began a sentence by saying, "For the record..."

Young urban professionals in contemporary rom-coms might say this.

But do magical beings in fantasy worlds say "For the record"?  Especially when that fantasy world links to Kansas circa 1905?

That one sticks in my mind, but there were plenty of other anachronistic big-city screen-writer bits like that.

Also, when people were evil - they were ugly - always a good message.

Finally, there was an odd constraint in which the people of Oz - haha - could not kill.  Now where did that come from?  This forced a dramatic confrontation of illusion and fireworks.  (I mean, if you can make gunpowder for fireworks, you might have some other "kinetic" options.)

On the other hand, it was kind of fun and it amused the little Goofs.  What more can I really ask for?

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Pair of Great Books from Clare Vanderpool

"Dad, this story is so good!"

I was relieved to hear this.  On our drive home from an excursion to Philly we finished Watership Down.  I knew this would happen, so I had gotten a new book.  But we were out of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and the City of Ember - and the kids had started reading Lemony Snicket on their own.  So I just started poking around looking for something new.  I stumbled on the 2011 Newbery Award-winning Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.  I guess Newbery Award should be enough of an endorsement, but I worried that it would be too precious, or without action the Goofs would be bored.

I needn't have worried at all.  Within moments of listening we were swept into the story (cynical Father Goof included!)

Set in the Depression it is about Abilene, a streetwise girl who had been riding the rails with her father when suddenly he sends her off to the town of Manifest where he had been raised.  She lives with the man who took in her father when he was a teenage drifter, discovers a cache of letters from almost two decades earlier.  The story moves back and forth between the narrator's present and the stories told by the letters, set during World War 1 and the Great Influenza.

Abilene, feeling that her father has sent her to Manifest to abandon her, begin exploring the town's past in order to learn who her father really is.

Moon Over Manifest is a nice change of pace from all of the fantasy and adventure.  There are fantastic, mysterious moments but the story is based in reality.  It is sad and sweet, with a history lesson thrown in.

In short, the little Goofs description was dead on.

Best of all, Ms. Vanderpool has another book, Navigating Early.  Another story of a young person feeling abandoned by his parents.  Set in Maine during World War 2' Jack 's mother in Kansas has died and his father is serving in the Navy.  Jack is sent to a boarding school in Maine where he falls in with the odd outcast Early who sees the number Pi as a story.  Over a school break, Jack joins Early on a quest through Maine's deep woods.  We are still in the middle, but, while completely real, Navigating Early also has a magical, mythical quality to it.

The little Goofs say Navigating Early is even better than Moon Over Manifest.  I say, why choose.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Participation Trophy that Counts

GoofBoy won a trophy. He was named "Runner of the Meet" at his last track meet. He is absurdly proud, and he should be. No question there has been an absurd proliferation of trophies for participation. A couple seasons of rec-league soccer running randomly up and down the field will garner enough trophies to make a kid's room look like Yankee Stadium. I was that kid - I was always far away from the ball - sometimes by design, more often by sheer cluelessness. But not GoofBoy - he really participates.  He may not excel, but if he is on a team he really wants to play.  This is good, because he has been on some terrible teams - but he doesn't mind as long as he gets to play.  I was also on terrible teams, but I didn't want to play because that increased the chance of me being hit in the head by a ball.  I did hope, through careful observation, to develop stratagems by which my terrible teams would be transformed into world-beaters.  Sometimes I would outline my plans in great detail.  The coaches always appreciated this.

In athletics, and hopefully most everything, GoofBoy is not me, he likes practice and, whatever the sport, he is in position and doing everything right.  He has really taken to track.  We go out on runs together.  I get winded keeping up with him.  He cruises through two miles and turns to catch and pass me at one and a half miles.  He is by no means the fastest kid, usually he is in the middle of the pack.  But a participation trophy in track is no self-esteem bauble.  Being on the team means running at least 15 miles a week - so even the slowest person on the team is doing something pretty demanding.

GoofBoy is really proud of this trophy and so am I - he earned it.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

GoofGirl's Gift

3C had a birthday party recently.  GoofGirl attended, of course, but did not want Carpool Gal to feel left out (there is now a decent working arrangement between the three of them in which they can all play together or pair as seems fit - the Byzantine Empire muddled through for centuries, so why not...)

So, GoofGirl decided to write Carpool Gal a book.  The book is about the Carpool Clan's dog Declan who GoofGirl initially feared and now loves.  It was a pretty funny book, so - with GoofGirl's permission - I've shared it here. Like most great works (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) it is a trilogy.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting my Jokes

I lead my life like a self-aware character in a sitcom who occasionally steps out of his role and addresses an invisible crowd.  I am sharing a series of long complex jokes between myself and this imaginary audience.  I recognize this is very weird, and perhaps this blog does a bit to normalize things.

As a consequence, my conversations with my children are peppered with references to things they cannot possibly get.  They don't ask me to explain, possibly because I make it so boring or they have just gotten used to me.

We recently saw the movie Parental Guidance.  Without giving anything away the radio broadcast of the shot heard round the world from the 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff figures prominently in the movie.  Going into the bottom of the ninth, Giant Bobby Thomson hits a homerun to win the game for his team, it is a big upset and announcer Russ Hodges yells excitedly, "THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!" (Here's a link to the clip.)

I am in the habit of yelling that whenever the little Goofs accomplish anything.  For example:

"Dad, I got an 87% on my math test."


I also tend to yell it when I beat GoofBoy at Risk (let me correct that, the one time I beat GoofBoy at Risk.)

After seeing Parental Guidance GoofBoy said, "So that's why you are always yelling that thing about the Giants!"

Recently GoofBoy was home sick and, thanks to AmazonPrime, he began working his way through the old Star Treks.  He watched the episode The Gamesters of Triskelion, in which Captain Kirk is forced to fight aliens in an arena. While he battles in the arena some distinctive dramatic music plays and one of the alien spectators says to another, "I'll wager 300 qatloos on the newcomer."  This clip from the Simpsons pretty much covers it.

After seeing the episode, GoofBoy turned to MamaGoof in wonder, "So that's why Daddy always starts humming that music before we wrestle!  And that's why, whenever I start battling my sister he says the thing about the Qatloos."

I know it isn't age appropriate, but I really want to be there with them when they see Silence of the Lambs and realize the reference I was making when, during bath-time, I urged them to apply lotion.

I may not be a very good person, but I hope my imaginary audience is enjoying the show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Talk about the Petraeus Affair with Your Children

As we watched the inauguration, as Obama, Biden and their wives prepared to review the troops, GoofGirl asked, "Who's that?" referring to the uniformed figure accompanying them.

"That's the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," I answered.

"He's a four-star general?" GoofBoy asked.

"That's right."

"Wasn't Petraeus a four-star general?"

"He was, he still is but he's retired," I explained.

"Wasn't there a controversy with him?" GoofBoy asked.


"Yes, he was having an affair," I answered neutrally.

No more questions please...

"What's an affair?" GoofBoy asked.

"He was married and dating a woman who wasn't his wife," I stated, carefully.

"That's bad," GoofBoy answered.


"Daddy," GoofGirl "Are you having an affair?"


"No, of course not, I love mommy, why do you think that?"

"You are always talking about going to lunch with people and a lot of them are women.  And you talk to them messages on Facebook. So are you dating them?"

Okay, got it.

"But mi nina, I tell mommy about all of that.  I'm not hiding it from her, these are just friends.  Do you understand?"

Ugh, shouldn't have ended with the question, now she'll want to know more.

"I understand, but Daddy, I don't think you should tell mommy about all of it."



"Because mommy thinks it's all pretty boring."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ravens Win Inspires Goofy Pink & Purple Dance

GoofBoy and CarpoolBuddy were so ecstatic that the Ravens won that they quite literally danced with joy.

By the way, this is the thing they were dancing to (it has 3 million hits on YouTube):

When dropping off CarpoolBuddy, I told CarpoolDad how relieved I was that the Ravens had won, that I could not have handled the GoofBoy's depths of despair (last year, after the missed field goal, he tried to start a new life under the dining room table.)

CarpoolDad observed that now the stakes are even higher, so if the Ravens lose he will be even more upset than he was last year.

"Oh no, I'm sure my son will be philosophical about it if the Ravens were to lose in the SuperBowl.  He'd recognize that even making it to the SuperBowl is such an honor and that they had such a great season that it wouldn't bother him so much."

Then we both had a good, long laugh.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Watership Down Review: A Bunny Tail with Meat

"Hey guys, want to listen to a story about bunnies?" I asked the Little Goofs.

They agreed and we started listening to Watership Down.

I had read it when I was in 7th grade, just a year older than GoofBoy and had liked it.

But, unsurprisingly, I didn't realize what an incredible work it was.  It is the story of a band of rabbits who, following a premonition that something bad was going to happen, leave their warren and set off to found a new one.  On the way they have many adventures dealing with other animals, people, nature, and other communities of rabbits.

The rabbits have a society, but they are still rabbits.  When a bird tells them about the ocean they cannot conceive of it and the concept of a boat is a profound innovation.  They have no understanding of what human beings do and their numerals are one, two, three, four, and a great many.

What I did not appreciate when I was 12 was how the author, Richard Adams, creates a rabbit mythology and world that absorbs the reader.  The rabbits tell each other stories about their great hero El-ahrairah who through cunning and tricks always bests the elil (enemies of rabbits.)  These stories inspire the rabbits to develop clever solutions to their own challenges throughout the story.  The addition of a rabbit vocabulary really brought the story to life.  At one point, when GoofBoy was hungry he announced, "Dad, can I silflay (lapine for "to feed outside")?

GoofGirl joined in, "Dad, I need to make hraka (droppings)."

And we began referring to the motor vehicles by the rabbit term, "hrududu."

The whole book serves as an allegory about politics and society.  At the heart of the rabbits' struggle was their conflict with a bigger warren of rabbits run by the tyrannical General Woundwort - an enormous and strong rabbit.  The attitudes of the rabbits under his rule bring to life how totalitarianism works and shapes lives and feelings.

The characters are sharply drawn and engaging.  GoofBoy and I have had several debates about the virtues of Bigwig and Captain Holly - a pair of brave rabbit heroes.  The action scenes are exciting.  During the giant battle at the end, GoofBoy could hardly sit still.  I mentioned to GoofBoy that Adams, like so many men of his generation had served in World War II and this informed his presentation of the action.  In fact, Adams says that several of the main characters are based on his comrades from his squadron during the war.

One downside was that it might have been just a bit over GoofGirl's head.  She certainly got parts of it, and she complained about not understanding the reader's English accent (although she had no trouble with Jim Dale, the reader of the Harry Potter series.)  So be it, Watership Down is a challenging book.  A bunny story for almost all ages.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Rubbing off the Pigskin

There are a lot of things that regular people - the vast majority of people - do, that I just don't.  I've mentioned before my inability to even express polite interest in music.  Another one is football, don't care not interested, moving along.  To be honest I am not completely clear on the rules - beyond the fact that it is a sophisticated version of the game I used to play with my brother: "get past me."  This game was extra fun on the stairs, because it drove BubbeGoof crazy - she thought one of us would fall to the floor and crack open our skulls.  From our perspective, this  was, of course, the entire point.

GoofBoy however is obsessed with football.  When he was little, he and Carpool Buddy, bored at a party for grown-ups went outside to run plays.  They didn't have a ball, they just pretended.  I mentioned to CarpoolDad that I had a football in my car, but he just said, "Let's see how long they'll go without a ball."

All afternoon it turned out.

When we go to restaurants, if a football game is on GoofBoy will head over to the bar and talk sports with the bartender and any other patrons.  He is 11.

My primary interest in football revolves around stories about Art Donovan eating (in the 1950s eating 30 hotdogs was part of training) and insisting that if I had been governor of Maryland in 1984 (unlikely since I was 13) I would have mobilized the Maryland National Guard and invaded Indiana.

I do root for the Ravens, because when they lose GoofBoy is inconsolable.  He is sad for his team and terrified of the merciless torment he will take at school the next day, where his math teacher is a Steelers fan and most of his classmates are Redskins fans.  (Have I mentioned he goes to Jewish day school where the quality of the hazing is, to say the least, sub-par?)

But he is my son and I am a loyal dad, so I try.  I've watched games with him just to keep him company, and even taken him to games.  Here is the thing, it has rubbed off.  His endless discourses on plays and players have given me a basic awareness of the game.

At a meeting recently, when talked shifted away from the matters at hand, everyone talked about football.  Normally in these circumstances I drift off and think about vice presidents, but somehow was caught up in a group and made appropriate noises for at least five minutes.  I went home and thanked GoofBoy, he earned it and as a reward, I tried to look interested as he told me something about the evolution of some sort of back, possibly a player on the offensive line or maybe on the defense - not sure, I started thinking about vice presidents.