Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snow Day Project: Kinder Egg Knockoffs

During our recent trip to NYC, we visited Economy Candy. The little Goofs were stunned at the sweet bounty before them. But GoofBoy, after carefully looking over every square inch noted, "They don't have Kinder Eggs."

GoofGirl was intrigued, what was this forbidden candy?

(Technically called Kinder Surprise, it's a chocolate egg with a toy inside that you had to put together - which is pretty awesome. They were banned in the U.S. because kids chowing down on chocolate eggs might eat the toy parts inside, choke and die. That would happen eventually, and then there would be a movement demanding to know why these things weren't banned.)

In seeking the answers to her questions, GoofGirl does what she always does. She went to YouTube where she found the channel of the DC Toys Collector, which consists of innumerable videos like this one:

I watched this one, barely (the key demographic is not jaded middle-aged academics, but small children). However, this channel has 3.5 million subscribers. A stunning fact that is causing me to re-evaluate everything about my existence and purpose on this earth. But that's neither here nor there.

GoofGirl was entranced, but more than entranced she was moved to action!

We just had a three-day weekend, which became a four day weekend thanks to snow days. GoofGirl made her own Kinder Egg knock-offs --

Model Magic Surprise Shapes

Have I mentioned recently how awesome my daughter is? Well, if you don't mind, let me say it again.

By the way, my son spent the day cleaning his room, so he's awesome too!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Goofs Take Manhattan: Going to NYC with Kids

Because I am a terrible parent, I had not taken my children to NYC, despite living only a few hours away. To forestall a visit from Child Protective Services, we rectified that between Christmas and New Year's.

Although the little Goofs thought it would have been awesome, we left before New Year's because I'm pretty sure taking your kids to Times Square to see the ball drop is a form of child abuse in its own right, or at least insanity.

I am a meticulous and intense traveller and travel planner. I want to maximize the things to be seen while balancing different interests. I study maps and guidebooks and badger everyone with questions and just generally make a nuisance of myself - I'd like to think it all pays off when, in the middle of the trip the children announce, "Dad, we are soooo tired. Can't we just get pizza and watch TV at the hotel?"

New York, with its scale, density, and variety challenges any trip planner. But I did my best.

Day One: Mid-Town Muddle
We arrived about noon, parked, checked in and had some sandwiches we had brought. Having just been in the car for almost four hours, we didn't want to have a family debate on where to eat (even in NYC, where options abound - besides our next ten meals would be at restaurants, no need to start on that too soon.)

Our hotel (cheap, clean, convenient, and with a few neat features - I almost don't want to post it...) was about a block from the Empire State Building. So we walked over. The little Goofs were astounded when actually confronted with this massive, iconic skyscraper which they had seen so often on TV and in movies. There was however, little interest in going to the top (the little Goofs don't love heights), which was fine with me since it is expensive ($29 each) and time consuming. However, wandering around the beautiful lobby is free - so we did!

We then took the short walk to the Museum of Mathematics (in the Flatiron district), which features a range of mathematical puzzles and games for children of all ages. MamaGoof (who is kind of a math ninja - PhD in statistics) loved it. It was a bit crowded. Still the exhibits were fun and gave at least some sense to yours truly about who mathematics underpins and shapes our world. Cool stuff.

Then we walked. Walking around NYC is half the fun, stopping in shops and looking at the barrage of architecture. Second-rate, little-noticed New York skyscrapers would be the pride of cities like my beloved hometown of Baltimore. We wondered to the New York Public Library and went in. It is a beautiful building, a temple of learning and not of tremendous interest to the little Goofs. Meanwhile my checklist monster had emerged. I knew we couldn't see everything mid-town Manhattan had to offer, but I hoped to show my children a few more of the iconic sites they had seen so many times in movies.

The troops, however, began to get cranky - and I began to get annoyed because whiney children are annoying children. This meant we were hungry, so we grabbed pizza. I don't hate pizza, but I don't love it either. I was hoping to wait a bit longer before playing the pizza card, but there was a rebellion in the ranks.

It was also a tactical mistake, because Grand Central Station and its extensive market was just a few blocks away. It is an architectural marvel in its own right, we got dessert, and played at the Apple Store. We also got a nice look at the Chrysler Building.

OK - I knew we didn't have a lot of gas left, but I really felt it was my duty to show my children Rockefeller Center and Times Square. I was not the only person to come up with that plan. As we got close to Rockefeller Center the crowds became very dense. The little Goofs were a overwhelmed and GoofGirl was a bit scared. I should say, it was a very nice, polite crowd. Nothing to be scared of.

So we pushed through and saw the buildings and Christmas Tree. We got to see the ice rink and, serendipity, one couple was skating and he got down on one knee and proposed. She said yes and the crowd cheered. I have a feeling that happens every five minutes now - I think you can purchase a proposal package. NYC experience - check!

The crowds dampened GoofBoy's enthusiasm for Times Square, so we headed back to the hotel. MamaGoof and I got a drink and decided we were hungry. There is a brewpub in the Empire State Building and it is pretty good. It is also awesome that the little Goofs are old enough that we can leave them for a stretch in the hotel.

Day Two: Meet the Met
I set myself a limit of one museum a day and only one art museum. Kids overall have a lower tolerance for museums in general and art museum in particular. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the great museums of the world. Its collection would take a lifetime to explore. The little Goofs were nervous about our visit, knowing that I would spend hours studying paintings which bore them. But I had chosen carefully, the Met's collection isn't just paintings. It has vast exhibits of artifacts from ancient civilizations throughout the world.

I also promised a long break in the middle of the day.

We started in the Egyptian wing. GoofGirl had studied Egypt a bit and explained some stuff about hieroglyphics to me. However, in her unbounded enthusiasm she kept running off when I paused to read about a display. I was angry, but my frustration was tough to sustain in the face of her sheer enthusiasm. GoofBoy, with his iPod Touch was excited to take pictures. After a bit, we agreed to let the little Goofs explore as long as they stayed together and MamaGoof and I could examine items at our leisure. Text messaging makes coordinating a family in a big space much, much easier.

The Egyptian exhibit is awesome, featuring items collected from tombs that are 4000 years old and a reconstructed shrine. The scale and antiquity of ancient Egyptian civilization is humbling. As it happens on the car ride up we had started listening to Rick Riordan's Red Pyramid. I'm a big fan of Riordan's Percy Jackson series based on Greek mythology. The Red Pyramid is about Egyptian mythology and features a big battle scene in the Met's Egyptian exhibit.

Two hours of ancient Egyptian artifacts was enough, it was time for lunch. We went to an upscale Mexican fusion place and were unimpressed. MamaGoof and I had the idea of walking to the water. This was several blocks east. We visited the riverside park that is also home to Gracie Mansion, official residence of the mayor of New York. We saw Roosevelt Island across the water and a bunch of bridges. The little Goofs were unimpressed and started to get whiney. Have I mentioned that I don't like whiney children - even if they are mine?

So we stopped for coffee and donuts but that did not improve the spirits of the little Goofs. However, a maintenance man from a nearby building came in and yelled at the cashier about leaving the stores garbage in his bin. Cool, an Upper East Side trash residential trash dispute - staple of New Yorker short stories.

We headed back to the Met by way of the Guggenheim - merely to grab a glimpse of the building. I don't know about your kids - but mine really don't seem to care much about architecture. I believe this is near universal to children and a serious design flaw.

Back at the Met, GoofGirl dragged her mother around the Asian art exhibit at lightning speed. GoofBoy checked out arms and armor. Having looked at ancient stuff all day, I needed a bit of modern art as a kind of palate cleanser and checked out a major exhibit on cubism for contrast.  Again, thanks to texts, we all kept in touch and linked up when we were done. The little Goofs showing evidence of suffering from Museum Fatigue Syndrome (it's a thing!)

The GoofClan keeps flexible kosher - we eat fish, dairy, and veggie at restaurants but meat must be kosher. Usually on trips we just plan on not eating meat. NYC of course features a huge range of quality kosher restaurants. I had found one near the Met, but no one was hungry so we went back to the hotel to rest.

When we got hungry I found Mendy's the kosher deli was nearby. I hadn't wanted to go, because in a Seinfeld episode the unctuous Banja made Jerry take him there as payback for a favor. This is, of course, a silly reason not to eat somewhere and when we did go, we ALL chowed down on burgers and meatballs.

Enough for a day.

Day Three: Lower East Side Finale
For a last day, we headed to the Lower East Side to visit the renown Tenement Museum. We had heard great things, and it was a terrific tour. There are several different tours available, each focusing on the experience of a  different group of immigrants. Since it was my background, we went on the tour about a pair of Jewish families who immigrated from Russia around the turn of the century to work in the garment industry. Originally, the tenements (about 325 sq. feet) would be home to large families that also ran small garment factories or sweatshops inside the tenement. Later reforms moved the factories out of the tenement so that it was only an apartment for 6-10 people.

As awful as these conditions were, many, many families managed to work their way out of them and into more comfortable quarters. Then their grand-kids became doctors and lawyers and their great-grandkids became bloggers. The American dream.

Some of my great-grandparents lived in tenements in NY, others in Baltimore. I know the conditions were rough. But it was such a good thing to GET THE HELL OUT OF RUSSIA! That is almost always good advice and I am glad they had the brains to do it.

The Russia they left was oppressive, impoverished, and anti-Semitic. It was bad enough, but only decades later they would have been crushed between Scylla and Charybdis of the 20th century Hitler and Stalin.

It was a good tour - have I made that clear?

We got to the Lower East Side before the museum opened and wandered around. Chinatown is next door. But the area is pretty sedate in the single digit hours of the morning. After the museum we headed to Essex Market for lunch, which looked great but the little Goofs wanted pizza. Fine, we let them have pizza - then MamaGoof and I wandered around Essex Market and had some good upscale tacos, yummy veggie soups, and a terrific fish sandwich. I'm not a big foodie, but I have my limits as to how often I can eat pizza.

It turns out, we were right next to Economy Candy which is a candy store selling familiar candy, retro candy, and just plain weird candy (including candy cigarettes!) We let the little Goofs go nuts and they were - well - kids in a candy store.

And that was enough. We knew we either had to leave NYC by 3 or plan to stay till 8. I had a good sense by now of how much the little Goofs could tolerate and it was time to pack it in and drive home.