Monday, December 10, 2007

soft gooey center

If you haven't spent extended periods of time with Kate, you might have only seen her hard candy shell. She's overly confident, stubborn, at times defiant, and absolutely fearless. She can give you the cold shoulder or the evil eye, and her favorite word is "no," which she doesn't yell out, but rather states in understated finality.

Me: Kate, can I have a kiss?
Kate (quietly, while staring off at something far more important): no.

Kate attends a Kids' Day Out program, where her teachers call her a "pistol" and try to keep her from doing crazy things like slide down the big slide face first or climb to the top of the bookshelf and use it as a balance beam. It's not uncommon for her to come home with bumps or scars from her own mishaps. The other day I drove through the Starbucks drive through, and when Kate heard the voice ask, "can I get you anything else?" she yelled out from the back seat, "Milk, please!" After I pulled up and was only given my coffee, she screamed at the worker, "MILK, PLEASE!"

Kate reminds me of Cheri Elliott, a childhood friend who never met a challenge or adventure she couldn't tackle head-on. Trust me when I say such a comparison is the highest compliment, though more than a little frightening as a father.

But every toddler superhero has her kryptonite. Take a soft, fuzzy object, like a stuffed animal, and place it against her cheek. Her eyes will close and her right thumb will slowly make its way into her mouth, seemingly against her will. Take the stuffed animal away and she'll run off and do something else, but return it to her cheek and she stops what she's doing to melt into the heavenly fuzziness. If Kate's not within sight and I can't hear her, she's either getting into something she's not supposed to or she's having a private moment with something fuzzy. She cuddles up to Megan's furry coat sleeve. She sucks her thumb while laying next to our dog Scout. She's even been found cuddling a dryer sheet.

She may act tough, but she can't hide the truth that her hard candy shell hides a soft gooey center.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Most who have met me would describe me as a calm, easy-going person. I've managed to control my temper with unruly high school students and lazy football players (the two or three officials I yelled at don't count) but since becoming a parent my temper has been tested in new and interesting ways. The results haven't always been pretty.

We all have a finite amount of patience, and toddlers start chipping away at it the moment they get up. I can be calm when Clara decides not to go potty and runs around my room and jumps on our bed naked while Kate empties the bathroom cabinet onto the floor or into the tub that she is now filling with water. I give a strong but controlled admonishment when Kate signals that she is all done with her cereal by dumping the remains on the floor. When they fight over a toy I silently move it to an unreachable shelf. But each time my patience meter lowers a little bit until I'm dangerously close to losing my temper.

Occasionally, one of them will unknowingly recharge my patience. When Clara and I sit and play with something quietly I gain a bit back. When Kate comes over and leans against me while sucking her thumb (essentially indicating I'm as important to her as her teddy bear) my patience meter climbs back up quickly.

But every couple weeks we'll get to the end of the day and I have no patience left, which is right about the time I'm trying to make dinner and one of three things will happen: 1) Kate searches my desk for a permanent marker and proceeds to "decorate" the desk, the chair, the computer, the walls, the dog... 2) Clara discovers that something she wants is too high for her to get, so she moves a chair over, ignores my commands for her to get down, and pulls down whatever it she wanted - along with the fruit bowl and various other breakable items. 3) Kate tries to find something that I don't want her to do and proceeds to do it while smiling at me. Allow me to illustrate:

Kate grabs the lamp and shakes it back and forth.
Me: Kate! Do not touch the lamp!
Kate smiles and touches the lamp.
Me: Kate! Do you need a time out?
Kate smiles and shakes the lamp.
Me: Kate! Let go of the lamp! One...two...
Kate knocks the lamp over and breaks the bulb, knocking over books and a cup of juice as well.
Kate cries.

Which brings me to the point of this post. When I get really really angry and frustrated, I shout "dammit!" really really loud. I know I shouldn't, and I'm actually quite ashamed that I can't control myself better than that. At least I don't break things or cause harm to anyone. But after we put the girls to bed for the night and I get a look of their angelic faces in their cribs Megan has to listen to me get down on myself for losing my temper with them.

Last week, after we had finished our Thanksgiving feast and the girls were off playing quietly while the adults sat around the table, we overheard Clara playing with blocks and talking to herself in the office. Her blocks must have fallen over because she let out a calm little, "oh, dammit."

Of course it was inevitable that the little sponge would imitate me and of course I was mortified. She just had to pull that one out of her bag in front of her grandparents. It's a word that many people hear or say everyday. It's a word that isn't censored on television. South Park even did a funny bit on whether the word should be censored by the v-chip. But it is absolutely not the kind of word you want your three year old using. The worst part for me is after a couple of years of telling Megan to watch her mouth around the kids (don't be fooled - she can make a sailor blush) it's my word that they repeat. In parenting, no crime goes unpunished.

Clara has used the word a couple of times since then, but after a talk from Mommy she is now using the word "shoot" when something bad happens. The other day she dropped her fork while eating lunch and said "shoot." Then she looked at me and said, "see Daddy, I didn't say dammit."


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

a trick of light

A few weeks ago Clara came running into the office, eyes wide, shouting, "A rainbow! A rainbow, daddy!" She pointed back in the direction of the living room. I kind of halfheartedly answered, "Oh yeah? You saw a rainbow outside?" even though it hadn't been raining. "No," she said. "On the floor!" Intrigued, I followed her to her rainbow, an effect of the light hitting the window just right, prism-like. "Oh wow," I said. "Look what you found!"

Delighted, she sat down on the floor like she was at school - I sat opposite her with the rainbow between us. Teachers are trained to look for "teachable moments," opportunities outside of regular classroom instruction where we can pass on some nuggets of wisdom. I couldn't help but think this was a perfect teachable moment, a chance to talk about light and colors. Instead, I just sat there and watched as she listed the colors she knew and asked me about the colors she didn't. I kept silent as she caused shadows by twiddling her fingers over the effect. Occasionally Kate stepped in front of the rainbow, causing it to disappear.

I could see the gears turning in Clara's head as Kate took the rainbow away and made it appear again. Clara held her hand over the rainbow and saw her shadow, then stood up and headed for the window, still holding her hand out. She waved her hand back and forth in front of the window and saw the shadow across the rainbow. She laughed.

"What did you find?" I asked.

Shyly, "My shadow."

We must have spent ten minutes sitting there before the rainbow faded away - and I didn't say more than ten words. I did what I do when Clara is putting together one of her puzzles: nothing. All I could think was anything I wanted to show her would only stop her from learning something on her own.

There's a lesson in here somewhere, and it's not for the kids. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help our kids learn is to shut the heck up and let the world unfold in front of their eyes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Some Halloween pictures

Some pictures of the ladybug and the dragon - and their Halloween entourage:

The ladybug is so eager to go trick-or-treating, she's dragging her Papa outside

The dragon can't wait either

Papa teaching the ladybug how to fly

The dragon and the ladybug check out the insides of a jack-o-lantern

I wish this one wasn't so blurry when you see it full frame

You can check out how much they've grown in a year from last year's pictures.

Monday, October 15, 2007

a kid, some trains, and some good light

Last month, my cousin Shauna Bittle, who lives in Nashville, stopped over for a night on her way to a photojournalism project in NW Missouri. Shauna is a talented photojournalist whose work can be seen online here. Go give her pictures a look-see. She and the girls share a mutual affection, and I get to sit back and watch the girls swarm all over Shauna.

The morning after her arrival she took a series of pictures of Clara playing with trains on my desk. The morning light was coming through the office window, and the effect on the pictures makes it seem that Clara's entire world was the desk and the trains. You can tell how talented a photographer Shauna is in these pictures. I compiled them into a slide-show video above. Hit play in the bottom left of the video box.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Toddler Code of Conduct

1. If someone says, "where's your nose?" you must stick your finger in it.
2. You must run your hands along walls.
3. No puddle goes unsplashed.
4. Any hooded sweatshirt must be worn with the hood up.
5. You will talk excitedly about school or day care until you get there, then you will cling to your parent's leg and scream.
6. You will refuse to perform your trick on command but will do it loudly and incessantly at the restaurant.
7. If your shoes are muddy and Mommy or Daddy is in work clothes, it's time to climb Mommy or Daddy!
8. Books on a bookshelf must be pulled down into a pile.
9. You will reserve the right to claim ownership of anything your sibling shows interest in.
10. You will scream for a particular toy until you get it, play with it for 2 minutes, then scream for a different toy. Repeat.
11. After a full day of being the devil child you will make up for it with one moment of sweetness.
12. If you like a visitor you must show it by placing all of your toys in his or her lap.
13. If you see someone with an eye patch you will say, "Look Daddy, a pirate!"
14. Bananas feel good between the fingers. Eggs too. And Lasagna.
15. Your world consists of two places: home and Grandma's house. If you're leaving one you must be going to the other.
16. There's nothing ice cream can't fix.
17. Though three feet in each direction of your high chair may rival the messiest places on earth, if you try you can hit six feet.
18. If a parent wants to play with you, refuse. If that parent is trying to do "work," play with him or her.
19. Pick one movie or TV show. Refuse to watch anything else for one week, then change the movie or TV show.
20. Do not talk about Toddler Code of Conduct.

Amendments and addenda listed below:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Fourteen years ago a random group of 52 Santa Clara University students signed up to be resident assistants. Among them were people I now consider lifelong friends: Michelle Pietrosilli (now Etter,) Tom Burns, Tony Phipps, Dina Francomano (now Knouse,) Ernie Kwan, Jennifer Keilen, and a pretty girl I had my eye on named Megan Piazza. My dorm's resident ministers were Tom and Rosemary O'Brien-Wilson, and whether it was from their sage advice or the fact they were a family and we were all a little homesick, we gravitated toward them, and in many ways they were the glue that bound us together. In a very short time many of us went from strangers to joined at the hip.

September 11, 1993, only a week after arriving at school, was a day memorable enough to now lend some joy to that otherwise joyless anniversary. On a park bench next to a stream in the Santa Cruz mountains I gathered enough courage to kiss Megan for the first time. Some time that same day, Tom and Rosemary welcomed their first child, Annarose, into the world. For the rest of that school year the O'Brien-Wilson "apartment" became a second home for many of us, and we all adopted Annarose. This lucky little girl's world consisted of a home with a door that opened to hundreds of friends who were all too willing to hold her and play with her. We all have funny stories and cherished memories of the cherub down the hall.

Megan and Dina weighed Annarose in a fruit scale:

We spent holidays together:

Annarose and I took naps together:

My favorite picture of Annarose from that year, with Dina:

The Dunne crew:
Back row: Tom Burns, Jennifer Keilen, Mike Erickson, Mike BC, Tom O'Brien-Wilson
Middle row: Darien Ching, Lara Courtice, Dina Francomano, Thomas Tannert, Rosemary O'Brien-Wilson, Megan Piazza
Front Row: Tony Phipps, Chris Hite, Joel Bittle, Annarose O'Brien-Wilson

The year ended and nine month old Annarose had to watch as all of her friends packed up and moved out, and I won't deny that I felt her pain at watching everyone go. Within two weeks I missed Santa Clara so much I made a return visit, and when Tom Burns and I walked through her door Annarose stood up on her knees and began to shake uncontrollably, her eyes wide at seeing us again. I just picked her up and said, "I know. I feel it too."

Some time the next semester the O'Brien-Wilsons moved to Washington, where they have stayed. In 1996, the year after we graduated, Dina, Megan, and I made a trip up to Washington to visit them.

You can tell Annarose and I were buds:

Megan and I each had this picture on our desks at work:

In 1997, when Megan and I decided to get married, it was clear that Annarose had to be one of our flower girls. After all, she was exactly as old as we as a couple were. She was a perfect choice, guiding one-year-old Alex down the aisle with her and asking Rosemary afterwards, "there's another wedding - do you think they need a flower girl?"

At the reception Annarose was glued to the dance floor, and loved to spin:

Annarose and her sister Maryclare:

After our wedding it was years between visits, with occasional correspondence interspersed. They were at Dina and Todd's wedding, where Maryclare got her chance to be flower girl and we got a chance to see new sister Lauralyn. I saw them again when I drove across country with John Regalia in 2002 - nine year old Annarose was already writing her own plays. She was clearly very bright, but it was the gentle kindness of her parents that I saw most in her, and I was very proud to have known her since her birth. Even after so much time apart, she couldn't sit close enough to me at dinner.

Since 2002, we have unfortunately fallen out of touch with the O'Brien-Wilsons. Three weeks ago, a woman named Mary Farrell referenced this blog in a syndicated column that Tom and Rosemary read in one of their local newspapers. They looked it up, Annarose left a comment for me on the post titled Dancing with Myself, and we have been in email contact since. Check out that post for comments from both Annarose and Rosemary.

And now I present to you the beautiful O'Brien-Wilson girls :

From top to bottom: Maryclare, Annarose, Lauralyn (with baby cousin Brenna Mae)

If you knew Annarose or the O'Brien-Wilsons, please leave a little story or a quick hello for them, as they will be reading the comments below.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stinky Baby Head

Earlier this year someone named Patricia left a comment on my post "Surprise!," which was about my surprise visit to Sacramento for my brother's Silver Star ceremony. Her comment, however, was about her baby's stinky head. You might be wondering what's the connection between the two, and I'll refrain from making a cheap joke about my brother. If you look at the top of my blog, up there in italics, I ask "why does the baby's head smell like stinky feet?" What Patricia did was google "my baby has a stinky head" and came upon my blog, posting her question on the most recent post. I left my response there, hoping she would find it.

I have a program that not only tells me how many people are or have been looking at my blog, it tells me from what city they are viewing. I'm huge in India - I'm not kidding. Recently I found out that I can find out how they found my site, even what specifically they typed into their google search. I got past my initial misgivings of spying on people and decided to spy on people. There are some strange searches that got to my site. This is my favorite: Tattoos for cars of lady (mine is the 8th result.) But by far the most common search that takes people to my blog is "Stinky baby head." I get between five and ten hits a day just from that search. I'm not just on the first page of results, I'm #1! I am the premier source of information on stinky baby heads on the planet. People pay big bucks to be number one on google. The problem is it takes people to the aforementioned post on my brother's Silver Star - you'd really need to search for the stinky baby head info. So I decided to move Patricia's question and my response to a new post, to help out the hordes of people seeking a cure for their baby's stinky head.

I am so perplexed by my baby's stinky head that I googled "My baby has a stinky head" this morning, and came across your own perplexity. Did you ever get an answer to that question, and did you find a solution? I mean, it'd be nice to cuddle my baby without thinking, Man, you are STINKY!! He's only 7 weeks old. How long does this last?

My husband says it's because he has no hair, which is how he explains his own stinky head, and claims that if I had no hair, my head would stink too. I think this is manly bs, on the other hand, you do have daughters, and at least one of them had a stinky head, so maybe he's right.

Looking forward to your judgment on this issue, and hopefully a solution---bathing is useless, within an hour, stinky head once more. Though I confess, I haven't used scented shampoo yet, which I guess would be the first thing I should try. But I'm guessing S.H. is too potent for something as simple as nice smelling shampoo.

I love that she used the abbreviation S.H. My response:


it turns out Kate, who is bald, is also quite sweaty. We discovered that only after a day or two, she had a head-shaped spot on her crib sheet that she had sweat on enough to make it stinky. So we had to wash her crib sheet every day or two. That fixed baby-stinky-head.

hope that helps

So there you go, sage advice from one stay-at-home dad: wash your sheets. I'm guessing it didn't help Patricia too much, since her baby has stinky head an hour after a bath. Some parenting forums suggested it might come from an ear infection or lactose intolerance. But I would suggest asking a pediatrician, since there's little help on the interweb.

So if you found this page after searching "stinky baby head" or some such combination, please say hi in the comments and post your findings on the mystery that is stinky baby head.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The St. Louis Balloon Race

Some of the best memories come from events you don't plan, or decide to go at the last minute. This Saturday we decided at the last minute to try to catch the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, where over 60 hot air balloons compete. The race starts with the Energizer Bunny taking off, then 15 minutes later all others "chase" the bunny. (on a side note, St. Louisans embrace product placement in every possible way - among the balloons was a giant Ryder truck as well as Pepsi and Alpo cans - and see no irony or danger in the fact that kids' sports programs are sponsored by Anheuser-Busch. I'm sure I'll have a whole post on this later.) Wherever the bunny lands a couple hours later, officials will mark a large X, and the other balloons, "hounds," will drop a bean bag, trying to get closest to the middle of the X. We knew both girls would love to see the balloons, but doubted that we could even find a parking space near the park. So we decided to become hounds ourselves, and watch from the car as the bunny took off, driving around town as we followed it.

Just getting close to the park was nearly impossible. The rest of St. Louis wanted to be there and most of the roads were closed. We managed to get food nearby but when the time for the bunny to take off came and went without any sign of the balloons, we began to worry that if the race was running late we wouldn't have time to follow it. Circling the park, we began to see giant pink ears poke out through the trees, and soon the bunny was up. Of course, Clara was beside herself. A flying bunny!

Following the bunny for a couple of blocks, we wound through a small neighborhood and stumbled upon a small park, perfect for having a picnic as we watched the "hounds" fly overhead. Kate backed herself into my lap and Clara sat with Megan as we all pointed at the balloons we saw. The pictures will give you some idea of the kind of day it was. When it came time to go home, Clara asked if the bunny could fly over her house. We said we'd ask, but we didn't think the wind was blowing that direction.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dancing with myself

If you happen to be outside my house looking in through the big picture window into our office, well, that's a little creepy, but you'll have a good chance of catching sight of the happening Webster Groves dance club that is the Bittle household. On first glance, it may seem that I am dancing with myself, but if you wait around long enough you might catch sight of the tips of Kate's fingers as she waves her hands in the air like she just don't care, or Clara's hair as she jumps around, jumps around, jumps up, jumps up and gets down.

It's definitely not a compliment to them that they are both better dancers than I am. Who isn't? Clara approaches her dancing like she approaches any other of her activities: This is really fun for a little bit but what's next? But Kate, all of nineteen months, could actually teach a class on dancing. Any hint of music - from the radio, television, or even the ring tone on my cell phone - will get her head and then her shoulders and then her hips moving to the beat. And she doesn't have just one move. She'll do the head bob (What is love? Baby don't hurt me...) She'll do the shoulder shimmy. She'll put her elbows out and act like she's doing a marching dance. She'll do the twist. She'll do the side to side sway. She'll lean all the way over in a new dance, sure to sweep the nation, that can only be described as a sideways limbo. Where Clara dances herself into a frenzy before spinning herself onto the couch, Kate is actually working on her craft, attempting to match her bouncing and the waving of her arms to the beat of the song. This is no passing diversion.

Occasionally while we are watching Noggin "Move to the Music" will come on with a short clip of the song "Bottle of Sunshine" by Milkshake. Kate's eyes get big and her mouth forms a big O and she runs onto the dance floor, giving me nasty looks if I don't run out there with her.

Honestly, Kate doesn't need music to dance. If you ask her to dance she'll grin and start moving. Clara just looks at her with a puzzled look on her face - why are you dancing? Because it's fun!

I don't have any good video of them dancing yet, mainly because if I'm not dancing with her, Kate furrows her brow and points at me and says, much too forcefully for me not to obey, "Dance!" Once I do get good video I'll get it up here for her many many fans.

Friday, August 31, 2007

No, I don't want to join your damn club

I don't want a pair of socks with that. I don't want to open a charge account. I don't want to save 10% today. I don't want a muffin or a scone to go with my coffee. I don't want a Borders Club card or a Barnes & Noble frequent reader's card. I don't want to spend $10 more so I can get a free travel alarm clock. I don't want 8 free issues of Entertainment Weekly. I don't want to join your mailing list and I don't want to give you my phone number. I don't want to sign up for your newsletter or email specials. I don't want to upgrade to a large popcorn for only 50 cents. Well, ok, yes I would like the large popcorn.

I'm not an angry man, but I do get impatient, especially when accomplishing something means I have to take my two little ones out in public. Recently I took them with me to a store in the mall so I could buy some pants. The sales clerk was cordial and helpful, and gave the appropriate amount of attention to my kids before moving on to find me some pants. She even made sure the large dressing room was available. Here was someone who was clearly on my side through this process. Until I tried to buy the clothes...

Kate is starting to fuss because we've spent too much time there and Clara is testing just how loud she can shout before I stop what I'm doing to address the problem (which is, of course, exactly what she wants.) The sales clerk is slowly and gently folding my pants as if they were cashmere - they were less than $25 each; they don't need much attention. Kate is starting to cry, either from the wait or the fact that Clara is biting her finger now. Great. I talk to Clara and sort out this whole biting thing for the moment and come back to find that the clerk is now wrapping my cheap pants in protective paper, using a sticker to keep them wrapped. She doesn't look up so she can't see my looks of disbelief, but surely she can hear what's going on with my little ones. She slowly puts everything in a bag.

"How would you like to pay for this?"
I slide over my credit card.
"Would you like to open..."
I know where this is headed so I say "No" to cut her off.
"...a charge account with us?"
I'm shaking my head no.
"You can save 10% on your entire purchase," she says in a sing song voice.
"No, thanks."

The girls are on the verge of completely losing it and I've given up caring about the scene they are making.

"Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?"
"In the bag, please."

Before handing me my bag of purchased goods, the clerk unfolds a brochure in front of me. "Would you like to sign up for our Loyalty Program? It will only take a few minutes.."

What went through my head: "Are you #@$ kidding me? Can you not see what I'm dealing with? No, no, you're right - let me sign up for your loyalty program. Why don't you take these two normally sweet children for a little walk up and down the mall while I fill this out. No? Where's the loyalty to your customers? Can't a customer just buy what he wants to buy without being bled for anything more or hassled with special cards or programs? No, I don't want to join your damn club."

What I actually said, through clenched teeth: "No. Are we done?"

I was reminded of a time I bought a pair of socks from a department store and was asked by the friendly and chipper sales clerk if I wanted to save 10% today by opening a credit card. I responded with some smart aleck remark about how the 50 cents I'd save would sure make that worthwhile. Her bright smile disappeared and her heavy lidded eyes showed just how much asking inane questions over and over every day had gotten to her. She was reading a script - she had to ask me the question and take every stupid comment from customers like me. She was a defeated woman, and she's the reason I'm not a smart aleck with clerks anymore.

A pessimist would say that most of the interaction you have in a day is already scripted, from going to the store to small-talk with colleagues. Conversations and reactions are mostly predictable. But everyone has, and values, that friend who could say anything at any time. We miss you Stacy Vollert.

Ever try to get a telemarketer off his script? I'm pretty sure there's a reply on their computer screens for everything you can offer.
Telemarketer: Hello, Mr. Bittle. I'm calling on behalf of AT&T to offer...
Me: I'm on the no-call list
Telemarketer: I understand, sir. As a current AT&T customer, you are eligible for an upgrade...
Me: I'm really not interested.
Telemarketer: I understand why you might be skeptical but you can double your service with only a small monthly increase...
Me: Vanilla monkey bellybutton
Telemarketer: ... I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't understand what you just said. As I was saying about the upgrade...
Me: I'll tell you what, I'll buy the upgrade if you can say the alphabet backwards in 30 seconds.
Telemarketer: (laughs) It really is to your benefit to upgrade. If I can elaborate on...
Me: You're wasting time - 25 seconds.
Telemarketer: Uh, ZYX... WV
Me: 20 seconds
Telemarketer: UTSRQ...PONM, uh, LKJ
Me: hurry
Telemarketer: IH
Me: 5 seconds
Telemarketer: GF, uh, E
Me: Time! Oh, man you were so close. That must be frustrating.

Monday, August 27, 2007

You finished Harry Potter.... now what? what? If you're like me, a kind of depression came over you once you flipped the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It's been eleven years since the first book caught our imagination, and kids who started reading the Harry Potter books then are in or graduated from college now (some of us are a bit older.) So when it comes to filling the gap left by the Harry Potter books, we're not looking for more young adult fiction; we're looking for something more challenging but with the same feeling of wonder we got from the Harry Potter books. Below is a list of books that have several things in common with the Harry Potter books and are, in my opinion, great reads.

Key: contains Magic - set in England - a Coming of age story - Adventure - first of a Series - has a Dark adversary

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke (MEA)
In what can be described as Harry Potter for grownups, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is closer to Dickens than Rowling, but the themes of two rivals searching for newer and greater types of magic will resound with Harry Potter fans. Warning: It's a bit long and is more of a character study than an adventure, but a worthwhile read.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon (MCA)
Chabon's prize winning book is filled with the friendship and camaraderie of the Harry Potter books, and, in my opinion, surpasses them in imagination and scope. As Kavalier and Clay's comic book creations begin to mirror the growing complexities of their lives and the world, the reader begins to see the depth of Chabon's creation.

Wicked - Gregory Maguire (MCAD)
A young girl, alone because of her appearance and abilities, seeks to tear down the facade of beauty and perfection in OZ to reveal the true ugliness and corruption underneath. The political posturing of those in power will remind readers of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Elphaba's crusade to save the animals of Oz mirrors Hermione's efforts to help the lesser creatures of her world.

A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin (MCASD)
Arguably the most complete fantasy world created since Tolkien's Middle Earth (The Lord of the Rings isn't on this list because telling someone to read it is like telling someone to breathe.) Martin's willingness to kill off favorite characters leaves the reader completely in the dark as to what will happen next. Filled with heroes young and old, magic, and dragons, Martin's books have amassed a rabid fan base.

The Quincunx - Charles Palliser (ECAD)
If you like to view the world as a puzzle with clues that are not readily apparent, The Quincunx may be for you. It's another Dickensian story of a young man who faces great danger from mysterious sources for reasons he must puzzle together, revealing much about himself and his family history.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde (MEASD)
Jasper Fforde has created with his Thursday Next adventures a silly but witty series of engaging novels. Mix Douglas Adams (read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - and breathe) with the Bronte sisters, throw in a dash of every English writer in history, puree, and serve with lots of cheese. It's a quick read - give it a try.

Quicksilver - Neal Stephenson (ECAS)
Many will argue that Snow Crash should be everyone's first Neal Stephenson book - and I agree, it's one of my favorite books. But his Baroque Cycle, starting with Quicksilver, might appeal to Harry Potter fans. It doesn't contain magic, but the scientific advances in England during Isaac Newton's time appear magical to the masses. And is that the same Philosopher's Stone Newton seeks? The unlikely hero of the book, Jack Shaftoe, begins here an adventure that will take him around the world to come face to face with royalty, pirates, and the greatest scientific minds of the time. It is the perfect blend of science and adventure.

A Prayer for Own Meany - John Irving (ECA)
I added this book to the list because it left me with the same feeling as the Harry Potter books. It is the story of a young misfit who believes wholeheartedly in his destiny despite universal skepticism. OK so it's set in New England, not England - close enough. This is one of the few books that both my wife and I would put as one of our top ten books. Pick this up and go along for the ride.

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss(MCASD)

This is a late addition (I just finished it,) and I can't say enough about the story and the writing. Many would say it's a clone of Harry Potter - an orphan at a school of magic studying to defeat a dark adversary - but The Name of the Wind has a completely different feel. It reminds me of Thomas Hardy with its impoverished protagonist navigating a minefield of morally ambiguous choices where any wrong move could lead to his downfall. Ever the pragmatist, the protagonist, a magical bard or troubadour as accomplished in his music as his magic, expects and accepts the worst as just another part of his troubled life. Rothfuss introduces the magic, or sympathy, early in the book and uses it more as a science than anything mystical, following clear scientific laws that the reader can understand and appreciate. Outstanding.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fun with the Etters

Here's something I put together from our visit with the Etters:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Keep driving, lady

We live within walking distance of downtown Webster Groves, a perfect place to get coffee or groceries or a smoothie or a haircut (even sushi!) We even pass the fire station where firemen wave to the girls and occasionally let them ring the bells on the fire truck - it's a bit like Mayberry. On mornings like this morning, when the humidity hasn't yet covered St. Louis like a double thick wool blanket, I like to take the girls down to St. Louis Bread Company for their favorite pumpkins muffies - muffins without the stump. The ladies behind the counter know Clara and Kate by now and usually find something cool to give them, like giant purple straws or little cookie treats. Needless to say, any suggestion from me that we walk downtown is met with a race to the back door.

This morning I put Kate in her umbrella stroller and Clara hopped on her tricycle for the walk downtown. The sidewalks downtown are decorated with benches and plenty of trees, and often I get looks from people who see a little girl riding her tricycle down such a street as the height of Americana. I'm used to plenty of smiles. This morning was a little different.

Occasionally along the sidewalks a curb cut will lead to a parking lot set behind the storefronts. As we approached one such curb cut I saw a man was waiting to turn left across traffic into it. Clara was riding her tricycle just ahead of me and I considered having her stop and wait with me, but made the decision that the best thing was for her to continue through it. There were plenty of cars coming in the opposite direction that blocked the man from turning left. Plus, I looked at the man and made eye contact, the unspoken "I see you and you see me and my daughter" message. So we continued down the sidewalk and lived happily ever after. Good story, eh?

A minute later, a woman of advanced years stopped her car in the middle of the road to tell me what she thought of my parenting: "You have got to teach that girl to stop for every driveway! There was a man back there who was going to turn into that driveway. He could have hit her!" She continued to admonish me but by the point I was just looking at the line of cars gathering behind her. I might have even defended myself if the woman stopped talking long enough. Instead I just shook my head slowly in the way that Megan hates - as if I'm completely dismissing everything this woman has to say. There were some honks and I gave the woman a law-enforcement "move-along" wave and simply said, "Keep driving, lady. Keep driving." She drove off, having said what she wanted to say.

Now I've been around enough grandparents who see mortal danger in every little thing a kid goes near, so I understand where this woman was coming from. But I'm not the type of parent who has his children fear anything and everything around them until they are too skittish to do anything.

I'm wondering what it was about me that made this woman think, here's a parent who clearly needs help and advice. I'm a clean-cut, fairly well dressed guy. I didn't have a bong hanging out my back pocket and my extensive tattoos were covered up. She couldn't have known that I'm the editor of Let Your Kids Ride Tricycles on Dangerous Streets quarterly. So what was it about me that made this lady think I had no clue about keeping my kids safe? What about me screamed, "this parent needs your help and advice desperately!" hmmmmmmm... I wonder...

I'm guessing it's my boy parts that preclude me from being a good and responsible parent.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Some Pictures

We returned this week from a trip to California where we celebrated both our tenth wedding anniversary and my mom's 60th birthday. Mom got some alone time with Clara and Kate while Megan and I took a cruise to Alaska. Rather than write about it, I've unloaded my camera's memory card below. You can click on each picture to get a better view.

In Glacier Bay, Alaska

Outside the Taku Lodge, near Juneau (Taku glacier in distance)

Black Bear strolling Taku Lodge

In Sitka (our cruise ship in distance)

At Uncle Chris's ball game

Trying to be patient with Justin and Andrew Etter


Two peas in a pod

With Megan's grandmother in San Jose

Clara is a California girl!

Pure joy

Costume contest at Mom's birthday (the theme was "ancient")

Clara after she stole my cake

Clara getting flying lessons on the way home

Clara earned her wings