Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quote of the day

No one ever said that you would live to see the repercussions of everything you do, or that you have guarantees, or that you are not obliged to wander in the dark, or that everything will be proved to you and neatly verified like something in science. Nothing is: at least nothing that is worthwhile.
-- Mark Helprin
via Mrs. Gamely, in Winter's Tale

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top books of 2010, Speck edition

Speck goes through cycles of having us read to her a ton versus showing interest only at bedtime, but a few books seem to transcend her general pattern to become repeat entertainments all by themselves. Three books really stood out in this category during this past fall and winter, to the degree that I thought they deserved some public recognition.
  1. cover of the book, with llama looking out the windowThe top of this list would have to be Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney, a book that describes a little llama (star of several other books) on his trepidatious first day at preschool, initially so overcome with missing his mama that he's unable to participate in any of the fun taking place around him, but eventually getting sucked in by the kindness of the teacher and kids and having a good time. Top quotes: "Don't be sad now, little llama! It's ok to miss your mama. But don't forget: when day is through, she will come right back to you!" and "Llama Llama, please don't fuss; have some fun and play with us!"

    I initially got this book from the library to help introduce Speck to the idea of preschool, to help her visualize what might be there, how she might be scared and/or might have fun. I thought it might give us some entries to talk about that stuff, and indeed it did, much more than I anticipated. She asked about the line "Mama Llama goes away; Llama Llama has to stay", and we developed a set of discussion points such as "mama has to go to work" and "preschool isn't for mommies!" We talked about the little llama turning away from games and fun, and how he was missing out on possibilities. We speculated that he probably didn't really "hate that book" but was just feeling grumpy and unwilling to give it a chance. We grinned over the way he shouted and dropped his crayons when he saw his momma returned to pick him up, and laughed when she tried to fit inside the playhouse. Most amazingly, we read this book over and over, day after day, exhausting our library renewals and then getting it out again and repeating the process, long after Speck had made her own successful transition to preschool, long after I should probably have already bought the book but kept imagining we'd be done with it soon.

    Reading this book (and the next) also became linked to having a snack of matzohs and cream cheese in the afternoon; either could suggest the other. But there was never a single pass through this book. It's been at the library for a month or two now, but writing this has made me realize that I should probably go and get it out again and see what new tidbits it might have to offer...

  2. cover of the book, with clock face and various scenesNext up is Night Shift, by Jessie Hartland. This is a rare case where I brought home a library book whose illustration style (something like chaoticized child's drawings) I actively disliked, because it seemed like a neat topic: what sorts of work goes on around a city in the evening hours and overnight, that you never get to see? We visit boat captains moving freight, a museum guard listening to a late-night DJ, and donut bakers getting their wares ready before dawn, among many others. It's long (which appears to be a draw for Speck in certain moods), but offers nice linkages from one player to the next to pull us along until the late-nighters and the early-morningers all meet at a diner for breakfast.

    Anyway, she loves it, and it's another that has been read and read until her parents nearly groan to see it coming out of the pile. But there's lots of detail and silliness to pick out along the way, as well as questions to ask about how the world works -- why is there less traffic at 2am? why do the bridge painters paint around a hawk's nest? etc. Speck particularly likes following some oscelots from their shipping crates to their cage in the nocturnal section of the zoo, through various edge-of-the-action cameos (and maybe a diner outing at the end). Anyway, the book has won me over, what with all the rereadings and examination of details, and I now look upon its multicolored pages with affection.

  3. cover of the book, with sketches of animals for each monthFinally, we made a great find in The Year at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen. I thought that this might be kind of a stretch for my 2-year-old when I brought it home, but she was entranced with it immediately and had us read it obsessively until she had memorized whole sets of the shorter descriptions. It talks about the months and seasons of the year by way of how they affect the activities of the animals who live on a farm, with horses feeling frisky in the spring and roosters dealing with the indignity of moulting, and does a good job of evoking the seasonal sensibilities of life on a farm without the need for a treacly or historical patina.

    The book is full of detailed drawings and quirky barnyard personalities, which later led us to visit the also-wonderful Our Animal Friends by the same authors. Both books treat the animals and their readers with great respect and a little wry affection, and will offer more to readings at subsequent ages. These books were recently reissued in softcover (after original publication in the 1970s, I think), and we quickly bought both, although not all of the color is perfectly reproduced from our well-worn library copies. I look forward to Speck's viewing this one as one of her old friends.

Latest shadenfreude

I'd like to be a bigger person, but for now I'll have to live with the fact that this story just made my day. Can we be done with this "I'll show you mine if..." crap already?!?

(via HunterDK's Twitter feed)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another almost-funny

The inimitable Fafblog comes through with an appropriate take on our actions in Libya, both funny and painful.We can haz freedoms? Sigh.

(via Atrios)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where credit is due

Echidne has really been on a roll lately -- on what the Right is up to, on recent anti-union maneouvers, even on what does and doesn't get said about Elizabeth Taylor's roles and what that reveals. I've linked to this week's posts, so just go get edumacated via some chewy analysis of Stuff!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Belated primer

Have been meaning to post this for a while, but it's still useful even if the winds of media have shifted: Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake, which includes things like some analogies for how large/long the country is and where the earthquake actually hit, and also talks about the nation's preparedness, etc. Helpful for figuring out how much of the country has actually been affected, why your friends in Tokyo are mostly ok, etc.

Passing of a legend

still of Elizabeth Taylor around 25-30 years oldWas a bit surprised to see at boing boing this morning that Elizabeth Taylor has passed away, although a scan through recent images makes it clear that she was failing.

Anyway, for those who have appreciated her movies and her larger-than-life presence, there is a wonderful cross-section of images here, and a short video tribute by Paul Newman here. She certainly left a wealth of screen performances through the decades, many which hold up well to time...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thought of the day

But won't you be ashamed
To count the passing year
At its mere cost, your debt
Inevitably paid?
For every year is costly,
As you know well. Nothing
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.
- Wendell Berry
lines from Sabbaths 1998, VI
(via whiskey river)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts from an elevator

Today as I was getting into my office elevator, I was reminded of the widespread superstitions about elevator doors -- for example, the large number of people who are afraid to try to reach out to stop their closing, even if it means a long wait for another elevator, because, I guess, they are afraid that their hand would be caught/crushed/devoured.

And I want to explain that their imagined hand-waving target region is too high, that we live in the post-ADA era, so that you have to think about where a wheelchair would roll, and thus that the target for optical sensors would be about thigh-to-hip height. And that I've many a time stopped such an elevator with a sheet of paper or a hand, at no risk. But my gut is sort of saying, dismissively, "This is why smart people live longer." So I never open my mouth.

Really, on further reflection I realize that there are just a broad class of people for whom the world at large, and technology in particular, is full of impenetrable mysteries. And why is that so? Because if you start with the belief that there's no approach to such matters, you continue to find that true because you have never tried to analyze any of them. Some things may be hard to understand or frustrating, but many many aspects of the world yield to some kind of deductive analysis, whether the outcome is actual facts or just probabilistic insights, and your mind does that kind of work all the time (watching any kid over time is instructive in this regard). You just need to learn to believe in that framework.

painting of a figure thinking colorful imagesSo, rather than be dismissive, I wish to change my silent conversation to something like, "Every increment of deductive reasoning that you can bring to bear makes life a little bit easier." Which is not entirely different from saying that smart people function better in the world, but has the added benefit of pointing out a tool that anybody can adopt -- assume that you can reason a way through many of the stupid or mysterious parts of the day. And you, too, will find that you are right! Take heart, fellow travelers!

Babies! What makes those things tick?

Two hilarious videos recently of kids laughing hysterically at everyday things:
  1. Tearing paper is the new definition of funny!
    (via Follow Me Here)

  2. Mom blowing her nose -- both terrifying and hysterical! (This kid has just amazing expressions!)
Go on, you know you need a Friday giggle!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Somebody needs to do it!

Parents can do it, and apparently schools can do it too: help students discover the joy of learning and take ownership of their own educations. This sort of experiment terrifies harried school administrators, but the proof is in the pudding.
The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.
Inspiring, challenging stuff.

(via FreeRangeKids)

Good to keep in mind

Amid all the destruction photos and nuclear nailbiting coming out of Japan right now, they actually did amazingly well in the face of a really huge earthquake. We tend to focus on what failed, so it's good to remember that good disaster planning -- from construction codes to evacuation procedures -- actually saves thousands (or millions) of lives. We could learn a lot from that, if we still believed in learning...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A quiet book

I much enjoyed the January project of trying to notice/write one brief thing every day (see, e.g., these) -- made me realize how seldom these days I exercise the discipline of putting words to observations, something I love. Anyway, turns out that the organizers were so overwhelmed by the result of their project that they put together a book, which culls some of the most satisfying pebbles and mixes them with a few quotes and observations to make what looks like a great way to dip into the quiet moments in other people's days. Worth a look!

a striated pebble

(Note: I make no money from this project in any way.)

In a nutshell

There are just so many ways that this picture summarizes the experience of parenthood -- the cuteness, the pressure, the exhausted parent . . .

Friday, March 04, 2011

Giant pre-vacation link-dump


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Poem of the day

The Infirmament

An end is always punishment for a beginning.
If you're Catholic, sadness is punishment
for happiness, you become the bug you squash
if you're Hindu, a flinty space opens
in your head after a long night of laughter
and wine. For waking there are dreams,
for French poetry, English poetry,
for light, fire although sometimeskoan
fire must be punished by light
which is why psychotherapy had to be invented.
A father may say nothing to a son for years.
A wife may keep something small folded deep
in her underwear drawer. Clouds come in
resembling the terrible things we believe
about ourselves, a rock comes loose
from a ledge, the baby cries
and cries. Doll in a chair,
windshield wipers, staring off
into the city lights. For years
you may be unable to hear the word monkey
without a stab in the heart because
she called you that the summer she thought
she loved you and you thought you loved
someone else and everyone loved
your salad dressing. And the daffodils
come up in the spring and the snow covers
the road in winter and the water covers
the deep trenches in the sea where all the time
the inner stuff of this earth surges up
which is how the continents are made
and broken.

- Dean Young
(via whiskey river)