Elvis Costello, Tom Waits & Chloe

This was my plan:

Expose Chloe, my daughter, to the music I love when she was very young. Then, when she’s older, she’ll already have a built-in appreciation for fine music, the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits.

She’ll be one of those cool teens!

I even had pictures and magazines placed in strategic locations in the house and bought her an oversized Elvis Costello t-shirt that she wore as a nightshirt along with red socks (angel-worthy “shoes” — get it?).

It couldn’t miss!

But it didn’t work…

She never voluntarily listens to Elvis Costello or Tom Waits. And I’m too embarrassed to say what she does like…

Where did I go wrong?

Well, she’s only 28.

There’s still hope, right?

Right?

Kind Action : Introduce Your Child to Something YOU Love
Music Recommendation 1 : Imperial Bedroom — Elvis Costello
Music Recommendation 2 : Swordfishtrombones — Tom Waits

Take a Field Trip!

Indeed, think back to how exciting it was to be somewhere other than at school on a weekday. You know, when you “should” be in school.

I encourage you to occasionally be inspired by that remembrance. Take a personal day or play hooky. Involve your family.

That’s me in that photo above, taken along the beach in California in March 2010. Melinda, our two daughters, and I had taken a field trip to San Francisco from our home in Seattle, needing to visit the nearest French Consulate in order to get our visas for our year of living in France.

We stayed with Melinda’s cousin’s family, who took us to the beach on a weekday when anyone under the age of 18 “should have” been in school.

The inspiration for this idea comes from Gretchen Rubin’s blog. In the linked post, she shares about going on a field trip as an adult, having been inspired by her 6-year-old.

Kind Action : Take a Field Trip!
Book Recommendation : The Happiness Project

For a little further inspiration, here’s 35 seconds of “charter bus excitement” from a group of kindergartners.

On My Father’s Shoulders

The summer of 1988 is one of the favorite periods of my life. I had just graduated from college and had decided to take a job that had nothing to do with what I’d been studying, but had everything to do with something I loved.

To explain, I have to take you back a few years before that.

Picture a little boy on his father’s shoulders. The little boy asks, “What number?”

The father tells him. And for the duration of the horse race that’s the little boy’s focus, yelling for that numbered horse to run, “Go number four! Go number four!”

I was probably two or three years old, and that’s the way I remember the story being told to me. Years pass and it’s just something my dad and I share, a passion for the horse races.

And in the summer of 1988, I was hired as a statistician by the Daily Racing Form and would be at Longacres racetrack every day, as would my father as part of his side job as a handicapping expert for a couple of national horse racing magazines.

We spent hours together that summer, just the two of us, together, completely absorbed.

Kind Action : Hang Out With Your Dad (or a father figure)
Book Recommendation : Picking Winners
Website Inspiration : Day 130 (7 November 2010) — A Day at the Races

Designer Ice Cream

Since marrying Melinda, I’ve gotten lots of opportunities to learn there are nice things and then there are nicer nice things.

Take frozen dairy products for instance.

I’m from Nebraska. I was born in the 1960’s. My family ate something called “ice cream.” It came in a “carton.” If I was lucky, I got an “ice cream cone,” otherwise I ate it from a “bowl.”

These are terms I know.

Then one day, Melinda took me to a specialty shop that sold something resembling ice cream. It had maybe 10 flavors, all beautifully arranged, not 31 messy cardboard canisters packed in ice and served to you by a pimply teen.

Stymied by not finding “Pink Bubblegum,” I passed. Melinda got a “petit” of two things I cannot pronounce, let alone spell, a tiny dish that cost enough for the two immaculately dressed workers to have to check our credit rating before handing it over.

Whatever you call what they serve, it WAS really, really good (Melinda gave me a taste).

I Gave Up Breathing

(I first wrote this post in response to a Haiku blog to which I contributed poems. Every other week, I received a prompt. In response to the prompt word “wind,” I thought of the drawing above to use as an illustration for my poem, which, simply put, I wrote as a reminder that as people we sometimes get in our own way.)

When my daughter Chloe was in kindergarten, I quickly drew a “Heartman” comic each morning on a Post-it note and put it in her lunch. Because her school had a policy in which students were not allowed to throw anything away, the idea being so parents would have some sense of what their children were and were not eating, most of the comics came home each afternoon.

I couldn’t bring myself to toss them so stashed them in a sandwich bag.

A few years ago, I found them and thought they’d make the basis of a fun blog. All in all, it’s a pretty darn sweet collection of day-to-day parenting. Check out one of my favorite drawings here, from which you can access the entire collection.

Needless to Say, it was an Ideal Moment

(The original of this post came on September 1, 2010 while Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I were living in Nantes, France. I like this post enough to reproduce it here.)

September 1, 2010

I went on this very long walk by myself this afternoon. I started at home and walked to the big grocery store at the end of our local tram line, stopping along the way to do some reading and thought-gathering. I picked up a few things at the store and then decided to walk back a different route, one I hadn’t tried before.

I got a little bit lost but never to the point of not knowing which direction I needed to go. The walk provided me one of those moments (and a long one at that) about how not having several unfinished projects waiting for me has allowed me to slow down and be mindful.

A good lesson for when I again have several projects needing my attention.

During the walk back, the part when I wasn’t quite sure where I was, I encountered a dirt trail and decided to take it to see where it came out. Along the trail I found an overgrown apple tree with dozens of rotting apples on the ground around it.

Given the number already on the ground, I decided it would be acceptable for me to pluck a couple of ripe apples from the tree. I then continued along the path, now accompanied by the pleasant crunch of biting into a fresh apple.

Needless to say, it was an ideal moment.

While I was out walking, Ella & Melinda had tea with a classmate of Ella’s named Aude and her mother, the two having been invited to their house. This was a great thing because now Ella is familiar with a girl her age in her school. Melinda and Ella reported that Aude and family are extremely nice and that they have even put in a request at school for Aude and Ella to be in the same class.

These simple acts of kindness from people that are complete strangers to us touches me deeply.
Meanwhile, Chloe had her first paid babysitting job and has one lined up with the same girl for each of the next two Wednesdays. And early in the day I had a Skype conversation with a representative from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, the likely result of which will be me doing some partnership work with them.

I also watched the pilot episode of “Get Smart.” Yes, that old American TV spy comedy from the 1960’s.

I can’t quite put in words why watching TV shows from my youth is bringing me such joy, but they are. Perhaps it has to do with reconnecting with a simpler time. The TV shows are just as they were then, untouched and untarnished by time. I think watching them is like having access to a time machine.

The “Get Smart” episode began with Max, the main character, getting a phone call in the middle of a live theatre performance. It made me laugh out loud, given how common it is for people to get personal phone calls in public places these days.

Except the episode is from 1965 and the call was on his shoe phone…

A Mixtape – Matching Speedos

What’s a mixtape, you say?

Historically, it’s a cassette tape on which someone has lovingly recorded a set of songs for someone. Nowadays, we call it a playlist.

In my early 20’s I would spend hours creating 90-minute tapes for friends, quite often a woman for whom I had a romantic interest. Sometimes these included hand-written liner notes.

Nutty, I know.

Imagine my delight a few years ago when I found a website, 8 Tracks, that allows people to upload songs, thus creating a “mixtape.” It enabled me to scratch my mixtape itch. In fact, here’s a link to one of the many I’ve created, this one called “Matching Speedos.”

This is how I describe the mix on the 8 Tracks site: “Back in the early ’70s, my parents bought matching Speedos for my two brothers, me, and them. The Speedos were a pink floral print, pretty spectacular for the early ’70s. This mix of songs performed by brothers is my tribute to those Speedos and my brothers.”

(Note, if you link to the 8 Tracks site you will be subject to their advertisements.)

Kind Action: Make someone a playlist
Book Recommendation: Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
Movie Recommendation: High Fidelity (starring Jon Cusack)

Chloe’s “Best Birthday Ever”

February 28, 2011 was quite a day, one that ended with this lovely sentiment from Melinda’s and my oldest daughter, Chloe: “I think this was my best birthday ever.”

Wow, that’s really saying something and was a statement that really touched Melinda and me. We wanted this birthday to be very special, especially considering that 18 is the REALLY big birthday in France AND we happened to be living in France then, on sabbatical for a year from the school Melinda and I had founded in 1994.

In France, most new 18-year-olds have big parties thrown for them by their parents, parties that include family and friends. But we really couldn’t provide that for Chloe. So instead, we figured out how to bring the four of us to Paris from Nantes, where we were living, and then throw a day-long family party for her.

The *party* began after Melinda and I completed a 30-minute jog around the Luxembourg Garden, a pretty spectacular way to begin any day, I know. Chloe wanted Mexican food so Melinda found an affordable and quick Mexican restaurant, BocaMexa, (courtesy of David Lebovitz’s blog) for lunch.

Next, Chloe wanted some birthday photos at the Eiffel Tower so we took a bus there, relying on the Rick Steves Paris guidebook to point us to a bus that gave us a bit of a Paris tour. It was cold so riding on a warm bus seeing the Paris streets was nice.

After the Eiffel Tower photoshoot, we went back home to get ready for dinner. It turned out that we had a few extra few minutes so Melinda & I took Chloe out for a legal drink at a nearby bar (the drinking age in France is 18 — she had a Kir Cassis, btw, and has a great story to tell about the bartender giving her a shirt and telling her to ditch her parents on her 18th birthday).

Regarding dinner, earlier in the day Melinda made reservations for us at Chez Janou, a wonderful Parisian restaurant not far from the Bastille. In making the reservation, Melinda commented that it was Chloe’s 18th birthday.

The restaurant staff went all out, including making her a special cake that was delivered with restaurant-wide fanfare and singing, dimmed lights, loud music, and 18 candles. We had a champagne toast and enjoyed the incredible cake, before taking the Métro back to our apartment, located a 5-minute walk from Notre Dame.

Oh, one more thing about that night’s dinner. Just after Chloe blew out her candles, we spotted American actor John C. Reilly sitting about 5 feet away, meaning he helped sing happy birthday to her. Was this her birthday wish?

Really, John C. Reilly, when Johnny Depp lives in France?

Either it’s 1970 or I’m Having a Mid-life Crisis

(From July 2010 through July 2011, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family. Little did my family know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my entries. The one copied below is from September 18, 2010. Find the original here.)

Day 80 (18 September 2010) – Saturday Morning, 1970

Shhh… I have to type quietly this morning because everyone else in the house is still sleeping.

I got up early to plug my computer into the TV so I could watch cartoons while eating a bowl of French frosted flakes, or what on the box says, “Glacés au Sucre Corn Flakes” (literally, frozen sugar corn flakes). Either it’s 1970 or I’m having a mid-life crisis.

Regardless, it’s a perfect Saturday morning in September:

  • Clear and crisp outside.
  • Quiet inside.
  • No school.
  • Cartoons.
  • Frosted Flakes.

In today’s episode of “Underdog,” Dr. Simon Bar Sinister, the wickedest man in the world, has invented a device that can suck up the world’s water supply, distorting its molecules so it all fits nicely into a valise. People will have to come to him to get their water!

Will Underdog be able to save the day?

Yesterday, Chloe told me that some of my blog postings seem kind of silly and pointless. I’m not sure, but I think this had something to do with me kissing fire hydrants. In response, and as a nod to Seinfeld, I’ve started referring to pictures and experiences here in France as being “blog-worthy.” As we go about our days, discovering things like a delicious cheeseburger, I’ll say to Melinda, Chloe, and/or Ella, “I think this just might be blog-worthy.”

They seem to think that things like visiting Paris and going to Louvre are blog-worthy. Me, I’m not so sure. Everyone who goes to Paris blogs about that. To me, I think that’s blog-boring.

So, having found Frosted Flakes in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I knew I had found something worth writing about. I just have to do so while they are all asleep.

Oh, does anyone know how I can get some Brown-Sugar Cinnamon Frosted Pop-Tarts??

Next Saturday is just a week away and I think H.R. Pufnstuf is going to have to save Jimmy and Freddy, the talking flute, from Witchiepoo. I need something full of vitamins and minerals, part of a balanced breakfast, to assist.

My Childhood Experience With Night Terrors

(“Tell me a story from when you were a kid. Please. Pleee-ase.”

It was a nighttime ritual by now, my daughter asking me to tell her one of my childhood stories. I knew what it REALLY was, a ploy for her to stay up later. Or a ploy for me to have a little more time with her alone. Who’s fooling whom, I thought. I smiled, both inside and out.

“Okay, remember how I told you about how I used to have trouble getting to sleep? Well, one night…”)

The little boy did not mind going to bed. That didn’t scare him. In fact, it was reassuring to be snug in bed and see the bright light under his door, the light that indicated his parents were still up and about.

The best nights were those Saturdays when his parents entertained and stayed up very late, and the smell of a cigarette from one of the guests wafted to his room. As long as the smell lingered his parents would be up and he would be safe.

No, it wasn’t going to bed that scared him.

As long as he fell asleep before the light under his door went out he would be fine. He knew this and developed all kinds of tricks to help himself fall asleep quickly. His stuffed animal friends, especially his bunny, would talk quietly to him. Or the radio, tuned to a Top 40 station, counted down the most popular songs and soothed him, like counting sheep jumping a fence.

He’d look up at the big blue clock his parents bought him, the one with the bright white numbers so he could tell time in the dark. Those numbers seemed so friendly to him and the blue, his favorite color, matched his walls, his sheets, his bunny, his eyes…

His eyes which now were closed. He was asleep.

Invariably, though, some time in the night, every night, he would awaken. It wasn’t nightmares, at least not most nights, that caused him to wake up. He just did, wake up that is, every night, some time around 2 in the morning, like clockwork.

Sometimes he woke up slowly, sleepy-eyed, and fought the inevitable consciousness.

He tried, in this not-quite-awake state, to lull himself back to sleep, knowing that if he awoke the terror would begin. But this never worked. Every time he began thinking to himself, “I know I’m still asleep and should stay asleep but if I don’t wake up I won’t be alert and then I’m vulnerable so I need to wake up, I need to waKE UP. I NEED TO WAKE UP! WAKE UP!!”

And he’d wake himself up, wide-eyed, alert.

Sometimes he just awoke with a start, to that same wide-eyed, wide-awake state, immediately scared. Every time he’d look at the bottom of his door for the reassuring light but his parents were long ago in bed, asleep. And THIS is what scared him to the marrow of his bones, that he would be the only one in the house awake, the only one available to protect his house, his family, himself from all that the darkness brought.

His way of dealing with being the only one awake in the house was to awaken someone else.
And somehow all the logic that he so well understood in the comfort of the daylight disappeared in the lonely darkness of 2am. The well-intentioned promises made at family meetings, the star chart of promised rewards taped to the refrigerator, the talks with his therapist. They all added up to a big fat nothing when the little boy was scared and lonely and scared and alone and wanted more than anything to be near his awake mother. Every night it was the same.

“MOM!!! MOM!!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

And she would come and he would ignore or just not notice her frustration and her exhaustion as her calming presence and the touch of her hand rubbing his head or his back, or her, in her tired, tired state, laying down next to him, blotted out all else.

He knew the meaning of peace and serenity. It was your mom laying down next to you and rubbing your back at 2am moments after being so terribly scared. There is peace in this world and this is it.

In his mother’s presence, he would quickly and quietly fall back asleep.

After months and months of this pattern there came the night he feared. The predictable pattern played out again. In bed, the light shining from under his door, he found his way into sleep. And, as always, he began to awaken and he told himself he should just fall back into a deep slumber.

But this time something was different.

He felt a presence in the room and then hands on him, touching his blankets. He was wide awake in a flash but his body froze with fear. He could not move a muscle. His eyes would not open, no noise would come from his throat. And still the hands moved over and on him.

His mind raced, trying to make sense of what was happening. Maybe he was still asleep and this was one of those rare nightmares. No, he could tell this was real, could tell he was awake.

Maybe his overactive nighttime imagination was getting the best of him. No, he could tell when he was scaring himself, even when he couldn’t stop it from happening, and this was different.
Maybe it was his older brothers playing a trick on him, like the time, thinking he was asleep, they put his hand in warm water to see if he would wet the bed. No, they knew enough about his nighttime fear to not tease him about this.

What was it then?

The touching of his blankets stopped and he sensed the presence move away from his bed. He heard the familiar squeak of the hinges on his door and knew that whomever or whatever it was had left. This knowledge propelled him out of his paralyzed state and he screamed like no other scream in his life:

“MOOOMMMMM!!!”

She was in like a flash, faster than ever before, like she sensed the urgency in his voice, like she was already close by. It all came out in a jumbled mix of frightened words, “Somebody… touching me… in my room!”

She rubbed his head, soothed him, brought the covers up around him as it was a cold winter night.

“Oh, honey,” she said, “That was me. It is so chilly tonight and I thought you’d be cold so I brought you another blanket. You must have felt me spreading it out over you.” She hugged him and lay down next to him. “You are fine.”

The truth and logic of what she said slowly dawned on him and relief came over him in waves, finally overtaking him and calming him. The peace of his mother’s presence took hold and he fell back asleep.

Until the next night…