Creative Dance

That’s Ella, Melinda’s and my youngest daughter, on the right. Posing with her is her cousin, Olivia. When Ella was little, she always wanted to dance.

To nurture her desire, Melinda, signed her up for a class called “Creative Dance” when she was 4 or 5 years old.

At the first session, Melinda and I tried to spy on her without being seen (to see if she was having fun) by peeking through a tiny window in the door. We watched her spin and twirl and move, all with a smile on her face.

Confident that she had had a great time, when class ended we asked her, “Did you have fun?” Her sweet and profound answer was as prompt as it was telling:

“I don’t see how they can call it CREATIVE dance when they tell you what to do!”

Since then she continued to dance, but on her terms. As a teen, she’d close her bedroom door and dance to her favorite music. At parties, she was always found on the dance floor.

She’ll be 25 in December and lives on her own in Seattle. But I can easily imagine her dancing in her apartment or while making macarons at work.

Kind Action : Dance (on your terms)
Book Recommendation : Creative Dance For All Ages

Making a Stop in Angerville?

Most readers of my blog are aware that Melinda, my wife, and I took our daughters, Chloe & Ella, to live in France for a year back in 2010-11. We had been granted a sabbatical from the school we had founded and used the opportunity to provide our family some wonderful experiences in a different country.

Among the things we got to do was travel. In the spring of 2011, we went to southern France and stayed in the city of Nice. Although it’s pronounced like the English word “niece,” this didn’t stop me from telling my family, and on multiple occasions, how nice I found Nice, purposely mispronouncing the words.

Near the end of our year in France, we traveled to Normandy in northern France at the invitation of the Bertail family, people who lived around the corner from us and had become great friends. Melinda and I rented a car for this trip and for the first time in our lives experienced a vehicle with GPS.

Let me just tell you how infatuated Melinda and I became with this nifty little tool. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, which, incidentally, I’m not advocating anyone do on a literal basis…

So, anyway, there we were, driving in Normandy to our destination and up on the video game, err, GPS screen came the word “Angerville,” which turns out to be a small town in Normandy (click on the photo here to see it better).

Chloe piped up from the backseat, “We spent some time in Nice, why not Angerville?”

Good one, Chloe! A real chip off the old block!

Turns out, though, that it never really worked into our plans to make a stop in Angerville. We were overdue and it was getting dark. Still, I kept picturing the four of us next to a sign of the town name, each of us with an angry scowl on our faces.

So, yeah, it’s probably best we didn’t go to Angerville back then. I mean, we probably go there metaphorically often enough, right? Think about it. Wouldn’t YOU rather go around Angerville than making a stop there?

Program your personal GPS accordingly.

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?