Oct 272010

Journalists, being human beings, are biased. Everybody on earth knows this. But somehow the organizations they work for think journalists should pretend to be utterly balanced — genetically incapable of forming opinions; solid, trustworthy men and women who only report Facts with a capital F. This is why NPR and The Washington Post told its employees to stay away from the Stewart/Colbert rally this weekend.

The Washington City Paper has also released a memo to its employees, one that skewers this whole silly business.

Oct 252010

We finished Terabithia. I made sure to do it on a Saturday afternoon, so it wouldn’t be our final activity before bed. (Goodnight, sweetie! I hope you don’t have any dreams about the grim reaper!) She was shocked at the roundhouse punch the author delivers, but not traumatized or anything. Then we went out and played lacrosse in the backyard with the kid-sized sticks her mother picked up at a yard sale. Next up for nighttime reading: Either Shiloh or My Side of the Mountain.

She’s reading Matilda during the day, having given up on Winn-Dixie. Since we’re now deep into Dahl, we watched the original Willy Wonka movie this weekend, which she enjoyed. I gave her ample warning about the riverboat scene, which has always struck me as appalling and tone-deaf. (Hey, kids! Wanna see me BEHEAD A CHICKEN?) But both kids got through it unscathed. “That wasn’t scary at all!” Lea asserted. But then when Violet received her blueberry-flavored comeuppance, Lea got so freaked out that she made me skip ahead.

Best part: After first experiencing the awesome force of nature that is Veruca Salt, Lea said in a small, astonished voice: “Wow.”

Science: A mishmash of science experiments. Lea and my wife built a hovercraft out of a tissue box and a hair dryer. Our kitchen table is covered with bunches of roses, each in a vase filled with water mixed with food coloring. The point is that the rose petals are supposed to turn various colors as the roots pull the water upwards. This ain’t happening. I think we need to get ourselves a little more focused in this subject.

Math: FINALLY we are declaring ourselves done with basic review. Today we move on to metric measurements.

History: …I forget. Are we done with explorers for now? Anyway, we’re making our way through our adequate but not exactly gripping history book.

Spanish: Found what might be decent program, a Costco equivalent to Rosetta Stone. We’ll see if it grabs Lea.

Oct 212010

One reason I stopped blogging for so long was because it felt strange writing about my kids — talking about them every day started to feel like a violation of their privacy. Words on the Internet are there forever, and I didn’t want to put my kids in an uncomfortable position years from now when friends or enemies come across this site and search for potty training anecdotes.

But posting Lea’s homeschool diaries has been quite beneficial — you folks have had some great ideas on how to supplement and build upon what we’re doing. So now it feels strange to be talking about only one kid and not mentioning the other one at all.

And so, here’s an update about Alex.

Good timing, too, because we just had Alex’s annual “board meeting” at school, where we get together with all his teachers and therapists and discuss his progress. He’s been with some of these therapists now for four or five years, and it’s clear that they love him, and why not? Alex remains a great kid, friendly and good-natured.

Alex is now ten years old — I know, right? How the hell did that happen? — but educationally he remains rooted in the first grade. That’s pretty much across the board: He can sometimes recognize and read words at a second grade level, but it’s not consistent, and anyway his comprehension is definitely more first grade than second grade. In math, we are still working on addition facts to ten — for numbers beyond that, we have shifted to teaching Alex how to use a calculator.

He has learned to use a computer keyboard, primarily because he is addicted to YouTube and its many videos of trains and planes. I wrote out a list of terms he can search on, but it’s up to him to call up Google and then carefully type in the words.

We were working on getting him to ride a bicycle, but that wasn’t going anywhere, so we’ve given up for now. We’ll try again in the spring.

What else can I tell you? His routine is pretty much wake up, go to school, come home, have a snack, do a little work at home — either counting money or using his online reading program, Lexia. We usually have an early dinner these days before taking our dog to the dog run. For a while Alex loved going there but refused to actually enter the dog run — all those dogs made him skittish, so he would instead sit outside on “his rock,” a large cement slab placed near the entrance. Slowly, though, he started coming inside for brief periods, and then for longer periods, and the other day he sat next to me happily the whole time while twenty dogs ran this way and that. He didn’t even panic when a strange dog came up to him for a good long sniff. I’m pretty proud of him.

We took a cruise this past summer — the eleven members of my immediate family. I spent the six months leading up to it worrying about Alex. How would he fare? Would he spend eight days in misery, wanting to go home?

I decided that I would be on full-time Alex duty. My wife, after all, had taken care of both kids for a week while I was yukking it up with my puzzle friends in Seattle.

Ultimately, of course, Alex was fine. Yes, it was a little hairy getting him on to the ship, and more than a little hairy getting him through customs when we returned. (He was pretty tired at that point; so were we all.) But for eight days on the ship he enjoyed himself in the kiddie pool, and we rode the ship’s glass elevators up and down and up and down and up and down for hours. We practically lived in those elevators. (When we got home, Alex brought over his Google search list and a pen: He wanted me to add “glass elevators” to the list.) I brought him to the ship’s kid-friendly “camp,” and for a couple of days he was content to play with toys there while I hung out next to him with a puzzle book. Then, to my surprise, he didn’t want me around anymore: He insisted that I “drop him off.” Which meant I magically had a few hours to myself each day. It turned out to be a wonderful family vacation, and occasionally Alex talks about returning to the cruise ship the way he used to talk about going back to Florida.

On the final day of the cruise, there was a great deal of time to kill between docking and getting off the boat. Alex was cranky, so we went for a walk around the upper decks. And a bunch of different people all said hello to him. First there were two joggers who I later realized had to be camp counselors. Then there was an older couple in the elevator who Alex had apparently befriended out at the pool. Then a girl and her brother as we were making our way back to the rest of my family. They all knew him and they all seemed genuinely glad to see him one last time. I always think strangers will be standoffish, because it’s clear that something about Alex is not right — I think he’s a charming kid, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will. Except he proves time and time again that he can draw people to him.

I keep being afraid for him in social situations, and he keeps being just fine. Last week there were some kids playing next door, a crazy, childish game with plastic guns and no evident rules. Alex ran inside, got his gun, and ran back outside to join them. I thought for sure the kids would reject him, but after a while I heard him laughing along with the others, and I heard one kid shout, “Alex is on my team!”

Oct 202010

We don’t get to everything here every day, but here’s the current overview…

Reading: Finished Frindle. Nobody seemed to like it as much as I did. Maybe I should make her reread it UNTIL she likes it. Okay, no — she is moving on to Because of Winn-Dixie. Still reading Terabithia at night. I glanced ahead to see exactly what awaits us, and yikes. Never should have started this, but it’s too late now.

Science: Gravity has given way to “How Things Fly.”

Language: Lotsa grammar worksheets, all of which she aces. We haven’t really found a place to challenge her here yet. We’ve also been going over lots of idioms — “last straw,” “cold shoulder,” etc.

Math: More of the same, but this time with decimals.

Art: My wife got out a couple of books about George Seurat, and Lea was excited to make “dot paintings” her own self. They look like her regular paintings, except more dotted.

Music: Piano scales and more piano scales. Actual lessons will start soon.

Spanish: Looking for a good basic computer program.

History: More explorers. We read the other day about Estevanico the Moor, and I thought partway in — who? What? I fear this may be a dose of modern political correctness, casting about for a black explorer to add to the pantheon. Estevanico sounds like a heck of a guy with an amazing story, but I don’t get the sense that he made significant inroads in exploring The New World, or claimed any land for any particular country. But he’s worth reading about just for the story of his inclusion in a party that explored Arizona and New Mexico:

The party was under the command of Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan friar. Estevanico went ahead of Marcos, and he had agreed to send back a runner with a small cross if he found a great discovery. When he saw the Zunis (a people of New Mexico), he sent back a cross the size of a man.

I am going to assume that’s apocryphal, but I love the idea that it might not be. Picture if you will the conversation between Estevanico and his runner:

Estevanico: Here’s the cross I want you to take back to the rest of the group.

Runner: Wait, what? That thing is almost six feet tall! Are you insane? You want me to lug that across the country?

Estevanico: I told the friar I would send back a cross if we discovered anything.

Runner: Right! A cross! A small, handheld cross. Not something you could actually use to crucify someone.

Estevanico: Well, we’ve made a big discovery, so I thought–

Runner: The cross gets bigger as the discovery gets bigger? Holy shit. I’m glad we didn’t discover a gold mine.

Estevanico: The size of the cross symbolizes the importance of the discovery. So that they understand the significance of what we’ve found here.

Runner: Hey. Hey. I could take a small cross and then TELL THEM that we’ve found something very important. I can relate to them the details of the discovery. And, really, don’t you think that’s going to happen anyway? I show up with a cross of any size, the first thing they’re going to ask is, what does this mean? What did you find? And then I’m going to tell them. The size of the cross is meaningless!

Estevanico: Nevertheless–

Runner: Fine. Give me the cross. Just so you know, though, I am tossing that thing out of the wagon as soon as we are out of your sight.

Oct 192010

I saw a Phish show at Madison Square Garden in 1994. That was my final concert — going to live shows was never something I had much interest in, and when the kids started coming, even that minor attraction winked out for good.

Ah, but then a couple of months ago I saw that Nick Lowe was coming to Tarrytown Music Hall. I called my brother Dan, and we bought tickets. I couldn’t have been happier if I had been personally invited by the man himself. I told a bunch of different people I was going to see him, and their response was universal: Who?

Fine, be that way.

Nick Lowe is likely considered by some to be a one-hit wonder, a phrase that has always struck me as slightly derogatory. (What’s wrong with having one hit? If you manage to get a song permanently in the national conscienceness, but it’s your only such song, you’re supposed to be some kind of failure?) Lowe’s biggest hit was Cruel To Be Kind, which, weirdly, peaked at #12 in four different countries.

So what does a one-hit wonder do after the hit has faded? Well, in Lowe’s case, he has made good and great music for over thirty years. At the concert this weekend, they were selling a best-of collection, and it was 50 songs strong. Allow me to link to some of my personal favorites…

So It Goes: Lowe’s first single. I was amazed to learn this song was recorded in 1976. It sounds like it could have been written last week.

I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass: Also from that first album, Jesus of Cool. Also hasn’t aged a day.

Half a Boy and Half a Man: I was kind of surprised to learn this isn’t also considered a “hit.” In my memory, I saw this video a thousand times on the early days of MTV, and I’ve always loved the song.

Maureen: Not the best version of this song, but it’s the only one I can find. The recorded version is much better — Nick Lowe channeling Jerry Lee Lewis.

Shting-Shtang: If I had to choose a favorite Lowe song, this might be it. Pure happiness.

I Trained Her To Love Me: A poison needle of a song.

Hope For Us All: As touching and sweet as “I Trained Her…” is nasty; from the same album, 2007’s At My Age.

And let’s not forget What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?, a Nick Lowe song made much more famous by Elvis Costello.

Yeah, all in all, I don’t think the term “one-hit wonder” applies here. I’m glad I got to see him in concert, even if he didn’t get to half the stuff I’d hoped to hear.