Archive for family

When floundering, enter Dragon

Cora and I went to Zeum in San Francisco recently, a great children’s creativity museum where she was able to put on a puppet show. It began, “There was a baby crocodile and a mama crocodile”–a decent start establishing character–then right away: “One day a dragon showed up.”

Bam! Dramatic vehicle in motion.


She makes it look so easy.


The iPad stand

So my dad commented on the last post wanting to know why his iPad stand wasn’t getting any photo love. Frankly, because it outshines my quilted sleeve, but in the interest of now trying to appear fair, here it is in all its awesomeness.


It’s two pieces of wood that you can take apart so it folds flatly in your bag. Plus it’s really light. It holds your iPad upright for reading:


Or you can keep it at a slant if you need to type:


Plus, Ken Flanagan made it so it will still be around when we’re all using iPad 82s in space. Thanks, Dad!

Norman Fell spotted in Dayton, OH

I was hiking the other day when I passed a mom and her three-year-old on the trail. As I marched past, the boy turned to his mom and asked, “Is that a boy or a girl?”

I’ll admit it: I laughed. My hair was pinned to my head with sweat and I wasn’t wearing any make-up, and I am someone who went as a surprisingly convincing Mr. Roper for Halloween back in grad school.


It wasn’t too long ago my own daughter and I were in a McDonald’s drive-thru* and she yelled a similar question about a gender-indiscriminant employee with hopefully bad hearing. As children (and who am I kidding, as adults, too), we learn the world by compartmentalizing, making short cuts to determine who and what people are and to help us organize how we see things. When my daughter started getting a handle on whether people were boys or girls and how she could tell the difference (according to her, only girls have eyelashes), she decided girls were clearly superior. All her stuffed animals were girls; all her friends at pre-school were girls; she liked the girl cat better than the boy cat. When I pointed out that her dad was a boy and her grandpas and Barry, she was willing to make exceptions, but wanted it known she wasn’t too happy about it.

It reminds me of this comedian I saw on TV years ago who took his kid to the pool where there was a large woman. The kid makes up a song about her: “She’s a fat-fat-fatty, she’s a fatty-boom-ba-latty.” The comedian went on to explain, “She’s not the biggest woman in the world, but she’s the biggest woman in his world.” At what age do these categories–boy/girl, fat/thin–start to take on more weight, to mean good/bad, ugly/pretty?

I passed the mother and son–and here I am categorizing too; how do I know she was his mother?–before I heard her reaction, but I hope she wasn’t too embarrassed. On another day, hiking with my daughter, she insisted on wearing her princess costume that her Aunt Crazy gave her. Someone stopped us on the trail and said, “Look at you, such a beautiful princess!” and when the woman had passed my daughter turned to me and said in her loud whisper, “She thinks I’m a princess, but I’m just a real person.”


*I realize that this is at least the third time in six months I’ve mentioned going to McDonald’s. Jesus. I’m glad this post at least mentions exercising, too.

The one about Dad in San Francisco

My dad is a great storyteller and adventurer, and this past weekend when I was in California with my folks visiting my sister, my dad went off by himself one day to explore the city. The plan was he’d call on the train on the way back so we’d know what time to pick him up. My dad is notoriously bad about carrying his cell phone, part of the reason being my parents live in one of the few pockets left in America that doesn’t get service, so my mom made sure he had his cell phone and it was charged and ready to go. So he heads off to Sausalito, finds his favorite place for Irish coffee, hoofs it over to a great sandwich and fried potatoes, takes a ferry and a trolley, and heads back for the train. He did have his cell phone and it was fully charge and he had about a million minutes because he never uses it. What he didn’t have: a contract. On the phone with the cell phone guy, the guy said he needed my dad’s number, another thing he didn’t have, or any idea how to retrieve it from the phone, and without that, the guy couldn’t hook him back to service. He ended up having to borrow the smart phone of the guy in front of him, who might as well have handed him a treasure map in Arabic he had so little idea how to run it. He finally just gave the guy my sister’s number so he could enter it, and when he handed it back, all my dad had to do was hit “call”. When Kelly answered, Dad shouted the time and location of the train’s arrival and promptly hung up — nervous, I’m sure, that the call was costing the guy an arm and a leg.

I heard my dad tell this story three times over the course of the weekend — to Kelly and me when we picked him up, to my mom when we got back to the house, and to Kelly’s husband over happy hour that night. Honestly, I could have listened to him tell it ten times. What makes him a great storyteller is that he finds the perfect moment of the day to retell — not the touristy stuff about San Francisco you might expect, but the story where he make his character vulnerable yet also puts him in a funny situation. He keeps digging for the perfect details, and knows when to ham it up based on audience reaction: the bit about hanging up on my sister didn’t come until the second telling, and on the third telling he added that the smart phone had screens going twelve different ways and mimed a finger scrolling the screens up and down, right and left, a panicked look on his face. And perhaps most of all, he finds the tone to tell the story on himself in such a self-deprecating way you love him as a character. I’ve incorporated a lot of my dad’s stories into my fiction — him getting his haircut at an upscale salon, the time he carried Johnny Cash’s guitar into a gig from the back of an alley. The one about my mom ordering an ice tea for a dollar rather than taking a free beer.

What can you learn from storytellers in your life? And what, if they’re willing, can you steal?