Fact-Checking Fairytales


“One book”

BRK recently created a new, nested, hybrid book — Sleeping Beauty stuffed inside Pete’s Dragon stuffed inside Cinderella.  This gives new meaning to reading “one book”, as one book now contains three.

She takes great care to stuff them inside each other at exactly the same spot, so that we read up to the mean step-sisters tearing apart Cinderella’s version 1.0 ball gown, then on to Nora buying Pete a new set of clothes while Elliot the Dragon looks on approvingly, and then the entirety of Sleeping Beauty before continuing back to Pete and Elliot, and concluding with Cinderella.

Throughout this adventure in reading, BRK has lots of questions.  I oscillate from delighting in her curiosity to cringing at yet another pause on our march through 68 pages before The Battle of Tooth Brushing.

Here’s a sample, with my reactions underneath:

(Sleeping Beauty): How did the three fairies rush to rescue Prince Phillip?

Great question.  Did they run? Fly? But since they are fairies can’t they just dissolve and then reappear anyplace they want? 

(Cinderella): Where’s the hush? (in reference to “Suddenly, a hush fell over the garden, and a cloud of lights began to twinkle and glow around Cinderella’s head.”)

How do you explain “a hush fell” to a 3 year-old? 

(Pete’s Dragon): Is the teacher nice?

Hmm, I want her to think of teachers as nice.  But this illustrator seems to have not.  

(Pete’s Dragon): How is the Gogan family mean to Pete?

Because they make him do all the work and yell at him.  Oh no, sometimes I yell.  

And then the questions take a turn toward fact-checking, toward identifying inconsistencies.

(Cinderella): Why did she have the glass slipper?

GREAT QUESTION.  YES.  Why, when the spell broke at midnight,  did everything turn back to its sorry state except for the glass slippers? I have no good answer, but something smells fishy.

(Cinderella, again):  Why did the spell break at midnight?

YES.  WHY?  If you are a fairy godmother, and you can turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and a dog into a footman, why on earth does your spell expire at midnight?  

If you have the power to perform magical spells, why do you have random limitations like the spell breaks at midnight?  Or in the case of Sleeping Beauty, a deep sleep instead of a nonfatal spindle prick?   It would make of an incredibly boring story, but still . . . BRK is onto something here. 

Appreciating Life’s Annoying Minutiae

IMG_6140The other day, I was showing my freshman Physics students how to calculate the instantaneous velocity of an accelerating object  . . .  an object that is speeding up, or slowing down.  In this case, the object we were discussing was speeding up.  The object was the NYC L train leaving the station at 3rd Ave and 14th street.  We had gone down to the subway station as a class (there’s an adrenaline inducer) and collected distance-time data using stopwatches and a measuring wheel.  We received odd looks from commuters, and collected some fairly useful data.

Back in the classroom, the students first calculated the average velocity of the train for each time interval.  Then, using the concept that the average velocity is the sum of velocities at the beginning and end of the time interval divided by two, they began to calculating the instantaneous velocities.  So, they had to do a lot of multiplying the average velocities by two, as the subway train started from rest.

And the following conversation ensued:

Student: “I did it.  I multiplied the average velocity by two.”

Me: “Great.  Now keep doing it.”

Student, with alarm in his eyes: “Until when?”

Me: “Until you’ve done it for the whole data set.  For both trains.” (We did two trials!)

Student, with more alarm: “You mean ALL the data points?”

Me: “Yes.”

Student, after a long sigh: “That’s annoying.”

Me: “I know.  Welcome to life.”

A few students gasped.  I continued.  I told them I was completely serious.  And that life has some magical, fantastic, beautiful parts, and some incredibly annoying, mind-numbing, tedious parts.  And they are all important.  And the mind-numbing tedious parts typically lead to some kind of reward.

I like how becoming a parent has drastically increased my tolerance for the annoying mind-numbing parts of life, and has enhanced my appreciation of the magical parts.  And of course, given me more of each kind of moment.

But I feel like it’s essential to truly be able to sink into and appreciate the annoying parts.  Just get’em done, with minimal drama.  Multiply that column of numbers by two.  Scrub a surface until it’s clean.  Edit 100 pages for typos.  Make 5,893 sawing motions into a pumpkin.  To embark on a task that is repetitive and annoying and just do it.  And then reap the fruits of your labor.

I like that we had that conversation that day in class.  When I think about what they will take away from freshman Physics, it’s hard to imagine more than a few of them will remember the details of analyzing the acceleration and velocity of a moving object.  But I’m hoping the class will help them appreciate the ubiquity of annoying minutiae in life, the importance of doing them, and the rewards you reap when are you through.

Post-Script:  This is the same class in which a few weeks prior, I paced around the room, hands cupped over my mouth, repeating “MAKING A GRAPH IS NOT A HARDSHIP”.  No one complains about making graphs anymore.  Progress.

Maybe I Should Stop Eating Candy Corn


From today’s WSJ piece on the LD50 of sugar

As an older generation might say, this fall has been a doozy over here.  One unexpected twist was that since September 28, one month ago today, I’ve been to the dentist seven times.  Yes, that’s right.  Seven.

A routine cleaning on September 28th revealed a back upper molar missing part of an old filling.  This led to the placement of a temporary crown on October 2.  On October 9th, the temporary crown was re-positioned with sedative cement due to intense pain I’d been feeling the prior three days.  On October 10th, after taking one bite of a delicious dinner I made — an occurrence almost as rare as a total solar eclipse — I found myself crunching on the temporary crown.  So, on October 11th I went in to get the temporary crown reset, but luckily the permanent crown was ready! Happy Day!

Except two days later, on my birthday, I began to feel intense pain.  So, I went back to the dentist on October 19.  And on October 20, I was sitting in the endodontist’s chair, having a root canal.  On October 24, while eating a protein bar at my desk, I bit into what felt like a rock.  So I was back at the dentist today, thinking I’d lost part of a filling in another tooth.  The good news is the filling is intact.

The bad news is I’m terrified of eating any Halloween candy this year.  An non-candied apple is kind of as far I’m willing to go with my mouth full of time bomb silver fillings from the early 90s.  So maybe it was a blessing-not-in-disguise to see today’s article in the Wall Street Journal on the LD50 of various popular Halloween candies, a chilling reminder of sugar’s murderous behavior.

The LD50 is the dose of a substance lethal to half of a test population, typically rats.  Every substance has an LD50, even water!  Sucrose, the main sugar in candy, has an LD50 of 13.5 grams per pound of body weight.  For a 125-pound person, this translates to about 200 fun-size candy bars, 250 gummy worms, and just over 1,000 pieces of candy corn.  I LOVE candy corn — I know, it’s disgusting, but I love it — though don’t think I’d ever eat 1,000 pieces in one sitting.  Gummy worms on the other hand?  I kind of could picture mindlessly munching 250 of them, if I were watching a gripping enough movie.  For now however, I will sit longingly staring at the bin of candy corn, wondering if I’ll be brave enough to take a handful and possibly end up at the dentist again next week.

My favorite part of this article?  The personalized equation they offer:

(Your weight * 13.5)/9.3 = the number of fun-size candy bars that would kill you

This equation takes the LD50 of sucrose (13.5), multiples it by your weight, and then divides it by 9.3, which is the number of grams of sugar in an average fun-size candy bar.  Go ahead, give it a whirl.  Maybe this can inspire the next blockbuster murder mystery — was it death by fun-size Milky Way or Three Musketeers?

On Comedy

I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of comedy, of humor.  Last week, a math teacher and I sat with our freshmen advisees, and we drew up a list of community norms we’d like to adhere to in our advisory sessions.  Things like, “help others” and “don’t interrupt” were added one by one to the list.  And then the math teacher suggested we add, “have a sense of humor”, which I found completely brilliant and frankly so damn easy to forget in the midst of regular daily life stresses and the uh, bigger ones, like, hurricanes and nuclear bombs.

The next night Eric and I went out to see stand-up comedy — truly a gem of a date activity.  We saw 6 or 7 comedians, and 3 were legitimately funny.  But it was so worth it to sit through the awkward, inappropriate, way-too-raunchy ones for the side-splitting perfection delivered by the truly funny people.  One of my favorite moments was when someone let out a gasp of shock at what the comedian said.  The comedian looked at the person and said, “seriously? this is comedy, not a TED talk! Not everything I’m saying actually happened!”  In other words, lighten up!

I had a moment to re-appreciate the art of lightening up during a walk to school two weeks ago.  It was the first day back after the summer and behind me I pulled a “granny cart”, as another teacher later affectionately called it, stuffed with papers and files and all of the things I worked on this summer.  Ahead of me on the sidewalk was a hunched-over elderly man pushing a walker, and a few feet behind him, a hunched over elderly woman also pushing a walker.  They made slow but steady progress up the sidewalk.  I was closing in.  As I approached, I said, cheerfully, “Excuse me!” and maneuvered around the woman, and then the man.

The scene of the “Ya flippin’ moron!” incident.

Once I successfully passed them, I heard the man call out, “Excuse ME!”.  I figured he was being polite and hadn’t heard my initial “Excuse me”.  So then I turned around to give him a smile, and he shouted back at me, loudly, “YA FLIPPIN’ MORON!”.  Except it wasn’t “flippin’ “, it was the real thing.

It was SUCH a quintessential NYC moment.  This frail little old elderly person’s got enough spite to flatten the neighborhood.  I kind of chuckled to myself.  I mean, the guy had to be 90, curled up like the letter C, with the stride length of an inch.  I had to admire his spunk.  But then, actually, more profanity and insults came my way.  “Screw you!” he yelled.  And there was more.  And I began to lose sight of the humor in it.  I was almost ready to turn around and get into it with him.  Like, really dude? Who’s the moron?  You are assaulting me with profanity for oh, politely saying excuse me and walking around you.

But I stopped myself.  “Don’t do it,” I thought.  “He’s 90 and parts of his life probably suck and be thankful you can walk at a quick clip and there are a lot of good things in your life,” I told myself, or something along those lines.  But in order to stay in that place of calm, I needed to appreciate the humor of the whole interaction.

I’m reading a book called Younger Next Year, inspired partly by my impending 40th birthday.  The authors recommend lots of things to do to be “younger next year”, namely exercise everyday and quit eating garbage.  But they also point out the importance of a calm, open, happy mindset.  In Chapter 12, the authors say one of the worst things about getting old is “getting grumpy”.  One author shares how about 5 years prior to the book’s publication, he began to just get grumpy — snapping at his wife, giving the finger to cab drivers, etc.  And he wondered if the world was actually becoming more irritating or if he was “getting weird”.  And he decided it was the latter, and that he needed to put a stop to it.  He writes that sure, every now and then we all need to vent, but that “endless anger, terminal petulance, is not so hot.  It doesn’t do any good, and it can do a lot of harm.”  I think the antidote to this anger may just be humor.  By the third comment by my 90-year-old friend, I felt the anger and the irritation bubbling up.  Thinking about how hard my friend would laugh once I arrived at school and recounted the story squashed those hostile feelings.

I challenge you to do something this weekend that makes you laugh.  Really laugh, like out loud, possibly causing your stomach to hurt.  Find a 5-minute video of a comedian you love.  Watch a few minutes of Odd Mom Out or Broad City (note: these are not just chick shows, as my husband can attest).  Or pick up some David Sedaris.  Watch how the  laughter can be a game-changer.

Dad, One. Frizz, Zero.

It’s back-to-school time . . . and many of us begin thinking of apples, plaid, backpacks, sharp pencils, and smooth, combed out hair.

Image result for frizzy hair stock photo
This is not my baby.  This is the first time I am using a stock photo! 

But what if your kid’s hair is plagued by frizz?  And in fact, the more you comb it, the frizzier it gets?  This happened to one Dad, Biogeochemistry PhD Boyce Clark.  His daughter’s daily battle with frizz pushed him to first research frizz, and then start his own company fighting it.

After experimenting in the kitchen for nine months, Boyce Clark started Lubricity Labs, a company that makes anti-frizz hair products.  According to the company’s About page, the products

“are all made from naturally-derived ingredients, ultra-gentle cleansers and the highest quality bio-compatible proteins. They are vegan, GMO-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free — if you don’t count the hundreds of hair washes my daughter had before we had the Eureka moment.”

The two-step anti-frizz regimen changes the structure of hair, smoothing out irregularities that make hair permeable to moisture and result in frizz.  The treatment takes about 30 minutes, and is needed only once or twice a year.

Clark says it changed their morning routine, eliminating the typical 20 minutes of arguments and crying.  Um . . . if only we could end the tantrums here through anti-frizz hair products!

Note 1: I am not affiliated with Lubricity Labs. 

Note 2: A big thank you to Tomoko for sending an article on this my way!

Author Bingo!

I would rank tonight 2nd or 3rd in “All-Time Worst Bedtime Experience with Kids” so tonight’s post will be short as my wine IV is waiting so I can numb my feelings of despair and failure.

One of the speakers at the Writers Digest Conference shared this Author Bingo card with us.  It’s perfect!  She told us when we get five in a row, to go out and splurge.


My favorite is “Social Sitch: ‘I Have a Great Idea for a Book'”.  Probably because that was so me, like 4 years ago.

I feel like I would have won Parent Bingo tonight if the squares included, “End the night with everyone crying”, “3-year-old throws self on floor multiple times”, “Discover maintenance broke your bath tub at 7 PM”, “Feel like the tantrum is your fault because you went to work this morning”, and “Rip a Duplo out of a small child’s hand”.  Definitely not any of our finest moments.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.



Two things happened a few months ago.  1) BRK and Owl and I left the apartment early on a Saturday morning.  Our newspaper was outside the apartment door, and I figured we’d just collect it on our way back.  However, when we returned, it was gone!  Someone had stolen it!  And I had a minor fit.  2) I began telling BRK a serial bedtime story in order to get her to brush her teeth.

Since then, we’ve had no more newspaper thefts, but we’re going gangbusters on the stories.  We’ve gone through a lot of different plots.  There was the one about the dog who loved walnuts and the squirrel who loved pizza, the one about the rabbit who wanted to go to the beach, and another one I cannot remember.  We are now on the one about the squirrel who wants to become a fairy, and the voyage of the squirrel and his fiends — an eagle, a snake, a lion, a monkey, and some camels — to a wizard who might grant the squirrel’s wish.  Each night I tell her about 3 – 5 sentences of the story while she brushes her teeth, and then I say,

“We’ll do the rest of the story tomorrow night!”

And she says, “Part of it else?”

And I do a few more sentences, then it’s off to bed.

Squirrel and company encountered pirates recently on one of their adventures, when they had to bring the wizard the most colorful parrot in Madagascar.

“What are pirates?” BRK asked.

Huh.  I wasn’t anticipating this one, because we’ve read Goodnight Goodnight Pirate Ship more than a few times.

“Uh, well, they don’t do a lot of good things,” I was just tired and really hadn’t thought about how you explain pirates to a 3-year-old.  I wished Daniel Tiger could save me, but I was on my own,  “They steal things.”

“Mommy,” BRK said, “I think it was pirates who stole our newspaper that day.”

“Um, OK”.  Who am I to squash the imagination of a 3-year-old?  Plus, the image of pirates creeping up to the 14th floor to steal our Wall Street Journal is a great one on a gloomy day . . .