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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pirates!

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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 . . .

Making lunches for kids

Yes, that’s right.  We have officially entered the Making Lunches years.  School hasn’t started yet, but BRK just wrapped up two weeks of a new summer camp that included “lunch” among the things to bring.

I was sort of dreading this epoch due to the commentary I’ve received from veteran parents.  However, two weeks in, it hasn’t been that bad.  Why?  I think it’s because I have dramatically lowered the expectations of all concerned parties, i.e., me and BRK.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been following this formula for the school lunch:

  1. string cheese
  2. yogurt
  3. a fruit
  4. a vegetable — we are limited to tomatoes or carrot sticks because these are the only raw veggies BRK will consume.
  5. a starch.  So far we’ve done only rice crackers and plantain chips, but I can see this opening up to pastas, etc.

No special requests, no treats, and definitely nothing specially cut or decorated.

And for now, I’ve received no complaints about this formula.  (Though, one day BRK told me about this kid who had JUICE in a CARDBOARD BOX with a PLASTIC STRAW attached and I worry if I’ve been raising my children in the equivalent of a historical theme park.) I’ve also been marketing lunch preparation as an important job BRK can help out with.  And that’s also going well, so far.  (Ever notice how when ANYTHING in parenting is going well, you need to throw in a disclaimer like, “so far”, because you know all hell can break loose in an instant . . . )

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BRK helping to pack her lunch!

So, this has been sort of a dry run, as camp is now over, and we have two weeks until school starts.  Hopefully we will pick up where we left off in terms of enthusiasm for string cheese and helping.

Packing the lunch also led to me think it was time for BRK to get a new lunch box.  She had been using an old crusty cloth cooler I think we had pre-kids.  Meanwhile, baby Owl got an insulated seer sucker (I know) monogrammed lunch box as a gift so it’s really kind of time for BRK to have a nice one as well.

We headed off to the store after camp Tuesday to pick one out.  The woman at the store showed the various pink and purple lunch boxes with princesses and elephants and such, and BRK went right for the dinosaur lunch box in bold primary colors.  I could barely contain my pride.  I just really loved that she picked that one out, but I mostly wanted her to know that actually any of them would be fine . . .  a princess, an elephant, or a dinosaur one.

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BRK’s new lunch box

But it got me thinking as we made our way home, how would I have reacted if baby Owl had picked out the pink and purple princess one?  This feels tricky to me.  I thought about this anecdote I read recently written by a clown who was face-painting, and a little boy wanted a butterfly but his parents wanted him to get something more masculine.  The clown pointed out that we give girls a wider berth here . . . most parents would support a girl getting a butterfly OR a skull-and-crossbones painted on her face . . . the princess OR the dinosaur lunch box.  But we box our boys in.  It’s a moment for reflection for me, and I’m curious to start thinking about these things more deeply and to talk about them with our kids.  It’s too easy with a girl to just cheer on the dinosaur lunch box, and move on.  But with baby Owl growing up, I’m going to have to challenge myself to think more critically about gender and norms and the messages we send our kids about what’s OK and what’s not OK.  I’m grateful for it, and also kind of petrified.  Up until this point I’ve hardly had to think about it, and now, these questions are knocking at the door.

Water to Whiskey

During my McKinsey consultant days, I would often frequent hotel bars in the evenings, hoping at least to take the edge off, at most to meet the cast of the next blockbuster movie.  (You see, one of the consultants I idolized had met the entire cast of Ocean’s 12 at the Amsterdam Four Seasons hotel bar, so I was gunning for my chance, though doubtful I’d find them at places like the Westin hotel bar in Princeton, New Jersey, where I was stationed).

I elevated my taste from my graduate school Jameson to the slew of single malts I could now afford . . . with Lagavulin and Oban as my favorites.  (As I write this, I’m salivating, but it’s only 4 PM! Must make it until the kids are in bed.)  Another consultant taught me to add just the tiniest amount — about 1/2 of a standard straw — of water to my scotch, and revel in the torrent of scents and flavors unleashed.

I’ve always wondered about this significant before- and after-water difference with scotch tasting.  Could it have something to do with hydrogen bonding?  But my inquiry joined the long list of Things to Look Up Someday, until last week, when I saw this headline in the Washington Post: “The best way to drink whiskey, according to science.”

Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman from the Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden (of course), undertook computer simulations, modeling the molecular composition of whiskey, to investigate why water made it taste better.  The results were published here in Nature last week.

In the Linnaeus University news article, Karlsson explains the taste of whiskey is linked to molecules with a “water-loving” (hydrophilic) and “water-hating” (hydrophobic) part (soap and mustard have these features as well, fyi), such as guaiacol, a compound that forms when the malt grain is dried over peat smoke during whiskey production.

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Figure 1 from Karlsson’s and Friedman’s paper, an image of 2-methoxy-phenol, aka guaiacol.  The OH part on the bottom is water loving, since water is also made from H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen).

 

The scientists studied simulations of a water/ethanol mixture in the presence of guaiacol, and determined that in mixtures containing 45% or less ethanol, the guaiacol was more likely to be found at the liquid-air interface, rather than deep in the liquid.  The presence of majority water seems to “release” that flavor compound.

Now, when whiskey is bottled, it is typically already diluted with water so the mixture is 40% ethanol.  The authors suggest the few additional drops of water added just before consumption must further enhance the release of the flavor compounds to the surface.

In the wake of the eclipse, I’ve seen a number of people on social media taking their hats off to SCIENCE.  I think this study is almost as important!

 

Family Beach Trip Best Practices

We just returned from a beach vacation trip to the Jersey Shore with two kids — our 3-year-old daughter (BRK), and her 9-month-old brother (Owl).

This morning I ran into a Mom Friend when dropping BRK off at camp.  Mom Friend asked, “So, how was the beach? Was it an actual vacation?”

“YES!” I screamed.

Although it had such elements of a trip such as obstructed views out the back car windows and a final destination with a kitchen, it also had aspects of a vacation which would not have been possible without our incredible Beach Babysitter, whom I found on care.com.

There were a number of other Best Practices, identified either because we did them, or did the opposite, leading me to identify a Best Practice to target next year.

Without further adieu:

Our Family Beach Trip Best Practices For When You Have a Toddler and Baby

1) Ensure there is an extra adult.  As stated above, we found a truly amazing babysitter on care.com.  She just graduated from high school (tons of energy), is one of five siblings (can deal with kid chaos), and is a lifeguard (sigh of relief in re kids and the ocean).  As a bonus, she is a prospective science major so we had several interesting conversations about medical history.  We rarely left both kids with her — typically she would stay in the house with Owl while he napped or slept, so BRK and Eric and I could go to the beach during the day or go out to the boardwalk and rides at night.  (Owl currently naps from 9 AM to 11 AM, and then from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM, and then goes to sleep around 6 PM, so without another adult to stay with him during naps/sleep, we would have been more constrained in our activities, or would have spent a lot of time in a one-parent-with-one-kid situation, or would have been dragging a non-napping demon baby around.)  If a babysitter isn’t in the cards, perhaps a willing relative can come along.

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Me with Owl, Extra Adult with BRK.

2) Rent a house where everything is on one level.  Two years ago we rented a gorgeous house with stairs.  We thought this year about how difficult that would have been with an active toddler and a baby who wants only to pull up on furniture and attempt to climb.  Just imagine packing the baby gates  . . . .  One level simplified everything.

3) Prioritize beach access over perks of the house.  The house we rented was not my beach dream house.  My dream house would have a grill, non-rusting and non-ripped deck furniture, and would have quaint and charming New England decorative elements.  However, the house is a 2-minute easy walk to the beach.  At this stage in life, easy beach access trumps all.

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4) USE ALL THE ROOMS.  At home, BRK and Owl share a room in our 2-bedroom apartment.  The house we rented had 4 bedrooms.  I was nervous to give each kid a room, worried that BRK might refuse to share when we got home.  But finally on Day 2 we broke down and let each kid have their own room.  And it was glorious.  It was so freeing to not worry about them waking each other up, and they both slept later in the morning.  And when we got home, there were no protests about returning to the shared room.

5) Make a grocery gameplan before you arrive.  Fresh Direct now delivers to the Jersey Shore, but would not deliver alcohol.  So, I placed a small order to arrive at home the day before we left to take with us in the car — namely, beer and canned bubbly, critical snacks, and breakfast food — and another order to arrive the day after we arrived, in case we encountered any delays getting down there.  We did however order too much food.  Next time we will order less food, and make it of the nonperishable type (eg, more peanut butter and less chicken salad).  Having groceries delivered is much nicer than spending at least a half-day grocery shopping with children and fighting beach traffic to and from the grocery store.

6) Schedule a parents’ night out.  This definitely made it more like a vacation.  On Tuesday night Eric and I went out, to a real dinner, over the bridge to a place where restaurants serve alcohol.  We wore normal adult clothes that didn’t have magic marker or baby food stains, and had a relaxed conversation overlooking the setting sun.

7) Dress the baby in a full-body SPF 50 lycra suit.  The jury may be out on what is more difficult — slathering the baby with sunscreen or cramming his little body into head-to-toe lycra, but I found head-to-toe lycra a lot easier to deal with once on the beach.  His little belly was better protected from the sun, and it’s less invasive than huge loads of sunscreen on baby skin.

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8) Baths immediately after the beach.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not allow them to take one step into the rental house upon returning from the beach.  Carry them into the house and directly to the bath tub, to dispense the 3 – 5 pounds of sand now stuck to their bodies.

9) Pirate’s Booty.  So many problems were solved by Pirate’s Booty beyond low blood sugar.  Such as calming BRK down from her screaming tantrum when Eric and I left for our dinner out, and bribing BRK to eat things like tomatoes and avocados or to leave the beach.

10) You can’t have enough towels — both cloth and paper.  We did NOT bring enough towels, not by a longshot.  We severely underestimated the number of baths and showers and spills and messes 2 small people can generate over the course of a day.  (Note: it is double to triple that of what is generated at home).  We were washing towels every single day!

Overall, it was a great time and I like how we are getting better at traveling with kids each year.  More organized and more relaxed at the same time.  Some favorite moments for the family:

Me — drinking summer ales on the deck in the afternoon and jogging in the morning along the beach.

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Eric — taking the kids in water and setting off fireworks on the beach.

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BRK — ice cream and carnival rides.

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Owl — tiny waves and a new measuring spoons set to chew on.

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Note: I have no commercial affiliation with care.com or Pirate’s Booty.