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 . . .

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 . . . )

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.

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.

Figure 1
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!


“Someone is Eating the Sun”, and other Eclipse things . . .

The Great American Solar Eclipse is nearly upon us.  On Monday, August 21, a swath of “totality” (complete coverage of sun by moon) will stretch from South Carolina in the South up to Oregon in the West, with all of North America, and some parts of South America, Europe, and Africa in partial eclipse viewing range.  

Total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, when the Earth, moon, and sun align perfectly and the moon blocks out the sun’s rays.  Most of these eclipses are visible from only some place out in the ocean, making Monday’s land-based viewing opportunity all the more special.

We’ve been reading a few books on the eclipse at home, even though I’m not sure we trust BRK with eclipse glasses and may just wait until the 2024 eclipse, with a path of totality stretching from Texas to Maine, to make this a full family experience.


BRK has fallen in love with “Someone is Eating the Sun”, a lovely picture book published in 1974 by Ruth Sonneborn and illustrated by Eric Gurney.  Several farm animals conclude someone is taking bites of the sun, as it takes on its crescent shape during an eclipse.  A wise turtle explains it is merely an eclipse, and after totality, the animals are relieved the sun has returned.  We also read Eddie’s Eclipse, published this year, by Becky Newsom and Pam Tucker and illustrated by Pam Tucker.  BRK is a bit young for this book and I had to severely live edit as we moved through the pages.  The book had a clear, bright diagram of an eclipse that was helpful in explaining to BRK what an eclipse is.

A page from Eddie’s Eclipse

Meanwhile, Eric and I attended a Solar Eclipse class at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, taught by Joe Patterson, a professor of Physics at Columbia University.

On the first night, he shared a compelling story he wrote about his experience of totality in 1970, during an eclipse in Virginia Beach.  He shared his skepticism that totality would be “worth it”, as he had already experienced a 90% solar eclipse.  He writes:

“As late as 1:30 PM, at about 96%, there was just no hint of the drama yet to come.  I started looking through my binoculars with about 1.5 minutes to go, when Cal warned, “It’s coming fast now.”  At about 15 seconds before totality, he yelled, “Joe — the fringes!”, and I turned to see light and dark bans moving across the sand at 5 mph.  The bands were 2 – 4 inches wide.  I don’t recall if the light bands were any lighter than the sand before the fringes appeared — it would have been very difficult to to tell anyway since the light intensity was changing very rapidly now.  I watched the fringes for a few seconds, yelling, “The fringes! There they are! The fringes!” or something like that.  Then I ripped off one filter and looked back at the Sun.  In a few seconds the diamond ring effect appeared, the last burst of light from the photosphere.  Then Bailey’s Beads flashed into view, and I lowered the binoculars to rip the last filter off.  I had been lying down to view it comfortably, but by this time I was standing up, though I don’t remember getting up.  In my haste to remove the filter I lost my balance and fell, and in a kneeling position I glanced up to see the corona.  All this took at most three seconds, so the corona must have appeared very suddenly.  I looked around me and saw — if that’s the word — the darkness that had enveloped everything.  I heard myself yelling incoherently, “My God! It’s incredible! Fantastic!” and so on.  I heard Bill yelling similar things and I think I heard Cal, but I had no awareness that anyone else was present — except that I clearly recall wondering why nobody else was reacting to the spectacle, so I must have been aware of their presence.  Later Bill and Cal told me that everyone had reacted with the the same hysteria . . . “

Joe also shared with us Annie Dillard’s account of her experience with the 1979 total solar eclipse.  She wrote:

“I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970.  A partial eclipse is very interesting.  It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse.  Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying an airplane does to falling out an airplane.”

(How badly do you wish you were going to totality? If you aren’t going to make it for this one, make your 2024 plans now!)


Beyond the awe and spectacle, eclipses also generate discoveries.  Science magazine did a great piece on what past eclipses have helped us learn.  For example, around 150 BC, a Greek astronomer named Hipparchus of Nicaea used a solar eclipse to calculate the distance from the Earth to the moon.

Finally, there have been some reports of faulty viewing glasses.  If you are in doubt about yours, you can check your brand here.  If you find yourself without protective glasses, here’s a cool workaround from Neil deGrasse Tyson involving a colander.

Happy Eclipse Viewing!

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

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  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.

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.


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.


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.


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


BRK — ice cream and carnival rides.


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


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

How Many Kids Could Pee in the Sprinkler?


Me and BRK at the pool at Grammie’s retirement community. Neither of us peed in it.

A few weeks ago BRK and I met up with another mom friend and her son at the park.  It was a hot day.  The kids played in the sprinkler setup — a 400-square-foot area with small sprinklers, large sprinklers, jets, fountains, even a rotatable water cannon.  The mom and I chatted, and watched.

“Mommy I have to use the potty!” Every mom knows those words, and I think every mom hopes it’s not her kid (unless, of course, one is engaged in potty-training).

It was BRK, and, as if scripted, I forgot to pack the portable potty.  Our toilet options were to go back home, a 10-minute walk and then an elevator ride up to the 14th floor, or a public bathroom a 15-minute walk away.  I wasn’t up for either of these options, especially with Baby Owl in tow.

“BRK,” I crouched down, “you know what? You can just go in the sprinkler.”

She looked up at me, unsure.

“Really, you can just go in your bathing suit, in the sprinkler, it’s fine.”

This is the chemist in me speaking.  I’m looking at the volumes of water gushing in this park, and thinking about the volume of a three-year-old pee event, and doing the dilution math.

Don’t worry, readers — my mom friend discouraged this.  “No, no, no,” she said, “don’t do that.”

I then felt self-conscious, realizing that not everyone sees the world as a collection of molecules, where the identity doesn’t matter as much as the dose.

She volunteered to keep an eye on Owl while I took BRK to the bushes behind the park and led her through her first squat.

I relayed this story to Eric the next night, and he asked mischievously, “The real question is, how many kids would it take to pee in the sprinkler before it’s contaminated?”

I’ve been tossing this question around in my mind, and so was delighted when some related calculations appeared in an article the WSJ last week.  The article is entitled, “Is That Pool Really Sanitary? New Chemical Approach Has Answers.

The article opens with a disturbing picture, stating that an artificial sweetener (acesulfame potassium) has been found in oddly high concentrations in Canadian swimming pools.  How did it get there? Pee.  The sweetener isn’t broken down in the body, and so is excreted through urine, and, when someone pees in a pool, into the pool.  Turns out acesulfame potassium is a star indicator of the prevalence of pool peeing.  Researchers were able to estimate that 0.01% of total pool volume studied (31 pools and hot tubs in recreational facilities and hotels in Canada) was contaminated by urine.  To put it a different way, about a half-teaspoon for every one hundred cups of water.  It’s nice to have some data on this, even if from only 31 Canadian pools, and moreover, to have a method.

The article then takes a darker turn, pointing out it’s not urine that should concern us, but feces.  The authors state:

“At any time, Dr. Hlavsa said, adults have about 0.14 grams of poop on their bottoms and children have as much as 10 grams.  ‘When you’re talking about bigger water parks with 1,000 children in a given day, you’re now talking about 10 kilograms or 22 pounds of poop.’ “

Pause for gagging.

This number definitely had an impact on me.  While my adult-onset swing nausea likely already ruled out future flume rides, this statement was the final nail in the coffin.

Coming back to the pools — researchers are concerned because since chlorine reacts with urine, less of it becomes available where needed: to disinfect poop that contains bacteria that can actually make one sick.

The article concludes with some best practices for pool use I am likely to follow. 1) The smell test.  Chlorinated pools give off a strong odor when urine is present, reacting with the chlorine.  A pool free from urine, and thus with chlorine able to do its job, should not smell.  2) Everyone should “shower for about one minute before swimming to remove personal care products and traces of feces.”

While this article did not answer my question on how many kids can pee in the sprinkler, it certainly got me thinking.  The feces bit becomes especially disturbing when we are talking sprinklers — is the sprinkler water chemically treated for that kind of contamination?

Here’s wishing you happy and human-waste-free summer water fun!