Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Advent Calendar You Can Eat

As you know, it's long been my dream to open a restaurant where patrons can eat everything on the table (forks, glasses, napkins). I'm also a big fan of advent calendars.

So I was pretty excited to discover this, which combines both my passions.

It's an edible advent calendar.

Each day in the lead-up to Christmas, you eat one numbered cookie. Then on the big day, you consume the rest of the house. Sweet!

The only downside is it costs $60 (it comes from Dylan's Candy Bar, the upscale candy shop on the Upper East Side). That's the equivalent of 60 Trader Joe's advent calendars.

You also don't get the mystery of opening up doors. (Or the mystery of wondering what the Trader Joe's chocolates are supposed to be depicting.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's 2012, Why AREN'T We All Wearing Onesies?

The New York Times ran a piece this week on the sudden popularity of "onesies for grown-ups."

From the story:
They are the fashion equivalent of mashed peas and carrots, a retreat into toddlerhood for the style-sated. Adult-size onesies, some with floppy feet and outsize industrial zippers, have lately winged their way here from Europe, where they are the comfort gear of club kids, mall rats, jet-setters and homebodies nursing the aftereffects of a surfeit of holiday cheer. 
One Direction, Britain’s answer to ‘Nsync, was quick to embrace them. Justin Bieber and Robbie Williams were also among early adopters, as was that world weary prepster Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), who raised eyebrows this year on “Gossip Girl” tricked out in a Santa-red variation. 
Plush and playful updates on the humble union suit, the new all-in-ones come in Teletubby brights, snowflake and Fair Isle patterns, varsity stripes and even a Union Jack print. There is nothing humble, though, about their price, from $160 or so to $290 for a OnePiece, the label that kick-started fashion’s latest flirtation with infantilism.

As someone with two children who wear onesies (Elliot has outgrown them), I can appreciate how practical they are.

But I don't see them as a return to "infantilism."

This is the future we've always been promised.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, if you had asked me what I would be wearing in 2012, I would have unquestionably guessed some kind of one-piece metallic jumpsuit.

The fact that it's now "the future" and we're still wearing the same clothes is a huge disappointment.

I applaud these people for being willing to embrace our destiny...even if they look ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are Little Girls Inherently Spookier Than Boys?

You may have seen this video from a Brazilian candid-camera show that played a cruel prank on elevator riders. After the people get on, the lights flicker and then a spooky-looking girl with a doll appears, scaring the crap out of everyone.

It got me thinking: Why are little girls so much more unsettling than boys?

Would "The Ring" have been as scary if it featured a boy? How about "The Exorcist" or "Poltergeist"? Hard to imagine.

Ditto for the new Guillermo del Toro production, "Mama" (though that also has a creepy mom).

The Best Horror Films website lists creepy little girls as one of its top horror-movie cliches, though the trope came in below "the car won't start." (Surprisingly, "twisting an ankle while fleeing the villain" didn't make the list.)

Maybe it's because girls are perceived as sweet and harmless, and it upsets nature's balance to depict them as cold, evil creatures.

I think the phenomenon also may have something to do with the inherent goofiness that accompanies a Y chromosome.

In the Brazilian elevator stunt, it would have been impossible to replace the girl with a little boy. There's no way he could have kept a straight face.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Roaming Roosevelt Island: Socrates Sculpture Park

(This is the first installment of a new feature documenting our adventures in and around Roosevelt Island.)

I recently heard that there was a sculpture garden within walking distance of Roosevelt Island, just across the bridge in Queens. So Elliot and I bundled up (it was in the 30s today) and set out to find it.

Our apartment is located very close to the Roosevelt Island Bridge, the only way for cars or pedestrians to leave the isle.

The bridge's midsection can be hoisted up to accommodate large vessels, but the lift is rarely used. Ships mostly pass on the western side of the island, where they only have to worry about clearing the much-taller Queensboro Bridge.

When the bridge opened in 1955, this place was known as Welfare Island. They changed the name in 1973 to honor FDR (and to avoid negative connotations, I assume). The term "welfare," which was once seen as a neutral expression, gained its current reputation in the 1960s.

Once you cross the bridge, you emerge in an industrial district of Queens. I've heard the neighborhood described as both Astoria and Long Island City. (I'm not sure which area has a better reputation from a real-estate perspective.) Either way, it's a bit hardscrabble.

The biggest allure to this area is the Costco, which flanks the East River. It's nice to live within walking distance of a discount retailer, though being on foot makes it hard to transport a jumbo box of taquitos.

The sculpture park, which is open every day during sunlight hours, is right next to the Costco.

The park doesn't feel as polished as some of the sculpture gardens I've visited — say, the one outside the DeYoung in San Francisco or the one in Minneapolis. But, hey, this is Queens. Apparently the site was an illegal dumping ground until 1986.

The sculptures themselves are engaging and exhibit a nice mix of styles.

This piece, called "How I Was Made," is a string of letters that light up in red to form a poem.

"American Hero #4" was a car painted white with two cornrows of synthetic hair.

A series of large mannequins showed snapshots of urban life.

This 13-foot Virgin Mary was made out of birdseed, and it's clearly become a source of sustenance for the local pigeons. (Click here to see what it looked like originally.)

The next photo depicts two installations, though they have some nice interplay. The rowboat is filled with pennies — a reference to the coins placed on the eyes of the dead as they cross the river Styx in Greek mythology. (The dead in the East River are more likely to be found with cement shoes.) The 10-foot inflatable Buddha, meanwhile, is meant to evoke kitsch, though it seemed very solemn from this viewpoint.

This copper crown was Elliot's favorite sculpture, perhaps because of its Burger King allusion (though I don't recall ever taking him to Burger King).

Elliot was even more enamored with a big pile of dirt and rocks situated near the park's entrance. I don't think this was an actual sculpture, but artists seeking mainstream appeal should take note. I literally had to drag him away from it.

Afterwards, we went to the Costco food court and split a sundae.

Since the sculpture garden is free (and the trip didn't even require a MetroCard), the entire excursion was $1.65.

That's a pretty cheap date by New York standards...or anywhere standards.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Roosevelt Island Now Served by Two Kinds of Subway

Roosevelt Island first got subway service in 1989, following the construction of the 63rd Street Line between Midtown and Queens.

The change made it a lot more convenient to visit the island and increased its appeal as a residential neighborhood. (Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the year our apartment building was constructed.) When it's not down for maintenance, the F subway line will take you all the way from Roosevelt Island to Coney Island in Brooklyn.

But until recently, Roosevelt Island didn't have the other kind of Subway. That put the island in the awkward position of having decent transit options but no transit-themed restaurants.

Well, that all changed last month. After 23 years of waiting, the first Subway sandwich shop opened on Roosevelt Island.

No one is more excited than our 4-year-old, who recommends Subway to anyone who will listen. I think he believes it's a charming delicatessen that he discovered (Elliot is unaware it's the largest fast-food chain on Earth).

Subway is also the only place where Elliot is allowed to eat Doritos (sometimes).

Today he sincerely informed us, "Doritos are my favorite kind of chip because cheese is my favorite food and Doritos have cheese on them."

That's sound reasoning...if you accept that the orange stuff is in fact cheese.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Alone on Thanksgiving (With Eight Other People)

This is the first year we didn't spend Thanksgiving with my family or Kelly's family.

It felt strange to be flying solo, but it's hard to get too lonely when there are five members of our own family around (three of whom are very loud). Plus the family of Elliot's friend Irene came over, so we had a full house.

One thing about striking out on your own: You get to create your own Thanksgiving traditions. Kelly pasted a tree on the wall and everyone filled it with leaves showing things we were thankful for. (The leaves were created by making cutouts of our hands on construction paper.)

You can tell we just had a hurricane because one of the leaves says "electricity."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

These Kids Aren't Great With Pop-Culture References

On Wednesday we took the children to see the preparations for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the Upper West Side. It turns out that taking three small kids on a nighttime excursion is beyond our capabilities.

We almost gave up on this whole parenting thing at the 50th Street C train station, where we couldn't figure out how to take an uptown train. Lucy was screaming to be fed, Alice began practicing her dance moves on the platform, and Elliot announced he had to poop.

Even so, I was excited to venture into the Upper West Side. This was my first time there since moving to New York seven months ago. It shows how hard it is for me to travel more than a mile in any direction from our Roosevelt Island/Midtown East home base. (So weird, you guys, the Upper West Side has the same street names as we do on the East Side!)

I can't say I recommend watching the parade preparations themselves, since the scene was absolutely mobbed. (Maybe we arrived at the busiest time.) We had to fight our way through a massive crowd just to get to the floats, and after that we encountered a slow-moving group of rubberneckers.

Our kids also might have been a little young to appreciate the whole thing.

Elliot identified this float as "the Mad Hatter"...

Uncle Sam

...this one as "the Hulk"...

Kermit the Frog

...and Alice called this one "Meow." (Actually, that was pretty close.)

Hello Kitty

Elliot did immediately recognize Spider-Man, his favorite super hero. I think it helps that Spider-Man is so closely identified with New York City, Elliot's beloved new home.

Elliot in front of Spider-Man

If I ever need to reactivate his Bay Area loyalty, I'll point out that the X-Men did move from New York to San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What's in a Name: Lucy — Part Two

After our first child was born and the birth certificate was signed, we realized we had called him Elliot and given him the initials E.T., thereby bestowing him with both names of the two main characters of the movie "E.T." (We grew to accept this choice. I even made a movie about his similarities to the celluloid alien.)

With Lucy, we appear to have done something similar  again, inadvertently. Both her first and middle names (Lucy and Eleanor) were drawn from our family tree, though she wasn't named for any living relative. With Eleanor, we also liked that it had a subtle connection to our Roosevelt Island home.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Well, it turns out that both "Lucy" and "Eleanor" have a strong connection to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the namesake of Roosevelt Island.

Lucy was his mistress and Eleanor was his wife. Oops.

There are some more positive connections to our naming choices, though. Eleanor Roosevelt had a father, brother and son named Elliott. Theodore Roosevelt, meanwhile, had a wife and daughter named Alice. Again, it backs up the notion of the sib set's aesthetic unity.

Our own ancestors had a family in the mid-1800s with two sisters: Alice and Lucy.

Ignoring the fact that Lucy died in infancy, they seem like a perfect match.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's in a Name: Lucy

I write a lot about baby names, and yet I've been remiss in explaining how we chose the name for our youngest — something I did more promptly with our two previous kids (here and here).

The first Lucy.

When you have three children, the third name is the one that unifies the "sib set," so you want something that makes it seem like you weren't just picking names out of a hat.

I feel like Lucy, Alice and Elliot inhabit the same aesthetic universe, even if there are subtle differences. Lucy and Alice are true century names, meaning they peaked in popularity more than 100 years ago.That's not the case with Elliot. While there are a lot of old/dead people named Elliot (composer Elliott Carter just passed away at 103), its use is actually at a record high now.

All three names are significantly more common in the U.K. than the U.S., and each has a prominent syllable beginning with L. Lucy also seems like the perfect name for the youngest daughter in a brood, but maybe I suffered from Narnia imprinting as a child. One more unifying factor: All our children have a total of seven syllables in their names (including middle and last).

But as my wife frequently points out, no one is going to care about the "sib set" later in life. As an adult, I rarely introduce myself to people and then promptly tell them my brothers' names (to demonstrate how well we all match).

Lucy has to be able to stand alone. One challenge is it sounds to some people like a nickname. Ironically, Lucy is the original name (Lucy of Bolingbroke was tearing up the English countryside in the 1000s) — it's the longer variants such as Lucille and Lucinda that are actually the diminutives. But I've discussed before how Americans prefer to class up names by using long-form versions.

No one would ever consider Mary a nickname, and Lucy should be regarded the same way. Still, we've had concerns that the name might hamper our Lucy if she wanted to be a senator or Supreme Court justice. They have names like Sandra, Ruth, Sonia and Elena.

But who knows what the public's perception of Lucy will be in 50 years? I do know there are suddenly quite a lot of them under the age of 5. (There are two at Elliot's preschool alone, and I seem to discover more baby Lucys every day.)

I think the name has become an overflow choice for parents afraid "Lily" has gotten too popular. According to the Nameberry site, all the double-L girls' names (Lily, Lila, Lola, Leila, Layla, Lillian) have "jumped the shark": "We suspect that tongues are getting tired of reaching up for all those L’s and that the trend has passed its tipping point."

I'm not sure I agree with that (I love Lily and Lila), but Lucy has a certain freshness to my ear.

Like Alice, it's a name that's deeply embedded in popular culture — with lots of good and bad associations — and now it's ready to redefine itself for a new generation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New York vs. San Francisco: Liquor-Law Edition

In my occasional series looking at the differences between New York and San Francisco, I thought I would examine the two cities' liquor laws.

I was inspired to investigate this issue after a visit from my parents, who attempted to purchase wine at a local supermarket (something that's easy to do in California and most other states founded after men stopped wearing tights).

In New York, they don't sell anything stronger than beer at supermarkets. You have to go to a designated liquor store for that, with less convenient hours (for instance, they aren't allowed to open before noon on Sunday).

I should clarify: Supermarkets do sell something like wine. Our Gristedes offers bottles of "wine product," which has about 6 percent alcohol. It looks like wine and the labels can be quite convincing (if you don't read them closely), but it's a mix of actual wine with grape juice, sparkling water and other ingredients.

Unfortunately, my parents purchased one of these bottles and were predictably horrified when they tasted it.

There's some irony here because New York has a reputation for laissez-faire drinking policies. Bars, after all, can serve alcohol until 4 a.m. In San Francisco and the rest of California, last call is at 2 a.m. (San Francisco debated having later hours for a portion of SoMa, but the proposal never went anywhere.)

Ah, but here's where things get interesting. After last call, New York bars can't start serving alcohol again until 8 a.m. on most days and noon on Sundays (an artifact of the blue laws).

In California, the prohibited period is 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. every day. (Having bars be closed until noon on the West Coast would be a non-starter because folks would miss the early NFL games.) Anyway, that means San Francisco bars can serve alcohol for 140 hours a week. In New York, the total is 136 hours.

Now, I'm not saying this is very useful to most people. Who wants to start drinking at 6 a.m.? But if you're a hardcore alcoholic, you're better off in San Francisco.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Everybody Be Tram Surfing

One of the most amazing parts of riding the Roosevelt Island Tramway every day: seeing the derring-do of the maintenance crew.

Workers will show up when the tram is at the station, climb a ladder that leads to a hatch in the ceiling of the cabin, and then STAY UP THERE while the tram takes off.

Here's a picture of one of these fellows. I often see them standing, but this one is just chilling out.

Photo courtesy of Kelly.

Consider that the tram rises 230 feet above the East River and Midtown Manhattan. That's about the same height as the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Kelly has even seen the workers shinnying up and down the cables like some kind of high-wire act. We think they're training to rescue passengers if the tram ever gets stuck, something that famously happened in 2006. (The system was renovated in 2010 to make it more reliable.)

Spider-Man also has performed some aerobatics around the tram, though he had the help of CGI.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Socially Acceptable Way to Wear Diapers

There's been some controversy lately about people who dress their babies to look like adults. Jessica Simpson, for one, drew criticism a couple months ago for putting her infant in a bikini.

Well, what about adults dressing like babies?

That's the idea behind Evian's current marketing campaign, which features baby T-shirts as part of a "live young" message. Note: They aren't T-shirts for babies; they're shirts that make you look like a baby.

I came across this display in the window of a Manhattan drugstore.

You also can buy the shirts at the Fred Flare site.

Now, I haven't actually seen someone on the street with one of these shirts, but they are eye-catching.

Given our youth-obsessed culture, I suppose we should take it to the next level and dress as zygotes.

Less cute?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Different Look at Hurricanes and Baby Names

Oddly enough, a day after I wrote that post about hurricanes and baby names the New York Times printed an op-ed piece on the same topic.

Photo courtesy of

The author, Wharton professor Jonah Berger, studied 125 years of baby-name data and discovered that hurricanes DID have an impact on people's choices  but not in the way you might think.
We found that names that begin with K increased 9 percent after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And names that start with A were 7 percent more common after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It wasn’t that people named their babies after the storms. (In fact, fewer people named their children Katrina and Andrew after each respective hurricane.) Rather, it was similar sounding names that spiked after particular storms.
He argues that people are attracted to the familiar, and after hearing Sandy thousands of times over the past few weeks, parents will subconsciously pick something similar.
The names Stephanie, Steve and Susan (as well as Randy, Mandy and Brandi) may also soon see an increase in popularity. In view of the damage the hurricane caused, these names sound somehow nicer than Sandy, but also nicely familiar.
In citing these names as examples, I think the author downplays longer-term trends (no one's clamoring to name their baby Susan or Steve  they're out of cycle).

My personal picks for S names: Silas (for a boy) and Sibyl (for a girl).

Have at them, Sandy victims.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Do Hurricanes Influence Baby Names?

Unsurprisingly, at least one couple in New York has named their newborn Sandy in honor of the storm.

From the Daily News:
This Borough Park couple wanted to give their baby a name no one would ever forget. 
So proud parents Anahi Sanchez Moreno, 29, and Fernando Dimas Martinez, 29, knew just what to name their daughter, who arrived the day of the massive hurricane: Sandy. 
“When something happens — good or bad — it gets stuck in your mind,” said Martinez. “It’s a coincidence that my daughter was born during the hurricane. Now, we will never forget it.” 
Sandra (Sandy) Sanchez was born at 5:43 p.m. at Maimonides Medical Center hours before superstorm Sandy unleashed her fury on the city. Baby Sandy weighed a healthy 5.4 pounds. 
Martinez had been considering “Jacqueline,” but after hearing nonstop storm reports at the restaurant where he works, he opted for a name reflecting current events.

How often do people name their kids after hurricanes? That's hard to say, but there have been a few times when hurricanes appeared to influence naming trends.

Take a look at the eight deadliest U.S. hurricanes over the past 30 years:
1. Katrina (2005): 1,833 deaths
2. Sandra (2012): 121-plus
3. Rita (2005): 119
4. Ike (2008): 112
5. Hugo (1989): 86
6. Floyd (1999): 77
7. Juan (1985): 63
8. Andrew (1989): 61
Now check out the popularity charts for those names, courtesy of the Baby Name Wizard site. I marked the time when the hurricane hit with a little graphic. (Obviously since the data only goes through 2011, Sandra's effect wouldn't show up yet on its chart.)

The only ones that show a discernible spike are Katrina and Ike (and Katrina's blip only briefly staved off a long-term decline for the name).

I would chalk up the Katrina rise to the dark sense of humor of New Orleanians. But what about Ike? Did the storm help reintroduce the name to America? Possibly. It was already a century name, so it may have been due for a resurgence anyway.

I don't expect a similar trend for Sandy. It peaked in the 1960s, which means it's mostly a name for middle-aged women.

That makes it a hard sell for today's parents, with or without the hurricane association.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Waiting on Line vs. Waiting in Line: Part Two

In coping with Hurricane Sandy, the election and now a Nor'easter storm, New Yorkers have suffered through a lot of inconveniences lately. Just consider how much time people are spending in line (or "on line," as New Yorkers say).

A gas shortage in Queens. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

From the Gothamist blog:
Whether it be for gasoline, diapers, the subway, meaningless participation in the electoral college, or for the sole working elevator in an office building still running on reduced electricity, waiting on line always demands the same degree of civility and patience.
To help out, Gothamist provides some handy rules for waiting on line, such as not cutting or stepping on people's heels.

Most interesting to me: The writer concludes the blog post by defending the "on line" phrasing:
On a side note, because this comes up every freaking time we mention waiting on line, New Yorkers do in fact wait ON line. Waiting IN line is also acceptable, but don't try to correct us in the comments on this regionalism.
Gothamist links to a map showing where the "on line" expression is used around the country. (I assume the only reason it pops up in Los Angeles and the Bay Area is because of transplanted New Yorkers.)

As I've mentioned before, even New York subway signage adheres to the "on line" expression. But there may be some dissent forming. I noticed this local PSA on the platform of a 7 train in Queens.

How culturally insensitive!