Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter in New York City

Egg hunts have always been a big part of Easter for our family. Even before we had kids, we would get friends together for a no-holds-barred event in Santa Cruz. The loot was well camouflaged, and the competition was fierce. (We had to tone it down in recent years, since some adults feel bad about shoving a toddler to the ground while grabbing the last Cadbury out of the planter.)

The last couple of years we held the event in the backyard of our house in Berkeley (below) — the perfect landscape for a kiddie-sized hunt.

This was our first Easter in New York, and it's become harder to keep these kinds of traditions alive. Apartment dwellers typically have to rely on large, community-sponsored egg hunts — like the one they held here on Roosevelt Island.

The island's egg hunt required preregistration, and families that didn't reserve a spot ahead of time were turned away. As we were waiting in line to get in, a woman said that every egg hunt in Manhattan was sold out. So it seems like Easter is generally a tough ticket in New York City.

When the hunt started, there wasn't much hunting — just a bunch of crazed children picking eggs off the lawn. It was over in 30 seconds, as you can see from this video (courtesy of the Roosevelt Islander blog).

Kids that were fast or had sharp elbows came away with lots of eggs. Other children, such as Alice, got none. But the event's organizers were very sweet and came around with prizes for the egg-challenged. (This is the kind of wealth redistribution that we all can support.)

Now, none of the eggs were real eggs, of course. They were plastic. And none of them contained candy — just stickers, small plastic toys and other items. I gather this is par for the course at most of the city's egg hunts. In this era of allergies, litigation and nutritional awareness, loading up kids with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies is not kosher. (Not that Easter candy was ever kosher.)

I'm not complaining. It was nice of the event's organizers to put it on, and you couldn't beat the location — right in front of our building. The Easter Bunny himself even showed up. Oddly enough, the kids weren't terrified.

Still, it made me long for the days of fighting over a well-concealed Cadbury egg.

Friday, March 29, 2013

What Happens When Your 'Family Lexicon' Runs Amok

HuffPost contributor Helene Cohen Bludman wrote a column this week about how parents often celebrate the broken English of their offspring, rather than forcing children to speak correctly.

I have to admit, I'm guilty of this myself. We began calling Elliot's blankie a "Yaya" because that's what he called it. He also named his grandparents "Boma and Baba," a far cry from what they actually wanted to be called.

Elliot with his Yaya.

Still, Bludman appears to be taking this to another level:
When my husband mentions an article in a "mazagine," I don't bother correcting him with "magazine." If he asks me if I need anything at "Fee Hee," I may note that we are out of milk so please pick some up when you are at Super Fresh. I suggest we have "hangibers" for dinner, and he takes the hamburger buns out of the freezer. 
These are three words from our family lexicon, invented by our children when they were very young and stumbling through a new world of language acquisition. 
We have let the children go. But not the words they left behind. 
"Lolo" was Cheerios cereal and "Bee Lolo" was Honey Nut Cheerios, coined with great logic by my 1-year-old son. After all, there is a bee on the box. Makes sense, right? 
As an alternative to cereal, there was always an "omelick" for "brefix." 
I remember our son coming home from pre-school one day, crestfallen. "What's wrong?" I asked as I unpacked his book bag. "Wasn't this the day you were having a French breakfast in school?' 
"We did," he mumbled. "But when I said 'Yay, we're having a French brefix', everyone laughed at me." 
I felt a pang of guilt. Was I a bad mother for not having corrected him earlier?
Yeah, maybe. Kinda?

I think it's fine to have your own lingo within the family, so long as your kids realize that they have to speak differently with outsiders.

With Elliot, this recognition seemed to come early. When he was 3, I heard him describe his Baba as his "grandpa" to someone outside the family. I was surprised because I'd never heard him use this word, but he clearly realized that "Baba" was jargon.

If your kids don't make that realization on their own, you probably need to step in.

Elliot's articulation is now much better than it once was, but he still stumbles over a few words.

For instance, he pronounces "before" as "afore."

I was working to correct this, until I did a little research. "Afore" is Middle English for "before." In other words, he's just an old soul.

I guess I can let that one go.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mitt Romney Mocks Century Names

I don't like to delve into political matters on this blog, but I was disturbed to hear Mitt Romney making light of one of my favorite things: century names!

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

New York magazine ran this excerpt of a recent Romney interview about two of his grandchildren:
"A few months ago we had twins come in, and you can't believe what they're named: Winston and Eleanor. [Laughs.] I mean, it's going back to the glorious days of the thirties and forties, I guess. But these are just darling little infants, and to have such big names on them is really something, although they call them Ellie and Win ... When I heard Winston and Eleanor, I thought, It sounds like two English bulldogs, but they're adorable children." —Mitt Romney
I've never promoted Winston on this site, but I did suggest Woodrow was the "ultimate century name." (It may not be popular among Republicans, though, because of our 28th president.) And it's pretty clear how I feel about Eleanor.

Romney has gone too far this time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is This the Most Expensive View of Roosevelt Island?

An Edward Hopper painting of Roosevelt Island is going to be auctioned for as much as $20 million.

From the New York Post (via the Roosevelt Islander blog):
"Blackwell's Island" will be offered May 23 at Christie's. The large-scale oil has never come to auction before. 
The 1928 painting has been exhibited in major museums including New York's Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The piece is called "Blackwell's Island," of course, because Roosevelt Island didn't take its current name until 1971.

The weird thing is, the isle was only called Blackwell's Island until 1921, when it began a 50-year stint as Welfare Island. If Hopper painted this in 1928, he was using an out-of-date name.

I guess it's like old-timers in San Francisco who still refer to Cesar Chavez Street as Army Street. (Or how I still call Netflix "Qwikster.")

Hollywood's Latest Twinsies: 'Olympus Has Fallen' and 'White House Down'

The dueling Steve Jobs movies aren't the only upcoming film projects with similar topics. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, "Olympus Has Fallen" (which opened last weekend) and "White House Down" (due this summer) are both about terrorists taking over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The situation creates headaches for the people marketing the two films — made worse by the fact that any poster showing the White House in peril is reminiscent of a third movie, "Independence Day." (That's perhaps why "White House Down" chose to tout a different Washington landmark.)

When I last explored the phenomenon of twinsie movies in January, I determined that the second film to be released is usually worse.

But that doesn't mean it makes less money, as the Hollywood Reporter points out:
In 1996, Disney's Armageddon fared better than Deep Impact (each was about an asteroid headed for Earth). Both were box-office hits. Paramount's Deep Impact, opening May 8, earned $349.5 million worldwide; Armageddon, opening less than two months later on July 1, grossed $553.7 million globally. 
In 2011, sex romps No Strings Attached, released in January, and Friends With Benefits, released in July, both grossed $145 million, a respectable sum. And last year, Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman earned $396.6 million worldwide, more than double the $166.2 million grossed by fellow Snow White pic Mirror Mirror, despite the fact that it opened second.
Believe it or not, we're not done with same-topic movies this year. Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" (due in April) and Will Smith's "After Earth" (coming out in June) are both action films about a postapocalyptic Earth that's been abandoned by humans.

If only they didn't face such a crowded marquee at the multiplex.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Artist Posts Street Signs Featuring Rap Lyrics

As loyal readers know, I'm a fan of both classic hip-hop and taking artistic license with street signs. So I'm very excited about this new project by artist Jay Shells.

Photos courtesy of AnimalNewYork.

He took more than 30 rap songs that mention specific New York locations and then used the lyrics to create official-looking signs. Shells then posted them all over the city.

Based on the video, it doesn't sound like the project has the city's blessing. But as Shells indicates, the biggest danger to the signs is probably people stealing them — rather than workers taking them down.

"I think people will steal these," he says. "Within a week, they'll be gone."

Not surprisingly, I have yet to encounter any of the signs myself. My usual rounds take me through Midtown East and Roosevelt Island — two places that no self-respecting rapper would name-check. The locations appear to be concentrated in Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens.

But it does look like at least one sign is on the west side of Midtown, assuming this one was planted in front of Carnegie Hall.

(If anyone tries this in the Bay Area, I recommend starting with Rappin' 4-Tay's "Playaz Club": "...on the corner of Third and Newcomb right in the heart of HP [Hunters Point].")

Long before Foursquare, rappers were trailblazers at checking into locations. It's nice to see a reminder of that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mid-Century Dream Homes Are Also Kiddie Death Traps

I often wonder, why do I have a family of five living in an apartment — rather than, say, a mid-century dream home?

Well, it turns out: This is why.

The red arrows show the direction of children's bodies.

Apparently modern homes — at least, in the 1950s sense of "modern" — are not very safe for children.

Or drunk people, I would suppose.

Good to know!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'How the Dinosaurs Went Extinct'

As with many little boys (and girls too? I guess I'll find out), the extinction of the dinosaurs is a fixation for Elliot. He has some theories about why they perished, as you can see in this video.

Hey, none of us were there to see it happen. Maybe this is how it really went down.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Turning Winter Into Brute Force

Today's the first day of spring, even if it doesn't much feel like it. We've had a couple of snowstorms in the past week and we're due for "scattered flurries" tonight.

It's the kids' first winter on the East Coast, and I think they've had their fill of cold weather. So Kelly decided to take matters into her own hands and turn the apartment into a spring oasis.

She and the children have begun putting large flowers up on the walls.

The kids also requested a bee.

It's not quite like the fruit blossoms in our Berkeley garden, but it will have to do. And this being the East Coast, I'm sure it will be unbearably hot before we know it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A+ Restaurant Has No Letter Grade

I walked past a Thai restaurant on Second Avenue called "A+" and wondered whether the name referred to the quality of its food or its health-department letter grade.

It turns out the place has yet to get a grade, despite apparently being open for a while. (The Yelp reviews date back to 2010.)

If they ultimately get a B or C, they may want to rethink their branding.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where the Streets Have (Few) Names

One of the benefits of living on Roosevelt Island is the lack of vehicle traffic, which makes it a less stressful place for parents of small kids. The island is only about a block wide and there's just one way for cars to get on or off (the Roosevelt Island Bridge).

In fact, there are so few streets on Roosevelt Island that the recently remodeled Gristedes supermarket was able to pay tribute to all of them in its checkout area. Each aisle is named after a different local roadway: River Road, Main Street, South End Avenue and (not pictured) Tramway Plaza.

Surprising fact: The Main Street on Roosevelt Island is the only street with that name in the borough of Manhattan. (There are other Main streets in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.)

So the street whose name implies it's the bustling center of New York City's business and political center is actually on a neglected sliver of land in the East River.

This is probably why George Benson never sang about the neon lights and "magic in the air" on Main Street.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy Snake-Banishing Day From BuboBlog

This was our first St. Patrick's Day in New York, and I had hoped to bring the kids to the parade. But considering it took place during nap time (and a snowstorm), we figured it was a little ambitious this year.

Green goes with everything.

We did talk to the kids a bit about their Irish heritage and why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day (so they don't just think it's an excuse for grown-ups to drink fizzy stuff and talk in their loud voices).

"St. Patrick got rid of the snakes in Ireland," Kelly said.

"Right," I said. "He led them into the water with a flute."

"That was the Pied Piper."

"So how'd he do it then?"

"We can Google this later."

(Glad we're not home-schooling these tykes.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

'Good Night New York City'

When Elliot was a baby in San Francisco, we used to read him "Good Night San Francisco," a takeoff on "Goodnight Moon" that describes a perfect day in the City by the Bay.

Since moving to to New York, we've been given the Big Apple version, "Good Night New York City."

Adam Gamble, who created the book series, was apparently inspired by "Good Night, Gorilla," in addition to "Goodnight Moon." (Both those books are popular in our household — sadly, the enthusiasm doesn't spill over into actually wanting to go to sleep.)

The covers of the "Good Night" books depict cities with varying degrees of realism. The view of San Francisco above is clearly impossible. The children would have to be floating above Alamo Square, and even then,  the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn't be in the background. (Though it's still more realistic than the view from Brooke Shields' office in "Suddenly Susan.")

The real thing.

With "Good Night, New York," I wondered at first if the kids might be in an apartment on Roosevelt Island. But to get a dead-on view of the Empire State Building, you'd have to be farther south. Perhaps it's a high-rise in Long Island City?

Manhattan, as seen from Queens.

Unfortunately, the Chrysler Building is on the wrong side of the Empire State Building. It seems more likely the children are, egad, viewing the city from New Jersey.

The view from Weehawken.

In which case, do they even have the authority to wish New York goodnight?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Twist (Literally) on New York's Iconic Buildings

As we were walking home from the "United Enemies" sculpture, we came across another new installation — this one on Park Avenue.

The city regularly features artwork along the avenue's median. (I took note of this piece last summer.)

The current work, by the Cuban-born artist Alexandre Arrechea, is a series of sculptures devoted to New York's most famous buildings. In each case, the landmarks are twisted or reimagined.

The Empire State Building

Helmsley Building

Chrysler Building

MetLife Building

There are 10 buildings in all (one at each intersection of Park Avenue in a portion of the Upper East Side), though I only saw four yesterday.

It's probably worth a special trip to see them all.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

'United Enemies'

I'm grateful for New York's vast array of public artwork, which lets me take the kids on art excursions without worrying about destroying a museum.

Today we went to see Thomas Schütte's "United Enemies," two large bronze statues installed temporarily at the southeast corner of Central Park.

I was a little disappointed by the choice of location for the artwork. When I saw photos of it displayed in London's Kensington Gardens, it seemed more striking.

Photo courtesy of the Guardian.

Here at the edge of Central Park — near the bustle of taxis, horse-drawn carriages and another, much-larger statue (the golden monument to William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback) — it's harder to stand out.

Still, it's an impressive piece — with a significance that's easily understood.

From the description on the Public Art Fund site, which sponsored the Schütte installation:
His colossal figures do not stand heroically atop a classical pedestal but seem to stagger, earthbound, on tripods of bundled poles. Struggling to be rid of its mate, each figure is nevertheless incapable of standing alone.

For these siblings/roommates, who vacillate between affection and violence every other minute, that message is loud and clear.

Monday, March 04, 2013

How to Make Kids' Parties More Fun for Grown-Ups

Elliot and I attended a 5-year-old's birthday party yesterday with a clever twist. In addition to the usual magician, balloons and cake, they had an activity for adults: a trivia contest.

While the kids took a whack at the pinata, the parents handed out sheets with questions about pop culture and events from 2008 — the year their child was born.

Believe or not, 2008 is now long enough ago that the trivia wasn't a cinch. Who was Thomas Bettie? How many gold medals did Michael Phelps win? Who was the most searched-for person on Google?* I had to really work my mental muscles to remember.

In the end, I got enough of the answers right to win a prize: a banana slicer, the product famously mocked in Amazon reviews. ("For decades I have been trying to come up with an ideal way to slice a banana. "Use a knife!" they say. parole officer won't allow me to be around knives. "Shoot it with a gun!" Background check...HELLO!")

I suppose in 2018 we may have trouble remembering that people spent their time writing ironic Amazon reviews — who knows?

Anyway, now I really want to steal the idea of birth-year trivia and use it at one of my kids' parties. But since all the same children — and all the same parents — attend these things, I may have to bide my time.

*(the pregnant man, eight, Sarah Palin)

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Was This the Most Shocking Thing About 'Argo'?

I finally saw "Argo" last night, and enjoyed it. It was a well-paced nailbiter and seemed to capture the time period perfectly — or at least, the way we collectively remember that time period. Apparently Ben Affleck took some liberties with the facts (the Revolutionary Guard wasn't literally chasing down that airplane with guns drawn), but I usually give "true story" films a pretty wide berth. BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks (out of 4).

Did it deserve to win Best Picture? I can't really say, since I haven't seen any of the other nominees. Having three kids in the house has really taken a toll on my movie watching (the last film we saw in the theater was "Looper," a week before Lulu was born).

What did surprise me in "Argo" was the shot of the Hollywood sign that appears early in the film. I had no idea the landmark was allowed to deteriorate to that degree in the late 1970s.

It turns out that when the sign was erected in 1923 to promote a housing development (it then read "Hollywoodland"), it was only meant to last a year and a half. No wonder it was a wreck after five decades.

From the Hollywood Sign's Wikipedia page:
In 1978, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by shock rocker Alice Cooper (who donated the missing O), the [Hollywood Chamber of Commerce] set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure. Nine donors gave $27,700 each (totaling $249,300) to sponsor replacement letters made of steel, guaranteed to last for many years. 
The new letters were 45 feet tall and ranged from 31 to 39 feet wide. The new version of the sign was unveiled on Hollywood's 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978, before a live television audience of 60 million people.
Since "Argo" was set in 1979-1980, that means the shot of the broken sign is another example of Affleck taking liberties. But the image speaks to the astounding level of urban decay at the time.

New York almost filed for bankruptcy in the 1970s. Times Square was riddled with porn theaters and pawn shops. And rivers in Cleveland and Detroit would occasionally catch fire. San Francisco even bricked the Fleishhacker Pool, for chrissake.

Against that backdrop, letting an old ad for a real-estate development crumble probably didn't seem all that remarkable.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Newborn Sees Life Flash Before His Eyes

This Volkswagen ad from last month explores what would happen if a newborn is almost killed on the way home from the hospital.

The baby's life flashes before his eyes. The joke being, he hasn't had much of a life till that point.

Of course, we took our last newborn home in the taxi of a narcoleptic cabbie, so clearly we aren't the best parents.

UPDATE: Also, the baby looks to be about the same age as Lulu, who is four months old.

I realize using an actual newborn would be difficult, but just wanted to point out.