Tuesday, April 29, 2014

These Kids Are Literally Growing Up Too Fast

When we took the kids to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk last week, I had a startling revelation. Elliot, who was 41 inches tall the last time we went to this amusement park, is now 48 inches.

That means he's technically allowed to ride nearly every ride without a chaperone. I'm not sure if growing 7 inches in two years is a lot for a boy his age, but I was a bit alarmed. He's still only 5 years old and seems way too young to be riding a roller coaster by himself. (We accompanied him the whole time — except for one kiddie ride he went on with his sister.)

Elliot remains in that in-between age, where he still sometimes likes acting like a little kid. (It probably doesn't help that he has two younger siblings.) That includes riding in the grocery cart.

We discovered the hard way that it's easier for him to get into these seats than out. He was stuck in this one for a while.

Of course, the best part of reaching 48 inches is he's allowed to climb up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Now it's just a question of whether he's big enough to handle 377 steps.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Going to California

When we went to Santa Cruz this month, it marked Lucy's first trip away from the East Coast. During her 1.5 years on this planet, she's lived a very cloistered existence — in fact, she's very rarely ever left the borough of Manhattan.

So it was exciting to show Lucy her family's former home state. But given her reaction to In-N-Out, I'm not sure the experience sunk in.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Flight of the Dischord

We're back from our first cross-country trip with three kids. Our time in California was a joy (more on that later), but the journey itself...wow.

The flight to California involved kids throwing up, crying and peeing in their pants so bad it left a pool on the seat (I shudder to think what must have happened back when airline seats were made of cloth). And that was the good flight.

On the trip back, the baby wailed for the majority of the flight. Remember the song "Ballin' Outta Control"? Well, imagine it was called "Bawlin' Outta Control" and instead of riding in a Bentley with Nate Dogg, a 1-year-old screams in your ear for four straight hours.

On top of that, Alice threw a tantrum because she wanted to sit in a different seat, blocking the aisle during boarding. And the kids kept pleading to watch "Frozen." (I refused to pay $8.50 for a movie the family had already seen 17 times, so Alice treated the plane to her own rendition of "Let It Go." It's basically her repeating the words "let it go" indefinitely.)

Mostly I felt bad for the one non-family member who was sitting in our row. (We either need to have a larger family and take up the whole row or have a much smaller one.) That poor person didn't sign up for this. I know some parents have begun giving fellow passengers goody bags to smooth things over. We should probably start doing this, but our goody bags would have to contain some serious barbiturates.

After the flight, we took a cab home and were swiftly reintroduced to the New York state of mind. The driver spent the entire time straddling two lanes and then nearly collided with a garbage truck. That's when Lucy vomited all over her seat. 

You never know what turn your life will take, but I always imagined Lucy would be at least 20 before throwing up in a New York taxi. In fairness, the driver was pretty cool about it. I guess it's harder to get mad at a baby for vomiting than a drunk club goer.

By the time we unloaded our luggage in front of our building, Lucy was feeling better and marching around in nothing but a diaper. At least she ended the journey in style.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Towering Works of Literature

Kelly got a cool piece of artwork from a school auction. It's a New York Public Library print that depicts the buildings of Roosevelt Island's Main Street as giant books.

In the poster, a knight bearing the lion banner of the New York library strides past Roosevelt Island's Chapel of the Good Shepherd (near where the local branch is located).

The print is now hanging in the kids' room, serving as a nice memento of our time here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Humble Suggestion for the Royal Family

As I've mentioned before, we have a baby who loves to chew hair. I learned this week that the heir to the British throne may have the same issue.

Photo courtesy of the Independent.

So just in case anyone from the royal family reads this blog, I recommend getting a blanket with fringe. It worked very well with our little one.

They just need to find a version of this with the coat of arms on it.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's family crest actually has a unicorn on it (true story!), so it would be perfect for a baby blanket.

Monday, April 07, 2014

'Park Avenue Paper Chase'

A gorgeous art installation has sprung up on the median of Park Avenue.

"Park Avenue Paper Chase," created by Alice Aycock, consists of a series of aluminum sculptures painted white. There are six of them between 52nd and 66th streets.

The sculpture pictured above is called "Cyclone Twist," and the names of the others follow a similar theme: "Twin Vortexes," "Maelstrom," "Spin-the-Spin."

Perhaps this is a statement about New York and its affinity for various types of paper chases: paperwork, pushing paper, making paper profit. These things can occasionally blow up into something more catastrophic. Is Aycock's work meant to be an indictment of the 2008 financial crisis?

Probably not.

In any case, it looks cool.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

FAO Schwarz on $20 a Day

We made a deal with Elliot: If he read 12 books, we would go to the toy store and pick something out. He accomplished that goal, so today we headed over to Midtown to get his reward.

Kelly wanted to go to an arts-and-crafts shop she knows that has a toy section. But I figured, "Hey, we're only a few blocks from Fifth Avenue. Why not go there?"

That's how we wound up at FAO Schwarz with two screaming girls strapped into a stroller and one frustrated boy trying to find a toy that cost less than $20 (the budget we set for him). It wasn't pretty.

Turns out, few things there are under $20. Elliot immediately scoped out this stuffed giraffe that cost $994.99.

I thought forcing Elliot to check the price tags himself would teach him a good lesson about money. Instead it just taught him that we live in a city filled with hedge-fund mangers and Russian oligarchs.

These "Avatar" dolls were $800 apiece.

We wandered from section to section: magic kits, Legos, super heroes, remote-controlled cars, stuffed animals. Finally he found this Playmobil cop-and-robber set for $15.95.

The set comes with three different firearms (two handguns and a scope-mounted rifle), so it was a little violent for my tastes. But the satisfaction of completing this task — and being able to leave the store — overcame any misgivings. By the end, Alice was about to gnaw through her stroller restraints and go on a rampage through the plush-toy section.

Next time we'll probably just go to the arts-and-crafts shop.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Roosevelt Island's Foray Into Free Public Transportation

An exciting public-transportation experiment is underway on Roosevelt Island. The iconic red bus that shuttles people around the island is now free (the fare had been 25 cents).

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. took the step to improve traffic on the island, raising parking rates to make up the difference.

The RIOC's explanation, via the Roosevelt Islander blog:
The elimination of the fare will help keep traffic on Main Street moving with faster boarding times, encouraging the use of mass transit on the Island. Making the Red Bus free to ride will also reduce operating costs by eliminating the need to collect fares from the buses.
Many cities, including San Francisco, have considered making transit free. After all, the farebox recovery rate (the percentage of a transit system's operating budget that's covered by passenger tickets) is often fairly low.

For the New York MTA, it's 55 percent. But in smaller cities such as Seattle or Portland, it's less than 30 percent.

It's hard to imagine the 25-cent Roosevelt Island fare was covering much of the costs of running the buses, so making the buses free seems like the right call.

Two happy Red Bus riders.

The experience for passengers is now dramatically different. In the old days, there were long lines to board the bus. Passengers struggled to find a quarter to drop into the slot. And while the bus accepted dollars, the process would require you to wait to get your change credited to a special card. (MetroCards were never accepted.)

Now passengers can board from either sets of doors, and the loading time is quite fast. Buses move quickly, and it even seems to be making my NextBus app more accurate.

It's also been a week, but I would describe the change as an unmitigated success.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Etiquette of Cupcake ATMs: Part Two

I'll be honest. The first time I wrote about the cupcake ATM, I hadn't actually tried it yet. (The line was too long!) But when I walked by the ATM this morning, there was nobody there. So I figured I'd give it a shot.

I had a pretty good selection of cupcakes to choose from, even after a long night of people presumably picking the cupboard bare. After making my selections (cuban coffee and vanilla chocolate), I got to watch a robot arm grab the cupcakes and bring them to a window.

The whole thing felt like a smooth transaction, even if more than $8 was a bit steep for two cupcakes.

Fortunately, there was no one behind me to complain if I took too long.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A Feel-Good Story About a Not-So-Good Team

It was a delightful surprise to come across this last night: an in-depth look at the early-'90s Haverford men's basketball team (and its infamous losing streak) in Sports Illustrated.

Photo courtesy of Haverford, via Sports Illustrated.

I never played basketball and some of the events occurred before I arrived at Haverford, but the story provided a burst of nostalgia — in addition to being funny and touching.

Often when you read a long-form piece about a topic you know well, you're distracted by all the things the writer gets wrong. In this case, the story feels like a perfect window into that time (at least the way I remember it). He managed to capture both what made Haverford special and why being a college athlete (good or bad) was so rewarding.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

One April Fools' Prank That Never Gets Old (Because It Was Never Funny in the First Place)

We try to keep April Fools' Day on the down-low in our household, since we have at least one very enthusiastic prankster who doesn't need any additional encouragement.

But today I was recalling how the French like to celebrate April Fools' Day by taping fish to people's backs (pictures of fish, not actual fish).

Then I panicked for a moment and wondered if the French actually do this or if it was just a weird custom in our family. Thankfully, the Internet quickly confirmed that it is indeed a thing.

From Wikipedia: "In Italy, France, Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, April 1 tradition is often known as 'April fish' (poisson d'avril in French or pesce d'aprile in Italian). This includes attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim's back without being noticed."

We frequently attempted this as kids, though I'm not aware of us ever pulling off the "without being noticed" part.

The French are often criticized for having no sense of humor (they do like Jerry Lewis), and I fear this tradition probably doesn't really help with that reputation. Even the hackneyed "kick me" sign is a slight improvement over fish, in that it might lead to comedic violence.

But in this era of April Fools' fatigue, there's something refreshing about a simple prank that isn't funny and never was.