Saturday, November 29, 2014

South Philly: a Photo Essay

We celebrated Thanksgiving in South Philadelphia, where I got a new perspective on the city. I haven't spent much time here since the 1990s, and even then my trips to South Philly didn't extend beyond getting cheese steaks or visiting South Street (ironically, South Street is the northern edge of South Philly).

My brother lives near Passyunk Avenue, a delightful mix of offbeat bars and shops, along with frozen-in-time Philadelphia retail (for instance, a store selling hearing aids that looks like it opened when hearing aids meant this).

Several of the cafes and stores were covered in mosaic tile. There are murals everywhere, flaming barrels at the Italian market and the beautiful decay that makes Philadelphia so wonderful to photograph.

In short, Passyunk is probably quirkier than 90 percent of Manhattan. Everyone in this neighborhood should have an Instagram account and 10,000 followers.

Hope to be back soon.

Of course, coming home across the Verrazano Bridge last night and seeing lower Manhattan gleaming against an early nightfall, it was hard to argue our home city isn't pretty photogenic too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Timelapse

Our 6-year-old, who is obsessed with timelapse videos, asked if we could make one of Thanksgiving dinner. So this is the result.

I'm not sure it quite captures the spirit of Thanksgiving, but at least I was only caught looking at my phone once.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The East River Roundabout...Up Close

You remember the East River's the controversial sculpture that was recently painted red, making it look like a similar work by the same artist. (Full disclosure: It is only controversial on this blog. Most people don't know it exists.)

Anyway, Elliot and I went over to check it out in person.

As I've mentioned before, the art installation dates to 1995, when it was added to the top of a former garbage-transfer facility.

When we made our recent visit, we were the only people there. That probably doesn't speak to it being a bustling civic center. Still, it was exciting standing over the thrum of FDR drive.

It also provided a unique perspective on the Roosevelt Island tram. You can see it here through the girders of the Roundabout.

Moreover, it's nice to be someplace that considers Roosevelt Island itself to be something worth viewing.

So even if the East River Roundabout fails to be a must-visit destination, I'm glad it exists.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Baby Names Are Getting Longer

In my latest Nameberry post, I look at how U.S. baby names have grown over the past century — especially in terms of syllables. Names like Mary, Ruth and Grace have given way to Sophia, Olivia and Isabella.

The numbers don't really account for nicknames, of course. (My name is officially three syllables, though I only use one of them.) But it does speak to America's changing tastes. Names that were once considered perfectly acceptable birth-certificate material now feel clipped (or as one commenter eloquently put it, "unfinished").

Sophie is a good example. Most Americans would see that as the nickname version of Sophia. But a century ago, Sophie was more common than Sophia as a given name.

Some of this is due to the growth of America's Spanish-speaking population. It's natural that they would prefer Spanish name suffixes ("-a," "-ia") over English and French ones ("-e," "-ie," "-y"). But I think the preference for, say, Isabella over Isabel transcends ethnicity. Same for Olivia over Olive.

It goes back to this idea of names feeling unfinished — something that hits home for us. Is Lucy an unfinished name? Some people might think so. Should it be Lucia or Lucille or Lucillia (yes, Lucillia is real).

As I noted before, the British take the opposite tack, preferring nickname-y options (Harry, Jack, Alfie) over more formal-sounding versions.

I'm not sure which approach is better, but Americans should probably realize that their thirst for longer names is based on modern tastes — not some historic authenticity.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Return to Socrates Sculpture Park

The great thing about Socrates Sculpture Park, the outdoor museum in Queens, is there's always something new to see.

"Balance" by Kimberly Mayhorn

It's been a while since we were there last — I previously blogged about it in November 2012 — so I figured I'd take the kids for another visit (it was the first trip for Lucy, who's never explored this part of Queens).

"What's Progression" by Fitzhugh Karol

Here's a sampling of what we saw.

"Homeland" by Edward Schexnayder

"SkyWatch Spider" by Zaq Landsberg

"Portal" by Amanda Long

"Moon Lasso" by Dane R. Winkler

"Far From This Setting in Which I Now Find Myself" by Meredith James

"06.Sixt_een. O four" by David Wilson

"Solos" by Jordan Griska

"Corner" by Eto Otitigbe

Saturday, November 08, 2014

I'm Not Even Living Large by 1950s Standards

I came across this infographic on Twitter (hat tip: Burrito Justice). It shows how American families have been shrinking in size despite living in increasingly large houses.

Courtesy of via

According to this, the average home is approaching 2,500 square feet. For someone like me, who has spent most of his adult life in San Francisco and New York, that's hard to fathom.

Even when we lived a more suburban existence in Berkeley, our house was less than half that size.

Our family, meanwhile, is about twice the size of the current average. While our apartment feels spacious by New York standards, it's under 1,000 square feet. That means each person has less than 200 square feet apiece — significantly worse than a 1950s family.

In 2011, before I knew we were moving to New York or having a third child, I complained about how our space per person had gradually declined. ("It seems unlikely I will ever have room for a proper man cave," I groused.) I had no idea how bad it would get!

But I hereby vow to keep this family above 100 square feet per person, which I believe is the level at which your home becomes a Chinatown bunkhouse.

And at least we still have it better than the "Too Many Cooks" family.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Shittens, You Have Found Your Target Market

There's a new brand of mitten-shaped moist towelettes called Shittens, and it's available on Amazon. I can't really tell if this is a gag product or not (the fact that it was launched on the Howard Stern show gives me pause), but I want it.

With three kids, I struggle to clean bottoms without using a ton of wipes — and even then, I can't always contain the poop. Shittens would really boost my confidence.

However, based on the Amazon reviews, people don't appear to be taking Shittens seriously.

"Gave me my life back...every day of my life has been an unending struggle with the anguish brought on me by horrendous shitwrist! But now I have the strength to face the day thanks to these amazing poop gloves." 
"Finally!!! A wet wipe to accommodate my opposable thumb!!!" 
"Two (no longer brown) thumbs up!!"

For me, a couple concerns might hold me back from becoming a Shittens customer.

1. Even at the discounted Amazon price of $15.95, that's almost a dollar per Shitten. Considering how much poop flows through this household, I'm not sure that's economical for us.

2. Now that our 6-year-old can read, I might not want to leave these in the kids' bathroom.