Thursday, December 31, 2015

How to Get Your Drone Out of a Tree

I've been pretty remiss about updating this blog the past few months, but I figured I should close out the year on a strong note.

Here is the least-helpful how-to video you'll ever see. It documents attempts by Elliot and me to pilot a drone, which got stuck in a tree within about 20 minutes.

Fortunately, it has a happy ending.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Good Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Patch, in the Shadow of Manhattan Towers

The kids had a great time at the Manhattan Park pumpkin patch on Saturday.

It's nice to know that — even while growing up in a high-rise apartment — they're learning valuable agricultural skills.

For instance, laying claim to a pumpkin and fighting off other children to protect it.

I assume this is something country kids do.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pin the Face on the Princess

Once again, Kelly has reinvented the "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" game.

For Lulu's third birthday last week, she did "Pin the Face on the Princess."

It got Picasso-esque pretty fast, but it was a big hit.

Previously, Kelly did "Pin the Tutu on the Ballerina" for Alice...

And "Pin the Rocket on the Planet" for Elliot...

At this point, the kids have never actually played "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." So that might seem like an interesting twist on the genre to them.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

'We Are Family' on Roosevelt Island

I was excited to discover today that the 1979 video for Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" is set on Roosevelt Island.

It was filmed at Southpoint Park, which was quite a bit different back then (the skyline is a lot less crowded as well).

The kids know "We Are Family" as the ringtone on their Grandmama's phone, so they were pretty excited to see this too.

(Hat tip: the Roosevelt Islander blog.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Visiting New York's Oldest and Newest Transit Stations

On Sunday, Elliot and I decided to visit New York's newest subway station — 34th Street-Hudson Yards — the 7 train's farthest outpost on Manhattan's West Side. The terminal just opened this month, and it's the city's first new station since 1989 (that was the year that an obscure patch of New York called Roosevelt Island got subway service).

But we wanted to give our visit a twist. Before going to Hudson Yards, we'd try to find New York's oldest train station.

It wasn't easy. Many of the original subway stations have been abandoned or replaced. After some online sleuthing, I figured out that the oldest remaining "transit structure" is located at or around the Van Siclen Avenue station on the J-Z line in Brooklyn. Now, this isn't a technically subway station; it's an elevated platform. But the structure is roughly 130 years old.

Courtesy of the NYC Subway site:
The portion of the el from Pennsylania Avenue (3 blocks east of Alabama Avenue) to Van Siclen is unrebuilt, mostly cast iron el structure dating back to 1885, the oldest remaining transit structure in the city. Van Siclen was the terminal of the original el; remnants of a three-track terminal/turnback portion of el is visible just east of the station. The following section, from Van Siclen to Crescent Street, dates to 1893.
So Elliot and I took the F train to the L, and then got off at Livonia Avenue. I figured we could walk from there to our destination. Unfortunately, I got my Van Siclen stops confused (there are stations by that name on the 3, the C and J-Z). So we walked a good distance through gritty East New York before I found the right spot.

At last, we reached the J-Z Van Siclen station, which may or may not be New York's oldest transit station (it's at least adjacent to the oldest stretch of track still in use). As I photographed the scene, a guy shouted the F-word repeatedly. (Ear muffs!) I'm pretty sure I was the only transit tourist in the neighborhood.

There's not a whole lot to recommend the Van Siclen station. It looks like most el stops in Queens or Brooklyn. It does have some attractive stained glass, but I don't think that dates from the 1800s.

We took the J back into Manhattan, switched back to the F and then to the 7. Along the way, Elliot saw a beer-swilling man throw up in the train.
"Maybe he's allergic to something, Daddy." 
"You could say that."  
Finally, we reached the sparkling new Hudson Yards terminal. It's an impressive sight, especially after hanging out in a rusty el station across town.

The station is gleaming and white, with touchscreen displays and gorgeous mosaics decorating the ceiling.

Most amazing: It has a functional bathroom! (Okay, the paper towels were already gone, but at least it didn't smell like urine.)

Elliot's verdict (and mine): The newest station in New York trumps the oldest.

Score one for progress over nostalgia.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alice Is Four: A Belated Birthday Tribute

As you know, I've sworn to create a video for each of my kids' birthdays (until they turn 18 or tell me to stop, whichever comes first).

But I might not always be prompt. Our desktop computer broke several months ago, robbing me of my preferred video-editing tool. So I'm only just now posting Alice's birthday recap from last winter.

It's amazing how different she was just eight months ago — when apparently she thought becoming a fireman or a grown-up were two separate career paths.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A First, First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school for New York kids, and it marked a special milestone for our family: Alice's first day in public school.

Thanks to the city's new universal pre-K program, Alice is going to school full-time at no charge. What's not to like? (Other than saying goodbye to your sister each morning.)

Elliot, meanwhile, is an old-hand and knew what to expect. I couldn't even persuade him to wear a collared shirt.

"All the other boys will be there in their top hats and tails," I said.

"You know kids don't really dress like that...right, Dad?" (He seemed genuinely concerned that I did not know this.)

Once again, I commemorated the special day with a 15-second recap — my new favorite film genre.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

How to Do a Lego Party: Part 2

Here's the video of Elliot's Lego party, which celebrated his 7th birthday in style.

The kids designed their own vehicles and then raced them...and by that I mean they slammed them against a wall.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

How to Do a Lego Party

Elliot asked for a Lego-themed birthday party.

So Kelly created two block-style cakes (one dairy-free)...

...and party favors that looked like Lego man heads.

They're made out of marshmallows covered in yellow frosting, with an M&M on top to create the bump.

Everything is awesome!

Monday, August 31, 2015

New York Is Getting More Expensive (for Baseball Fans)

Ever since we moved to New York, I've taken Elliot to a Mets game once a year. And every year, I've had a strategy: Wait until September — when the team's prospects are hopeless — and then buy tickets on the cheap.

Well, that strategy failed miserably this season. The team is in first place, and getting tickets to a weekend game is no easy feat. I had to pay three times as much as normal to see them play on Sunday (it didn't help that they were hosting the Red Sox, which drew a larger-than-typical crowd).

Our tickets were in the last row at the very top of the right-field seats. But I learned a couple things from sitting in the nosebleeds: (a.) Like AT&T Park and other modern baseball stadiums, Citi Field really has no bad seats. (b.) A nice breeze blows through when you're sitting with your back to the open air.

Alice joined us this time, and she was excited to get her first taste of professional baseball ("taste" is the operative word here since mostly it was the food she was excited about).

We started off with a bag of peanuts. I told the kids this was the only time they were allowed to litter, which made it seem pretty thrilling. But Alice couldn't manage to crack the shells without help. Soon she realized that the shells were salted and began licking them without actually eating the nuts (this sort of thing is a running theme in our family).

Later on, the kids moved on to another venerable tradition: eating ice cream out of mini batting helmets.

Alice did her best, but she couldn't manage to consume the ice cream fast enough to keep it from overflowing. Helmets may not be the most practical container for a 4-year-old.

Finally, Alice wanted a baseball cap. At this point, I've made peace with the kids sporting Mets merchandise (even though I'm still a loyal Giants supporter). But I at least tried to steer Alice away from the pink section.

I was unsuccessful.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Guess This Shouldn't Surprise Me, But...

I was at the library with the kids, and we were trying to remember the title of a book that we previously checked out.

So I strode up to one of the librarians with my NYPL card and asked her to check my transaction history.

"We don't keep a record of that," she said, "for privacy reasons."

I was briefly annoyed, though I understand the rationale of not having a government entity track your reading habits. (Even if it feels very antiquated in the age of Amazon, the NSA and social media.)

But all was not lost. Elliot gave her a vague sense of what the book was about, and she scoured the library looking for it.

After 15 minutes, the librarian found the book!

The message: Librarians are awesome...and I guess it's good that we still have some vestige of privacy in this world. (Even if we don't always appreciate it.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

R.I.P, Mac Dre (for a Second Time)

The upsetting part of our visit to Langton Street was discovering that the Mac Dre mural is no more.

The artwork had honored a murdered Bay Area rapper, who died in 2004, and it was used as the backdrop for at least a couple music videos.

This one, Mistah Fab's "Ghost Ride It," was my favorite:

My bookclub also shot an epic photo in front of it. I believe we used the picture in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge another bookclub to a dance-off.

The mural's destruction is a big loss for the neighborhood, but probably an inevitable result of SoMa's gentrification.

Still, it's sad that the next generation of bookclubs will have to look elsewhere for their promotional images.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Trip to the Old Neighborhood

Elliot, circa 2010
We took a brief excursion to San Francisco last week, letting Elliot see the neighborhood where he spent his first two years.

Back then, he was the only kid on the street. And in fact, he was known as "the Langton Street baby" until another couple had a child.

These days, Elliot has no recollection of our time on Langton Street. But we have talked enough about the neighborhood — and its gigantic mural — for him to become curious.

So when we passed through town last Monday, we stopped the car and everyone got out.

You can tell that some of the homes have been spruced up (and no wonder — they're worth a lot more now than when we left in 2010). But our place didn't look all that different.

And the mural, known as "Frisco's Wild Side," was in good shape. It served as the biggest conversation piece for our three young visitors.

We got a family shot in front of it (minus Kelly, since she took the picture).

After that, we surveyed the restaurant scene. The former Julie's Supper Club, which was known as Radius when he left in 2010, is now called El Capitan.

Here's what's funny: Out of a desire to preserve continuity — or save money — the restaurant still bears all three signs!

For a nostalgic visitor like me, that seemed perfect.

Lastly, we visited a neighborhood mainstay: Brainwash. It now has a parklet out front. (A couple parking places sacrificed their lives to make this possible.)

Inside, the laundromat/cafe is unchanged and still attracts an eclectic crowd (the one thing the clientele shared in common was being annoyed by our three children). Elliot saw all the flyers on the counter and asked, "Are these free?" before stuffing them in his pockets.

Despite being a native of SoMa, he doesn't know how to play it cool just yet.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

'Your Grandmother Has Creepy Dolls'

During our visit to Santa Cruz, I showed Elliot some of the marionettes that terrified me as a child.

The Pinocchio doll was particularly disturbing. It was hung from the ceiling in the room we shared as kids and would gently twist on its wires, casting spooky shadows on the wall.

Fortunately, my mother (known to Elliot as "BoMa") preserved them all. So now they can unnerve the next generation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

'Game of Sandcastles'

We spent the last week in Santa Cruz, where it was unseasonably warm ("unseasonably" is probably not the right word for being hot during summer, but it didn't feel right for an area typically blessed with an aggressive marine layer).

Anyway, that gave us occasion to go to the beach several times (and even go in the water without a wet suit!) I also shot this video of sandcastles, mainly to show how much of a difference the right music can make.

As the tide made clear when it rolled in, all kingdoms must crumble eventually.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Trip Across Town...and 102 Floors Up

For my birthday, the family took me to the 1 World Trade Center observation deck (it's called the One World Observatory, which gives it a bit of a utopian vibe).

Now, I've written before about the Empire State Building and 30 Rock observation decks. I have to say, 1WTC is the most impressive of them all — largely because it was designed from scratch to use the latest technologies.

The elevator ride alone is reason to go. It acts as a time machine of sorts, providing a visual history of lower Manhattan as you soar up more than 100 stories.

At the top, you watch another video of New York. Then the screen lifts up and you realize you're staring out at the city from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

For an extra $15, you get an iPad thingie that identifies all the landmarks you're looking it. If you tap on the screen, it will zoom in and describe the sight in more detail (the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building...even Roosevelt Island).

The device had a little bit of trouble pinpointing the direction we were looking at. (I wish it had a way to snap back to your current view.) Still, it was pretty cool. But if you prefer plain-old humans, there are guides on the floor who give information on the various landmarks visible behind them.

The tickets to get into the observatory are $32. That's not cheap, but it's exactly the same price as the Empire State Building. 30 Rock is currently $30, so I guess it's now positioning itself as the bargain observation deck. (When I wrote about this before, it was the more expensive option.)

The 1WTC building itself is more impressive close up than from a distance. On a clear day, the blue panels seem to fade into the firmament.

The street artist Banksy famously derided 1WTC as "vanilla" and "something they would build in Canada."

That may be true, but it has a certain grace to it. I feel like it's settling into the skyline quite nicely.

We also visited the site of the old towers, which is now a pair of reflecting pools. I've heard that tourists taking selfies in front of the memorial is a common occurrence, irking some New Yorkers. Sure enough, I saw quite a few people bust out their selfie sticks while we were there.

We took our family photo in front of 1WTC instead. (And we have no selfie stick, so Kelly had to suffice.)

We also encountered street vendors who were selling guidebooks about Sept. 11. To get people to buy their books, they would flip through the pages and tell you about the destruction and carnage of that day. Elliot listened with keen interest. I know many parents who deliberately haven't told their kids about Sept. 11, so this experience might have been a shock for them.

I understand the impulse to shield kids from this tragedy. But the act of coming down here to visit a gleaming new building — it gives the sense that healing has begun.

To these kids, Sept. 11 will always be history. Something that can't be forgotten, but also something fuzzy and distant. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Last Look at Atlanta

Before we left Atlanta, we got to go up in the SkyView — the city's equivalent of the London Eye.

The SkyView is basically just a big Ferris wheel, but it gives a nice view of downtown Atlanta. Here's a video of the experience.

There also are some perks: The cars are enclosed, and you can bring beer and wine on board. And given that it's Atlanta, there's climate control.

It even has an optional VIP experience that lets you take a longer ride. But I think I can safely speak on behalf of most Ferris wheel patrons in saying that few people wish their ride were longer (especially when you're stuck up top waiting for people to get off).

Our non-VIP trip was just right.