Laura Hillenbrand


I’m a HUGE fan of Laura Hillenbrand. (The NYT magazine has a new profile of her.) Her essay, A Sudden Illness, is perfect. I’m not a horse person, so I was totally amazed at how Seabiscuit sucked me in.

I’m caving into vanity and getting the white hairs that are sprouting up around my temple glazed red today. I’m not sure if I have the patience to sit in a chair with tin foil on my head for three hours.  I’m hoping that Unbroken will keep me amused.

What’s Going On

Things are heating up around here. I have a long list of last minute items to purchase for the holidays, so I have to make another trip to the mall. A luncheon with the special ed PTA moms at noon. Drinks with a friend tonight.

I continue to sell books on my Etsy shop, which is a nice surprise. My inventory has dwindled, so after the holidays, I’m going to load up at estate and library sales. I’ve been fanticizing about turning my basement into an e-business selling books by the foot. Look the Strand does it. I made the mistake of doing research before I went to bed, so I woke up at 2:30 thinking about organizing books. I never went back to sleep.

I’m also trying to wrangle my photographs for the year into some sort of order. I took almost 2,000 pictures this year. I need to cull the mess and find a few of my kids without silly expressions for the Christmas card. I also really should make a proper photo album, so that we can actually enjoy the pictures instead of letting them rot on my hard drive.

Digital camera have meant more pictures. More good pictures. But the quantity kills me.

So, I’ll be here as time permits today.

SL 641

If this story about Witness #40, I’m going to lose my mind.

An old, but true, story about a rape in a fraternity at UVa.

People are going to lose their jobs over this leak at Sony. I’m semi-amused about the comments about Angelina Jolie. Everything else is horrific.

I’m heading out to the mall for Christmas gifts. Two tips — LL Bean’s centerpieces (with free shipping) are a good deal for the far-away aunties. These potted Christmas flowers from IKEA make great hostess presents.

Gift Guide 2014 — Techno Treats

(Thanks, all, for shopping through the Apt. 11D links. Reminder: Hit any of the links in these gift guides or the amazon link on the sidebar. This blogger gets a little money from Amazon, which supports this website and this blogger’s addiction to very large boots.)

For the most part, we don’t spend money on cars or clothes or jewelry. It’s all technology. We have Xbox in the basement for the teenagers and a WiiU in the TV room for the tweens. Everybody, except for Steve, has an Apple iPhone. We own two tablets. I have a Nikon D5300.

This year is probably the first year in ages that we’re not buying a new game system or big ticket technology item.  Instead, we’re getting smaller technology items.

Touchscreen gloves for Jonah when he goes on his marathon longboarding trips.

Ear Buds. We use ‘em. They break. We buy new ones. It’s something to put in a stocking.

I totally want the Fitbit.

Amazon has a professional hair removal system on its holiday list guide. Remington IPL6000USA I-Light Pro, Professional IPL Hair Removal System MEN, DO NOT BUY THIS FOR THE WOMEN IN YOUR LIFE.

At some point, it would be pretty cool to have wireless speakers in each room that were hooked up to a master sound system in the livingroom. SONOS PLAY:1 Compact Wireless Speaker for Streaming Music (Black)

I need a great external hard drive. Might have to get this for myself after the holidays. Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB Portable External Hard Drive

Fostering Autistic Talents

In the special ed world, there is a big debate about whether parents and teachers should focus on a child’s weaknesses or his/her strengths. This debate plays out strongly in the autistic community, because there is such a huge gap between strengths and weaknesses.

For years, we focused on the weaknesses. Ian was in a barrage of therapy in school and at home. This fall, I went in the opposite direction. I pulled him out of all the therapy and “special ed” type activities. In school, he’s in a regular “special education” program that does far less coddling than the autistic programs. He can’t earn breaks. He is expected to blend in with the general population. He is expected to cope in the stressful, disorganized, loud, chaotic band room. He’s handling it. There probably could be a bit more coddling, but I’m treating this school like one giant “life skill” experiment.

After school, I’m focusing on his strengths like art and music and technology. In these activities, he is better than average. In two months, he has burned through the beginner music books for keyboard and drums. He attends “Minecraft” hour at the library and engineering classes at the town recreation program. Sometimes, I pay Jonah to go with him to these classes to make sure that he is attending to the directions, but I may not even need to do that anymore. He suddenly loves the theater, so we’re going to every high school play.

He has an insanely complicated after-school life. It’s all mapped out on a calendar posted to my fridge. But it’s all happy things. We’re all so much happier now that we’re accepting the weaknesses and fostering the strengths.

Check out this young autistic artist in England.

Here’s a really interesting new book by Jean-Michael Basquiat’s girl friends. He sounds a little autistic.

The Middle Class and the Economic Recovery

About two years ago, here in this upper middle class suburb, I started seeing massive enlargements of unremarkable homes. SOMEBODY was getting a fat year-end bonus. (Not us.)

The economy was clearly starting to improve for some workers. The question is whether those benefits are trickling down to everybody else. The New York Times has two articles today that make different claims about the trickle down effect. One article says that Democrats are afraid to claim victory for the economy when most middle class workers aren’t seeing gains. The other article says that the middle class is starting to see benefits.

Can we have some consistency, please?

Local Youth

When I graduated from college, I returned back home for a few months until I had  saved enough money for a deposit for an apartment in Queens. My Italian mother fought me. She thought I was insane for wasting money on rent, when there was a perfectly good bed upstairs and a proper meal on a plate every night. But I went. That’s what we all did in the 1980s.

The Atlantic and Vox have written many articles in the past year about the changing spending habits and preferences of millenials. They say that millenials want to move to urban areas and not spend money on cars, like I did, back in the Stone Ages. Highly ambitious, creative people have always flocked to cities. Until now.

I actually think those writers are dead wrong. Young people have been priced out of the major cities,  like New York, D.C., and Boston. There are staying in older cities, like Cleveland, where the rent is dirt cheap, and they get a hand-me-down car from Uncle George. Or they are sticking around here in the suburbs. I went to a Brooklyn-ish wine bar on Saturday in a working class suburb on Saturday. The tattooed waiters and the bartender were in their 20s.

And they were making good money. The restaurant was packed. I Facebooked my meal, and the bartender rewarded me with an extra huge glass of wine.

Millenials are growing up in a crappy economy. They are cheap, like my son, Jonah. Unless they are writers for Vox or the Atlantic, they are going to steer clear of the larger cities. I think we’re going to see increased decentralization in the next twenty years.

The Impact of Low Investment in Family-Friendly Policies

Compared to European countries, the United States has minimal investment in child care programs and maternity leave policies. All this means, that the U.S. has fewer women who stay in the workforce after they have children. That’s not news. What is news is that the percentage of prime aged women in the workforce has declined dramatically in the past few years. “After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.”

The sharpest drop in labor participation is among low skilled, unmarried mothers, but there has also been a dip in higher skilled, married women, too.

It’s hard to work when you have kids. Schools are not set up for working parents. Maternity leave policies are too short. Child care is insanely expensive. If a child has special needs, then the system is even more hostile.

There is no urgency to make reforms in an economy with a 16 percent unemployment rate for men. I think that we’re going to see a lot more small businesses and entrepreneurial work by the higher skilled women in the next decade. Lower skilled women are going to work in the shadows for extremely low wages. Sadly, they are lining up at my dad’s food pantry three hours before opening time in the cold.

Gift Guide 2014 – Lumberjacks and Vikings and All Things Manly

(Sunday morning is SHOPPING time. Going to pump out some gift guides before we head into the city for brunch with my cousins.)

How about a book by Tim Howard? The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them

A wood-grained cube clock.

We are truly the house of many manly backpacks. We don’t even go on many serious hikes. It’s asperational hiking. This one is very cool — Osprey Packs Kode 42 Backpack.

OMG. There’s something called “beard lube.” — Jack Black Core Collection

Shinola watches are waaayyyy expensive, but they are beautiful.

You don’t really need a beer “kit” to make your own beer. Steve used to use some big plastic buckets from Home Depot. But kits are easier to wrap up. Mr. Beer Premium Gold Edition Home Brewing Craft Beer Making Kit

It’s a cliche, but they really are warm. The North Face Apex Bionic Jacket.

It’s all about flannel this year. LL Bean is the place to go.

For the feet, it’s New Balance Classic Sneaker or Steve’s personal favorite — Converse Unisex Chuck Taylor Hi Basketball Shoe.

What Happens When Men Don’t Work

12up-nonemployed-ss-slide-R5JQ-jumboThe front page of the New York Times this morning has an excellent article about the unemployment rate for men in their prime age. It’s not good.

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. More recently, since the turn of the century, the share of women without paying jobs has been rising, too. The United States, which had one of the highest employment rates among developed nations as recently as 2000, has fallen toward the bottom of the list.

There are fewer, mid-salary jobs for people without a college degree. At the same time, it is easier than ever for men to survive without jobs. They have fewer family responsibilities, since they aren’t married.   They rely on federal benefits, including disability payments. They keep themselves “busy” by hanging out on the Internet.

There are crappy, minimum wage jobs, but these guys don’t want to take those $10-per hour jobs. The lack of dignity in those jobs and the barely-worth-it wages aren’t much of a draw. In the article, one guy lost his job at Home Depot when the company’s “secret shopper” reported that the guy didn’t greet him properly. Ugh. Home Depot employs “secret shoppers” to spy on employees? That’s kind of awful.

So, why should we care about these people? Especially in the wake of events in Ferguson and Staten Island, there isn’t a whole lot sympathy right now for middle-aged white dudes.

Well, this isn’t just a white dude problem, despite the pictures in the Times that focus on them. Look at the interactive map in the Times about where these unemployed workers live. Those high employment areas have large numbers of minorities. And those numbers are horrific. In some areas of New Jersey, 94% of men between ages of 25-54 are unemployed.

When I looked at the anger of the protesters in Ferguson, I saw people who were angry about a whole lotta stuff. Not just police brutality.

When Steve looks at those numbers, he immediately thinks about Nazis and fascism. Unemployed, angry, middle aged dudes cause problems.

The numbers are really, really bad. 60 percent unemployment rate in coal country in West Virginia. Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, and Kentucky have similar numbers.

What happens when people are unemployed? Yes, there  is always danger of civil unrest. Since the older unemployed guys probably vote, they might for people with extreme views. There’s also apathy for things I think are important. Do any of those guys cares about the torture of prisoners? Nope. Maybe a chuckle for the hummus up the butt. Child care subsidies? Nope.

When these guys are unemployed, they can’t financially support children or their parents.

What is most disheartening is that I am not hearing any solutions.

UPDATE: One solution that is batting around is a radical rethinking of higher education. If most of the unemployment is in the non-college aged crowd, maybe we need to figure out how to retrain them in community colleges and online schools. But I’m not seeing a massive investment in these programs, beyond little op-eds in the backpages of newspapers.