Party Planning

We hosted two different kinds of parties in the past couple of weeks. Two Sundays ago, we had a small dinner party with a group that we’ve known for 30 years. We spent six hours around the dining room table eating and drinking. The booze and the conversation flowed. Last Saturday, we invited everybody that we know to a backyard keg party.

The small dinner party was easy. The bigger party was more difficult socially, because we have moved a lot and have friends in very different groups. The professors don’t necessary mix well with bikers, although we have one friend who is a center of that Venn diagram. I get nervous when I’m not sure if people are having a good time, so it was difficult to relax until the crowd thinned out to a small group in front of the fire.

Few people host parties these days. (Here’s a how-to article.) I get it. It’s stressful and expensive. People’s social skills are rusty, which necessitates that I flit from group to group to make sure that people are having fun. But big parties are so important. It’s only through socializing that we improve. And being social animals, we need to fight for our right to party.

Have you hosted a party lately?

I, of course, was too busy to take pictures during our party. Instead, I took pictures of the leftovers and the day-after mess:



Helen Parr’s Messy Work-Life Balance

I wrote this yesterday on a whim, but didn’t feel like sending out anywhere. So, I’m publishing here…

It’s been fourteen years since the last Incredibles movie as the actors remind us in an unnecessary promo in the beginning of the Incredibles 2. What’s happened in that time to the characters? Not that much. The teenagers are still being teenagers, surly and shy. Bob is still a knucklehead. With the large age gap, Jack-Jack is the classic “ooops, we forgot to use birth control” baby. In this movie, he’s still toddling around and developing his powers.

Like any superpower movie, there are bad guys who want to destroy the world. The public is annoyed with the inevitable clean up afterwards, as they were in Spiderman Homecoming. Like the X-Men films, the supers have to deal with the general distrust of those with weird powers.

But those themes are secondary to the real drama, which surround Helen’s role as a mother and her itch to work. Can Bob take over as lead parent for a while? Can she ramp up her career and join the ranks of other career women? Can she still save the world and look good in Lulumon spandex with the perimenopausal spread of her hips and boobs? Can she travel for work without calling home a million times? Continue reading

SL 728

I’ve been waaaayyyy busy the past few weeks. I’ve been retweeting things that I find interesting, but haven’t had a chance to do blog posts on all of them. Let me do a quick round up, and I’ll try to do a better blog post later today.

Of course, there’s parent separation on the border. I’m not sure what else to say about this horrific situation that hasn’t already been said. We live in sad, sad times.

Stanley Fish says that we should stop trying to sell the Humanities. But I was talking to a woman who works on Wall Street last month. She said that they are hiring people with political science majors, not business majors. So, I think Fish is wrong.

Will Asian-Americans undo Affirmative Action?

I have mixed feelings about work-based learning. Theoretically, it’s great. In practice, it might be another dumping grounds for special ed kids.

Schools are getting rid of GPAs, AP tests, SATs, and grades. What will fill their places?

There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

Grabbing Life by the Balls

Like everyone else, I was crushed by Anthony Bourdain’s death this weekend. Here’s a blog post that I wrote about his book, Kitchen Confidential, back in 2003. (Gee, I’ve been blogging for a long time, haven’t I?)

I think that’s little that we can understand about his death. Everybody’s depression is unique; we can never understand the demons that lurk in someone else’s brain. But what we can take away from his story is the passion that he had for life. That curiosity. That drive to do something new, to meet new people, to go places, to speak out about wrongness in the world. Unbeknownst to his fans like me, he juggled passion and despair    until he couldn’t any longer.

RIP, Tony. He was a local guy who done good.

I’ve been going back and forth within my own brain this week about what my next move should be.

Last week, I did what I love doing. I wrote an article. I talked with really smart people who taught me new things. The fact-checking process was intense – every word, number, comma was questioned by more super smart people, but there is also something thrilling about making it through that clothes wringer and making it out alive. The next person who shouts “FAKE NEWS” should just bite me. Seriously.

So, I’m doing what I like. The article will come out at some point, maybe today or tomorrow. And I’m lucky enough to get published at a place that will make sure that lots of eyeballs will see it. I have two or three other topics in embryo and a book proposal that I’m shopping around. In between articles, I can sit on the sofa and read the pile of books on the coffee table and on the iPad that range in quality from mindless fun to inspiring.

And at the same time, I can do it from home. I can stop working at around 3:30 and take Ian to activities. I can make dinner. I can go for a run in the morning. If the car breaks down or Ian’s bus driver flames out, I am around to handle the crisis.

But all this flexibility comes with a cost. There’s not much money in freelance writing, and there’s a lot of hustling. Maybe it’s time to take a less interesting, but full-time job at a foundation or a think tank in Manhattan. Farming out my household and parenting chores to others would be a necessity. I would have an hour commute on a good day. I have no idea who would make dinner, if I didn’t get home until 7.

I’m going to give myself one more year of writing full time to see where things go. I’m shutting down some of the volunteer work that I do in the community, so I can devote more time towards that goal. I want to squeeze as much awesomeness out of the next year, before I do something simply for a more regular paycheck.

And More Gossip From the Mechanic

Last night, Jonah drove home from an evening of Fortnite at Jimmy’s house and announced that there was a bad smell coming from the car. Bad smells aren’t enough to move us to deal with car problems. But when black smoke started coming out from under the hood this morning, we agreed that prompt action was needed.

I wasn’t in the mood for prompt car action, because I had a full day of work planned out. Instead, I had to drive 30 minutes to the mechanic and pick up a spare car from my parents. Any trip to my parents now requires an additional 30 minutes on simplistic tech problems and lunch and tea. On the way back, I had to pick up groceries.

The day is shot. Ugh. Might as well blog.

When I dropped off the car, I had to do some mandatory chit-chat with Jimmy the mechanic. Jimmy fixes my extended family’s fleet of Toyotas and Subarus. He’s honest and hardworking and worth the 30 minute drive.

Jimmy was in a bad mood this morning, too. His best worker, Dave, quit, after working with him for eight years. Dave went to work for a dealership where he will get paid more money and get health insurance and benefits. As a small business owner, Jimmy can’t offer health insurance. His own health insurance is 20K per year.

Jimmy needs to find a replacement and is stuck. He had one guy for two weeks, but he showed up late every day and he only lived a block away. He fired him. He said that all the guys coming out of tech school are terrible. They don’t want to work hard or get dirty. I guess tech schools aren’t attracting the highest quality workers. I also guess that not too many people are willing to work at a job without health insurance.

Anyway, this gossip is interesting mostly because it is almost the exact same story that I heard from my contractor two weeks ago.

I’m interested in these stories not just because I think it’s a sign that there is great unraveling of the economy. I’m paying attention, because it’s personal. I can’t imagine that Ian is going to be able to attend a traditional four-year college. His reading skills aren’t on grade level, and he certainly could never manage the social skills of dorm room.

He does, however, have mad computer and engineering skills, so I’m started to dip my big toe into information about technical schools and community colleges. What’s the best way to get him in a cubicle with a computer? There are lots of stories about how vocational schools are the wave of the future, but I suspect it’s more hype than reality.