Julia improved on my shot of the girls at the downtown coffeeshop on one of our Saturday-morning bagel outings with this excellent rendering. The lights are realistic, if somewhat (say, 1000%) oversized in relation to the three of us at our table. Vivi was wearing heart-kneed pants; I was not holding my coffee mug over my head like an Olympic torch – nor was the guy at the sofa behind us. Not included in this picture are the twenty or so soaking-wet runners who show up every Saturday and devour coffeecake with whipped cream on top.

Blue Monday


Julia is semi-obsessed with the cafeteria at her elementary school. More than once in the past week, we’ve had to look up the menu on the school website and talk about all the options. And since Julia is Julia, this has led to art: a drawing of kids getting their food. It’s pretty accurate. You can almost smell “Big Daddy’s Pizza.” (Click through for notes.)


Tuesday Oddments

Overheard, 6:15 p.m.
Vivi, pointing at the easel. “Julia, what you tryin’ to show me over dere?”
Julia: “I was just showing you the word ‘vowel,’ and that it starts with the letter ‘v’.”
Vivi: “Oh. I a growd-up, so I don’t hear you good. My ears don’t work.”
Me: “Genevieve, most grown-ups’ ears work fine. It’s just me who has bad ears and can’t hear so well.”
Vivi: “No, I don’t hear Julia too well e-fur [either].”

Seen, 6:30 p.m.
Post-It Child
“Genevieve, why do you have a Post-It on your face?”
“I dunno, Daddy. Julia put it dere. We thought it was funny.”

Best of February 2010

In five (or six) units…

1. Articles I Read:

A. Popular
“God Said Multiply, and Did She Ever” (Joseph Berger, New York Times, February 18, 2010)

When Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants. Mrs. Schwartz was a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose couples have nine children on average and whose ranks of descendants can multiply exponentially. But even among Satmars, the size of Mrs. Schwartz’s family is astonishing. A round-faced woman with a high-voltage smile, she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis.

B. Geek
“Ski Switching and Waxing in the 30km Classic” (Topher Sabot,, February 28th, 2010)
A great, if technical examination of an interesting new twist to cross-country ski racing: allowing athletes to change skis in the middle of certain long races so as to find a faster or otherwise better pair. Ski switching builds in new tactical element, since athletes have to carefully choose when to take the 10 to 20 seconds needed to change, as well as an element of luck, since they (and their technicians) might choose the wrong skis, and thus ruin a good race.

2. Book I Started
At a friend’s recommendation, I started Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a novel about Thomas Cromwell, a power behind the throne of Henry VIII. I’m going to dole this book out to myself in very, very small doses, because – as signified by winning the Man Booker prize last year – this is a fantastic work of art. The writing is superb, but even more impressive than the prose style is the intellectual power deployed by Mantel in making someone like Cromwell both comprehensible and admirable. (Here’s a laudatory review of the book, which mentions a sequel.)

3. Photo I Saw
Shot by Al Bello and seen in the “Big Picture” photo series of the Boston Globe. (The first and second “Big Pictures” from the Olympic Games are both incredible.)

Vancouver Ski Jumper (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Vancouver Ski Jumper (Al Bello/Getty Images)

4. Video I Watched:
“Demong sprints away” | NBC Olympics – the “raw feed” of Billy Demong attacking from the front of the last nordic combined race, dropping Bernhard Gruber of Austria and Johnny Spillane (USA), and surging to America’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in a nordic discipline.

5. Music I Enjoyed
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Shirley Bassey (composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein). Ignore the goofball sentimentalism of the commercial and enjoy the goofball sentimentalism of the song.


Julia’s facility with words has always been strong; she was talking as well at two or three as many five-year-olds (including some of her current classmates). Since starting kindergarten, she has, as we expected, rapidly acquired and improved her writing and reading skills. She’s always loved to draw pictures, so being able to label some part of the picture, or to write out all-text stories, is new and wonderful. She’s also quickly complemented her writing abilities with very good, and constantly improving, reading skills. Just this morning, for instance, she read aloud three pages in a kids’ magazine that she’d never seen before.

I’m a bit surprised by how satisfying I find all of this. Undoubtedly because I’m a guy who likes words and who values verbal skills (and who makes his living by writing end editing), I find it immensely pleasing that Julia enjoys writing, reading, learning new words, wordplay, and the like so much. It just feels right that she does.

And that’s only the half of it. Mostly because she wants to do everything and anything that Julia does, Genevieve, too, has quickly and impressively mastered the alphabet (with the curious omission of K, which she refuses to write) and delights in writing, both for particular purposes – birthday cards, thank-you notes, “menus” for playing kitchen – and for pure fun, like this morning when she carefully used big block letters to write “BackYeLLoWaBaBYHappy.” As she told me solemnly after finishing this little bit of preschooler Dada, “It’s a good fing that I dint wite ‘pencilbaby’ again!”

Julia’s Manifesto

The Saturday morning daddy-daughter breakfasts at the downtown coffeeshop incline Julia toward thinking about crucial issues in her life, such as whether cream cheese is better than peanut butter (it isn’t), when she can have coffee (when she’s older), and why we can’t go out for breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday. So far, she’s reasonably accepting of the (real) answer to this last question, which is that, even though we are very lucky to have a house and food and clothes and a car and toys and some fun stuff (“like your skis, Daddy”), we can’t afford to hit the coffeeshop twice in two days.

This shades quite naturally into questions about why we live in a “little house” (a townhouse), not a “big house” like her friends, and from there it’s a short distance to a broader discussion of having stuff, and how much is enough, and why some people don’t have enough (like the little girl in her kindergarten who sometimes doesn’t have a snack).

Trust me, we have basically this same conversation every Saturday morning. It makes me feel a little bit guilty about ordering a latte and not just a small cup of the light roast.

Last Saturday, Julia let the have/have not conversation tail off. I got busy doing something with Genevieve, and hardly noticed that Julia was busy working on something that required me to spell out an occasional word. When she was finished, she read it out to me. It’s cute and sad and hopeful all at once. I’m so proud of my Junior Democrat!
Julia's Manifesto


The world is good for some people but for some people the world is not good because they do not have enough so you give them money. By Julia Tassava.

Teddy O’Peep

Genevieve made a huge artistic breakthrough yesterday: she drew an actual torso! (This development was predicted a while ago by a frequent commenter of this blog.)

Here is a rendition of her current favorite “baby,” the bear Teddy O’Peep. Do not be misled by Teddy’s pink hoody and call him a her. Neither should you call him Teddy O’Peeps. Heaven hath no fury like a preschooler insulted.

Teddy O'Peep

Dada Trees

One of my favorite things about working on a college campus is the everydayness of the weirdness: the cross-country team screaming out the names of the buildings they’re passing, streakers, “beard auctions,” cryptic chalk messages on the sidewalks, kids playing Quidditch on the soccer fields, oversized plastic letters in the trees out front of my building. You can’t spell “another day of work” without W-T-F.
Letter Trees

Letter Trees

Wintertime Rainbows

Though there are numerous ways to tell that Julia and Genevieve are girls, their shared penchant for using rainbow colors and motifs in their art is one indicator. Even when Vivi is pretending to be her alter ego, “Big Boy,” she colors with Roy G. Biv, as in this picture, about which she said, “It’s fow you, Daddy, because it says ‘By Vivi’ because ‘Vivi’ is shorta den ‘Genevieve,’ an it says, ‘To Dad’ but I wote ‘Dad’ foist, den ‘to,’ by de gwass.” I love the red halo hair.

Rainbow People

For her part, Julia is branching out into three-dimensional artwork, like this be-rainbowed heart that has a little flap under which a butterfly is hiding. I was repeatedly exhorted to take the butterfly out and make it fly around, so of course I did.
Butterfly Before
Butterfly Before
Butterfly After
Butterfly After

Artists’ Colloquy

I’m sitting at the desk, drawing a picture of the black bookshelf in the corner of our playroom. Julia walks up.
Julia: “What are you drawing? Do not draw a picture of something in this room.”
Me: “Why not? I like to draw things I can see. It’s called ‘drawing from life.'”
J: “You know what it’s really called? ‘Sketching.'”
Me, laughing: “That’s true.”
I keep drawing, finishing the left-hand vertical end of the bookshelf. Julia watches.
J: “What is that? Is it a sandwich?”
M, laughing harder: “No, it’s not a sandwich.”
J: “Why are you laughing? You drew something that looks like a sandwich.”
M, barely able to talk: “It’s supposed to be the bookshelf! Right there!”
Julia turns and looks at the shelf in question, then turns back.
J: “Maybe. It still looks like a sandwich.”