Archive for January, 2010

Dealing With the “Scary Stuff”

January 29, 2010

Interesting little Facebook back-and-forth between my pal Chase (aka Satan’s Cupcake) on Iron Giant.  He said of the flick, “I like this flick, but scary for the little ones.”  And there are some somewhat scary scenes, first the introduction of the behemoth robot, then when the conflict escalates into something very serious.

As you can see, I’ve tried to keep my posts on Iron Giant as spoiler-free as possible in case you want to see the film but really want to be surprised by what’s going on.  Indeed, the “SPOILER ALERT!” has become a must for just about anyone who is writing about entertainment, because we grown-ups tend to get really ticked-off if people “ruin” the movie, book, or TV show for us by telling us what’s going to happen.  Indeed, I’ve chided my big boy Gus on several occasions for telling his friends about movies he’s already seen but they haven’t.

Then I thought about how I normally get Gunnar, or in some cases, Gus, through the “scary scenes” of some movies.  In some cases, it’s simple as fast forward.  But when  I think they can handle them, I realized what I do is, though very gently, I provide spoilers.  I don’t think I’m giving away anything here, but in Iron Giant, there’s a scene where the robot is chasing the boy and the boy is scared, but you as an adult realize it’s just because the robot was grateful for the boy’s help.  Gunnar was getting a little upset, so I just said, “I’ll bet that the robot really likes Hogarth, and he’s just trying to be his friend–you watch!”  Gunnar, sensing I knew the outcome, calmed down, and when it all turned out okay, said “that was COOL!”

I think there comes a point in life, and it’s at different times for different people, where we start to like surprises, but given kids’ notorious fondness for watching or doing fun things over and over and over (“Again Daddy!”), our adult instinct to go spoiler-free actually often holds back our ability to help our kids get through the “scary stuff” to the great lessons that stuff can teach.  Perhaps this just comes naturally to most folks and I’m just too much of a nerd to have realized it before now, but I think in many cases the right thing to do in situations like this is to “spoil” our kids.

Remembering Pappy

January 29, 2010

This is a bit of a toughie for me.  It’s been one year today since Gus and Gunny’s Pappy—my Father-in-Law—Andrew Bowers passed away.  He was a tremendous influence on both boys’ lives, and we miss him dearly.  My Mother-in-Law Solveig gave me the honor of asking me to speak at his funeral.  This, to me, was the measure of a man, and how a gentle spirit can spring forth from even the rockiest soil.

Here are my words—he’s a man to be remembered—certainly missed.

The word “family” seems so simple.  Mother, Father, Son, Daughter.  Happy, together, united by love, and the small glimpse of the divine that comes with creation and the birth of our future days.  But it is in the dusting of that simple word that we come to find the measure of a man, or of anyone for that matter.  Andrew Bowers—my father in law— schooled me in a concept of that simple, yet so nuanced a word that will last me, and I believe many of you, the rest of our days.

It was six years ago, on another lazy day in Margaritaville.  Kirsten, myself, and our terrible two, Gustav, were making our first “family” appearance in the Keys.  Our flaxen-haired lad had spent many an infant hour sleeping comfortably on his Pappy’s tummy, as Andy, the self-professed “baby man” and his hot-water bottle of a belly was an early, soothing tonic to our first-born.

But Gus at two was a different creature altogether—Mommy’s boy all the way.  His two pools of blue would become oceans at the mere thought of leaving his mother’s side, his impressive use of multi-syllabic words and sentences reduced to a blubbering “MO-MEEEEE!”

As we crossed the threshold, passing the great Manatee mailbox and the view of the “big water” our little barnacle trepidatiously emerged from the car, wide-eyed at a view of part of nature he had never experienced, clutching his six-foot lifeline and tugging her toward that salten miracle.

“Gus, we haven’t even gotten the bags out of the car!” Kirsten gasped, exhausted from the trek across Florida.  Mor-Mor came over to give her “goldklump” a kiss, which he magnanimously granted while sinking ever more deeply into the triangle of safety between Mommy’s legs.

Then came Andy.  He came first with familiarity.  Every boy and girl in this room knows what’s going to come after Pappy says “Gimme Five!” right?  Let me hear it.

But after that “how-ya-do, how-ya-do, how-ya-do” it was Pappy’s hands, massive, the hands that had held knife and gun, and were bound in venomous hatred in a time of war, that clawed at a car as he struggled for life, that made life-and-death decisions in the service of the law—it was these hands that had been through so much pain, hands that had every right to be blistered with the calluses of reality, it was those hands that came down, gently, reaching through that invisible forcefield of fear,  grasping my son’s small fingers.   He then softly said, “come, let’s you and Pappy go see the big water together.”

And they were off, just like that, not a tear, not a whimper—well, perhaps one or two out of Kirsten.  Through the gate, over the coral gravel, a little push of the tire swing shaped like a horse, a tug at a sagging diaper, grandson and grandfather were together, bound by love and nature’s vast miracles.  After all, there was no one on this earth better to share a love of  “big” things with more than Andrew Bowers.

I had very much respected Andy before that moment, and felt lucky that I had such a kind man as my father-in-law.  Glad that my mother-in-law Solveig had found a true love to fill her heart and life.  But it was in that moment that I saw why she loved him so dearly, and that was the moment I knew I loved him, too.  It is why the waves of tears continued to crash even as I wrote these words last night, and as I struggle to bring voice to them today.

Andy showed me in that moment, and so many times since, what family can really mean.  That family need not be defined by blood, that the miracle of creation, and the passing of generations can be shared with unparalled love when moored in the harbor of abiding respect.  Whether in Baltimore, Fairmont, Stony Brook, or Villa Viking, Andrew Bowers didn’t simply have a family, he made one.  And I, for one, am delighted to have been taken into his orbit, albeit for a time briefer than we all had hoped.

I will miss my father-in-law, my father, deeply, but I hope to delight in the gifts he gave to all of his family–my family–in the time we all have left together on this earth.

The Recommendation—The Iron Giant

January 29, 2010

Most people who have kids probably have an inkling about who Brad Bird is.  He is the creative force behind perhaps my top two favorite Pixar films thus far—The Incredibles and Ratatouille.  To me, his genius isn’t in how fantastic the world he creates is, which I think films like Monsters Inc. (a world where monsters steal kids screams for energy? that’s creative) does him one better.  It’s that he is able to speak to real issues in a compelling, hilarious, and completely enthralling way.

Before he went all CG on us, he was a writer for the Simpsons, which is one of the great training grounds for comic writers.  And in-between Simpsons and Incredibles, he did do one standard animated movie that hasn’t gotten the play it deserves outside of the animation-buff audience—The Iron Giant.

I watched bits and pieces of this movie over the years, but stumbled upon it again looking for a boys’ night movie using our fancy-dancy Netflix instant download into our Blu-ray player.  For the record, Netflix’s range of titles available for download in HD are a bit on the scant side unless you like 80’s giggle flicks—then you’re set.

The Iron Giant uses a lot of tried and true plot devices, but combines them in what I think is a very profound way, especially for a young audience.  It uses the 50’s Cold War hysteria to really help set up a very basic story about how you judge people, when it’s right to use violence, and what true heroism is.  Of course, they boys’ favorite part is when the protagonist of the story, the 10-or-so-year-old Hogarth, pretends to be making a poop to keep his Mom from discovering the robot from outer-space he’s befriended.  So something for everyone!

Now that I think of it, this is probably the movie I should have shown the kids on MLK day—I highly recommend it for kids and adults alike.  I think this is a movie that would have been a huge hit had it been CG animation, but kind of got lost in the shuffle of our culture’s changing tastes in animated entertainment.  A few very slightly scary scenes (nothing my 5-year-old Gunnar couldn’t handle without my giving him some advanced hints) so be warned on that from that front.  The climactic scene also made me cry—so softies be warned on that front, too.

Go check it out—90 minutes very well spent.

And Now A Word From My Day Job…

January 29, 2010

Sorry for the gap between posts, folks, but for the past week, I’ve had my Union of Concerned Scientists hat on when I wasn’t cooking dinner or running the boys to various practices.  We’ve  been hard at work prepping to launch what I think is a really cool new feature on my “other” site, the (ahem) Webby-Award Winning

Our brand-spanking-new Hybrid Scorecard is the only comprehensive ranking of hybrid vehicles available in the U.S. market.  The Hybrid Scorecard compares hybrids with their conventional counterparts to determine how effectively automakers are installing hybrid technology into their respective fleets. The scorecard can help you identify what you’re really paying for in a hybrid vehicle. It also demonstrates what automakers can do to make their hybrids a better environmental and financial deal for their customers.

I think anyone who’s interested in saving money at the pump or reducing smog and global warming pollution is well advised to give this a gander.  So go check it out, and help me earn my paycheck!

A Little Something on MLK

January 18, 2010

Even though I had far less time than I thought I would have to blog this holiday weekend (for good reason, as my brother Dan was in town visiting from Barcelona–doesn’t happen too often), a blog like mine would be remiss in saying nothing about one of the giants of non-violent conflict resolution.  I was pleased to see that Gus knew quite a lot about MLK Jr. when we were talking this morning–about how Rosa Parks inspired him, and how Jackie Robinson was a hero of his.  The heroism of the choice of non-violence in the face of overwhelming violence and oppression is absolutely amazing to me to this very day.

A wonderful examination on the forces of non-violence as part of the civil rights movement, and the theories of violence and resistance to injustice comes in a Louis B. Mayer Award-winning play “The Meeting.”   Jeff Stetson’s play examines a “what if” meeting between Malcolm X and MLK.  I saw this play in DC when I was in college, and even though the production was not fantastic, it really challenged me burgeoning conceptions of non-violence that Dudley was teaching me.

I’m delighted to say that PBS produced a teleplay of The Meeting, and it’s available in very good quality on You Tube:

I highly recommend checking it out.  Also, I’d love to hear suggestions from folks out there of good, child-friendly movies or TV shows that addresses the issues that MLK brought out, be it civil rights, or the choices of violence and non-violence.  I wanted to show something to Gus and Gunnar today, but other than our watching the “I have a dream” speech, there was precious little fare, especially for a 5-year-old.  

I hope all of you had a good holiday, and kept the thoughts of this amazing man and his legacy in mind on this day.

So You Want Your Kid to be a Nerd…

January 15, 2010

I know, after all my Star Wars v. Star Trek stuff, you’re saying, “Yes, Scott, please give me more information about Science Fiction so I can get my child into something that will kill any chance of a social life from age eleven through eleventeen!”

You KNOW you want these

On this front, I do have some good news.  Sci-Fi has become more mainstream in our children’s generation than in ours (you may not want to admit it to yourself, but Lost is Sci-Fi), so a little nerding-out is less the social pariah pill that it once was.  Even on the king of space-nerddom, Star Trek, the new JJ Abrams movie has enabled it to move a little more into the mainstream.  And I highly encourage all of you with girls to get your little one hooked on Sci-Fi now, mostly because Gus could really use some female company once he starts going to conventions 😉  As a sign of progress, however, Gus has recruited two, count ‘em TWO female members of his Star Trek club.  That beats my elementary school efforts, by…two.

As I noted back in Wars v. Trek Episode II, Star Trek is especially good Sci-Fi fare as so many of the original episodes deal with ideas of coming to understand the differences between people (or in many cases, species) and finding ways other than fighting to finally resolve a conflict.  I also told you that some of those species that Kirk and the gang battled look more like puke-soaked shag carpet than real aliens.  In other words, it may take today’s generation a lot more than it did ours to suspend disbelief when you can see the zipper on the alien’s lizard suit.

Avatar it ain't

If my rantings (or more likely, the new movie) has intrigued you and/or your kids into wanting another taste of Trek, fast-forward a couple of decades to Star Trek: The Next Generation (that’s TNG in geekdom).  The first couple of seasons of the show really do not hold up well, as the writing was not nearly as good as the original, and the ham-handed attempts to show humanity as an “evolved” people compared to more savage races (e.g. where we find ourselves today) were preachy, uninteresting fare.  Indeed, the early TNG years typify the complaints of people who don’t want “hippie” shows because they’re just not very interesting.

You’d be evil with skin this bad, too

The TNG writers really hit their stride with the introduction of the enemy that the series became famous for: the Borg.  These cybernetic nasties challenged the central premise of Trekdom—that an evolved humanity could final a way explore and expand throughout the galaxy by understanding and appealing to other species’ “humanity.”  How can you talk your way out of a situation when your opponent says “negotiation is irrelevant” and all they want is…you?

Next, the must-see Borg quadrilogy that may soften even the hardest Sci-Fi cynic.

Solar Lamps for Haiti

January 15, 2010

A collegue of mine has a friend who works with international relief NGOs and is recommending Earth Spark International for donations, as they’re in the midst of providing solar lamps for Haitians.  Seems they serve as both off-the-grid light and as a charger for other electric items.  Well worth a look.

Another Note on Gaming, From the Annals of “Duh Magazine”

January 14, 2010

apt artwork from

As you intrepid readers will likely come to know over the course of my posts, many of my “novel ideas” could very well be thought in the [sarcasm] “Oh really Scott?  I never would have thought of that!” [/sarcasm]

But I’m going to go ahead and say ‘em anyway, as perhaps either by reinforcement or a slightly different perspective, it might be of use.  And so I bring you a game you’ve seen a million times before on the beach—Kadima!

This game started in Israel (hence the Hebrew name, which means “Together”) and has been the bane of many a beachgoer, having to dodge the over-hit ball or having a hairy belly eclipse a favorite tanning spot lunging for an errant stroke.  But the philosophy of the game is one I think is worth thinking about.

Who ever thought someome so cute could do so much pillaging?

This thought occurred to me last night, as after a rousing game of Hi Ho Cherry-O with Gunnar, Gus challenged me to a game of indoor badminton with a couple of cheap racquets and birdie he found while digging around for “Uffda The Viking” – the official team mascot of Gus’ basketball team.  At first, we tried to play “competitively” but with no net, no boundry points, and a very nice painting Kir and I bought in the San Juan Islands within birdie-shot, this was quickly becoming another “bad idea that boys have.”

So, essentially, we just started to play Kadima, looking to set a record on how many hits in a row we could do.  The answer in this case was an astoundingly low 7, but we had a good time doing it, especially with some of the butterfly-like trajectory the badminton birdie would sometimes take.  So, even more than attempting to overcome a common obstacle like in Hi Ho, we exercised our “power with” abilities by trying to combine on something to set a “high score.”

So whether it’s how many cups you can stack before it all falls down, getting through the license plate alphabet while in the car, or boppin’ a birdie, there are a lot of great ways to play fun games that are based on mutual accomplishment.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some cars to run off the road in the Speed Racer Wii game.  Hey, the kids are in bed…


January 13, 2010

I was going to continue on with my conversation about “power with” games, but, frankly, anything I could say today would pale in comparison with the disaster happening to the people of Haiti.  So I’m just going to say have the survivors and the victims in your thoughts and prayers, and do whatever you can to help the people in a nation that most certainly were undeserving of this kind of compounded tragedy.

Kir and I gave through Save The Children.  Please help as much as you’re able.



The Recommendation: Hi Ho Cherry-O

January 11, 2010

My little one, Gunnar, has become a big board-gamer, which is great.  He’s a Sorry fanatic, and has taken to a fairly hilarious memory game played with bagel components called “Schmear!” (how could a good little Jewish boy resist?)

When we were trying to brainstorm holiday gifts for him, we asked him if there were any new games he wanted, and he asked for Hi Ho Cherry-O.  I vaguely remembered it as a good counting game, and we added it to the list for the family.

A couple of days ago, we finally broke it open, and it was pretty much what I remembered, so I threw it together and we played.  The spinner had the different icons meaning how many to take away or add back.  But then there was this added thing I didn’t remember, what seemed to be a totally random puzzle of a chicken.

Now, I’m not sure if this has been part of the game all along, or if it’s new, but I have to say I thought it was brilliant, because it changed the nature of the game itself.  One of the spinner zones was for the puzzle, and if you got it, you had to add another piece of the puzzle and put it together.  So, first, it adds another challenge to the game and expands the simple counting to spatial orientation.

But the really neat trick was the rules.  Rather than the first one to clear their cherries wins, the object of the game is for everyone to clear their cherries before the puzzle gets put together.  If you do it, then everyone wins.

I love board games, and have no problem with games that are “win-lose” as they teach healthy competition, but, for the most part, that’s all there are.  Even the very young ones, from Chutes and Ladders to Candy Land have winners and losers.  But to actually create a game where are working together to win against a common obstacle is a fantastic addendum, and with this one, you can start ‘em young.

And, no, I’m not being paid by Milton Bradley…yet.