Thursday, October 30, 2008

Packing, Moving And Procrastinating

Some Park Slope photos, and a gratuitous shot of Stella and the BBD.

The Brooklyn Baby Family sleeps right now, but for me. I'm supposed to be packing our stereo, but I'm putting it off. A few things cure insomnia right away, having a kid for sure, but also monotonous, laborious work does the trick too. Moving puts me right to sleep, yet we have a lot more to do.

We got back from Kentucky and slammed right into our move. We'd found the apartment almost kind of by accident. Because that's how things go in New York when you're not rich, at least when it comes to housing: by accident. We'd seen god knows how many places before Stella was born, and it all came to naught. We'd seen a few more in the past few months, and it also yielded zilch. Then I saw an ad on, and called it. The broker, Barbara, showed us a spacious two bedroom apartment that we really liked, but we hesistated, no lie, two days and it was long gone. Ugh, this city. Sometimes it can make you want to live anywhere else, doing anything else, just to avoid the petty complications that plague life here.

Then a few days after that the broker called us with another place. It was on Ocean Parkway, a scenic stretch of Brooklyn that until now we'd avoided. Why, you ask? After all, it's scenic, and peaceful and all that. But it's also an extremely Orthodox Jewish area. And while we're Jewish we're not Jewish like that, and moving out there just seemed so removed from the action. Park Slope has lots of shops, lots of pedestrian traffic, and, yes, lots of construction, but it's still a happening place. And while Ocean Parkway also has pedestrian traffic it's all on Saturday's when the Orthodox strut on by, like they owned the place. Which they do.

But we were desperate. We really have reached our wit's end with our apartment. We've been here four years, and grown with it, but there are mitigating factors that make life here a little tough. One is that there are, as noted before, FIVE construction sites on our block, with one right next to us, and two right across the street. One lovely feature of this hardhat work is that apparently Teamster rules require them to hire a guy who does nothing but hit a metal pole with a hammer all day. I swear to you this must be true, because very little actual construction actual seems to happen next door, but it's noisy as hell. In fact it's all noisy as hell, and dirty, and it takes up all our parking, too.

Also, it's just going to get worse. At one corner of our block they are building some massive McCondo that's going to both blight the neighborhood and block out the sun. It's like eight stories on a block where everything else is three, and it's huge and I have my doubts that they built any additional parking for it. Because developers are shifty that way. There is a condo across the street that "officially" split itself into two different addresses in order to avoid building the parking spaces required by law. How they got away with that is anyone's guess, although I assume money was involved.

Additionally, our place has a small but irritating flaw. The door leading to our one and only bedroom isn't solid, but rather it made up of slats. Why? I don't know. Maybe they were on sale. But this is irritating, as Stella is a light sleeper so she is now more vulnerable to light and noise. To combat this we've put a bedsheet in the slats, but, boy it's not exactly a look approved by Martha Stewart.

Finally, one bedroom apartments just aren't all that big. Which might be an obvious point. Simply put, there comes a time when you just want more space. Which is funny, coming from a New Yorker. After all even our new, "big" apartment would be tiny by the standards of most of the rest of America. But, as I've said many times, I don't live in America, I live in New York. And if we say our new apartment's big, well, it is to us.

Ugh, Stella is crying, and I'm not sure whether to go in yet. I feel bad for Randi, as she has to deal with our child all day. But sometimes nothing I do can calm her down. Still, I think I have to try. Here goes nothing. And the stereo, for now, remains unpacked.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back In Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Baby Family: October, 2008. Upton, Kentucky.

Crazy past week, certainly from my perspective, and, I'm sure, from the perspective of Stella, the Brooklyn Baby Baby.

She's six months old now, and handled our trip to Kentucky with flying colors. She loved being the center of attention for all of Randi's family and extended family, taking to them quite naturally. It was really something to see. This is almost something that I feel bad that we can't provide over here, the constant commotion and love that she thrives on. I mean, yes, we provide the constant love, but there were so many people there who were constantly in her business, coddling her, cooing to her, jostling her, and she was very happy with all of it.

The trip started on kind of a bum note for me. I was sick. Rundown physically and mentally, with very little time to recuperate before we had to get on the plane. The nights leading up to the trip I worked late to get in my last work assignments, knowing I was coming down with a cold the whole time, but there was nothing I could do about it. The work had to get done. And get done it did, which I was proud of, even if I wish I could've spent some more time on it.

As a result of the cold I avoided Stella well, like the plague, for the first several days of the trip. I also avoided Randi, but she understood why. Stella, not so much. After a few days she started to reach out for me, but I couldn't reach back. On the airplane ride itself at one point I woke from a nap to see her looking at me, waving at me. Things happen so fast at this point, sometimes I just wish I could capture time in a bottle to release these fast-moving memories slowly over time, savor them, save some for a rainy day, but of course I can't. I guess that's one reason why I blog, take pictures, and even take some home movies, although I surely should do more of the latter. I am trying to if not stop time than at least preserve some in amber, or digital amber, if such a thing exists.

Oddly enough this cold strengthened our bond. Because by the end of the cold Stella really, really wanted to be with her Dadda, and I truly felt the same. Of course by now Randi had also become sick, which was a massive bummer.

The good news, though, was that Randi rallied quickly. This was due, she said, to the fact that she's virtually eliminated dairy from her diet, so there was less mucous all around. Pleasant, I know, but it's the truth. I also recovered more quickly than I had in the past. Although I was sick for about a week it never became a full-blown chest infection as happens to me almost every year. Eventually I know it's over when I cough up something that resembles The Smog Monster (former enemy of Godzilla's by the way). But this time nothing so dramatic happened, it just kind of cleared up.

Stella, of course, also caught some of what was going around. But this too, knock on keyboard, wasn't so bad as it had been in the past. She's getting older, stronger and let's hope healthier. About three months ago we put her on Baby Zantac (sounds so cute!) the antacid, and while it cleared up her stomach problems it caused something like a sea of snot to run out of her nose. Seriously, I had never seen the like. She was draining ounces of the stuff at a time. Randi had to be on snot sucking patrol all day and night for about three days in a row. So, nothing was that easy with our little girl. But now she's looking great, sleeping, at last, decent amounts each night, and advancing at a pace that is kind of blowing me away.

The newest thing, of course, is that she is just starting the rudiments of speech. I had always planned for her to be a bilingual baby, speaking Spanish and English at the same time. Well, you can throw that one out the window. She's starting to speak English already, and her Spanish, well, let's just say that there's time for it manana. One reason, of course, that her Spanish is so bad is because neither of her parents speak it, so as a result we can't speak it to her, but I had thought--years ago, I guess--that there would be an easy way around this problem. There is not. I had imagined dropping her off in some class for infants, where she would be indoctrinated into the Romance languages, or at least one Romance language, while I do something else, I don't know quite what.

But life got in the way. But, at least she's starting to speak, as mentioned, English. True, for the most part she is simply making more and more fluid babbling sounds, but sometimes a stray word emerges here and there. And what is that stray word you ask? Dadda.

I am totally honored and blown away that this is her first word. And a bit shocked. It'll come out at random times, and I can't prompt her to say it. It just happens when it happens, as does everything with a baby this young. Yesterday, for example, she was happily bouncing up and down in her jumparoo (boy, did she miss that in Kentucky) and making a bunch of odd, but delightful noises. I wish I had it on tape, but I don't. But it was so sweet, so musical even. It was kind of high, her musings, and happy.

"Baba, do ba, babba, babba, Dadda, booby do be, bobba ..." you get the idea. But she kept on saying Dadda in the middle of this string of R2-D2ish beebs and bloops. (The happy R2 sounds, if that gives any context to my nerd-core friends out there.) And she bounced along the whole time, up and down. It was a great thing to see, and hear, as you can imagine.

Sometimes, these days, she just wants me, too. She'll be cranky, or fussy or crying or something, and I'll pick her up and walk around with her, talking to her, and she'll quiet right down. She does the same thing with Randi too, of course. And sometimes only Mom can get her to really relax, but on occasion, it's me and me alone. I love this.

I always imagine the ways I can fail as a dad, dark though such thoughts might be. And seeing Stella with Randi's family was kind of a shocker, especially when I realized that she looks pretty much a whole lot like that side, and like me very, very little. Other than the eyes, those are from me.

But this is my kid, she is already totally used to having me around. She needs me, loves me, and sometimes I am it, I am the whole megillah. Sometimes not, but sometimes yes. This is amazing, and I feel like a changed man as a result. An easy thing to say, sure, but it's how it feels.

The trip to Kentucky, anyway, ended on a high note. Randi's ten year college reunion was a blast, and I enjoyed spending time with her friends and old classmates this past Saturday night. There were two parties for us to attend. One was the traditional re-union party, which was lots of fun, but I had very little to talk about or to with anyone. Which wasn't my job, I was arm candy. But still I kind of did a lot of drink getting and the like, both for myself and for the Brooklyn Baby Mama. She looked elegant and classy in a new red dress we had picked up just for the party. I, less so, in my blue thrift store blazer, and sneakers. Kind of like Letterman, but without the set, the tie or, I guess, the talent?

Anyway, from there we moved on to a second party at a former professor's house that was just the drama crew from Centre. Now this was a party. Lots of drama people so happy to see one another, and Randi's amazing professors, Patrick and Tony were there too. These guys are inspiring. Both have to be in their late 50s, or early 60s, and they are so full of life, and passion for what they do and for their students too. We had gone to Centre two years ago, and visited both of them, and while Randi went to the restroom either time I spoke with each man one on one. They were as engaged and interested in me, as a person, as they had been when Randi was there. They just were curious about the world, curious about my life, my job. As I was with them. I then understood why Randi talked about Centre so highly, and so often.

In fact Centre recently received a top 15 ranking among all colleges from a major business financial web-site that will go unnamed. This shocked and outraged many grads from schools that were better known, but ranked much lower. (Cough, U-Penn, cough.) The feeling was that the list couldn't be any good, simply because Centre was ranked so high on it. But the rankings were composed by how students felt about their education, and their professors. And seeing the way Randi and her friends looked at their old teachers as, truly, old friends made it all come crystal clear. This is what a small, liberal arts school implies for so many. But I, for example, never had that warm feeling at my school, Wesleyan University.

I transferred into Wes, so I missed out on that all important freshman year, but, truthfully, I never felt that it, despite it's small size, was as warm as it could've been. Maybe it was me, I don't know, but I found it hard to make friends. I made friends, and great ones, like Eric Molinsky--a gentleman and a scholar--but it was hard to feel like I was part of a larger scene, part of something welcoming.

Maybe it was Wes, maybe it was me, maybe it was both. It was the early 90s, and the politically correct era was winding down, but not without a fight. As a white, straight male I guess I always felt like I had some 'splaining to do. So I did it. And for the first time in my life I felt like people looked at me as this really right-wing guy. It was kind of crazy.

Anyway, the Brooklyn Baby Baby just woke up, and now she's cooing to her mama. We have a lot of work ahead of us this morning as we're moving to a new apartment Saturday. More about that later. It's a big, big shakeup, of course. So much to do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting Lucky In Kentucky Pt. 2

Yup, that's a horse in Randi's front yard. No, on the left side.

Well, that's what happens when you go on vacation. You get no time to blog, which maybe is the point of going on vacation anyway.

So I promised an actual discussion of what happened on our week and a half excursion to the Bluegrass State. The last entry, of course, ended as soon as we'd landed.

Well, it was a trip that had a lot of diverse happenings in it. We stayed with Randi's mother, who is a kind and lovely woman. She hadn't seen Stella since the little one was two weeks old, so this was a great opportunity for her to reconnect with her newest grandchild. They quickly hit it off like peanut butter and jelly, which was gratifying to see.

Kentucky itself was and is a gorgeous state, out there in the real America, as we New Yorkers tend to think of places that are not like where we are.

But it's different, life out there. For example, one morning we were hanging out in Randi's living room, which is across the street from a farm. The farm has a horse, which only makes sense in a place that is so known for it's equine life. Soon, though, Randi saw another horse, a stray, cozying up to the horse behind the fence. This horse was quite literally on the loose. It had a blue halter on its face, but otherwise there were no markings on it to say whom it belonged to. Unlike cats and dogs horses don't have tags, mainly because they usually don't get loose.

Randi quickly went out to greet the horse with some carrots, which the animal devoured. Then she poured it some water, which it drank down with great vigor. I was scared for her, as horses of course are large animals, and potentially dangerous, but this animal seemed gentle, and used to people.

Eventually we switched positions, while Randi held Stella. At this point we'd called the local police about a half hour before, and we awaited their arrival. We had no idea what to do with the animal. We'd considered trying to get it into Randi's fenced off back yard, but I lacked the confidence to grab the bridle. Instead I gently tried to lead the horse back to Randi's yard, and waved down passing cars, so that they would slow down, and not run over the large, brown, almost impossible to miss animal in front of them. Often the drivers would stop and ask me, "hey, is that your horse?" which seemed then, and still seems now, like a kind of dumb question.

Eventually I worked up enough courage to walk up to the horse and stroke it's long neck. It would then nuzzle me, or simply stand still and allow me to take care of it. Once, while I was stroking it thus, it took a massive dump in Randi's yard, followed by a mighty stream of dark yellow horse pee. A souvenir, I guess.

The horse would also walk up to the penned horse across the street from Randi's yard, and would nuzzle it, or at least get close to it. Randi told me that this horse was named Shotgun, although this wasn't it's real name. I didn't realize horses could have aliases. In reality, I later learned, this horse was actually named Bulls Eye. But since I learned its false name first I came to think of it as Shotgun/Bulls Eye.

Anyway, S/B is an older animal, with a massive tumor on the side of it's old, massive head. The tumor is raw, and actively bleeding. I combined that pain with the fact that it lived on a nice, large pasture all by itself, and I imagine the older horse must've been quite lonely.

After an hour and a half or so the police did finally show up. What could've taken so long I can't imagine, but when the law did arrive I was not impressed. Instead of animal control, what showed up was one young cop, probably in his early 20s, and that's it. No pen to load the horse into, and no real plan about what to do with it.

"I bet this doesn't happen to you every day," I said to the officer. Although I thought better of this statement a moment later. Maybe in Kentucky this kind of thing does happen every day.

"No, sir, it does not," he said, trying to assess the situation. Despite the officers young years it was nice to have him there. He could at least do something about the situation. I could only talk to the horse in low, pleasant tones and hope he would not run away.

Soon Randi's family member Jimmy Skaggs came out, and he and the officer grabbed either end of the horse's bridle and walked him to a field, closed off by a gate. The horse, now spooked, busted through the gate, and ran into the street. Soon, though, they regained control of it, and figured out a plan B.

The plan, such as it was, was to take the horse and drop him the pasture that held the other horse. It didn't matter that it wasn't the neighbor's animal. All that mattered was that this presented an end to the problem, at least for now.

After finding a gate the new horse was let inside. The plan was to find the owner, somehow. But this wasn't necessarily a happy ending. The horse's tail was all matted and it had been so thirsty when Randi found it that it drank down multiple large bowls of water. Obviously it had been treated fairly harshly. Maybe, we thought, it ran away from home.

But there was nothing else to do. So, problem solved I parted ways with Jimmy and the cop and went back to Randi's mother's house. The next morning we saw the two horses running and playing together, gambolling you could say. For all the world they both looked happy to be with one another, even old Shotgun/Bulls Eye could be seen running around, tumor and all.

By the next morning, though, the new horse was already gone, claimed by someone, I don't know who. I hope it went to a good home, or if it went back to its same old home that it will get treated better.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting Lucky In Kentucky

So here we are, in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky, that is, to those of you unfamiliar with state nicknames, bluegrass or America. We are visiting Randi's family, and in a few days we are going to attend her ten year college reunion, at Centre College. Centre, heretofore little known outside of the Midwest has recently been named a top-15 school by none other than I attended Wesleyan University. We did not place in the top 15. Randi has had some fun with this fact, as you can imagine. But, then again, I didn't bother to attend my ten year reunion, either, and Randi literally CANNOT WAIT to go to hers. So maybe there's something to all this Centre stuff.

Last week leading up to the trip was kind of the stuff of nightmares. I had lots of extra work to do, as I fought off a bad cold. Late nights, and tons of busy work equals more sickness every time. Our flight left at 7:30 a.m. from LaGuardia to go to Louisville, so we, of course had to split at the break of dawn, and wake up the baby at 4:30 or so. The car was to come at 5:15 a.m., and everything with a child takes more time, much more.

Good thing I was awake from the night before. More or less. I don't stay up partying all night like I used to, about 100 years ago, I was awake working on a story. The night before I was also awake until 1:00 a.m. or so, on another story. Loose ends before the trip. But doing all this stuff just made me feel more run down.

So I awoke the troops at 4:30 a.m., turning the tables on Stella for once. She looked amazed, as she groggily rubbed her eyes. Her appearance seemed to say, "No, I wake YOU up, you don't wake me up!" But wake her up I did.

From there we double checked all the extra baby gear. We tried to pack as light as possible, but it is kind of relative, packing light, when you're packing, uh, a child. I can bring three pairs of pants, three shirts, some shoes, and a toothbrush and I can spend two weeks anywhere. Not so with a kid, you have to bring everything in the world you might ever need, including all their various medicines, and creams, and aspirators, and diaper bags, and so on. It stacks up. And we had to fit it into the same amount of bags as before, because the airlines now charge an extra $15 for each checked bag. Yeah, like that'll help them.

At 5:10 a.m. we went downstairs, Randi carrying a backpack and a baby, me carrying all else. There was no car, I thought, until Randi pointed out the turned off Town Car across the street. I walked over, knocked on the window, and the dozing car service guy awoke, about as reluctantly as Stella did.

Of course the extra system for clipping in Stella's safety seat wasn't there, despite us being promised that over the phone. So we fastened her in using the middle lap belt and her car seat, which freaked us out. Randi yelled at the guy, but since it wasn't in his language I don't think he understood what she said, although I am quite sure the tone was unmistakable.

Making matters worse we in fact almost got into a fender bender on the way to the airport. It was one of those moments, where you see the slowing traffic fast, and then the brake is slammed and you pray you have enough time. I will say this, my nose, formerly full, drained in about a millisecond, as we got closer and closer to the other fender. That is what fear feels like. And quite suddenly we were all wide awake, including, thank God, our driver. But we narrowly avoided a collision, and the rest of the ride was without event.

At the airport we started to self check our bags, although our efforts were quickly cut short but a stylishly dressed Dominican woman who worked for the airline, who told us that whatever it was we were doing, we were going about it the wrong way. Then I was directed to the baggage check in area, and was instructed on how I should repack my bags so we can carry them all in, and avoid the check in fees. I did it, but it was a tight squeeze.

Once back we were told to speak to a woman behind a counter, which is I think what Randi was trying to do before the Dominican corrected us. The nice woman behind the counter then made boarding passes for all of us, including Stella. That's a first, I thought. She gets her own boarding pass! She's arrived.

After we received the customary gynecological spread check walking through the X-ray machines we were free to go to our gate, at last. We were carrying two rolling suitcases, a stroller with a child safety seat inside it, a backpack, a large canvass bag and a six month old baby. Sometimes it felt like it was our luggage that was going on vacation, and we were just the way it got there.

Once sitting Randi got some breakfast, a McDonald's Southern Style chicken biscuit. In other words, a complete Chick Fil-A knockoff. I'd had one months ago, and swore to never repeat that mistake.

So five minutes later I'm eating my Southern Style chicken biscuit. It tasted about as good as I remembered.

The terminal was mostly empty, although the TVs were blaring, as always. More news about the presidential campaign, more news about the financial meltdown. Just another weekday, in other words. Then they called out that it was time to board.

"Passengers with children are invited to board first," the woman at the microphone announced. Wow, another first. It's almost like we are now part of some kind of elite. An elite that is comprised of the majority of adults in the world. But I'll take it.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Six Month Birthday, Stella Rae!

In just six months she's gone from this ...

To this!

I honestly don't remember exactly when she started to smile so much. But I am so delighted that she has. Now she even smiles for the camera, which is weird, wonderful and, somehow, a little heartbreaking. Or it would be heartbreaking if it weren't so genuine. If that sounds odd, I guess I am just worried about my little baby girl performing for us, but there is nothing less than genuine about this little girl.
She loves her mom, she loves me, she loves her cats, and they love her. She still doesn't love to sleep at night, and doesn't love her crib, but she's better about this stuff than she used to be.
The past six months have been the fastest in my life. I remember her birth so vividly, which is a blessing, because unfortunately we didn't get the best photos of her, just her, when she was born. That bothers me, maybe more than it should, but we've more than made up for it since. No one can say this little girl hasn't been well photographed, which is good, because she photographs so well.
Today was her six month doctor's appointment. She got more shots, which she did not enjoy, Randi tells me, screaming and wailing, much more so than last time. The nurse didn't even want to give her the shots, because she was already smitten by little Stella Rae, and didn't want to make her cry. But cry she did. Now she is sleeping, somewhat fitfully.
It's so hard to not be trite, and it's so hard to explain how my life has changed. In some obvious ways it hasn't changed all that much. I still go to work, I still go home after work.
But in other, more significant ways it has, as it must. I realize now that for all the attention a child demands, and how that takes your energy from yourself, you get so much more in return. I still want to write, I still want to create, I still want my name in lights, my talent burning like a meteorite across the sky. But if I do all those things, but fail as a father, than I am simply a failure. Conversely, if I don't do all those things, but succeed as a father, than I have contributed something of worth, love and value to this life. I will not have lived in vain.
I am concerned about imparting the proper values to Stella Rae. A love for justice, among those values. The Jewish concept of sedakah, which most people think of as charity actually translates into justice. As in you are not giving to the poor and unfortunate what it is kind of you to give, but that you are obligated to contribute to eradicate justice. There is a burden on you to amend injustices in this world, and you are not just a person feeding the poor with the leftovers from your table. I agree with this value system, and I want to impart it to Stella, too. As does Randi. I want her to care about those who need justice in this life. Because justice requires wisdom, and compassion for those who can't defend themselves.
Another Jewish concept is Tikkan Olam, which I probably badly misspelled. This is perhaps my favorite Jewish idea. It means to heal the world. Every person has this obligation, too. To make the world whole, or at least as whole, or healed, as you can. We are obligated to make the world a better place than when we found it. How will her talents fit into this? Heaven only knows, but my job is to help her realize her own gifts, and help her see how she can use them for good.
Of course, other traditions share these traditions as well, though they give them different names. No one tradition or religion has a corner on all the good in the world. There is enough good to go around. It is my job to also help her know this.
But these are things to impart later. Because today she is six months old, and our job is to love her, and make her feel it. We try to, every day. We sometimes get frustrated, we still get exhausted and we get flabbergasted at times, too, but we never forget to hold her, hug her, care for her, and make her feel as loved as we know how. We can't parent any other way.
It's the smile that makes it all so much easier, that makes the tiredness, or even occasional frustration melt away. When she smiles as me a warmth spreads all over me, and I realize that I can be surprised by love, again and again. I thought I knew myself well, but I am a different person than I was a little over six months ago. I care more about my family, less about myself.
I know I have more to go in this direction, but I am trying. I am also trying, at the same time, to enhance the parts of me that are key to my happiness and who I am. I do not think these things are incompatible.
Stella, ironically, is quite similar in many ways to how she was in the womb, feisty. But she is more warm that she is feisty.
I wish I had something more wise to say about this auspicious day, but I don't. She gives direction and an urgent sense of purpose to our lives, and made everything richer in ways we couldn't imagine. Just by being herself. I couldn't ask for more, but I am looking forward to what comes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Thoughts On The Financial Meltdown

First of all, it's 5:25 a.m., Yom Kippur. I should be sleeping, and atoning, or atoning as I sleep, but I just can't right now. I have honestly been kept awake, wondering about the financial meltdown we're all experiencing. In my last post I wondered if I should comment on it here, and Anne Stesney thought she would be interested in hearing my thoughts, as I work at a financial website, and am an editor there. Anne, then, this one's for you, and anyone else who cares to read.

I have to add, though, that I am NOT a licensed financial advisor, and this is not financial advice. It is only one man's thoughts, as he considers the present, the future and things that could affect him, his family, extended or otherwise, his friends and his country.

And Anne is not the only one who's asked me about my views. I've had a few people call me and ask whether they should put their money, more or less, under the mattress. Let's see what I can come up with. So here, in no particular order, and without much linking, are my thoughts.

1. This is crazy. If you would have told me that Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, AIG and Lehmann Brothers (which survived the Civil War AND the Great Depression) would be gone, all in one year, a year ago, I would not have believed you. Here's how little I know, about three months before Bear folded I thought of it as a stock buying opportunity. I even tried to do a trade online, but my account was too new, and it would take a few days to clear. Yes, I set up an online brokerage account specifically to buy shares in Bear Stearns. As it took a few days for the account to open, and for me to transfer my money, I thought better of it, or, more honestly, just kind of forgot about it. The lesson? I think that's pretty clear: See that grain of salt over there?

2. Having said that, I have had, as mentioned people ask me if their money is safe in their bank account. My answer is I don't know which banks will fail going forward, and I don't know if your money is safe. But, for now, I do not feel there is cause to panic, and I haven't seen a reason to think that the FDIC system would fail. The FDIC, of course, insures accounts up to $100,000, although that is probably going to rise, thanks to the bailout package, to $250,000. And if you have that much dough, you aren't quite on the firing line.

3. In my last post I talked about how the Fed's new rate cut will spur inflation. Most of the financial experts I've spoken to do not agree at all. They are more worried about deflation. Deflation is, more or less, a condition where falling prices lead to consumers waiting even longer to buy goods, thinking they will be cheaper later, and so it spirals. Deflation, to those I have spoken to, is far scarier than inflation, because it means that firms lose money over the long term, leading to massive layoffs. Leading, in the worst case scenario, to The Great Depression. Me? With oil still at $90 a barrel, or so, I could deal with a little deflation. But apparently a little goes a long way.

So the Fed's lowering of interest rates is intended to spur lending between banks, which ultimately leads to more loans for businesses, and so on. (All sorts of loans of course have basically ground to a halt, which is why they call this a credit crisis.) After the cut the business crowd cheered, although the stock market shrugged. Basically, nobody knows anything right now.

4. At a moment like this I am very glad that we, no matter how painful, have really done our best to pay off our credit cards each month. It will be very hard to get a decent loan going forward with bad credit. This is evergreen advice, but it still holds up. Maybe even more now than ever.

5. The bailout/rescue plan may or may not work, and the rate cut may not do what it's intended to do, but the investment pros I have spoken with hope that both do, especially the latter. But my feeling is that while we need to do something, I just can't see an easy way out of this mess. It took decades of neglect to create, and a housing bubble following a tech bubble to seal. There is only one way out: homes have to get cheaper.

I mean, we financial journalists write a lot about all these insane instruments: CDOs, SIVs, whatever, you name it. They all contributed to the problem, boosted a million times by too many loans, to too many people and institutions with the assumption that home prices would never fall. Which is insane. Loaners were more like loan sharks, and ignorant home buyers took loans they couldn't afford, and/or didn't bother to understand that they would in many cases reset later for more money. And everyone made silly, greedy mistakes with the mortgages. The firms sliced and diced them until these bad loans spread everywhere. (Think of it as almost like you took a turd and divided it by a thousand and mixed these divided turds with all these other pieces of turd, and then these packaged turds went around the world.)

And homeowners did dumb stuff like take a second or third mortgage, pocket the cash and go to Cancun. Or they took another mortgage to buy yet another over-priced home, because now they're "investments." They did this because homes prices were only supposed to rise. Which only made sense, because G-d isn't making any more land, right?

But, that's the past. What can clear things up going forward?

I wrote about it in the last post, but I believe this is the only answer, and, more to the point, I believe it is inevitable. Homes have to become cheaper and cheaper until they start to actually look like bargains again versus renting. Then people will start to buy them and then these toxic mortgage instruments won't look quite so bad.

It's really pretty simple. And a lot of home owners, banks and government officials who keep trying to defy this gravity will have to, sooner or later, give in. Either that or home prices have to stagnate for several years as wages increase. But, the problem is, for most Americans wages haven't been increasing. So it's one, the other, or some combination of both. But homes simply can't remain so expensive versus wages. It's insane to expect people to be perennially broke in order to pay mortgages on assets that are falling in value.

6. For a long time I thought the best way to invest was with a broad palette of stocks, in the form of index funds. They are cheap to own (in terms of annual fees), they outperformed most actively managed funds, which is probably still true, and they offered a form of safety by spreading risk over many firms. I own funds that mirror big indexes like the S&P 500, only the 500 largest firms in the U.S. It's long term average return is something like 10%. So the only way to really lose money there, long term, was if the whole economy goes kabluey.

Well, guess what?

I still think index funds are not a bad investment, at least for me, and I have confidence that sooner or later the markets will rebound. Because they always have, even taking into consideration The Great Depression.

But I've learned a few things. One is that stock index funds are not the only answer. Going forward I would like to own more bond index funds, high quality bonds that is, not junk bonds, because they offer diversification, which offers protection. Which is not surprising. The bigger surprise is that a strong mix of bond and stock index funds mostly beats the pants off just a pure stock index fund in most post-meltdown scenarios. (That link is to an article I wrote proving this. Take a moment and click it on. It might just open your eyes.)

7. Umm, don't panic? Panic is bad, and leads you to do stupid things, like putting money into oil, just before oil has a price meltdown. (I almost invested in oil about two months ago, until I had a realization: When I finally come around, and accept the fact that a trend is happening I am almost always too late. Seriously, it's like The Serchuk Doctrine.)

In other words trying to be hip and time the markets is a sucker's game. The real geniuses have already moved on to the next thing, and the next next thing. You're better off either finding one of those guys, who's had a long record of success in all markets (Warren Buffett comes to mind) or playing it safe. For example, my wife has access to a teacher's pension fund that returns almost 9%. Initially I thought, well, she won't do as well as me with my, on average, 10% returns from the S&P 500. Can I tell you how right I wasn't?

Even crazier? Many teachers she knows don't even use the pension fund, but that's their problem.

8. You will never lose money by making money or having cash. It's good to have up to six months of cash, which is kind of self evident. But the first point, while it sounds stupid, might not be. Is a certificate of deposit, as fuddy duddy as they are, really that bad a place to put your money right now? That's up for you to decide, but they aren't losing money.

9. Being a father has made me look at things a little differently. We budget better than we used to, in that we actually budget at all, and we enjoy making menus of what we want to eat in the week ahead, and sticking to it. Fewer trips to the store leads to fewer impulse purchases, leads to fewer bills. So that's been one positive thing. We also clip coupons, when we can.

But being a dad also has a fear factor with it. I pray I don't lose my job, I am less inclined to take risks with our cash than before and every day I am grateful for employment. And I try to make that evident to my employer.

I don't have much career advice to give--you guys all are in the same boat as I am--other than this. If there is a faster moving part of your company than the part you are in I would consider checking it out. If it's moving faster it probably means it's somebody's pet project, and those things are usually the last to get killed. Knock on wood.

10. I still need to curb dumb expenses. I only stopped buying lunch about three weeks ago. I should've done it a long time before. In the past month I racked up THREE parking tickets! Stupid. At times like these every $100 counts. Hey, that's groceries for a week. I need to get better at eliminating the waste.

So, there are some of my thoughts. I don't offer a lot of stock advice, because there is already so much out there, and I'm not a financial advisor. But it's important to keep things in perspective. Just because banks failed doesn't mean there won't be money. New financial institutions will arise that will be more efficient. The old ones died because their models never made any sense, and there was no way to really oversee something so massive. So if we move away from the financial mega-mart I can only see that as a good thing. Probably.

But today is the day of atonement, and I need to get my own house in order. If anyone out there has any more questions about this stuff let me know. If I don't know I will try to guide you to sources that can be trusted. You can either email me or leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer in an honest, helpful way.

May the the coming year be a happy and rewarding one for you all.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First(ish) Feeding

We just tried to give Stella some solid food. It's not exactly the first time we've done it, but it's the first time I saw it. The very first time was when Randi froze some breast milk and gave it in a kind of slushy form. That actually went over really well. The second time was some Cream Of Rice. Before this I didn't even know Cream Of Rice hot cereal existed. Stella really liked that too, and got food all over the place.

But it upset her stomach something fierce, so we decided to beg off.

The plan this time was to mash up some avocados, and give those. We thought it would go well, since she's been eyeing all our solid food with a hawk-like attentiveness for about the past month.

To get it all ready I took the high chair my sister had given us, and brought it upstairs to our apartment. It had been in the basement of our building. We are lucky in the sense that while our apartment is a decent size, by one bedroom Park Slope, Brooklyn standards, we also have a basement where our landlords allow us, and the other tenants to store equipment. Most of the space had been claimed before we got here, but there was still some room, if we made it, for some odds and ends. As a result we have some old suitcases down there, and I had stored an extra guitar amp down there (as if I needed another), in addition my rucksack from when travelled the world, and used to do some back country hiking. The rucksack itself has sat in the basement now for four years, smushed into a corner, getting ever dustier and dirtier. I wonder if I'll ever really use it again?

But, anyway, back to the main topic. I had stashed our high chair down there. The reason was because even though it's a chair for a little baby it takes up an enormous amount of space. And even though it folds it somehow keeps unfolding at random times, and was kind of the bane of my existence.

Like most things baby-related it is made of a combination of plastic, cheap metalish tubing and fabric. Three things that are almost impossible to recycle. It also has a removable tray that, once installed, takes up even more room.

If it seems like I'm really making a big deal out of the space saving issues, well, I am. For those who don't live in New York, it might be impossible to communicate just how efficient one has to live in order to merely have any breathing room at all. I have often compared it to living on a submarine. Every single aspect of our apartment has been calibrated to fit as flushly against our various walls as possible. As I noted in this blog long ago I built a bunch of new shelves before Stella was born, so we no longer need space-hogging book cases. Our couch is kind of a starter model, but it was the only one that would fit up our crooked, ancient stairwell.

Our desk is a particle board student-sized job that is wedged into a corner of our living room, and our kitchen table is about 2' by 2'.

But all this was okay until we had Stella. As I've noted, I am sure, many times it's amazing just how much space one little baby takes up. Her crib is almost as big as our queen sized bed. Her changing table/bureau is almost as large as the dresser that Randi and I share.

So, anyway, to get back to the main topic once again, I brought the high chair back up from the basement, as it clinged and clanked against the walls going upstairs, almost as wide as the stairwell. Virtually everything is almost as wide as our stairwell. Some morning I am almost as wide as our stairwell, I feel.

But get it up I did, and soon Stella was ensconced inside it. The avocado was mashed up, the spoon was ready. I even had our little video camera ready to film the historic event.

Everything was ready except Stella. She simply refused to have any and all avocado at all, I was kind of amazed. First Randi tried it, then I tried it, it didn't matter. She wanted nothing to do with it. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.

I am not too surprised or put off by it. She's just a baby, she doesn't know what she likes yet, and if she did know she still wouldn't be able to tell us.

After that I picked her up as Randi searched the Web, and held her in my lap, facing me. For a while we were looking into one another's eyes, which is something nice that I would like to do more. I feel that with work, and her sleep schedule, I don't see her as well or as much as I would like. As a result sometimes I feel like I sometimes am getting left behind as she sprouts up.

Soon she shifted from gazing into my eye to shifting around a little. Then she started to get a little cranky, made a face and and unleashed a massive poop. One diaper change later she was all smiles, once again. I don't change as many diapers as Randi, but I've changed more than I ever thought I would. And it's nice that I get to do this.

Now Stella is asleep on our bed. We have a new white noise machine that we had recently bought, and it's whirling away. It sounds like a combination of a dishwasher and a jumbo jet. We got it because The Sleep Sheep (TM) really wasn't cutting it, unfortunately. It shut off automatically after 45 minutes, which was too short, and it burned through batteries. Which is kind of the central paradox of all this baby stuff. It all looks so cute, and cuddly, but this stuff clogs landfills sea to shining sea, and devours batteries. It was still such a kind gift, but we needed to go heavy duty with this kid.

The jury is really still out as to whether the new white noise machine does anything for Stella, though. She still wakes up multiple times during the night, and whines until Randi gets her back to sleep, often via the boob. She even fell asleep with the boob in her mouth. Eventually Randi turned on her stomach, and faced away and just went to sleep. Amazingly, Stella fussed for about another minute and then went to sleep herself. I was pretty much asleep the whole time. The white noise machine might not be doing much for Stella, but it knocks me out cold.

Now we're watching the news, as I decide what to have for breakfast. Outside our window is the ever-present scream of construction, as half our block gets knocked down, and rebuilt in condominium form. Condos that just might never get sold for what the builders hoped, given how our economy tanked. To which I can only say, ha ha!

I sometimes feel like I'm holding my tongue on this blog as the financial services industry melts down, and the political season is upon us like a lion. These are exciting times, and they will effect us all, and all our children. As an editor at a financial web site, I have a window seat to the whole meltdown, and it's astonishing. Maybe I will talk about it here, or maybe I will make another blog to talk about it. (Any thoughts from out there?)

But America is going through the kind of shift that only happens every few decades, no matter who is president, or what plans they put in place. Wall Street, as we knew it, no longer exists. What will come in it's place nobody knows. Most people have seen their 401ks shrink 30% in the past year or so, if not more. Mine sure has gone down. I keep telling myself I am going to transition into holding more bonds, or even more inflation-adjusted bonds, but I haven't done it yet. We think about buying a place, but it's hard to get a loan now, and amazingly housing is still over-priced in New York City.

My feeling is that we have a long time to go before things right themselves. The "rescue plan" won't save this ship. It's like trying to bail water out of the Titanic with a bucket. Many more places will go out of business before this is over.

And, eventually, this will hit New York City. A lot of the people who drove up home prices here were Wall Streeters who needed somewhere to park their enormous bonuses. Well, a lot of those people don't have jobs anymore, and see themselves holding diminishing assets. On the other end a lot of speculation from overseas also drove up American and New York real estate prices. As the dollar strengthens, which it eventually and inevitably will, a lot of foreign speculators will leave town, losing a little money today versus losing a lot tomorrow. Yes, they've been fighting this readjustment with all their might, these homeowners and speculators, upset that they only made, say, $100,000 on their investment, when they expected, and feel they deserve, the $300,000 profits they could have earned two years ago. This will change.

And, eventually, this will put housing prices in New York much more in line with salaries. It might take a long time, but it will happen. Life here will never be cheap, but it might be a good deal more affordable before not all that much longer. Maybe in a year to two years, I would like to think.

Oh god, there is so much more to talk about. The presidential race, for one. God, who isn't riveted by this? I sure am. Also the Fed just lowered interest rates again, meaning, if nothing else, more inflation. Stock up on canned goods!

But there's no more time this morning. Off to eat, shower and work. Talk to you later.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Who's Reading BBD Pt. 2

It's hard to give up a good thing. A few weeks ago I wrote an entry detailing the weird Google searches people do to find this site. Well, I had no idea this would be a forever-replenishing fountain of fun stuff, but it is. Because it didn't take all that long for a whole new list of unusual searches to refill the coffers, making my days just a little bit more weird. This weirdness I now share with you.

For those of you who are new to this blog the idea is that while I list the odd searches people use to find this site I do not include any personal information. And to anyone who used such a search to find this site, but then stayed on as a reader, I thank you. To others who came, but didn't stay, I am sorry you didn't find the boob related porn you so obviously crave. But, trust me, look just a little bit harder. You just might find some, somewhere, on the Internet.

Here we go:

1. "Draw A Childish Spider": I have no idea what this Google search originally relates to. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a childish spider that one could draw. But the searcher clicked on my blog entry about me selling my childish things, including my comic books, in order to make room for Stella Rae. One childish thing I sold? My Amazing Spider-Man comics.

2. "Stuffed Animal Heartbeat Snore": This Google search lead whomever to one of my numerous posts about trying to get Stella to sleep, in this case via the Sleep Sheep (TM).

3. "Keith Richards' Wife And Daughter Photos": A little stalkery, this particular search. Not to mention badly punctuated. Of course it relates to the fact that my daughter is in fact Keith Richards in baby form.

4. "Who Is The Polynesian Guy In The Snickers Commercials?": Now we're getting somewhere interesting. I have no idea how to answer this question, and am delighted that this Internet user had no interest in the other four guys in the Snickers "Feast" ad campaign. Because the Pilgrim, as already noted on this blog, is the hilarious and talented actor Jeff Hiller. But the Polynesian guy? No idea. Could he be Jimmy Snuka?

5. "Emily Osment Wearing Diapers" and "Emily Osment Diaper Commercial": Wow, there must be something in the ether, I don't know. But that there were multiple searches for diapers being worn by a single tween almost-star has to give one pause. Isn't she a little too old and too young to be in diapers? I don't know. I only know that I wrote about Ms. Osment in only the most cursery way, in my slam on Parents magazine. And now we're cyber-joined at the hip forever. Wonderful.

6. "Babies Taking Milk From Their Mother's Boob": Amazingly, when you enter this search in Google my Boob Milk Renaissance entry is the first thing that comes up. As an author it's my proudest moment.

7. "Sleeps Are For Wuss": Despite how amazingly specific, and un-grammatical this search seems it's not totally without precedent. Apparently there is a song by the 90's era alternative rock band Letters To Cleo called "I Could Sleep (The Wuss Song)." The person doing this search, by the way, was using a computer at my old alma mata, Wesleyan University. And they say standards have fallen.

8. "Father Drink Mother Milk Boobs": Believe me, Readers, I ended up with a lot of searches about boobs and milk due to my aforementioned Boob Milk Renaissance entry. This must be an endlessly fascinating topic for some hard up guys out there who weren't breast fed.

9. "Egyptian Cotton Informercial": This search ended up linking up with me due to an old entry I made about Stella's lack of sleep and how all the local stores here in Park Slope only have all organic cotton, and so on. But that's not all that exciting in comparison to what I think an actual cotton infomercial shot in Egypt would resemble. I imagine the world's worst production values and lots of jumping and shouting.

10. "Annie K" boobs/"Anne K" boobs/"Annie K!" boobs: If I thought I ended up with a lot of searches about dudes drinking boob milk I hadn't seen anything yet. There are more searches relating to this one topic than anything else, by quite a margin. Once again, I am sorry, Anne Stesney (the former Anne K. Nodes) that simply because you have posted on my blog, and I have written about boobs, that I have opened the flood gates. That this search is so popular befuddles me. Who is this Annie K? And why are there people searching for more information about her boobs so endlessly? One of the searchers was from Germany, so it's even reached across the Atlantic to one of our NATO allies. Why? Unfortunately I have no answers, only more questions. I am sure that, no matter what, I have not seen the last of this search.

The Stella Status Report

Stella and The BBD back from one of their walks.

Cuteness, in a onesie.

They are both so photogenic!
I can has carrot?


I realize that in the past few entries I have talked about many different things, but not about Stella Rae so much. The Golden Child, The Brooklyn Baby Baby, The Light Of My Life, The Reason For This Blog.

Well, she's coming along swimmingly. She probably weighs close to 20 pounds now, and is getting longer and stronger every day. She can sit up by herself for almost up to a minute, and she's starting to do things like laugh to herself. She's desperately trying to get us to feed her table food as soon as possible. In fact the other day I was eating some cereal in front of her, and she kept trying to lean out of Randi's lap in order to get closer to it.

In addition, her stomach problems aren't nearly as severe as they had been. Whereas before she was constantly swallowing down acid now her stomach is nearly always calm.

She even is taking a bottle better and better all the time. I think she skipped a few steps, and decided to go right to the big girl sippy cup. Usually babies go from bottle to the intermediary sippy cup to the big baby one, but Stella skipped right over steps one and two to get to step three. In fact I even fed her this morning with the bottle and she couldn't wait to suck it all down.

She still has some sleep issues, though. So what this tells me is that all our various bright ideas about why she has a hard time sleeping--bad swaddling, too much/little noise, stomach upset, you name it--were not necessarily it. Simply put this is a girl that has a hard time transitioning to sleep. In fact Randi is, right now, trying to lure her into sleep by singing to her, and I will join her.

Hey, what do you know, it worked!

Randi just asked me if I'm going to write one of my periodic "optimistic" blog entries that curse us for about three months. I don't know, I will have to wait until it's done.

Other news here, the last round of shots went better than prior rounds, so I am glad we divided up the dosages. Now we have a few more shots coming up in a week or so, and the dreaded flu vaccine. I think we are going to get all of them, because even the supremely touchy feely Dr. Sears recommends the flu vaccine.

Anyway, about sleep. Stella is still waking up several times a night, and refuses to self-soothe herself to sleep in most cases. Often the only thing that works is letting her sleep in the bed with us. Then, no joke, she proceeds to take up as much room as humanly possible for one five month old baby. She stretches her arms, quite literally at right angles from her body, almost like she's making snow angels. To deal with this Randi and I scoot to the sides of the bed, sleeping in a bed space smaller than the twin sized mattress I grew up with.

We are trying to get her more comfortable with her crib, we really are. Randi always puts her in the crib for naps. Almost without fail she will wake up 40 minutes later, no matter how soundly she appeared to be sleeping as the nap started. Baby naps that are under an hour typically are pretty useless, so this is frustrating. So we have to make her more comfortable in her bed, not ours.

She even found a way to take up even more room. Randi had her at her side and I awoke to find Stella had moved herself at a perpendicular angle to her mom, almost like she was creating a graphic of an intersection, so she took up not only her horizontal space, but all the space to her side too.
Our goal is to make sure that Stella can get to sleep without suckling off Randi, or being held by me. She's grown quite addicted to these two comforting things. It's going to be a challange. Since her birth she has been able to reliably count on us to cave in and do these things, but now we're trying with all we've got to get her out of this habit, that we got her into. New parents, we didn't know all we thought we did. But we know now.

You know, she's always kind of been like this, fiery. Even before she was born, which sounds like BS, but I tell you, it's true. That's why we called her Stella, she's not a quiet, passive little kid.

For example, in the womb she would get mad when Randi's class at school got too out of control, and would kick Randi over and over again until she got the class to calm down.

Another example, once I was fooling around and I called her my "little pork butt" and squeezed, gently, where her tush would be in the womb. Oh, she didn't like that at all. She then butted her head back into Randi's backbone, and started to kick up a storm. This girl was a handful right from the start.

And she still is, but we're crazy about her, just the same, and we're not the only ones.

Most morning, now, I've been taking her on short walks before her naps, to get her nice and tired. She wears a little knit cap made for her by our great, and dear friend Alex Pflaster, and it's kind of like walking around Park Slope with a celebrity. People stop us on the street to cooch and coo at the Golden Child. Many mornings there is even a local Latino man with Down's Syndrom who takes a good look at us, and says, "Nice baby!" I always thank him and smile back.

It goes beyond that. Esmerelda a woman who does checkout at our local Associated super market always asks me about Stella when I'm in there getting groceries. I didn't even know she knew my name, but she knows my baby. (It turns out, too, that she did know my name. This embarassed me, because I didn't know her name, and had to ask.) Randi gets asked the same questions, of course.

This means that now I know what it's like to live with two local celebrities, because Randi, as a teacher in the local school also gets recognized everywhere we go. Me? I never get recognized by anyone.

It's kind of amazing to see this little life take hold and grow before my eyes. I remember her birth so sharply, and it feels like it just happened. But life is changing more quickly now than ever before. Bored with your routine? Have a kid, your life will never be the same. And it will never be boring, even if sometimes you wish it kind of was.

Also, another change. I used to be a bad, bad insomniac. Some nights I just wouldn't go to sleep. Not that I didn't want to, I couldn't. Thoughts would race through my head, usually about trivial things, or even bad memories that I was revisiting over, and over. Bad decisions I've made that I wish I could take back. I used to do a whole lot of that, in a sense beating myself useless with hindsight. Which showed, ironically, a lack of foresight.

Those days are over now. We went to bed at 9:00 p.m. Friday night. I haven't done that in ages. My bed time when I was in elementary school was 10:00 p.m. But now I love such evenings.

True, we didn't stay asleep the whole night. Stella wouldn't have it. (Also, we were awoken at 2:00 a.m. by a man and a woman having a screaming fight on our street, saying the most horrible things to one another. Oh, to live with bars at both the foot and head of your block!) But we still got better rest than we had gotten in some time. And last night we didn't even make it to Saturday Night Live.

A little while ago I wrote about how we're afraid of becoming "those people," the people who think that simply because they reproduced the world should now revolve around them. I don't think we are those people, but we are a sort of parent I never thought we would be: the turn in early crowd, the bedroom commuters, even though we live in the heart of a vibrant city and neighborhood. Things change. And not always for the worse.
For those of you who simply can't get enough of the Brooklyn Baby franchise, may I recommend you check out The Brooklyn Baby Momma's new blog? She describes our current sleeping situation in better detail than I ever could, since she's the one who has to get up six times a night, and even has a lovely picture of our daughter and our cat, Cromwell.
Check it out!